June 30, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 9:39 AM


Identical Twin Studies Prove Homosexuality is Not Genetic (Mark Ellis, 6/24/13, OrthodoxNet)

Eight major studies of identical twins in Australia, the U.S., and Scandinavia during the last two decades all arrive at the same conclusion: gays were not born that way.

"At best genetics is a minor factor," says Dr. Neil Whitehead, PhD. Whitehead worked for the New Zealand government as a scientific researcher for 24 years, then spent four years working for the United Nations and International Atomic Energy Agency. [...]

 "No-one is born gay," he notes. "The predominant things that create homosexuality in one identical twin and not in the other have to be post-birth factors."

Just supposing you had obnoxious teenage children who liked to berate their fuddy-duddy parents for condemning homosexuality.  Now suppose you made them read And the Band Played On before they insisted again that sex between males was harmless.  You might never hear from them again on the topic.  (at least so far...)
Posted by orrinj at 9:32 AM


The Ten Commandments : Why the Decalogue Matters (Leon R. Kass, Mosaic)

The Decalogue is introduced as follows: "And God spoke all these words, saying" (Exodus 20:1). Unlike most such biblical statements reporting a divine act of speaking, this one does not identify the audience. But the omission is fitting, for the speech appears to be addressed simultaneously to all the assembled people and to each one individually: in fact, all of the injunctions are given in the second person singular. Moreover, although pronounced at a particular time and place, and uttered in the presence of a particular group of people, the content of the speech is not parochial. It is, rather, addressed to anyone and everyone who is open to hearing it--including, of course, us who can read the text and ponder what it tells us.

If the identity of the audience is unspecified, that of the speaker is plain: "I [the] Lord am thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage" (Exodus 20: 2). Later Jewish--but not Christian--tradition will treat this assertion as part of the first statement and the basis of the first positive precept: to believe in the existence of the one God. But in context it functions more to announce the identity of the speaker--who, as would have been customary in any such proposed covenant between a suzerain and his vassals, declares the ruler-subject relationship that governs everything that follows. On this understanding, "I the Lord am thy God" emphasizes that the speaker is the individual hearer's personal deity: not just the god of this locale, capable of making the mountain tremble, rumble, and smoke, but the very One who brought you personally out of your servitude in Egypt.

Nor, unlike God's self-identification to Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3:6), is there any mention here of the patriarchs. The agreement offered to the Israelites is a covenant not with the God of their long-dead fathers but with the God of their own recent deliverance. The former covenant was for fertility, multiplicity, and a promised land; the new one concerns peoplehood, self-rule, and the goals of righteousness and holiness. It rests on a new foundation, and it is made not with a select few but with the universal many.

Although the basis of the new relationship is historical, rooted in the Lord's deliverance of the Israelites from Egyptian bondage, the Lord's opening declaration also conveys a philosophical message. The Lord appears to be suggesting that for the children of Israel--if not also for other unnamed auditors--there are basically two great alternatives: either to be in relation to the Lord, in Whose image humankind was created, or to be a slave to Pharaoh, a human king who rules as if he were himself divine. Egypt, identified redundantly as "the house of bondage," is presented here not just as one alternative among many but as the alternative to living as men and women whose freedom--from bondage not only to Pharaoh but to their own worst tendencies--seems to depend on embracing the covenant with the Lord.


After the opening remark declaring God's relation to this people, the next statements concern how God wants them to conduct their side of the relationship. The instruction is entirely negative.

The first wrong way is this: "Thou shalt not have other [or "strange"; aherim] gods before Me" (Exodus 20: 3). This is a declaration not of philosophical monotheism but of cultural monotheism. What is claimed precisely is an exclusive, intimate I-thou relationship like that of a marriage, requiring unqualified fidelity and brooking no other's coming between the two partners. One might phrase it this way: "Thou shalt look to no stranger-gods in My presence." This goes beyond turning an I-thou relation into a "triangle." Aherim, the word translated "other" or "strange," suggests that any such putative deities would be alien not only to the relationship as such but specifically to its human partners. The only God fit for a relationship with beings made in God's image is the God whose being they resemble and whose likeness they embody. Only such a One would not be a "stranger."

Yes, powers regarded (not unreasonably) by other peoples as divine--for example, the sun, the moon, the earth, the sea, the mountain, or the river--may play a decisive role in determining the character and events of human life. Yes, the powers that the Greek poets presented as anthropomorphic gods--Poseidon, earth-shaker; Venus, source of erotic love; Demeter, source of crops; warlike Ares--must be universally acknowledged and respected for their place in human life. But one cannot truly have a relationship with them, for they are strangers to all those who look to them. Only with the Lord God is there the possibility of genuine kinship.

Having established the principle of exclusivity, God speaks next to correct a second error, namely, the natural human inclination to represent the divine in artfully made visible images, and even to worship these statues or likenesses:

Thou shalt not make unto thee a graven [or "sculptured"] image, nor any likeness of any thing that is in the heavens above or that is in the earth below, or that is in the water under the earth; thou shalt not bow down unto them, nor serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous god, remembering [or "visiting"] the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third or fourth generation of them that hate Me; and showing grace unto the thousandth generation of them that love Me and keep My commandments. (Exodus 20: 4-­6)

Intended to proscribe the worship of idols, this injunction builds a fence against such practices by forbidding even the making of sculpted images or likenesses, especially of any natural being. It emphatically opposes the practice, known to the ex-slaves from Egypt, of worshipping natural beings--from dung beetles to the sun to the Pharaohs--and representing them in sculpted likenesses. But it also seems to preclude any attempt to represent, in image or likeness, God Himself. The overall message is clear: any being that can be represented in visible images is not a god. The unstated reason: God is incorporeal and trans-natural.

What's wrong with worshipping visible images or the things they represent? Even if, as we have reason to believe, it rests on an error--mistaking a mere likeness for a true divinity--it seems harmless enough, at most a superstitious waste of time. But the practice and the disposition behind it are hardly innocuous. To worship things unworthy of worship is in itself demeaning to the worshiper; it is to be oriented falsely in the world, taking one's bearings from merely natural phenomena that, although powerful, are not providential, intelligent, or beneficent. Moreover, paradoxically, such apparently humble submission masks a species of presumption. After all, human beings will have decided which heavenly bodies or which animals are worthy of being revered, and how these powers are to be appeased. In addition, the same human beings believe that they themselves, through artful representation, can fully capture these natural beings and powers and then, through obeisance, manipulate them. Worse, with increased sophistication of the craftsmen comes the danger that people will come to revere not the entities idolized but the physical idols as well as the sculptors and painters who, in making them, willy-nilly elevate themselves.

Perhaps the most important reason is that neither the worship of dumb nature nor the celebration of human artfulness addresses the twistedness and restlessness that lurk in the human heart and soul. To put the point positively, neither nature nor artfulness teaches anything about righteousness, holiness, or basic human decency. Indeed, the worship of nature or of idols may contribute to the problem. Making the connection explicit, the Lord vows to visit the "iniquities" of the fathers on the sons, unto the third or fourth generation.

An iniquity (avon) in the Bible differs from a sin (het). To sin is to miss the mark, as an arrow misses the target. By contrast, to commit an iniquity is to do something twisted or crooked, to be perverse. Sin is not inherited, and only the sinner gets punished; iniquity, however, like "pollution," lasts and lasts, affecting those who come in its wake. It is not only that perverse fathers are likely to pervert their children; in addition, the children are inevitably stained by the father's iniquity. How this comes about, the text leaves wonderfully ambiguous, thanks to the multiple meanings of the Hebrew verb poqed, which means both visiting and remembering; either the Lord promises to intervene directly and actively inflict the father's twisted deeds on the sons, or He promises to allow those deeds to linger in the fabric of the world, contaminating the lives of the sons until repentance or cleansing is effected. Either way--and perhaps the two amount to the same thing--the perversity of the father's deeds will reverberate through the generations.

The Israelites are not yet told what behavior they are to regard as iniquitous. Is it idolatry itself, or does idolatry lead to such twisted practices as incest, fratricide, bestiality, cannibalism, slavery? One way or the other, the fathers (and mothers) are put on notice: how they stand with respect to divinity will affect their children and their children's children. God and the world care about, retain, and perpetuate our iniquities.

But not indefinitely--only to the third or fourth generation, the limits of any father's clearly imaginable future. And overshadowing all is the promise of God's bountiful grace "to the thousandth generation of those who love Me and keep My commandments." Just as the sons of iniquitous fathers suffer through no direct fault of their own, so a thousand generations of descendants of a single God-loving and righteous ancestor enjoy unmerited grace. (By the way, it has been only 200 generations since the time of Father Abraham, for whose merit the children of Abraham are still being blessed.)

From this little injunction on idol-worship we learn that God and the world are not indifferent to the conduct of human beings; that our choice seems to be between living in relation to the Lord and worshipping or serving strange gods, between keeping His commandments and living iniquitously; that the choices we make will have consequences for those who come later; but that the blessings that follow from worthy and God-loving conduct are more far-reaching than are the miseries caused by iniquitous and God-spurning conduct. There will be perversity in every generation, but the world overflows with hesed or grace.

And this surprising turn in the comment on idolatry and iniquity highlights the decisive (and perhaps most important) difference between idols or strange(r) gods and "the Lord thy God": under the rule of no other deity could the world be seen to embody the kind of grace, kindness, and blessing here foretold. As earlier in the hope-filled rainbow sign after the flood (Genesis 9: 1-17), the token of God's first covenant with humankind, here each and every Israelite learns that he will have reason to be grateful not only for his one-time recent deliverance from Egypt but also for the enduringly gracious (and not merely powerful or dreadful) character of the deity with whom he is covenanting.

The implications for how we are to live in the light of this teaching are clear. My children and my children's children are at risk from any iniquity I commit; but nearly endless generations will benefit from the good that I may do. An enormous responsibility, then; and yet we know also that we are not solely responsible for the world's fate, and that redemption is always possible. Even if we fail, there will still be hesed. To walk with hope in the light of hesed offers the best chance for a worthy life.

It's odd how folks who are bothered by the notion of God becoming human aren't similarly bothered by the fact that He bound Himself in covenants with Man.  

Posted by orrinj at 9:09 AM


The Evolution of Human Nature (Micah Mattix, Winter/Spring 2013, New Atlantis)

The tale of the tail is recounted in one of the more prominent works seeking to explain art through evolution: the late Denis Dutton's 2009 book The Art Instinct. The American-born Dutton, who was perhaps most widely known as the founder of the popular website Arts & Letters Daily, was a professor of philosophy at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. Among the aims of his book is to inject a dose of cold, hard science to fight the fever of cultural relativism that seems to have been clouding the judgment of the humanities and social sciences for much of the twentieth century.

This cultural relativism has been pervasive in the different schools of modernist art and art criticism, which, Dutton says, replaced the traditional artistic values of "beauty, skill, and pleasure" with "a determination to shock or puzzle" that "has sent much recent art down a wrong path." The infamous prototype of this art-world relativism is Marcel Duchamp's 1917 work Fountain, a urinal that the French artist purchased, signed with the name "R. Mutt," and submitted to an avant-garde art exhibition. Dutton notes that in a 2004 survey of five hundred of the art world's most important artists, critics, and curators, 64 percent selected Fountain as the most influential work of art of the twentieth century.

Dutton enumerates a list of twelve universal features of art that he argues are rooted in our evolved human nature, and uses them, among other things, to attempt to make sense of Duchamp's controversial example. These features are: the direct sense of pleasure a work of art provides; the skill and virtuosity involved in its creation; the presence of a recognizable style in which the artwork is made; its novelty and originality; its ability to generate critical judgment and appreciation; its representation or imitation of real or imaginary experiences; the way works of art are set apart from ordinary life and given special attention; its expression of the individual personality of the artist; its "emotional saturation," or the ability of the work to incite emotions in its audience; the intellectual challenge that it can provide for an audience; the significance that the work has in an artistic tradition; and finally, the imaginative experience that the work represents for its producer and evokes in its audience. In the end, Dutton admits that, even though Duchamp's "art-theoretical gesture" lacked "the emotion, the individuality, the skill, [and] the beauty" that through evolution we have come to enjoy in art, its creativity and originality, along with its undeniable influence, make it a work of art in some sense.

While his position on this controversial piece of art is less than decisive, his analysis of the difficult aesthetic problem that a work like Fountain presents is fruitful and clarifying. Equally admirable is his spirited but open-minded defense of aesthetic common sense against art critics and theorists who approach ironic or transgressive modern art, like Fountain, with a paradoxical air of high-minded seriousness.

Perhaps most laudable is that in articulating a "naturalistic" account of aesthetics, Dutton's book, unlike so many others on evolution and art, avoids illustrating "the high-order adaptations involved in the human art instinct" with anecdotes of animal "art." To some extent, Dutton's work follows in the footsteps of anthropologist Ellen Dissanayake, who attempted to explain the development of the arts in the broadest sense by focusing on its cultural functions in pre-modern societies. Dutton too recognizes that while art may be based on instinct, it is based on a uniquely human instinct. He notes that while our closest living relatives, the chimpanzees, do sometimes produce paintings in captivity, this "art" exists "only because trainers remove the paper at the right point; otherwise, the chimp will continue to apply paint till there is nothing to see but a muddy blob." Moreover, chimpanzees show no interest in their own creations, and still less in the creations of other chimps, suggesting that they lack the sense of aesthetic appreciation of art that is so central in human culture.

Even the animal that Dutton argues comes closest to human beings in the deliberate creation of aesthetic harmony -- the male bowerbird, which creates detailed and carefully constructed nests -- fails to have any enduring sense of aesthetic appreciation for its work. Female bowerbirds evaluate the appearance of these nests, but only for the purpose of mate selection, and "are not part of an artistic culture, to be preserved, discussed, and appreciated outside a pattern of animal mating." Moreover, the bowerbird is only very remotely related to human beings, so whatever art-inclining genes it might have are unlikely to be shared by humans.

The bowerbird, in providing a clear example of an art instinct that can be easily explained through sexual selection, shows how inadequate that same process is to explaining the quite different nature of human art. Unlike the bowerbird nest, human art is "complex and diverse" -- no two works are the same, and often they are "among the most gaudy and flamboyant of human creations." And "at the rarefied level of the most profound and enduring masterpieces," Dutton continues, "they can reveal an elevated spirituality unparalleled in human experience." Rather than comparing us to our close evolutionary relatives, or offering analogies between our behavior and that of other relatively intelligent animals like elephants or dolphins, Dutton begins with our "firsthand experience" of art and works backward, adding in ethnographies of "preliterate hunter-gatherer tribes" when appropriate. From such evidence, Dutton seeks to portray his view of the human instinct for art.

The first feature of our inclination toward art is that we seem to have a universal love of landscape paintings -- and not just any landscape, but landscapes similar to those our ancestors would have encountered on the African savanna. A central pillar of evidence for his argument is a 1993 study commissioned by Russian painters Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid that surveyed people from ten diverse countries and found a surprising number of consistent aesthetic preferences. Dutton writes:

People in almost all nations disliked abstract designs, especially jagged shapes created with a thick impasto in the commonly despised colors of gold, orange, yellow, and teal. This cross-cultural similarity of negative opinion was matched on the positive side by another remarkable uniformity of sentiment: almost without exception, the most-wanted painting was a landscape with water, people, and animals.

Dutton suggests that this seemingly universal preference for paintings depicting open spaces, trees, water, and animals is related to our ancestors' search for food and safety. Such landscapes would have presented opportunities for cultivation; and the presence of water and climbable clusters of trees -- which could have served as lodgings for game and provided safety from predators -- would have been preferred by hunter-gatherers to either a dark forest or desolate plains. The emotional response to landscapes, the sense of peace, Dutton suggests, developed from the habitat choice of "people (and proto-people) in the Pleistocene."

Of course, not all artistic preferences are as universally held as our love of landscapes. Yet the appreciation of art is itself a human universal, and while "we might not receive a pleasurable, or even immediately intelligible, experience from art of other cultures," Dutton writes, the similarities are far greater than the differences. Moreover, the similarities might help explain why some of the differences -- like Dadaism and Duchamp -- are of little interest to the great unironic masses. After exploring the reasons within art history why Duchamp's work fulfilled some of the features of art, and so deserves some respect (grudging or otherwise) for its innovative audacity, Dutton ultimately seems to side with a more conventional view of what makes for good art, and argues that this tradition is more enduring and universal because art is natural and not merely cultural. What the book's title calls an "instinct" for art is literally in our genes.

Some scientists, such as the late paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould, have criticized the attempt to explain through the principles of natural selection the uniquely human aspects of the human mind, including our inclinations toward creating and appreciating art. In a 1997 essay in the New York Review of Books, Gould argued that most of the specific features of human psychology -- such as our aesthetic preferences -- are byproducts of our oversized brains, rather than specific adaptations shaped by our evolutionary history. But Dutton claims, on the contrary, that something as deeply seated in human nature as art is best understood as an adaptation -- "an inherited physiological, affective, or behavioral characteristic that reliably develops in an organism, increasing its chances of survival and reproduction" -- in other words, as a product of natural and sexual selection in our human ancestors.  [...]

The accounts offered by both Dutton and Boyd center on offering evolutionary explanations for observed traits. But while evolutionary biology in other species relies heavily on the study of the fossil record along with comparisons of extinct and living organisms, there is a relative dearth of evidence in the fossil record of recent human evolution, especially when it comes to detailed structures of the brain, making it difficult to produce explanations for highly specific human behaviors. And while human artifacts might be thought of as fossils of the mind -- enduring traces of our ancestors' artistic practices -- the archaeological record of such artifacts is similarly incomplete. The oldest of human artifacts, like the Venus of Hohle Fels, are only some forty thousand years old, making it difficult to draw conclusions about the role of art in the evolution of modern humans hundreds of thousands of years ago.

The ultimate problem, however, is more categorical than evidential. The reductive form of inquiry in the natural sciences will always have a limited ability to account for the symbolic, moral, and religious significance of art. Brain scans and other cognitive experiments on human beings alive today can tell us something about the neurological correlates of aesthetic experience, but they cannot tell us how, when, why, or whether our aesthetic preferences evolved.

Every time evolutionary explanations attempt to cross from the antecedent causes of art to an understanding of its highest expressions and deepest nature, they stumble. In this, Dutton's arguments about the instinctive basis for aesthetic preferences and artistic creativity are more plausible than Boyd's attempts to account for the specific features of great works like the Odyssey in terms of a set of evolved capacities -- although Dutton does veer into this territory too. While evolutionary biology can offer some tantalizing if not provable hints and theories as to the origins of art, and can even provide some understanding of the universal features of artistic behavior, it is ill suited to asking the more important questions of the meaning and significance of art now that it is here.

As others have pointed out, stories about how art might have helped our ancestors to survive and reproduce are most successful when they are merely repeating common sense. Certainly, sexual selection is a reason for many efforts at inventiveness -- a fact that we have known since time immemorial. As Shakespeare wrote, "that man that hath a tongue, I say is no man / If with his tongue he cannot win a woman." But focusing on these apparent evolutionary origins of art may cause us to miss what matters most. Homer, the blind poet, surely had more and other motivation than a simple desire to gain the attention of his audience and teach them the theme of "reciprocal altruism." The same can be said of his artistic successors. The sense of the sublime in Caspar David Friedrich; the losing of oneself in the ecstasy of Byrd's Masses; the humanity yet transcendence in Dostoevsky -- to attempt to explain such things solely in terms of the bare forces of evolutionary survival risks altogether explaining them away.

...wouldn't fewer artists be gay?  Indeed, what then was the point of Jeffrey Smart's landscapes?

Posted by orrinj at 8:55 AM


The Gallic Gadfly : Pascal Bruckner takes on Western guilt, self-loathing, and 'apocalyptic propaganda' (Emily Eakin, 6/17/13, The Chronicle Review)

He's a gadfly and a goad, a self-declared man of the left who considers the influence of leftist ideology on contemporary France to have been, by and large, disastrous. In Bruckner's view, Europe is "wallowing in shame and self-loathing," and France "embodies the illnesses of Europe to excess." As a general rule, the more virtuous-seeming the liberal belief--about love, marriage, minorities, Muslims, the third world, and the West--the more contradiction, hypocrisy, and defeatism he finds corroding its name.

"I am like an epidemiologist of the disease of French democracy," Bruckner, 64, said by phone from his home, in Paris. "I try to sort out the symptoms of French psychological distress." The latest outbreak he's detected is environmentalism. The green movement is being hijacked by extremists, he writes in The Fanaticism of the Apocalypse: Save the Earth, Punish Human Beings, just released in the United States by Polity Press. In place of scientific fact, environmental crusaders spread guilt and fear, terrorizing citizens and undermining their own cause. Surveying images of planetary cataclysm proffered by activists like Al Gore ("Humanity is sitting on a ticking time bomb"), the former NASA climatologist James Hansen (who has called for trying climate-change deniers for "crimes against humanity"), and an array of European science writers and Green Party delegates, Bruckner complains that "all catastrophist discourses suffer from a twofold contradiction: If the situation is as serious as they claim, why fight against it? Why not sit back and await the deluge? But the proposed solutions are ludicrous in view of the perils. ... Let's be clear: a cosmic calamity is not going to be averted by eating vegetables and sorting our rubbish." [...]

Unlike many of the other so-called nouveaux philosophes--a loosely affiliated group whose number includes, in addition to Bruckner and Finkielkraut, the writers André Glucksmann and Bernard-Henri Lévy--Bruckner was never a militant Marxist. The label, coined by Lévy in the mid-1970s, originally designated those young intellectuals who, disillusioned by Maoism (and its most influential French champion, Sartre), had begun renouncing their radical affiliations and attacking leftist dogma in philosophy and politics.

Bruckner joined the student protests of May 1968, mainly out of curiosity and "for the fun," he says. But the extremist tendencies he perceived in some of his fellow demonstrators made a big impression. His first book, Le Nouveau Désordre Amoureux (The New Love Disorder), written with Finkielkraut and published in 1977, was an indignant critique of the sexual-liberation movement. "We were among the first to point out that emancipation was a new dogma, that in those inflamed speeches was a terrorism directed at the body," Bruckner says. "Sexuality was about performance more than about pleasure." The book was never translated into English, but he has frequently reprised its themes, including in Le Paradoxe Amoureux (2009) (The Paradox of Love, 2012), in which he calls "free love" the "oxymoron par excellence": "How can love, which attaches, be compatible with freedom, which separates?" He's also explored the perversities of romantic love in a series of dark, erotic novels. One, the extravagantly dissolute Lunes de file (1981) (Evil Angels, 1987), was the basis for the film Bitter Moon, by Roman Polanski, in which free love is shown to be a grotesque and deadly con.

The book that established Bruckner's nouveau philosophe bona fides was Le Sanglot de l'Homme Blanc (1983) (The Tears of the White Man: Compassion as Contempt, 1986). Disillusioned with China and the Soviet Union, the French left, he argued, had merely transferred its revolutionary aspirations to the third world. The result was patronizing and narcissistic: "Everything became simple, formulaic, and we could steep ourselves in Latin American revolution as easily as in the rampages of the Red Guard. ... The world was a coat rack upon which we could hang our fantasies. We searched for a more intense, and, therefore, more innocent version of ourselves in Angolan soldiers, Bengali Naxalites, and Bolivian guerrillas."

In Bruckner's understanding, tiers mondisme (third worldism) was also a reaction, sentimental and misguided, to guilt over France's colonial adventure, over its brutality in the Algerian war, over Vichy. Guilt became a guiding preoccupation. In La Tyrannie de la Pénitence: Essai Sur le Masochisme Occidental (2006) (The Tyranny of Guilt: An Essay on Western Masochism, 2010), he extended his analysis to political correctness, multiculturalism, anti-imperialism, and anti-Americanism--all contemporary manifestations of the guilt and self-loathing that Bruckner believes is crippling France. His description of multiculturalism as a form of "legal apartheid," which "accords the same treatment to all communities, but not to the people who form them, denying them the freedom to liberate themselves from their own traditions," became part of a high-profile spat in 2007, when he applied the term to the journalists Ian Buruma and Timothy Garton-Ash, after they expressed reservations about the work of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the outspoken Dutch-Somali critic of Islam--and a former Muslim. "There's no denying that the enemies of freedom come from free societies," Bruckner declared.

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Posted by orrinj at 8:35 AM


REVIEW: Turtle Diary by Russell Hoban (Brian Gittis, 6/28/13, BookForum)

"I think death will be a good career move for me," Hoban (1925-2011), told the Guardian in 2002, understanding that his novels were a little too strange for a life of mainstream literary fame. "People will say, 'yes, Hoban, he seems an interesting writer, let's look at him again.'" Reading Turtle Diary this way--in an NYRB Classics edition, with a view to Hoban's whole career--adds a new dimension of poignancy to an already very moving book. An emotionally naked, self-referential novel about a children's author in transition, Turtle Diary is deeply satisfying in its own right, while also offering a glimpse of the author behind his extravagant creative output.

The novel is narrated by two depressed, middle-aged Londoners. Neaera H. is the author of a popular series of children's books about the character Gillian Vole, but she hasn't written much of anything lately and is having a crisis of confidence over her first adult-book proposal. In the hopes of inspiring a new children's book, she's purchased a pet water beetle and looks to it for ideas (Victoria Beetle's Summer Holiday? Victoria Beetle, Secret Agent?) William G., our other narrator, used to have a family and a career in advertising (like Hoban), but now he's divorced, working in a bookstore, and living in a boarding house.

William and Neaera are strangers at the beginning of the book, and we watch as their stories move closer and closer to each other. They have many things in common--dry, observant senses of humor, unrealized ambitions, atrophying intellectual interests, anxiety, depression--but what ultimately brings them together is the London Zoo. They both wander in to look at the animals (William seeking an octopus, Neaera an oyster-catcher). And both discover the turtles.

But, sadly, aren't capable of discovering much more.

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June 29, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 4:42 PM


Abnormals of all nations, unite! : On the exceptionality of political liberty (Catalin Avramescu, 12/10/07, Eurozine)

We hold "normality" to be something we should assume, if not cherish (providing we do not re-interpret normality as "mediocrity", which is very different). However the authors of the discourse on exemplary constitutions did not adhere to this view. For them, the exemplary constitution was by no means "normal". On the contrary: they considered it a highly improbable, if not unique, result of a number of causes and circumstances. Imitating or perpetuating this constitution, they thought, required exceptional strength, skill, and determination. 

The main reason, though, for this scepticism towards normality has to do with the analysis of the nature of man and of the body politic. According to traditional authors, individuals and states, left to their own devices, have a natural tendency to slide towards subjection of the worst kind. The best demonstration of this was provided by the jusnaturalists from Grotius and the Spanish Scholastics to Locke, Wolf, and Rousseau. The Law of Nature was not the immediate foundation of the law of civil freedom; Hobbes contended that life in the state of natural liberty is "nasty, brutish and short".

To simplify: we have two apparently opposed perceptions in the universe of traditional political theory. From the Greek orators, who praised the liberty of the polis to Hegel on the role of freedom in Western history, we discover on the one hand an emphatic defence of freedom as realized in the exceptional constitution. On the other hand, many of the same authors adopt a bleak stance on the capacity of "others" to raise themselves to the standards of the exemplary constitution. In particular, there is a strong feeling, first cultivated in Europe by the Greek observers of the Persian monarchy, that non-European states are un-free in the highest degree, and thus the opposite of an exemplary constitution.

These perspectives are, in truth, two sides of the same coin. They originate in the belief that political liberty, on the one hand, is exceedingly rare. Despotism, serfdom, oppression, and anarchy, are, on the other hand, commonplace. Either because these are consequences of the fallen nature of the human individual, or because the institutional arrangements required in order for political liberty to exist are extraordinarily complicated. Whatever the reason, religious or secular, numerous thinkers in Europe focused on a limited set of free constitutions that they considered worthy of emulation; at the same time, they rejected the "normal" political constitutions of European and non-European societies. In the development of European political theory, normality was not predicated as a political ideal, but on the contrary, something to be guarded against. 

Today, we believe that democracy is the "normal" state of a society. We are probably wrong. [...]

In the nineteenth century, exemplary constitutions fell out of fashion, especially in the emerging states of eastern Europe, Asia, and Latin America. A more optimistic mood prevailed. If modernity had succeeded in a few European states, then anyone could do it, right? Perhaps even do better, especially if one added a dose of socialism or nationalism to concoct an individual recipe of "emancipation". Pamphlets and manifestoes were written that showed how abnormal and unjust the situation of the nations at the periphery of capitalism had become.

Against this background, the standard references of classical political theory started to fade. The fate of liberalism is telling. In the eighteenth century, liberalism was essentially an aristocratic doctrine, infused with republicanism and preaching a responsible, grave, and ironic freedom, inspired by the Roman example. It was certainly very different from the faceless and amorphous doctrine we know today.

The rise of influence of the French model was also significant. While it is wise to guard against sweeping generalizations, we should, nevertheless, admit that the role of France has been largely malign. It is the origin of the two of the most warped ideologies ever visited on mankind: communism and fascism. After 1800, France also managed to export its administrative model to an unsuspecting world, above all to eastern Europe, where France was considered, culturally and politically, as a role-model. The Civil Code and the institutions of the French state became an inspiration for reforms. The result, however, was largely unappealing. A society swamped in bureaucracy, taxpayers saddled with punitive taxes in order to finance an inefficient and useless system of "social benefits", a corrupt and self-serving judiciary, and intellectual elites with a taste for etatism. Interestingly, France enjoyed a very different status in the writings of the theorists of exemplary constitutions. With very few exceptions, they believed France to be an example of bad polity, unlike Rome, Venice or England. 

Sadly, the End of History doesn't end happily for most people.  

N.B.  Be sure to check out the author's unusual book: An Intellectual History of Cannibalism

Posted by orrinj at 1:25 PM


He Is Legend : There will never be another Richard Matheson (DANIEL J. FLYNN, 6.28.13, American Spectator)

One theme in Matheson's televised yarns relates to supernatural life preservers saving characters from their sinking lives. In Twilight Zone's "World of Difference," Matheson depicts an actor with a harpy wife and a declining career who opts to stay permanently in character over living in his depressing reality. In "The Doll," originally written for The Twilight Zone but produced two decades later for Steven Spielberg's Amazing Stories, two lonely hearts escape their sad lives through the interdiction of a dollmaker-matchmaker.

Matheson wrote one of the better Star Trek episodes. In "The Enemy Within," Captain Kirk splits into two personages representing very different parts of his soul. The more pleasant, and more passive, Kirk realizes he needs the more decisive, and devious, version of himself to be a complete leader. Matheson's scripts showed up on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Boris Karloff's Thriller, and Night Gallery. A sort of last hurrah for these anthology programs came in the form of the '80s revival of The Twilight Zone, which featured Matheson's "Button, Button." Therein, a button awarded its presser with a large sum of money and the knowledge that a stranger has died because of it. The ending, like so many of the best Twilight Zones, leaves viewers stunned.

Matheson penned perhaps the greatest television movie ever broadcast. Kolchak: The Night Strangler blended the fantastic with the all-too-real in a story of a vampire emerging from the urban underground to quench his thirst during the crime-ridden '70s. It launched a television program starring Darren McGavin, and then, a few decades later, it inspired another, The X Files. The scripts of two of the best episodes -- Squeeze and Tooms -- paid homage to Kolchak: The Night Strangler.

Give  I Am Legend a read as an allegory for conservatism.

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Posted by orrinj at 1:09 PM


Watch SALT Trailer on PBS. See more from POV.

-Photo Journal: Murray Fredericks (National Geographic)
Lake Eyre might be the bleakest, most featureless place on Earth--a flat, arid salt sink in Australia with only the horizon to define its 3,700 square miles. Yet I went there 16 times in eight years. Why? To create a series of photographs out of infinite space.

Posted by orrinj at 8:40 AM


When Camelot Went to Japan (Jennifer Lind, June 25, 2013, National Interest)

THE UNITED States has security partnerships with numerous countries whose people detest America. The United States and Pakistan wrangled for seven months over a U.S. apology for the NATO air strikes that killed twenty-four Pakistani soldiers in 2011. The accompanying protests that roiled Islamabad, Karachi and other cities are a staple of the two countries' fraught relationship. Similarly, American relations with Afghanistan repeatedly descended into turmoil last year as Afghans expressed outrage at Koran burnings by U.S. personnel through riots and killings. "Green on blue" attacks--Afghan killings of U.S. soldiers--plague the alliance. In many Islamic countries, polls reflect little warmth toward Americans.

Washington's strategy of aligning with governments, rather than peoples, blew up in Egypt and could blow up in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Yemen. America's alliances in the Middle East and Persian Gulf are fraught with distrust, dislike and frequent crisis. Is there any hope for them?

Turns out, there is. Fifty years ago, a different alliance was rocked by crisis and heading toward demise. Like many contemporary U.S. alliances, it had been created as a marriage of convenience between Washington and a narrow segment of elites, and it was viewed with distrust by the peoples of both countries. Yet a half century later, that pairing is one of the strongest security partnerships in the world--the alliance between the United States and Japan.

But in 1960, thousands of Japanese people poured into the streets of Tokyo to protest their country's relationship with the United States. This shocked leaders on both sides of the Pacific, who realized that they had to take action or their partnership would die. Japanese officials crafted initiatives designed to build support for the alliance among the Japanese public. These included plans for the first U.S. presidential visit to Japan. In America, the incoming John F. Kennedy administration--fearing it could lose the linchpin of its strategy in the Pacific--supported the idea. It also made an unconventional (and in retrospect, deeply consequential) choice in its ambassador to Tokyo--Harvard professor Edwin O. Reischauer. In advance of his Japan trip, Kennedy sent his brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, to Tokyo. The president was assassinated before he could make the trip, but Robert Kennedy's visit, and the networks and institutions it created, helped knit the U.S. and Japanese societies closer together. Two countries once dismissed as impossible allies forged, through careful and persistent diplomacy, a durable and warm relationship.
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Posted by orrinj at 8:34 AM


Nietzsche's Marginal Children: On Friedrich Hayek (Corey Robin, May 7, 2013, The Nation)

Nietzsche begins ["The Greek State"] by announcing that the modern era is dedicated to the "dignity of work." Committed to "equal rights for all," democracy elevates the worker and the slave. Their demands for justice threaten to "swamp all other ideas," to tear "down the walls of culture." Modernity has made a monster in the working class: a created creator (shades of Marx and Mary Shelley), it has the temerity to see itself and its labor as a work of art. Even worse, it seeks to be recognized and publicly acknowledged as such. 

The Greeks, by contrast, saw work as a "disgrace," because the existence it serves--the finite life that each of us lives--"has no inherent value." Existence can be redeemed only by art, but art too is premised on work. It is made, and its maker depends on the labor of others; they take care of him and his household, freeing him from the burdens of everyday life. Inevitably, his art bears the taint of their necessity. No matter how beautiful, art cannot escape the pall of its creation. It arouses shame, for in shame "there lurks the unconscious recognition that these conditions" of work "are required for the actual goal" of art to be achieved. For that reason, the Greeks properly kept labor and the laborer hidden from view. 

Throughout his writing life, Nietzsche was plagued by the vision of workers massing on the public stage--whether in trade unions, socialist parties or communist leagues. Almost immediately upon his arrival in Basel, the First International descended on the city to hold its fourth congress. Nietzsche was petrified. "There is nothing more terrible," he wrote in The Birth of Tragedy, "than a class of barbaric slaves who have learned to regard their existence as an injustice, and now prepare to avenge, not only themselves, but all generations." Several years after the International had left Basel, Nietzsche convinced himself that it was slouching toward Bayreuth in order to ruin Wagner's festival there. And just weeks before he went mad in 1888 and disappeared forever into his own head, he wrote, "The cause of every stupidity today...lies in the existence of a labour question at all. About certain things one does not ask questions."

One can hear in the opening passages of "The Greek State" the pounding march not only of European workers on the move but also of black slaves in revolt. Hegel was brooding on Haiti while he worked out the master-slave dialectic in The Phenomenology of Spirit. Though generations of scholars have told us otherwise, perhaps Nietzsche had a similar engagement in mind when he wrote, "Even if it were true that the Greeks were ruined because they kept slaves, the opposite is even more certain, that we will be destroyed because we fail to keep slaves." What theorist, after all, has ever pressed so urgently--not just in this essay but in later works as well--the claim that "slavery belongs to the essence of a culture"? What theorist ever had to? Before the eighteenth century, bonded labor was an accepted fact. Now it was the subject of a roiling debate, provoking revolutions and emancipations throughout the world. Serfdom had been eliminated in Russia only a decade before--and in some German states, only a generation before Nietzsche's birth in 1844--while Brazil would soon become the last state in the Americas to abolish slavery. An edifice of the ages had been brought down by a mere century's vibrations; is it so implausible that Nietzsche, attuned to the vectors and velocity of decay as he was, would pause to record the earthquake and insist on taking the full measure of its effects? 

If slavery was one condition of great art, Nietzsche continued in "The Greek State," war and high politics were another. "Political men par excellence," the Greeks channeled their agonistic urges into bloody conflicts between cities and less bloody conflicts within them: healthy states were built on the repression and release of these impulses. The arena for conflict created by that regimen gave "society time to germinate and turn green everywhere" and allowed "blossoms of genius" periodically to "sprout forth." Those blossoms were not only artistic but also political. Warfare sorted society into lower and higher ranks, and from that hierarchy rose "the military genius," whose artistry was the state itself. The real dignity of man, Nietzsche insisted, lay not in his lowly self but in the artistic and political genius his life was meant to serve and on whose behalf it was to be expended. 

Instead of the Greek state, however, Europe had the bourgeois state; instead of aspiring to a work of art, states let markets do their work. Politics, Nietzsche complained, had become "an instrument of the stock exchange" rather than the terrain of heroism and glory. With the "specifically political impulses" of Europe so weakened--even his beloved Franco-Prussian War had not revived the spirit in the way that he had hoped--Nietzsche could only "detect dangerous signs of atrophy in the political sphere, equally worrying for art and society." The age of aristocratic culture and high politics was at an end. All that remained was the detritus of the lower orders: the disgrace of the laborer, the paper chase of the bourgeoisie, the barreling threat of socialism. "The Paris commune," Nietzsche would later write in his notebooks, "was perhaps no more than minor indigestion compared to what is coming."

Nietzsche had little, concretely, to offer as a counter-volley to democracy, whether bourgeois or socialist. Despite his appreciation of the political impulse and his studious attention to political events in Germany--from the Schleswig-Holstein crisis of the early 1860s to the imperial push of the late 1880s--he remained leery of programs, movements and platforms. The best he could muster was a vague principle: that society is "the continuing, painful birth of those exalted men of culture in whose service everything else has to consume itself," and the state a "means of setting [that] process of society in motion and guaranteeing its unobstructed continuation." It was left to later generations to figure out what that could mean in practice--and where it might lead. Down one path might lay fascism; down another, the free market.

* * *

Around the time--almost to the year--that Nietzsche was launching his revolution of metaphysics and morals, a trio of economists, working separately across three countries, were starting their own. It began with the publication in 1871 of Carl Menger's Principles of Economics and William Stanley Jevons's The Theory of Political Economy. Along with Léon Walras's Elements of Pure Economics, which appeared three years later, these were the European faces--Austrian, English and French-Swiss--of what would come to be called the marginal revolution.

The marginalists focused less on supply and production than on the pulsing demand of consumption. The protagonist was not the landowner or the laborer, working his way through the farm, the factory or the firm; it was the universal man in the market whose signature act was to consume things. That's how market man increased his utility: by consuming something until he reached the point where consuming one more increment of it gave him so little additional utility that he was better off consuming something else. Of such microscopic calculations at the periphery of our estate was the economy made.

Though the early marginalists helped transform economics from a humanistic branch of the moral sciences into a technical discipline of the social sciences, they were still able to command an audience and an influence all too rare in contemporary economics. Jevons spent his career as an independent scholar and professor in Manchester and London worrying about his lack of readers, but William Gladstone invited him over to discuss his work, and John Stuart Mill praised it on the floor of Parliament. Keynes tells us that "for a period of half a century, practically all elementary students both of Logic and of Political Economy in Great Britain and also in India and the Dominions were brought up on Jevons." 

According to Hayek, the "immediate reception" of Menger's Principles "can hardly be called encouraging." Reviewers seemed not to understand it. Two students at the University of Vienna, however, did. One was Friedrich von Wieser, the other Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk, and both became legendary educators and theoreticians. Their students included Hayek; Ludwig von Mises, who attracted a small but devoted following in the United States and elsewhere; and Joseph Schumpeter, dark poet of capitalism's forces of "creative destruction." Through Böhm-Bawerk and Wieser, Menger's text became the groundwork of the Austrian school, whose reach, due in part to the efforts of Mises and Hayek, now extends across the globe.

The contributions of Jevons and Menger were multiple, yet each of them took aim at a central postulate of economics shared by everyone from Adam Smith to the socialist left: the notion that labor is a--if not the--source of value. Though adumbrated in the idiom of prices and exchange, the labor theory of value evinced an almost primitive faith in the metaphysical objectivity of the economic sphere--a faith made all the more surprising by the fact that the objectivity of the rest of the social world (politics, religion and morals) had been subject to increasing scrutiny since the Renaissance. Commodities may have come wrapped in the pretty paper of the market, but inside, many believed, were the brute facts of nature: raw materials from the earth and the physical labor that turned those materials into goods. Because those materials were made useful, hence valuable, only by labor, labor was the source of value. That, and the fact that labor could be measured in some way (usually time), lent the world of work a kind of ontological status--and political authority--that had been increasingly denied to the world of courts and kings, lands and lords, parishes and priests. As the rest of the world melted into air, labor was crystallizing as the one true solid.

By the time the marginalists came on the scene, the most politically threatening version of the labor theory of value was associated with the left. Though Marx would significantly revise and recast it in his mature writings, the simple notion that labor produces value remained associated with his name--and even more so with that of his competitor Ferdinand Lasalle, about whom Nietzsche read a fair amount--as well as with the larger socialist and trade union movements of which he was a part. That association helped set the stage for the marginalists' critique.

Admittedly, the relationship between marginalism and anti-socialism is complex. On the one hand, there is little evidence to suggest that the first-generation marginalists had heard of, much less read, Marx, at least not at this early stage of their careers. Much more than the threat of socialism underpinned the emergence of marginalist economics, which was as opposed to traditional defenses of the market as it was to the market's critics. By the twentieth century, moreover, many marginalists were on the left and used their ideas to help construct the institutions of social democracy; even Walras and Alfred Marshall, another early marginalist, were sympathetic to the claims of the left. And on some readings, the mature Marx shares more with the constructivist thrusts of marginalism than he does with the objectivism of the labor theory of value.

On the other hand, Jevons was a tireless polemicist against trade unions, which he identified as "the best example...of the evils and disasters" attending the democratic age. Jevons saw marginalism as a critical antidote to the labor movement and insisted that its teachings be widely transmitted to the working classes. "To avoid such a disaster," he argued, "we must diffuse knowledge" to the workers--empowered as they were by the vote and the strike--"and the kind of knowledge required is mainly that comprehended in the science of political economy." 

Menger interrupted his abstract reflections on value to make the point that while it may "appear deplorable to a lover of mankind that possession of capital or a piece of land often provides the owner a higher income...than the income received by a laborer," the "cause of this is not immoral." It was "simply that the satisfaction of more important human needs depends upon the services of the given amount of capital or piece of land than upon the services of the laborer." Any attempt to get around that truth, he warned, "would undoubtedly require a complete transformation of our social order." 

Finally, there is no doubt that the marginalists of the Austrian school, who would later prove so influential on the American right, saw their project as primarily anti-Marxist and anti-socialist. "The most momentous consequence of the theory," declared Wieser in 1891, "is, I take it, that it is false, with the socialists, to impute to labor alone the entire productive return." 

And the most momentous consequence of the universal adoption of capitalism is that labor makes a steadily diminishing contribution to that return.

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Posted by orrinj at 8:23 AM


Louis Armstrong Continuum And Big Phat Band In Concert (BECCA PULLIAM, 6/27/13, NPR: Jazz Set)

One band is on the East Coast, one on the West and both give definitive, invigorating performances of music that celebrates what's best about America -- jazz, bands, even Bugs Bunny.

Emcee and JazzSet guest host Rhonda Hamilton is onstage at Jazz at Lincoln Center to introduce a unique pairing. First, there's trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and men from the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. In addition, Vince Giordano has his tuba, guitar and bass saxophone (a magnificent instrument) and players from his Nighthawks, who've been performing New Orleans music since 1976.

Marsalis says of his trumpet hero, Louis Armstrong, "'Pops' taught us all, and we are basking in the glory of his music." Giordano has transcribed many Armstrong recordings so that today's musicians can play it as the Hot Fives and Sevens did. Two of the four pieces we'll hear were written by Armstrong's wife and pianist, Lil Hardin Armstrong. And the last is "St. James Infirmary" in the tempo of a dirge, with lyrics.

Gordon Goodwin from Los Angeles won the Best Instrumental Arrangement Grammy in 2012 for "Rhapsody in Blue" from Goodwin's Big Phat Band. He was nominated again this year for his arrangement of "Salt Peanuts" by Dizzy Gillespie. As Goodwin says, arranging is great, but the notes are just scribbles on the page until someone plays them. The Big Phat Band makes its Monterey Jazz Festival debut with "Rhapsody" and "Hunting Wabbits," inspired by Carl Stalling's 1940s scores for Warner Brothers cartoons -- think Looney Tunes and Bugs Bunny. The music tumbles all over itself; it's just about perfect.

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Posted by orrinj at 8:18 AM


Why you'll share this story: The new science of memes (Christopher Mims, June 28, 2013, Quartz)
More and more of the things that set the internet on fire are of that species of charmingly moronic pairing of text and image that allows even the post-literate to feel like they have partaken of a shared cultural moment. And now, scientists are beginning to understand how the curiously addictive visual tropes known as "memes" are born, why they die, and whether or not it's possible to predict which will "go viral" and be harvested by the night-soil merchants up at meme warehouses like Cheezburger.

The internet, of course, was barely in its infancy when Richard Dawkins, a British evolutionary biologist, coined the term "meme" back in 1976. And he meant it as a much more nuanced concept, encompassing pretty much any idea that is good at propagating from one human brain to another--whether it is dialectical materialism or the tune to Happy Birthday.

But Dawkins was deliberate in his comparison of memes to genes. Like the molecular units of inheritance, memes "reproduce" by leaping from one mind to another, "mutate" as they are re-interpreted by new humans, and can spread through a population. The internet has radically accelerated the spread of memes of all kinds

The prevailing justification of Darwinism is always just a product of the social milieu.
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Posted by orrinj at 8:14 AM


The trillion-dollar opportunity that could save health care (Abhas Gupta, June 28, 2013, Quartz)

Unlike a fee-for-service system, an Accountable Care Organization (ACO) is a health system where providers--doctors, hospitals, etc.--agree to align financial incentives with better health for a particular population. ACOs come in various flavors, but one particularly disruptive ACO business model is capitation. In capitated systems, organizations receive a fixed payment for delivering care, which means that they accept the financial risk for managing the costs of their covered population. Doctors who successfully control the costs of their patients get to pocket the difference between the fixed payments and their patients costs. This type of system ultimately profits by unleashing entrepreneurial innovation towards lowering health care costs.

Given their limited track record and sparse distribution, ACOs are widely perceived as a tiny movement with oversized hype. However, as Geoffrey Moore, venture partner at Mohr Davidow Ventures; innovation expert and Harvard professor Clayton Christensen; and others have long observed, industry disruptions follow an S-curve of penetration: they start out slow, accelerate rapidly, and eventually slow again as the market saturates. Fitting an S-curve (Figure 1) to the growing reach of ACOs over the last three years suggests that in the next few years, ACOs could become the dominant operating model in health care, thereby unlocking tremendous opportunities in a $2.7 trillion industry. (Early 2013 data on ACO growth also supports an exponential growth phase. It is worth noting that these data points reflect the reach of ACOs and not just the lives covered under true ACO contracts, so they are much more optimistic; nevertheless, the delay for conversion to true ACO contracts is likely to be nominal, as in additional years, not decades.) Although the Affordable Care Act catalyzed this movement by enabling Medicare to enter into ACO contracts, increasingly, the growth of new ACOs is coming from the private sector.

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Posted by orrinj at 8:11 AM


A diagnosis is a diagnosis -- except when it's not? (Bill Gardner, 6/27/13, The Incidental Economist)

[T]he GERD diagnosis has increasingly been applied to infants who do not have the specific physiological symptoms of GERD, but who spit up and cry frequently and are hard to soothe. These latter infants are now frequently treated with PPIs. As Eric Hassall explains in the Journal of Pediatrics,

in the 6 years from 1999 to 2004, there was a >7-fold increase in PPI prescription. One of the PPIs... saw a 16-fold increase in use during that 6-year period...

Writing with a sarcasm unusual in a scientific journal, Hassall notes that

These data would imply that somehow the diagnosis of GERD has been missed over the past several decades or has recently become a major scourge of infants in the developed world, with acid suppressing drugs becoming a new essential food group in their own right. This change in practice has come about for several reasons, none based in medical science.

It has been true forever that lots of babies spit up a lot, cry a lot, and are difficult to soothe. And the great majority of these babies have been successfully 'treated' with long walks, car rides, rocking chairs, but mostly just waiting while the babies grow out of it. This is exhausting and stressful for parents. Hassall believes that the growth in the use of PPIs occurred because extensive direct-to-consumer advertising for PPIs and similar medications for adults popularized the term "acid reflux." So it made sense to parents that these drugs would provide a solution for a seemingly intractable problem. And for doctors, calling the problem GERD and prescribing a PPI to the infant was a way to at least soothe the parents.

Posted by orrinj at 8:09 AM


Why states that ban gay marriage are resting easy after Supreme Court rulings : As gay marriage supporters celebrate this week's rulings at the US Supreme Court, states that prohibit same-sex marriage are also elated, reassured that their bans are not in legal jeopardy. (Mark Guarino, June 28, 2013, CS Monitor)

States with gay marriage bans can feel confident that those laws are not in legal jeopardy because the justices did not rule on the merits of same-sex marriage itself, only on the issue of federal benefits for those whom states deem to be married, says John Dinan, a political scientist and state constitutional expert at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C. In the case involving the federal Defense of Marriage Act, the majority opinion, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, describes the burden of DOMA on same-sex couples, but it does not venture into territory such as advising states with bans to change course or make adjustments.

"Legally, we're in the same place today that we were at the beginning of the week. No real new ground has been broken in that direction," Professor Dinan says. "Nothing came out of the two decisions that changed the legal terrain that would make those states vulnerable."

Posted by orrinj at 8:06 AM


Obama yet to have African legacy like predecessors (NEDRA PICKLER, 6/28/13, Associated Press)

Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush passed innovative Africa initiatives while in the White House and passionately continue their development work in the region in their presidential afterlife. Obama's efforts here have not been so ambitious, despite his personal ties to the continent.

His first major tour of Africa as president is coming just now, in his fifth year, while Bush and Clinton are frequent fliers to Africa. Bush even will be in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, next week at the same time as Obama, although they have no plans to meet. Instead, their wives plan to appear together at a summit on empowering African women organized by the George W. Bush Institute, with the former president in attendance. [...]

Manougou Nbodj, a 21-year-old student, said he hopes Obama will bring American resources like jobs and health care. "If Obama can work with Macky Sall the way that George Bush worked with Africa before him, then we will be happy," he said, referring to the Senegalese president.

Posted by orrinj at 8:00 AM


National Defense Highway System (Global Security)

When President Eisenhower went to Kansas to announce the interstate highway system, he announced it as "the National Defense Highway System." In 1956 President Eisenhower signed legislation establishing the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways (about 41,000 miles of roads). Since then, DOD has continued to identify and update defense-important highway routes. The National Defense Highway system was designed to move military equipment and personnel efficiently

By the late 1930s, the pressure for construction of transcontinental superhighways was building. It even reached the White House, where President Franklin D. Roosevelt repeatedly expressed interest in construction of a network of toll superhighways as a way of providing more jobs for people out of work. He thought three east-west and three north south routes would be sufficient. Congress, too, decided to explore the concept. The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1938 directed the chief of the Bureau of Public Roads (BPR) to study the feasibility of a six route toll network. Some observers thought the plan lacked the vision evident in the popular "Futurama" exhibit at the 1939 New York World's Fair. The exhibit's designer, Norman Bel Geddes, imagined the road network of 1960 - 14-lane superhighways crisscrossing the nation, with vehicles moving at speeds as high as 160 km per hour. The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1944 authorized designation of a 65,000-km "National System of Interstate Highways," to be selected by joint action of the state highway departments. Construction of the interstate system moved slowly.

In 1919, Lt. Colonel Dwight D. Eisenhower accompanied the Army's first transcontinental motor convoy from Washington, DC, to San Francisco, thereby forming an image in the future President's mind of a system of cross continental highways that eventually led to the concept of the National Defense Highway System. During World War II, Gen. Eisenhower saw the advantages Germany enjoyed because of the autobahn network. He also noted the enhanced mobility of the Allies when they fought their way into Germany. President Eisenhower established the Highway Trust Fund to create a funding mechanism that enabled the United States to build a national road network similar to the German Autobahn.

Posted by orrinj at 7:55 AM


Making 'Killer Angels' (PHIL LEIGH, 6/28/13, NY Times)

One-hundred-and-one summers after the Battle of Gettysburg, a family of four stopped their Nash Rambler at the site during a 1,000-mile drive from the New York World's Fair to Tallahassee, Fla. The father was a New Jersey-born former boxer, paratrooper and policeman who became a creative writing instructor at Florida State after enrolling to study opera. Before arriving at the park he had published dozens of science-fiction short stories, but nothing about history. But he had researched several Gettysburg participants for the trip, and he fascinated his daughter Lila and son Jeff with stories of his favorites while the family walked the grounds. They ended up staying for several days, because Michael Shaara was in the early stages of creating his masterpiece novel, "The Killer Angels."

Partly owing to meticulous research, it took Shaara (pronounced "Share-a") seven years to finish the manuscript. Relying chiefly on first-person accounts like memoirs, diaries and letters, he pioneered a new type of historical novel. Normally such stories revolve around fictitious characters in real events: the protagonist in "Rifles for Watie," the 1957 novel by Harold Keith, is an imaginary Union soldier who fights at Wilson's Creek and Prairie Grove. In contrast, "The Killer Angels" uses a combination of recorded and fictional dialogue, as well as imagined thoughts and incidents, to tell the Gettysburg story from the viewpoint of actual participants.

Shaara's extra burden was to portray such speculation in a manner authentic to the characters, which compelled him to research men like Robert E. Lee, James Longstreet, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, Winfield Scott Hancock and John Buford in such depth that he once told an interviewer he was "visited" by them. 

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Posted by orrinj at 7:32 AM


Iran's president-elect says nation voted for change (AP, 6/27/13)

Hasan Rouhani's promises of outreach could lower the political temperature between Iran and the West and perhaps nudge the country's ruling Islamic establishment toward a more flexible approach in its standoff over Tehran's disputed nuclear program. [...]

"People chose a new path ... people said in this election: We want change," Rouhani told a televised conference in Tehran Saturday. "The best language of the people is the ballot box. The people's vote is very obvious. There is no ambiguity."

Rouhani said he will keep his promise of following a path of moderation in domestic and foreign policy.

"Moderation in foreign policy is neither surrender nor conflict, neither passivity nor confrontation. Moderation is effective and constructive interaction with the world," he said.

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Posted by orrinj at 7:23 AM


Bobby Bland's Influential Voice/ (Les Back,  1999 Music Issue, Oxford American)

About the music that has influenced him, [Bobby "Blue" Bland] has said, "I like the soft touch. I don't like the harsh. I listened to a lot of Perry Como, Tony Bennett, Nat King Cole for diction, for delivery. And I still know more about hillbilly tunes than I do blues. Hank Snow, Hank Williams, Eddy Arnold--so much feeling, so much sadness." In the mid-'80s he started recording for the Malaco blues label based in Jackson, Mississippi. In 1997 his Sad Street album was nominated for a Grammy in the best contemporary blues category, and his recent album "Live" on Beale Street proves his voice is as robust as ever.

In the early '60s a young blue-eyed soul singer named Dan Penn modeled his sound on Bland's unique voice. Penn went on to become a leading r&b songwriter through the success of such hits as "Do Right Woman, Do Right Man" for Aretha Franklin, "Dark End of the Street" for James Carr, "Out of Left Field" for Percy Sledge, and "I'm Your Puppet" for James and Bobby Purify. Before establishing his reputation as a songwriter, Penn fronted bands like the Pallbearers and the Mark V who played frat parties, sock hops, and local dances all over the South, covering the gamut of Bland's repertoire. From his home in Nashville he offered his appreciation of Bobby "Blue" Bland's music.

LES BACK: How would you sum up Bobby Bland as a vocalist?

DAN PENN: Bobby Bland was just the Man. You wanted to be like him, at least I did--just a great, great singer. He had exceptional delivery and understanding. He made you understand what the song means to him. He didn't just shuffle through, you know--it's also blood and guts. The r&b records that I loved are not prominent or in your face. Listen to "Share Your Love with Me," the one with the strings--that's my favorite. That one, and "Two Steps from the Blues" are the two that stick out for me. I have to say that I've never heard records any better than those. No gimmicks, just pure blues pop. Nobody's ever beat 'em.

LB: I guess you could say those records are blues with a heavy gospel influence and feel, too.

DP: Once you've been to the church as a child, there's a streak of something that goes right through you. Put it this way: you've got to go a long way to beat spiritual music. They've got something to talk about, and it's so emotional. I got the r&b and the gospel feel from Ray Charles and Bland; I also got that from Aretha and all the black gospel acts. John Richbourg on WLAC played nothing but black music right here in Nashville. It was all over the South. It was one of the biggest things of the '50s. I mean, if you didn't know where WLAC was on your radio, then you weren't hip. My world was lily-white as far as my church music, but even lily-white people got soul, you know? Once I heard black people on the radio--Ray Charles and Bobby "Blue" Bland--it was all over for me. I said to myself, This is the best stuff around, and I still hold that opinion. I still think that black church music is as good as it's gonna get. I've never heard anything better.

Bobby (Blue) Bland, Soul and Blues Balladeer, Dies at 83 (BILL FRISKICS-WARREN, 6/24/13, NY Times)

Mr. Bland's signature mix of blues, jazz, pop, gospel and country music was a good decade in the making. His first recordings, made in the early 1950s, found him working in the lean, unvarnished style of Mr. King, even to the point of employing falsetto vocal leaps patterned after Mr. King's. Mr. Bland's mid-'50s singles were more accomplished; hits like "It's My Life, Baby" and "Farther Up the Road" are now regarded as hard-blues classics, but they still featured the driving rhythms and stinging electric guitar favored by Mr. King and others. It wasn't until 1958's "Little Boy Blue," a record inspired by the homiletic delivery of the Rev. C. L. Franklin, that Mr. Bland arrived at his trademark vocal technique.

"That's where I got my squall from," Mr. Bland said, referring to the sermons of Mr. Franklin -- "Aretha's daddy," as he called him -- in a 1979 interview with the author Peter Guralnick. "After I had that I lost the high falsetto. I had to get some other kind of gimmick, you know, to be identified with."

The corresponding softness in Mr. Bland's voice, a refinement matched by the elegant formal wear in which he appeared onstage, came from listening to records by pop crooners like Nat King Cole, Tony Bennett and Perry Como.

Just as crucial to the evolution of Mr. Bland's sound was his affiliation with the trumpet player and arranger Joe Scott, for years the director of artists and repertory for Duke Records in Houston. Given to dramatic, brass-rich arrangements, Mr. Scott, who died in 1979, supplied Mr. Bland with intricate musical backdrops that set his supple baritone in vivid relief.

The two men accounted for more than 30 Top 20 rhythm-and-blues singles for Duke from 1958 to 1968, including the No. 1 hits "I Pity the Fool" and "That's the Way Love Is." Steeped in vulnerability and emotional candor, his performances earned him a devoted female audience.

Though only four of his singles from these years -- "Turn On Your Love Light," "Call on Me," "That's the Way Love Is" and "Ain't Nothing You Can Do" -- crossed over to the pop Top 40, Mr. Bland's recordings resonated with the era's blues-leaning rock acts. The Grateful Dead made "Love Light" a staple of their live shows. The Band recorded his 1964 single "Share Your Love With Me" for their 1973 album, "Moondog Matinee." Van Morrison included a version of "Ain't Nothing You Can Do" on his 1974 live set, "It's Too Late to Stop Now."

Mr. Bland himself broke through to pop audiences in the mid-'70s with "His California Album" and its more middle-of-the-road follow-up, "Dreamer." But his greatest success always came in the rhythm-and-blues market, where he placed a total of 63 singles on the charts from 1957 to 1985. He signed with the Mississippi-based Malaco label in 1985 and made a series of well-received albums that appealed largely to fans of traditional blues and soul music.

Mr. Bland was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992 and received a Grammy Award for lifetime achievement in 1997.

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Posted by orrinj at 7:17 AM


The Revolution Will Be Solarized (Chris Warren, 6/07/13, Oxford American)

Almost unnoticed, a market-driven solar revolution is underway that promises to smash the already outdated notion that solar can be viable only when propped up by lavish government incentives. A precipitous and ongoing drop in the price of solar equipment has transformed this clean energy source from something we ought to pursue to avoid baking the planet into something we'd be stupid not to use more for selfish, economic reasons. For all the pessimism engendered by solar company bankruptcies and ferocious trade wars, the United States is poised to take large steps toward solar power. And it's here in the South, a region with relatively few panels installed, where the forces propelling this quiet insurrection are most obvious.

North Carolina, which has followed a traditional policy-dependent approach toward encouraging solar, is now consistently one of the top ten state markets in the country. In September 2012, Georgia Power, that state's largest investor-owned utility--and a subsidiary of the powerful Southern Company, one of the staunchest opponents to federal climate-change legislation--announced the most ambitious voluntary solar initiative of any electric company in the nation. Solar is even making progress in Texas, where San Antonio's municipal utility is building 400 megawatts of new solar power plants capable of producing enough energy to power 70,000 homes. Solar's inroads in the South extend to manufacturing as well. Most of San Antonio's equipment will be manufactured locally, and both Wacker Chemie, a German company, and Michigan's Hemlock Semiconductor have chosen Tennessee as the location for huge factories to produce and export polysilicon, a key ingredient in the solar cells that are electrically connected to form a panel. North Carolina's growing solar demand and its proximity to eastern markets have led Schletter, a German company that makes solar equipment, to build a facility in Shelby, a small town west of Charlotte.

This is all happening because of simple economics. "The reality is the solar industry overall has really invested in getting more competitive. Their costs have come down considerably," said Greg Wolf, president of Duke Energy Renewables, an arm of the North Carolina-based utility Duke Energy, the nation's largest electric power holding company. That's important in ways that are obvious and tangible to Wolf, whose job is to build wind and solar projects all around the country. But the financial logic will also help shift the conversation away from purely ideological debates. In other words, it gets people to stop talking about Solyndra. 

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Posted by orrinj at 7:00 AM


DC World Exclusive: Venerable leftist weekly demands president's impeachment over mass surveillance (Eric Owens, 6/18/13, Daily Caller)

In the pages of The Nation, the oldest continuously published weekly in the country and the self-described "flagship of the left," a former member of the House of Representatives has called for the impeachment of the president over revelations of massive government surveillance of ordinary citizens.

Democrat Elizabeth Holtzman of New York, who sat on the House Judiciary Committee during the Watergate era, powerfully yet dispassionately lays out the case for the immediate impeachment of the president.

"Nothing less is necessary to protect our constitutional system and preserve our democracy," she declares.

...is the string of comments by folks who don't get the joke, illustrating the affinity of the deranged of both political wings.

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June 28, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 PM


Nike to tackle rising Asian labour costs (Barney Jopson, 6/27/13, Financial Times)

Nike is to tackle rising labour costs at its Asian factories by "engineering the labour out" of its shoe and clothing production as it seeks to defend its profits.

Don Blair, Nike's chief financial officer, said its objective was to reduce the number of people making its products as he highlighted the impact of a sharp increase in wages in Indonesia.

The modern economic reality is that it takes ever less work to create ever more wealth.

Posted by orrinj at 6:22 PM


Healthy savings: Fewer lab tests (Amanda Gengler, 6/27/13, CNN/Money)

A new Johns Hopkins study found that doctors shown the bill for lab tests ordered fewer of them, cutting expenditures 9.6%.

"Most medical care is delivered in a cost vacuum," says co-author Leonard Feldman. "Information helps providers be more cost-conscious."

Posted by orrinj at 4:59 AM


If You Remember 'Peak Oil' And 'Peak Wireless Spectrum,' You're Laughing Now (John Chisholm, 6/27/13, Forbes)

FCC predictions about wireless and U.S. military predictions about fossil fuels went wrong very quickly. Both organizations flinched. They lost faith in free markets to broadcast demand and create incentives through rising and falling prices; and in free people to respond to those incentives to address shortage and scarcity. Julian Simon recognized this responsiveness in his 1981 book, The Ultimate Resource, which refers to human ingenuity to explore, discover, recycle, economize, and develop substitutes. Two new books update these ideas. The Infinite Resource: The Power of Ideas on a Finite Planet, by Ramez Naam, is more intimate, polished, and carefully reasoned. Infinite Progress: How the Internet and Technology Will End Ignorance, Disease, Poverty, Hunger and War, by Byron Reese, is the faster, lighter, more dramatic read. Both books chronicle advances in quality of life that only free people can produce.

Be wary of predictions about complex systems such as technology and natural resources. Trust in innovation and free markets.

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June 27, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 5:14 AM


Khamenei blames western 'stubbornness' for Iran's nuclear program (REUTERS, 06/26/2013)

While accusing the West of being more interested in regime change than ending the dispute, Khamenei did express a desire to resolve an issue which has led to ever tighter sanctions on Iran's oil sector and the wider economy. [...]

Iran experts were taken aback by Rohani's election after many had predicted a hardliner more strongly aligned with Khamenei would be installed, following the 2009 election that the opposition said was rigged against reformist candidates.

Since Rohani's June 14 victory, some analysts have said Khamenei must have wanted him to win in order to gain time in nuclear talks by presenting a more amenable face to the world.

Others have said this underestimates the complexity of Iran's political system and the room for divergence within the ruling establishment.

Khamenei has repeatedly said a vote in the "epic" election was a vote for the system, but on Wednesday also appealed to national sentiment in a rare acknowledgement that some Iranians may not support the Islamic Republic, but yet may not fall into the category of "enemy".

"This (turnout) shows that even people who do not support the system, trust it and its elections because they know that a robust Islamic Republic stands up like a lion and defends the national interests and dignity well," he told a group of judges. 

The cash we give them will let him save face.

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Posted by orrinj at 5:05 AM


Electric car industry reps cheered by market growth (Catherine Green, June 26, 2013, LA Times)

The electric vehicle network is expanding in both technological advances and new markets, according to representatives from the auto industry and energy community.

During a press call Tuesday, Nissan North America and Bosch Automotive Service Solutions highlighted rising sales for electric cars and 240-volt charging stations.

"We're on a roll," said Brendan Jones, director of EV infrastructure strategy for Nissan. The carmaker had a record Leaf sales month in May, boasting 2,138 registrations - a 319% increase over that same month last year. Jones said June was on pace to be another good month. "We have high expectations."

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June 26, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 5:31 AM


Talk to Iran's New President. Warily. (DENNIS B. ROSS, 6/26/13, NY Times)

The real question for ourselves is whether we should change our approach to diplomacy with Iran, now that a new Iranian president has advertised his desires to end Iran's isolation and the sanctions imposed on it, and to repair the "wound" that he has said exists between the United States and the Islamic Republic.

Until now, we have taken an incremental, confidence-building approach within multilateral negotiations with Iran, but they have probably already run their course. Indeed, while our side (the United States, China, Russia, Germany, Britain and France) negotiated with Iran on and off for the last several years with no results, the Iranians were dramatically expanding the numbers of centrifuges they had installed to enrich uranium. They now have roughly 17,000 and have succeeded in upgrading to a new generation of far more efficient centrifuges.

Those developments have shrunk the time we have available to ensure that the Iranians cannot break out and present the world with the fait accompli of a nuclear weapons capability. So we may have time for diplomacy, but not a lot.

We should move now to presenting an endgame proposal -- one that focuses on the outcome that we, the United States, can accept on the nuclear issue. And we should do so even if our negotiating partners -- particularly the Russians -- aren't prepared to accept such a move, since the clock is ticking. We should give Mr. Rowhani a chance to produce, but the calendar cannot be open-ended.

Diplomacy often boils down to two simple elements: taking away excuses for inaction and providing explanations for a deal that could be struck. On the first point, the Iranians say they don't know what we will accept in the end. The answer should be that we can accept Iran's having civil nuclear power but with restrictions that would make the steps to producing nuclear weapons difficult, as well as quickly detectable. Our offer should be credible internationally; if Iran was not prepared to agree to it, the Iranians would be exposed for not being ready to accept what they say they want. Indeed, if we make a credible proposal that would permit the Iranians to have civil nuclear power with restrictions, it would allow them to save face for themselves: they could say the proposal was what they had always sought and that their rights had been recognized.

The moment for converting to nuclear as your energy source has probably passed.

Posted by orrinj at 5:23 AM


Why Stage Parents Push Their Kids (Maia Szalavitz, June 24, 2013, TIME)

In the first study to experimentally investigate the phenomenon, researchers say it's the unfulfilled ambitions of moms and dads that fuel their pushy parenting.

Tigers moms and sports dads, according to the investigation published in the journal PLOS One, are trying to mitigate their own failures by living through their children.

Posted by orrinj at 5:19 AM


Coal Killer : How Natural Gas Fuels the Clean Energy Revolution (Alex Trembath, Michael Shellenberger, Ted Nordhaus, Max Luke, 6/25/13, The Breakthrough)

Amid a flurry of regulations and political activism against coal plants, one phenomenon has proved the most effective in killing coal in the United States: the arrival of cheaper, cleaner energy. Natural gas fuels the clean energy revolution by displacing dirtier coal, lowering carbon emissions, providing a platform for deployment of lower-carbon energy technologies, and creating economic surpluses that can be directed towards energy innovation. And while questions have arisen in the last several years regarding the local and global environmental impacts of the shale revolution, a survey of the empirical literature reveals gas to be a highly favorable environmental alternative to coal.

In a new Breakthrough Institute report, Coal Killer: How Natural Gas Fuels the Clean Energy Revolution, we document the energy and environmental benefits of natural gas and gas's exceptional position in accelerating the transition to a zero-carbon future.

The rapid displacement of coal in recent years has allowed the United States to achieve the largest recent carbon emissions reductions of any country in the world. While natural gas poses significant environmental challenges, its benefits over coal are undeniable. Mercury pollution, sulfur oxides and nitrogen oxides, water intensity, and pollution-related costs and mortality are all reliably lower with natural gas than with coal. Methane leakage mitigation opportunities will typically prove profitable for drillers, and leakage's effects on global climate change will prove relatively minor as long as policymakers sustain efforts to accelerate decarbonization.

While the prospects for zero-carbon technologies like renewables and nuclear are certainly affected by cheap natural gas, worries that the shale revolution will kill zero-carbon energy are overblown. Cheap, flexible natural gas generation will become more and more essential as variable renewable technologies like wind and solar achieve wider penetrations in electricity grids. And while natural gas has been partially responsible for some recent closures of nuclear power plants in the United States, the major challenges faced by nuclear power -- high capital and refurbishment costs, regulatory uncertainty, and public skepticism -- predate and overwhelm the competitive pressure posed by the American shale revolution. Zero-carbon technologies remain far more dependent on innovation policies than the relative price of natural gas.

The arrival of a cheaper energy technology to displace coal has provided more than $100 billion a year in economic benefits to the United States, and tens of millions in state and federal revenues. Within the next few years the shale revolution will have contributed more to the US economy than all cumulative federal expenditures on all energy industries since 1950.

Posted by orrinj at 5:01 AM


Antoni Gaudí: What does his architecture stand for? : Almost everyone agrees that Antoni Gaudí's work stands for something. But what? (Elizabeth Barber, June 25, 2013, CS Monitor)

[A]s La Sagrada Família was restored to Catalonia's collective imagination, especially after Barcelona declared all of Gaudi's buildings historical monuments in 1952, it was admired for exactly the reasons that it had once been maligned: its piousness and its imaginative eccentricity - and, those combined, its Catalan-ness. Gaudí's basilica, designed during an era of upheaval and innovation, and when art was political and the rebellious artistic attitude was inextricable from bubbling Catalan separatism, was invited to stand for Catalonia itself: both progressive and devout, at once praising the individual genius and the nation's collective soul. It neatly resolved cultural contradictions into something tangible, something proud.

Still, calling La Sagrada Família a symbol of Catalonia is also fraught. Construction on the basilica is ongoing, dividing Barcelona over how Gaudi's vision is best treated. Would he have wanted his unfinished project completed in a way that might be untrue to his original, unknown plans, but true to his belief in the collaborative imagination? Or does finishing his design make it inauthentic, not Gaudi at all but something masquerading as his genius?

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Posted by orrinj at 4:58 AM


Bottom Is Falling Out of Copper Prices (LIAM DENNING, 6/25/13, WSJ)

Copper spent much of the period from 2005 to 2012 at levels at least double the marginal cost of production, according to Deutsche Bank, DBK.XE +1.94% reflecting persistent supply deficits. The number of days of consumption covered by copper stocks fell from more than 60 in 2003 to less than 20 by 2008.

The market has now loosened. Already, the stock-to-consumption ratio is back up to almost 50. On the demand side, China's attempted shift away from economic growth predicated on breakneck construction--with good reason, as the country's recent credit crunch demonstrates--will cause copper-consumption growth to level off.

And more copper is becoming available. Between 2005 and 2012, disruptions such as strikes took the equivalent of between 5% and 8% of global mine supply off the market, according to Macquarie. So far this year, though, disruptions equate to about 2%. Moreover, an earlier surge in investment brought on by higher copper prices is starting to bear fruit.

Deutsche Bank and Macquarie expect copper supply between 2013 and 2015 to exceed demand by an average of roughly 500,000 metric tons a year--higher than the surplus in 2009, when the average price fell 26%.

June 25, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 6:11 PM


Army to Cut 80,000 Soldiers, Chief Says (PAUL D. SHINKMAN, June 25, 2013, US News)

The U.S. Army will shrink by about 80,000 soldiers by 2017, its top officer said Tuesday, as the military slashes budgets and draws down from a decade of two ground wars overseas.

Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army chief of staff, announced Tuesday afternoon that the service would downsize the number of Brigade Combat Teams from 45 to 33 by 2017, reducing the Army from a high of 570,000 to 490,000 soldiers.

June 24, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 5:09 PM


The Impeachment of [*********} : The time has come to call for the impeachment of President [*******}. Any President who maintains he is above the law--and acts repeatedly on that belief--seriously endangers our consitutional system of government. (Elizabeth Holtzman January 11, 2006, The Natio)

[I]t wasn't until the most recent revelations that President [********] directed the wiretapping of hundreds, possibly thousands, of Americans, in violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA)--and argued that, as Commander in Chief, he had the right in the interests of national security to override our country's laws--that I felt the same sinking feeling in my stomach as I did during Watergate.

As a matter of constitutional law, these and other misdeeds constitute grounds for the impeachment of President [*****}. A President, any President, who maintains that he is above the law--and repeatedly violates the law--thereby commits high crimes and misdemeanors, the constitutional standard for impeachment and removal from office. A high crime or misdemeanor is an archaic term that means a serious abuse of power, whether or not it is also a crime, that endangers our constitutional system of government.

The framers of our Constitution feared executive power run amok and provided the remedy of impeachment to protect against it. While impeachment is a last resort, and must never be lightly undertaken (a principle ignored during the proceedings against President Bill Clinton), neither can Congress shirk its responsibility to use that tool to safeguard our democracy. No President can be permitted to commit high crimes and misdemeanors with impunity.

Only kidding....

Posted by orrinj at 5:06 PM


A New Twist on the Crucifixion (Blake Gopnik Jun 24, 2013, Daily Beast)

This truly bizarre object, worthy of the furthest bywaters of Catholic eccentricity, consists of four bronze Christs crucified on a single cross that's been turned in on itself - the only way to accomplish this perverse four-in-one  task, according to Delvoye. 

(Courtesy Sperone Westwater, New York)

What matters most about the piece is that it doesn't read as pure and arbitrary surrealism. The object sets itself a goal, of sorts, and then achieves it in an orderly way. Looking at it, you are forever wanting to undistort its four life-size figures and "resurrect" them to a normal state, like the skull in Holbein's "Ambassadors"

Posted by orrinj at 4:52 PM


Rowhani Thesis: 'No Laws in Islam Are Immutable' (Joshua Keating   Monday, June 24, 2013, Foreign Policy)

The PhD. thesis submitted in July, 1998, is on the subject of flexibility in Islamic law, arguing that "no laws in Islam are immutable" and that "commands and prohibitions in the Quran are expressed in a variety of forms which are often open to interpretation":

"Those laws which look immutable even in ritual part of the religion are not actually immutable and are subject to change under special circumstances," he writes. "Islamic laws have been developed out of certain conditions and necessities of the time and space. This flexibility must be known as the essential feature of the Islamic law." 

In his 1996 Master's thesis,  Rowhani looks at " Islamic Legislative Power with reference to the Iranian experience," writing that "Where there is no explicit law (Mantaqah-al-Feraq) in Sharia, legistlation has been permissible and necessary."

He argues that the "Islamic system approves of the principle of the separation of powers and recommends the implementation of this principle as a guarantee for the realization of democracy":

"Iran's Islamic consultative Assembly (the Majlis) is the central body for formulating and passing laws, and as it will be argued, the nature of law-making in Iran is not in contrast with that of the West. The only difference is that in the West the principles of the Constitution solely are observed, whereas in Iran, the Islamic principles have an equal place in addition to compliance with the Constitution. "

The Twitter account associated with Rowhani's campaign has tweeted a link to the theses, so evidently he still approves of them. 
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Posted by orrinj at 4:47 PM



An internal IRS document obtained by The Associated Press said that besides "tea party," lists used by screeners to pick groups for close examination also included the terms "Israel," ''Progressive" and "Occupy." The document said an investigation into why specific terms were included was still underway.

Because those terms are reliable indicators that the groups aren't legitimate 501c4's?

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Posted by orrinj at 5:18 AM


Will the Golden State Go Brown? : The fracking revolution might be coming to California. (Chris Reed, 12 June 2013, City Journal)

Why has expanded fracking gone from the longest of long shots to nearly a sure thing? Veteran Sacramento watchers say green scare tactics--especially the false claims that fracking is untested--failed for several reasons. For one thing, Governor Jerry Brown struck a straightforward tone on regulation, angering greens by presenting the expansion of fracking in the state as a given. For another, the Obama administration's support for fracking--made plain in a November 2011 report and reaffirmed last month by Interior Secretary Sally Jewell--undercut environmentalists' warnings. Finally, the USC study's projections that fracking could generate up to $24.6 billion in state and local tax revenue, along with 2.8 million jobs by 2020, grabbed the attention of union-aligned Democratic lawmakers eager to create well-paying blue-collar jobs.

Even devout environmentalists seem to be waking up to the windfall that could ensue if the brown-energy revolution arrives in the Golden State. Consider the recent behavior of state senator Noreen Evans, a Santa Rosa Democrat, Coastal Conservancy member, smart-growth advocate, and driving force in California environmentalism for decades. Last month, after her proposal to increase taxes on oil production died in a senate committee, Evans told reporters that she remained confident the bill would pass. "If we as a state are going to expand fracking operations, we ought to tax it," she said--sounding like a lawmaker who sees fracking as part of California's future.

...if fracking's inevitable, lie back and tax it.
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June 23, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 5:31 PM


Report: Islamic Jihad severs ties with Hamas (JPOST.COM, 06/23/2013)

Ma'an reported Raed Qassim Jundeyeih died on Sunday after being shot the day earlier by Hamas police officers. [...]

The movement told Ma'an that Hamas members were responsible for Jundeyeih, describing his death as a "favor" to Israel. 

According to the report, Jundeyeih was the head of a rocket-firing unit.

Posted by orrinj at 9:41 AM


So, as we do most years (when we can remember to), we thought we'd offer and solicit recommendations for books to take to the beach this Summer.

The parameters are pretty simple and some deviation is permitted.

We'll start off with two, one of which hews to the format and one which just misses.

The latter, David Wesley Hill's At Drake's Command, clocks in at only 400 pages but is exactly the sort of fast-paced swashbuckler that belongs on your blanket.  You can even sample the sequel here.

I wish the former had been around when I was majoring in History, Diane Purkiss's The English Civil War is as readable an account as we're ever going to get on the topic and is characterized throughout by the following even-handed assessment:<br><br>

Posted by orrinj at 9:28 AM


In defence of the public's judgement : A public debate on the point of the arts showed a worrying disdain for art's potential audience. (Alka Sehgal Cuthbert, 6/20/13, spiked)

Furtwangler remarked that public opinion is more volatile and less secure, but that public judgement was the only true test of great music. He went further when he wrote that although time was needed for judgements to be developed, 40 years of the public turning its back on Schoenberg's atonal music was enough to come to the judgement that it was not the public's artistic faculties that were at fault. It was the failure of musicians who were increasingly turning their backs on the tonal forms of classical music.

It is interesting to see how the avowedly elitist Furtwangler actually had a far more positive conception of the public than someone like Jeremy Till, the pro-vice chancellor of Central Saint Martins, one of England's most prestigious art schools. At the event, he was content to complain about 'the man in the pub who complains about his taxes going on art he doesn't understand, and who probably votes for UKIP'.  Such was Till's view of the public.

Till also poured scorn on the idea of art as the pursuit of beauty. His view might have been tenable if there was any evidence of contemporary art that, defying the formal conventions of beauty, still managed to match the sophisticated, complex renditions of human experience conveyed by art in the past. But this is clearly not the case. Hence there continues to be a lot of public interest in the big exhibitions of great art, but far less interest in contemporary offerings.

Posted by orrinj at 9:22 AM


Top diplomat Kerry battles to deliver on big ideas (BRADLEY KLAPPER and MATTHEW LEE, June 23, 2013, AP)

In four months as secretary of state, John Kerry has certainly promised great things. Now he has to deliver.

In the Middle East, he has raised hopes his solo diplomatic effort can produce a historic breakthrough ending six decades of Arab-Israeli conflict.

He has pledged to bring Syrian President Bashar Assad's government to heel and to work with Russia to end Syria's civil war.

He has suggested rolling back US missile defense in the Pacific if China can help rid North Korea of nuclear weapons. He has hinted at possible one-on-one talks between the US and the reclusive North Korean leader Kim Jong Un if it would help.

Since succeeding Hillary Rodham Clinton as America's top diplomat, Kerry has issued several as yet undelivered -- and perhaps undeliverable -- pledges to allies and rivals alike, proving a source of concern for Obama's policy team. It is trying to rein in Kerry somewhat, according to officials, which is difficult considering Kerry has spent almost half his tenure so far in the air or on the road, from where his most dissonant policy statements have come.

Forget North Korea; they're an enemy. Go to Rowhani's inauguration.

Posted by orrinj at 9:19 AM


Emerging Markets, Hitting a Wall (TYLER COWEN, 6/23/13, NY Times)

The disconcerting truth is that the great "age of industrialization" may be behind us, a possibility that has been outlined most forcefully by the economist Dani Rodrik, who is leaving Harvard for Princeton next month. And evidence for this view is coming from at least four directions:

THE RISE OF AUTOMATION First, machines can perform more and more functions in manufacturing, and sometimes even in services. That makes it harder to compete via low wages.

Say you run a company in a developed nation and have been automating many of its processes. Because your total bill for employee wages would be low, why not choose the proximity and familiarity of investing in labor in or near your home country? This change would help the jobs picture in the United States and probably countries like Mexico, but could hurt many other lower-wage nations.

GLOBAL SUPPLY SOURCES Supply chains are now scattered across many countries. Think of the old development model as a nation, such as South Korea, trying to build a nearly complete domestic supply chain for its automobile and other industries. The newer model is more distributed, as reflected by the iPhone, with the bounty from the investment spread across many locations, including the Philippines, Taiwan and mainland China. As for cars, Thailand has courted automobile factories with success, but the parts usually come from outside the country and the benefits for the Thai economy are limited.

Posted by orrinj at 8:46 AM


Great Expectations : What Gatsby's really looking for (William Deresiewicz, American Scholar)

Gatsby wants to arrive. He wants admission to the inner circle. He wants acceptance into what we'd later call--in the twilight of their power, once we could afford to laugh at them--the WASPs, our homegrown aristocracy. He wants what Tom and Nick, who graduated from "New Haven," represent. He's from the West; he wants to make it to the East--a dichotomy Fitzgerald maps onto the local spaces of his two Long Island towns, the famous Eggs. Money's not the point; it's only a prerequisite. Gatsby is already fabulously wealthy by the time the novel starts. But he can't cross over anyway, and not because Daisy is married. That would be a incidental obstacle, as everyone makes clear, if only she were willing.

The problem is he can't pull off the act. Wolfsheim buys it--"I saw right away he was a fine-appearing, gentlemanly young man, and when he told me he was an Oggsford I knew I could use him good"--but people like the Buchanans can tell the difference. Gatsby's downfall comes when Daisy finally goes to one of his parties and sees how vulgar they are. Since he doesn't have access to the aristocracy, he substitutes the world of celebrity, that simulacrum of it that emerged around this time (and that's replaced it altogether now). [...]

Five pages from the end of the book, Fitzgerald delivers his sociological punchline: "I see now that this has been a story of the West, after all--Tom and Gatsby, Daisy and Jordan and I, were all Westerners, and perhaps we possessed some deficiency in common which made us subtly unadaptable to Eastern life." Even the novel fails to make it East. Even Tom and Daisy feel like frauds. There is no arrival, it seems--or not, at least, for such as us.

Money doesn't make a man.

Posted by orrinj at 8:30 AM


Martin Bernal, 'Black Athena' Scholar, Dies at 76 (PAUL VITELLO, 6/22/13, NY Times)

Martin Bernal, whose three-volume work "Black Athena" ignited an academic debate by arguing that the African and Semitic lineage of Western civilization had been scrubbed from the record of ancient Greece by 18th- and 19th-century historians steeped in the racism of their times, died on June 9 in Cambridge, England. He was 76. [...]

Martin Gardiner Bernal was born on March 10, 1937, in London to John Desmond Bernal, a prominent British scientist and radical political activist, and Margaret Gardiner, a writer. His parents never married, a fact their son asserted with some pride in interviews.

"My father was a communist and I was illegitimate," he said in 1996. "I was always expected to be radical because my father was."

As Mary Lefkowitz's Not Out of Africa: How Afrocentrism Became an Excuse to Teach Myth as History demonstrates, Mr. Bernal's inventions were not a matter of indifference.

Posted by orrinj at 8:08 AM


Iran's Man in the Middle (Haleh Esfandiari, 6/22/13, NY Review of Books)

[R]ouhani did not run his campaign as an insider. On many issues, including political freedoms, the growing presence of government informants among student and civil society associations, Iran's international relations and its nuclear negotiations with the West, and the state of the economy, he used language and adopted a posture at odds with those of the ruling conservatives and, indirectly, of the supreme leader. While regime conservatives paint a rosy picture of Iran's international standing, Rouhani spoke during the campaign of the "clouded visage" of Iran in the world. Conservatives describe Iran as the freest country in the world, but Rouhani spoke of the "the bowed silhouette" of freedom in the country, and of the need to free political prisoners. Both the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation, an Iranian human rights group in Washington, DC, and the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran estimate the number of political prisoners at any one time at around five hundred, although many hundreds more pass through the prison system for short periods of incarceration. Rouhani also promised to establish a ministry for women's affairs, to pay attention to women's rights, and to remove restrictions on women's access to higher education imposed by the outgoing government. He also spoke vaguely of a "charter of rights" for all citizens.

Regime hardliners have continued to attack their reformist counterparts as "seditionists," while Rouhani, both during his campaign and in his first press conference after his victory, stressed the need for national reconciliation. He will be the president of all the Iranian people, he said.

Rouhani also embraced and won the endorsement of two former presidents, Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami. This was significant because both men are identified with the reformist endeavor and have been the target of vicious attacks by the hardliners. Rafsanjani, a pragmatist and ultimate insider (and president in 1989-1997), has been marginalized in recent years due to his centrist policies; and the Council of Guardians, which rules on the qualifications of candidates for the office of president, vetoed his candidacy on the lame excuse that, at age seventy-eight, he was too old to spend more than a few hours a day tending to the presidency. Khatami (president in 1997-2005) ushered in an unprecedented period of expanded freedoms, only to be frustrated by a right-wing backlash.

On the nuclear issue, Rouhani has not strayed far from the official Iranian position--that Iran has a right to enrich nuclear fuel and to the full nuclear cycle, even though it has no intention of weaponizing--but his tone has been far more conciliatory. He has spoken proudly of his success, as Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, negotiating compromise agreements with the Europeans in 2003 and 2005. Former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw recalled that in the 2003 negotiations, Rouhani broke a deadlock by working the phones with Iran's president and supreme leader, securing the flexibility to reach an agreement. In brief, he has a track record for looking for compromise and the middle ground, and he is offering greater transparency on Iran's nuclear program. [...]

The economy is in dire straits. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad squandered a huge influx of oil revenues on pet populist projects and liberal handouts, without generating much employment or investment in productive industry. Under the impact of sanctions, the Iranian currency has lost more than half its value against the US dollar. Iranian oil exports have been halved. Iran's once substantial foreign exchange reserves have shrunk. Iranian banks have been virtually squeezed out of international transactions, and Iranian industries are having difficulty securing spare parts and raw materials.

Rouhani understands what needs to be done to reset the economy on a more sensible course, but he is caught on the horns of a dilemma. He cannot resolve Iran's economic problems without a significant easing of banking and other Western-imposed sanctions. At the same time, the US insists on maintaining sanctions until Iran's nuclear posture changes; and Rouhani may not be able to persuade Iran's leader to be more flexible on the nuclear issue unless sanctions are eased.

However, Rouhani's election has aroused hopes and a sense of movement and possibilities--and pressure from the left to move quickly on multiple issues. Several senior clerics, congratulating Rouhani on his election, have urged him to address the problems of unemployment, inflation, moral decline, political division, and restrictions on political freedoms. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:31 AM


She'll Take You There (JOHN JURGENSEN, 6/20/13, WSJ)

Through her continuing collaboration with producer Jeff Tweedy, the lead singer and songwriter of the rock band Wilco, she has found a fresh audience and a fresh sound.

After meeting five years ago at the Hideout, a humble live-music landmark in their mutual hometown of Chicago, they recorded a Grammy-winning album, 2010's "You Are Not Alone." Their second release together, "One True Vine," is due Tuesday. The title track is one of three compositions by Mr. Tweedy. He also played most of the instruments, except for drums, handled by his 17-year-old son, Spencer. [...]

How do you two decide what songs to record?

I go over to the Wilco loft [the band's headquarters and recording studio] and we sit on the couch and call off songs. Sometimes he plays me a record and looks over to see how I'll take it. "What Are They Doing in Heaven Today." I said, "Man, you went way back on me." The first time I heard this song, I was in Mississippi with my grandmother. We went to church three times a week. Wednesday night, Friday night and Sunday morning. We lived in Mound Bayou, but walked down the highway to Merigold. Jerusalem Baptist Church. Wooden floors, wooden benches, no organ, no piano. That was the best sound I've ever heard.

How important is it to you that listeners digest the message, and not just enjoy a pretty song?

Pops used to tell me, "Mavis, make it plain. You want the people to get what you're saying." I won't wear rings and jewelry on the stage because I don't want you looking at my hands. I want you hearing what I'm saying. I don't want the band to play too loud. I'm singing these songs to inspire you, to keep you going, to lift you up and give you a reason to get up in the morning. These aren't just songs I'm singing to be moving my lips. I mean this.

What's your relationship with Tweedy like in the studio?

Sometimes I get upset up with him because he'll tell me, "OK, Mavis, you can go home now." Go home? I'm not ready to go home. "No, Mavis, you've done enough." See, he wants me to go so he can work with the music and do his background stuff. "Mavis, it'll be dark soon." I drive 45 minutes from the loft, which is on the North Side, to my house on the South Side. I write the songs down that I'm going to take home and study. See, because my father passed and I still don't know what key I sing in. Tweedy gets his guitar and plays up and down until we find the right spot. What key is that? "Mavis, that's G." OK, write it down for me in case I have to tell somebody else. I have to do that with every producer now that Pops is gone, but now Tweedy has gotten to know me.

Does he remind you of any of your other collaborators over the years?

Ry Cooder. Prince. Curtis Mayfield. [Stax Records guitarist and producer] Steve Cropper. Jeff Tweedy is the different one, the most intimate one. He feels what I feel. He's putting something up under me that complements me so well. He likes for me to sing in low keys. If I try to take a song up too high, he says, "Mavis, don't do that." He likes to keep it roughed up and dark. I'm OK with that.

Posted by orrinj at 6:27 AM


Wine-tasting: it's junk science : Experiments have shown that people can't tell plonk from grand cru. Now one US winemaker claims that even experts can't judge wine accurately. What's the science behind the taste? (David Derbyshire, 6/22/13, The Observer)

The first experiment took place in 2005. The last was in Sacramento earlier this month. Hodgson's findings have stunned the wine industry. Over the years he has shown again and again that even trained, professional palates are terrible at judging wine.

"The results are disturbing," says Hodgson from the Fieldbrook Winery in Humboldt County, described by its owner as a rural paradise. "Only about 10% of judges are consistent and those judges who were consistent one year were ordinary the next year.

"Chance has a great deal to do with the awards that wines win."

These judges are not amateurs either. They read like a who's who of the American wine industry from winemakers, sommeliers, critics and buyers to wine consultants and academics. In Hodgson's tests, judges rated wines on a scale running from 50 to 100. In practice, most wines scored in the 70s, 80s and low 90s.

Results from the first four years of the experiment, published in the Journal of Wine Economics, showed a typical judge's scores varied by plus or minus four points over the three blind tastings. A wine deemed to be a good 90 would be rated as an acceptable 86 by the same judge minutes later and then an excellent 94.

Some of the judges were far worse, others better - with around one in 10 varying their scores by just plus or minus two. A few points may not sound much but it is enough to swing a contest - and gold medals are worth a significant amount in extra sales for wineries.

Hodgson went on to analyse the results of wine competitions across California, and found that their medals were distributed at random.

Which is why it's so easy to commodify everything.

June 22, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 7:46 AM


1776, the summer America was born : Pulitzer Prize-winner Joseph Ellis on Washington, Adams and the months when soldiers and statesmen forged America (Joseph Ellis, 6/16/13, Salon)

[D]uring the final months of 1775 the military and political sides of the American Revolution were not aligned. There were, in effect, two embodiments of American resistance to British imperialism, two epicenters representing the American response to Parliament's presumption of sovereignty. The Continental Army under Washington's command regarded American independence as a foregone conclusion, indeed the only justification for its existence. The Continental Congress regarded American independence as a last resort, and moderate members under the leadership of John Dickinson from Pennsylvania continued to describe it as a suicidal act to be avoided at almost any cost.

It was clear at the time, and became only clearer in retrospect, that the obvious strategy of the British government should have been to exploit the gap between these two positions by proposing some reconfiguration of the British Empire that gave the American colonists a measure of control over their domestic affairs in return for a renewed expression of American loyalty to the king. Two years later the British ministry actually proposed just such an arrangement, but by then it was too late. 

In the first place, there'd have been no Civil War, slavery being abolished in 1833.  And the Germans couldn't have deluded themselves that it was possible to avoid war with America if they went to war with England.
Posted by orrinj at 7:40 AM


Against Environmental Panic (Pascal Bruckner, The Chronicle Review)

Ecologism, the sole truly original force of the past half-century, has challenged the goals of progress and raised the question of its limits. It has awakened our sensitivity to nature, emphasized the effects of climate change, pointed out the exhaustion of fossil fuels. Onto this collective credo has been grafted a whole apocalyptic scenography that has already been tried out with communism, and that borrows from Gnosticism as much as from medieval forms of messianism. Cataclysm is part of the basic tool-kit of Green critical analysis, and prophets of decay and decomposition abound. They beat the drums of panic and call upon us to expiate our sins before it is too late.

This fear of the future, of science, and of technology reflects a time when humanity, and especially Western humanity, has taken a sudden dislike to itself. We are exasperated by our own proliferation and can no longer stand ourselves. Whether we want to be or not, we are tangled up with seven billion other members of our species. Rejecting both capitalism and socialism, ecologism has come to power almost nowhere. But it has won the battle of ideas. The environment is the new secular religion that is rising, in Europe especially, from the ruins of a disbelieving world. We have to subject it to critical evaluation in turn and unmask the infantile disease that is eroding and discrediting it: catastrophism.

There are at least two ecologies: one rational, the other nonsensical; one that broadens our outlook while the other narrows it; one democratic, the other totalitarian. The first wants to tell us about the damage done by industrial civilization; the second infers from this the human species' guilt. For the latter, nature is only a stick to be used to beat human beings. Just as third-worldism was the shame of colonial history, and repentance was contrition with regard to the present, catastrophism constitutes the anticipated remorse of the future: The meaning of history having evaporated, every change is a potential collapse that augurs nothing good.

Catastrophism's favorite mode of expression is accusation: Revolutionaries wanted to erase the past and start over from zero; now the focus is on condemning past and present wrongs and bringing them before the tribunal of public opinion.

...what's striking when you read that is the likeness to the catastrophism currently emanating from the Right, which wants to erase the Second Way and start from zero. The two sides share a hatred of the present, a terror of the future and a faith that if only the other side was eliminated all would be right with the world.

Posted by orrinj at 7:13 AM


The War of Law: How New International Law Undermines Democratic Sovereignty (Douglas J. Feith , John Fonte , Jon Kyl , July/August 2013, Foreign Affairs)

Transnationalists argue that in the interest of promoting "global governance," U.S. officials should bring the Constitution and American law into conformity with "global norms," thus effectively elevating those norms above the Constitution. They want the United States to adopt what they deem progressive rules -- for example, gun control, the banning of the death penalty, and new laws of war. But they want to do so through judicial decisions, a method that allows them to circumvent resistant legislatures and effectively smuggle new restrictions into U.S. law. 
As becomes clear from even a cursory reading of leading American law journals and official communiqués of the European Union, transnationalism is an influential school of thought in academic and official circles in the United States and throughout the developed world. A key proponent of the movement is Harold Koh, the former dean of Yale Law School who served four years as the State Department's legal adviser in the Obama administration. 

Koh has been a compelling advocate of what he calls "the transnational legal process," whereby "transnational private actors" blend domestic and international legal processes to incorporate or internalize so-called global legal norms into domestic law. "Key agents in promoting this process of internalization include transnational norm entrepreneurs, governmental norm sponsors, transnational issue networks, and interpretive communities," he wrote in a 2006 Penn State International Law Review article. "In this story, one of these agents triggers an interaction at the international level, works together with other agents of internalization to force an interpretation of the international legal norm in an interpretive forum, and then continues to work with those agents to persuade a resisting nation-state to internalize that interpretation into domestic law." In the same law journal article, Koh wrote about the way international law can be "downloaded" into U.S. law.

These ideas no doubt appeal to those who support the progressive policies at issue. But they are disrespectful toward the U.S. Constitution and dismissive of the idea that the American people should be able to elect -- and eject -- the officials who make their laws. The transnationalists challenge not merely the technicalities of lawmaking but the very essence of democratic accountability. Transnationalists do not have grandiose plans for one-world government, but they do want to give various rules the force of law without having to win majorities for those rules in democratically elected legislatures. This is not the way lawmaking is supposed to work under the U.S. Constitution.  [...]

In The Federalist Papers, no. 46, James Madison compared the powers of the federal and state governments, noting that the power of both federal and state authorities ultimately derives from the consent of the American people. Thus, he wrote:

Notwithstanding the different modes in which [federal and state governments] are appointed, we must consider both of them as substantially dependent on the great body of the citizens of the United States. . . . The federal and State governments are in fact but different agents and trustees of the people, constituted with different powers, and designed for different purposes. . . . The ultimate authority, wherever the derivative may be found, resides in the people alone.
Madison was articulating a basic concept of American constitutional democracy, and it is one that should guide the country's approach to international law and world politics today. By following that path, the United States could obtain the benefits of globalization while preserving its sovereignty and democracy.

...requires consent.

June 21, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 7:47 PM


Wi-Fi is about to get a lot faster and more reliable (Paresh Dave, 6/22/13, Los Angeles Times)

The technical improvements bring Wi-Fi up to par with the sweeping changes in the home entertainment industry. The number of Wi-Fi-connected devices in U.S. households has doubled during the last five years, according to Wakefield Research.

Smartphones, tablets and even appliances such as refrigerators and washing machines now compete with televisions, gaming consoles and laptops for a share of a finite network bandwidth. Increasingly, many of those devices are also displaying hours of video a day, putting incredible demand on the network.

The fifth generation of Wi-Fi tackles those problems by increasing speed limits and moving to a new highway, from the congested lanes of the 2.4-gigahertz frequency band to a more open 5-gigahertz spectrum.

The changes should mean that routers will be able to accommodate more devices at one time and provide better coverage throughout a home or office space. In apartments or areas crowded with other electronics, the new "highway" offers the promise of less interference, meaning connections shouldn't randomly drop, particularly if the consumer is using a 2.4-gigahertz cordless phone.

"We expect that the users will see a significant increase in the performance of their applications," said Greg Ennis, technical director of the Wi-Fi Alliance.

Posted by orrinj at 7:32 PM


Has Jeb's Time Come? (Jon Meacham, 7/01/13, TIME)

[T]he speculation about a Bush bid in 2016 tells us a lot about one of the handful of truly influential American families and more than a little bit about the country that family has helped shape.

Jeb long ago internalized and then lived out his family's guiding precepts. Bushes move to new parts of the country; they work hard; they learn from their mistakes, particularly from failed campaigns; and they never, ever give up. His grandfather Prescott Bush was raised in Columbus, Ohio, and settled in Greenwich, Conn., after marrying Dorothy Walker, the daughter of G.H. Walker of St. Louis and New York City. Prescott was a tireless partner at Brown Brothers Harriman, an investment firm, and lost two races for the U.S. Senate before winning a seat from Connecticut in 1952.

His son George loved his father but wanted to break away from the life of a commuter in a New Yorker short story, and so the great move to Odessa, Texas, after World War II and Yale. George H.W. Bush also lost the first race he ever ran, for the Senate in 1964, before winning two House races and then losing again for the Senate in 1970. Then came a decade of public service in appointive jobs before he improbably challenged Ronald Reagan in 1980. Bush endured, however, and prevailed on his own at last in 1988.

Little of this was lost on Jeb Bush, whose life mirrors larger shifting American realities. His wife Columba was born in Mexico; he moved to Florida, turning it into his version of his grandfather's Northeast or his father's Texas. And he too suffered that tough loss for governor in 1994, learning from it and then coming back four years later. [...]

Those who think "Bush fatigue" is pre-emptively fatal to Jeb's chances may be underestimating the American affinity for brand names. The Bushes aren't kings; in managementspeak, they're a line of related products that most Americans recognize and have chosen on three (1988, 2000 and 2004) of the four occasions they've been on offer. Will we have a chance to buy another? George W., whose approval ratings are rising as the years pass, has said he'd like his brother to try for it.

Posted by orrinj at 7:30 PM


Syria's critical role in the Iranian presidential election (LINDA HEIDEN, 21 June 2013, Open Democracy)

After the regime's vicious suppression of the Green Movement following the 2009 election, there were calls to boycott the election this time around.  In Europe, boycott proponents launched an imaginative counter-campaign urging Iranians to cast their ballot online for a fictitious graphic novel heroine modelled on the mother of a young man murdered during the protests four years ago. 

In the end, however, the vast majority of Iranians heeded warnings that "boycotting simply hands victory to the extremists".  Endorsements by former presidents Rafsanjani (Supreme Leader Khamenei's 'moderate' arch rival) & Khatami (a leading reformist) set off a landslide of votes that propelled 'moderate' president-elect Hassan Rouhani to the top of the poll. 

Meanwhile, Khamenei's inability to unify his fractious supporters meant they had no one to rally round to quash Rouhani's stunning victory.  The final result showed Rouhani garnering well over 3 times the tally of his nearest competitor, and 1.7 million votes more than all his competitors put together. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:08 PM


Climate Expert von Storch: Why Is Global Warming Stagnating? (Der Spiegel, 6/20/13)

Climate experts have long predicted that temperatures would rise in parallel with greenhouse gas emissions. But, for 15 years, they haven't. In a SPIEGEL interview, meteorologist Hans von Storch discusses how this "puzzle" might force scientists to alter what could be "fundamentally wrong" models.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Storch, Germany has recently seen major flooding. Is global warming the culprit?

Storch: I'm not aware of any studies showing that floods happen more often today than in the past. I also just attended a hydrologists' conference in Koblenz, and none of the scientists there described such a finding. [...]

SPIEGEL: Will the greenhouse effect be an issue in the upcoming German parliamentary elections? Singer Marius Müller-Westernhagen is leading a celebrity initiative calling for the addition of climate protection as a national policy objective in the German constitution.

Storch: It's a strange idea. What state of the Earth's atmosphere do we want to protect, and in what way? And what might happen as a result? Are we going to declare war on China if the country emits too much CO2 into the air and thereby violates our constitution?

SPIEGEL: Yet it was climate researchers, with their apocalyptic warnings, who gave people these ideas in the first place.

Storch: Unfortunately, some scientists behave like preachers, delivering sermons to people. What this approach ignores is the fact that there are many threats in our world that must be weighed against one another. If I'm driving my car and find myself speeding toward an obstacle, I can't simple yank the wheel to the side without first checking to see if I'll instead be driving straight into a crowd of people. Climate researchers cannot and should not take this process of weighing different factors out of the hands of politics and society.

Posted by orrinj at 5:18 AM


Profits Without Production (PAUL KRUGMAN, 6/20/13, NY Times)

[G.M.]'s value came largely from its productive capacity: it owned hundreds of factories and employed around 1 percent of the total nonfarm work force.

Apple, by contrast, seems barely tethered to the material world. Depending on the vagaries of its stock price, it's either the highest-valued or the second-highest-valued company in America, but it employs less than 0.05 percent of our workers.

It ought to go without saying that GM would have been massively more valuable if it could have produced those vehicles with 0.05 percent of our workers.  But, for folks like Mr. Krugman the point of 1950's GM was to employ workers, not to manufacture cars.

Posted by orrinj at 5:16 AM


A tale of two presidents: The one we voted for - and Obama : Recent leaks reveal a frightening reality: In fighting terrorism, we have resorted to engaging in terrorism (DAVID SIROTA, 6/20/13, Salon)

This is a tale of two presidents - the one we hope we have and the one we actually have. It is also a tale of two kinds of violence - the surgical and the indiscriminate - and how the latter blurs the distinction between self-defense and something far more sinister.

This story began last year, when the White House told the New York Times that President Obama was personally overseeing a "kill list" and an ongoing drone bombing campaign against alleged terrorists, including American citizens. Back then, much of the public language was carefully crafted to reassure us that our country's military power was not being abused.

In the Times' report - which was carefully sculpted by Obama administration leaks - the paper characterized the bombing program as "targeted killing" with "precision weapons." It additionally described "the care that Mr. Obama and his counterterrorism chief take in choosing targets" and claimed that as "a student of writings on war by Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, the president believes that he should take moral responsibility" for making sure such strikes are as precise as possible.

The unstated deal being offered to America was simple: Accept a president claiming unprecedented despotic authority in exchange for that president promising to comport himself as an enlightened despot - one who seeks to limit the scope of America's ongoing violence.

Many of the president's partisan supporters would never have agreed to such a bargain if the executive in question were a Republican.

Posted by orrinj at 5:15 AM


Americans Worked Less, Watched More TV in 2012 (NEIL SHAH, 6/20/13, WSJ)

With the economy struggling to find its footing, Americans spent less time at work last year and found more time for leisure activities such as watching television, a new government survey finds.

The average American aged 15 or older spent three hours, 32 minutes a day doing work-related activities last year, according to the American Time Use Survey released by the Labor Department on Thursday. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:11 AM


Watch As Tesla Demonstrates A 90 Second Electric Vehicle Battery Swap (Ariel Schwartz, 6/20/13, Co.Exist)

Earlier this evening, Tesla CEO Elon Musk demonstrated in Los Angeles that his battery swapping service stations--where customers can automatically get their used-up lithium ion batteries replaced with fully-charged ones--work faster than the fastest gas pump in town.

2014 Honda Accord Hybrid hits stores this fall (John Voelcker, June 20, 2013, CS Monitor)

The 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid, rated at 47 mpg, will go on sale in October. The new Honda Accord Hybrid boasts among the best EPA fuel efficiency ratings in its class, as well as informational graphics showing how its fuel economy changes from moment to moment.

Posted by orrinj at 5:05 AM


Sorry, it's Not 1984 (Michael Moynihan, 6/19/13, Newsweek)

A few points of similarity, like the monitoring of huge amounts of data without sufficient congressional or legal oversight, do not establish the literary analogy. The rule here is simple: If you are invoking 1984 in a country in which 1984 is available for purchase and can be freely deployed as a rhetorical device, you likely don't understand the point of 1984.

June 20, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 8:28 PM


Obama to nominate Comey for FBI (David Nakamura,, June 20, 2013, Washington Post)

President Obama on Friday will nominate former senior Justice Department official James B. Comey as the next FBI director, elevating a Republican to a top national security position at a time when the administration is facing questions about authorizing secret surveillance programs.

Posted by orrinj at 8:21 PM


Mi Casa Su Growth Casa : On immigration, the budget gnomes finally do some dynamic scoring. (WSJ, 6/20/13)

As the immigration debate is increasingly overtaken by the folks who want to build a "Game of Thrones" ice wall to keep out the wildlings, ironies abound. One is that quadrupling border security funding to $20 billion and doubling border patrol agents to 40,000--that's the deal GOP Senators struck Thursday--is the sort of public-works and public-employee spending binge that the tea party right would ordinarily denounce and President Obama would praise as stimulus.

Another irony is that immigration reform would be the greatest, and maybe the only, pro-growth achievement of his Presidency. More immigration benefits the economy, and the latest bearer of this reality is the Congressional Budget Office, which this week released a pair of studies on the contributions and costs of immigrants over time.

The CBO concludes in its first estimate that the Senate bill would reduce federal deficits by about $197 billion on net over the next decade and by about $700 billion including the following decade. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:31 PM


Hassan Rohani: What it means to be a centrist in Iran : Iranian President-elect Hassan Rohani has the insider credentials needed for regime credibility and the reformist tendencies that could allow him to heal the rift with the US. (Scott Peterson, June 20, 2013, CS Monitor)

Later, Rohani earned higher degrees from Glasgow Caledonian University in Scotland. He wrote a PhD thesis titled "The Flexibility of shariah (Islamic law) with reference to the Iranian experience."

Rohani served as Khamenei's chosen representative to Iran's Supreme National Security Council for 16 years. A decade ago, under reformist President Mohammad Khatami, he served as Iran's top nuclear negotiator, working out a deal with European leaders to temporarily suspend uranium enrichment, which conservative critics later lambasted as "weak." 

During that time, in March 2004, Rohani gave a handwritten message to Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the United Nations nuclear watchdog, who handed it directly to US President George W. Bush, as Rohani requested.

The letter, on a single sheet of paper without letterhead or signature, said that "Iran was ready to enter into dialogue with the United States on all issues, including both Iran's nuclear program and broader matters of regional security," and to pursue "full normalization of relations," according to Mr. ElBaradei's memoir.

Rohani's letter was Iran's second approach to the White House. The first, a more expansive offer to talk, was faxed to Washington shortly after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. It came a few months after Rohani was photographed with the American earthquake crews in Bam.

Neither received a response.

Posted by orrinj at 4:27 PM


America the Marvelous : At any liberal-establishment dinner table in London, say, or Paris, the U.S. will figure as a big, fat, dumb child. Enough, says the author, in an adaptation from his new book: America is Europe's finest invention--and ultimate aspiration. (A. A. Gill, July 2013, Vanity Fair)

One of the most embarrassing things I've ever done in public was to appear--against all judgment--in a debate at the Hay Literary Festival in the mid-90s, speaking in defense of the motion that American culture should be resisted. Along with me on this cretin's errand was the historian Norman Stone. I can't remember what I said--I've erased it. It had no weight or consequence. On the other side, the right side, were Adam Gopnik, from The New Yorker, and Salman Rushdie. After we'd proposed the damn motion, Rushdie leaned in to the microphone, paused for a moment, regarding the packed theater from those half-closed eyes, and said, soft and clear, "Be-bop-a-lula, she's my baby, / Be-bop-a-lula, I don't mean maybe. / Be-bop-a-lula, she's my baby, / Be-bop-a-lula, I don't mean maybe. / Be-bop-a-lula, she's my baby love."

It was the triumph of the sublime. The bookish audience burst into applause and cheered. It was all over, bar some dry coughing. America didn't bypass or escape civilization. It did something far more profound, far cleverer: it simply changed what civilization could be. It set aside the canon of rote, the long chain letter of drawing-room, bon-mot received aesthetics. It was offered a new, neoclassical, reconditioned, reupholstered start, a second verse to an old song, and it just took a look at the view and felt the beat of this vast nation and went for the sublime.

There is in Europe another popular snobbery, about the parochialism of America, the unsophistication of its taste, the limit of its inquiry. This, we're told, is proved by "how few Americans travel abroad." Apparently, so we're told, only 35 percent of Americans have passports. Whenever I hear this, I always think, My good golly gosh, really? That many? Why would you go anywhere else? There is so much of America to wonder at. So much that is the miracle of a newly minted civilization. And anyway, European kids only get passports because they all want to go to New York.

...is that Americans don't even mention Europe at the dinner table.  It's not significant enough to converse about.

Posted by orrinj at 5:37 AM


The Price of Loyalty in Syria (ROBERT F. WORTH, 6/19/13, NY Times Magazine)

Syria's Sunnis and Alawites were at odds for hundreds of years, and the current war has revived the worst of that history. Radical jihadis among the rebels now openly call for the extermination or exile of Syria's religious minorities. Most outsiders agree that Assad cynically manipulated the fears of his kinsmen for political survival, but few have asked -- or had the opportunity to ask -- how the Alawites themselves feel about Assad, and what kind of future they imagine now that the Sunni Arab world has effectively declared war on them.

"What is horrible is that everyone is now protecting his existence," Sayyid Abdullah Nizam, a prominent cleric in Damascus, told me. "For all of the minorities, it is as if we have entered a long corridor with no light." [...]

Aliaa's younger brother Abdulhameed described for me his own sectarian shock. He is a 23-year-old amateur boxer who was studying in Egypt last November, living with five Syrian friends in a house in Alexandria. One night a young man with an Iraqi accent knocked on their door and asked if he was Syrian. Abdulhameed said yes, and the Iraqi walked off. Late that night, a group of men tried to break down the door, while shouting sectarian abuse. Abdulhameed and his friends fought the attackers off and drove them away. "But the worst part came after," he said. "A few days later there was a posting on Facebook, with our exact address, saying, 'These guys are Syrians, funded by Iran and Hezbollah to spread Shiism in Egypt, and you must kill them.' " Three of the Syrians gave up their studies and went home.

Aliaa and her friends did not even pretend to be impartial witnesses to the uprising. They shut their eyes to most of what happened in their country after the demonstrations began: the mass arrests and jailings, the torture, the unprovoked killings of hundreds and then thousands of peaceful protesters. In their talks with me, they scoffed at the word shabiha, saying it was a myth, and they seemed unwilling to believe the regime was responsible for the sectarian rumors that accompanied the first protests. Still, there was an emotional truth at the core of their case. They had sensed a pent-up anger directed at them as Alawites, and the unleashing of that anger felt like a revelation, a sign that they had been living a lie.

Aliaa's own best friend -- or the girl who used to be her best friend -- was a Sunni named Noura. They lived just a block apart and went to school together and helped raise each other's younger siblings. The difference of sect meant nothing, Aliaa said; most of her friends are Sunni. "Noura once told me she would name her first daughter Aliaa, and that she'd bring jasmine to my house after she was born." In a photograph she showed me, Noura has a plump, babyish face and wears a loose head scarf; Aliaa is standing next to her with an arm wrapped around her shoulder. In 2010, Noura was engaged to a very religious man who told her she must stop going to movies and wearing short dresses, and said he would not tolerate her having any non-Sunni friends, Aliaa told me. Noura went straight to Aliaa's house to tell her, and the two of them lay on Aliaa's bed talking about what she could do. She soon broke off the engagement. "She told me: 'I can't live with a man who thinks Alawites are forbidden,' " Aliaa said.

Soon after the first protests broke out, Aliaa told Noura about some of the sectarian protest chants she had heard. Noura refused to believe it. The next month, when the army cracked down in Jableh, Noura was desperate, saying innocent protesters had been killed. Aliaa told Noura it was "not logical" for a government to kill its own people. Noura backed down. "Maybe we just heard different stories," she said. As she and her family moved deeper into the opposition camp, however, the friendship began to fray. Once, after they had gone for a drive along the seafront, Noura suddenly said: "If Sunnis ever attacked you, I'd protect you. And vice versa." Both of them laughed. "At the time, it seemed like a joke," Aliaa told me. "We couldn't really imagine that happening." Aliaa traveled to England at the end of the summer, and shortly after, when Noura's mother was arrested, the two friends stopped speaking. In October, Aliaa told me, she was half-asleep one night when she heard a buzzing on her laptop: Noura was calling to video chat. It was 4 a.m., but they spent an hour talking and laughing as if nothing had changed. "When we hung up, I burst into tears," Aliaa told me. "I felt so happy that we were still friends, that none of the differences mattered."

Soon afterward, Noura and her family fled to Turkey. In December, Noura unfriended Aliaa on Facebook, but Aliaa continued to check Noura's Facebook page every day. The postings were passionately anti-Assad, and included sectarian slurs against Alawites. Noura married a Sunni man from Jableh, whose Facebook photo showed the black banner used by Al Qaeda. In mid-May, Noura posted a long passage praising Saddam Hussein, followed by this sentence: "How many 'likes' for the conqueror of the Shia and other heathens?" Aliaa showed me the Facebook page of Noura's teenage brother Kamal, with an image of him clutching a Kalashnikov. "I used to carry him on my shoulders and feed him crackers," she said.

Noura now lives in Turkey. I reached her by phone at the Syrian school that her aunt runs near the border. She acknowledged her friendship with Aliaa, but her religious zeal soon became apparent. She said her husband did not permit her to talk by phone to foreign journalists. I then spoke to her aunt Maha, the director of the school, who confirmed the outlines of Aliaa's account of the friendship and the uprising in Jableh. Her voice rose almost to a shout as she told me only the regime was sectarian. "Before the uprising, we lived together with no problems," she said. "They felt reassured about us, because ever since the events of Hama, they felt we would not rise up against them. But as soon as we chose the path of revolution, they felt it was directed against them, not against Assad. We told them: We only want freedom. But they shut the door in our faces; they would not talk to us." Maha struck me as a reasonable woman who regretted the rupture, much as Aliaa did.

But when I asked her about the Alawite religion, I was startled by her response. "Aliaa is a nice girl," she said. "But the Alawites don't have a religion. They are a traitor sect. They collaborated with the crusaders; during the French occupation they sided with the French."

For the Alawites, these familiar accusations have the sting of a racist epithet. The Alawite faith, developed a millennium ago, is a strange, mystic blend of Neoplatonism, Christianity, Islam and Zoroastrianism. It included a belief in reincarnation and a deification of Ali, the cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad. These unorthodox tenets may have led the crusaders and other outsiders to favor them, seeing them as potential allies against Muslims. The theologian Ibn Taymiyya -- the ancestor of today's hard-line Islamists -- proclaimed in the early 1300s that the Alawites were "more infidel than Jews and Christians, even more infidel than many polytheists," and urged good Muslims to slaughter and rob them. The Alawites sought shelter in the mountains, and rarely dared to come even to Latakia. Many of them were slaughtered by Ottoman armies, and parts of the community stood close to extinction at some points in their history. According to the historian Joshua Landis, as late as the 1870s, supposed Alawite bandits were impaled on spikes and left on crossroads as a warning. They lived in desperate poverty on the margins of Syria's feudal economy, often sending their daughters into indentured servitude as maids to wealthy Sunni families.

In 1936, when the French were poised to merge the newly formed Alawite coastal state into a larger Syrian republic, six Alawite notables sent a petition begging them to reconsider. "The spirit of hatred and fanaticism embedded in the hearts of the Arab Muslims against everything that is non-Muslim has been perpetually nurtured by the Islamic religion," they wrote. "There is no hope that the situation will ever change. Therefore, the abolition of the mandate will expose the minorities in Syria to the dangers of death and annihilation, irrespective of the fact that such abolition will annihilate the freedom of thought and belief." One of the petition's signers was Sulayman al-Assad, the grandfather of Syria's current president. Later, after the French abandoned them, the Alawites rushed to embrace the cause of Syrian nationalism, and went to great lengths to make the rest of the country forget their separatist ambitions. [...]

If the opposition has lost its meaning, so has the regime. The Assad clan has always defined its Syria as the "beating heart of Arabism," the bulwark of the Palestinian cause. The Baath Party was meant to embody this spirit, and Syria's minorities were eager to prove their loyalty as Arabs in a Muslim-majority society. This was the glue that would hold together the country's fractious communities. But now Syria has been formally excommunicated by the Arab League, the reigning pan-Arab institution, and the old unifying ideologies -- paid lip service until the crisis began -- are openly mocked.

On a quiet side street in one of Damascus's richest neighborhoods, a prominent lawyer invited me to join him and his friends in an opulent, booklined study. There were soft leather couches and European chocolates on the coffee table. A 16-frame video screen showed every approach to the house. One of the guests was the Rev. Gabriel Daoud, a Syriac Orthodox priest who sprawled on an armchair in his black robe. The subject of Syria's minorities came up, and Father Daoud's face registered his irritation. "Minorities -- it's a false name," he said. "It should be the quality of the people, not the quantity. It gives you the idea that minorities are small and weak. But we are the original people of this country." As for the protesters and their demands for freedom, Father Daoud smirked: "They don't want hurriya, they want houriaat." Hurriya is the Arabic word for "freedom," and houriaat is the plural of houri, the dark-eyed virgins that suicide bombers are promised in the afterlife.

Daoud spoke bitterly about the kidnapping of two Christian bishops, whose fate was unknown. "They may have Syrian nationality, but not the mentality," Daoud said of the rebels. "We are proud of our secularism. We cannot live with these barbarians." When I raised the subject of Arab nationalism, one of the guests in the room winced. "We are Mesopotamian, not Arabic," he said. "We don't want to be Arabic."

I heard this kind of talk everywhere in Syria. In Latakia, a young Alawite woman who had spent time in the United States spoke about the uprising in blatantly racist terms. "The protests started well, but after a while, the people participating were not educated," she said. "It's like your riots in Detroit in 1967. They are like losers -- not good people. Like blacks in the U.S.A." The "barbarians" these people were talking about -- the rural poor, who are overwhelmingly Sunni and the backbone of the opposition -- probably constitute half of Syria's population. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:25 AM


Los Angeles Has Swapped Out 140,000 Street Lights for Highly Efficient LEDS (William O'Connor Jun 20, 2013, Daily Beast)

In 2009, Los Angeles Mayor AntonionVillaraigosa launched the Los Angeles LED Street Lighting Energy and Efficiency Program. The plan: swap out over 140,000 street lights and replace them with highly efficient light-emitting diodes. The effort was the largest such street LED light replacement program in the world.

The project is a salient example of the benefits to biting the bullet on high upfront costs in exchange for big savings down the road. In addition to its environmental costs of 110,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide released annually, LA's street lights cost the city $15 million each year. That amounted to between 10 and 38 percent of its utility bill. LEDs use less energy than traditional bulbs. They also last much longer. While a typical street lamp has a life of four to six years, LED lamps last ten to twelve years. So switching also reduces maintenance and material costs for the city.

June 19, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 8:10 PM


More Productivity Myths, Debunked by Science (and Common Sense) (Alan Henry, 6/19/13, Lifehacker)

Myth #1: More Hours Equals More Work

If you had more hours in the day, surely you'd get more done, right? That's the sinister logic behind the myth that more hours equals more work. It's also the logic that encourages us to pull all-nighters in college and for employers to make their staff to work late or come in on weekends. Unfortunately, more hours doesn't equal more work, and in fact, longer hours usually leads to worse results, lower productivity, and an unhappy, less healthy you.

This 2011 synthesis paper (full text, PDF) by the International Labour Organization reviewed available research into the relationship between productivity and hours worked. The core conclusion: Longer hours do not make you more productive, and can in fact have the opposite effect: You'll get less done, and what you do get done is never your best work (or has to be revisited or corrected later). The ILO paper isn't the only one on the topic. A similar paper by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (full text, PDF) pointed out that among the 16 of the EU nations, people who worked more flexible hours or jobs that would be normally considered part-time were overall more engaged with and productive at work and happier in their off-time than people who worked more hours.

That paper even directly contrasted the European model of high "labour market participation rates" (which means more people working but not necessarily steadily employed with one job) and lower individual working times with the American model of high employment (people steadily employed with a single job) and longer working times. The paper concluded that regardless of the type of employment (full-time or part-time), the sweet spot is around 30 hours. After that, quality of work and life start to drop off. It's particularly stinging result (although one we've mentioned before) considering most of us work close to 50 hours per week. This isn't just Europe talking, either. Robert C. Pozen, former executive at Fidelity Investments, former chairman of MFS Investment Management, and current lecturer at Harvard Business School argues the same in his book Extreme Productivity: Boost Your Results, Reduce Your Hours. Similarly, all-nighters don't work either (don't take our word for it, this study in the journal Child Development concludes as much) and forcing an employee to work late just strains their already limited energy reserves.

Posted by orrinj at 8:06 PM


Much faster Wi-Fi coming soon (David Goldman,  June 19, 2013, CNNMoney)

The latest Wi-Fi technology, called "802.11ac," offers speeds of up to 1.3 Gigabits per second. That's fast enough to transfer an entire high-definition movie to a tablet in under 4 minutes, share photo albums with friends in a matter of seconds or stream three HD videos at the same time. It's more than double the top speed of the previous standard, known as 802.11n.

Posted by orrinj at 8:04 PM


J.D. Power ranks GM tops in quality for first time (Chris Isidore, June 19, 2013, CNNMoney)

For the first time General Motors is the car company with the best quality, according to J.D. Power & Associates' annual automotive survey released Wednesday.

Posted by orrinj at 8:02 PM


Deri: 'Arabs out' is the same as 'Jews out' (Noam (Dabul) Dvir, 06.18.13, 13:52 / Israel News)

Shas chairman Knesset Member Aryeh Deri arrived at Abu Ghosh on Tuesday after vandals slashed car tires and sprayed graffiti reading "Arabs out" in the village.
"The hands that spelled out this sentence 'Arabs out' needs to remember that the hands of our greatest haters wrote 'Jews out'. It's the same thing."
"We need to take responsibility; there are Jews all over the world. We can't be shocked to see this in Europe and cry 'anti-Semitism' while not condemning it here at home. It's not Judaism, it's the opposite of Judaism and Torah. Whoever did this, has hurt the Torah."

Posted by orrinj at 8:00 PM


Inside Iran's Election Surprise (Muhammad Sahimi, June 19, 2013, National Interest)

There is little doubt, if any, that former prime minister Mir Hossein Mousavi is the most popular politician in Iran. But together with his wife Dr. Zahra Rahnavard, a professor of arts, and former speaker of parliament Mehdi Karroubi, he and these leaders of the democratic Green Movement have been under house arrest since February 2011. In their absence, Mohammad Khatami, a true reformist and a highly popular former president, was most people's best hope for the presidency. But Khatami is despised by Iran's fundamentalists and the security and intelligence forces, and was threatened repeatedly over his possible run for the office; thus, he never entered the race.

Next in line was another former president, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a centrist and a shrewd politician. But after he entered the race with Khatami's backing, the Guardian Council, a constitutional body that vets candidates, disqualified him from running on the excuse that he was too old. A state of despair took over among the reformists, Green Movement supporters and moderate conservatives. Many, particularly among exiled Iranians, called for a boycott of the elections.

But Rafsanjani's failed candidacy also created a huge national wave of support for him that he, Khatami and their aides were determined to exploit. There were still two candidates in the race for whom the wave could be used, Mohammad Reza Aref, 62, the Stanford-educated first vice president (Iran has eight) in the second Khatami administration (2001-2005), and Rowhani. Aref, a university professor and a truly good man, is a mild-mannered reformist.

Khatami and Rafsanjani, together with the two candidates, agreed that, based on their assessment of the race, one should withdraw from the race in favor of the other. Then, three nationally-televised presidential debates took place, and although the first two did not amount to anything, the third one was transformed into a serious confrontation between Aref and Rowhani, on one hand, and Jalili and Ghalibaf, on the other. Aref and Rowhani strongly criticized Jalili and Ahmadinejad, and even implicitly supported the trio of Green Movement leaders (something of a taboo these days in Iran). That turned the tide. Aref withdrew from the race on Khatami's request, and the two former presidents threw their support behind Rowhani, which excited the nation. Many who had decided to sit the elections out instead voted. The rest, as they say, is history.

Posted by orrinj at 5:25 AM


Even Pessimists Feel Optimistic About the American Economy (NELSON D. SCHWARTZ, 6/15/13, NY Times)

Whatever the Fed's conclusion, many analysts insist the more upbeat view is justified this time.

In particular, Mr. Behravesh and other economists said, the economy has shown greater resilience than expected in the face of tax increases and spending cuts in Washington. As the impact from this fiscal tightening eases, the overall growth rate should pick up. [...]

Mr. Cowen, who is also an occasional contributor to the Sunday Business section of The New York Times, is more skeptical about a short-term takeoff, focusing instead on what he sees as a brightening, longer-term picture of the United States economy.

The recent surge in domestic oil and gas production signals "the start of a new era of cheap energy," he said, while less expensive online education programs could open the door to millions of people who have been priced out of more traditional academics.

At the same time, Mr. Cowen said, he now expects subtler improvements in the country's economic well-being that will not necessarily be reflected in statistics like gross domestic product, but will be significant nonetheless.

For example, slower growth in the cost of health care will be a boon for the government and businesses, but will actually subtract from reported economic activity. "It's like the music industry," he said. "Revenues are lower at record companies but the experience for listeners is better."

Counting is easy.  Listening is hard.

Posted by orrinj at 5:23 AM


We're all American : Where we came from isn't as important as who we are (KYLE SMITH, June 16, 2013, NY Post)

What's your ancestry? If you said, "American," you've got company.

In the 2000 census and since, more than 20 million people said their origin was American. [...]

In his new book, "Native Americans: Patriotism, Exceptionalism and the New American Identity," James S. Robbins also teases out some other surprising details from what you might dismiss as the Waffle House or NASCAR slice of the country. For instance, a lot of the self-styled ethnic Americans are urban or suburban, not rural: The areas surrounding both Dallas and Atlanta are home to more American-Americans than any other ethnic group.

Demographers have been vexed by this widespread insistence on American origin. In the 1980 census, which specifically asked respondents where their people came from "before their arrival in the United States," anyone who persisted with answering "American" simply was not counted. "To choose 'American,' you have to be a rebel in a way," says a professor quoted by Robbins, who adds, "That was precisely the point." [...]

"We are not threatened by ethnic backgrounds now," Michael Marsden, provost at Eastern Kentucky University and a resident of the state where a plurality identify as American-Americans, says in the book. "I think we realized that we can be different but, at the same time, the same."

Adds Robbins, "Families and peoples that have been in this country for one or two or four centuries should not consider themselves to be from someplace else."

Posted by orrinj at 5:16 AM


America's Assimilating Hispanics : The evidence shows they are following the path of earlier immigrants. (WSJ, 6/18/13)

All of this follows the traditional three-generation model of linguistic assimilation that characterized European immigrants in the last century. Typically, English is the dominant language of the second generation, and by the fourth generation fewer than a quarter can still speak the immigrant tongue.

Educational progress among Latino immigrants is also evident, and it too fits a pattern shown by previous ethnic newcomers. Nearly half (47%) of foreign-born Hispanics lack a high-school diploma, but that number falls to 17% among their offspring. And 21% of second-generation Hispanics are college graduates, compared with 11% of foreign-born Hispanics residing in the U.S.

Latino immigrants who have been in the U.S. for three decades or more are also more likely than recent arrivals to own a home, live in a family with an income above the federal poverty line and marry outside of their ethnic group--all common measures of assimilation. According to 2012 Census data, the median household income for second-generation Hispanics is $48,400, versus $34,600 for Hispanic immigrants and $58,200 for all groups.

A Pew report from February on Hispanic and Asian immigrants--who comprise about 70% of foreign born adults in the U.S.--found that the second generation of both groups is more likely than immigrants to have friends outside of their ethnic or racial group, to say their group gets along well with others and to think of themselves as a "typical American." Pew also noted that "second-generation Hispanics and Asians place more importance than does the general public on hard work and career success."

Like many Mexicans today, Italian immigrants who came in large numbers in the late 1800s and early 1900s valued work over education. Italy had one of the highest illiteracy rates in Europe at the time--62% in 1871--and illiteracy was especially pronounced in southern Italy, where most Italian-Americans trace their ancestry. In 1910, just 31% of Italian immigrants aged 14 to 18 were enrolled in school, compared to 48% of the Irish and 56% of the Jews. Today, Italian-Americans exceed national averages in educational attainment and income.

Fears that the newest arrivals are overrunning America and changing it for the worse have a long pedigree. "Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a Colony of Aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them, and will never adopt our Language or Customs," wrote Benjamin Franklin in 1751.

Posted by orrinj at 5:12 AM


Medicaid's Impact : Randomized study sheds light on the effect of expanding health-care coverage (Peter Dizikes, June 18, 2013, MIT Technology Review)

Enrollment in Medicaid helps lower-income Americans overcome depression, get proper treatment for diabetes, and avoid catastrophic medical bills, but it does not appear to reduce the near-term prevalence of diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol, according to a new study coauthored by MIT economist Amy Finkelstein. [...]

The researchers worked with the Oregon Health Study Group to analyze Medicaid's impact over a two-year span. They found about a 30 percent decline in the rate of depression among people on Medicaid over that time, thanks to treatment; an increased probability of being diagnosed with, and treated for, diabetes; and increases in use of preventive care. They also found that Medicaid reduced, by about 80 percent, the chance of having catastrophic out-of-pocket medical expenses, defined as spending 30 percent of one's annual income on health care.

"That's important, because from an economics point of view, the purpose of health insurance is to ... protect you financially," says Finkelstein. She and Katherine Baicker of Harvard University's School of Public Health led the study.

...make it a more generous one, with HSAs that transfer actual wealth to recipients.

June 18, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 3:40 PM


Why Aren't We Creating Enough New Jobs? (Megan McArdle Jun 18, 2013, Daily Beast)

For starters, there's just the empirical fact that labor force participation has been declining since the turn of the millenium.  After rising through the 1970s and 1980s as women joined the workforce, labor force participation rates largely leveled off in the 1990s.  Then, over the last decade, they began falling.  


Some of that can be explained by the aging of the population, and women deciding that they don't actually want to work the same hours as men.  But not that much of it.  The Baby Boomers only began retiring a few years ago; most of them are still working age.  Moreover, much of what appears to be a separate trend (women pulling back from the labor force, older workers retiring) may actually be a response to a weak labor market.  If you can't get a very good job, you may decide it makes more sense for you to stay home with kids, or take early retirement.  

So if it's not population aging, why do I think this is happening?  

Competition from technology and trade.  (Immigration may contribute, but the evidence for this isn't that strong, and at best, it's a very small contribution.)   Global shipping and trade liberalization has made it more practical to manufacture in low wage countries.  Meanwhile, in high wage countries, technology is substituting for labor. 

As the chart accidentally demonstrates, the employment participation rate remains artificially high, because of the social promotion of women and minorities into the workforce.  We have a good ways to go before we reach natural historical levels and it's hard to see how the rate could stay that high given technology and trade.
Posted by orrinj at 5:32 AM


App Will Let Health Insurer Track Customer Behavior  (Jessica Leber, June 17, 2013, Technology Review)

A smartphone app that launches this week gives the health insurance company Aetna access to detailed user health-tracking data. As costs spiral upward, health-care companies could turn to such apps as a way to monitor customers and encourage healthy behavior. [...]

Nearly 50,000 health-related mobile apps are already out there, letting people collect data about their well-being and interact with doctors and pharmacies from their mobile devices.

With the entire U.S. health-care system under pressure to reduce costs, insurance companies could start creating financial incentives for people to voluntarily share this data and improve their health and fitness.

President Obama's Affordable Care Act, Wofford says, allows insurers to increase so-called "wellness incentives" to up to 30 percent of a premium, up from 20 percent before. This would allow employer health plans to create bigger "carrots" for their employees to go to the gym or use a Fitbit. Under U.S. law, incentives have to be based on behaviors--say, joining a gym--rather than outcomes, such as losing 10 pounds versus two pounds, Wofford says. The same rules do not apply in Europe.

CarePass will be offered to individuals at first, but Aetna plans to launch a portal for employers, too. There they will receive anonymous and aggregated data about the overall health trends of their employees, Wofford says.

Posted by orrinj at 5:28 AM


U.S. shale is a boon to manufacturers but not their workers (James B. Kelleher, Jun 14, 2013, Reuters)

The uptick in energy exploration has prompted companies like The Timken Co. and U.S. Steel Corp. to pump hundreds of millions of dollars into their plants in the state to boost production. Wayne Struble, the policy director for John Kasich, Ohio's Republican governor, said the flood of energy-related dollars could be a major "game changer" for the state.

But state employment data, academic research and a week-long tour of half a dozen factories in Ohio suggests the shale gas revolution has been a disappointment when it comes to job creation.

"The industries benefiting are more capital intensive than labor intensive," said Tom Waltermire, the chief executive of Team NEO, the economic development agency for northeast Ohio.

"Even a manufacturing renaissance won't require the same headcount per unit of output as we had 20 or 30 years ago. If it did require that, the renaissance would never happen."

June 17, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 7:55 PM


66% Believe Obama Administration 'Right' to Analyze and Collect Internet Data (DANIEL HALPER, 6/17/13, Weekly Standard)

A new CNN poll finds that 66 percent of American adults believe that it's "right" for the Obama administration to analyze and collect Internet data. Only 33 percent believe the action is "wrong," and 1 percent have "No opinion."

Posted by orrinj at 5:29 AM


Liberals should lead entitlement reform ( Fred Hiatt, June 16, 2013, Washington Post)

If liberals succeed in blocking any serious entitlement reform during the Obama presidency, as seems increasingly likely, they will have handed conservatives a gift.

One number explains why: 2.7 percent.

That is the share of the national economy that, according to Congressional Budget Office projections, government will spend on non-defense discretionary programs 10 years from now. By comparison, this year the country will spend about 4 percent of its gross domestic product on these programs -- a percentage that has held constant over the past half-century. [..]

That's why Obama proposed changes to the Social Security cost-of-living index, designed to protect the vulnerable.

His party rebelled. "Tell the President," Rep. Ed Markey said in a fundraising letter for his Massachusetts Senate campaign. "No Social Security cuts. No exceptions." The liberal Center for American Progress (CAP) denounced the president's modest entitlement reforms as "enormous concessions without any promise whatsoever from the president's political adversaries that they will reciprocate." [...]

The rational progressive policy would be to support entitlement reform while there is a progressive in the White House to ensure the most vulnerable recipients are not harmed.

Otherwise, liberals can pat themselves on the back for "saving Social Security" as less and less money flows to other programs that they prize. Small-government conservatives won't have to do anything but stand aside and applaud.

Posted by orrinj at 5:21 AM


On Europe trip, Obama will face a continent frustrated by his actions and inaction (Scott Wilson, June 16, 2013, Washington Post)

As he arrives Monday in Northern Ireland for his first trip to Europe in two years, Obama will be confronting the diplomatic fallout from his actions and inaction on some of the most urgent concerns of his European counterparts.

His long delay in more aggressively supporting Syria's beleaguered opposition forces -- a move his administration announced in the form of expanded military aid on the eve of his visit here -- has frustrated the leaders of France and Germany. The recent disclosure of the National Security Agency's telephone and Internet surveillance has angered many European politicians, particularly German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whom he will see on both stops of his three-day visit.

And the expansion throughout his term of drone warfare has disillusioned a once-adoring European public -- and, to a lesser degree, its more pragmatic political leaders. Reflecting that disappointment, the French newspaper Le Monde headlined a story this month about the NSA's surveillance programs: "George W. Obama and National Security."

June 16, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 8:55 PM


Americans have record wealth, but aren't spending it (Robert J. Samuelson, June 16, 2013, Washington Post)

In the economic history of our time, June 6, 2013, ought to occupy a special place. That's the day the Federal Reserve disclosed that the net worth of American households -- the value of what they own minus what they owe -- hit $70 trillion, a record that exceeded the previous peak before the 2007-09 financial crisis. Higher stock prices and a long-awaited housing recovery are slowly restoring Americans' lost wealth. [...]

There has been a stunning shift in behavior, notes Zandi. In 2006, at the peak of the housing boom, almost 90 percent of homeowners who were refinancing mortgages increased the size of their loan, according to data from Freddie Mac; they were borrowing against higher housing values. In 2012, 83 percent of refinancing homeowners either didn't change the mortgage amount or lowered it. They were striving to pay off debt.

Shifting from consumption to savings is one of the keys to replacing the Second Way welfare net.  Future reforms--consumption taxes, universal HSAs, privatized Social Security accounts, etc.--will all accelerate the trend.

Posted by orrinj at 5:19 PM


Bruins keep overtime short and sweet in Game 2 (Bruce Arthur, 13/06/15, National Post)

If you've got a shovel and a body you'd better finish the job before somebody shows up, trapping you in the headlights.

Posted by orrinj at 11:36 AM


The future of buildings: coming soon, the house that can repair itself (Mark Miodownik, 6/15/13, The Observer)

The wiring and plumbing of a building will soon start to become integrated and grown like our bodies' nervous and digestive systems. More materials will be able to heal themselves and they'll clean themselves.

Some of these technologies are already being developed - such as self-healing concrete - and at the moment cost is holding back their introduction, but that will change. Obviously there are big economic gains from having buildings that can repair themselves. And practical advantages in hard-to-reach places like nuclear reactors. I would say that in around 50 years we could see buildings that could build themselves. Nature already does it - a tree builds its own wiring and plumbing, its own energy generation system - a marvel of architecture that starts from a single seed.

Also, 3D printing will change how objects are created. Everything will be integrated, objects will be made in one piece, including the wiring and the battery. I'm not sure that every home will have one but sophisticated factory-based 3D printers will be able to tweak product design by responding to consumer comments, creating a speedy feedback loop: 3D printers will change everything about manufacturing; I'm sure about that.

Posted by orrinj at 11:34 AM


Hezbollah welcomes Iran's 'beacon of hope' Rohani (JPOST.COM, 06/16/2013)

Lebanese militant Shi'ite Muslim group Hezbollah on Sunday welcomed the election of new Iranian President Hassan Rohani, calling him a "beacon of hope."

"The Arab and Muslim people... who have always seen the Islamic republic as a supporter of the oppressed... and every fighter who resists for God, consider you today a beacon of hope," AFP quoted the militant group as saying.

Posted by orrinj at 11:30 AM


NSA Focused on Just 300 Calls Out of Millions (MARK HOSENBALL, 6/16/13, Reuters)

The U.S. government only searched for detailed information on calls involving fewer than 300 specific phone numbers among the millions of raw phone records collected by the National Security Agency in 2012, according to a government paper obtained by Reuters on Saturday. [...]

Millions of phone records were collected in 2012, but the paper says U.S. authorities only looked in detail at the records linked to fewer than 300 phone numbers.

A person familiar with details of the program said the figure of fewer than 300 numbers applied to the entire mass of raw telephone "metadata" collected last year by the NSA from U.S. carriers - not just to Verizon, which is the only telephone company identified in a document disclosed by Snowden as providing such data to the NSA.

...is that they imagine themselves so significant as to be likely targets of the government.

Posted by orrinj at 6:57 AM


Exclusive: Jeb Bush Begins To Lay Out Case For President (The Brody File, 6/14/13)

In an exclusive sit-down interview with The Brody File, Jeb Bush began to sketch out his case for President of the United States if he decides to run next year. "It will be based on my record. And that record was one of solving problems from completely from a conservative perspective.  I cut taxes every year, I shrunk the size of government," Jeb Bush tells The Brody File. And as for his critics who say he's too mainstream establishment he offers this: "I will be able to, I think, manage my way through all the chirpers out there."

We sat down with Jeb Bush Friday morning at the Faith and Freedom Coalition event in DC. If Jeb Bush decides to run for president, he will most likely be considered the frontrunner for the GOP nomination. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:54 AM


Occupy Runnymede: Six reasons why the British Establishment hates the Magna Carta (ANTHONY BARNETT 15 June 2013, Open Democracy)

If you go to the long meadow of Runnymede beside the Thames where the Magna Carta was sealed in 1215, there is a strange surprise. It is best located today by saying it just to the west of Heathrow Airport and the M25 between the M3 and the M4. There you will find a memorial to the great Charter erected by the American Bar Association in 1957. The land itself belongs to the National Trust, it too seems to have been gifted thanks to American patrimony. Sitting in the Magna Carta Tea Room you can reflect that it seems to be the only truly English erection. Otherwise, here at what is arguably and mythologically the centre and starting point of that great Anglo Saxon contribution to civilisation, namely 'the rule of law', there is an absence - a wonderful meadow but no pompous parliamentary statue or monument, not even a stick in the ground to say, "Hey world, look here, this is where we did it".

All sorts of marvellous medieval achievements are officially celebrated, but not this one.

Today is Magna Carta day. Most people have no idea that it is because it isn't marked in the calendar anymore than the site itself.

...it is Americans who understand and revere history, not the ignorant Europeans.

Posted by orrinj at 6:51 AM


The Avatar Will See You Now : Medical centers are testing new, friendly ways to reduce the need for office visits by extending their reach into patients' homes. (Jessica Leber, June 10, 2013, MIT Technology Review)

Receiving remote medical care is becoming more common as technologies improve and health records get digitized. Sense.ly, the California startup running the trial, is one of more than 500 companies using health-care tools from Nuance, a company that develops speech-recognition and virtual-assistant software. "Our goal is basically to capture the patient's state of mind and body," says Ivana Schnur, cofounder of Sense.ly and a clinical psychologist who has spent years developing virtual-reality tools in medicine and mental health.

Using Sense.ly's platform, patients can communicate their condition to an emotionally reactive avatar through their phone, desktop, or TV. The avatar asks the patient simple questions, and if programmed by a doctor, it can answer questions too--such as what a diabetes patient with high blood-sugar readings should eat that day. The software also collects data from other medical devices that a patient uses, such as a glucose meter, and can capture gestures with a Kinect. The reports sent to the doctor include red-flag notifications to act on right away; charts, graphs, and analytics tracing the patient's progress over time; and a transcript of the voice interaction.

Posted by orrinj at 6:42 AM


The End of the Military Industrial Complex ( DAVID FRANCIS, 6/14/13, The Fiscal Times)

Hubert van Tuyll, a professor of economics at Georgia Regents University and co-author of Castles, Battles, and Bombs: How Economics Explains Military History, said he was not concerned about DOD dragging down the broader economy.

"When you have a big defense drawdown, it doesn't really hurt the overall economy that much. But when you have a drawdown, the military establishment has to make a decision to lose people or equipment," van Tuyll told The Fiscal Times. "It's the equipment that will go first."

This is bad news for defense contractors. In the coming years, the massive post-9/11 military industrial complex will be forced to confront a series of challenges, from the drawdown to a poorly defined mission, that will eat away at their bottom lines. This will force defense contractors to make tough decisions regarding their futures their research and development budgets shrivel. 

Just cutting defense from 6% to 3% of GDP nearly balances the budget by itself and 3% would be historically high in peacetime.

Posted by orrinj at 6:29 AM


Democracy in Arabia? (Sami Mahroum, Jun. 11, 2013, Project Syndicate)

Arab societies, particularly those in turmoil, are regressing to what another French social theorist, Émile Durkheim, called "mechanistic solidarity." This is social solidarity that evolves along lines of kinship and religion, underpinned by a sense of belonging to the same "homogenous" group. Durkheim contrasts this phenomenon with the more progressive "organic solidarity" that evolves in modern societies according to people's professional and functional relationships.

In times of elevated risk, real or perceived, people begin to organize increasingly on the basis of homogenous identities. As a result, "mechanistic solidarity" grows stronger at the expense of "organic solidarity." The trend is often accelerated by the loss of jobs, which often leads people to abandon their professional and functional identities in favor of identities based on ethnicity, kinship, or religion.

In culturally diverse societies, such as Iraq and Lebanon, networks of social solidarity are based almost entirely on religious and ethnic affinity. In more homogenous societies, such as Libya, social solidarity tends to follow tribal and partisan lines. In Tunisia, too, there has been a similar regression to mechanistic types of solidarity organized around tribal, regional, and religious identities.

A dramatic manifestation of the mechanistic pattern of solidarity is now emerging in Syria, as well. While Syrians have been facing death, violence, and displacement for more than two years, the international community has been busy debating the nature of the Syrian rebels. Left to its fate, Syrian society began to disintegrate and reorganize on a sectarian basis. As the conflict intensified, established profession-based identities began to disappear, giving way to family, regional, and religious solidarities.

Civil-society and professional groups have been unable to respond in a way that maintains organic social cohesion, owing to a lack of resources, weak capacity, or both. Mechanistic solidarity has emerged as a more effective means to mobilize people and resources.

This all just the product of the Peace to End all Peace and they failure to organize the region around our own principles of self-determination when we had the golden opportunity. In betraying them we betrayed ourselves.
Posted by orrinj at 6:25 AM



As President Barack Obama pushes an ambitious agenda to liberalize global trading, political trade wars already are forming, and they're with fellow Democrats rather than with Republicans, his usual antagonists. [...]

Both deals generally have the support of U.S. businesses. But labor unions and human rights and environmental groups - core Democratic constituencies - have so far viewed them cynically.

These organizations, and Democrats in general, say that free-trade deals can cost American jobs and lead to environmental and workplace abuses that would not be tolerated in the U.S.

"We certainly have concerns," said Celeste Drake, a trade and policy specialist at the AFL-CIO, the nation's largest labor federation. "I think Obama realizes this problem about Republicans always being the big supporters (on trade liberalization) and he would like to have our support. But overall we're skeptical. We wish we'd see more."

It's not a new problem.

President Bill Clinton powered the U.S.-Mexico-Canada North American Free Trade Agreement through Congress in 1993 only by heavily courting Republicans and overcoming stiff Democratic opposition, including from House Democratic leaders and unions.

Posted by orrinj at 6:21 AM


The NSA Is Building the Country's Biggest Spy Center (Watch What You Say) (JAMES BAMFORD, 03.15.12, Wired)

Under construction by contractors with top-secret clearances, the blandly named Utah Data Center is being built for the National Security Agency. A project of immense secrecy, it is the final piece in a complex puzzle assembled over the past decade. Its purpose: to intercept, decipher, analyze, and store vast swaths of the world's communications as they zap down from satellites and zip through the underground and undersea cables of international, foreign, and domestic networks. The heavily fortified $2 billion center should be up and running in September 2013. Flowing through its servers and routers and stored in near-bottomless databases will be all forms of communication, including the complete contents of private emails, cell phone calls, and Google searches, as well as all sorts of personal data trails--parking receipts, travel itineraries, bookstore purchases, and other digital "pocket litter." It is, in some measure, the realization of the "total information awareness" program created during the first term of the Bush administration--an effort that was killed by Congress in 2003 after it caused an outcry over its potential for invading Americans' privacy.

But "this is more than just a data center," says one senior intelligence official who until recently was involved with the program. The mammoth Bluffdale center will have another important and far more secret role that until now has gone unrevealed. It is also critical, he says, for breaking codes. And code-breaking is crucial, because much of the data that the center will handle--financial information, stock transactions, business deals, foreign military and diplomatic secrets, legal documents, confidential personal communications--will be heavily encrypted. According to another top official also involved with the program, the NSA made an enormous breakthrough several years ago in its ability to cryptanalyze, or break, unfathomably complex encryption systems employed by not only governments around the world but also many average computer users in the US. The upshot, according to this official: "Everybody's a target; everybody with communication is a target."

For the NSA, overflowing with tens of billions of dollars in post-9/11 budget awards, the cryptanalysis breakthrough came at a time of explosive growth, in size as well as in power. Established as an arm of the Department of Defense following Pearl Harbor, with the primary purpose of preventing another surprise assault, the NSA suffered a series of humiliations in the post-Cold War years. Caught offguard by an escalating series of terrorist attacks--the first World Trade Center bombing, the blowing up of US embassies in East Africa, the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen, and finally the devastation of 9/11--some began questioning the agency's very reason for being. In response, the NSA has quietly been reborn. And while there is little indication that its actual effectiveness has improved--after all, despite numerous pieces of evidence and intelligence-gathering opportunities, it missed the near-disastrous attempted attacks by the underwear bomber on a flight to Detroit in 2009 and by the car bomber in Times Square in 2010--there is no doubt that it has transformed itself into the largest, most covert, and potentially most intrusive intelligence agency ever created.

In the process--and for the first time since Watergate and the other scandals of the Nixon administration--the NSA has turned its surveillance apparatus on the US and its citizens. It has established listening posts throughout the nation to collect and sift through billions of email messages and phone calls, whether they originate within the country or overseas. It has created a supercomputer of almost unimaginable speed to look for patterns and unscramble codes.

...but whether we can sift it effectively.
Posted by orrinj at 6:18 AM


Revealed: How the Prime Minister and John Kerry ambushed nervous Obama to force him to arm Syrian rebels (SIMON WALTERS, 15 June 2013, Daily Mail)

David Cameron and US Secretary of State John Kerry secretly ganged up to persuade a nervous Barack Obama to back Britain's bid to arm Syrian rebels, it was revealed last night.

The Prime Minister and Mr Kerry's diplomatic ambush of President Obama succeeded when they won his support for a showdown with Russia's Vladimir Putin - a key ally of Syria's President Assad - when Mr Cameron hosts a G8 summit in Northern Ireland tomorrow.

Obama's surprise U-turn came 24 hours after Foreign Secretary William Hague slipped into Washington almost completely unnoticed to meet Mr Kerry. In recent weeks, while supporting Mr Obama publicly, Mr Kerry has told Mr Hague privately that he strongly backs Britain's calls to get tough with Assad. But he could not win over the US President, who feared getting dragged into a repeat of the Iraq War.

Posted by orrinj at 6:16 AM


100-Year-Old General: We Razed Arab Villages, So What? (Gil Ronen, 6/13/2013, INN)

Brig. Gen. (res.) Yitzhak Pundak is celebrating his hundredth birthday. Pundak was the commander of the 53rd Battalion of the Givati Brigade in the War of Independence and went on to supervise the establishment of the Armored Corps. He was also Ambassador in Tanzania and a founder of Arad.

In an interview on IDF Radio, Pundak confirmed that forces under his command razed Arab villages in 1948. "My conscience is at ease with that, because if we hadn't done so, then there would be no state by now. There would be a million more Arabs," he said.

June 15, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 6:26 PM


Don't Blame the Work Force (THE EDITORIAL BOARD, June 15, 2013, NY Times)

In a healthy economy, job openings are plentiful and unemployment is low.

This is the most obvious confusion in the current employment hysteria, the belief that the purpose of an economy is to create work.  

The reality is that the purpose is to create wealth.

Were the former true, it would make good economic sense to require companies to hire people right up until the point where they would tip into unprofitability.

Because the latter is true, it makes sense to encourage companies to maximize productivity and profitability by reducing the labor input required to create wealth.

We have a political problem--how to distribute the wealth the economy creates--not an economic one.

Posted by orrinj at 6:22 PM


GOP plan: Bring Dubya back! : Look beneath the surface, and a hot new plan for the party's comeback is really just George W. Bush redux (ELIAS ISQUITH, 6/14/13, Salon)

[R]ather than offering a fresh, new way to package conservatism for the 21st century, it turns out that the conservative reformers, whether they know it or not, are resurrecting an idea whose time has come, and gone, and perhaps now come again. They're bringing compassionate conservatism back. Or at least they're trying.

Before going any further, though, we should define our terms. What is compassionate conservatism? It would be an oversimplification to call it the conservatives' version of Clintonism -- but only a little. In a 2009 essay about the phenomenon for the National Interest, the New America Foundation's Steven M. Teles described the basic conceit of compassionate conservatism as "an effort to shift the basic axis of partisan...from means to ends." That's a fancy way of saying that compassionate conservatism takes the welfare state for granted, whereas more doctrinaire conservatism (think Paul Ryan) seeks to burn it to the ground instead.

Of course, Ryan/Wyden is also just the Third Way, like Clintonism/compassionate conservatism.

Posted by orrinj at 5:41 PM


Iranian reformists revel over Rowhani election win (ALI AKBAR DAREINI and BRIAN MURPHY, June 16, 2013, AP)

Wild celebrations broke out on Tehran streets that were battlefields four years ago as reformist-backed Hasan Rowhani capped a stunning surge to claim Iran's presidency on Saturday, throwing open the political order after relentless crackdowns by hard-liners to consolidate and safeguard their grip on power.

"Long live Rowhani," tens of thousands of jubilant supporters chanted as security officials made no attempt to rein in crowds -- joyous and even a bit bewildered by the scope of his victory with more than three times the votes of his nearest rival.

In his first statement after the results were announced, Rowhani said that "a new opportunity has been created ... for those who truly respect democracy, interaction and free dialogue."

Posted by orrinj at 8:44 AM



Seven in 10 American workers are "not engaged" or are "actively disengaged" in their jobs, are "emotionally disconnected" from their workplaces, and are "less likely to be productive," according to Gallup's recently released study, "State of the American Workplace."

The study defines "engaged" workers as employees "who are involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their work and contribute to their organization in a positive manner." 

How enthusiastic can you be about a boondoggle?

Posted by orrinj at 8:26 AM


The Anticlerical Pope (Russell Shaw, 6/13/13, Catholic World Report)

Is Pope Francis our first anticlerical pope? Technically speaking, he isn't--his two predecessors also were more or less critical of clericalism--but he is well on his way to being the most outspoken one.

Consider a widely circulated quote from a 2011 interview he gave while he was still Cardinal Bergoglio of Buenos Aires. In case you haven't seen it or have forgotten it, the key passage goes like this:

"As I have said before, there is a problem: the temptation to clericalism. We priests tend to clericalize the laity. We do not realize it, but it is as if we infect them with our own thing. And the laity--not all but many--ask us on their knees to clericalize them, because it is more comfortable to be an altar boy than the protagonist of a lay path....

"The layman is a layman and has to live as a layman with the strength of his baptism, which enables him to be a leaven of the love of God in society...not from his pulpit but from his everyday life. And the priest--let the priest carry the cross of the priest, since God gave him a broad enough shoulder for this."

These are strong, bracing words. But besides the words, Francis's manner and lifestyle--unpretentious, simple, direct--constitute a kind of living repudiation of certain clericalist conventions. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:20 AM


A Call to 'Violent' Rebellion : An edgy, underproduced band of the 1980s showed how to ignore the weight of tradition. (Clay Shirky, 6/14/13, WSJ)

"Blister in the Sun," that first song, starts with a melody that uses all of three notes, suddenly replaced by a snare played like a handgun: bang bang, bang bang. That directness--created with guitar, bass, and a drum kit that wouldn't fill the trunk of a Ford Fairmont--astonished me.

By the 1980s, rock 'n' roll had acquired the aural patina you can only get with talent, practice and lots and lots of money. I had friends who wanted to be in a band, and though they could play, they could not--ever--make their guitars sound like the triumph of engineering that characterized most of our musical diet: Led Zeppelin, The Who, Pink Floyd.

The Violent Femmes offered a way out of this bind. Their music said, "We don't know how to sound like that either! Here we go!" 

Posted by orrinj at 8:16 AM


Syria no-fly zone would violate international law, says Russia (guardian.co.uk, 15 June 2013)

Russia's Sergei Lavrov said it was not clear that US evidence of Syrian use of chemical weapons would meet international standards of reliability. Photograph: Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters
The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, has said that any attempt to enforce a no-fly zone over Syria using US fighter jets and Patriot missiles from Jordan would violate international law.

Don't get hung up on the old sovereignty.

Posted by orrinj at 8:13 AM


It's Not About the Nail from Jason Headley on Vimeo.

Posted by orrinj at 8:03 AM


Some on the right going too far in NSA criticism (Michael Gerson, June 13, 2013, Washington Post)

[A]sserting that U.S. intelligence agencies are part of a conspiracy that somehow includes a national gun registry, drone surveillance and Lois Lerner crosses a line. It is one thing to oppose the policies of the administration; it is another to call for resistance against a "regime" and a "police state." It is the difference between skepticism about government and hatred for government. And it raises the question: How is it even possible to love such an Amerika?

This distinction between opposition and resistance is illustrated in attitudes toward the leaker Edward Snowden. If our country is being run by a regime, then those who expose its machinations are heroes, as some on the right have called Snowden. If the U.S. government is a fallible institution doing its best to protect citizens from terrorist violence, then a libertarian loner who reveals classified material (including U.S. cyberwarfare plans) and bolts for a communist country might be viewed in a different light.

Some libertarians and populist conservatives are not merely attacking Obama; they are slandering U.S. intelligence services. There is no evidence, or even a serious allegation, that the NSA has made political use of data it has gathered. This is not a rogue operation. The NSA, with the permission of a court and under the supervision of Congress, built a searchable digital database. Listening in on phone calls still requires a warrant, based on probable cause.

The continuity of anti-terrorism efforts across two administrations, with the bipartisan support of congressional leaders, is an achievement, not a scandal. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:08 AM


Moderate Rohani on track for outright Iran election win (REUTERS, 06/15/2013)

In an apparent attempt to signal political continuity, Khamenei said on Saturday that whatever the result of Friday's election, it would be a vote of confidence in the 34-year-old Islamic Republic.

"A vote for any of these candidates is a vote for the Islamic Republic and a vote of confidence in the system," the hardline clerical leader's official Twitter account said.

With more than 8 million votes counted from the 50 million electorate, Rohani had tallied 51.2 percent, Iran's interior ministry said. That would take Rohani above the 50 percent of the vote he needs to avoid a second-round run-off on June 21.

Rohani's nearest rival was conservative Tehran Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, a long way behind with 16.7 percent. Other hardline candidates scored even lower.

Rohani's campaign was endorsed by centrist former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani after the latter, a veteran rival of Khamenei, was barred from running by a state vetting body.

Rohani received a big further boost when reformists led by ex-president Mohammad Khatami swung behind him after their own lacklustre candidate Mohammad Reza Aref withdrew in his favour.

In contrast, several high-profile conservatives with close ties to the ruling clerical or Revolutionary Guards elite failed to unite behind a single candidate, suffering what appeared to be a decisive split in their support base as a result. [...]

Rohani is an important bridge between hardliners around Khamenei who oppose any accommodation with the West and reformers sidelined for the last four years who argue the Islamic Republic needs to be more pragmatic in its relations with the outside world and change at home in order to survive.

Rohani, a mid-level Shi'ite cleric, has impeccable revolutionary credentials and was active in the opposition that toppled the U.S.-backed shah in 1979. He also held prominent roles in Iran's 1980-88 war with Iraq, including as commander of national air defence, according to his official biography.

He remains on the Supreme National Security Council and is also on the Expediency Council and the Assembly of Experts, two eminent advisory bodies in Iran's multi-tiered power structure.

But he has also maintained close ties with Rafsanjani and was backed by Khatami, the reformist president from 1997-2005.

Posted by orrinj at 12:04 AM


Iran's Rowhani seeks 'constructive interaction' (AKBAR DAREINI and BRIAN MURPHY June 15, 2013, AP) 

[F]or many reformists and liberals in Iran, the 64-year-old Rowhani is somewhat of a mirror image of the elder Rafsanjani by reflecting his outlook that Iran can maintain its nuclear program and ease tensions with the West at the same time.

Rowhani held a wide lead in early vote counting Saturday.

"Rafsanjani was really the only choice to re-energize reformists," said Rasool Nafisi, an Iranian affairs analyst at Strayer University in Virginia. "Rowhani only got their support because he is seen as Rafsanjani's man and a vote for Rowhani was a vote for Rafsanjani."

This deep connection between the two men could give a potential Rowhani presidency a dual nature: Rowhani as the public face and Rafsanjani behind the scenes as its powerful godfather and protector. [...]

"We won't let the past eight years be continued," Rowhani told a cheering crowd last week in a clear reference to Ahmadinejad's back-to-back terms. "They brought sanctions for the country. Yet, they are proud of it. I'll pursue a policy of reconciliation and peace. We will also reconcile with the world."

June 14, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 7:48 PM


Farmers Don't Make Money From Farming (Ryan O'Hanlon, 6/13/13, Pacific Standard)

It probably would not surprise you to hear that most profitable American farms are large industrialized operations. That's just how things work now. But it might surprise you to find out that an overwhelming majority of farmers--based on the definition of the word--are not part of those big-industry outfits. Most American farms are tiny. And nearly all tiny American farms lose money.

From the latest USDA report:

Despite high prices for many crops, 2012 was no exception, with median farm income projected to be -$2,799. Most farm households earn all of their income from off-farm sources--median off-farm income is projected to increase by 3.4 percent in 2012, to $55,229 and by 3.9 percent in 2013, to $57,378. [...]

The more-interesting part of this and what appears to be a big part of the side hustle for many farms is "agrotourism" and things like "on-farm cafes, restaurants, and dining rooms for special farm dinners ... classes, tours, U-picks, and venues for weddings and family reunions." As in: farmers are making money by having people watch them do the thing that no longer makes them any money. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:45 PM


EU compromise opens door to free trade talks with the US (Deutsche-Welle, 6/14/13)

EU trade ministers have reached a compromise that will allow the bloc to enter talks with the United States towards a free trade agreement. This came after France received guarantees about its TV and movie industry.

The agreement reached in Luxembourg on Friday includes a guarantee demanded by France that issues relating to its cultural industry will not be on the table - at least not initially.

However, the clause, which one European Union official described as "not in, not out," also gives the European Commission the right to raise any issue it sees fit during the course of negotiations with the Americans.

Posted by orrinj at 7:24 PM


Geography and World Politics (Colin Dueck,  June 12, 2013, Claremont Review of Books)

China is in a position to challenge the U.S. for predominance along the East Asian littoral, and has considerable interest in doing so, especially given its grinding sense of historical grievance. For many Chinese, to achieve such predominance would be a return to the natural order of things, in which the Middle Kingdom leads within East Asia. The Russians, for their part, share with China a long-term desire to expel American influence from their immediate spheres of influence. The most persuasive accounts of Sino-Russian cooperation tend to suggest it is opportunistic and pragmatic. Still, from an American point of view, this is not exactly reassuring. If these two massive, authoritarian powers are able to cooperate pragmatically and case by case against American interests, the U.S. will face a severe geopolitical challenge in much of Eurasia. When Rimland powers are able to secure their land borders, as China seems to be doing, and then convincingly take to the seas, this has to worry offshore powers like the United States. [...]

One of the explanations for the lack of grand strategy toward China today is the tacit and widespread assumption that American power is in relative and irreversible decline, while China's rise is more or less ordained. 

In the first place, China and Russia can't co-operate against the US, because they have competing, not common interests, and lack the hard, but more importantly, the soft, power to challenge us.  No one in Eurasia seeks to emulate the PRC/Putin model.  All seek to imitate the Anglosphere. Burma being just the clearest current example. 

Second, simply reverse that last sentence and you have the truth of the whole matter:

One of the explanations for the lack of grand strategy toward China today is the tacit and widespread assumption that Chinese power is in relative and irreversible decline, while America's rise is more or less ordained. 

The PRC has no future, ours is ever brighter.

Posted by orrinj at 6:35 PM


Late Heavy Turnout Reported in Iran's Presidential Election (THOMAS ERDBRINK, 6/14/13, NY Times)

The Iranian authorities reported heavy turnout in presidential voting on Friday, extending polling hours three times to accommodate what appeared to be a late surge of interest. Anecdotal evidence suggested that Tehran's mayor and a moderate cleric were garnering the strongest support, outdistancing their four conservative rivals.

In interviews and nonscientific surveys during the campaign, Iranians consistently said they were looking for someone to solve the country's deepening economic problems, expand individual rights and normalize relations with the rest of the world. [...]

The interviews with voters in Tehran and other cities suggested that the emerging front-runners were Mayor Mohammad Baqer Ghalibaf of Tehran and a moderate cleric, Hassan Rowhani, who appeared to attract a late burst of support from Iran's marginalized reformists who had considered boycotting the election. [...]

Mr. Rowhani has been promoting more freedom and rights for women, and is supported by the moderate former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, 78, who was disqualified by the council, with his age given as the official reason.

The nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, considered the most conservative of the other candidates, did not appear to be attracting much support, which if confirmed would be a disappointment to the hard-liners in the government who had thrown their weight behind him.

A rare Iran presidential poll shows Tehran mayor Ghalibaf as runaway favorite (Max Fisher, June 10, 2013, Washington Post)

Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf holds a strong lead in the eight-way Iranian presidential race, according to survey data from a company that claims to run the only tracking poll in the election. The U.S.-based Information and Public Opinion Solutions says it bases its data on daily phone interviews with a sample size of just over 1,000 people.

The poll has 39 percent of decided voters saying they support Ghalibaf, a remarkable lead over all the other candidates. However, the poll also reports that 57 percent of voters are undecided, meaning that presently undecided voters could easily erase his lead.

Tehran mayor Ghalibaf seen as a strong contender in Iranian presidential race (Jason Rezaian, Published: June 5, 2013, Washington Post)

If polls are any guide -- and in Iran, they are far from reliable -- Ghalibaf might have reason to exude confidence. Less than two weeks before Iranians vote, several online surveys conducted by Iranian news Web sites place the technocrat as a top contender in the field of eight conservative candidates vying to replace President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. This week, 150 members out of 290 in Iran's parliament signed a letter officially endorsing him.

Ghalibaf is viewed warily by some of Iran's political conservatives and clerical rulers, who view him as being more focused on pragmatism than revolutionary ideals. [...]

As the only candidate with real executive experience and demonstrable accountability to the public, Ghalibaf, 51, is making a strong case that he has what it takes to be the Islamic Republic's chief executive. Working in his favor are a solid military background and a highly praised record as mayor of Iran's sprawling capital of more than 12 million people.

By the time Ghalibaf was 19, he was a commander on the front lines of Iran's war with Iraq. He rose to the rank of major general before ultimately being named the commander of Iran's air force, a division of the Revolutionary Guard. In 1999, Ghalibaf was named head of Iran's police forces, a position he held until he succeeded Ahmadinejad as Tehran mayor in 2005.

In recent years, Ghalibaf has also distinguished himself from other Iranian politicians by mostly avoiding rivalries and instead focusing on addressing the myriad problems of the dilapidated city he inherited.

Under Ghalibaf, the perennially traffic-choked and polluted capital's landscape was transformed through massive tree planting and green-space campaigns. Bridges were built and city rail lines were extended. Many Tehran residents laud him as a rare Iranian official capable of getting results, and he has won international praise for urban management and been shortlisted for several international mayoral awards.

Posted by orrinj at 6:24 PM


Erasmus generation : To overcome its skills shortage, Germany needs to remodel its society (The Economist, Jun 15th 201)

A YEAR AGO Werner Santiago Medina was an unemployed engineer in Las Palmas, the biggest city in Spain's Canary Islands. Today he is an electrician in Munich, employed by a small firm that specialises in converting old office buildings. He has brought his family and is slowly learning German. His seven-year-old daughter is already fluent. He still supports Barcelona football team but reckons his future is in Germany.

Mr Medina's path from the Canaries to Bavaria was mapped, in part, by Heinrich Traublinger, proprietor of a string of Munich bakeries, who heads the Upper Bavarian craftsmen's trade association. Mr Traublinger was shocked by a 2011 survey of his 79,000 members which showed that more than one in six of them was short of workers. When he saw television reports of high Spanish unemployment not long afterwards, he spotted an opportunity. The trade association now runs a scheme to attract Spanish craftsmen of many kinds, from bakers to stonemasons. It organises interviews via Skype and provides help with accommodation and German lessons.

Messrs Medina and Traublinger are at the leading edge of a trend that could transform Germany. With the world's second-oldest population (after Japan) and one of the lowest birth rates in Europe, the country is facing a demographic bust.

The question isn't whether the developed world will allow mass immigration, but what it can offer to entice same.

Posted by orrinj at 6:22 PM


Don't Disqualify Jeb Bush Because of His Last Name (MERCEDES SCHLAPP, June 14, 2013, US News)

While I was in the room, it just hit me. If only the American people could witness what we saw. He spoke from the heart about the lessons he learned from his father. He read excerpts from his dad's book, "All the Best, George Bush: My Life in Letters and Other Writings." At moments, he was emotional and explained how his father taught his children about the importance of public service and humility in leadership. Governor Bush was inspirational and driven with a sense of purpose where he knows that he has so much to give and lead our country.

In moments like these where Washington seems so divided and toxic, filled with scandals and chaos, Bush provides a sense of calm and clarity. During the interview, he explained how our leaders could achieve more with greater humility and stressed the importance of building successful coalitions. He shared that in today's world of self-centeredness the job of leader is to rise above himself/herself and focus on serving others.

Bush also addressed the illiteracy crisis in a country where over 35 million adults are unable to read or write, and how his mom's foundation is implementing programs nationwide to help adults and children become literate.   

He also talked about immigration reform and the importance of Republicans working with Democrats, being part of the conversation and providing the solution to modernize our immigration system and address illegal immigration. As U.S. News &World Report managing editor Robert Schlesinger reported in his most recent article, Governor Jeb Bush provided a "pretty good talking points blueprint of how to address conservative concerns" during a Bipartisan Policy Center event.

His ability to delve into complex policies and find workable solutions is the type of leadership we desperately need in Washington. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:01 PM


Honda issues apology for short supply of all-electric Fit ( David Undercoffler, June 14, 2013, LA Times)

Honda issued a rare apology on Friday to frustrated customers who were having difficulty grabbing one of its 1,100 all-electric Fit EV cars.

Posted by orrinj at 5:34 AM


Iran's moderate candidate gets key boost on election day (REESE ERLICH, 6/14/13, Salon)

Polling places at schools and mosques in the Iranian capital were crammed today with voters in what has become a surprisingly competitive race to replace Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as the nation's president.

The campaign pits three major conservatives against a candidate supported by reformers and moderates, with six total contenders handpicked by the country's premier religious and political authority.

"I voted for Hassan Rouhani," said Ali Shokrzadeh, a blue-collar worker at a polling station in south Tehran. Despite having largely voted for conservative candidates in the past, a number of people in this poor and working class section of the capital also expressed support for Rouhani.

A moderate, Rouhani made a last minute jump in the polls as reformists threw their weight behind him, and because some conservatives say he appeals to them, too.

"I expect him to create more jobs," said Shokrzadeh, who decided to vote for Rohani since the election campaign began several weeks ago.

Posted by orrinj at 5:29 AM


George W. Bush's legacy is on the mend (Julian Zelizer, 6/13/13, CNN)

Much of the controversy that surrounded Bush had to do with his national security policies. The war in Iraq caused a huge controversy with many Americans feeling the president had gone into an unnecessary war based on false evidence. By the second term, many Americans were also upset with some of the tactics the administration had used to pursue terrorists, such as interrogation.

But President Barack Obama, who campaigned as a critic of these policies, ended up leaving many of the programs in place and actually becoming more aggressive on certain fronts, such as the use of drone strikes. Obama has given these controversial policies a certain bipartisan imprimatur that has dulled the anger that existed toward Bush.

The ways in which a president's policies unfold over time is also essential. In some ways, Obama did Bush a favor. By bringing Iraq and Afghanistan to an end, he took these issues off the public radar. Without any kind of mass chaos in those countries, as some critics had warned would occur, the issues that caused Bush so much problems faded from the public mind.

The flip side is that some policies look better in perspective. Although the TARP program still has many critics, the fact that it stabilized the financial markets and ended up not costing the federal government any money makes one of Bush's most controversial decisions look better in hindsight.

Posted by orrinj at 5:25 AM


Sympathy for the Luddites (PAUL KRUGMAN, June 13, 2013, NY Times)

Until recently, the conventional wisdom about the effects of technology on workers was, in a way, comforting. Clearly, many workers weren't sharing fully -- or, in many cases, at all -- in the benefits of rising productivity; instead, the bulk of the gains were going to a minority of the work force. But this, the story went, was because modern technology was raising the demand for highly educated workers while reducing the demand for less educated workers. And the solution was more education. [...]

Today, however, a much darker picture of the effects of technology on labor is emerging. In this picture, highly educated workers are as likely as less educated workers to find themselves displaced and devalued, and pushing for more education may create as many problems as it solves.

We don't need the elite workforce either.

Posted by orrinj at 5:22 AM


Right on Immigration : President Reagan signed the 1986 amnesty, mocked 'the illegal alien fuss' and frowned on barricading the southern border. (JASON L. RILEY, 6/13/13, WSJ)

To find its pro-immigration soul, Mr. Vargas Llosa argues, the party of the right need look no further than Ronald Reagan. The Gipper today is as popular as ever in the GOP, except for when the topic turns to immigration. Reagan signed the 1986 amnesty, mocked "the illegal alien fuss," championed guest-worker programs and frowned on barricading the southern border. Mr. Vargas Llosa, a veteran journalist and senior fellow at the free-market Independent Institute, explains why the same president who won the Cold War was right about immigration, too.

Since the beginnings of the republic, those who came first have felt unease about those who followed. The English, Scottish, Dutch and Germans wanted to keep out the Irish and later those who came from Southern and Eastern Europe. Some of the descendants of these groups now want to slam the Golden Door on Latinos. Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin both expressed nativist sentiments. John Adams even opposed high-skill immigrants, arguing that French economist Pierre Samuel du Pont de Nemours should be denied entry because America "had too many French philosophers already." Du Pont ultimately immigrated to Delaware in 1799, and his son, chemist E.I. du Pont, would go on to start one of the most successful business dynasties in the world.

In our time, America's nativist strain found expression in Samuel Huntington's 2004 best seller, "Who Are We?" The late Harvard political scientist updated the "past immigrants were good, current immigrants are bad" argument for the 21st century, writing that immigrants from Europe "modified and enriched America" but that the post-1965 immigration wave, most of which is from Latin America, "poses a fundamental question: will the United States remain a country with a single national language and a core Anglo-Protestant culture?"

Mr. Vargas Llosa is having none of this, and "Global Crossings" presents considerable evidence to counter the claims that America isn't absorbing new immigrants as it absorbed old ones. Latino immigrants are assimilating just as past groups did, he argues, even though their progress is sometimes difficult to detect because Latino immigration is continuing. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:16 AM


Meet 'Inspector Lewis': Kevin Whately on 'Morse,' John Thaw, and the End of the Series (Jace Lacob, Jun 14, 2013, Daily Beast)

After more than 20 years playing Detective Inspector Robert "Robbie" Lewis, actor Kevin Whately has earned a well-deserved break from investigating murders beneath the Oxford spires. Introduced in Inspector Morse's first episode ("The Dead of Jericho"), Whately's Robbie Lewis was the Geordie sidekick of the late John Thaw's erudite and perpetually cranky Inspector Morse before becoming the lead of his own spinoff, Lewis.

While Whately has a slew of roles on his resume--he also starred in British drama Peak Practice and comedy Auf Wiedersehen, Pet, as well as countless other projects, including The English Patient--Robbie Lewis is the role still most closely associated with the 62-year-old actor. He has played the gruff detective from 1987 to 2000 on Morse and from 2006 to the present on Inspector Lewis.

The much loved show returns for its sixth (or seventh, if you're going by the ITV ordering), and possibly final, season on PBS' Masterpiece Mystery on Sunday, a season that finds Lewis and his partner, Cambridge-educated Detective Sergeant James Hathaway (Laurence Fox), grappling with change, uncertainty, and possibly even a happy ending of sorts.

June 13, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 5:19 AM


How Technology Is Destroying Jobs (David Rotman, June 12, 2013, MIT Technology Review)

Given his calm and reasoned academic demeanor, it is easy to miss just how provocative Erik Brynjolfsson's contention really is. ­Brynjolfsson, a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and his collaborator and coauthor Andrew McAfee have been arguing for the last year and a half that impressive advances in computer technology--from improved industrial robotics to automated translation services--are largely behind the sluggish employment growth of the last 10 to 15 years. Even more ominous for workers, the MIT academics foresee dismal prospects for many types of jobs as these powerful new technologies are increasingly adopted not only in manufacturing, clerical, and retail work but in professions such as law, financial services, education, and medicine.

That robots, automation, and software can replace people might seem obvious to anyone who's worked in automotive manufacturing or as a travel agent. But Brynjolfsson and McAfee's claim is more troubling and controversial. They believe that rapid technological change has been destroying jobs faster than it is creating them, contributing to the stagnation of median income and the growth of inequality in the United States. And, they suspect, something similar is happening in other technologically advanced countries.

Perhaps the most damning piece of evidence, according to Brynjolfsson, is a chart that only an economist could love. In economics, productivity--the amount of economic value created for a given unit of input, such as an hour of labor--is a crucial indicator of growth and wealth creation. It is a measure of progress. On the chart Brynjolfsson likes to show, separate lines represent productivity and total employment in the United States. For years after World War II, the two lines closely tracked each other, with increases in jobs corresponding to increases in productivity. The pattern is clear: as businesses generated more value from their workers, the country as a whole became richer, which fueled more economic activity and created even more jobs. Then, beginning in 2000, the lines diverge; productivity continues to rise robustly, but employment suddenly wilts. By 2011, a significant gap appears between the two lines, showing economic growth with no parallel increase in job creation. Brynjolfsson and McAfee call it the "great decoupling." And Brynjolfsson says he is confident that technology is behind both the healthy growth in productivity and the weak growth in jobs.

For nearly all of human existence predicting the great decoupling got you labeled a utopian. Now it's here and we're pretending it's a bad thing.
Posted by orrinj at 5:15 AM


US oil production in largest ever single-year increase (BBC, 6/12/13)

A report has revealed that 2012 saw the largest single-year increase in US oil production ever recorded.

US production grew due to an increase in techniques such as fracking, a method for extracting shale oil and gas, the report by oil giant BP said.

Posted by orrinj at 5:10 AM


Fiat's tiny 500e electric car is a big hit (Peter Valdes-Depena, 6/12/13, CNN/Money)

The really surprising thing is how smartly the 500e accelerates. It takes off a bit slowly as an initial push on the "gas pedal" gets the 500e's dense mass rolling down the pavement. Once past the first few feet, the Fiat really starts to take off and speed builds up quickly. This is no timid little Barbie car. Then again, it's no Fiat 500 Abarth either but it's also not as loud and bouncy as that turbocharged hyper-performance version of the 500.

With its stable cornering and strong acceleration, the 500e is actually a lot of fun to drive. The steering also feels better than that in the regular 500, to me. And the brakes are surprisingly good, too. That's especially surprising since, except in emergencies, ordinary brakes don't even come into play until the car is going less than eight miles an hour. Before then, what slows the car is the electric motor being spun backwards. Besides slowing the car, that also generates electricity which gets stored in the battery. It's all done with impressive smoothness.

Posted by orrinj at 4:58 AM


Christian cemetery targeted in 'price tag' attack (TIMES OF ISRAEL, June 13, 2013)

Gravestones were vandalized Wednesday night in a price tag attack on a Christian Orthodox cemetery in Jaffa. The headstones were spray-painted with Stars of David and the words "revenge" and "price tag." Similar slogans were sprayed on a nearby residential building, and the tires of five cars parked nearby were slashed. [...]

Though "price tag" attacks are generally carried out by Jewish extremists against Palestinian property, this is not the first time a Christian establishment has been targeted. Last month, vandals spray-painted epithets on the outer walls of the Dormition Abbey, which is located just outside Jerusalem's Old City. Graffiti on the church's walls read "Christians are monkeys" and were signed "Havat Maon," the name of a West Bank outpost.

June 12, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 8:48 PM


Most women say high heels start to hurt after an hour (AFP, JUNE 10, 2013)

If you've ever suffered foot problems from wearing a gorgeous pair of heels, you're certainly in good company. Most women report that high heels start to hurt after one hour and six minutes, while 20 per cent say that they can feel the pain after just 10 minutes.

In a new British survey of 2,000 men and women and 60 podiatrists conducted by The College of Podiatry, about half of women said that they suffered foot problems after wearing uncomfortable shoes.

More than 40 per cent of women said that they'll suffer for the sake of fashion, while only 12 per cent of men said that they'd do the same.

Posted by orrinj at 8:42 PM


Conservative economists back Jason Furman for key White House post (Jim Puzzanghera, June 11, 2013, LA Times)

A group of 11 conservative economists are publicly backing Jason Furman's nomination to head the White House Council of Economic Advisers.

"Although we often disagree with the administration's policies and differ with Jason on a number of issues, we respect him as a superb analytical economist," the economists, all affiliated with the American Enterprise Institute think tank, wrote in a blog post Tuesday. [...]

Among the economists backing his nomination was N. Gregory Mankiw, a Harvard economist who chaired the council under former President George W. Bush. Mankiw, a visiting scholar at AEI, was Furman's adviser for his doctorate degree in economics at Harvard.

Also signing the post was R. Glenn Hubbard, dean of the Columbia Business School and also a former council chair under Bush.

Posted by orrinj at 8:39 PM


Why hire? Small businesses are doing more with less (Jose Pagliery, June 12, 2013, CNNMoney)

[S]ome companies that downsized during the crisis are finding that they emerged from the recession as more efficient enterprises.

That's the case for Mimecast, which helps other firms manage their e-mail systems. The British company expanded to the United States in 2009, made its home in Watertown, Mass., and quickly grew to 200 employees here.

CEO Peter Bauer said the company could have hired more, but it created a more engaging website, lessening the need to have as many salespeople knocking on doors and doing in-person demonstrations. Mimecast now has 90 employees in the sales department, although it would have needed more than 120 to achieve the same work it does today.

Having at least 30 fewer workers saves the firm close to $2.7 million a year in salary.

Posted by orrinj at 8:36 PM


Dozens of Shiites Reported Killed in Raid by Syria Rebels (HANIA MOURTADA and ANNE BARNARD, 6/12/13, NY Times)

What was not in dispute was that several battalions of Sunni rebels, including members of extremist Islamist groups, stormed the village and, in video posted online by anti-government activists, could be seen setting houses on fire as they shouted sectarian slogans, calling Shiites dogs, apostates and infidels.

"This is your end, you dogs," a man off camera said as he panned across what he said were the corpses of "pug-nosed" Shiites, including one with what appeared to be a gunshot wound to the head.

"We have raised the banner of 'There Is No God but God' over the houses of the rejectionist Shiite apostates," one fighter chanted in another clip as a black cloud billowed above the village and jubilant gunmen brandished black flags often used by the extremist Al Nusra Front and other Islamist fighting groups.

"Here are the jihadists celebrating their storming of the rejectionists' houses! The Shiite rejectionists!," the fighter added. Some extremist Sunnis refer to Shiites as rejectionists because the sect arose from a group that rejected the early successors of the Prophet Muhammad in the seventh century.

Posted by orrinj at 8:29 PM


To vote or not to vote? Iranians wary after revolts and uprisings turn sour (Lina Attalah, 6/12/13, The Guardian)

As Iranians prepare to vote for a successor to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the ghosts of the past are unavoidable. Four years ago the presidential election turned into the biggest political uprising in Iran since the Islamic revolution 30 years earlier.

Now, for those who hoped both acts of insurrection would lead to a better future the options are decidedly limited.

On the ballot paper, there is a list of six men, all vetted and approved by the clerical authorities, and only one of them, Hassan Rouhani, has any claim at all to be interested in change and in opening up Iran.

On the streets the revolutionary fervour that gripped the capital for two intoxicating weeks in 2009 is absent, the chances of a repeat performance small. [...]

Arang Keshavarzian, a New York university professor, says: "All elections, and I've no reason to think this one is different, are simultaneously a moment for the regime to seek to define the contours of politics and a space for citizens to engage in political discussions and actions. As such, they are unique moments and social spaces that are always pregnant with hope and fear."

Keshavarzian recalls how, even in 2001, at perhaps the high watermark of Iranian reformism under Mohammad Khatami, that president's re-election bid in June of that year was briefly threatened by a progressive boycott as people questioned the efficacy of his reforms - only to re-engage with him on the eve of the polls.

Transcending the disappointment over the end of reformism, however, is a deep-held sense of citizenship that does prompt Iranians to vote.

"I try to make the best out of being here. That's why we will have to vote," says Gulzar, an artist who has tried going abroad to study but failed to get a visa.

For Sadeghi there seems there could be a moment to grab. "People [have become] disenchanted with how the state is controlling Islam. And when there is a vacuum in hegemonic power you have to overcome that depression and make an ambush. But you have to be patient. This is politics. Politics means patience."

Posted by orrinj at 8:21 PM


What Deficit? (Daniel Gross, 6/12/13, Daily Beast)
[C]onsider that for the next four months, assuming no big shocks or great changes, the government will essentially break even. That hasn't been done in well over a decade. In the first eight months of the fiscal year the deficit was $626 billion, down about 25 percent from the first eight months of fiscal 2012. But the Congressional Budget Office is predicting that's all the red ink we'll print this fiscal year. It is projecting the deficit for the entire fiscal year will be $642 billion. [...]

The greatest desideratum of fiscal hawks is for the government to take in as much money as it spends. For the next four months, for the first time in recent memory, that will be the case.

June 11, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 7:58 PM


Iranian reformists rally around common candidate (NASSER KARIMI June 12, 2013, AP)

Iran's presidential race lost one more candidate Tuesday but gained a new script: reformist leaders uniting behind relative moderate Hasan Rowhani to boost his once-improbable shot at victory.

Former presidents Mohammad Khatami and Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani fell behind Rowhani after a rival moderate bowed out in attempts to consolidate reform-minded forces battered by years of crackdowns. [...]

Rowhani's backers must persuade their flock to go to the polls rather than boycott a vote many allege to be unfree and unfair.

Posted by orrinj at 6:17 PM


Bush Approval Rating Back in Positive Territory (Rebecca Ballhaus, 6/11/13, Washington Post)

According to a new Gallup poll, 49% of Americans now view Mr. Bush favorably, outpacing the 46% who view him unfavorably. That's the first time his positive views have outweighed the negatives in the Gallup poll since 2005. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:08 PM


Tebows in Paradise : An American patriot becomes a New England Patriot. (W. JAMES ANTLE, III, 6.11.13, American Spectator)

The most polarizing player in the NFL has now joined forces with the league's most controversial coach. The New England Patriots' surprise signing of quarterback Tim Tebow has haters hating and speculators speculating.

How will Bill Belichick use Tebow? We're talking about the coach who deployed linebacker Mike Vrabel as a tight end to score receiving touchdowns, played wide receivers Troy Brown and Julian Edelman as defensive backs, had running back Kevin Faulk complete passes to quarterback Tom Brady, and let tight end Aaron Hernandez run the football.

Thus there is buzz that Tebow will be converted to tight end or H-back, despite initial reports that the former Heisman trophy winner will remain at his position.

To earn his paycheck, all he has to do is hold on kicks and be the up man on punts, then run a fake on each in the pre-season.  For the rest of the year teams would have to account for him on every kicking play.

June 10, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 9:26 PM


How George Clooney has inspired cosmetic craze for 'ball ironing'  (SADIE WHITELOCKS, 10 June 2013, Daily Mail)

George Clooney has repeatedly joked that instead of his eyes he gets the skin on his testicles 'ironed' out, but now it appears he's inspired a new craze in Hollywood.

Cosmetic expert Nurse Jamie told MailOnline that she added 'Tighten the Tackle' to the list of services at her Santa Monica spa, Beauty Park, last year, and it has been a raving success.

Delicately describing the $575 non-surgical treatment, the blonde beautician says it involves using lasers to remove hair, erase wrinkles and correct discoloration on the scrotum.

With the lights out, who even sees them?

Posted by orrinj at 9:23 PM


Supreme Court orders new hearing for California raisin farmers (David G. Savage, June 10, 2013, LA Times)

The Supreme Court opened the door Monday for California raisin growers to challenge the constitutionality of a Depression-era farming law that requires them to keep part of their annual crop off the market.

In a 9-0 ruling, the justices cleared the way for Marvin and Laura Horne from Fresno to argue that this "mandatory reserve" program takes away their private property without just compensation. [...]

[I]f they were to prevail in the case, it could lead to a broad challenge to government-sponsored agricultural marketing orders.  

The raisin board is one of several that was created under the Agricultural Marketing Agreement Act of 1937. It seeks to prop up prices for farm products. The court noted that there are similar orders that apply to a "vast array" of agricultural products, including milk as well as many fruits and vegetables.

Posted by orrinj at 7:21 PM


Breast screening 'doesn't cut deaths': Study of 40 years of mammograms show 'no evidence' they reduce chance of dying (JENNY HOPE, 10 June 2013, Daily Mail)

Screening for breast cancer does not cut the chance of dying from the disease, a study claims.

The examination of 40 years of UK data produced 'no evidence' there was a greater fall in death rates in women who underwent mammograms.

In fact, the age group that showed the steepest fall in mortality rates were the under 40s - who are not eligible for the regular X-ray check-ups.

Posted by orrinj at 7:11 PM


Apocalypse Not Now: Just About Everything Is Getting Better (Michael Grunwald, June 09, 2013, TIME)

What about the fears that inspired the sequester and the rest of the austerity push, the fears that spiraling deficits would turn us into Greece? Well, the Congressional Budget Office now estimates the deficit at $642 billion, the lowest since the crisis; it's been cut in half since Obama took office, the fastest reduction since World War 2. We're not Greece. The bond markets certainly don't think so; interest rates are at historic lows. And the runaway inflation that Paul Ryan and other loose-money critics keep predicting has yet to materialize; inflation is actually below the official Federal Reserve target of just 2 percent.

In fairness, while America's short-term deficit is shrinking fast, our long-term deficit is still a concern, because soaring health care costs have threatened the future of Medicare and Medicaid. But there's good news there, too. According to the nonpartisan Kaiser Foundation, health care spending is now growing at the slowest rate in five decades, which is why Medicare's trustees just upgraded the program's budget outlook. And there is strong evidence that Obamacare's efforts to reorient the medical system to reward providers who keep their patients healthy instead of providers who perform more services are working. For example, Obamacare imposes financial penalties on hospitals with high rates of readmissions and central-line infections; predictably, hospitals have improved their performance in both areas. The health information technology revolution--launched by Obama's 2009 stimulus--is also bending the cost curve, dragging a pen-and-paper system into digital age.

Meanwhile, U.S. combat forces are out of Iraq, and they'll be out of Afghanistan next year. U.S. carbon emissions are at their lowest level in two decades, and so are U.S. oil imports. By historical standards, taxes are very low and spending is very modest. General Motors and Chrysler, wards of the state four years ago, are posting their best sales numbers in years. Gays are serving openly in the military, solar installations have increased over 1,000% in four years, a cool robot is taking cool pictures of Mars, and Tesla just paid back its government loan with interest. Things are getting better, and better is better than worse.

Consider that our biggest "problem" today is that we create ever more wealth with ever less labor.  

Posted by orrinj at 7:01 PM

Welcome to the Spectator Archive

From 1828 to 2008, explore the history of The Spectator Magazine.

Every page has been scanned and digitised, each article tagged and extracted, so that you can search the whole archive by content, keyword, topic, location, and date.

Posted by orrinj at 5:16 AM


Al Qaeda's Ayman al-Zawahri calls on Sunnis to fight in Syria (Associated Press, June 06, 2013)  

Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri has urged Sunni Muslims to spare no effort to join the battle in Syria, overthrow President Bashar Assad and set up Islamic rule in the country.

Zawahri called on Sunnis everywhere to devote their lives, money and expertise for the fight and prevent a US-allied government from taking over in post-Assad Syria.

He urged Sunnis to "rise above their differences" and fight expanding Shiite influence in Syria.

June 9, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 5:05 PM


Obama's "Dirty Wars" -- and a soiled presidency (ANDREW O'HEHIR , 6/09/13, Salon)

This is what it's come to for Barack Obama: Reality has sunk in for many Americans, who at last understand that the guy we elected on the naive expectation that he would undo the excesses of the Bush-Cheney national security state has instead made them much worse. It will be difficult, if not impossible, for Obama to escape this legacy now. He is the drone president, the assassination president, the domestic-surveillance president, whose entire administration has a professionalized passion for secrecy that makes the low-rent paranoids of the Nixon White House look like Keystone Kops. I did not suspect that I would ever again find an occasion to quote a Sarah Palin gag line, but hey: How is that hopey-changey stuff workin' out for ya?

There are numerous ways of understanding this disheartening turn of events. Maybe the secret note that George W. Bush left in the top drawer of the Resolute desk on Jan. 20, 2009, contained a "Manchurian Candidate"-style code word that switched on the programming! 

Posted by orrinj at 4:39 PM


A Golden Age for Intervention? (NEIL MacFARQUHAR, 6/09/13, NY Times)

Ms. Rice has repeatedly and publicly castigated herself for her failure to push harder for intervention to stop the 1994 genocide in Rwanda while serving on the National Security Council during the Clinton administration. It was Ms. Power who provided damning evidence, in a 2001 article in The Atlantic Monthly, that Ms. Rice had asked in a Washington teleconference whether characterizing the mass slaughter as "genocide" might hurt the Democrats in midterm elections.

Ms. Power, then teaching at Harvard, won a Pulitzer Prize in 2002 for her highly critical portrait of America's repeated failure to stop mass atrocities, "A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide." In the Obama administration, Ms. Power has served in the N.S.C. job Ms. Rice once held, running the office that deals with multilateral organizations and human rights.

The two have become allies and close friends; their bond forged through shared interests and the difficulty women face handling the White House boys' club, said one former official.

"Five years ago you might not have been able to predict where they are now," said Edward C. Luck, dean of the School of Peace Studies at the University of San Diego and a former senior United Nations adviser on peacekeeping issues. "They were both idealists, but they have both become practical idealists. Time in government does that to you."

Mr. Luck guided the United Nations' effort to adopt a new global standard known as "the responsibility to protect." It stipulates that the international community should intervene in wars to stop genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing once diplomatic efforts fail. Both women have been staunch supporters of the idea, which was the basis for the NATO intervention in Libya that resulted in the overthrow of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. Ms. Rice pushed through the critical Security Council resolution that authorized "all necessary measures" to protect civilians.

Posted by orrinj at 8:44 AM


Yes, Big Brother is watching you. But for a good reason (Alan Judd4:49PM BST 08 Jun 2013. The Telegraph)

That the NSA and GCHQ should share such information ought to be a cause of comfort rather than concern. They don't gather information for the sake of it - they do it to keep us safer. The heart of the Anglo-US intelligence relationship is this Sigint (signals intelligence) and cyber co-operation, dating from Bletchley Park and the Second World War. The two systems are intimately wedded, but both have layers of legal and political oversight to ensure that neither uses the other to undermine its own country's laws. All their reports will be legally grounded.

That said, the electronic information that a serious data-miner can glean about any of us is awesome. Before you close your front door behind you, they can know where you're going, how you're travelling, whom you're seeing, what you earn and what you've done over the past few years. Microsoft could doubtless read what I'm typing now if they chose. The Russians and Chinese do it - to us as well as to their own - on an industrial scale, without our checks and balances.

The truth is, if we want to be in this market, we must accept exposure. Does it matter? For the overwhelming majority of us, no. If we're unlucky we may be the victims of crime or malign intent, but in the West we have nothing to fear from government snooping. In the Nineties, Big Brother went mad and died of a surfeit of information - there was too much for him to keep tabs on.

Rather, we should worry that our governments are prevented from snooping enough on the right people. Or doing anything else about them. Twenty years ago, an ardent supporter of terrorism came here on a false passport. He's still here.

Posted by orrinj at 8:42 AM


Blackhawks join Bruins for Original 6 Cup finals (LARRY LAGE, 6/09/13, AP)

The league hasn't had two of its oldest franchises playing for the championship since Montreal beat the New York Rangers in five games 34 years ago, winning its fourth straight title. Those Canadiens were led by coach Scotty Bowman, now a senior adviser for the Blackhawks, whose general manager is his son, Stan.

The Blackhawks will have home-ice advantage in their first postseason matchup with the Bruins since 1978, when Boston won an opening-round series.

Posted by orrinj at 8:40 AM


Deputy defense minister: This government will block any two-state deal (RAPHAEL AHREN June 6, 2013, Times of Israel)

Israel's ruling party and the governing coalition are staunchly opposed to a two-state solution and would block the creation of a Palestinian state if such a proposal ever came to a vote, Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon said, contradicting statements by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and senior cabinet members who say Jerusalem is committed to the principle of two states for two peoples.

Danon's statements, made Wednesday to The Times of Israel in his first major interview with an Israeli news outlet since he became deputy minister, underline the low likelihood of the current government being able to sign a peace agreement with the Palestinians.

Posted by orrinj at 8:36 AM


Shoe insole charges your mobile devices (AFP, JUNE 09, 2013)

 A US startup has devised a shoe insert that can transform energy generated from walking into usable energy to power portable devices, including mobile phones, GPS devices, and fitness trackers. [...]

While this could certainly be convenient for mobile phone users who burn through their batteries throughout the day, wearers of fitness trackers might also enjoy a fringe benefit to all that moving about.

The company adds: "A business person might use SolePower walking a trade show floor, a hiker would find SolePower very useful for charging cameras or GPS on long hikes, anyone in a natural disaster (i.e., hurricane Sandy) could use SolePower for emergencies."

Another company offering a similar device is watchmaker Seiko, which offers a self-charging watch called Kinetic, reports Mobihealthnews.

June 8, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 3:31 PM


George W. Obama? With NSA spying, Obama feels wrath of the left (Brad Knickerbocker, June 8, 2013, CS Monitor)

The unkindest cut of all? That Obama is the same here as the man who launched the Iraq war, and then followed up with secret domestic spying - a point made angrily from the left and gleefully from the right.

"Drone strikes. Wiretaps. Gitmo. Renditions. Military commissions. Obama is carrying out Bush's fourth term, yet he attacked Bush for violating the Constitution," Ari Fleischer, George W. Bush's press secretary, told Politico.com, adding that Obama was "vindicating Bush." You can almost hear the glee in his voice.

Posted by orrinj at 9:05 AM


Secret Man Caves Found in EPA Warehouse (Eric Katz June 4, 2013, GovExec)

A warehouse maintained by contractors for the Environmental Protection Agency contained secret rooms full of exercise equipment, televisions and couches, according to an internal audit.

EPA's inspector general found contractors used partitions, screens and piled up boxes to hide the rooms from security cameras in the 70,000 square-foot building located in Landover, Md. The warehouse -- used for inventory storage -- is owned by the General Services Administration and leased to the EPA for about $750,000 per year. [...]

"The warehouse contained multiple unauthorized and hidden personal spaces created by and for the workers that included televisions, refrigerators, radios, microwaves, chairs and couches," the IG report said. "These spaces contained personal items, including photos, pin ups, calendars, clothing, books, magazines and videos."

...if they spent six hours a day building them on Minecraft, like their bosses, that'd be hunky dory.

Posted by orrinj at 9:02 AM


Ave atque vale : Upon his retirement from Yale, Donald Kagan considers the future of liberal education in this farewell speech. (Donald Kagan, June 2013, New Criterion)

The liberal education needed for the students of today and tomorrow, I suggest, should include a common core of studies for all its students. That would have many advantages, for it would create an intellectual communion among students and teachers that does not now exist and would encourage the idea that learning and knowledge are good things in themselves. It would also affirm that some questions are of fundamental importance to everyone, regardless of his origins and personal plans, that we must all think about our values, responsibilities, and our relationships with one another and with the society in which we live. The core I would propose would include the study of the literature, philosophy, and history (in which I include the history of the arts and sciences) of our culture from its origins. It would be a study that tries to meet the past on its own terms, examining it critically but also respectfully, always keeping alive the possibility that the past may contain wisdom that can be useful to us today. It would be a study that was consciously and deliberately moral and civic in its purposes, eager to examine the values discussed, private and public, personal and political. Such an education would show the modern student times and worlds where the common understanding was quite different from his own--where it was believed that man has capacities and a nature that are different from those of the other animals, that his nature is gregarious and that his flourishing requires an ordered beneficent society, that his nature can reach its highest perfection only by living a good life in a well-ordered society. It would reveal that a good society requires citizens who understand and share its values, which includes examining it and them critically, and accept their own connection with it and dependence on it, that there must be mutual respect among citizens and common effort by them both for their own flourishing and for its survival. Students enjoying such an education would encounter the idea that freedom is essential to the good and happy life of human beings but that freedom cannot exist without good laws and respect for them.

Posted by orrinj at 8:01 AM


Something Else! Interview: JD Allen, Preaching the Word through Music (David Greenberg, 6/02/13, Something Else Reviews)

JD Allen is emerging as one of the most innovative saxophonists of our time. His music, through a masterful use of melody reveals a personal story and an inner quest.

On his new release Grace -- which features Eldar Djangirov (piano), Dezron Douglas (bass), and Jonathan Barber (drums) -- JD uses melody to string together and unify all of the tracks on the album into a cohesive narrative. Each song is heard as a chapter in the story -- a story that describes a life-long pilgrimage of attaining grace. It's about overcoming struggle, oppression, the battle between good and evil, persevering, and the pursuit of truth. Not a single note or breath is wasted and often times, pierces the heart.

His music is art in its truest form: a complete vulnerable and emotional expression of the artist's being.
In this three-part interview, JD Allen and I will explore the symbolism and metaphors in his music, fighting life's battles, and his faith in God. JD shows the same open and genuine nature in these interviews that he has in his music. He holds nothing back and reveals what has become his inner truth ... [...]

DAVID GREENBERG: The song titles on Grace allude to themes such as good versus bad, which is similar to the album The Matador and the Bull. But there also seems to be a progressive journey that is outlined by the titles. For example, Act II (or Side 2) begins with "Detroit," where you grew up, then "Cross Damon," which seems to indicate a struggle -- a falling from grace -- then there seems to be a search and final attainment of something--perhaps it's some kind of truth. So on a broader spectrum, does the album express a broader theme?

J.D. ALLEN: Yeah, there is a broad thing. Well, it's not even broad -- it's narrow -- because if it was broad, then I would probably be a millionaire. (Laughs.) The world likes worldly things -- that's what sells. I mean, sugar -- not to get off the subject but this is an important question -- sugar is a replacement for fruit, but most people eat more sugar than they eat fruit. I like to think of it as a way of preaching without being preachy. I had a discussion with my friend Jaimeo Brown, who is also a believer, and we got into this conversation about it. We all want to spread it, the word, but how do we do it -- and I brought the fact that it's OK if you want to spread the word, but if you look at the New Testament, all the red letters of what Jesus was supposed to say, it's usually in parables if you notice. It's something that you've got to figure out, and fortunately enough the description that he would give his apostles, he would break it down, but if you look at just what he said, it's in a parable. And he said that "those who have ears can hear, those who have eyes can see," so it's not a broad thing, it's just my attempt at trying to preach without being preachy. So that's my take on it. I think that's what I'm supposed to do. I told this other gentlemen that I think initially, when you try to walk the walk, you become a gospel musician, even if you're not playing so-called gospel, but the gospel is to spread the word and the good news, and I try to do that -- I really try. I think this is what I'm supposed to do, so whenever I get an opportunity such as this, I can talk about it. So, it's not broad; it's my attempt at preaching without being preachy.

JD Allen Trio: Live At The Village Vanguard (NPR, August 12, 2009)

The first album recorded live at the Vanguard, and still one of the best, was made by Sonny Rollins' piano-less trio in 1956. Noisy but soothing, simple but dense, tenor saxophonist J.D. Allen's trio is primed to confront jazz history's shadow on its home turf.

Posted by orrinj at 7:39 AM


Posted by orrinj at 7:27 AM


Thus, the State Border Rule.

June 7, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 3:33 PM


The One Good Thing About Tesla (ERIC PETERS, 6.7.13, American Spectator)

Tesla does not have dealerships. Not in the traditional sense, at least. There are no franchises. You want a Tesla? You just buy one -- directly, from Tesla the company. Go online, pick what you want -- and place your order. That's it. There is no "middle man" -- in the words of Tesla Vice President Diarmuid O'Connell. And thus, no mark-up. No salesman's commission. No "dealer prep." No "advertising fees." No BS. At least, not insofar as the transaction is concerned. You buy a Tesla the same way you buy an iPad.

This has made the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA), the political lobby for car dealerships, angrier than a wet tomcat. NADA has sicced the lawyers on Tesla for daring to simply sell cars directly to consumers. They regard this as an affront -- a crime -- that must be enjoined by state lawmakers. [...]

The dealer organizations say this all about -- wait for it -- protecting consumers. [...]

NADA is mad at Tesla not because Tesla is "hurting" buyers (not one actual real-person "victim" of Tesla's evil practices has been produced) but because Tesla is hurting -- or threatening to hurt -- the profit margin of NADA's members. It's that simple -- and that outrageous. "We don't underestimate the dealers," O'Connell said. "The franchise dealer system was, at its inception, set up to protect the dealers from manufacturers coming in and competing with them."

Posted by orrinj at 3:14 PM


Welcome to the age of Bush-Obama (JEAN MACKENZIE, 6/07/13, Salon)

The sensational disclosure that the US government's National Security Agency has been scooping up phone and internet records of millions of Americans might have surprised ordinary citizens in Topeka or Milwaukee, but it did little to excite politicians in Washington, DC.

"As far as I know, this is the exact three-month renewal of what has been the case for the past seven years," Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif, said of the news about Verizon telephone and mobile log monitoring.

In an uncommon show of bipartisanship, Georgia Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss supported Feinstein, his colleague on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Posted by orrinj at 5:28 AM


A Small World After All : A new book sheds light on how little of the world we see through our browsers (ASTRA TAYLOR, July/August 2013, BookForum)

The world is complex and interconnected, Zuckerman rightly insists, and the evolution of our communications system from a broadcast model to a networked one has added a new dimension to the mix. The Internet has made us all less dependent on professional journalists and editors for information about the wider world, allowing us to seek out information directly via online search or to receive it from friends through social media. But Zuckerman also contends that this enhanced convenience comes with a considerable risk: that we will be exposed to what we want to know at the expense of what we need to know. While we can find virtual communities that correspond to our every curiosity and kink, there's little pushing us beyond our comfort zones or into the unknown, even if the unknown may have serious implications for our lives. This problem was astutely satirized by a headline in The Onion that went viral after this spring's Boston Marathon bombings: "Study: Majority of Americans Not Informed Enough to Stereotype Chechens." (Meanwhile, in the scarcely distinguishable world outside of news satire, the embassy of the Czech Republic was forced, in the wake of evidence that the attack had been carried out by the ethnic-Chechen Tsarnaev brothers, to release a statement clarifying that "the Czech Republic and Chechnya are two very different entities.") There are things we should probably know more about--like political and religious conflicts in Russia or basic geography. But even if we knew more than we do, there's no guarantee that the knowledge gained would prompt us to act in a particularly admirable fashion.

As the truth embedded in that joke shows, Americans are prone to drastically overestimating just how international they are. Average citizens may be dismayed to learn that most of their clothes are made in China and that their bottled water is shipped all the way from Fiji. They may be convinced that immigration is on the rise or feel like they get plenty of foreign news. Yet Zuckerman challenges the idea that the world has been flattened. Tariffs and subsidies distort supply chains, immigration regulations and patterns are deeply uneven, and the global flow of information across borders is constrained, primarily by our limited "interest and attention." As a consequence, we exist in a state of "imaginary cosmopolitanism," a condition fueled by a cognitive bias that exaggerates encounters with the unusual. Day-to-day homophily--the tendency of like to congregate with like--exerts a stronger influence over us than the desire for novelty or difference. In all aspects of our lives, off-line and on-, we compulsively and mostly unconsciously sort ourselves into groups and niches, reassuring cocoons from which we rarely venture.

To put it another way, parochialism is a symptom of audience empowerment. We search for information we already want or find new things through people we know, and since these people tend to resemble ourselves, a lot happens in the world that we never hear about.

You know someone suffers such parochialism when they deem facts to be tainted because they appear in the NY Times.
Posted by orrinj at 5:22 AM


The Latin Difference (Harold James, 6/05/13, Project Syndicate)

The British economist Walter Bagehot replied at the time that there would probably be two competing world currencies, which he termed Latin and Teutonic. By Teutonic, Bagehot seemed to mean the Protestant world: the United States, recovering from the Civil War, Germany, and Britain. He had no doubt about which vision would win out: "Yearly one nation after another would drop into the union which best suited it; and looking to the commercial activity of the Teutonic races, and the comparative torpor of the Latin races, no doubt the Teutonic money would be most frequently preferred."

The modern tendency to regard economic differences in terms of religion was stimulated by Max Weber's reflections on the Protestant work ethic. But that interpretation is clearly unsatisfactory, and cannot account for the dynamism of the deeply Catholic world of Renaissance Italy and Flanders.

A better way to understand economic differences is to view them as a reflection of alternative institutional and constitutional arrangements. In Europe, that difference stems from two revolutions, one peaceful and wealth-enhancing (1688 in England), and the other violent and destructive (1789 in France).

The past 250 years were just a matter of deciding between the two. The End of History was the decision.

Posted by orrinj at 5:16 AM


Cressida Cowell: my real-life dragon island (Cressida Cowell, 07 Jun 2013, The Telegraph)

When I tell the story of my childhood, it always sounds like I am making it up. I am a children's book writer, after all; making things up is what I do for a living. But I assure you that the Isle of Berk, where the character Hiccup in my How to Train Your Dragon books lives, is a real place (though it isn't called Berk, of course). It is a place where I spent a great deal of my childhood. My father is a keen birdwatcher and a lifelong environmentalist, and although I grew up in London, every holiday was spent on a tiny uninhabited island off the west coast of Scotland.

The island, which has been owned by my father for about 45 years, is so small that when you stood on top of it you could see sea all around you; a tiny little piece of rock and wind and heather in the middle of the stormy and unpredictable Hebridean sea.

There was nothing on the island. The last permanent human inhabitants were said to have been driven away by a plague of rats early in the last century. Though I never saw any rats, there were lots of birds - but no houses, no shops, no electricity, no television. When I was a baby, soon after my father bought the island, my family would be dropped off like castaways by a local boatman, who would pick us up again two weeks later. There was no way of contacting the outside world: no phone connection, no radio contact. I recently asked my father, 'What would have happened if somebody broke a leg or came down with acute food poisoning or something?' He answered, vaguely but triumphantly, 'Well nobody did break a leg, did they?' My father is not the worrying type.

Posted by orrinj at 5:06 AM


Consuming Health-Related News Could Make You Sick (If You Believe It) (Ben Schiller, 6/06/13, Co.Exist)

Telling someone they're going to feel better can result in just that. It's called the placebo effect. And the opposite is true: "nocebo" is when people are told they might get sick, and do. [...]

Which points up the alarming possibility that what we say about illness could lead people to get sick. Might the media, which loves to report on health scares, cause people to feel bad?

That's the conclusion of new research led by Michael Witthöft, at Johannes Gutenberg University, in Germany. While on a research trip in the U.K., Witthöft and a British researcher named James Rubin, recruited 147 adults. They showed half an alarmist TV report about the dangers of Wi-Fi signals. The other half watched a package about the security of online and cellphone data. [...]

"The mere anticipation of possible injury may actually trigger pain or disorders," says Witthöft, in a press release. Most troubling of all, nocebos could become self-fulfilling, the researchers say. Because people believe they're going to get sick, they'll start monitoring themselves more, and become anxious. After a while, that could make them more susceptible.

Sells a heck of a lot of Gluten Free flour.
Posted by orrinj at 5:03 AM


Bible outpaces Fifty Shades of Grey to become surprise hit in Norway (The Telegraph, 06 Jun 2013)

Yet the Bible, printed in a new Norwegian language version, has outpaced Fifty Shades of Grey to become Norway's most popular book, catching the entire country by surprise.

The sudden burst of interest in God's word has also spread to the stage, with a six-hour play called "Bibelen," Norwegian for "the Bible," drawing 16,000 people in a three-month run that recently ended at one of Oslo's most prominent theaters.

Officials of the Lutheran Church of Norway have stopped short of calling it a spiritual awakening, but they see the newfound interest in the Bible as proof that it still resonates in a country where only one percent of the five million residents regularly attends church.

"Thoughts and images from the Bible still have an impact on how we experience reality," said Karl Ove Knausgaard, one of several famous Norwegian authors enlisted to help with the translation.

Scholars explained the runaway success of the Bible by saying that that faith is a deeply personal - and therefore private - matter for Norwegians. As such, "church attendance is a poor measure of the Norwegian state of faith," said post-doctoral fellow Thorgeir Kolshus at the University of Oslo.

Posted by orrinj at 4:55 AM


Samantha Power: I'm a "humanitarian hawk" : The next ambassador to the UN reflects on the need to combat genocide and other human rights abuses (TOM JACOBS, 6/06/13, Pacific Standard)

President Obama nominated Samantha Power to be the next American ambassador to the United Nations on Wednesday. As a journalist, academic, and sometime presidential advisor, she has consistently argued in favor of international action to prevent genocide and other abuses of human rights. She discussed her philosophy--and the role of the U.N.--in a 2008 interview with Miller-McCune magazine, the precursor to Pacific Standard, which we've reproduced below.

June 6, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 5:37 AM


Europe's GM stance denies Africa the right to feed itself, warns leading academic (STEVE CONNOR    MONDAY 03 JUNE 2013, Independent)

A leading African academic has issued a withering attack on the "petty political mischief" of the anti-GM lobby in Europe which has caused Africa to fall behind in the global race to grow genetically modified crops

Professor Calestous Juma, a Kenyan-born expert on sustainable development, warns that vital improvement in food production that could help to feed a rapidly expanding population in Africa is being held back by anti-GM legislation designed to placate environmental activists in Europe.

They're just trying to finish the job that DDT bans started.

Posted by orrinj at 5:29 AM


Darwin's Finches (Priscilla Long, American Scholar)

Then came what became known as the "selection event of 1977." A severe drought. The rainy season brought no rain. Plants dried up. The finches pecked the scorched volcanic earth in a desperate search for seeds. The total number of seeds declined and the available seeds were harder, larger ones that smaller-beaked birds could not crack open. Finches died in droves. On the island Daphne Major, in March 1976, the total number of finches was 1,400. By December 1977, fewer than 300 remained. The survivors were the larger birds with the beaks--both deep and narrow--better able to crack open the hardest seedpods. It was, writes Weiner, "the most intense episode of natural selection ever documented in nature."

Here was natural selection occuring not over the slow eons, as Darwin and his contemporaries and scions assumed it must, but in a few short seasons before the very eyes of the Grants and their co-researchers.

How much bigger were the beaks of the survivors? About one-half a millimeter. Consider that a lentil is an enormous four millimeters wide. To the finches, a half millimeter made the difference between life and death.

Now that they had survived, would these bigger birds be able to pass to their offspring their bigger bodies and bigger beaks?

Yes they would. After survival, sex. After natural selection, sexual selection. A majority of the survivors were male, since during the drought their larger size had given them an advantage. In finch society during breeding season, the male builds a nest and sings. The female chooses her mate.

In the seasons following the great drought, with rain levels back to normal, among G. fortis, the medium ground finch on Daphne Major, the females consistently selected the biggest males with the blackest feathers and the strongest beaks. Over the next few generations, the entire population of G. fortis grew larger, with stronger beaks.

And there you have it. Evolution through natural selection.

Even setting aside the old line that, "No one can tell the finches apart other than the Grants," note how meager the claim is here.  Even Darwinists have stopped pretending that natural selection can produce speciation.

Posted by orrinj at 5:23 AM


Welfare for the Wealthy (Mark Bittman 6/05/13, NY Times)

[Congressman Stephen Fincher, Republican of Tennessee,] is one of the largest recipients of U.S.D.A. farm subsidies in Tennessee history; he raked in $3.48 million in taxpayer cash from 1999 to 2012, $70,574 last year alone. The average SNAP recipient in Tennessee gets $132.20 in food aid a month; Fincher received $193 a day. (You can eat pretty well on that.) 

Fincher is not alone in disgrace, even among his Congressional colleagues, but he makes a lovely poster boy for a policy that steals taxpayer money from the poor and so-called middle class to pay the rich, while propping up a form of agriculture that's unsustainable and poisonous.

Posted by orrinj at 5:19 AM


US shale gas to lead to lower oil prices (Ajay Makan, 6/03/13, Financial Times)

The US shale gas revolution "virtually guarantees" the end of oil's monopoly as a transport fuel paving the way for lower crude prices, according to Ed Morse, the commodities guru at Citi famed for calling the peak of the oil market in 2008.

While coal, natural gas and renewable fuels regularly substitute for each other in power generation, oil has traditionally been immune from price competition because of the lack of widely adopted alternatives to kerosene, diesel and petrol in plane, train and car engines.

But Mr Morse expects the lower gas prices and plentiful supplies unleashed by the US shale revolution to lead to the adoption of compressed natural gas and liquefied natural gas vehicles.

June 5, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 8:47 PM


The Muslim Civil War : Standing by while the Sunnis and Shiites fight it out invites disaster. (BRET STEPHENS, 6/03/2013, WSJ)

Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the prominent Sunni cleric, said Friday that Hezbollah and Iran are "more infidel than Jews and Christians." Coming from the guy who once lauded Hitler for exacting "divine punishment" on the Jews, that really is saying something.

That the war in Syria is sectarian was obvious almost from the start, despite the credulous belief that Bashar Assad ran a nonsectarian regime. That a sectarian ruling minority fighting for its life would not fold easily was obvious within months, despite happy guarantees that the regime's downfall would come within weeks. That a sectarian war in Syria would stir similar religious furies in Iraq and Lebanon was obvious more than a year ago, despite wishful administration thinking that staying out of Syria would contain the war to Syria alone.

What should be obvious today is that we are at the dawn of a much wider Shiite-Sunni war, the one that nearly materialized in Iraq in 2006 but didn't because the U.S. was there, militarily and diplomatically, to stop it.

In a Middle East where the Shi'a were an oppressed majority, we triggered the civil war by insisting on democracy and replacing anti-democratic regimes across the Shi'a Crescent.  

Posted by orrinj at 5:36 AM


Strong demand for electric vehicles leaves supplies short (Jerry Hirsch and Brian Thevenot, Los Angeles Times)

If you've been enticed by the recent spate of cheap lease deals on electric cars, good luck finding one.

Southern California dealers are seeing heavy demand for battery-powered cars, now leasing for as little as $199 a month. Fiat's new 500e has waiting lists even though it hasn't hit dealer lots. And Honda dealers have already sold out of the Fit EV since a $259 lease was announced Thursday.

The reaction revealed pent-up demand for electric vehicles -- as long as the price is right.

Posted by orrinj at 5:24 AM


Global growth: the speedy tiddlers (Kate Allen, 6/04/13, Financial Times)

GDP change, % (2013)
South Sudan32.1
Sierra Leone17.1
The Gambia8.9

source: IMF

Posted by orrinj at 5:17 AM


Reagan's compassionate Medicaid expansion (John Kasich, June 2, 2013, USA Today)'

[H]e also expanded Medicaid, not just once but several times.

For example, in 1986, President Reagan let states add poor children and pregnant women to Medicaid. And a fter learning that disabled children could receive Medicaid care only in hospitals and nursing homes, he let states provide them care at home also. Ohio resisted both expansions for a decade but saw powerful results for some of our most vulnerable citizens once we made them.

Better service, lower cost

Improving the quality of the care Medicaid provides, and giving taxpayers better value for the money they spend on it, have been priorities for me as governor. We've improved health outcomes through better care coordination and also reduced taxpayer spending by $2 billion.

We followed Ronald Reagan's lead and found ways to provide a better service at a lower cost. First, Reagan was fiscally responsible, but he was also pragmatic and compassionate.

That's why I have pushed to move forward with a plan to expand Medicaid while protecting Ohio's economic recovery. Extending health care coverage to 275,000 low-income Ohioans -- including 26,000 veterans -- builds on what we have done. It spares our hospitals the effects of looming cuts in federal funding for uninsured care, prevents additional projected increases in health insurance costs, and gives low-income workers a hand as they move up and into the workforce.

But Ronald Reagan was a New Dealer, not a modernizer.  These Ohioans would be better served by HSAs, where they could build wealth, instead of by coverage for health care they don't need.

Posted by orrinj at 5:14 AM


Prepare For A Personalized, Preventative Health Care Revolution : The rumblings have been there for a while, but the pace of innovation in medicine here and in the developing world is about to increase dramatically. (Ben Schiller, 6/03/13, Co.Exist)

If you were to pick a major industry about to see an incredible amount of change, you might choose health care. Vinod Khosla, the venture capitalist, says technology could replace 80% of what doctors do within 10 years. And you can already see it happening. The burgeoning Quantified Self movement is using cheap sensors and apps to monitor health and moods. In the future, we may not need doctors for routine check-ups: all the information will be there on the smartphone.

A new mini-report from trend-spotting shop, Sparks & Honey, gives a good summation of big picture developments, looking at the implications both for people and the health care industry.

Doctors are being disrupted in a very big way.
The key point is that health care is no longer a specialists' domain. The availability of cheap medical devices, like handheld ultrasounds and mobile eye exam machines, means citizens can take health into their own hands. Embedded sensors, on tattoos and subcutaneous chips, will soon transmit live updates to doctors' tablets.

"Doctors are being disrupted in a very big way," says Sparks & Honey founder Terry Young. "And it's being driven by the fact that traditional types of medical approach, where you go to the doctor and there's one person who knows everything, is shifting rapidly."

Posted by orrinj at 5:11 AM


Professors Are About to Get an Online Education : Georgia Tech's new Internet master's degree in computer science is the future. (ANDY KESSLER, 6/02/13, WSJ)

Anyone who cares about America's shortage of computer-science experts should cheer the recent news out of Georgia Tech. The Atlanta university is making major waves in business and higher education with its May 14 announcement that the college will offer the first online master's degree in computer science--and that the degree can be had for a quarter of the cost of a typical on-campus degree. Many other universities are experimenting with open online courses, or MOOCs, but Georgia Tech's move raises the bar significantly by offering full credit in a graduate program.

It comes just in time. A shortfall of computer-science graduates is a constant refrain in Silicon Valley, and by 2020 some one million high-tech job openings will remain unfilled, according to the Commerce Department.

That's why Georgia Tech's online degree, powered by Udacity, is such a game-changer. For the same $7,000 a year that New York City spends per student on school buses, you can now get a master's from one of the most well-respected programs in the country. Moore's Law says these fees should drop to $1,000 by 2020--a boon for students and for the economy.

Posted by orrinj at 5:03 AM


Really? The Claim: Fresh Produce Has More Nutrients Than Canned (Anahad O'Connor , 5/27/13, NY Times)

[O]ver all, the nutrients in canned fruits and vegetables tend to be relatively stable because they are protected from the deteriorating effects of oxygen, a fact emphasized in an extensive report on the subject published in The Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture by researchers at the University of California, Davis.

"Fresh fruits and vegetables usually lose nutrients more rapidly than canned or frozen products," the researchers wrote. "Losses of nutrients during fresh storage may be more substantial than consumers realize" and may not be reflected on nutrition labels.

Posted by orrinj at 5:01 AM


For Iranian moderates, a glimmer of hope (ELHANAN MILLER June 5, 2013, Times of Israel)

Rivalries within the hardline conservative camp of presidential candidates in Iran may enable a relative moderate to squeeze through to the second round of elections, an Israeli expert on Iran told The Times of Israel on Tuesday. But Iran's supreme leader will not allow a relative moderate to actually win the presidency, another asserted.

None of the hardliners seems inclined to step down. But Hassan Rouhani, a former chief of Iran's Supreme National Security Council and nuclear negotiator, considered the most moderate of Iran's realistic presidential front-runners, may convince another reformist candidate, Mohammed-Reza Aref, to step down. Rouhani could then garner the votes of Iranian reformists upset with the disqualification of veteran politician Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani from the race, said Raz Zimmt, a research fellow at the Alliance Center for Iranian Studies at Tel Aviv University.

Posted by orrinj at 4:56 AM


Israel's new post-Zionists (Naomi Chazan, JUNE 2, 2013, Times of Israel)

Forty-six years after the Six Day War of 1967, the continued Israeli occupation of the West Bank no longer appears temporary. These territories, with the exception of Jerusalem, have not been annexed; they have, however, gradually become an integral - albeit decidedly unequal - part of Israel. A one-state reality is taking shape: one which flies in the face of the democratic and Jewish values of the founders of the state. The present government is the first in the country's history that, by its dedication to making the current situation permanent, is directly contravening the Zionist dream and replacing it with a messianic vision which leaves little room for "the precepts of liberty, justice and peace" or the ideals of "full social and political equality of all...citizens, without distinction of race, creed or sex," embedded in Israel's Declaration of Independence.

The third government of Binyamin Netanyahu, sworn in a few months ago, is also Israel's most avowedly nationalist. Both its composition (it includes all the parties on the right of the political spectrum) and personal make-up underline its ethnocentric orientation. The prime minister's own Likud, virtually devoid of the liberal followers of Jabotinsky (such as Dan Meridor, Benny Begin and Michael Eytan), is now represented by the likes of Moshe Feiglin, Danny Danon, Tzipi Hotobeli and Miri Regev - all declared one-staters. Naftali Bennett and his Jewish Home alliance are committed to the retention of the entire Land of Israel. Even the seemingly moderate Yair Lapid is proving to be a sheep in wolves' clothing. Together, under Netanyahu's guidance, they are systematically demonstrating that Jewish ultra-nationalism and post-Zionism are two sides of the same coin.

Posted by orrinj at 4:53 AM


American Decline? It's Not as Bad as You Think (LAWRENCE CREATURA, June 3, 2013, US News)

[O]ur advantages are not limited to natural resources; U.S. human and capital resources are also strong. With a liberal immigration policy, 99 percent literacy and a relatively young median age of 36.6 years, we have a population ready to work. This significant human resource can be accessed by using America's financial resources: $15.4 trillion of capital is in the U.S. stock market every day, stalking the best ideas.

Most importantly, America has one resource which is scarcer and more valuable than all the rest -- the "secret sauce." If you were in Junior Achievement, they called it entrepreneurship; in the world of high finance, "risk tolerance." You might hear a politician refer to it as "the American Spirit." Simply put, there is a reason to try in America that doesn't exist in most countries. American workers statistically are the most productive per capita laborers in the world because hard work is generally rewarded. You can go from dorm room to mansion with one good idea. A poor Arkansas boy raised by a single parent can become president. A college dropout can become the world's richest man.

Not only do we enjoy the secret sauce, but we have the mechanisms within our society to protect it. Rule of law (there is one lawyer for every 265 Americans), freedom of the press, and Darwin-like criticism of political, social and economic ideas lead the list.

Our comparative positioning relative to other countries is something many pundits overlook. Look at how we stand relative to other nations. How would you like to have Japan's demographics? China's property rights? Russian rule of law? France's labor flexibility? Or consider that our military expenditures equal that of the next 15 nations combined, that our stock market capitalization is bigger by a factor of three than No. 2 Japan, that our GDP is No. 1 by a factor of two, that among high-income countries, we rank third for new business creation. The list goes on ...

Even if the U.S. is stronger than some pundits suggest, isn't it important to focus on a country's growth rate when investing? It is a common belief that in order to get in on the rapid growth occurring in emerging economies, you must invest into their respective stock markets. Over the past seven years, investors removed $613 billion from U.S.-focused funds while simultaneously depositing $300 billion into international funds. Buying stocks of "The Late Great USA" has now become the contrarian position.

But would it surprise you to know that just as the U.S. meets its supposed "Day of Reckoning," the Indian stock market is up 3 percent year-to-date, or the Chinese market is off 25 percent from its October '07 peak? Meanwhile, the Standard & Poor's 500 index has set new record highs and is up 17 percent year-to-date.

June 4, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 9:59 PM


Modern Fingerprints (WSJ, 6/03/13)

Just as police cross-check fingerprints against those recovered at crime scenes, DNA matching can solve cold cases and free innocent people wrongfully convicted. [...]

[T]he limits on DNA use ought to rest with the political branches, rather than via judges expanding the limits on reasonable searches.

The majority opinion is narrow--cops won't be stopping pedestrians for cheek swabs--and leaves plenty of legal space for elected officials to create safeguards for DNA surveillance as modern technology advances. The civil liberties absolutists in an uproar over King ought to engage that political debate instead of trying to change settled criminal law through the courts.

...is that a perpetrator will be linked to a prior crime other than the current one he's a suspect in.  Society has no interest in helping him avoid that scenario.

Posted by orrinj at 9:54 PM


Homebuilders struggle to find workers (Les Christi,  June 3, 2013, CNNMoney)

Sales of new homes are on a tear, but builders can't find enough workers to keep up with the demand.

After the housing bust, many workers left the building trade in droves, said Michael Fink, CEO of Leewood Real Estate Group in Trenton, N.J.

"A lot of our workers are immigrants and they went back to their home countries," he said. "Our subcontractors can't get people; they can't start on time; they can't get things done on time."

The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) reported in March that 46% of its members say they have fallen behind schedule on finishing projects, 15% turned down jobs and 9% lost or canceled sales because they can't find enough workers.

People want jobs, not work.

Posted by orrinj at 5:24 AM



From a historic perspective, the present U.S. homeownership rate, 65.4 percent, does not represent a structural decline from the middle 2000s, as is often argued, but remains consistent with the virtual equilibrium achieved over the past half century. As recently as 1940, only 40 percent of Americans owned their homes, a share that reached 60 percent by 1960s. Since then, it has remained fairly stable. T[...]

The housing bust changed the market, but not because of some fundamental shift in buyer preferences, as is sometimes alleged. Indeed, the recent spike in home sales confirms that Americans continue to aspire to homeownership. Research at the Woodrow Wilson Center indicated that 91 percent of respondents identified it as essential to the American Dream, and most favored steering government policy to spur homeownership.

Much has been written about how the under-30 population is either living at home or cannot buy a house. Yet, surveys by generational chroniclers Morley Winograd and Mike Hais found that a full 82 percent of adult millennials surveyed said it was "important" to own their own home, which rose to 90 percent among married millennials. Another survey, this one by TD Bank, found that 84 percent of renters ages 18-34 intend to purchase a home in the future.

Homeownership achieves almost cultish status among immigrants, who account for some 40 percent of all new owner households over the past decade. Among Asians who entered the country before 1974, a remarkable 81 percent own their home, while Latino homeownership is projected to rise to 61 percent by 2020.

Posted by orrinj at 5:21 AM


The 3 Biggest Losers in a Slashed Defense Budget (DAVID FRANCIS, 6/03/13, The Fiscal Times)

The Pentagon currently has a civilian workforce of some 800,000. Earlier this year, Hagel said that one of the most important parts of DOD budget reduction was to drastically reduce the size of this workforce.

"Despite good efforts and intentions, it is still not clear that every option has been exercised or considered to pare back the world's largest back office," Hagel said in April. He has argued that DOD would save as much as $34 billion per year by shrinking the civilian workforce.

The think tanks involved in the strategic review agree with Hagel's assessment. Their cuts in the civilian workforce range from a loss of 82,000 to 263,000 workers. [...]

Because defense spending has accounted for such a large portion of government spending in recent years, including nearly 20 percent in 2012, the new changes outlined by the think tanks would be felt by not just those connected to the Pentagon, but for all Americans.

And everyone in the large defense policy community is in agreement that these cuts must occur in some way and at some level, meaning that DOD and Congress are likely to draw the same conclusions soon.

It's impossible to justify a peacetime workforce of 500,000+ civilians.

Posted by orrinj at 5:18 AM


Worst backseat drivers are spouses, moms, friends; dads are best, poll says (Ronald D. White, June 3, 2013, LA Times)

Among women in the Insurance.com poll: 34% said husbands were the worst passengers, followed by their mothers (18%) and friends (15%).

Men were even more aggravated by their wives, with 40% citing them as the worst passengers, followed by friends (17%) and mothers. [...]

Who are the least aggravating adults to have as passengers?

Dads, by far.

"Fathers are pegged as the worst passengers by only 5% of drivers," according to the poll results.

June 3, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 3:28 PM


A $4.6 Trillion Opportunity (WSJ, 6/03//13)

Immigrants help ease this demographic problem in three ways. First, most come here between the ages of 18 and 35, near the start of their working years. Second, few come with elderly parents (only about 2.5% of immigrants are over age 65 when they arrive), and the seniors who do come aren't eligible for Social Security because they have no U.S. work history. Third, immigrants tend to have more children than do native-born Americans and their offspring will also pay into the system.

These facts are confirmed in the latest report of the Social Security trustees released last week. They conclude that the program's long-term funding shortfall "decreases with an increase in net immigration because immigration occurs at relatively young ages, thereby increasing the numbers of covered workers earlier than the numbers of beneficiaries."

How big a bonus are we talking about? Enormous. We asked Stephen Goss, Social Security's chief actuary, to estimate the value of the 1.08 million net new legal and illegal immigrants that currently come to the U.S. each year. He calculates that over 25 years the trust fund is enriched in today's dollars by $500 billion and the surplus from immigration mushrooms to $4 trillion over 75 years.

"The numbers get much larger for longer periods," Mr. Goss explains, "because that is when the additional children born to the immigrants really help."

June 2, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 5:08 PM


Solar panels could destroy U.S. utilities, according to U.S. utilities (David Roberts, 4/10/13, Grist)

Solar power and other distributed renewable energy technologies could lay waste to U.S. power utilities and burn the utility business model, which has remained virtually unchanged for a century, to the ground.

That is not wild-eyed hippie talk. It is the assessment of the utilities themselves.

Back in January, the Edison Electric Institute -- the (typically stodgy and backward-looking) trade group of U.S. investor-owned utilities -- released a report [PDF] that, as far as I can tell, went almost entirely without notice in the press. That's a shame. It is one of the most prescient and brutally frank things I've ever read about the power sector. It is a rare thing to hear an industry tell the tale of its own incipient obsolescence. [...]The thing to remember is that it is in a utility's financial interest to generate (or buy) and deliver as much power as possible. The higher the demand, the higher the investments, the higher the utility shareholder profits. In short, all things being equal, utilities want to sell more power. (All things are occasionally not equal, but we'll leave those complications aside for now.)

Now, into this cozy business model enters cheap distributed solar PV, which eats away at it like acid.

First, the power generated by solar panels on residential or commercial roofs is not utility-owned or utility-purchased. From the utility's point of view, every kilowatt-hour of rooftop solar looks like a kilowatt-hour of reduced demand for the utility's product. Not something any business enjoys. (This is the same reason utilities are instinctively hostile to energy efficiency and demand response programs, and why they must be compelled by regulations or subsidies to create them. Utilities don't like reduced demand!)

It's worse than that, though. Solar power peaks at midday, which means it is strongest close to the point of highest electricity use -- "peak load." Problem is, providing power to meet peak load is where utilities make a huge chunk of their money. Peak power is the most expensive power. So when solar panels provide peak power, they aren't just reducing demand, they're reducing demand for the utilities' most valuable product.

But wait. Renewables are limited by the fact they are intermittent, right? "The sun doesn't always shine," etc. Customers will still have to rely on grid power for the most part. Right?

This is a widely held article of faith, but EEI (of all places!) puts it to rest. (In this and all quotes that follow, "DER" means distributed energy resources, which for the most part means solar PV.)

Due to the variable nature of renewable DER, there is a perception that customers will always need to remain on the grid. While we would expect customers to remain on the grid until a fully viable and economic distributed non-variable resource is available, one can imagine a day when battery storage technology or micro turbines could allow customers to be electric grid independent. To put this into perspective, who would have believed 10 years ago that traditional wire line telephone customers could economically "cut the cord?" [Emphasis mine.]

Indeed! Just the other day, Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers said, "If the cost of solar panels keeps coming down, installation costs come down and if they combine solar with battery technology and a power management system, then we have someone just using [the grid] for backup." What happens if a whole bunch of customers start generating their own power and using the grid merely as backup? The EEI report warns of "irreparable damages to revenues and growth prospects" of utilities.

Posted by orrinj at 12:29 PM


Philosophy isn't dead yet : Far from having replaced metaphysics, science is in a mess and needs help. Einstein saw it coming (Raymond Tallis, 5/26/13, The Guardian)

[T]here could not be a worse time for philosophers to surrender the baton of metaphysical inquiry to physicists. Fundamental physics is in a metaphysical mess and needs help. The attempt to reconcile its two big theories, general relativity and quantum mechanics, has stalled for nearly 40 years. Endeavours to unite them, such as string theory, are mathematically ingenious but incomprehensible even to many who work with them. This is well known. A better-kept secret is that at the heart of quantum mechanics is a disturbing paradox - the so-called measurement problem, arising ultimately out of the Uncertainty Principle - which apparently demonstrates that the very measurements that have established and confirmed quantum theory should be impossible. Oxford philosopher of physics David Wallace has argued that this threatens to make quantum mechanics incoherent which can be remedied only by vastly multiplying worlds.

Beyond these domestic problems there is the failure of physics to accommodate conscious beings. The attempt to fit consciousness into the material world, usually by identifying it with activity in the brain, has failed dismally, if only because there is no way of accounting for the fact that certain nerve impulses are supposed to be conscious (of themselves or of the world) while the overwhelming majority (physically essentially the same) are not. In short, physics does not allow for the strange fact that matter reveals itself to material objects (such as physicists).

And then there is the mishandling of time. The physicist Lee Smolin's recent book, Time Reborn, links the crisis in physics with its failure to acknowledge the fundamental reality of time. Physics is predisposed to lose time because its mathematical gaze freezes change. Tensed time, the difference between a remembered or regretted past and an anticipated or feared future, is particularly elusive. This worried Einstein: in a famous conversation, he mourned the fact that the present tense, "now", lay "just outside of the realm of science".

Recent attempts to explain how the universe came out of nothing, which rely on questionable notions such as spontaneous fluctuations in a quantum vacuum, the notion of gravity as negative energy, and the inexplicable free gift of the laws of nature waiting in the wings for the moment of creation, reveal conceptual confusion beneath mathematical sophistication. They demonstrate the urgent need for a radical re-examination of the invisible frameworks within which scientific investigations are conducted. We need to step back from the mathematics to see how we got to where we are now. In short, to un-take much that is taken for granted.

Posted by orrinj at 12:26 PM

Houndmouth On Mountain Stage (Mountain Stage, May 30, 2013, NPR)

The folk band infuses its debut album, From the Hills Below the City, with unexpected doses of garage rock. Hear four songs from the Indiana group, recorded live on the campus of West Virginia Wesleyan College in Buckhannon.

Posted by orrinj at 12:23 PM


As Syrians Fight, Sectarian Strife Infects Mideast (TIM ARANGO, ANNE BARNARD and DURAID ADNAN, 6/01/13, NY Times)

[I]n real terms, Shiite Hezbollah and the Sunni-dominated Al Nusra Front, a radical group allied with Al Qaeda, have emerged as two of the strongest militias in the Syrian civil war.

Both sides have also been willing to tap into sectarian alliances and emotions. With the West hesitant to fully support the opposition, rebels accepted help from Al Qaeda in Iraq, a Sunni militant group, and the reliable pipeline of weapons and cash flowing from extremist Sunni donors to jihadists, whose calls for an Islamic state found support among some Syrians influenced by hard-line clerics in Saudi Arabia.

On Friday, an influential Sunni Islamist cleric in Qatar, Sheik Yusef al-Qaradawi, called on Sunnis around the world to go to Syria to fight Hezbollah and Iran, calling them enemies of Islam.

Alawite militias in Syria have been accused of slaughtering Sunni families. Sunni rebels and gangs have been accused of kidnapping Shiites. Sunni fighters call Shiites "filth" and "dogs." Rebel commanders have begun to refer to Hezbollah, whose name means party of God, as the "party of the devil."

Government supporters call rebels "rats" and paint them with a broad brush as Bedouins and Wahhabis -- a puritanical strain of Sunni Islam from Saudi Arabia. Fadil Mutar, an Iraqi Shiite, said at the funeral of his son, who was killed in Syria, that he died fighting Wahhabis, "those vile people."

Posted by orrinj at 9:50 AM


5 Ways To Fix Social Security (Emily Brandon, 2/18/13, US News)

Here are five potential Social Security changes, and how much of the budget shortfall they would address:

Increase Social Security taxes. Workers currently pay 6.2 percent of their earnings into the Social Security system up to $113,700 in 2013. If that tax rate was gradually increased to 7.2 percent by 2036 it would eliminate just over half (53 percent) of Social Security's deficit. And if workers and employers each paid 7.6 percent, it would eliminate the financing gap. Some 69 percent of Americans support raising their own Social Security taxes by 1 percent, according to a recent National Academy of Social Insurance (NASI) and Mathew Greenwald and Associates online survey of 2,000 Americans ages 21 and older.

Lift the payroll tax cap. Workers currently pay Social Security taxes on up to $113,700 of earned income in 2013. Individuals who earn more than this threshold don't pay Social Security taxes on that income. If this tax cap was gradually eliminated between 2013 and 2022 it would reduce the deficit by 71 percent. And if the tax cap were increased over 5 years to include 90 percent of all earnings (currently about 84 percent of earnings are covered) it would reduce the financing gap by 30 percent. This change would affect the 5 percent of workers whose earnings exceed the cap, and they would receive somewhat higher benefits when they retire. Lifting the payroll tax cap is a popular idea, with 68 percent of Americans supporting the complete elimination of the cap, NASI found.

Raise the retirement age. The full retirement age at which workers can collect unreduced Social Security benefits is currently scheduled to increase to 67 for everyone born in 1960 or later. If the full retirement age was further increased to 68 by 2028 it would reduce benefits by about 7 percent and eliminate 15 percent of Social Security's funding shortfall. If the full retirement age was increased to 70 by 2050 it would reduce benefits by about 21 percent and the deficit by a quarter. Raising the retirement age is an unpopular idea, with only about a third (37 percent) of Americans supporting raising the retirement age to 68 and just over a quarter (28 percent) in favor of increasing the full retirement age to 70.

Means-test. Another potential Social Security change is to reduce or eliminate Social Security benefits for people who have retirement incomes above a certain threshold. For example, if benefits were phased out for retirees with non-Social Security income between $55,000 and $110,000, the deficit would be reduced by 20 percent. 

Conservatives need to explain why personal accounts are a superior idea in themselves, not pretend that the current system faces a significant crisis.

Posted by orrinj at 8:43 AM


The US has more austerity than Europe. So why is America doing OK? (James Pethokoukis | May 17, 2013, AEI Ideas)

So which economy in the world is "suffering" most from austerity? As Capital Economics notes, the combination of US tax hikes and spending cuts means that over the next two years the federal budget deficit is expected to fall by 3.6 percentage points as a share of GDP (3.2 percentage points if you add state and local government).

Credit: Capital Economics

Credit: Capital Economics

As the above chart shows, the forecasted decline will be bigger than the expected falls in Europe. So why is US growth expected to continue to be OK, while EU is suffering a long recession? Capital Economics:

The big difference, though, is that activity in the private sector in the US is growing by more than in Europe. This explains why US GDP rose at an annualised rate of 2.5% in the first quarter (we think it will eventually be revised up to 2.9%) while euro-zone GDP contracted at an annualised rate of 0.9%.

Posted by orrinj at 8:24 AM


Syrian rebels, Hezbollah in deadly fight in Lebanon (REUTERS, 06/02/2013)

Several fighters were killed in an overnight clash between Hezbollah fighters and Syrian rebel forces in Lebanon's eastern border region with Syria, Lebanese security sources said on Sunday. [...]

Guerrillas from Shi'ite Muslim Hezbollah, which supports the Iranian-backed President Bashar Assad, are fighting alongside his army to drive rebels from the Syrian border town of Qusair, while Lebanese Sunni Muslim fighters have joined the anti-Assad revolt.

The latest fighting took place near Ain el-Jaouze in a finger of Lebanese territory which extends into Syria. The sources said the rebels may have been ambushed as they set up rockets to fire into Shi'ite areas of the Bekaa Valley.

Posted by orrinj at 8:14 AM


THE MILLIONS INTERVIEW : Politics, Art, and the Practice of Writing: A Conversation with Orson Scott Card (ALAN LEVINOVITZ,  May 29, 2013, The Millions)

TM: You've long been interested in video games and have even written for some. Recently you expressed frustration with the unreflective and poorly researched blaming of violent video games for social ills. Is there any kind of art you do think is dangerous?

OSC: All art both affirms and critiques the artist's culture and community, whether she intends either outcome or not. Art that negates the strengths of a good community is bad; but art that negates the strengths of a bad community would be good. It gets very complicated, and few people are able to agree on the goodness or badness of any long list of attributes of a culture, or their relative weight. We might say, yes, this that you attack is bad, but not as bad as that, which you do not mention. As if every artist should observe the same things, and share the same values!

Yet that is precisely what many people insist on. They are sure that art they do not like causes harm, while art they enjoy is harmless. They are always partly wrong and partly right. But which part, and to what degree?

We promote freedom of speech and expression precisely so that we can openly disagree about what our culture should be and should value. We vote by admitting certain works to our memory and insisting that our friends also read, listen to, or look at it. Works that are beloved by many have a proportionate effect on the culture; works that are loved by fewer, but with greater intensity, may have an equal or greater effect. It is impossible to measure.

A work may indeed be dangerous, but the counter is not often to censor it, it is to offer an alternative. Yet puritans of one stripe or another invariably insist on censorship. Just as the Puritans of Political Correctness ban any speech by their opponents on most American university campuses merely because they do not agree with them, so also the Puritans of anti-violence would ban videogames merely because they do not enjoy them.

In fact we have actual data about the effects of videogames; even the most harmful are relatively harmless, in terms of any direct cause and effect on real-world violence. Pornography, on the other hand, has been proven to be a rehearsal for real-world acting-out of the scripts thus depicted. Yet the very people who would ban videogames are often the ones most insistent on protecting the freedom of pornographers. Research makes no difference to them; actual facts rarely influence people's visceral decisions.

My problem is that I understand the arguments for and against censorship. There are things that I believe damage society -- pornography among them -- but I'm not absolutely sure that I'm right, or that a ban, if once instituted, would be limited to what I would call "pornography." Once we admit censorship, the definition of the thing censored will always be expanded to include unintended objects.

It is best, in a free society, if one view never absolutely prevails. In a perpetual struggle between freedom and protection, and between this and that set of values, we have our best likelihood of achieving reasonable balances. Alas that we live in a time when no group can stay in business while accepting reasonable balances. You only get donations for extreme positions.

We'd be better off if, instead of banning censorship, we constantly argued about the definitions of what is or is not censorable, with the boundary constantly shifting back and forth. It is when the boundary is moved all the way to one extreme and stays there that we are endangered.

But that is only my opinion. I might be wrong. So even in my absolutely correct moderation I am not sure that I ought to prevail...

...lies in our capacity to maintain that tension between freedom and security, mainly by instituting liberty.

Posted by orrinj at 8:01 AM


An Election Foretold : As expected, Iran's regime has engineered the presidential race (ABBAS MILANI, 5/29/13, New Republic)

One of the most surprising aftershocks of the Rafsanjani elimination was an open letter to Khamenei by Zahra Mostowfi, a daughter of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran. In the letter, she warns about the stark economic and political realities of Iran today, and goes on to claim that "the same day that I heard Imam [Khomeini] approve your name as" a possible successor, "I also heard him mention" Rafsanjani as an equally worthy candidate for the job. Hitherto, Khamenei's main claim to the mantle of Khomeini has been that the latter hand-picked him as the successor. It turns out that Rafsanjani, too, was no less a possible candidate for the job, making his disqualification to run for president appear even more absurd--and further undermining Khamenei's legitimacy. 

In response to these mounting pressures, Khamenei and his IRGC allies have taken a multi-pronged approach. On the one hand, sources representing the conservative ruling coalition deny that Rafsanjani's fitness to serve as president has been rejected. "His fitness was simply not confirmed," these sources claim. Other sources, like the daily Keyhan, the most reliable reflection of Khamenei's views, have suggested that Rafsanjani in fact owes the Guardian Council a debt of gratitude. Reformists and opponents of the regime, Keyhan claims, were planning to use Rafsanjani against the regime, and the rejection of his candidacy saved him from this fate of becoming a puppet of the opposition, and of the U.S. and Israel. (By this logic, the man who is responsible for deciding what is "expedient" for the regime is somehow incapable of deciding what is expedient for himself.) And lest there be any doubt about Khamenei's real source of power, consider his first major appearance after the Guardian Council announced its list of approved candidates: He asked the Iranian people to vote for those who will stand up to the enemy, and said that those who were not allowed to run have nothing but themselves to blame--all while surrounded by IRGC commanders and other military officials. A couple of days later, Iran's police chief--another IRGC commander--announced that 300,000 policemen will be on hand on election day to forcefully abort any attempted demonstrations.

In spite of Khamenei's show of force, there has been increasing criticism of his foreign policies. Rouhani, Rafsanjani's protégé, said that when he and his allies were in charge of nuclear negotiations with the international community, there were no sanctions, Iran's case was not referred to the Security Council, and Western as well as regional presidents and prime ministers were more than eager to negotiate with Iran. Now, he says, Iran is weak and isolated, and more than eager to negotiate with deputies, instead of ministers and heads of state. Though he makes no mention of Khamenei, and offered the criticism ostensibly of his presidential rival, chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, there is no mistaking that the real subject of Rouhani's criticism is not his opponent--a mere cypher--but the IRGC and Khamenei coalition who have controlled Iran's foreign policy for the past eight years.

Unless there is a deus ex machina, Khamenei is unlikely to get the political "epic"--massive voter turnout--he repeatedly says the regime needs and wants. Instead, Iran is more likely to take yet another step toward becoming a Praetorian despotism dominated in every domain--politics, construction, oil, media, even soccer1--by the IRGC. If criticism of Khamenei becomes more routine, the IRGC might easily find it convenient (and profitable) to jettison the clerical veneer of power altogether. Iran's history is full of examples of soldiers who were brought in to protect the Sultan, but eventually decided to become Sultans themselves. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:48 AM


The $2.7 Trillion Medical Bill : Colonoscopies Explain Why U.S. Leads the World in Health Expenditures (ELISABETH ROSENTHAL, June 1, 2013, NY Times)

 Deirdre Yapalater's recent colonoscopy at a surgical center near her home here on Long Island went smoothly: she was whisked from pre-op to an operating room where a gastroenterologist, assisted by an anesthesiologist and a nurse, performed the routine cancer screening procedure in less than an hour. The test, which found nothing worrisome, racked up what is likely her most expensive medical bill of the year: $6,385.

That is fairly typical: in Keene, N.H., Matt Meyer's colonoscopy was billed at $7,563.56. Maggie Christ of Chappaqua, N.Y., received $9,142.84 in bills for the procedure. In Durham, N.C., the charges for Curtiss Devereux came to $19,438, which included a polyp removal. While their insurers negotiated down the price, the final tab for each test was more than $3,500.

"Could that be right?" said Ms. Yapalater, stunned by charges on the statement on her dining room table. Although her insurer covered the procedure and she paid nothing, her health care costs still bite: Her premium payments jumped 10 percent last year, and rising co-payments and deductibles are straining the finances of her middle-class family, with its mission-style house in the suburbs and two S.U.V.'s parked outside. "You keep thinking it's free," she said. "We call it free, but of course it's not."

In many other developed countries, a basic colonoscopy costs just a few hundred dollars and certainly well under $1,000. That chasm in price helps explain why the United States is far and away the world leader in medical spending, even though numerous studies have concluded that Americans do not get better care.

Whether directly from their wallets or through insurance policies, Americans pay more for almost every interaction with the medical system. [...]

Colonoscopies offer a compelling case study. They are the most expensive screening test that healthy Americans routinely undergo -- and often cost more than childbirth or an appendectomy in most other developed countries. Their numbers have increased manyfold over the last 15 years, with data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggesting that more than 10 million people get them each year, adding up to more than $10 billion in annual costs.

Largely an office procedure when widespread screening was first recommended, colonoscopies have moved into surgery centers -- which were created as a step down from costly hospital care but are now often a lucrative step up from doctors' examining rooms -- where they are billed like a quasi operation. They are often prescribed and performed more frequently than medical guidelines recommend.

The high price paid for colonoscopies mostly results not from top-notch patient care, according to interviews with health care experts and economists, but from business plans seeking to maximize revenue; haggling between hospitals and insurers that have no relation to the actual costs of performing the procedure; and lobbying, marketing and turf battles among specialists that increase patient fees.

While several cheaper and less invasive tests to screen for colon cancer are recommended as equally effective by the federal government's expert panel on preventive care -- and are commonly used in other countries -- colonoscopy has become the go-to procedure in the United States. "We've defaulted to by far the most expensive option, without much if any data to support it," said Dr. H. Gilbert Welch, a professor of medicine at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice.

If Ms Yapalater had to spend her own money she would have forgone the wasteful test.
Posted by orrinj at 7:40 AM


Antony to visit Australia to boost military ties (PTI May 26, 2013)

To forge stronger military ties, defence minister AK Antony will be on a four-day visit to Australia where he is expected to discuss cooperation between the navies of the two countries.

In his maiden visit to Australia beginning June 3, Antony would be accompanied by a high-level delegation, including new Defence Secretary Radha Krishna Mathur.

During the visit, the two sides would discuss cooperation in counter terrorism and bilateral naval exercises, Ministry sources said.

Antony is also likely to make stopovers in Singapore and Thailand.

June 1, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 5:54 PM


America's New Foreign Policy Initiative (Sergey Rogov, 4/22/13, RBTH Asia)

National Security Advisor Tom Donilon has said on several occasions that the White House believes a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) could help the U.S. to remedy the situation. It's on this basis that Washington is planning to set up a free trade zone in the Asia-Pacific region. 

If the TTP becomes a reality, the US will account for three-fourths of the partnership's combined GDP. This will ensure American dominance within the new economic alliance.  [...]

The new U.S. strategy, however, is not limited to the Asia-Pacific region. The establishment of the Transatlantic Partnership together with the TTP is also a top priority for Obama's second term. 

As the process of globalization has slowed in recent years because of an inability to overcome disagreements between developed and developing countries, Obama's administration has focused on establishing interrelated regional economic blocks that comprise most developed democracies in North America, Europe and the Asia-Pacific region. The White House hopes to establish the TAP and the TTP before the end of Obama's second term. 

Obama is thus planning to place the United States at the helm of two "rings," two giant regional economic coalitions, the Transatlantic and Trans-Pacific Partnerships, which account today for 20 percent of the world's population, 65 percent of global GDP, and almost 70 percent of global exports. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:41 PM


Last four NHL teams are last four champions (Kevin Allen, 5/31/13, USA TODAY)

The last four Stanley Cup champions -- the Pittsburgh Penguins (2009), Chicago Blackhawks (2010), Boston Bruins (2011) and Los Angeles Kings (2012) -- are the last four teams standing, the first time that has happened since 1945.

"I think it's pretty impressive, knowing the parity in the league and how hard it is to get back there," Bruins coach Claude Julien said.

Posted by orrinj at 9:53 AM


After the Gold Rush  (Nouriel Roubini, Jun. 1, 2013, Project Syndicate)

[G]old performs best when there is a risk of high inflation, as its popularity as a store of value increases. But, despite very aggressive monetary policy by many central banks - successive rounds of "quantitative easing" have doubled, or even tripled, the money supply in most advanced economies - global inflation is actually low and falling further.

The reason is simple: while base money is soaring, the velocity of money has collapsed, with banks hoarding the liquidity in the form of excess reserves. Ongoing private and public debt deleveraging has kept global demand growth below that of supply.

Thus, firms have little pricing power, owing to excess capacity, while workers' bargaining power is low, owing to high unemployment. Moreover, trade unions continue to weaken, while globalization has led to cheap production of labor-intensive goods in China and other emerging markets, depressing the wages and job prospects of unskilled workers in advanced economies.

With little wage inflation, high goods inflation is unlikely. If anything, inflation is now falling further globally as commodity prices adjust downward in response to weak global growth. And gold is following the fall in actual and expected inflation.

While their central bankers certainly deserve credit for their microactions, Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan deserve the lions' share of the credit for three macroactions driving deflation:

(1) In breaking Marxism they liberalized the economies of Europe, Latin America, Asia and Africa.

(2) In breaking the unions they debilitated labor's capacity to drive wages.

(3) In breaking with protectionism and nativism they liberated and accelerated the global movement of people and goods. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:46 AM


Are We at the Electric Car's Tipping Point? : Tesla's making money, sales have doubled, and prices for plug-ins and hybrids are coming down in a big way. Daniel Gross on what may be the green market's Model T moment. (Daniel Gross, 6/01/13, Daily Beast)

"I would build a motorcar for the great multitude."

That's what Henry Ford proclaimed early in his career. Ford, of course, is associated with the democratization of the automobile--the Model T was the first mass-owned car. But Ford started off as a luxury-car maker, making high-tech, impractical, very expensive vehicles for the very rich.

That's how it often goes when new technologies hit the market--they're produced in small batches at a high cost. But as the companies increase production, as unit volumes rise, and as competitors enter the field and innovate further, the cost of the products falls, and falls, and falls again--to the point where the middle class can afford them. That's what happened with the telephone, the car, the television, the personal computer, the mobile phone. A century after the Model T took the nation by storm, could the same process be happening with electric cars?

Posted by orrinj at 7:55 AM


Turkey presents Prophet's sayings for the 21st Century (Tom Heneghan, May 22, 2013, Reuters)

Digests of selected hadiths are nothing new in Islam. Scholars have produced them for centuries to help Muslims learn about the Prophet's sayings without having to navigate through the long and sometimes confusing classical compilations.

What makes this one different is that it selects and explains the hadiths from the perspective of today's Turkey, whose mix of a secular state, dynamic economy and Muslim society has aroused considerable interest in the Middle East since the Arab Spring revolts two years ago.

A senior religious official in Egypt, where traditional Islamic scholars, the ruling Muslim Brotherhood and radical Salafis differ over key issues in the faith, said the hadith collection could bring a new perspective to the debate.

"Among intellectuals in Egypt, there is a welcome for this new interpretation which they think is very important for the Arab world to be exposed to," said Ibrahim Negm, advisor to Egypt's grand mufti, the highest Islamic legal authority there.

The hadith project first attracted attention in 2008 when the BBC called it "a revolutionary reinterpretation of Islam and a controversial and radical modernisation of the religion."

Diyanet, Turkey's top Islamic authority, called this and other reports "entirely wrong" and based on Christian misreading of Islamic practice. Media interest dropped off and the project went ahead, leaving scholars abroad wondering what to expect.

What has emerged is a seven-volume encyclopaedia of what its authors considered the most important hadiths. Grouped according to subjects, they are followed by short essays that explain the sayings in their historical context and what they mean today.

The collection is the first by Turkey's "Ankara School" of theologians who in recent decades have reread Islamic scriptures to extract their timeless religious message from the context of 7th-century Arab culture in which they arose.

Unlike many traditional Muslim scholars, these theologians work in modern university faculties and many have studied abroad to learn how Christians analyse the Bible critically.

They subscribe to what they call "conservative modernity," a Sunni Islam true to the faith's core doctrines but without the strictly literal views that ultra-orthodox Muslims have been promoting in other parts of the Islamic world.

Another illustration of the iron law of unintended consequences.
Posted by orrinj at 7:44 AM


Ready, Fire, Aim : Why the U.S. should have launched an ICBM during the North Korean crisis. (ANDREA BERGER | MAY 28, 2013, Foreign Policy)

At the time of Hagel's directive to stand down, North Korea was threatening to strike U.S. territories and allies with nuclear weapons, and it was taking its mobile-missile launchers for a joyride. During the crisis, the United States intentionally used military maneuvers as deterrence messages to Pyongyang. In response to these moves, such as B-52 overflights of the peninsula, the Kim regime's tantrum grew louder and louder. So it is understandable that the Pentagon would have been eager to avoid having one of its Minuteman launches perpetuate this escalatory spiral.

But, despite the Pentagon's insistence that the routine Minuteman test had nothing to do with North Korea and could therefore be delayed without consequence, the postponement created the opposite impression. [...].

But why not simply postpone the test launch and stay mute? Few outside of the U.S. defense community would have noticed the absence of the launch, and even fewer would have publicly remarked upon it. Delaying forced the Pentagon to explain the situation repeatedly -- problematic when it was insisting that the launch was irrelevant to a particular geostrategic context -- and the rescheduling itself became a news event.

Aside from creating something of a public relations mess, the Minuteman launch may further exacerbate North Korea's inferiority complex. Instead of firing a Musudan intermediate-range missile as many had feared, the only thing North Korea has sent flying so far this year are short-range rockets. Rather anti-climactic. But Pyongyang may feel that pressure is mounting for it to back up its recent threats with a demonstrated, longer-range missile capability or face significantly diminishing returns on its rhetoric. After all, if anything could draw unwarranted attention to -- and belittle -- North Korea's short-range firings, it is having its sworn enemy demonstrate an extremely accurate intercontinental range missile capability immediately thereafter.

...where none of the damage would have been collateral.

Posted by orrinj at 7:39 AM


Washington 'Spends' More on Tax Breaks Than on Medicare, Defense, or Social Security (DEREK THOMPSON, MAY 29 2013, The Atlantic)

Tax expenditures are funny, They're not taxes, exactly, because they save us money. They're not spending, exactly, because the dollars are never actually spent. They're somewhere in between. So think of it as tax spending.  [...]

And as the CBO reports in a new study today, Washington's tax spending budget -- comprised of everything from mortgage deductions to the child tax credit to lower tax rates on capital gains -- is so massive, it's technically larger than Medicare, Defense, or Social Security. The tax spending budget is equal to 1/17th of the US economy.

Posted by orrinj at 7:33 AM


The Rich and Famous at the Farm Bill Trough (Diane Katz, May 29, 2013 , Heritage Foundation)

Congress is considering the renewal of massive agriculture subsidies that proponents characterize as a crucial "safety net" for struggling family farms. In fact, most of the taxpayer support is actually pocketed by the well-to-do, including former President Jimmy Carter, the current Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the families of members currently serving on the House and Senate Agriculture Committees.

Subsidies flowing to the likes of Carter, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, and other relatively wealthy farm owners demonstrate just how incoherent the subsidy regime has become. New legislation in both the House and the Senate would eliminate some long-standing "direct" payments, but both bills would also establish new, potentially more costly revenue and price "protections."

Despite record-high farm income and record-low debt, farm-state politicians and agriculture lobbyists insist that taxpayers continue to forfeit their earnings to highly successful agricultural enterprises such as Carter's Farms, Inc., of Plains, Georgia. According to government data compiled by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), the farm owned by former President Carter and his family collected $272,288 in subsidy payments from 1995 through 2012.

During that same period, Vilsack received $82,874 in USDA benefits for his 592-acre farm in Davis County, Iowa. And USDA Under Secretary Michael T. Scuse owns 20.8 percent of a farm in New Castle County, Delaware, upon which taxpayers have lavished $1,051,107 from 1995 through 2012.

There are no farms in Manhattan, but residents there have collected subsidies totaling nearly $9 million in the past seven years. Recipients also include Mark F. Rockefeller ($356,018) and David Rockefeller ($591,057). Yes, the Rockefeller family (Standard Oil, Chase Manhattan Bank, etc.).

Over on the West Coast, in Beverly Hills 90210, the estate of comedian Jack Benny has collected $18,120 for a farm in Madera County, California, while $142,933 was paid to Mary Ann Mobley (Miss America of 1959) for a farm in Madison County, Mississippi.

These examples are not exceptions but the norm. The USDA's Economic Research Service reports that two-thirds of the farms with income exceeding $1 million annually received government payments averaging $54,745 in 2011. Meanwhile, just 27 percent of farms with income of less than $100,000 received payments--averaging just $4,420 in 2011.

The top recipient of subsidies in the EWG data base is Riceland Foods, Inc., self-described as "the world's largest miller and marketer of rice." It collected $554,343,039 between 1995 and 2012. 
According to news reports, Riceland reported sales of $1.16 billion during 2011-2012, the fifth consecutive year of billion-plus revenues for the company.

The subsidies collected by large enterprises make it more difficult for small farms to stay in business. The flow of free dollars to big farms increases demand for farmland, which, in turn, raises the price of property. Smaller players and newcomers are priced out or left to compete in niche markets.

Posted by orrinj at 7:30 AM


Belief Is the Least Part of Faith (T. M. LUHRMANN, 5/29/13, NY Times)

The role of belief in religion is greatly overstated, as anthropologists have long known. In 1912, Émile Durkheim, one of the founders of modern social science, argued that religion arose as a way for social groups to experience themselves as groups. He thought that when people experienced themselves in social groups they felt bigger than themselves, better, more alive -- and that they identified that aliveness as something supernatural. Religious ideas arose to make sense of this experience of being part of something greater. Durkheim thought that belief was more like a flag than a philosophical position: You don't go to church because you believe in God; rather, you believe in God because you go to church.

In fact, you can argue that religious belief as we now conceptualize it is an entirely modern phenomenon. As the comparative religion scholar Wilfred Cantwell Smith pointed out, when the King James Bible was printed in 1611, "to believe" meant something like "to hold dear." Smith, who died in 2000, once wrote: "The affirmation 'I believe in God' used to mean: 'Given the reality of God as a fact of the universe, I hereby pledge to Him my heart and soul. I committedly opt to live in loyalty to Him. I offer my life to be judged by Him, trusting His mercy.' Today the statement may be taken by some as meaning: 'Given the uncertainty as to whether there be a God or not, as a fact of modern life, I announce that my opinion is yes.' "

To be clear, I am not arguing that belief is not important to Christians. It is obviously important. But secular Americans often think that the most important thing to understand about religion is why people believe in God, because we think that belief precedes action and explains choice. That's part of our folk model of the mind: that belief comes first.

And that was not really what I saw after my years spending time in evangelical churches. I saw that people went to church to experience joy and to learn how to have more of it. These days I find that it is more helpful to think about faith as the questions people choose to focus on, rather than the propositions observers think they must hold.

The universality of faith in America would then explain why we are such a practical people.
Posted by orrinj at 7:26 AM


Israel and Syria, an unstable relationship (PAUL ROGERS, 30 May 2013, Open Democracy)

Israel's long search for impregnable security in the region has in its own view been aided by the stability of neighbouring autocracies. [...]

True, uncertainty in Lebanon (and to a degree over Gaza) remained an exception to the pattern, with Syria's support for Hizbollah a continuing irritation and Israel's failures against that movement in the conflict of 2006 a source of real concern. At the same time, the Assad regime's acceptance of the status quo over the strategically vital Golan heights was a reassurance, and overall - southern Lebanon and Gaza excepted - Israel's immediate position was secure.

Posted by orrinj at 7:24 AM


The other electric vehicle: Pedego's battery-powered bicycle (Peter Pae, May 31, 2013, LA Times)

Like most everyone who has bought a Pedego, I had to get over some sticker shock. The Dutch-style city commuter I rode was nicely built, with top-notch components, but $2,500 for a bicycle? (Other Pedego models range from $2,000 to $3,000.)

But then I started thinking of all the money I could save if I used this thing to commute. I could dump my car -- that's about $3,000 a year in gas, insurance, maintenance and registration, not to mention the lump sum from selling the vehicle. And there's no need for new insurance or a license, as with a scootor.

It's still a bicycle after all, which meant I could cruise the extensive bike trails and lanes in Irvine. And with the electric motor helping me out, hills or headwinds would be a breeze.

It turned out to be a no-brainer. With a combination of pedal-assist and electric throttle, I could go anywhere with ease. 

In pedal-assist, the electric motor adds a little juice to your pedaling. That's handy for a middle-aged man like me who wants to get a little exercise -- or at least pretend to -- without too much exertion. I initially pedaled with the setting at "5" -- meaning the electric motor at full power -- which required little effort beyond moving my legs up and down. After several days, I gradually reduced the setting to "2" and got a little exercise. Now, I sometimes pedal with the motor off completely.

The Pedago costs next to nothing to operate -- about $2.50 a month on my electricity bill. A full recharge takes four to five hours using the regular household AC plug and gives the bike a range of about 25-50 miles depending on weight, terrain, and how much of the electrical power I use. I usually plug in the charger before I go to sleep so Edison charges me a lower night-time rate. 

Bottom line: The bike would pay for itself in about 10 months...

Posted by orrinj at 7:19 AM


'Breakthrough' in Israeli-Palestinian conflict? (CS Monitor, June 1, 2013)

Last week, a few hundred top business leaders in Israel and the Palestinian territories announced an initiative to "send a message" to their respective governments to negotiate a peace deal. Unlike previous grassroots efforts - such as joint schools, camps for children, or meetings of rabbis and imams - this one has scope and prestige. Together, the firms represent about a third of the area's economy and employ tens of thousands of workers. [...]

Businesses often provide a bridge to peace. That was true for South Africa in the 1980s, and perhaps today between Taiwan and China or between North and South Korea. More than 20 years ago, the United States tried to get Arab and Israeli investors to work together. The best model is the post-war alliance between France and Germany to use economic union as a peace driver in Europe.