July 31, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 8:20 PM


National archives: Margaret Thatcher wanted to crush power of trade unions (Alan Travis, 7/31/13, The Guardian)

"We had to fight the enemy without in the Falklands. We always have to be aware of the enemy within, which is much more difficult to fight and more dangerous to liberty," Margaret Thatcher speech to the backbench 1922 committee, July 1984.

The Cabinet papers published under the 30-year rule lay bare the scale of Margaret Thatcher's long-held ambitions to crush the power of Britain's trade unions even before she had won her historic 144-seat majority landslide victory.

The Downing Street papers from 1983 show she told Ferdinand Mount, then head of her policy unit, that she agreed that Norman Tebbit's gradualist approach to trade union reform was too timid and that they should "neglect no opportunity to erode trade union membership".

Posted by orrinj at 8:08 PM


Here come the sub-$1,000 Ultra HD TVs (Consumer Reports, July 29, 2013)

With Ultra HD TV prices falling faster than the NY Mets' playoff hopes, TCL--a TV manufacturer that until recently controlled the RCA TV brand here in the U.S.--will be selling a 50-inch Ultra HD TV in September with a suggested price of $999.

That price hits a new low for an Ultra HD set, at nearly $400 below the current $1,400 selling price of the 50-inch Seiki E50UY04 set. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:47 PM


What Conservatives Shouldn't Be Watching (Jonathan S. Tobin, 07.31.2013, Commentary)

Earlier this week, Politico noted that one prominent conservative activist has gotten into the movie endorsement business. Richard Viguerie, the head of ConservativeHQ.com emailed his supporters to express his delight with "Copperhead" a new film that has yet to go into general commercial release but which is available on demand in some cable systems. It is, he says, the movie "that every conservative needs to see."

"[W]hile Copperhead is about the Civil War, believe me, it will hit close to home for every conservative fighting to preserve our Constitution and our American way of life," Viguerie wrote. "Because Copperhead is about standing up for faith, for America, and for what's right, just like you and I are doing today. In fact, I've never seen a movie with more references to the Constitution, or a movie that better sums up our current fight to stand up for American values and get our nation back on track."

Suffice it to say that if conservatives agreed with Viguerie that would not only be dead wrong it would mark the effective end of the modern conservative movement that William F. Buckley ushered into existence in the 1950s. Anyone who wishes to identify contemporary concerns about the unchecked growth of government with northern opponents of Abraham Lincoln as this dishonest and dreary film does is consigning the movement to certain death.

Not to mention that they are objectively pro-vampire.

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Posted by orrinj at 5:56 PM


McCrory cheers on UNC energy savings (Associated Press, 7/31/13)

Gov. Pat McCrory],  said Friday in a statement that the UNC Board of Governors will save $25 million in taxpayer money over seven years through the installation of energy-efficient lighting fixtures and other efforts.

The agreement will lead to the installation of more than 100,000 energy-efficient lighting fixtures in classrooms, dormitories and other facilities across 13 UNC campuses, UNC TV, the NC Arboretum and the state Department of Commerce Energy Office.

Posted by orrinj at 5:53 PM


Ford will offer natural gas version of popular F-150 pickup truck (Jerry Hirsch, July 31, 2013, LA Times)

Ford Motor Co. plans to start selling its popular F-150 pickup truck with an option of running on natural gas or propane fuel.

Posted by orrinj at 5:49 PM


New data show Great Recession not so bad, recovery a bit stronger (Jim Puzzanghera, July 31, 2013, LA Times)

The Great Recession wasn't quite as bad as previously thought and the recovery since 2009 has been a bit stronger, according to a periodic data recalculation designed to better reflect the economic impact of movies, TV shows and other intellectual property.

The economy contracted an at average annual rate of 2.9% during the recession, which ran from the fourth quarter of 2007 through the second quarter of 2009, compared to the previous estimate of a 3.2% contraction, the Commerce Department said Wednesday.

The economy has expanded since then at an average annual rate of 2.2%, compared to the previous estimate of 2.1%. Growth was significantly stronger in 2012, revised up to 2.8% from the earlier 2.2% estimate.

...few realize it will eventually have been the first recession since the Reagan/Volcker one that vanquished inflation..

Posted by orrinj at 5:38 PM


Mayo Clinic: Same-sex partners must marry to keep benefits (Associated Press, 07/31/2013)

The Mayo Clinic says its Minnesota employees who are in same-sex domestic partnerships will have to get married if they want their partners to remain eligible for health insurance -- now that the state has legalized same-sex marriage.

Posted by orrinj at 5:17 AM


Obama Offers New Deal on Corporate Taxes, Jobs (JOHN D. MCKINNON and COLLEEN MCCAIN NELSON, 7/30/13, WSJ)

A White House proposal to pair a corporate tax overhaul with new domestic spending elevated the contentious issue of tax policy to the fore in budget negotiations and appeared to give a shot of momentum to changes long supported by some of the largest U.S. companies.

The proposal, laid out Tuesday in a speech by President Barack Obama, raised the prospect that corporate taxation would now be high on the list of items under discussion as the White House and congressional Republicans negotiate federal spending levels for next year and the terms for raising the debt ceiling, both of which must be resolved within months.

Mr. Obama, in his speech, offered to work with Congress to overhaul business taxes in exchange for a guarantee that a resulting, one-time revenue gain be used to underwrite new spending on roads and infrastructure and other programs the president said would boost the economy.

The president said he supports the move "as long as we use the money from transitioning to a simpler tax system for a significant investment in creating middle-class jobs," Mr. Obama said in Chattanooga, Tenn. "That's the deal."

Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that corporations exist to generate jobs and that one of the limitations on this job creation is taxation.  In that case, why not just cut out taxes on these job creators altogether?  

Alternatively, and accurately, let us accept that businesses exist for the purposes of creating wealth and that one of the limitations on this wealth creation is taxation targeted at same. In that case, why not just cut out these taxes on wealth creation altogether?  

Instead, replace the entire taxation edifice, for both individuals and corporations, with consumption taxes, which will drive efficiency, savings and investment, rendering even more wealth creation.

Then we can get on to the real quarrel over how to fairly distribute all the wealth American society creates.  

Posted by orrinj at 5:10 AM


Mitch Daniels's Gift to Academic Freedom : His skepticism about the merits of a sacrosanct liberal history textbook has sparked an overdue debate. (BENNO SCHMIDT, 7/30/13, WSJ)

Mr. Daniels falls squarely among the critics. Zinn's history, the then-governor wrote in February 2010, "is a truly execrable, anti-factual piece of disinformation that misstates American history on every page." Then Mr. Daniels asked: "Can someone assure me that it is not in use anywhere in Indiana? If it is, how do we get rid of it before any more young people are force-fed a totally false version of our history?"

Did Mr. Daniels--the future university president--violate academic freedom with his outburst? A July 22 open letter signed by 90 Purdue professors suggested as much, saying the teachers were "troubled" by his actions, in particular by his continuing to criticize Zinn's book after taking over at the university. Demanding retaliatory funding cuts or preventing college faculty from teaching or publishing certain ideas would have amounted to such a violation. It appears Mr. Daniels, either as governor or as Purdue president, did none of these. In his emails, he aired his unhappiness with Zinn's account of American history, but there is currently no evidence that anything was done by him or his staff to act upon his heated remarks. [...]

Inquiries of this sort about teaching materials are not unusual in the life of a university president. Presidents take such inquiries seriously and follow up to make sure that the curriculum and materials are of the highest quality. Public scrutiny helps institutions fulfill their mission. It rightly keeps institutions on their toes.

Academic freedom is faculty's freedom to teach. But, more important, it is also students' freedom to learn. It is, as University of Wisconsin Prof. Donald Downs writes in the American Council of Trustees and Alumni guidebook, "Free to Teach, Free to Learn": "the right to pursue the truth in scholarship and teaching, and to enjoy authority regarding such academic matters as the nature of the curriculum, [and] faculty governance." At the same time, it is "maintaining respect for the truth (which means avoiding bias in its various forms), exercising professional and fair judgment, and maintaining professional competence."

In other words: Academic freedom is a right and a responsibility. In recent times, the academy has too often been focused on rights and privileges rather than responsibility and accountability.

July 30, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 7:40 PM


Hispanic win: 'California can be Republican again' (Ralph Z. Hallow-The Washington Times )

According to the logic of politics, Leticia Perez should have handily won the heavily Democratic and Hispanic district in California's central valley, and her failure to do so has Republicans eager to develop a victory template for struggling GOP candidates elsewhere in the deep-blue state and across the country.

Fresno cherry farmer and cattle rancher Andy Vidak, who is fluent in Spanish, said he captured the state Senate seat in last week's closely watched runoff vote by connecting with Hispanic voters with a "common-sense" approach that focused on job creation, affordable energy and opposition to big government. He even cooked menudo, a cow-stomach soup and a Mexican favorite, at a Hispanic Chamber of Commerce event at the Bakersfield fairgrounds where 10,000 Hispanics turned out.

He got a big assist from other GOP officeholders and hundreds of Spanish-speaking Republican volunteers going door to door, making pitches in Spanish where necessary in the 60 percent Hispanic district. Mr. Vidak also managed to create a little political daylight from hard-liners in his party on the issue of eventually granting citizenship to illegal immigrants.

Posted by orrinj at 7:36 PM


Overtested Americans: When cancer isn't cancer at all (Jacque Wilson and Amanda Enayati, 7/30/13, CNN)

The patient slammed his fist on the table in Dr. Otis Brawley's office.

"Dammit, I'm American," Brawley remembers him saying. "You can't tell me I have prostate cancer and that we're just going to 'watch it.'"

Brawley is the chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society, a world-renowned cancer expert and practicing oncologist. If you're going to get someone's opinion on a cancer diagnosis or course of treatment, he's a good choice. And in this case, he was recommending no treatment.

It's a scenario that may happen more as science reveals cancer's secrets, the biggest one being that what we now call cancer maybe shouldn't be called cancer at all.

"The word 'cancer' often invokes the specter of an inexorably lethal process," a working group for the National Cancer Institute wrote in a recent recommendation. "However, cancers are heterogeneous and can follow multiple paths, not all of which progress to metastases and death."

Basically, cancer is scary, but some kinds may be more boogeyman-in-the-closet scary than serial killer scary. [...]

We all harbor abnormalities, says H. Gilbert Welch, Dartmouth professor of medicine and author of the book "Overdiagnosed: Making People Sick in the Pursuit of Health." And new technology is increasingly able to find these abnormalities. When we do, our inclination is to act, even when the remedy turns out to be far more harmful than the disease would have been, had it run its course.

There is a growing consensus, backed by mounting scientific evidence, that Americans tend to be overtested, overdiagnosed and overtreated across a variety of conditions. Some experts estimate that unnecessary interventions account for 10% to 30% of U.S. health care spending.

Posted by orrinj at 3:46 PM


Wisconsin a model for country, Scott Walker says ( Isaac Stanley-Becker, 7/29/13, The Journal Sentinel)

Detroit would not be bankrupt and Chicago public schools would be flourishing if those cities operated under Wisconsin's public union laws, Gov. Scott Walker said Monday in what amounted to a national stump speech -- and came days before he hosts the National Governors Association conference in Milwaukee.

Walker likened his public union philosophy to that of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

"The position I pushed is not unlike the principle that Franklin Delano Roosevelt -- not exactly a conservative -- pushed as well when it came to public sector collective bargaining," Walker remarked at the annual Governmental Research Association policy conference. "He felt that there wasn't a need in the public sector to have collective bargaining because the government is the people. We are the people. And so what we've done is to be able to empower our great employees, to affirm them." [...]

Walker said Wisconsin was able to turn a $3 billion deficit at the time he took office into a $75 million surplus as of June 30 by passing legislation that repealed most collective bargaining for most public employees. In addition, the law required most public employees to pay more for their pension and health care benefits.

Posted by orrinj at 5:27 AM


If Facebook Can Profit from Your Data, Why Can't You? : Reputation.com says it's ready to unveil a place where people can offer personal information to marketers in return for discounts and other perks. (Tom Simonite, July 30, 2013, MIT Technology Review)

It has become the Internet's defining business model: free online services make their money by feeding on all the personal data generated by their users. Think Facebook, Google, and LinkedIn, and how they serve targeted ads based on your preferences and interests, or make deals to share collected data with other companies (see "What Facebook Knows").

Before the end of this year, Web users should be able to take a more active role in monetizing their personal data. Michael Fertik, cofounder and CEO of startup Reputation.com, says his company will launch a feature that lets users share certain personal information with other companies in return for discounts or other perks. [...]

"The basic business model of the Internet today is that we're going to take your data without your knowledge and permission and give it to people that you can't identify for purposes you'll never know," says Fertik.

Fertik says he has spoken with a range of large companies and their marketers who are interested in his impending "consumer data vault," as the new feature is called. He won't yet give specifics about what data people will be able to trade, or what for, but he did tell MIT Technology Review that major airlines like the idea. "All of the airlines we talked to would like to be able to extend provisional platinum status to certain types of fliers to get some kind of loyalty," he says. "It's very hard for airlines to gain a sense of who is worth [it] today."

Posted by orrinj at 5:24 AM


What's Behind the New Chinese Crackdown? (Li Xiaorong, 7/29/13, NY Review of Books)

While the rationale for the current crackdown remains unclear, what all the detained activists seem to have in common is that they are accused of organizing actions that would take place not just in cyberspace but in the physical space of city streets. Chinese leaders always see such public campaigns as an open challenge to their control. They fear that activists are seeking to take China's rising number of local protests about social and economic problems to another level--turning it into a political movement that could challenge the authoritarian regime.

Several more clues about the detentions can be gleaned from what lawyers and supporters of the activists have said about the police interrogations the activists have been submitted to. The goals of the police, according to these reports, have clearly been to find "behind-the-scenes organizers," to identify "sources of funding," and to challenge the legality of acting in groups. Police told one activist that he was detained for his "illegal organization." But "we were only applying for a legal permit. How could that be a crime?" replied the activist. Another activist, who was detained for "gathering crowds to disrupt public order" asked her interrogators, "How could I have gathered any crowds or disrupt any public order while I was asleep?" The police explained: You joined others in organizing a rally at a trade show in Beijing.

Across China, there are now hundreds of thousands of spontaneous local demonstrations against layoffs, unpaid salaries, land grabbing, and pollution each year. The Chinese government has been unable or unwilling to suppress all of them, but it is determined to prevent the politicizing of these protests through the increasing involvement of rights activists and political dissidents, who live under close police surveillance but pursue their causes largely online. [...]

The crackdown poses a further challenge to the Obama administration as it confronts the many human rights violations in China. The Chinese government has already taken advantage of the US's awkward situation because of the Snowden affair. It has been more defiant when the US criticizes the Chinese government's behavior toward its citizens. But the recent detentions in China are a disturbing reminder that the new leaders are walking the old road of abusing the basic rights that the government grants its citizens on paper. If the US does not take up these issues at this week's bilateral human rights talk, it will be vulnerable to the criticism that these "dialogues" are empty exercises. In Kunming, the US should identify some concrete steps for progress. Persuading the Chinese government to release prisoners of conscience, including the recently detained civil-society organizers, should be among them.

Posted by orrinj at 5:19 AM


'An Anxious Continent': Walter Laqueur on Europe's Decline : British-American historian Walter Laqueur experienced the demise of the old Europe and the rise of the new. In a SPIEGEL interview, he shares his gloomy forecast for a European Union gripped by debt crisis. (Der Spiegel, 7/30/13)

SPIEGEL: Why shouldn't the EU be able to be a champion of soft power?

Laqueur: Freedom, human rights, social justice are all wonderful, and I don't want to minimize the achievements of European societies. But a role model? Europe is much too weak to play a civilizing or moral role in world politics. Nice speeches and well-intentioned admonitions carry little weight when made from a position of weakness. In fact, all they do is aggravate China and Russia. Such reproofs are presumptuous, insincere and, unfortunately, often ridiculous. Under the current circumstances, Europe would be well advised to keep a lower profile.

SPIEGEL: That's the kind of advice that another eminence grise (former German Chancellor) Helmut Schmidt, likes to dispense.

Laqueur: I'm afraid that Europe has largely squandered its moral credit. It shies away from imposing sanctions; it has a very hard time intervening in crises outside Europe; and it has even demonstrated its general impotence in wars in its own backyard. Most European governments, not least the German government, don't even have the guts to admit that they are playing a double game. [...]

SPIEGEL: You seem to advocate a sort of liberal imperialism, which seems self-contradictory. No one believes the United States when it takes that approach, either.

Laqueur: That is, in fact, an unnecessarily provocative concept, which doesn't embody a realistic policy, either. An approach to international politics that involves two different codes of rules, values and standards doesn't just constitute discrimination, but also requires a cold-blooded decisiveness that Europe lacks. Europe is often motivated by fear, which both the bullies and those who need help recognize.

SPIEGEL: Nevertheless, the EU would be extremely welcome as a player in the global game in many parts of the world.

Laqueur: Certainly, but the European crisis is not primarily just a debt crisis. The real question is: Does Europe, in its apathy, even want to play a role in global politics? Arthur Schopenhauer, the great philosopher of pessimism, said that it's easy to want, but that "wanting to want" is virtually impossible. No matter how often European values are invoked and praised, a weak will, inertia, fatigue, self-doubt and lack of self-confidence all amount to the psychological diagnosis of a weak ego.

July 29, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 6:49 PM


The Myth of Authoritarian Stability (Max Boot, 07.29.2013, Commentary)

For years American presidents gave a blank check to Hosni Mubarak in Egypt. The only attempt to pressure him into making any meaningful political reforms occurred during President George W. Bush's first term in office and was abandoned in the second term when then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reasserted a traditional stability-above-all foreign policy that was continued by President Obama during his first two years in office. We know where that got us: to a revolution in 2011 which overthrew Mubarak and led to the election of a Muslim Brotherhood regime bent on consolidating power at all costs, the Brotherhood being the best-organized opposition group in the entire country. Now that Brotherhood government, too, has been overthrown and Egypt stands on the brink of civil war.

There is a lesson here in our relations with other dictatorial Middle Eastern states: Washington needs to push them to provide an opening to the moderate opposition and gradually transform in a democratic direction as the Philippines, Taiwan, and South Korea did in the 1980s. Simply clamping down harder is only a recipe for creating a bigger explosion later.

Yet that is precisely what Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and other Gulf states are doing, emboldened by the overthrow of the Brotherhood government in Egypt with what is seen, rightly or wrongly, as the connivance of the West. The Wall Street Journal reports that the Saudi crackdown extends not only to Muslim Brothers and other Sunni fundamentalists but also to Shiite protesters and, most worrisome of all, to more liberal demonstrators such as the women petitioning for the right to drive.

Egypt restores feared secret police units (Patrick Kingsley, 7/29/13, The Guardian)

Egypt's interim government was accused of attempting to return the country to the Mubarak era on Monday, after the country's interior ministry announced the resurrection of several controversial police units that were nominally shut down following the country's 2011 uprising and the interim prime minister was given the power to place the country in a state of emergency.

Egypt's state security investigations service, Mabahith Amn ad-Dawla, a wing of the police force under President Mubarak, and a symbol of police oppression, was supposedly closed in March 2011 - along with several units within it that investigated Islamist groups and opposition activists. The new national security service (NSS) was established in its place.

But following Saturday's massacre of at least 83 Islamists, interior minister Mohamed Ibrahim announced the reinstatement of the units, and referred to the NSS by its old name. He added that experienced police officers sidelined in the aftermath of the 2011 revolution would be brought back into the fold.

Posted by orrinj at 6:46 PM


Dark Age Politics : Energy Austerity A Return to Feudalism (Michael Lind, 7/26/13, The Breakthrough)

[O]ur hard-won knowledge of human nature forbids you to imagine that a neo-agrarian economy will be organized along the lines of the pleasant village socialism imagined by William Morris in his utopian novel News from Nowhere (1890). Sorry, but you can't have Dark Age economics without Dark Age politics, including feuds, plunder, and rape by the post-industrial equivalents of Homeric warlords or Viking chieftains.  

The ultimate dystopian nightmare would be the delusory utopia of many Greens - a world in which biomass once again became the major source of energy for heating, cooking, and industrial processes like smelting. Farms and forests once again would become the equivalent of oil and gas wells and objects of brutal competition within nations as well as among nations. Except where small societies of armed yeoman farmers could preserve their independence in mountains or on islands, brutal elites would control farmland and farmers alike.

In a neo-agrarian, photosynthesis-based economy, the modern idea of democratic national self-determination would go out the window and imperialism and colonialism would revive. In the post-industrial future, as in the pre-industrial past, it would pay to wage zero-sum wars to control rich farmland that could support large numbers of tribute-paying peasants, slaves, draft animals, and livestock. 

Peaceful, consensual back-to-nature communes, along with small, labor-intensive countercultural farms, are luxuries that can be afforded by well-policed, urban industrial societies with mechanized agriculture and manufacturing powered by cheap and abundant energy. If we return to a Malthusian economy, its political corollary is less likely to resemble the Shire in Tolkein's Lord of the Rings than the anarchic, feudal Westeros of George R. R. Martin's Game of Thrones.  

Posted by orrinj at 6:39 PM


The U.S. Economy Is About to Get 3 Percent Bigger (JASON LANGE, 7/29/13, Reuters)

As many a former factory worker can attest, U.S. companies have invested so heavily in technology that some plants now practically run themselves.

So it is rather odd that official data suggests American businesses for decades have been growing less aggressive at investing in their operations.

This apparent contradiction helps illustrate a rethinking under way on how to measure economic output, a discussion that is leading to an overhaul of government data this week that will show the U.S. economy is a bit larger than previously thought. [...]

This will change on Wednesday when the Commerce Department releases decades of revised data that will include R&D as a category of investment. Under the new framework, R&D added about $300 billion to GDP in 2010.

Posted by orrinj at 5:30 AM


Federal Reserve 'Doves' Beat 'Hawks' in Economic Prognosticating (JON HILSENRATH and KRISTINA PETERSON, 7/29/13, WSJ)

Predicting the direction of the U.S. economy with precision is impossible. But the Fed must forecast growth, inflation and unemployment to guide its decisions on interest rates. Central bank miscalculations--when the Fed pushed interest rates too low or too high--have historically turned problems into catastrophes, fueling the Great Depression, for example, and the wealth-eroding inflation of the 1970s.

The Wall Street Journal examined more than 700 predictions made between 2009 and 2012 in speeches and congressional testimony by 14 Fed policy makers--and scored the predictions on growth, jobs and inflation.

The most accurate forecasts overall came from Ms. Yellen, now the Fed's vice chair. She was joined in the high scores by other Fed "doves," policy makers who wanted aggressively easy money policies to confront a weak U.S. economy and low inflation. Collectively, they supported Fed Chairmen Ben Bernanke's strategy to pump money into the U.S. economy.

The least accurate forecasts came from central bank "hawks," those who feared Fed policies would trigger rising inflation.

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Posted by orrinj at 5:16 AM


Are there too many managers? : Once upon a time there were only workers and owners, but then the age of the manager dawned (Lucy Kellaway. 7/29/13, BBC Magazine)

There are five million managers in the UK today, 10 times as many as there were 100 years ago. [...]

And yet we were able to get through the industrial revolution without having any "masters of business administration" at all. No-one thought of management then - the very word manager wasn't widely applied to business until the 20th Century.

"There's an earlier set of meanings of management, one is to do with managing the household, from the French word menager," says Chris Grey, professor of organisation studies at Royal Holloway University.

"But it also has a meaning, in popular early 19th Century culture, of dishonesty. A manager was someone who will run off with your money. 

Some things never change.

July 28, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 9:43 AM


An online college revolution is coming (Danielle Allen, July 26, 2013, Washington Post)

The range of subjects that might become available to everyone through MOOCs is potentially as broad as the array of specialties represented throughout the professoriate at all institutions. Already some of the most successful MOOCs involve not science and technology but rather Greek mythology and modern poetry.

The hard work involved in creating high-quality opportunities for interactive learning online is generating important pedagogic payoffs. To create a good MOOC, the faculty member and support staff need to understand how people learn. A body of scholarly literature called "learning theory" has explored this for some time, and the world of MOOCs draws heavily on that research. What's more, the data generated by students' participation in MOOCs promise to dramatically expand our capacity to understand diverse learning styles and to tailor pedagogy to the individual student.

These features show the limits of educational institutions as they presently exist.

No commodity is resistant to global deflationary pressures and everything has been commodified.

Posted by orrinj at 9:37 AM


The greatest food in human history : In terms of cost-per-calorie, no locavore, organic veggie can compete with the McDouble (KYLE SMITH, July 28, 2013, NY Post)

What is "the cheapest, most nutritious and bountiful food that has ever existed in human history" Hint: It has 390 calories. It contains 23g, or half a daily serving, of protein, plus 7% of daily fiber, 20% of daily calcium and so on.

Also, you can get it in 14,000 locations in the US and it usually costs $1. Presenting one of the unsung wonders of modern life, the McDonald's McDouble cheeseburger.

The argument above was made by a commenter on the Freakonomics blog run by economics writer Stephen Dubner and professor Steven Leavitt, who co-wrote the million-selling books on the hidden side of everything.

Dubner mischievously built an episode of his highly amusing weekly podcast around the debate. Many huffy back-to-the-earth types wrote in to suggest the alternative meal of boiled lentils. Great idea. Now go open a restaurant called McBoiled Lentils and see how many customers line up.

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Posted by orrinj at 9:33 AM


Rapper's force-feeding video doesn't impress US medics at Guantanamo Bay (Malaysia Insider, July 28, 2013)

A video protesting force-feeding at Guantanamo Bay detention camp in which rapper Mos Def is seen struggling and weeping while undergoing the procedure has done the rounds at the Navy base. US medics who perform the real thing on hunger-striking prisoners say they're not impressed.

"It's ridiculous. It's 100 percent false," said a Navy nurse known as "Ensign Lodowick" at the detainee hospital where real names are protected for security reasons. [...]

In reality, the medics said, detainees are strapped down at the legs, waist and hands by guards, but their heads are not restrained. The slender, flexible feeding tubes are lubricated with olive oil or a pain-numbing lidocaine gel and some of the prisoners help out by swallowing them down into place. None has vomited or cried, the medics said.

Army Sergeant 1st Class Vernon Branson, a watch commander at one of the prisons, said one of his fellow guards underwent a tube-feeding to see what it was like.

"My soldier took it like a champ. He was laughing and talking the whole time," Branson said.

Branson said he used to be a Mos Def fan but the video changed that. "I deleted his music off my iPod. I was a little upset about it," he said.

The nurses said the tube-feeding procedure at Guantanamo is identical to that they have used on sailors and their families at military hospitals in the United States when patients can't take solids due to illness.

July 27, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 2:35 PM


The Disposable Man: A Western History of Sherpas on Everest : For more than a century, Western climbers have hired Nepal's Sherpas to do the most dangerous work on Mount Everest. It's a lucrative way of life in a poor region, but no service industry in the world so frequently kills and maims its workers for the benefit of paying clients. As Grayson Schaffer reports, the dead are often forgotten, and their families left with nothing but ghosts. (Grayson Schaffer, August 2013, Outside)

AHEAD OF THE tragic 1996 Everest climbing season, the infamous subject of Into Thin Air, ill-fated American guide Scott Fischer told writer Jon Krakauer, "We've built a yellow brick road to the summit." He was referring to the miles of ropes that are now annually set along most of the South Col route between Base Camp and 29,035 feet. More accurately, however, it's Sherpas who do the construction and, all too often, become its casualties. As a result of their work fixing lines, shuttling supplies, and escorting paid clients to the summit of Everest and dozens of other Himalayan peaks, Sherpas are exposed to the worst dangers on the mountain--rockfall, crevasses, frostbite, exhaustion, and, due to the blood-thickening effects of altitude, clots and strokes.

The spring of 2013 provided another devastating string of tragedies that illustrate how dangerous it is to work on Everest. On April 7, Mingma, 45, one of the legendary Icefall Doctors responsible for securing the route through the Khumbu Icefall for all of the teams on the mountain, fell into a crevasse near Camp II. On May 5, International Mountain Guides co-owner Eric Simonson wrote that his team had also "lost a member of our Sherpa family." DaRita, 37, was at Camp III when he felt dizzy--likely "a sudden cardiac or cerebral event"--and soon died. Three days later, 22-year-old Lobsang, who was returning from Camp III for Seven Summit Treks, fell into a crevasse and perished. And on May 16, Namgyal, working for Explore Himalaya, succumbed to an apparent heart attack after summiting for the tenth time.

According to the Himalayan Database, which keeps track of such things, 174 climbing Sherpas have died while working in the mountains in Nepal--15 in the past decade on Everest alone (see sidebar for a country-by-country comparison). During that time, at least as many Sherpas were disabled by rockfall, frostbite, and altitude-related illnesses like stroke and edema. A Sherpa working above Base Camp on Everest is nearly ten times more likely to die than a commercial fisherman--the profession the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rates as the most dangerous nonmilitary job in the U.S.--and more than three and a half times as likely to perish than an infantryman during the first four years of the Iraq war. As a dice roll for someone paying to reach the summit, the dangers of climbing can perhaps be rationalized. But as a workplace safety statistic, 1.2 percent mortality is outrageous. There's no other service industry in the world that so frequently kills and maims its workers for the benefit of paying clients.

The result is that in Kathmandu and in villages across the Khumbu region, dependents are left without breadwinners or, in the case of serious injury, forced to choose between supporting or abandoning a disabled husband. Take, for example, two climbing Sherpas struggling with post-stroke paralysis: Ang Temba, 54, and Lhakpa Gyalzen, 65. Ang Temba suffered his first stroke high on Everest's north side while working for a Japanese team in 2006. His wife, Furba, 48, who cares for him at their home in Kathmandu, recalled the stern warning of the Japanese doctor who examined him in Base Camp following his rescue: "He said don't go mountaineering." But the next year, after making a relatively quick recovery, Ang Temba was offered a job working on Everest for Kathmandu-based Asian Trekking. "There is no option other than mountaineering," said Furba, illustrating the choice that so many Sherpas are faced with. "If he'd agreed with the Japanese doctor, then he would not be in this situation right now. It was a bad decision."

Shortly after Ang Temba returned from the mountain in 2007, Furba found him unconscious on the couch. His right side is now paralyzed, and he can't speak. "It's more difficult than looking after the kids," Furba said. "He goes to the toilet in a bedpan." Still, Ang Temba is relatively lucky: Furba stayed with him and managed to collect roughly $5,500 when, after more than a year of wrangling, his employer's insurer agreed that his disablement was complete, unrecoverable, and work related.

Lhakpa Gyalzen, who was climbing for a Chinese expedition in 2000 when he suffered a stroke, wasn't so fortunate. Though he can still get around with a cane and has limited speech, his wife and kids have moved away. One evening last October, I went to visit him in Phortse, just 15 miles downhill from Everest. Lhakpa Gyalzen wasn't home when I arrived, but when I returned the next morning he was in bed, eating a large plate of white rice that he'd cooked. The previous night, he explained, he'd fallen off the trail while limping down to the river--a 20-minute walk for a fit hiker--to cut bamboo for a religious ceremony. Unable to get up, he'd lain there for most of the night and then dragged himself home in the morning. "Very cold. Very hungry," he said of his night out in the bushes.

Lhakpa Gyalzen was at 27,000 feet when he had his stroke. Immobilized, he slept there for two nights before the Chinese expedition sent some of the team's Sherpas to retrieve him. When he got off the mountain, he had to pay for his own care. "The Chinese expedition didn't pay any expense at the hospital," he said. "All the expenses were done by my personal. Food, medicine, everything."

CASES LIKE THESE unfold each year in relative obscurity. After a Sherpa dies on Everest, there are always heartfelt tributes from Western climbers. "The Sherpa[s] are the heroes of the Himalayas," wrote a team from the U.S. Air Force earlier this spring after the death of Icefall Doctor Mingma. In most cases, there's a government-mandated insurance payment of roughly $4,600, covered by policies taken out by the in-country trekking agents who arrange foreign outfitters' on-the-ground logistics. And if the Sherpa was well known or worked for a top outfitter, there might be a hat passed around for donations, as was done last year after Himalayan Experience Sherpa Dawa Tenzing died of a stroke he suffered at Camp I. Professional climber Conrad Anker walked with HimEx owner Russell Brice to Phortse to deliver roughly $600 to Dawa Tenzing's widow, Jangmu, who works as a farmer. (Brice, who has built a reputation for treating his Sherpa workforce well, said he "did much more" but would not elaborate for this story.)

Still, Western outfitters, guides, and their clients rarely witness the true fallout from a Sherpa death. In October 2010, when Chhewang Nima died, Melissa Arnot had to confront the realities firsthand. After searching for his body by air, Arnot and Nima Gyalzen helicoptered directly to Chhewang's village of Thamo, landing in a potato patch behind the Tashi Delek, a small teahouse and guest lodge Chhewang had built with his earnings. By then, news had already reached the family.

"From outside I could hear the wailing," recalls Arnot. "Like nothing I'd ever heard." She entered the teahouse and found Chhewang's widow, Lhamu Chhiki, and her boys, Ang Gyaltzen and Lhakpa Tenzing, then 14 and 12, in the kitchen. "I got on my knees in front of her and said I'm sorry. And a lama came and took me out of there and said, 'You can't be in here now, you have to go.' "

The scene Arnot was witnessing is one that has been repeated throughout the Himalayas since 1895, the year a British expedition first hired two locals to help them attempt Pakistan's 26,660-foot Nanga Parbat. Both died on the mountain. Twenty-seven years later, during George Mallory's 1922 assault on Everest, an avalanche tore through a rope team and killed seven Sherpas. In 1935, Everest pioneer Tenzing Norgay secured his first portering job in large part because six of the most experienced Sherpas had died the previous year on Nanga Parbat. In those early years of exploration, casualties were accepted as an unfortunate price of conquest. The question is whether, in 2013, the summit of Everest is still worth this kind of banal and predictable human sacrifice.

Posted by orrinj at 11:31 AM


3-D printers are beginning to make an impression (Shan Li, July 27, 2013, LA Times)

The technology has long been used in the aerospace and automotive industries, among others, to create prototypes, but has slowly crept into the consumer market with simplified printers that can be had for a few hundred or thousand dollars.

"You can make so many things with them," Porqueras said. "People who have businesses buy them for making prototypes. Parents buy them to make toys for their kids. Hobbyists buy them because they like to tinker."

3-D enthusiasts imagine a day when these printers are as ubiquitous as phones and people print out many household goods instead of stopping at a store. Small-business owners are already switching to these printers from more expensive industrial machines. Prices are expected to drop even further after key patents on 3-D printing technology expire next year.

Posted by orrinj at 11:28 AM


GM climbs to top in sales (Anna Mukai and Yuki Hagiwara, 7/27/13, Bloomberg News)

General Motors outsold Toyota for the first time in six quarters, rising atop the industry and underscoring the resurgence of U.S. automakers as they roll out the best cars they've built in a generation. [...]

GM's rise to the top of the global industry caps a week in which the maker of Chevrolet cars and Ford posted earnings that beat analyst estimates. In contrast, the Japanese automaker saw its deliveries drop, reflecting Toyota's reliance on a home market where demand is falling and underperformance in China where it's recovering from a consumer backlash.

Posted by orrinj at 11:23 AM


Egypt's Islamists Will Rise Again (Reul Marc Gerecht - July 26, 2013, WSJ)

[I]t is highly doubtful that the Islamist critique of Egyptian society has been routed by marches that we now know were planned by the tamarrud (rebellion) movement and the military. The Westernization of the Egyptian poor has been in retreat for more than 40 years. The vast slums of Cairo--the broken-concrete-and-cracked-brick neighborhoods of low-rise apartments with open sewers, where only mosques and local clerics offer a sense of community and order--are hothouses for Islamism. [...]

Mr. Morsi obviously didn't handle his short term in office well. He alienated allies needlessly, including powerful fellow Islamists in the Nour Party. But many of Mr. Morsi's problems were either orchestrated or encouraged by the army, security services and the police (the sometimes fractious triad of the Mubarak-era police state) and by the secular business elite.

Many of Mr. Morsi's problems will now be confronted by the army-appointed government and any "democratically elected" administration that may follow. Saudi cash has been pouring into Cairo since the coup--the Saudi royal family fears the Brotherhood's populist Islamism--but the money won't last forever. An economic judgment day is coming, and it is by no means clear that the secular crowd will do any better than the Morsi government did.

They may well do much worse. Economic revitalization in Egypt won't happen unless the poor accept the pain that will come with shrinking the country's unsustainable subsidies and state-owned enterprises. Buying in now, after the coup, will be much more difficult for those who support Islamist causes.

It also isn't clear that the secular crowd is economically more adept than the Muslim faithful. Socialism has been a hard-to-kick drug for Egypt's legions of nominally college-educated youth, who came of age expecting government jobs. Capitalism has probably got firmer roots among devout Muslims, where Islamic law teaches a certain respect for private property.

Posted by orrinj at 11:12 AM


A new American dream for a new American century (Zachary Karabell, July 26, 2013, Reuters)

[T]he equation of American economic success until the mid-20th century was not that if you worked hard you would have a stable material life. It was that if you worked hard, you could create such a life. The difference is not semantic; it is fundamental, and for Obama and many, many others, it has become blurred. The equation articulated by Obama and likely shared by a significant majority of Americans is that if you work hard, you should receive economic security and see the same for your children. The flip side of that theory is that if you don't gain economic security, something is wrong with the system, and government has a responsibility to provide when that system fails.

The belief that something is a given simply by birthright is never a formula for long-term strength. Yet at some point in the last half of the 20th century, the American dream morphed from the promise that you could realize a comfortable life, to a promise that being American meant you would and should realize that. [...]

The United States, like many affluent nations, has reached a juncture where the model that succeeded is not likely to be the model that will succeed going forward. 19th century agricultural societies gave way to 20th century industrial ones, and 20th century industrial ones are giving way to 21st century service and idea economies. None of that happened without significant pain and disruption. Nor is our transition today without substantial pain for many.

Government can and should be active in providing basic security for those disrupted by these changes. But the contract that has now been broken did not actually serve America well. It served the post-war generation and their children, but it does not serve a United States now embedded in a world where other societies are providing the same potential that the United States did two centuries ago when that was extremely rare.

What's needed is a sense the United States is a place where dreams can be made manifest, not that it is a place where everyone will be safe and secure.
Why?  It's not just that we have the wealth to keep everyone safe and secure, which was the singular achievement of the Second Way, but that we no longer require hard work to create the wealth.  What do we gain as a society if, instead of simply redistributing our effortless wealth, we require you to dig a hole and fill it in in order to share in that affluence?  Is that really where we want our citizenry to direct its time and effort, into cynical boondogglery?

Posted by orrinj at 11:05 AM


The Politics of Pain : In the debate over banning abortions at 20 weeks, pro-lifers have the upper hand. (William Saletan, July 26, 2013, Slate)

In the past week, two polls--one from NBC News and the Wall Street Journal, the other from ABC News and the Washington Post--have asked Americans about the latest trend in pro-life legislation: outlawing abortions 20 weeks after fertilization, on the grounds that fetuses at this stage of development can sense pain. These polls, combined with surveys by National Journal (in collaboration with United Technologies), the Texas Tribune (in collaboration with the University of Texas) and the National Right to Life Committee (conducted by the Polling Company), offer a preliminary map of the terrain on which the fight--which moves next to the U.S. Senate--will be waged. What do Americans think of a ban at 20 weeks? Here are some early signs. [...]

4. Who has the upper hand? Pro-lifers do. The Post/ABC poll lays this bare. Here's the full text of its question: "The U.S. Supreme Court has said abortion is legal without restriction in about the first 24 weeks of pregnancy. Some states have passed laws reducing this to 20 weeks. If it has to be one or the other, would you rather have abortions legal without restriction up to 20 weeks, or up to 24 weeks?"

It's reasonable to speculate that the phrase "without restriction" alienated some respondents and made them more likely to choose the earlier time limit. It's also possible that the passive language--"reduce" rather than "ban"--soothed people who might otherwise worry about a new abortion law. But it's hard to believe that these factors could account for the enormous gap that resulted: 56 percent of respondents chose 20 weeks, while only 27 percent chose 24 weeks.

In fact, those numbers understate the pro-life tilt. Eight percent of respondents volunteered that abortion should never be legal. Two percent said they wanted an earlier time limit than 20 weeks. So the percentage of respondents who would have chosen 20 weeks if they'd answered the question as it was posed isn't 56 percent. It's more like 66 percent.

You can argue that this number is inflated by the poll's stipulation that "it has to be one or the other." Maybe people who were unsure or indifferent shrugged and picked 20 weeks. But then you'd have to account for the same factor on the other side of the ledger. If the percentage of respondents who preferred the 24-week limit was only 27 percent, how many of those people actually felt strongly about it? How meager is the constituency for 24 weeks?

That could turn out to be the decisive factor. What's striking about the Post/ABC question is that it strips out all the background noise and frames the issue as a simple numerical choice. Which limit do you prefer: 24 or 20? As a general rule, for any question being debated, the comparative, stripped-down version is the one most likely to prevail. Pushing larger themes onto a legislative vote, or isolating one option while obscuring the other, takes work.

Over the years, the theme that has served pro-choicers most effectively is government interference. Americans who dislike a social practice are often susceptible to the argument that despite their feelings, the government should stay out of it. But that didn't work in the WSJ/NBC poll. Respondents were told that while some people believe "20 weeks after fertilization is the point at which a fetus is capable of experiencing pain," other people believe "medical decisions should be between a woman and her doctor, and government should not be involved." The result--44 percent in favor of the ban, 37 percent against it--suggests that the power of pro-choice ideology in this debate may be limited.

Posted by orrinj at 11:01 AM


Science Lowers Shattering Risk at Home Plate (FELICITY BARRINGER, 7/25/13, NY Times)

In 2008, statistics show, 5,000 bats broke in hitters' hands, with 2,500 of those shattering in what wood technicians call "multipiece failures," and those in the line of fire call less printable names. Last year, the number of broken bats was down only slightly, but the number of shattered bats dropped to just over 1,200.

The change is the result of an unusual partnership between Major League Baseball and the Forest Service, whose scientists looked deep into maple's core to find why it was so brittle, and how it could be made less so. Giving up the wood entirely was deemed out of the question.

As David E. Kretschmann, the Forest Service scientist who led a team of colleagues working on the maple mystery, said, "If someone's making millions of dollars using a certain thing, they're not going to mess with it."

What Mr. Kretschmann's team told Major League Baseball's equipment specialists is that it was harder to follow the orientation of the grain of maple wood than of ash. In ash trees, the veinlike vessels that carry water up through the trunk are larger and arrayed in clear, almost regimental form in the growth rings.

In maple trees, these vessels are smaller and scattered through the dense wood fiber nearly randomly. This makes them harder to see, and harder to follow when carving billets -- the round cylinders that are carved into bats -- out of a tree. The more that the wood grain in the cut wood deviates from its original slope, the more shatter-prone the bat, he said.

With Mr. Kretschmann's information in hand, baseball changed the specifications for its maple bats.

Posted by orrinj at 10:57 AM


America's Emerging Housing Crisis (Joel Kotkin, 07/26/2013, New Geography)

The current housing recovery may be like manna to homeowners, but it may do little to ease a growing shortage of affordable residences, and could even make it worse. After a recession-generated drought, household formation is on the rise, notes a recent study by the Harvard Joint Center on Housing Studies, and in many markets there isn't an adequate supply of housing for the working and middle classes.

We're going to need an awful lot of immigrants just to build the housing we require.

Posted by orrinj at 10:42 AM


Technopessimism Is Bunk (Joel Mokyr, 7/26/13, NPR)

[T]oday, once again, we hear concerns that innovation has peaked. Some claim that "the low-hanging fruits have all been picked." The big inventions that made daily life so much more comfortable -- air conditioning, running cold and hot water, antibiotics, ready-made food, the washing machine -- have all been made and cannot be matched, so the thinking goes.

Entrepreneur Peter Thiel's widely quoted line "we wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters" reflects a sense of disappointment. Others feel that the regulatory state reflects a change in culture: we are too afraid to take chances; we have become complacent, lazy and conservative.

Still others, on the contrary, want to stop technology from going much further because they worry that it will render people redundant, as more and more work is done by machines that can see, hear, read and (in their own fashion) think. What we gained as consumers, viewers, patients and citizens, they fear, we may be about to lose as workers. Technology, while it may have saved the world in the past century, has done what it was supposed to do. Now we need to focus on other things, they say.

This view is wrong and dangerous. Technology has not finished its work; it has barely started. [...]

Above all, no scientific research today, from English literature to economics to nanochemistry, is even thinkable without computers. The question scientists most frequently ask about computers is not "what do they do," but "how did we ever do anything without them?" The advances in science will make it possible (among other things) to make even more sophisticated instruments, some of them foreseeable just by extrapolating what we already have, some as unimaginable as the Large Hadron Collider would be to Archimedes.

There is one more aspect of modern research and development that makes it different from anything that came before. In the age of Aristotle, it was still possible for an exceptionally bright individual to know (almost) anything worth knowing. As the body of knowledge expanded, this became impossible given the finite capacity of even the best brains. Scientists began to practice specialization, a division of knowledge, similar in principle to the division of labor so beloved by economists. But the division of knowledge, much like the division of labor, requires organization.

If society is going to make use of the expert knowledge that has accumulated, it needs to ensure that this knowledge can be stored at low costs and that it's accessible. Pieces of knowledge should be retrievable, not just by other scientists building on its foundations, but by engineers, industrial chemists and entrepreneurs trying to apply the science to practical use. The art of finding ever-smaller needles in ever-larger haystacks is itself a critical technology that determines how fast both science and technology can move. Search technology made a huge step forward when the alphabetical organization of knowledge became widespread in the 18th century with the emergence of alphabetically arranged encyclopedias, technical dictionaries and lexicons, as well as well-organized compilations of classified facts (think of the "Father of Taxonomy" Carl Linnaeus).

All of these wonderful developments of the past are dwarfed by the storage and search capabilities of our own age. Throughout history, humans had to struggle with costly and perishable information storage. Some storage technology was durable but costly, such as clay tablets. Others, like papyrus, did not last. Paper and movable type, both originating in China, were huge advances, but books and articles were still expensive.

Today, copying, storing and searching vast amounts of information is, for all practical purposes, free. We no longer deal with kilobytes or megabytes, and even gigabytes seem small potatoes. Instead, terms like petabytes (a million gigabytes) and zettabytes (a million petabytes) are bandied about. Scientists can find needles in data haystacks as large as Montana in a fraction of a second. And if science sometimes still proceeds by "trying every bottle on the shelf" -- as it does in some areas -- it can search many bottles, perhaps even petabottles.
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Posted by orrinj at 10:17 AM


Desperate for deeper things (The Rev. Thomas C. Leinbach, July 27, 2013, Cape Cod Times)

[I]t was with great interest that I recently read a review of Mark Helprin's new novel, "In Sunlight and in Shadows," a tribute of sorts to New York. In it, the author artfully invokes an insider's perspective on that singularly unique city.

For instance, in describing a gathering of theater people, Helprin writes: "Wary of embarrassment, wanting to shine, lonely, fiercely competitive, savagely ambitious, and as tense as pulled crossbows, they were the typical guests at a New York dinner party "¦"

As the scene unfolds, the author draws our attention to a partygoer, a woman named Andrea, who observes longingly from across the room a couple very much in love:

"'I wish I had someone who would talk to me that way, as if no one else were in the room,'" she says, "not caring how vulnerable she might appear in the eyes of her friends and acquaintances, for she had no one who would (talk to her that way), and at that moment she would have traded everything in the world that was clever for one simple thing that was true."

That reminded me of a Manhattan party I attended during my first year in seminary. I was talking to an acquaintance I had known in Boston, she and her husband being friends of a friend.

Our conversation had been moving along swimmingly until she asked what I was studying at Yale. I told her I was at the Divinity School. With that, her eyes widened with alarm, and, turning quickly on her heels, she strode out of the room without saying another word. [...]

It is so often the case that we spend time with the people God has given us in mostly superficial ways. We engage in small talk, but miss those aspects of ourselves that are most significant, most real. As a pastor, I'm invited to share in precisely these things, which I've found to be a precious gift.

On the whole I believe our culture is, despite its resistance, desperate for these deeper things, which, come to think of it, is perhaps not all that different from any period in history.

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July 26, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 3:09 PM


Juror Says Zimmerman 'Got Away With Murder' (LIZETTE ALVAREZ, 7/26/13, NY Times)

A juror who said she initially wanted to convict George Zimmerman told ABC News on Thursday that he "got away with murder" in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager.

But faced with Florida's self-defense laws, the juror, the second one on the six-member panel to speak out, said she felt compelled to acquit Mr. Zimmerman, 29, a volunteer neighborhood watch coordinator. [,,,]

Calling herself the "juror that was going to give him the hung jury," Maddy said she "fought to the end."

She said she voted to convict Mr. Zimmerman of second-degree murder right after she first entered the jury room for deliberations. But in the second day of deliberations, she realized that the law would thwart her, she said.

July 25, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 9:27 PM

60-40 NATION:

Most Americans favor restricting abortion at 20 weeks, Post-ABC poll finds (Juliet Eilperin, July 25, 2013, Washington Post)

By 56 percent to 27 percent, more Americans would prefer to impose limits on abortions after the first 20 weeks of pregnancy rather than the 24-week mark established by the Supreme Court, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Posted by orrinj at 9:24 PM


Military Entitlements Are Killing Readiness : The Pentagon and President Obama understand this. So why doesn't Congress? (MACKENZIE EAGLEN AND MICHAEL O'HANLON, 7/25/13, WSJ)

The Tricare program, highly subsidized health care for military retirees, supposedly honors a promise made many years ago by some military recruiters to provide service members free health care for life. Setting aside that such a promise was never officially made, Tricare is incentivizing overuse of the health-care system.

In 2004, for example, the rate at which Tricare recipients used outpatient services was 44% higher than in civilian plans; the inpatient rate was 60% higher. That is unsustainable, and it is the main reason President Obama has promised to veto the House appropriations bill unless Tricare fees for military retirees are raised.

Military retirees receive an extremely generous pension. For example, under the "High-3" retirement system--one option available for troops who entered the military after Sept. 8, 1980--retired active-duty forces receive 50% of an average of their three highest years of basic pay after 20 years of service, up to a maximum of 75% of their "High-3" pay after 30 years of service, along with an annual cost of living adjustment determined by the Consumer Price Index.

Begun in an era when those leaving the military often struggled in the workforce, the military retirement system is long overdue for an overhaul. It cost the Pentagon nearly $20 billion in 2011 and does nothing to address the fact that the vast majority of combat veterans (who are officially "veterans" but not "retirees") don't serve a full 20 years--and therefore get zero pension. In other words, those who deploy overseas and fight are often getting nothing while those who may well have stayed stateside for two decades before leaving the military get a very generous post-service pension.

Conveniences like commissaries also need rethinking in the era of Wal-Mart and Home Depot. So does military pay, which should generally track the rate of inflation but need not increase faster (as it often has of late), given the solid and generous compensation packages already provided to service members.

There is plenty more to consider, including addressing the 20% excess capacity in military bases and the bloat in the roughly 760,000-strong civilian workforce, which has grown even as the uniformed military has shrunk. A 10% cut to that bureaucracy, implemented intelligently and without furloughs, is sensible and fair.

But gut the weaponry too.

Posted by orrinj at 9:21 PM


The Reckless Agitator : Gen. el-Sissi is willing to plunge Egypt into chaos for his own personal power and legitimacy. (William J. Dobson, July 25, 2013, Slate)

 On Wednesday, wearing dark sunglasses, full military dress, and a chest full of medals--despite never having seen combat--Egypt's defense minister looked every bit the junta leader that his critics say he is. "Come out to give me the mandate and order that I confront violence and potential terrorism," he declared in a nationally broadcast speech, as he called for Egyptians to take to the streets in a show of support for him and the rump government the country's generals have propped up. "I've never asked you for anything. I'm asking you to show the world. If violence is sought, or terrorism is sought, the military and the police are authorized to confront this." After weeks of violent clashes, Gen. el-Sissi wasn't interested in tamping down the unrest or demanding a return to calm; he was stirring Tahrir for his own ends.

He sounds like a man looking to start a fight--or at least for the political cover to begin a crackdown on his opponents in the Muslim Brotherhood. Ever since el-Sissi ousted Mohammed Morsi, Egypt's first democratically elected president, on July 3, the government has increasingly used the "terrorist" label in association with the Muslim Brotherhood. The Egyptian military may desperately need that label to stick--because a threat like terrorism is the perfect legitimizing tool for a government that is being ruled by a military cabal. Having come to power through undemocratic means, the generals know that Egypt's chaos can make their rule more necessary than ever.

The military's notion that ousting Morsi would somehow stabilize Egypt has certainly proved false. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:37 PM


On Immigration, Tea Party's Bark Is Worse Than Its Bite (GABRIEL ARANA, JULY 25, 2013. American Prospect)

[T]he conventional political explanation for Republicans' opposition is that they fear primary challenges from the Tea Party, which strongly opposes granting citizenship to the undocumented.

But several new polls undercut that narrative. The first, from FWD.us, shows that only 20 percent of Republican primary voters oppose immigration reform. The vast majority--65 percent--favor reform that includes a path to citizenship so long as it comes with increased border security. While the level of support varies with how polling questions are worded, another poll from the American Action Network, a center-right advocacy organization, shows that even a majority of "strong Tea Party supporters" favor granting "legal status" to the undocumented if they "pass a criminal background check, pay a fine, pay current and back taxes, learn English, go to the back of the line in the application process, and are not allowed to receive any taxpayer paid benefits." That's a lot of caveats, and "legal status" is different from full citizenship, but it shows Tea Partiers are less opposed to reform than their representatives in the House. [...]

The most startling bit of evidence that Republicans are overestimating the opposition from their base comes from another poll from the American Action Network recent poll of voters in Representative Steve King's district. King is among the fiercest opponents of immigration reform in the House and is currently under fire from his Republican colleagues for saying that for every child of an undocumented immigrant who grows up to be valedictorian, "there's another 100 out there that weigh 130 pounds and they've got calves the size of cantaloupes because they're hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert." Not only do 65 percent of general-election voters in his heavily conservative district support a path to citizenship for the undocumented, 51 percent of its Republican constituents do as well.

Posted by orrinj at 6:34 PM


We May Be More Afraid of Paying for Cancer Than Having It (Michael Todd, 7/25/13, Pacific Standard)

A new white paper commissioned by insurance company Sun Life Financial argues that fear of medical care's cost can outweigh concern about the malady itself--up to and including death. In a survey of more than 4,000 full-time workers in the U.S. last August, the company reports, "Many workers feared the financial impact of a critical illness even more than dying from one."

Posted by orrinj at 6:29 PM


BMW vs. Tesla: The electric car race heats up with the i3 (Alex Taylor III, 7/25/13, FortuneMagazine)

For now, Tesla (TSLA) and BMW aren't competing head-to-head. The Model S is a seven-passenger luxury touring car while the i3 carries just four passengers and is designed for quick trips around town. But as Tesla fills out its product line with less-expensive models and BMW rolls out the sporty i8 hybrid-electric coupe to go after high rollers, the automakers will increasingly be targeting the same customers. [...]

4. Range anxiety reduction

Tesla will expand its network of fast-charge stations beyond California and the Northeastern states and expects to have about 200 charging stations nationwide when it is completed. In addition, at a demonstration of its battery swap technology in June, Tesla showed two Model S sedans having newly recharged batteries installed twice as fast as they could get filled up at a gas pump and without the driver getting out of the vehicle.

A display in the BMW i3 will show the location of nearby recharging stations and will also offer a roadside assistance program in some areas. The assistance vehicle will provide a jolt rather than a tow, so the i3 can scoot on to the next charging station.

Posted by orrinj at 6:23 PM


Are conservatives happier? (Caitlin Dewey, July 25, 2013, Washington Post)

At least according to a new study from researchers at Brock and Ryerson Universities that links conservative ideologies to feelings of well-being. According to the 237 Canadian students surveyed for the study, an inclination toward "right-wing authoritarianism" and "social dominance orientation" tends to correlate with personal contentment. [...]

A sweeping Pew survey from 2006 found that 47 percent of conservative Republicans would call themselves "very happy" -- versus a mere 28 percent of liberal Democrats. The phenomenon isn't confined to the United States, either: An analysis of research from nine additional countries found a consistent "happiness gap" in each. [...]

We still don't totally get, however, the exact cause-and-effect relationship between psychology and politics. Ideology could lead to psychology, as this Canadian study suggests. Or your individual psychology -- and genetics and brain structure and personality -- could influence your politics. To quote the Post's David Montgomery, "Do happy people get married, attend weekly religious services and vote for John McCain? Or does devotion to marriage, God and McCain cause them to be happy?" Chicken, meet egg.

Among the theories in that second camp: Conservatives tend to be married and religious, two traits that correlate to happiness. Conservatives possess an "ideological buffer," to quote New York University's Jaime Napier and John Jost, that immunizes them against the world's depressing inequality. This latest Canadian study goes further, suggesting that a strong sense of order and hierarchy makes people happy -- even when that order and hierarchy appear to disadvantage other people. [...]

Research has also identified dramatic personality differences between liberals and conservatives, the latter of whom are generally more conscientious and emotionally stable -- but less open and agreeable, and less comfortable with ambiguity. (For a fun and pointless exercise, you can even take the University of Maryland's Cosmo-style test of ambiguity online.) 

Posted by orrinj at 5:58 PM


Inside Groundswell: Read the Memos of the New Right-Wing Strategy Group Planning a "30 Front War" : Ginni Thomas, Allen West, and a crew of conservative activists and journalists have formed a hush-hush coalition to battle progressives--and Karl Rove. )David Corn | Thu Jul. 25, 2013, Mother Jones)

Believing they are losing the messaging war with progressives, a group of prominent conservatives in Washington--including the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and journalists from Breitbart News and the Washington Examiner--has been meeting privately since early this year to concoct talking points, coordinate messaging, and hatch plans for "a 30 front war seeking to fundamentally transform the nation," according to documents obtained by Mother Jones. 

Dubbed Groundswell, this coalition convenes weekly in the offices of Judicial Watch, the conservative legal watchdog group. During these hush-hush sessions and through a Google group, the members of Groundswell--including aides to congressional Republicans--cook up battle plans for their ongoing fights against the Obama administration, congressional Democrats, progressive outfits, and the Republican establishment and "clueless" GOP congressional leaders. They devise strategies for killing immigration reform, hyping the Benghazi controversy, and countering the impression that the GOP exploits racism. And the Groundswell gang is mounting a behind-the-scenes organized effort to eradicate the outsize influence of GOP über-strategist/pundit Karl Rove within Republican and conservative ranks. (For more on Groundswell's "two front war" against Rove--a major clash on the right--click here.) 

One of the influential conservatives guiding the group is Virginia "Ginni" Thomas, a columnist for the Daily Caller and a tea party consultant and lobbyist. Other Groundswell members include John Bolton, the former UN ambassador; Frank Gaffney, the president of the Center for Security Policy; Ken Blackwell and Jerry Boykin of the Family Research Council; Tom Fitton, the president of Judicial Watch; Gayle Trotter, a fellow at the Independent Women's Forum; Catherine Engelbrecht and Anita MonCrief of True the Vote; Allen West, the former GOP House member; Sue Myrick, also a former House GOPer; Diana Banister of the influential Shirley and Banister PR firm; and Max Pappas, a top aide to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). 

Among the conveners listed in an invitation to a May 8 meeting of Groundswell were Stephen Bannon, executive chairman of Breitbart News Network; Dan Bongino, a former Secret Service agent who resoundingly lost a Maryland Senate race last year (and is now running for a House seat); Leonard Leo, executive vice president of the Federalist Society; Sandy Rios, a Fox News contributor; Lori Roman, a former executive director of the American Legislative Exchange Council; and Austin Ruse, the head of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute. Conservative journalists and commentators participating in Groundswell have included Breitbart News reporters Matthew Boyle and Mike Flynn, Washington Examiner executive editor Mark Tapscott, and National Review contributor Michael James Barton. [...]

Groundswell evolved out of conversations among conservative leaders after the November elections. This is the eighth meeting. Now others are asking to be included. Growth needs to be strategic; it should be made up of senior level people willing to collaborate. It is important to keep a balance of social conservatives, national security conservatives, and constitutional conservatives. Outreach has occurred to incorporate groups with extensive reach: Heritage, Heritage Action, FreedomWorks, AFP [Americans for Prosperity], FRC [Family Research Council] and the NRA, among others...Our country is in peril. This is a critical moment needing critical leadership. We want to protect the strategic collaboration occurring at Groundswell and build on it. Please be careful about bringing guests and clear them ahead of time.

The memo declared that the goal was not to merely ponder, but to be proactive:

What Groundswell is not is a room of note takers. The goal of Groundswell is to sync messages and develop action from reports and information exchanged. Going forward there should be an action item accompanying each report.

At the March 27 meeting, Groundswell participants discussed one multipurpose theme they had been deploying for weeks to bash the president on a variety of fronts, including immigration reform and the sequester: Obama places "politics over public safety." In a display of Groundswell's message-syncing, members of the group repeatedly flogged this phrase in public. Frank Gaffney penned a Washington Times op-ed titled "Putting Politics Over Public Safety." Tom Fitton headlined a Judicial Watch weekly update "Politics over Public Safety: More Illegal Alien Criminals Released by Obama Administration." Peter List, editor of LaborUnionReport.com, authored a RedState.com post called "Obama's Machiavellian Sequestration Pain Game: Putting Politics Over Public Safety." Matthew Boyle used the phrase in an immigration-related article for Breitbart. And Dan Bongino promoted Boyle's story on Twitter by tweeting, "Politics over public safety?" In a message to Groundswellers, Ginni Thomas awarded "brownie points" to Fitton, Gaffney, and other members for promoting the "politics over public safety" riff. 

Is there really no 31st Front?

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Posted by orrinj at 5:24 AM


The Zombie Argument that Refuses to Die : a review of Shakespeare Beyond Doubt: Evidence, Argument, Controversy Edited by Paul Edmondson and Stanley Wells (DAVID WOMERSLEY, July/August 2013, Standpoint)

In the first place, in Shakespeare's lifetime plays were often written in a collaborative manner involving other playwrights, and also at moments drawing on contributions from the actors in the company which would perform the play (and which would also then own the playbook). This open and collaborative mode of composition would have made it virtually impossible for someone to pass off their work as that of someone else. The process of creating a play in Shakespeare's age was too public and involved too many people for a conspiracy over authorship to be sustained.

Secondly, many of Shakespeare's contemporaries -- Robert Greene, William Covell, Richard Barnfield, Francis Meres, Gabriel Harvey, John Weever, William Camden, William Drummond, John Webster, Michael Drayton, Francis Beaumont, and, most extensively, Ben Jonson -- all wrote or spoke about Shakespeare as the author of the plays which bear his name. If there was a conspiracy over Shakespeare's authorship of his plays, then it either involved or took in a very large number of well-placed contemporaries, a number of whom (such as Robert Greene) would have been delighted to discover that Shakespeare was a fraud. But there is in fact, as James Shapiro observed in his astute and perceptive book on the Shakespeare authorship controversy, Contested Will (2010), much more evidence that Shakespeare wrote King Lear and Hamlet and Henry V than there is that Marlowe wrote Tamburlaine or that Kyd wrote The Spanish Tragedy. Yet -- strangely -- there is no Marlowe or Kyd authorship debate.

Nor was there a Shakespeare authorship debate for more than two centuries after his death. Nobody before the mid-19th century ever doubted that Shakespeare was the author of the plays that bear his name (documents seeming to show that similar doubts were present in the 18th century have been shown to be forgeries). 

Posted by orrinj at 5:21 AM


Immigration and America's Broken Civics Education System (Christina Hoff Sommers, July 24, 2013, American)

Countless studies confirm that young Americans have become distressingly ignorant about their national past. The latest Department of Education national history assessment (2010) shows that only 12 percent of American high school seniors have a firm grasp of U.S. history. More than half (55 percent) scored below the "Basic" achievement level. A 2012 Roper survey of college graduates found widespread ignorance about U.S. history and basic functions of government: only 17 percent of those polled, for example, could identify famous words from the Gettysburg Address or knew the effects of the Emancipation Proclamation. Noting a 2009 study that found that 39 percent of Americans could not name a single right protected by the First Amendment, civil libertarian Greg Lukianoff has described us as a nation in the process of "unlearning liberty." We are perilously close to testing Thomas Jefferson's famous admonition: "If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be."

Most colleges and universities no longer require students to take a basic course in U.S. history or government (less than 20 percent, according to the American Council of Trustees and Alumni), and those students who happen to take U.S. history as an elective are not likely to hear much praise for the land of the free and the home of the brave. In its recent study of the history curriculum in Texas universities, the National Association of Scholars (NAS) found a preoccupation with the themes of race, class, and gender injustice. Says the NAS, "Other matters -- individual rights, entrepreneurship, industrialization, self-reliance, religion, war, science -- fade into the margins along with the persons and events associated with them." In sum: students become well-versed in the history of American bigotry, prejudice, and exclusion -- but learn next to nothing about the heroic chapters of the national story.

Herein lies a paradox: supporters of the DREAM Act -- which would give high-performing children of undocumented immigrants an opportunity to attend college -- defend it as the highest expression of Americans traditions. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan urges its passage as a means of giving "hard-working, patriotic, young people a shot at the American Dream." But once in college, these very same students may well enroll in courses that treat the American Dream as an illusion at best and a nightmare at worst.  

I am not suggesting we return to a time when our past was whitewashed and presented in a naïve or jingoistic way. But all students need instruction that acquaints them with the key figures, events, and doctrines that make up our collective identity. And that instruction should foster understanding, pride in country, and civic attachment. Our national sins should be frankly acknowledged, but the grandeur of the American experiment must shine through.

Public education is important to the extent it prepares children to be citizens, not employees. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:18 AM


What Google's Chromecast Has That All the Other Web-to-TV Devices Don't (Rebecca Greenfield, 7/24/13, The Atlantic)

The general upshot of the stick is that it ports the television on your computer or smartphone -- like Netflix, or YouTube -- to your television. A lot of devices can already do this for you. So what makes this thing any different or better than all the others?

It's dirt cheap. The stick only costs $35. Roku's similar dongle-type streamer retails for $100. There's a huge mental difference between $100 and $35. It's easy to splurge on something that costs less than an Urban Outfitters shirt. In addition, Netflix users -- new and existing -- get three months of the streaming service free, essentially paying for most of the stick. (Three months of streaming costs, at minimum $24.)

Posted by orrinj at 5:14 AM


Turning Repressed Emotions Into Great Art (Tom Jacobs, 7/23/13, Pacific Standard)

It has long been theorized that repressed anger or forbidden sexual desire can be a creative catalyst. After all, one way to exorcise internal tensions is to channel them into art.

Provocative new research supports that notion, while cautioning that it isn't universally true. Three University of Illinois psychologists present evidence that this equation only applies to Protestants--or, perhaps, people raised in a Protestant-dominated culture.

According to researchers Emily Kim, Veronika Zeppenfeld, and Dov Cohen, Jews and Catholics have a less-productive way of responding to uncomfortable thoughts and feelings: guilt.

"Two laboratory experiments found that Protestants produced more creative artwork when they were (a) primed with damnation-related words, (b) induced to feel unacceptable sexual desires, or (c) forced to suppress their anger," the researchers write. "Activating anger or sexual attraction was not enough; it was the forbidden or suppressed nature of the emotion that gave the emotion its creative power."

Posted by orrinj at 5:09 AM


How Iraq will win the Arab Spring (Riccardo Dugulin, 7/25/13, Asia Times Online)

Ten years after the beginning of the US-led military operations in Mesopotamia, a number of conclusions can be made in regard to the outcome of the international campaign in Iraq and its impact. Without entering into the debate of whether the war should have been avoided or not, one result is clear: while Syrians are engaged in their civil and proxy war to rid themselves of Bashar Al-Assad and while Egypt is slowly walking toward a political breakdown, international intervention in Iraq was able to effectively free the country from Saddam Hussein's totalitarian regime. 

In addition to that, the continued presence of US troops in the country and their commitment to have "boots on the ground" enabled the international community to facilitate the processes of nation building. 

It is clear that the cost paid by the Iraqi civilian population has been high and keeps on being so due to the high risk posed by the ongoing terrorist threat. Nevertheless, at present, the country has a constitution and political institutions slowly progressing toward a national representative system. 

Every election and legislative challenge remains filled with obstacles and may well trigger major acts of violence but a legal framework is already in place, thus laying the foundation on which the future of the country can be built. On top of that, the fall of Hussein's regime and the formation of the new structure have set the base for a multipolar market economy which can in the medium term prove to be highly beneficial for the country's citizens. 

Iraq is, in fact, a decade ahead of its Arab neighbors who are just starting to look for new political and economic bases. While the war devastated the country and its population, the new situation is setting Iraq apart from the rest of the regional quagmire. 

The second point to be stressed is that the country has now all the cards necessary to re-establish itself as a successful regional economy. Basing itself on gigantic oil resources, Iraq maintains the hub position connecting the Gulf and Central Asia to the Near East while having the possibility to foster a strong industrial sector. 

The attempts at reconstruction have spread out to all sectors of the Iraqi economy and society, thus constituting a genuine opportunity for the country. The government's and private sector's ability to raise the interest of foreign investors and satisfy their needs represents a major challenge, but the hundreds of Europeans, Northern American and Chinese enterprises already operating in Iraq are a strong indicator of the country's attractiveness. 

The key factor to be taken into consideration lies in the diversity offered by the Iraqi economic outlook in itself appealing to states and investors from all sectors and of all sizes. As there is a country to reconstruct, the possible return on investment is higher by double digits than those found in the region. 

Finally, there is also the underlying strength of the country: its human capital. With more than 30 million habitants - 30% of whom are under the age of 15 - the possibilities of development based on a stable and structured educational environment are higher than Iraq's Arab neighbors. The fact that the country's government and institutional organization address the problem faced by their youth and the present lack of technical skills is representative of an overall advance in the national reality. 

The number of young Iraqis willing to travel abroad to better their professional characteristics and contribute to their country's reconstruction while benefiting from its market is instrumental in defining the difference between Iraq and what were once the Middle Eastern giants of Syria and Egypt. 

If only we'd done Syria next.

Posted by orrinj at 5:05 AM


Study: Iodine Salt Use May Have Increased The American IQ  (CBS ATLANTA, 7/23/13)

Although iodine deficiency remains one of the world's top causes of preventable mental retardation, many Americans don't realize that its use has increased their IQ's.

According to a new study from James Feyrer, Dimitra Politi and David N. Weil, Americans' IQ has increased one full standard deviation - 15 points - since its introduction to the country in 1924.

The study found that for the one quarter of the population most deficient in iodine this intervention raised IQ by approximately one standard deviation during the time of its use. The study finds that the drug increased IQ's nearly 3 points every decade since its introduction, and likely within just ten years of use.

Posted by orrinj at 4:55 AM


The arrival of women in the office (BBC Magazine, 7/24/13)

In offices today almost all the most boring tasks are done by women. At the photocopier, at the filing cabinet (or its digital equivalent) and on the reception desk - it's females only. So much so that when a few years ago I came across my first male PA I was almost as shocked as Kipling.

This feminisation of office work happened incredibly fast. Until the late 19th Century there were no women in offices at all. In 1870, there were barely a thousand of them. By 1911 there were 125,000 and by 1961 there were 1.8 million, in 2001 there were 2.5 million female clerks.

July 24, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 9:24 PM


Obama's new bid to 'get back in the groove' (GLENN THRUSH and CARRIE BUDOFF BROWN, 7/24/13, Politico)

Yet as much as anything, Obama has embarked on this week's series of policy speeches to improve his own ambiguous frame of mind and take a comforting spin in the way-back machine, like a veteran chart-topper revisiting smaller, friendlier haunts on a comeback tour.

Posted by orrinj at 5:50 PM


Akerson Demands GM Innovation to Blunt Tesla Threat (Tim Higgins, Jul 18, 2013, Bloomberg)

As General Motors Co. (GM) Chief Executive Officer Dan Akerson sees it, Tesla Motors Inc. (TSLA) has the potential to be a disruptive force to the automotive industry and he doesn't want to be caught off guard.

The former telecommunication executive has assigned a small team to study billionaire industrialist Elon Musk's upstart electric-car maker and how it might threaten the 104-year-old automaker's business, Steve Girsky, GM vice chairman, said last week during an interview at Bloomberg headquarters in New York.

"He thinks Tesla could be a big disrupter if we're not careful," Girsky said. "History is littered with big companies that ignored innovation that was coming their way because you didn't know where you could be disrupted."

Posted by orrinj at 5:47 PM


Why Health Care Inflation May Lead to Cheaper Health Care (Dennis Rosen. 7/24/13, Pacific Standard)

More and more, health-care expenses once paid by employers are being shifted to consumers in the forms of higher co-payments and deductibles. And as the rate of health inflation continues to outpace that of general inflation, these trends will accelerate, for the simple reason that without this migration the cost of providing health insurance at its current levels of coverage will become too prohibitive for employers to bear.

And this is where the silver lining comes in. The more this cost shifting occurs, the faster the demise of the current model of third-party payor insurance, which covers everything from flu shots to lung transplants. Health insurance will evolve into something that makes a lot more economic sense: actual insurance that protects against financial ruin because of catastrophic illness. Most routine medical care services, however, will be paid for by patients, out of pocket and through health savings accounts that accrue over years and into which employers and employees contribute.

This transformation of who pays for health care, and how it is paid for, will have two very positive effects on health-care spending.

The first will be the elimination of third-party payors' overhead and administrative margin from the cost of all but the most expensive care. This will immediately eliminate the need for the built-in 15-20 percent mark-up for administrative costs included in current charges and in future ones through Obamacare (and which in practice is often exceeded, as witnessed by the rebate pay-outs).

The second, more significant consequence will be that as patients start bearing the genuine cost of their care, they will start behaving like real consumers and become much more attentive to price. Once health-care services provision is transformed into a true marketplace in which prices are driven both by supply and consumer demand, competition between providers should result in prices falling even further.

The existing model, in which prices are determined through negotiation between service providers and third-party payors, leaving patients who pay out of pocket with the highest bills, would quickly collapse. If your doctor had ordered a chest X-ray, for example, you'd make some phone calls and decide where to get it based upon any number of factors, including price, instead of defaulting to the most expensive facility because that happened to be where your physician works. Likewise, even though you currently pay both for the X-ray and for its interpretation by a radiologist, you might elect to forgo the interpretation if your own physician were able to read the film himself, thus saving yourself the additional expense.

Posted by orrinj at 5:23 AM


Why Medical Spending May Finally Flatten Out (JOHN F. WASIK, 7/24/13, The Fiscal Times)

[T]here are several positive signs that health costs are ramping down from average 6-percent growth recorded in the previous decade. A recent report by PwC, an international consultant and auditor, forecasts that medical inflation is projected to drop in 2014. The PwC report outlines some reasons for optimism:

"Individual consumers, bearing more financial responsibility for their medical bills, are questioning and sometimes delaying procedures, imaging, and elective services. New delivery models, such as accountable care organizations (ACOs) are promising, but their prospects for significant savings remain largely unproven. The ACA will also play a role in the slowdown in 2014, with hospitals working to hold down expensive readmissions (or face the law's penalties) and employers being given greater power to influence employee behavior through increased or discounted premiums -- up to 50 percent in some cases." [...]

Here are some other notable cost-savings trends:

Care is increasingly being provided in non-traditional settings. Major pharmacy chains and discount stores such as Walgreens, CVS and Target have in-store clinics. These "doc in a box" facilities offer basic care at lower prices.

Employers are offering more high-deductible plans. In an effort to lower premiums, higher out-of-pocket costs make patients more aware of what they're spending. Some 17 percent of employers surveyed by PwC now offer the plans and more than 44 percent are considering them.

Companies are also experimenting with incentives. Some employees may qualify for lower out-of-pocket costs if they enroll in chronic-care or wellness programs. Those who make an effort to take care of themselves may see lower premiums.

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July 23, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 AM


God Helps Us : America remains as religious as you thought (WILLIAM MCKENZIE, 7/29/13, Weekly Standard)

[I]n God Is Alive and Well, Frank Newport presents page after page of data demonstrating how religion is thriving in the United States. Religious belief is taking on new shapes, mind you; but that morphing is a good thing. It keeps religious expression growing and vital.

The data presented by Newport, who is Gallup's editor in chief, start off showing that the percentage of Americans who say they believe in God is on par with the percentage who said they were believers back in 1944. When Gallup asked Americans in 2011 whether they believed in God, more than 90 percent said yes. Over those 67 years, the percentage of Americans who say they do not believe in God has bounced around between only 6 and 8 percent. In other words, there has been no real change. 

Newport also presents data showing that the percentage of Americans saying they attend church is about the same as in 1940. About 40 percent report attending religious services at least once a week or almost weekly. About 15 percent say they never attend church. "Overall, this is fairly indicative of a religious nation," writes Newport, who was raised a Southern Baptist and is a Baylor graduate. He also highlights how the percentage of Americans who say that religion is very important to them remains at 55 percent. That number is not lower than it was 30 years ago: "There is no indication that there has been a continuous drop in the personal aspect of religion in recent years," he concludes. [...]

 The most fascinating change is the one that's accompanying large birthrates among Latinos. Newport reports that those growth rates are keeping Roman Catholicism growing in America. (The percentage of white Catholics is declining, but not of Latino Catholics.) Even more important is the role of Latino evangelicals. They are one of the fastest-growing parts of evangelicalism, and their churches are common in places like Dallas, where I live and where you see neighborhood churches with signs proclaiming names like Iglesia del Señor.

Latinos could influence the way evangelicalism shapes national politics, and we're seeing it already in the immigration debate. Latino evangelicals like Reverend Samuel Rodriguez are speaking out for a broad reform of policies, not just tighter security along the border. Look for more such influence. Look, also, for the role that baby boomers could play in religion in general. The older people get, the more likely they are to turn to some kind of faith, a point that Newport backs up with data. If those of us who are boomers follow this time-honored trend, we could become a growth industry for churches and other houses of faith. I had not thought of the possibility before reading this book, but what an irony if boomers, a generation known in part for self-absorption, should fuel religious growth on our way out.

The part of the book that caught me most off-guard, and that is worth the cover price, is the section that deals with the link between religion and health. I was genuinely skeptical when I started reading Newport's explanation of data that show how people of faith tend to enjoy better health.

Posted by orrinj at 5:20 AM


In Climbing Income Ladder, Location Matters : A study finds the odds of rising to another income level are notably low in certain cities, like Atlanta and Charlotte, and much higher in New York and Boston. (DAVID LEONHARDT, JULY 22, 2013, NY Times)
[T]he researchers identified four broad factors that appeared to affect income mobility, including the size and dispersion of the local middle class. All else being equal, upward mobility tended to be higher in metropolitan areas where poor families were more dispersed among mixed-income neighborhoods.

Income mobility was also higher in areas with more two-parent households, better elementary schools and high schools, and more civic engagement, including membership in religious and community groups. [...]

Yet the parts of this country with the highest mobility rates -- like Pittsburgh, Seattle and Salt Lake City -- have rates roughly as high as those in Denmark and Norway, two countries at the top of the international mobility rankings. In areas like Atlanta and Memphis, by comparison, upward mobility appears to be substantially lower than in any other rich country, Mr. Chetty said.

Especially intriguing is the fact that children who moved at a young age from a low-mobility area to a high-mobility area did almost as well as those who spent their entire childhoods in a higher-mobility area. But children who moved as teenagers did less well.

That pattern makes economists more confident that the characteristics of different regions -- as opposed to something inherent and unchangeable in the local residents -- are helping cause the varying mobility rates. [...]

Lawrence Katz, a labor economist who did not work on the project, said he was struck by the fact that areas with high levels of income mobility were also those that established high school earliest and have long had strong school systems. Mr. Katz, a Harvard economist and former Clinton administration official, called the work "certainly the most comprehensive analysis of intergenerational mobility in the contemporary U.S."

The project's other researchers were Patrick Kline, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and Emmanuel Saez, a Berkeley economist who won the Clark Medal in 2009.

The comparison of metropolitan areas allows researchers to consider local factors that previous mobility studies could not -- including a region's geography. And in Atlanta, the most common lament seems to be precisely that concentrated poverty, extensive traffic and a weak public-transit system make it difficult to get to the job opportunities. "When poor communities are segregated," said Cindia Cameron, an organizer for 9 to 5, a women's rights group, "everything about life is harder."

Posted by orrinj at 5:14 AM


Not Hitler's Pope : What history taught Pius XII about resisting tyrants (JOHN RODDEN AND JOHN ROSSI • July 17, 2013, American Conservative)

Ever since the appearance of Rolf Hochhuth's play, "The Deputy," in 1963, the Catholic Church and Pope Pius XII have been excoriated for their silence before the horrors of the Holocaust.

Recent revelations, based on interviews with a Romanian spymaster, indicate that Hochhuth may have been the dupe of a clever KGB plot to undermine the influence of the Vatican after World War II. But for the last half century, Hochhuth's charge has put the Vatican on the defensive, particularly during the last decade, when a firestorm of international controversy accompanied Pope Benedict XVI's approval of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints' recommendation to name Pius XII "venerable," a step towards possible canonization. That move triggered new rounds of recrimination about the Vatican's alleged callousness toward Hitler's victims, especially Jews, and about the historical issues surrounding Pius XII's dealings with the Nazis.

Yet lately the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial began softening its view of Pius XII. The wall text criticizing him for not speaking out against Nazi treatment of the Jews has been retitled from "Pope Pius and the Holocaust" to "The Vatican and the Holocaust." Significantly, Pius's message of Christmas 1942 is now highlighted, in particular his declaration that "hundreds of thousands of persons, without any fault on their part, sometimes only because of their nationality or ethnic origin, have been consigned to death or slow decline."

The New York Times at the time observed of Pius XII's Christmas address, "This Christmas more than ever he is a lonely voice crying out in the silence of a continent." Pius XII's message was carefully analyzed by Reinhard Heydrich's branch of the SS, which saw the pope's message as an attack on the Nazi regime and its anti-Semitism. Calling the Christmas address "a masterpiece of clerical falsification," the SS reported that the "Pope has repudiated the National Socialist New European Order" and noted his assertion that "all peoples and races are worthy of the same consideration." "Here," they argued, "he is clearly speaking of the Jews."

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Posted by orrinj at 5:09 AM


Paul Offit Takes On Alternative Medicine : An infectious disease expert says people should put their faith in science, not "magic." (RACHEL POMERANCE, July 22, 2013, US News)

What's wrong with Dr. Oz, Deepak Chopra and Andrew Weil? They're health gurus, and, according to infectious disease expert Paul Offit, a guru spells trouble. People should put their faith, and fate, in concrete data, not charisma or any of the myriad other unscientific elements that suffuse the alternative medicine industry, Offit argues in his latest book, "Do You Believe in Magic? The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine."

"There's no such thing as conventional or alternative or complementary or integrative or holistic medicine. There's only medicine that works and medicine that doesn't," writes Offit, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases and director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. "The best way to sort it out is by carefully evaluating scientific studies." The problem, he says, is that the alternative medicine industry is not federally regulated. So companies don't have to back up the claims of their products.

By his own reasoning, Offit's crusade is formidable. He writes that half of Americans use some kind of alternative medicine, and hospitals employ a range of alternative therapies like supplements, which he argues can do significant harm, especially in excess doses."I can't believe anyone would put a megavitamin in their mouth," he says. "It's frightening."

Unconventional treatments have filled the void left by mainstream medicine, Offit explains, calling his own health care experiences "largely disappointing." (Offit was born with club feet, one of which has caused him unrelenting pain into adulthood despite corrective surgery, and a misdiagnosis of malignant melanoma saddled him with two years of needless worry.) In the wake of human errors, lack of medical resolutions and poor bedside manners, alternative medicine leaves patients with, well, an alternative.

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Posted by orrinj at 5:03 AM


The Blip : What if everything we've come to think of as American is predicated on a freak coincidence of economic history? And what if that coincidence has run its course? (Benjamin Wallace-Wells, Jul 21, 2013, New York)

For all of measurable human history up until the year 1750, nothing happened that mattered. This isn't to say history was stagnant, or that life was only grim and blank, but the well-being of average people did not perceptibly improve. All of the wars, literature, love affairs, and religious schisms, the schemes for empire-making and ocean-crossing and simple profit and freedom, the entire human theater of ambition and deceit and redemption took place on a scale too small to register, too minor to much improve the lot of ordinary human beings. In England before the middle of the eighteenth century, where industrialization first began, the pace of progress was so slow that it took 350 years for a family to double its standard of living. In Sweden, during a similar 200-year period, there was essentially no improvement at all. By the middle of the eighteenth century, the state of technology and the luxury and quality of life afforded the average individual were little better than they had been two millennia earlier, in ancient Rome.

Then two things happened that did matter, and they were so grand that they dwarfed everything that had come before and encompassed most everything that has come since: the first industrial revolution, beginning in 1750 or so in the north of England, and the second industrial revolution, beginning around 1870 and created mostly in this country. That the second industrial revolution happened just as the first had begun to dissipate was an incredible stroke of good luck. It meant that during the whole modern era from 1750 onward--which contains, not coincidentally, the full life span of the United States--human well-being accelerated at a rate that could barely have been contemplated before. Instead of permanent stagnation, growth became so rapid and so seemingly automatic that by the fifties and sixties the average American would roughly double his or her parents' standard of living. In the space of a single generation, for most everybody, life was getting twice as good.

At some point in the late sixties or early seventies, this great acceleration began to taper off. 

The awesome thing about this theory is that it requires a belief that human progress ended as the Computer/Information Age began and the USSR was hitting its high water mark.  Sublime.

July 22, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 7:20 PM


The Death of Peak Oil: End of a Flawed Theory (JOHN KEMP, 7/22/13, Reuters)

The decision to shutter "The Oil Drum," the leading website devoted to peak oil, has come to symbolize the end of an era - and sparked a furious debate about whether the theory was all along based on a fundamental mistake. 

Commentators have been worried about food and fuel shortages since at least the 18th century. The prototype worrier was Thomas Malthus, who believed food shortages must eventually limit population growth.

Writing in his famous "Essay on the Principle of Population," published between 1798 and 1803, Malthus warned population would grow geometrically, while the means of subsistence would grow only arithmetically. "Misery and vice," in the form of war, disease and famine would keep the population in check, Malthus argued.

By the 1860s, concern had switched from food to fuel. Economist William Stanley Jevons worried the exhaustion of Britain's "present cheap supplies of coal" would eventually threaten the country's industrial pre-eminence.

"The exhaustion of our mines will be marked ... by a rising cost or value of coal, and when the price has risen to a certain amount comparatively to the price in other countries, our main branches of trade will be doomed," Jevons noted gloomily in his unlikely bestseller, The Coal Question: an Inquiry Concerning the Progress of the Nation and the Probable Exhaustion of our Coal Mines, which was first published in 1866.

Of course, coal was eventually replaced by oil, and the forecast shortages never appeared. By 1919, however, concerns were being expressed about the adequacy of oil supplies. The United States is facing "a serious shortage of petroleum," geologist Carl Hugh Beal wrote in a report that year for the U.S. Bureau of Mines on "The Decline and Ultimate Production of Oil Wells."

On to the next Malthusian delusion!

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Posted by orrinj at 6:50 PM

HE'S WITH WALTER (profanity alert):

Actor Dennis Farina Has Died at Age 69 (DASHIELL BENNETT, 7/22/13, Atlantic)

His most memorable film performances were as mobster Jimmy Serrano in Midnight Run, as mobster "Bones" Barboni in Get Shorty, and as a "Cousin Avi", a (wannabe) mobster in Snatch. He played good guys too, playing a cop on '80s TV series Crime Story, an FBI agent in the movie Manhunter, and as Detective Joe Fontana in the final seasons of Law & Order.

His affinity for playing cops and criminals probably had something to do with the fact that he spent 18 years on the Chicago police force before director Michael Mann hired him as a consultant and then started casting him in his projects. 

Check Out Crime Story: Moulin Rouge on Hulu.
( http://www.hulu.com/watch/395340 )
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Posted by orrinj at 5:06 AM


How the office was invented : Many people might think of office-bound life as a modern phenomenon, but there's a long history of people chained to their desks (Lucy Kellaway, 7/21/13, BBC)

[W]alk into any office and you can't help but wonder what are they actually doing?

You can tell if a teacher is teaching or a builder building, but with us office workers, the dreams, the ambition, the lust and the extreme boredom is all hidden.

Over the past two centuries, the office has changed everything.

It has made us all middle class. It has transformed a lot of women, who have skipped from kitchen to boardroom, pausing at the typing pool on the way. It has also raised standards in education and been the reason for many technological advances.

But the office itself seems to have no history. We all just seem to accept the way we work now. There's the charade of the annual appraisal. All those grim PowerPoint presentations in interminable meetings. The open plan offices where we overhear colleagues phoning their plumbers.

July 21, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 6:56 PM

60 IN '14:

Mood turns somber for Democrats in 2014 contest for Senate control (Alexander Bolton, 07/21/13, The Hill)

That party seems likely to lose seats in Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia, where it cannot find find strong candidates.

The GOP will probably need to capture six Democratic seats in 2014 to grab the majority, as Newark mayor Cory Booker is well positioned to win the seat held by interim Sen. Jeff Chiesa (R-N.J.) in a special election. Democrats hold a 54 to 46 advantage, counting two independents who caucus with them.

But they must also defend four vulnerable incumbents and the seat soon to be vacated by Sen. Tom Harkin (D) in Iowa, a swing state.

Sens. Mark Pryor and Mark Begich, Democrats from Arkansas and Alaska, where Obama lost badly in 2012, are in greatest danger. Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), a three-term survivor perpetually on the GOP target list, and Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), who had a solid lead in a recent Public Policy Polling survey, will also have competitive races.

Pryor is seen as the most vulnerable, though Begich is a close second.

Posted by orrinj at 6:51 PM


The Tyranny of Affluence (George Megalogenis and Geoffrey Blainey, May 21st 2013, The Monthly)

Aus­tralia may not suf­fer from the tyranny of dis­tance (the phrase ori­gin­ally coined by Geof­frey Blainey) now so much as the tyranny of af­flu­ence

Here's a nice discussion of current Australian politics that jibes with the review of America 3.0 below. 

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Posted by orrinj at 6:46 PM


After Bush, the Blues (Peter Beinart, 7/21/13, Newsweek)

The party Bush once commanded is repudiating much of his legacy. And it's doing so because it no longer shares his temperament. Bush was, at his core, an optimist. For starters, he was an optimist about the budget. He had taken over in the wake of a late-1990s economic boom that erased the deficits built up during the Reagan years. For Bush, the message was that you can cut taxes, maintain popular domestic programs, and dramatically boost military spending without worry, because economic growth will eventually balance the budget, as it did in the 1990s. As Dick Cheney famously replied when then-Treasury secretary Paul O'Neill warned that Bush's economic policies were leading the country toward a fiscal abyss, "Reagan proved that deficits don't matter."

Bush was a cultural optimist, too. He had taken power on the heels of what Samuel Huntington called the "third wave" of democratization, a mighty tide that began when Spain and Portugal shrugged off their autocratic governments in the mid-1970s, and extended in the 1980s and 1990s from South Korea and the Philippines to Argentina and Chile to Hungary and Poland to South Africa. This historic shift--which made democracy the normative form of government not merely in Northern Europe and North America but throughout the world--shaped "neoconservative" intellectuals like William Kristol, Paul Wolfowitz, and Robert Kagan. But it also dovetailed with something personal in Bush. As his former speechwriter Michael Gerson has noted, Bush's brand of Christianity was strikingly untroubled by original sin. His own life was a tale of purposeless, self-destructive wandering followed by radical transformation via the power of faith. And while other conservatives focused on an entrenched "culture of poverty" that made it difficult to change the lives of America's urban poor, Bush championed the idea that with religious counseling, inmates in Texas jails could experience the same radical, redemptive change he'd seen in his own life.

Bush, in other words, was an optimist even when it came to cultures--like the ones prevailing in America's inner cities or in the Arab world--for which other conservatives held out little hope. Despite the incredulity of many on the right, he responded to 9/11 by insisting that Muslims were just as desirous of democracy, liberty, and peace as Christians and Jews. And he set about proving that in Iraq. "The human heart," he told the American Enterprise Institute two months before the invasion, "desires the same good things, everywhere on earth." That universalism also shaped his views on immigration. If Iraqis shared the same basic values as Americans, so did undocumented Mexican immigrants.

The party Bush once commanded is repudiating much of his legacy. And it's doing so because it no longer shares his temperament.

Even during Bush's presidency, his economic and cultural optimism met resistance inside the GOP. From the moment 9/11 hit, polls found that many conservatives--contra Bush--did consider Islam a violent religion. In 2003 the White House and GOP leaders had to brutally pressure some congressional Republicans to make them back Bush's expansion of Medicare. And in 2007 Bush's push for comprehensive immigration reform failed in large part because of lack of conservative support.

But since Bush left office, the GOP pessimists have taken full control of the party. 

Governors are optimists, because they've governed successfully.  Congressional parties are pessimistic because they sit in a branch of government designed to thwart them.  Jeb will run and govern just like his brother.

Posted by orrinj at 9:26 AM


We just posted a review of America 3.0 by James C. Bennett and Michael J. Lotus, a vital but incomplete guide to where the Anglosphere has been and where we are headed.  It should be read by every English speaker, especially by Americans, particularly by Republicans, and essentially by readers of the BrothersJuddBlog.

Despite some quarrels with the book, we whole-heartedly recommend it.

Posted by orrinj at 6:33 AM


Despite Unemployment, First-Timers Step Up on Buying, Selling Homes (Brian O'Connell, 07/19/13, TheStreet) 

With so many young Americans out or work, or at least underemployed, the thinking among economists was that fewer consumers would be buying so-called starter homes.

On the surface, that makes sense.

Unemployment among U.S. 18- to 29-year-olds is at 16.1%, according to Generation Opportunity, a youth advocacy group in Washington, D.C. Fewer would look for starter homes, simply because they can't afford them. 

The firm's Home Buyer/Seller Satisfaction Study is out, and it shows first-time homebuyers have been "more active" this year -- that 49% of all new homebuyers were first-timers, compared with 40% last year. [...]

The J.D Power study seems to indicate that younger home consumers are like all home consumers. With home prices down, and mortgage rates still highly reasonable, 20- and 30-somethings jumped at the chance to buy their first home, even if they really had to stretch their budgets to pull the deal off.

Posted by orrinj at 6:27 AM


What a Conservative Knows: Fear of God is the Beginning of Wisdom (Russell Kirk, The Intelligent Woman's Guide to Conservatism (1957).)

In America, a sense of religious consecration has been joined to our political institutions from the beginning. Almost all the signers of the Declaration of Independence and the delegates to the Constitutional Convention were religious men. Solemn presidential proclamations, since the beginning of the Republic, have invoked the might and mercy of God. Most of our leading conservative statesmen and writers were men profoundly religious --George Washington, an Episcopalian; John Adams, a Unitarian; James Madison, an Episcopalian; John Randolph, an Episcopalian; John C. Calhoun, a Unitarian; Orestes Brownson, a Catholic; Nathaniel Hawthorne, a Congregationalist; Abraham Lincoln, a devout though independent theist; and many more. "We know and we feel inwardly that religion is the basis of civil society, and the source of all good and all comfort," Edmund Burke wrote.

Now a conservative is a person who sees human society as an immortal contract between God and man, and between the generations that are dead, and the generation that is living now, and the generations which are yet to be born. It is possible to conceive of such a contract, and to feel a debt toward our ancestors and obligations toward our posterity, only if we are filled with a sense of eternal wisdom and power. We deal charitably and justly by our fellow men and women only because we believe that a divine will commands us to do so, and to love one another. The religious conservative is convinced that we have duties toward society, and that a just government is ruled by moral law, since we participate in our humble way in the divine nature and the divine love. The conservative believes that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.

The conservative desires to conserve human nature--that is, to keep men and women truly human, in God's image. The dread radical ideologies of our century, Communism and Nazism and their allies, endeavor to stamp out religion root and branch because they know that religion is always a barrier to collectivism and tyranny. A religious person has strength and faith; and radical collectivism detests private strength and faith. Throughout Europe and Asia, the real resistance to collectivism has come from men and women who believe that there is a greater authority than the collectivistic state, and that authority is God.

A society which denies religious truth lacks faith, charity, justice and any sanction for its acts. Today, more perhaps than ever before, Americans understand the close connection between religious conviction and just government, so that they have amended their oath of allegiance to read, "one nation, under God." There is a divine power higher than any political power. When a nation ignores the divine authority, it soon commits the excesses of fanatic nationalism, intoxicated with its own unchecked power, which have made the twentieth century terrible.

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Posted by orrinj at 6:16 AM


Bright light increases honesty and leads people to perform ethical deeds : It also makes us more ethical and less selfish, researchers say (ROGER DOBSON, 21 JULY 2013, Independent)

Bright lights make people more honest, altruistic and ethical, and less selfish, according to new research. Experiments showed people in a brightly lit room donated more than twice as much as those in a dim room, and were more likely to offer to help others.

"We provide the first experimental evidence showing that brightness appears to heighten the salience of morality to the individual, thereby leading people to perform ethical deeds," say the researchers from National Sun Yat-sen University, Taiwan, who report their findings in the Journal of Environmental Psychology.

God the Father is Brightness (Matthew Hanley, 21 JULY 2013, Catholic Thing)

When was the last time you took notice of the brightness around you? It could have come, perhaps, with a glance out the window, or simply by observing the light flooding into a room.  For most of us, I suspect, it just seems to blend in with everything else. Sometimes, though, even we who see only dimly cannot miss it.

A recent experience: I was alone and "off-trail" in the coastal hills of northern California. It was winter, so the sun hung low. It had just stopped raining, and rays of sun began to light up everything in view, such that every blade of wild grass and every leaf (just so aligned) on the entire forested hillside sparkled as if individually bejeweled.

What made it even better is that I had just been reading some of St. Hildegard of Bingen's letters.  And in them, she - the twelfth-century mystic, and our newest doctor of the Church - provided me with a means of interpreting what I was looking at:

God the Father is brightness, and that brightness is brilliant beyond imagination. Many people try to separate God from his brightness. They see his brightness all around them in the beauty of his creation, but they do not ascribe this beauty to him. This brightness is the Father's love. All things are brought into existence through his love, and we are surrounded by his love.

That's an environmentalism worth promoting - and something to ponder, next time such brightness strikes you.

Posted by orrinj at 3:19 AM


Iran invites Western leaders to presidential inauguration (AP, 7/21/13)

Iran's foreign ministry says the Islamic Republic has sent invitations to all the world's leaders to attend the August 4 inauguration of its new president.

Spokesman Abbas Araghchi was quoted by the semi-official ISNA news agency as saying Sunday that American and European leaders and officials were among those invited to the swearing-in of Hasan Rouhani.

July 20, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 4:13 PM


Obama admin now openly embracing neoconservative rhetoric, too (Samuel Knight, 7/20/13, Washington Monthly)

It's not enough for the Obama administration to embrace some of the most aggressive national security policies of the Bush Administration - it has, apparently, decided it must embrace neoconservative rhetoric, too.

In her confirmation hearing this week, Samantha Power, the President's nominee to lead the U.S. delegation to the United Nations, said she would confront "repressive regimes" and contest "the crackdown on civil society being carried out in countries like Cuba, Iran, Russia, and Venezuela."

The comments, which were endorsed by the State Department, predictably outraged the democratically elected Venezuelan government and undermined ongoing negotiations aimed at restoring relations.

Posted by orrinj at 12:50 PM


The Conservative Mind at 60: Russell Kirk's Unwritten Constitutionalism (Gerald Russello, 7/01/13, Imaginative Conservative)

In constitutional law, as in other areas, Kirk displays his central themes:  a suspicion of centralized power and rule by "experts," a devotion to tradition, and a commitment to the nation's federal structure.  He repeatedly states that the purpose of the law is a simple one - it is to keep the peace.   Because it is intended to keep the peace, the law must evolve gradually out of actual disputes and compromises of a living community.  The law must not be imposed top-down, as such an enforced peace is not peace at all.   Moreover, such a legal system reduces certainty and fairness, and turns the legal system into a struggle for power.

But at the same time, Kirk believes in an overarching moral order that also - as much as local custom or convention - informs both the law and the Constitution.  However, Kirk developed his own perspective on whether, and to what extent, that law has to do with positive law.  He emphatically rejected a view that the Constitution required "substituting [the] personal and shifting value judgments of nine judges - who can form no consensus among themselves - for enduring moral standards derived from religion, philosophy, and a people's custom and convention."  That perspective, unfortunately for those seeking a Kirkian "system," does not reduce itself to a series of propositions or statements of "right" answers.  Rather, Kirk was a forceful voice for multiplicity and diversity in constitutional arrangements, but those arrangements must be adjusted and modified at local levels and across a myriad of courtrooms and other fora.  The conservative obsession, at least since the 1980s, with fixing the "original meaning" of the Constitution had little resonance for him given his larger cultural concerns.

The historian Clinton Rossiter once quipped that Kirk was born in the wrong country a hundred and fifty years too late, and Kirk was criticized by fellow conservatives (such as the libertarian Frank Meyer) for promoting a static social order of squire and servant rather than a free republic.  But amidst the sweeping history of The Conservative Mind is a chapter titled, "Legal and Historical Conservatism:  A Time of Foreboding," which treats the work of Henry Sumner Maine,  Leslie Stephen, and W.E.L. Lecky.  This chapter has not received significant attention, but in it Kirk undercuts the vision of him as a faux-aristocrat.   First, he approves Maine's assessment that the transition to the modern world is from status to contract.  Contract accords each of us the right of freely entering into agreements.  In his discussion of Maine, Kirk notes that "the source of social wisdom is the knowledge of past ages, but that dreary imitation of what once lived will stifle the most gifted peoples."  Kirk was no reactionary.

Kirk is often challenged for his statement in The Conservative Mind that civilized society "requires orders and classes, as against the notion of a 'classless society'," and that some such hierarchy was necessary for a stable social order. Kirk's argument is typically misunderstood as an approval of a particular social order, specifically that of late eighteenth-century Britain, and that such a social order must mean people stay in place.  Neither of these mischaracterizations are true.  Kirk in fact had no patience for the eighteenth century, which he called "an age of gilded selfishness and frivolous intellectuality-- an age almost without a heart."  His preference for Burke over other thinkers of the same era, for example, Bolingbroke was because, for Kirk, Burke was "essentially a modern man, and his concern was with our modern complexities."  Rather his point is that every society has such hierarchies and orders, and to pretend otherwise - either by inventing a Marxist "classless society" or an equally imaginative egalitarian utopia, actually undermined both order and liberty.

The "science of jurisprudence" likewise cannot be weighed down by the dead hand of the past but must change with "the passage of the generations."  The law is not, Kirk says, "immutable."   But the fact that the law changes was less important to Kirk than how it changes.  In the Anglo-American tradition, Kirk identified several prerequisites, foundational principles upon which the rule of law rested.  The most important of these are first, that the law is not an arbitrary system to be used by those in power against those who are not; second, the notion that no one is "above" the law; and third, that the sources of law are custom, tradition, and precedent.  These features, for Kirk, it must be stressed, not themselves part of the rule of law or the formal "legal system," but rather arise from the historical experience of the West.  Taken together, they represent a strong preference for gradual, piecemeal development of the law, with few if any abstract, universal principles imposed from outside.

It's ultimately just a matter of republican liberty.
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Posted by orrinj at 12:43 PM


Nixon and All That Jazz : Leonard Garment, 1924-2013 (ANDREW FERGUSON, 7/29/13, Weekly Standard)

Garment was an unlikely political animal. A child of the Depression, he had early ambitions to be a professional musician, and he was good enough to get hired as a clarinetist for Woody Herman's wartime band. (One fellow jazzman and friend from this period was Alan Greenspan, who, Garment tells us, would duck away between sets to read Ayn Rand. As Duke Ellington said, "It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that Objectivist epistemology.") Garment chucked it all for law school, and reading Crazy Rhythm you can see the blend of the musical lawyer, or the lawyerly musician. His writing has the clarity of a good legal brief decorated here and there with the twists and rhythms of good music. Not a lot of that in the Nixon White House.

Among his other gifts, Garment was an alert onlooker, as political aides always are if they're to be of any use to Sen. Supernova. It's unlikely that Nixon had anyone around him as observant and finely tuned as his old law partner. Here's how Garment records his first intimate look at the great man, as Nixon worked the phones in their law office: 

While lawyers, politicians, and even normal folk often shift and slide among different telephone personae, modifying their manner according to their relationship to the caller, Nixon's telephone skills were of another order of virtuosity. The phone, I started to learn, was his favorite instrument of persuasion. It separated him from the disturbing emanations of another person's physical presence, enabling him to concentrate on his words without having to compose his eyes and coordinate his hands to harmonize with them. 

It's all there, in three sentences: Nixon's intelligence and ambition, his social skill and his social awkwardness, the weird no-man's land that stood between him and everyone else, which is, I suppose, what finally did him in. 

Len Garment was a large presence, and a practiced storyteller, and it's a tribute to Nixon that a man of Garment's abilities was willing to be subsumed in the cause of his own career. He had few and lightly held political views of his own, and as he makes clear in Crazy Rhythm, he upended his career and followed Nixon out of boredom: "I had run out of steam. Most of my small-scale ambitions had been achieved, and I had that bleak midlife feeling that I was doing what I would be doing for the rest of my life." The point doesn't really require explaining. If your idea of thrill-seeking is Richard Nixon, you're in a midlife crisis by definition.

Crazy Rhythm shows that relations between politician and staffer, staffer and special pleaders, special pleaders and politicians remain as they have ever been. Many of his stories could have taken place in any period of modern Washington. 

One day in the early seventies, for example, Garment found himself entreating a small-time TV station owner in Tennessee for free air time to broadcast public service ads promoting one of the administration's pet causes. The owner obliged, on condition that Garment persuade someone at the Office of Management and Budget to approve a tiny project--a million dollars, maybe two--on the nearby Tombigbee River. Garment succeeded, the funding was approved, the ads aired, and neither he nor anyone else in the White House thought more of it. Twelve years and several appropriations later, the tiny project opened as the 234-mile Tombigbee Waterway, at a cost of nearly $5 billion (in today's dollars). Then as now, things in Washington tend to get out of hand.

There is nothing like the experience of being a political aide, though you can get some sense of the experience from a book like What it Takes.
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Posted by orrinj at 12:36 PM


Why Everybody Loves Tesla (Ashlee Vance, July 18, 2013, Business Week)

Some of the stock's rise may have come from short sellers covering their bets, but you don't get revenue increases like that without a decent product. The Model S does zero to 60 miles per hour in 4.2 seconds, has plenty of room (including a "frunk," a second trunk under the hood), and gets the energy usage equivalent of 95 miles per gallon. Last November it became the first electric to win the Motor Trend Car of the Year award; in May, Consumer Reports gave the Model S its highest car rating ever--99 out of 100. "It's what Marty McFly might have brought back in place of his DeLorean in Back to the Future," the magazine said.

After the battery-pack demonstration, Tesla's chief designer, Franz von Holzhausen, can barely contain himself as he talks about the design of the Model S. "It's like the leap of faith Apple (AAPL) took with the iPhone," he says, explaining why the car has a touchscreen instead of the usual physical buttons. "There's a cleanliness to the interior. The screen is the hero. We are in the midst of that transition toward a new way of thinking. For me, it's that iPhone moment."

That the company has come this far is no small achievement. But the next phase of Tesla's growth is going to be exponentially more challenging. Tesla's ambition isn't merely to win the title of hottest car in Silicon Valley, it's to simultaneously become the next Ford Motor (F) and ExxonMobil (XOM)--to be a profitable, mass-scale manufacturer and fuel distribution network. Not even Henry Ford tried to pull all that off.

Posted by orrinj at 12:28 PM


T-Model Ford, Late-Blooming Bluesman, Is Dead (MARGALIT FOX, 7/19/13, NY Times)

T-Model Ford, a raw-sounding, mesmerizing guitarist and singer who was among the last of the old-time Delta bluesmen -- and whose career was all the more noteworthy for his not having picked up a guitar until he was almost 60 -- died on Tuesday at his home in Greenville, Miss. [...]

"Jack Daniel's, the women and the Lord been keeping me here," he told The Chicago Sun-Times in 2003. In old age, however, on doctor's orders, he reduced his involvement with the first of these to some extent.

Mr. Ford was a completely self-taught musician, and the blues that sprang from him was stark, harsh and haunting even by the standards of the genre.

Because he did not know the proper way to tune a guitar, the eccentric tunings he devised lent his music a strange, soulful tonality -- he played, as fellow musicians sometimes described it, "in the key of T."

If Mr. Ford exuded the aura of a backwoods bluesman from Central Casting, he came by it more or less honestly, for his personal narrative seemed to rival that of any blues song:

There was the childhood spent working the fields under the brutal Mississippi sun.

There was his first wife, whom he married when he was a teenager, and who left, Mr. Ford said, to run off with his father.

There was another wife, who he said drank poison to try to end a pregnancy but died instead.

"I heard her thump down on the floor, stone dead," Mr. Ford told an interviewer in 1999. "I was sad, I loved that woman, but I didn't let it get me down."

There was still another wife -- either the third or the fifth; the number varied with Mr. Ford's recollection -- who gave him his first guitar before decamping.

There were the times, more recently, that he tried to stab members of his band, because they irked him.

Of the stories that swirled around Mr. Ford, some were tall tales in the oral tradition of old bluesmen. Others seemed born of the gleeful, spur-of-the-moment hyperbole with which Mr. Ford, who could neither read nor write but was no less canny for that, embellished his many interviews.

And still others, given the realities of black life in the Depression-era South, were apparently true -- including the two years he spent on a chain gang for killing a man in self-defense.

That man may not have been the only one Mr. Ford killed in his long life. As he wondered aloud in an interview with The New York Times in 2001, "Do I count the one I run over in my Pontiac?"

James Lewis Carter Ford was born on June 24 -- of that much he was certain -- about 1920, in Forest, Miss.

T-Model Ford: Hear A Rousing Session With The Late Bluesman (JOHN RICHARDS, October 07, 2008, NPR)

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Posted by orrinj at 9:30 AM


Raising the Wrong Profile (TA-NEHISI COATES, 7/19/13, NY Times)

In 2003, State Senator Barack Obama spearheaded a bill through the Illinois legislature that sought to put the clamps on racial profiling. Obama called racial profiling "morally objectionable," "bad police practice" and a method that mainly served to "humiliate individuals and foster contempt in communities of color."

Obama was not simply speaking abstractly. In his 2006 book "The Audacity of Hope," the future president wrote that he could "recite the usual litany of petty slights" directed at him because of his skin color, including being profiled by the police. "I know what it's like to have people tell me I can't do something because of my color," he wrote. "And I know the bitter swill of swallowed-back anger." That same bitterness probably compelled Obama, as president, to speak out after Prof. Henry Louis Gates of Harvard was arrested, and to famously note last year, "If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon."

That is why it is hard to comprehend the thinking that compelled the president, in a week like this, to flirt with the possibility of inviting the New York City Police Commissioner, Ray Kelly, the proprietor of the largest local racial profiling operation in the country, into his cabinet.

Posted by orrinj at 8:35 AM

ATOMIC WEAPONS (profanity alert):

Jahar's World : He was a charming kid with a bright future. But no one saw the pain he was hiding or the monster he would become. (JANET REITMAN, JULY 17, 2013, Rolling Stone)

At which point Jahar, Will says, told him he didn't want to talk about it anymore. Will asked why. "He said, 'Well, you're not going to like my view.' So I pressed him on it, and he said he felt some of those acts were justified because of what the U.S. does in other countries, and that they do it so frequently, dropping bombs all the time."

To be fair, Will and others note, Jahar's perspective on U.S. foreign policy wasn't all that dissimilar from a lot of other people they knew. "In terms of politics, I'd say he's just as anti-American as the next guy in Cambridge," says Theo. Even so, Will decided not to push it. "I was like, 'Wow, this dude actually supports that? I can't have this conversation anymore.'"

They never brought it up again.

In retrospect, Jahar's comment about 9/11 could be seen in the context of what criminal profilers call "leakage": a tiny crack in an otherwise carefully crafted facade that, if recognized - it's often not - provides a key into the person's interior world. "On cases where I've interviewed these types of people, the key is looking past their exterior and getting access to that interior, which is very hard," says Tom Neer, a retired agent from the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit and now a senior associate with the Soufan Group, which advises the government on counterterrorism. "Most people have a public persona as well as a private persona, but for many people, there's a secret side, too. And the secret side is something that they labor really hard to protect."

There were many things about Jahar that his friends and teachers didn't know - something not altogether unusual for immigrant children, who can live highly bifurcated lives, toggling back and forth between their ethnic and American selves. "I never saw the parents, and didn't even know he had a brother," says Payack, who wondered why Jahar never had his family rooting for him on the sidelines, as his teammates did. "If you're a big brother and you love your little brother, why don't you come and watch him in sports?"

Theo wondered, too. "I asked him about that once, and he told me that he'd boxed when he was younger, and he'd never lost a boxing match, so he didn't want his dad to see him lose." It sounded plausible: Jahar had an innate ability as a wrestler, but he never put in the time to be truly great. "It wasn't really on his list," says Theo. On the other hand, losing didn't seem to bother him, either. "Other kids, when they lose they get angry - they think the ref made a bad call, and maybe they'll throw a chair. Or they'll cry, or sulk in a corner," says Payack. Jahar would simply walk off the mat with a shrug. "He'd just kind of have this face like, 'Oh, well, I tried.'"

On Senior Night, the last home match of the season, every Rindge senior wrestler is asked to bring a parent or relative to walk them onto the gym floor to receive a flower and have their picture taken. Jahar brought no one. "We had one of the coaches walk him out to get his flower," says Payack. This, too, didn't seem to bother Jahar - and even if it did, he never mentioned it. "With our friends, you don't need to confide in them to be close to them," says Jackson.

Jahar's family seemed to exist in a wholly separate sphere from the rest of his life. Jackson, who lived nearby, would occasionally see Anzor working on cars; several others knew of Jahar's sisters from their older siblings. And there were always stories about Tamerlan, who'd been a two-time Golden Gloves champion. But almost nobody met Tamerlan in person, and virtually no one from school ever went to the Tsarnaevs' house. "I mean never - not once," says Jackson. One friend of Jahar's older sister Bella would say that the apartment at 410 Norfolk "had a vibe that outsiders weren't too common."

There are a number of indications that the troubles in the Tsarnaev family went deeper than normal adjustment to American life. Anzor, who suffered from chronic arthritis, headaches and stomach pain, had an erratic temperament - a residual, he'd say, of the abuse he'd suffered in Kyrgyzstan - and struck one neighbor on Norfolk Street as a "miserable guy," who'd bark at his neighbors over parking spaces and even grab the snow shovels out of their hands when he felt they weren't shoveling the walk properly. Despite his demeanor, he was an intensely hard worker. "I remember his hands," says Baudy. "He'd be working on cars in the Boston cold, no gloves, and he'd have these thick bumps on his knuckles from the arthritis. But he loved it. He saw his role as putting food on the table."

Zubeidat, an enterprising woman, worked as a home-health aide, then switched to cosmetology, giving facials at a local salon and later opening a business in her home. "She never wanted to commit," says Baudy, who liked Jahar's mother but saw her as a typical striver. "She was trying to get rich faster - like, 'Oh, this is taking too long. We'll try something else.'"

But the money never came. By 2009, Anzor's health was deteriorating, and that August, the Tsarnaevs, who hadn't been on public assistance for the past five years, began receiving benefits again, in the form of food stamps and cash payouts. This inability to fully support his family may have contributed to what some who knew them refer to as Anzor's essential "weakness" as a father, deferring to Zubeidat, who could be highly controlling.

A doting mother, "she'd never take any advice about her kids," says Anna. "She thought they were the smartest, the most beautiful children in the world" - Tamerlan most of all. "He was the biggest deal in the family. In a way, he was like the father. Whatever he said, they had to do."

Tamerlan's experience in Cambridge was far less happy than Jahar's. Already a teenager when he arrived in America, Tamerlan spoke with a thick Russian accent, and though he enrolled in the English as a Second Language program at Rindge, he never quite assimilated. He had a unibrow, and found it hard to talk to girls. One former classmate recalls that prior to their senior prom, a few of Tamerlan's friends tried to find him a date. "He wasn't even around," she says, "it was just his friends asking girls to go with him." But everyone said no, and he attended the prom alone.

After graduating in 2006, he enrolled at Bunker Hill Community College to study accounting, but attended for just three semesters before dropping out. A talented pianist and composer, he harbored a desire to become a musician, but his ultimate dream was to become an Olympic boxer, after which he'd turn pro. This was also his father's dream - a champion boxer himself back in Russia, Anzor reportedly pushed Tamerlan extremely hard, riding behind him on his bicycle while his son jogged to the local boxing gym. And Tamerlan did very well under his father's tutelage, rising in the ranks of New England fighters. One of the best in his weight class, Tamerlan once told a fighter to "practice punching a tree at home" if he wanted to be truly great. But his arrogance undermined his ambitions. In 2010, a rival trainer, claiming Tamerlan had broken boxing etiquette by taunting his fighter before a match, lodged a complaint with the national boxing authority that Tamerlan should be disqualified from nationwide competition as he was not an American citizen. The authorities, coincidentally, were just in the process of changing their policy to ban all non-U.S. citizens from competing for a national title.

This dashed any Olympic hopes, as Tamerlan was not yet eligible to become a U.S. citizen. His uncle Ruslan had urged him to join the Army. It would give him structure, he said, and help him perfect his English. "I told him the best way to start your way in a new country - give something," Ruslan says. But Tamerlan laughed, his uncle recalls, for suggesting he kill "our brother Muslims."

Tamerlan had discovered religion, a passion that had begun in 2009. In interviews, Zubeidat has suggested it was her idea, a way to encourage Tamerlan, who spent his off-hours partying with his friends at local clubs, to become more serious. "I told Tamerlan that we are Muslim, and we are not practicing our religion, and how can we call ourselves Muslims?" she said. But Anna suspects there was something else factoring into the situation. Once, Anna recalls, Zubeidat hinted that something might be wrong. "Tamerlan told me he feels like there's two people living in him," she confided in her friend. "It's weird, right?"

Anna, who wondered if Tamerlan might be developing a mental illness, suggested Zubeidat take him to a "doctor" ("If I said 'psychiatrist,' she'd just flip," she says), but Zubeidat seems to have believed that Islam would help calm Tamerlan's demons. Mother and son began reading the Koran - encouraged, Zubeidat said, by a friend of Tamerlan's named Mikhail Allakhverdov, or "Misha," a thirtysomething Armenian convert to Islam whom family members believe Tamerlan met at a Boston-area mosque. Allakhverdov has denied any association with the attack. "I wasn't his teacher," he told the New York Review of Books. "If I had been his teacher, I would have made sure he never did anything like this." But family members have said Allakhverdov had a big influence on Tamerlan, coming to the house and often staying late into the night, talking with Tamerlan about Islam and the Koran. Uncle Ruslan would later tell The Daily Mail that Allakhverdov would "give one-on-one sermons to Tamerlan over the kitchen table, during which he claimed he could talk to demons and perform exorcisms."

Zubeidat was pleased. "Don't interrupt them," she told her husband one evening when Anzor questioned why Allakhverdov was still there around midnight. "Misha is teaching him to be good and nice."

Before long, Tamerlan had quit drinking and smoking pot, and started to pray five times a day, even taking his prayer rug to the boxing gym. At home, he spent long hours on the Internet reading Islamic websites, as well as U.S. conspiracy sites, like Alex Jones' InfoWars. He told a photographer he met that he didn't understand Americans and complained about a lack of values. He stopped listening to music. "It is not supported by Islam," Tamerlan said. "Misha says it's not really good to create or listen to music." Then, in 2011, he decided to quit boxing, claiming it was not permitted for a Muslim to hit another man.

Zubeidat, too, had become increasingly religious - something that would get in the way of her marriage as well as her job at an upscale Belmont salon, where she broke for daily prayers and refused to work on male clients. She was ultimately fired, after which she turned her living room into a minisalon. One of her former clients recalls her wearing "a head wrap" in the house, and a hijab whenever she went outside. "She started to refuse to see boys who'd gone through puberty," recalls the client. "A religious figure had told her it was sacrilegious."

What really struck her client, beyond Zubeidat's zeal, were her politics. During one facial session, she says, Zubeidat told her she believed 9/11 was a government plot to make Americans hate Muslims. "It's real," she said. "My son knows all about it. You can read on the Internet."

It was during this period that Jahar told his friend Will that he felt terrorism could be justified, a sentiment that Tamerlan apparently shared. Whether or not Jahar truly agreed with his brother, their relationship was one where he couldn't really question him. In Chechen families, Baudy says, "Your big brother is not quite God, but more than a normal brother." When they were kids, Baudy recalls, Tamerlan used to turn off the TV and make them do pushups. Now he urged them to study the Koran.

"Jahar found it kind of a nuisance," says Baudy, and tried to shrug it off as best as he could. But he couldn't do much. "You're not going to get mad at your elders or tell them to stop doing something, especially if it's about being more religious." During one visit a few years ago, Baudy recalls, Tamerlan interrupted them on the computer to say that if they were going to be surfing the Internet, they should focus on their faith. He gave them a book - Islam 101 - and instructed them to read. He gave the same book to James, the high school convert who, as a new Muslim, was one of the very few of Jahar's friends who came to the house. Tamerlan also taught James how to pray. "I guess they'd sit there for hours," says Sam, who would hear about it afterward. Sam couldn't figure it out. "It was crazy because back a few years ago, Timmy was so like us, a regular dude, boxing, going to school, hanging out, partying all the time. But then he changed and became anti-fun."

By 2011, all remnants of "Timmy" seemed to be gone. When his close friend and sparring partner Brendan Mess began dating a nonpracticing Muslim, Tamerlan criticized Mess' girlfriend for her lack of modesty. And he also reportedly criticized Mess for his "lifestyle" - he was a local pot dealer. On September 11th, 2011 - the 10th anniversary of 9/11 - Mess and two of his friends were killed in a grisly triple murder that remains unsolved. Since the bombing, authorities have been vigorously investigating the crime, convinced that Tamerlan had something to do with it, though so far there's no hard evidence.

"All I know is Jahar was really wary of coming home high because of how his brother would react. He'd get really angry," says Will. "He was a really intense dude."

"And if you weren't Muslim, he was even more intense," says Sam, who notes that he never met Tamerlan in person, though he heard stories about him all the time from Jahar. "I was fascinated - this dude's, like, six-three, he's a boxer - I wanted to meet him," says Sam. "But Jahar was like, 'No, you don't want to meet him.'"

Jahar rarely spoke to his friends about his sisters, Ailina and Bella, who, just a few years older than he, kept to themselves but also had their own struggles. Attractive, dark-haired girls who were "very Americanized," as friends recall, they worshipped Tamerlan, whom one sister would later refer to as her "hero" - but they were also subject to his role as family policeman. When Bella was a junior in high school, her father, hearing that she'd been seen in the company of an American boy, pulled her out of school and dispatched Tamerlan to beat the boy up. Friends later spotted Bella wearing a hijab; not long afterward, she disappeared from Cambridge entirely. Some time later, Ailina would similarly vanish. Both girls were reportedly set up in arranged marriages.

Anna Nikeava was unaware the girls had even left Boston, and suspects the parents never talked about it for fear of being judged. "Underneath it all, they were a screwed-up family," she says. "They weren't Chechen" - they had not come from Chechnya, as she and others had - "and I don't think the other families accepted them as Chechens. They could not define themselves or where they belonged. And poor Jahar was the silent survivor of all that dysfunction," she says. "He never said a word. But inside, he was very hurt, his world was crushed by what was going on with his family. He just learned not to show it."

Anzor, who'd been at first baffled, and later "depressed," by his wife's and son's religiosity, moved back to Russia in 2011, and that summer was granted a divorce. Zubeidat was later arrested for attempting to shoplift $1,600 worth of clothes from a Lord & Taylor. Rather than face prosecution, she skipped bail and also returned to Russia, where she ultimately reconciled with her ex-husband. Jahar's sisters, both of whom seemed to have escaped their early marriages, were living in New Jersey and hadn't seen their family in some time.

And Tamerlan was now married, too. His new wife, Katherine Russell, was a Protestant from a well-off family in Rhode Island. After high school, she'd toyed with joining the Peace Corps but instead settled on college at Boston's Suffolk University. She'd met Tamerlan at a club during her freshman year, in 2007, and found him "tall and handsome and having some measure of worldliness," one friend would recall. But as their relationship progressed, Katherine's college roommates began to worry that Tamerlan was "controlling" and "manipulative." They became increasingly concerned when he demanded that she cover herself and convert to Islam.

Though Katherine has never spoken to the press, what is known is that she did convert to Islam, adopting the name "Karima," and soon got pregnant and dropped out of college. In June 2010, she and Tamerlan were married; not long afterward, she gave birth to their daughter, Zahira. Around this time, both her friends and family say, she "pulled away." She was seen in Boston, shopping at Whole Foods, cloaked and wearing a hijab. She rarely spoke around her husband, and when alone, recalls one neighbor, she spoke slowly with an accent. "I didn't even know she was an American," he says.

Jahar, meanwhile, was preparing for college. He had won a $2,500 city scholarship, which is awarded each year to about 40 to 50 Cambridge students; he ended up being accepted at a number of schools, including Northeastern University and UMass Amherst. But UMass Dartmouth offered him a scholarship. "He didn't want to force his parents to pay a lot of money for school," says Sam, who recalls that Jahar never even bothered to apply to his fantasy schools, Brandeis and Tufts, due to their price tags. A number of his friends would go off to some of the country's better private colleges, "but Jizz rolled with the punches. He put into his head, 'I can't go to school for mad dough, so I'm just going to go wherever gives me the best deal.' Because, I mean, what's the point of going to a school that's going to cost $30,000 a year - for what? Pointless." His other friends agree.

A middling school an hour and a half south of Boston, UMass Dartmouth had one distinguishing feature - its utter lack of character. "It's beige," says Jackson. "It's, like, the most depressing campus I've ever seen." Annual costs are about $22,000.

Jahar arrived in the fall of 2011 and almost immediately wanted to go home. North Dartmouth, where the university is based, is a working-class community with virtually nothing to boast of except for a rather sad mall and a striking number of fast-food joints. It has a diverse student population, but their level of curiosity seemed to fall far below his friends' from Rindge. "Using my high-school essays for my english class #itsthateasy," Jahar tweeted in November 2011. "You know what i like to do? answer my own questions cuz no one else can."

"He was hating life," says Sam. "He used to always call and say it's mad wack and the people were corny." His one saving grace was that one of his best friends from Rindge had gone to UMass Dartmouth, too - though he would later transfer. "All they would do was sit in the car and get high - it was that boring," says Sam.

On the weekends, campus would empty out and Jahar came home as often as he could. But home was no longer "home," as his parents were gone. Many of his closest friends were gone as well. Tamerlan, though, was always around. "Pray," the older brother told the younger. "You cannot call yourself a Muslim unless you thank Allah five times a day."

There's nothing more dangerous than a young male who's truly free.

Posted by orrinj at 8:12 AM


The Vitamin Myth: Why We Think We Need Supplements : Nutrition experts contend that all we need is what's typically found in a routine diet. Industry representatives, backed by a fascinating history, argue that foods don't contain enough, and we need supplements. Fortunately, many excellent studies have now resolved the issue. (PAUL OFFIT, JUL 19 2013, Atlantic)

On October 10, 2011, researchers from the University of Minnesota found that women who took supplemental multivitamins died at rates higher than those who didn't. Two days later, researchers from the Cleveland Clinic found that men who took vitamin E had an increased risk of prostate cancer. "It's been a tough week for vitamins," said Carrie Gann of ABC News.

These findings weren't new. Seven previous studies had already shown that vitamins increased the risk of cancer and heart disease and shortened lives. Still, in 2012, more than half of all Americans took some form of vitamin supplements. What few people realize, however, is that their fascination with vitamins can be traced back to one man. A man who was so spectacularly right that he won two Nobel Prizes and so spectacularly wrong that he was arguably the world's greatest quack. [...]

Antioxidation vs. oxidation has been billed as a contest between good and evil. The battle takes place in cellular organelles called mitochondria, where the body converts food to energy, a process that requires oxygen and so is called oxidation. One consequence of oxidation is the generation of electron scavengers called free radicals (evil). Free radicals can damage DNA, cell membranes, and the lining of arteries; not surprisingly, they've been linked to aging, cancer, and heart disease. To neutralize free radicals, the body makes its own antioxidants (good). Antioxidants can also be found in fruits and vegetables--specifically, selenium, beta-carotene, and vitamins A, C, and E. Studies have shown that people who eat more fruits and vegetables have a lower incidence of cancer and heart disease and live longer. The logic is obvious: if fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants--and people who eat lots of fruits and vegetables are healthier--then people who take supplemental antioxidants should also be healthier.

In fact, they're less healthy.

In 1994, the National Cancer Institute, in collaboration with Finland's National Public Health Institute, studied 29,000 Finnish men, all long-term smokers more than fifty years old. This group was chosen because they were at high risk for cancer and heart disease. Subjects were given vitamin E, beta-carotene, both, or neither. The results were clear: those taking vitamins and supplements were more likely to die from lung cancer or heart disease than those who didn't take them--the opposite of what researchers had anticipated.

In 1996, investigators from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, in Seattle, studied 18,000 people who, because they had been exposed to asbestos, were at increased risk of lung cancer. Again, subjects received vitamin A, beta-carotene, both, or neither. Investigators ended the study abruptly when they realized that those who took vitamins and supplements were dying from cancer and heart disease at rates 28 and 17 percent higher, respectively, than those who didn't.

In 2004, researchers from the University of Copenhagen reviewed fourteen randomized trials involving more than 170,000 people who took vitamins A, C, E, and beta-carotene to see whether antioxidants could prevent intestinal cancers. Again, antioxidants didn't live up to the hype. The authors concluded, "We could not find evidence that antioxidant supplements can prevent gastrointestinal cancers; on the contrary, they seem to increase overall mortality." When these same researchers evaluated the seven best studies, they found that death rates were 6 percent higher in those taking vitamins.

In 2005, researchers from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine evaluated nineteen studies involving more than 136,000people and found an increased risk of death associated with supplemental vitamin E. Dr. Benjamin Caballero, director of the Center for Human Nutrition at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said, "This reaffirms what others have said. The evidence for supplementing with any vitamin, particularly vitamin E, is just not there. This idea that people have that [vitamins] will not hurt them may not be that simple." That same year, a study published in the Journal of theAmerican Medical Association evaluated more than 9,000 people who took high-dose vitamin E to prevent cancer; those who took vitamin E were more likely to develop heart failure than those who didn't.

In 2007, researchers from the National Cancer Institute examined 11,000 men who did or didn't take multivitamins. Those who took multivitamins were twice as likely to die from advanced prostate cancer.

In 2008, a review of all existing studies involving more than 230,000 people who did or did not receive supplemental antioxidants found that vitamins increased the risk of cancer and heart disease.

On October 10, 2011, researchers from the University of Minnesota evaluated 39,000 older women and found that those who took supplemental multivitamins, magnesium, zinc, copper, and iron died at rates higher than those who didn't. They concluded, "Based on existing evidence, we see little justification for the general and widespread use of dietary supplements."

Two days later, on October 12, researchers from the Cleveland Clinic published the results of a study of 36,000 men who took vitamin E, selenium, both, or neither. They found that those receiving vitamin E had a 17 percent greater risk of prostate cancer. In response to the study, Steven Nissen, chairman of cardiology at the Cleveland Clinic, said, "The concept of multivitamins was sold to Americans by an eager nutraceutical industry to generate profits. There was never any scientific data supporting their usage." On October 25, a headline in the Wall Street Journal asked, "Is This the End of Popping Vitamins?" Studies haven't hurt sales. In 2010, the vitamin industry grossed $28 billion, up 4.4 percent from the year before. "The thing to do with [these reports] is just ride them out," said Joseph Fortunato, chief executive of General Nutrition Centers. "We see no impact on our business."

How could this be? Given that free radicals clearly damage cells--and given that people who eat diets rich in substances that neutralize free radicals are healthier--why did studies of supplemental antioxidants show they were harmful? The most likely explanation is that free radicals aren't as evil as advertised. Although it's clear that free radicals can damage DNA and disrupt cell membranes, that's not always a bad thing. People need free radicals to kill bacteria and eliminate new cancer cells. But when people take large doses of antioxidants, the balance between free radical production and destruction might tip too much in one direction, causing an unnatural state in which the immune system is less able to kill harmful invaders. Researchers have called this "the antioxidant paradox." 
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July 19, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 5:30 AM


Can 'D+' in infrastructure lead to 'A' in economics? (Daryl Dulaney JULY 19, 2013, Reuters)

When the American Society of Civil Engineers gave American infrastructure a D+ "report card" this year, maybe the United States should have been proud of its first improved grade in 15 years. But moving from D to D+ still means we need to take tremendous strides to make our cities "smarter." [...]

But investing in the right technology solutions now can mitigate future challenges and lessen increasing repair costs. More important, it can ultimately ready our cities to excel in today's population-growth era.

Unlocking each city's potential is dependent on some key components -- namely affordable scalability and interconnectivity:

Connected, coordinated public transportation systems -- similar to European hubs that efficiently link planes, trains, buses and trams -- are now being embraced in the United States. Cities like Atlanta, Charlotte, San Antonio, Denver, San Francisco and Portland are looking into interconnected public transportation systems that can free up roads and feed airports. This will ensure more efficient transportation flow and better support to key economic centers.

Microgrids -- which are stand-alone energy systems capable of operating in parallel or independent of the larger power grid -- can deliver a more reliable source of power. During Hurricane Sandy, for example, Co-Op City, a major housing project in Bronx, N.Y., was able to disconnect from the central city grid and distribute power from its own on-site generator, maintaining power throughout the storm for its 14,000 apartments across 35 high-rise buildings, townhouses, garages, three shopping centers and six schools.

Energy-efficient technologies, including lighting or temperature controls, can be financed through performance contracts tied to the value of future energy savings. School districts from Minnesota and Mississippi have used performance contracts to cover the cost of updating infrastructure with new energy-efficient technology. Schools have installed, for example, new systems that during off-hours automatically turn off building lights and lower temperatures -- saving considerable energy and money. These schools finance their new equipment over a set period of time (say 10 or 20 years) using the energy savings to offset payments -- thereby updating their facility and infrastructure on a neutral budget.

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 AM


Why I'm a creationist (Virginia Heffernan, 7/11/13, Yahoo News)

[A]t heart, I am a creationist. There, I said it. At least you, dear readers, won't now storm out of a restaurant like the last person I admitted that to. In New York City saying you're a creationist is like confessing you think Ahmadinejad has a couple of good points. Maybe I'm the only creationist I know.

This is how I came to it. Like many people, I heard no end of Bible stories as a kid, but in the 1970s in New England they always came with the caveat that they were metaphors. So I read the metaphors of Genesis and Exodus and was amused and bugged and uplifted and moved by them. And then I guess I wanted to know the truth of how the world began, so I was handed the Big Bang. That wasn't a metaphor, but it wasn't fact either. It was something called a hypothesis. And it was only a sentence. I was amused and moved, but considerably less amused and moved by the character-free Big Bang story ("something exploded") than by the twisted and picturesque misadventures of Eve and Adam and Cain and Abel and Abraham.

Later I read Thomas Malthus' "Essay on the Principle of Population" and "The Origin of Species" by Charles Darwin, as well as probably a dozen books about evolution and atheism, from Stephen Jay Gould to Sam Harris.

The Darwin, with good reason, stuck with me. Though it's sometimes poetic, "The Origin of Species" has an enchantingly arid English tone to it; this somber tone was part of a deliberate effort to mark it as science and not science fiction--the "Star Trek" of its time. The book also alights on a tautology that, like all tautologies, is gloriously unimpeachable: Whatever survives survives.

But I still wasn't sure why a book that never directly touches on human evolution, much less the idea of God, was seen as having unseated the story of creation. In short, "The Origin of Species" is not its own creation story. And while the fact that it stints on metaphor--so as to avoid being like H.G. Wells--neither is it bedrock fact. It's another hypothesis.

Cut to now. I still read and read and listen and listen. And I have never found a more compelling story of our origins than the ones that involve God. The evolutionary psychologists with their just-so stories for everything ("You use a portable Kindle charger because mothers in the primordial forest gathered ginseng") have become more contradictory than Leviticus. Did you all see that ev-psych now says it's women who are naturally not monogamous, in spite of the same folks telling us for decades that women are desperate to secure resources for their kids so they frantically sustain wedlock with a rich silverback who will keep them in cashmere?

Sigh. When a social science, made up entirely of observations and hypotheses, tells us first that men are polygamous and women homebodies, and then that men are monogamous and women gallivanters--and, what's more builds far-fetched protocols of dating and courtship and marriage and divorce around these notions--maybe it's time to retire the whole approach.

July 18, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 9:26 PM


The Man Who Toppled Morsi : Who is the officer who holds Egypt's future in his hands? (LEE SMITH, 7/18/13, Weekly Standard)

The man who deposed Morsi cavorts with celebrities, inviting Egyptian actors and actresses and singers to watch his American-funded army training. He has himself photographed leading his troops in a marathon run and other manly feats like an Egyptian version of Vladimir Putin. The general now in charge of the largest Arab state who, according to the Egyptian rumor/conspiracy mill, tells off CIA Director John Brennan, likes it to be known that he defies the Americans. The military figure who may have cashiered Egypt's fledgling democratic process has big visions for himself and for Egypt. In his first speech since the coup, Sisi explained that he acted not only because of the country's economic crisis, but because "Egypt's influence and status in its region declined and, accordingly, so too did its role in the community of nations." Perhaps most alarmingly, Sisi consults regularly with Mohamed Hassanein Heikal, the 89-year-old journalist and former confidante of Gamal abd-el Nasser, the most charismatic Arab leader of the last century, whose dangerous narcissism entangled Egypt in two catastrophic wars. [...] 

Some analysts have noted that Sisi's coup and his dragnet arresting hundreds of key Muslim Brotherhood members is similar to Nasser's confrontation with the Brotherhood, but the similarities may go further. After all, Sisi is taking some of his cues from the same man who was Nasser's brain, Heikal. A prolific author and former editor of Egypt's flagship newspaper, Al-Ahram, Mohamed Hassanein Heikal is most famous for his close relationship with Nasser. Whether Heikal directed Nasser's political moves, as the dean of Egyptian journalists likes to let on, or he merely witnessed up close Nasser's decision-making process, his reputation as a great man is premised almost entirely on his history with Arab nationalism's greatest hero. According to reports, Sisi met with Heikal regularly before the coup.  Egyptian sources say that Heikal wrote both Sisi's speech giving Morsi a 48-hour ultimatum, and Sisi's post-coup announcement.

"It's not surprising Sisi would fall for someone like Heikal," says Tadros. "Even 40 years after the death of Nasser, Heikal retains this aura of greatness around him--a great mind, a genius, someone who is well connected and knows the world and its ways better than anyone else. This reputation is undeserved but would appeal to someone like Sisi, whose experience of the world is very limited. Compare him to Mubarak and Tantawi. Many of these older officers were trained in the Soviet Union, so Mubarak's distaste for socialism was based on living there and seeing what it was like. What we know of Sisi on the other hand is that he was a military attaché in Saudi Arabia and trained for a brief time in the United States. This is not a man of the world."

Indeed, it is perhaps Sisi's provincialism, his view of Egypt as the center of the world, as much as his ambition that led him to embrace Heikal. Nasser was the champion of Arab nationalism, but in his hands this ideological conceit of one great unified Arab nation was always an instrument for Egyptian national interests--often at the expense of other regional players, like Jordan and Saudi Arabia. In committing troops to fight alongside the republican forces during North Yemen's 1962-1970 civil war, Nasser was engaged in a proxy war with Riyadh, a disastrous policy often referred to as Egypt's Vietnam. With tens of thousands of troops in Yemen, Nasser found himself fighting on another front in June 1967, when Israel crushed Egypt, seizing the Sinai in six days.

If Sisi removed Morsi with the idea of righting the ship of state, he couldn't have chosen a worse example than Nasser.
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Posted by orrinj at 9:19 PM


A Tiny Essay on Taking Offense (Eva Brann, Imaginative Conservative)

I love midnight movies, the Golden Oldies; they are the silver-lining of insomnia. Recently I caught part of an old black-and-white movie--Pressure Point--of the days when African-Americans were still called Negroes. Sidney Poitier plays a black prison psychiatrist. At one point his white patron says something about not expecting a Negro to be a successful psychiatrist and, suddenly realizing to whom he is talking, quickly adds: "No offense intended." To which Poitier replies, with lordly dignity: "No offense taken." This script is unthinkable in the nineties, more's the pity. Offense is to be taken.

"A gentleman," it used to be said when the term was still operative, "never gives offense unwittingly." Translated into current language, a gentleman was thought to have "sensitivity"--with a negative sign. He had a highly raised consciousness of people's feelings and on occasion meant to hurt them. That is why a gentleman's (or a gentlewoman's) insults were taken with deadly seriousness. Men used to get themselves killed or banished fighting duels over them.

Quite incidentally, the old saying shows up the danger of sensitivity training and consciousness raising--that benignly meant bullying of the guilty in soul by the pure at heart: people might well learn how to hurt more effectively. Anyone like a dean, who is by duty condemned to follow the chronicles of higher education, knows that some such result is appearing on campuses now.

We all know that there are lives and then there are lifestyles. Lives are unities evolving from crucial choices, while lifestyles are accretions of consumer preferences. Similarly, there are morals and moral styles.

Taking offense is a moral style.
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Posted by orrinj at 5:31 AM


How free online courses could revolutionize education (Richard Solash July 2013, MercatorNet)

One thing that no one doubts is that MOOCs are gaining in popularity -- and fast. Agarwal says that after just a year, edX is approaching 1 million learners from 192 countries. In the same time span, Coursera has attracted more than 3 million students. Agarwal boldly predicts that over the next decade or so his initiative will attract 1 billion international learners.

But he concedes that subjects such as politics, history, and philosophy, provided by generally liberal, Western institutions, could cause problems if MOOCs gain such reach.

"I expect that challenges will continue as what might be considered gainful education in one part of the world might be considered disruptive in a different part of the world," Agarwal says. "We haven't had examples of nations or others blocking edX content itself, but some of the infrastructure over which our content is distributed are not accessible all over the world. YouTube was blocked in some nations, for example in Pakistan and China, and we distribute video over YouTube. So there, what we did was we made the video available for download on our site so students could have an alternate way [to watch]."

Another issue to confront is language, as almost all MOOCs are currently in English.

Posted by orrinj at 5:17 AM


I.M.F. Tells China of Urgent Need for Economic Change (ANNIE LOWREY, July 17, 2013, NY Times)

 China's growth has slowed significantly in recent months. But even its current pace of expansion may not be sustainable, the International Monetary Fund warned on Wednesday, unless China starts making significant and systemic economic changes -- and soon.

"Since the global crisis, a mix of investment, credit and fiscal stimulus has underpinned activity," the I.M.F. said in a major annual assessment of the Chinese economy. "This pattern of growth is not sustainable and is raising vulnerabilities. While China still has significant buffers to weather shocks, the margins of safety are diminishing."

Posted by orrinj at 5:13 AM


IRA balances hit five-year high, Fidelity says (Angela Johnson, July 17, 2013, CNNMoney)

The average IRA balance -- including both traditional IRAs and Roth IRAs -- stood at $81,100 at the end of 2012, up 53% from 2008 when balances hit their lowest point since the market meltdown, according to Fidelity Investment's analysis of nearly seven million IRA accounts.

Total contributions to IRAs increased every year since 2008 with the average annual contribution among Fidelity's IRA holders up 7.5% to $3,920. Year-over-year, contributions to IRAs were up 3.1%. [...]

And no group saw a bigger increase in balances than savers ages 30 to 39. This group saw a staggering 105% increase in their average balances between 2008 and 2012.

July 17, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 5:35 AM


China Is About To Make A Mistake That May Rival Its One Child Policy (Paul Roderick Gregory, 7/16/13, Forbes)

The most disastrous blunders have been committed by the scientific planners of one party states. Miscalculations and errors of the market system tend to be self-correcting if they are left alone. Even when they are mishandled, the damage is minor compared to the blunders of the state capitalists.

Some examples: Stalin's "scientific planning" decision to collectivize Soviet agriculture cost the USSR more than six million lives and condemned its agriculture to a half century of miserable performance. The world's former breadbasket became a net importer of grain. Mao's Great Leap Forward of 1958 destroyed the Chinese family farm and doomed over thirty million Chinese to starvation. It was not until Deng Xiaping freed the Chinese peasant (or they freed themselves, it is more accurate to say) that China's agriculture recovered. Stalin's death in 1953 stopped in the nick of time his Great Plan for the Transformation of Nature, which, among other things, would have changed the direction of flow of major Russian rivers.

Well, do not scientific planners learn their lessons? Indeed they have made disastrous mistakes in the past, but they will not repeat them, state-capitalism advocates say. Think again: China's great reformer Deng Xiaoping dictated China's one child policy in 1979 as the reforms started. Not only was this program a gross violation of human rights. It transformed China from a young and vibrant society into an old population with a declining supply of labor within one generation. As a consequence, China's leaders must figure out how to continue rapid growth with the demographics of old Europe.  The one child policy destroyed China's family-based safety net.  China must create a new one from scratch and at great expense. [...]

China, for its part, is about to make a mistake that may rival its one child policy. China's scientific planners have determined in their infinite wisdom that China's urbanization is proceeding too slowly. Although farmers have been moving to cities for decades, the government now says the rate is too slow. The leadership's urbanization blueprint calls for one quarter of a billion Chinese to move from the countryside to the city. The rush to urbanize comes despite concerns that many rural residents cannot find jobs in the cities and will not voluntarily leave behind their cherished rural life, which gives them at least the security of self sufficiency.

China's program to move one quarter of its population to the cities is not the dream child of some low level scientific planner. It has the support of the new Prime Minister, Li Keqiang, the head of the Chinese state government.

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 AM


Older, anxious and white: why UKIP are the English Tea Party (MICHAEL SKEY 17 July 2013, OpenDemocracy)

[R]ecent research on both sides of the Atlantic points to some interesting similarities between the two parties, both, in terms of their supporters' attitudes and experiences and the impact they may be having on the wider political system, as a whole. Of particular interest, here, are anxieties around generational change and the extent to which debates about entitlement are often tied to questions of (national) belonging. 

In trying to compare the parties, the first feature of note is the type of supporters they attract; the vast majority are middle-aged or older and white, while men are more likely to be supporters than women. In the case of the Tea Party, 'nationwide surveys produce a consistent picture of Tea Party supporters... Between 55 and 60 percent of supporters are men; 80-90 percent are white; and 70-75 percent are over 45 years old' (Williamson, Skocpol & Coggin, 2011: 27). According to YouGov data, 85% of UKIP supporters are over 40 years old and 57% are men. Surprisingly, there is no official data on ethnicity, but it's generally agreed that most of their supporters are white.

Where supporters of the respective parties differ most is in terms of class. A report, based on research funded by the Toy peer, Lord Ashcroft, notes that, 'UKIP voters are ...more likely to be male and older, but more likely than average to be in social groups C2 and DE (and less in ABC1)'. Tea Party supporters, on the other hands, tend to be 'better off economically and better educated than most Americans' (Skocpol and Williamson, 2012: 23). What this actually means in practice is that while Tea Party supporters tend to be former Republican voters, UKIP draws it support from a wider ranger of voters, although, unsurprisingly, ex-Tories still dominate. As we will see, this feature may actually have a more profound impact on the British political landscape, given that both Labour and the Conservatives are required to address the rise of UKIP.

Elsewhere, a key feature of both parties rise to prominence has been the role of particular media sources that are not only seen to define key issues, and potential solutions, but also to foster a 'social protest identity' among disparate groups. For instance, political correctness, the idea that 'silent majority' are unable to say what they think for fear of offending minorities, has been one way that populist groups have managed to justify their activities and portray themselves as 'outcasts' and subject to the tyranny of 'liberal' elites. In the US, it has been radio shock jocks and Fox News that have filled this role, while in the UK, it is two newspapers, The Sun and Daily Mail, that offer their readers (including 70% of UKIP supporters) a steady diet of anti-immigration and EU rhetoric.

In terms of policy-making, much has been made of both parties combination of social conservatism and economic liberalism and the extent to which their policies primarily focus on cutting back state spending (with the exception of defence) and reducing the role of government, notably when it comes to environmental and equal opportunities legislation. Of course, there are differences both between, and within, the parties when it comes to the radicalism of their proposals, notably when it comes to welfare. Notable here is the degree to which supporters of both parties choose quite carefully the types of social spending they want to be cut. In the case of UKIP, the NHS, which still has broad-based and popular support among the British electorate, is often excluded from cost-cutting pledges. Likewise, in the US, Tea Party supporters make a distinction between welfare that benefits people like them (for instance, Medicaid and Social Security) and programmes that are seen to support less desirable groups.

July 16, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 6:40 PM


China Keeps On Gobbling Up Treasurys (MIN ZENG, 7/16/13, WSJ)

The largest foreign holder of Treasury securities kept buying amid a spring swoon in U.S. government-bond prices, increasing its holdings to the highest level on record.

China in May bought about $22.49 billion in Treasury notes and bonds, the latest U.S. data showed on Tuesday, even as many other large investors reduced holdings of the debt.

China's holdings hit $1.316 trillion, compared with the previous peak of $1.315 trillion in July 2011, said Ian Lyngen, senior government-bond strategist at CRT Capital Group LLC. The May gain marks the third-biggest monthly increase since the U.S. began publishing foreign-ownership data in 1985, said Mr. Lyngen.

Posted by orrinj at 6:34 PM


Lebanese officials say CIA warned them of imminent al Qaida attack on Hezbollah (Mitchell Prothero, 7/15/13, McClatchy)

 The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency warned Lebanese officials last week that al Qaida-linked groups are planning a campaign of bombings that will target Beirut's Hezbollah-dominated southern suburbs as well as other political targets associated with the group or its allies in Syria, Lebanese officials said Monday.

The unusual warning - U.S. government officials are barred from directly contacting Hezbollah, which the U.S. has designated an international terrorist organization - was passed from the CIA's Beirut station chief to several Lebanese security and intelligence officials in a meeting late last week with the understanding that it would be passed to Hezbollah, Lebanese officials said.

Hezbollah officials acknowledged the warning and took steps to tighten security in the southern suburbs that are known locally as Dahiya.

Posted by orrinj at 6:19 PM


Hot Pockets wants to be cool among foodies (Tiffany Hsu, July 15, 2013, LA Times)

[T]he company is stuffing its dozens of Hot Pockets varieties with more upscale ingredients, including premium meats such as shaved hickory ham and slow-cooked Angus beef. The two new types of crust include a buttery garlic option and a crispy version akin to a savory croissant.

The items, made in kitchens in Chatsworth and Kentucky, will be available not only in grocery stores but also via the recently expanded Amazon Fresh online delivery program.

Celebrity chef Jeff Mauro, host of the Food Network series "Sandwich King," has signed on to plug the updated products and potentially even design a Hot Pocket himself.

"It's had a resurgence," Mauro said of the snack brand's public awareness.

But over the last few years, Hot Pockets sales -- along with revenue throughout the frozen sandwich category -- have declined slightly, Nestle said. Early last year, the company laid off a sixth of the Chatsworth factory's staff, or more than 100 workers, and trimmed the production week to four days from six.

"People think frozen food is bland," Jhung said. "We'd like to break that perception, to reintroduce it like something you'd make at home, just on a bigger scale."

As consumers become more epicurean, more aware and accepting of unexpected tastes and more adamant about sourcing, fast-food restaurateurs and packaged-food manufacturers are scrambling to adopt culinary strategies pioneered at more high-end establishments.

"The food standards for the millennial generation are increasing," said Hot Pocket Brand Manager Kevin Holmes. "They may not be going to Bobby Flay's restaurants, but they still expect a little bit of the same flavor. We wanted to raise our bar as well, step up our game a little bit."

...but you get 5 pair fot $10 plus a $1.50 coupon at the register at Shaw's.

Posted by orrinj at 6:09 PM


Would You Pay $30 Per Month for ESPN? (Todd Spangler, 7/16/13, Variety)

If pay TV providers were forced to sell channels a la carte, retail prices would skyrocket -- with ESPN costing in the ballpark of $30 monthly -- and the industry overall would lose half its revenue, or $70 billion, according to one Wall Street analyst.

Cable and satellite companies and their programming suppliers have for years fought a la carte, warning that it would only result in higher prices and fewer choices. Needham & Co. analyst Laura Martin, who subscribes to the same school of thought, weighed in on the topic again in a research note Monday.

"We can find no math where unbundling is the best economic answer," she wrote. Martin cited declines in the value of newspaper and music industries, which have been disrupted by Internet distribution models, for her analysis.

According to Martin, only about 20 cable channels would survive in an a la carte world. Industry execs have repeatedly raised the specter of niche-oriented and minority-targeted channels becoming unsustainable in such a marketplace.

With a la carte, ESPN's audience would shrink by about one-fifth, to 20 million "super fan" homes, and the cost of the network would rise to $30 monthly because ESPN would need to recoup lost subscriber fees and ad revenue, according to Martin.

Pay walls and subscriptions are a failure elsewhere but will succeed in tv?  Isn't it more likely that an ESPN with less money will lose the major sports to the networks and just fade away?

Posted by orrinj at 3:57 PM


Fans find their way to Target Field by train in record numbers (Tim Harlow,  July 16, 2013, Minneapolis Star Tribune)
Kenny Chesney's "No Shoes Nation Tour" not only set a record for the largest crowd ever at Target Field, it also helped Metro Transit set a record for pre-sale tickets on the Northstar Commuter line.

The transit agency said it sold 530 advanced tickets for the two Northstar runs from Big Lake to the Minneapolis ballpark for the concert on Friday, July 12. That eclipsed the previous pre-sale record set just two weeks ago when 466 advanced tickets were sold ahead of the Twins-Kansas City Royals game on June 30.

In total, more than 2,000 people took the Northstar Line to the big show. An estimated 10,000 people arrived at Target Field by way of the Metro Blue Line, the light-rail line that runs along Hiawatha Avenue from the Mall of America in Bloomington to downtown Minneapolis.

Posted by orrinj at 5:23 AM


The Origins of the Modern American Conservative Movement (Lee Edwards, Ph.D., 11/21/03, Heritage Foundation)

It is a striking historical coincidence that both the People's Republic of China and the modern American conservative movement were born a little over 50 years ago, the PRC in 1949 with the coming to power of Mao Zedung and modern conservatism in 1953 with the publication of Russell Kirk's masterwork, The Conservative Mind.
Chairman Mao famously declared that political power grows out of the barrel of a gun. While that may be true for certain regimes in certain circumstances, such political power cannot be sustained permanently, for it requires ever larger barrels and ever more guns. Political power that depends exclusively for its survival upon force inevitably degenerates into military power and leads to an authoritarian and usually a totalitarian state. Chairman Mao's aphorism in fact denies the reality that lasting political power grows not out of a gun, but out of an idea.

The central idea of The Conservative Mind, upon which American conservatism is essentially based, is ordered liberty. It is a blending of the sometimes contending requirements of the community and the individual, of individual freedom and individual responsibility, of limited government and unlimited markets.

Kirk described six basic "canons" or principles of conservatism:

A divine intent, as well as personal conscience, rules society;

Traditional life is filled with variety and mystery while most radical systems are characterized by a narrowing uniformity;

Civilized society requires orders and classes;

Property and freedom are inseparably connected;

Man must control his will and his appetite, knowing that he is governed more by emotion than by reason; and

Society must alter slowly.

The Conservative Mind was an impressive feat of scholarship a synthesis of the ideas of the leading Conservative AngloAmerican thinkers and political leaders of the late 18th century through the early 20th century. The work established convincingly that there was a tradition of American conservatism that had existed since the Founding of the Republic. With one book, Russell Kirk made conservatism intellectually acceptable in America. Indeed, he gave the Conservative movement its name.

However, the intellectual pedigree of American conservatism goes much farther back in time than the 18th century. In a subsequent book, Russell Kirk wrote that the roots of American order were first planted nearly three thousand years earlier.

Kirk used the device of five cities Jerusalem, Athens, Rome, London, and Philadelphia to trace their development. The roots first appeared in Jerusalem, with the Hebrew perception of a purposeful moral existence under God. They were strengthened in Athens, with the philosophical and political selfawareness of the Greeks. They were nurtured in Rome, by the Roman experience of law and social awareness. They were intertwined with the Christian understanding of human duties and human hopes, of man redeemed. They were joined by medieval custom, learning, and valor.

The roots of American order were then enriched by two great political experiments that occurred in London, the birthplace of parliaments and the guardian of common law, and in Philadelphia, where both the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were written. The miracle of Philadelphia was that the delegates were able to resolve, for the most part, the conflicting demands of freedom and order. They created a true national government but not an absolute government. They designed something new under the political sun a federalism which carefully enumerated, separated, and restrained the powers of the national government.

Posted by orrinj at 5:18 AM


The Best Hope for France's Young? Get Out (FELIX MARQUARDT, 6/30/13, NY Times)

THE French aren't used to the idea that their country, like so many others in Europe, might be one of emigration -- that people might actually want to leave. To many French people, it's a completely foreign notion that, around the world and throughout history, voting with one's feet has been the most widely available means to vote at all.

Leave that kind of voting to others, they think, to the Portuguese, the Italians, the Spaniards and the Africans -- to all those waves of immigrants who came to France over the course of the last century. France has always been a land to which people dream of coming. Not leaving.

When the journalist Mouloud Achour, the rapper Mokless and I published a column in the French daily Libération last September, arguing that France was a decrepit, overcentralized gerontocracy and that French youths should pack their bags and go find better opportunities elsewhere in the world, it caused an uproar.

...you family wasted centuries.

Posted by orrinj at 5:06 AM


When Evil Was a Social System : The moral burdens of living under communist rule in Eastern Europe (CHRISTOPHER CALDWELL, New Republic)

Stalin's project to reshape Eastern Europe by force began in collaboration with Hitler. After signing a pact to divide up the region between them, both dictators invaded Poland in September 1939. Stalin's defenders claim that he was cannily playing for time against a German invasion of the Soviet Union that he knew to be inevitable. Applebaum does not buy it. Had Stalin really suspected a double cross, he would not have sent so many German communists back to Hitler, prison, and death. In this period, the Soviets committed Nazi-style mass murders, most infamously the Katyń Forest massacre, which saw 22,000 Polish officers and other prisoners of war executed in half a dozen far-flung spots. "The Soviet Union and Nazi Germany were, for twenty-two months, real allies," Applebaum writes. That period ended when Hitler attacked the Soviet Union in 1941.

This chronology creates a confusion that any history of postwar Eastern Europe, and especially Poland, must reckon with. For when the Red Army came roaring back westward across Poland in 1944 and 1945, it was engaged in two wars at once: a wholly legitimate defensive war against the Nazi aggressor, and a thoroughly illegitimate continuation of a war of conquest begun in collaboration with the Nazi aggressor. The Allies were involved in the Soviets' defensive war but not in their imperial one. This explains how they could betray Poland a second time without ever, then or now, allowing their consciences to be troubled that they might have done otherwise.

It was hard for the Russians to keep the two wars separate. An occupying power in a just war is due a certain freedom of maneuver. When the Potsdam Conference in August 1945 granted allies the right to intern not just Nazis but also "any other persons dangerous to the occupation or its objectives," it opened the door to many Soviet abuses, but Applebaum does not claim that there were any serious alternatives. When the Soviets reopened the concentration camps of Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen, using them as POW camps, they intended, in Applebaum's words, to "cut dubious people off from the rest of society, at least until the new Soviet occupiers had got their bearings"--not an unreasonable aspiration.

The problem is that it is difficult for a large and unsophisticated army, one that has been engaged for several years in barbarous combat, to make fine distinctions. The Russians treated their Polish vassals like their German enemies. Actions that would have been defensible on military grounds in Germany--confiscating all radios, for instance--were outrages in Poland. Notoriously, the Russians waited across the Vistula during the Warsaw Uprising of 1944, while the Germans reduced the city to rubble. The Polish Home Army, the main Polish resistance, with 300,000 men under arms, offered to subordinate itself to the Soviet high command in the fight against the Nazis, but the Russians tricked, disarmed, and arrested its officers and--in many cases--sent them to the gulag. The Polish communist Jakub Berman, Stalin's Polish adviser and later the boss of Poland's secret police, instructed his cadres on how to outmaneuver the Home Army, as if they were so many Nazis themselves.

The Soviets thrived in the mayhem that the Nazis left. Twenty percent of the Polish population was dead, including the great majority of its Jews. Parts of pre-war Poland were grafted onto Lithuania, Belarus, and the Ukraine and were "replaced" with German territory. Applebaum sheds no tears for the 7.6 million Germans expelled from Poland--their goal had been Lebens
raum, colonization, and the destruction of Polish civilization--but she is appalled by the way the Germans were removed. Institutions created to manage their removal were used later to harass other groups. Russians took over property that the Nazis had stolen from Poles and, especially, from murdered Polish Jews. The communists' justification was to blame the property itself: "These companies belonged to the German war machine, and served its goal of destroying the Soviet Union."

Hannah Arendt once said that the story of the communist takeover of Eastern Europe has no intrinsic narrative interest, because it had all happened in the Soviet Union before. Applebaum strongly disagrees. She sees what was imposed on the East as the essence of Stalinism, a set of dark "best practices" distilled over the years. The postwar show trials of Hungarian and Czechoslovak officials accused of "Titoism" and "Zionism" were patterned on those carried out in Moscow between 1936 and 1938. This, for Applebaum, "proves that Stalin judged those trials to have been a political success, a tactic worth repeating in his new client states."
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Posted by orrinj at 4:57 AM


High tech and the long road to 'full employment' (Robert J. Samuelson, July 14, 2013, Washington Post)

It's usually seen as an engine of growth, but the spread of automated processes and robots has actually acted as a drag on job creation and has kept the unemployment rate high (7.6 percent in June), argue Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Digital technologies, they contend, have enabled companies to cut costs, increase productivity (i.e., efficiency), improve profits and slash payrolls. They expect more of the same.

"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," wrote David Rotman in an informative story in the MIT Technology Review. A gap has opened between productivity increases and employment growth, goes the theory. If it persists, it would confound economic history. [...]

It's a stretch to see digital technologies as a major source of today's unemployment. In the recession, the economy lost 8.7 million jobs. Most were non-digital, concentrated in construction, finance, retailing and manufacturing. What seems less dubious is that, in a permanently sluggish economy, firms might favor digital investments that shave costs and sustain profits. McAfee envisions warehouses maintained by robots, trucks driven by computers and automated language translations. The digital revolution could stymie job growth.

...the alternative is hiring that adds costs and reduces profits.  Which is all we need to know about the future of jobs.

July 15, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 10:49 PM


Work Makes People Miserable (Brenda Cronin, 7/10/13, WSJ)

New research based on surveys using a smartphone app found that workers were unhappy and stressed while on the job. In fact, respondents ranked being sick in bed as the only activity more unpleasant than working. When offered dozens of options ranging from leisure, such as going to a concert, to personal paperwork, such as paying bills, workers preferred cleaning the house or waiting in line to being on the job.

The findings, which were published by the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics and Political Science, are based on a project conducted by Alex Bryson and George MacKerron. Mr. Bryson is a visiting research fellow with the Centre for Economic Performance. Mr. MacKerron is a lecturer in economics at the University of Sussex.

The findings aren't incompatible with the notion that having a meaningful job contributes to one's well-being and sense of self, Mr. Bryson pointed out. "Although work can be beneficial, it can also stress you out and make you worried and anxious," he said. "That's why we normally have to be paid to work in the first place, because in the moment, we'd rather actually be doing anything else."

The end of work is the realization of humankind's ambitions.
Posted by orrinj at 10:47 PM


Senate Control in 2014 Increasingly Looks Like a Tossup (NATE SILVER, 7/15/13, NY Times)

The G.O.P.'s task will not be easy: the party holds 46 seats in the Senate, and the number will very probably be cut to 45 after a special election in New Jersey later this year. That means that they would need to win a net of six contests from Democrats in order to control 51 seats and overcome Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.'s tiebreaking vote. Two years ago at this time, Republicans faced what seemed to be a promising environment and could have won the Senate by gaining a net of three seats from Democrats and winning the presidency. Instead, Mitt Romney lost to President Obama, and the G.O.P. lost a net of two Senate seats.

But Montana along with West Virginia and South Dakota -- two other red states where an incumbent Democrat has retired and where the Democrats have not identified a strong candidate to replace them - gives Republicans a running start. Republicans could then win three more seats from among red states like Louisiana and Arkansas, where vulnerable Democratic incumbents are on the ballot, or they could take aim at two purple states, Iowa and Michigan, where Democrats have retired. More opportunities could also come into play if the national environment becomes more favorable to Republicans (such as because of a further slide in Mr. Obama's approval ratings). Meanwhile, while Kentucky and Georgia are possibly vulnerable, Republicans have few seats of their own to defend; unlike in 2012, they can focus almost entirely on playing offense.

A race-by-race analysis of the Senate, in fact, suggests that Republicans might now be close to even-money to win control of the chamber after next year's elections. Our best guess, after assigning probabilities of the likelihood of a G.O.P. pickup in each state, is that Republicans will end up with somewhere between 50 and 51 Senate seats after 2014, putting them right on the threshold of a majority.

Posted by orrinj at 10:42 PM


Bring Back Egypt's Elected Government (Jeffrey D. Sachs, 7/15/13, Project Syndicate)

Putting an end to Egypt's deepening polarization and rising bloodshed requires one urgent first step: the reinstatement of Mohamed Morsi as Egypt's duly elected president. His removal by military coup was unjustified. While it is true that millions of demonstrators opposed Morsi's rule, even massive street protests do not constitute a valid case for a military coup in the name of the "people" when election results repeatedly say otherwise.

There is no doubt that Egyptian society is deeply divided along sectarian, ideological, class, and regional lines. Yet the country has gone to the polls several times since the February 2011 overthrow of Mubarak's 30-year rule. The results have demonstrated strong popular support for Islamist parties and positions, though they also make clear the country's schisms. [...]

The secular argument that Morsi's lust for power jeopardized Egypt's nascent democracy does not bear scrutiny. Secular, military, and Mubarak-era foes of the Muslim Brotherhood have used every lever at their disposal, democratic or not, to block the Islamist parties' democratic exercise of power. This is consistent with a decades-old pattern in Egyptian history, in which the Brothers - and Islamist political forces in general - were outlawed, and their members imprisoned, tortured, and exiled.

Claims that Morsi ruled undemocratically stem from his repeated attempts to extricate the popularly elected parliament and presidency from anti-democratic traps set by the military.

Posted by orrinj at 8:40 PM


Who Would You Shoot?: Revisiting the classic "Police Officer's Dilemma" study after the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case. (Lauren McGuire, Pacific Standard)

In 2002, a study by Joshua Correll and colleagues called "The Police Officer's Dilemma" was published. In the study, researchers reported that they presented photos of black and white men holding either a gun or a non-threatening object (like a wallet) in a video game-style setting. Participants were asked to make a rapid decision to "shoot" or "don't shoot" each of the men based on whether  the target was armed. 

They found that people hesitated longer to shoot an armed white target (and they were more likely to accidentally not shoot). Participants were quicker and more accurate with black armed targets but there were more "false alarms" (shooting them when they were unarmed). These effects were present even though participants did not hold any explicit discriminatory views and claimed that they wanted to treat all targets fairly.

The effect we see here is a subconscious but measurable preference to give white men the benefit of the doubt in these ambiguous situations. Decision times can vary by a fraction of a second, but that fraction can mean life or death for the person on the other end of the gun.

Posted by orrinj at 8:35 PM


The Remarkable Properties of Mythological Social Networks: The social network between characters in Homer's Odyssey is remarkably similar to real social networks today. That suggests the story is based, at least in part, on real events, say researchers (The Physics arXiv Blog, June 13, 2013)

Today,  P J Miranda at the Federal Technological University of Paraná in Brazil and a couple of pals study the social network between characters in Homer's ancient Greek poem the Odyssey. Their conclusion is that this social network bears remarkable similarities to Facebook, Twitter and the like and that this may offer an important clue about the origin of this ancient story.

Miranda and co think of each character in the Odyssey as a node in the network. They say a link exists between two characters when they meet in the story, when they speak directly to each other, cite one another to a third character or when it is otherwise clear that they know each other.

In analysing the Odyssey, they identified 342 unique characters and over 1,700 relations between them.

Having constructed the social network, Miranda and co then examined its structure. "Odyssey's social network is small world, highly clustered, slightly hierarchical and resilient to random attacks," they say.

What's interesting about this conclusion is that these same characteristics all crop up in social networks in the real world. Miranda and co say this is good evidence that the Odyssey is based, at least in part, on a real social network and so must be a mixture of myth and fact.

Posted by orrinj at 5:03 AM


Why It's Time to Talk to Our New 'Iranian Friends' (PATRICK SMITH, 7/15/13, The Fiscal Times)
What are Rouhini's ambitions? It is vital that the US understands them if it is to engage Iran constructively. Highest among them is to bring the Islamic republic out of its pariah stage. Talk to an Iranian and you will know: What pains the nation most is its isolation--economic, yes, but it is more than that. It's cultural, it's technological, it's joining the global community altogether.
Iranians consider themselves roughly on a par with the BRICS, the emerging middle-income nations now driving so much of the world economy: Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa. They are right. Iran should be standing among the BRICS. And it knows it has to reach out to do so. [...]

Over the weekend, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Obama White House has decided to take Rouhani's accommodating signals seriously. This Tuesday US officials will meet in Brussels where a group called P5 + 1 will debate how best to approach Tehran. P5 + 1 is comprised of the Security Council's permanent members--the US, Britain, France, China, and Russia--plus Germany. This session deserves applause. Rouhani has serious things to talk about. He wants a new generation of relationships.

There remain all kinds of factions in Iran; there are plenty of "hardliners" in important places, and many things remain to be seen. But Rouhani--who won office with a 51 percent majority in the first round of voting--represents a powerful constituency that favors engagement over confrontation. My biggest worry: It is an outstanding question whether Washington will accept Iran for what it is or insist that enmity is the only option.

Having covered Iran briefly during the Khatami years, it seems to me that when a reformist appears, so do opportunities. Cultivating them requires no more risk than anyone in Washington is willing to take. Ignoring them will have costs: The US would undercut Iranians who favor diplomacy and boost those who prefer the kind of dreadful atmosphere Ahmadinejad did so much to engender. 

The P5 + 1 talks this week are a splendid start. I hope they consider the Syria question as well as the nuke program. A couple of weeks ago the Atlantic Council, a Washington research institute, published a report urging a wide range of cultural, scientific, security, and even artistic and athletic exchanges. "Cultural and academic exchanges between the U.S. and Iran are a low-cost, high-yield investment in a future normal relationship between the two countries," the research paper said.

Posted by orrinj at 4:55 AM


Fan grabs 4 foul balls at Indians game (TOM WITHERS, 7/14/13, The Associated Press)

Greg Van Niel, a season-ticket holder who wasn't sitting in his usual seat, grabbed the four souvenirs during the Indians' 6-4 win. 

"Three of them were catches and one was a ball I picked up off the ground," Van Niel told the team. "The third one I think was the hardest one - I think I ended up sprawled across a few rows, and I got some cheese on myself. But the other ones were just a matter of being in the right place at the right time." 

 There were 15,431 other fans at the Indians' final game before the All-Star break, but it's safe to bet none had a day quite like Van Niel.

July 14, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 7:28 PM


Why was Zimmerman overcharged? (Jonathan Turley, July 14, 2013, USA Today)

[M]any of us from the first day of the indictment criticized State Attorney Angela Corey for overcharging the case as second-degree murder. While Corey publicly proclaimed that she was above public pressure, her prosecution decisions suggested otherwise. Her prosecutors chose to interview critical witnesses with Martin's family present, a highly unusual and improper practice. The prosecutor was accused with justification of withholding evidence from the defense until shortly before trial.

However, the widespread protests and anger over the shooting seemed to have its greatest impact on Corey's decision to charge the case as murder in the second degree. This was clearly a challenging case even for manslaughter and the decision to push second-degree murder (while satisfying to many in the public) was legally and tactically unwise. The facts simply did not support a claim beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman acted with intent and a "depraved mind, hatred, malice, evil intent or ill will." Had Corey charged manslaughter, the case might have been closer but would have still been a challenge.

Posted by orrinj at 6:17 AM


In America's Pastime, Baseball Players Pass A Lot of Time (STEVE MOYER, 7/14/13, WSJ)

In any given year, roughly 70 million people will attend major-league baseball games. A lucky handful will be treated to something unforgettable: a no-hitter, a walk-off grand slam, a player stealing home. Many more fans will see towering home runs, late-inning rallies and diving catches. But there is one thing every single fan who buys a ticket is 100% guaranteed to see: a bunch of grown men standing in a field, doing absolutely nothing.

Baseball is remembered for its moments of action, and it is no secret that such moments are fleeting. But how much actual action takes place in a baseball game? We decided to find out.

By WSJ calculations, a baseball fan will see 17 minutes and 58 seconds of action over the course of a three-hour game. This is roughly the equivalent of a TED Talk, a Broadway intermission or the missing section of the Watergate tapes. A similar WSJ study on NFL games in January 2010 found that the average action time for a football game was 11 minutes. So MLB does pack more punch in a battle of the two biggest stop-and-start sports. By seven minutes.

By hook or by crook, they need to get baseball games back closer to two hours than to three.  They're interminable nowadays.

Posted by orrinj at 6:13 AM


Victory Was His : Horatio Nelson was a superior strategist who anticipated the commands of his political masters : a review of Nelson: The Sword of Albion by John Sugden  (HENRIK BERING, 7/09/13, WSJ)

Nelson-style close-quarter fighting isn't for the fainthearted, and for decades the study of things military was frowned upon by British academics of the post-1960s vintage. An Oxford don thus once advised the author John Sugden to drop his interest in British naval history, as it "didn't contribute much to knowledge," blithely ignoring the fact that Britain had owed its greatness to its navy. For those disenchanted with Britain's imperial past, Nelson was but a reactionary warmonger.

Fortunately, Mr. Sugden didn't take the advice and has now produced "Nelson: The Sword of Albion," the second and final volume of his mammoth Nelson biography. Where Roger Knight's excellent "The Pursuit of Victory" (2005) stuck mainly to the naval side, Mr. Sugden delivers the man in full. On the professional level, this means tracing Nelson's evolution from aggressive naval officer to superior strategist "consistently pre-empt[ing] the thoughts of his political masters back in England."
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Posted by orrinj at 6:09 AM


"Jane Austen, Game Theorist": A New Freakonomics Radio Podcast (STEPHEN J. DUBNER, 07/04/2013, Freakonomics)

Michael Chwe is an associate professor of political science at UCLA whose research centers on game theory and, as he puts it, "its applications to social movements and macroeconomics and violence -- and this latest thing is about its applications maybe to literature."

The literature in question? The novels of Jane Austen. Chwe discovered that Austen's novels are full of strategic thinking, decision analysis, and other tools that would later come to be prized by game theorists like those as the RAND Corporation just after World War II. (They included some of the brightest minds of the time, including Kenneth J. Arrow, Lloyd S. Shapley, Thomas Schelling, and John Nash.) And so Chwe wrote a book called Jane Austen, Game Theorist.

Here, from the podcast, is a sample of Chwe's analysis of Austen:

[T]here are lots of little parables, or little asides, in the novels which don't have anything really much to do with the plot or anything. You could just take them out and no one would care, but they do seem to be little explicit discussions of aspects of choice and aspects of strategic thinking. So, for example, in Pride And Prejudice, the very first manipulation is kind of what gets the whole novel started. The Bingleys come into town and so the Bennet family has five unmarried daughters, and that's kind of a huge problem. So Mrs. Bennet is super-focused on getting her daughters married and for obvious reasons. It's not like they can get jobs or anything. If that is the main way, you could become either a governess or you could get married. That's basically it. So the very first manipulation is Mr. Bingley shows up with his sister and they rent out Netherfield which is this estate nearby. And so Mr. Bingley's sister invites Jane to come for dinner. And the first manipulation is Mrs. Bennet says, "Well you've got to go on horseback." ... The daughters say, "Why horseback? Shouldn't she take the carriage?" And Mrs. Bennet says, "Well, it's going to rain and if she goes on horseback it is very likely that they will invite her to stay the night, and hence she'll get to spend more time." [I]t seems kind of silly but you have to play for keeps. This is a big deal. If you know, if somebody marriageable is nearby and you have a chance to spend 20 more minutes with that person, you've got to go for it. ... And so in Pride And Prejudice, Mrs. Bennet is not a very sympathetic character, and she seems to be very foolish, but if you look at what she accomplishes, it is pretty good.

Posted by orrinj at 6:06 AM


Who Scores Games by Hand Anymore? (HARVEY ARATON, 7/11/13, NY Times)

At about 3 ¼ inches long and with no eraser on top, the pencil has helped carry on the traditional method of scoring a ballgame that is generally believed to have begun with a late 19th-century sportswriter named Henry Chadwick.

Levy, who grew up near Yankee Stadium and who attends a few games every season, vowed to continue the struggle for conventional scorekeeping's survival.

"I'm going to teach my son tonight," he said. The boy, Aaron Levy, 15, admitted that he did not know the proper markings -- a 9-2 putout (right field to catcher) from a backward K (strikeout looking).

His grandfather, Ira Antin, said one deterrent to ballpark scorekeeping has been the inability to purchase a mere scorecard.

"I worked across the street in the old Stadium in the 1940s, selling ice cream," he said. "They sold scorecards for a nickel."

At Joseph P. Riley Jr. Park, in Charleston, S.C. -- where Alex Rodriguez played recently for the Yankees' Class A Riverdogs -- a more traditional program with a scorecard included sold for $1 and did a brisk business. But the advertising-rich program sold at Yankee Stadium, which has a scorecard in the centerfold, costs $10. The mini pencil -- inscribed "New York Yankees" -- is part of the deal.

Many people said they wanted the program only as a souvenir and opted not to take the pencil. But Stephan Loewenthil of New Rochelle happily took it while forking over his $10.

"For me it's still a bargain, and it's not about buying a souvenir," he said. "It's about making the game more immediate, keeping me locked in."

Loewenthil, 63, was taught to keep score by his father at Yankee Stadium when he was 6 ½ years old. 
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Posted by orrinj at 6:01 AM


George Zimmerman, Trayvon Martin, and Racial Bias in 'Justifiable Homicide' Trials : In the 29 states that use the law, stand your ground increases the likelihood of a justified homicide ruling--but only when a white person is accused of killing a black person. (Lisa Wade , 7/13/13, Pacific Standard)

At MetroTrends, John Roman and Mitchell Downey report their analysis of 4,650 FBI records of homicides in which a person killed a stranger with a handgun. They conclude that stand your ground "tilts the odds in favor of the shooter." In SYG states, 13.6 percent of homicides were ruled justifiable; in non-SYG states, only 7.2 percent were deemed such. This is strong evidence that rulings of justifiable homicide are more likely under stand your ground.

But which homicides?

The very kind decided in the Zimmerman trial today. A finding of "justifiable homicide" is much more common in the case of a white-on-black killing than any other kind including a white and a black person. At PBS's request, Roman compared the likelihood of a favorable finding for the defendant in SYG and non-SYG cases, considering the races of the people involved. The data is clear: Compared to white-on-white crimes, stand your ground increases the likelihood of a justifiable homicide ruling, but only when a white person is accused of killing a black person.

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Posted by orrinj at 5:55 AM


'I'm Amazed It's Gone On All These Years' : Three Decades On, Prouty's Impact Is Larger Than Ever (Tris Wykes, 7/14/13, Valley News)

When Heather Klassen participated in the first Prouty fundraising ride for cancer research in 1982, the "event" involved four people biking 100 miles in the White Mountains to honor a friend who had recently died of the disease.

Saturday's Prouty scene couldn't have been more different. All around Klassen during the late morning and outside the Richmond Middle School, hundreds of people moved on foot and on bikes. There were large tents covering areas for food, first aid, merchandise and volunteer opportunities in medical research. Packs of people in brightly colored T-shirts strode past, their ages ranging from preschoolers to the elderly. A floating balloon arch bobbed in the breeze above the finish line, where cheers rang out each time a participant arrived.

"I'm amazed it's gone on all these years and people have supported it and made it continue," said Klassen, who was about to embark on a 10-kilometer walk through the woods around Storrs Pond, one of several Prouty participation options. "In 1982, we just did it on the spur of the moment."

Back then, Klassen, Cindy Spicer, Patty Carney and Cathy Hallesy were young oncology nurses at Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital deeply touched by the death of their 54-year-old patient, Audrey Prouty. The manner in which the ovarian cancer patient and Warner, N.H., resident displayed grace, dignity and an upbeat attitude during nine years of sickness left a lasting impression on those around her.

"What she had gone through was so hard and we wanted to do something hard to honor her," said Carney, now a professor at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, Ore. "Our goal was $2,000, and we ended up doubling that. But our media person arranged for a television station to record us on the ride and we were petrified, because we had no idea what we were doing."

Said Spicer: "I was the last one and I had a TV camera aimed at my rear end during a 12-mile climb on the Kancamagus Highway. I just kept thinking of all the pain Audrey had been in, and that I just couldn't get off that bike."

Carney recalls that Prouty refused to let cancer dampen her independent spirit, at one point walking to Main Street from Mary Hitchcock's old location near Occom Pond despite having to take a rolling IV stand and attached bags of medicine with her. When chemotherapy caused her hair to fall out, Prouty spread it on top of the bushes near her house and birds used it in their nest construction.

Prouty died on July 7, 1982, and the four nurses undertook the first memorial ride the next month, having told Prouty about it before she passed away.

About 35 riders showed up the second year and more than 100 the third year, when the event was held in Hanover for the first time. The 2012 Prouty raised more than $2.5 million for Dartmouth College's Norris Cotton Cancer Center and included more than 5,000 participants, 1,250 volunteers and 122 businesses. The goal for this year's two-day event was set at $2.75 million.

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Posted by orrinj at 5:43 AM


The modern Prince : Philip Bobbitt seems too keen to smooth over Machiavelli's hard edges : a review of The Garments of Court and Palace: Machiavelli and the World that He Made, by Philip Bobbitt (Francis Fukuyama, Financial Times)

The problem is that Bobbitt's reading of Machiavelli is highly selective, and fails to confront some key issues in the latter's thought. It is true enough, for example, that Machiavelli lived at a time when the modern state was emerging, and that he celebrated certain characteristics that would come to be associated with it, such as citizen militias. As Harvey Mansfield demonstrated in his 1996 study Machiavelli's Virtue, however, Machiavelli's stato always refers to a personal state, that is, a state dominated and run in the interest of a particular group within it. This was no less true of republics than of principalities; in the former, the many oppressed the few rather than the reverse. A truly modern state, by contrast, is an impersonal construct reflecting the sovereignty of the whole community based on the natural rights of its equal citizens. It would be Thomas Hobbes a century and a half later, not Machiavelli, who first articulated this view.

A much more serious problem is Bobbitt's attempt to portray Machiavelli as a supporter of what we today understand as the rule of law. Machiavelli indeed praises the law and shows how law-governed republics often achieve greater popular support than ones subject to arbitrary rule. But a theme that runs through the whole of Machiavelli's work is the centrality of executive audacity and action to its authority. By executive authority Machiavelli often literally means execution: not just the punishment of lawbreakers but often executions that were beyond the law and ordered in effect for their political theatre. He does not say that these are necessary only in the founding of new regimes, such as in the slaying of Remus by Romulus at the beginnings of Rome. Such extra-judicial killings also help maintain a regime's authority, including in republics that periodically need to demonstrate their partisanship in audacious and memorable ways.

Machiavelli is interesting not simply because he is a progenitor of liberal constitutionalism. He is interesting because he, like the German philosopher and jurist Carl Schmitt, points to the limits of liberal constitutionalism by showing its ultimate dependence on virtuous princes, on discretion rather than rules in political decision-making. Mansfield might almost seem to be taking aim at Bobbitt's interpretation a number of years before the fact: "We would like to believe that [Machiavelli's] insights can be retained and his extremism discarded, that his notion of esecuzione can be absorbed into the modern liberal constitution without the tyrannical requirement of uno solo [one leader acting outside the law] that may give us a shiver or may merely seem quaint. Machiavelli may have founded the modern doctrine of executive power, but in his extremism he stopped short of developing doctrines of power and of separation of powers."

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Posted by orrinj at 5:38 AM


Senior Shas Rabbi Attacks Religious Zionists as 'Amalek' (Chana Ya'ar,  7/14/2013, Arutz Sheva)

Rabbi Shalom Cohen, a senior member of the Council of Sages of the Sephardic Shas party attacked the religious Zionist sector over the weekend, calling its members "Amalek."

Rabbi Cohen, who is also dean of the Porat Yosef Yeshiva in Jerusalem's Old City, said the vicious words over the weekend in a sermon delivered in the presence of former Chief Rabbi and Shas Spiritual Leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. His statement came during the Nine Days that precede the fast day Tisha B'Av, which this year on Monday evening and ends Tuesday night. 

The ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av, Tisha B'Av is one of the grimmest days of the year on the Jewish calendar, the day on which both Holy Temples were destroyed, it is said, for the sin of "sina'at chinam" -- baseless hatred -- and the day on which other painful tragedies befell the Jewish People as well. Jews are exhorted to avoid at all costs anything that would draw negative attention from Above especially during the Nine Days, a time in which even swimming and distant travel is avoided.
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July 13, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 6:13 PM


Post-Scarcity Economics (Tom Streithorst, July 11th, 2013, LA Review of Books)

On the one hand, technology has made us all much more productive than we were 30 years ago. On the other, jobs have evaporated.  [...]

It is a paradox: our ever-growing productivity and our more insecure lives. Our understanding of economics is stuck in the past, in a world of scarcity, a world without advertising, where making things rather than selling them was the fundamental economic problem. Technology and the free enterprise system, to an extent that would amaze our ancestors, have solved much of the problem of supply. Our homes are more solid, our clothes more fashionable, our food tastier than our grandparents would have dreamed. In a world where even the residents of housing projects own more computing power than NASA did when they put a man on the moon, we cannot think that making stuff is the problem. [...]

In 1980, capital struck back.

In response to a seemingly inexorable inflationary spiral in which rising goods prices sparked cost of living wage hikes, which naturally increased the prices of goods and services, Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker raised interest rates provoking the most brutal recession in 50 years. Unemployment soared, and so the Volcker and Thatcher recessions broke the back of inflation. When workers fear for their jobs, they no longer demand higher wages. In June 1980, when Volcker started raising interest rates, US inflation was over 14 percent. Since then, it has averaged around 2 to 3 percent. Simultaneously, both in the United States and the United Kingdom, the government attacked the basis of union power. When Reagan fired the obstreperous air traffic controllers and planes did not fall out of the sky, he shattered the confidence of organized labour. If we could do without trained air traffic controllers, then what is the bargaining power of unionized truck drivers, construction workers, steel workers, cameramen?

And so, starting during the recession of the early 1980s, corporations were able to reduce real wages, fire workers, get rid of staff and replace them with freelancers. Power on the shop floor shifted from the unions to management. Risks that had been absorbed by the corporation (you get sick you still get paid) now became the worker's responsibility (if you are freelance, you get no vacation, you have no job security, and if you get sick and you don't work, your employer has no responsibility to you). On a company by company level, this policy was remarkably successful. Cutting labor costs, if it does not affect output, goes straight to the bottom line. Lower wages for the worker mean higher profit for the entrepreneur. The decline in corporate profitability that signalled the end of the Golden Age was reversed and even today, in the midst of economic stagnation, corporate profits remain strong. [...]

[I]n the longer run we need to figure out a better way to stimulate demand than either war or going into debt to buy more stuff. Personally, I favor government spending targeted on making the lives of citizens richer and more cultured. [...]

 Let us spend on education and on high-speed rail, but let us also spend on culture. The Works Progress Administration created beautiful murals in post offices all over America. This is a model we should expand on. If dance classes for housewives seem silly, then what is wrong with skate parks and concerts and playgrounds and parties and parades? The actual form of spending, though, is merely up to our taste. The key is create demand to match the productive capacity of the economy. How we decide to do it should be democratically determined. That we should do it is just sound economics.

...you obviously shouldn't be trying to create jobs and lift wages.  In the future we'll transfer wealth based on cultural factors, not economic.  But not the sort of Culture the author means.  Rather, participation in marriage, child-rearing, community, church, neighborhood, governance, etc. will be rewarded.  Welcome to America 3.0.

Posted by orrinj at 6:07 PM


Chinese crack down on violence in western Uighur region (Julie Makinen, June 29, 2013, LA Times)

Dozens of armored vehicles and military trucks entered the capital of the western Chinese region of Xinjiang on Saturday as President Xi Jinping ordered tighter security following at least two outbreaks of violence.

The show of force came amid rising tensions between minority Muslim Uighurs and Han Chinese authorities as the region prepares to mark the fourth anniversary of ethnic clashes that left nearly 200 people dead in Urumqi in July 2009.

Posted by orrinj at 6:01 PM


Demography in Jerusalem's Old City (BRACHA SLAE, 07/13/2013, Jerusalem Post)

The Jewish Quarter turned into a small "border settlement," surrounded by a constantly increasing Muslim population. The hundreds of Jews who have made their homes in the Muslim and Christian Quarters since 1981 are almost insignificant compared to the growing Muslim population, estimated today at over 30,000.

In addition, affected by the same unsolved problems of isolation, lack of automobile access and parking, coupled with the noise and inconvenience of massive tourist entrepreneurism, long-time residents of the Jewish Quarter have been moving out, leaving in their place renters and vacation apartment owners, neither of whom have the same deep interest in the welfare of the neighborhood.

All the "culture" - festivals, bar mitzvah marches with trumpets and drums, and sports events around the walls may be bringing larger numbers of visitors to the Old City, but when planned and executed without including Old City residents, give them the message that they are a nuisance whom the powers that be could easily do without.

Has anyone in the city, the national government, or the tourism industry thought seriously about what the Old City will look like when it no longer has permanent Jewish residents? How will the yeshivot fare when they alone must face the tourists and play the part of "natives" in the local "live Jewish museum"? Will tourists feel comfortable, and will this "Disney Quarter" look authentic? Will vacationers and transient renters be willing to invest the time, effort and money that Jewish Quarter home-owners have invested over the years? Who will man the volunteer civil defense, local ambulance and medical care that have saved many lives in this isolated quarter? 
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Posted by orrinj at 12:52 PM


Bhutan's opposition party scores upset win (Aljazeera, 13 Jul 2013)

Bhutan's opposition People's Democratic Party (PDP) has scored an upset victory in the second parliamentary elections, and will take over power in the tiny Himalayan nation. [...]

The polling marked only the second time in history that voters in the isolated kingdom, dubbed as the "land of the thunder dragon", have elected a government.

Remote Bhutan's line of "dragon kings" ceded absolute power five years ago, introducing democracy to an electorate of fewer than 400,000 people.

The royalist DPT won the first election by a landslide in 2008 and bagged this year's primary round with 45 percent of votes.

But recent gains by the PDP shook up the contest.

The DPT had sought to win favour with rural communities - about 70 percent of the population - by improving their access to roads, mobile phone networks and electricity in the past five years.

But the election process was stirred up by a recent straining of ties with Bhutan's giant neighbour and longtime ally India, which suddenly cut subsidies earlier this month on cooking gas and kerosene to the kingdom.

Posted by orrinj at 12:39 PM


Diego Fagundez is leading a revolution in New England (Brian Straus, 7/12/13, Sports Illustrated)

Midway through the 2013 season, however, a teenager from nearby Leominster, Mass. has become a symbol of hope for the long-suffering denizens of The Fort. Fagundez is the leading scorer (five goals, four assists) for the 6-5-6 Revs, who are finding the net at a higher rate than in any season since 2008. With a win over the visiting Houston Dynamo on Saturday evening, New England will climb into playoff position.

"When I was in the broadcast booth [before becoming coach in November 2011], all I did was study games, looking at every team, over and over, how they were playing, how they were successful," said Revolution coach Jay Heaps. "I just felt there were style options that were fun to watch but that give you the chance to do both, to get three points and outplay teams. ... When you have more players who can play the game and take risks, you're going to have more opportunities to win in the long run."

And so Heaps, a hard-nosed, athletic defender who rarely was accused of playing with style, has built his squad around skillful players who are comfortable in multiple spots in a mobile and dynamic front five. It's an approach that's slowly changing the perception of Revolution soccer and which is proving to be pretty fun to watch -- which matters as the group gels and learns to win.
Fagundez is the youngest of a midfield/forward corps whose average age is a long way from 30. Juan Agudelo is 20 and Kelyn Rowe is 21, while Saer Sène, Jerry Bengtson and Lee Nguyen are each 26. Colombian Juan Toja is the grizzled vet of the bunch at 28.

Heaps frequently tinkers with the lineup, in large part because he can. Fagundez initially played up top but now is attacking from wider, more withdrawn positions. He often switches sides during a game. He has four goals and four assists in his past eight MLS matches, during which the Revs are 4-1-3.

"They're interchangeable. They penetrate. They like to receive the ball in different ways," Heaps said. "You can do more and more damage when it's unexpected." [...]

Heaps lauded Fagundez's attacking instincts, his knack for connecting with teammates and his ability to receive the ball in stride and accelerate in a manner reminiscent of a young Landon Donovan. Heaps also mentioned his player's increasingly professional commitment to the physical and mental work required off the field.

"When he's in his zone, there's nobody better on our team," the coach said.

Such command and confidence in such a young player suggests that soccer is in his DNA, and it is. Fagundez's father, Washington, was a professional goalkeeper for Central Español in Uruguay, where Diego was born in 1995. The family moved to Massachusetts when Diego was five, and he began starring for local travel clubs soon thereafter. The elder Fagundez was -- and remains -- a constant, supportive and sometimes critical presence. Diego's first taste of MLS came when a family friend began taking him to see the Revolution in Foxborough.

"I remember they had legends. Taylor Twellman, one of the top scorers in MLS. He's one of the players I remember watching and thinking, 'Oh my God, he's good.' José Cancela was another one. He's from Uruguay, so I'd try to meet with him," Fagundez recalled. "When I was 12, maybe 13, I remember being on autograph alley and saying to my Dad, 'Someday I'll be on that side signing.'"

He joined the Revolution's youth academy in 2009, signed a pro contract in the fall of 2010 and made his MLS debut in August of the following year against Chivas USA. Naturally, Fagundez scored a goal. He has continued to juggle his nascent professional career with school and is currently working on completing his high school studies at an evening alternative program in Fitchburg, where math is his favorite subject.

"If you think about it, soccer is all about angles," he said. "Your runs, how hard you want to pass the ball or the way you want to shoot it. If you're pretty good at math, you can figure things out on the field."
Told that he sounds a bit like legendary Dutch player Johan Cruyff, Fagundez suggests that the number 14 he wears on the back of his jersey is "probably meant to be." [...]

"There are people out there who like the sport, but if they know who Diego is, that he lives at home with his parents and he's just finishing high school, those things have currency," Heaps said. "People need to know who he is. He's going to be a player that people should follow."

Both the U.S. Soccer Federation and the Uruguayan Football Association are already doing just that. Fagundez played with the U.S. Under-14 and -15 teams a few years back and last fall appeared in two friendlies for Uruguay's U-20 side, which will contest the FIFA U-20 World Cup final on Saturday. He's not yet a U.S. citizen and feels no pressure to determine his international future.

Posted by orrinj at 12:32 PM


More babies out of marriage than ever before - and what? : Another year, another slew of numbers about births in England and Wales from the Office for National Statistics. The focus so far has been on the relationship between parents but there's much more to it than that (, 12 July 2013, The Guardian)

 A slowdown in the overall number of births has quite dramatically reversed over the last decade.

There were 721,600 maternities in 2012, which is a jump of over 100,000 from 2002 and the highest number that have been born in a single year since 1972. Perhaps this means we could be on track for a new baby boom, which, with rising life expectancies factored in, might just be a wee bit more important than whether those babies are born out of marriage.

More hopeful than the numbers are the rates.

Posted by orrinj at 12:26 PM


One grower's grapes of wrath (David A. Fahrenthold, July 07, 2013, Washington Post)

The national raisin reserve might sound like a fever dream of the Pillsbury Doughboy. But it is a real thing -- a 64-year-old program that gives the U.S. government a heavy-handed power to interfere with the supply and demand for dried grapes.

It works like this: In a given year, the government may decide that farmers are growing more raisins than Americans will want to eat. That would cause supply to outstrip demand. Raisin prices would drop. And raisin farmers might go out of business.

To prevent that, the government does something drastic. It takes away a percentage of every farmer's raisins. Often, without paying for them.

These seized raisins are put into a government-controlled "reserve" and kept off U.S. markets. In theory, that lowers the available supply of raisins and thereby increases the price for farmers' raisin crops. Or, at least, the part of their crops that the government didn't just take.

For years, Horne handed over his raisins to the reserve. Then, in 2002, he refused.

Since then, his life has now become a case study in one of Washington's bad habits -- a tendency never to reexamine old laws once they're on the books. Even ones like this.

When Horne's case reached the Supreme Court this spring, Justice Elena Kagan wondered whether it might be "just the world's most outdated law."

"Your raisins or your life, right?" joked Justice Antonin Scalia.

Last month, the high court issued its ruling and gave Horne a partial victory. A lower court had rejected Horne's challenge of the law. Now, the justices told that court to reconsider it.

Horne does not have the persona of a live-wire revolutionary. He used to be a tax auditor for the state. Now, in his second career, he watches fruit dry.

"If I knew we were going to go through all this, I would have just pulled the grapes out and put in almond" trees, he said.

But get Horne talking about the national raisin reserve, and the spirit stirs. Suddenly he can't find a metaphor hairy enough to express his contempt. It's robbery. It's socialism. It's communism. It's feudalism. It's . . .

"You have heard of the rape of the Sabine women? This is even worse," Horne said, referencing a legendary mass abduction from Roman mythology. "The rape of the raisin growers."

Contra Malthus, only governments can inflate food prices.

Posted by orrinj at 12:18 PM


Why Chris Christie could save the GOP from itself (Sean Sullivan, July 12, 2013, Washington Post)

Christie is viewed favorably by 41 percent of Democratic voters in a Quinnipiac University poll released Friday, compared to just 19 percent who say they view the governor in an unfavorable light. A majority of Republicans and a plurality of independents also say they have a favorable impression of Christie. Overall, Christie's fav/unfav split is 45 percent/18 percent, with 34 percent holding no opinion.

That's in line with a Gallup poll released in June showing more than half (52 percent) of Democrats expressing a favorable opinion of the governor, compared to 18 percent who said they held an unfavorable view. And in New Jersey, where Christie is a substantial favorite to win reelection this fall, Democrats like the guy too. [...]

But if Christie's numbers hold up over time, it will be hard to argue there is a better ambassador for the GOP to expand its reach. And the power of the electability argument that Christie would be able to make in the 2016 primary shouldn't be underestimated. Washington Post-ABC News polling consistently showed Republicans felt in the 2012 primary that Mitt Romney had the best shot in the general election.

Posted by orrinj at 6:37 AM


In Egypt, the 'Deep State' Rises Again (CHARLES LEVINSON and MATT BRADLEY, 7/13/13, WSJ)

In the months before the military ousted President Mohammed Morsi, Egypt's top generals met regularly with opposition leaders, often at the Navy Officers' Club nestled on the Nile.

The message: If the opposition could put enough protesters in the streets, the military would step in--and forcibly remove the president. [...]

Suggestions that Mr. Morsi's overthrow was planned in advance, as opposed to an emergency response, have implications for U.S. aid. "If there was evidence this...was blatantly premeditated, then it would put more pressure to cut off aid on the [Obama] administration, which is currently trying to avoid having to label this a coup d'état," said Josh Stacher, a Kent State University political science professor and Egypt expert.

The meetings between the generals and opposition leaders also show the workings of what is known in Egypt as the "deep state"--an assortment of long-standing political and bureaucratic forces that wield tremendous influence. A[...]

The secret meetings between the military and secular opposition parties were key to the political chess game leading to Mr. Morsi's departure. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 AM


Repairing Bad Memories (Stephen S. Hall, June 17, 2013, MIT Technology Review Magazine)

Traumatic memories can be debilitating and can lead to severe mental health problems.

It was a Saturday night at the New York Psychoanalytic Institute, and the second-floor auditorium held an odd mix of gray-haired, cerebral Upper East Side types and young, scruffy downtown grad students in black denim. Up on the stage, neuroscientist Daniela Schiller, a riveting figure with her long, straight hair and impossibly erect posture, paused briefly from what she was doing to deliver a mini-lecture about memory.

She explained how recent research, including her own, has shown that memories are not unchanging physical traces in the brain. Instead, they are malleable constructs that may be rebuilt every time they are recalled. The research suggests, she said, that doctors (and psychotherapists) might be able to use this knowledge to help patients block the fearful emotions they experience when recalling a traumatic event, converting chronic sources of debilitating anxiety into benign trips down memory lane. [...]

Decades of research had established that long-term memory consolidation requires the synthesis of proteins in the brain's memory pathways, but no one knew that protein synthesis was required after the retrieval of a memory as well--which implied that the memory was being consolidated then, too. Nader's experiments also showed that blocking protein synthesis prevented the animals from recalling the fearsome memory only if they received the drug at the right time, shortly after they were reminded of the fearsome event. If Nader waited six hours before giving the drug, it had no effect and the original memory remained intact. This was a big biochemical clue that at least some forms of memories essentially had to be neurally rewritten every time they were recalled.

When Schiller arrived at NYU in 2005, she was asked by Elizabeth Phelps, who was spearheading memory research in humans, to extend Nader's findings and test the potential of a drug to block fear memories. The drug used in the rodent experiment was much too toxic for human use, but a class of antianxiety drugs known as beta-adrenergic antagonists (or, in common parlance, "beta blockers") had potential; among these drugs was propranolol, which had previously been approved by the FDA for the treatment of panic attacks and stage fright. ­Schiller immediately set out to test the effect of propranolol on memory in humans, but she never actually performed the experiment because of prolonged delays in getting institutional approval for what was then a pioneering form of human experimentation. "It took four years to get approval," she recalls, "and then two months later, they took away the approval again. My entire postdoc was spent waiting for this experiment to be approved." ("It still hasn't been approved!" she adds.)

While waiting for the approval that never came, Schiller began to work on a side project that turned out to be even more interesting. It grew out of an offhand conversation with a colleague about some anomalous data described at meeting of LeDoux's lab: a group of rats "didn't behave as they were supposed to" in a fear experiment, Schiller says.

The data suggested that a fear memory could be disrupted in animals even without the use of a drug that blocked protein synthesis. Schiller used the kernel of this idea to design a set of fear experiments in humans, while Marie-H. Monfils, a member of the LeDoux lab, simultaneously pursued a parallel line of experimentation in rats. In the human experiments, volunteers were shown a blue square on a computer screen and then given a shock. Once the blue square was associated with an impending shock, the fear memory was in place. Schiller went on to show that if she repeated the sequence that produced the fear memory the following day but broke the association within a narrow window of time--that is, showed the blue square without delivering the shock--this new information was incorporated into the memory.

Here, too, the timing was crucial. If the blue square that wasn't followed by a shock was shown within 10 minutes of the initial memory recall, the human subjects reconsolidated the memory without fear. If it happened six hours later, the initial fear memory persisted. Put another way, intervening during the brief window when the brain was rewriting its memory offered a chance to revise the initial memory itself while diminishing the emotion (fear) that came with it. By mastering the timing, the NYU group had essentially created a scenario in which humans could rewrite a fearsome memory and give it an unfrightening ending. And this new ending was robust: when Schiller and her colleagues called their subjects back into the lab a year later, they were able to show that the fear associated with the memory was still blocked.

The study, published in Nature in 2010, made clear that reconsolidation of memory didn't occur only in rats.

As a scientific idea, memory reconsolidation seems to be here to stay. Schiller notes that when she first started going to the massive annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience a decade ago, she was lucky to see a single poster about reconsolidation theory. "Now," she says, "it's like entire alleys in the exhibition hall."

More important, Schiller's work has been quickly replicated and extended. Thomas Agren and colleagues at Uppsala University in Sweden confirmed last year that disrupting reconsolidation when humans reactivated a fear memory effectively abolished its fearsome effect; the group also showed through brain imaging in these volunteers that the amygdala was the locus of the changed memory. Yan-Xue Xue of Peking University in Beijing and colleagues reported last year that they had used nonpharmacological memory manipulation to help heroin addicts rewrite their association of environmental cues with a craving for the drug; the researchers said the effect lasted at least half a year, which was the length of the study.

Since moving uptown from NYU to Mount Sinai in 2010, Schiller has embarked on a new set of experiments exploring the clinical potential of memory reconsolidation. That in part explains why she shares her ninth-floor office with a tarantula, which sits in a cage under her desk. Called Web 2.0 (the name was bestowed by a member of Schiller's research group, a former writer on Saturday Night Live), the spider plays a role in ongoing experiments to block arachnophobia (fear of spiders) in humans without any drugs. "We are looking at the neural mechanisms of reconsolidation," she says. Those mechanisms--at both the synaptic level and the level of the whole brain--are fairly well understood in animals but not so easy to study in humans. "There are basically only two things you can do," she continues. "One is to do pharmacological studies, and the other is to look at brain function in an MRI as people update memories." They hope to publish findings on both fronts in the near future.

The reconstitution of memory has enormous therapeutic potential. Administering drugs like propranolol within hours of a traumatic experience might modify or minimize the long-term emotional impact of the memory. But if that's not possible, the memory might be modified later, when the experience is recalled in a safe, unthreatening context. Roger Pitman of Harvard Medical School, Karim Nader (now at McGill University), and their colleagues have reported that giving propranolol to people as they recall a traumatic experience can attenuate the emotional impact of the memory, giving hope for treatment of anxiety disorders like PTSD. Schiller views this as very promising. "If you miss intervening a few hours after the event," she says, "you still have other opportunities to intervene."

In some ways, the potential cultural impact and personal implications of reconsolidation are even more staggering. To put it in an extreme way, if we are all rewriting our memories every time we recall an event, the memory exists not as a file in our brain but only as the most recent rewrite of a scenario. Every memoir is fabricated, and the past is nothing more than our last retelling of it. Archival memory data is mixed with whatever new information helps shape the way we think--and feel--about it. "My conclusion," says Schiller, "is that memory is what you are now. Not in pictures, not in recordings. Your memory is who you are now."

In Schiller's view, then, the secret to preserving a memory doesn't lie in protein synthesis in the synapses or the shuttling of neural traffic from the hippocampus to the exurbs of the brain. Rather, she believes, memory is best preserved in the form of a story that collects, distills, and fixes both the physical and the emotional details of an event. "The only way to freeze a memory," she says, "is to put it in a story." 

Posted by orrinj at 6:05 AM


Iran's president eyes direct nuclear talks with 'world sheriff' U.S. (The Associated Press, Jun.26, 2013)

Just a week before Iran's election gatekeepers announced the presidential ballot, Rohani said one-on-one talks with Washington are the only way for breakthroughs in the nuclear standoff, given that the United States - as he put it - is the world's "sheriff."

Such a public portrayal of America's importance and the need to make overtures to it undoubtedly rattled a few among Iran's ruling clerics, who decide which candidates are cleared to run. Yet they allowed Rohani to enter the race, and to the surprise of many, he surged to a runaway victory.

Rohani's repeated emphasis on direct outreach to Washington may now have a chance for real traction among the ultimate decision-makers in Iran - the ruling clerics and the powerful Revolutionary Guard. They have long opposed unilateral talks, insisting they would do no good. But the lack of major blowback to Rohani's speech in mid-May signaled that the idea is no longer a taboo for the establishment, even if it is not yet entirely convinced. Another sign came from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who in March hinted he would not stand in the way.

"We have disagreements with the U.S. on regional and international matters, but obviously friendship or hostility with the world is not permanent," Rohani told an audience at Tehran's Sharif University in his May address. "Every country can improve its relations with others."

U.S. to Seek Direct Nuclear Talks With Iran (JAY SOLOMON, 7/12/13, WSJ)

"We are open to direct talks, and we want to reinforce this in any way [we can]," said a senior U.S. official who is set to take part in the Brussels meeting. "We do see words that indicate Iran might be going in a different direction. But we don't know this yet," the official said Friday.

Cut straight to a trade deal, cultural exchanges, co-operation in the Shi'a Crescent, etc. and ignore the nuclear program.

July 12, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 5:48 PM


Posted by orrinj at 5:27 PM


Defense Dept. Memo Decries Having Too Much Money, Urges Spending All Of It (Garrett Bruno, Jul 12, 2013, ABC News)

An internal email from a Department of Defense agency calls its budget "too large" while at the same time urging colleagues about the importance of spending "100% of our available resources."

The June 27 memo, obtained by the Washington Post and sent by the Defense Information Systems Agency, said, "Our available funding balances remain large in all appropriations -- too large to spend" on just unfunded requests.

Posted by orrinj at 5:13 PM


Rising again: Bush family returns to public stage (MICHAEL J. MISHAK, 7/12/13, AP)

This week, former President George W. Bush surfaced from a self-imposed political exile to prod reluctant Republicans toward a broad immigration overhaul. He's also talking up his work on AIDS and cancer in Africa.

His brother, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, has written a book on immigration reform and is keeping the door open to his own presidential run in 2016.

And George P. Bush, Jeb's oldest son, is running for statewide office in Texas. [...]

With their image on the rebound, family members are openly criticizing their own party and promoting a more moderate -- they would say inclusive -- brand of Republicanism, one that could lay the groundwork for the next generation of a Bush dynasty.

"They are trying to redefine the mainstream," says Jack Pitney, a former national GOP official and government professor at Claremont McKenna College in California. "They are playing the long game. They are looking ahead."

Posted by orrinj at 5:19 AM


The Truth About Political Correctness (Stratford Caldecott, 7/11/13, Imaginative Conservative)

Political correctness identifies a syndrome we all recognize, but is hard to define. It can be best described as a set of attitudes rather than an ideology, since viewed philosophically it is completely incoherent. It can perhaps be traced back to the French Revolution, in the aftermath of which various slogans became fashionable--mostly involving "Liberty" and "Equality", sometimes joined with "Fraternity" or "Reason" to make up a memorable threesome. In each case the "value" in question is distorted by extraction from traditional philosophical frameworks in which such ideas had been discussed for many centuries--or perhaps more tellingly, from a concern with truth.

Equality seems to mean treating people as if they were the same. But this is not justice. Justice is giving people their due. Why insist on equality at the expense of difference and diversity? Insisting on equality in that sense is unjust, because it is the differences between people that determine what they may be due. [...]

Liberty or Freedom is similarly useless without truth. Popularly understood as the power to choose, freedom makes sense only when linked to the truth about those choices. A man going into a supermarket wearing a blindfold has no real power to choose. He still does not if, when he takes off the blindfold, the packaging on the products is full of lies. Nor does he, if the products are essentially all the same. Choice has to be real choice, in a real world, between realities that essentially differ. Even more importantly, he is not free if he is conditioned or habituated to choose in a certain way. In the case of moral choices, the principle is the same. Truth matters. In order to be truly free we need to know which options are morally good or not, and we need to have the power (the virtue) to choose the good over the evil.

It's not the most deleterious effect of political correctness, but this need to deny the truth is one of the main reasons that liberalism has conceded the field of comedy to conservatism.

Posted by orrinj at 5:16 AM


Haredi students at NY school protest Israel's draft law (Times of Israel, July 12, 2013)

Carrying signs comparing the Israeli government to Pharaoh and Adolf Hitler, students at a suburban New York haredi Orthodox school demonstrated against an Israeli bill aiming to draft haredi men into the army.

The elementary and middle school students at the United Talmudical Academy in Spring Valley, about 30 miles from New York City, listened to their rabbis speak against the measure outside their school on Wednesday, according to the Mid-Hudson News. Along with Hitler and Pharaoh, the signs they carried also compared the Israeli government to the Roman military commander Titus, who conquered Jerusalem in the Second Temple era.

"In Israel, they have a government that is against religious freedom, and because of that we want to explain to the children that it is against our religion and we are not with" Israel, said ninth-grade teacher Rabbi Moshe Kaplan, according to Mid-Hudson News. "There is separate Zionism and Judaism. They are not the same thing. We are Jewish and they are not Jewish."

Posted by orrinj at 5:02 AM


(G)love Story : Plainfield Man a Master At Mitt Maintenance (Tris Wykes, 7/11/13, Valley News)

When Stateline Sports employee Bud Hill isn't ringing up sales, aiding shoppers or attending to merchandise, he can sometimes be found dispensing glove love.

A 46-year-old Plainfield resident and 1985 Lebanon High graduate, Hill is a jack of many trades at the store, where he's worked full time since 1997. But about a decade ago, he added tinkering with baseball and softball mitt repair to his repertoire.

"I saw a need for it, but I had to learn to go slow and steady,'' Hill said. "I had a few early moments where I had taken a glove apart and wondered how I was going to put it back together." [...]

Hill can re-lace an entire glove in about 90 minutes, and while he mostly uses dead time at the store to do the work, he occasionally takes a mitt home if a customer has a game fast approaching.

"He was my go-to guy and provided unbelievable service," said Marty Adams, who stepped down as South Royalton School's baseball coach after the 2012 season. "He'd turn them around in a day or two and did a great job. Frankly, I don't think he charges enough for what's a lost art.

"I don't know of anyone else around here who does it anymore."

Stateline sells basic, do-it-yourself glove repair kits and virtually most local players and coaches can keep a glove together under emergency conditions. Hill, however, has built up experience with even the most complicated lacing patterns, and has learned to walk the line between lacing a glove firmly, but not so tight that it's hard to handle.

"You have to allow for the fact that the leather will stretch, but you don't want it to be uncomfortable,'' Hill said. "Sometimes people come in and just have me tighten up their gloves instead of repair them."

Much like a mechanic who would rather tinker with a new Ferrari than a rusting AMC Pacer, Hill gets more excited when a finely crafted glove is brought through the door for work.

His favorite is Wilson's A2000. A 2008 Esquire magazine article anointed it "the finest piece of sports equipment ever made by man" and the $200 model for sale on Stateline's wall positively glows, its rich, handcrafted leather soft to the touch and giving off a savory smell.

At the other end of Hill's spectrum are Spaulding gloves, or "the bane of my universe" as he calls them. Like many machine-made, mass-produced mitts, their lacing holes may not line up exactly, and the pattern itself can be problematic.

"It's like no one really thought the glove through before they made it,'' Hill said.

July 11, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 7:49 PM


Prices for U.S. imports and exports fall in June (Reuters, 7/11/13) 

Import prices slipped 0.2 percent last month, dragged down by another month of declining costs outside of the fuels category. Petroleum prices rose 0.2 percent.

Prices for both imports and exports have fallen every month since March, the longest such streak since 2008 when the world was mired in a financial crisis.

The drop in prices last month for imported cars and other consumer goods could help some U.S. consumers. However, some economists are worried an environment of weak inflation could raise the specter of deflation. That would be very bad, as deflation entails a spiral of falling prices and wages which is very difficult for central banks to fight.

Posted by orrinj at 7:41 PM


Christine Quinn Wins Orthodox Applause With Vow to Aid Religious Schools (Josh Nathan-Kazis, July 11, 2013, Forward)
New York City mayoral hopeful Christine Quinn courted Modern Orthodox leaders, highlighting her support for city aid to private religious schools.

...if he were running now, instead of in '65, he might be the most liberal candidate.

Posted by orrinj at 6:46 PM


Last Song for Migrating Birds : From glue-covered sticks in Egypt hang two lives, and a question: How can we stop the slaughter of songbirds migrating across the Mediterranean? (Jonathan Franzen, July 2013, National Geographic)

In a bird market in the Mediterranean tourist town of Marsa Matruh, Egypt, I was inspecting cages crowded with wild turtledoves and quail when one of the birdsellers saw the disapproval in my face and called out sarcastically, in Arabic: "You Americans feel bad about the birds, but you don't feel bad about dropping bombs on someone's homeland."

I could have answered that it's possible to feel bad about both birds and bombs, that two wrongs don't make a right. But it seemed to me that the birdseller was saying something true about the problem of nature conservation in a world of human conflict, something not so easily refuted. He kissed his fingers to suggest how good the birds tasted, and I kept frowning at the cages.

To a visitor from North America, where bird hunting is well regulated and only naughty farm boys shoot songbirds, the situation in the Mediterranean is appalling: Every year, from one end of it to the other, hundreds of millions of songbirds and larger migrants are killed for food, profit, sport, and general amusement. The killing is substantially indiscriminate, with heavy impact on species already battered by destruction or fragmentation of their breeding habitat. Mediterraneans shoot cranes, storks, and large raptors for which governments to the north have multimillion-euro conservation projects. All across Europe bird populations are in steep decline, and the slaughter in the Mediterranean is one of the causes.

Posted by orrinj at 6:15 PM


U.S. Posts Record June Budget Surplus (JEFFREY SPARSHOTT, 7/11/13, WSJ)

Revenues outpaced spending by $116.50 billion last month, compared with a $59.74 billion deficit a year earlier, the Treasury Department said Thursday in a monthly report.

Last month's black ink was the first June surplus in five years--reflecting a broadly improving fiscal outlook as well as almost $67 billion in payments from the two mortgage-finance companies.

Other receipts are rising due to higher taxes and an improving economy, while spending is falling in part because of mandatory cuts.

Posted by orrinj at 6:11 PM


Four Lies You Tell Yourself About Productivity (and How to Stop) (Janet Choi, 7/11/13, Lifehacker)

Lie #1: My Day's Full of Activity, So I Must Be Super Productive

These days, there's no shortage of digital time-fillers that can make you feel productive. You can easily spend all day emailing, tweeting, searching, instant messaging, texting, and whatever else it takes to stay in the online loop. But while your fingers are busy typing and your eyes busy reading, all you're really doing is getting hits of information--over and over again--instead of working toward a goal.

Posted by orrinj at 6:06 PM


US sharpens criticism of Egyptian arrests (MATTHEW LEE, July 12, 2013, AP)

The Obama administration on Thursday sharpened its criticism of the Egyptian military and interim government's arrests of supporters of ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, saying the continuing detentions are inconsistent with pledges of inclusivity made by authorities and may affect future US assistance.

Posted by orrinj at 5:14 AM


Foreclosures fall to pre-housing bust levels (Les Christie, 7/11/13, CNNMoney)

The number of foreclosure filings have plunged so fast -- down 14% since May -- that the housing market could be back to pre-mortgage meltdown levels before the end of the year, according to Daren Blomquist, a vice president at RealtyTrac.

"Halfway through 2013 it's becoming increasingly evident that foreclosures are no longer a problem nationally, [although] they continue to be a thorn in the side of several state and local markets," he said.

Posted by orrinj at 5:07 AM


Tokyo's elderly account for more shoplifting than teens (IDA TORRES, 7/08/13, Japan Daily Press)

While the statistics did not include reasons for shoplifting, the growing isolation of the elderly from society has been cited as a growing problem among that age group.

Of Japan's estimated 128 million population, a quarter of those are already 65 years and older. What's even more cause for worry is that the average birthplace replacement is at 1.39 children per woman, which is way below than what is needed to have a thriving society in the future. And for the greying population of Japan, life has never been harder now, with some blaming modernisation as the reason for fraying familial ties. A government survey showed that 3.5 million elderly women and 1.4 million elderly men now live alone. There are regular reports of elderly people dying and remaining undiscovered for weeks and months because they live alone. While all these may have no direct correlation to the increase in shoplifting, the figures from the Tokyo Police shows one part of an emerging picture of the life of elderly people in Japan.

Posted by orrinj at 5:03 AM


Immigrants boost churches, Paynter says (Bob Allen, 7/10/13, American Baptist Press)

Faith communities in the United States both serve and benefit from immigrants, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Executive Coordinator Suzii Paynter said July 10 in a conference at the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas.

"Immigrants have brought renewal to the church and the moral character of our country, and they offer vitality to our culture," Paynter said in the closing session of the half-day summit titled What Immigrants Contribute: A Special Event on Immigration, Texas and Economic Growth. [...]

"We have over 1,200 Hispanic Baptist congregations in Texas," she said. "The beautiful nature of the Kingdom of God even here in this one state is diverse."

Paynter said churches help government and others from the private sector by providing immigrantss with services like teaching English as a second language and counseling in getting a green card.

"If you go by Hispanic churches in your town on Saturday morning, you'll see lines of people waiting outside so they can have their accreditation status evaluated," Paynter said.

The day opened with remarks by Former President Bush at a naturalization ceremony for America's newest citizens.

"We must remember that the vast majority of immigrants are decent people who work hard, and support their families, and practice their faith and lead responsible lives," Bush said. "Some willingly defend the flag, including two about to take the oath here today."

"At its core, immigration is a sign of a confident and successful nation," he continued. "It says something about our country that people all around the world are willing to leave their homes and leave their families and risk everything to come to our country. Their talent and hard work and love of freedom have helped us become the leader of the world."

Posted by orrinj at 4:58 AM


The Astonishing Collapse of Work In America (Nicholas Eberstadt, 7/10/13, Real Clear Markets)

[T]he male employment ratio reached its peak in the early 1950s-and then commenced an almost relentless descent. Today's level is the lowest thus far-but this decline of work for men has been unfolding for decades, indeed generations. Over the past 60 years, the employment ratio for adult men has plummeted by about 20 percentage points. Which is to say: if America's male employment ratios were back at their Eisenhower-era levels, well over 20 million more men would be at work today. At the moment, roughly 76 million men are counted as working.

How is this collapse of work to be explained? In purely arithmetic terms, the great bulk of the change is due to an exodus out of the labor force-that is to say, to a massive long-term rise in the number of adult men who are neither working nor seeking work. Over the past 60 years, the labor force participation rate for adult men has fallen by about 16 percentage points. In 1953, about 14 percent of adult men were out of the labor force-around one in seven. Today 30 percent are neither working nor seeking work-nearly one in three.

Of course population aging has something to do with this gradual but cumulatively immense male flight out of the workforce. But we should not exaggerate this effect. In the early 1950s, senior citizens 65 and older accounted for almost 12 percent of adult men, as against 16 percent today. Aging on this scale cannot explain most of the 16 percentage point shift out of the workforce that has been registered by adult men over these decades. Indeed, it cannot even explain all that much of it.

The plain fact is that men in what are generally regarded as conventional working ages have been increasingly opting out of the workforce altogether.

July 10, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 4:24 PM


The libertarian war over the Civil War (Rachel Weiner, July 10, 2013, Washington Post)

When an aide to Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul was recently revealed to have a history of badmouthing Abraham Lincoln and promoting secession, some conservatives reacted with dismay. [...]

Cosmotarians see the neo-Confederates as an embarrassing stain on libertarianism; neo-Confederates in turn see cosmotarians as intolerant, hypocritical and pro-war.

"These groups are usually at each others' throats more often than not," said Reason magazine editor Matt Welch.

Reason is firmly in the anti-neo-Confederate camp. In 2008 they reported on the racist newsletters put out under Texas Rep. Ron Paul's name and criticized the presidential candidate for allying himself with that strain in libertarianism. In response, they received scores of angry letters accusing them of selling out the movement. The neo-Confederates are largely centered around libertarian author Lew Rockwell (who worked with Paul and is widely suspected to have written the offensive newsletters), his website LewRockwell.com and his think-tank the Ludwig von Mises Institute.

Posted by orrinj at 5:37 AM


George Brett recalls Pine Tar Game (Mike Vorkunov, 7/10/13, The Star-Ledger)

"It's really the greatest thing that ever happened to me," Brett, now the Royals' hitting coach, said Tuesday in remembering the moment one more time.

It began with another potent swing by Brett. After hitting what would have been the winning home run off Yankees closer Goose Gossage, he returned to the dugout. At the same time, Yankees manager Billy Martin asked that Brett's bat be inspected.

Confusion abounded among the Royals, all trying to figure out why the bat was now being looked over. Because he did not wear batting gloves, Brett had applied pine tar to his bat, a 34-inch, 32-ounce T-85 model, before every at-bat. But he did not suspect that might be the reason.

When a teammate told Brett it may be because of too much pine tar, he began to fume.

"If they call me out for using too much pine tar, I'm going up there and I'll kill one of those SOBs," he remembers saying.

Then off he went -- an angry rush to home plate to argue, nostrils flaring, with the plate umpire. It was to no avail and, ultimately, only for posterity. The home run was revoked and the game ended a Yankees victory.

In the middle of it all, teammate Gaylord Perry stole the bat from the umpires. Some say it was because he feared the bat might be sent to the AL office for further inspection. Brett said Perry took it because he was a memorabilia nut who thought it would be a good addition to his collection. Perry was also ejected, along with Royals manager Dick Howser.

When Brett returned to his hotel room, he called his brother to tell him what happened. But his brother already knew because the broadcasters had cut into the game he was watching.

"I thought it was just going to be over this, but it's amazing how much play this one at-bat -- or this one hit -- has gotten over the years," Brett said. "I guess it's unprecedented."

...do you recall who played 2B and CF for the Yanks when the game resumed?

Posted by orrinj at 5:19 AM


The Battle of Britain: The Many and the Few (Richard Overy, History Today)

Nor was Britain herself so powerless in 1940. It had the world's largest navy, supported by a huge merchant fleet. The risk of confronting that naval power is now often used to argue that the German invasion of Britain could never have taken place. This exaggerates the extent to which the Royal Navy was invulnerable to air attack, but almost certainly naval forces were an important addition to the balance sheet of armed power. The RAF also contributed Coastal and Bomber Commands to the battle; Churchill on August 20th, 1940 devoted a lot more lines in his famous 'Few' speech to the bomber crews than he did to Fighter Command - 21 lines to six. Britain also had an army that was less ill-equipped and unprepared than the popular post-Dunkirk myth suggests. Behind all this military effort was one of the world's most advanced and technically sophisticated industrial economies and one of the world's principal financial centres. If invasion could have been done cheaply, Hitler would have come. But British power in 1940 was not such an easy nut to crack.

July 9, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 7:42 PM


What Can Research on Coups Tell Us About Egypt? (Clayton Thyne, 7/09/13, NY Times)

What does the coup mean for the future of democracy in Egypt?  Powell and I show that coups can increase the likelihood of democratization when they overthrow authoritarian regimes, something that seems to be especially true in the post-Cold War era, when elections come sooner after coups according to the findings of Nikolay Marinov and Hein Goemans.  But when there is a coup against a democratically elected government, like Morsi's in Egypt, the scholarly literature is less optimistic: coups that take place against democracies are bad for democracy.

So, what happens now?  Most of what I have seen focuses on the internal political dynamics in Egypt (see, for example, analyses from Doug Mataconis).  Internal dynamics will undoubtedly be important, but we shouldn't lose focus on the international community.  Although there isn't a large literature on how the response of the international community matters--though see this forthcoming paper from Megan Shannon and co-authors --support from international actors appear to increase the tenure of leaders who come to power via coups.  Using data fromArchigosPowell and myself, and Shannon et al., I examined 205 leaders who came to power from a coup between 1951 and 2004.  When these leaders drew positive support from other states and/or from international organizations (IOs) in the six months following the coup, they stayed in power longer than when they drew mainly negative support.  Leaders who came to power via a coup that was supported by the international community lasted over 2 years longer than those who came to power and were condemned by the international community.  Leaders who enjoyed state support after seizing power lasted over 3 years longer on average than those who faced a hostile response.

Posted by orrinj at 7:11 PM


Seven Airplane Fixes That Would Save More Lives (BARBARA S. PETERSON, NOVEMBER 2005, Conde Nast Traveler)

Aircraft are safer than ever, thanks to improvements over the past 15 years, including the introduction of fire-blocking materials, stronger seats, and floor exit lighting. But experts say more changes are still in order. These recommendations top their list:

...the single most useful safety improvement.  Which will likewise improve car safety, especially now that they're driverless.

Posted by orrinj at 6:51 PM


The four-day work week (Annalyn Kurtz, July 9, 2013, CNN Money)

Technological progress has made workers more productive than ever before.

Yet rather than cutting the work week gradually over time (like the Europeans did), productivity gains have fueled a consumerism boom in the United States. So instead of taking time off, Americans are just buying much more stuff. [...]

The 40-hour work week, adopted shortly after the Great Depression, was originally thought of as a job creation tool.

"Cutting hours of work can have positive effects on employment levels during a severe economic downturn," the International Labour Organization noted in a report last month.

Shortened hours can be used to create jobs, the ILO said, as fewer hours for one worker means more work for another.

...fewer hours but five days seems to make better economic sense.

Posted by orrinj at 6:45 PM


Egypt's Illiberal Liberals (John Allen Gay, July 9, 2013, National Interest)

[E]gypt's secular-liberal revolutionaries seem to be living in an alternative reality of their own. The most fundamental fact in their world is that Egypt's coup was not a coup--that the Egyptian army can inform the Egyptian president that he is no longer the president, use its commandoes to remove him from his office and then have its head appear on national television to announce the suspension of the constitution without committing a coup. (Helpfully, the Obama administration is weighing the incorporation of this fact into its reality, as well.) And the chief argument for this fact is the enthusiasm of the coup's civilian enthusiasts--in other words, there is no "objective fact separate from how [they] feel about it." [...]

The Egyptian liberal's alternative reality is a very illiberal place, for it cannot bear contact with anything outside itself. Dissent threatens its very existence. And so pro-Morsi journalists are shouted out of press conferences by their colleagues. Opposition parties must be banned, their leaders rounded up, their media outlets shut down. Blotting out offensive views becomes a form of political speech. The liberals are not calling for a liberal state--what they want is a fury-state, where the government derives legitimacy from serving as a funnel for the public's revolutionary anger. It's New Left, not liberal democracy. It's the vision of Maximilien de Robespierre and Hugo Chavez, not James Madison and John Stuart Mill.

Posted by orrinj at 5:29 AM


Haredi IDF Soldiers Ostracized by Community (Romy Zipken, July 8, 2013, Tablet)

Hardline members of the ultra-Orthodox community in Israel have launched a propaganda-filled campaign against mandatory Haredi conscription, taking aim at young members of the ultra-Orthodox community who have enlisted voluntarily. The flyers and billboards call the Haredim who enlist Hardakim, which combines the word Haredi with the Hebrew word for bacteria and insects, haydakim, the Times of Israel reports. The posters, some have argued, invoke imagery not unlike the kind used by the Nazis during World War II, portraying IDF soldiers with hook noses chasing after innocent Haredi youths.

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 AM


A SHIFT IN HOW WE THINK ABOUT EDUCATION (Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, 07/ 9/13, American Scene)

Simply put, in the 19th and 18th centuries, the public discourse about education was about politics; over the past few decades it's become about economics.

Here's what I mean: if you read the great advocates of democracy in the 18th and 19th century (the Enlightenment philosophers, the American Founding Fathers, various French liberal and/or republican intellectuals (using those words in their French meanings)), to them education was a necessary precondition of democracy and its main goal was to build enlightened, free, citizens. What was foremost to them was that education be liberal, in the oldest and etymological sense of the word: an education to freedom. A free society could not long endure if its citizens were not educated enough to make responsible use of that freedom in their personal lives and in public life, and so education was not only crucial but a certain type of education was.

Flash forward to today, and the only goal is to beat the Chinamen who are coming to eat the bread off our plates. The central question about education, both sides of the aisle agree, is how to create productive worker bees workers to win the economic race against China.

...is that we can restore public education's original mission.

Posted by orrinj at 5:21 AM


Credit card delinquencies lowest since 1990 (Melanie Hicken, July 9, 2013, CNN Money)

Delinquencies on bank-issued credit cards -- on accounts that were 30 days or more overdue -- fell to 2.41% in the first quarter of 2013, the lowest level since 1990, according to an American Bankers Association report released Tuesday.

Delinquencies in 10 other lending categories, ranging from car loans to personal loans, also shrunk during the quarter, according to the report.

July 8, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 8:00 PM


The Coup in Egypt: A Failure Greater than Morsi (PATRICK SMITH, 7/08/13, The Fiscal Times)

The removal from power of Mohamed Morsi, Egypt's duly elected president will never change one irrefutable truth: If you applaud or support military coups in democracies--even young, wrongheaded democracies--you aid in the making of a very messy world.
Only a year after Morsi was elected to replace the disgraced Hosni Mubarak as Egypt's leader, it was plain even to some senior officials in the governing Islamic Brotherhood that mistakes had serious been made and that Egypt's laudable democratic experiment needed more institutional substance and several new priorities. It needed maturity by way of experience. And what post-revolutionary government would not?

Surely the best way to reach institutional strength and sophisticated political and economic policies is not by way of a violent coup, one that wipes the slate of all that has been achieved in the post-Mubarak period. Nor is it by toppling an elected leader and replacing his government with one chosen by the army.

Posted by orrinj at 7:56 PM


Rust promises hydrogen power boost (Simon Redfern, 7/08/13, BBC News)

Rust could help boost the efficiency of hydrogen production from sunlight - a potentially green source of energy.

Tiny (nano-sized) particles of haematite (crystalline iron oxide, or rust) have been shown to split water into hydrogen and oxygen in the presence of solar energy.

The result could bring the goal of generating cheap hydrogen from sunlight and water a step closer to reality.

Posted by orrinj at 7:54 PM


Federal benefits won't extend to domestic partners under DOMA ruling (Josh Hicks, July 8, 2013, Washington Post)

The Obama administration will not extend federal-worker benefits to domestic partners under the Supreme Court ruling that overturned part of the Defense of Marriage Act, meaning the government will treat civil unions differently than legal same-sex marriages.

The Office of Personnel Management made that announcement in a series of memos to federal benefits administrators and insurance carriers, saying couples who are not legally married "will remain ineligible for most federal benefits programs."

Posted by orrinj at 7:22 PM


Yasiin Bey (aka Mos Def) force-fed under standard Guantánamo Bay procedure - video (The Guardian, 7/08/13)

Hey, here's an idea: have a sandwich instead.

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 AM


2016 forecast: Rubio, Bush, Ryan have chance to win over 40% of Latino vote (Matt Barreto, 07/02/2013, Latino Decisions)

A new poll from Latino Decisions, on behalf of America's Voice found Latino presidential voters are paying very close attention to the immigration debates in Washington D.C. and are evaluating the candidates by their words and actions on immigration reform.  Half of the respondents were read a prompt about Rubio working to pass immigration reform:

"Currently the U.S. Congress is debating a comprehensive immigration reform bill that would provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants in the United States. Republican Marco Rubio played a key role in helping to pass this bill and with Rubio's leadership undocumented immigrants receive legal status and a path to citizenship."

Respondents were then asked how likely they would be to vote for Rubio in the 2016 presidential election.  54% of Latino voters said they were likely to vote for Rubio, including 50% of Latinos who voted for Obama in 2012, 46% of Latino Independents, and 55% of Latino voters age 18-34.  However, absent any prompting about Rubio working to ensure a final bill is passed, he failed to even reach the 30% support mark among Latinos.

Likewise, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush stands to gain if he leans in on the immigration debate and convinces fellow Republicans to pass the bill with a path to citizenship.  When respondents were read a prompt about Bush's support for the immigration bill with a path to citizenship 47% of Latino voters said they were likely to vote for Bush in 2016, including 42% of those who just cast a ballot for Obama in 2012.

Posted by orrinj at 5:11 AM


The Perils of a 'People's Coup' (KHALED M. ABOU EL FADL, 7/08/13, NY Times)

[M]r. Morsi's fall does not bode well for the future of Egypt and democracy in the region. The army is following in the footsteps of Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, Hafez al-Assad of Syria, Saddam Hussein of Iraq, and Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran, who shared a common trait. They all pointed to their supporters in the streets as the source of their legitimacy and perpetuated autocratic rule in the name of the people's will. By stepping in to remove an unpopular president, the Egyptian Army reaffirmed a despotic tradition in the Middle East: Army officers decide what the country needs, and they always know best.

Traditionally, there have been two institutions in Egypt that have considered themselves above accountability: the military and the judiciary. Both have refused to answer to any civilian power.

Both are firmly rooted in the regime of the deposed president Hosni Mubarak; they are staunchly secular, authoritarian and corrupt. The army has assured the United States and the world that it won't intervene in politics again after this coup. It has called upon all Egyptians to come together, to forget their differences, and not to seek vengeance.

However, while spouting this lofty rhetoric, the army has completely flouted the basic principles of the rule of law. It has arrested members of the Muslim Brotherhood and of Mr. Morsi's political party for sedition and advocating violence, but conveniently failed to arrest any of the people responsible for burning Brotherhood offices or gunning down Mr. Morsi's supporters.

...is that after you win the election you need to deNazify. Not purging the old regime proved costly to the democrats.
Posted by orrinj at 5:08 AM


Redesigned Window Stops Sound But Not Air, Say Materials Scientists (MIT Technology Review)

[I]nsulating against sound is a difficult and expensive business. Soundproofing generally works on the principle of transferring sound from the air into another medium which absorbs and attenuates it.

So the notion of creating a barrier that absorbs sound while allowing the free of passage of air seems, at first thought, entirely impossible. But that's exactly what Sang-Hoon Kima at the Mokpo National Maritime University in South Korea and Seong-Hyun Lee at the Korea Institute of Machinery and Materials, have achieved.

These guys have come up with a way to separate sound from the air in which it travels and then to attenuate it. This has allowed them to build a window that allows air to flow but not sound.

Posted by orrinj at 5:06 AM


Once a Joke, Battery-Powered Airplanes Are Nearing Reality : Aerospace companies are working on hybrid electric airplanes, and the earliest versions will likely arrive before the end of the decade. (Kevin Bullis, July 8, 2013, Technology Review)

Last month Siemens and EADS demonstrated a new gas-electric vehicle capable of carrying two people and their luggage 900 kilometers--roughly the distance from New York to Detroit--between refuels and recharges. The prototype was not a car, but a small two-seater airplane.

The hybrid plane is similar to the Chevrolet Volt in that it relies on an electric motor and uses a gas engine as backup. The airplane matches the performance of some private airplanes already on the market, but it has two distinct advantages: it's remarkably quiet, and uses about 25 percent less fuel.

The achievement presages what is likely to be a big shift toward hybrid propulsion in airplanes. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:00 AM


Defining Prosperity Down (PAUL KRUGMAN, July 7, 2013, NY Times)

Ask yourself the hard question: What, exactly, will bring us back to full employment? [...]

But won't voters eventually demand more? Well, that's where I get especially pessimistic.

You might think that a persistently poor economy -- an economy in which millions of people who could and should be productively employed are jobless, and in many cases have been without work for a very long time -- would eventually spark public outrage. But the political science evidence on economics and elections is unambiguous: what matters is the rate of change, not the level.

Put it this way: If unemployment rises from 6 to 7 percent during an election year, the incumbent will probably lose. But if it stays flat at 8 percent through the incumbent's whole term, he or she will probably be returned to power. And this means that there's remarkably little political pressure to end our continuing, if low-grade, depression.

Someday, I suppose, something will turn up that finally gets us back to full employment. But I can't help recalling that the last time we were in this kind of situation, the thing that eventually turned up was World War II.

...we'd nuke them by lunch time.  Technology redefined war long before it did manufacturing.  

To get back to "full employment" we'd only have to get rid of technology.  We have prosperity, we just don't have to work for it.

Posted by orrinj at 4:48 AM


The Republican Plan to Exploit the IRS Scandal (Even Without a Smoking Gun) : GOP sends lawmakers home with scandal-focused talking points, prepares August campaign. (Shane Goldmacher, July 2, 2013, National Journal)

Republicans still haven't found that smoking gun tying the White House to the IRS's targeting of tea-party groups. But that won't stop them from selling the scandal to voters as evidence Democrats cannot be trusted in Washington.

The public's dislike of the IRS is so visceral and details of the scandal are so easily digestible that top Republican operatives say it fits neatly into their budding 2014 narrative against liberal big government, with or without proof of President Obama's involvement.

"Of all the scandals, of all issues, this thing touches everyone's life. Nobody likes the IRS," said GOP strategist Scott Jennings, a former top adviser to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. "It will have staying power, and it will be used--and it should be--in political campaigns."

The nice thing about running on nothing is that when you're elected you don't have to do anything.

July 7, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 6:56 PM


The Price of Terminating Democracy in Egypt : Algeria endured 10 years of civil war after its military blocked an Islamist election victory. (WSJ, 7/07/13)

The coup d'état that ousted President Mohammad Morsi on July 3 was a political miscalculation that could throw Egypt into a state of protracted violence and instability. Weekend clashes between supporters and opponents of Mr. Morsi are not the worst that could happen. [...]

The coup sends a message that will "resonate throughout the Muslim World loud and clear: Democracy is not for Muslims," said a spokesman for Mr. Morsi. Even people who are not Brotherhood supporters may be compelled to admit some day that this was not the best way to deal with an unpopular politician and his party.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:50 PM


Horseless Carriages to Driverless Cars (L. GORDON CROVITZ, 7/07/13, WSJ)

The largely self-driving car is no longer just a vision, thanks to rapid advances in lasers, radar, GPS and mapping databases. If it weren't for fear among innovators of getting too far ahead of U.S. laws and regulations, there would already be cars on the road doing almost as much driving as humans. [..]

Volvo offers a feature for cars to parallel-park themselves after the driver gets out. Mercedes is offering a "steering assist" system that automatically handles highway lane changes and passing of slower vehicles. Audi is developing a "traffic jam" feature for cars to drive themselves in traffic up to 40 miles per hour.

Human-driven cars are dangerous, too. More than a million people world-wide die each year in traffic. Car accidents are the top killer of American teenagers, and texting and other distractions make humans more careless drivers.

The Google StreetView database has already been largely completed. Google co-founder Sergey Brin has predicted self-driving cars will be a technical reality within five years. Costs will need to decline for special equipment such as "lidar," which uses lasers and pulses of light to detect objects, to make them affordable.

...than the 34,000 people a year human-driven cars kill.

Posted by orrinj at 6:45 PM


Cleaning the barnacles (Kevin Donnelly, 5 July 2013, Online Opinion)

Who can forget Kevin Rudd, in the lead up to the 2007 election, mimicking Prime Minister Howard by describing himself as fiscal conservative?

Once again, Rudd is channelling John Howard and copying his approach to politics.

As Prime Minister and when leading into an election campaign, John Howard advised his cabinet to clear the barnacles. This meant removing those policy issues that made the government vulnerable and ensuring that the opposition didn't have any easy shots. [...]

The ALP government's sudden about face, now calling for meritocracy in education and a better deal for non-government schools, is simply an example of political pragmatism.

What better way to nullify education as an electoral liability than ditch a cultural-left commitment to equity of outcomes and victim-hood, and to copy the Coalition's commitment to properly fund non-government schools, promote meritocracy and allow schools autonomy and flexibility.

Posted by orrinj at 6:31 PM


Forcing down the Bolivian president's plane was an act of piracy (John Pilger, 8 July 2013, Online Opinion)

The forcing down of Bolivian President Evo Morales's plane - denied air space by France, Spain and Portugal, followed by his 14-hour confinement while Austrian officials demanded to "inspect" his aircraft for the "fugitive" Edward Snowden - was an act of air piracy and state terrorism. It was a metaphor for the gangsterism that now rules the world and the cowardice and hypocrisy of bystanders who dare not speak its name.

He's lucky the Vincennes wasn't around.

Posted by orrinj at 6:24 PM


The meat cleaver we need (W.W. | HOUSTON, 7/05/13, The Economist)

One of the basic ideas of political economy is that the costs of any particular government programme are diffuse, spread over the entire (present and near-future) taxpaying population, while the benefits of the programme are concentrated on a relatively small class of beneficiaries. Even large cuts in most specific programmes will save the typical taxpayer at best a few pennies, yet even small cuts can hit a programme's beneficiaries--administrators, contractors, subsidy recipients, etc--very hard. This asymmetry in the burdens and benefits of programmatic spending creates a corresponding asymmetry in political motivation. A few cents is hardly enough to grab taxpayers' attention, but one can count on most programmes' beneficiaries fighting tooth and nail against cuts. So, other things being equal, nothing gets cut, and government grows and grows.

Though the costs of any given programme are quite diffuse, the burden of government spending, taken as a whole, is by no means small change for the typical taxpayer. A cut in aggregate spending therefore stands to benefit many taxpayers enough to make a real difference, even when he or she takes into account losses as the beneficiary of certain programmes. On the other side of the equation, few of us see ourselves as direct beneficiaries of aggregate government spending, except in an abstract or theoretical way. Furthermore, special interests are accustomed to competing, not cooperating, for shares of the budget, so one tends not see recipients of nutritional assistance banding together with engineers from General Dynamics to mobilise against across-the-board cuts.

In other words, if we're ever going to cut spending in a serious way, we may need "meat cleavers" to do it.

Posted by orrinj at 5:41 PM


Defense industry hatches new plot to kill the sequester (Jeremy Herb, 07/06/13, The Hill)
The defense industry is plotting a new attempt to do away with the budget cuts on tap for the Pentagon in 2014.

Posted by orrinj at 5:37 PM


Feeling global, but being an American (Stephanie Hanes, July 7, 2013, CS Monitor)

Today, Raziuddin, who works for IBM, lives in this western suburb of Boston and makes a point with his Malaysian-born wife and American-born children to get outside in the winter. He started with snowshoeing; recently he has been learning how to ski.

And this, really, is how Raziuddin's journey into American life has gone. Although there were plenty of cultural disconnects for the Indian newcomer - from the informal style of American universities (think undergraduates with their feet on desks) to the American reluctance to chat about income - sooner or later he figured out the system and embraced it.

This is typical of one of the fastest growing categories of immigrants to the US, a group from Asia (including the Indian subcontinent) that is better educated, wealthier, and more likely to believe in the power of hard work than native-born Americans are, according to the Pew Research Center.

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Posted by orrinj at 5:35 PM


Immigration and assimilation: After dislocation, a Hmong refugee finds a fit : Kouei Siong, who has returned to his family's California farm with dreams of upgrading the business, sees himself as not just Hmong, but Hmong-American. (Ian Gordon, Contributor / July 7, 2013, CS Monitor)

Dressed in a red plaid shirt, jeans, and dusty boots, his brow beaded with sweat, Kouei Siong looks every bit the American farmer. Sitting in the shade of his family's roadside produce stand here in the Central Valley of California, he can see his family's 20-plus acres of berries, tomatoes, lettuce, zucchini, chilies, and eggplant fanning out in orderly rows beyond the parking lot.

Farming is his future, a way of fitting in here in America, Mr. Siong now believes - even if he spent much of his life trying to avoid it. He remembers all too well the teasing that came with being the teenage son of Hmong immigrant farmers in the Central Valley in the late 1990s.

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Posted by orrinj at 2:12 PM


Former President George W. Bush praises President Obama on counterterrorism and immigration reform (ADAM EDELMAN, 7/07/13, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

"I think the President got into the Oval Office and realized the dangers to the United States, and he's acted in a way that he thinks is necessary to protect the country," Bush said during a taped interview that aired Sunday on ABC's "This Week."

"Protecting the country is the most important job of the presidency," Bush added, in response to a question about whether he felt surprised that Obama had kept many of the counterterrorism programs put in place during his own administration. [...]

The former President also said he felt encouraged by the progress of the comprehensive immigration reform bill being pushed by the White House and passed in June by the Senate.

"It looks like immigration, you know, has a chance to pass," Bush said about the bill's prospects in the House. "The reason to pass immigration reform is not to bolster a Republican Party -- it's to fix a system that's broken."

"It's very important to fix a broken system, to treat people with respect and have confidence in our capacity to assimilate people," Bush said. "It's a very difficult bill to pass because there's a lot of moving parts. The legislative process can be ugly. But it looks like they're making some progress," he said.


Posted by orrinj at 10:13 AM


Blood test may one day replace colonoscopy (Catholic Online, 6/9/2013)

The researcher's relatively simple blood test detected cancer correctly 87 percent of the time and was right about those without cancer about 95 percent of the time. When they looked only at stage I developments of the disease, the test caught the cancer 92 percent of the time.

While still in early stages, this kind of research is "very exciting," Dr. Eric Esrailian, co-chief of the division of digestive diseases at the David Geffen School of Medicine says. 

Other scientists are simultaneously trying to determine whether an older, less invasive test is as good as a colonoscopy when it comes to a first screening. While it must be noted that colonoscopies are credited with reducing deaths from colorectal cancer, Dr. H. Gilbert Welch says there is still no indication that the tests actually save more lives than a lower tech, less invasive alternative: the stool test.

Colonoscopy became much more popular than the alternative simply because "the basic idea of it was so appealing," Welch, a professor of medicine at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice says. "It was being used as the follow-up test for the [stool] test. And the idea was, 'Wow if we do this as a follow-up test, maybe we could just do it on everyone'."

It's more sex than medicine. Not that there's anything wrong with that....

Posted by orrinj at 9:23 AM


U.S. job growth improves, exceeds expectations (Steve Benen, Jul 5, 2013, MSNBC)

As is usually the case, there was a gap between the two major sectors -- America's private sector added 202,000 jobs last month, while spending cuts caused the public sector shed 7,000 jobs.

Posted by orrinj at 9:18 AM


The Fake Story About the IRS Commissioner and the White House : White House records show Douglas Shulman signed in for 11 visits, not 157, between 2009 and 2012. (GARANCE FRANKE-RUTAMAY 31 2013, Atlantic)

[T]he public meeting schedules available for review to any media outlet show that very thing: Shulman was cleared primarily to meet with administration staffers involved in implementation of the health-care reform bill. He was cleared 40 times to meet with Obama's director of the Office of Health Reform, and a further 80 times for the biweekly health reform deputies meetings and others set up by aides involved with the health-care law implementation efforts. That's 76 percent of his planned White House visits just there, before you even add in all the meetings with Office of Management and Budget personnel also involved in health reform.

Complicating the picture is the fact that just because a meeting was scheduled and Shulman was cleared to attend it does not mean that he actually went. Routine events like the biweekly health-care deputies meeting would have had a standing list of people cleared to attend, people whose White House appointments would have been logged and forwarded to the check-in gate. But there is no time of arrival information in the records to confirm that Shulman actually signed in and went to these standing meetings.
Indeed, of the 157 events Shulman was cleared to attend, White House records only provide time of arrival information -- confirming that he actually went to them -- for 11 events over the 2009-2012 period, and time of departure information for only six appointments. According to the White House records, Shulman signed in twice in 2009, five times in 2010, twice in 2011, and twice in 2012. That does not mean that he did not go to other meetings, only that the White House records do not show he went to the 157 meetings he was granted Secret Service clearance to attend.

Posted by orrinj at 7:17 AM


Time for public to stop making Trayvon Martin tragedy worse (Issac J. Bailey, July 6, 2013, The Sun News)

Zimmerman was unknown until that fateful night in which he shot Martin, while Simpson had a Hall of Fame pro football career and spots in well-received commercials and slapstick comedies.

Zimmerman seemed to be a wanna-be police officer, Simpson a high-profile husband with domestic violence accusations in his past.

Zimmerman is a middle-class white Hispanic, Simpson a rich black guy.

Those are the superficial differences. In each case, the people who were killed have largely become afterthoughts.

The people who cheered wildly with glee when Simpson was found not guilty all but danced on the graves of Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman.

Their focus was on Simpson, not his wife and the man brutally murdered beside her, not on the evidence that strongly suggested Simpson's guilt, despite the defense's expert cross examinations that raised questions in the minds of jurors -- the only minds that legally mattered.

Today, supporters of Zimmerman -- people who had never heard of him -- don't much care that an unarmed 17-year-old walking home from the store ended up dead on the street. They don't stop to consider how they'd feel, how they'd respond, if Martin was their son or cousin or friend.

They ignore contradictions in Zimmerman's story and freely and happily denigrate the character of the only person who died that night.

That isn't to say Zimmerman's version of events should be dismissed, or that he should be considered evil.

Good people with good intentions sometimes end up doing awful things in situations in which they were trying to make things better.

Is that what happened in this case? I don't know, and neither do most of those who have dug in their heels about what verdict would be the most just.

Legally speaking, only the views of the jurors matter.

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Posted by orrinj at 7:13 AM


Smartphone Makers Hit By Rising Competition (EVA DOU AND MIN-JEONG LEE, 7/07/13, WSJ)

"The whole high-end smartphone industry is slowing, which is not just an HTC problem," said Barclays analyst Dale Gai. "It's a saturated market." 

That means the battle for these high-end customers is getting fiercer--and more expensive. HTC is more than doubling its marketing spending this year in its attempt to counter Samsung, even as its revenue has fallen from last year. Samsung, sitting on a growing pile of cash, is expected to spend increasingly to market its products this year after spending a total 13 trillion won in 2012, up 38% from a year earlier.

High smartphone penetration rates in developed markets such as North America and Western Europe are leading to slower growth for high-end models, analysts say. Though premium models are most profitable for mobile-phone makers in general, they may have to look to cheaper models for growth, targeting emerging markets where growth potentials remain high, they said.

Apple is widely expected to launch a lower-cost version of its iPhone later this year, people familiar with the situation told The Wall Street Journal earlier. While Samsung and HTC have long made midrange phones, both are expected to bend their premium line down to more price-conscious customers. Samsung has already announced the stripped down version of its flagship Galaxy S4 Mini, while analysts say HTC has a smaller version of the One in the works, though HTC declined to comment on coming products.

"The mid and entry-level smartphones are quickly picking up share, and are getting quite powerful in their capabilities," said CK Lu, an analyst at Gartner in Taiwan. "Basically, a year ago, you didn't have many choices in low-end smartphones. But now in the China market, you can buy a 5-inch smartphone for around US$200."

Posted by orrinj at 6:57 AM


Baseball's little gestures mean a lot : Taps, touches, tugs and tips... they carry complex messages among pitchers, batters, coaches and managers. The wordless codes can be raised to an art level, and are protected as if they are state secrets. (KEVIN BAXTER, July 1, 2013, LA Times)

Signs came to baseball from the battlefields of the Civil War, where field generals sought to conceal their plans, according to historian Paul Dickson, author of "The Hidden Language of Baseball."

In one system known as "wig-wag," flags and torches were used to warn Confederate soldiers about the movement of Union troops. Two years later, at West Point, cadets tipped each other to secret inspections by tapping on pipes, and cheated on tests by wiping their lips or winking.

During a typical nine-inning baseball game, there are hundreds of sign sequences, each part of a distinct strategy -- telling the runner to steal, the batter not to swing at a pitch, or directing the fielders how to defend against a bunt. [...]

Rhythm can be just as important as repetition, especially in pressure-packed moments when a coach can be caught in the emotion and begin signing too quickly.

"I slow it down," says Ebel, who is in his eighth season with the Angels. "As a third base coach, you recognize it and try to develop that to give it back to the player. Going through it kind of fast speeds up the game."

Each player has his own set of signs for a couple of reasons. If a player is traded, he won't be able to understand the signs of his former teammates. Also, coaches don't want their own players unwittingly tipping the opposing team by reacting on the bench -- standing up to see better, motioning to a teammate to pay close attention -- when a surprise such as a squeeze bunt or double steal is in the works.

Just as the players take daily batting and fielding practice, they are also quizzed on signs by their coaches.

"If a player misses the sign, it's just like anything else -- you haven't spent enough time with that player," Ebel says. "If a guy has to take 100 ground balls a day to get the fielding mechanic down, everybody does that. Why can't you spend 10, 15 minutes every day for that player to understand the system and the signs? It's important."

Some players just never quite seem to catch on, though.

Former ballplayer Steve Lyons, now a member of the Dodgers' broadcast team, said that when he played in Boston, third base coach Rene Lachemann got so fed up with the Red Sox's missing signs that he made a dramatic change: Lachemann would go through an entire series of signals -- "He called them dummy signs because our guys were too stupid," Lyons recalls -- then clap once for a bunt, twice for a hit-and-run and three times for a steal.

"Hey, those are our signs," jokes Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly, having overheard Lyons' story. "Now we're going to have to change them."
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Posted by orrinj at 6:47 AM


The New Theist : How William Lane Craig became Christian philosophy's boldest apostle (Nathan Schneider, 7/01/13, The Chronicle Review)

Well-publicized atheists like Dawkins and Harris are closer to being household names than William Lane Craig is, but within the subculture of evangelical Christians interested in defending their faith rationally, he has had a devoted following for decades. Many professional philosophers know about him only vaguely, but in the field of philosophy of religion, his books and articles are among the most cited. And though he works mainly from his home, in suburban Marietta, Ga., he holds a faculty appointment at Biola University, an evangelical stronghold on the southeastern edge of Los Angeles County and home to one of the largest philosophy graduate programs in the world.

Surveys suggest that the philosophy professoriate is among the most atheistic subpopulations in the United States; even those philosophers who specialize in religion believe in God at a somewhat lower rate than the general public does. Philosophers have also lately been in a habit of humility, as their profession's scope seems to shrink before the advance of science and the modern university's preference for research that wins corporate contracts. But it is partly because of William Lane Craig that one can hear certain stripes of evangelicals whispering to one another lately that "God is working something" in the discipline. And through the discipline, they see a way of working something in society as a whole.

The enormous kinds of questions that speculative-minded college students obsess over--life, death, the universe--are taken unusually seriously by philosophers who also happen to be evangelical Christians. To them, after all, what one believes matters infinitely for one's eternal soul. They therefore tend to care less about disciplinary minutiae and terms of art than about big-picture "worldviews," every aspect of which should be compatible with a particular way of thinking about the fraught love affair between God and humanity--or else.

The debates for which Craig is most famous live on long after the crowds are gone from the campus auditoriums or megachurch sanctuaries where they take place. On YouTube, they garner tens or hundreds of thousands of views as they're dissected and fact-checked by bloggers and hobbyists and apologists-in-training. Such debates have an appealing absence of gray area: There are only two sides, and one or the other has to win. By the time it's over, you have the impression that your intelligence has been respected--you get to hear both sides make their cases, after all. The winner? You decide.

"I believe that debate is the forum for sharing the gospel on college campuses," Craig told an audience of several thousand at a seminar about "Unpacking Atheism" in a suburban Denver church last October, simulcast at other churches around the country. Compared with the rancorous presidential debates happening at the time, he added, "these are respectable academic events conducted with civility and Christian charity."

Craig generally insists on the same format: opening statements, then two rounds of rebuttals, then closing statements, then audience. He prepares extensively beforehand, sometimes for months at a time, with research assistants poring over the writings of the opponent in search of objections that Craig should anticipate. He amasses a well-organized file of notes that he can draw on during the debate for a choice quotation or a statistic.

In the opening statement he pummels the opponent with five or so concise arguments--for instance, the origins of the universe, the basis of morality, the testimony of religious experience, and perhaps an addendum of evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. Over the course of the rebuttals he makes sure to respond to every point that the opponent has brought up, which usually sends the opponent off on a series of tangents. Then, at the end, he reminds the audience how many of his arguments stated at the outset the opponent couldn't manage to address, much less refute. He declares himself and his message the winner. Onlookers can't help agreeing.

Craig comes by his mastery of the formal debate honestly; he worked at it on debating squads all through high school and all through college, with uncommon determination.

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Posted by orrinj at 6:33 AM


Every Breath You Take : The age of all-seeing, all-knowing information analytics is nearly upon us. : a review of Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think, by Viktor Mayer-Schonberger and Kenneth Cukier (MARK P. MILLS, 2 July 2013, City Journal)

Covering everything that's happening today with information technology in one book is a monumental challenge. As if to acknowledge that difficulty, Viktor Mayer-Schonberger and Kenneth Cukier, authors of Big Data, begin by describing the data's magnitude. They note, for instance, that the amount of data now stored around the world is an estimated 1,200 exabytes (itself an already dated and debatable number), which can be expressed as an equally incomprehensible 1.2 zettabytes. "If it were all printed in books, they would cover the entire surface of the United States some 52 layers thick."

Big Data's authors observe that humanity is marching into unfamiliar territory: "Ultimately big data marks the moment when the 'information society' finally fulfills the promise implied by its name. The data takes center stage. All those digital bits that we have gathered can now be harnessed in novel ways to serve new purposes and unlock new forms of value." Put more simply, the emergence of "big data"--whatever we think we mean by that term--marks the pivot in history when computing will finally become useful for nearly everyone and everything. In the end, what makes data useful is software--and truth be told, Big Data is really "just" about software. But if Mayer-Schonberger and Cukier had used the word "software"--now a tired term, by tech-media standards--in the title, their book might not have generated any excitement. Nonetheless, what they explore in fact is the next emergent era of software. [...]

Mayer-Schonberger and Cukier begin their exploration of analytics with an oft-cited example: Google data about the location and frequency of searches for "the flu" are already more effective in tracking the rise and vector of an epidemic than anything the Centers for Disease Control can do. By analyzing Google requests about mortgages, the Federal Reserve has made a similar discovery about tracking mortgage-market trends. No personal information is needed. This is true for traffic and equipment efficiency and safety, for disease research, and perhaps soon, for financial market forecasts and much more. The data speak volumes--when they're in sufficient volumes to matter.

Amazon has long used analytics to predict and personalize purchasing behaviors. Facebook's analytics about the trending behaviors and interests of its 1 billion users are perhaps its most valuable asset. But the implications go far beyond using data streams about Instagram posts, Amazon purchases, and Web clicks from e-commerce and consumer behavior, though these practices alone spook some people. The new era will involve data collected from all manner of human and machine activities--from exercise bands to heart monitors, from car and aircraft engines and tires to crops in farmers' fields and manufacturing machinery.

All of these data have value. Sometimes the data associated with an object, activity, or transaction have more value than the thing they measure. Experts in supply-chain logistics long ago figured out that the information about a shipping container's location is worth more than the physical container. Thus, one of Mayer-Schonberger and Cukier's most important insights: "Unlike material things--the food we eat, a candle that burns--data's value does not diminish when it is used; it can be processed again and again" and "used many times" for "multiple purposes." One could nitpick here and note that a variety of physical, not just virtual, things meet the same metrics--notably gold. But the authors' essential point is correct.

Soon big-data analytics will cross a Rubicon: we won't have to guess or approximate what's going on with many activities, we will know. Until now, given the scale and complexities of commerce, industry, society, and life, you couldn't measure everything; you approximated by statistical sampling and estimation. That era is almost over. We won't have to, for example, estimate how many cars are on a road, we will count each and every one in real time as well as hundreds of related facts about each car. Ditto soon for such things as your heartbeat or blood glucose, and much more.

You're generating more value when you surf the web than when you do your job.

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Posted by orrinj at 6:28 AM


June Jobs: An Employment Report Only a Central Banker Could Love (James Pethokoukis, 07/05/13, Ricochet)

1. The economy lost 240,000 full-time workers last month, according to the more volatile household survey, while gaining 360,000 part-time workers. In other words, the entire increase in the household measure of employment was accounted for by persons working part-time for economic reasons. The underemployment rate surged to 14.3% from 13.8%. [...]

3. Part-time America: There are 28 million part-time workers in US vs. 25 million before the Great Recession. There are 116 million full-time workers in US vs. 122 million before the Great Recession. In other words, 19% of the (smaller) US workforce is part time vs. 17% before the Great Recession.

...if it only moved that number by 2%.  Obviously a far greater proportion of jobs should be, and will be, part time.  Especially if we want to keep the labor participation rate at its historically elevated level.

Posted by orrinj at 6:20 AM


Referee beheaded after killing player (ESPN, 7/06/13)

According to reports, referee Otavio Jordao da Silva fatally stabbed footballer Josenir dos Santos Abreu.

Dos Santos Abreu is believed to have struck the referee after questioning a decision. In retaliation, Jordao da Silva stabbed the player.

Having witnessed the incident, an outraged group of spectators turned on the referee. He was tied up, beaten, stoned and quartered. They then put his head on a stake and planted it in the middle of the pitch.

A red card would seem sufficient.

Posted by orrinj at 5:58 AM


Uncertain future - economic problems in Egypt (Deutsche Welle, 7/07/13)

Hosni Mubarak's ousting had opened up a period of political uncertainty - foreign companies no longer wanted to invest money in Egypt. Economic growth began to stall and unemployment began to rise. At the same time poverty levels increased from just under 22 percent to over 25 percent. To alleviate the pressure, the state introduced subsidies on food and utilities. Almost $20 billion (194.8 billion euros) - about a third of the entire state budget - was set aside for aid. Assistance wasn't just limited to the poor across the country, beneficiaries were also among the middle class and wealthy people.

This policy though turned into a financial burden for the state. The deficit this year will rise to an estimated 13 percent of the gross domestic product. The value of the Egyptian pound has also been on the decline. In an attempt to halt the loss, Egypt turned to its reserves of US dollars. This strategy only works for a short time, explains north African analyst at the Deutsche Bank, Oliver Masetti. Foreign exchange reserves, he says, declined dramatically. "Last year that meant the central back was no longer able to keep the country's exchange rate at a constant level. This lead to some very sharp depreciation. Overall, the Egyptian pound has lost about 15 percent of the value it had in 2012."

This trend was also reflected in the domestic market: Egyptians soon realized they got less for their money. Despite government subsidies, prices rose markedly for goods such as bread, gas and petrol. "These are exactly the products that are being consumed on a large scale by the poorer parts of the population," says Masetti in an interview with DW. That is exactly what Morsi's government wanted to avoid. The issue of subsidies is one reason why negotiations with the International Monetary Fund on receiving a stand-by credit of $4.8 billion (3.7 billion euros) have stalled. The IMF has called for subsidy reforms in order to relieve the state budget, but this, too, has the potential to further increase food and energy prices.

This downwards trend is something that even stand-by credits from neighbouring friends of Egypt - especially Qatar - couldn't stop. And since those credits didn't come with any conditions for Egypt to implement reforms, the risk remains for their effect to evaporate.

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Posted by orrinj at 5:43 AM


All That Is the Case : 6 arguments against the existence of God (William Deresiewicz, The American Scholar)
I wrote a recent post about what I called the persistence of faith--the difficulty even hardheaded rationalists appear to have accepting, as I put it, "the fact that this is all there is." Several readers pounced on the phrase. "The fact?" one asked rhetorically. Another said, "By 'this' you mean what we happen to experience with our senses and understand with our intelligence?"

1. The criticisms are valid: we can't indeed say anything about what lies beyond our senses and intelligence. But I'm not sure that changes the argument. If there are things that can't impinge upon our senses or intelligence--if they can never become known to us in any way, direct or indirect, now or in the future--then they cannot be said to exist for us. "This," in any meaningful sense, is still all there is.

2. Besides, the argument cuts both ways. If we can't know whether there is something more, then why are the religious always claiming otherwise? Why do they regale us with their certain knowledge of the deity--of His laws, and His attributes, and His children, and His glorious plan for humankind? "You believe in the Big Bang?" people have challenged me. Well, I wouldn't say believe, exactly, but go on. "So where did all the matter come from?" To which the only reasonable response is: how the hell am I supposed to know? Whereof we cannot speak, like the man said, thereof we must be silent.

Mr. Deresiewicz, for all the usual reasons, overstates what we can know.  The fact is that it is his own argument that cuts both ways--if we limit ourselves to speaking rationally, we can't say anything about our senses and intelligence. 

But, of course, it would be impossible to live a life organized around such perfectly reasonable doubt about our own existence, so we accept our senses and intelligence on faith. The alternative is simply too ugly to be an option.  Having chosen to eschew Reason and accept Faith on such purely aesthetic grounds, we've established the terms of the argument and he no longer makes any sense at all. As, indeed, the Rationalists never have.

July 6, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 10:37 PM


IRS 'BOLOs' raise new questions about political targeting uproar (Josh Hicks, July 4, 2013, Washington Post)

Internal Revenue Service documents showing that the agency might have scrutinized politically liberal groups before it inappropriately targeted conservative ones intensified debate on Capitol Hill last week, leaving the agency and its watchdog scrambling to explain themselves.

The result may be an already embattled IRS that faces even more criticism, and an inspector general risking a compromised reputation.

J. Russell George's May report about the IRS's treatment of conservative groups led to public outrage, agency apologies, congressional hearings, a Justice Department probe and several dismissals, including the forced resignation of acting commissioner Steven Miller by the White House.

But Democrats are now questioning the Treasury inspector general's audit in light of the new IRS documents, which show that terms such as "progressive," "health care legislation" and "medical marijuana" appeared on a multipart "Be on the Lookout" list, or BOLO, that helped agents determine which groups deserved additional screening.

Posted by orrinj at 12:45 PM


Posted by orrinj at 7:49 AM


Why I'm Not Cheering Along With My Fellow Egyptians (AHMED FETEHA, 7/05/13, WSJ)

The coup showed that Egypt's political culture hasn't developed much, if at all, in the past few years.

Once again, the country's hardships were blamed on one man. Again, Egyptians expressed a naïve hope that this revolution, at last, was the beginning of a prosperous future.

In another repeat of 2011, populism supported by an all-too-willing Egyptian media has taken over. My social-media feeds have turned into a swamp of self-satisfied pronouncements, conspiracy theories and ultranationalistic sentiments. Overnight, the Muslim Brotherhood transformed from a group that 13 million people voted for to a bunch of traitors who must be hanged.

"Today we showed that we are a great nation," a friend wrote on Facebook FB -0.61% . "We were held back by Hosni Mubarak and the Muslim Brotherhood who are America's puppets. Now they are gone, we will lead the world." Another friend photoshopped a picture of Army chief Abdul Fatah Al Sisi on the cover of Time magazine. The caption: "Don't worry, people! Saudi Arabia is threatening to withdraw its investments from America if it doesn't support our revolution!"

Amid such fervor, reality seems to have no place. Few dare to ask how Egypt got into this mess. Few mention that the Muslim Brotherhood, with all its bigotry and backwardness, was the free choice of Egyptians--and that it still has millions of supporters. Egyptians don't want to hear that they were the ones who let extremism flourish until the Brotherhood controlled the nation.

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July 5, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 9:14 PM


Ice Cream Bread (Taste of Home)

1 cup butter pecan ice cream, softened
3/4 cup self-rising flour
1 tablespoon sugar


In a small bowl, combine the ice cream, flour and sugar. Transfer to a 5-3/4-in. x 3-in. x 2-in. loaf pan coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pan to a wire rack.

Posted by orrinj at 7:37 PM


I.R.S. Scrutiny Went Beyond the Political (JONATHAN WEISMAN, 7/04/13, NY Times)

 In 2010, a tiny Palestinian-rights group called Minnesota Break the Bonds applied to the Internal Revenue Service for tax-exempt status. Two years and a lot of prodding later, the I.R.S. sent the group's leaders a series of questions and requests almost identical to the ones it was sending to Tea Party groups at the time.

What are "the qualifications and experience" of Break the Bonds instructors? Does the group "present a sufficiently full and fair explanation of the relevant facts" about the West Bank and Gaza? Provide copies of pamphlets, brochures or other literature distributed at group events? Reveal all fees collected and "any voluntary contributions" made at group functions? Provide a template of petitions, postcards and any other material used to influence legislation, and a detailed accounting of the time and money spent to influence state legislators?

The controversy that erupted in May has focused on an ideological question: Were conservative groups singled out for special treatment based on their politics, or did the I.R.S. equally target liberal groups? But a closer look at the I.R.S. operation suggests that the problem was less about ideology and more about how a process instructing reviewers to "be on the lookout" for selected terms was applied to any group that mentioned certain words in its application.

Organizations approached by The New York Times based on specific "lookout list" warnings, like advocates for people in "occupied territories" and "open source software developers," told similar stories of long waits, intrusive inquiries and bureaucratic hassles that pointed to no particular bias but rather to a process that became too rigid and too broad. The lists often did point to legitimate issues: partisan political campaign organizations seeking tax-exempt status, or commercial businesses hoping to cloak themselves as nonprofit groups. But even I.R.S. officials say lookout list warnings were often pursued in a ham-handed or overly rigid way.

Posted by orrinj at 7:25 PM


Obama Skips Past Congress Again With Health Mandate Delay (Steven T. Dennis and Matt Fuller, 7/05/13, Roll Call)

The administration notes that parts of laws are delayed in implementation all the time -- including various pieces of the tax code.

A Treasury official said the administration has "longstanding administrative authority to grant transition relief when implementing new legislation like the ACA."

But three House committees are already looking into the decision, with Republicans complaining about a disturbing trend where the president decides which laws to enforce and which to ignore.

Darrell Issa of California, the chairman of Oversight and Government Reform, called the decision "another in a string of extra legal actions" taken by Obama.

"As a former constitutional law teacher, President Obama must know that this action gets into very questionable constitutional territory," Issa said in a statement to CQ Roll Call. 

That the UR is a constitutional scholar?

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 AM


With Its Roots in the Nuclear Family, the Nation Evolves Into America 3.0 (Michael Barone, Jul 05, 2013, Townhall)

The Fourth of July is always an occasion to think about what the United States of America has been, is and will be. A good way to reflect on that is to pick up a copy of "America 3.0" by James Bennett and Michael Lotus and ponder its lessons.

As the title suggests, Bennett and Lotus see the nation as having evolved from an agricultural America 1.0 to an industrial America 2.0 and struggling now to evolve again into an information age America 3.0. That's a familiar framework.

Where they differ from other analyses is that they see the roots of American exceptionalism, our penchant for liberty and individualism, stretching far back -- more than 1,000 years -- beyond 1776. Back to the Anglo-Saxon invaders of England after the fall of the Roman Empire.

Drawing on the 19th century historians Edward Augustus Freeman and Frederic Maitland and contemporary scholars Emmanuel Todd, Alan Macfarlane and James Campbell, they argue that the Anglo-Saxons brought with them a unique institution, the absolute nuclear family, "the continuous core of our distinct American culture."

In nuclear families, individuals, not parents, select spouses; women have comparative freedom and equality; children have no rights of inheritance; grown children leave parents' homes and are not bound to extended families.

On each point this is contrary to longstanding family patterns in the rest of the world.

This enduring family pattern has consequences. It has made Americans liberty-loving, individualistic, keen for equal opportunity but not equal outcomes, venturesome, mobile and suspicious of big government.

From early on in England and then in America, the absolute nuclear family fostered a market economy, property ownership and the common law, which evolves through individual court cases rather than a rigid code like Europe's Roman law. [...]

They see families moving far out in the exurbs (using self-driving cars) and earning money increasingly from individual enterprises rather than W-2 jobs. Therefore we should abolish the federal income tax and devolve government except for defense, civil rights and free internal trade to states and localities.

Most ambitiously, they would allow states to split into parts or to form compacts with other states, so likeminded citizens can have congenial policies.

Posted by orrinj at 5:19 AM


Study: People With a Lot of Self-Control Are Happier : Improbably enough, people who are better able to resist impulses report being more satisfied with their lives. (LINDSAY ABRAMS, JUL 1 2013, The Atlantic)

RESULTS: The more self-control people reported having, the more satisfied they reported being with their lives. And contrary to what the researchers were expecting, people with more self-control were also more likely to be happy in the short-term. In fact, when they further analyzed the data, they found that such people's increased happiness to a large extent accounted for the increased life satisfaction.  

IMPLICATIONS: As they go about their daily lives, people with a lot of self-control appear to generally be in higher spirits; in the long run, they're happier with their lives. To explain why this would be so, the researchers conducted another online survey. What they figured out is that instead of constantly denying themselves, people high in self-control are simply less likely to find themselves in situations where that's even an issue. They don't waste time fighting inner battles over whether or not to eat a second piece of cake. They're above such petty temptations. And that, it would seem, makes them happier ... if still just a little bit sad.

Hard not to notice how miserable the folks demanding more freedom always are.
Posted by orrinj at 4:58 AM


Why Toyota and GM Are Pushing Fuel-Cell Cars to Market : Falling costs are making fuel-cell vehicles look like a plausible alternative to conventional cars. (Kevin Bullis, July 5, 2013, Technology Review)

While many challenges remain for hydrogen vehicles, in recent years researchers have made big improvements in the oft-maligned technology, including greatly lowering its cost. As a result, fuel-cell vehicles look poised to play a significant role in meeting ambitious vehicle emissions regulations, particularly in places such as California.

"GM, Toyota, and a couple of other automakers have done a lot of great work. Fuel cells are getting close to being viable, closer than most people might think," says Brett Smith, co-director for manufacturing, engineering, and technology at the Center for Automotive Research, a nonprofit in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

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Posted by orrinj at 4:51 AM


Egypt's misguided coup (Jackson Diehl, July 4, 2013, Washington Post)

Once in office, new governments made up almost entirely of novice officials frequently overreach. They battle with the old establishment in the bureaucracy, judiciary and media. They write new constitutions in an attempt to lock in their electoral advantage. They tread on civil liberties. And, more often than not, they badly mismanage the economy by adopting populist measures that cater to their political bases.

In those respects, the government of Mohamed Morsi differed little from those of Juan Perón in Argentina, Hugo Chávez in Venezuela or Thaksin Shinawatra in Thailand. However, its excesses fell well short of those of Chávez, or Chile's Salvador Allende; unlike Shinawatra or Perón, Morsi did not set up militias or establish death squads. Although his government failed to compromise with opponents and sought to concentrate its power, it made only modest attempts to impose its Islamic ideology on the country and did not seek to alter Egypt's capitalist economy, which was slowly sinking but not imploding. It preserved crucial foreign relationships with the United States and Israel.

Cairo's secular middle class consequently had far less cause to take to the streets last weekend than did the pot-bangers in Allende's Chile, the general strikers of Caracas or the yellow shirts of Bangkok. They can, however, expect much the same results -- which will be anything but the liberal democracy they say they support. [...]

The worst-case scenario for Egypt is that the Islamists, like those of Algeria after its 1992 coup, go underground and to war. Less likely but still possible, the Muslim Brotherhood will amass enough support to march right back into power, as did Venezuela's Chávez in 2002.

More likely, Egypt's Islamists -- including salafists who are far more radical than the ousted government -- will bide their time, reorganize, reap the political benefits of the coming chaos and eventually win new elections, as Thaksin's redshirts, the Islamists of Turkey, Argentina's Peronists and Chile's socialists did. If he leaves the country, Morsi might get a pep talk from Pakistan's prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, who just returned to office 14 years after the coup against him; the general who led it is under arrest.

July 4, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 8:34 AM


The Transatlantic Free-Trade Imperative (Alfred Gusenbauer, 4 July 2013, ISN Blog)

The more America and the EU grow together, the more the EU will benefit from the US recovery.

Demand for European goods will increase, and the EU's member states can - and should - align their economies with US growth. History suggests that the hope for a self-sustained recovery in Europe might well prove deceptive; almost always, the European economic cycle has followed and reinforced that of the US. Today, for example, a prolonged recession in Europe is, alongside budget cuts, generally seen as posing the greatest risk to a sustained US recovery.

Labor costs in the US industrial sector are currently 25% lower than the European average. Even more significant, however, are the differences in energy costs, which are now up to 50% lower in the US - a gap that is likely to widen further as America's shale-gas revolution continues.

This has led energy-intensive European industries - including producers of glass, steel, chemicals, and pharmaceuticals - to invest heavily in the US. Often, they manufacture high-quality upstream products, which are then processed further in Europe. The Austrian steel producer Voestalpine AG, for example, will start producing steel pellets in the southern US that will then be upgraded to high-quality alloys in Austria.

The combination of lower production costs in the US and Europe's world-class finishing capabilities is a recipe for first-rate products at competitive prices. In this way, European investment is contributing to the re-industrialization of the US while simultaneously ensuring high-quality European jobs.

But Europe must do more to reinvigorate its own manufacturing sector. The last attempt to create an EU-US free-trade zone, under President Bill Clinton, failed because of the EU's rigid, antiquated agricultural policy. A new effort would help Europe to replace its agricultural policy with a research-and-development policy aimed at boosting industrial competitiveness.

Despite all the lip service paid at multilateral summits to policy coordination, imbalances within the global economy are fueling a rise in tensions. At a time when many are seeking salvation in nationalism, an EU-US free-trade zone would be a powerful symbol of cooperation in overcoming global challenges.

While we originally held out little hope that the UR would accomplish anything in office, he's on the verge of duplicating Bill Clinton's successes: an entitlement mandate (welfare/health insurance); a Peace Dividend; and expansion of free trade. 
Posted by orrinj at 8:28 AM


[originally posted: 7/04/13]
Posted by orrinj at 8:10 AM


Died on the 4th of July: Fisher Ames, Founding Father & arch-foe of Democracy (Stephen B. Tippins Jr, 7/04/13, Imaginative Conservative)

"[I] do think that Republicans could stand to learn a thing or two from the Federalists. Hell, I think we all could."

"Why is that? I mean, what, exactly, did the Federalists believe in?"

I wasn't prepared to be tested. I thought for a moment. "They lobbied for a strong national government, Hamiltonian finance, a stronger allegiance with Britain, and they believed, I guess, in rule by a natural aristocracy."

"Natural aristocracy? Strong national government? What relevance does any of that have? I mean, a strong national government? Really? Government isn't the answer, you know. It's the problem."

Well, now.

I carefully considered my friend's point. Government isn't the answer...it's the problem. It then occurred to me: Like most modern conservatives, my friend had missed the point. To say that government isn't the answer to our nation's problems is to presuppose the wrong incentive for erecting government in the first place. Fisher Ames would know that. And that's why he's relevant.

Fisher Ames (1758-1808) of Dedham, Massachusetts is not exactly a forgotten Founding Father. The general public may not remember him, but historians and scholars haven't forgotten Ames so much as they've dismissed him. John W. Malsberger, in his 1982 essay "The Political Thought of Fisher Ames," wrote that for much of American history scholars considered Ames nothing more than an extremist "who resisted the idealism of the American Revolution," an unstable man whose writing was so "infected with hysterical and paranoid symptoms that it is difficult to believe that he represented a sane body of thought."

Henry Adams was more poetic. Ames's "best political writing," he wrote, "was saturated with the despair of the tomb to which his wasting body was condemned."

Yet much can be learned from the life of Ames, and not just from his rhetoric (which gave us the wittiest of all retorts when, in response to the declaration that all men are created equal, he quipped: "But differ greatly in the sequel") or from his writing ("Constitutions are but paper; society is the substratum of government"). He was, in Russell Kirk's words, a man many years dying. This was because in his youth, well before his tubercular demise, he displayed more promise than perhaps any of our other great statesmen. Fisher Ames personified two of conservatism's most indelible tenets: life is fragile and all is vanity. [...]

Ames's philosophy can be summed up as follows: the "power of the people, if uncontroverted, is licentious and mobbish." But if checked by a powerful and well-led state, a more virtuous citizenry could be procured, one that feels a "love of country diffused through the Society and ardent in each individual, that would dispose, or rather impel every one to do or suffer much for his country, and permit no one to do anything against it."

He realized, however, that a republican state cannot coincide with a democratic state--into which he perceived us slipping--and a democratic state cannot nurture a more virtuous citizenry. "A democratick society will soon find its morals the incumbrance of its race, the surly companion of its licentious joys....In a word there will not be morals without justice; and though justice might possibly support a democracy, yet a democracy cannot possibly support justice."

Posted by orrinj at 8:01 AM

Red, White and Blue Lemonade (Sara Moulton, 7/04/13, AP)

3 cups cubed seeded watermelon (the redder the better)
3 cups cleaned and rinsed fresh blueberries
3/4 cup well-stirred lite coconut milk
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup fresh lemon juice
Fresh mint leaves, to garnish
In a blender, puree the watermelon until liquefied. Pour it into ice cube trays (you should have enough for 12 cubes). Rinse out the blender, add the blueberries and puree until the mixture is smooth. Transfer puree to another ice cube tray. In a third tray, divide the coconut milk among 6 cubes.

Transfer all of the trays to the freezer and freeze until solid, preferably overnight.

In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the sugar with 1/3 cup water

and cook, stirring occasionally, until dissolved. Let cool.

In a pitcher combine 1/2 cup of the sugar syrup with the lemon juice. Add 3 cups cold water, then taste and add additional sugar syrup if desired. Chill until ready to serve.

To serve, place 2 watermelon cubes, 2 blueberry cubes and 1 coconut cube in each of 6 rocks glasses. Top with lemonade and garnish with mint. Let sit for 10 or so minutes to allow the cubes to melt slightly and flavor the lemonade.

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Posted by orrinj at 7:51 AM


The Misplaced War Against Fire (Stephen J. Pyne, 7/04/13, Project Syndicate)

Paradoxically, it is likely that there is not enough fire on the planet; but, thanks to fossil fuels, there is certainly too much combustion. Overall, the developed world has too few good fires, and the developing world has too many bad ones. Nearly every observer forecasts that this will continue over the coming years.

What to do about it depends on how we characterize the problem. The paradox of fire stems from its role as the great shape-shifter of natural processes. The reason is simple: fire is not a creature nor a substance nor a geophysical event like a hurricane or an earthquake. It is a biochemical reaction. It synthesizes its surroundings. It takes its character from its context.

Fire integrates everything around it - sun, wind, rain, plants, terrain, roofing, fields, and everything people do, and don't do. In this way, it indexes the state of an ecosystem. It is also our signature act as a species, the one thing we do that no other creature does. While we did not invent fire (it has been integral to Earth for more than 400 million years), we exercise a monopoly over its controlled use.

All of this makes fire universal, difficult to grasp, and tricky to wrestle into manageable shape. There is no solution to fire, because there are many kinds of fires, and they change with their context. Some fire problems do have technical fixes. We can build machines that reduce combustion to its essence and contain it. We can erect houses that resist burning. We can design cities that prevent fires from spreading from building to building. But these fires are fixable only because we construct their settings.

We cannot survive without fire; we just need it in the right ways. It is certainly a problem when it burns freely through cities. But it is also a problem when it is removed from wildlands that have adapted to it, because its absence can be as ecologically significant as its presence. The point is, urban fire is not a model for wildland fire.

Our prevailing templates for describing fire are similarly misdirected. They portray the burn as a disaster and the fight against it as a war story. The battlefield allusion leads observers to reason that there must be more sophisticated technologies than shovels and rakes with which to suppress the flames. We must meet force with greater force. Such metaphors matter, because they mis-define the problem.

Posted by orrinj at 7:45 AM


How the Egyptian Opposition Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Its New Military Overlords (Evan Hill, July 3, 2013, Foreign Policy)

The about-face in the military's reputation on the street was stunning. During the 2011 uprising against Mubarak, the lone military helicopter in near-constant rotation over the square was jeered. Protesters on the ground angrily waved the soles of their shoes in the air, while those who had taken up residence on surrounding rooftops ducked out of sight behind satellite dishes. They watched in anger as soldiers stationed around the city allowed opposing crowds to collide in the massive street fight known as the Camel Battle. Behind the hopeful chants of "the people and the army are one hand" were fear and a strong suspicion that the military never had any of the revolution's interests in mind.

In recent days, the whiplash shift in sentiment left many committed leftists and progressives stunned and worried. Posters of Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, a general elevated by Morsy who had once defended the military's "virginity tests" on female protesters arrested in Tahrir Square, began appearing around Cairo. They were pasted to the back of cars, taped on the walls of fast-food restaurants, and hoisted by protesters in Tahrir Square. Marchers chanted "come down, Sisi," encouraging the military chief to oust the Brotherhood. When the critical moment came on Wednesday night, it was Sisi who took the podium first, backed by four flags of the Egyptian armed forces, to tell the nation that the military had brought down the government.

In the days leading up to the announcement, protesters offered various explanations for the military's return to politics, but none suggested it was unwelcome. A crowd of a few hundred camped outside the Defense Ministry were ecstatic at Sisi's 48-hour deadline, marching in long loops around the boulevard outside the barbed wire with low-ranking officers leading chants against the Brotherhood. Elsewhere, those who had protested against the military during the bloody 18 months of post-uprising rule, when it led the country as the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), said they hoped the generals would do a better job this time.

Posted by orrinj at 7:34 AM


Why They Fought (DAVID BROOKS, 7/03/13, NY Times)

[A]s Guelzo notes, the Civil War was fought with "an amateurism of spirit and an innocence of intent, which would be touching if that same amateurism had not also contrived to make it so bloody."

Discipline was loose. Civil War soldiers were not used to subordinating themselves within large organizations. One veteran observed that in battle "men standing in line got in paroxysms of laughter." But many were motivated by the sense that they were living up to some high moral ideal. Words like "gallant," "valor" and "chivalric" dot their descriptions of each other's behavior. Upon being taken prisoner, one Union soldier shook his captors' hands and congratulated them on the "most splendid charge of the war."

Another officer remembered battle as a "supreme minute to you; you are in ecstasies." A Union artillery officer confessed that throughout Gettysburg "somehow or other I felt a joyous exaltation, a perfect indifference to circumstances, through the whole of that three days' fight, and I have seldom enjoyed three days more in my life."

In our current era, as the saying goes, we take that which is lower to be more real. We generally believe that soldiers under the gritty harshness of war are not thinking about high ideals like gallantry. They are just trying to get through the day or protect their buddies. Since World War I, as Hemingway famously put it, abstract words like "honor" and "glory" and "courage" often seem obscene and pretentious. Studies of letters sent home by soldiers in World War II suggest that grand ideas were remote from their daily concerns.

But Civil War soldiers were different. In his 1997 book "For Cause and Comrades," James M. McPherson looked at the private letters Civil War soldiers sent to their loved ones. As McPherson noted, they ring with "patriotism, ideology, concepts of duty, honor, manhood and community."

The soldiers were intensely political. Newspapers were desperately sought after in camp. Between battles, several regiments held formal debates on subjects like the constitutional issues raised by the war. "Ideological motifs almost leap from many pages of these documents," McPherson reports. "It is government against anarchy, law against disorder," a Philadelphia printer wrote, explaining his desire to fight.

The letters were also explicitly moralistic. "The consciousness of duty was pervasive in Victorian America," McPherson writes. The letters were studded with the language of personal honor, and, above all, a desire to sacrifice, as one soldier put it, "personal feelings and inclinations to ... my duty in the hour of danger."

Posted by orrinj at 7:31 AM


The Rock 'n' Roll Casualty Who Became a War Hero (CLAY TARVER, 7/02/13, NY Times Magazine)

Everman was born on a remote Alaskan island. "My birth certificate says Kodiak, but I'm pretty sure it was Ouzinkie, where my parents lived in a two-room cabin with a pet ocelot named Kia." That odd precision is how he talks. He'll describe soldiers as "freemen, who, of their own volition," are willing to "lose everything" or carefully explain the "epistemological dilemma" in Dr. Seuss's "Horton Hears a Who!" And yet his thoughts still tend to be underlined with a distinctive "dude." His parents, Diane and Jerry, moved to Alaska to get back to nature, but the marriage didn't work out. Diane couldn't take the harsh life, and after a couple of years she left Jerry and started over. She took Jason to Washington and eventually married a former Navy man named Russ Sieber. They settled in the Poulsbo area, across Puget Sound from Seattle. Jason's mother never told him about the Alaska years. His half-sister, Mimi MacKay, with whom he grew up, said Jason didn't know his real father existed until he was 13 or so.

Poulsbo, back then, was right on the edge of suburban safety. Though Diane adored Jason, growing up in their house wasn't easy. "My mother was extremely depressed, an artistic genius who was also a pill-popping alcoholic," Mimi told me. "Jason and I learned to walk on eggshells and really learned to take care of ourselves." As a young boy, Jason went through a phase of stuttering. "My mom joked that this is how she cured Jason, by telling him, 'Either spit it out or shut up,' " Mimi said. "I became really adept at finishing his sentences for him."

Soon the silence evolved into acting out. He and a friend blew up a toilet with an M-80. What might have landed a kid in jail today only got him suspended for a week or two of junior high in the early '80s. Still, his grandmother Gigi was alarmed. Gigi Phillips was one of the people Jason was closest to. And she wasn't going to mess around with this kind of trouble. She got the best therapist she could find, who happened to be, Mimi was told, the sports psychiatrist to the Seattle SuperSonics.

In therapy, Everman just sat there. But the doctor happened to be a music freak and had a few vintage guitars around the office. Everman picked one up. The therapist started to strum with him, hoping this would open Jason up. "It was a big family joke that those were the most expensive guitar lessons ever," Mimi told me. That's when Everman first started playing guitar.

Music changed everything for him, especially after he discovered punk rock. "I'd have to say that was the first defining event in my life," he told me. "In punk there's an extreme kind of conformity to all the nonconformity. You realize in all this rebellion that everyone's doing the same thing. But in a weird way, that's what kind of lets you eventually forget the rules, and you can be yourself." During high school, Everman spent much of his free time playing in bands. In the summer after his junior year, he started visiting his biological father in Alaska, where he spent several seasons working on his fishing boat. He graduated a semester early, and soon he had earned $20,000 and a reputation for being self-sufficient.

It was then that he got the kind of break you read about in paperback rock biographies. Jason's childhood friend Chad Channing happened to meet a guitarist and a bassist from Olympia looking for a drummer. They were Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic, and they called their band Nirvana. Channing played drums for many of their ramshackle early shows. When Cobain considered getting another guitar player, Channing piped up. "I was like: 'I know this guy. This friend of mine, Jason.' "

At first, Everman seemed to be the perfect fit. These were irreverent guys who had all set off bombs in their own way. Nirvana's gloominess is such a part of the band's mythology now, but Cobain was also wickedly funny. As Novoselic put it to me, "We were fun-loving dudes." Onstage, Nirvana had entered a heavy phase, perfectly suited to Everman's rock vibes. Jonathan Poneman, co-founder of Sub Pop Records, the label that signed Nirvana, told me that Cobain introduced Everman as his "surprise" before a sound check in San Francisco. Poneman loved the new guy.

Everman also helped the band in another way. Nirvana owed money to the producer of their first album, "Bleach," which they'd already recorded. "Jason was very generous," Novoselic said. "And he'd had a job. . . . So he had, like, bucks, O.K.? You know how it said it was recorded for like six hundred and something bucks on the back of the record? Jason paid for that." It was $606.17, which came out of Everman's fishing money. Sub Pop thought so much of him that it printed a limited-edition live poster of Jason rocking out.

But it was when the band hit the road -- piling into a cruddy van, as we all did -- that it came undone for Everman and Nirvana. A tour is tough for anyone to handle, especially the first one. The days are 23 hours of stultifying boredom -- all so you can have one hour onstage, one hour of visceral release that makes it worthwhile. Between the hangovers, the stink, the beaten-to-death inside jokes, touring can make anybody crazy. The key is to keep the van fun. The guy next to you may love you when you start, only to hate the way you keep asking him to turn the Stooges down 100 miles later. "We had some great shows with Jason," Novoselic said. "But then things went south really fast." Somewhere along the way, a cloud formed over Jason, an impenetrable inwardness that just hung there. They say he wouldn't talk to anyone, completely removing himself from the circle.

By the time they made it to New York, "the fun stopped," Novoselic remembered. "The fun stopped fast." Channing was confused by it, too, and he was one of Everman's oldest friends. "He doesn't talk freely when things are bothering him," Channing said. It just seemed as if he didn't want to be there. Cobain and Novoselic wanted Everman out but didn't know how to do it. That's the inherent contradiction of punk-rock rules: you were supposed to hate careerism yet still have a career. And 20-year-old kids aren't particularly good at sorting that out. So Nirvana didn't actually fire Everman; the band canceled the rest of the tour and drove straight from New York to Washington State, 50 hours in silence. Hardly a word was spoken.

Even with more than 20 years of perspective, Everman still doesn't have a clear answer for what went wrong. "To be honest, I never had any expectations about the gig," he told me. "It just ended." In "Come as You Are," the definitive book on Nirvana, by Michael Azerrad, Cobain dismissed Everman as a "moody metalhead." Even worse, he boasted about not paying Everman back for "Bleach," claiming it was payment for "mental damages." In Nirvana -- a band with a lead singer so famously tortured that he would commit suicide -- Jason Everman was kicked out for being a head case.

The timing for what happened next was baffling. After years of playing every lousy gig they could, Soundgarden had A&M Records behind them, a tour bus waiting, a full slate of tour dates booked. But Soundgarden's bass player, Hiro Yamamoto, didn't want anything to do with it. Their road manager, Eric Johnson, told me: "He really was just truly punk rock. There were meetings with A.&R. guys, and it was no longer dudes in a van. He was all like: 'Oh, no, no, no. This isn't for me.' " In 1989, just as their first major-label album, "Louder Than Love," was released, Yamamoto abruptly quit the band.

Everman had always liked Nirvana, but he loved Soundgarden. Playing bass for them -- on the verge of stardom as they were -- was the most-coveted gig in Seattle -- even one of Everman's old friends, Ben Shepherd, auditioned. Soundgarden, meanwhile, had called Jason right away. "We knew things ended with Nirvana on less-than-ideal terms," Kim Thayil, their guitarist, told me. "He didn't fit with Nirvana? Big deal. That's them. We're Soundgarden. We're a different animal." In the first audition, he impressed them all. "Jason was the guy," Soundgarden's drummer, Matt Cameron, remembered. "Jason came prepared." After the disaster with Nirvana, now Everman was playing bass for his favorite Seattle band. He couldn't believe his luck. As he put it to me, "What were the chances of all that happening?"

The next year was a blur of touring throughout the United States and Europe. Only 22, Everman still felt behind. Everybody in the band was several years older than he was. "I was drinking water from a fire hose," he said. "But I thought this was it. This was going to be my identity." So did I. After that show in Chicago, Bullet LaVolta opened for Soundgarden for a month. And if I was initially judgmental about their ambitions, I realized it was more complicated after seeing it up close. There's pressure when you're supposed to be the next big thing. People believed it was going to work, too. In town after town, I watched bands fawn over Soundgarden, Everman included. He was who they all wanted to be.

When Soundgarden returned home, they called a band meeting. Jason showed up on Cameron's porch thinking it was about the next record. Thayil told me, "I thought I would be diplomatic . . . and wasn't getting to the point." He said Chris Cornell, Soundgarden's singer, finally cut to the chase: It wasn't working out, Cornell said. Thayil remembers thinking: We're not behaving like a band. I'm not happy. No one here is happy. No one's talking to each other. Just like that, Everman was fired again.

When I heard the news, it made me worry for him. He'd been kicked out of a band with a bright future for a second time. There had to be a reason. Cameron kept wanting to say: "Hey, why so moody? You're in a good band." Johnson, the road manager, couldn't figure it out: "He was funny and witty, and then a cloud would come over him. He would sit in the bus and be really mad with his headphones on all the time. I felt bad for the guy, and I feel even worse now, thinking about somehow he was suffering and nobody really knew how to address that."

I don't know how he got through the next year. Everman's friend from home, Ben Shepherd, replaced him in Soundgarden. Their next album went double platinum. Of course, Nirvana -- after replacing Jason's friend Chad Channing on drums with Dave Grohl -- became the biggest band in the world. That record he never got paid back for, "Bleach," eventually sold 2.1 million copies. "Nevermind" sold nearly 30 million copies worldwide and changed the course of rock. Everman, meanwhile, was left behind with no idea what to do next.

For the first month, he just went fetal. "It was a huge blow," he admitted to me quietly. "I had no warning. The only good thing about it was it made me leave the Pacific Northwest. I would never have done that otherwise." He moved to New York and got a job working for a while in the Caroline Records warehouse, a long way from the tour bus.

Jason played with other bands, eventually joining one called Mindfunk. He actually had success with it, moving with the band to San Francisco, but something was still not right. Then in the midst of all the confusion in his life, he came to the realization that he had to make a change. He knew he didn't just want to be a guy in his 15th band, the guy talking about his time in Nirvana and Soundgarden 20 years later. He wanted to do something, he said, something impossible. "I was in the cool bands," he told me in the cabin. "I was psyched to do the most uncool thing you could possibly do."

So in 1993, while living in a group house in San Francisco with the guys in Mindfunk, Everman slipped out to meet with recruiters; the Army offered a fast track to becoming a Ranger and perhaps eventually to the Special Forces. He told me he always had an interest in it. His stepfather was in the Navy; both grandfathers were ex-military. Most of the people he grew up with scoffed at that world, which was part of the appeal to him. Novoselic remembered something Everman said way back in the Olympia days. "He was just pondering. He asked me, 'Do you ever think about what it'd be like to be in the military and go through that experience?' And I was just like . . . no."

Everman started waking up early while his bandmates slept in; he went biking, swimming, got in shape. One day, with zero warning, he resigned. He put all of his stuff in storage. He took a flight to New York and went to an Army recruiting office in Manhattan. A couple of weeks later he was on a flight to Georgia. "Was I nervous?" he asked. "I was a little nervous. But I knew."
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Posted by orrinj at 7:13 AM


This is Not the End of Islamism in Egypt: Beyond the Pro- and Anti-Islamist Divide (Elizabeth Nugent, 7/04/13, NY Times)

Some media accounts of recent events have categorized them as the result of conflict between two sides, an Islamist government pitted against a "mostly secular opposition" that "opposed the Islamist agenda of Mr. Morsi and his allies in the Muslim Brotherhood." These descriptions may be applicable to the leading opposition parties within the National Salvation Front coalition, but it is not an accurate portrayal of the opinion of the majority of those reportedly 17.5 million individuals who participated in this weekend's protests or the Egyptian people more largely. This false dichotomy suggests that these protests and tensions center on issues related to religion and state, and implies a certain misunderstanding of Egyptian political attitudes.

It would be a mistake to read the mobilization against the president and in support of the military as simply anti-Islamist, as a political ideology. These protests and mobilization have been anti-Muslim Brotherhood, as a political entity - albeit an Islamist one - whose political party, the Freedom and Justice Party, has failed its constituents. The Tamarud campaign which first initiated this week's mobilization focused solely on the political failures of Morsi in terms of substantive domestic and foreign policy issues, outlined in the petition circulated and signed by over 22 million Egyptians, without referencing any issue pertaining to the relationship between religion and state. One, then, would be hard pressed to describe current events in Egypt as a referendum on Islamism - unless one incorrectly equates Islamism, in Egypt or more generally, exclusively with the Muslim Brotherhood. While the FJP's governing days may be over, it is too soon to declare the end of Islamism.

Islamism can be defined as support for the introduction of Islamic tenets into political life through the implementation of sharia. This admittedly vague definition allows us to classify both parties (those with political platforms promoting sharia) and individuals (those who agree with the concept of implementing sharia) as Islamist.

Recent survey data suggests that the vast majority of Egyptians are Islamists, as they continue to support in high numbers the implementation of sharia and its introduction into their country's laws. In April 2013, Pew released a report titled "The World's Muslims: Religion, Politics, and Society", which included a nationally representative sample of 1,798 Egyptians. The data was collected in November and December 2011, and hardly paints a picture of a stark secular-religious divide, or wide scale support for secularism in the definition commonly used. Rather, Egyptians overwhelmingly support the integration of religion and politics.

Only one leading party supports that integration, so they'll win the next election too.

Coups and Democracy (Nikolay Marinov & Hein Goemans, 6/07/13, Forthcoming BJPolS)

We use new data on coup d'états and elections to document a striking development: whereas the vast majority of successful coups before 1991 installed durable rules, the majority of coups after that
have been followed by competitive elections. We argue that after the Cold War international pressure influenced the consequences of coups. In the post-Cold War era those countries that are most dependent on Western aid have been the first to embrace competitive elections after the coup. Our theory also sheds light on the pronounced decline in the number of coups since 1991. While the coup d'état has been and still is the single most important factor leading to the downfall of democratic government, our findings indicate that the new generation of coups has been far less harmful for democracy than their historical predecessors.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:00 AM


A Discourse in Commemoration of the Lives and Services of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson (Daniel Webster, August 2, 1826, Faneuil Hall, Boston)
No two men now live, fellow-citizen, perhaps it may be doubted whether any two men have ever lived in one age, who, more than those we now commemorate, have impressed on mankind their own opinions more deeply into the opinions of others, or given a more lasting direction to the current of human thought. Their work doth not perish with them. The tree which they assisted to plant will flourish, although they water it and protect it no longer; for it has struck its roots deep, it has sent them to the very centre; no storm, not of foce to burth the orb, can overturn it; its branches spread wide; they stretch their protecting arms braoder and broader, and its top is destined to reach the heavens. We are not deceived. There is no delusion here. No age will come in which the American Revolution will appear less than it is, one of the greatest events in human history. No age will come in which it shall cease to be seen and felt, on either continent, that a mighty step, a great advance, not only in American affairs, but in human affairs, was made on the 4th of July, 1776. And no age will come, we trust, so ignorant or so unjust as not to see and acknowledge the efficient agency of those we now honor in producing that momentous event.

We are not assembled, therefore, fellow-citizens, as men overwhelmed with calamity by the sudden disruption of the ties of friendship or affection, or as in despair for the republic by the untimely blighting of its hopes. Death has not surprised us by an unseasonable blow. We have, indeed, seen the tomb close, but it has closed only over mature years, over long-protracted public service, over the weakness of age, and over life itself only when the ends of living had been fulfilled. These suns, as they rose slowly and steadily, amidst clouds and storms, in their ascendant, so they have not rushed from the meridian to sink suddenly in the west. Like the mildness, the serenity, the continuing benignity of a summer's day, they have gone down with slow-descending, grateful long-lingering light; and now that they are beyond the visible margin of the world, good omens cheer us from "the bright track of thier fiery car"!

There were many points of similarity in the lives and fortunes of these great men. They belonged to the same profession, and had pursued its studies and its practice for unequal lengths of time indeed, but with dilligence and effect. Both were learned and able lawyers. They were natives and inhabitants, respectively of those two of the Colonies which at the Revolution were the largest and most powerful and which naturally had a lead in the political affairs of the times. When the Colonies became in some degree united by the assembling of a general Congress, they were brought to act together in its deliberations, not indeed at the same time but both at early periods. Each had laready manifested his attachment to the cause of the country, as well as his ability to maintain it, by printed addresses, public speeches, extensive correspondence, and whatever other mode could be adopted for the purpose of exposing the encroachments of the British Parliament, and animating the people to a manly resistance. Both were not only decided, but early, friends of Independence. While others yet doubted, they were resolved; where others hesitated they pressed forward. They were both members of the committee for preparing the Declaration of Independence, and they constituted the sub-committee appointed by the other members to make the draft. They left their seats in Congress, being called to other public employments at periods not remote from each other, although one of them returned to it afterwards for a short time. Neither of them was of the assembly of great men which formed the present Constitution, and neither was at any time a member of Congress under its provisions. Both have been public ministers abroad, both Vice-Presidents and both Presidents of the United States. These coincidences are now singularly crowned and completed. They have died together; and they did on the anniversary of liberty...

And now, fellow-citizens, without pursuing the biography of these illustrious men further, for the present let us turn our attention to the most
prominent act of their lives, their participation in the DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE...

It has sometimes been said, as if it were a derogation from the merits of this paper, that it contains nothing new; that it only states grounds of
proceeding and presses topics of argument, which had often been stated and pressed before. But it was not the object of the Declaration to produce any thing new. It was not to invent reasons for independence, but to state those which governed the Congress. For great and sufficient causes, it was proposed to declare independence; and the proper business of the paper to be drawn was to set for th those causes, and justify the authors of the measure, in any event of fortune, to the country and to posterity. The cause of American independence, moreover, was now to be presented to the world in such manner; of it might so be, as to engage its sympathy, to command its respect, to attract its admiration; and in an assembly of most able and distinguished men, THOMAS JEFFERSON had the high honor of being the selected advocate of this cause. To say that he performed his great work well, would be doing him an injustice. To say that he did excellently well, admirably well, would be inadequate and halting praise. Let us rather say, that he so discharged the duty assigned him, that all Americans may well rejoice that the work of drawing the title-deed of their liberties devolved upon him...

The Congress of the Revolution, fellow-citizens, sat with closed doors, and no report of its debates was ever made. The discussion, therefore, which accompanied this great measure, has never been preserved, except in memory and by tradition. But it is, I believe, doing [n]o injustice to others to say, that the general opinion was, and uniformly has been, that in debate, on the side of independence, JOHN ADAMS had no equal. The great author of the Declaration himself has espressed that opinion uniformly and strongly. JOHN ADAMS, said he, in the hearing of him who has now the honor to address you, JOHN ADAMS was our colossus on the floor. Not graceful, not elegant, not always fluent, in his public addresses, he yet came out with a power both of thought and of expression, which moved us from our seats...

The eloquence of Mr. Adams resembled his general character, and formed, indeed, a part of it. It was bold, manly, and energetic; and such the crisis required. When public bodies are to be addressed on passions excited, nothing is valuable in speech farther than as it is connected with high intellectual and moral endowments. Clearness, force, and earnestness are the qualities which produce conviction. True eloquence, indeed, does not consist in speech. It cannot be brought from far. Labor and learning may toil for it, but they will toil in vain. It must exist in the man, in the subject, and in the occassion. Affected passion, intense expression, the pomp of declamation, all may aspire to it; they cannot reach it. It comes, if it comes at all, like the outbreaking of a fountain from the earth, or the bursting forth of volcanic fires, with spontaneous, original, native force. The graces taught in the schools, the costly ornaments and studied contrivances of speech, shock and disgust men, when their own lives and the fate of their wives, their children, and their country hang on the decision of the hour. Then words have lost their power, rhetoric is vain, and all elaborate oratory contemptible. Even genius itself then feels rebuked and subdued, as in the presence of higher qualities. Then patriotism is eloquent; then self-devotion is eloquent. The clear conception, outrunning the deductions of logic, the high purpose, the firm resolve, the dauntless spirit, speaking on the tongue, beaming from the eye, informing every feature, and urging the whole man onward, right onward to his object this, this is eloquence; or rather it is something greater and higher than all eloquence, it is action, noble, sublime godlike action...

Let us, then, bring before us the assembly, which was about to decide a question thus big with the fate of empire. Let us open their doors and look upon their deliberations. Let us survey the anxious and care-worn countenances, let us hear the firm-toned voices, of this band of patriots.

HANCOCK presides over the solemn sitting; and one of those not yet prepared to pronounce for absolute independence is on the floor, and is urging his reasons for dissenting from the declaration.

"Let us pause! This step, once taken, cannot be retracted. This resolution, once passed, will cut off all hope of reconciliation. If success attend the arms of England, we shall then be no longer Colonies, with charters and with privileges; these will all be forfeited by this act; and we shall be in the condition of other conquered people, at the mercy of the conquerors. For ourselves, we may be ready to run the hazard; but are we ready to carry the country to that length? Is success so probably as to justify it? Where is the military, where the naval power, by which we are to resist the whole strength of the arm of England, for she will exert that strength to the utmost? Can we rely on constancy and perseverance of the people? or will they not act as the people of other countries have acted and, wearied with a long war, submit, in the end, to a worse oppression? While we stand on our old ground, and insist on redress of grievances, we know we are right, and are not answerable for consequences. Nothing, then, can be imputed to us. But if we now change our object, carry our pretensions farther, and set up for absolute indpendence, we shall lose the sympathy of mankind. We shall no longer be defending what we possess, but struggling for something which we never did possess, and which we have solemnly and uniformly disclaimed all intention of pursuing, from the very outset of the troubles. Abandoning thus our old ground, of resistance only to arbitrary acts of oppression, thee nations will believe the whole to have been mere pretence, and they will look on us, not as injured, buut as ambitious subjects. I shudder before this responsibility. It will be on us, if, relinquishing the ground on which we have stood so long, and stood so safely, we now proclaim independence, and carry on the war for that object, while these cities burn, these pleasant fields whiten and bleach with the bones of their owners, and these streams run blood. It will be upon us, it will be upon us, if, failing to maintain this unseasonable and ill-judged declaration, a sterner despotism, maintained by military power, shall be exhausted, a harassed, misled people, shall have expiated our rashness and atoned for our presumption on the scaffold."

It was for Mr. Adams to reply to arguments like these. We know his opinions, and we know his character. He would commence with his accustomed directness and earnestness.

"Sink or swim, live or die, survive or perish, I give my hand and my heart to this vote. It is true, indeed, that in the beginning we aimed not at
independence. But there's a Divinity which shapes our ends. The injustice of England has driven us to arms; and blinded to her own interest for our good, she has obstinately persisted, till independence is now within our grasp. We have but to reach forth to it, and it is ours. Why, then, should we defer the Declaration? Is any man so weak as now to hope for a reconciliation with England, which shall leave either safety to the country and its liberties, or safety to his own life and his own honor? Are not you, Sir, who sit in that chair, is not he, our venerable colleague near you, are you not both already the proscribed and predestined objects of punishment and of vengeance? Cut off from all hope of royal clemency, what are you, what can you be, while the power of England remains, but outlaws? If we postpone independence, do we mean to carry on, or to give up, the war? Do we mean to submit to the measures of Parliament, Boston Port Bill and all? Do we mean to submit, and consent that we ourselves shall be ground to powder, and our country and its rights trodden down in the dust? I know we do not mean to submit. We shall never submit. Do we intend to violate that most solemn obligation ever entered into men, that plighting, before God, of our sacred honor to Washington, when, putting forth to incure the dangers of war, as well as the political hazards of our times, we promised to adhere to him, in ever extremity, with our fortunes and our lives? I know there is not a man here, who would not rather see a general conflagration sweep over the land, or an earthquake sink it, than one jot or tittle of that plighted faith fall to the ground. For myself, having, twelve months ago, in this place, moved you, that George Washington be appointed commander of the forces raised, or to be raised, for defence of American liberty, may my right hand forget her cunning, and my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I hesitate or waver in the support I give him... "

And now, fellow-citizens, let us not retire from this occasion without a deep and solemn conviction of the duties which have developed upon us. This lovely land, this glorious liberty, these benign institutions, the dear purchase of our fathers, are ours; ours to enjoy, ours to preserve, ours to transmit. Generations past and generations to come hold us responsible for this sacred trust. Our fathers, from behind, admonish us, with their anxious paternal voices; posterity calls out to us, from the bosom of the future; the world turns hither its solicitous eyes; all, conjure us to act wisely, and faithfully, in the relation which we sustain.

We can never, indeed, pay the debt which is upon us; but by virtue, by morality, by religion, by the cultivation of every good principle and every good habit, we may hope to enjoy the blessing, through our day, and to leave it unimpaired to our children. Let us feel deeply how much of what we are and of what we possess we owe to this liberty, and to these institutions of government. Nature has, indeed, given us a soil which yields bounteously to the hand of industry, the mighty and fruitful ocean is before us, and the skies over our heads shed health and vigor. But what are lands, and seas, and skies, to civilized man, without society, without knowledge, without morals, without religious culture; and how can these be enjoyed, in all their extent and all their excellence, but under the protection of wise institutions and a free government? Fellow-citizens, there is not one of us, there is not one of us here present, who does not, at this moment, and at every moment, experience, in his own condition, and in the condition of those most near and dear to him, the influence and the benefits, of this liberty and these institutions. Let us then acknowledge the blessing, let us feel it deeply and powerfully, let us cherish a strong affection for it, and resolve to maintain and perpetuate it. The blood of our fathers, let it not have been shed in vain; the great hope of posterity, let it not be blasted.

The striking attitude, too, in which we stand to the world around us, a topic to which, I fear, I advert too often, and dwell on too long, cannot be altogether ommited here. Neither individuals nor nations can perform their part well, until they understand and feel its importance, and comprehend and justly appreciate all the duties belonging to it. It is not to inflate national vanity, nor to swell a light and empty feeling of self-importance, but it is that we may judge justly of our situation, and of our own duties, that I earnestly urge you upon this consideration of our position and our character among the nations of the earth. It cannot be denied, but by those who would dispute against the sun, that with America, and in America, a new era commences in human affairs. This era is distinguised by free representative governments, by entire religious liberty, by improved systems of national intercourse, by a newly awakened and unconquerable spirit of free inquiry, and by a diffusion of knowledge through the community, such as has been before altogether unknown and unheard of America, America, our country, fellow-citizens, our own dear and native land, is inseparably connected, fast bound up, in fortune and by fate, with these great interests. If they fall, we fall with them; if they stand, it will be because we have maintained them. Let us contemplate, then, this connection, which binds the prosperity of others to our own; and let us manfully discharge all the duties which it imposes. If we cherish the virtues and the principles of our fathers, Heaven will assist us to carry on the work of human liberty and human happiness. Auspicious omens cheer us. Great examples are before us. Our own firmament now shines brightly upon our path. WASHINGTON is in the clear, upper sky. These other stars hae now joined the American Constellation; they circle round their centre, and the heavens beam with new light. Beneath this illumination let us walk the course of life, and at its close devoutly commend our beloved country, the common parent of us all, to the Divine Benignity.
[originally posted: 2003-08-05]
Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:56 AM


What Silent Cal Said About the Fourth of July: The late president believed American freedom had religious roots. (LEON KASS, 7/01/11, WSJ)

Coolidge, citing 17th- and 18th-century sermons and writings of colonial clergy, provides ample evidence that the principles of the Declaration, and especially equality, are of American cultural and religious provenance: "They preached equality because they believed in the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. They justified freedom by the text that we are all created in the divine image, all partakers of the divine spirit." From this teaching flowed the emerging American rejection of monarchy and our bold embrace of democratic self-government.

Coolidge draws conclusions from his search into the sources. First, the Declaration is a great spiritual document. "Equality, liberty, popular sovereignty, the rights of man . . . are ideals. They have their source and their roots in the religious convictions. . . . Unless the faith of the American people in these religious convictions is to endure, the principles of our Declaration will perish."

He also observes that the Declaration's principles are final, not to be discarded in the name of progress. To deny the truth of human equality, or inalienable rights, or government by consent is not to go forward but backward--away from self-government, from individual rights, from the belief in the equal dignity of every human being.

Coolidge's concluding remarks especially deserve our attention: "We live in an age of science and of abounding accumulation of material things. These did not create our Declaration. Our Declaration created them. The things of the spirit come first. . . . If we are to maintain the great heritage which has been bequeathed to us, we must be like-minded as the fathers who created it. We must not sink into a pagan materialism. We must cultivate the reverence which they had for the things which are holy. We must follow the spiritual and moral leadership which they showed. We must keep replenished, that they may glow with a more compelling flame, the altar fires before which they worshipped."

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[originally posted: 7/04/11]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:59 AM


'All men are created equal' is not hypocrisy but vision (Jeff Jacoby, July 4, 2010, Boston Globe)

[Y]es, it is easy to damn Jefferson and the other Founders for not living up to their highest ideals. But if that is all it takes to be convicted of hypocrisy, how many of us would escape conviction? Surely what is more remarkable about Jefferson is not that he owned slaves, but that he acknowledged forthrightly and repeatedly that slavery was wrong. In his "Notes on the State of Virginia,'' for instance, he characterized slave ownership as "the most unremitting despotism'' -- an outrage bound to provoke divine wrath. "Indeed,'' Jefferson wrote, "I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever.''

The Founders weren't stupid. Of course they knew that the universal ideals embraced in the Declaration were not matched in reality across the colonies. The controversy over slavery was intense; but even more intense was the need for a united front against England. The urgent choice in 1776 was not between slavery or abolition. It was between hanging together, as Benjamin Franklin supposedly quipped in Philadelphia, or most assuredly hanging separately. They chose to hang together, and the confrontation over slavery was left for later.

But in that confrontation, the lofty ideal of equality enshrined in the Declaration -- precisely because it was enshrined in the Declaration -- imparted enormous moral authority to the abolitionists' cause. Those who indict the Founders because their treatment of African slaves didn't come up to the standard of "all men are created equal'' should be asked: Would the Declaration of Independence have been improved if those words had been omitted? Would slavery have ended sooner had abolitionists not been able to invoke that "self-evident truth''?

[originally posted: 7/04/10]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:54 AM


Defending the American cause (Lee Wishing, 5/31/10, World)

Concerned about evidence that Korean War (1950-53) POWs were "easy targets of Communist indoctrination," Kirk wrote his little classic in 1957 to teach American servicemen the basic principles of American civilization. He believed all Americans need to understand the principles that make our country exceptional in order to defend her vigorously abroad and at home. Publishers reprinted The American Cause in 1966 during the Vietnam War and again in 2002 following the 9/11 attacks. In this age of the modern Tea Party, Intercollegiate Studies Institute research suggests we may be even more susceptible to indoctrination by foreign and domestic radical ideologues.

Kirk wrote, "Civilization grows out of religion: the morals, the politics, the economics, the literature and the arts of any people have a religious origin. . . . And in America, it is the Christian religion." Moreover, Kirk defines the American cause as the "defense of principles of a true civilization." If Kirk is right that America's greatness flows from the Christian religion--and I believe he is--it is evident that Christians must bear the weight of perpetuating and defending America. And we must begin at the beginning by understanding how Christian teaching connects to the founding principles of our country. This will take some work, some study, some homework, and we can begin by reading The American Cause. It's an easy and short read.

Kirk cautions that we not make an idol of the USA, and become jingoistic and the self-appointed "keepers of the world's conscience." But it's clear he thought we should work to preserve, protect, and promote the Christian ideals that make American society thrive, such as belief in an unchanging God who made people in His image and entitled to life, liberty, and the protection of their property; punishing actions that violate these inalienable rights; an understanding that mankind and societies are not perfectible through government tinkering and revolution; recognizing that leaders who think otherwise are dangerous ideologues; tolerating other religious faiths and valuing liberty of conscience; and cultivating free and orderly markets to improve the human condition.

[originally posted: 6/02/10]

Posted by orrinj at 12:52 AM


10 Things You Should Know About the American Founding (Bradley J. Birzer , July 03, 2012, Catholic World Report)

Here are ten facts about the American founding that are worth knowing and contemplating as our country celebrates its independence on the Fourth of July.

1.  At the time of the passage and signing of the Declaration, roughly 2.15 million persons lived in the 13 colonies.  Of those not enslaved, the vast majority was of Anglo-Saxon-Celtic descent and nearly 100% were Protestant.  The "fierce spirit of liberty is stronger in the English Colonies probably than in any other people on the earth. . . . Religion, always a principle of energy, in this new people is no way worn out or impaired," Edmund Burke stated publically in 1775.  "The people are Protestants; and of that kind which is most adverse to all implicit submission of mind and opinion." [...]

4.  The level of education for Americans at the time was astounding.  Though no public schools existed in any recognizable sense in the eighteenth century, some "Common Schools" did.  At a Common School, tutors and teachers drilled students for hours in Greek and Latin.  Even if a student only attended school from, say, ages 6-8, he would learn only classical languages.  Parents were expected to teach their children to read, almost always from the King James Bible.  The colonists met with great success, and the American colonies probably contained the single most literate people in the world at that time.  For those attending one of the several colleges in the American colonies (Harvard, Yale, William and Mary, King's College (Columbia)), a liberal education was the only real education.  As the grand historian of the period, Forrest McDonald, has revealed, when a student entered college (usually at age 14 or 15), he would need to prove fluency in Latin and Greek.  He would need to "read and translate from the original Latin into English 'the first three of [Cicero's] Select Orations and the first three books of Virgil's Aeneid' and to translate the first ten chapters of the Gospel of John from Greek into Latin, as well as to be 'expert in arithmetic' and to have a 'blameless moral character.'"  Keeping this in mind, Americans should not be surprised to see the seventy-plus classical references in The Federalist Papers or the architecture of the Capitol building.  Americans were, second only to their Protestantism, a classically oriented people.

6. The revolution was, therefore, not surprisingly, a "revolution prevented, not made," as Burke explained it.  When asked, for example, where he derived the ideas contained within the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson revealed how historical and "backward looking" the document was.  "This was the object of the Declaration of Independence," Jefferson explained in 1825, not long before his death. "Not to find out new principles, or new arguments, never before thought of, not merely to say things which had never been said before; but to place before mankind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent, and to justify ourselves in the independent stand we are compelled to take.  Neither aiming at originality of principle or sentiment, nor yet copied from any particular and previous writing, it was intended to be an expression of the American mind, and to give to that expression the proper tone and spirit called for by the occasion.  All its authority rests then on the harmonizing sentiments of the day, whether expressed in conversation, in letters, printed essays, or in elementary books of public right, as Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, Sidney, etc."

6.  The first shots fired in what became the War for Independence were calculated to lead neither to a full-scale war nor to the independence of the colonies from her mother.  Instead, the men of Lexington, Massachusetts, followed what they believed to be the strongest form of protest--not an act of secession.  Jonas Clarke, the Calvinist pastor at the Lexington church and one of the leading intellectuals of the colonies, had been exploring Christian notions of liberty for well over a decade.  "And it is a truth, which the history of the ages and the common experiences of mankind have fully confirmed," he stated in 1765, "that a people can never be divested of those invaluable rights and liberties which are necessary to the happiness of individuals, to the well-being of communities or to a well regulated state, but by their own negligence, imprudence, timidity or rashness.  They are seldom lost, but when foolishly or tamely resigned." After debating a response to the British march toward Concord for hours in the local pastor's house, the town pub, and on the town green (all three places adjoining), about forty Lexingtonians stood on the village green at 5:00am, April 19, 1775, arms placed in parade formation.  

As with all of the successful political-social movements in the Anglosphere, it consisted of no revolution but of a summoning of the more powerful citizens to live up to their own principles as regarded the less powerful.

[originally posted: 7/04/12]
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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:43 AM


Posted by orrinj at 12:29 AM


The 'America effect': How immigrants fall crazy in love (Rob Asghar / July 4, 2012, CS Monitor)

That immigrant passion for America was first described to me by a university president who noticed that foreign students are susceptible to a peculiar effect that warps their plans and bends their dreams. If they return to their homeland, they wish it were more like America, and will work to make it so. Often they choose not to go home, or choose to return to America after a while.

Once you're crazy in love with America, you begin to see life in a cockeyed manner, even if you try to resist it. You begin to believe you can pen the script of your own life, instead of allowing your family or your culture to write it for you. You sulk on your visits back home that life there is too corrupt or inefficient or limiting.

And while you're concerned about that legendary permissiveness in America, you also sense that these Americans aren't overly uptight, and something feels right about that. And when your children begin to drift from your heritage, as was the case with me and my father's other children, you might stay awake late fuming about this country, but you suspect your destiny is tied inextricably with it.

That drifting involves a certain liberty, which has its roots all the way back to the settlement of this country by seekers of religious freedom. That basic value, fought and died for, has protected freedom of conscience to worship - or not - as one will.

Similarly, that freedom is helping (slowly) moderate latter-day Islam, as Gallup and Pew polls of Muslim-Americans have shown.

[originally posted: 7/04/12]
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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:28 AM


Bold Men in Ruffled Shirts (DAVID McCULLOUGH, July 4, 2002, NY Times)
When we see them in paintings, with their ruffled shirts and powdered hair, they look a little like fops, softies. But life then, at best, was tougher than we know, and they were, too, and the women no less than the men. John Adams predicted a long, costly struggle. "I am well aware of the toil and blood and treasure it will cost us to maintain their Declaration," he told Abigail. "Yet through the gloom I can see the rays of ravishing light and glory. I can see the end is more than worth all the means."

It's common enough for the Right in general and cultural conservatives in particular to bemoan the creeping statism of our age and the corrosive effects of moral relativism. The recent asinine ruling on the Pledge seems Heaven sent for a rip-roaring denunciation of a nation on the road to Sodom. But we tend to forget that the Founders were men much like us, men who worshipped freedom but who did not truly expect it to last. The Constitution, with its careful system of checks and balances, amply demonstrates the low estimation in which they held the species.

Yet, we our independence survives. We are less free than we should be, in some ways less free than they were, but we are nonetheless as free as any people on Earth. And we are free in ways--mostly economic--that their fellow countrymen were not.

Our society is less good in too many ways than theirs was--chiefly in the lapse of our moral standards and the loss of the sense of honor that they held so dear. But it is infinitely better in many too--if for no other reason than that their words "All Men", now truly apply to all men, no matter their race, creed, or color and to women as well.

Our generation is less tough than theirs, but our lives have been less tough--in good measure thanks to them. And when called upon, as in the wake of 9-11, we certainly seem to contain the same moral and spiritual toughness in some untapped reserve. Who's to say that we would not rise to as great a cause as theirs was with equal valor and maybe even establish as enduring a legacy.

One suspects that if Adams could see this far he'd not be too displeased with what he saw. No doubt he'd rage against our dependence on government and our abdication of moral responsibility for our own actions, but mightn't he also marvel at what we've made of America in material terms, the wealth and power we've accrued. No doubt he'd mourn the racial tension that remains a disturbing facet of our society, but surely he'd marvel at a Colin Powell, a Condeleeza Rice, an Alberto Gonzales, a Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and think that there's hope for us still.

Most of all, one supposes that he'd look at the worst of our blemishes--from a $2 Trillion government to divorce to abortion to euthanasia and so on--and see that, however unpleasant to behold, they are products of our free choice. He'd surely not be surprised that that which is worst in us, like that which is best, comes to the surface when we are free. But we are in fact free and that is no small thing. It is a freedom that we should use better, to make a truly good society, but it may be that we never will. It may be that, being merely men, this is the best we can do--though I hope not. Still, if that is the case, then we have in fact done our best. The light we cast may not quite be ravishing, but surely the light he glimpsed came from this almost-shining city on a hill, and surely this "end" justifies the means that he and his fellow patriots were called upon to employ and to endure. And surely, he'd remind us that we are not at an end, are instead in the midst of becoming the America he envisioned, but are well on our way if we only have the courage to make ourselves that nation.

And even if that's all a load of hooey, perhaps he'd consider the sacrifices that they made to be worthwhile just because nearly 230 years later there are almost 300 million Americans who fiercely believe, even if they agree on little else, that :
...all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed...

Maybe just that much is enough. Maybe it's quite a bit.

God Bless America. And God Bless you and yours on this Independence Day and every day. [originally posted: July 4, 2002]
Posted by orrinj at 12:26 AM


Is the U.S. a land of liberty or equality? (Robert J. Samuelson, 7/03/12, Washington Post)

The backdrop to this struggle is long-standing. As Alexis de Tocqueville noted, Americans venerate both liberty and equality. Our entire history involves this tension between preserving freedom and promoting equality. If you are defending either, you naturally think that you are the legitimate heir of the country's core beliefs.

In a democracy, de Tocqueville argued, Americans would ultimately favor equality over freedom, because its material benefits are more immediate and tangible. Not so, countered the late political scientist James Q. Wilson. Americans strongly value freedom, far more than do citizens of any other democratic country, he argued.

There's plenty of evidence he is right. A recent Pew poll asked people to pick between "freedom to pursue life's goals without state interference" and the "state guarantees nobody is in need." Americans selected freedom 58 percent to 35 percent. European responses were reversed: Germany's 36 percent to 62 percent was typical. By wide margins compared with Europeans, Americans believe that "success in life" is determined by individual effort and not by outside forces. Yet, in their voting habits, Americans often prefer security.

The inconsistencies and contradictions won't soon vanish. But in today's politically poisoned climate, righteousness is at a premium and historical reality at a discount. Each side, whether "liberal" or "conservative," Republican or Democrat, behaves as if it has a monopoly on historical truth. The fear that the existence of their version of America is threatened sows discord and explains why love of country has become a double-edged sword, dividing us when it might unite.

Actually, the partisanship these days is so bitter precisely because the historic tension has been exhausted.  There are practically no serious figures in the Anglosphere (nor much of the rest of the West) who advocate a return to either the First Way (freedom in the form of naked capitalism and a lack of a welfare net) nor the Second Way (security in the form of Socialism/Marxism).  Instead there is a near universal consensus that one component of a modern democratic state must be a thorough economic/social safety network but that it must be funded via more capitalist means if we are to be able to afford it and have a productive economy.  Note that this is not the complete equality that de Tocqueville feared and Marxists dreamed of, but rather the establishment of a rather comfortable minimum living standard.  So both sides have had to accept a significant compromise to their core ideologies.  The right has had to acknowledge that one can not be said to be truly free if so impoverished that many choices lie beyond one's grasp.    Meanwhile, the left has had to accept that the quest for absolute equality of results only serves to impoverish all and to limit freedom to such a degree that the demos rejects the project, meaning that some considerable scope must be left for individual choice and action rather than centralizing decision making entirely in the hands of the state.

Happily, the Third Way compromise that is emerging throughout the developed world, while inconsistent with these dead ideologies, is entirely consistent with the republican liberty that is at the heart of the American experiment.  While the Right laments that laws rob us of our freedom, what they are lamenting is a loss that has little to do with the Republic.  As Mauricio Viroli describes in his essential text, Republicanism:

Action regulated by law is free...not when the law is accepted voluntarily, or when it corresponds to the desires of the citizens, but when the law is not arbitrary, that is, when it respects universal norms (when it applies to all individuals or to all members of the group in question), aspires to the public good, and for this reason protects the will of the citizens from the constant danger of constraint imposed by individuals and therefore renders the will fully autonomous.

So long as the Third Way project remains universalist it will enhance both equality and liberty.  Indeed, because liberty depends on a fairly high degree of equality among the citizens, it will help to realize American republicanism.

If we apply these ideas to our current political situation and the kerfuffle of the moment, we note, first of all, the Right's furor over the Democrats use of the individual mandate in health reform.  There is even the absurd claim that the mandate suddenly became unconstitutional--once it passed from conservative think tanks and Republican legislative proposals into a Democrat passed law.  Meanwhile, there is no question that the coming Republican reforms of health care will, likewise, depend on the mandate.  The key difference is just that they will push it further towards being a free market mechanism, by favoring (or requiring) HSAs and similar plans that turn patients back into consumers and have the added benefit of building the savings of the citizenry, empowering all, but especially the least advantaged in society.  

Only the worst sort of true-believing psychosis can turn this kind of social progress into an existential threat to the Republic.

Happy 4th, ya'll. 

[originally posted: 7/04/12]
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Posted by orrinj at 12:23 AM


Nine Things You Never Knew About the Fourth of July (AMY BINGHAM, July 4, 2012, ABC News)

It may be America's birthday, but the United States isn't the only country that celebrates it. Denmark started throwing a Fourth of July bash in 1912 after thousands of Danes emigrated to the United States.

Thousands of Danish Americans and U.S. military personnel stationed in Europe celebrate Independence Day at the annual outdoor festival in Rebild, Denmark. The Danish tourism office bills it as the largest Fourth of July celebration outside the United States.

Former presidents such as Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush have been keynote speakers at the celebration, as have other famous Americans like Walter Cronkite and Walt Disney, according to the Rebild National Park Society.

[originally posted: 7/04/12]
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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:21 AM


Loyal to a Fault (MAYA JASANOFF, 7/03/07, NY Times)

Loyalists are the American Revolution's guilty secret: rarely spoken of, hauntingly present. At least one in five Americans is believed to have remained loyal to Britain during the war. They expressed their opinions passively and actively: refusing to forswear allegiance to the king, signing petitions or joining loyalist military regiments -- as nearly 20,000 men did -- to defend their vision of British America. In retaliation, they faced harassment from their peers, most vividly (if rarely) by tarring and feathering. Some would suffer for their loyalty in open battle; others faced sanctions from state legislatures, which could strip them of their land and possessions, imprison them or formally banish them.

The Tories, as the patriots pejoratively called them, are still often caricatured as elitist and out of touch, foreign, even treacherous. Granted, their dream of a continued imperial relationship with Britain had none of the political innovation that gave rise to the new republic. And yet it bears stressing that our "self-evident" founding principles were not seen that way by fully one-fifth of the population. Many of the United States' first and most passionate critics were Americans themselves.

After the Revolutionary War ended, thousands of loyalists blended into the nation, and their descendants participated in shaping American society. But many -- as many as 1 in 30 Americans -- did not. Feeling insecure and unwelcome in the United States, and attracted by British promises of land and compensation, some 80,000 loyalists left their homes to build new lives elsewhere in the still-vigorous British Empire.

Yet folks are surprised that Iraq similarly needs to go through a process of getting rid of those who've remained loyal to the prior regime?
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[originally posted: 7/03/07]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:12 AM


Empire of Liberty: The Historical Underpinnings of the Bush Doctrine (Thomas Donnelly, June 24, 2005, AEI Online)

Far from constituting a radical break from American foreign policy, the basic impulses of the Bush Doctrine can be traced throughout much of our history. [...]

Above all, American strategic culture is notable for the disproportionate role played in it by American political principles, or, to use the modern term, by ideology. We have sought to make an empire for liberty, to wield power not for its own sake but for the sake of securing the natural political rights "inalienable" to all mankind and which, alone in the American imagination, legitimize power.

This is not to say that the United States has pursued an entirely altruistic course or been unconstrained by the realities of statecraft and the limits of power throughout its history. Rather, it is to assert that American strategy-making and war-making have been informed by a belief that long-term security can be achieved, and only achieved, by the spread of liberal governance, and that American liberal governance is in turn impossible absent the exercise of American military power. In the case of the Revolutionary War, Americans understood themselves as Englishmen in America, and they would have preferred to remain within the British Empire had the price of security been accompanied by the liberties that were their rights as citizens of the empire. But what Americans wanted, London would not give. Increasingly, the colonists understood that only their own power could guarantee their natural political rights.

From the willingness of the revolutionaries to shed blood on behalf of what they held to be "self-evident" truths about human political equality to Lincoln's declaration at Gettysburg that the Civil War, more than a struggle over states' rights, would result in "a new birth of freedom," America's wars have consistently been shaped by the desire to create a balance of power that favors freedom. As American power and the empire of liberty--now including Europe, maritime East Asia, and new footholds in Afghanistan and Iraq--have grown, so the definition of an acceptable balance of power has shifted. The Bush administration's focus on the greater Middle East is a natural step in this evolution.

The second source of American strategic conduct has been a belief that we stand at the center-point of international politics; the United States regards itself as a kind of "Middle Kingdom." American strategic horizons have always extended in many directions: east, west, north, and south. Far from being natural "isolationists," Americans have always felt themselves exposed to threats and dangers, with little strategic "depth." When the United States reached its supposed natural frontier with the settlement of the American West, the American strategic imagination leaped over the oceans, first in the Pacific and then the Atlantic, believing that the homeland was only as safe as the farthest frontier. As the "rimlands" of Europe and the western Pacific were secured, the American security perimeter has moved forward into central and eastern Europe, the Middle East, central and south Asia.

The third theme of American strategy is the habit of expansionism. Believing ourselves to be safest not only when our outer perimeter is secure but also free, Americans have felt a necessity to project power unto the farthest reaches of the globe. In the period from the Monroe Doctrine to the Spanish-American War, the habits of expansion and preemption became more than rhetoric, and the commitment to individual liberty, wrenched from the fire of the Civil War, became an ingrained reality. In sum, American strategic culture came of age during this period, and, at century's end, was no longer content to simply stand behind its ocean walls. Increasingly, a North American empire of liberty could not be separated from the larger world of empires abroad.

A brief taste of European-style imperialism in the late nineteenth century sufficed to sour Washington on direct conquest and rule, yet U.S. leaders have insisted for more than a half-century on exercising a de facto hegemony over defeated foes even well after they become formal allies. The United States cannot be said to "rule" Germans or Japanese, yet America asserts its desire to make the rules by which the international system operates and in which these nations are embedded; the phenomenon of economic globalization rests on a phenomenon of political and strategic Americanization. By incorporating past enemies into the ever-growing empire of liberty, the New World fundamentally changed the Old, and American strategic culture not only proved its enduring strength, but its fundamental flexibility and adaptability. At times, as during the late-Cold War period of détente, that flexibility proved so great as to call into question the basic tenets of American strategic culture. Yet though they bent, these tenets did not break.

Finally, as observed by Yale University historian John Lewis Gaddis and others, Americans have long had a predilection for preemption, prevention, and for what has lately been called "regime change." Contrary to conventional wisdom, the concept of the "failed state" is one Washington policymakers have recognized throughout history; moreover, Americans have often moved rapidly to address these perceived dangers when the balance of forces appeared to be in our favor. Thus, as American colonists grew in strength vis-à-vis neighboring Indian tribes, their approach became strategically preemptive, preventive, and decisive--likewise with Spanish and Mexican competitors for the North American continent. When, during the twentieth century, the cost of preempting European great powers or preventing their wars seemed too great, the United States initially settled for a return to the status quo even while--in the voice of Woodrow Wilson--preaching revolution and regime change. Further involvement in Europe hardened American attitudes. Now, as the guarantor of a global order, the old habit is hard to break: acting to prevent weak, corrupt, and illegitimate governments from making mischief is central to American strategic thought and practice. And we most often regard wars as successfully concluded when failed states have been replaced with stable ones constructed on an American model.

In sum, there has been a more or less consistent purpose to American power and a strategic culture that remains a source of American conduct. It is at once "realistic," in the sense of being a keen calculation of power, especially military power, and at the same time "idealistic," in the sense of being motivated by a set of transcendental claims about the nature of the good society. The quest for the good society, as Gerald Stourzh observes in his study of Alexander Hamilton, has confined itself "within the walls of the city. Principles of political obligation and organization have been sought within the confines of a given society." The growth of American power has raised our understanding of where our walls are, of the outer limits on the good society; our peculiar strategic culture has driven us onward.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:07 AM


A view of America's independence: INDEPENDENCE: The Struggle to Set America Free By John Ferling (Chuck Leddy, July 4, 2011, Boston Globe)

From the opening pages, Ferling's ambition is clear. He starts with a British debt crisis triggered by military spending to oust the French from much of North America.

After peace arrived in 1763, writes Ferling, "Great Britain was swamped with debt brought on by years of war. The national debt had doubled during the previous seven years'' of war. Parliament, supported by overstretched British taxpayers, asserted that the American colonies, clear beneficiaries of Britain's military victory, should pay their fair share of the debt burden.

So began a decade-long period of futile British efforts to compel the colonies to pay levies and recognize Parliament's authority to tax them. [...]

[F]erling digs deep into a few important themes, which he handles in a fresh way. For instance, Ferling makes it clear that until early 1776, American moderates seeking reconciliation played a powerful role in Congress.

Pennsylvanian Dickinson, for instance, argued passionately for seeking a negotiated settlement with Britain over the tax issue, one that would keep the colonies inside the empire. On the other side of the Atlantic, reconciliationists in Parliament like Edmund Burke sagely warned that "Great Britain must offer conciliatory terms or risk the loss of its American colonies.'' Burke would be proven right.

"Leaders on both sides had many opportunities to choose an alternative course,'' writes Ferling, but the king and his ministers "spurned every American proposal for change, accommodation, and negotiation,'' instead pursuing a stubborn policy of colonial submission through military force. Congress actually sought talks with the king after the battles of Lexington and Concord in April 1775. George III responded to this offer by declaring war on the colonies and demanding their complete submission to British rule.

...would have been for George to grant us a separate parliament with himself as the monarch of the new polity.

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[originally posted: 7/04/11]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:06 AM


The 22 Rules of Backyard Wiffle (Jason Gay, 6/30/11, WSJ)

3. Use a Wiffle ball, original brand. Don't be the guy who saves two bucks with the discount "plastic outdoor baseball orb with "Reel-Kurve-Action"--then watches it shatter into 11 pieces on a routine fly out.

4. Buy a backup ball. Don't buy more than two backups--part of Wiffle fun is the panic when you think you can't find the last ball, meaning the game will be over and you're really going to have to watch the slideshow of your sister's vacation to Patagonia.

5. Skinny yellow bats only--no taping, weighting, or curving it under a heat lamp. The fat red bat your nephew just got for his 1st birthday? Put it back in the crib. Jeez.

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[originally posted: 7/02/11]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:06 AM


True North : Setting the course by America's moral compass (George W. Bush, 12.03.01, Forbes ASAP)
When Jefferson sat down to write, he was trying, he said, to place before mankind "the common sense of the subject." The common sense of the subject was that we should be free. And though great evils would linger, the world would never be the same after July 4, 1776. A wonderful country was born, and a revolutionary idea sent forth to all mankind: freedom, not only by the good graces of government but as the birthright of every individual. Equality, not as a theory of philosophers but by the design of our Creator. Natural rights, not for the few, not even for a fortunate many but for all people in all places, in all times. [...]

Our nation has always been guided by a moral compass. In every generation, men and women have protested terrible wrongs and worked for justice, for the abolition of slavery, the triumph of civil rights, for the end of child labor, the equal treatment of women, and the protection of innocent life.

In this way we all become more responsible citizens. And by extending to all the promise of America, we show an important kind of patriotism. Seventy-five years ago, our 30th president, the only president born on Independence Day, spoke words that apply to our time. Calvin Coolidge said, "We live in an age of science and of abounding accumulation of material things. These did not create our Declaration. Our Declaration created them. The things of the spirit come first."

This is another selection from the Forbes ASAP on the "Pursuit of Happiness". Note how it sounds like something he'd have written this week to take advantage of the Pledge issue? But it is what he's been saying for years now. [originally posted: 2002-07-02]
Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:05 AM


Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams, 3 July 1776, "Your Favour of June 17..."

Yesterday the greatest Question was decided, which ever was debated in America, and a greater perhaps, never was or will be decided among Men. A Resolution was passed without one dissenting Colony "that these united Colonies, are, and of right ought to be free and independent States, and as such, they have, and of Right ought to have full Power to make War, conclude Peace, establish Commerce, and to do all the other Acts and Things, which other States may rightfully do." You will see in a few days a Declaration setting forth the Causes, which have impell'd Us to this mighty Revolution, and the Reasons which will justify it, in the Sight of God and Man. A Plan of Confederation will be taken up in a few days.

When I look back to the Year 1761, and recollect the Argument concerning Writs of Assistance, in the Superiour Court, which I have hitherto considered as the Commencement of the Controversy, between Great Britain and America, and run through the whole Period from that Time to this, and recollect the series of political Events, the Chain of Causes and Effects, I am surprized at the Suddenness, as well as Greatness of this Revolution. Britain has been fill'd with Folly, and America with Wisdom, at least this is my judgment. -- Time must determine. It is the Will of Heaven, that the two Countries should be sundered forever. It may be the Will of Heaven that America shall suffer Calamities still more wasting and Distresses yet more dreadfull. If this is to be the Case, it will have this good Effect, at least: it will inspire Us with many Virtues, which We have not, and correct many Errors, Follies, and Vices, which threaten to disturb, dishonour, and destroy Us. -- The Furnace of Affliction produces Refinement, in States as well as Individuals. And the new Governments we are assuming, in every Part, will require a Purification from our Vices, and an Augmentation of our Virtues or they will be no Blessings. The People will have unbounded Power. And the People are extreamly addicted to Corruption and Venality, as well as the Great. [...]-- But I must submit all my Hopes and Fears, to an overruling Providence, in which, unfashionable [ as] the Faith may be, I firmly believe.

...is to look around the globe today and see the peoples who with greater cause and such a powerful example fail to take such a step.

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[originally posted: 7/04/08]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:03 AM


[originally posted: 7/04/09]

Posted by orrinj at 12:01 AM


And The Rocket's Red Glare: ...bombs bursting in air have long made the Fourth of July a star-spangled festivity, but few can hold a Roman candle to the author in knowing the facts and fancy about fireworks (George Plimpton, 6/30/75, Sports Illustrated)

The great thing was to do it yourself--just the nudge of a lighted punk to a fuse, a small commitment that seemed so insignificant, and yet the result was so decisive and visible...the sudden puff of a colored ball emerging from the long tube of a Roman candle, the quick rush and fading hiss of a rocket, the popping busyness of lawn fountains that smoked and sputtered and sent the family cat scurrying under the porch. Anyone could do it. Fireworks provided a sort of equalizer, especially for those who were not good at sports and knew they were doomed to spend the long summer afternoons in the far reaches of right field. They, too, on the Fourth of July had the capacity to create something just as satisfactory as a base hit--and make a big racket about it besides--with only the requirement of nerve enough to approach the brightly papered device on the lawn to set it off.

The next best was when evening came, and out beyond the band shell in the park the professionals went to work with their show--mysterious shapes moving in the twilight out where finally a red flare would glow--and the commemoration would get under way of the day that John Adams, on July 3, 1776, 24 hours before the Declaration of Independence was formally adopted, wrote would be "celebrated by succeeding Generations...to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade...Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other, from this Time forward forevermore."

Fireworks have always been a traditional means of observing triumphant occasions. As far back as 1532, Charles V, ruler of the Holy Roman Empire, had "fireworkers" in his army (as distinct from gunners) whose function was to put on victory displays. The emperor was a timid man (he was well known for his fear of mice and spiders) though a brave warrior, and one imagines him taking a great deal more pleasure in the fireworks than in the proceedings that led to the celebration.

In later times the celebration became more extensive. The coronation of Czar Alexander II in 1855 was extolled with a fireworks extravaganza staged on a 50-acre site, a band of 2,000 instruments and a choir of 1,000 voices that had to strain to be heard not only above the fireworks but a supplementary corps of artillery.

Most productions of any size in the 18th century were staged against an entire backdrop outfitted to shoot off rockets and firepots, a "temple" it was called, usually constructed in the form of the facade of a large building flanked by columned porticoes. One of the largest temples ever built was put up in London to observe the peace treaty ending the War of the Austrian Succession, an enormous facade 410 feet long and 114 feet high that took six months to build. The Royal Laboratory made a total of 10,650 rockets, shells and pinwheels to be shot out of the thing, and a special team of Italians was sent over to see to the proceedings. Handel composed his Music for the Royal Fireworks for the occasion, a score that called for a noise level not only of fireworks but 100 brass cannons at its conclusion. Just as the performance started, an argument broke out in the temple among the staff--hardly the sort of place for tempers to flare--and, sure enough, an explosion went off, and a fire began that destroyed part of the structure. The show continued throughout all this, but it was a ragged performance at best, and by midnight--the staff continuing to glare at each other, firepots close at hand--much of the fireworks material provided by the Royal Laboratory had yet to be used. The critics were harsh, and subsequent displays relied less on ornate backgrounds.

The guiding figure in the history of fireworks was Charles Thomas Brock, the patriarch of an English family that since the 18th century had manufactured and exhibited fireworks in the amusement parks of England and continental Europe. 

... he became one.

[originally posted: 7/08/12]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:01 AM


The Idea of America: What some wise men had in mind (Mackubin Thomas Owens, July 2, 2003, National Review)
[M]ulticulturalism couldn't exist if even those Americans who praise the Declarations didn't misunderstand its principles. How widely they are misunderstood is driven home by a piece by a piece in the July 2 Washington Post by David Broder. In his penultimate paragraph, Broder makes it crystal clear that he misses the point.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." Is our belief in equality truly self-evident? How does it jibe with the growing inequality of income and wealth and opportunity in this country? And is the pursuit of happiness, as now understood, wedded to the same sense of duty and responsibility that animated the men in Philadelphia?

To answer Broder, the equality of which Jefferson speaks is that arising from the equal natural rights all men possess, antecedent to the creation of government, and the political right not to be ruled by another without the former's consent. As Jefferson wrote to Roger C. Weightman on June 24, 1826, "all eyes are opened, or opening to the rights of man. The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born, with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God. These are grounds of hope for others. For ourselves, let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them...."

As we celebrate the Fourth of July this week, we should reflect on the uniqueness of American nationhood arising from the Declaration of
Independence. We have, of course, not always lived up to the "self-evident truths" articulated in this document, as the history of slavery attests. But these truths constitute what Lincoln called the "central idea" of the American republic without which republican government will fail and the American nation will dissolve.

Note how neatly Mr. Broder's misunderstanding of the Declaration's equality fits this assertion: "The student of political philosophy has the antagonism of equality and liberty constantly forced upon him." [originally posted: 2003-07-04]
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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Silent Cal Had a Lot To Say (Gary Galles, Lew Rockwell)

Historians have trivialized Calvin Coolidge as a do-nothing President naïve enough to believe that "the business of America is business," and many have rated him as one of the worst of all time. However, he produced remarkable results without sacrificing our freedoms. And given that he was born on the 4th of July, there is no better time than our Independence Day to remember him.

Under Coolidge, the top income tax rate of 65% under Wilson was eventually cut to 20%. The stock market began its unprecedented "roaring 20s" climb as it became clear through 1924 that Coolidge's tax reduction bill would pass.

In both his first and last year in office, federal receipts were $3.8 billion and expenditures were $3.1 billion, and in between, he cut the national debt from $22.3 billion to $16.9 billion.

His policies took more than a million people off the income tax rolls, and 98% of Americans paid no income tax at the end of his term. As a result, America prospered under Coolidge. Real economic growth averaged 7% per year while he was in office (the highest growth on record), while inflation averaged only 0.4%. Investment, manufacturing output, and disposable income rose dramatically, and unemployment averaged 3.3%.

That remarkable record explains why, after Coolidge outpolled his Democratic opponent by nearly 2 to 1 in 1924, he would have won in another landslide if he had run again in 1928.

But unfortunately for America, he did not.

For the most part we only consider presidents truly great if they helped the nation weather an existential crisis: Washington, Lincoln, FDR, Reagan, Bush. But of the presidents who governed during peacetime, Coolidge is the very model of what an American president should be--unobtrusive, reverent and humble--while his policies--rather minimalist--are archetypal.

-BOOKNOTES: Coolidge: An America Enigma by Robert Sobel (C-SPAN, August 30, 1998)

[T]he difference between Coolidge and the
presidents we have today is that you had a different kind of a
presidency back then. Franklin Roosevelt revolutionizes the
presidency, as he did so much other things in American life. After
Roosevelt, a person becomes president because he wants to do
something. He wants to change things. Calvin Coolidge did not want
to change things. He wanted to carry out the pledges that Harding had
made, and then he made a few of his own in the next election, and he
wanted to cut the taxes, which he did. The national debt was
two-thirds of what it was when--after he left office, when he came in.
You had peace, prosperity, low inflation, low unemployment. He never
took credit for this, by the way. He--this--the economy did that.

And he wanted to maximize freedom for the American people, and freedom
for the American people meant taking the 10th Amendment to the
Constitution very seriously: `Those powers not given to the federal
government are retained by the states.' And so when Coolidge was
governor of Massachusetts, he was a very strong governor, had a large
legislative operation. When he becomes president, he says, `That's
not my job. It's the governor's job. And I'll take care of the other

[originally posted: 2004-07-04]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Their final Fourth of July (Dan Roberts, Jul 2, 2006, The Virginian-Pilot)

In the years after Jefferson's second term, they resumed a respectful and increasingly affectionate correspondence, largely through the intercessions of Abigail Adams.

Sometime during the day of July 2, Jefferson stirred up to inquire, "Is this the Fourth?" Hearing a yes, he lay back. This gentle and yet false reply surely brought him some measure of comfort. Occasionally, his hand could be seen moving, as if he were writing.

In Massachusetts, on the morning of the Fourth, Adams' attendant asked him, "Do you know, sir, what day it is?" His reply. "Oh yes. It is the glorious Fourth of July. God bless it. God bless you all."

Sometime that afternoon he roused again, and someone heard the second president say his last intelligible words: "Thomas Jefferson survives."

By sunset the two men, so honored by their fellow citizens, so important in the birth of freedom and, in the end, so close as friends, were dead - 50 years to the day since together they had signed the Declaration of Independence.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Why Americans Are Crazy About the 4th of July (Walter A. McDougall , 7/02/04, History News Network)

The spiritual qualities of public rhetoric in American politics, courtrooms, churches, schools, and patriotic fetes used to be so pervasive, familiar, and unobjectionable that we citizens just took it for granted (until the advent of litigious atheists). Our national motto is "In God We Trust." Our Pledge says we're a nation "under God." Our Congress and Supreme Court pray at the start of sessions. Presidents of all parties and persuasions have made ritual supplications that the United States might be blessed with divine protection. The last stanza of "America" begins "Our father's God to thee, author of liberty, to thee we sing" and ends by naming "great God," not George III, "our King." The last stanza of the "Star Spangled Banner" asks our "heaven rescued land" to "praise the Power that has made and preserved us a Nation." "America the Beautiful" asks that "God shed His grace on thee."

Most Americans, even today, would likely agree with Boston Puritans John Winthrop, John Adams, and Jonathan Mayhew, Princeton Presbyterian Jonathan Witherspoon and his disciple James Madison, Virginian Anglican (and Freemason) George Washington, and Deists Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin that Americans are "called unto liberty" (a phrase from Paul's epistle to the Galatians)--that we are a new chosen people and ours a new promised land, and that our mission is to bestow liberty on all mankind, by example if not exertion. To be sure, the majority of Americans always found it easy to identify the God who watches over America with the God of their Protestant theology. But thanks to the free exercise of religion--the "lustre of our country" ensured by the First Amendment--religious minorities have been free to embrace the American Creed with equal or greater fervor.

Thus did Bishop John Carroll, founder of the American Catholic Church, "sing canticles of praise to the Lord" for granting his flock "country now become our own and taking us into her protection." Thus did Jewish immigrant Irving Berlin liken Americans to the Children of Israel being led through the Sinai: "God Bless America, land that I love, stand beside her and guide her through the night with a light from above." When Americans of all sects or no sect gather in civil ceremonies to praise their freedom, honor its Author, and rededicate themselves to their nation's deals, they do not merely prove themselves a religious people, they prove the United States of America is itself a sort of religion, a civil religion, or as G. K. Chesterton put it in 1922, "a nation with the soul of a church."

[originally posted: 2004-07-04]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Here's a speech from a local event where a citizens' group presented the Hanover school system with American flags for classrooms that lacked them.

[Originally posted: 2002-06-14]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


What to the Slave is the Fourth of July? (Frederick Douglass, July 5, 1852)

On the 2d of July, 1776, the old Continental Congress, to the dismay of the lovers of ease, and the worshipers of property, clothed that dreadful idea with all the authority of national sanction. They did so in the form of a resolution; and as we seldom hit upon resolutions, drawn up in our day whose transparency is at all equal to this, it may refresh your minds and help my story if I read it. "Resolved, That these united colonies are, and of right, ought to be free and Independent States; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown; and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, dissolved."

Citizens, your fathers made good that resolution. They succeeded; and to-day you reap the fruits of their success. The freedom gained is yours; and you, therefore, may properly celebrate this anniversary. The 4th of July is the first great fact in your nation's history - the very ring-bolt in the chain of your yet undeveloped destiny.

Pride and patriotism, not less than gratitude, prompt you to celebrate and to hold it in perpetual remembrance. I have said that the Declaration of Independence is the ring-bolt to the chain of your nation's destiny; so, indeed, I regard it. The principles contained in that instrument are saving principles. Stand by those principles, be true to them on all occasions, in all places, against all foes, and at whatever cost.

From the round top of your ship of state, dark and threatening clouds may be seen. Heavy billows, like mountains in the distance, disclose to the leeward huge forms of flinty rocks! That bolt drawn, that chain broken, and all is lost. Cling to this day - cling to it, and to its principles, with the grasp of a storm-tossed mariner to a spar at midnight.

The coming into being of a nation, in any circumstances, is an interesting event. But, besides general considerations, there were peculiar circumstances which make the advent of this republic an event of special attractiveness.

The whole scene, as I look back to it, was simple, dignified and sublime.

The population of the country, at the time, stood at the insignificant number of three millions. The country was poor in the munitions of war. The population was weak and scattered, and the country a wilderness unsubdued. There were then no means of concert and combination, such as exist now. Neither steam nor lightning had then been reduced to order and discipline. From the Potomac to the Delaware was a journey of many days. Under these, and innumerable other disadvantages, your fathers declared for liberty and independence and triumphed.

Fellow Citizens, I am not wanting in respect for the fathers of this republic. The signers of the Declaration of Independence were brave men. They were great men too--great enough to give fame to a great age. It does not often happen to a nation to raise, at one time, such a number of truly great men. The point from which I am compelled to view them is not, certainly, the most favorable; and yet I cannot contemplate their great deeds with less than admiration. They were statesmen, patriots and heroes, and for the good they did, and the principles they contended for, I will unite with you to honor their memory.

They loved their country better than their own private interests; and, though this is not the highest form of human excellence, all will concede that it is a rare virtue, and that when it is exhibited, it ought to command respect. He who will, intelligently, lay down his life for his country, is a man whom it is not in human nature to despise. Your fathers staked their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor, on the cause of their country. In their admiration of liberty, they lost sight of all other interests.

They were peace men; but they preferred revolution to peaceful submission to bondage. They were quiet men; but they did not shrink from agitating against oppression. They showed forbearance; but that they knew its limits. They believed in order; but not in the order of tyranny. With them, nothing was "settled" that was not right. With them, justice, liberty and humanity were "final;" not slavery and oppression. You may well cherish the memory of such men. They were great in their day and generation. Their solid manhood stands out the more as we contrast it with these degenerate times.

How circumspect, exact and proportionate were all their movements! How unlike the politicians of an hour! Their statesmanship looked beyond the passing moment, and stretched away in strength into the distant future. They seized upon eternal principles, and set a glorious example in their defense. Mark them!

Fully appreciating the hardship to be encountered, firmly believing in the right of their cause, honorably inviting the scrutiny of an on-looking world, reverently appealing to heaven to attest their sincerity, soundly comprehending the solemn responsibility they were about to assume, wisely measuring the terrible odds against them, your fathers, the fathers of this republic, did, most deliberately, under the inspiration of a glorious patriotism, and with a sublime faith in the great principles of justice and freedom, lay deep the corner-stone of the national superstructure, which has risen and still rises in grandeur around you.

Of this fundamental work, this day is the anniversary. Our eyes are met with demonstrations of joyous enthusiasm. Banners and pennants wave exultingly on the breeze. The din of business, too, is hushed. Even Mammon seems to have quitted his grasp on this day. The ear-piercing fife and the stirring drum unite their accents with the ascending peal of a thousand church bells. Prayers are made, hymns are sung, and sermons are preached in honor of this day; while the quick martial tramp of a great and multitudinous nation, echoed back by all the hills, valleys and mountains of a vast continent, bespeak the occasion one of thrilling and universal interests nation's jubilee.

Friends and citizens, I need not enter further into the causes which led to this anniversary. Many of you understand them better than I do. You could instruct me in regard to them. That is a branch of knowledge in which you feel, perhaps, a much deeper interest than your speaker. The causes which led to the separation of the colonies from the British crown have never lacked for a tongue. They have all been taught in your common schools, narrated at your firesides, unfolded from your pulpits, and thundered from your legislative halls, and are as familiar to you as household words. They form the staple of your national poetry and eloquence.

I remember, also, that, as a people, Americans are remarkably familiar with all facts which make in their own favor. This is esteemed by some as a national trait - perhaps a national weakness. It is a fact, that whatever makes for the wealth or for the reputation of Americans, and can be had cheap! will be found by Americans. I shall not be charged with slandering Americans, if I say I think the American side of any question may be safely left in American hands.

I leave, therefore, the great deeds of your fathers to other gentlemen whose claim to have been regularly descended will be less likely to be disputed than mine!


My business, if I have any here to-day, is with the present. The accepted time with God and his cause is the ever-living now.

"Trust no future, however pleasant,
Let the dead past bury its dead;
Act, act in the living present,
Heart within, and God overhead."

We have to do with the past only as we can make it useful to the present and to the future. To all inspiring motives, to noble deeds which can be gained from the past, we are welcome. But now is the time, the important time. Your fathers have lived, died, and have done their work, and have done much of it well. You live and must die, and you must do your work. You have no right to enjoy a child's share in the labor of your fathers, unless your children are to be blest by your labors. You have no right to wear out and waste the hard-earned fame of your fathers to cover your indolence. Sydney Smith tells us that men seldom eulogize the wisdom and virtues of their fathers, but to excuse some folly or wickedness of their own. This truth is not a doubtful one. There are illustrations of it near and remote, ancient and modern. It was fashionable, hundreds of years ago, for the children of Jacob to boast, we have "Abraham to our father," when they had long lost Abraham's faith and spirit. That people contented themselves under the shadow of Abraham's great name, while they repudiated the deeds which made his name great. Need I remind you that a similar thing is being done all over this country to-day? Need I tell you that the Jews are not the only people who built the tombs of the prophets, and garnished the sepulchres of the righteous? Washington could not die fill he had broken the chains of his slaves. Yet his monument is built up by the price of human blood, and the traders in the bodies and souls of men, shout - "We have Washington to our father." Alas! that it should be so; yet so it is.

"The evil that men do, lives after them,
The good is oft' interred with their bones."

"What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence?"

Fellow-citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here to-day? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? and am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?

Would to God, both for your sakes and ours, that an affirmative answer could be truthfully returned to these questions! Then would my task be light, and my burden easy and delightful. For who is there so cold, that a nation's sympathy could not warm him? Who so obdurate and dead to the claims of gratitude, that would not thankfully acknowledge such priceless benefits? Who so stolid and selfish, that would not give his voice to swell the hallelujahs of a nation's jubilee, when the chains of servitude had been tom from his limbs? I am not that man. In a case like that, the dumb might eloquently speak, and the "lame man leap as an hart."

But, such is not the state of the case. I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth [of] July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak to-day? If so, there is a parallel to your conduct. And let me warn you that it is dangerous to copy the example of a nation whose crimes, lowering up to heaven, were thrown down by the breath of the Almighty, burying that nation in irrecoverable ruin! I can to-day take up the plaintive lament of a peeled and woe-smitten people!

"By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down. Yea! we wept when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. For there, they that carried us away captive, required of us a song; and they who wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion. How can we sing the Lord's song in a strange land? If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth."

Fellow-citizens; above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions! whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are, to-day, rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts that reach them. If I do forget, if I do not faithfully remember those bleeding children of sorrow this day, "may my right hand forget her cunning, and may my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth!" To forget them, to pass lightly over their wrongs, and to chime in with the popular theme, would be treason most scandalous and shocking, and would make me a reproach before God and the world. My subject, then fellow-citizens, is AMERICAN SLAVERY.

" Indeed, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just." Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia

[originally posted: 2004-07-05]

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July 3, 2013

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:40 PM

-ARCHIVES: 4th of July orations (Internet Archives)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:02 PM


John Adams & Thomas Jefferson (Craig Ceely, Solo HQ)
Jefferson, far more of a radical republican than Adams had ever been, could have been expected to introduce no innovations at all during his presidency. But it was Jefferson who, with no Constitutional authority at all, agreed to double the size of the United States by paying France fifteen million dollars for the Louisiana Territory. He was denounced for this by his own southern Republican allies in Congress - but he insisted that he had acted under the treaty-making authority of the presidency, and the purchase was ratified by the Senate. Jefferson's second term in office was marred by the treason trial of his vice-president, Aaron Burr, and by more war fever such as Adams had endured. When he left office in 1809, he was glad to return to Virginia.

By then, Philadelphia physician Benjamin Rush, who'd known both Adams and Jefferson in the Continental Congress, had been trying to effect a rapprochement between the two former friends for about two years. He succeeded: Adams and Jefferson exchanged letters and began a correspondence which lasted for Years - Adams, the strong Federalist who yet insisted on civilian control of the military and avoided war when powerful interests in his own party demanded it; Jefferson, the strict republican who nevertheless, when he had the chance, stretched the Constitution to its limits as far as he could. Their letters touched on each man's respective writings, their careers, and on contemporary affairs. Both agreed that posterity would judge them by what they'd done in 1776. In February 1825 Adams wrote to Jefferson, "I wish your health may continue to the last much better than mine....The little strength of mind and the considerable strength of body I once possessed appear to be all gone, but while I breathe I shall be your friend."

John Adams died peacefully on July 4, 1826 - the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of the Declaration of Independence. His last words were, "Thomas Jefferson still survives." A few hours later, Thomas Jefferson was gone.

Who would not be happy to be judged by what these two did in 1776? [originally posted: 2003-07-04]
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Posted by orrinj at 9:35 PM


Jeremiah's Johnson (Andrew Ferguson, July 2013, Commentary)

[Haynes] Johnson was his era's chief practitioner of Jeremiah journalism; the news he brought was always bad, and spongy with a thick syrup of moral reproach. He had his rivals. My favorite piece of Jeremiah journalism is The Reckoning, by David Halberstam, who took upon himself the grim duty of informing his fellow Americans that their entire country was about to be bought by small, sack-suited businessmen from Japan. This was in 1986.

Haynes had the same dirge playing endlessly in his head and in his books. In brief, which he never was, his theme was that America was falling apart. He first warned us about this in his 1980 book, In the Absence of Power. Ten years later, in Sleepwalking Through History, he warned us that America, during the misleadingly happy and prosperous Reagan years, had forgotten that it was falling apart. In Divided We Fall (1994), he produced fresh evidence that America was falling apart. And so on through the Age of Anxiety (2005) up to The Battle for America (2009). Most of his books were best-sellers. Leafing through them, I pluck at random the essential Haynes sentence: "Both at home and abroad, Americans live in a time of great uncertainties." And we still do!

The sentence could have been written by George Packer. Packer has inherited not only the prophetic and scolding tone of Haynes Johnson but also the master's professional tricks. I hope I'm not giving away trade secrets here. Johnson's books were what we hacks call a notebook dump. His job at the Washington Post allowed him to travel the country, filing stories about the increasingly chaotic and uncertain times. Invariably--through winter or fall, recession or recovery, foul weather or fair--he found a land of dwindling resources and rising cynicism and failing institutions, peopled by a handful of clueless or devious rich people, a lumpen mass of bitter but strangely noble poor people, a thin and brittle middle class, all trembling in fear that they will lose what they have or never get what they have not. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:33 PM


Collaboration : 9 Facts Every Creative Needs to Know About Collaborative Teams (Christian Jarrett, 99u)

1. The mere presence of other people can boost your performance.

One the earliest findings in social psychology was the "social facilitation" effect - the way the mere presence of other people engaged in the same task as us can boost our motivation. In 1920, social psychologist Floyd Allport showed that a group of people working individually at the same table performed better on a whole range of tasks even though they weren't cooperating or competing. Allport's research illustrates how the energy of other people can act as a substitute team even if we're working solo (this is why many creatives enjoy working at their local café surrounded by industrious strangers).

Posted by orrinj at 5:38 AM


In Egypt, Democrats vs. Liberals (SAMER S. SHEHATA, 7/03/13, NY Times)

Egypt has a dilemma: its politics are dominated by democrats who are not liberals and liberals who are not democrats.

The Muslim Brotherhood, Mr. Morsi's Islamist movement, accepts -- indeed excels at -- electoral competition. Voters in 2012 gave it a far stronger grip on power than poll numbers had suggested. But that was foreseeable: though outlawed, the group built an effective political machine, starting in the 1980s, as individual members ran (as independents) in legislative and professional labor-union elections, even though Mr. Mubarak always found artifices to deny them real power.

Fair elections have improved the Brotherhood's campaign skills. But it hasn't fully committed to pluralism or to equal rights for minorities. It participates in democracy, but doesn't want to share power.

Many in the opposition, on the other hand, believe fiercely in minority rights, personal freedoms, civil liberties and electoral coalition-building -- as long as the elections keep Islamists out of power. In other words, they are liberal without being democrats; they are clamoring fervently for Mr. Morsi's ouster and want the military to intervene. But they have proved themselves woefully unequipped to organize voters. Though my heart is with their democratic goals, I must admit that their commitment to democratic principles runs skin deep.

July 2, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 7:17 PM


IN THE LINE OF WILDFIRE : Drought and climate change have turned western forests into firebombs that go off every summer. Even with new technology, the essential weapon in the fight against flame are the Hotshots, an elite group of wilderness first responders who head straight for the heat. (KYLE DICKMAN, 6/13/13, Outside)

I ROLL OUT of my sleeping bag at 5 A.M., waking to the smell of dry grass and woodsmoke. I spent last night in the open, camped on rodeo grounds in the tiny Northern California town of Stonyford. Flames are visible on a ridge half a mile away. Time to go to work.

It's July 12, 2012, and I'm about to be sent to my first forest fire of the season. I arrived yesterday to meet up with the Tahoe Hotshots, an elite group of wilderness fire-fighters based about 120 miles east of here, in a Sierra foothills town called Camptonville. The Tahoe team is part of a sprawling, multifaceted army: 177 federal, state, and county crews who must try and stop a fast-moving, 17,000-acre blaze before it spreads into Stonyford. Known as the Mill Fire, it was started on July 7 by lost hikers and raced east through the Coast Range and the Mendocino National Forest. Drought conditions and 60-mile-per-hour Pacific winds have fueled its advance; already, five buildings have burned on the edge of town.

The U.S. Forest Service, which usually runs the show when a big fire breaks out on federal land, has declared the Mill to be a national priority, and there are 1,500 wildland firefighters from around the West assembled to battle it. Some work on engine crews, manning the trucks that deliver water to the front lines. Others are smoke jumpers, who parachute straight into burning forests from cargo planes to stop small fires from growing. Some, like my group, are hotshots, backcountry firefighters who use chainsaws, Pulaskis, and rakes to cut firebreaks of bare earth around a blaze.

At the moment, though, all of us seem to be standing in the same line waiting for coffee and breakfast, which is being served at a mess tent staffed by high school students from inner-city Oakland. I work my way to the front, fill a Styrofoam cup, and head toward a set of rodeo bleachers to meet my boss, Rick Cowell, the 55-year-old superintendent of the Tahoe Hotshots.

"Dickman, you should have been here yesterday!" he says when he sees me. "We had a hell of a shift!"

Back before I had a desk job, I was a full-time hotshot. In 2006, I worked with the Tahoe crew, and this year Cowell agreed to let me rejoin. I arrived here too late for yesterday's action, when the crew cut a line around a spot fire that started after an ember flew over a firebreak.

A six-foot, 170-pound man of Karuk Indian descent, Cowell has a broad chest, a beaked nose, and hands that feel like elephant hide. He's fought nearly 800 blazes in his 36-year career, and his experience and leadership are a big part of why Tahoe is one of the best hotshot crews in the country.

Our job today is to cut and dig a line while engine crews hose down the fire, air tankers dump chemical retardant, and helicopters drop water from above. Once the Mill is surrounded by firebreaks and established logging roads, hotshots will intentionally burn brush and trees inside the perimeter, starving the fire of fuel. The stakes are high. If we succeed the flames stop. If we don't, Stonyford, a town of about 150, and a forest the size of Boston will burn.

Posted by orrinj at 5:23 PM


Tom Osborne Goes for Two : On the stunning gamble taken by Nebraska's head coach in the 1984 Orange Bowl (Michael Weinreb, July 2, 2013, Grantland)

"I was disappointed," Osborne writes about this failure, "and yet it was certainly not a shattering experience."

If almost any other football coach said this in an autobiography, I would assume he never actually bothered to read his own book. But this is what set Tom Osborne apart during all those years as head coach at Nebraska: He really did seem to exist on his own spiritual plane, set apart from the egotism that drives most of the men in his profession. He was such an overpowering believer in the Christian arc of sin and redemption that he occasionally gave too much leeway to those who didn't deserve it (Exhibit A: Phillips, Lawrence; Exhibit B: Peter, Christian). Even after his periodic character misjudgments, even after an unremarkable political career, Osborne remains the paragon of Nebraskan virtue -- his approval rating in the state after he lost a gubernatorial election, according to a 2011 Public Policy Polling survey, was 86 percent, making him "the most popular person PPP has ever polled on anywhere."

Some of this, of course, is because Tom Osborne was a remarkably successful football coach, especially later in his career. But really, only a man so confident in the karmic arc of the universe could have made the decision that Osborne did in 1984, and only a man who was willing to subvert politics could have survived the repercussions of that decision with the dignity that Tom Osborne did (which is why his move into real-life politics always seemed more like a default move than one based on passion). He had a national championship in hand, the easy way, if he wanted it. But Osborne refused to reduce the national championship to a campaign. He worked around the Argument -- the push and pull of a championship system measured by opinion polls -- that had defined the sport since its earliest days. And in doing so, he struck another blow in the long fight to cleave the Argument to pieces.

There were some inherently notable obstacles that hindered then-undefeated Nebraska in the final moments of the 1984 Orange Bowl, trailing one-loss Miami 31-24 with one minute and 47 seconds to play. The first was that Nebraska was attempting to overcome this deficit against the Hurricanes in front of its home crowd in Miami; a coach with a more combative nature than Osborne might have argued that the nation's no. 1 team -- a squad that had averaged 52 points per game and was already acknowledged as among the greatest of all time -- probably didn't deserve to play a road game for the national championship. The second obstacle was that the Cornhuskers were without Mike Rozier, who, in retrospect, may have been the greatest running back in college football history; he was on the bench, his ankle sprained,5 while his team drove downfield for the potential game-tying or game-winning score.

The third notable obstacle on this drive was Irving Fryar. Irving Fryar, of course, played for Nebraska. Irving Fryar may have been the best wide receiver in Cornhuskers history. But something weird happened here, and I'm not even sure how to talk about it without casting aspersions on Fryar himself -- I have no proof of any foul play, and I'm not sure anyone else does, either -- but I have never seen a receiver of Fryar's prodigious ability drop a pass in the way he did in the midst of this drive. There he was, streaking across the middle of the field, wide open in the end zone, and Nebraska's quarterback, Turner Gill, hit him directly in the hands. Fryar seemed to bat the ball away as if he were fighting off a rabid squirrel. Equally strange: Fryar went to the ground in the back of the end zone, hands to his helmet, in what I'll just assume was a moment of genuine self-pitying introspection, and a gang of Orange Bowl executives -- the guys in the awful, mustard sport coats -- leaped up and down and celebrated right next to him. You want a five-second exposé on the inherent corruption of college football's postseason system, you could do worse than that moment right there.

The fourth notable obstacle on this drive: Facing a fourth-and-8 with the game on the line, Osborne ran the ball. Technically, it was a play called "41 sprint pass," a run-throw quarterback option, but there was really only one option for Gill to throw to, and that was Fryar running a slant. And given what had just happened, the only viable option for Gill was to keep the damn thing himself, which he did, pitching at the last moment to a second-string I-back named Jeff Smith, who careered around the edge of the line and down the sideline and into the end zone on the kind of crazy play that no coach would have the cojones to execute in today's game.

The fifth notable obstacle on this drive, of course, was Osborne himself. When his team scored those six points, he didn't hesitate. It was clear he had made up his mind long ago: He would go for two points here.6 He would not settle, as Ara Parseghian had done at Notre Dame years before; he would not put this in the hands of the poll voters, even though those poll voters would have almost certainly rewarded him with a title merely for mustering a tie game in a hostile stadium with a team that had scored more points than any squad since 1944.

Osborne didn't seem to factor any of this into his thinking. He went for the two. He went for the outright victory, wrote one columnist, "in a rare display of courage, arrogance and selfishness." He lined up three receivers to the right, and Gill threw in the flat to Smith, and the pass was tipped away, and Osborne's gambit failed, and Miami won the national championship.

And no coach has ever succeeded by failing in the way Osborne has.

...you should never punt nor kick except on kickoffs.    
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July 1, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 7:25 PM


No Self-Mockery, Please, We're American (Terry Eagleton, 7/01/13, The Chronicle Review)

Despite all this, no more generous, open-minded, and enthusiastic group of students can be found in the world. American students tend to be courteous, responsive, cooperative, eager to acquire ideas and ready to criticize anything whatsoever, not least themselves. They are also the last group of students on the planet who are prepared to speak up in class.

One of the gravest moral defects of Americans is that they tend to be straight, honest, and plain-speaking. There have been various attempts to cure them of those vices, including the establishment of clinics where they can receive intensive therapy for their distressing tendency to mean what they say. Even with compulsory daily readings of Oscar Wilde, however, it is hard to rid them of the prejudice that there is something admirable about what you see being what you get. ("I live in constant fear of not being misunderstood," Wilde once remarked, a statement it is hard to imagine on the lips of Pat Robertson.)

For puritan types, appearances must correspond with realities, the outer presenting a faithful portrait of the inner, whereas irony involves a skewing of the two. To the puritan mind, appearances are acceptable only if they convey a substantial inner truth. Otherwise they are to be mistrusted as specious and superficial.

Hence the familiar American insistence that what matters about a person is what is inside. It is a claim that sits oddly with a society obsessed with self-presentation. There is no room here for what Lenin called the reality of appearances, no appreciation of just how profound surfaces can be, no rejoicing in forms, masks, and signifiers for their own sake.

In The American Scene, James writes of the country's disastrous disregard for appearances. For the Calvinist, a delight in anything for its own sake is sinful. Pleasure must be instrumental to some more worthy goal, such as procreation, rather as play on children's television in America must be tied to some grimly didactic purpose. It can rarely be an end in itself. The fact that there is no social reality without its admixture of artifice, that truth works in terms of masks and conventions, is fatally overlooked.

Language for the puritan is at its finest when it clings to the unvarnished facts. 

Because we eschew political correctness we can actually say what we mean.  It's why we have a monopoly on comedy.
Posted by orrinj at 7:21 PM


Gay Marriage: A Country is Moving, It's People Not So Much : Comparing a multi-year study of attitudes with other surveys suggests that America's growing acceptance of gay marriage does not automatically mean that individual attitudes have budged. (Michael Todd, 7/01/13, Pacific Standard)

[A] new white paper from Rice University's Portraits of American Life Study, which looks at the religious attitudes of the exact same group of 1,294 randomly sampled Americans captured in 2006 and again last year, reports that opinions not only aren't changing, but positions are hardening. Yes, on this issue as on so many right now, Americans are more divided than ever, although not as cleanly along the red-blue fault lines as you  might see, say, on Obamacare.

How can it be that attitudes are changing if attitudes aren't changing?

In part, according to Rice sociologists Michael O. Emerson and Laura J. Essenberg, because the attitude change has been exaggerated. "In fact," they write in the white paper (PDF), "we find that statistically, there was no change in people's response to legal marriage being defined as one man and one woman. In both years, slightly over half of adult Americans agreed with the statement (57 percent agreed in 2006, 53 percent agreed in 2012, not a statistically significant change) about one-third disagreed, and the remainder were uncertain."

Posted by orrinj at 7:12 PM


Is Anything Stopping a Truly Massive Build-Out of Desert Solar Power? : Engineers and industry agree that although challenges abound in utility-scale solar in the sunniest places on Earth, we have the technology to go big in the desert (Dave Levitan, 7/01/13, Scientific American)

The vast and glittering Ivanpah solar facility in California will soon start sending electrons to the grid, likely by the end of the summer. When all three of its units are operating by the end of the year, its 392-megawatt output will make it the largest concentrating solar power plant in the world, providing enough energy to power 140,000 homes. And it is pretty much smack in the middle of nowhere.

The appeal of building solar power plants in deserts like Ivanpah's Mojave is obvious, especially when the mind-blowing statistics get thrown around, such as: The world's deserts receive more energy beamed down from the sun in six hours than humankind uses in a year. Or, try this one: Cover around 4 percent of all deserts with solar panels, and you generate enough electricity to power the world. In other words, if we're looking for energy--and of course, we are--those sandy sunny spots are a good place to start.

Posted by orrinj at 5:21 AM


Can we make ourselves happier? (Pascale Harter, 7/01/13, BBC News)

Studies collated by the database say you tend to be happier if you:

Are in a long-term relationship

Are actively engaged in politics

Are active in work and in your free time

Go out for dinner

Have close friendships (though happiness does not increase with the number of friends you have) [...]

And be careful of that morning commute to work.

A German study (by Frey and Stutzer published in 2004) found a strong link between time spent commuting and satisfaction with life. Those who spent an hour on their journey to work were found to be significantly less happy that those who did not commute.

And the study suggests that higher earnings from a job that involves commuting do not compensate for the time lost.

Posted by orrinj at 5:17 AM


The Great War's End in Syria (Jaswant Singh, 1 July 2013, Project Syndicate)

As Middle East analyst Murtaza Hussain recently observed: "Syria and Iraq, formerly unified Arab states formed after the defeat of their former Ottoman rulers, exist today only in name." What will emerge could be a fragmented, easily manipulated region.

This is why Syria's civil war is now a geopolitical battle for regional domination, with multiple fractures along sectarian lines. As is now clear, no country is really free of the charge of interfering in Syria. While Shia-majority Iraq has attempted to portray itself as neutral, it has permitted Iranian flights to use its airspace to carry weapons to President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

Iran, too, has long used its alliance with Syria to pursue its interests in the Levant, which include support for Hezbollah in Lebanon. On the ground, Hezbollah, now openly fighting in Syria to keep Assad in power, asserts that "war is coming to Aleppo," the ancient city that is the heart of the anti-Assad rebellion.

Indeed, according to Lakhdar Brahimi, who serves as Joint Special Representative of the United Nations and the Arab League for Syria, there are an estimated 148 groups, big and small, fighting in the country. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia and Qatar - which Middle East commentator Saeed Naqvi has called the "most vulnerable Sunni Kingdoms" - attempt "to divert popular discontent along sectarian, Shia-Sunni lines."

This ancient fracture, papered over by Sir Mark Sykes and François Georges-Picot 97 years ago in their secret agreement, has now swallowed Syria, with Assad portrayed as some sort of Alawite ogre. Many Western diplomats appear to be of the same superficial cast of mind as Sykes and Picot, believing that Assad's fall from power would remove Syria from the Iran-Hezbollah-Hamas axis.

But will it? And who or what will replace Assad? Surely not the ragtag groups fighting Assad's regime, even if the United States now supplies some of them with arms, as President Barack Obama's administration recently announced.

Recent history suggests just how malleable the elements in play in Syria really are. Consider Saudi Arabia's actions there. As Bruce Riedel, an ex-CIA analyst and former National Security Council member, recently noted, "Ironically, [Saudi intelligence chief Prince] Bandar was crucial to the transition in Syria from Hafez Assad to Bashar back in 2000, assuring key Alawite generals, then in the regime, that Bashar was up to the job and had Saudi support." Now the same Prince Bandar "is trying to get arms to the Sunni rebels to oust Bashar."

Self-determination is just coming to the region 100 years too late.