January 31, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 6:51 PM


Hardliners Killed Bush's Immigration Reform. Can They Stop Obama's? (Adam Serwer, Jan. 31, 2013, Mother Jones)

Last time Washington took a swing at comprehensive immigration reform, the far right went nuts. In 2007, when President George W. Bush joined with leading Democrats to push an immigration package, the bill died in the Senate, the casualty of a GOP base revolt stoked by talk radio and hardline anti-immigration groups. (And, by the way, some Democrats were happy to watch a Bush initiative go down.) Now, after the Senate's bipartisan Gang of Eight released an immigration reform package and President Barack Obama essentially backed the effort, the looming question is whether opponents of immigration reform can muster the same kind of backlash--and how ready Republican supporters of immigration reform are to fight back.

Carlos Gutierrez was Bush's secretary of commerce when the 2007 immigration bill crashed and burned. "It was on the one hand talk radio, on the other it was these groups: FAIR and NumbersUSA, Center for Immigration Studies," Gutierrez says, naming several restrictionist groups founded by anti-immigration activist John Tanton. "We were getting it all over the place."

...top define itself in opposition to the Right.

Posted by orrinj at 6:47 PM


Did Republicans Lose the Election? (PAUL STARR JANUARY 31, 2013, American Prospect)

Last November, Democrats seemed to be justified in believing that their party had won a victory of genuine significance. The ideological differences between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney were clear-cut, and Obama was re-elected. Despite the advantage that Republicans initially enjoyed in Senate races, Democrats increased their majority to 55, and that new majority is more liberal than the old one. In races for the House, more voters cast ballots for Democratic than for Republican candidates, though Republicans kept their majority thanks in large part to gerrymandered districts.

But if you step back now, look at government as a whole, and think about the likely course of politics in the next several years, things look different. In what was a bad year for Republicans, they emerged with enough power to stymie major Democratic legislative initiatives and to advance key items on their own agenda through the arms of government that they continue to control.

Posted by orrinj at 6:44 PM

Posted by orrinj at 6:32 PM


Consumer Reports' cancer screening ratings offer surprising results (Melissa Breyer, Jan 31 2013, MNN)
For the latest investigation, Consumer Reports researchers moved the vacuum cleaners and cameras to the side and evaluated copious amounts of research, consulted medical experts, surveyed more than 10,000 readers, and talked with patients. They found that "too many people are getting tests they don't need or understand, and too few are getting those that could save their lives."
They conclude that many patients, and even some doctors, are confused about cancer screening. Most patients do what their doctor recommends, but health care providers don't always agree on which tests are necessary. In fact, they note, research suggests that advice often varies among medical practices.
Of course, for some tests and patients, the benefits do outweigh the risks; but for many other screenings and tests, magazine researchers found that the line between benefit and risk is not so clear-cut. For example, the risks of prostate-cancer screening probably outweigh the benefits for most people. For every 1,000 men between 55 to 69 screened for prostate cancer every one to four years, the data looks like this: Zero to one prostate-cancer deaths were prevented; yet three serious complications were caused by treating the cancer, including death, heart attacks, and blood clots in the legs or lungs; and 40 men became impotent or incontinent from treatment complications. The chance of being the one case in which screening prevented death is likely to lead men to still want the test performed, but the risks are surprising.

Posted by orrinj at 5:22 PM

Watch the Dave Brubeck Quartet Perform and Talk Composing on the Classic Jazz 625 Show, 1964 (January 31st, 2013, Open Culture)

On June 9, 1964 the Dave Brubeck Quartet played a pair of half-hour sets for the Jazz 625 show in London. We're happy to bring you one of those two episodes in its complete form. It's an excellent show, featuring performances of five numbers, famous and obscure, and a discussion between Brubeck and host Steve Race about Brubeck's composing methods. The quartet is made up of Brubeck on piano, Paul Desmond on alto saxophone, Eugene Wright on bass, and Paul Morello on drums.

Posted by orrinj at 5:36 AM


Immigration Reform Proposal Shows Similar Ideas Betweeen Bush and Obama (John Avlon Jan 31, 2013, Daily Beast)

The past president serves as both an unlikely inspiration and negative object lesson to the current effort. Because the plan pushed by Bush in his second term bears an uncanny resemblance to the bipartisan plan now backed by the Gang of Eight senators and hailed by Obama as the best hope for comprehensive immigration reform in a generation.

Take a look back at President Bush's 2006 televised address to the nation on immigration reform and read it aside President Obama's Las Vegas take on the same subject this Tuesday. The style may be different, but the substance and sentiment are essentially the same.

January 30, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 6:44 PM

Posted by orrinj at 3:38 PM


US economy shrinks 0.1 pct., first time in 3½ years; deep cut in defense spending key factor (Associated Press,, January 30, 2013)

The Commerce Department said the economy shrank at an annual rate of 0.1 percent mainly because companies restocked at a slower rate and the government slashed defense spending. [...]

Congressional Republicans seem determined to permit deep cuts to defense and domestic programs to kick in as scheduled March 1. And Americans are coming to grips with an increase in Social Security taxes that has begun to leave them with less take-home pay.

Government spending cuts and slower company restocking, which can fluctuate sharply, subtracted a combined 2.6 percentage points from GDP. Those two factors offset a 2.2 percent increase in consumer spending. And business spending on equipment and software rose after shrinking over the summer.

There are a lot more cuts coming.

White House: GOP responsible for contracting economy (Justin Sink, 01/30/13, The Hill)
White House press secretary Jay Carney laid the blame for a surprise economic contraction squarely at the feet of congressional Republicans Wednesday, saying economic threats during the "fiscal cliff" negotiations had prevented important defense spending.

Posted by orrinj at 3:27 PM


Many big GOP voices changing their tune on immigration (Aaron Blake, January 29, 2013, Washington Post)

Perhaps the most significant and broadest shift has been in the class of conservative commentators.

* Sean Hannity said after the November election: "We've got to get rid of the immigration issue altogether. It's simple to me to fix it. I think you control the border first. You create a pathway for those people that are here. You don't say you've got to go home. And that is a position that I've evolved on. Because, you know what, it's got to be resolved."

* Around the same time, columnist Charles Krauthammer said much the same thing: "I've always been of the 'enforcement first' school, with the subsequent promise of legalization. I still think it's the better policy. But many Hispanics fear that there will be nothing beyond enforcement. So, promise amnesty right up front. Secure the border with guaranteed legalization to follow on the day the four border-state governors affirm that illegal immigration has slowed to a trickle."

* Mark Levin has been more hesitant. He said around the same time that the GOP's move toward immigration reform amounted to "race pandering" and that the party had "surrendered to the left's arguments and their agenda." But after interviewing Rubio last week, he sounded moved: "This is very fascinating to me," he said. "I still have a number of questions, but that's for another day."

* Rush Limbaugh took a similar tack Tuesday, toning down his strident criticism of comprehensive reform during an interview with Rubio. "You're meeting everybody honestly, forthrightly. You're meeting everyone halfway," Limbaugh told Rubio. But then he added: "Obama is seeking political victory. Obama doesn't care about enforcing existing law, so people say, why would he enforce anything new?"

* Hugh Hewitt, who opposed the 2007 comprehensive bill, said in a recent column that people should follow Rubio's lead. "Marco Rubio has credibility and the gift to cut through the noise and get regularization done. Listen to him. Do what he says. It isn't that complicated."

January 29, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 10:12 PM


The State Tax Reformers : More Governors look to repeal their income taxes. (WSJ, 1/29/13)

Washington may be a tax reform wasteland, but out in the states the action is hot and heavy. Nine states--including such fast-growing places as Florida, Tennessee and Texas--currently have no income tax, and the race is on to see which will be the tenth, and perhaps the 11th and 12th.

Oklahoma and Kansas have lowered their income-tax rates in the last two years with an aim toward eliminating the tax altogether. North Carolina's newly elected Republican Governor Pat McCrory has prioritized tax reform this year and wants to reduce the income tax. Ditto for another newcomer, Mike Pence of Indiana, who has called for a 10% income-tax rate cut. Susana Martinez, New Mexico's Republican Governor, has called for slashing the state corporate tax to 4.9% from 7.6%, and the first Republican-controlled legislature since Reconstruction in Arkansas is considering chopping its tax rates by as much as half.

But those are warm-up acts compared to Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman's announcement this month that he wants to eliminate the state income tax and replace it with a broader sales tax

Posted by orrinj at 3:56 PM


Obama embraces Senate immigration plan in call for reform (Michael O'Brien, 1/29/13, NBC News)

The president embraced of a statement of principles offered Monday by four Democratic and four Republican senators, which would strengthen border security and employment verification in exchange for a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants in the United States.

The only comparably passive president in recent history must by GHWB, for whom the presidency was, likewise, just a matter of resume-building.

Posted by orrinj at 3:39 PM


A Second G.O.P. (DAVID BROOKS, 1/29/13, NY Times)

Americans are still skeptical of Washington. If you shove a big government program down their throats they will recoil. But many of their immediate problems flow from globalization, the turmoil of technological change and social decay, and they're looking for a bit of help. Moreover, given all the antigovernment rhetoric, they will never trust these Republicans to reform cherished programs like Social Security and Medicare. You can't be for entitlement reform and today's G.O.P., because politically the two will never go together.

Can current Republicans change their underlying mentality to adapt to these realities? Intellectual history says no. People almost never change their underlying narratives or unconscious frameworks. Moreover, in the South and rural West, where most Republicans are from, the Encroachment Story has deep historic and psychological roots. Anti-Washington, anti-urban sentiment has characterized those cultures for decades.

It's probably futile to try to change current Republicans. It's smarter to build a new wing of the Republican Party, one that can compete in the Northeast, the mid-Atlantic states, in the upper Midwest and along the West Coast.

Except that nearly all the big reforms are occurring in the Deep South and Midwest.  Nevermind that Bill Clinton, Newt and W were all Southerners, nearly every Third Way governor is (or is Midwestern) too: Jeb, Jindal, Mitch Daniels, Sam Brownback, Scott Walker, etc.   The simple reality is that you can't move entitlement policies away from their Second Way sclerosis unless you have a Republican legislature, so the Northeast, West Coast, etc. are non-starters.  And they will be until successful reform on the national level makes Republicans palatable again in those regions.  What Mr. Brooks is calling for is a second Democratic Party, when the one we have is already the main obstacle to entitlement  reform.

Posted by orrinj at 3:35 PM


Study finds leafy green vegetables top source of food poisoning (Associated Press, January 29, 2013)

A big government study has fingered leafy greens like lettuce and spinach as the leading source of food poisoning, a perhaps uncomfortable conclusion for health officials who want us to eat our vegetables.

"Most meals are safe," said Dr. Patricia Griffin, a government researcher and one of the study's authors who said the finding shouldn't discourage people from eating produce. Experts repeated often-heard advice: Be sure to wash those foods or cook them thoroughly.

The problem is washing won't do much good; it's the cooking that kills the bad stuff.  Folks just don't cook their vegetables enough.

Posted by orrinj at 3:30 PM


Don't Repay the National Debt : It's time to revive a British financial innovation from the 18th century: perpetual bonds. (Matthew Yglesias, Jan. 29, 2013, Slate)

As of Friday, the inflation-adjusted yield on 10-year Treasury bonds was negative 0.56 percent. Savers, in other words, want to pay the American government for the privilege of safeguarding their money. For the longest-dated bonds we sell, the 30-year Treasury bond, rates were 0.51 percent. That's higher than zero, but far below the long-term average economic growth level. A sensible country would be taking advantage of that fact to finance some valuable public undertakings. Alternatively, if we think there's nothing worth spending money on we could enact a big temporary tax cut aimed at reducing the unemployment rate and boosting the population's skill level. Prolonged long-term unemployment, after all, has lasting effects that reduce the efficiency of the labor market and make it much harder to grow in the long term.

Another way of looking at it is that global financial markets are sending a clear signal to the United States. At a time when demand for goods and services is depressed, demand for American government debt is sky-high. The responsible choice is to let the supply meet the demand and borrow more.

The global economy faces catastrophe as America's budget heads into balance/surplus.  

Posted by orrinj at 5:38 AM


Norway Data Shows Earth's Global Warming Less Severe Than Feared (Adam Ewing - Jan 27, 2013 , Bloomberg)

After the planet's average surface temperature rose through the 1990s, the increase has almost leveled off at the level of 2000, while ocean water temperature has also stabilized, the Research Council of Norway said in a statement on its website. After applying data from the past decade, the results showed temperatures may rise 1.9 degrees Celsius if Co2 levels double by 2050, below the 3 degrees predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

January 28, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 6:49 PM


Secret Group in House Finalizing Plan for Immigration Reform (John Parkinson, 1/28/13, ABC)

As a group of senators unveil their bipartisan proposal for immigration reform today and President Obama heads west this week to rally support for his own ideas, a separate bipartisan group of lawmakers in the House of Representatives is on the verge of finalizing its own designs for comprehensive immigration reform.

The discussions, which top aides close to the talks discussed on the condition that they not be identified, are described as "Washington's best-kept secret."

Last week, House Speaker John Boehner spilled the beans on the secret group, revealing that the lawmakers had been "meeting for three or four years now" and that they are almost ready to present their proposals publicly.

Posted by orrinj at 5:58 PM


Israel gave birth control to Ethiopian Jews without their consent (ALISTAIR DAWBER, SUNDAY 27 JANUARY 2013, Independent)

Israel has admitted for the first time that it has been giving Ethiopian Jewish immigrants birth-control injections, often without their knowledge or consent.

The government had previously denied the practice but the Israeli Health Ministry's director-general has now ordered gynaecologists to stop administering the drugs. According a report in Haaretz, suspicions were first raised by an investigative journalist, Gal Gabbay, who interviewed more than 30 women from Ethiopia in an attempt to discover why birth rates in the community had fallen dramatically.

Posted by orrinj at 5:54 PM


Democrats, tea party unite vs. Mitch McConnell (Manu Raju, January 28, 2013, Politico)

Tea party activists looking to oust Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in a GOP primary may get some help from an unlikely source: Democrats.

Big Democratic donors, local liberal activists and a left-leaning super PAC in Kentucky are telling tea partiers that they are poised to throw financial and organizational support behind a right-wing candidate should one try to defeat the powerful GOP leader in a 2014 primary fight.

The idea: Soften up McConnell and make him vulnerable in a general election in Kentucky, where Democrats still maintain a voter registration advantage. Or better yet, in their eyes: Watch Kentucky GOP primary voters nominate the 2014 version of Todd Akin or Richard Mourdock, weak candidates who may actually lose.

"We are doing a lot of reaching out to some of the tea party folks across the state," said Keith Rouda, a field organizer with the liberal group MoveOn and the Democratic super PAC, Progress Kentucky. "What we're finding -- at least in this stage of the race -- we're finding that our interests align"

They could hardly be more natural allies.

Posted by orrinj at 3:57 PM


Senators hope to approve bipartisan immigration reform within months (Michael O'Brien, 1/28/13, NBC News)

The major development involves the pathway to citizenship for undocumented workers that would be established under the Senate plan. Conservatives have resisted similar proposals -- even when they were proposed by President George W. Bush -- and labeled them as "amnesty" for individuals who entered the United States illegally.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said that Americans "have been too content for too long" to allow many undocumented workers to provide basic services "while not affording them any of the benefits that make our country so great."

"It is not beneficial to this country to have these people here, hidden in the shadows," added McCain, whose own experience on the issue of immigration provides an instructive example of why immigration reform has been so elusive for Congress.

Posted by orrinj at 3:53 PM


David Attenborough's demographic determinism : The TV naturalist is still banging on about there being 'too many people', just when others fret about declining population. (Patrick Hayes, 1/28/13, spiked)

David Attenborough has interesting timing. Just as reports were being published last week warning that the population of the human race is projected to decline, the TV naturalist declared that humans are a 'plague on the Earth' and that the growth of the 'enormous horde' that makes up the population must be curbed or things will get 'worse and worse'.

Attenborough and his Malthusian colleagues at Population Matters - the 'working name' of the sinister-sounding Optimum Population Trust - have long liked to cite statistical evidence to suggest that drastic curbs need to be made to population growth, lest we bring about the apocalypse. And, like the Reverend Thomas Malthus - one of their most notorious forebears in citing dodgy science to predict doomsday scenarios - time and again they underestimate the capacity for human beings to innovate and find creative solutions to any resource shortages.

But now it seems even the data may be against them, with recent research suggesting that population growth is slowing and could peak at about 10 billion during the middle of the century, before dropping over the coming centuries. These findings have even led one writer to hint at the start of an underpopulation panic; 'we could be looking at the literal extinction of humanity', he writes.

Posted by orrinj at 3:48 PM


On verge of "difficult" free-trade negotiations (Robin Emmott, 1/26/13, Reuters) 

The United States and the European Union are wrapping up final preparations for talks on a free-trade agreement that would encompass half the world's economic output, Europe's trade chief said on Saturday, while warning of "difficult negotiations."

EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht will travel to Washington on February 5 to put the finishing touches on a joint EU-U.S. report. He gave his clearest signal yet that Brussels and Washington are ready to embark on the accord.

"Essentially the report is ready. I will go to Washington to discuss a couple of small items and for a final reading. But essentially we're on the same page," De Gucht told Reuters in an interview in the Chilean capital Santiago.

If it results in a deal, the UR will have some legacy besides continuing W's democratization of the Middle East and the Heritage Foundation's health care mandate.

Posted by orrinj at 6:30 AM


The quiet liberal plans for entitlement reform  (David Nather, January 27, 2013, Politico)

Here are the highlights of the Democratic entitlement reform menu:

Social Security: 'Chained CPI'

Savings: $112 billion

The idea is to change the way the government figures out how much more seniors should get in Social Security benefits each year to account for changes in their cost of living.

This new formula -- a tweak to the consumer price index -- would assume that people switch their buying habits when prices rise, rather than just buying the same things over and over. So, for example, if the price of ground beef goes up, someone might buy chicken or fish instead.

The result: Social Security benefits will rise more slowly.

Obama has offered the change before -- he supported it during his fiscal cliff talks with Republicans in December. And two think tanks that supply ideas to the Democrats -- the liberal Center for American Progress and the more centrist Third Way -- have included it in their Social Security plans, giving Obama plenty of cover in case he decides to go that way again. [...]

Social Security: Lift cap on taxable earnings 

Revenues: $500 billion or more

Even if the Democrats accept chained CPI, they're going to want some goodies in return. One big one: Let the highest earners pay more Social Security payroll taxes.

Right now, employers and workers only pay those payroll taxes on the first $113,700 of income. [...]

Social Security: Change the benefit formula

Savings: Would close half of Social Security shortfall

Another big item on the liberals' agenda would be to change the way Social Security is distributed -- giving more to low-income seniors and less to high-income seniors.

Both CAP and Third Way have proposed the option, which they say would strengthen Social Security's role as a safety net for vulnerable seniors while giving the higher-income ones more incentive to save for their own retirement. It also acknowledges that the seniors who live the longest tend to be the people with high incomes and education levels, according to Van de Water. [...]

Medicare: Expanded means testing

Savings: $20 billion

Obama has said he won't consider Medicare changes that would shift costs to seniors, but an expansion of the program's means testing is the one benefit cut Democrats have hinted they might accept -- because it would hit wealthier seniors and spare the rest.

There's already some means testing of premiums for Medicare coverage of doctors and prescription drugs, thanks to Obamacare and the 2003 law that created the Medicare prescription drug program. The version that Obama proposed in his 2011 deficit plan, and could put on the table again, would extend that means testing to charge higher premiums and hit a larger group of seniors.

Posted by orrinj at 5:27 AM


Euro and trade will make EU irrelevant : Appeal will diminish amid a eurozone economic union and transatlantic free-trade zone (Wolfgang Münchau)

Then there is pressure from outside the eurozone, from proponents of a transatlantic free-trade area. The idea is not new but there has been some buzz about it recently because the US and EU are both keen on developing the idea.

The most important consequence of a free-trade area would not be the abolition of tariffs. These are not very high to begin with. It is that it would allow products regulated in one jurisdiction to be traded freely elsewhere in the zone without further regulatory impediment.

Hammering out such a treaty would not be easy. It is not that clear whether the Europeans, for example, would allow the import of genetically modified organisms. But the geostrategic and economic case for a transatlantic single market is overwhelming. At a time when many people are concerned about the decline of the wider North Atlantic region, the two largest economies would come together and create a de facto single economic zone, covering about 50 per cent of global economic output.

Even if Britain were outside the EU, it would without a doubt be a member of such a zone. So there can be no question of it being cut off from trade.

Posted by orrinj at 5:21 AM


Carrots for Doctors (BILL KELLER, 1/28/13, NY Times)

WITH its ambitious proposal to pay doctors in public hospitals based on the quality of their work -- not the number of tests they order, pills they prescribe or procedures they perform -- New York City has hopped aboard the biggest bandwagon in health care. Pay for performance, or P4P in the jargon, is embraced by right and left. It has long been the favorite egghead prescription for our absurdly overpriced, underperforming health care system. The logic seems unassailable: Reward quality, and you will get quality. Stop rewarding waste, and you will get less waste. QED! P4P!

If only it worked.

For if you spend a little time with the P4P skeptics -- a data-bearing minority among physicians and health economists -- you will come away full of doubts. In practice, pay for performance does little to improve outcomes or to control costs. [...]

Instead of leverage, P4P employs incentives. Reduce the length of stay for acute-care patients, cut the rate of readmission for pneumonia cases, make sure heart-attack victims get a talk about diet before they are discharged, and you stand to find a little windfall in your paycheck.

Critics, who have evidence from a host of pilot programs, say that the bonuses are typically too small to change behavior; New York's would be a maximum of 2.5 percent of a doctor's salary, and most P4P programs pay less than that.

The carrot has to be that the money you don't spend on health care is yours to save and or spend on useful things.

Posted by orrinj at 5:16 AM


Is America in decline? (Robert J. Samuelson, January 27, 2013, Washington Post)

For starters, the U.S. economy is still the world's largest by a long shot. Gross domestic product (GDP) is almost $16 trillion, "nearly double the second largest (China), 2.5 times the third largest (Japan)." Per capita GDP is about $50,000; although 10 other countries have higher figures, most of the countries are small -- say, Luxembourg. The size of the U.S. market makes it an attractive investment location.

Next, natural resources. In a world ravenous for food and energy, the United States has plenty of both. Its arable land is five times China's and nearly twice Brazil's. The advances in "fracking" and horizontal drilling have opened vast natural gas and oil reserves that, until recently, seemed too expensive to develop. The International Energy Agency predicts that the United States will become the world's largest oil producer -- albeit temporarily -- by 2020.

In turn, the oil and gas boom bolsters employment. A study by IHS , a consulting firm, estimates that it has already created 1.7 million direct and indirect jobs. By 2020, there should be 1.3 million more, reckons IHS. Secure and inexpensive natural gas also encourages an expansion of U.S. manufacturing, Goldman argues. That's another plus.

Poorly skilled workers are often counted as a U.S. economic liability. Goldman's perspective is different. American workers will remain younger and more energetic than their rapidly aging rivals. By 2050, workers' median age in China and Japan will be about 50, a decade higher than in America. Moreover, the United States attracts motivated immigrants, including "highly educated talent." A Gallup survey of 151 countries found the United States was the top choice for those wanting to move, at 23 percent. At 7 percent, the United Kingdom was second.

Finally, Goldman expects the United States to remain the leader in innovation. America performs the largest amount of research and development (31 percent of the global total in 2012) and has more of the best universities (29 out of the top 50, according to one British ranking).

January 27, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 8:14 PM


Us and them : From newborns to nation states, we trust similarity. But does that mean we must hate difference? (Marek Kohn 10 January 2013, Aeon)

In the summer of 1954, the social psychologist Muzafer Sherif and his colleagues at the University of Oklahoma took two groups of 11 boys, aged 11, to a scout campsite in Robbers Cave State Park in southeast Oklahoma. At first, the two groups were unaware of each other's existence. Before long, they had given themselves names -- the 'Rattlers' and the 'Eagles' -- and flags, and begun an informal rivalry.

Then the researchers inaugurated a tournament, with medals and knives as prizes. The Rattlers decided to put flags on the swimming hole and other sites they claimed as theirs. When they planted their flag on the baseball field, the Eagles tore it down and burned it. A series of tit-for-tat cabin raids ensued. At one point, the Eagles filled socks with stones to defend themselves. Having stoked the conflict to the verge of potentially lethal violence, the researchers then induced co-operation by getting the two groups to work together for a common goal.

William Golding's The Lord of the Flies was published a few months later. It has the same demonstrative quality: both exercises leave us with the sinking feeling that they have dramatised something we already knew about human nature, and that their authors knew their conclusions in advance. In structure rather than mood, however, the Robbers Cave experiment has more in common with Chesterton's novel. The researchers and the king both set up groups that then vied with each other for symbols of prestige provided by the manipulating authorities -- the king's banners and the psychologists' medals. And crucially, the contests were over territory and goods as well as prestige. Although the 'free cities' of Chesterton's London ended up fighting over local honour, the author took care to establish a material basis for antagonism in the original conflict over the plan to build a road through Notting Hill. The Rattlers and the Eagles coveted the knives that the experimenters dangled before them, out there in psychology's Wild West. Sumner himself believed that tensions between groups arose from contests over resources -- that they were about something more than group identity itself.

That point of view left the psychologist Henri Tajfel with the 'nagging feeling that it omits an important part of the story'. In the early 1970s, he set out to see just how little it took to create devotion to an in-group and antipathy towards an out-group. Working at the University of Bristol, he gave local teenage boys a meaningless test, estimating numbers of dots shown on a screen. The boys were then assigned at random to two groups, designated arbitrarily as 'underestimators' and 'overestimators'. Asked to give each other cash rewards or penalties, they favoured members of their own group, displaying gratuitous spite towards the other group by declining to give rewards even when it didn't reduce the amount that went to their own.

Setting up 'minimal groups' like these became standard procedure for researchers interested in what makes in-groups tick. The findings leave no room for doubt: people will coalesce into parochial groups at the drop of a hat, no matter how arbitrary, tiny, vague, esoteric or spurious the differences between them. Rewards, prizes or turf wars will bring the biases to light, but they aren't necessary. In-group love and bias against out-groups can arise even if nothing at all is at stake.

Posted by orrinj at 8:01 PM


Present at the Revolution: The enduring legacy of Cato, inspiration to George Washington and many others : a review of Rome's Last Citizen: The Life and Legacy of Cato, Mortal Enemy of Caesar, by Rob Goodman and Jimmy Soni (Barry Strauss, 18 January 2013, City Journal)

Addison's play argued for death in defense of liberty. A decade later, John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon's Cato's Letters went even further and offered a general theory: Liberty was a natural right, embodied in limited government, protected by opposition to tyranny, and characterized by freedom of speech and religion and private-property rights. Originally published in a London newspaper in the 1720s, Cato's Letters--actually a series of essays that the authors wrote under a "Cato" pseudonym-- eventually appeared in book form. The essays had enormous influence on the American Founders and on the writing of the Declaration of Independence.

Cato as a Whig and revolutionary is quite a stretch from the historical Cato. What about the reality? In Rome's Last Citizen, political speechwriters and journalists Rob Goodman and Jimmy Soni offer an excellent introduction. They have done their homework in the classical sources. Their wise and lively book offers two lessons: first, knowing modern politics can yield insight into study of the ancient world; and second, Rome still has lessons to teach us today. The authors' Rome includes such phenomena as "favor-swapping," "personality-driven reform," "a late-night strategy session," "campaign apparatus," and "new rules of engagement." Balancing out these less inspiring features, Rome also offers Cicero's oratory, Caesar's Commentaries, and Plutarch's Lives, among other treasures. Goodman and Soni make particularly good use of Plutarch's Life of Cato the Younger, our main historical source, though one that requires caution--Plutarch wrote moralizing biography, not history.

The authors approach Cato with respect and critical distance. They carefully trace a life that took its bearings from a combination of Stoic philosophy and old-fashioned Roman virtue. Marcus Porcius Cato (95-46 BC), the so-called Cato the Younger, came from a prominent family. He followed in the footsteps of his famous great-grandfather, also named Marcus Porcius Cato (234-149 BC) and sometimes referred to as Cato the Elder, who came to symbolize austerity, aggression, and conservatism.

Ancient Rome was a republic: a mixed government combining popular assemblies, powerful magistrates who operated as virtual kings for their year in office, and an aristocratic senate. The Roman republic indirectly inspired America's constitutional separation of powers. By Cato's day, though, Rome's government was out of joint, bitterly divided between populists and oligarchs. Cato emerged as a leader of the second faction. He championed a tiny senate elite's traditional role of guiding the destiny of the empire and its tens of millions of inhabitants. Yet Cato also defended freedom of speech, constitutional procedure, civic duty and service, honest administration, and the enlightened pursuit of the public interest.

More than anyone else, Cato saw clearly the threat that Julius Caesar posed to the old order. 

... your teacher mishandled Julius Caesar.
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Posted by orrinj at 7:50 PM


Avoca Quack-Off still draws crowds by the busload (ALGIS J. LAUKAITIS, 1/21/13, Lincoln Journal Star)

Thirty-three years ago, two guys sat in an Avoca bar and had an argument something like this:

"My duck's faster than yours!"

"Oh, yeah!"

"Prove it!"

As happens with arguments that start in bars, the men hauled their ducks to a farm pond and raced. Who won isn't important.

What matters is  that race evolved into the Avoca Quack-Off, one of Nebraska's quirkiest -- or quackiest -- winter events.

Last year, more than 1,000 people came to watch and compete in duck races. Avoca, population 240, is about 32 miles east of Lincoln.

"It's just a heckuva lot of fun," said David Seay, who has lived in Avoca since 1990.

Posted by orrinj at 9:38 AM

Posted by orrinj at 9:29 AM


The Living Edmund Burke (Russell Kirk, Imaginative Conservative)

Thomas Paine erringly dedicated The Rights of Man to George Washington; but Washington, rejecting Paine, expressed his admiration of Burke. Alexander Hamilton and John Marshall were governed by Burke's principles. (Marshall, by the way, lifted portions of his Life of Washington from Burke's account of the American War of Independence in The Annual Register.) The Constitution itself reflects the practicality and prudence taught that generation of men by Burke - by contrast with the doctrinaire and ephemeral successive constitutional documents of the French revolutionaries.

Burke is little "dated." For America plays today the role that was Britain's at the end of the eighteenth century: like the English then, we Americans have become, without willing it, the defenders of civilization against the enemies of order and justice and freedom. Ours are imperial duties, requiring imperial intellects for their performance. Burke does not stand outside the American political tradition: rather, he stands in the grander continuity of that civilization in which American life and character are a part. To seek guidance from Burke is no more exotic, for Americans, than to seek humane insights from Shakespeare, or to seek religious wisdom from Saint Paul. In many respects, the great American nation of 1982 is more like the imperial Britain of two centuries past than it resembles the isolated infant federation of the early years of independence. Because Burke addressed himself to matters that transcended nationalities and generations, he endures on either side of the Atlantic. Much political truth, like most of poetic truth, transcends frontiers - and especially when nations share a heritage of long historical experience, humane letters, and political first principles.

Yet in gaining from Burke's insights, we Americans need to take pains not to convert ourselves into "Burkean" ideologues: that is, into political fanatics, mistaking a set of abstract principles for political reality. No man more greatly abhorred ideology, political abstraction, than did the practical statesman Edmund Burke. Be governed by prescription, convention, custom, ancient usage, historical experience, said Burke; remember that change is the means of our preservation; bear it in mind that the superior statesman is one who combines with a disposition to preserve an ability to reform. The foundation of our civil social order, like that of Burke's Britain, is not an ideology, some "armed doctrine": rather, it is the Christian religion.

Posted by orrinj at 9:21 AM

Listen to Doc Watson Picking Away at his Banjo : A new release from Smithsonian Folkways highlights the talent of a bluegrass master (Leah Binkovitz, February 2013, Smithsonian magazine)

In 1960, the producer Ralph Rinzler paired the forgotten banjo legend Clarence Ashley with an obscure young guitarist named Arthel Watson. The recordings they made (Doc Watson and Clarence Ashley: The Original Folkways Recordings, 1960-1962) introduced "Doc" Watson's bluegrass flatpicking to a national audience. That's just one reason Rinzler, who died in 1994 at age 59, was recently inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame. He was also a mandolin and banjo player of note, a tireless folklorist and a promoter, co-founding the Smithsonian Folklife Festival and helping the Smithsonian Institution acquire Folkways Records.

Original Folkways Recordings of Doc Watson and Clarence Ashley, 1960-1962
  1. Old Ruben2:04More Info
  2. A Short Life of Trouble3:22
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Posted by orrinj at 9:17 AM


The vegans have landed : A dominant species is a dominant species. If you really care about animal rights, vegan ethics don't go far enough (Rhys Southan 22 January 2013, aeon)

If our intergalactic superiors landed here, but had no interest in eating us or our fellow animals, the first thing they could do is rob our stores, homes, farms, and warehouses of all our fruits, vegetables, beans, grains, and vegan convenience products. Without violating any vegan principles there would be no limit to the amount of food vegan aliens could steal from us -- vegan ethics allows for humans using all the plant matter they want in the world, no matter how many animals starve as a consequence. Aliens could cause the worst famine humanity has ever seen, but it would be entirely compatible with vegan ethics. That's because it would all fall under the rubric of 'good intent'. They wouldn't be killing us deliberately to eat us, but rather because they wanted our food and had the power to take it -- our starvation would be a foreseeable, yet accidental, side effect. We might try to fight the vegan invaders over this mass plunder, but then they could kill us outright for threatening their lives. That's because humans killing animals in self-defence is also no crime in veganism, even if we've wandered onto the animals' own territory.

Since veganism doesn't stop us from wrecking animal habitats to make space for ourselves, vegan aliens could knock down all our buildings to construct new ones that better fit their pan-galactic design aesthetic. They could evict us from our homes, businesses and veganic farms without compensation, and then, to keep us from returning, they could set up fences, noise barriers and other humane deterrents. To them, we would be hungry pests who threaten their vegan food supply, so they might even be justified in trapping us or killing us with poisons if we got too close. Humans would now largely be without food and shelter, but the vegan aliens wouldn't need to lose sleep over it, since none of this contradicts any vegan tenets.

Depending on how much land was required for the vegan alien cities to accommodate all their alien vegan restaurants, alien anarchist bookstores and alien warehouse lofts, the vegan aliens might or might not set aside some land for humans to live on. Because our habitat would be fragmented to suit aliens' desires regardless, it would be difficult or impossible for us to redevelop agriculture of our own, or gather enough food to survive. Any habitat they left for us would never truly be ours anyway, because if the aliens ever wanted to increase their population or just spread out, veganism doesn't stop them from taking more land.

Some vegan aliens might enjoy keeping a few human pets, naming us, cuddling us, and feeding us veggie treats. Even now, pet ownership is a controversial issue in animal rights, but most activists say that it's okay for vegans to keep some animals as dependents since they have been domesticated and, as a result, would suffer in the wild. Vegan aliens could justify keeping humans as pets for similar reasons if they saw that some of us couldn't make it on our own. That might be a pretty fair deal if the aliens were friendly and loving owners, but the downside is that they could spay and neuter us, as even People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals says vegans should spay and neuter their pets. Of course, the aliens would say this was for our own good, as we tend to overpopulate when left in charge of our own reproduction.

There's a chance that not all aliens would thrive on a plant-based diet. Some of the aliens might suffer from an unfortunate confluence of intolerances, allergies, digestive troubles, and medical conditions, or they could be living in harsh climates without enough plant material to sustain them. There could be any number of alien-centric conditions that made veganism too difficult for some of them. Vegan ethics makes exceptions in cases like this when a vegan diet just cannot work for some individuals, which means some of the aliens would be allowed to eat meat for their health. For example, aliens with Smith-Lemli-Opitz Syndrome who can't produce enough of their own cholesterol might benefit from an external animal source. And aliens with epilepsy might need to be on a high-fat, low-carb ketogenic diet to control their seizures, but it would be nearly impossible for them to get the right balance of macronutrients without eating animals, especially if they also happened to be allergic to soy, gluten, and nuts.

So which animals would they kill for this purpose? Since the vegan aliens would claim to be anti-speciesist, it would be unjust discrimination for them to value the lives of humans over those of other animals such as deer, squirrels, pigeons, rabbit, or fish. So if the aliens couldn't tolerate soy, wheat, fructose, oxalates, or nuts, or if they lived somewhere without much in the way of vegan foods, they could eat us with a clear conscience.

A vegan alien invasion could then all but destroy humanity while rationalising most of our suffering and death as 'accidental' or 'unfortunate but necessary', just as vegans now rationalise the harms that a plant-based human civilisation would cause nonhuman animals. What the argument from alien invasion ultimately shows, then, is that humans cannot consistently apply the Golden Rule to the rest of the animal kingdom without going a lot further than vegans are asking us to go.

Posted by orrinj at 9:10 AM


Never mind the noise: Quantum entanglement allows channel information rate to exceed Shannon zero-error capacity (Stuart Mason Dambrot, Phys.org)

As developed by Claude Shannon, information theory defines channel capacity as the maximum rate at which information can be sent through the channel. This capacity can be mathematically described using a graph associated with the channel. Specifically, a graph's Shannon zero-error capacity is the maximum rate at which messages can be sent through a noisy channel with zero probability of error. However, the Shannon capacity does not reflect the fact that on atomic scales, nature behaves according to quantum mechanics. Recently, scientists studying asymptotic behavior in entangled sender-receiver quantum systems at Centrum Wiskunde & Informatica, The Netherlands have identified families of graphs for which entanglement allows the Shannon capacity to be exceeded.

...and cheaper....

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Posted by orrinj at 8:59 AM


Far from Complete: Great Books Missing in the Kindle Format (ED DRISCOLL, January 26, 2013, PJ Media)

I was a slow convert to the idea of ebooks. My wife bought one of the first Kindles, and I couldn't get past the off-putting appearance of the text on the screen in the Kindle's first iteration. But then I tried the Kindle app for Windows. And the Kindle app for my Android Tablet. And slowly began to fall in love. I could read anywhere. I could free up space on my overflowing and limited physical bookshelves. I could easily quote what I had just read in a blog post. The idea of being able to carry my entire library with me and having it accessible in locations as diverse as the treadmill at the gym or a seat on an airplane became increasingly irresistible.

But not my entire library, alas. There are numerous examples of books that I'd repurchase in a second to read on my Kindle that simply aren't there yet. Nor are they available on Barnes & Noble's Nook e-reader; I've searched.

Off the top of my head, in an ideal world here's what I'd like to see in the Kindle format. Amazon links are included, if you'd like to get started reading any of these titles now in good ol' dead tree format -- which might be a good idea, as I suspect the wait for some of these might be glacial. [...]

■ The Skeptic: A Life of H.L. Mencken, by Terry Teachout. Neither Pops, Teachout's biography of Louis Armstrong, nor his earlier look at Mencken are available on the Kindle, curious oversights given Teachout's vantage point as the Wall Street Journal's longtime drama critic. To understand the misanthropy, nihilism, and sheer "oikophobia" that drive so many journalists in the 21st century, it's necessary to discover its root cause, and all roadmaps point back to H.L. Mencken. Teachout's 2003 book is an excellent introduction to Mencken's career, and his worldview.

Posted by orrinj at 8:50 AM


A Wealth of Words : The key to increasing upward mobility is expanding vocabulary. (E. D. HIRSCH, JR., Winter 2013, City Journal)

[C]orrelations between vocabulary size and life chances are as firm as any correlations in educational research. Of course, vocabulary isn't perfectly correlated with knowledge. People with similar vocabulary sizes may vary significantly in their talent and in the depth of their understanding. Nonetheless, there's no better index to accumulated knowledge and general competence than the size of a person's vocabulary. Simply put: knowing more words makes you smarter. And between 1962 and the present, a big segment of the American population began knowing fewer words, getting less smart, and becoming demonstrably less able to earn a high income.

Why should vocabulary size be related to achieved intelligence and real-world competence? Though the intricate details of cognitive abilities are under constant study and refinement, it's possible to give a rough answer. The space where we solve our problems is called "working memory." For everyone, even geniuses, it's a small space that can hold only a few items in suspension for only a few seconds. If one doesn't make the right connections within that space, one has to start over again. Hence, one method for coping and problem solving is to reduce the number of items that one has to make sense of at any moment. The psychologist George A. Miller called that process "chunking." Telephone numbers and Social Security numbers are good examples. The number (212) 374-5278, written in three chunks, is a lot easier to cope with than 2123745278.

Words are fantastically effective chunking devices. Suppose you put a single item into your working memory--say, "Pasteur." So long as you hold in your long-term memory a lot of associations with that name, you don't need to dredge them up and try to cram them into your working memory. The name serves as a brief proxy for whatever aspects will turn out to be needed to cope with your problem. The more readily available such proxies are for you, the better you will be at dealing with various problems. Extend this example to whole spheres of knowledge and experience, and you'll realize that a large vocabulary is a powerful coping device that enhances one's general cognitive ability.

If vocabulary is related to achieved intelligence and to economic success, our schools need to figure out how to encourage vocabulary growth.

Unfortunately, your vocabulary is almost entirely a function of your home life.  One doubts you can do much for kids whose parents don't read.  But we could at least use the hours that we hold them captive to make them read on their own.

Posted by orrinj at 8:45 AM


Why Government Spending Is Not Out of Control (BRUCE BARTLETT, 1/25/13, The Fiscal Times)

[V]irtually all the growth in projected spending comes not from entitlements or giveaways to the poor and lazy, as Republicans would have us believe, but rather from interest on the debt. This is a problem, but not nearly to the extent that it appears.

The reason is that interest on the debt is what economists call a pure transfer. Economically, it is little different from taking money out of your right pocket and putting it into your left pocket. That is because the vast bulk of interest goes to people and institutions who simply use it to buy more Treasury securities.

Back in the days when the federal debt was owned almost entirely by Americans, one could reasonably say that we owed it to ourselves and it was a matter of no economic concern. As Franklin D. Roosevelt put it Our national debt after all is an internal debt owed not only by the Nation but to the Nation. If our children have to pay interest on it they will pay that interest to themselves. A reasonable internal debt will not impoverish our children or put the Nation into bankruptcy.

Of course, we no longer owe the debt all to ourselves; about half of the publicly-held national debt is owned by foreigners, but most of that is held by central banks that will hold it pretty much forever. Nevertheless, there is still a fundamental economic difference between a debt arising from higher government spending on goods and services and one arising from higher interest expense.

When government buys stuff or employs workers, they are not available for use by the private sector. If the economy were growing and the unemployment rate was low, this would be a bad thing. Under current circumstances, however, when GDP is far below its potential and unemployment is high, government spending on goods and services is not displacing private use, but rather putting otherwise idle resources to good use.

My point is that economists have long differentiated between non-interest spending and that for interest, which, as I said, is a pure transfer that has essentially benign economic effects. For this reason, they are mainly concerned about what is called the "primary deficit," which is non-interest spending as compared to revenues. As the chart shows, the primary deficit going forward is actually quite small - just 1.7 percent of GDP in the long run.

Moreover, this estimate is high because it was calculated before the effects of the fiscal cliff deal, which substantially raised revenues and reduced projected deficits relative to the assumptions used in the Treasury report.

If it's important to pretend there's a crisis to get the policy changes we want, it's also important not to swallow our own rhetoric whole.

Posted by orrinj at 8:40 AM


Barack Obama is Not Pleased : The president on his enemies, the media, and the future of football (FRANKLIN FOER AND CHRIS HUGHES, 1/27/13, New Republic)

Barack Obama's pre-presidential manifesto, The Audacity of Hope, has only one extended riff on gun control--not a homily on behalf of the cause or even a meditation on the deep divisions opened by the debate, but a story of crummy luck. While State Senator Barack Obama was vacationing in Hawaii, visiting his grandmother and hoping to "reacquaint myself with Michelle," the Illinois legislature abruptly returned to consider bills making the possession of illegal firearms a felony offense. Joining this special session would have required him to backtrack thousands of miles with a sick 18-month old in tow. So Obama stayed put on the islands, while back in Springfield, the package failed by a slim margin. His campaign manager warned him that a political opponent would likely pillory his absence in an attack ad featuring a beach chair and a Mai Tai.

That Obama didn't include the substantive case for gun control in his treatise was characteristic. A strain of wisdom ruled a generation of Democratic Party politics: You might pay a price for reticence on the issue in a big city like Chicago, but in the rest of the country, it was a noble loser, bait for backlash in electorally crucial Rust Belt states with not even the remotest hope for legislative victory. In 2010, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence judged Obama's efforts on behalf of its issue worthy of an "F."

So when the president learned of the massacre in Newtown, how could he not have felt at least a pang of guilt about the failure of his party and administration to keep gun control on even a low simmer? Indeed, his aides described the massacre as having knocked his tightly held interior life into full view like no other event. "I had never seen him like that as long as I've known him," his speechwriter Jon Favreau later told The New York Times, recalling the day of the killings, when Obama sat gob-smacked behind his desk.

On the day we visited the White House, about a month later, the president had just finished presenting his robust slate of gun control proposals--so robust, in fact, that the next morning's newspaper would declare it almost certainly doomed to failure in Congress. But that was the point. 

Those are two stories about different ways to do nothing while making the Left think you care.  Talk Democrat; govern Republican.  He's their Nixon.

Handful of Senate Democrats could block assault weapons ban (CORINNE LESTCH, 1/26/13,NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

Democrats desperately trying to pass an assault weapons ban in the Senate have come up against an unlikely roadblock -- members of their own party.

At least six of the 55 Democratic senators are wary of the ban or have simply shot it down, which means the proposal would be defeated unless the legislators -- all from rural states -- have a change of heart.

Max Baucus and Jon Tester of Montana, Mark Begich of Alaska, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin of West Virginia all oppose the ban. Maine Sen. Angus King, an independent who usually leans left, is another naysayer

Posted by orrinj at 8:32 AM


Frodo versus Robespierre (Joseph Pearce, 1/27/13. Imaginative Conservative)

If a thing is worth doing at all, it's worth doing badly...

This paradoxical witticism of Chesterton was on my mind as I sat down to watch The War of the Vendée, a recent film about the forgotten martyrs of the French Revolution. I was pleased that a film had been made to honour the heroes of the Vendée but I feared that it would be a really bad film. [...]

 Deep down, at the bedrock level of truth, the French Revolution was as evil as anything that the Fellowship of the Ring had to face. Its bloodthirsty secular fundamentalism set the scene for the bloodletting of the next two centuries. In its insatiable war on the Faith, secularism began with the guillotines and the Great Terror and metamorphosed into the Gulag and the gas chamber. Today, of course, it attacks the Faith and the Family and is systematically exterminating the weak and disabled members of society through the plague of abortion.

Make no mistake, Robespierre was one of Satan's greatest servants and the villagers of the Vendée were certainly on the side of the angels. As such, we can be sure that both sides in this epic struggle between good and evil now have their reward. Robespierre would be killed by the same orcs that he had unleashed on the Vendée and his fate after death might be too horrible to contemplate. The heroic villagers of the Vendée, butchered in their thousands by the hordes of revolutionary orcs, are now in the company of the saints, martyrs and angels.

By the time that I had finished watching this wonderful film, I had forgotten about the Chesterton paradox that had been on my mind ninety minutes earlier. Instead, another Chesterton quote came to mind. On his death bed Chesterton had emerged from a sort of reverie and had said: "The issue is now quite clear. It is between light and darkness, and every one must choose his side."

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January 26, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 6:48 AM


Why the Founding Fathers Loved the National Debt (William Hogeland, Jan 25, 2013, Bloomberg)

[T]he Founding Fathers were deeply committed to -- some might say obsessed with -- supporting a national debt. And during the founding period, the threat of default came not from conservatives but from what the founders, at least, saw as a radical left.

It's a fact so little-understood as to remain startling that the Constitution, far from trying to limit federal borrowing and shrink government, was specifically intended to create a large and mighty government capable of taxing all Americans for the purpose of funding a large federal debt.

Although many historians today focus on the Revolutionary War debt to foreign countries, the kind of debt that captivated the founders themselves, and served as one of the main prods to forming a nation, was domestic. It involved multiple tiers of bonds, issued by the wartime Congress and bought by wealthy American investors, who hoped to finance the war in return for tax-free interest payments of 6 percent. The first American financiers, in other words, were also the first American nationalists.

Both the young Alexander Hamilton (savviest of the founders regarding finance) and his mentor Robert Morris (the wartime Congress's superintendent of finance and America's first central banker) believed that a domestic debt, supported by federal taxes collected from all the states, would unify the country. It would concentrate wealth, and yoke that wealth to a consolidated government. The goal was a nation capable of grand projects -- ultimately an economic empire to compete with England's.

Other famous founders worked with Morris and Hamilton in building nationhood around the public debt. James Madison, who became Hamilton's political enemy in the 1790s, was among his closest allies for nationalism in the 1780s. Madison's famous "Federalist No. 10" conveys a horror of default on the domestic debt as deep as anything ever expressed by Hamilton.

In letters written before the Constitutional Convention to George Washington, another supporter of sustaining federal debt via taxes, Madison made clear the nationalists' shared desire to shore up public credit by throwing out the Articles of Confederation and forming a nation. Edmund Randolph opened the convention by charging the delegates to redress the country's failure to fund -- not pay off, fund -- the public debt by creating a national government with the power to do so.

...deep in debt.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:43 AM


A House Divided : Why do middle-class blacks have far less wealth than whites at the same income level? The answer is in real estate and history. (Thomas J. Sugrue, January/February 2013, Washington Monthly)

Every once in a while, a scholarly book fundamentally shifts how we understand a problem. One of those books was published in 1995, two years after my parents sold their house. Sociologists Melvin Oliver and Thomas Shapiro's Black Wealth/White Wealth stepped into a stale debate about race, class, and inequality in the United States with new data and a fresh perspective. The authors acknowledged the gains of the civil rights era: Black-white income gaps had narrowed. Minorities were better represented at elite institutions of higher education than could have been imagined in 1960. And while in the '60s the most prominent black elites were car dealers or owners of "race businesses" that catered to black customers, by the end of the twentieth century the number of black engineers, lawyers, and corporate executives had grown. Newsmagazines trumpeted the high incomes of black sports stars and celebrities. "The New Black Middle Class" became a tagline. African Americans might not have wholly overcome the legacy of centuries of slavery and segregation, but they had come a long way.

But Oliver and Shapiro told another story, a sobering one about the persistent gap between black and white wealth. They methodically gathered and analyzed data about household assets, like real estate holdings, bank accounts, stocks and bonds, cars, and other property, that constitute a family's portfolio. Their findings were staggering: despite all of the gains of the previous quarter century, the median black family had only 8 percent of the household wealth of the median white family. The asset gap was still strikingly wide among middle-class and wealthy blacks, who, despite their high incomes, still had about a third the assets of comparable whites.

The racial wealth gap has several specific causes beyond the broad legacy of systematic racial segregation, discrimination, and unequal opportunity. Wealth is passed down from generation to generation--even if only modestly. But going back generations, blacks had little opportunity to get a stake hold. Upon emancipation, they were mostly penniless, without land or access to credit (see Reid Cramer, "The American Dream, Redeemed," page 45), and almost all blacks were excluded from the various Homestead Acts that, beginning in 1862, allowed so many poor white families to accumulate land and, with it, wealth.

Meanwhile, most African Americans earned too little to save; most lacked access to the loans and capital necessary to start a business or buy stock or own their own homes. Lack of financial assets made African Americans more vulnerable to unemployment and medical emergencies, less likely to be able to pay for their children's college education, and more likely to be stuck with the burden of supporting impoverished parents or to face poverty themselves in old age.

Even with the coming of Social Security and stronger protections for organized labor under the New Deal, most blacks were excluded from the benefits because they worked as tenant farmers or domestics who were not covered by the new plans. Two other Depression-era federal programs--the Home Owners' Loan Corporation and the Federal Housing Administration--encouraged homeownership and bankrolled suburbanization, but in the North and South alike, whole neighborhoods were redlined, many of them black.

Many African Americans lost out on the benefits of the post-World War II GI Bill as well. As Ira Katznelson points out in his book When Affirmative Action Was White, of the 3,229 home, business, and farm loans made under the GI Bill in Mississippi during 1947, black veterans received only two. Until 1968, it was virtually impossible for blacks to get access to the kinds of long-term, low-interest mortgages that made wide-scale homeownership possible.

Even after the passage of civil rights laws, dozens of studies showed that minorities had a harder time getting access to market-rate mortgages. Moreover, black home buyers were likely to be steered to neighborhoods of older housing stock, often in declining central cities, places where housing values often depreciated rather than appreciated. This meant that blacks, if they were lucky enough to be homeowners, were often trapped in neighborhoods on the margins, economically and politically. As it turns out, the Sugrues and the Smiths were fairly typical of the black and white families that Oliver and Shapiro studied in the mid-'90s. And what has happened since then is even more disheartening.

Beginning in the '90s and lasting until the bursting of the real estate bubble, some progress was made. The percentage of black households that owned their own homes increased from 43.3 percent in 1994 to 47.2 percent in 2007. Partly this reflected a still-growing black middle class; partly it reflected important government efforts to end racial discrimination in mortgage lending, along with the arrival of new, responsibly crafted forms of mortgages for which more people, particularly African Americans and Latinos, could qualify.

If we'd had a white president he could have used the stimulus bill to pay off or down these mortgages.
Posted by orrinj at 6:25 AM


I Don't Want My Preschooler to Be a 'Gentleman' (LYNN MESSINA, 1/10/13, NY Times)

My 4-year-old son, Emmett, swallows a spoonful of cereal and asks me if I know what a gentleman is. Surprised, I tell him I have some idea; then I ask what the word means to him.

"A gentleman lets girls go first," he says, explaining that every day at naptime all the girls go to the bathroom before the boys.

His explanation, along with the quiet solemnity with which he delivers it, is completely endearing and yet it makes my heart ache. This adorable little boy, who is only beginning to learn the ways of the world, just got his first lesson in sexism -- and from a teacher who, I don't doubt, believes she's doing something wonderful for womankind.

She isn't the only one.

Start to complain about your preschooler adopting gentlemanly behavior and you quickly discover how out of step you are with the rest of the world. Almost everyone I mention it to thinks it's lovely and sweet. What's the harm in teaching little boys to respect little girls?

...is behaving well even towards women who aren't ladies.

Posted by orrinj at 6:21 AM


Solving the Immigration Puzzle : Some want illegals to return to their native countries and 'wait in line' like everyone else. There is no line. (JEB BUSH AND CLINT BOLICK, 1/24/13, WSJ)

There is no "line." Critics of comprehensive reform often argue that illegal immigrants should return to their native countries and wait in line like everyone else who wants to come to America. But unless they have relatives in the U.S. or can fit within the limited number of work-based visas, no line exists for such individuals.

For most aspiring immigrants, the only means of legal admission to this country is an annual "diversity lottery" that randomly awards visas to 55,000 foreigners. There are roughly 250 applicants for each visa every year. The absence of a meaningful avenue of access increases the pressure for illegal immigration.

The U.S. needs workers of all types. The birthrate in this country has fallen below the level necessary to sustain the population at the very time that millions of Americans are leaving the workforce and expecting retirement benefits. The nation needs energetic young workers to spur the economy and support an ever-increasing social-welfare burden.

The only alternatives to increased immigration are mounting debts or reduced social services. A practicable system of work-based immigration for both high-skilled and low-skilled immigrants--a system that will include a path to citizenship--will help us meet workforce needs, prevent exportation of jobs to foreign countries and protect against the exploitation of workers.

America especially needs high-skill workers. The K-12 education system is not producing nearly enough graduates with the skills needed for a vibrant 21st-century economy. This country has attracted, and still does attract, the best and brightest from throughout the world to its universities and businesses. But once here, even the most talented students are not assured that they will receive visas enabling them to work following graduation, and high-skill workers and entrepreneurs have no sure path to citizenship.

Other nations--including Canada, New Zealand and even China--are luring away students, workers and entrepreneurs with more sensible and welcoming immigration policies. If we do not adapt, we will be increasingly unable to compete.

Amnesty promotes illegal immigration. The U.S. must find a fair way to deal with its 11 million illegal immigrants without sending the message that America's laws can be broken with impunity. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:55 AM


Making the case for negative interest rates (Allan Dodds Frank, 1/25/13, Fortune)

The Federal Reserve, says Blinder, should stop paying interest to banks for their overnight deposits and should move to charge them for parking money. He says if the Fed set negative interest rates for overnight deposits - in effect charging a fee - banks would have to figure out better ways to make money and one obvious alternative would be to lend more to customers. [...]

While citizens fail to understand the positive role the Federal Reserve played, Blinder also says people have a right to be angry about the ongoing practice that encourages banks to keep their deposits out of general circulation.

"I have been advocating - and have not yet quite convinced (Federal Reserve Chairman) Ben Bernanke, although I am still working on it - that the Fed should lower, first to zero and then probably to negative, the interest rate it pays banks for holding reserves at the Fed," Blinder said Thursday. "When I want to be polemical about it, I say things like: 'My bank pays me one basis point on my checking account. Why are you paying my bank 25 basis points on their checking account?'"

The problem, and the proximate cause of our last three soft economic patches, is that we haven't moved on from the 70s.  We require the Fed to be vigilant about an inflation threat that no longer exists. Thus, it periodically cranks rates--especially when there's a new chairman--into the teeth of deflationary pressure.

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January 25, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 9:12 PM


Marco Rubio Begins Conservative Talk Radio Charm Offensive (Jon Ward, 1/24/13, Huffington Post)

On Wednesday, Rubio, the Republican junior senator from Florida, called in to one of the most popular talk shows, the Mark Levin Show.

Levin is the guy who said, a few days after the election, that the immigration issue "had nothing to do with the Republican loss" and that "Republican leaders are really stupid people" for talking about moderating their stance. He's the guy who talked, just earlier this month, about "illegal aliens" being "caught and released" by the government, and the crimes they commit. He called former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush a "panderer" last year for talking about immigration reform. Levin generally likes to yell a lot.

But with Rubio, Levin was soft-spoken and receptive. [...]

"You know this is very fascinating to me," Levin told Rubio at the end of their 10-minute interview. "I am going to take a much closer look at this and I am going to try to keep an open mind about it."

After Rubio got off the phone, Levin was even more laudatory of the senator.

"He and I actually go back a ways. When he was at five percent in the polls, this was the first show to endorse Rubio against [Charlie] Crist, and I'm glad I did. You don't have to agree with everything he said, but listen to him. He's a thinker, he's trying- he's a problem solver. He's a conservative. Like I said, you don't have to agree with everything he said, but he even said, 'Look I'm open to ideas, I'm open to suggestions, let's advance our principles. it's a problem, we've got to address this problem, and he's right. We have de facto amnesty right now. When he said it, it set a light bulb off. Maybe I am a little slow. I said, 'Well he's right, we do have de facto amnesty.' Which is exactly why Obama wants to really do nothing."

8 years of helping elect Democrats is enough?

Posted by orrinj at 6:20 PM


Humans need not apply: A world where technology replaces workers : First automated toll stations, now self-checkouts at supermarkets. Martin Ford ponders a world where machines have taken all the jobs, devastating the economy, and leaving people aching for something more.  (Paul Wiseman, 1/23/13, Associated Press)

[I]n 2009 he thought through what would happen to the economy if machines kept replacing human workers. The result was his book, "The Lights in the Tunnel."

Ford, 49, describes a nightmare scenario. Machines leave 75 percent of American workers unemployed by 2089. Consumer spending collapses. Even those who are still working slash spending and save everything they can; they fear their jobs are doomed, too. As people lose work, they stop contributing to Social Security, potentially bankrupting the retirement system.

Ford knows that his apocalyptic vision defies history. For two centuries, technological advances -- from steam power to the combustion engine -- have delivered more economic growth, more wealth, more and better jobs. "The historical argument is compelling," he says. "It's been going on for 200 years."

But this time is different, Ford contends. 

...more economic growth, more wealth, fewer jobs.

Posted by orrinj at 5:02 PM


Senators nearing agreement on broad immigration reform proposal (Rosalind S. Helderman and David Nakamura, January 25, 2013, Washington Post)

A working group of senators from both parties is nearing agreement on broad principles for overhauling the nation's immigration laws, representing the most substantive bipartisan effort toward comprehensive legislation in years.

The six members have met quietly since the November election, most recently on Wednesday. Congressional aides stressed there is not yet final agreement, but they have eyed next Friday as a target date for a possible public announcement.

The talks mark the most in-depth negotiations involving members of both parties since a similar effort broke down in 2010 without producing a bill.

"We have basic agreement on many of the core principles," Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), a member of the group, said this week.

January 24, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 5:33 AM


America's fiscal policy is not in crisis (Martin Wolf, 1/22/13, Financial Times)

Start, then, with the medium-term prospects. In a widely cited piece, published this month by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Richard Kogan argues that "policymakers can stabilize the public debt over the coming decade ... with $1.4tn in additional deficit savings". The explanation for this improved medium-term outlook is a combination of economic recovery and policy measures, particularly the Budget Control Act of August 2011 and the American Taxpayer Relief Act enacted this month. Moreover, because of savings on interest payments, policy makers could achieve this amount of deficit reduction with just $1.2tn in further savings. That would be just 0.6 per cent of prospective gross domestic product, even on the pessimistic assumption that nominal GDP grows at an annual rate of just 4 per cent.

Under these assumptions, the ratio of debt to GDP would stabilise at about 73 per cent (see chart). Would this be unbearable? No. At current real interest rates, the cost would be zero. Even if real rates of interest were to rise to, say, 3 per cent, the fiscal cost, in real terms, would be a mere 2 per cent of GDP. That is perfectly manageable.

Now consider the long term. On this, the Congressional Budget Office notes in its 2012 Long-Term Budget Outlook that "if current laws remained in place, spending on the major federal health care programs alone would grow from more than 5 per cent of GDP today to almost 10 per cent in 2037 and would continue to increase thereafter. Spending on Social Security is projected to rise much less sharply, from 5 per cent of GDP today to more than 6 per cent in 2030 and subsequent decades ... Absent substantial increases in federal revenues, such growth in outlays would result in greater debt burdens than the US has ever experienced." To be precise, under the assumption that revenue is kept at 18.5 per cent of GDP, just above the average of the past 40 years, debt held by the public could reach 200 per cent of GDP by 2040.

In the long run, then, the federal government must raise receipts above historic averages; slow the rising costs of healthcare; or, more plausibly, do some of both. To non-Americans, neither should be difficult. This is because of two salient features of the contemporary US economy: extreme income inequality and health inefficiency. [...]

[B]ehind these forecasts for government spending lies a dramatic prospect for overall private and public spending on health, which would rise "from about 17 per cent of GDP now to almost one-quarter by 2037". Already, the US spends a far higher share of GDP on healthcare than other high-income countries. In 2010, its total health spending was 17.6 per cent of GDP. The spending of the next highest, the Netherlands, was just 12 per cent. Even the US public sector spent a higher share of GDP than the UK. Yet US life expectancy, to take just one indicator, was a mere 78.7, against 80.6 in the UK (see chart).

January 23, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 8:20 PM


The Myth of a Stagnant Middle Class : Household spending on food, housing, utilities, etc. has fallen from 53% of disposable income in 1950 to 32% today. (DONALD J. BOUDREAUX AND MARK J. PERRY, 1/23/13, WSJ)

Third and most important, the average hourly wage is held down by the great increase of women and immigrants into the workforce over the past three decades. Precisely because the U.S. economy was flexible and strong, it created millions of jobs for the influx of many often lesser-skilled workers who sought employment during these years.

Since almost all lesser-skilled workers entering the workforce in any given year are paid wages lower than the average, the measured statistic, "average hourly wage," remained stagnant over the years--even while the real wages of actual flesh-and-blood workers employed in any given year rose over time as they gained more experience and skills.

These three factors tell us that flat average wages over time don't necessarily support a narrative of middle-class stagnation. Still, pessimists reject these arguments. Rather than debate esoteric matters such as how to properly adjust for inflation, however, let's examine some other measures of middle-class living standards.

No single measure of well-being is more informative or important than life expectancy. Happily, an American born today can expect to live approximately 79 years--a full five years longer than in 1980 and more than a decade longer than in 1950. These longer life spans aren't just enjoyed by "privileged" Americans. As the New York Times reported this past June 7, "The gap in life expectancy between whites and blacks in America has narrowed, reaching the lowest point ever recorded." This necessarily means that life expectancy for blacks has risen even more impressively than it has for whites.

Americans are also much better able to enjoy their longer lives. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, spending by households on many of modern life's "basics"--food at home, automobiles, clothing and footwear, household furnishings and equipment, and housing and utilities--fell from 53% of disposable income in 1950 to 44% in 1970 to 32% today.

One underappreciated result of the dramatic fall in the cost (and rise in the quality) of modern "basics" is that, while income inequality might be rising when measured in dollars, it is falling when reckoned in what's most important--our ability to consume. Before airlines were deregulated, for example, commercial jet travel was a luxury that ordinary Americans seldom enjoyed. Today, air travel for many Americans is as routine as bus travel was during the disco era, thanks to a 50% decline in the real price of airfares since 1980.

Shhhh...the white middle class doesn't like to be bothered with facts when they're whingeing.

Posted by orrinj at 8:15 PM


Major league heart (Rick Reilly, 1/22/13, ESPN.com)

"I read where the soldiers over there get lonely and bored," says Albitz, who spent time with the Memphis Redbirds (Triple-A) last season. "I feel that way sometimes, you know? New town, new team all the time. And I'm just playing baseball. These guys are putting their lives on the line for us. I just thought somebody ought to thank them for it."

Albitz read an article somewhere in which a soldier was asked what he'd most like to have sent to him. "Two gloves and a baseball," the soldier replied. And something clicked in Albitz's brain.
He's sent nearly 300 this offseason so far, all by himself.

"It helps not to have a girlfriend," Albitz says.

He does it out of his parents' house in Torrance, Calif. His dad oils the gloves and fixes the strings and Vance fills the boxes, adds a note and ships them off. Getting the gloves donated isn't easy, but getting the money to ship them (about $25 per box) is even harder.

His goal is to send 1,000 by the time he reports to Cardinals spring training on Feb. 23. "Then I've really got to stop."

Posted by orrinj at 5:29 AM


Why All U.S. States Should Eliminate The Income Tax (Francis DeLuca, 1/23/13, Forbes)

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman, and Kansas Governor Sam Brownback have all called for their states to eliminate their income tax and replace it with a sales tax over the past week. They were joined yesterday morning by North Carolina, where the Senate President Pro Tempore, Phil Berger, confirmed the legislature and the Governor, Pat McCrory, would pursue serious tax reform this session. Indeed, a senate proposal being crafted into legislation includes a repeal of North Carolina's personal and corporate income taxes along with an expanded sales tax. [...]

The Civitas report evaluates the economic benefits from eliminating the personal income tax, the corporate income tax, and the franchise tax, all of which penalize businesses and hinder job creation. In place of the old taxes, the reform calls for a new consumption-based tax system, largely via expanding and slightly increasing the state sales tax.

The findings of this study show the proposal is a recipe for economic growth and more jobs. The Civitas study shows that such consumption-based tax reform can increase North Carolina's average annual rate of personal income growth by 0.38 percent to 0.66 percent. It also shows that states without a personal income tax have average annual growth rates 0.5 percent higher than other states, while states without corporate income taxes average a full percentage point higher each year.

But what do those figures really mean? If a consumption-based tax reform like this had been passed in 2000, North Carolina would be an entirely different place. In dollar terms, total personal income would have been between $14.4 billion and $25.0 billion higher, a 4 to 7 percent increase over the state's actual 2011 total personal income. This is an additional $1,500 to $2,600 in income per worker.

Posted by orrinj at 5:23 AM


David Cameron calls for UK exemption from EU's 'ever-closer' union (Nicholas Watt, 1/23/13, guardian.co.uk)

David Cameron has outlined the scale of his ambition to transform the terms of Britain's membership of the EU by calling for the UK to be exempted from its founding principle: the creation of an ever-closer union.

In his long-awaited speech on the EU, the prime minister cast himself as a modern-day heretic as he pledged to challenge established thinking.

Speaking at the London headquarters of Bloomberg, Cameron confirmed plans to hold an in-out referendum after the next election but warned: "The biggest danger to the European Union comes not from those who advocate change, but from those who denounce new thinking as heresy. In its long history Europe has experience of heretics who turned out to have a point."

January 22, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 7:33 PM


Exports Sagging? Try Some Free Trade : The president did little to open markets during his first term. Here's hoping for the second one. (MATTHEW J. SLAUGHTER, 1/22/13, WSJ)

Amid slow economic growth abroad and little movement in the American dollar, the key to spurring U.S. exports is aggressive policy liberalization. Yet how many new U.S. free-trade agreements were negotiated and ratified during President Obama's first term? Zero. How many new agreements look likely to be negotiated and ratified in 2013? Zero. For America to achieve the president's National Export Initiative goal, these zeros must soon be replaced with bold new trade agreements.

These agreements should carefully target countries and industries. That can make a real difference. No disrespect to our 20 current free-trade-agreement partner countries, but last year they collectively accounted for only 10.5% of global GDP. China alone accounts for about the same amount. Why not negotiate a China-U.S. free-trade agreement?

Most estimates peg the U.S. as the world's single-largest exporter of services. In 2011, American exports of services--in technology and entertainment and including tourism to this country--were worth $604.9 billion. Given that America's long-standing and growing trade surplus with the rest of the world ($179 billion in 2011) reflects a comparative advantage in strengths that should be cultivated at home, including skilled labor, information technology and organizational capital, why not negotiate a global free-trade agreement in major service industries like consulting, entertainment and software?

To work, such trade agreements cannot be mercantilist: They should open U.S. borders to foreign exports as well as foreign borders to U.S. exports. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:27 PM


Snaps: Gronk effect with 4th option (Mike Reiss, 1/22/13, ESPNBoston.com)

Snaps played by Patriots skill-position players in the team's 28-13 AFC Championship Game loss to the Ravens, while analyzing what it means (small margin for error): 

QB Tom Brady -- 83 of 83 
TE Aaron Hernandez - 83 of 83 
WR Brandon Lloyd - 82 of 83 
WR Wes Welker - 80 of 83 
WR Deion Branch - 39 of 83 
RB Stevan Ridley - 35 of 83 
RB Danny Woodhead - 31 of 83 
TE Daniel Fells - 30 of 83 
RB Shane Vereen - 17 of 83 
TE Michael Hoomanawanui - 16 of 83 
TE Marcus Cannon - 1 of 83 
TE Donald Thomas - 1 of 83  [...]

Aaron Hernandez and Brandon Lloyd were each targeted 14 times, while Wes Welker was targeted 12 times. There was a big drop-off after that. Fells and Hoomanawanui weren't targeted at all, while Branch was targeted twice on his 39 snaps.

Posted by orrinj at 5:29 AM


Let elderly people 'hurry up and die', says Japanese minister (Justin McCurry, 1/22/13, guardian.co.uk)

Japan's new government is barely a month old, and already one of its most senior members has insulted tens of millions of voters by suggesting that the elderly are an unnecessary drain on the country's finances.

Taro Aso, the finance minister, said on Monday that the elderly should be allowed to "hurry up and die" to relieve pressure on the state to pay for their medical care.

"Heaven forbid if you are forced to live on when you want to die. I would wake up feeling increasingly bad knowing that [treatment] was all being paid for by the government," he said during a meeting of the national council on social security reforms. "The problem won't be solved unless you let them hurry up and die."

Aso's comments are likely to cause offence in Japan, where almost a quarter of the 128 million population is aged over 60. The proportion is forecast to rise to 40% over the next 50 years.

Ya think?

January 21, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 8:59 PM

Louis Armstrong and His All Stars Live in Belgium, 1959: The Full Show (Open Culture, January 10th, 2013)

Duke Ellington once said of Louis Armstrong, "He was born poor, died rich, and never hurt anyone on the way."

The grandson of slaves, Armstrong grew up in the poorest neighborhood of New Orleans. As a child he was fascinated with the marching bands that played in funeral processions. At the age of seven he went to work for a junk dealer. He would ride on the junk wagon and, as he recalled later, toot an old tin horn "as a call for old rags, bones, bottles or anything that the people and the kids had to sell." When the young boy saw an old cornet in the window of a pawn shop, he asked his boss to loan him the five dollars to buy it. He learned to play the instrument in the Home for Colored Waifs, where he was sent for delinquency. The gifted youngster soon caught the attention of the pioneering jazz cornetist Joe "King" Oliver, who became his mentor. In 1922 Armstrong joined Oliver in Chicago to play in his famous Creole Jazz Band. He was 21 years old. Before long Armstrong set out on his own, and in 1925 began recording his legendary "Hot Five" sessions that established him as a virtuoso and changed the course of jazz history. [...]

Marsalis's comments are from the foreward to the Jazz Icons DVD Louis Armstrong: Live in '59. The concert, shown above, was filmed in March of 1959 in Antwerp, Belgium. It may be the only full Armstrong concert captured on film.

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Posted by orrinj at 8:14 PM


Xolos' winning ways attract soccer fans north and south (Kevin Baxter, January 20, 2013, LA Times)

When Bob Filner was sworn in as mayor of San Diego last month, he delivered part of his inauguration speech in Spanish.

Apparently you don't become a 10-term congressman or mayor of the country's eighth-largest city without knowing your audience. And while some parts of the U.S.-Mexico border have more cultural tension--such as Arizona--residents living on both sides of the San Diego-Tijuana boundary tend to see the area as one region rather than two countries.

It's a region that now has a championship soccer team in the Xoloitzcuintles of Tijuana, which won the Mexican first division title the day before Filner took office.

"The virtue of having una region y dos ciudades is when our guys are not doing well -- like the Chargers -- we have champions," Filner, switching from English to Spanish and back again, told the soccer team during its visit to San Diego three weeks later. "So you're our champions also.... Everyone in San Diego is following you."

Don't believe him? Just check the dirt parking lot surrounding the Xoloitzcuintles' new 23,000-seat stadium. Many of those who came to last weekend's 2013 home opener arrived in cars with California plates, supporting team estimates that one-third of its fan base lives in the U.S. and as many as 5,000 people regularly cross the border for games.

"It's the nature of both cities," says assistant general manager Roberto Cornejo, who, like many fans, lives in San Diego. "They're sister cities crossed by the border. And something like sports especially -- and soccer even more -- transcends that border.

"You get fans from both countries, from both cultures, uniting and celebrating."

Posted by orrinj at 6:40 PM


Israel's moderate voices won't be heard at this general election (Peter Oborne, 21 Jan 2013, The Telegraph)

In the Great Synagogue in central Jerusalem a young, articulate politician is making the case for an Israeli peace deal with the Palestinians. Hisses and boos erupt from the floor. The young woman carries on regardless. 
But it is all too clear that Laura Wharton, a Harvard graduate and mother of two who represents Meretz (one of Israel's smaller political parties) does not reflect the mood of the audience of more than 500 Israeli voters.

An hour earlier, the same audience had clapped encouragingly as a rival politician made a speech in which he called for the Palestinians to be thrown out of the West Bank in what he called a "religious war".
Arieh Eldad, a plastic surgeon and retired Israeli army brigadier who specialises in treating burns, declared that "the land of Israel belongs to the people of Israel and nobody else", adding that "this is a religious war. We are here because God promised the land of Israel to the Jewish people."

Caustically attacking Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu for once speaking in favour of a two-state solution, Eldad insisted: "We must end the occupation. Of course I'm referring to the Muslim occupation of the land of Israel, starting in the seventh century." The crowd clapped as he added: "The Palestinians already have a state - in Jordan."

It is shocking to hear talk of this kind, with its ugly endorsement of ethnic cleansing, in any country. And it is especially shocking to hear it in Israel's Great Synagogue, and from a respected member of the national assembly, the Knesset.

To whom?

Rising Chorus Backs Israeli Annexation of West Bank : Extreme Option Is Openly Floated in Ruling Party Ranks (Nathan Jeffay, January 21, 2013, Forward)

Despite their reputation as two of Netanyahu's favorites in the Likud party, Yuli Edelstein, a Cabinet minister, and Ze'ev Elkin, chairman of the Likud's Knesset coalition, have called for gradually annexing the West Bank. And while they have left the details vague, they apparently foresee some Palestinians who live there becoming Israeli citizens.

Though Netanyahu has supported a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since 2009, the ideas of his two close associates have significant, if still minority, support within the Likud's Knesset ranks. The annexation move also has the full and vigorous support of the Jewish Home party, the Orthodox Zionist party that is expected to emerge from the January 22 elections as the second-largest party on the right and at least the third largest in the Knesset.

When the right-wing activist group Women in Green organized a special pre-election "sovereignty" conference, Edelstein, who is minister of Information and Diaspora, and Elkin addressed the 800-strong audience from the podium. The Jerusalem event was Women in Green's third "sovereignty" conference -- but the first that has attracted ruling Likud party members of this stature.

Polling commissioned by the group and conducted ahead of the conference by The New Wave Research, one of Israel's largest polling companies, concluded that 73% of Israelis who consider themselves right-wing support annexation. Only 9% opposed the idea.

Posted by orrinj at 6:13 PM


Pursuing Ambitious Global Goals, but Strategy is More (DAVID E. SANGER, 1/21/13, NY Times)

Bitter experience -- from getting the most modest arms control agreement through the Senate his first year, trying and failing to engage leaders in Iran and North Korea, discovering his lack of leverage over Egypt, Pakistan and Israel, and finding Afghanistan to be a costly waste of American lives and resources -- is driving him to a strategy reminiscent of one of his Republican predecessors, President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

It is a strategy in which Mr. Obama will try to redirect world events subtly, rather than turning to big treaties, big military interventions and big aid packages.

"The appeal of the Eisenhower approach is that it had a big element of turning inward, of looking to rebuilding strength at home, of conserving American power," said one of Mr. Obama's senior national security advisers, who would not agree to be quoted by name.

Some presidencies are ambitious--like Reagan and W's--some just consolidate the gains of their predecessors.  If he can pull off a treaty with the EU, Mr. Obama will resemble Clinton more than Ike.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


-AUDIO: Martin Luther King, Jr: "I've Been to the Mountaintop" (American Rhetoric)

The Reverend King had gone pretty far wrong by then, descending into stock Leftism -- welfare mau-mauing and appeasement of the Soviet Union -- but while he didn't get to the Promised Land with us he did get us there. When you listen to his speeches you realize how important it was to have the leader of the civil rights movement make moral claims rooted in Judeo-Christianity upon an American people informed by the faith. He succeeded because we could not be both segregationist and American.

[originally posted: 4/04/07]

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January 20, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 9:26 AM


The Cleric Behind 'Les Mis' : Author Victor Hugo was anticlerical, yet his tale's hero is set on course by a Catholic bishop. (DORIS DONNELLY, 1/03/13, WSJ)

As Hugo worked on the novel, his son Charles, then in his 20s, objected to the reverential treatment of the bishop. He argued to his father that the portrayal gave undeserved respect to a corrupt clergy, bestowing credibility on a Roman Catholic Church opposed to the democratic ideals that he and his father held. Charles instead proposed that the catalyst for Jean Valjean's transformation be a lawyer or doctor or anyone else from a secular profession.

The pushback didn't work. Not only did Hugo hold his ground, but he amplified the importance of Charles-François Bienvenue Myriel, affectionately known in the novel as Monseigneur Bienvenue (Bishop Welcome). The book's first hundred pages or so are a detailed chronicle of Myriel's exemplary life, showing that his intervention on behalf of Jean Valjean was part of a long track record and not a singular aberration. Apparently Hugo recognized no contradiction between his anticlericalism and the possibility--or certainty--that grace could be mediated by a just priest who was transparent to the divine and never betrayed the human.

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Posted by orrinj at 9:20 AM


The untried colors of Bennett : Had the campaign lasted any longer, there's no telling how much more support Netanyahu would have lost (DAVID HOROVITZ, January 20, 2013,  Times of Israel)

The Likud held a not terribly impressive 27 seats in the outgoing Knesset. Avigdor Liberman's Yisrael Beytenu held 15. But far from raising their joint total beyond 42 in these elections, the polls show the two parties, running together as Likud-Beytenu, can expect no more than 34-38 seats. The Netanyahu-Liberman alliance seems to have alienated many of the Likud's traditional and Orthodox voters, who are switching in droves to Naftali Bennett's Jewish Home party. And pro-settlement voters are switching to Bennett too, concerned that Netanyahu is not reliably committed to expanding settlements -- which is somewhat ironic, given President Barack Obama's reported assessment that Netanyahu's insistent settlement-building plans will come to spell an existential threat to Israel.

In these final weeks of the campaign, while Netanyahu limps toward the finish line, the momentum is emphatically with Jewish Home -- boosted, not harmed, by Bennett's assessment that an IDF order to dismantle settlements is fundamentally illegal; and undeterred by US-born Jewish Home prospective MK Jeremy Gimpel's documented relish for the theoretical prospect of a new Jewish temple replacing a "blown up" Dome of the Rock atop the Temple Mount.

Posted by orrinj at 8:11 AM


Eyes Wide Shut : a review of Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief By Lawrence Wright (MICHAEL KINSLEY, 1/20/13, NY Times Book Review)

[W]right's book, "Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief," makes clear that Scientology is like no church on Earth (or, in all probability, Venus or Mars either). The closest institutional parallel would be the Communist Party in its heyday: the ruthless struggles for power, the show trials and forced confessions (often false); the paranoia (often justified); the determination to control its members' lives completely (the key difference, you will recall, between authoritarian and totalitarian regimes, according to the onetime American ambassador to the United Nations Jeane Kirkpatrick); the maintenance of something close to prison camps where dissenters, would-be defectors and power-struggle rivals were incarcerated in deplorable conditions for years and punished if they tried to escape; what the book describes as mysterious deaths and disappearances; and so on. Except that while the American Communist Party, including a few naïve Hollywood types, merely turned a blind eye to events happening in faraway Russia, Scientology -- if Wright is to be believed, and I think he is -- ran, and maybe still runs, a shadow totalitarian empire here in the United States, financed in part by huge contributions by Tom Cruise and others of the Hollywood aristocracy. ­"Naïve" doesn't begin to describe the credulousness and sense of entitlement that has allowed actors, writers and directors to think they were helping themselves and the world by hanging around the Scientologists' "Celebrity Centre," taking "upper level" courses and gossiping about who was about to be labeled a "Suppressive Person" (bad guy).

Wright's last book, "The Looming Tower," a history of Al Qaeda, won the Pulitzer Prize. He is also the author of, among other books, a charmingly presumptuous premature autobiography, "In the New World," published in 1987. He belongs to a small cult of his own -- an Austin-centered group of writers dedicated to preserving long-form narrative journalism. With this book, he's certainly paid his dues for a few years.

Wright is well advised to be calm and seem neutral in his presentation of the Scientology story, since the group has been known to make life miserable for its critics, its favorite weapon being the lawsuit, often brought in order to bury the defendant in legal costs and hassles. The purpose of a lawsuit is "to harass and discourage rather than to win," Hubbard said. Perhaps, though, this knowledge that any mistake will be abnormally costly does lend added credibility to Wright's vast research and reporting.

Among the horrors Wright either uncovers or borrows (with credit) from previous Scientology exposés in Time magazine and The St. Petersburg (now Tampa Bay) Times is "the Hole," a hellish double-wide trailer parked at a California resort owned by the church. Forty or 50 people were housed there with no furniture or beds, eating leftovers, enduring cold-hose group showers. There are stories of people being beaten; and lots of stories of forced divorces, mandatory "disconnections" -- orders not to talk with a spouse or friend who has offended in some way. But only once in 430 pages filled with lurid anecdotes did my skeptical antennas start to twitch. Wright asserts that someone was punished by being "made to run around a pole in the desert for 12 hours a day, until his teeth fell out." Really? That's the first thing that happens when you run in circles in the desert all day? I need to know more. How many days are we talking about? Did they let him floss?

But I shouldn't jest. Wright's favorite Scientologist, at least in this life, is the television and film writer Paul Haggis. (He wrote and directed "Crash," which won the Academy Award for best picture in 2006.) Haggis talked at length with Wright and therefore gets off way too easily in the retelling. I was about to write that Haggis is no fool, but let me amend that: he is no fool in the particular matter of cooperating with the author of a book about events you were involved in. In Washington it's called the Bob Woodward rule -- always talk, or you'll regret it.

Haggis is quoted advising Tom Cruise to have a sense of humor about himself, "something that is often lacking in Scientology," Wright says dryly, in one of the few passages where he shows his cards. That is certainly true, and possibly a problem, but if so it is among the least of them. When people are running something akin to a private gulag across the United States and, to a lesser extent, the entire world, who cares whether they get the joke? And what is the joke, exactly?

That they think they're entitled to be treated like a religion.
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Posted by orrinj at 8:01 AM


The Making Of A Coach (DAVID HALBERSTAM, 10/17/05, Sports Illustrated)

BILL BELICHICK was born in Nashville in 1952, when Steve, already considered an exceptional coach--tough and smart, original and demanding, way ahead of the curve in the drills he devised and, in addition to everything else, a brilliant scout--was in the process of being fired as an assistant coach at Vanderbilt, even though the team he was part of had done reasonably well.

Thus Bill Belichick entered a world rather typical for the son of a lifer. By the time he was a toddler, his parents had already given up the lease on their house and put their furniture in storage, and his father was waiting for word on a next job. The head coach they had followed to Vanderbilt, an immensely popular man named Bill Edwards ( William Stephen Belichick was named both for Bill Edwards and for his father), was well connected in the world of coaching, liked by almost everyone, but it was late in the year, and there were not a lot of openings.

It was a difficult moment. On Steve's tiny salary the Belichicks had not been able to save any money. The phone, which was supposed to be ringing with job offers, did not ring. There was talk that Bill Edwards might be offered an assistant's job at North Carolina and that if he were, Steve Belichick might become a part of his team, but it was still just talk. Time was running out. Finally, with Jeannette Belichick's help, a game plan was formulated: They would pile everything they had into the car and drive east. Somewhere along the way they would stop and call the Carolina people. If the job was there, they would continue on to Chapel Hill; if there was no word, they would leave the uncertain world of college coaching, and Steve would try to find a job in Florida coaching high school football.

In Knoxville, not quite halfway to Chapel Hill, the Belichicks pulled up alongside a restaurant, and Steve got out and called from a pay phone. The Carolina job was his. So they went to Chapel Hill, and the idea of coaching high school football was put aside, at least for the moment. The Belichick family loved Chapel Hill, and the job there lasted three years, 1953 to '55, before they were all once again fired.

From there Steve Belichick managed to get a job as an assistant coach at Navy. Bill was three years old when they went to Annapolis, Md. Steve loved it there, loved coaching the Midshipmen, and decided he would stay there permanently if he could. He did not long to be a head coach--he had seen how quickly they came and went, even when they were talented, like his friend Bill Edwards. He did not need the title or the power. He decided everything he needed was right there: a solid program (Navy still had nationally ranked teams in those days), great young men, an attractive community, wonderful colleagues.

Steve Belichick was one of those rare Americans who, though ambitious and exceptionally hardworking, knew when he had a deal that suited him, and he had no urge for greener pastures, which in his shrewd estimate might in fact not be greener. Over the years he turned down countless job offers from other colleges and from the pros. And he did another shrewd thing: At Chapel Hill he had become close to the Carolina basketball coach, the legendary Frank McGuire, who had taken a special liking to the Belichick family and especially to its three-year-old son. Basketball practice always stopped when Steve and Bill showed up, and someone was ordered to find a ball, always brand new, to roll out to Bill. When McGuire heard that the Belichicks were going to Navy, he told Steve to do what his friend Ben Carnevale, the basketball coach there, had done, which was to try and move up on a tenure track as a physical education instructor in addition to coaching. This would protect him from the volatility and uncertainty of the coach's life. Steve took the advice and became an assistant professor and then a tenured associate professor. That gave him something rare in the world of coaching, job security, and he ended up staying at Navy for 33 years, under eight head coaches. Coaching at Annapolis, he said, "was like dying and going to heaven."

Steve Belichick was an original teacher, and he had a rare skill in preparing players for a game, because he had no equal as a scout. "The best scout I've ever seen--the amount of detail and knowledge was unmatched," said Mac Robinson, who had played for him at Vanderbilt. "If Steve said something was going to happen in a game, then it was going to happen in a game." Other players agreed. "Best scout in the precomputer age that football ever had," said Don Gleisner, who played defensive back at Vanderbilt. "Nothing was left to chance." Steve did not prepare with broad generalities but with minutiae, detail after detail. Each player, he felt, should go into a game feeling he had a distinct advantage over the player he was matched up against.

Years later Bill Belichick would understand what made his father such a good scout: the absolute dedication to his craft, the belief that it was important, and the fact that so many people--the people who paid his salary, his colleagues and the young men who played for him--were depending on him. "What I learned," Steve's son would say years later, "was that it was not just a game, it was a job."

STEVE BELICHICK also passed on to his son--a far more privileged young man operating in an infinitely more affluent America--a relentless work ethic, one that had been part of his own boyhood as the son of Croatian immigrants who had settled in Youngstown, Ohio, and had survived the Depression. The lessons of that difficult childhood and young manhood were never forgotten. If you were new in the country and your name was Belichick (or Bilicic, as it had been until it was changed by a first-grade teacher in Monessen, Pa., who had trouble spelling it), you were likely to get the worst jobs available. But you always worked hard. You always did your best. You did not complain. You wasted nothing. You had to be careful in good times because bad times would surely follow. Nothing was to be bought on credit. As a high school fullback Steve had earned a scholarship at Western Reserve, but just to remind himself how lucky he was, he had taken a job in the mills during the months after graduation, turning coal into coke for 49 cents an hour, unbearably hot, unpleasant and dangerous work. Nothing else in his life would ever seem hard again.

Steve's son would eventually have two childhoods: a normal American childhood and then a football childhood. As a boy he spoke two languages: English and coach-speak, football version. (At 13, he would talk to his coach about whether his team should use a wide-tackle-six defense--that is, a six-man balanced front, with two linebackers--or, against teams that had a better passing attack, the Oklahoma, a five-man front with two linebackers and four defensive backs arrayed like an umbrella.) Other kids had their hobbies: Some collected postage stamps, and others had baseball cards. Bill studied football film. It seemed natural to him, and he had a great aptitude for it--plus, it allowed him to spend a good deal of time with his father. He was about five when he saw his first game, and when he was taken at that age to what he was told was the William and Mary game, he wondered aloud if William would beat Mary.

He started hanging out with Steve at Navy practices when he was six or seven, and by the time he was nine he would make a scouting trip with Steve once a year--compensation for the fact that his father was away so much on weekends scouting. Bill loved making that annual trip; his father seemed so important a figure in a world that the boy admired and was gradually coming to understand. On Monday nights, after his father had scouted an opponent, Bill was allowed to go with him (if his homework was finished) to do the breakdown of the upcoming opponent for the whole Navy team. He would sit there, transfixed by the serious way these wonderful athletes listened to his father and the respect they showed him.

In a way it was as if Bill were part of a larger family. When Ernie Jorge, the Navy line coach, did the final game plan on Friday night, he always made an extra copy and put it in an envelope with Bill Belichick's name on it. "He'd get the report and go up to his room and study the plays," Steve Belichick said years later. "I think he was nine at the time, but he knew 28 was a sweep, 26 was off tackle. He knew all the pass plays, the banana and the down-and-out." What Bill remembered best about his father in those years, perhaps the most important thing of all, was that he seemed to come home from work happy each night and always seemed eager to go to work, and that the men he worked with obviously respected him greatly.

Very early on, Bill Belichick, not surprisingly, started seeing the game through the eyes of a coach. Studying the game and scouting off film is exhausting, repetitive work that can quickly turn into drudgery, as there is no shortcut: You have to run the film forward, run it back, run it forward again and run it back again two or three more times. To most people, a quick view of what another team did was enough. But for Steve Belichick and soon enough for his son, that quick view was a ticket into a secret world, in which you could find so much more than what was on the surface: the way players lined up for different plays, the difference in cadences for running and passing plays--all the things that might give you an edge.

Football was always on young Bill's mind. When he was in class--and he generally got good grades--he was thinking football and drawing up plays. Some 35 years after he left Annapolis High, Jeannette Belichick found some of her son's old notebooks, including one from French class. She opened it to find not very much in the way of French verbs, but a lot of football plays that had been diagrammed, his secret world of X's and O's.

Steve Belichick taught thousands of players and younger coaches, many of whom went on to prominent jobs, but in the end his greatest pupil was his son. He taught him many things, including how to scout and to study film and what position to play--center--because the boy was smart and strong for his size but was not going to be very big, not on a football-player scale, and because, even more important, he was not going to be particularly fast. Steve knew that early on because Bill had heavy ankles. That was the first thing he looked for when he was recruiting, the ankles, because they were a tip-off on speed. Center was the right position for Bill because he would know the game, and a smart center who knew how to read a defense was always valuable. So, as a result, a particular repetitive sound, a kind of thud, filled the Belichick house in Bill's teenage years: the sound of him centering the ball against a mat hanging on a wall in the basement. If anyone had helped create the extraordinary coach who stood there, soaked in Gatorade, that evening of his third Super Bowl win, it was Steve Belichick. At that moment his son stood at the pinnacle of his profession.

WHAT FOOTBALL men--coaches and players alike--admire about Bill Belichick more than anything else is his ability to create a team in an age when the outside forces working against it seem more powerful every year and often the more talented a player is, the more he needs to display his ego, to celebrate his own deeds rather than team deeds. A fan can now watch truly bizarre scenes on Sunday: a player, his team down by four touchdowns, making a good catch and dancing as if he'd just won a championship. Belichick, as much as anyone in football, tries to limit that and to make New England win and behave at all times like a team.

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Posted by orrinj at 7:45 AM


Zionism's New Boss : Under rookie politician Naftali Bennett, religious Zionism is finally becoming Israel's political mainstream (Liel Leibovitz, January 14, 2013, Tablet)

Naftali Bennett's press conference late last month was to the Israeli election cycle what a high-speed car chase is to a middling Hollywood action movie. With the chronicle of Bibi Netanyahu's re-election more or less foretold, Israelis were vying for a shot of adrenaline that would rescue what had otherwise become a bloodless procedural, and Bennett was on hand to deliver.

The chase began on Thursday night, Dec. 20, when Bennett, the young and charismatic head of Habayit Hayehudi--literally, the Jewish Home--a right-of-center religious party soaring in the polls, was interviewed by Nissim Mishal, one of Israel's most revered television journalists. The veteran reporter wasted no time. He grilled Bennett, Netanyahu's one-time chief of staff, about his allegedly strained relationship with his former boss. He called Bennett delusional for believing that it was possible for Israel to continue to object to the establishment of a Palestinian state in the face of mounting international pressure. For the first 15 minutes, they maintained a tense conversation, but nothing out of the ordinary for Israeli TV, where interviews are a contact sport and civility a sign of weakness. But Mishal had an ace up his sleeve.

At some point, his tone grew noticeably quieter. "You're a major in reserve, right?" he asked Bennett, a former officer in one of the army's elite units. Bennett confirmed that this was true. "If," Mishal continued, "you were given an order to evacuate a [Jewish] outpost or settlement, what would you do?"

For a few seconds, the studio was silent. The question, Mishal knew, placed Bennett in a lose-lose scenario: As the former head of the settlers' council, Bennett would be expected to declare that he would never agree to dismantle settlements, but as an ascendant political superstar whose surprising popularity was based on his image as a laid-back moderate, he was obliged to reassure his voters of his fealty to the rule of law.

"If I," Bennett began his reply, but Mishal, impatient, interrupted. Waving his hand, the journalist bellowed: "Don't beat around the bush! No speeches! What would you do?"

Bennett hunched his shoulders, looking at Mishal the way a boxer eyes his opponent just before the first punch is thrown. "Listen," he said, "listen. If I get an order to evacuate a Jew from his home, to expel him, me, personally, my conscience would not let me do it. I'll ask my commander to excuse me, but I won't publicly call on others to refuse an order. I personally can't ..." [...]

His money bought him the freedom to dabble in politics, first as Netanyahu's aide and then as the leader of the settler movement. But politics were a much wider, and much muddier, field than the self-contained environments to which Bennett was accustomed, and his style, in the early days in the public arena, could often be brusque.In September 2010, for example, Bennett, then the head of the Yesha Council, the settlers' umbrella organization, agreed to a televised debate with Ahmed Tibi, the most prominent Israeli-Arab member of Knesset. Tibi is chubby, bespectacled, and quick witted, and he wasted little time calling Bennett and his fellow settlers "colonialists" and "usurpers." "Ahmed Tibi," Bennett said in response, "I'll say it loud and clear: This land was ours long before Islam was even created." He made a few statements along these lines, and then, just to make sure his point was clear, he thundered: "I'll say it again. This land is ours. The land of Israel belongs to the Jews, long before you discovered the holy Quran. So, do me a favor: It's ours." The last word, in Bennett's diction, seemed to have 16 syllables. Tibi, livid, tried to say something, and Bennett interrupted. Tibi urged Bennett to shut up; then, in the heat of discussion, he told Bennett that he considered him, a settler, to be like "a tumor that had to be removed." Bennett fired back quickly. "When you were still climbing trees," he said, "we had here a Jewish state."

The incident generated little attention. The following morning, Walla, a prominent Israeli news site, ran a small article titled "Does the Yesha Council believe that Arabs climb on trees?" It was a dog-bites-man story: Here was Bennett, another hotheaded settler, another zealot, speaking bombastically. To the extent that the press reported on Bennett before the spring of 2012, most stories about him read like this. Some noted that he had served as Netanyahu's chief of staff. Others, that he was the son of Jim and Myrna, Americans who had left San Francisco in 1967 and settled in Haifa. But these were tidbits; the main story was that Bennett, despite all the trimmings, was still a settler ideologue, and most of his public appearances, like the shouting match with Tibi, seemed to confirm that characterization.
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January 19, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 5:48 AM


Obama Doctrine, Reagan Doctrine (James Joyner, January 18, 2013, CS Monitor)

A few months later, Charles Krauthammer dubbed this "overt and unashamed American support for anti-Communist revolution" the Reagan Doctrine in a Time magazine essay. Its essence was use of proxies rather than direct American intervention. If a legitimate popular uprising was taking place against a communist regime in the developing world, Reagan reasoned that it was both morally right and in America's interests to help it with arms and material support.

President Obama has quietly adopted a similar strategy, one using NATO allies, France in particular, as a proxy. First, we had the March 2011 intervention in Libya, in which American forces played a heavy role in the initial strikes, providing our "unique capabilities," but then quickly transitioned to a supporting role, providing suppression of enemy air defense; intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance; and air-to-air refueling assets to enable the mission. We appear to be on a similar path in Mali, quietly providing combat enablers in a mission with France in the driver's seat.

Posted by orrinj at 5:23 AM


If a 200-year-old flour company can nail social media, why can't your brand? (Trevor Young, 1/18/13, Leading Company)

What is King Arthur Flour doing that's so progressive? First of all, the brand focuses on producing interesting and relevant content.

It doesn't flog us about the ears just talking about its flour and why it's so great, but rather it takes a more considered and bigger-picture view. Its content strategy is to educate the public on cooking with flour, celebrate the art of baking (also known as 'food porn') and generally build and cultivate community of people who are interested in baking.

Furthermore - and importantly - King Arthur Flour markets its brand by telling interesting and informative stories across multiple mediums, especially video.

In keeping with its goal of educating amateur, professional and aspiring bakers, King Arthur Flour runs a baking education centre, a schools-based 'Life Skills Bread Baking Program' and a series of travelling, free baking demos.

Let's shift our attention to King Arthur's social media channels, an area where it is excelling.

Posted by orrinj at 5:05 AM


Rage Against the Machine : 200 years ago, the Luddites tried to stop technological progress. They didn't succeed. (Morgan Meis

Can technological progress be stopped? That is the question the Luddites asked 200 years ago in England. They did more than just ask the question -- they tried to stop technological progress, physically. The Luddites were not particularly sophisticated in their methodology. Their main idea was to smash things. Their favorite things to smash were stocking frames. Stocking frames are machines used to knit. The first stocking frames were invented in the late 16th century. But stocking frames really came into their own at the beginning of the 19th century, with automation. That's when the industrial revolution was swinging into high gear. The new machines being built in northern England in the early 19th century were transforming the textile industry from one that required highly skilled labor into an industry that required almost no skill at all. A person could be trained to operate a stocking frame in a few hours. Knitting -- once a well-paid occupation -- was fast becoming a low-wage affair.

According to legend, a young kid named Ned Ludd had smashed up a couple of stocking frames some time in the late 18th century. The Luddites of the early 19th century took up Ludd's name and cause. They began smashing up factories and, occasionally, killing people. They also wrote letters to politicians and factory owners threatening they would kill them or otherwise make serious trouble. A typical Luddite letter, this one to Henry of Leicester, reads as follows:

It having been presented to me that you are one of those damned miscreants who deligh [sic] in distressing and bringing to poverty those poore unhappy and much injured men called Stocking makers; now be it known unto you that I have this day issued orders for your being shot through the body with a Leden Ball...
(From Writings of the Luddites, edited by Kevin Binfield)

By 1813, the Luddite rebellion had become serious enough to bring out the army. With this development, the Luddite rebellion could not last very long. Luddite leaders were rounded up and well-publicized trials conducted. Some called them show trials. The army and the authorities restored order. By 1816, there was no longer a Luddite movement to speak of.

But the legend lived on. Something about the Luddites had captured the popular imagination. The attention wasn't always positive. Calling someone a Luddite became synonymous with calling him or her a reactionary. The ineffectiveness of the Luddite rebellion probably helped in this assessment. How was smashing up stocking frames going to defeat the greater social and historical forces that had led to automated stocking frames in the first place? The Luddites, so the thinking goes, were out of their league. The development of 19th century industrial capitalism was not going to grind to a halt because of few guys in Leicester had wrecked a couple of machines. Luddism, then, is a movement of futility. The Luddites were buffoons who mistook machines for enemies and tried to halt historical processes that were unstoppable.

It was all good clean fun when technology and trade were just making the labor of blue collar workers obsolete, but now that it's hitting the white collar crowd it's suddenly a crisis. 

But the fact is that our advances in efficiency and productivity make our economy produce more wealth even as we are required to put in less labor.  We just face a question of how to distribute that wealth reasonably fairly in the absence of the redistributory mechanism we're replacing: the job.  

January 18, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 6:52 PM


US recognizes Somalia government after two decades of anarchy : For the first time since 1991, the United States has recognized a government in the war-torn East African nation, setting the stage for strengthening political ties between the two countries. (Mike Pflanz, January 18, 2013, CS Monitor)'

After more than 20 years without formal relations, the United States officially recognized the government of Somalia Thursday, paving the way for what Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called "a new chapter" between the two nations.

One of those places--Palestine and Iran being among the others--where W's understandable reluctance to embrace Islamist allies did more harm than good.

Posted by orrinj at 6:44 PM


...Father O'Malley.

January 17, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 7:09 PM


Chick Lit May Be Hazardous to Your Self-Esteem : New research suggests novels in which characters agonize about their bodies lead female readers to worry about their own weight. (Tom Jacobs, 1/16/13, Pacific Standard)

As co-authors Melissa Kaminski and Robert Magee note, previous research has found a strong link between images of thin women in magazines and movies and low body esteem on the part of female readers and viewers. This is a problem because dissatisfaction with one's shape can lead to eating disorders such as bulimia and anorexia.

The researchers decided to explore whether the depiction of female characters in popular novels would have the same impact. So they turned to the world of "chick lit," that popular genre that emerged in the 1990s and typically focuses on female characters and their "struggles with weight, dating and successful careers." Bridget Jones' Diary is one popular example.
Kaminski and Magee took 3,200-word excerpts from two such novels and manipulated them in terms of the central character's weight, and her feelings about her body. The author's voice was retained, but references to the heroine's height and clothes sizes were changed, as were the comments she makes to herself and others reflecting her bodily self-esteem.

One-hundred-and-fifty-nine female participants (median age just under 20) read one of these altered texts and then answered questions about their own weight and sexual attractiveness. The results suggest a "nuanced pattern of effects for chick lit," the authors write.

Women who read a narrative featuring an underweight protagonist were not more likely to regard themselves as overweight. However, compared to those who read about an average-weight or overweight woman, they were less likely to view themselves as sexually attractive.

On the other hand, those who read a version of a story in which the central character expressed negative thoughts about her body "were significantly more concerned about their weight than participants in the control condition," the researchers report.

Posted by orrinj at 7:05 PM


Awaiting a New Darwin : a review of Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False by Thomas Nagel (H. Allen Orr, 2/07/13, NY Review of Books)

In Mind and Cosmos, Nagel continues his attacks on reductionism. Though the book is brief its claims are big. Nagel insists that the mind-body problem "is not just a local problem" but "invades our understanding of the entire cosmos and its history." If what he calls "materialist naturalism" or just "materialism" can't explain consciousness, then it can't fully account for life since consciousness is a feature of life. And if it can't explain life, then it can't fully account for the chemical and physical universe since life is a feature of that universe. Subjective experience is not, to Nagel, some detail that materialist science can hand-wave away. It's a deal breaker. Nagel believes that any future science that grapples seriously with the mind-body problem will be one that is radically reconceived.

As Nagel makes clear in the subtitle of Mind and Cosmos, part of what he thinks must be reconceived is our reigning theory of evolutionary biology, neo-Darwinism. Neo-Darwinism maintains, or at least implies, that the origin and history of life can be explained by materialist means. Once the first life arose on earth, the fate of the resulting evolutionary lineage was, neo-Darwinists argued, shaped by a combination of random mutation and natural selection. Biological types that survive or reproduce better than others will ultimately replace those others. While natural selection ensures that species constantly adapt to the changing environments around them, the process has no foresight: natural selection responds only to the present environment and evolution cannot, therefore, be aiming for any goal. This view, Nagel tells us, is "almost certainly false."

Before creationists grow too excited, it's important to see what Nagel is not claiming. He is not claiming that life is six thousand years old, that it did not evolve, or that natural selection played no part in this evolution. He believes that life has a long evolutionary history and that natural selection had a part in it. And while he does believe that intelligent design creationists have asked some incisive questions, Nagel rejects their answers. Indeed he is an atheist. Instead Nagel's view is that neo-Darwinism, and in fact the whole materialist view elaborated by science since the seventeenth century, is radically incomplete. The materialist laws of nature must, he says, be supplemented by something else if we are to fold ourselves and our minds fully into our science.

There's a name for that set of beliefs: creationism.
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Posted by orrinj at 5:10 PM


Software developer Bob outsources own job and whiles away shifts on cat videos : Verizon's hunt for firm's mysterious hacker exposes 'top worker' at firm who let Chinese consultants log on to do his daily work (Caroline Davies, 1/17/13, guardian.co.uk)

When a routine security check by a US-based company showed someone was repeatedly logging on to their computer system from China, it naturally sent alarm bells ringing. Hackers were suspected and telecoms experts were called in.

It was only after a thorough investigation that it was revealed that the culprit was not a hacker, but "Bob" (not his real name), an "inoffensive and quiet" family man and the company's top-performing programmer, who could be seen toiling at his desk day after day and staring diligently at his monitor.

For Bob had come up with the idea of outsourcing his own job - to China. So, while a Chinese consulting firm got on with the job he was paid to do, on less than one-fifth of his salary, he whiled away his working day surfing Reddit, eBay and Facebook.

One hopes we aren't being catfished, but, regardless, it reflects what we know to be true: the most valuable white collar employee is just as fungible as his blue collar co-worker.

Posted by orrinj at 5:02 PM


The Growing Adoption of Creative Commons Textbooks (SIMON OWENS, January 17, 2013, US News)

Cable Green doesn't have to look very far to find an example of an education system weighed down by what he considers a bloated and inefficient textbook industry. The director of global learning for Creative Commons simply points to his home state of Washington. "My state spends $130 million per year buying textbooks," he says. "We only have a million public school kids in the state, so we're spending $130 per kid per year." Because each book is expected to last half a decade, the kids aren't permitted to keep them or write in them. The books are only available in one format, paper, and are sometimes seven to 10 years out of date. If one of Green's kids loses a textbook, as a parent Green is expected to fork over the money to replace it.

A superior alternative, he believes, would be easy to execute. "Instead of spending $130 million a year getting those outcomes, what if the state put up $100 million in one time money," he suggests. "We have 12 grades and eight textbooks per grade, so what if we put up a $1 million [request for proposal] for each book, and anyone can reply. The professors from the best universities can reply. McGraw Hill can reply. It's an open RFP, but the conditions are that the books are licensed under Creative Commons because they're paid for with taxpayer money."

Under this model, the intellectual property that results from these purchases would be owned by the public. In addition to being free to download online, the schools can print up paper versions for less than $5 per copy. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:04 AM


Gene Sharp: The Machiavelli of non-violence : In a long life of scholarship and dissent, Gene Sharp has been imprisoned and persecuted, but never silenced. His ideas continue to inspire resistance movements across the world. (JOHN-PAUL FLINTOFF, 03 JANUARY 2013, New Statesman)

Gene Sharp is not a typical pacifist. "When I used to lecture, I would always get complaints from the pacifists," says the academic, who turns 85 this month. "They would say I wasn't pure. They said that what I was proposing was 'still conflict'." Military people often understood him better. A retired US army colonel, Robert Helvey, heard Sharp lecture 20 years ago and persuaded him to visit Burma, where rebels asked Sharp to give them advice.

He wrote a pamphlet. "I didn't know Burma well," he recalls. "So I had to write generically: if a movement wanted to bring a dictatorship to an end, how would they do it?" That pamphlet, From Dictatorship to Democracy (1993), contained the idea for which Sharp is now known all over the world - that power is held only by the consent of the people over whom it is exercised, and that consent can be withdrawn. All regimes depend on certain pillars of support and, with a proper strategy, resisters can remove those pillars non-violently.

The book was originally published in English and Burmese. "And I thought that was it," Sharp says. But it went on display in a bookshop in Bangkok. From there, nobody knows exactly how it spread. But it did - everywhere. "I'm still amazed. It didn't spread because of propaganda or some sales pitch but because people found it usable, and important."

"I had no idea how useful it would be," confirms Srdja Popovic, a leader of Otpor, the movement that toppled Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia in 2000. Others have described the effect of reading Sharp's work as "mind-blowing", because it showed that what had seemed impossible might not be impossible after all.

The flip side of this, of course, is that America and its fellow democracies are justified in the violence they've used against civilians in enemy regimes, precisely because those regimes depend on the acquiescence of their people.  The more successes Mr. Sharp's ideas have the more damning the indictment of folks in Hamburg, Hiroshima, Hanoi, etc.
Posted by orrinj at 8:53 AM


At Root of Strike, Runaway Costs in City's School Busing System (AL BAKER, 1/16/13, NY Times)

The day before the start of New York City's first school bus strike in 34 years, a long yellow bus pulled up at Public School 282 in Park Slope, Brooklyn, and the little bodies that popped out could be counted on one hand: Three. The big bus had dropped off part of its cargo earlier, at another school, but in all, 10 children had ridden on a bus fit for about 60.

A similarly large bus pulled up with 17. Finally, a modern-looking bus whose side panel said it could carry 66 children arrived with its passengers: Five children.

"I think in some cases, we have one child on the bus," said Kathleen Grimm, the city's deputy schools chancellor for operations.

The strike that began Wednesday, which idled more than half of the city's school buses and forced about 113,000 children to find new ways to school, was prompted by a fight over union jobs. But its true roots are in an attempt to reform one of the most inefficient transportation systems in the country, one that costs almost $7,000 a year for each passenger, an amount so high that many of those children could hire a livery cab for about the same price. By comparison with the next three largest school districts, Los Angeles spends about $3,200, Chicago about $5,000, and Miami, $1,000.

That cost per pupil for transportation is pretty close to the cost per pupil for the entire education ($9,700) in the Other Brother's town.
Posted by orrinj at 8:47 AM


Head Start: Still Useless : Pat Moynihan understood the problem years ago. (Michael G. Franc, 1/17/13, National Review)

What is it about the Head Start program that prevents presumably responsible adults from doing what's best for poor children? What prompts this question is the reaction to a scientifically rigorous evaluation of Head Start released last month. Conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services, the study demonstrates (once again) that this Great Society program just doesn't work.

This time, researchers expanded on previous tracking studies of kids in Head Start, which had stopped at the first-grade level. By measuring the program's impact on 5,000 three- and four-year-old children all the way through third grade, researchers have given lawmakers a state-of-the-art assessment of the long-term impact of Head Start, one that ought to guide them as they ponder allocating additional billions of dollars to the program.

The findings are most discouraging. "By the end of 3rd grade," the study's authors report, "there were very few impacts found . . . in any of the four domains of cognitive, social-emotional, health, and parenting practices." The researchers measured a total of 142 outcomes in these four domains and concluded that, within a few years, access to Head Start had no measurable impact on all but six outcomes. Moreover, even in those six, "there was no clear pattern of favorable or unfavorable impacts for children."

On the other hand, it does provide make-work jobs, so it's kind of a model for the Right's vision of an entitlement free economy.

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Posted by orrinj at 8:23 AM


Updates on the Gun Violence Debate (THE NEW YORK TIMES, 1/17/13)

Just about everyone agrees with the idea -- about 9 in 10 gun owners favor background checks as do people with no firearms in their home. Independents (95 percent), Democrats (93 percent) and Republicans (89 percent) all support a background check for those trying to buy firearms. No matter where people live: in the South, the Northeast, in big cities, in small towns. Even members of the National Rifle Association favor background checks. Only 7 percent of all adults in the survey, conducted Friday though Tuesday, oppose background checks for prospective gun customers.

Posted by orrinj at 8:15 AM


New Purpose of Government Is Better Government (Ezra Klein, Jan 16, 2013, Bloomberg)

For all the bitterness in Washington these days, it's easy to miss the broad consensus that undergirds our contentious politics. Republicans swear to protect Medicare and Social Security, and most recognize they can no longer hope to repeal Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act. Democrats voted to make the George W. Bush tax rates permanent for almost all Americans.

This is not a stable peace. The Democrats have mostly won the debate over what the government should do, while the Republicans have mostly won the debate over how much the government should tax. [...]

As Slate columnist Matthew Yglesias has written, we are experiencing an epochal change in our politics, which he calls the "end of big government liberalism." The progressive project of building a decent welfare state is giving way to the more technocratic work of financing and managing it. How government is run, more than what exactly it does, seems set to be the main battleground of American politics in coming years. [...]

The paper "No Discount: Comparing the Public Option to the Coupon Welfare State," by Roosevelt Institute fellow Mike Konczal, is a useful companion to Teles' tale of kludgeocracy. While Teles surveys a broad trend in governance, Konczal drills deep into a single policy dilemma that we confront repeatedly: Whether to provision public services directly, through government-run programs, or to use government as "a giant coupon machine, whose primary responsibility is passing out coupons to discount and subsidize private education, health-care, old-age pensions and a wide variety of other primary goods."

In recent years, the "coupon machine" theory of American governance -- exemplified by vouchers and tax subsidies -- has been ascendant. That's how most of Obamacare works. It's also the foundation of Republican efforts to reform Medicare and education.

As Konczal argues, "The advantages associated with vouchers are ones of choice, efficiency, competition, budget control and incentive management."

The First Way has prevailed to the extent that we recognize services are better provided by private sector means--especially as regards the investment of the monies we set aside for retirement, medical care, education, etc.--while the Second Way has prevailed to the extent that it is universally recognized that government has a primary role in making sure those monies are set aside (whether private or public monies).

All that we're debating is the speed and thoroughness with which the two ways are integrated.  The exact same debate is, of course, going on in every single nation of the Anglosphere and Scandinavia.  Since they have parliamentary systems they can often move faster than we can to enact our own ideas, but we'll catch up.  They won't long be more like us than we are.

Posted by orrinj at 8:07 AM


Spectre of Separatism Haunts Europe (Gordon N. Bardos, January 17, 2013, National Interest)

Importantly, the rise of separatism in Western Europe over the past decade has mirrored similar problems to the east, belying the conventional view that democracy and economic prosperity mollify nationalist tensions and aspirations. Separatism in Western Europe has taken two forms, both rejection of current state arrangements (as in Belgium, Spain and the UK), and rejection of the European Union itself. In Scotland, as Charles King recently observed, nationalism has gained more force than at any other time since William Wallace. Similarly, in Belgium Flemish nationalism has been steadily gaining strength for the past decade, and in Spain in November, separatist parties won almost two-thirds of the seats in Catalonia's regional elections. The European Free Alliance based in Brussels currently boasts some for forty nationalist and autonomist parties from across the continent. Even the United States is not immune--113,000 people recently signed a petition in support of independence for Texas.

Exacerbating the separatist and secessionist pressure on Europe's existing geopolitical order has been the notable rise in public dissatisfaction with the EU.

That the future is one of smaller governments closer to the people rather than massive entities the citizen can't influence or identify with is only a crisis to those who despise the people, Realists and their ilk. 

January 16, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 8:16 PM


To Live Longer, Move to a New Zip Code (Phillip Longman, January/February 2013, Washington Monthly)

Between 1994 and 1998, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development conducted a demonstration project known as "Moving to Opportunity." The project randomly assigned low-income families to one of three groups. Those in the first group received a voucher that they could use to help pay the rent on an apartment, provided that the apartment was not in a low-income neighborhood. Those in the second group received a voucher they could use in any neighborhood, while those in a control group received no voucher.

In 2011, HUD researchers published the results in the New England Journal of Medicine. The most dramatic finding was that people assigned to the different groups varied significantly in their weight by the end of the experiment. Going into the program, participants as a whole had been substantially more obese than the U.S. population as a whole. But ten to fifteen years later, those women who had moved to more affluent neighborhoods were one-fifth less likely to be obese than those in the control group, and also one-fifth less likely to have contracted diabetes.

This was true even though there was little difference among all the participants in the numbers who managed to move off welfare, improve their education, or find a better job. This suggests to researchers how powerfully our surroundings alone are to determining our habits and health.

Get rid of public housing and move the recipients to real neighborhoods.
Posted by orrinj at 8:14 PM


Posted by orrinj at 7:13 PM


Speak My Language : As the players and schemes have changed, it's the way the Patriots talk that's continued their offensive dominance. (Chris Brown, January 16, 2013, Grantland)

New England's offense is a member of the NFL's third offensive family, the Erhardt-Perkins system. The offense was named after the two men, Ron Erhardt and Ray Perkins, who developed it while working for the Patriots under head coach Chuck Fairbanks in the 1970s. According to Perkins, it was assembled in the same way most such systems are developed. "I don't look at it as us inventing it," he explained. "I look at it as a bunch of coaches sitting in rooms late at night organizing and getting things together to help players be successful."

The backbone of the Erhardt-Perkins system is that plays -- pass plays in particular -- are not organized by a route tree or by calling a single receiver's route, but by what coaches refer to as "concepts." Each play has a name, and that name conjures up an image for both the quarterback and the other players on offense. And, most importantly, the concept can be called from almost any formation or set. Who does what changes, but the theory and tactics driving the play do not. "In essence, you're running the same play," said Perkins. "You're just giving them some window-dressing to make it look different."

The biggest advantage of the concept-based system is that it operates from the perspective of the most critical player on offense: the quarterback. In other systems, even if the underlying principles are the exact same, the play and its name might be very different. Rather than juggling all this information in real time, an Erhardt-Perkins quarterback only has to read a given arrangement of receivers. "You can cut down on the plays and get different looks from your formations and who's in them. It's easier for the players to learn. It's easier for the quarterback to learn," former Patriots offensive coordinator Charlie Weis said back in 2000. "You get different looks without changing his reads. You don't need an open-ended number of plays."

This simplicity is one of the reasons coaches around the league have been gravitating to the Erhardt-Perkins approach. "Concepts benefit you because you can plug different guys into different formations, into different personnel groups, and if they understand the concept, it gives you more flexibility," [...]

With the help of his assistants, Belichick's primary innovation was to go from an Erhardt-Perkins offense to an Erhardt-Perkins system, built on its method of organizing and naming plays. The offense itself would be philosophically neutral. This is how, using the terminology and framework of what was once thought to be the league's least progressive offensive system, Brady and Belichick built one of the most consistently dynamic and explosive offenses in NFL history. From conservative to spread to blistering no-huddle, the tactics -- and players -- have changed while the underlying approach has not.2

Let's look at a play that has long been a staple of the Patriots attack. This is actually two different concepts put together -- "ghost/tosser," which has the Patriots run the ghost concept to one side and the tosser concept to the other. Ghost has the outermost receiver, whoever it is, run a vertical route, one inside receiver run to a depth of roughly eight yards before breaking flat to the outside, and the innermost receiver run immediately to the flat. It's a form of the "stick" or "turn" concept that essentially every NFL team uses. On the other side, tosser means that the receivers run the double-slant concept. The page below is from the Patriots' playbook.

The theory here is that no matter the formation, there is an outside receiver, an inside receiver, and a middle receiver, and each will be responsible for running his designated route. For the quarterback, this means the play can be run repeatedly, from different formations and with different personnel, all while his read stays effectively the same. Once receivers understand each concept, they only have to know at which position they're lined up. The personnel and formation might cause the defense to respond differently, but for New England those changes only affect which side Brady prefers or which receiver he expects to be open. This conceptual approach is how the Patriots are able to run the same basic plays, whether spreading the field with four or five receivers or using multiple tight ends and running backs.

The most recent innovation to fall into New England's Erhardt-Perkins framework is a commitment to the no-huddle. In 2012, the Patriots were the league leaders in total plays, first downs, points, and yards -- all by a significant margin. Other teams have dabbled in the no-huddle, but they can't commit to it like the Patriots can, for one simple reason: terminology. No team that uses the Coryell or true West Coast systems can adapt easily to a fully functional up-tempo no-huddle because, simply, they can't communicate that efficiently. The Patriots are built to communicate in one- or two-word designations, and so, with judicious use of code words, it's simply a matter of translating what they already do into a no-huddle pace.

Posted by orrinj at 6:48 PM


Whoa What: All US iPhone Users Can Now Make Free Phone Calls Via Facebook : No more caring about minutes. Free phone calls over Wi-Fi and 3G/4G! (Dan NosowitzPosted 01.16.2013, Popular Science)

The new feature lets you make phone calls using VoIP, with either a Wi-Fi connection or over your phone's 3G/4G connection, for free. Yep, Skype can already do this, but there's a very good chance more people you know use Facebook than Skype--the Facebook branding and built-in network of people could mean a boost for VoIP like it's never seen before. The only downside might be that calling someone over Messenger doesn't trigger your phone's ringer--instead, it pops up with a notification, just like you've gotten an email or text message.

This also, critically, is a major step backwards for the wireless carriers like Verizon and AT&T, who have been wildly overcharging for voice service and text messaging for, well, pretty much ever. 

Posted by orrinj at 1:25 PM


What Happens When China Goes "Gray"? (Mark W. Frazier, 1/14/13, The Diplomat)

Essentially what happened is that Beijing designed a pension system in the late 1990s that will leave households with much less to spend than many observers assume. Urged by World Bank economists and foreign pension experts, the Chinese government put in place a hybrid pension arrangement that relies on both traditional pay-as-you-go collections from employers and mandatory individual accounts, from which workers were to finance anywhere from one half to two-thirds of their retirement needs. (They also were expected to buy pension and annuity products from commercial providers). But that pension design has resulted in a double whammy: households consume less in order to save for retirement needs, while the government's long term pension debt is escalating rapidly because local governments raided the individual accounts to pay benefits to current retirees.

The central government has tried to prevent local governments from tapping current pension assets, but has done so only by allowing them to accumulate further debt. Moreover, many local administrations bristle under the requirement that pension assets must be invested in low-interest bonds and bank deposits. Don't be surprised if future pension scandals like the one that rocked Shanghai in 2006 are exposed as local administrations seek a higher, though riskier return on their pension assets.

As China's population ages, scholars and officials are seriously considering proposals to phase out the one-child policy that is beginning to curb the flow of new workers into the economy, as well as raise retirement ages (currently 60 for men, 5 or 10 years earlier for women). But such adjustments are just as politically difficult in China as in in Western democracies because, as it turns out, not wanting to work longer is a widely held preference. Many Chinese also view the relatively early retirement age as a way to make vacancies for the millions of young people who enter the labor market each year. If older workers continue working into their twilight years, young workers may encounter greater difficulty in trying to find employment. This would pose its own issues for the country.

What does all this mean for the Asian, European, and American economies that trade with China? First, they should understand that China's aging problem is a slow-motion fiscal crisis.

Study Measures Impact of China's One-Child Policy (SINDYA N. BHANOO, 1/14/13, NY Times)

The Chinese policy that limits most families to having one child has had psychological fallout for the children born after it was instituted in 1979, economists report in the journal Science.

The researchers asked two groups of people -- born just before and just after the policy was put into place -- to play a set of games using real money.

In a game involving trust, test subjects were paired with anonymous partners. Player One was given 100 renminbi (about $16) and invited to pass it along to Player Two. The money would then be tripled, and Player Two could pass some of it back.

Players born after the one-child policy was instituted were less likely to pass money along than the older participants.

The researchers concluded that the "one-child-policy" players were less trusting, less trustworthy, less competitive and more risk-averse than the older ones.

Posted by orrinj at 1:15 PM


Dixie's Enemy Within : How the ideology of white supremacy undermined the South's own war effort. (Colin Woodard, January/February 2013, Washington Monthly)

Wars have often unleashed forces the warring parties hadn't expected and couldn't control. The Thirty Years' War began as a struggle between religions but gave birth to the modern system of secular states, while World War I profoundly undermined the legitimacy of the British aristocracy and the stability of that country's global empire.

The U.S. Civil War, University of Illinois historian Bruce Levine argues in his new book, The Fall of the House of Dixie: The Civil War and the Social Revolution That Transformed the South, was no exception. Southerners launched the war to preserve slavery, and President Abraham Lincoln responded to save the Union. Ironically, the stresses and necessities of a near-total war quickly began to corrode the Confederate slave system from within and pushed an ambivalent Union to embrace emancipation to ensure victory in the field.

"A war launched to preserve slavery succeeded instead in abolishing that institution more rapidly and more radically than would have occurred otherwise," Levine writes. "[The] ideology of white supremacy, which had always provided critical support for slavery, inhibit[ed] the slaveholders' government from doing what it needed to do to survive." [...]

Levine makes clear both that the South seceded to protect slavery--as anyone who wades into the primary sources knows--and that the Union at large fought to save the Union. That said, he also shows that "a war to save the Union was necessary in 1861 only because a political party that denounced slavery and menaced its future in the Union had won the support of a clear majority of northern voters in 1860. If secession had caused the war, therefore, it was the sharpening conflict over slavery that had caused secession." Nor were "northern" concerns centered only on whether slavery would be allowed to expand to new territories. It had become a threat to democracy throughout the United States. Slaveholders came down hard on any Southern whites who criticized slavery--those who did were driven from pulpits, classrooms, and newsrooms--but they also worked to ban both the distribution of abolitionist materials by the U.S. Postal Service and speaking against slavery in the U.S House. Slavery was coming to threaten liberties of free people in the free states.

Still, federal forces initially had no intention of freeing slaves when they invaded Southern territory, but military expediency pushed many commanders in that direction. Some seized human "property" as contraband, effectively freeing slaves from bondage by declaring them federal property. This drew thousands of slaves to flee to Union lines, weakening Southern production and filling up federal forts and encampments with people often eager to provide intelligence, build fortifications, or even take up arms when allowed to do so. Lincoln pushed back, fearful of upsetting the fragile political coalition of "border state" slaveholders, Yankee abolitionists, and pro-slavery, pro-Union patriots the war effort depended on. But as the war went on, most members of the coalition came to accept what Frederick Douglass had called the "inexorable logic of events." As Union lines expanded southward, hundreds of thousands of enslaved people had tasted freedom. Returning them to bondage would be morally questionable and practically impossible. From 1862, captured and runaway slaves were emancipated and even welcomed into the Union army. [...]

For Confederates, the increasing military burdens tested public commitment to the war. Slaveholders were insulted when the government tried to force them to provide slaves to support the war effort or to join the army even if they felt they had more important things to do. Such policies--which grew more draconian as the South's position deteriorated--"violated political, social, and other cultural imperatives and taboos." This included "keeping government small and weak, extolling local and state sovereignty over that of a national government, and keeping black people firmly subordinated and strictly excluded from many spheres of life." Planters refused to grow food for the army instead of cotton for profit. Critical fortifications were left unfinished because they refused to loan slaves to accomplish the task. Morale in Confederate ranks was eroded when well-connected plantation owners passed laws giving their families special exemptions from conscription.

Posted by orrinj at 12:57 PM


Can Autism Fade Over Time? (LAURA MCMULLEN, January 16, 2013 , US News)

A new study published in the February issue of the Journal of Child Psychology hints that children diagnosed with autism could grow out of the disorder. University of Connecticut researchers analyzed 34 children who had been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder early on, but who no longer met the criteria for the disorder and lost all its symptoms.

Posted by orrinj at 10:55 AM


No, inflation still isn't a problem (Jim Tankersley, January 16, 2013, Washington Post)

Know what's not a problem? Inflation.

The Labor Department reported Wednesday morning that consumer prices were unchanged in December. So-called "core" prices - the better measure to watch, because they exclude volatile food and energy prices - rose by 0.1 percent. From December 2011 to December 2012, core prices rose by 1.9 percent. 

Which makes demands for wage growth inane.

Posted by orrinj at 10:49 AM


What Is the Future of Conservatism? (MARK STEYN, January 2013, Commentary)

As his post-mortem observations to donors confirmed, Romney's leaked "47 percent" aside is indicative of the way he thinks, and not a small thing. Indeed, it's a betrayal of core conservative morality: from "Teach a man to fish" to "There's no point even bothering to try to teach 47 percent to fish." I was born a subject of Her Canadian Majesty and, even in a parliamentary system, it would not be regarded as healthy for the Queen's Prime Minister to think like this. In a republic in which the head of government is also head of state, it's simply unbecoming. The next guy has to be running as president of all Americans, even the deadbeats.

That means an end to the consultant-driven, small-ball model of Republican strategy. The Democrats used their brutal Romney-gives-you-cancer/ Ryan-offs-your-granny advertising in Ohio as bad cop to the good cop of Obama's cultural cool. The trouble for conservatives is we have no good cop. That's to say, we have no positive presence in the broader cultural space where real people actually live. 

...but the folks who occupy the narrow cultural space with the Beltway could never forgive him for running against them.   Even they though seem to realize now that the next nominee has to be a carbon copy of W.

Posted by orrinj at 10:39 AM


The Real Cuban Missile Crisis : Everything you think you know about those 13 days is wrong. (BENJAMIN SCHWARZ, January/February 2013, Atlantic)

Scholars, however, have long known a very different story: since 1997, they have had access to recordings that Kennedy secretly made of meetings with his top advisers, the Executive Committee of the National Security Council (the "ExComm"). Sheldon M. Stern--who was the historian at the John F. Kennedy Library for 23 years and the first scholar to evaluate the ExComm tapes--is among the numerous historians who have tried to set the record straight. His new book marshals irrefutable evidence to succinctly demolish the mythic version of the crisis. Although there's little reason to believe his effort will be to any avail, it should nevertheless be applauded.

Reached through sober analysis, Stern's conclusion that "John F. Kennedy and his administration, without question, bore a substantial share of the responsibility for the onset of the Cuban missile crisis" would have shocked the American people in 1962, for the simple reason that Kennedy's administration had misled them about the military imbalance between the superpowers and had concealed its campaign of threats, assassination plots, and sabotage designed to overthrow the government in Cuba--an effort well known to Soviet and Cuban officials.

In the 1960 presidential election, Kennedy had cynically attacked Richard Nixon from the right, claiming that the Eisenhower-Nixon administration had allowed a dangerous "missile gap" to grow in the U.S.S.R.'s favor. But in fact, just as Eisenhower and Nixon had suggested--and just as the classified briefings that Kennedy received as a presidential candidate indicated--the missile gap, and the nuclear balance generally, was overwhelmingly to America's advantage. At the time of the missile crisis, the Soviets had 36 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), 138 long-range bombers with 392 nuclear warheads, and 72 submarine-launched ballistic-missile warheads (SLBMs). These forces were arrayed against a vastly more powerful U.S. nuclear arsenal of 203 ICBMs, 1,306 long-range bombers with 3,104 nuclear warheads, and 144 SLBMs--all told, about nine times as many nuclear weapons as the U.S.S.R. Nikita Khrushchev was acutely aware of America's huge advantage not just in the number of weapons but in their quality and deployment as well.

Kennedy and his civilian advisers understood that the missiles in Cuba did not alter the strategic nuclear balance.
Moreover, despite America's overwhelming nuclear preponderance, JFK, in keeping with his avowed aim to pursue a foreign policy characterized by "vigor," had ordered the largest peacetime expansion of America's military power, and specifically the colossal growth of its strategic nuclear forces. This included deploying, beginning in 1961, intermediate-range "Jupiter" nuclear missiles in Italy and Turkey--adjacent to the Soviet Union. From there, the missiles could reach all of the western U.S.S.R., including Moscow and Leningrad (and that doesn't count the nuclear-armed "Thor" missiles that the U.S. already had aimed at the Soviet Union from bases in Britain).

The Jupiter missiles were an exceptionally vexing component of the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Because they sat aboveground, were immobile, and required a long time to prepare for launch, they were extremely vulnerable. Of no value as a deterrent, they appeared to be weapons meant for a disarming first strike--and thus greatly undermined deterrence, because they encouraged a preemptive Soviet strike against them. The Jupiters' destabilizing effect was widely recognized among defense experts within and outside the U.S. government and even by congressional leaders. For instance, Senator Albert Gore Sr., an ally of the administration, told Secretary of State Dean Rusk that they were a "provocation" in a closed session of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in February 1961 (more than a year and a half before the missile crisis), adding, "I wonder what our attitude would be" if the Soviets deployed nuclear-armed missiles to Cuba. Senator Claiborne Pell raised an identical argument in a memo passed on to Kennedy in May 1961.

Given America's powerful nuclear superiority, as well as the deployment of the Jupiter missiles, Moscow suspected that Washington viewed a nuclear first strike as an attractive option. They were right to be suspicious. The archives reveal that in fact the Kennedy administration had strongly considered this option during the Berlin crisis in 1961.

Given the nuclear dominance we enjoyed for a minimum of twenty years, it's shameful that we failed to decapitate the regime.
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Posted by orrinj at 10:33 AM


Disney World Food: The Best Thing I Ate in the Magic Kingdom (Conde Nast Traveler)

When I was asking friends about the one thing I absolutely had to experience in the Happiest Place on Earth, I kept getting the same emphatic response--"Dole Whip." Wait, what? Is that a ride? Nope, the Dole Whip is a smooth and velvety ice cream confection that is sold only in the Magic Kingdom (read: you can't get this baby anywhere else on earth). 

a potato volcano that was ambrosiac.
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Posted by orrinj at 10:12 AM


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...on the other hand, the bread braid I made for MLK day was so bad the pigs wouldn't eat it, nevermind the food kitchens we were baking for.

Posted by orrinj at 10:08 AM

Ben Harper, with Charlie Musselwhite - Get Up! (2013) ( S. Victor Aaron, Something Else Reviews)

Musselwhite can compose and sing, too, but does neither with Harper taking care of those tasks, and it doesn't matter. What matters is Charlie doing what he's been the best at doing since the late 60s. His vintage harmonica can fill up space without being very loud and send tingle down your spine without going over the top. Musselwhite occupies the space normally occupied by the rhythm guitar, the lead guitar or the vocalist, depending on where he is within the song. He's always in the right place at the right time, never having to force his way up front.

Harper brings his Relentless7 band in tow for these sessions, comprising of guitarist Jason Mozersky, bassist Jesse Ingalls, and drummer Jordan Richardson. The rapport with his backing band is never in doubt, and this is a pretty rugged unit. Combined with Musselwhite and bringing in Grammy winning Chris Goldsmith to help out with production, every track is oozing with grit and it has the unmistakable feel of a "live in the studio, no edits" sort of recordings. Even accounting for such seasoned blues and roots pros like Harper and Musselwhite, there's so little between the musicians hashing out these tunes in the studio, and the listener of this record. It's that kind of relaxed mindset that made it possible for "All That Matters Now" to come about as the result of rolling tape on the spot to capture Musselwhite and Mozersky noodling around on a groove.

January 15, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 9:22 PM


Drivers With Hands Full Get a Backup: The Car (JOHN MARKOFF and SOMINI SENGUPTA, 1/13/13, NY Times)

Someday soon, few drivers will have to worry about car crashes and collisions, whether on congested roads or on empty highways, technology companies and car manufacturers are betting. But even now, drivers are benefiting from a suite of safety systems, and many more are in development to transform driving from a manual task to something more akin to that of a conductor overseeing an orchestra.

An array of optical and radar sensors now monitor the surroundings of a growing number of cars traveling the nation's highways, and in some cases even track the driver's physical state. Pedestrian detection systems, like the one that Dr. Levinson, a research scientist at Stanford's Center for Automotive Research, has helped design, are already available in luxury cars and are being built into some midrange models.

The systems offer auditory, visual and mechanical warnings if a collision is imminent -- and increasingly, if needed, take evasive actions automatically. By the middle of this decade, under certain conditions, they will take over the task of driving completely at both high and low speeds.

Posted by orrinj at 9:15 PM


Nissan Leaf Is Now Cheaper, Made In The U.S. (Chelsea SextonPosted 01.15.2013, Popular Science)

Not that he's known for anything else, but Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn once again aggressively underscored his company's commitment to electric vehicles by dropping the MSRP on the 2013 Nissan Leaf by 18 percent. A newly added S trim level of the five-seat EV will now start at $28,800 which means a net price in the high teens in states that offer supplemental incentives to the $7500 federal tax credit. Nissan is also offering a 36-month lease on the Leaf at $199/mo, far below other vehicles in that price range.

Posted by orrinj at 9:05 PM


Rubio Immigration Plan Conservatives Love Looks a Lot Like Obama's (Adam Serwer, Jan. 15, 2013, Mother Jones)

Rubio, who is widely considered to be a strong contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, hasn't introduced actual immigration reform legislation, or gone beyond the broad strokes outlined in his interview with the Journal. Nevertheless, in the days following the interview's publication on Saturday, conservative pundits have showered Rubio with praise. The Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin called Rubio's proposal "bold," and the Daily Caller's Matt Lewis writes that "although there is opportunity here, this is still an act of political courage." Rubio also drew approval from 2012 GOP vice-presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who wrote on Facebook that "I support the principles he's outlined."

Conservatives hailing Rubio may not realize how close to President Barack Obama he has moved on immigration, but opponents of reform, such as the Center for Immigration Studies' Mark Krikorian, certainly noticed. "There's nothing substantive in Rubio's proposal that wouldn't immediately be agreed to by President Obama," Krikorian says. "This is the Rubio-Obama immigration plan." In fairness, Krikorian notes, it's also broadly similar to the George W. Bush immigration reform plan conservatives derailed in 2007.

...we'd have avoided the credit crunch.

Posted by orrinj at 2:52 PM


What fiscal cliff? Shoppers push up retail sales, prices fall (Tiffany Hsu, January 15, 2013, LA Times)

Also on Tuesday, the Labor Department released data showing wholesale prices taking their third monthly dive in December. The so-called producer price index slipped 0.2% last month after a 0.8% slide in November.

The slide was largely due to a 0.9% decline in prices for finished consumer foods - the first since May and driven heavily by a 4.8% drop in beef and veal prices. Lower prices for vegetables and cheese also contributed.

Posted by orrinj at 9:32 AM


The End of Labor: How to Protect Workers From the Rise of Robots (Noah Smith, 8 JAN 14 2013, Atlantic)

For most of modern history, inequality has been a manageable problem. The reason is that no matter how unequal things get, most people are born with something valuable: the ability to work, to learn, and to earn money. In economist-ese, people are born with an "endowment of human capital." It's just not possible for one person to have everything, as in the nightmare example in Econ 101.

For most of modern history, two-thirds of the income of most rich nations has gone to pay salaries and wages for people who work, while one-third has gone to pay dividends, capital gains, interest, rent, etc. to the people who own capital. This two-thirds/one-third division was so stable that people began to believe it would last forever. But in the past ten years, something has changed. Labor's share of income has steadily declined, falling by several percentage points since 2000. It now sits at around 60% or lower. The fall of labor income, and the rise of capital income, has contributed to America's growing inequality.

What can explain this shift? One hypothesis is: China. The recent entry of China into the global trading system basically doubled the labor force available to multinational companies. When labor becomes more plentiful, the return to labor goes down. In a world flooded with cheap Chinese labor, capital becomes relatively scarce, and its share of income goes up. As China develops, this effect should go away, as China builds up its own capital stock. This is probably already happening.

But there is another, more sinister explanation for the change. In past times, technological change always augmented the abilities of human beings. A worker with a machine saw was much more productive than a worker with a hand saw. The fears of "Luddites," who tried to prevent the spread of technology out of fear of losing their jobs, proved unfounded. But that was then, and this is now. Recent technological advances in the area of computers and automation have begun to do some higher cognitive tasks - think of robots building cars, stocking groceries, doing your taxes. 

Once human cognition is replaced, what else have we got? For the ultimate extreme example, imagine a robot that costs $5 to manufacture and can do everything you do, only better. You would be as obsolete as a horse.

The replacement of human cognition by machines is, by definition, just another improvement in efficiency.  This presents us with an interesting question--how to distribute the ever greater wealth we create ever more efficiently--but to pretend that maximizing efficiency is a problem is just Luddism.

Posted by orrinj at 9:25 AM


How can anyone who loves music enjoy musicals? (David Sexton, 10 January 2013, Evening Standard)

Other critics have nitpicked over particular aspects of the movie -- finding its use of close-ups claustrophobic, Russell Crowe a bit tuneless, Eddie Redmayne surprisingly good ... But nowhere properly represented yet are those to whom all such considerations are irrelevant -- because, quite simply, we can't bear musicals at all. The very idea of having people acting and then singing at the same time, and quite possibly dancing too, repels us.

We don't get it. These things don't make any sense together. We find people doing this on stage and on screen no more acceptable than we would find it in life, if we were chatting to a neighbour or asking for directions. It's embarrassing and stupid.

And our objection is essential, not accidental. No, we wouldn't be converted if only we saw the right musical. It's not just that so many of the big musicals, Les Mis pre-eminent among them, have such bad music, banal lyrics and wallowingly melodramatic plots, although, heaven knows, they do. And that's without even venturing into the entire world of inflated tastelessness created by Andrew Lloyd Webber, which nobody over the age of five who has any taste at all could possibly like.

January 14, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 8:46 PM


On Immigration, Rubio Recycles Bush (SCOTT GALUPO, January 14, 2013, American Conservative)

To salvage some sort of positive news from the fiscal cliff deal, in which taxes went up but spending didn't go down, it was said that the real winner was George W. Bush--with 98 percent of his tax cuts having been made permanent. If that's the case, then Bush 43 is winning again. This time, on immigration.

Rising Republican star Sen. Marco Rubio revealed the basic outline of his stepwise plan to reform immigration law. The central question of any such proposal, of course, is how it deals with the 12 million or so undocumented workers who live here illegally: if not deport them, what then?

Rubio's plan, according to a Wall Street Journal interview, is as follows:

The special regime he envisions is a form of temporary limbo. "Assuming they haven't violated any of the conditions of that status," he says, the newly legalized person could apply for permanent residency, possibly leading to citizenship, after some years--but Mr. Rubio doesn't specify how many years.

If that sounds familiar, it should. It was a central element of the Bush plan and its McCain-Kennedy congressional vehicle. 

Ultimately, W's biggest problem turned out to be that he understood America better than it understood itself.   We are simply on a journey back to where he was leading us in the first place.

Posted by orrinj at 8:42 PM


Shale Gas Will Fuel a U.S. Manufacturing Boom (Kevin Bullis, January 9, 2013, MIT Technology Review)

People predicting a manufacturing renaissance in the United States usually imagine whirring robots or advanced factories turning out wind turbines and solar panels. The real American edge might be in something entirely more mundane: cheap starting materials for plastic bottles and plastic bags.

The plummeting price of natural gas--which can be used to make a vast number of products, including tires, carpet, antifreeze, lubricants, cloth, and many types of plastic--is luring key industries to the United States. Just five years ago, natural-gas prices were so high that some chemical manufacturers were shutting down U.S. operations. Now the ability to access natural gas trapped in shale rock formations, using technologies such as hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, has lowered American prices to a fraction of those in other countries (see "King Natural Gas").

Over the last 18 months, these low prices have prompted plans for the construction of new chemical plants to produce ethylene, ammonia for fertilizer, and diesel fuels. Dow Chemical, for example, plans to spend $4 billion to expand its U.S. chemicals production, including a new plant in Freeport, Texas, that's due to open in 2017. The plant will make ethylene from the ethane found in many sources of natural gas. (The last such plant to be built in the U.S. was completed in 2001.)

The impact of the resurgence is being felt most strongly in the $148 billion market for ethylene, the world's highest-volume chemical and the foundation for many other industries.

Posted by orrinj at 8:33 PM


What Food Crisis? We Just Need To Make Use Of What We Have (Ben Schiller, Co.Exist)

The report, from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, a U.K. membership group, says we currently waste between 30% to 50% of all food generated--or up to 2.2 billion tons annually. In other words, we could make up much of the projected shortfall just by being more efficient.

"The potential to provide 60-100% more food by simply eliminating losses, while simultaneously freeing up land, energy and water resources for other uses, is an opportunity that should not be ignored," the report says.

The food waste problem varies according to the development level of the country. In fully industrialized countries, waste tends to occur further up the chain: with supermarkets that reject crops for appearance reasons, or consumers who buy too much and never use it. One U.K. study found that fully 46% of potatoes never made it to market; another found that 30% of all vegetables are never harvested. In the developed world, the problem--if it can be called that--is that food is too cheap. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:13 PM


Defense Cuts Could Burst the D.C. Business Bubble (JOSH BOAK and ERIC PIANIN, 1/14/13, The Fiscal Times)

The Census Bureau reported that seven of the nation's ten richest counties surround the capital, with Loudon County in Virginia the best-off with a median household income of $119,134. [...]

For every federal procurement dollar, the Virginia-D.C. suburbs get 15 cents, according to data tracked by economists at George Mason University. The four Virginia congressional districts within a relatively short commute of the capital received $45 billion in defense contracts during 2011, according to the Center for Security Policy. These contracts bred wealth, but also vulnerability as efforts to foster other industries were stunted by the easy flow of government money.

Things may be even tougher if the debt ceiling talks fail and the sequestration part of the Budget Control Act takes effect. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who is departing the administration, believes the Pentagon won't be able to escape the additional $50 billion of automatic defense spending cuts scheduled to take place this year under sequestration and has ordered a freeze on civilian hiring. That would cut about 10 percent of the Pentagon's non-war-fighting budget.

Posted by orrinj at 8:08 PM


Information In America Moves 33,480,000 Times Faster Than It Did 200 Years Ago (Jason Torchinsky, Jalopnik)

It's a map of Post Roads, roads built and maintained for the primary purpose of giving mail carriers access to the country, as required by the constitution. This map is from 1804, and shows a surprisingly well-developed network of roads. What we're really looking at here, aside from being the great-grandfather of our national highway system, is the Internet of the early 1800s.

The post road network was how almost all information was exchanged in the US at the time. Like today, you could send an email, though the "e" then stood for "equine" and it was just mail and I've exhausted the possibilities of that stupid bit of wordplay. But you get the idea.

If we go along with the now/then speed computations I did with travel with information, and really, we may as well, the numbers get nice and ridiculous. Let's say a fresh, well-trained postal horse could run at 20 MPH, which means that's how fast one page of information (say, a one-kilobyte letter) could travel. A one kilobyte email travels at, oh, the speed of light, basically, so that's close to 670 million MPH.

So, that means information now travels at 33,480,000 times as fast. I hope everyone now appreciates just how damn quick we are now.

Posted by orrinj at 8:00 PM


Cory Booker faces backlash from New Jersey Democrats (Rachel Weiner, January 14, 2013, Washington Post)

Newark Mayor Cory Booker's decision to go ahead with a bid for for the seat held by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D) has ruffled feathers in the state party. 

Lautenberg, 88, has yet to announce his own 2014 plans, and some see Booker's campaign as premature. 
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Posted by orrinj at 7:53 PM


The Placebo Phenomenon : An ingenious researcher finds the real ingredients of "fake" medicine (Cara Feinberg, January-February 2013, Harvard Magazine)

TWO WEEKS INTO Ted Kaptchuk's first randomized clinical drug trial, nearly a third of his 270 subjects complained of awful side effects. All the patients had joined the study hoping to alleviate severe arm pain: carpal tunnel, tendinitis, chronic pain in the elbow, shoulder, wrist. In one part of the study, half the subjects received pain-reducing pills; the others were offered acupuncture treatments. And in both cases, people began to call in, saying they couldn't get out of bed. The pills were making them sluggish, the needles caused swelling and redness; some patients' pain ballooned to nightmarish levels. "The side effects were simply amazing," Kaptchuk explains; curiously, they were exactly what patients had been warned their treatment might produce. But even more astounding, most of the other patients reported real relief, and those who received acupuncture felt even better than those on the anti-pain pill. These were exceptional findings: no one had ever proven that acupuncture worked better than painkillers. But Kaptchuk's study didn't prove it, either. The pills his team had given patients were actually made of cornstarch; the "acupuncture" needles were retractable shams that never pierced the skin. The study wasn't aimed at comparing two treatments. It was designed to compare two fakes.

Although Kaptchuk, an associate professor of medicine, has spent his career studying these mysterious human reactions, he doesn't argue that you can simply "think yourself better." "Sham treatment won't shrink tumors or cure viruses," he says.

But researchers have found that placebo treatments--interventions with no active drug ingredients--can stimulate real physiological responses, from changes in heart rate and blood pressure to chemical activity in the brain, in cases involving pain, depression, anxiety, fatigue, and even some symptoms of Parkinson's.

January 13, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 12:43 PM

Posted by orrinj at 9:44 AM


Vanguard's $130 Billion Year (Roben Farzad, December 11, 2012, Business Week)

The $5 footlong. The $340 laptop. Free two-day shipping. All hallmarks of our economic times.

Vanguard, the 38-year-old low-cost investing pioneer, brings you the Great Deflation.

The fund company is not just having its best year ever. (It shattered that record in September.) The $130.4 billion in deposits in mutual funds and exchange-traded funds that Vanguard has taken in through November is the most ever for the industry, according to data from Strategic Insight. That beats the $129.6 billion that JPMorgan (JPM) clocked, mostly for money market funds, in 2008. This year's not over.

You've no doubt heard of the "Wal-Mart (WMT)effect." Now the market is watching--with equal parts gratitude and trepidation--the rapid escalation of the "Vanguard effect." It's asymmetric warfare, as Vanguard's sole ownership and constituency is its fundholders, the savings it wrings from its buying power are passed on to them, not to shareholders or partners. BlackRock (BLK), Charles Schwab (SCHW), Fidelity, and State Street cannot say the same.

"No one should be shocked," says Josh Brown, the Manhattan investment adviser who blogs as the Reformed Broker. He says that Vanguard is selling the lowest-cost bond funds in an environment in which every basis point counts, as well as "the plainest-vanilla indexes" in an era whose most expensive stock-pickers, he says, have been "rendered impotent."

The average equity mutual fund investor pays $1.24 for every $100 invested, compared with just under 36¢ for equity ETFs, according to Lipper. Vanguard ups (lowers?) that ante by offering a firm-wide average expense of 20¢ per $100 invested. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:37 AM


B's schedule: Beast of the East (Joe McDonald, 1/13/13, ESPNBoston.com)

The B's schedule is loaded with divisional opponents and conference foes over 48 games in the span of 99 days. Boston begins its quest against the New York Rangers on Jan. 19 at 7:00 p.m. at TD Garden. That matchup could very well be a precursor to the Eastern Conference finals since both teams are built to dominate the East. 

The Bruins will play division foes Ottawa and Buffalo five times apiece and face Toronto and Montreal four times each. A total of 30 games will be played against Atlantic and Southeast Division teams, with the Bruins facing each team three times. 

Start the season on Halloween Night and the playoffs on February 1, so your real season coincides with the end of football and you're done before baseball starts.

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Posted by orrinj at 9:33 AM


Bull market rolls on as global financial markets overcome fears (Tom Petruno, January 13, 2013, LA Times)

Global financial markets overcame a torrent of fears in 2012 to post strong gains nearly across the board.

Returns on most categories of stock mutual funds were in double digits. The average domestic equity fund generated a total return (price change plus dividend income) of 15%, after losing 2.5% in 2011, according to investment research firm Morningstar Inc.

It was the third calendar-year gain in the last four years, as the bull market that began in March 2009 rolled on.

Bond mutual funds also posted positive returns as market interest rates continued to slide, boosting the value of older bonds issued at higher rates.

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Posted by orrinj at 9:26 AM


Sol Yurick, author of The Warriors, dies at 87 ( Martin Chilton,  11 Jan 2013, Telegraph)

The book became a cult film and, later, a popular video game in 2005 for Xbox and PlayStation 2.

Yurick, who died in Manhattan, had grown up in the Bronx, the son of Communist activists. He later worked as an investigator for the New York City Department of Welfare. He was 40 when he finished The Warriors, his first published novel. It's the violent tale of a New York gang escaping from the Bronx to Brooklyn, often using the subway, on the the Fourth of July after a pact for gang unity has broken down. During the escape, there is a rape and the casual killing of a bystander.

His tale was based on the Greek story on Anabasis, written by the soldier Xenophon, about the retreat of 10,000 Greek soldiers after the failed conquest of Persia around 400 B.C.

Did any film that HBO had the rights to in its early years not become a cult classic?

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January 12, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 11:05 PM


Our Economic Pickle (STEVEN GREENHOUSE, 1/14/13, NY Times)

[O]verall employee compensation -- including health and retirement benefits -- has also slipped badly, falling to its lowest share of national income in more than 50 years while corporate profits have climbed to their highest share over that time.

Conservative and liberal economists agree on many of the forces that have driven the wage share down. Corporate America's push to outsource jobs -- whether call-center jobs to India or factory jobs to China -- has fattened corporate earnings, while holding down wages at home. New technologies have raised productivity and profits, while enabling companies to shed workers and slice payroll. Computers have replaced workers who tabulated numbers; robots have pushed aside many factory workers.

"Some people think it's a law that when productivity goes up, everybody benefits," says Erik Brynjolfsson, an economics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "There is no economic law that says technological progress has to benefit everybody or even most people. It's possible that productivity can go up and the economic pie gets bigger, but the majority of people don't share in that gain."

From 1973 to 2011, worker productivity grew 80 percent, while median hourly compensation, after inflation, grew by just one-eighth that amount, according to the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal research group. And since 2000, productivity has risen 23 percent while real hourly pay has essentially stagnated.

Meanwhile, it's been a lost economic decade for many households. According to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, median income for working-age households (headed by someone under age 65) slid 12.4 percent from 2000 to 2011, to $55,640. During that time the American economy grew more than 18 percent.

Jobs just aren't an efficient way to distribute the wealth our thriving economy is creating.

Posted by orrinj at 6:15 PM

Wynton Marsalis and Vince Giordano In Concert (PATRICK JARENWATTANANON, 1/02/13, NPR)

The New Year's Eve party at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola featured two institutions of New York jazz: the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, led by trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, and the Nighthawks, led by multi-instrumentalist Vince Giordano. Both big bands share an affinity for early swing, so it made sense for them to tackle the monumental Hot Fives recordings of Louis Armstrong together.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:12 PM


Targeted Killing and Drone Warfare (Michael Walzer, January 11, 2013, Dissent)

There are radical limits on political assassinations. In democracies, they can never be justified; it is only the blood of tyrants that waters the tree of liberty. And even with tyrants, a trial is preferable to an assassination whenever it is possible to bring down the tyrannical regime without killing its leader. In wartime, international law bars the killing of political leaders on the grounds that they are the ones who will in the end negotiate the peace treaty. But some political leaders, with whom one can't imagine negotiating, are legitimate targets--Hitler the obvious example. Killing Hitler would have been "extra-judicial" but entirely justified. Tyrants do have to be targeted, however; blowing up the neighborhood in which they live is not a moral option.

Military leaders are obviously legitimate targets in wartime. A sniper sent to a forward position to try to kill a visiting colonel or general is engaged in targeted killing, but no one will accuse him of acting extra-judicially and therefore wrongly. It is probably best to think of insurgent organizations in roughly the same way that we think about states. If they have separated their political and military leaders, it is only the second group who should be targeted since we may eventually negotiate with the first group. I don't believe that the same distinction is morally required in the case of terrorist organizations, though it may be prudent to make it. Individuals who plan, or organize, or recruit for, or participate in a terrorist attack are all of them legitimate targets. It would be better to capture them and bring them to trial, but that is often not a reasonable option--the risks are too high; innocent bystanders would be killed in the attempt; the planning would take time, and the terrorist attacks are imminent or actual. In cases like this, the phrase "war on terror" makes sense. More often, I think, the "war" is police work, and targeted killing is not permissible for the police. If the terrorist campaign has ended, only the police can deal with the men and women who organized it--and lawyers and judges after the police.

The targeted killing of insurgents and terrorists in wartime is subject to the same constraints as any other act of war. It will have to meet very strict standards of proportionality; given that the target is a single person, it will be difficult to justify any injury to innocent bystanders. So the targeting must be undertaken with great care; collecting information about the targeted individuals, their schedules, their whereabouts, their families and neighbors, is critically important, and if it involves risk for agents in the field, the risks must be accepted before the killing can be justified.

Now, does it make any difference if the actual killing is the work of a drone, operated by a technician sitting in an office 3,000 miles away? Surely the same criteria apply to the drone as to any more closely manned machine. Why should we think it different from the sniper's rifle? The difference is that killing-by-drone is so much easier than other forms of targeted killing. The easiness should make us uneasy. This is a dangerously tempting technology. It makes our enemies more vulnerable than ever before, and we can get at them without any risk to our own soldiers.

...that it is impossible to justify allowing any tyrants to survive.

Posted by orrinj at 6:09 PM


Netanyahu bringing about 'the demise of the Jewish state' (ELIE LESHEM, January 11, 2013, Times of Israel)

Tzipi Livni, the leader of the center-left Hatnua party, on Friday issued a scathing excoriation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing Likud-Beytenu list, saying the PM's policies posed a mortal threat to the Zionist endeavor.

"Netanyahu will be the demise of the Jewish state," Livni told an assembly at the Peres Academic Center in Rehovot. "The choice faced by Israeli citizens [in the upcoming elections] is between Zionism and extremism."

Livni was referring to Netanyahu's purported efforts to sabotage the prospects of a two-state solution with the Palestinians (publicly, he has endorsed it), the absence of which, many warn, will precipitate a single state where Jews will be in the minority.

January 11, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 9:02 PM


Back From the Fiscal Abyss, California Balances Its Budget (ADAM NAGOURNEY, 1/11/13, NY Times)

Mr. Brown was not just talking about a balanced budget. He projected that the state would begin posting surpluses starting next year, leading to a projected surplus of $21.5 million by 2014, a dramatic turnaround from the deficit of $26 billion -- billion, not million -- he faced when he was elected in 2010.

The governor said California's finances were strong enough that he wanted to put aside a $1 billion reserve fund to guard against future downturns, and included in the budget sharp increases in aid to public schools and the state university system, both targets of big spending cutbacks.

The change in fortunes reflected cuts that were imposed over the past two years, a temporary tax surcharge approved by voters in November that expires in seven years, and a general improvement in the state's economy.
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Posted by orrinj at 5:27 AM


An Instrument Comes Into Its Own (JIM FUSILLI, 1/01/13, WSJ)

With virtuosity and no small application of wit, the New York Theremin Society seeks to elevate the instrument to the status its members believe it deserves. At a show at Joe's Pub in mid-December, five thereminists performed a range of material--including ambient and techno music, classical compositions by Alexander Scriabin and Richard Wagner, and pop by the Beatles, Enya, and Dorothy Fields and Jerome Kern. During the concert, the instrument's bizarre nature was often secondary to its beauty and versatility.

Over borscht at a restaurant on the Lower East Side a few days before the show, Dorit Chrysler and Rob Schwimmer, the society's drivers, spoke of the theremin with affection and bemusement.

"I thought it was the kookiest, most expressive thing," said Ms. Chrysler, age 40, remembering her initial exposure to the instrument. "The only thing comparable is the voice. But the theremin is an extension of the body."

Mr. Schwimmer, 58, was familiar with its sound, but he hadn't seen it played until the late 1980s, when a clip of Clara Rockmore (1911-1998), perhaps the instrument's greatest virtuoso, ran on television. "I remember trying to reconcile the physical motions with the sound. I really didn't know which hand was doing what."

A theremin player manipulates the electromagnetic fields around two antennae--one of which controls pitch, the other volume. The tiniest movement affects the sound, more often than not to a dissatisfying end. To create the sonic impression of a soaring spaceship or a laser beam is fairly simple. To play George Harrison's "Within You Without You," as Mr. Schwimmer did at Joe's Pub, isn't. Yet the theremin appeals to amateur musicians who think it's easy to play.

"Evidently, the dropout rate is phenomenal," Mr. Schwimmer said.

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Posted by orrinj at 5:21 AM


Jindal: 'Our Goal Is to Eliminate All Personal Income Tax and All Corporate Income Tax' (DANIEL HALPER, 1/10/13, Weekly Standard)

Jindal announced today that his "goal is to eliminate all personal income tax and all corporate income tax."

"We are meeting with every legislator over the coming weeks to discuss the details of the tax reform plan. Our goal is to eliminate all personal income tax and all corporate income tax in a revenue neutral manner. We want to keep the sales tax as low and flat as possible," says Jindal in a statement provided by the Louisiana governor's office.

"Eliminating personal income taxes will put more money back into the pockets of Louisiana families and will change a complex tax code into a more simple system that will make Louisiana more attractive to companies who want to invest here and create jobs.

Posted by orrinj at 5:17 AM


The Murky History of Foosball : How did the tabletop game get from parlor halls in 19th-century Europe to the basements of American homes? (Derek Workman, 1/04/13, Smithsonian.com)
A group of young Parisians playing foosball at a cafe in 1958. (Rue des Archives / The Granger Collection, New York) 
In the best tradition of skulduggery, claim and counterclaim, foosball (or table football), that simple game of bouncing little wooden soccer players back and forth on springy metal bars across something that looks like a mini pool table, has the roots of its conception mired in confusion.

Some say that in a sort of spontaneous combustion of ideas, the game erupted in various parts of Europe simultaneously sometime during the 1880s or '90s as a parlor game. Others say that it was the brainchild of Lucien Rosengart, a dabbler in the inventive and engineering arts who had various patents, including ones for railway parts, bicycle parts, the seat belt and a rocket that allowed artillery shells to be exploded while airborne. Rosengart claimed to have come up with the game toward the end of the 1930s to keep his grandchildren entertained during the winter. Eventually his children's pastime appeared in cafés throughout France, where the miniature players wore red, white and blue to remind everyone that this was the result of the inventiveness of the superior French mind.

There again, though, Alexandre de Finesterre has many followers, who claim that he came up with the idea , being bored in a hospital in the Basque region of Spain with injuries sustained from a bombing raid during the Spanish Civil War. He talked a local carpenter, Francisco Javier Altuna, into building the first table, inspired by the concept of table tennis.  Alexandre patented his design for fútbolin in 1937, the story goes, but the paperwork was lost during a storm when he had to do a runner to France after the fascist coup d'état of General Franco. (Finesterre would also become a notable footnote in history as one of the first airplane hijackers ever.)

While it's debatable whether Señor Finisterre actually did invent table football, the indisputable fact is the first-ever patent for a game using little men on poles was granted in Britain, to Harold Searles Thornton, an indefatigable Tottenham Hotspur supporter, on November 1, 1923. His uncle, Louis P. Thornton, a resident of Portland, Oregon, visited Harold and brought the idea back to the United States and patented it in 1927. But Louis had little success with table football; the patent expired and the game descended into obscurity, no one ever realising the dizzying heights it would scale decades later.

The world would have been a much quieter place if the game had stayed as just a children's plaything, but it spread like a prairie fire.

Posted by orrinj at 5:05 AM


Richard Nixon -- the last great liberal (Douglas E. Schoen,  January 09, 2013, FoxNews.com)

Nixon was not only a fervent supporter of the Clean Air Act, the first federal law designed to control air pollution on the national level; he also gave us the Environmental Protection Agency. The creation of the EPA represented an expansion of government that would face fierce opposition were it being debated today. The EPA is also one of the agencies on Capitol Hill that the business community most detests--along with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which polices working conditions. OSHA is another Nixon creation.

Herbert Stein, chief economic adviser during the administrations of Nixon and Gerald Ford, once remarked: "Probably more new regulation was imposed on the economy during the Nixon administration than in any other presidency since the New Deal."

How many remember that Nixon was a champion of affirmative action? "Incredible but true", as Fortune magazine put it in 1994 when Nixon died, "It was the Nixonites that gave us employment quotas." Though many credit John F. Kennedy or Lyndon Johnson with initiating affirmative action, it was rather Richard Nixon who first sanctioned formal goals and time frames to break barriers to minority employment.

Social Security benefits, a cornerstone of the Democratic Party platform, were also crucial to Nixon's policies. He ushered in a minimum tax on the wealthy and supported a guaranteed income for all Americans, a move that would rile today's Republicans to unprecedented heights.

And finally, consider health care: Nixon's proposed reform would have required employers to buy health insurance for their employees and subsidize those who couldn't afford it. Nixon's version of national health care was a far more liberal concept than Bill Clinton's or Barack Obama's--and it failed because of Democratic opposition, not lack of support from Nixon's own party. (Ted Kennedy later said that opposing Nixon's health-care plan was one of his biggest political regrets.)

January 10, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 8:34 PM


Trains and the Brits Who Love Them: Monty Python's Michael Palin on Great Railway Journeys (Open Culture,  January 10th, 2013)

What is it with Britons and trains, anyway? Hardly just the title of collection of Irvine Welsh's stories of heroin and degradation, the term "trainspotting" actually refers to a real, and fervently pursued hobby; trainspotters exist, just as do birdwatchers and sports fans. In terms of obsession with the design and operational minutiae of their own trains, Britain falls second only to the even more densely rail-laden Japan. But we Americans, possessed of a train system few would call robust, can't quite bring ourselves to believe it. Perhaps we just need to hear it from the mouth of Michael Palin, writer, comedian, television host, Python -- and avowed trainspotter.

Posted by orrinj at 8:30 PM


This could be the birth of an independent Kurdish state (David Hirst, 1/10/13, The Guardian)

[S]ince 2008, in a complete reversal of earlier policy, which had once been to boycott Kurdistan altogether, the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been pursuing "full economic integration" with it. Meanwhile its relations with the Iraqi government have been deteriorating, with the two now on opposite sides in the great Middle Eastern power struggle that pits Shia Iran, Maliki's Iraq, Bashar al-Assad's Syria and Hezbollah against the Syrian revolutionaries, most Sunni Arab states and Turkey itself. Turkey's courtship with Iraqi Kurds has moved so far, the Kurds believe, that Turkey might soon break with Maliki's essentially Shia regime and deal separately with the other main components of a fragmenting Iraqi state, its Arab Sunnis and its Kurds.

In return, an independent Kurdistan could be a source of abundant and reliable oil supplies, a stable ally and buffer against a hostile Iraq and Iran, and even, in a policy option as extraordinary as Turkey's own, a collaborator in containing or combating fellow Kurds in the shape of the PKK - who, having established a strong presence in "liberated" Syrian Kurdistan, are seeking to turn it into a platform for a reviving insurgency in Turkey itself.

It is even said that Erdogan has gone so far as to promise Massoud Barazani, the Iraqi Kurd president, that Turkey would protect his would-be state in the event of an Iraqi military onslaught - though presumably that would never come to pass if, adopting plan B, the Maliki regime really is contemplating the seismic step of letting the Kurds go of their own free will.

Posted by orrinj at 8:28 PM


Biden versus Goliath (PAUL WALDMAN AND JAIME FULLER JANUARY 10, 2013, American Prospect)

Posted by orrinj at 8:24 PM


Prominent pastor out of Obama Inaugural after revelation he called homosexuality a 'sin' (JOSEPH STRAW, 1/10/13, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

Posted by orrinj at 8:16 PM


The beauty of a carbon tax - and its exemption for the poor (Paul Boudreaux / January 10, 2013, CS Monitor)

The policy arguments for a carbon tax are compelling. Economists have convinced the environmental community that market-oriented systems, as opposed to inflexible commands, are the best way to regulate. The simplest and most efficient way to change people's behavior is to tax them; everyone is then encouraged to look for efficient ways to avoid the taxed activity. [...]

A benefit of consumers paying for the tax is that they would be encouraged to make important choices - such as adjusting their thermostats, changing their light bulbs, or refusing to do so and paying the tax. As with any tax on consumption, however, poorer Americans would suffer more than wealthier ones.

A simple exemption, however, could make the tax burden much lighter for poorer Americans, while at the same time encouraging even greater conservation. The idea is simple: Each household would be exempted from the tax for a modest amount of electricity per month or year; the exemption would be most effective if the system also imposed only minimal usage charges for electricity below the cutoff. The system would recognize almost all households need to use some electricity, but that consumption beyond the minimum would be taxed.

Posted by orrinj at 5:34 PM


High-Level Group To Give Green Light For EU-US Trade Deal (EurActiv, January 10, 2013)

 The high-level working group on growth and jobs, set up at the last EU-US summit in November 2011, will give the go-ahead to launch negotiations for a transatlantic trade agreement, said Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the EU.

After meeting European Council President Herman Van Rompuy in Dublin, Kenny told reporters he understands the report "is favourable" to launching negotiations towards signing an agreement that is expected to boost growth and jobs on both sides of the Atlantic.

Posted by orrinj at 5:25 PM


Immigration reform in 2013? It has a champion in Corporate America (David Grant, January 10, 2013, CS Monitor)

US Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue was particularly bullish, and at times passionate, on another long-sought goal, one not often associated with the conservative-leaning group: immigration reform.

"I have an optimistic feeling about this," Mr. Donohue told reporters after his annual State of American Business speech. "Before, everybody talked about it, everybody understood the issues, but there wasn't an energy behind it and I think there is a bipartisan group of people - we haven't got everybody, that's for sure - but I feel positive about it and look forward to [immigration reform] this year."

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 AM


Google to bring free Wi-Fi to New York City (David Goldman, January 8, 2013, CNNMoney)

Google's ambitions to wire the world are expanding. The company announced on Tuesday that it will provide free Wi-Fi service to Chelsea, a New York City neighborhood where Google has its local headquarters.

In a joint press conference with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and New York Senator Charles Schumer, Google said it hoped to keep the tens of thousands of residents, and millions of tourists, in the area connected at all times when they're outdoors. Google also will be providing indoor coverage for public housing units in the area.

January 9, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 9:37 PM


Target offers year-round online price matching of Amazon, Wal-Mart (Anne D'Innocenzio, 1/09/13, AP)

The nation's second largest discounter behind Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said it will match prices that customers find on identical products at top online retailers, all the time. The online list includes Amazon.com as well as the websites of Wal-Mart, Best Buy, Toys R Us and Babies R Us.

Posted by orrinj at 9:11 PM


John Brennan's extremism and dishonesty rewarded with CIA Director nomination : Obama's top terrorism adviser goes from unconfirmable in 2008 to uncontroversial in 2013, reflecting the Obama legacy (Glenn Greenwald, 1`/07/13, guardian.co.uk)

Prior to President Obama's first inauguration in 2009, a controversy erupted over reports that he intended to appoint John Brennan as CIA director. That controversy, in which I participated, centered around the fact that Brennan, as a Bush-era CIA official, had expressly endorsed Bush's programs of torture (other than waterboarding) and rendition and also was a vocal advocate of immunizing lawbreaking telecoms for their role in the illegal Bush NSA eavesdropping program. As a result, Brennan withdrew his name from consideration, issuing a bitter letter blaming "strong criticism in some quarters prompted by [his] previous service with the" CIA.

This "victory" of forcing Brennan's withdrawal proved somewhat Pyrrhic, as Obama then appointed him as his top counter-terrorism adviser, where he exerted at least as much influence as he would have had as CIA Director, if not more. [...]

Although I actively opposed Brennan's CIA nomination in 2008, I can't quite muster the energy or commitment to do so now. Indeed, the very idea that someone should be disqualified from service in the Obama administration because of involvement in and support for extremist Bush terrorism polices seems quaint and obsolete, given the great continuity between Bush and Obama on these issues. Whereas in 2008 it seemed uncertain in which direction Obama would go, making it important who wielded influence, that issue is now settled: Brennan is merely a symptom of Obama's own extremism in these areas, not a cause. This continuity will continue with or without Brennan because they are, rather obviously, Obama's preferred policies.

Posted by orrinj at 4:22 PM


Study Finds A Daily Dose Of Peanuts Under Your Tongue Helps Treat Peanut Allergies (Shaunacy Ferro,  01.09.2013, Popular Science)

Peanut-fearers, rejoice -- new research suggests that treatment may be possible for peanut allergies. A study sponsored by National Institutes of Health in the January issue of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology found that by exposing people to small amounts of peanut powder every day, they could increase their tolerance.

Posted by orrinj at 3:42 PM


If They Would Just Think Anew (PETER FERRARA, 1.9.13, American Spectator)

The new modern entitlements work far better because, instead of old-fashioned, counterproductive, tax and redistribution, they rely on modern capital and labor markets to provide most of the benefits (dramatically reducing future federal spending in the process). They involve pro-growth incentives for the poor to work, and working people to save and invest for retirement, contributing to economic growth and prosperity for all, rather than dragging the economy down through tax and redistribution. Call it the "supply side" safety net.

Conservatives can win promoting such modern, supply-side, entitlement reform, with broad, enthusiastic, majority public support. They may even be able to start enacting some of the reforms in the next four years. But at a minimum, they can start public education and organization now to promote such reform, and lay the groundwork for winning future elections on this basis. And this is how conservatives and Republicans should discuss entitlement reform in the upcoming debt limit/government shutdown battles with President Obama and the Democrats.

...except to those stuck in the First and Second Ways.

Posted by orrinj at 3:37 PM


Should We Tax People for Being Annoying? (ADAM DAVIDSON, 1/13/13, NY Times Magazine)

Driving home during the holidays, I found myself trapped in the permanent traffic jam on I-95 near Bridgeport, Conn. In the back seat, my son was screaming. All around, drivers had the menaced, lifeless expressions that people get when they see cars lined up to the horizon. It was enough to make me wish for congestion pricing -- a tax paid by drivers to enter crowded areas at peak times. After all, it costs drivers about $16 to enter central London during working hours. A few years ago, it nearly caught on in New York. And on that drive home, I would have happily paid whatever it cost to persuade some other drivers that it wasn't worth it for them to be on the road.

Instead, we all suffered. Each car added an uncharged burden to every other person. In fact, everyone on the road was doing all sorts of harm to society without paying the cost. I drove about 150 miles that day and emitted, according to E.P.A. data, about 140 pounds of carbon dioxide. My very presence also increased (albeit infinitesimally) the likelihood of a traffic accident, further dependence on foreign oil and the proliferation of urban sprawl. According to an influential study by the I.M.F. economist Ian Parry, my hours on the road cost society around $10. Add up all the cars in all the traffic jams across the country, and it's clear that drivers are costing hundreds of billions of dollars a year that we don't pay for.

This is how economists think, anyway. And that's why a majority of them support some form of Pigovian tax, named after Alfred Pigou, the early-20th-century British economist. Pigou developed the idea of externalities: the things we do that affect others and that the market is unable to price. A negative externality is like the national equivalent of what happens when you go to dinner with three friends and, knowing that you'll pay only a fourth of the bill, decide to order an expensive entree. Pigou argued that there are so many damaging things that we do -- play music too loudly, drive aggressively -- and that we'd probably do less if we had to pay for them. [...]

Republican economists, like Mankiw, normally oppose tax increases, but many support Pigovian taxes because, in some sense, we are already paying them. We pay the tax in the form of the overcrowded roads, higher insurance premiums, smog and global warming. Adding an extra fee at the pump simply makes the cost explicit. Pigou's approach, Mankiw argues, also converts a burden into a benefit. Imposing taxes on income and capital gains, he notes, punishes the work and investment that improve society; taxing negative externalities allows the government to make money while discouraging activity that hurts the overall economy.

January 8, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 9:16 PM


'The Hobbit' and Virtue (JOSEPH PEARCE,December 14, 2012,  National Catholic Register )

At its deepest level of meaning, The Hobbit is a pilgrimage of grace in which its protagonist, Bilbo Baggins, becomes grown-up in the most important sense.  Throughout the course of his adventure, the hobbit develops the habit of virtue and grows in sanctity, illustrating the priceless truth that we only become wise men (homo sapiens) when we realize that we are pilgrims on a purposeful journey through life (homo viator).

Bilbo's journey from the homely comfort of the Shire to the uncomfortable lessons learned en route to the Lonely Mountain, in parallel with Frodo's journey from the Shire to Mount Doom in the Rings trilogy, is a mirror of every man's journey through life.  It is in this sense that Tolkien wrote in his celebrated and cerebral essay "On Fairy Stories" that "the fairy story . . . may be used as a mirour de l'omme" (the mirror of scorn and pity towards man).

In short, we are meant to see ourselves reflected in the character of Bilbo and our lives reflected in his journey from the Shire to the Lonely Mountain.

Posted by orrinj at 9:01 PM


Where Did Pabst Win that Blue Ribbon? (Jimmy Stampp, 11/20/12, Smithsonian)

Pabst Blue Ribbon beer -PBR to its friends- may today be best known as the preferred beer of old Midwestern fisherman and mustachioed hipsters, but that instantly recognizable ribbon is more than just a symbol or marketing ploy. Pabst did, in fact, win a first place award at one of the most celebrated events in American history. The year was 1893  (a time when everyone looked like a mustachioed hipster) and in Chicago, Illinois, America's greatest architects and planners had created a fairground unlike any the world had ever seen, a utopian White City.

The World's Columbian Exposition, also known as the Chicago World's Fair, was convened to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus's arrival in America. It was a key moment for design and invention in America. Products such as Juicy Fruit, Crackerjack and Shredded Wheat were introduced to the public for the first time. The Ferris Wheel made its grand debut, outshining the Eiffel Tower and proving that there was no limit to American engineering and imagination. Westinghouse electrified the fairgrounds with alternating current electricity, setting the standard for a nation. Nikola Tesla stunned visitors by shooting lighting from his hands, Thomas Edison thrilled them with the Kinetoscope's moving pictures, and former steamship captain Frederick Pabst got them drunk on the best damn beer they'd ever tasted.

Posted by orrinj at 8:56 PM


Why Evangelicals are the new partners for immigration reform (Amy E. Black / January 8, 2013, CS Monitor)

[P]astors and religious leaders are talking more about the issue as a religious concern. Many scriptural passages relate to immigration - including the famous 40-year wilderness journey of the children of Israel to the Promised Land. But most evangelical churches and organizations have only recently begun to underscore the biblical connection to immigration. [...]

Much like the nation, evangelicalism is becoming more ethnically diverse. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, 13 percent of Hispanic Americans describe themselves as evangelical Protestants. Immigrant churches are growing rapidly, and many denominations have created new structures and leadership posts designed to serve Hispanic congregants. Immigration - including illegal immigration - touches the lives of many in the pews, and church leaders want to help.

Also, greater numbers of Evangelicals are worshiping alongside documented and undocumented immigrants, getting to know them and listening to their stories.

Posted by orrinj at 8:52 PM


Three Great Bodies of Principle and Conviction (Russell Kirk, Imaginative Conservative)

The first of these is the Christian faith: the theological and moral doctrines which inform us, either side of the Atlantic, of the nature of God and man, the fatherhood of God, the brotherhood of man, human dignity, the rights and duties of human person, the nature of charity, and the meaning of hope and resignation. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:48 PM


Four Years Later, 28,000 More Jobs (FLOYD NORRIS, 1/08/13, NY Times)

The December jobs figures out today indicate that there were 725,000 more jobs in the private sector than at the end of 2008 -- and 697,000 fewer government jobs. That works into a private-sector gain of 0.6 percent, and a government sector decline of 3.1 percent. [...]

 It is by far the largest four-year decline in government employment since the 1944-48 term. That decline was caused by the end of World War II; this one was caused largely by budget limitations. The only other post-1948 four-year drop was during Ronald Reagan's first term, when government employment fell 0.6 percent.

Posted by orrinj at 5:35 AM

Richard Ben Cramer : The author of "What It Takes" died Monday (Ben Smith,  Jan 7, 2013, BuzzFeed)

The writer Richard Ben Cramer, who died Monday at the age of 62 at Johns Hopkins, wrote one of the very few enduring books about presidential politics, "What It Takes." Published in during the 1992 campaign, far too late, it sank like a stone (in his recollection at least), only to rise slowly until it became a model and a talisman for a new generation of political writers.

Richard was a character as large as the politicians and ballplayers he wrote about; or at least, as large as he made those men, some of them superficially fairly dull, seem -- once he had climbed into their heads and learned to speak their voices. He had a beard and a gravely voice and wore absurd, baggy gardening pants; he lived in a big house on Maryland's Eastern Shore that Joe Biden had helped him select. Richard cared far more about the people he wrote about than about party or policy. In fact, he unabashedly loved many of the people he wrote about, perhaps because he had worked so hard to understand them: The crooked Maryland politicians he came up with; the misunderstood Ted Williams, whose secret kindness he exposed in an Esquire piece you should read tonight; Bob Dole!; and George W. Bush, who had been a great source of his on the 1988 campaign. Richard and W. discussed a book that would have had the writer sitting in the West Wing through the year 2001, a vetoed project that must be the best unwritten book in the history of American politics.

Richard wanted to understand things above all.


What Do You Think of Ted Williams Now? : Regarded as perhaps the finest piece of sportswriting on record, the furious saga of Teddy Ballgame -- from boy to man and near death -- is an unmatchable remembrance for an American icon. (Richard Ben Cramer, Esquire)
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Posted by orrinj at 5:30 AM


Morsy backs Syrian calls for al-Assad to face war crimes trial (CNN,  January 7, 2013)

 Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy supports calls by people in Syria for President Bashar al-Assad to be tried for war crimes, he told CNN on Sunday in an exclusive interview.

"The Syrian people through their revolution and through the movement will -- when the bloodshed stops -- move to a new stage where they will have an independent parliament and a government of their choosing," Morsy, Egypt's first freely elected leader, told CNN's Wolf Blitzer in Cairo. "And then they will decide what they want to do to those who committed crimes against them. It is the Syrian people who decide."

January 7, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 5:10 PM


 The British and their bizarre view of Americans : We lap up their culture, adopt their economics and are obsessed with the "special relationship". So why do British people have such a confused - even negative - view of Americans (Will Self, 1/07/13, BBC Magazine)

I think, at root, the problem is one of mirroring.

They say "aluminum", we say "aluminium", but both can be shiny and reflective surfaces. So, no matter how intently we examine the US, we cannot help but see our own features staring back at us. This phenomenon simply doesn't occur when we look at the French, the Vietnamese or the South Africans - all remain properly other.

Only America and the Americans have this ability to derange us with their capacity to reflect our own image. Not that they do this intentionally, really, it's something we do to ourselves. And it follows that what we also do to ourselves is to relentlessly equate America with Americans, and the US government with its electorate - conflations we wouldn't dream of making in the case of the German or Greek peoples.

Posted by orrinj at 5:07 PM


Yes, We Have A (Defense) Spending Problem (DAVID CALLAHAN JANUARY 7, 2013, American Prospect)

Last year, in 2012, the U.S. government spent about $841 billion on security--a figure that includes defense, intelligence, war appropriations, and foreign aid. At the same time, the government collected about $1.1 trillion in individual income taxes. (And about $2.4 trillion in revenues overall if you include payroll, corporate, estate, and excise taxes.) 

In other words, about 80 cents of every dollar collected in traditional federal income taxes went for security.  [...]

While the Simpson-Bowles Commission advocated over a trillion dollars in defense cuts, President Obama's budget would only reduce spending modestly, and even that's a hard sell on Capitol Hill. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:03 PM


Jailed Barghouti calls for Palestinian 'spring' (KHALED ABU TOAMEH, 01/06/2013, Jerusalem Post)

Jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti on Sunday called for a Palestinian "spring" to force Fatah and Hamas to end their dispute and achieve unity. [...]

 "I call on the Palestinian people and youth to take the initiative to impose unity," Barghouti said.

"I call on them to take to the streets in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and the diaspora and protest in front of the offices of the Palestinian factions and leaderships until the end of the division."

Barghouti said that Palestinians should not wait for Egypt or any other country to achieve reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah. "We need reconciliation now and without delay," he stressed.
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Posted by orrinj at 4:52 PM


Fake mission to Mars leaves astronauts spaced out (Ian Sample, 1/07/13, The Guardian)

The drudge of interplanetary travel has emerged from research on six men who joined the longest simulated space mission ever: a 17-month round trip to the red planet in a pretend spaceship housed at a Moscow industrial estate.

Though chosen for the job as the best of the best, the would-be spacefarers spent more and more time under their duvets and sitting around idle as the mission wore on. The crew's activity levels plummeted in the first three months, and continued to fall for the next year.

On the return leg, the men spent nearly 700 hours longer in bed than on the outward journey, and only perked up in the last 20 days before they clambered from their capsule in November 2011. Four crew members suffered from sleep or psychological issues.

Posted by orrinj at 4:48 PM


Just 8% Now Say They Are Tea Party Members (Rasmussen Reports, January 07, 2013

Views of the Tea Party movement are at their lowest point ever, with voters for the first time evenly divided when asked to match the views of the average Tea Party member against those of the average member of Congress.  Only eight percent (8%) now say they are members of the Tea Party, down from a high of 24% in April 2010 just after passage of the national health care law. 

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that only 30% of Likely U.S. Voters now have a favorable opinion of the Tea Party. Half (49%) of voters have an unfavorable view of the movement. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:34 PM


The real fiscal cliff winner? Bush (Michael M. Rosen, JANUARY 7, 2013, Reuters)

"Tax relief is an achievement for families struggling to enter the middle class," the president trumpeted, shortly after Congress, by sweeping bipartisan margins and after a bruising battle, had lowered taxes for almost all Americans.  "For hard-working lower income families, we have cut the bottom rate of federal income tax from 15 percent to 10 percent. We doubled the per-child tax credit to $1,000 and made it refundable. Tax relief is compassionate, and it is now on the way."

Despite a furious counterattack from the opposition, the president had scored a major victory by securing lower tax rates for everyone in the middle class on down.

President Barack Obama last week after narrowly averting the fiscal cliff?  Nope, President George W. Bush in June 2001, signing the first set of his much-sought-after tax cuts. Perhaps the "compassionate" was a giveaway.

Now that the vast majority of those cuts -- to income taxes, and to much of the estate levy and capital gains and dividend rates --have been made permanent, with a bipartisan Washington consensus hardening around the benefits of tax relief, Bush must surely be smiling in Texas -- and for good reason.

Republicans have now succumbed to navel-gazing, infighting and worse. But they should instead focus on how their larger principles have prevailed.

Posted by orrinj at 4:04 PM


Muddy Waters and Friends on the Blues and Gospel Train, 1964 (Open Culture,  January 7th, 2013)

One of the most unique and intimate concerts from the British blues revival of the 1960s was the "Blues and Gospel Train," filmed May 7, 1964 in a suburb of Manchester, England. In 2011 we posted an excerpt featuring Muddy Waters singing "You Can't Lose What You Ain't Never Had." Today we're pleased to bring the whole show-or at least most of it.

The "Blues and Gospel Train" was staged on May 7, 1964 by Granada TV. Fans who were lucky enough to get tickets-some 200 of them-were instructed to meet at Manchester's Central Station at 7:30 that evening for a short train ride to the abandoned Wilbraham Road Station in Whalley Range.

When the train pulled in at Wilbraham Road, the audience poured out and found seats on one platform, making their way past Muddy Waters, who was singing "Blow Wind Blow." The opposite platform, decorated to look like an old railway station in the American South, served as a stage for a lineup of now-legendary blues artists including Waters, Sister Rosetta Sharpe, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, Cousin Joe, Otis Spann and Reverand Gary Davis.

Posted by orrinj at 3:53 PM


Obama's Cheney? "Assassination Czar" John Brennan Brings Legacy of Drone War and Torture to CIA Nod (Democracy Now, 1/07/13)

Dubbed the "assassination czar," presumptive CIA nominee John Brennan has played a key role backing some of the nation's most controversial post-9/11 policies, from the secret drone war to wireless surveillance. Brennan was a rumored pick for the job when Obama was first elected in 2008 but was forced to withdraw from consideration amid protests over his role at the CIA under George W. Bush and his public support for the CIA's policies of so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques" and extraordinary rendition.

Obama is, of course, Obana's Cheney.

Posted by orrinj at 5:39 AM


In GOP, All Eyes on Jeb Bush (NEIL KING JR., 1/06/12, WSJ)

On the one hand, few can rival his name recognition, his stature within the party, his résumé as governor, or his clout within GOP money circles. Among Democrats, only Secretary of State Hillary Clinton might enter the race with similar muscle.

But conservatives worry about leaning on the Bush name yet again at a time when the GOP is trying to reintroduce itself to voters and can draw on plenty of new talents, including Florida senator and Bush protégé Marco Rubio, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. No Republican not named Bush has won the White House since 1984, an eternity in politics.

Murmurings about a possible Bush run have already provoked groans in some quarters. It is time for conservatives "to move beyond picking the next elder white guy in line," said Matt Kibbe, a prominent tea-party activist and president of FreedomWorks, a conservative campaign group.

And yet, the GOP loss in the latest presidential election has led many other conservative leaders to see Mr. Bush as the ideal person to widen the party's message while expanding its reach, above all among the country's fast-growing Hispanic population.

A Spanish speaker whose wife is Mexican-American, Mr. Bush, 59 years old, has long advocated a comprehensive fix to the country's immigration problems. As governor, he was a pioneer in pushing for school choice and tougher teacher standards, and he now runs a high-profile education think tank. He trimmed taxes in Florida while leaving the state in the black and with the jobless rate below the national average.

"Some argue after 60 years of Nixon, Reagan and Bushes, the party should move on," said Ralph Reed, founder of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, which advocates for social conservatism and limited government. "But if the goal is principled conservative leadership that overperforms among Hispanics and women, no one has been more effective than Jeb."

Given that the entirety of the GOP's recent ills are a function of the degree to which the Beltway has drifted away from W's ideas, Jeb is the best way to ameliorate the damage.

Posted by orrinj at 5:30 AM


Jesus was a dirty, dirty God (Johnnie Moore, 1/05/13, CNN)

[D]espite the Christian belief that Jesus was both fully God and fully man, Jesus was a rather dirty God.

He was the "earthly" son of a carpenter, and life in the first-century was both more lurid and unfinished than our collective religious memory seems to recall.

To that end, I suggested recently to several astounded colleagues of mine that Jesus actually had to go to the bathroom, perhaps even on the side of the road between Capernaum and Jerusalem.

CNN's Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories

What tipped them over the edge was when I insinuated that Jesus, like almost every other human being living in the rural world in that time, might have even had dysentery on an occasion or two.

Someone said, "You mean that Jesus might have had severe diarrhea?"

"Yep," I replied, "That's exactly what I mean."

It seems like an obvious statement if you believe that Jesus was "fully God" and "fully man" (as most evangelicals believe and call the Incarnation), but to some of us it seems in the least, inappropriate, and at the most, sacrilege, to imagine Jesus in this way. 

Which is why Piss Christ and Fire in My Belly always seemed rather unexceptionable.

January 6, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 9:08 AM


Eunuchs of the Universe (Tom Wolfe, Jan 4, 2013, Daily Beast)

Naturally, being so manly, so fast-acting, so... well... so masterful, the Masters of the Universe couldn't help but feel superior to the common people they had to deal with every day. They tried not to show it... but when the warriors were among themselves, out on the trading floor, let's say, how could they help but poke a little fun at all the simple souls they ran into in the course of their work? It was like the way New York City police officers called the clueless citizens they ran into "hooples."

The Masters of the Universe had the same sort of terminology for referring to clueless citizens in their world--but who were they? According to Michael Lewis, a onetime salesman for Salomon Brothers, there was a running joke at Salomon that went:

"What's the second-lowest form of human being?"

"I don't know, what?"

"An equities dealer in Dallas." This was the sub-punchline. At the time, the 1980s, the action, the big money, was not in equities, i.e., stocks, but in the bond market and certainly not in Texas.

"So what's the lowest form of human being?"

"A customer."

That was Salomon Brothers. At Goldman Sachs they called customers "muppets." Other investment banks called their customers "guppies," "suckers," "marks," "sheep," "chumps," "lambs," "baby seals"... Words like suckers, marks, and lambs had considerably more bite than hooples. After all, where do lambs go? To the slaughter.

The Masters of the Universe had always thought of their customers as people who should never have been let out of the house with money in their pockets. But here they were and somebody was going to take advantage of them. To turn your palms up and shrug and just watch them walk by, you'd have to be as lame as they were. They were lame; they weren't stupid. They had money and IQs above 98. So you had to ask yourself, Why would they ever invest in an investment bank? In a hedge fund you at least had a fighting chance. The manager was investing his own money the same way you were. Well... let's be fair. Not every investment bank would lead its customers to the slaughter. On the other hand what was wrong with shearing the fleece every so often?

Our manly Masters, still gorged with so much testosterone and dopamine, just didn't get it in 2009 even when the most unlikely thing in the world happened: a bunch of weaklings, a bunch of nerds known as quants, shut the golden door flat in their faces.

Nerds... the nerd has never been precisely defined, thanks to the psychological complexity of the creature. The word has connotations of some level of intelligence. The typical nerd is a male with intelligence but no sense of giving it a manly face. He doesn't play sports, doesn't automatically crack up over jokes about slutty girls, doesn't shore up his masculinity with frequent drops of the f-bomb, doesn't realize how bad it looks when he shoots his arm into the air and flaps his hand like a flag in his eagerness for the teacher to call on him first to answer the question, doesn't retaliate against insults from his fellow males in the schoolyard--oh, the schoolyard... the schoolyard... It is there that he learns he is not a Master of the Universe and never will be... not in his whole lifetime... and so he develops interests that are neither male nor not male--just obsessive, such as capturing bugs at night and pinning them up on a push-pin board, studiously arranging them by genus, species, and subspecies. There's nothing wrong with it... it's just a little weird and brainy--in short, nerdy. If a nerd was a little weird and not brainy at all, he was known as a dork. There was no connotation of deviant sexual behavior. The Master of the Universe assumed all varieties of nerds--quants, dorks, and plain nerds--were asexual.

Quant was what a nerd could move up in rank to, if he turned out to be a mathematical genius. It was the manly traders' and salesmen's condescending contraction of the actual term, quantitative analyst. Quants started showing up on trading floors in the late 1980s to set up computers that could retrieve information and sort it out faster than a trader, thereby freeing the Master of the Universe from a lot of tedious clerk work. At the outset, the traders looked down upon the quants as nerds who didn't have, in real-manly MasterSpeak, "the balls" it took to go out on the floor and take the big risks required if you wanted to make real money. It was in the early 1990s that the Masters actually coined the word quant, possibly because that was what it sounded like when you squashed a blood-ballooned tick with your thumb. They had no suspicion, none at all, of what these ball-less, sofa-bottomed weaklings were up to.

In 1942, Joseph Schumpeter wrote that stocks and bonds are "evaporated property." Everybody thought of that as such a witty aphorism, but Schumpeter meant it as a lament. "Substituting a mere parcel of shares for the walls and the machines in a factory," he said, "takes the life out of the idea of property." The new owners, i.e., the stockholders, lose the entrepreneur's, the founder's, will "to fight, economically, physically, politically, for, 'his' factory and his control over it and to die if necessary on its steps." Instead, at the first whiff of a problem the shareholders bail out and sell their share of the ownership to whoever will buy it on the stock market... and couldn't care less who it is.

That was how stocks and bonds evaporated property. What the quants had in mind was a quantum leap (so to speak) forward to the next stage: evaporating the stocks and bonds... not the property--that was long gone--but the very stocks and bonds themselves and making some real real money.

It was not a new idea, but even among quants few knew where it came from. Back in 1962 a young (30) mathematics professor at MIT, Edward O. Thorp, had published a mathematically foolproof way of winning at blackjack by counting the numbers of the cards already played. He proved it in live action by playing in a series of Nevada casinos... with a professional gambler's money. The book--and Thorp himself--infuriated the gambling industry. Now any clueless hoople could walk into a casino and wipe out the house. The casinos had to change the rules of a grand (and lucrative) old game. Naturally, the public ate it all up, and Beat the Dealer became a bestseller. To most mathematicians it was ingenious--they devoutly wished they had thought it up themselves--but pretty simple stuff, when you got right down to it. Five years later however, in 1967, Thorp caught their unqualified attention with a second book, Beat the Market. It described a foolproof way of winning big on the stock and bond markets. His fellow mathematicians had been spellbound at the time... 45 years ago. This one baffled ordinary citizens, however. It had to do with the mispricing of stocks and bonds as compared to their derivatives--futures, warrants, debentures, forwards, options, swaps, convertibles... and selling the stocks and bonds short and buying the derivatives long, or vice versa. It didn't matter what stocks or bonds, either. Their names, histories, reputations, prospects--irrelevant. All that mattered were the spreads, the lags, and they didn't have to be large. In fact, a difference of 2 cents was--

Hold on! Hold on!... Did you say derivatives?! and debentures or something?! and selling short?! or vice versa?! It made a hoople's head hurt.  [...]

The robo-monster accounted for 10 percent of all trades in 2000. Thereafter, the number rose in a steep, steady climb to a peak of 73 percent in 2009, close to three of every four trades--and nobody in the outside world, not even the press, had ever heard of it! The first mention of it in the press was not until July 23, 2009, in the New York Times.

The majority of men working full-time right here on Wall Street didn't know much more. They were as innocent as the suckers, the guppies, the muppets. They learned in such tiny steps, they didn't get the whole picture until very late in the game. Their first inkling came when the investment banks' trading floors began to calm down... fewer and fewer traders yelling at each other or into the telephone or at Fate. Before long they were sitting at desks behind banks of computer screens and communicating with each other by text message.

The robots cost some old traders and salesmen their jobs but, again, gradually, and intermittently, somebody still had to attend to the muppets and marks who continued to come to Wall Street to invest--to the quants the word seemed so archaic--to "invest" their money. What the Masters didn't realize was that their muppets, marks, guppies, and chumps provided only the liquidity--i.e., ready money... useful mainly to provide the quants' robo-diddlers with numbers to play with, discrepancies the robot battle machinery could game and exploit. The Masters didn't begin to sense that something was up until the heads of the various desks began giving them odd assignments such as taking big customers or potential customers out to lunch. Out to lunch? Assigned to leave the trading floor in the middle of the trading day? No more you... yes, you... if you must have something to eat, wimp, order in from the deli?... What was this? But even then it never became blatant enough to make them realize the new name of the game.

Today the same sort of top Ivy League students who wanted so badly to work on Wall Street even six years ago... now head for the Silicon Valley, because that is now where things are happening. And what is happening there is part of an older, more typical America. A Mark Zuckerberg and his Facebook, and Facebook's industry, IT, for information technology... and, hoodie or no hoodie, are perfectly traditional in the lustrous economic annals of the United States.

Two things showed quite concretely how lowly the traders and salesmen had fallen. For a hot quant prospect, employers would pay up to five times as much as for a Master of the Universe. Or as a New York Post headline put it recently: "Slick 'Wall Street' guys ousted by $1M geeks." And a quant's rogue algorithm for a single stock could bring down the entire market, as in the "flash crash" of 2010 and the 1,000-point nosedive of 2012. The dive cost the Knight Capital Group $440 million. They never recovered.

Posted by orrinj at 8:56 AM


Let your security blanket slip (Oliver Burkeman, 1/04/12, The Guardian)

This coming August, Richard Reid turns 40. Astonishingly, it's now more than 12 years since Reid, presently an inmate of the "supermax" prison in Colorado, tried to detonate a shoe bomb on a flight from Paris to Miami, ushering in the era of compulsory footwear checks at all American airports. For the youngest air travellers, these edgy anti-terror rules (see also, most obviously, the ban on large containers of liquids in hand luggage) are how flying has always been. Yet it's increasingly commonplace to hear specialists arguing that the crackdown hasn't made us any safer. More people have almost certainly died in car crashes since 9/11, as a result of being put off flying by the attacks of that day, than died on 9/11 itself. "We have made air travel an unending nightmare, [creating] a security system that is brittle where it needs to be supple," wrote a regretful Kip Hawley, former head of the much-despised US Transportation Security Administration, a few months ago. Each new ban on a given item, he pointed out, merely "gives terrorists a complete list of what not to use in their next attack".

There are all sorts of political reasons for this mess. But the deeper explanation, the security expert Bruce Schneier argues, is that we confuse the feeling of security with the reality of reducing risk. The "security theatre" of modern airports makes us feel better, without making us more secure. Indeed, it arguably makes us less secure, swallowing up resources that might otherwise be spent on more effective measures, and making airport staff, focused on finding oversized bottles of shower gel, less alert to genuinely suspicious behaviour. "Security is both a feeling and a reality," as Schneier has put it, "and they're not the same."

...it's not even intended to be useful, just to create the impression that something is being done.

Posted by orrinj at 8:50 AM


Good news about real estate: Home equity is growing again (Kenneth R. Harney, January 6, 2013, LA Times)

With all the nail biting over fiscal policy and the economy in the closing weeks of 2012, you might have missed some of the positive trends under way for real estate.

Start with home equity. It's growing again significantly after five years of declines and stagnation. This is a huge piece of good news that hasn't received much attention. After hitting a low of $6.45 trillion in the final three months of 2011, Americans' combined home equity jumped nearly $1.3 trillion during the next nine months to $7.71 trillion -- a 20% gain -- according to the "flow of funds" quarterly estimate released in December by the Federal Reserve. [...]

[T]he $1.3-trillion turnaround during the first nine months of 2012 was a big deal. It reflected the first sustained rebound in home prices in a long time in many -- though not all -- local real estate markets. In a study released just before Christmas, researchers at Zillow.com found that of 177 major metropolitan markets, 135 had experienced net increases in cumulative home values during 2012.

Posted by orrinj at 8:36 AM


Big Green vs. Gridiron Gods (Don Mahler, 1/06/12, Valley News)

In a way, Dartmouth was a victim of its own success.

With a team loaded with older, more mature military-student players -- known as "V-12" athletes -- the Big Green was coming off a 6-1 record in 1943 -- losing only to Penn by a 7-6 count.

Flushed with that success, Dartmouth went out and booked a home-and-away series for the next two years to upgrade its schedule with a high-profile, premier college program -- the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame.

It was quite a step up ... especially with Notre Dame coming off a national championship season and after the majority of V-12 players left Dartmouth to continue their military careers, leaving the Big Green a little short on both experience and talent.

In those days, colleges,and their partnering football teams had a different look. With World War II raging, the bulk of the college-age males were obviously called to the war effort. Thus, institutions of higher learning were struggling financially to keep their doors open due to a shortage of students, which consequently also meant a shortage of college-educated commissioned officers for the military.

To help solve both problems, the Navy devised the V-12 program, in which a college education was combined with military training. According to an article by Jennifer Seaton for Dartmouth Engineer magazine, the college became host to the largest of the Navy's V-12 programs, enrolling some 2,000 enlisted men.

Incoming freshman Ray Truncellito remembers his football indoctrination at one of his first Dartmouth practices in 1944. "I was lined up next to a guy who said, 'How old are you, kid?'

"I was almost 17, but admitted I was still only 16. He looked at me and said, 'I'm getting too old for this game.' He was 26.

"It was a different college experience then," Truncellito, 84, said in a phone interview last week. "These guys were coming back from the war and all they went through. Now they were being asked to make all these other sacrifices in time and effort. Many of them just didn't want to go through with it."

With head coach Tuss McLaughry serving in the military, the 1944 team was coached by E.M. Brown. Missing so many top players, the Big Green struggled that year to a 2-5-1 record, scoring just 57 points. And playing the Fighting Irish didn't help.

Notre Dame outdid the Big Green's season output in one afternoon, routing Dartmouth, 64-0 in front of a crowd of 40,000 at Fenway Park, which stood as the home field for Dartmouth that day.

January 5, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 7:36 AM


Why I Am a Conservative (Dennis Gallagher, 1/05/12, Imaginative Conservative)

It always appeared to me that athletics represent a microcosm of the qualities necessary to subsist in life. Athletes must develop and hone their skills, be prepared for sacrifice, dedication, self-discipline and exhibit a competitive spirit. Sports also have a communal quality. Coaches, trainers, teammates, family, friends, fans, and even fellow competitors are part of the athlete's overall community, support system and sphere of influence. Most sports also have time-honored traditions, rules, modes of behavior and conduct that the participants and officials hold in high esteem and are maintained as much as possible in consideration of changing times and events.

The athlete also has a sense of humility and piety. They realize their gifts are special and more often than not express an appreciation to a higher power for their unique talent. And of course the ultimate goal of any athletic endeavor is the sweet sensation of victory. How many times have we heard the star player humbly declare that they would forego individual accolades for a team championship? This is the attitude of the dedicated competitor who places their team above personal gain, and their individual accomplishments are only fulfilled if their team earns the admiration of their peers as the best in class.

The attributes of sports are analogous to the values of conservatism on many levels. If we dedicate ourselves to our missions in life, take advantage of our God given talents, respect our fellow man's person and place, appreciate our obligations to those truly in need, contribute to our community, have a sense of humility, pride and piety, learn lessons from our own decisions and those of other's, and in the course of life's journey accumulate some property then, whether we know it or not, we've lead of life of conservative values. Conservatism, like sports, is the anti-entitlement philosophy. We are only entitled to the spoils of that which we have earned, and respectful of those who endeavor toward greatness. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:19 AM


What the GOP should stand for: Opportunity (Ted Cruz, January 3, 2013, Washington Post)

Americans want to stand on their own feet, and Republicans need to champion policies that enable us to do so: ownership, choice and individual responsibility.

Opportunity conservatism is a powerful frame to explain conservative policies that work. It covers the gamut of issues. Republicans shouldn't just assail excessive financial and environmental regulations; we should explain how those regulations kill jobs and restrict Americans' ability to buy their first home.

Don't just say no to new taxes -- fundamentally reform the tax code so that every American can file his taxes on a postcard. Eliminate the corporate welfare and complexity that enrich only accountants and lawyers.

Don't just criticize union bosses; explain how closed shops confiscate wages and make it harder for low-skilled workers to get jobs.

Don't talk generically about education; advocate school choice to empower parents and expand opportunity for children struggling to get ahead.

Don't just dwell on the long-term solvency of Social Security; promote personal accounts to allow low-income Americans to accumulate wealth and pass it on to future generations.

Republicans ought to view, and explain, every policy through the lens of economic mobility. Conservative policies help those struggling to climb the economic ladder, and liberal policies hurt them. If Republicans want to win, we need to champion opportunity.

Posted by orrinj at 7:13 AM


Pop Goes the Culture : One man's quest to preserve and defend the good, the true, and the beautiful (ANDREW FERGUSON, 1/14/13, Weekly Standard)

Those two early revelations​--​Bach and Norman Cousins​--​go a long way toward explaining Myers's life work: the Mars Hill Audio Journal, which he writes, edits, and records at his home and studio in rural Virginia. The Journal celebrates its twentieth birthday this year. It's become indispensable to an audience of the kind that Cousins sought and encouraged and that often goes ignored nowadays. The Journal isn't identical to Saturday Review, of course. It arrives every two months, not every week, and it arrives not on paper but on a pair of handsomely packaged CDs​--​nearly two hours of essays and interviews to be listened to at leisure. (MP3 downloads are available too.) Another difference is that Myers is an orthodox Christian, and it shows.

The Journal demonstrates how closely the interests and worries of a conservative Christian intellectual overlap those of any curious traditionalist or cultural conservative, believing or non. Myers's own curiosity is inexhaustible. On the website's topic index​--​choosing a letter at random​--​you'll find under "M" segments on Mondrian (Piet) and Moore (Michael), memory and money, Mendelssohn and Marsalis, masculinity and materialism. I popped in Issue 102 the other day and heard Myers's pleasant tenor saying, by way of preface: "Is creation meaningful, and if it is, is its meaning perceptible?" This rousing intro opened a series of ruminations and interviews with a variety of scholars and writers. A brief explanation of the split between nominalism and realism in the Middle Ages led to a discussion of Jacques Maritain's relationship with avant garde painters and musicians in 1920s Paris, then moved through the Fibonacci sequence and the mathematical value of Bach fugues as examples of inherent order, topped off with a tribute to the paintings of Makoto Fujimura by the philosopher Thomas Hibbs. The pace is unhurried, the discussions pretty easily comprehensible. Imagine NPR if NPR were as intelligent as NPR programmers think it is.

Or better: Imagine NPR as it once was, from its founding in the early seventies into the early eighties, when the fateful decision was made to transform an eclectic and discursive ragbag of cultural programming into the fabulously wealthy, grimly professional all-news-almost-all-the-time media colossus we know today. Myers worked at NPR off and on for nearly a decade, spending several years as arts editor for Morning Edition before layoffs from the new regime gutted arts coverage in 1983.

In its original conception, Myers reminded me, "NPR really was an institution devoted to preserving cultural treasures. By the time I left, that vision had vanished, a victim of multiculturalism, postculturalism, autoculturalism, and other fancies." Myers fondly recalls bygone NPR series like "A Sense of Place: Sound Portraits of Twentieth Century Humanists"​--​a dozen documentaries on longhairs like James Joyce, Igor Stravinsky, and W.E.B. Du Bois.

" 'A Sense of Place' would be unimaginable at NPR today," Myers says. Today at NPR, as elsewhere, culture means pop culture. With occasional gestures toward jazz, NPR music is the rock music of aging children; the visual arts begin and end with movies and TV, though stage plays will sometimes rouse attention if their themes are sufficiently progressive. This falling off isn't the fault of the programmers alone, needless to say. In its decline NPR has tumbled in tandem with the tastes of its target audience​--​affluent white people with meaningless college degrees who weren't educated into an appreciation for richer music and art and who, accordingly, find the whole cultural-patrimony thing intimidating, hence vaguely off-putting, and finally a snooze.

...we still have an entirely separate Public Radio station that just broadcasts classical music.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:59 AM


Mercurial Mingus (ERIC FELTEN, 1/04/13, WSJ)

In 1959, Columbia Records released three discs poised to set the future course of jazz: Miles Davis's "Kind of Blue," Dave Brubeck's "Time Out" and "Mingus Ah Um" by bassist, bandleader and composer Charles Mingus. "Kind of Blue" has come to be considered the essential jazz record, and "Time Out" the essential Brubeck record. "Mingus Ah Um" deserves recognition not only as the essential Mingus disc, but as a compelling, enduring vision for jazz radically different from the other two.

The Davis and Brubeck records were variations on the "cool" aesthetic. In reaction to the pyrotechnics of bebop, with its blizzards of notes and relentless complexities of harmony, Davis presented an ascetic simplicity, with spare melodic improvisations over modal harmonies so static they nearly drone. Brubeck took California's "West Coast Cool" school and with mathematical intellection removed it even further from the sweaty dance rhythms of jazz gone by: The album's compositions were in tricky, decidedly dance-averse time signatures.

The self-conscious modernism of "Time Out" and "Mingus Ah Um" was announced on their covers, both of which featured abstract art by S. Neil Fujita. But the records were modern in very different ways. Cool was not the idiom for Mingus, an artist variously described as "mercurial," "volcanic," "volatile"--choose your euphemism. "Better Git It in Your Soul" opens "Mingus Ah Um" with an ecstatic fervor emphatically at odds with the cerebral style of the moment. "Boogie Stop Shuffle" has enough energy to be a Louis Prima side, if Prima had been prone to scowl.

Perhaps most important, Mingus, who was born in 1922 and died in 1979, was not looking to divorce jazz's future from its past. "Ah Um" is explicit in its celebration of sounds predating the postwar bebop revolution.

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January 4, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 3:50 PM


Posted by orrinj at 3:41 PM


Hedge funds win big with subprime mortgages (Maureen Farrell, January 4, 2013, CNNMoney)

Subprime mortgages may have been the most lucrative bet of 2012 for hedge funds, with some gaining more than 20% by buying up troubled financial crisis era mortgages.

That's a bet that's been paying off handsomely since 2010, according to Bloomberg Hedge Fund Indices.

"It's been an unusually attractive time to invest in the mortgage market," said Steve Kuhn, head of Pine River Capital Management's $3.5 billion fixed income fund. [...]

Pine River Capital Management is a prime example of how those bets paid off. Its fixed income fund gave investors a 35% return in 2012 by making bets on banks and lenders that helped underwater borrowers restructure their subprime mortgages.

"There had been an idea that almost anyone with negative equity in their home would default," said Kuhn. "Borrowers have behaved better, and there have been fewer defaults than people had thought."

Posted by orrinj at 5:23 AM


The State of American Liberal Education These Days (Peter Augustine Lawler, 1/03/13, Imaginative Conservative)

America, Tocqueville noticed, is an overwhelmingly middle-class country. To be middle class, of course, is to be stuck in the middle--somewhere in between aristocrats and slaves. We rightly think that there's something realistic--something truthful--about seeing ourselves in the middle, in not thinking too little or too much of ourselves.

The good news is that we're free like aristocrats. We can live as we please. Nobody has the right to tell free persons what to do.

The bad news is that, unlike aristocrats, we have to work if we want to eat. So we're free like aristocrats to work like slaves. Well, not exactly like slaves, because we work not for others but for ourselves and our own.

We're very judgmental about work--we think everyone should have to do it. Everyone has interests, everyone needs money, and so everyone should act accordingly. Unlike aristocrats, we take pride in our work, and we measure ourselves by our productivity. More than ever, we middle-class Americans are proud to live in a meritocracy defined by productivity.

The hysteria over post-Recession employment rates suggests something slightly different: while we are judgmental about jobs, we're entirely indifferent to merit, work and productivity. Indeed, while it is not appropriate to consider America solely as an (relatively capitalist) economic experiment, it is appropriate to note that the history of the experiment consists largely of increasing productivity couple with decreasing labor.  The moral difficulty we face lies in accepting that societal productivity success is at best unrelated to individual work rates and at "worst" inversely related.  

Posted by orrinj at 5:18 AM


The New Tell-All Fed (RANDALL S. KROSZNER, 1/03/12, NY Times)

[T]the fewer surprises and mixed messages in communication there are, the more likely the Fed's efforts to shore up the American economy will be effective. In this regard, the central bank's newest strategy of talking about itself -- and notably, of its decision to tie its interest-rate moves to an unemployment threshold -- is a great step forward in economic stewardship. Now, everyone knows what criteria Fed officials are using to guide future policy.

As stark as this move to transparency may seem, it has actually been some two decades in the making. An unlikely proponent was Mr. Greenspan himself when, under his chairmanship, the Fed began to issue brief explanations after each monetary policy meeting, including the votes of each member of the Federal Open Market Committee, the central bank's policy body. This was in contrast to the first eight decades of the Fed's existence, when the Fed would simply buy or sell securities in the market to try to affect credit conditions -- so-called open market operations -- without acknowledging its actions or revealing its intentions.

Under Mr. Bernanke, lips have loosened rapidly with quarterly news conferences, forecasts by F.O.M.C. members of key economic indicators, countless testimonies before Congress and, now, the explicit adoption of a 2 percent inflation goal.

The advantage of such glasnost is that it can give the Fed greater bang for its buck. Buying more government bonds may bring down interest rates today, but getting people to believe that the Fed will continue such "accommodative" policies adds to the potency of its actions in two ways: expectations of future borrowing costs stay low, and uncertainty about future monetary policy (and hence, future borrowing costs) declines. Such knowledge lets firms be more confident about investing and hiring, and gives homeowners and potential home buyers more faith that mortgages will stay affordable, providing support for the housing market.

Entirely fitting that it is W's chairman who has made the Fed a more republican institution.
Posted by orrinj at 5:10 AM


Then I Watch 'Em Roll Away Again (MARC MYERS, 1/03/13, WSJ)

Mr. Cropper, pianist Booker T. Jones, trumpeter Wayne Jackson and Mr. Cauley recalled how the song was written and recorded, why sounds of surf and gulls were added, and the story behind Redding's famed whistling. Edited from interviews:

Steve Cropper: In the fall of 1967, I was a producer at Stax Records in Memphis and guitarist in Booker T. & the MGs, the label's session band. In November, I was at the studio when Otis Redding called me from the Memphis airport.

Usually when Otis came to town, he waited until he checked into the Holiday Inn before calling me to work with him on songs in his room. This time he couldn't wait. He said, "Crop, I've got a hit. I'm coming right over."

When Otis walked in, he said, "Crop, get your gut-tar." I always kept a Gibson B-29 around. He grabbed it, tuned it to an open E-chord, which made the guitar easier to play slide. Then Otis played and sang a verse he had written: Sittin' in the mornin' sun/I'll be sittin' when the evenin' come/Watching the ships roll in/And then I watch 'em roll away again.

I said, "Otis, hold on. If a ship rolls, it will take on water and sink." He said, "That's what I want, Crop." So we let it go and worked on the rest of the song.

Otis told me he had started writing the song while playing in San Francisco. Producer Bill Graham must have let him stay on his houseboat in Sausalito, because Neil Young told me he had stayed on the boat right after Otis had left to come back East.

When Otis and I finished writing the rest of the song's music and lyrics, I arranged the song and we scheduled studio time. On the date, I was on acoustic guitar, [Donald] Duck Dunn on bass, Al Jackson on drums, Booker on piano, Wayne Jackson on trumpet and two other horns.

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January 3, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 5:29 PM

Dr. Lonnie Smith Trio On JazzSet (NPR, January 3, 2013)

Hammond B3 organ master Dr. Lonnie Smith leads his trio through a soulful set before a sold-out house at the Kennedy Center Jazz Club in Washington, D.C. The good doctor turns 70 this year, and he's still a leader and innovator on his instrument.
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Posted by orrinj at 5:39 AM


Dems will need new game plan to score tax revenue (STEVEN SLOAN, 1/2/13, Politico)

The fiscal cliff deal handed Democrats a tax victory years in the making, but it also means the party will need a new playbook for the budget battles that lie ahead.

That's because many Democrats readily acknowledge that they've exhausted their ability to raise taxes on the richest Americans by jacking up their rates.

Posted by orrinj at 5:34 AM


 Careful Writer Stalks the Truth About Scientology (CHARLES McGRATH, 1/02/13, NY Times)

The writer Lawrence Wright doesn't seem at all the sort of person you'd find in public wearing a black cowboy shirt emblazoned with big white buffalos. He's shy, soft-spoken, a little professorial. But as if he didn't have enough to do, besides working on three plays simultaneously and getting ready to publish a new book in two weeks, Mr. Wright has been taking piano lessons with Floyd Domino, the two-time Grammy winner, and on a recent Saturday, in his buffalo shirt, he played in a concert at the Victory Grill here with the band WhoDo. Mr. Wright was at the keyboard, and sang solo on "Sixty-Minute Man" and the Count Basie tune "She's Funny That Way." Not bad for a bookworm.

"I decided a while ago that I would only do things that are really important or really fun," Mr. Wright said. "This is really fun."

More fun, probably, than dealing with lawyers. His new book, "Going Clear: Scientology, Celebrity, and the Prison of Belief" (Knopf) is about the famously litigious Church of Scientology, and he said he has received innumerable threatening letters from lawyers representing the church or some of the celebrities who belong to it. [...]

Mr. Wright, whose previous book, "The Looming Tower:" Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11" won the Pulitzer Prize in 2007, is no stranger to writing about secretive organizations. In the case of Scientology, he said, he had been looking for what he calls a "donkey" -- a character strong and sympathetic enough to carry a complicated story. "I don't mean it in a disparaging way," he explained. "A donkey is a very useful beast of burden." In 2010 he finally found one in Paul Haggis, the winner of back-to-back Oscars for "Million Dollar Baby," which he wrote, and "Crash," which he wrote and directed, who defected from Scientology in 2009, after 34 years in the church, during which he rose to one of its highest ranks.

In 2011 Mr. Wright published a profile of Mr. Haggis in The New Yorker, and in the course of the fact-checking process Tommy Davis, the international spokesman for Scientology, did Mr. Wright an unwitting favor. He showed up in The New Yorker offices with four lawyers and 47 white binders full of material about the church.

"I suppose the idea was to drown me in information," Mr. Wright recalled, "but it was like trying to pour water on a fish. I looked on those binders with a feeling of absolute joy."
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Posted by orrinj at 5:28 AM


Our Absurd Fear of Fat (PAUL CAMPOS, 1/02/13, NY Times)

The meta-analysis, published this week in The Journal of the American Medical Association, reviewed data from nearly a hundred large epidemiological studies to determine the correlation between body mass and mortality risk. The results ought to stun anyone who assumes the definition of "normal" or "healthy" weight used by our public health authorities is actually supported by the medical literature.

The study, by Katherine M. Flegal and her associates at the C.D.C. and the National Institutes of Health, found that all adults categorized as overweight and most of those categorized as obese have a lower mortality risk than so-called normal-weight individuals. If the government were to redefine normal weight as one that doesn't increase the risk of death, then about 130 million of the 165 million American adults currently categorized as overweight and obese would be re-categorized as normal weight instead.

To put some flesh on these statistical bones, the study found a 6 percent decrease in mortality risk among people classified as overweight and a 5 percent decrease in people classified as Grade 1 obese, the lowest level (most of the obese fall in this category). This means that average-height women -- 5 feet 4 inches -- who weigh between 108 and 145 pounds have a higher mortality risk than average-height women who weigh between 146 and 203 pounds. For average-height men -- 5 feet 10 inches -- those who weigh between 129 and 174 pounds have a higher mortality risk than those who weigh between 175 and 243 pounds.

Posted by orrinj at 5:10 AM


Manufacturing in the Balance : Inexpensive labor has defined the last decade in manufacturing. The future may belong to technology. (Antonio Regalado on January 3, 2013, MIT Technology Review)

The vanishing comparative advantage of Asian cheap labor isn't the only reason for companies to question offshore manufacturing. Natural catastrophes can occur anywhere, but the risks of long supply lines became apparent in 2011, when the Japanese earthquake and tsunami interrupted shipments of computer chips and floods in Thailand left disk-drive factories under 10 feet of water. Meanwhile, higher oil prices have quietly raised the cost of shipping goods. And a bonanza of cheap natural gas has made the U.S. a relatively cheap place to manufacture many basic chemicals and is providing industries with an inexpensive source of power.

The kind of manufacturing in which labor costs are most important isn't ever coming back from low-wage countries (assembling five million iPhones for a product launch can still only be done in China), but the recent economic shifts are giving companies a chance to adjust course. One major line of thinking, the one most vocally endorsed by the White House, is that the U.S. should focus its efforts on advances in the technology of manufacturing itself--the set of new ideas, factory innovations, and processes that are also the focus of this month's MIT Technology Review business report.

The U.S. holds advantages in many advanced technologies, such as simulation and digital design, the use of "big data," and nanotechnology. All of these can play a valuable role in creating innovative new manufacturing processes (and not just products). Andrew McAfee, a researcher at MIT's Sloan School of Business, says it's also hard to ignore coming changes like robots in warehouses, trucks that drive themselves, and additive manufacturing technologies that can create a complex airplane part for the price of a simple one. The greater the capital investment in automation, the less labor costs may matter.

January 2, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 7:56 PM

Gordon Goodwin's Big Phat Band In Concert (NPR, January 2, 2013)

The large jazz orchestra, brassy and slick, powers through Goodwin's charts from the main stage of the historic jazz festival, celebrating its 55th year. Included is a performance of the Grammy-winning arrangement for George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue."
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Posted by orrinj at 7:47 PM


Bush Reconsidered (Victor Davis Hanson, January 2, 2013, National Review)

What helped to sink Bush's ratings among conservatives, however, was the chronic budget deficits that over two terms added more than $4 trillion to the national debt. Barack Obama seized on that profligacy, calling Bush "unpatriotic" for it and promising to halve the Bush annual deficit by the end of his first term, while blasting the "Bush tax cuts" that supposedly were the source of fiscal shortfalls and had only benefited the rich.

But Obama more than equaled Bush's eight-year borrowing in just four. Apparently, he also conceded that the once-derided Bush tax cuts had actually increased federal revenue while spurring the economy, since he soon insisted upon retaining them for all but those making over $250,000.

A comparative analysis of the Bush and Obama deficits between 2001 and 2012 proves disadvantageous to the latter: George Bush averaged a 2.7 percent ratio of deficits to GDP (less than those of Reagan or George H. W. Bush), Barack Obama so far 8.9 percent. 

...universal democratiziation, the spectacularly successful prescription coverage/HSA bill, the attempt to reform immigration, etc.

Posted by orrinj at 7:42 PM


Chia seeds: turn them into a pet or a pudding (J.M. Hirsch, 1/02/13, The Associated Press)

Chia seeds' reputation for providing sustained energy -- as well as plenty of nutrients -- more recently have turned them into the darling of the fitness world. They also have shown up in a growing number of products in natural foods shops, from protein bars and baked goods to drinks such as kombucha.

That last one deserves special attention. When mixed with water (as well as some other liquids), chia seeds plump up and develop a pleasantly tender, gelatinous quality, similar to cooked tapioca pearls. Drinks to which chia seeds have been added resemble Japanese bubble tea (teas and juices to which tapioca pearls have been added) -- thick and studded with slightly chewy rounds. [...]

Chia-Almond Pudding

Top this pudding with whipped cream and a sprinkle of chia seeds. Or drizzle it with a bit of honey or agave syrup. Start to finish: Overnight (5 minutes active). Servings: 4.


2 cups vanilla almond milk

1½ tablespoons chia seeds

Zest of 1 lemon

½ teaspoon cinnamon

Pinch of salt


In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients. Stir well. Leave the bowl on the counter and stir once a minute for about 10 minutes. This prevents the seeds from clumping as they absorb liquid. Cover and refrigerate the bowl for at least 6 hours, or ideally overnight. When you think of it, give the pudding a stir.

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Posted by orrinj at 7:39 PM


Lack of Grand Bargain Complicates Obama's Priorities (COLLEEN MCCAIN NELSON, 1/02/13, WSJ)

For President Barack Obama, the new year was supposed to bring an end to fiscal-cliff negotiations and the opportunity to begin work on a second-term agenda.

But the failure to craft a grand bargain to address the country's fiscal woes means that contentious discussions about spending cuts and the debt ceiling will continue in 2013--potentially diminishing the time and goodwill Mr. Obama needs to pursue his policy priorities.

...it's always waiting for you just down the road.

Posted by orrinj at 7:19 PM


Gaza's tunnels rebound from Israeli offensive (MOHAMMED DARAGHMEH, 12/11/12, Associated Press)

Rafah's biggest industry is back in business: Gazans are rebuilding the network of underground smuggling tunnels crisscrossing the Egyptian border that were pummeled in a recent Israeli offensive, restoring the illicit conduit for consumer goods and weapons so crucial to Hamas rule.

The 12-kilometer (eight-mile) slice of land at the Gaza Strip's southern tip is humming around the clock with workers carting in cement, bricks, gravel and scaffolding. The quick rebound has raised questions about how much damage Israel inflicted on the tunnels during last month's eight-day air offensive. [...]

The tunnel industry has become key to Gaza's economy since Israel and Egypt imposed a blockade on the territory after Hamas seized power there in 2007.

The tunnels ferry in a wide range of items besides essentials, including Chinese motorcycles, farm and zoo animals, appliances -- and large Iranian rockets that can hit Tel Aviv.

Posted by orrinj at 7:12 PM


How Evolution Explains High-Heeled Shoes : New research suggests wearing heels forces women to walk in a way that exaggerates their femininity. (Tom Jacobs, 1/01/13, Pacific Standard)

Fashions in dress come and go, but a peculiar one has stayed in style for many generations, and shows no sign of fading away. It's the high-heeled shoe, which first became a fashion statement in 16th-century France, and has been a part of the modern woman's wardrobe since the mid-19th century.

Ask a woman why she endures the awkwardness and discomfort, and she'll probably respond, "They make me look, and feel, more attractive." [...]

"High heels may exaggerate the sex-specific aspects of the female walk," a University of Portsmouth research team led by psychologist Paul Morris reports in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior. While noting that preference in footwear is based in part on culture norms, they argue the enduring popularity of high-heeled shoes suggest their fundamental appeal stems from a deeper impulse.

That's pretty much all that remains of Evolution, conscious decisions to make oneself more attractive.

Posted by orrinj at 5:07 PM


Illinois Governor Seeks Fast Vote on State's Long-Troubled Pension Systems (MONICA DAVEY, 1/01/13, NY Times)

As Illinois lawmakers head back to work this week, Gov. Pat Quinn is seeking to use the practical advantages of a lame-duck legislative calendar to fix the state's pension systems -- the most underfinanced in the nation -- in a matter of days.

Over the years, leaders here have fretted over the shortfall even as they watched it grow and grow, now reaching, by some estimates, $96 billion. Mr. Quinn, a Democrat, has come to describe the situation as the state's "rendezvous with reality" and Illinois's own "fiscal cliff." He has tried -- to somewhat mixed results and at least a degree of mocking -- to stir up public concern by releasing videos, including one featuring an orange cartoon snake named Squeezy the Pension Python.

"We're trying to do fundamental pension reform that has confounded 12 governors, 13 speakers of the House and 13 Senate presidents over the last 70 years," Mr. Quinn said in a recent interview, adding that despite that troubled history, he believed that a meaningful overhaul of the state's pension systems could be passed through the current legislature in a single week -- after lawmakers begin returning to Springfield on Wednesday and wrapping up before newly elected lawmakers are sworn in at noon on Jan. 9.

"We have come to the moment," Mr. Quinn said.
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Posted by orrinj at 5:03 PM


Supply of 'shadow' homes declines again (Alejandro Lazo, January 2, 2013, LA Times)

House hunters looking for bargain properties in the new year will probably be disappointed.

A new report by Santa Ana firm CoreLogic shows pending home supply declined again in October. This shadow inventory fell 12.3% from the year prior to stand at 2.6 million units, or a supply of about seven months. [...]

"The size of the shadow inventory continues to shrink from peak levels in terms of numbers of units and the dollars they represent," CoreLogic Chief Executive Anand Nallathambi said in that release. "We expect a gradual and progressive contraction in the shadow inventory in 2013 as investors continue to snap up foreclosed and REO properties and the broader recovery in housing market fundamentals takes hold."

Posted by orrinj at 4:57 PM


Lines of Resistance on Fiscal Deal (JONATHAN WEISMAN, 1/01/13, NY Times)

[B]efore the bill's final passage late Tuesday, House Republican leaders struggled all day to quell a revolt among caucus members who threatened to blow up a hard-fought compromise that they could have easily framed as a victory. Many House Republicans seemed determined to put themselves in a position to be blamed for sending the nation's economy into a potential tailspin under the weight of automatic tax increases and spending cuts.

The latest internal party struggle on Capitol Hill surprised even Senate Republicans, who had voted overwhelmingly for a deal largely hashed out by their leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. The bill passed the Senate, 89 to 8, at 2 a.m. on Tuesday, with only 5 of the chamber's 47 Republicans voting no.

Twenty-one hours later, the same measure was opposed by 151 of the 236 Republicans voting in the House. It was further proof that House Republicans are a new breed, less enamored of tax cuts per se than they are driven to shrink government through steep spending cuts. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:53 PM


'Gun control' doesn't survive Christmas (DYLAN BYERS, 1/2/13, Politico)

Blame it on the fiscal cliff, blame it on Christmas, blame it on our ability to forget, but the national discussion about gun control has once again ebbed. Mentions of the term "gun control" on television, in newspapers, and in online media are down to pre-Sandy Hook levels, according to the Nexis database.

Happily, we have no parliament.

January 1, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 3:56 PM


House GOP opposition to fiscal cliff bill grows (JAKE SHERMAN and CARRIE BUDOFF BROWN, 1/1/13, Politico)

House Republicans are overwhelmingly opposed to the Senate's bill to avert the fiscal cliff, making it nearly certain that Speaker John Boehner's chamber will amend the legislation and send it back to the Senate.

What you miss by not having W as president anymore is a grown-up in the Beltway.

Posted by orrinj at 1:06 PM


You're Fired Because ... Well ... Hmmm : Lovie Smith, the coach who got canned on the NFL's Black Monday for no good reason. (Josh Levin,  Dec. 31, 2012, Slate)

Then came word that Bears coach Lovie Smith got pink-axed as well. (This hot new term is catching on, I can feel it!) Since making the Super Bowl after the 2006 season, Smith's Chicago teams have missed the playoffs in five of the last six years. Fair enough, that's how NFL coaches are evaluated. Or, it would've been fair enough if Smith and the Bears had missed the playoffs in the typical way--say, by going 8-8, as they did last year. But this season, Chicago went 10-6. In two of those losses, quarterback Jay Cutler didn't finish the game (against Houston) or didn't play (against San Francisco) due to a brain injury. Frontline players like Brian Urlacher, Tim Jennings, and Lance Louis also missed games down the stretch as the Bears tailed off after a 7-1 start. Even so, Chicago would've made the postseason if the Packers had beaten the Vikings on Sunday. But Green Bay lost, making the Bears the sixth team with 10 wins or more to miss out on the playoffs since they expanded to 12 teams in 1992.

Lovie Smith, then, was fired after leading a team to a record better than that of last year's Super Bowl winner because a bunch of teams he didn't coach happened to have good seasons. Also, he failed to prevent Jay Cutler from getting a concussion.

He's not necessarily a good coach, but he's not going to be replaced by one, is he?
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Posted by orrinj at 12:59 PM


Deans List: Hiring Spree Fattens College Bureaucracy--And Tuition (DOUGLAS BELKIN and SCOTT THURM, 12/28/12, WSJ)

The bureaucracy finds numerous ways to spend money. Officials have spent millions planning a not-yet-built residential community 20 miles from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus designed in part to showcase sustainable energy and environmental stewardship.

Administrative employees make up an increasing share of the university's higher-paid people. The school employs 353 people earning more than $200,000 a year. That is up 57% from the inflation-adjusted pay equivalent in 2001. Among this $200,000-plus group, 81 today have administrative titles, versus 39 in 2001.

Administrators making over $300,000 in inflation-adjusted terms rose to 17 from seven.

Many forces besides administrative overhead add to universities' cost pressures, among them health-care and retirement expenses. And among the administrative spending, some is unavoidable, such as that owing to federal rules requiring greater spending to oversee research grants or accommodations for students with disabilities.

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Posted by orrinj at 12:35 PM


The girl at the Grand Palais : The adolescent obsession that inspired an influential yet neglected French classic (The Economist, Dec 22nd 2012)

The life of Henri Fournier (pictured), now better known by his pen name, spun round a single, sunny afternoon in 1905, described in Robert Gibson's valuable biography "The End of Youth". Leaving an art exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris, when he was 18, he spotted a young woman walking with an older lady. Captivated, he followed them across the river to the door of a Left Bank apartment, afterwards returning to the building whenever his studies would allow. Too timid to knock, he paced the streets outside. Ten days later he saw the girl again--walking unaccompanied to mass--and approached her. Wary but flattered, she agreed to stroll with him by the Seine.

He told her he was a writer (or that he would be one day), the son of a country schoolmaster, now studying in Paris. She told him her name was Yvonne de Quiévrecourt, and that she was staying in the city with relatives, but leaving the next day. At her request they separated at the Pont des Invalides. Waiting where she left him, Fournier saw her look back twice. Years later he was still decoding this gesture: "Was it because, silently, from a distance, she wanted to reinforce her order that I should not follow her? Or was it to let me see her face one more time?"

Fournier clung to the memory long after it should have faded into his adolescence. He waited at the steps of the Grand Palais on the anniversary of his first glimpse of her (knowing, in rational moments, that she would not be there). He returned frequently to the apartment, hoping to spot her at a window. The word "She", its first letter meaningfully capitalised, peppered his letters.

Other frustrations in his life helped this childish attachment foment into something powerful. He twice failed his university entrance exam, which kept him at school long after his peers had left. Mandatory military service prevented a third failure, but brought another two years of gloom. In 1909 he returned to Paris and moved in with his parents, plagued by "the feeling that youth is over and you haven't done what you ought".

Attempts to contact Yvonne brought Fournier further disappointment. In July 1907 he had finally called at the apartment building--to be told by the concierge that she had married the previous winter. Two years later, still disconsolate, he hired a private investigator. He learned her address, and that she had a child.

These discoveries distressed Fournier. Five years after the encounter he still labelled his fixation a "sickness"; occasionally his melancholy brought on bouts of real fever. But it also suited his nature to love at a distance. The memorable months he spent perfecting his English in Chiswick, in west London--where the young anglophile delighted in tea, jam and the landmarks made famous by his beloved Dickens--were marred only by the unsettling worldliness of British girls, who "get too friendly too soon".

What is more, with Yvonne as his muse Fournier's literary career gathered startling speed. [...]

In the novel, 17-year-old Augustin Meaulnes is sent to board at a country school. There he befriends François Seurel--the bookish son of the local schoolmaster and the novel's narrator--and earns the admiration of his schoolmates, who bestow on him the title le grand. Months later Meaulnes stumbles upon a tumbledown chateau where a bizarre wedding party has assembled, its guests in lavish historical costume. There he encounters a beautiful young woman, but afterwards he finds it impossible to locate the strange estate, and the mysterious girl. Before his search comes to an end, a bungled suicide will leave one character disfigured; a brief affair in Paris will lead a young woman to the streets.

The story mixes fantasy and reality. Fournier's childhood home among the moors and marshes of north-central France, to which he felt a morbid attachment almost equal to his longing for Yvonne, provides a nostalgic setting. The book features events and observations first chronicled in letters; a few passages quote directly from his correspondence. But its imagined elements, such as a circus troupe that vanishes overnight, recall the novels of Britain's renowned adventure writers--Kipling, Stevenson, Wells and Defoe. An early chapter cites "Robinson Crusoe".

Drawing the real and fantastical together is the meeting between Meaulnes and the elusive heroine, also called Yvonne. It is a faithful re-enactment of the encounter of 1905 that Fournier had recorded in his notebook. The novel sways between celebrating and condemning the obsessive and destructive search that follows; but Fournier was at least able to give his characters a concluding reunion--part wish-fulfilment, part tragedy--that his own story still lacked.

It's a terrific novel, but one does wish to smack author and hero upside their heads and tell them to get on with life.

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Posted by orrinj at 12:19 PM


UMass Bludgeons Dartmouth (Tris Wykes, 1/01/13, Valley News)

Momentum swung back and forth in this one, a wild and wooly affair injected with playoff intensity and muddled by ham-handed officiating. Each team had a goal waved off and a player ejected, and 23 penalties were whistled in all.

"It was disjointed, emotional and electric," Micheletto said. "Both teams were fired up, there was spirited play and there were some interesting calls both ways. It was a good test for everybody involved."

Dartmouth (8-3-2) entered the night as the least-penalized of the 59 teams in NCAA Division I, but it paid the price for committing 13 infractions last night. Dartmouth coach Bob Gaudet seemed frustrated by the game's uneven pace, a casualty of chippy play and so many whistles. The Big Green was scoreless in five power-play chances.

"We expended a lot of energy killing penalties and there was no flow to the game," said Gaudet, whose team lost for the first time in eight home games this season. "We worked really hard and I'm disappointed in the result, but I can't put my finger on why we lost. It wasn't like we were running around like knuckleheads out there. The referees see the game as they see them, and we have to just take it for what it's worth." [...]

A Minutemen goal was waved off for goaltender obstruction in the 11th minute and Dartmouth went up 2-1 less than a minute later. Power forward Dustin Walsh, a lefthanded shot, threaded a magnificent shot from the bottom of the right circle and into a tiny space over the near shoulder of goaltender Kevin Boyle.

The Big Green appeared to take a 3-1 lead two minutes after Walsh's tally, but Tim O'Brien's tally out of a goalmouth scramble was waved off. In the scrap that followed, UMass skater Joel Hanley was ejected for using a grip on Neiley's face mask to repeatedly slam his head into the ice, and Neiley was handed a minor for goaltender interference.

Two game misconducts, two goals overturned on video review, at least three 5-minute majors and two refs under 5'8".  Just sayin'.....
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Posted by orrinj at 12:15 PM


Pols Lied About True Purpose of Euro Behemoth (Christopher Booker, 12/31/12, Daily Mail)

Forty years ago today, in what was arguably the most fateful political move ever made by a British Prime Minister, Edward Heath took us into what was then called the 'Common Market'.

Such a step had scarcely been mentioned at the previous General Election, and the British people had very little idea of what they were letting themselves in for, other than a trading arrangement that might make it easier for us to sell our goods to our Continental neighbours.

Four decades later, the picture could scarcely look more different. We have seen that supposedly cosy club we joined transformed, step by step, into a vast, bloated bureaucratic empire, imposing its suffocating rule over 27 nations. 

We have also seen it plunged into the most destructive crisis in its history -- one it has brought entirely on itself by its reckless dream of locking the countries of Europe together into the straitjacket of the euro.

Posted by orrinj at 12:05 PM

OBIT: Bob Munden: Bob Munden, who has died aged 70, was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as "The Fastest Man with a Gun Who Ever Lived". (The Telegraph,  31 Dec 2012)

One journalist reckoned that if Munden had been at the OK Corral in Tombstone, Arizona, on October 26 1881, the gunfight would have been over in 5 to 10 seconds. He could whip out his Colt .45 single action revolver (as used by John Wayne), shoot a target and replace the gun in his holster in .0175 seconds, and over his lifetime he won more than 3500 trophies, 800 championship titles and bagged 18 world records in speed-shooting.

Munden's accuracy was deadly. He could burst two balloons six feet apart in what sounded like a single shot and split playing cards -- edgeways. He might not have been quite as fast as the French cartoon character "Lucky Luke", the cowboy who could "draw faster than his shadow", but Munden's audiences sometimes needed slow-motion action replay to convince them that what they had just seen was not a trick.
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Posted by orrinj at 11:53 AM


The Universe We Know In (Rev. James V. Schall, S.J., 1/01/13, Imaginative Conservative)

Socrates was fond of repeating the advice of the Oracle: "Know thyself." He probably said, "Know thyself," rather than, "Know the world," because it is more difficult to know oneself than to know the world. Self-introspection yields not ourselves, but something approaching infinity beyond ourselves. The first thing we know about ourselves is that we have a faculty whereby we know. Yet, we did not give this strange knowing power to ourselves. We wonder perhaps why we have it.

Plato, in fact, thought that the universe was not complete unless within it something existed that could understand it.

There is no Universe until someone collapses the wave functions.

Posted by orrinj at 10:55 AM


Obama's Leadership Failure (Robert Samuelson, January 1, 2013, Washington Post)

Whatever one thinks about raising taxes at the top (and I have no objection to it as part of comprehensive budget package), it's not the crux of the problem. The crux of our problem -- the problem being the bipartisan and untenable promises made to most Americans of both high government benefits and low taxes -- arises from an aging population and high health costs, which cause rapid increases in spending on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Let me repeat some statistics I've often cited. In 2012, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid accounted for 44 percent of non-interest federal spending. As for taxes, the richest 5 percent paid almost 40 percent of federal taxes in 2009 (and within that, the richest 1 percent paid 22 percent of taxes).

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office puts it this way:

"With the population aging and health care costs per person likely to keep growing faster than the economy [gross domestic product], the United States cannot sustain the federal spending programs that are now in place with the federal taxes (as a share of GDP) that it has been accustomed to paying."

Until Obama conspicuously and consistently acknowledges these realities in straightforward and unmistakable language -- something he hasn't done and shows no signs of doing -- he cannot be said to be dealing honestly with the budget or with the American people. The main reason that we keep having these destructive and inconclusive budget confrontations is not simply that many Republicans have been intransigent on taxes. The larger cause is that Obama refuses to concede that Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are driving future spending and deficits. So when Republicans make concessions on taxes (as they have), they get little in return. Naturally, this poisons the negotiating climate.

The only potential outcome of the McConnell negotiations was tax cuts without spending cuts.  The GOP needs to just walk away until the President asks to come to the table.