August 31, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 9:06 PM


A Carbon Tax That America Could Live With (N. GREGORY MANKIW, 9/01/13, NY Times)

Fortunately, a policy broader in scope is possible, which brings us to the third approach to dealing with climate externalities: putting a price on carbon emissions. If the government charged a fee for each emission of carbon, that fee would be built into the prices of products and lifestyles. When making everyday decisions, people would naturally look at the prices they face and, in effect, take into account the global impact of their choices. In economics jargon, a price on carbon would induce people to "internalize the externality."

A bill introduced this year by Representatives Henry A. Waxman and Earl Blumenauer and Senators Sheldon Whitehouse and Brian Schatz does exactly that. Their proposed carbon fee -- or carbon tax, if you prefer -- is more effective and less invasive than the regulatory approach that the federal government has traditionally pursued. [...]

Among economists, the issue is largely a no-brainer. In December 2011, the IGM Forum asked a panel of 41 prominent economists about this statement: "A tax on the carbon content of fuels would be a less expensive way to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions than would a collection of policies such as 'corporate average fuel economy' requirements for automobiles." Ninety percent of the panelists agreed.

Posted by orrinj at 10:15 AM


The Genius of American Citizenship (Richard Samuelson, August 29, 2013, Claremont Review of Books)

Joseph Stalin apparently coined the term "American exceptionalism" to denounce the heresy that Marx's universal historical laws would somehow not apply to the United States. Though it's now clear that every nation is an exception to the historical dialectic that was supposed to culminate in the triumph of the proletariat over the bourgeoisie, the U.S. remains an exceptional nation in other crucial ways. Anyone who becomes an American citizen is fully American, from that day forward. By contrast, a naturalized citizen of France, Japan, or Nigeria can live for decades in his new country, and his family can remain there for generations, yet many of the locals will still think of them as foreigners. To be sure, there is an American culture. When traveling around the world, one can often spot other Americans, and not only because of language; dress, deportment, and music often distinguish us. But when it comes to American nationalism, such things are relatively trivial. In America, politics, not culture, makes the nation. [...]

In 1776 American revolutionaries decided to cease being British subjects in order to become American citizens. That radical step changed not just the allegiance of the colonists, but the nature of that allegiance. Under British law, all persons born on British soil were his majesty's subjects. One could cease being a British subject only with the king's consent.

The revolution represented a movement from subjects to citizens. Subjects, as the term implied, were subject to the laws, possessing rights because the government magnanimously granted them. Similarly, in English law, all real property ultimately belonged to the king. Most property titles were "use-holds," rather than true ownership. Citizens, by contrast, are freemen and equals, possessing rights by nature and binding themselves together, voluntarily, to forge a polity. In American law, we own private property outright.
Until the imperial crisis began in the 1760s, the colonists had been proud to be British subjects, enjoying the "rights of Englishmen," as their birthright. Those rights were, in fact, a practical approximation of the rights of men, but they were understood to be the rights of a particular people as well. Between 1761 and 1776, it became clear to Americans that the British did not respect the rights of Englishmen in America. Sir Francis Bernard, the crown-appointed governor of Massachusetts in the 1760s, held that "the rule that a British subject shall not be bound by laws, or liable to taxes, but what he has consented to by his representatives must be confined to the inhabitants of Great Britain only." His successor, Thomas Hutchinson, insisted that in North America "there must be an abridgment of what are called English liberties." These ideas, put into law, meant that the colonists had to choose between being British subjects and retaining their rights. The Americans chose their rights. As a result, American citizenship would be based upon the rights of men rather than the rights of Englishmen. The penchant for universals, and for the robust discussion of them that has been so long remarkable in American history, was affirmed and established. [...]

If it is true that the political character of American nationhood has made it exceptional, it is worth asking about the implications of that mode of nationalism for American politics, broadly speaking. It seems that a political--as opposed to a cultural, tribal, or historic--nationalism has been the complement of a limited, constitutional republic. That is probably not a coincidence.

Jefferson and Madison made this point with particular clarity in some of their best-known writings. In his First Inaugural Address Jefferson connected "[a] rising nation, spread over a wide and fruitful land" with "a wise and frugal Government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, [and] shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned." Jefferson noted, as well, the character of the American nation: "possessing a chosen country,...entertaining a due sense of our equal right to the use of our own faculties, to the acquisitions of our own industry, to honor and confidence from our fellow-citizens, resulting not from birth, but from our actions and their sense of them."

What made this regime so good at welcoming immigrants? In part, as we noted earlier, it was because of America's self-understanding as a "voluntary association of individuals," rather than a nation of groups. Such a republic was characterized by the kind of government Jefferson described. Moreover, it would feature a robust civil society. Pondering the temperance movement of the early 19th century, Alexis de Tocqueville was, at first, both amused and baffled.

The first time that I heard in America that one hundred thousand men had publicly promised never to drink alcoholic liquor, I thought it more of a joke than a serious matter.... In the end I came to understand that these hundred thousand Americans, frightened by the progress of drunkenness around them, wanted to support sobriety by their patronage. They were acting in just the same way as some great territorial magnate who dresses very plainly to encourage a contempt of luxury among simple citizens.

Importantly, Tocqueville continued, "one may fancy that if they had lived in France each of these hundred thousand would have made individual representations to the government asking it to supervise all the public houses throughout the realm." Citizens do collectively, in the expansive American private sphere, what subjects ask the government to do for them. Citizens understand the duties that come with the rights they enjoy as men and citizens. Just as it was then the job of private citizens and local associations to take care of the poor, the widow, and the orphan, so too was it the job of private citizens to try to moderate excessive drinking. But if rights are understood as the gift of government to the people, then it is also the duty of government to regulate the use and abuse of those rights. And should our government take over that sphere, it changes the regime fundamentally.
An extensive national government with centralized administrative power is likely to be one dominated by what James Madison termed factions. "By a faction," Madison wrote, "I understand a number of citizens whether amounting to a majority or minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community." A faction was a group, be it a minority or even a majority, that sought through government to secure its own interest, rather than the good of the community as a whole.

What was the remedy to that problem? "If a faction consists of less than a majority," he noted, "relief is supplied by the republican principle." A minority faction can simply be outvoted. The danger of majority faction, however, was real. That being the case, the best way to prevent majority factions was, he reasoned, an extended republic--"extend the sphere and you take in a greater variety of parties and interests; you make it less probable that a majority of the whole will have a common motive to invade the rights of other citizens." The larger the republic, the more likely it was that all factions would be easily tamed minority factions, seeking but never securing private advantages adverse to the common good.

But what if a majority faction is assembled by gathering together a coalition of minority ones? It seems to be a rule of politics that the more areas of our lives government is directly involved with, the easier it is to assemble such coalitions. That was one reason why so many Jeffersonians, including Madison, opposed most internal improvements. They viewed them as the entering wedge for government support of private interest. Still, there is a difference between a government that supplies actual public goods like roads, canals and the like, and a government that serves the private interests of self-seeking factions.

The Madisonian argument, in short, cuts against "pluralism," the idea that government functions in a democratic republic through relations with competing interest and ideological groups rather than with individuals. The pluralist model assumes out of existence the idea of a true, knowable common good. Instead, it presumes that the common good is the good of the dominant groups in society, which compete for support in a democratic process. Pluralism makes it perfectly reasonable for government to grow and grow, providing more and more support to more and more groups along the way, providing infrastructure for a more or less permanent majority coalition of factions.

When government sees its job as serving or servicing groups, it is likely that the smaller the group, the less it will get from government, as political life becomes a mad scramble of rent-seeking. Down that road lies hyphenated citizenship, as each American relates to the government not as an individual citizen but as a member of one or more factions. Moreover, it points us back toward aristocracy, where the government relates to the leaders of each group, rather than regarding individual citizens as the ultimate boss. It creates an America where "government is the only thing we all belong to," as the Charlotte, North Carolina, video welcoming delegates to the 2012 Democratic National Convention proclaimed. In that America we do not all belong to the polity as equal citizens, creating together the government by which we secure those public goods that cannot be secured any other way. When government does only a few things, and those things involve genuine public goods, the rent-seeking scramble is likely to be more trouble than it's worth--and when it does take place it is less likely to ruin those who refuse to kowtow to the administrators.

Consider then the idea that one of the best ways to safeguard the health of the Republic is precisely by universalizing the social welfare net.  A system that guarantees access to health care, education, housing, and unemployment and retirement accounts potentially deadens factionalism.  Done via First Way market mechanisms it is potentially self-sustaining.

We all know that's where we're headed and it's what electorates throughout the Anglosphere vote for every election, but the Left persists in battling against capitalist solutions to funding welfare and the Right continues its rearguard action against social welfare itself.  As is generally the case, the People know better.

Posted by orrinj at 10:08 AM


Low Inflation Complicates Fed's Decision (JOSH MITCHELL, 8/31/13, WSJ)

Compared with a year earlier, overall prices were up 1.4% while core prices rose 1.2%. The report is the last reading of this inflation measure before the Fed's Sept. 17-18 meeting, where officials are expected to consider reducing the central bank's $ 85 billion-a-month bond-buying program. The bond-buying is aimed at boosting economic growth by lowering long-term interest rates, which the Fed hopes will spur spending, hiring and investment.

The Fed's bond-buying and its promises to keep short-term interest rates low for a long time reflect discomfort that it is failing on both prongs of its mandate-to aim for maximum employment and stable prices, which it defines as inflation of about 2 %. A decision to begin scaling back the extraordinary monetary stimulus will be based on Fed officials' near-term forecasts for growth, jobs and inflation as well as their assessment of the risks the economy confronts. that we remain above maximum employment.  Prices will keep falling as we shed ever more make-work jobs. It's a deflationary epoch, the Fed just needs to monitor it and try to make sure it remains a healthy one.

Posted by orrinj at 10:00 AM


Private Sector Shrugs Off Sequester (WSJ, 8/29/13)

The latest reading of second-quarter gross domestic product released Thursday showed that the economy grew faster than previously estimated from April to June, its best performance since last year's third quarter.

That was during a period when budget cuts, which started in March, were expected to take a bite out of economic growth. The $ 85 billion in cuts through the government's fiscal year ending Sept. 30, also known as the sequester, came on top of higher taxes for almost all Americans starting in January. Some economists-and many Washington politicians-warned of troubling consequences for the timid recovery.

Instead, the US economy delivered "an impressively resilient performance" in the first half of the year, Morgan Stanley economist Ted Wieseman said.

The last time we closed post-war deficits it gave us the 90s.  Let's do it again.

Posted by orrinj at 9:55 AM


Scientific Paradigms and Public Education (Steven Jonathan Rummelsburg, August 2013, Imaginative Conservative)

In 1962, historian of science Thomas S. Kuhn shocked the academic world with his book The Structures of Scientific Revolution. He asserted that scientific communities are closed-minded and promote convergent thinking as a function of dogma in scientific work. The jolt is that science is popularly thought of as promoting divergent thinking and open-minded inquiry. Kuhn concedes that in the beginning when questions are first arising around a subject this is the case, but once a field rounds up its foundational questions, it forms a set of assumptions that become the dogmatic underpinnings of that community. Kuhn explains that "a scientific community cannot practice its trade without some set of espoused beliefs."

Kuhn called these sets of assumptions scientific paradigms and though there has been much confusion about this word, by paradigm he meant two basic things. First, the notion of a model, a piece of work in a scientific discipline that serves as an example for other works in that discipline. Second, a disciplinary matrix or a view of the world and what an explanation of it should look like. He asserted that this is something you acquire as a result of having worked through typical questions in a particular discipline or community.

Kuhn characterized normal science as the work scientists do with a paradigm. The paradigm is a blueprint and the regular work of scientists is to solve puzzles that fill out the paradigm. If a scientist and his experiment do not prove the assumptions they are considered a failure, not the paradigm. These unsolved puzzles are rejected by the community, not based on whether or not they are true, but because they did not support the paradigm.

Over time the unsolved puzzles accumulate and eventually there are variations and a divergent view grows and leads to a paradigm breakdown and thus the ground is laid for revolt. This process leads to extraordinary science which aims at inculcating a replacement paradigm. Kuhn says that "a shift in professional commitments to shared assumptions takes place when an anomaly subverts the existing tradition of scientific practice."

These shifts are what Kuhn calls scientific revolutions. He noted that changes in science were less changes in reality than changes in fashion. His theory called into question the accepted notion that science is a rational approach to interpreting reality and asserts it is more of a social phenomenon similar to that of mob rule. An interesting fruit of the tree of Kuhn's theory is Scientific America's diatribe series against Ben Stein's movie Expelled.

To be a Christian is to believe in certain eternal truths. To be a Bright is to be just as devoted to the current scientific theory.

Posted by orrinj at 9:49 AM


Regime Change (WILLIAM KRISTOL, 8/30/13, Weekly Standard)

[P]ressing the appropriate charges in this case means removing Assad.

So whatever the president and the secretary of state may now say about the mission in Syria being "limited" and "narrow," one trusts they know the mission will only be a success if Assad goes. Regime change is not only Assad's just reward. It's also the best hope for a modicum of stability in and near Syria. And it's the only message other WMD-loving dictators will understand.

Posted by orrinj at 9:33 AM


Four Reasons You Shouldn't Exist : Physics says you're an impurity in an otherwise beautiful universe. (Dave Goldberg, Aug. 29, 2013, Slate)

You're almost unfathomably lucky to exist, in almost every conceivable way. Don't take it the wrong way. You, me, and even the most calming manatee are nothing but impurities in an otherwise beautifully simple universe.

We're lucky life began on Earth at all, of course, and that something as complex as humans evolved. It was improbable that your parents met each other and conceived you at just the right instant, and their parents and their parents and so on back to time immemorial. This is science's way of reminding you to be grateful for what you have.

But even so, I have news for you: It's worse than you think. Much worse.

Your existence wasn't just predicated on amorousness and luck of your ancestors, but on an almost absurdly finely tuned universe. Had the universe opted to turn up the strength of the electromagnetic force by even a small factor, poof! Suddenly stars wouldn't be able to produce any heavy elements, much less the giant wet rock we're standing on. Worse, if the universe were only minutely denser than the one we inhabit, it would have collapsed before it began.

If only we'd burned Copernicus at the stake.
Posted by orrinj at 9:17 AM


Meet Mr. Bagehot : How 'the greatest Victorian' speaks to us. (Gertrude Himmelfarb, September 9, 2013, Weekly Standard)

After graduating from college (University College London, not Oxford as his mother would have preferred, because his father objected to its religious requirement), Bagehot started the study of law, but found that uncongenial--starving, he complained, his "higher half thoughts, half instincts." A visit to Oxford acquainted him with the followers of John Henry Newman and prompted him to read and admire the man, although not to agree with him. Reflecting on the division in his own life between his mother's Anglicanism and his father's Unitarianism, Bagehot came to a view of religion that transcended any doctrinal creed: "In religious matters, it is prudent to venerate what we do not comprehend. .  .  . We cannot prove that God is infinite, omnipotent and good, but we require the assumption that He is so or all is dark." "Despite my doubting temper," he concluded, "I sought a rational, consoling creed."   

Another visit, this time to Paris, brought to the fore the political side of his "doubting temper." He came there in 1851, at the age of 25, just in time to witness the coup d'état of Louis-Napoleon and report upon it in a series of articles for the Inquirer, a Unitarian weekly. In a mood that might be interpreted, he confessed, as "satiric playfulness," even "cynicism," he proceeded to shock his "high-minded" liberal readers by defending the coup. "I am pleased to have seen a revolution, but once is enough," he told them. 

That "revolution" turned out to be for the young Bagehot what the momentous French Revolution was for Edmund Burke, moving him to entertain ideas that were at odds not only with those of his friends but with those of most of his countrymen. Unlike Burke, however, Bagehot approved of this revolution. "The first duty of society is the preservation of society," he reminded his readers. It was in the face of a threatening social anarchy that Napoleon was justified in taking over the government and asserting a strong executive power tantamount to dictatorship. 

Almost apologetically, Bagehot introduced another theme to account for the coup: "national character .  .  . the least changeable thing in this ever-changeful world." It was the distinctive national characters of the two countries that made French politics so volatile and the English so stable. It was at this point that Bagehot "provocatively," as he said, used the word "stupidity" to explain the character of the English people and thus the stability of their regime: 

The most essential mental quality for a free people whose liberty is to be progressive, permanent, and on a large scale, is what I provocatively call stupidity. .  .  . Stupidity [is] the roundabout common sense and dull custom that steers the opinion of most men. .  .  . Nations, just as individuals, may be too clever to be practical, and not dull enough to be free. Dullness is the English line, as cleverness is that of the French. 

Many years later, expressed somewhat more delicately, but still provocatively, this was to be one of the leading themes of The English Constitution.
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Posted by orrinj at 9:07 AM


The Sound of Going to Pieces : The Clash's surviving members recount the making of a punk anthem (MARC MYERS, 8/29/13, WSJ)

Mick Jones: The initial inspiration for the song "London Calling" wasn't British politics. It was our fear of drowning. In 1979 we saw a headline on the front of the London Evening Standard warning that the North Sea might rise and push up the Thames, flooding the city. We flipped. To us, the headline was just another example of how everything was coming undone.

Paul Simonon: In the '70s, when we formed the band, there was a lot of tension in Britain, lots of strikes, and the country was an economic mess. There also was aggression toward anyone who looked different--especially the punks. So the name the Clash seemed appropriate for the band's name.

Before "London Calling," we didn't really have a manager or rehearsal space, so we were drifting about. Our road crew found us space off Vauxhall Bridge Road in the Pimlico section along the Thames. It was a thin, drafty soundproof room upstairs in the back of a garage.

Mr. Jones: We rehearsed hard each day--taking a break in the afternoons to cross the road to a fenced-in playground where we played football. It was like team-building thing. We had a strong sense of togetherness.

[Lead singer] Joe Strummer was living in a building along the Thames and feared potential flooding. He did two or three drafts of lyrics that I then widened until the song became this warning about the doom of everyday life. We were a bit ahead of the global warming thing, weren't we?

The line about phony Beatlemania biting the dust was aimed at all the touristy sound-alike rock bands in London in the late '70s. We were fans of the Beatles, the Who and the Kinks--but we wanted to remake all of that. We wanted "London Calling" to reclaim the raw, natural culture. We looked back to earlier rock music with great pleasure, but many of the issues people were facing were new and frightening. Our message was more urgent--that things were going to pieces.

...while the lyrics generally consist of dopey leftist tropes decrying a society they see disintegrating in the face of conservative onslaught, the reality is that the music came along just as the great conservative/reformist wave--Thatcher, Reagan, Kohl, Mulroney, Nakasone, (even Andropov)--was coming to power and reversing the tide.  

On the other hand, the music is a rebellion against the corporatist, conservative, homogenous, bombastic, pretentious mush that the music industry had become and the punks routed that lot.

Of course, The Clash also produced the single greatest rock song of all time.  Not bad for a day's work.

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Posted by orrinj at 8:54 AM


An Accidental War : Perfunctory and ineffectual war-making in Syria is worse than nothing. (Mark Steyn, 8/30/13, National Review)

I see the Obama "reset" is going so swimmingly that the president is now threatening to go to war against a dictator who gassed his own people. Don't worry, this isn't anything like the dictator who gassed his own people that the discredited warmonger Bush spent 2002 and early 2003 staggering ever more punchily around the country inveighing against. The 2003 dictator who gassed his own people was the leader of the Baath Party of Iraq. The 2013 dictator who gassed his own people is the leader of the Baath Party of Syria. Whole other ball of wax. [...]

Oh, well. If the British won't be along for the ride, the French are apparently still in. What was the old gag from a decade ago during those interminable U.N. resolutions with Chirac saying "Non!" every time? Ah, yes: "Going to war without the French is like going hunting without an accordion." Oddly enough, the worst setback for the Islamic imperialists in recent years has been President Hollande's intervention in Mali, where, unlike the money-no-object Pentagon, the French troops had such undernourished supply lines that they had to hitch a ride to the war on C-17 transports from the Royal Air Force and Royal Canadian Air Force. And yet they won -- insofar as anyone ever really wins on that benighted sod.

Meanwhile, the hyperpower is going to war because Obama wandered off prompter and accidentally made a threat. So he has to make good on it, or America will lose its credibility. But he only wants to make good on it in a perfunctory and ineffectual way. So America will lose its credibility anyway.

The Chemical Evidence (WSJ, 8/30/13)

"If we choose to live in a world where a thug and a murderer like Bashar al-Assad can gas thousands of his own people with impunity, even after the United States and our allies said no, and then the world does nothing about it, there will be no end to the test of our resolve and the dangers that will flow from those others who believe that they can do as they will, "Mr. Kerry declared.

George W. Bush and Tony Blair couldn't have said it better

Just as this is a "gotcha" moment for the UR and the Cabana Boy, so is it one for the opposite reason for Friend Steyn.  We're going to war because a Ba'athist dictator oppresses the religious majority of his country.  It's what the Crusader State does.

August 29, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 3:57 PM


Teachers Roil Mexico Capital (JOSÉ DE CÓRDOBA, 8/27/13, WSJ)

Wall Street has begun to worry that the delay in passing the first step of the education law--which would make teacher evaluations mandatory and allow poorly performing teachers to be dismissed--could set back Mr. Peña Nieto's ambitious plans.

"We view the fact that Congress has not yet approved the creating a bad precedent," wrote Citi Research in a research note Monday. "This could energize movements opposed to other reforms."

The union blames Mexico's poor state of education--which the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development ranks near the bottom of its membership--on inadequate funds. It says Mr. Peña Nieto's proposal effectively privatizes schools and doesn't take into account Mexico's indigenous cultures. Its members also say the law threatens their labor rights and vow not to back down. [...]

Critics of the union say that far from being concerned about the education of their students, many of teachers want to protect lifetime jobs that they say are sold or often passed from generation to generation.

Posted by orrinj at 3:53 PM


Second-Quarter Growth Revised Upward (JONATHAN HOUSE, 8/29/13, WSJ)

The nation's gross domestic product, the broadest measure of goods and services produced in the economy, grew at a 2.5% annual rate in the second quarter, an upward revision from an initial estimate of 1.7% reported last month, the Commerce Department said Thursday. Economists had forecast a revised second-quarter growth rate of 2.2%.

Corporate profits rose 2.6% in the second quarter from the first, indicating companies should be in a better position to add workers and increase investments in the months ahead.

..lay off employees and drive their profits higher?

August 28, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 9:23 PM


Posted by orrinj at 5:52 PM


On Syria, a Drumbeat With Some Echoes of Iraq (MARK LANDLER, 8/29/13, NY Times)

A grim-faced secretary of state reading a bill of charges against a rogue Arab leader. The White House promising intelligence that will provide proof about weapons of mass destruction. Frenetic efforts to piece together a coalition of the willing. Breathless news reports about imminent bombing raids.

The days since the deadly chemical weapons attack last week in Syria carry an eerie echo of the tense days leading up to the American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Some veterans of that period are expressing qualms that this time, too, the war drums are beating too loudly.

"There's some risk," said Thomas Fingar, a fellow at Stanford University's Institute for International Studies. "Political pressure is a factor. It appears to me that the situation has crossed a tipping point." In short, he said, the case for military action has moved so rapidly that it has become difficult for those counseling restraint.

Mr. Fingar has firsthand experience of these situations. He was the head of the State Department's intelligence bureau, which dissented from the Bush administration's intelligence reports on Saddam Hussein's nuclear weapons program. Not properly scrutinized or challenged, that faulty intelligence paved the road to war a decade ago.

WMD was just a pretext in that war too.  The road was paved by GHWB's failure to remove Saddam, who had zero chance of surviving W's presidency from the word go..

Posted by orrinj at 5:20 PM


Bomb Syria, Even if It Is Illegal (IAN HURD, August 27, 2013, NY Times)

THE latest atrocities in the Syrian civil war, which has killed more than 100,000 people, demand an urgent response to deter further massacres and to punish President Bashar al-Assad. But there is widespread confusion over the legal basis for the use of force in these terrible circumstances. As a legal matter, the Syrian government's use of chemical weapons does not automatically justify armed intervention by the United States.

There are moral reasons for disregarding the law, and I believe the Obama administration should intervene in Syria. But it should not pretend that there is a legal justification in existing law.

If the law prevents us from doing what is morally right it is illegitimate.

Posted by orrinj at 5:08 PM


Why get off welfare? : Poor people aren't stupid. If they can get more from the government than they can from a job, they aren't going to work. (Michael D. Tanner, August 22, 2013, LA Times)

Because there are so many categories of welfare recipients and so many different types of benefits, it is extremely difficult to determine how many people get what combination of benefits. For the purposes of this study, we assumed a hypothetical family consisting of a mother with two children, ages 1 and 4, and calculated the combined total of seven benefits that family could receive in all 50 states.

If that mother received Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, it is almost certain that she would also receive food stamps and Medicaid as well. Roughly 87% of Needy Families do.

Approximately 61% of all Needy Families fitting our profile also receive aid from the Women, Infants and Children program, or WIC, so we included that benefit. (If the children were older, they would not be eligible for WIC but would receive other benefits such as subsidized school lunches and breakfasts.) We also included utilities assistance, given that half of welfare recipients are on that program.

Housing assistance was a tougher call. Nationwide, the rate of participation varies from nearly 82% of Needy Families in North Dakota to virtually none in Idaho. Housing programs also generally have waiting lists, meaning long-term welfare beneficiaries are most likely to receive benefits. Many states also prioritize families with young children like our profile family. We decided not to include those benefits for states where participation was less than 10%. In California, it is 11.4%.

Finally, we included the federal Emergency Assistance Food Program, which provides free commodities like milk and cheese. Our profile family would qualify in all 50 states, although usage figures are imprecise.

In Washington, D.C., and 10 particularly generous states -- Hawaii, Vermont, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Maryland, New Hampshire and California -- these seven programs provide a mother with two young children an annual benefit worth more than $35,000 a year. The value of the package in a medium-level welfare state is $28,500.

That may sound low, but it's important to remember that welfare benefits are not taxed, whereas wages are. So to put the welfare benefit package in perspective, we calculated the amount of money our recipient would have to earn in pretax income to bring home an equal amount of money if she took a 40-hour-per-week job.

After computing the federal income tax, the state income tax and payroll taxes, as well as taking into account federal and state earned income tax credits and the child tax credit, we came to the inescapable conclusion that welfare pays very well.

In fact, in 33 states and the District of Columbia, welfare pays more than an $8-an-hour job [see chart]. In 12 states, including California, as well as the District of Columbia, the welfare package is more generous than a $15-an-hour job. In Hawaii, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington, D.C., welfare pays more than a $20-an-hour job, or more than 2.75 times the minimum wage.

Posted by orrinj at 4:59 PM


Mass slaughter of civilian Kurds in Syria ignites heavy clashes and mass exodus (ROZH AHMAD 28 August 2013, Open Democracy)

The al-Qaeda linked "Jabhat al-Nusra" (al-Nusra Front) in Syria, has been held responsible for having instigated a sectarian racist war against civilian Kurds in Syria's northern Kurdish region, the outcomes of which recently led to the massacre of hundreds of Kurdish women and children, "some of whom were raped and beheaded by jihadists", says Syrian opposition officials, witnesses and victims.

Human rights activists in Syria's Kurdish region have confirmed that 450 Kurdish civilians, "mostly women and children, were slaughtered indiscriminately inside their homes at the hands of jihadists of the al-Nusra Front in Tal Abyad, Tal Hassil and Tal A'ran areas of Syrian Kurdistan from July 28 - August 2, 2013." [...]

The attacks on civilian Kurds have emerged amid intense months-long violent clashes between al-Qaeda linked groups and the predominantly Kurdish popular militia in Syria, "Peoples Defense Units' (YPG)."

The YPG militia, majority members of which are female fighters, is now seen as the only capable military force that can confront al-Qaeda linked groups on one front, on the other, the Syrian army, across the Kurdish region.

It is estimated that YPG fighters number an estimated 50,000. Its female and male co-leaders claim that they are running, "a democratically elected popular militia comprising all the people of Syrian Kurdistan, including Assyrians, Armenian and Arabs to defend themselves from the catastrophes of the Syrian Civil War."

They also claim that they are involved in heavy clashes with both the Assad army and al-Qaeda groups like the al-Nusra Front in places like Aleppo, where YPG fighters defend the Kurdish neighbouthoods of Sheikh Maqsood and al-Ashrafia.

Posted by orrinj at 5:10 AM


Literature and the Foundations of the West (Jeffrey Hart, 8/27/13, Imaginative Conservative)

Various narratives about Western civilization have been proposed and they vary in their ability to "cover the facts" of Western history. Again and again, philosophers and historians have been drawn to various formulations of "Athens and Jerusalem." Figures as different as Jefferson and Nietzsche found the formulation useful, though in different ways, and very different have been usages of Hermann Cohen, the German Kantian, and Leo Strauss. In all uses of this paradigm, however, there is general agreement on what "Athens" and "Jerusalem" signify. In their symbolic meaning "Athens" represents a philosophical-scientific approach to actuality, while "Jerusalem" represents a scriptural tradition of disciplined insight. The symbolic meanings of the two terms is rooted in the historical actuality of the two cities. The dialectic between the two poses the question of whether actuality is more like a mathematical equation, or whether it is more like a complicated and surprising poem, reflecting, as Robert Penn Warren put it, "the world's tangled and hieroglyphic beauty."

In terms of human goals, Athens represents cognition, Jerusalem spiritual perfection. As the dialectic has operated in Western civilization, the emphasis has swung back and forth, in culture and in individual lives. A figure such as Columbus, for example, had scientific motives (navigation, geography), economic motives (a trade route to Asia), and Christian evangelical motives (convert the heathen). Over the centuries, the West has not chosen finally between Athens and Jerusalem, but rather both. Leo Strauss, indeed, sees the maintenance of the tension that exists between them as absolutely essential to the West, the tension nourishing freedom. A choice entirely for Athens would be potentially totalitarian, as in The Republic. A choice for Jerusalem would be potentially theocratic or monastic. But the interaction between the two has in fact been a dynamic one, characterized by tension, attempted synthesis, and outright conflict. It is this dynamic relationship that is distinctive in Western civilization, has created its restlessness, and energized its distinctive achievements, both material and spiritual.[1] In such things as the Empire State Building, the Golden Gate Bridge, and Quantum Mechanics, Athens and cognition seems foremost, but spiritual aspiration may also play a role. In Chartres Cathedral, Stanford White's triple porch for St. Bartholemew's Church in New York, and the poetry of Hopkins and Eliot, the aspiration of Jerusalem is foremost, but the mind of Athens remains a presence.

No other civilization has experienced this energizing dialectic. China, for example, was anciently inventive in science but did not succeed in institutionalizing it, nor did China possess religious aspirations that resembled in any way those of Jerusalem. It may be that the essential consciousness of China and other historic civilizations, shaped by their particular historical experiences, remain fundamentally different from the Western consciousness, even as China, India, Islam and a variety of others struggle to enter a modernity that is largely a Western and universalizing accomplishment. The outcome of this vast effort remains in doubt.

Much more static than the West, China has made its major symbols the Great Wall and the Forbidden City, and has characteristically seen its history as ever-recurring cycles. It has never evolved anything like the systematic philosophy derived from the Greeks. Its great teachers have immemorially counseled accommodation to the cycles and reconciliation with the inevitable. The sense of intellectual silence in China sometimes seems overwhelming to a Western consciousness, its art highly formalized and its philosophy mainly wise "sayings." "China in the late nineteenth century," writes Professor Jonathan Spence of Yale, "retained astonishing continuities with what we know of the country in the Third Century B.C., when it first became a unified country ruled by an autocratic emperor." "Better fifty years of Europe," wrote Tennyson, "than a cycle [l000 years] of Cathay." It is doubtful that China and other contemporary civilizations can modernize without Westernizing.

And so some part of the liberal arts curriculum might well be shaped by an investigation of the particular development of the West as reflected in and shaped by its supreme works of history, philosophy, and narrative. Let it not be supposed here that I am recommending an exclusive focus on this material, far from it. A single one-year required course would do very well as an introduction. One example of such a course is the Columbia College Humanities 1-11, which is required of all freshmen. I myself, as I shall describe, have recently experimented with doing the job in a single eight-week seminar. Many formats are possible, if the essential narrative is their foundation.

In my own experience of dealing with these works, students quickly become aware of dealing with important matters. They acquire standards of seriousness that allow them to "place" mediocrity and fraud. First, then, let me outline very briefly the foundations of the Athens-Jerusalem shaping of the narrative.

Both Athens and Jerusalem may be thought to begin with great epic heroes, both dateable in the Bronze Age, or around 1250 B.C., or about the time of the Trojan War and also the Exodus. Achilles is primus inter pares on the Greek side, Moses singular among the lsraelites. Heroic in themselves, each contains the germs of later development: the drive for excellence among the Greeks, the drive for law and spiritual aspiration in Moses and the Israelites.

In Plato's Socratic dialogues, the heroism of Achilles and those like him becomes heroic philosophy in Socrates, presented by Plato as a greater hero than those of the Bronze Age, their heroism becoming an inner commitment to truth. Homer, endlessly recited by Athenian schoolboys, had been the teacher of Athens. Plato gave the greatest of the commentaries. In other words, Plato talked back across the centuries, and meant to be a better teacher, and writer, than Homer. The love of truth was more heroic, more internal, than battlefield prowess.
Like Achilles, Moses was a great warrior, and like Achilles given to violence and rage. He was also a law-giver and nation-builder, and in his Sinai commandments shaped a polity. The document is remarkable in its formal proportions: 1. No other gods before me. 2. No idols. 3. No misuse of God's name. 4. Keep the Sabbath. Each element of this compact formulation follows from the monotheistic premise. These are emphatic commands for a people struggling toward a demanding monotheism, and tempted sorely by the more relaxed Golden Calf. Moses takes care of the deviants by ordering his Levites to slaughter some three thousand of them.

Posted by orrinj at 4:50 AM


The Great Emancipation : A review of Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, 1861-1865, by James Oakes (Michael Burlingame, August 27, 2013, Claremont Review of Books)

In this strikingly original book, James Oakes offers a fresh, convincing reinterpretation of the emancipation policies and practices of Abraham Lincoln and his party. Traditionally, the promulgation of the Emancipation Proclamation on New Years Day 1863 is viewed as a momentous turning point in the Civil War, when the conflict became an antislavery crusade as well as a war to preserve the Union. But Oakes contends persuasively that "[o]nly in historical mythology did the purpose of the war shift on January 1, 1863, from the restoration of the Union to the abolition of slavery." The truth is that the proclamation represented the culmination of many earlier measures that had already liberated tens of thousands of slaves.

Oakes, who is Distinguished Professor of History at the City University of New York, examines "the critical role that political abolitionism played in the formation of Republican antislavery policies and the coming of the Civil War." He insists that the Republicans, including Lincoln, "were anything but reluctant emancipators." In fact, they were determined to abolish slavery all along; they made their intentions clear before the war; and they took several steps during the conflict to achieve their goal. Slavery was not inadvertently destroyed by the war; on the contrary, it was abolished with great difficulty by Republicans deeply committed to black freedom.

Focusing on "the origins and implementation of abolition rather than the aftermath of slavery," Oakes challenges recent attempts to breathe new life into long-discredited interpretations presented by the school of Civil War Revisionists in the 1930s, '40s, and '50s. Those Revisionists pooh-poohed the notion that the war was caused by slavery and that it was fought by men who cared deeply about destroying the peculiar institution. Rather, they contended, a "blundering generation" of political leaders foolishly argued over a non-issue (the extension of slavery into the western territories) and precipitated a needless war fought for the morally suspect goal of preserving national unity. The Revisionists' hero was Lincoln's nemesis, Stephen A. Douglas, whose "popular sovereignty" doctrine, they allege, would have solved the sectional dispute amicably if it had not been for reckless Southern fire-eaters and Northern antislavery fanatics.

Oakes shows conclusively how Lincoln and the Republican Party understood that the war was caused by slavery and that the conflict would determine its fate. Early on, the president and Congress perceived the centrality of slavery and acted against it, despite the Democrats' constitutional objections. Republicans countered that slaves were not property under the Constitution, which refers to them as "persons held to service" not as chattels, and which guarantees that "no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law." (Emphasis added.) According to Republicans, slavery was a local institution, not a national one, and enjoyed protection only under municipal law. They based those conclusions on the records of the 1787 Constitutional Convention; precedents established during the "First Emancipation" of the late 18th and early 19th centuries; several state court cases; and political movements like the Liberty and the Free Soil parties of the 1840s. Oakes traces the way that these ideas, originally articulated by a few radical pamphleteers, eventually went mainstream, and were picked up and elaborated upon by political abolitionists like John Quincy Adams, Salmon P. Chase, Joshua R. Giddings, and Charles Sumner. (The book's title comes from Sumner's 1852 Senate speech, "Freedom National; Slavery Sectional.")

By 1860, most Republicans had adopted these views and were committed to putting slavery on the road to "ultimate extinction" (in Lincoln's phrase). Southern secessionists were right, therefore, to fear that sooner or later (probably sooner) the Republicans would abolish slavery, despite their protestations that they had no intention of interfering with it in states where it existed.

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August 27, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 9:02 PM


How baseball's worst team is also its most profitable And by "worst" we don't mean the Yankees (Jon Terbush, 8/27/13, The Week)

The pitching staff has the worst ERA in baseball, and the offense ranks at or near the bottom in practically every single offensive category. With a .340 winning percentage through Monday, the team is on pace to finish with their worst record ever, tying last season's woeful 107-loss campaign.

So it's something of a silver lining, at least for the team's ownership, that the Astros are also on pace to post the most profitable season in the history of baseball, according to Forbes. Yes, despite having the third-lowest attendance in the league, and despite playing in a ballpark formerly named Enron Field, the Astros are set to earn an estimated $99 million in operating income this season, per Forbes' calculations.

As Forbes notes, that would roughly equal the operating incomes of the last six World Series championship teams combined.

The "rich teams/poor teams" excuse doesn't work any more.

Posted by orrinj at 8:18 PM


The Great Lesson from the Great Recession (MARK THOMA, 8/27/13, The Fiscal Times)
Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke, a student of the Great Depression, famously vowed in 2002 at a conference celebrating Milton Friedman's 90th birthday that the Fed would not repeat the mistakes of the Great Depression, "You're right, we did it," he said, "We're very sorry. But thanks to you, we won't do it again." When the Great Recession hit, the Fed did, in fact, mostly avoid these mistakes. [...]

[T]he improved policy response from the Fed is not the only reason we avoided Great Depression type problems.

First, when the recession hit this time around, we had a much, much higher level of societal wealth, and hence a much larger cushion to absorb the shocks than we had during the Great Recession.

Second, and importantly, the presence of automatic stabilizers, particularly those that come in the form of social insurance programs, made a big difference to people hit by the recession. Programs such as unemployment compensation and food stamps that did not exist during the Great Depression played a large role in cushioning the blow for the millions and millions of people who lost jobs or were otherwise affected by the severe downturn in the economy.

Third, it's not as though the Fed created a miracle recovery. Even with the improved monetary policy during the recent downturn, the recession has still been very deep and very prolonged, and the end of our troubles, while perhaps in sight, is still far, far away. So while it's true that things could have been much worse, it does not appear to be the case that improved monetary policy avoids the severe problems associated with financial panics.

...bailout/stimulus money should have been used to pay off consumer debt and immigration amnesty should have been done immediately.

Posted by orrinj at 8:12 PM


Gulf Islamists irked as monarchs back Egypt's generals (REUTERS, 08/27/2013)

While they have been careful to express only muted dissent in public, Islamists and some other conservative Gulf Muslims are quietly seething at Saudi Arabia's whole-hearted backing of Egyptian army chief General Abdul Fattah al-Sisi.

After Sisi's military seized power last month, a group of clerics in the kingdom signed a letter calling on King Abdullah to reverse his position, and since the violence began two weeks ago, many Saudis have spoken out on social media.

"For Riyadh to be in the frontline of a confrontation like what is taking place in Egypt is unprecedented. It is making ripples inside Saudi Arabia," said a Saudi journalist.

Saudi King Abdullah and the rulers of the United Arab Emirates, and to a lesser extent of Kuwait, have long distrusted the Muslim Brotherhood, which they feared would use its power in Egypt to agitate for political change across the Middle East.

The Sa'uds are right, of course, The Brotherhood trails only the US as the driver of liberalization in the Arab world.

Posted by orrinj at 8:07 PM


Nissan Expects to Market Self-Driving Cars by 2020 (JOSEPH B. WHITE, 8/27/13, WSJ)

Nissan Motor Co. 7201.TO -1.37% plans to offer cars with self-driving technology by 2020, a senior company executive said on Tuesday.

"Nissan Motor Co. pledges that we will be ready to bring multiple affordable, energy efficient, fully autonomous-driving vehicles to the market by 2020," Executive Vice President Andy Palmer said during a presentation in Southern California.

Posted by orrinj at 7:58 PM


Ford Recounts Assassination Attempt, Was 'Two Feet Away' From Gun (Alisa Wiersema, Aug 27, 2013, ABC News)

A cult member scheming to assassinate the President of the United States may sound like the plot for a fictional thriller, but it's actually a rediscovered page out of American history books made available to the public for the first time.

Footage of President Ford's testimony against his failed assassin,  Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme, was released Monday after being sealed for nearly 38 years -- thanks to a motion filed by the Eastern District Historical Society, a group in Sacramento, Calif.

Here's our interview with Geri Spieler, author of Taking Aim at the President.

Posted by orrinj at 7:51 PM


Hundred Years' War: Battle of Crécy (Kennedy Hickman, Guide)

Alerted to the approach of the French army, Edward deployed his men along a ridge between the villages of Crécy and Wadicourt. Dividing his army, Edward assigned command of the right division to his sixteen-year old son Edward, the Black Prince with assistance from the Earls of Oxford and Warwick, as well as Sir John Chandos. The left division was led by the Earl of Northampton, while Edward, commanding from a vantage point in a windmill, retained leadership of the reserve. These divisions were supported by large numbers of archers equipped with the English longbow. [...]

Advancing with Antonio Doria and Carlo Grimaldi's Genoese crossbowmen in the lead, the French knights followed with lines led by the Duke D'Alencon, Duke of Lorraine, and Count of Blois, while Philip commanded the rearguard. Moving to the attack, the crossbowmen fired a series of volleys at the English. These proved ineffective as a brief thunderstorm before the battle had wet and slackened the crossbowstrings. The English archers on the other hand had simply untied their bowstrings during the storm.

This coupled with the longbow's ability to fire every five seconds gave the English archers a dramatic advantage over the crossbowmen who could only get off one to two shots per minute. The Genoese position was worsened by the fact that in the rush to battle their pervises (shields to hide behind while reloading) had not been brought forward. Coming under devastating fire from Edward's archers, the Genoese began withdrawing. Angered by the crossbowmen's retreat, the French knights fired insults at them and even cut several down. [...]

The Battle of Crécy was one of the greatest English victories of the Hundred Years' War and established the superiority of the longbow against mounted knights.

Thus was democracy made possible.

Posted by orrinj at 7:45 PM


Russia Warns U.S. Over Syria, Says Obama Like Bush (Kenneth Rapoza, 8/2713, Forbes)

A senior Russian lawmaker said Sunday that Obama was a George W. "clone".

"Obama is restlessly heading towards war in Syria like Bush was heading towards war in Iraq. Like in Iraq, this war would be illegitimate and Obama will become Bush's clone," Alexei Pushkov, the head of the Russian lower house's international committee, said on Twitter.

August 26, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 7:18 PM


AMERICA HANGING IN THERE BETTER THAN RIVALS (Joel Kotkin, 08/26/2013, New Geography)

[T]he Middle Kingdom appears headed toward what one analyst calls "the end" of its amazing and profound economic miracle. Growth, once projecting Chinese global preeminence, is slowing precipitously. The country now faces a growing rank of competitors from lower-wage countries poised to take market share from the Middle Kingdom.

China faces growing political instability at the grass-roots level, a mountain of state-issued bad debt and a festering environmental crisis, which threatens long-term food supplies and could create massive health problems. China is rapidly aging. It will have 60 million fewer people under age 15 by 2050, while gaining nearly 190 million people at least 65, approximately the population of Pakistan, the world's fourth-most populous country.

The so-called BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), once the darlings of the investment banking set, all are facing slowing growth and rising political instability. It doesn't help that most are either total or partial kleptocracies, dependent on commodity exports or cheap labor. This is not a solid foundation for ascendency as newer emerging nations - Myanmar, Indonesia, Vietnam - ramp up.

On all these accounts, North America, including our Canadian and Mexican neighbors, looks best-positioned. The first, and, arguably, most important game-changer is the energy revolution that could realign the economic stars for decades to come. The shale oil and natural gas boom, as the Economist recently noted, is as illustrative of America's future, and genius at reinvention, "as the algorithms being generated in Silicon Valley."

The energy boom's best aspect, besides the emergence of relatively cleaner natural gas, is making global tyrants, such as those ruling Saudi Arabia and Russia, nervous about their future place in the world. These worries alone should send a three-word message to our leaders: Go for it.

But North America is not, like Russia, a one-trick pony. [...]

Then there's the matter of culture. For years, Asian, Third World and European cultural warriors have plotted to knock the U.S. off its pre-eminent perch. But the European film industry is a shadow of its once-glorious efflorescence; much the same can be said about the once-splendid Japanese cinema. To be sure, Chinese films, Korean pop stars and Bollywood are rising forces, but U.S. exports more than $14 billion annually in film and television. On a global level, no one can compete with Hollywood as a packager of images and dreams - and Silicon Valley's control of new distribution technology could further boost this advantage.

Finally, there's the matter of demographics. The United States, like its competitors, is aging, but not as quickly as our prime rivals. The birth rate has slowed with the recession, but it's likely to come back toward replacement levels in the years ahead as millennials enter their thirties en masse, and immigrants continue coming to the country. America should be the only one of the top five economies with a growing workforce over the next few decades. that we'll effortlessly make succeeding tidal waves of immigrants--many fleeing these failed states-into Americans.  No one becomes Chinese.
Posted by orrinj at 7:14 PM


In praise of laziness : Businesspeople would be better off if they did less and thought more (Schumpeter, Aug 17th 2013, The Economist)

It is high time that we tried a different strategy--not "leaning in" but "leaning back". There is a distinguished history of leadership thinking in the lean-back tradition. Lord Melbourne, Queen Victoria's favourite prime minister, extolled the virtues of "masterful inactivity". Herbert Asquith embraced a policy of "wait and see" when he had the job. Ronald Reagan also believed in not overdoing things: "It's true hard work never killed anybody," he said, "but I figure, why take the chance?". This tradition has been buried in a morass of meetings and messages. We need to revive it before we schedule ourselves to death.

The most obvious beneficiaries of leaning back would be creative workers--the very people who are supposed to be at the heart of the modern economy. In the early 1990s Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a psychologist, asked 275 creative types if he could interview them for a book he was writing. A third did not bother to reply at all and another third refused to take part. Peter Drucker, a management guru, summed up the mood of the refuseniks: "One of the secrets of productivity is to have a very big waste-paper basket to take care of all invitations such as yours." Creative people's most important resource is their time--particularly big chunks of uninterrupted time--and their biggest enemies are those who try to nibble away at it with e-mails or meetings. Indeed, creative people may be at their most productive when, to the manager's untutored eye, they appear to be doing nothing.

Managers themselves could benefit. Those at the top are best employed thinking about strategy rather than operations--about whether the company is doing the right thing rather than whether it is sticking to its plans. When he was boss of General Electric, Jack Welch used to spend an hour a day in what he called "looking out of the window time". When he was in charge of Microsoft Bill Gates used to take two "think weeks" a year when he would lock himself in an isolated cottage. Jim Collins, of "Good to Great" fame, advises all bosses to keep a "stop doing list". Is there a meeting you can cancel? Or a dinner you can avoid?

Junior managers would do well to follow the same advice. In "Do Nothing", one of the few business books to grapple with the problem of over-management, Keith Murnighan of the Kellogg School of Management argues that the best managers focus their attention on establishing the right rules--recruiting the right people and establishing the right incentives--and then get out of the way. He quotes a story about Eastman Kodak in its glory days. A corporate reorganisation left a small division out in the cold--without a leader or a reporting line to headquarters. The head office only rediscovered the division when it received a note from a customer congratulating the unit on its work.

One of the main reasons schedules are so jam-packed is to disguise how little work we actually do.
Posted by orrinj at 7:02 PM


Microsoft's Lost Decade : Once upon a time, Microsoft dominated the tech industry; indeed, it was the wealthiest corporation in the world. But since 2000, as Apple, Google, and Facebook whizzed by, it has fallen flat in every arena it entered: e-books, music, search, social networking, etc., etc. Talking to former and current Microsoft executives, Kurt Eichenwald finds the fingers pointing at C.E.O. Steve Ballmer, Bill Gates's successor, as the man who led them astray. (Kurt Eichenwald, August 2012, Vanity Fair)

Sometimes, though, the problems from bureaucracy came down to a simple reality: The young hotshots from the 1980s, techies who had joined the company in their 20s and 30s, had become middle-aged managers in their 40s and 50s. And, some younger engineers said, a good number of the bosses just didn't understand the burgeoning class of computer users who had been children--or hadn't even been born--when Microsoft opened its doors. When younger employees tried to point out emerging trends among their friends, supervisors sometimes just waved them away.

"Most senior people were out of touch with the ways the home users were starting to use computers, especially the younger generation," one software developer said.

An example--in 1997, AOL introduced its instant-messenger program, called AIM, a precursor to the texting functions on cell phones. Two years later, Microsoft followed with a similar program, called MSN Messenger.

In 2003, a young developer noticed that friends in college signed up for AIM exclusively and left it running most of the time. The reason? They wanted to use the program's status message, which allowed them to type a short note telling their online buddies what they were doing, even when they weren't at the computer. Messages like "gone shopping" and "studying for my exams" became commonplace.

"That was the beginning of the trend toward Facebook, people having somewhere to put their thoughts, a continuous stream of consciousness," said the developer, who worked in the MSN Messenger unit. "The main purpose of AIM wasn't to chat, but to give you the chance to log in at any time and check out what your friends were doing."

The developer concluded that no young person would switch from AIM to MSN Messenger, which did not have the short-message feature. He spoke about the problem to his boss, a middle-aged man. The supervisor dismissed the developer's concerns as silly. Why would young people care about putting up a few words? Anyone who wanted to tell friends what they were doing could write it on their profile page, he said. Meaning users would have to open the profile pages, one friend at a time, and search for a status message, if it was there at all.

"He didn't get it," the developer said. "And because he didn't know or didn't believe how young people were using messenger programs, we didn't do anything."

"The Bell Curve"

By 2002 the by-product of bureaucracy--brutal corporate politics--had reared its head at Microsoft. And, current and former executives said, each year the intensity and destructiveness of the game playing grew worse as employees struggled to beat out their co-workers for promotions, bonuses, or just survival.

Microsoft's managers, intentionally or not, pumped up the volume on the viciousness. What emerged--when combined with the bitterness about financial disparities among employees, the slow pace of development, and the power of the Windows and Office divisions to kill innovation--was a toxic stew of internal antagonism and warfare.

"If you don't play the politics, it's management by character assassination," said Turkel.

At the center of the cultural problems was a management system called "stack ranking." Every current and former Microsoft employee I interviewed--every one--cited stack ranking as the most destructive process inside of Microsoft, something that drove out untold numbers of employees. The system--also referred to as "the performance model," "the bell curve," or just "the employee review"--has, with certain variations over the years, worked like this: every unit was forced to declare a certain percentage of employees as top performers, then good performers, then average, then below average, then poor.

"If you were on a team of 10 people, you walked in the first day knowing that, no matter how good everyone was, two people were going to get a great review, seven were going to get mediocre reviews, and one was going to get a terrible review," said a former software developer. "It leads to employees focusing on competing with each other rather than competing with other companies."

...but the reality is that once lawsuits started preventing them from acting as a criminal enterprise they were doomed.  There was never much behind the GUI.

Posted by orrinj at 6:15 PM


The Middle East's Arc of Prosperity (Anne-Marie Slaughter, 26 August 2013, Project Syndicate)

In the immortal words of James Carville, Bill Clinton's campaign manager in 1992, "It's the economy, stupid." The dismal failure of Middle Eastern and North African economies to deliver the prosperity that their people desperately want is a constant factor pushing people into the streets. It is not the only factor, but rising food prices helped to spread revolutionary fervor from a small group of activists to much of Egypt's population in 2011, and again this year in June, when the most frequent grievance against former President Mohamed Morsi concerned not his ideology but his indifference to ordinary Egyptians' needs.

Against this backdrop, Israel and the Palestinian territories are relatively stable places. Israel's high-quality infrastructure could easily be extended to the West Bank and Gaza if security could be assured, and a young generation of entrepreneurs and technologists has grown up on both sides of the border. Forbes magazine reports that "hundreds of Israeli[s] and Palestinians are becoming actual business partners and colleagues in startups that are slowly transforming the Palestinian economy, at least in the West Bank."

This is most true in high-tech industries, the sector in which the Middle East lags the most. The author of the Forbes article describes a scene in Ramallah that is "indistinguishable from one in Austin or San Francisco," where "twentysomething Palestinians sip cocktails, their laptops open, their smartphones on."

All of this activity is taking place against the odds. Alec Ross, a former senior adviser for innovation to former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, argues that the best way to reinvigorate the peace process is to provide 3G Internet connectivity to the West Bank. He quotes a young woman in the audience at Palestine Polytechnic University, who said, to loud applause, "We must have a better economy to have better lives, and we must have 3G to have...a better economy."

Posted by orrinj at 5:54 PM


The Placebo Effect Is Real. Now Doctors Just Have To Work Out How To Use It (Ben Schiller, 8/26/13, Co.Exist)

To Kaptchuk, the placebo effect is brought about by much more than sugar pills and saline injections. It's about the whole "drama" or "theater" of medicine--essentially the context of the encounter between patient and physician--as much as treatment itself. "The placebo effect is the effect of everything surrounding the fake pill, or the real pill," he says. "It's the compassion, trust, and care. It's the ritual and symbols. It's the doctor-patient interaction."

Kaptchuk has published several papers that have gotten wider attention beyond the world of academic journals and conferences. For example, he got a big response for a study with irritable bowel syndrome patients, where he showed that placebo could be effective even when patients knew the treatment was fake. (The drug bottle had a big "placebo" label on it.) Though the study only included 80 volunteers, the results seemed to indicate something profound: When patients want to get better, and believe that doctors are there to help them, good things happen.

Kaptchuk credits the growing respectability of studying placebos down to the wider availability of neuro-imaging techniques. By demonstrating physiological impact in the brain when a patient takes a placebo treatment, researchers can move beyond conjecture about how the effect works. "The discovery of neurobiology has made physicians in the medical community more comfortable that something is going on that they have to pay attention to," he says. "Before it was just the imagination. Now, the imagination has a real neurobiology."

Posted by orrinj at 5:36 AM

Tom Christian, Descendant of Bounty Mutineer, Dies at 77 (MARGALIT FOX,  August 23, 2013, NY Times)

Though Mr. Christian was the world's best-known contemporary Pitcairner, word of his death -- reported in the July issue of The Pitcairn Miscellany, the island's monthly newsletter -- reached a broad audience only this week, when it appeared in newspapers in Britain, Australia and New Zealand.

"It takes awhile for news to get out," Ms. Christian said by telephone from Pitcairn on Thursday.

Mr. Christian's death is a window onto colonial history as played out in the South Pacific; onto a storied 18th-century mutiny, which lives on in books and motion pictures; and onto a 21st-century criminal case that made world headlines a decade ago -- a case on which Mr. Christian took a public position, described in the news media as courageous, that led to his ostracism on the island on which he had lived his entire life.

Britain's only remaining territory in the Pacific, the Pitcairn archipelago lies roughly equidistant between Peru and New Zealand, about 3,300 miles from each. It comprises four small islands: Pitcairn, Henderson, Ducie and Oeno. Only Pitcairn Island, named for the sailor who sighted it from a British ship in 1767, is inhabited.

Pitcairn, settled by the mutineers and their Tahitian consorts in 1790, is a rocky speck of about two square miles. (Manhattan, by comparison, is about 24 square miles.) Most of its inhabitants are descended from the mutineers and the Tahitian women they brought with them. [...]

In December 1787, His Majesty's Armed Vessel Bounty left England for Tahiti to collect breadfruit with which to feed slaves on Britain's Caribbean plantations. On April 28, 1789, less than a month into the return voyage, the master's mate, Fletcher Christian, weary of what he described as the bullying of the captain, William Bligh, led crewmen in seizing control of the ship.

Captain Bligh and 18 sympathizers were cast adrift; most, Bligh included, eventually made their way to England. Christian and his men sailed the Bounty to Tubuai, in the Austral Islands, and then back to Tahiti, where some mutineers chose to remain.

Knowing that the British admiralty would scour the seas for him -- and that a court-martial and a hanging would follow -- Christian set sail again with eight of his men, plus a small group of Tahitian men and women. They landed at Pitcairn, then uninhabited, in January 1790. There, to avoid detection, they burned and scuttled the Bounty.

The ship's history was recounted in the popular 1932 novel "Mutiny on the Bounty," by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall. Hollywood filmed it three times: in 1935, with Charles Laughton as Bligh and Clark Gable as Christian; in 1962, with Trevor Howard and Marlon Brando; and in 1984, with Anthony Hopkins and Mel Gibson.

But what the films did not depict was the mutineers' brutal lives on Pitcairn: by the time an American seal-hunting vessel came across the island in 1808, most of them, including Christian, had been killed in fights with the Tahitian men. [...]

At a talk in London in 2005, he had the joy of catching up with an Englishman he first met in 1971.

That November, a cargo ship on which the Englishman was traveling stopped at Pitcairn and, disembarking, he was introduced to Mr. Christian.

The Englishman was Maurice Bligh, the great-great-great-grandson of Capt. William Bligh.

From that day forward, Mr. Bligh and Mr. Christian were fast friends.

Posted by orrinj at 5:34 AM


Rowhani the Decision Shaper (Mohammad Ali Shabani, Mahsa Rouhi | August 26, 2013, National Interest)

Former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad failed to influence nuclear policy because he couldn't use these same "action channels" to build consensus and shape decisions in the national-security council.

In contrast, barely three weeks into his term, Rowhani has already taken practical action that evidences his resolve to, in his own words, "hammer things out with the sheriff." Javad Zarif, a former UN envoy who's repeatedly dealt with Americans, has been appointed as foreign minister and is mulled as the next chief negotiator. A pragmatic, MIT-educated nuclear physicist has been returned as head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization. And Tehran's envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency has been recalled.

But getting the right people onboard doesn't only have to do with correcting the perceived errors of the past eight years. Negotiations on the nuclear issue face more than political pitfalls; Rowhani has first-hand experience of bureaucratic incompetence and dysfunction disrupting negotiations. He saw how divergent reporting of the situation by various Iranian institutions repeatedly triggered clashes over their competing recommendations to senior authorities.

Yet, perhaps more than anything, Rowhani's ability to shape decisions on the nuclear issue will be founded on his general approach to politics at home. He has fervently argued that negotiations will only bear fruit when there's national cohesion. In his memoir, he frankly states that "at times of internal differences, it will be hard for our officials to make decisions and for the foreign side to trust the negotiating team."

Rowhani is certain that Iran cannot be ruled by a single faction. This conviction got him elected - not the sanctions.

Not everyone the new Iranian president will appoint or hire will completely agree. But if he is successful in building internal consensus, he will have the necessary base of power to confidently enter negotiations with external counterparts.

Posted by orrinj at 5:19 AM


Democracy and Islamic law : Should a nation be defined by language and territory, by ruling party or by faith (Roger Scruton, 8/22/13, BBC)

To understand what is happening in the Middle East today we must look back to the end of World War I. The Austro-Hungarian Empire had been destroyed, and from the ruins emerged a collection of nation states.

These nation states - including Austria, Hungary, Romania and Czechoslovakia - were not arbitrary creations. Their boundaries reflected long-standing divisions of language, religion, culture and ethnicity. And although the whole arrangement collapsed within two decades, this was in part because of the rise of Nazism and communism, both ideologies of conquest.

Today we take the nation states of central Europe for granted. They are settled political entities, each with a government elected by the citizens who live on its soil.

When the Austro-Hungarian Empire collapsed, so too did the Ottoman Empire, whose territories embraced the whole of the Middle East and North Africa.

The victorious allies divided up the Ottoman Empire into small territorial states. But very few of these have enjoyed more than a temporary spasm of democracy. Many have been governed by clans, sects, families or the military, usually assisted, as in Syria, by the violent suppression of every group that challenges the ruling power. [...]

The result of imposing national boundaries on people who define themselves in religious terms is the kind of chaos we have witnessed in Iraq, where Sunni and Shia fight for dominance, or the even greater chaos that we now witness in Syria, where a minority Islamic sect, the Alawites, has maintained a monopoly of social power since the rise of the Assad family.

Thus David Fromkin's title: A Peace to End All Peace

August 25, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 11:14 AM


Can Egypt Learn From Thailand? (JONATHAN TEPPERMAN, 8/22/13, NY Times)

The trouble really began in 2006, when the military, in connivance with royalists and the courts, overthrew the populist prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. The coup ignited years of running street battles between citizen armies of "yellow shirts" -- defenders of the old, semifeudal order -- and "red shirts," Thaksin supporters among the rural and urban poor. Political power changed hands four more times in four years. In January 2010, the police responded to enormous red-shirt protests by killing over 90 demonstrators, injuring 2,400 others and jailing hundreds. The economy went into a tailspin.  

Then, in August 2011, Mr. Thaksin's sister Yingluck Shinawatra became prime minister. And today, barely halfway through her four-year term, Thailand looks like a different country.  

According to Ruchir Sharma, head of emerging markets at Morgan Stanley, the economic outlook is the brightest in 15 years: the currency is up, land prices have climbed and the stock market has more than quadrupled since 2008. Tourists have returned, and the streets (despite the August flare-ups) are mostly quiet.  

So how did Ms. Yingluck, initially considered a mere proxy for her exiled brother, do it? The formula turns out to be deceptively simple: provide decent, clean governance, compromise with your enemies and focus on the economy.

Chelsea Morsi will be so totally different....
Posted by orrinj at 11:05 AM


The real legacy of 1812? It never happened again (PETER JONES, 8/07/12,  The Globe and Mail)

Rather than a stirring Canadian victory, it ended when the Americans largely lost interest.  

But the real legacy of the War of 1812, government claims aside, is simply that there was never a repeat. Tensions remained, small cross-border incursions took place, and fortifications continued to be built and maintained for another half-century, but the primary lesson both sides drew (and which was slowly reinforced) was not to bother again.  

This may sound rather uninspiring - it is difficult to gather a group of colourfully dressed re-enactors to flail around in a field but not actually fight each other - but it probably explains much in terms of the incredible success North America's two northern nations have enjoyed since.  

For from the War of 1812, and its aftermath of avoiding another conflict, slowly emerged what might be called the North American regional consensus. It is now largely unspoken; most who live here probably couldn't articulate it if they had to, but it has dominated the lives of both countries, and especially Canada, ever since.  

Simply put, the North American regional consensus boils down to a realization that the cost of fighting for any possible treasure on the other side of the border is patently ridiculous when it is simply easier and cheaper to exchange these things by trade; that two quite different systems of government can coexist perfectly well; and (for Canadians) that maintaining stability and security in the northern half of the continent ourselves means that the United States will not feel compelled to do it for us.  

We may take all of this for granted, but we shouldn't. It took those sophisticated Europeans another 150 years (and two of the bloodiest wars in history) to figure it out. Most regions of the world still haven't.

At Canada Place in Vancouver they have a great ride--Fly Over Canada (an up to date Soarin')--and a truly odd War of 1812 virtual re-enactment that ends on just this note--it was an utterly pointless war that shouldn't obscure the fact we've been friends ever since.   Only in the Anglosphere.....
Posted by orrinj at 10:52 AM


Among many Egyptians, a dramatic shift in favor of the military  (Mary Beth Sheridan and Abigail Hauslohner, August 22  2013, Washington Post)

[T]he public's rejection of Morsi is rooted in the wildly high hopes that ordinary Egyptians had for the Arab Spring -- and their bitterness at how democracy failed to deliver jobs or social justice.  

When Egyptians revolted in 2011 against Mubarak, it reflected their disgust with his government's corruption, police abuses and inability to provide jobs for the swelling population.  

In the lead-up last year to the country's first free presidential elections, candidates offered not so much policy proposals as visions of a new country.  

"Islam is the solution" was the Muslim Brotherhood's pledge. Working-class Egyptians such as Mohammed Abdul Qadir, 43, took that to heart.  

"I only wanted one thing: to be ruled under sharia," or Islamic law, the cabdriver said. "But this didn't happen. There was only more injustice." By "sharia," Abdul Qadir didn't mean a ban on alcohol or a requirement that women wear veils. He meant the creation of a broadly just society, the kind promoted in Islamic teachings.  

But his life only got worse as the already weak economy sputtered. Tourism and foreign investment dried up amid political uncertainty. There were gasoline shortages. Food prices climbed.  

When Abdul Qadir became ill, he found that he couldn't afford the cost of hospital treatment. [...]

For upper-class Egyptians and many secular middle-class families, Islamists threatened the lifestyles that they had come to enjoy under Mubarak.  

Morsi's government failed to put in place any strict Islamic legislation. But men who let their daughters drive cars or walk around without head scarves felt as if they were being judged, said Hamdeen Sabahi, a secularist politician who ran against Morsi and others in the presidential election.  

"Maybe it wasn't a noticeable factor, but it was very harmful for many Egyptians," he said.  

For opponents of the Brotherhood, it has been easy to demonize the group. 

They have tapped into decades of government propaganda alleging that the organization has shadowy terrorist ties.  

Egyptian television and newspapers, parroting the new government's narrative, have propagated elaborate conspiracy theories connecting the group to foreign agents, massacres and evil plots. 

One widely circulating theory holds that the United States had backed Morsi to divide Egypt and weaken its military.  

When the military did step in, it meant "that our army stood with our people against such a conspiracy," Sabahi said.  

"It doesn't matter whether this was fact or illusion," he said.

August 24, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 1:33 PM


How Private Markets Are Delivering Elite, Ivy League College Education, Often Debt Free (Daniel Gorfine, 8/22/13, Forbes)

Fortunately, private capital is beginning to return to the market, offering growing numbers of students attractive financing options, as well as providing invaluable market feedback to students and policymakers alike. This is happening through still-developing innovative financing models that -- similar to the crowdfunding model used by startups to raise capital -- leverage the internet, accredited investors, and online communities. These models also hold the promise of providing critical market feedback through product pricing and data analytics, based on outcomes of different education paths and programs. 

 The first model, pioneered by new ventures such as Upstart and Pave, rejects debt altogether and instead allows "accredited" investors (high income or net-worth individuals) to invest in an individual through what's called a "human capital contract." In these agreements, contracted between individuals and investors, the individual promises to share a percentage of his or her income with the investor over a fixed period of time in return for up-front money to finance or refinance education costs. This model shifts risk from the individual to the investor, whose return depends on the future earnings of the individual.  

Promising graduates are now using this model to pay off existing student debt, freeing themselves to embark on an entrepreneurial initiative, pursue further education, or seek a job that aligns with personal or career objectives. Students or graduates may also benefit from mentorship provided by investors who have an interest in the student or graduate's success. Questions remain regarding the ultimate scalability of this model, however, because students who plan to pursue non lucrative career opportunities may self-select into this model where overall repayments to investors will be smaller than total repayments under a traditional loan.  

Another promising model does rely on debt, but offers students at leading universities and graduate schools compelling rates for refinancing existing student debt, or potentially undercutting federal rates that may rise in the future (due to Congress' recent decision to permit the rate to float). San Francisco-based SoFi is the largest of these platforms, having lent $140 million to students at 100 schools; it allows investors who are alums of particular schools to pool their money and lend to current students, or to recent graduates seeking to refinance their existing loans at lower rates. Here, too, students may benefit from mentorship and even job opportunities provided by the alumni investor network.  

Perhaps the most important aspect of both innovative financing models is the real-world market feedback they provide on the value of particular forms of education.

Posted by orrinj at 1:25 PM


Diplomacy and Double Standards (Gareth Evans, 8/22/13, Project Synicate)

[H]ad the army held its nerve - and triggers - there is every reason to believe that Morsi would have been voted out in the next election. If the Muslim Brotherhood denied a ballot, or refused to accept defeat, tougher measures could then have been contemplated. As it is, the army's coup was indefensible, and its slaughter of mostly unarmed protesters ranks in infamy with the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989, and those of Libya's former leader, Muammar el-Qaddafi, and Syria's Hafez and Bashar al-Assad. 

It is not as if maintaining its $1.3 billion in annual military aid gives the US any leverage over Egypt's behavior. It might have once, but the amount now pales in significance next to the $12 billion in economic assistance recently rushed to the generals by Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates. Certainly, the regime would resent withdrawal of this aid, as would most of the Brotherhood's civilian opponents; but that matters less than the impact on American credibility, in the Middle East and the rest of the world, of not doing so. 

Unless political leaders know that tearing up the rule book on the scale seen in Egypt will expose them to more than rhetorical consequences, the tacit message - that regimes that pick the "right" targets can repress at will - will resonate in Bahrain, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia, not to mention Syria. Farther afield, the US risks reinforcing the perception that it is comfortable with double standards. For a country whose global leadership depends as much on its soft power as on its military might, that is dynamite.

Posted by orrinj at 1:20 PM


A society of total surveillance : Led by the United States, the West is increasingly abandoning the basic right to privacy and threatens to become a transatlantic surveillance society. Only citizens can stop this development (Michael Knigge, 8/22/13, Deutsche Welle)

The National Security Agency in the United States operates like a giant vacuum cleaner, sucking up data around the globe, according to Edward Snowden. In Germany alone, more than half a billion communication connections are allegedly being monitored. 

The volume of data collected worldwide is so huge that even NSA has been unable to store it all completely and permanently.

Citizens won't stop what they approve of.

Posted by orrinj at 1:13 PM


Echoes from the killing fields of the east (Timothy Snyder, 9/28/10,

It is confoundingly hard to remember that the second world war began with an alliance between Hitler and Stalin. In August 1939, Berlin and Moscow signed a non-aggression pact, including a secret protocol in which they divided the lands between Germany and the USSR into spheres of influence. The next month, the Wehrmacht and the Red Army both invaded Poland, met at a demarcation line, and arranged a joint victory parade. Seventy-one years ago today, on 28 September 1939, the Polish campaign complete, the two powers signed a treaty on borders and friendship, finalising their division of Poland and providing for future economic cooperation.  [...]

Despite differences in ideology, the Nazis and Soviets followed strikingly similar policies in Poland. The Soviets deported about 400,000 Polish citizens to Kazakhstan and Siberia, the Germans a similar number to make room for German farmers. Together, the two powers executed tens of thousands of Polish civilians, many of them educated people. The demographic profiling was similar enough that, in some cases, the Germans murdered one sibling and the Soviets another.  

When Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, Stalin reversed alliances, beginning the history that is most comfortable to remember in Russia, Britain and the United States: of the common struggle against Hitler.

...if you feel the need to pretend we won.

Posted by orrinj at 1:08 PM


Smart Windows That Let In Light But Keep Out Heat Are Almost Here (Co.exist, 8/22/13)

Scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, in California, have developed a nanocrystal coating that gives more control over the light spectrum, and therefore how much near-infrared light (which produces heat) and visible light (the stuff you like) enter a room. The clever bit is that the window appears completely clear, even when little heat is entering.  

"When used as a window coating, our new material can have a major impact on building energy efficiency," says Delia Milliron, who led the work (she talks more about it in the video below). The researchers write up their findings in a recent issue of the journal Nature.

Posted by orrinj at 1:04 PM


Quietly, businesses help reshape US immigration debate (Reuters, AUGUST 24, 2013)

As lawmakers return to their home districts in the final weeks of summer, hundreds of US businesses have quietly mobilized to persuade Republicans such as Poe that an immigration overhaul is broadly supported by their constituents, even if some conservative activists loudly object.  

The low-key strategy by businesses, along with a decision by several conservative lawmakers to spend the month campaigning against President Barack Obama's healthcare overhaul, appears to have lowered the temperature of the immigration debate.  Public "town hall" meetings held by members of Congress this month generally have not disintegrated into the raucous, racially tinged sessions on immigration that some had feared.  

As a result, many involved in the effort are cautiously optimistic that one of their top priorities of the past decade could become a reality sometime in the next year and a half - even though huge obstacles remain in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.  

"We're confident that this is going to get done sooner rather than later," said Glenn Hamer, president of the Arizona Chamber of Business and Industry.  

Immigration reform has long been a top priority for business groups such as the US Chamber of Commerce, which say that current laws and regulations make it too difficult to find workers they can't recruit at home and expose businesses to a tangle of conflicting labor regulations.

Posted by orrinj at 1:00 PM


ESPN Reportedly Caved to NFL Pressure on the Concussion Story (DASHIELL BENNETT, AUG 23, 2013, ATLANTIC) 

ESPN's decision to back out of a co-produced documentary about concussions in football, raised a lot of eyebrows, but not as many as the new report that ESPN made the decision after executives were personally lobbied by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. According to The New York Times, Goodell met with two of ESPN's top executives last week -- President John Skipper and Executive VP for Production John Wildhack -- and "conveyed [his] displeasure with the direction of the documentary" currently being produced by the PBS series Frontline. A recently released trailerpresents the idea that the league has turned a blind eye to head injuries and long-term disability caused by careers in football. Days later, ESPN withdrew its name and logos from the collaborative project, even though it is based almost exclusively on the reporting of two of the network's own employees.  

The Times story was written by James Andrew Miller, who literally wrote the book about ESPN and has better sources inside the organization than anyone. He describes the dinner meeting as "combative" and the sources make it clear that it was this pressure from Goodell that influenced ESPN's decision.

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August 23, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 5:07 AM


Iran Oil Industry Buoyed by New Minister (WSJ, 8/16/13)

Bijan Zanganeh was approved by Parliament late Thursday as part of a largely technocratic cabinet nominated by Iran's new president, Hassan Rouhani. [...]

Mr. Zanganeh's eight-year tenure under former reformist president Mohammad Khatami, who accelerated efforts to open up the economy, is remembered by many officials and foreign companies as a golden age for the country's oil industry.

After offering so-called buy-back contracts that gave a share of production to foreign companies in exchange for covering oil field costs, Mr. Zanganeh attracted billions in investment from European giants like Norway's Statoil ASA (STO), France's Total SA (TOT) or Italy's Eni SpA (E). That drove up its crude oil production 10% to 4.1 million barrels a day, according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Energy.

Posted by orrinj at 12:51 AM


Syria's Kurds Take the Offensive (Ted Galen Carpenter, August 22, 2013, National Interest)

If the Syrian civil war wasn't already murky and complex enough, the country's Kurdish minority has added a new element of instability in recent weeks. Kurdish militias have launched offensives against Syrian rebel forces operating in the northeast and have scored significant victories. That development sets off alarm bells with both the Obama administration and the government of Turkey. The Kurdish agenda in Syria is increasingly clear: to establish a de facto independent state in northeastern Syria similar to the self-governing Kurdish region in northern Iraq. Since the authority of Bashar al-Assad's regime is now nearly nonexistent in northeastern Syria, the militia victories over Syrian rebel forces brings the realization of that goal tantalizingly close.

Turkish leaders consider such a prospect anathema. Iraq's Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) has long been a thorn in Ankara's side, and Turkish officials see the KRG as being an inspiration to secessionist Kurdish forces inside Turkey.

The creation of Kurdistan was the one thing GHWB got right in the First Gulf War.

Posted by orrinj at 12:34 AM


Liberal Education, Leisurism, and Technologism (Peter Lawler, August 22, 2013, Big Think)

 The objections we have to liberal education as contemplation are practical objections we have to the classical philosophy of the Greeks and Romans. One is its privileging of contemplation made ancient science unproductive or sterile. There was not enough thought given to directing minds toward technological goals, toward using them to improving the security, comfort, and freedom of ordinary people.

 There is, of course, truth to this criticism, but it's easy to see that we've gone from one extreme to the other.

 We might be said to have moved from leisurism to technologism, to the view that equates knowledge with technological control and that every human problem has a technological solution. The Greeks and Romans might have underestimated or downplayed how much human beings could improve their situation through their own efforts, but our excess is to put too much faith in techno-perfectibility.

...where technology has made the contemplative life universally accessible? Which raises the question of whether our liberal education institutions are the best fora for such contemplation.

Posted by orrinj at 12:14 AM


Mosque or Modernity? (MIchael Rocard, 8/22/13. Project Syndicate)

Peace in this huge and strategically vital region - and thus in the world - can prevail only if its countries manage, despite their turmoil, to protect themselves from ideological extremes and political excesses. The importance of this should be abundantly clear to Westerners, whose modern civilization grew out of religious dissent that was initially met by the violence of the Inquisition and the Counter-Reformation. If Islam, particularly in the Middle East, is on a similar trajectory, long-term instability in the region is all but assured.

Except that with the Islamic world on exactly the same trajectory as the Christian world was 500 years ago, the argument that follows is that they are on track for long term stability like our own.

August 22, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 12:21 PM


Australian's slaying stirs speculation in Oklahoma (Hailey Branson-Potts and Matt Pearce, August 21, 2013, LA Times)

Authorities have not tied race to the killing of Christopher Lane, a strapping young athlete from Melbourne attending East Central University in Ada, Okla., about 80 miles away. Lane was out for a jog Friday when he was shot once in the back by a gunman in a passing car.

Authorities say one of the boys said they targeted Lane, who is white, because they were bored and had nothing to do.
Edwards and Chancey Allen Luna, 16, who is also black, were charged with first-degree murder. At the police station, Edwards danced while they were booking him, said Duncan Police Chief Daniel P. Ford. "He thought it was cool," Ford said.

Michael Dewayne Jones, 17, who is white, was charged with lesser counts -- accessory to the murder and use of a vehicle in discharge of weapon. According to court documents, Jones was the driver and told police he knew who shot Lane but was worried he'd "get killed" if he snitched.

With what appears to have been a single pull of the trigger, the southern Oklahoma town of Duncan has been heaved into a cultural and political vortex, one that has Australians making threats about boycotting U.S. tourism while residents loudly defend their gun rights and quietly talk about race and the changing way of life in their state.

Duncan is a town that has seen the ups and downs of oil booms, as well as the prolonged invasion of drug use that has crept through the rest of middle America. "This town is a town where it's drugs or Jesus," said Cole Hamer, 20. "You either got the drugs, or you got the churchgoers, and that's what it is."

Posted by orrinj at 12:15 PM


A Novel Approach to Campaign Finance Reform (Robert Schlesinger, August 21, 2013, US News)

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., has hit on a novel way to get at the issue of secret money flowing into political campaigns: following the law. It seems that the Internal Revenue Service's rules regarding how much political activity a 501(c)4 group can engage in and still retain tax exempt status doesn't actually comply with how the relevant law is written. So Van Hollen and a couple of campaign finance reform activist groups are suing the IRS and the Treasury Department to get them to do what the law says. [...]

The real problem, he said, is that while "the law as it was written by Congress could not be more plain," it's not being executed. "It says that 501(c)4 tax exempts status is reserved for organizations that are 'exclusively' - that's a quote - exclusively engaged in social welfare" activities, he said. In the late 1950s, however, "that plain English meaning somehow got tortured, somehow got twisted" when the standard was set at being primarily involved in political activities.

The real scandal is that the IRS was eventually granting the exemption to Tea Party groups.

Posted by orrinj at 11:18 AM


Rural Coloradans to vote on breaking away as 51st state, angered by liberal policies on guns, energy (Valerie Richardson, 8/19/13, The Washington Times)

Known for its agriculture and oil and gas production, Weld is the largest of the Colorado counties exploring a break with the state after the legislature's sharp turn to the left with bills restricting access to firearms and doubling the state's renewable-energy mandate for rural areas. [...]

This isn't the first time disgruntled residents have explored the option of a state split. In the past few decades, movements have sprung up in favor of carving California and Washington into two states.

New York has had a host of proposals aimed at peeling off jurisdictions, including New York City, upstate New York and western New York. The most recent effort was in 2008, when the Suffolk County comptroller proposed splitting off Long Island.

Since the boundaries of the newly independent Colonies were finalized in the 1790s, two states have gained that status by breaking off from extant states. Maine was part of Massachusetts until 1820, and West Virginia seceded from Virginia during the Civil War.

Posted by orrinj at 10:48 AM


The Man Who Was Treated for $17,000 Less : Bypassing his third-party payer, my patient avoided a high hospital 'list price.' (JEFFREY A. SINGER, 8/21/13, WSJ)

The insurance policy, the clerk said, would pay up to $2,500 for the surgeon--more than enough--and up to $2,500 for the hospital's charges for the operating room, nursing, recovery room, etc. The estimated hospital charge was $23,000. She asked him to pay roughly $20,000 upfront to cover the estimated balance.

My patient was stunned. I received a call from the admitting clerk informing me that he wanted to cancel the surgery, and explaining why. After speaking to the man alone and learning the nature of his insurance policy, I realized I was not bound by any "preferred provider" contractual arrangements and knew we had a solution. [...]

Most people are unaware that if they don't use insurance, they can negotiate upfront cash prices with hospitals and providers substantially below the "list" price. Doctors are happy to do this. We get paid promptly, without paying office staff to wade through the insurance-payment morass.

So we canceled the surgery and started the scheduling process all over again, this time classifying my patient as a "self-pay" (or uninsured) patient. I quoted him a reasonable upfront cash price, as did the anesthesiologist. We contacted a different hospital and they quoted him a reasonable upfront cash price for the outpatient surgical/nursing services. He underwent his operation the very next day, with a total bill of just a little over $3,000, including doctor and hospital fees. He ended up saving $17,000 by not using insurance

Posted by orrinj at 10:01 AM


On the Killing Floor, Clues to the Impact Of Immigration on Jobs (SARA MURRAY, 8/22/13, WSJ)

Here on the outskirts of town sits a sprawling meatpacking plant where more than 3,000 workers slaughter and process thousands of cows a week--and where English is hardly the only language spoken inside. Indeed, the union handbook is printed in English, Spanish, Burmese and Somali.

The plant was one of a half dozen facilities owned by Swift & Co. that federal agents raided seven years ago in search of workers living in the country illegally. Some 260 people were detained here, forcing the plant's new owner to find American replacements after some were deported. When 1,300 new jobs were added, the task grew harder, and the plant took on its international flavor, hiring Somalis and Burmese refugees. [...]

On a recent day at the plant, a worker on the kill floor deftly hooked a cattle's hide, just above the shoulder, into a machine called the hide puller. A bar swooped down, yanking the hide over the cow's head and leaving behind a naked carcass. The machine can do that 365 times in an hour. The work used to be done by hand; workers used knives to peel the hide from the skull.

Employees work eight hour shifts, standing, with a 15-minute morning break and a 30-minute break for lunch. It is tiring and riskier than average work. For every 100 workers, 6.4 were injured or fell ill on the job in 2011 nationwide. For all occupations, public and private, there were just 3.8 incidents per 100 workers.

Since the meatpacking plant was built in Greeley in the 1950s, the northeastern Colorado city has lured immigrants. The population blossomed to more than 90,000 in 2010, 36% of whom were Hispanic, most of them from Mexico. Twenty years earlier, the town had 60,500 residents, 20% of them Hispanic.

Now the area has about 2,000 refugees, too--the "new Mexicans," as some in the meatpacking business called them. Asad Abdi, a refugee who got his start at the meatpacking plant in Greeley, opened a Global Refugee Center in 2008 to help immigrants learn English, find housing and jobs and apply for government benefits.

The changes haven't always unfolded smoothly, breeding tension among native-born Americans, Latinos and refugees here.

"We're a pretty conservative community, and I would say we don't want illegals," says Greeley Mayor Tom Norton, where unemployment stood at 8.4% in June. "But we do want a labor force." There's the rub, he says. There are some longtime residents who still want to work in meatpacking plants, but not very many.

White people want jobs, not work.

Posted by orrinj at 9:39 AM


Pfc. Manning: 'I want to live as a woman' (Carolyn Pesce and Jim Michaels, 8/22/13, USA TODAY)

Bradley Manning, the Army private sentenced to 35 years in military prison for leaking classified documents, revealed Thursday he intends to live out the remainder of his life as a woman.

"I am Chelsea Manning. I am female," the Army private wrote in a statement read by his attorney Thursday on NBC's Today show

Posted by orrinj at 5:48 AM


Obamacare Reset: A Free Market Vision for Health Care Reform (Nick Pandelidis, 8/21/13, Acton)

The components of the free market vision of health care reform would look like this:

Coverage for those with pre-existing conditions: The great majority of persons with pre-existing conditions have adequate access to affordable health insurance because most have employer provided insurance. Employer-based insurance already has safeguards preventing denial of coverage or excessive premiums for those with pre-existing conditions who have maintained continuous coverage as they move from job to job. Free market reform will no longer allow insurance companies to deny coverage to those persons who must get coverage in the individual market. This reform will also establish appropriately funded high risk pools for those who cannot afford the higher premium costs for pre-existing expensive medical conditions.

Coverage for the poor: Free market reform will provide all individuals and families with a refundable tax credit to buy health insurance. With this tax credit, the poor can buy quality health insurance, and will no longer be relegated to a second-rate Medicaid system.

Individual ownership of health insurance: Free market reform will make health care insurance refundable tax credits available to all individuals and families. Now all persons who buy insurance will have the same tax benefit as those who currently have employer-provided insurance. Further, they will no longer lose their coverage if they change or lose their job. Perhaps most importantly, this health care tax reform will greatly encourage insurance market competition.

Individuals in charge of their own health care, and incentives for cost-effective health care spending: Free market reform, by promoting health care savings accounts in conjunction with catastrophic coverage, will put the money spent on health care in the hands of the consumer who actually uses the health care.

Posted by orrinj at 5:45 AM

NOTHING COSTS MORE THAN IT USED TO: says it will match Amazon's book prices - from now on (Molly Driscoll, August 21, 2013, CS Monitor)'s recent efforts to sell books at what they directly stated were "10 percent off Amazon's book prices" has now become a campaign to match the prices of the bookselling titan, and those prices will be permanent.

Posted by orrinj at 4:52 AM


India and Israel's strategic ties (NOAH BECK, 08/21/2013, Jerusalem Post)

There is also a blossoming military and commercial relationship between India and Israel. Israel is India's second largest arms supplier after Russia, and Israeli-Indian military cooperation extends to technology upgrades, joint research, intelligence cooperation and even space (in 2008, India launched a 300-kilogram Israeli satellite into orbit). Israel has upgraded India's Soviet-era armor and aircraft and provided India with sea-to-sea missiles, radar and other surveillance systems, border monitoring equipment, night vision devices, and other military support.

Bilateral trade reached $6 billion last year and negotiations began this year for a free trade agreement.
Israel-India cooperation in agriculture and water technology is growing both through government-sponsored initiatives and private business deals.

Last year, Israeli and Indian government institutions jointly launched an online network that provides real-time communications between Indian farmers and Israeli agricultural technology experts, and Israel is in the process of setting up 28 agricultural training centers throughout India.

August 21, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 9:55 PM


Court ruling leaves many federal workers 'defenseless' and without appeal rights (Joe Davidson, Wednesday, August 21, 2013, Washington Post)

Generally there are laws to protect federal workers against arbitrary dismissals and other actions. But under this ruling, if an agency "says the worker is 'ineligible for a sensitive job,' all those rights turn into a soap bubble," said Tom Devine, legal director of the nonprofit Government Accountability Project. "The worker is defenseless."

Devine said the court backed the Obama administration argument that the MSPB cannot review or overturn an agency's decision to take disciplinary or adverse action against an employee in a sensitive position. Meanwhile, he added, the administration is proposing regulations that would make nearly all federal jobs eligible for a sensitive designation.

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Posted by orrinj at 9:40 PM


A U.S. manufacturing comeback won't rebuild the middle class (Nin-Hai Tseng, August 21, 2013, Forbes)

The reality is U.S. factories rely more on machines than actual workers, says Jesse Rothstein, public policy and economics professor at University of California Berkeley. Machines produce more for less, and with bargaining powers of U.S. unions not being what they once were, it becomes less likely workers will earn more.

Posted by orrinj at 9:36 PM


Health Care Costs Climb Moderately, Survey Says (ANDREW POLLACK, 8/21/13, NY Times)

Premiums for employer-provided health insurance have increased by relatively modest amounts this year, according to a new survey, a further sign that once-torrid health care inflation has abated for now. [...]

Premiums have been held in check partly by increasing out-of-pocket costs that workers pay through co-payments and deductibles.

The survey found that 78 percent of covered workers have a general deductible, up from 72 percent in 2012. About 38 percent of covered workers now face a deductible of at least $1,000. At companies with fewer than 200 employees, 58 percent of covered workers have a deductible that large, with 31 percent having a deductible of at least $2,000, up from 12 percent in 2008.

"It's part of what I see as a quiet revolution in health insurance, from more comprehensive to less comprehensive, with higher deductibles," said Dr. Altman, who added that that should appeal to conservatives. "The vision of insurance that they've always favored, with more skin in the game, is the one that's coming to dominate in the marketplace."

Universalize the HSA/high deductible system.

Posted by orrinj at 9:33 PM


Stable Population Party 'green-washing' racism (Malcolm King, 22 August 2013, Online Opinion)

The Stable Population Party (SPP) is using environmental and community groups to 'green wash' its anti-immigration message and split the Greens vote at the Federal election.

The SPP's technique of 'green washing' local community groups comes first hand from American organisations such as John Tanton and the Social Contract Press, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) and especially Numbers USA. The SPP has direct and indirect links with the former and latter organisations.

Green washing is portraying oneself as pro-environment but camouflaging the anti-immigration motives.

Does it matter whether you hate people generally or colored people specifically?  It's evil either way.

Posted by orrinj at 9:22 PM


Posted by orrinj at 12:08 PM


Allies Thwart America in Egypt : Israel, Saudis and U.A.E. Support Military Moves (WSJ, 8/21/13)

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 PM


Is This How You Cut Greenhouse Gas Emissions Without Hurting The Economy? (Ben Schiller, 8/21/13, Co.Exist)

Ask economists what to do about climate change, and some will say a carbon tax is the best solution. But that doesn't mean there are carbon taxes everywhere. Just the opposite. Governments have tended to go with options that are easier politically, like subsidizing cleantech industries, if they've gone for anything at all.

British Columbia is an exception. In 2008, it introduced a tax on about three-quarters of the fossil fuels consumed in the province, gradually raising the level year-by-year. By mid-2012, it was charging $30 U.S. dollars per ton of carbon dioxide. That means drivers now pay about seven cents a liter more for gas than they did five years ago.
"It is possible to have both a healthier environment and a strong economy--by taxing pollution and lowering income taxes."

The result? Appreciably lower fossil fuel consumption. A study by Stewart Elgie, at the University of Ottawa, finds that fuel use per person dropped 17.4% by 2012, and 18.8% compared to the rest of Canada, where fuel consumption actually rose a bit. This reduction, in turn, has allowed B.C. to lower its emissions by 10% over the period--a pretty good dent in its greenhouse gas emissions reduction target of 33% (compared to 2007 levels) by 2020.

The really good news is that B.C. appears to have achieved this without hurting its economy. Economic output per person, while negative, was better than in other provinces. And taxes are now lower overall. B.C. reinvested the carbon tax income to reduce its personal and corporate tax rates (its income taxes are now the lowest in the country). In fact, it managed to give out more than it took in: about $500 million more, according to the study.

Taxing what you don't want instead of what you do ain't exactly rocket science.

Posted by orrinj at 11:42 AM


How Corporate America Used the Great Recession to Turn Good Jobs Into Bad Ones : Abracadabra! You're a part-timer. (Barbara Garson, Aug. 20, 2013, Mother Jones)

Watch closely: I'm about to demystify the sleight-of-hand by which good jobs were transformed into bad jobs, full-time workers with benefits into freelancers with nothing, during the dark days of the Great Recession.

First, be aware of what a weird economic downturn and recovery this has been. From the end of an "average" American recession, it ordinarily takes slightly less than a year to reach or surpass the previous employment peak. But in June 2013--four full years after the official end of the Great Recession--we had recovered only 6.6 million jobs, or just three-quarters of the 8.7 million jobs we lost.

Here's the truly mysterious aspect of this "recovery": 21% of the jobs lost during the Great Recession were low wage, meaning they paid $13.83 an hour or less. But 58% of the jobs regained fall into that category. A common explanation for that startling statistic is that the bad jobs are coming back first and the good jobs will follow.

But let me suggest another explanation: the good jobs are here among us right now--it's just their wages, their benefits, and the long-term security that have vanished. the fact that, in an era of high technology and globalization, labor doesn't have much value?

Of course, the most important takeaway from all this is that no one actually believes work has any value in itself, we only care about getting paid.

Posted by orrinj at 11:38 AM


US letter guaranteed our preconditions, PA negotiator says (Elhanan Miller, August 20, 2013, Times of Israel)

The Palestinians would not have returned to the negotiating table with Israel were it not for an American letter of assurances guaranteeing their main negotiating preconditions, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said on Tuesday.

In a lengthy interview with Nazareth-based A-Shams radio, Erekat said that the US had assured Palestinians in writing that talks would recognize the pre-1967 lines as the basis of a Palestinian state; would deal with all core issues (Jerusalem, refugees, borders, security and water); would take place within a six- to nine-month timetable; and would not allow for any provisional or interim solutions before a final status agreement was signed. Erekat also said that an American-Israeli agreement existed regarding settlements, but did not elaborate on its contents. side has already won.

Posted by orrinj at 11:13 AM


Former Bush Administration Official Defends Obama's Embattled Choice for DHS Post (Mike Levine, 8/20/13, ABC News)

A senior immigration official in the George W. Bush administration is defending President Obama's embattled choice for a top homeland security post, saying the nominee's willingness to make tough decisions means coworkers "might be unhappy with him and want to embarrass him" with unfair allegations.

Posted by orrinj at 11:07 AM


Israel's Christmas tree-banning mayor is focus of own attack ads (Edmund Sanders, August 6, 2013,LA Times)

The right-wing mayor of Upper Nazareth has raised eyebrows by claiming to defend the Jewish character of his northern Israel town through the banning of Christmas trees from public spaces and by blocking the opening of an Arab school.

So as he faces reelection this fall, it wasn't that surprising that Mayor Shimon Gapso's track record was the focus of a series of negative posters hung around the city last week, labeling him a racist and a proponent of apartheid.

What was suprising, however, was the identity of those behind the attack ads: the mayor's own campaign.
Gapso, one of Israel's most provocative city officials, launched the fake campaign against himself, apparently in an attempt to spark a public debate about his record that he could then respond to.

The "attack" ads included pictures of leading Arab Knesset members and leftist Israeli politicians, with slogans like "Throw the mayor out," and "We must get rid of Shimon Gapso."

He launched his "response" Monday, with one poster reading, "Upper Nazareth will be Jewish forever. No more shutting our eyes, no more grabbing on to the law allowing every citizen to live where they want. This is the time to defend our home."

There's also a YouTube video with caricatures of Arab Israeli lawmakers Ahmed Tibi and Haneen Zoabi speaking in broken Hebrew about how much they can't stand Gapso.

Gapso disclosed on this Facebook page Monday that his campaign was behind both sets of posters.

Posted by orrinj at 10:54 AM


Dutch architects say 3D print technology could solve the world's housing problems (Deutsche Welle, 8/21/13)

3D printers can create almost anything these days, from eyeglasses and coffee mugs to working handguns. But now architects in Amsterdam are dreaming bigger. Much bigger.

Two Dutch architecture firms, DUS Architects and Universe Architecture, are each hoping to print the world's first full-scale, inhabitable house.

"It's kind of Lego for adults," says Hans Vermeulen, one of three architects at DUS. But his plan is not child's play. He wants to print, piece by piece, a classic Dutch canal house, which will become an information center for 3D printing.

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Posted by orrinj at 10:47 AM


Labour to substantially cut benefits bill if it wins power in 2015 (Rowena Mason,  21 August 2013, The Guardian)

Labour will cut the benefits bill "quite substantially" and more effectively than the Tories if it wins power in 2015, the shadow work and pensions secretary said on Tuesday.

Liam Byrne, a Labour frontbencher, said the coalition's welfare reforms were failing to cut costs enough, and called for cross-party talks to "save" some of the government's key schemes. [...]

"Iain Duncan Smith should put his cards on the table, tell us what's going wrong and together we can fix it," he said.

...a quarrel over who can manage Thatcherism most efficiently.

Posted by orrinj at 10:30 AM


Israel Supporters Divided on Cutting Military Aid to Egypt (Nathan Guttman, August 21, 2013, Forward)

 The debate over whether the United States should continue military aid to Egypt is roiling Washington; pitting political idealists against realists; separating liberals, conservatives and neoconservatives -- and dividing supporters of Israel.

Israel and the lobby backing it in the United States have made clear that they oppose suspension of aid to Cairo, fearing that it would endanger the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty and undermine Egyptian forces that are cooperating with Israel.

And then you're required to pretend not to comprehend why democrats in the Middle East don't love us nor them.

Posted by orrinj at 12:42 AM


The Comforts of the Apocalypse (Rob Goodman, 8/19/13, The Chronicle Review)

Nineteen days after the world failed to end, blood stopped flowing to the brain of Harold Camping, prophet of doom. Had he felt his stroke coming as he confidently forecast apocalypse? Maybe not; maybe he had no more foresight into his own demise than the demise of the world. Or maybe he had simply confused the two--after all, he was approaching his 90th birthday, and his own mortality couldn't have seemed far off when, on national billboards and his own radio network, he set a date (May 21, 2011) for the end of days. For some, it is a short mental step from "my end is imminent" to "the end of everything is imminent." Call it apocalyptic narcissism.

We flatter ourselves when we imagine a world incapable of lasting without us in it--a world that, having ceased to exist, cannot forget us, discard us, or pave over our graves. Even if the earth no longer sits at the center of creation, we can persuade ourselves that our life spans sit at the center of time, that our age and no other is history's fulcrum. "We live in the most interesting times in human history ... the days of fulfillment," writes the Rev. E.W. Jackson, Republican candidate for lieutenant governor of Virginia, in words that could have also come from the mouth of Saint Paul or Shabbetai Zevi or Hal Lindsey or any other visionary unable to accept the hard truth of the apocalyptic lottery: We're virtually guaranteed to witness the end of nothing except our lives, and the present, far from fulfilling anything, is mainly distinguished by being the one piece of time with us in it.

We live in an annoying moment in time, with no significant issues facing nor separating mankind.  Folks inevitably resent the ease of our lives and yearn for the heroic.  Thus the insipid zombie phenomenon.

Posted by orrinj at 12:32 AM

HAY BAIL (profanity alert):

Grizzly Attack : Alone in a vast Alaskan wilderness, seven teens fend off a grizzly bear--then try to stay alive (Madison Kahn, 1/05/12, Outside)

On July 23, 2011, Josh Berg and six teenagers were hiking in Alaska's Talkeetna Mountains, a remote section of wilderness south of Denali National Park, on day 24 of a 30-day expedition with the National Outdoors Leadership School. The boys had set out as an independent student group that afternoon and expected be without a NOLS instructor for much of the remaining trip. Gaining that independence--a major achievement for any NOLS group--was why Berg, who is 17, returned to Alaska in 2011 after completing a similar NOLS course a year earlier. Berg was acting as team leader when he and three other students were mauled by a grizzly bear hours after leaving camp. This is Berg's story, as told to Madison Kahn.

We left camp at 3 P.M. The plan was to hike through the night because at that time of year it stays light. We were hiking in a stream because there were these massive cottonwoods and hiking there let us avoid them. I had been walking at the back of the group the entire day, but around 8 P.M. we took a break and I decided to move to the front.
Twenty minutes later, I came around a bend in the stream and saw what looked like a hay bale up in the brush 30 or 40 feet away. I remember thinking there are no hay bales in Alaska. Then I saw it move. And all of the sudden I was like 'Holy [****], this is a grizzly bear.'

I turned around and started screaming, 'Bear! Bear! Bear!' but he was on me in two or three steps. He went for my head first. The thing I remember best is hearing my skull crack. He started dragging me by the head and I tried to punch him in the face and throw my fists up, but I don't think it did anything. Somewhere in there he got my left leg and my right arm, too. I remember thinking where is the pain? Then he stopped and bit me in the back of my neck. At that point he could have done anything to me, but he heard my friend Sam Grottsegen and ran off and attacked him. I remember hearing Sam scream. I was screaming a lot, too, and I'm glad I never saw the bear's face. It means I won't have nightmares about his face coming to get me.

August 20, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 8:27 PM


Immigration Reform Could Boost U.S. Economy : Study shows immigration bill would create 14,000 jobs in each congressional district (Lauren Fox, August 20, 2013, US News)

[A] new report by the conservative-leaning American Action Network, is evidence that the bill might just be the stimulus Congress has been looking for to put the stagnant economy into overdrive.

From California to South Carolina, the report shows that the Senate's immigration bill would create an average of 14,000 jobs per congressional district in the next decade.

Majority Whip Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., a key member of the House leadership whose agricultural district is more than 30 percent Latino, would see nearly 17,000 new jobs back home if the Senate bill were implemented. And even Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, who has made headlines for expressing disdain for immigrants who entered the country illegally, would see more than 13,000 new jobs in his district.

It is not the first to show that immigration reform could stimulate the economy. The Congressional Budget Office estimated the Senate bill would cut the deficit by more than $680 billion, and a July study by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy ishowed that reform would boost state and local tax revenues by $2 billion a year.

Had Mr. Obama passed amnesty instead of stimulus he'd have stimulated the economy.

Posted by orrinj at 8:19 PM


Britain Detains the Partner of a Reporter Tied to Leaks (CHARLIE SAVAGE and MICHAEL SCHWIRTZ, 8/20/13, NY Times)

Mr. Miranda was in Berlin to deliver documents related to Mr. Greenwald's investigation into government surveillance to Ms. Poitras, Mr. Greenwald said. Ms. Poitras, in turn, gave Mr. Miranda different documents to pass to Mr. Greenwald. Those documents, which were stored on encrypted thumb drives, were confiscated by airport security, Mr. Greenwald said. All of the documents came from the trove of materials provided to the two journalists by Mr. Snowden. The British authorities seized all of his electronic media -- including video games, DVDs and data storage devices -- and did not return them, Mr. Greenwald said.

Where's Foyle when you need him?

Posted by orrinj at 8:01 PM


Cutting Off Aid Honors American Values and Law : By contravening U.S. law, the Obama administration is sending a dangerous message to Gen. Sisi. (ELLIOTT ABRAMS, 8/20/13, WSJ)

The first mistake the Obama administration made was not instantly suspending aid when the coup occurred in July. The administration's twisted defenses for persisting in its current policy--Who says we have to make an immediate decision to cut off aid? Why is it a coup if it has significant public support?--showed contempt for the rule of law. The White House's refusal to enforce this statute has undercut U.S. influence in Egypt, not enhanced it. Had we stuck to our laws and principles, it would have signaled to Gen. Sisi and the Egyptians that we have a few of both.

Those who oppose a suspension of aid conjure up a parade of horribles. First, they say, we'll lose all influence with the Egyptian military. This is a laughable argument, for it is obvious that we have none. Secretary of State John Kerry, Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel--who alone placed 17 phone calls to Gen. Sisi in the six weeks after the coup--begged Egypt's interim leader not to use deadly force against demonstrators. But that is exactly what he did and continues to do. The generals clearly think we need them more than they need us, so they aren't listening.

The second argument is that if the U.S. cuts off aid, Egypt will abrogate the peace treaty with Israel, stop allowing American ships easy passage through the Suez Canal and abandon efforts to fight terrorism in Sinai. This list wrongly assumes that Egypt does these things for us rather than in its own national interest.

Nowadays, the Egyptian military has a far closer relationship with the Israeli Defense Forces than with the U.S. It values Israeli advice on matters like terrorism and Hamas, a despised Muslim Brotherhood offshoot, more than our own. Egypt needs peace with Israel because war would destroy any chance of economic progress and likely deal the army a humiliating blow. Egypt needs law and order in Sinai to save the tourist industry in Sharm el-Sheik and prevent the area from becoming a base for terrorists that will target Egypt itself, as well as Jordan and Israel.

Finally, those that oppose suspending aid argue that once the Egyptian military is cut off, the U.S. will lose all of its current contacts and any future influence will be forfeited as well. Once again, this is a vast exaggeration. New legislation could allow counterterror assistance and military exchanges to continue, while programs like supplying Egypt with more F-16s--useless to an army engaged in street combat--are delayed. So far, the White House has proposed none.

Being a democrat means accepting your choice won't always win elections, but should still get to govern.

Posted by orrinj at 3:19 PM


After Obama-mocking rodeo clown, Missouri fair requires 'sensitivity training' (Josh Levs, 8/15/13, CNN)

A state fair's response to the uproar over a rodeo clown's mockery of President Obama is creating an uproar of its own.

From now on, the Missouri State Fair won't allow any rodeo cowboys or clowns from the state's association to take part unless they all undergo "sensitivity training."

And that's just part of the fallout from the Saturday incident in which a clown wearing an Obama mask held a broom descending from his backside while a voice said, "Hey, I know I'm a clown. He's just running around acting like one. Doesn't know he is one."

Posted by orrinj at 3:13 PM


Mario Richard, BASE Jumper and Sky Diver, Dies at 47 (JOHN BRANCH, 8/21/13, NY Times)

Mario Richard, a leader in the extreme sport of BASE jumping, in which participants leap from fixed objects and use a parachute to break their fall, died on Monday while wingsuit flying in the Dolomites in Italy. He was 47.

Suicide is always selfish, but it need not impose on others quite this much.

Posted by orrinj at 3:08 PM


Can baking make you happier? (Farhana Dawood, 8/19/13, BBC News)

East London NHS Foundation Trust is one mental health provider that has experimented in cooking therapies. Earlier this year they launched Recipes of Life, an integrated talking therapy with healthy cooking and eating sessions.
Dr Mark Salter, a consultant psychiatrist working in east London, says baking and cooking are good occupational therapies that help patients develop planning skills, short term memory and social skills - all of which suffer in mental illness. He says baking is particularly powerful because of its symbolism in our culture - associated with nurture and goodness.

But Dr Cosmo Hallstrom, fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, cautions that it is difficult to measure the precise benefits of baking as a therapy.

"Any structured non-stressful activity will help depression and increase well-being. Traditional occupational therapies generally work on a physical or projection platform.

"For example, exercise sessions increase physical well-being and release endorphins that combat depression. Art therapy helps a patient project their depression through creating artwork; thereby helping a patient to better understand their condition. Baking can be seen as operating on both these platforms," he says.

There is a physical element to baking - kneading the dough or cutting out cookie shapes. But there is also a strong creative or artistic component - the intricate decoration of cakes or biscuits.

Posted by orrinj at 3:06 PM


The Housing Revolution : African-American achievement tends to go hand-in-hand with disdain for failed social experiments like large public-housing projects. (JULIA VITULLO-MARTIN, 8/18/13, WSJ)

The dismantling of public housing projects across America has been one of the most astonishing federal initiatives of the past 20 years. After spending billions of dollars to build public housing in every major city, many small ones and some rural areas over a six-decade period, the U.S. government reversed course in the early 1990s and started financing demolition rather than construction. Some 260,000 units out of 1.3 million nationally have been demolished or removed from the public-housing inventory since that time. The government also rescinded long-standing restrictions, such as the requirement that demolished units be replaced one-for-one, and encouraged cities to decrease not only the density of buildings but the actual numbers of public-housing apartments. It has been nothing less than a revolution in the public understanding of how government can best house economically disadvantaged residents.

Save for a few contentious demolition battles, it was accomplished with relatively little political controversy, negative media coverage or academic analysis. In "Purging the Poorest," MIT scholar Lawrence Vale takes a critical look at this history. He focuses specifically on Atlanta and Chicago, two cities that were pioneers in creating public housing in the 1930s and, 70 years later, became leaders in its transformation and elimination. In 2009, Atlanta, with 14,000 units, became the first major city to eliminate all its large housing projects. Chicago, which had long hosted the nation's second-largest stock of public housing, some 43,000 units, had taken down over 80 towers by 2011, with only a few left standing. [...]

The offensive against public housing has been led by prominent African-Americans, such as Renée Glover, head of the Atlanta Housing Authority, who has argued that it created a "self-defeating system" that "institutionalized low expectations and virtually guaranteed chronic failure." Ms. Glover is unyielding in her critique of the old public housing that her agency has demolished. She calls her work in Atlanta "the Third Wave of the Civil Rights Movement." That's because, she said in a recent interview, "public housing was not a channel of upward mobility for African-Americans. The projects were places of horrible living environments, where predators set up shop."

The greater the dispersal of the black population the better for all Americans.

Posted by orrinj at 3:02 PM


Egypt's Coptic Church announces support for army, police (Al Arabiya, 8/17/13)

Egypt's Orthodox Coptic Church announced on Friday its support for the military and security forces in their fight against what it called "groups of armed violence." [...]

Many of Mursi's supporters have voiced criticism at Egypt's Christian minority for largely supporting the military's decision to oust him from office, and dozens of churches have been attacked this week.

Plenty of good German Christians supported the Nazis because they weren't the Communists.  But there was a cost, no?

Posted by orrinj at 2:51 PM


EU calls for nuclear talks as Iran promises to tame rhetoric (Deutsche Welle, 8/18/13)

The international community's chief negotiator in talks about Iran's nuclear program has called for fresh impetus to resolve matters. New Iranian President Hasan Rouhani has promised a change in foreign policy.

Catherine Ashton, the European Union foreign policy head and chief negotiator on Iran's nuclear program, spoke with newly appointed Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif by phone on Saturday. Ashton told Zarif she hoped for progress in negotiations over the country's nuclear program.

The conversation came after Iranian President Hasan Rouhani spoke at Zarif's inauguration ceremony, indicating that future foreign policy would be conducted in a more restrained tone than previously. [...]

Earlier in the day, Iranian President Hasan Rouhani had said that he was eager to resume talks after four rounds of negotiations since last year failed to produce results.

"We are ready to engage in serious and substantial talks without wasting time," Rouhani said, while warning that Iran was not prepared to be bullied by threats from the West.

Posted by orrinj at 2:48 PM


Ta-Ta, London. Hello, Awesome. (SARAH LYALL, 3/18/13, NY Times)

Britons admire and consume American culture, but feel threatened by and angry at its excesses and global dominance. They are both envious and suspicious of Americans' ease and confidence in themselves. They want American approval but feel bad about seeking it. Like a teenager worried that his more popular friend is using him for extra math help but will snub him in the cafeteria, they are unduly exercised by the "special relationship" -- endlessly deconstructing what it meant, for instance, when in 2009 Gordon Brown, then the prime minister, gave President Obama a handsome penholder made of wood from a Victorian anti-slave ship, while Mr. Obama reportedly gave him a stack of movies that were incompatible with British DVD players.

Also, Britons are not automatically impressed by what I always thought were attractive American qualities -- straightforwardness, openness, can-doism, for starters -- and they suspect that our surface friendly optimism might possibly be fake. (I suspect that sometimes they might possibly be right.) Once, in an experiment designed to illustrate Britons' unease with the way Americans introduce themselves in social situations (in Britain, you're supposed to wait for the host to do it), I got a friend at a party we were having to go up to a man he had never met. "Hi, I'm Stephen Bayley," my friend said, sticking out his hand.

"Is that supposed to be some sort of joke?" the man responded.

The pursuit of happiness may be too garish a goal, it turns out, in the land of the pursuit of not-miserableness. After enough Britons respond with "I can't complain" when you ask them how they are, you begin to feel nostalgic about all those psyched Americans you left behind.

Sometimes in London I felt stupidly enthusiastic, like a Labrador puppy let loose in an antique store, or overly loud and gauche, like a guest who shows up at a memorial service wearing a Hawaiian shirt and traumatizes the mourners with intrusive personal questions.

Britain became more American while I lived there -- everyone did, thanks to the Internet and the global economy. By this spring, 25 percent of the adult population was obese, and doctors were calling the country "the fat man of Europe." Like a pale cousin of the Republican Party, the Conservative Party began squabbling with itself.

The rise of the right-wing British National Party, coupled with the populist influence of the popular Daily Mail, shifted the political axis to the right; the government cut welfare spending and tightened the borders. Even as London transformed into an international town square, there was talk that Britain might pull out of the European Union.

But the British character lay underneath it all, and that never changed. Many of the stories I covered had to do with the question Britons have asked themselves incessantly since their empire fell: Who are we, and what is our place in the world? It wasn't until the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games last summer, with its music medleys and dancing nurses and quotes from Shakespeare and references to Mary Poppins and sly inclusion of the queen and depictions of the Industrial Revolution and compendiums of key moments in British television history, that the country seemed to have found some sort of answer.

It was a bold, ecstatic celebration of all sorts of things -- individuality, creativity, quirkiness, sense of humor, playfulness, rebelliousness and competence in the face of potential chaos -- and more than anything I have ever seen, it seemed to sum up what was great about Britain.

Posted by orrinj at 2:44 PM


Next up for Audi: a plug-in hybrid car : Audi may be coming around to the idea of electric propulsion. The car-maker will roll out a plug-in hybrid model, the A3 e-tron, next year. (Antony Ingram, August 16, 2013, CS Monitor)

Audi has had its fair share of criticism from plug-in car fans, but the automaker now seems to be coming around to the idea of electric propulsion after some rather public dismissals of the technology.

Audi's first production plug-in model will be the A3 e-tron plug-in hybrid arriving next year, but the larger A4 sedan could now follow that lead in 2015.

Posted by orrinj at 2:38 PM


North Colorado To Attempt Secession (Daniel D. Snyder, 8/20/13, Outside)

Watch your back, North Dakota. A cluster of northern Colorado counties, sick of restrictive gun laws and clean energy mandates, are taking the first steps toward creating a new state, tentatively known as North Colorado.

The Weld County Commissioners voted unanimously at a Monday meeting to place a measure on the November 5 ballot asking voters whether they want to join their fellow rural counties in forming a new state.

A people who think themselves a state are one.

Posted by orrinj at 2:31 PM


Stop Paying the Generals : President Obama must cut off aid to Egypt's military--now. (Fred Kaplan, Aug. 16, 2013, Slate)

When it comes to foreign policy, Obama has never been one to take a moral stance without regard to national interests. He has criticized George W. Bush for his moralistic tendencies and is well aware of the dreadful policies they unleashed--most notably the invasion of Iraq, which, though it toppled Saddam Hussein, also boosted the power of Iran, re-energized al-Qaida, and did much to destabilize the region.

The entire point was to destabilize the region, which had democracies only at its geographic margins, and to empower oppressed majorities (the Shi'a), inevitably boosting our eventual ally Iranian.

Posted by orrinj at 2:22 PM


The Case Against the Annual Checkup : Going to the doctor when you're not sick does more harm than good. (Brian Palmer, Aug. 20, 2013, Slate)

[H]ere's a free bit of advice: If you're not sick, don't go to the doctor.

There are two kinds of arguments against the adult annual health checkup. The first has to do with the health care system overall, and the second has to do with you personally. ]...]

Most adults go to the doctor when they're legitimately ill, and competent physicians use those appointments as opportunities to offer unrelated preventive services. About three-quarters of the people who get an annual checkup have been to the doctor for some better reason in the previous 12 months. Very few preventive health services are required every year, or even every two years. Even if you go years without seeing a doctor--congratulations, by the way--you can get those services (screenings for various diseases or counseling on smoking cessation or weight loss, for instance) without wasting your time at an annual checkup.

Many primary-care doctors order totally unnecessary procedures during annual exams, squandering patients' time and our health care dollars. Perhaps they just want to make patients feel like they're doing something. Here's where this stops being about the efficiency of the health care system and starts being about you: unnecessary screenings can be hazardous to your health.

People have a hard time viewing screenings as dangerous. Take, for example, the "hands off my mammogram" uprising that followed a 2009 government recommendation that mammograms be started later in life and conducted less frequently. Reactions of this kind appear to be based on two misunderstandings. First, many people overestimate the accuracy of screening exams. The false positive rate for a single screening exam is usually low, but when you take them year after year, it becomes very likely that a healthy patient will receive a false positive. A 2009 study showed that, for many cancer screening tests, a patient who undergoes 14 screenings has more than a 50 percent chance of a false positive.

That leads us to the second misunderstanding. Contrary to popular belief, following up on false positives isn't just expensive and anxiety-inducing--it's dangerous.

"In a urinalysis, doctors look for protein or blood in the urine to check for chronic kidney disease," explains Ateev Mehrotra, a doctor who studies health care policy at Harvard Medical School and the RAND Corporation. "If it's positive, you do a repeat. If that's positive, you ultrasound the kidney and then possibly do a biopsy. The risk is low, but kidney biopsy can lead to hemorrhage and even kidney removal."

Kidney biopsies are perfectly reasonable procedures when a patient has symptoms of kidney disease. But looking for disease in an otherwise healthy patient, then performing a series of interventions to prove the screening test wrong--that's bad medicine.

There's also the risk of unnecessarily "medical-izing" minor illness. People who go for annual checkups typically report symptoms that they would have otherwise ignored. In some cases, that's a good thing--some patients minimize their symptoms and ignore the warning signs of serious illness. Most of the time, however, it forces the physician to investigate and treat a problem that would have gone away on its own.

Posted by orrinj at 2:18 PM


U.S. Manufacturers Gain Ground (JAMES R. HAGERTY, 8/18/13, WSJ)

Like many U.S. manufacturers, Harley since the 2008-09 recession has revamped its operations to create a smaller and more flexible workforce, resulting in annual cost savings of more than $300 million and making the company more competitive. Among the changes: The union at its plant in York, Pa., accepted the use of temporary workers, who can be dismissed without severance pay. The number of job classifications at York also fell to five from 62, so workers have a wider variety of skills and can go where needed. As restrictive working rules were eliminated, a 136-page labor contract was replaced by a 58-page document.

Posted by orrinj at 2:12 PM


Housing: From Bubble to Bottleneck (Robert Samuelson, August 19, 2013, Washington Post)
All this has muffled housing's recovery. Although sales, prices and building are rising, they don't fully reflect pent-up demand. Construction starts on new units remain less than 1 million annually when underlying demand is 1.7 million, figures economist Mark Zandi of Moody's Analytics. Demand reflects the formation of new households (67 percent), the demolition of older structures (21 percent) and second homes (12 percent).

Superficially, the case for stronger growth has seemed airtight. Five years after the financial crisis, foreclosures have abated. Interest rates remain low. For most of the past year, they averaged about 3.5 percent on 30-year fixed-rate mortgages; now they're about 4.4 percent. Affordability is high; low rates and low home prices keep monthly payments down. [...]

Heavily dependent on credit, housing is straining to get it. The whole sector has moved from bubble to bottleneck. Its contribution to the recovery may disappoint. First-time and minority buyers especially struggle to borrow. "We all agree that credit was way too loose [in the bubble]," says Goodman. "But credit is way, way tighter now than it was in 2002 and 2003" before the bubble, she says.

Posted by orrinj at 2:08 PM


Conservatives rally Rush Limbaugh radio show fill-in Mark Steyn to run for Senate...despite the fact he's not a U.S. citizen (Leslie Larson, 8/19/13, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

Conservatives are rallying around pundit Mark Steyn, a popular fill-in for bombastic radio host Rush Limbaugh, to run for Senate in New Hampshire. [...]

Hugh Hewitt, a conservative radio show host has launched a 'Ready for Hillary' type effort, urging Mark Steyn to run. More than 3,200 people have signed the petition so far. [...]

Though he now lives in New Hampshire with his brood of three children, he still pledges his allegiance to the Queen and has never become a naturalized American.

Article I, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution says member of the U.S. Senate must be a U.S. citizen for no fewer than nine years, but the architect behind Steyn's candidacy says the 17th Amendment overrides that requirement.
"It just says the senator shall be directly elected," Hewitt, who teaches constitutional law at Chapman University School of Law, told his listeners.

Having just left Vancouver, it's silly to pretend Canada isn't America.  And the 90 minute wait to cross the border is especially asinine.

Posted by orrinj at 2:03 PM


The Coming Liberation: Health Care For All Without Obamacare (Peter Ferrara, 8/13/13, Forbes)

But free markets provide bread for everyone, with some help for the needy through social safety nets. And they would do the same for health care, if the government and the control friek liberals would just get out of the way.

A comprehensive plan to do precisely that has been developed by National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA) President John Goodman, to which I have contributed in John Goodman and Peter Ferrara, Health Care for All Without the Affordable Care Act, NCPA Issue Brief No. 116, October, 2012, and John Goodman and Peter Ferrara, A Healthcare Contract with America, Issue Brief No. 110, July, 2012. The plan achieves health care for all with no individual mandate and no employer mandate, with a savings of $2 trillion over the first 10 years alone, based on scores for components already published by CBO.

The plan is based on extending the same, favorable tax preference for employer provided health insurance to everyone, on equal terms, through a universal health insurance tax credit of $2,500 a year or so. That tax credit can be used by every worker to help buy the health insurance that he or she chooses, not that Kathleen Sebelius and the government chooses for them. This means no one will be telling the Catholic Church that they must buy health insurance paying for abortion, or Liberty University that they must buy health insurance paying for contraceptives.

This universal health insurance tax credit could be used by any individual to buy into Medicaid, as it is equal to the official, estimated, average cost of extending Medicaid coverage to another individual. This means anyone with any pre-existing condition could gain coverage this way, no matter how sick and costly they have become.

But better coverage and benefits are available through private health insurance, including Health Savings Accounts (HSAs). Workers with employer health insurance they do not like would be free to use their credit to help buy an HSA, or any other insurance they preferred.

You can't, as the past several decades have demonstrated, stick consumers with that many choices.  Instead, we'll just force them into HSA's.

Posted by orrinj at 1:57 PM


Don't give up on an Egyptian democracy (Mohamed A. El-Erian, 8/19/13, Fortune)

[I]t is important to remember four points -- especially as they also speak to forward-looking responses.
First, what is happening in Egypt is the dark side of a phenomenon that could actually be in the country's (and the region's) longer-term interest -- that of a material grass-root political awakening after a prolonged period of repression and culture of fear.

The January 2011 popular uprising enabled and empowered average Egyptians in a manner that many thought unlikely if not unthinkable. In effect, most citizens went from the equivalent of oppressed landless-peasants in a nation run to benefit a small privileged elite, to having a voice and an influence on the country's destiny.

They took to the street in January 2011 to remove a Mubarak regime that had ruled with an iron fist for 30 years. They returned last year when the first set of transitional military rulers dragged their feet in handing off to democratically elected politicians. And they were back a few weeks ago to counter a president who was failing to deliver and, more importantly, was seeking to overreach on legal and other matters.

Second, Egypt's domestic institutions are in no position to respond to this new grass-root reality. Historically co-opted by special interest, they are structurally flawed and lack credibility. As such, they cannot channel the explosion of grass-root energy into productive ends. Indeed, quite the opposite. Their weaknesses fuel polarization and mistrust.

Third, the lack of credible political leaders accentuates the challenges. The "leaderless" character of the 2011 revolution has gone from an admirable sign of popular integrity to undermining the much-needed revolutionary pivot: from dismantling a repressive past to building a prosperous future.

Fourth, the absence of institutional and political anchors does more than undermine national reconciliation. It also serves to worsen an already-worrisome economic and financial situation.

Every aspect of Egypt's already-fragile economy is suffering -- from growth and inflation, to the budget and the balance of payments -- thus placing even greater pressure on a country with widespread poverty, high income inequality, and underutilized human talent.

There is little that any foreign entity can do today to alter these sad realities. Domestic shortfalls need first to be addressed internally, with national political reconciliation constituting a precondition. Attempts to insert an external anchor, no matter how well-intentioned, would likely be more than ineffective; they could also serve to divide a mistrusting Egyptian society even more. have to start by demolishing the old ones.  This was Morsi's conspicuous failure : he was insufficiently revolutionary.

Posted by orrinj at 1:53 PM


Corvette Stingray: A harbinger of GM's turnaround? (Doron Levin, 8/20/13, FORTUNE

A week of 2014 Corvette Stingray test drives near Monterey, Calif. has generated a slew of glowing reviews, pointing to another positive development for General Motors Co.' s restructuring and revitalization. [...]

[T]he latest Corvette can compete with the big boys, and at a fraction of the price. It's too early to measure how Corvette will help the standing of GM or its main Chevrolet brand. But the automaker can look forward to a positive bump.

Last month, Consumer Reports gave its highest marks to the Chevrolet Impala, the first Detroit-made sedan to achieve the rating in 20 years. Sales of the model responded.

Posted by orrinj at 1:50 PM


A Fluttering Boost to Flickering Hopes (HILLEL KUTTLER, 8/12/13, NY Times)

Although the Orioles did not put a manicurist on the payroll, they did sign a consultant for 2013, Phil Niekro, who won 318 games in a 24-year career, riding the knuckleball from the moment the Milwaukee Braves signed him in 1958.

Niekro's assignment is to help the Orioles transform three pitchers into full-time knuckleballers: Clark, 30, now with Class A Frederick, Md.; Zach Staniewicz, 27, in the rookie Gulf Coast League; and Eddie Gamboa, 28, of Class AAA Norfolk, Va.

Baltimore's approach may be unconventional, but leaders in the organization are well aware of how effective the knuckleball can be. While managing the Texas Rangers in 2005, Showalter persuaded a flailing pitcher, R. A. Dickey, to take up the knuckleball. Last year, Dickey won 20 games for the Mets and earned the National League's Cy Young Award.

Dan Duquette, the Orioles' executive vice president for baseball operations, also has experience with a successful knuckleballer. When he ran the Red Sox, Duquette signed Tim Wakefield after the Pittsburgh Pirates released him in 1995. Wakefield pitched for 17 seasons with Boston.

The Orioles' strategy is a lifeline to pitchers trying to salvage their careers, and a low-risk, high-reward proposition for the organization.

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Posted by orrinj at 1:48 PM


Evangelical pastors step up pro-immigration campaign (David Nakamura, August 20, 2013, Washington Post)

A national coalition of evangelical churches announced Tuesday that it is expanding a radio campaign aimed at convincing Republicans in Congress to support a broad overhaul of immigration laws. [...]

Pastors involved in the campaign said that immigration is an important issue in their churches, with a growing number of members who are here illegally or have relatives who fear being deported.

"I have to deal with the collateral damage of our broken immigration system," pastor Felix Cabrera, of the Quail Springs Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, said on a conference call with reporters Tuesday. "Many are unjustly detained and deported. Many are separated from their families, leaving behind U.S.-born children without parents."

Posted by orrinj at 1:46 PM


Has the fuel cell car's time finally come? (Brian Dumaine, 8/15/13, FortuneMagazine)

Virtually every major carmaker is preparing to launch hydrogen-powered models in the next few years. Toyota (TM), which has been working on fuel-cell technology with BMW, will unveil a new hydrogen fuel-cell car at the Tokyo auto show in November. The as-yet-unnamed vehicle will go on sale in 2015 and is expected to have a sticker price that's less than a Tesla S (TSLA), which costs about $70,000. Hyundai will lease 1,000 hydrogen cars based on its Tucson crossover in the U.S. starting in 2015. Renault and Nissan have announced a partnership with Daimler and Ford (F, Fortune 500) to share the cost of developing fuel-cell vehicles that could be on the market as soon as 2017. And GM (GM, Fortune 500) and Honda announced in July that they were forming a technology joint venture to produce hydrogen cars by 2020. Honda (HMC) will also launch a new generation of its fuel-cell-powered Clarity, which it has been leasing in limited numbers in California, by 2015.

What's behind all the activity? The cynical view is that the auto industry is simply scrambling to meet California's strict air regulations: By 2025 more than 22% of new sales for the major automakers must be zero-emission or plug-in hybrids. "With electric car sales not living up to expectations, the carmakers are looking for a hedge to meet the standards in California, and hydrogen provides that," says Kevin See, a senior analyst at Lux research.

Posted by orrinj at 1:39 PM


Mexico's president may quietly be planning to surrender more of the oil industry than his countrymen think (Roberto A. Ferdman, August 15, 2013 , Quartz)
In a masterful balancing act, Peña Nieto reckoned he could find a middle ground between those who vehemently oppose opening up the state-run oil industry and those who believe it absolutely necessary. In his public remarks, he said he wants to open the sector to private and foreign investment, but not private and foreign production--meaning that foreign companies will be able to invest in Pemex, Mexico's national oil monopoly, but not drill in or own the country's reserves themselves.

Strange as the duality sounds, it's quite astute--theoretically, anyway. Not allowing foreign companies to own the oil means Peña Nieto can still tell nationalists, for whom oil is sacrosanct, that the country hasn't relinquished its precious reserves. César Camacho, chairman of Peña Nieto's Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), said on Monday, "In no way is it a privatization. It is opening up the possibility for private capital to join public policies... without going as far as concessions."

Fair. Except there seems to be a catch. Peña Nieto appears to have said one thing, but written another. "If you actually look at the wording of the constitutional reform, it leaves the possibility of production-sharing open," director of the Woodrow Wilson Center's Mexico Institute, Duncan Wood, told Quartz.

More and more like us.

Posted by orrinj at 1:38 PM


Should Math Really Be A Required Subject? : The novelist Nicholson Baker makes a case against algebra (Shaunacy Ferro, 08.19.2013, Popular Science)

Some math teachers are even against higher math for the masses. "The vast majority of the human race, and the vast majority of the college-educated human race never need any mathematics beyond arithmetic to survive successfully,"
Baker quotes number theorist Underwood Dudley as writing in a 1987 issue of The American Mathematical Monthly.

Cornell University mathematician Steven Strogatz told Baker it alarmed him to see a large portion of students not just not learning in math classes, but actively suffering.

We need less math for the average kid, Strogatz said, but more meaningful math. 'We spend a lot of time avalanching students with the answers to things that they wouldn't think of asking.'

Baker's solution to the problem is this:

We should, I think, create a new, one-year teaser course for ninth graders, which would briefly cover a few techniques of algebraic manipulation, some mind stretching geometric proofs, some nifty things about parabolas and conic sections, and even perhaps a soft-core hint of the infinitesimal, change-explaining powers of calculus...Take students to see the mathematical sequoia, tell them how great it is, but don't force them to climb it until their arms go numb and they fall.

If math were an elective, "American science and technology would be unharmed, and a lot of poisonous math hatred would go away instantly. Kids don't hate smelting, or farming, or knitting, or highway design, or portrait painting, or neurology, or juggling rubber balls, or sonnet-writing, because they don't have to take three years of instruction in any of these arts," he writes

Posted by orrinj at 1:36 PM


Are Democrats About to Fracture Over Fracking? (Alex Roarty, August 17, 2013, National Journal)

Natural gas doesn't receive full-throated Democratic backing like wind and solar power do, but it doesn't come under heavy fire like oil and coal, either. Obama, for instance, has called for hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to be safe and carefully monitored, but has never pushed for federal restrictions on it.

Some environmental leaders and so-called fracktivists are hopeful the party will turn against the industry. And they have some reason for optimism. Already, Democratic governors and presidential prospects Andrew Cuomo and Martin O'Malley have upheld moratoriums on the controversial process in New York and Maryland, suggesting the issue could emerge as a potent one in a presidential primary. And this summer, the Pennsylvania Democratic State Committee passed a resolution calling for all drilling to temporarily halt in the Keystone State. The resolution was nonbinding, but it was nonetheless significant in a state seen as ground zero for the country's natural-gas boom and where Democrats have been friendly to the industry.

However, any political shift within the Democratic Party won't come easily. And many party insiders and operatives think it won't come at all--because the booming industry offers too many economic benefits to too many groups, including members of the Democratic coalition. In addition, the environmental fallout, while a concern, doesn't stir as much worry as that from oil and coal.

Posted by orrinj at 1:32 PM


Conservatives Lead Down Under (MARY KISSEL, 8/19/13, WSJ)

Is Australia in for another era of conservative government? If the latest polls are any indication, the short answer is yes.

In a weekend survey conducted for our sister publication, the Australian, the opposition Liberal Party coalition leads by eight percentage points, which roughly translates into a 14-seat gain in the House. If these numbers hold for the Sept. 7 election, the conservatives would win around 85 seats in that chamber, well over the 76 needed to form government.

Posted by Stephen Judd at 8:24 AM


Egypt in Tumult as Court Orders Mubarak Freed (DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK, August 19, 2013, NY Times)

The police scarcely bothered to offer a credible explanation for the deaths of three dozen Morsi supporters in custody over the weekend. After repeatedly shifting stories, they ultimately said the detainees had suffocated from tear gas during a failed escape attempt. But photographs taken at the morgue on Monday showed that at least two had been badly burned from the shoulders up and that others bore evidence of torture.

Security officers have a new bounce in their step. They are again pulling men from their cars at checkpoints for interrogation because they have beards, or dealing out arbitrary beatings with a sense of impunity -- Mubarak-era hallmarks that had receded in recent years. Among civilians, even those outside the Muslim Brotherhood, fear of the police is growing.

August 18, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 6:42 AM


What I Saw in America (G. K. Chesterton)

America is the only nation in the world that is founded on a creed. That creed is set forth with dogmatic and even theological lucidity in the Declaration of Independence; perhaps the only piece of practical politics that is also theoretical politics and also great literature. It enunciates that all men are equal in their claim to justice, that governments exist to give them that justice, and that their authority is for that reason just. It certainly does condemn anarchism, and it does also by inference condemn atheism, since it clearly names the Creator as the ultimate authority from whom these equal rights are derived. Nobody expects a modern political system to proceed logically in the application of such dogmas, and in the matter of God and Government it is naturally God whose claim is taken more lightly. The point is that there is a creed, if not about divine, at least about human things. [...]

[T]he chief mark of the Declaration of Independence is something that is not only absent from the British Constitution, but something which all our constitutionalists have invariably thanked God, with the jolliest boasting and bragging, that they had kept out of the British Constitution. It is the thing called abstraction or academic logic. It is the thing which such jolly people call theory; and which those who can practise it call thought. And the theory or thought is the very last to which English people are accustomed, either by their social structure or their traditional teaching. It is the theory of equality. It is the pure classic conception that no man must aspire to be anything more than a citizen, and that no man should endure to be anything less. It is by no means especially intelligible to an Englishman, who tends at his best to the virtues of the gentleman and at his worst to the vices of the snob. The idealism of England, or if you will the romance of England, has not been primarily the romance of the citizen. But the idealism of America, we may safely say, still revolves entirely round the citizen and his romance. The realities are quite another matter, and we shall consider in its place the[Pg 17] question of whether the ideal will be able to shape the realities or will merely be beaten shapeless by them. The ideal is besieged by inequalities of the most towering and insane description in the industrial and economic field. It may be devoured by modern capitalism, perhaps the worst inequality that ever existed among men. Of all that we shall speak later. But citizenship is still the American ideal; there is an army of actualities opposed to that ideal; but there is no ideal opposed to that ideal. American plutocracy has never got itself respected like English aristocracy. Citizenship is the American ideal; and it has never been the English ideal. But it is surely an ideal that may stir some imaginative generosity and respect in an Englishman, if he will condescend to be also a man. In this vision of moulding many peoples into the visible image of the citizen, he may see a spiritual adventure which he can admire from the outside, at least as much as he admires the valour of the Moslems and much more than he admires the virtues of the Middle Ages. He need not set himself to develop equality, but he need not set himself to misunderstand it. He may at least understand what Jefferson and Lincoln meant, and he may possibly find some assistance in this task by reading what they said. He may realise that equality is not some crude fairy tale about all men being equally tall or equally tricky; which we not only cannot believe but cannot believe in anybody believing. It is an absolute of morals by which all men have a value invariable and indestructible and a dignity as intangible as death. He may at least be a philosopher and see that equality is an idea; and not merely one of these soft-headed sceptics who, having risen by low tricks to high places, drink bad[Pg 18] champagne in tawdry hotel lounges, and tell each other twenty times over, with unwearied iteration, that equality is an illusion.

In truth it is inequality that is the illusion. [...]

There is no basis for democracy except in a dogma about the divine origin of man. That is a perfectly simple fact which the modern world will find out more and more to be a fact. Every other basis is a sort of sentimental confusion, full of merely verbal echoes of the older creeds. 
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Posted by orrinj at 5:02 AM


The Joyful Conservative : Symposium: The Conservative Mind at 60 (JAMES E. PERSON JR., Summer 2013, The University Bookman)

Writing sometime after the publication of The Conservative Mind, Kirk wrote that the principled conservative believes "that the object of life is Love. He knows that the just and ordered society is that in which Love governs us, so far as Love can ever reign in this world of sorrows; and he knows that the anarchical or the tyrannical society is that in which Love lies corrupt. He has learnt that Love is the source of all being, and that hell itself is ordained by Love. He understands that Death, when we have finished the part that was assigned to us, is the reward of Love. And he apprehends the truth that the greatest happiness ever granted to a man is the privilege of being happy in the hour of his death."

Further, Kirk wrote, the wise conservative "has no intention of converting this human society of ours into an efficient machine for efficient machine-operators, dominated by master mechanics. Men are put into this world, he realizes, to struggle, to suffer, to contend against the evil that is in their neighbors and in themselves, and to aspire toward the triumph of Love. They are put into this world to live like men, and to die like men. He seeks to preserve a society which allows men to attain manhood, rather than keeping them within bonds of perpetual childhood. With Dante, he looks upward from this place of slime, this world of gorgons of chimeras, toward the light which gives Love to this poor earth and all the stars. And, with Burke, he knows that "they will never love where they ought to love, who do not hate where they ought to hate."

The spirit of Edmund Burke pervades The Conservative Mind, which is much more than an historical artifact to be revered. Much has been written on the significance of this work, this "exercise in the history of ideas," for its role in giving form to conservatism, particularly to that element of the movement known as traditionalist conservatism. Beyond this, it is a document whose strength lies in Kirk's articulate reminders that man is much more than a political and economic creature who is entirely fulfilled when his creature comforts are satisfied, or an organic machine that can create an earthly Paradise if conditioned just the right ideology. Kirk affirmed, in fact, that man is also and primarily a spiritual being who seeks meaning and purpose that cannot be found in wealth and comfort alone. Despite his bent toward error and sin, man is a being that is meant for eternity and beloved by his Creator. (This view of man characterizes what Kirk called "the moral imagination.") Man is a player in the drama of history and part of a community of souls, formed in character by his forebears and also a shaper of generations yet to come. Man has a purpose, and this is a source of joy that is both a comfort and a challenge.

A man who was happy in the hour of his death, Kirk wrote that without an object of allegiance, a sense of rootedness in the land, a body of tradition to give context to one's life, a foundation of hope and joy, and the small, voluntary communities of family and neighbors with which to fellowship, man is given over to boredom and aimlessness, and the society of which he is a part slides into decadence. Therefore the great test of the modern conservative is to restore "a living faith to the lonely crowd, how to remind men that life has ends," making for order in the soul and order in the commonwealth. In words that run entirely counter to the prevailing political outlook of our times, T. S. Eliot once told Kirk, in a letter, "I think it is very true to say of any country, that a decline in private morality is certain to be followed, in the long run, by a decline in public and political morality also." This, too, is of a piece with the essence of The Conservative Mind.

The high value of this work lies in its power for reminding the reader of what Kirk and Eliot called "the permanent things." By this he meant those timeless, normative truths--the rightness of honor, courage, and mercy, the importance of high character, the essential beauty of chastity, and other norms recognized since time out of mind--those first principles grounded in prudence and wise tradition by which humanity lives, and which it ignores at its peril--truths that will endure so long as brass is strong and stone abides.

Kirk wrote, "In essence, the body of belief that we call 'conservatism' is an affirmation of normality in the concerns of society." He added, "There exist standards to which we may repair; man is not perfectible, but he may achieve a tolerable degree of order, justice, and freedom; both the 'human sciences' and humane studies are means for ascertaining the norms of the civil social order, and for informing the statesman and the reflecting public of the possibilities and the limits of social measures."

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August 16, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 4:56 AM


Anatomy of a Song: 'Midnight Train to Georgia' : An oral history of Gladys Knight and the Pips' 1973 hit that began as a country ballad inspired by a phone call with Farrah Fawcett and wound up a Grammy-winner. (MARC MYERS, 8/09/13, WSJ)

Jim Weatherly: In the late '60s I was living in Los Angeles in a one-bedroom apartment--trying to get recording artists to pay attention to my songs. One evening in 1970, I called Lee Majors, an actor friend who had just started dating model Farrah Fawcett. Lee and I had played college football and we were in a flag-football league together. Farrah answered the phone. She said Lee wasn't home and that she was packing to take a midnight plane to Houston to visit her folks. What a great line for a song, I thought.

After I got off the phone, I grabbed my guitar and wrote "Midnight Plane to Houston" in about 45 minutes--the music and lyrics. The line "I'd rather live in her world than live without her in mine" locked the whole song. I also used a descending bass pattern, which was the song's natural movement. Then I filed away the song.

In 1971 I signed with manager-publisher Larry Gordon, who urged me to record an album of my songs--to improve my chances that top artists would record them. I put "Midnight Plane" on there along with "Neither One of Us."

The strategy worked. When the album came out on RCA in 1972, Larry sent Gladys Knight's producer "Neither One of Us," which she loved. We also got a call from producer Sonny Limbo in Atlanta. Cissy Houston wanted to record "Midnight Plane" but felt it needed an R&B title. They wanted to change it to "Midnight Train to Georgia." 

August 15, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 5:30 AM


The age of revolution: 1989-2013, and counting : From the Berlin Wall to Cairo, we live in an era of anti-authoritarian revolution that may transform the world (ANDREW O'HEHIR, 7/06/13, Salon)

[I]f you can separate the populist and/or military coup against Morsi's government from short-term political or ideological questions, it fits into a much larger historical pattern that is global in scale. We live in an age of revolution, and specifically of anti-elite, anti-authoritarian revolution. It's an age that began in earnest with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and shows no signs of slowing down. Edward Snowden, who on Friday was reportedly offered asylum by both Nicaragua and Venezuela, is in his own way a soldier in that revolution, one who has exposed the secrets of the world's greatest imperial power and made it look both foolish and vulnerable. That's the thread that connects this week's explosive news out of Egypt to the bizarre episode of the Bolivian president's airplane, which was forced to land in Vienna (almost certainly at the behest of someone in Washington), based on false rumors that Snowden might be on board. Screw national sovereignty - the most powerful nation on earth is hunting a computer nerd! In other words, both these things are driving powerful people crazy.

Indeed, historians of the future - assuming there are any - may well compare our era to the great wave of social and political revolutions that transformed Europe in the middle of the 19th century, and ultimately led to the sweeping away of the old aristocratic order. What the conclusion of our current revolutionary wave will look like, and whether it will sound the death knell for the dominant liberal-capitalist world order, I have no idea. But I feel certain that a lot of people in boardrooms, executive suites and presidential palaces are wondering the same thing.

On one level this seems obvious: Look not just at the unprecedented street revolution in Egypt, but the mass protests in Brazil and Turkey over the past few weeks, along with similar recent rumblings of revolutionary discord in Greece, Italy, Spain, France, almost every nation in the Arab world and other places I'm not remembering. But this revolutionary moment is difficult to grasp in conceptual terms, partly because it's not defined by any clear political consensus, the way the 19th-century revolutions were.

You have to have not been paying attention to or not understood the End of History--protestantism, democracy, capitalism--if you're mystified that the anti-elite/anti-authoritarian movement has been universalized.  

Posted by orrinj at 5:17 AM


VINCENT'S FINAL DAYS (GREGORY CURTIS, June 28th, 2013, The Common)

When Vincent was in his late teens, his father had seriously considered having him committed and had explored various possibilities for doing so. Vincent discovered what his father was doing and was both enraged and deeply wounded. But in the following years, he had periodic attacks of tension and nervous despair that would leave him bedridden for days. In time, though, with rest and maybe a solid meal or two, he would, as he thought of it, gain the strength on his own to conquer his nerves and resume the life he was leading.

But after the attacks in Arles eighteen months ago that had forced him into the asylum, there was no longer any question of a fair struggle. The illness was far more powerful than he was. He saw visions, he heard voices, he would crawl on his stomach, he would eat filth, he would drink turpentine and squeeze paints into his mouth hoping to kill himself, and when the worst had passed, he would not remember anything, just as he had no memory of the night when he had sliced his ear. After these most intense waves had subsided, he would have brief moments of relative lucidity before becoming sad and anxious again. He would sit with his head in his hands for hours, for days, for weeks. If someone spoke to him, either he would not respond or he would appear pained, as if those words spoken to him were on the attack, and he would gesture to be left alone.

He was better, for the moment. That's why his doctor had allowed him to travel to Paris alone overnight on the train. But what was to prevent the illness from returning? Tension; an argument; an unexpected slight; the noise and confusion of the streets in Paris; a sudden, shocking loss; an irrevocable 
and unwanted change--such things, singly or in tandem, could make his nerves scream and contract, and he would be lost. Vincent lived each moment of each day with the fear that his darkness would rise and, unrelenting as 
the tide, sweep him away.

Vincent was thirty-seven now, an old thirty-seven. After his attacks during the last eighteen months, he had given up on many cherished dreams. In particular, he had given up on having the wife and children he had yearned for as a young man. Now he knew with certainty that he was too sick for marriage or for a regular domestic life. With that dream now just a memory, only 
a few things still mattered to him. He cared about his painting most of all and pursued it with a constant, unwavering, feverish intensity. He cared about the paintings of artists he admired, such as Gauguin and Bernard and, above all, Millet. He cared about literature and reading. He cared about Theo, and now he cared about the infant Vincent Willem. He cared to a degree about his sister Willemina and about his mother. He cared about a few friends, and he cared, in an abstract, sentimental way, about the mass of impoverished workers and miners and peasants. He cared about seduced and abandoned women 
and about prostitutes in the streets and their children. He thought that men who were not prepared to protect and rescue a woman were unworthy and should be ashamed. He could be charming and kind to small children, and he loved his pipe. He didn't drink much anymore or go to the brothels. His religious beliefs, which had obsessed him when he was young, had lost their fervor, if they hadn't evaporated entirely. An elderly couple out walking together or a pretty girl and her young companions in the countryside might produce longing reveries in him, but he knew those reveries were for a world beyond his embrace, except in his painting.

Later that Sunday morning, after Vincent had finished studying his paintings that were in Theo's apartment, he and Theo went to Père Tanguy's store where Theo bought the paints, brushes, and canvases he had sent to Vincent in Arles. Père Tanguy also stored paintings by Vincent. Here, too, Vincent saw paintings that he thought needed more work. Then the two brothers went to the Salon du Champ-de-Mars.

This was the first exhibition mounted by the Société National des Beaux-Arts. Since about 1850, beginning with the first Impressionists, young, radical artists working in new styles broke away from the official shows sponsored by the government. But by now, the politics of art in France had grown so complicated that it was the established artists who were breaking away 
to present their own shows. Instead of young radicals, this exhibit included such famous and successful artists as the sculptor Auguste Rodin, 
the history painter Ernest Meissonier, and the sixty-six-year-old Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, who had been a force in organizing the show.

Puvis de Chavannes was twenty-eight years older than Vincent. He had come of age during the rise of the Impressionists. Although the Impressionists rebelled against the classical orthodoxy that had ruled the generations of painters before them, Puvis de Chavannes never did. Classical figures and poses dominated his work. Also, Puvis de Chavannes used a deliberately muted and pale palette that was the opposite of the vivid, pulsing colors that often marked Vincent's paintings.

Still, Vincent had always admired the older painter. At the Salon du Champs-de-Mars, he was drawn powerfully toward Puvis de Chavannes's Inter artes et naturam, which had become the biggest sensation in the show. In the painting, men and women stand or sit in classical poses, wearing clothes that seem to be both contemporary and classical at the same time. These personages are in a highly stylized garden of fruit trees by the banks of the Seine. Some of the men are excavating classical antiquities. One woman is painting pottery, while another pulls down a bough so her infant in arms can reach the fruit. Still other men and women are simply sitting or standing idly. The ground is dotted with little white and yellow flowers.

Vincent was transfixed. He thought the painting revealed all nature and all humanity, not as they are, but simplified to show how they could be. As he continued to study the painting, he began to feel that he was witnessing a strange and happy meeting of very distant antiquity and raw modernity-that is, modernity in a new and still unrefined version. Here before him was the inevitable, benevolent rebirth of things he had believed in and desired. Vincent found himself meditating gratefully on a painting he took to be as definitive as the Sermon on the Mount, one that caused old words such 
as "blessed are the poor in spirit" and "blessed are the pure in heart" to return with a new significance.

And Vincent saw even more. In his eyes, Puvis de Chavannes had painted the world and its inhabitants that Vincent had seen revealed beneath the blue skies and intense sun of the south of France. The previous November, while he was still in the asylum in Saint Rémy, Vincent had received a drawing of Paul Gauguin's Agony in the Garden and a photograph of Émile Bernard's Christ in the Garden of Olives. The two paintings horrified Vincent. He thought they were false, unconvincing, even repellant abominations. Christ in the garden on the Mount of Olives was a theme he himself had tried twice to paint from his imagination. He destroyed both attempts. His failures had convinced him that the subject was too important to try to paint from the imagination alone. Christ in the olive garden needed to be painted from life somehow.

And Vincent had an intimation about how that could be done.

Posted by orrinj at 1:53 AM


Finding and Losing Train Culture (Bruce Frohnen, 7/26/13, Imaginative Conservative)

For all the talk of how isolated small towns used to be, it seems clear to me that a larger percentage of people more regularly availed themselves of more opportunities to experience genuine performing arts in the era of the train than do so today in the era of the automobile and, of course, the television. Great and famous singers of the day would stop off at places like Fostoria and Ada to give performances on their way to larger venues like Chicago. The performance might have been in the middle of the day, and it might have been shorter and less grand than in Chicago, but high art was performed as well as low and middle art in these trackside houses. The locals often came from miles around, but didn't have to make the long, expensive, and time-consuming trip to the big city to enjoy genuine public entertainment--be it Shakespeare, Verdi, or a Vaudeville Show--with their neighbors.

The opera houses were not for out-of-town or travelling entertainment only. They also were used for local community meetings, dances, and other activities. They were integrated parts of the town (often upstairs from a hardware store or other merchant) that served to integrate the community.

And train culture itself helped integrate communities into the larger, state and national society in a way that left local autonomy intact. The nice thing about trains is that they bring people and things to your community and take them from your community to the wider world without erasing your actual community. Trains come in at one or two points, and leave by those same points, on a more or less regular, but distinctly limited schedule. Even the train suburbs of our cities, when they existed, had an actual character of their own that is not duplicated by suburbs on the beltway (just compare Philadelphia--a tough town with vibrant suburbs, to Los Angeles, an extremely pleasant collection of communities in the early twentieth century that has been transformed into a literal concrete jungle).

Transportation by train is a distinct event, or series of events, rather than the constant flow that automobile traffic tends to be. Of course, change was a constant on and near the frontier as people passed through on their way West. But the train had a more direct, concentrated, and so geographically limited impact than our current web of "free"ways. This is not to say that roads don't both integrate and exclude communities. When Eisenhower insisted on that massive public works and nationalization program that became our freeway system, his engineers made a number of towns into large cities by putting them on the main freeway route--and destroyed many more by bypassing them.

Posted by orrinj at 12:29 AM


The Moneyball of the Mind : Is sport psychology the new market inefficiency? (Noah Davis, 8/06/13, Pacific Standard)

The truth about Moneyball, the Michael Lewis book about Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane, is that many people missed the point. The story, which tracked how the small-market A's contended with bigger, richer franchises, focused on Beane's use of statistics such as on-base percentage and WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched) that went beyond more traditional metrics like batting average and ERA. The book helped launch a data-driven revolution--first in baseball and later in other sports--that continues today.

But Moneyball isn't about those advanced stats. They are merely a means to an end. Beane's real epiphany was to focus on finding and exploiting overlooked areas in every aspect of the game. At the time, on-base percentage worked because other Major League teams didn't understand the correlation between OBP and victories. As a result, they undervalued some players, which allowed Beane and his staff to acquire them cheaply (or, at least, more cheaply than they should have been). But eventually the league adjusted and those players became properly--and even over---valued. Moneyball moved on to other metrics.

In a professional sporting landscape where brilliant mathematical minds pour over every bit of quantifiable data, it grows increasingly difficult to find those unknown or unseen advantages. When they are discovered, the benefits are smaller and opposing teams adapt quicker. The window slams shut faster and faster. Additionally, we are getting to a point where professional athletes approach the limits of human physique. They can only get so much faster and so much stronger.

Thinking about this while watching a recent edition of SportsCenter made me wonder if the next revolution isn't going to be in body but rather in the mind, a much less explored area in how it relates to athletic achievement. I wanted to find out, so I called up Dave Hurley, a friend of mine, but more importantly a Ph.D. candidate in sport psychology at Boston University and a faculty fellow at Stonehill College. keep the athlete's physical ability but replace his mind (with the coach's own)?

August 14, 2013

Posted by Stephen Judd at 4:54 PM


Egypt's Assault on Protesters Kills Scores (DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK, August 14, 2013, NY Times)

By afternoon, the interim government appointed by Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi had declared a one-month state of emergency across the country, suspending the right to a trial or due process. The declaration returned Egypt to the state of virtual martial law that prevailed for three decades under President Hosni Mubarak before he was forced to step down in 2011.

Mohamed ElBaradei, the interim vice president and a Nobel Prize-winning former diplomat who had lent his reputation to convincing the West of the military-appointed government's democratic intentions, resigned in protest, a spokeswoman said.

Posted by orrinj at 5:14 AM


The Big Bang : Robert Bellah's Religion in Human Evolution waxes cosmic on the origins of faith (PETER MANSEAU, SEP/OCT/NOV 2011, BookForum)

Religion in Human Evolution is a continuation of Bellah's project of identifying elements of religiosity that many of us share, even if few of us recognize them as such. This time, he hopes to find a common cause behind all religions, civil or otherwise. To do so, he follows the lead of the icons of the field, dissecting religious environments that are far removed from current concerns. Émile Durkheim had his aborigines, Max Weber had his Calvinists, and Bellah mines data mostly from civilizations of the so-called Axial Age, the period from 800 to 200 BC, during which humanity developed, with near global simultaneity, the capacity for "questioning all human activity and conferring upon it a new meaning."

Like Durkheim and Weber before him, Bellah is not looking for answers to Big Questions, but is instead seeking to disinter root causes. However, in his attempt to place the story of the origins of religion within an expansive history of the world, Bellah takes a longer view than any prior theorist could have imagined. Drawing on hundreds of recent sources, ranging from theoretical physics to evolutionary biology, Bellah reminds us, "Even the possibility of thinking about this story . . . is only a little over 150 years old."

Though his focus for roughly half the book is the Axial period, Bellah shifts freely through the ages. "History goes all the way back," he writes. To him this means, first of all, that "any distinction between history and prehistory is arbitrary"--and, moreover, that in order to get to the bottom of how something came to be, one needs to find the earliest possible point of entry to the problem. "We, as modern humans trying to understand this human practice we call religion, need to situate ourselves in the broadest context we can, and it is with scientific cosmology that we must start."

And so, unlikely as it may seem, Religion in Human Evolution features an account of the universe's origins in its early chapters. Bellah's telling, while compelling, offers nothing new to anyone who has taken an undergraduate astronomy course, and it is framed in such a way that we are to understand that this latest portrayal of the start of things is not so different from previous descriptions. "When it comes to telling big stories about the order of existence, then, even if they are scientific stories, they will have religious implications." Bellah here is not selling crypto-creationism. He is merely suggesting that the cosmos is personal simply because we live in it and make it so.

Bellah makes this same assumption about big stories concerning the development of life in all its variety. One need not believe in intelligent design to look for embryonic traces of human behavior on the lower rungs of the evolutionary ladder. His attempt to do just that, with the help of recent research in zoology and anthropology, results in a menagerie of case studies that provide the book's real innovation. Not only the chimps and monkeys evoked by the word "evolution" in the title, but wolves and birds and iguanas all pass through these pages.

Within such a sundry cast, Bellah searches for a commonality that may give some indication of where and when the uniquely human activity of religion was born. What he finds is as intriguing as it is unexpected: They all like to play.

All animals of a certain level of complexity, Bellah explains, engage in forms of "useful uselessness," the developmental psychologist Alison Gopnik's term for behaviors that do not contribute to short-term survival yet do ensure long-term flourishing. In the play of animals, we can see a number of interesting elements: The action of play has limited immediate function; it is done for its own sake; it seems to alter existing social hierarchies; it is done again and again; and it is done within a "relaxed field," during periods of calm and safety. Put another way: Play is time within time. It suggests to its participants the existence of multiple realities--one in which survival is the only measure of success, and another in which a different logic seems to apply.

From such diverse data, Bellah builds a case that play begot ritual--and that ritual, in turn, begot religion. Seen more broadly: Play both precedes and fosters imagination, and from the ability to imagine--to wonder, to plan, to strategize--civilization follows. Play does not cease at that point, but it does change form as its rules become codified: At this point, it becomes more and more like ritual and religion as we know them.

Which is quaint both for the notion that we thereby designed our own evolution and for the unfortunate fact that none of the other universally playful creatures did so.

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Posted by orrinj at 4:37 AM


The Oldest War : Remember when the battle of the sexes was a laughing matter? (ANDREW FERGUSON, 8/12/13, Weekly Standard)

I don't know if we're in the post-Second Wave or pre-Third Wave period of feminism, but war talk is once again in the air, spoken with the same clenched-jaw severity that made Second Wave feminism so excruciating. Except nowadays, instead of a war between men and women, women (some of them, anyway) talk about a war on women and (some) men talk about a war on men. This bifurcation of the ancient war is in keeping with our galloping individualism and self-absorption. We interpret a mutual antagonism as a one-sided assault on me and mine.

The war on men is the particular concern of the newest incarnation of the "men's movement." Older readers may remember the earlier men's movement, from the 1990s. It was invented and led by such aging hippies as the poet Robert Bly and the author Sam Keen. The former LBJ hatchet man Bill Moyers filmed a documentary with Bly called A Gathering of Men, which served as the movement's manifesto and ran like a tape loop on PBS. The movement made for easy trend stories in the newsmagazines and newspaper lifestyle sections because it was so eccentric. Feminism was pushing women into traditionally male domains, was the theme; and men were escaping out the other side, lost in confusion about their roles as husbands, fathers, and cogs in the postindustrial machine.

The confusion took strange forms. In the Moyers-Bly version, men were trying to recapture their true natures. They did this by gathering in forests, removing crucial articles of clothing, adorning their hair with feathers, and beating drums in an attempt to stimulate orgiastic dancing. It often worked, and the dancing wasn't pretty. The trappings were heavily indebted to New Age spirituality, American Indian-division, and the purpose was meant to be therapeutic​--​it was a rare Gathering of Men in which some burly fellow didn't burst into tears.

After a year or two the men's movement went the way of all trend stories and vaporized. The new men's movement that has recently emerged is far less suited to lighthearted features on the evening news​--​even if there were still such a thing as "the evening news." The feathers are gone and so are the drums. At the heart of the new movement is a loosely defined notion of "men's rights," which have become casualties in the newly discovered war on men. This spring, a manifesto of the new movement was published, to much praise. Men on Strike is the work of Dr. Helen Smith, a psychologist from Tennessee. She writes a popular blog, called Dr. Helen, on the conservative website If the old men's movement got men crying, the new one hopes to get them complaining.

August 13, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 4:56 AM



In short, when you have the privilege of setting up all the circumstances artificially, in order to give your protagonist no real choice about whether to sin or not, it is a pretty safe bet that a whole lot of people in a relativistic country, including the Christians in it unfortunately, won't notice.

As the book progresses, the ethical problems are effectively disguised. The first way is by having a number of the wealthier districts send tributes who are semi-pro. In other words, they are not reluctant participants, but are eager for the glory that attends winning the games. When that kind of guy comes after you, everything is self-defense. Then there is the fact that there are a bunch of them out there killing each other, and Katniss doesn't have to do it. And the third device, and the one that keeps you turning the pages, that the author does not reveal whether or not Katniss will be willing to kill when it gets down the bitter end, and her opponents are innocents like she is. In other words, you have a likeable protagonist who is fully expecting to do something that is perfectly appalling by the end of the book.

There is a twelve-year-old girl named Rue that Katniss teams up with, and there is an expectation that later in the games the alliance will be dissolved . . . and you know what will happen then. Rue is the same age as Prim. There is a boy from her own district named Peeta who has been in love with Katniss forever, and who gave her family a loaf of bread a number of years before. Is he going to kill her or vice versa? I hear that spoilers are supposed to be bad, so I won't tell you what happens.

The Capitol is hateful, and cruel, and distasteful, and obnoxious, and decadent, and icky . . . but not evil, as measured against any external standard. The Capitol is to be disliked because the Capitol is making people do things they would rather not be doing. But nowhere is there a simple refusal. There is a desire to have it all go away, but everybody participates with an appropriate amount of sullenness.

The story is told with enough detachment and distance that you feel like the participants really do have to cooperate. Resistance is futile . . .

But think for a moment. Someone tells you to murder a twelve-year-old girl, or they will kill you. What do you do? Suppose they give the twelve-year-old girl a head start? Suppose they give her a gun and tell her that if she murders you first, and she will be okay?

This is what situation ethics specializes in. Suppose a woman is in a concentration camp, and she can save her husband's life, or her child's life, through sexual bribes given to the guards. What should she do? Suppose you could save one hundred thousand lives by torturing someone to death on national television. What should you do? The response should be something like, "Let me think about it, no." As Thomas Watson put it, better to be wronged than to do wrong. It is not a sin to be murdered. It is not a sin to have your loved ones murdered. It is not a sin to defend your loved ones through every lawful means. But that is the key, that phrase. Every lawful means only makes sense when there is a law, and that only makes sense when there is a Lawgiver. Without that, everything is just dogs scrapping over a piece of meat. And once that is the framework, there is no real way to evaluate anything. The history of the Church is filled with families being martyred together. Survival is not the highest good.

Back in the Cold War, a joke was told about an admiral who was inspecting a destroyer, and was making the rounds while they were out at sea. He came upon a lookout, a lowly sailor, standing there with his binoculars. "Lad," he said, "what would you do if a Russian destroyer appeared on the horizon there?" "Sir," the man said, "I'd nuke 'em." "Oh," said the admiral. "What would you do if ten of them appeared?" "I'd nuke them too, sir." "I see," said the admiral. "What would you do if the whole Russian fleet appeared there?" "I'd nuke them all, sir," came the reply. "And," the admiral said, pressing his point home, "where are you getting all these nukes?"

"The same place you're getting the Russians, sir."

When you are imagining some kind of scenario, it is easy to construct one exactly to the needs of your plot, and the sub-creating author can create a world in which it is not true that "God will not let you be tempted beyond what you are able to bear." Your tributes are in the arena with a command to kill or be killed, and in this place it is not true that with every temptation there is a way of escape. For faithful believers, the way of escape might be martyrdom.

And the Daughter Judd was appalled by our review?

Posted by orrinj at 12:16 AM


Hard on Obama : a review of The Dispensable Nation: American Foreign Policy in Retreat by Vali Nasr  (Steve Coll, 7/11/13, The New Yorker)

In The Dispensable Nation, Nasr dissects what he regards as the overlapping failures of the Obama administration's foreign policies across the Middle East and South Asia, from Pakistan to Iran to revolutionary Egypt. The book begins as a detailed, analytical memoir of disappointment over how "a small cabal of relatively inexperienced White House advisers" undermined Holbrooke's diplomatic mission in South Asia, as Nasr looked on. The author then embarks on a withering review of first-term Obama administration diplomacy.

He concludes with criticism of Obama's most important foreign policy conception, the announced American "pivot" toward Asia and away from the Middle East, a reorientation of policy, alliance priorities, and military deployments made possible by the reduction of American involvement in the wars Obama inherited in Iraq and Afghanistan. Most provocatively, Nasr argues that by retreating from the Middle East--and by signaling a withdrawal from "the exuberant American desire to lead in the world"--Obama has yielded strategic advantage to China, for which the United States will pay a heavy price in the future.

Nasr writes that he did not want to use his book as "a political bludgeon," yet he describes Obama as a "dithering" president prone to "busybodying the national security apparatus" who allowed Holbrooke, in particular, to be marginalized at the White House in an internecine "theater of the absurd." At the same time, the author offers only hagiographic generalizations about his bosses, Holbrooke and Hillary Clinton, "two incredibly dedicated and talented people" who "had to fight to have their voices count." When things went badly for Obama, the administration "knew [Clinton] was the only person who could save the situation, and she did that time and again." This uncritical, not to say hackneyed, view of the secretary of state is difficult to reconcile with the fact that she helped formulate, and often enthusiastically sold in public, the very Obama administration policies that the author finds so wanting.

Nasr has serious arguments to make. Some of them are detailed and deeply informed, as in his brilliant and important chapter on Pakistan, but others come across as more hurriedly composed. What finally recommends the book is the very quality that often makes it jagged: Nasr's willingness, as a well-positioned insider, to attack viscerally the complacent belief among Obama and his national security advisers that they have constructed a rare left-leaning presidency that is tough-minded, restrained, and above all effective on foreign, defense, and counterterrorism policy. Along the way, Nasr offers confident views about America's place in the world; its capacity to influence South Asian and Middle Eastern nations in crisis; and rising geopolitical competition with China. Unusually in Obama's Washington, where muted loyalty to the president has generally prevailed among Democrats, Nasr has written a pugnacious book. Of greater interest, however, is to what extent his arguments about Obama's forays into the Middle East may be right.

Because Obama's aim has been to "shrink [America's] footprint in the Middle East," Nasr writes, the president's approach to the Arab Spring

has been wholly reactive. It may get a passing grade in managing changes of regime as old dictators fall, but it has largely failed at the real challenge, which is to help the new governments...move toward democracy and reform their parlous, sclerotic economies. [...]

[O]bama should have done much more after the Tunisian revolution began late in 2010, Nasr believes. And because of Obama's hesitation, it is impossible to "say now that the Arab Spring would have been such a disappointment had we engaged with the region quickly and forcefully."

By "engagement" Nasr means a Marshall Plan-scale package of economic aid on par with the more than $100 billion the United States poured into formerly Communist Europe in the decade after the Berlin Wall's fall. "It is true that the global financial downturn and the Greek crisis had left little for Cairo, but that is no excuse. Egypt is a hinge upon which the fate of the whole Middle East may turn."

Posted by orrinj at 12:12 AM


Remembering the Day the World Wide Web Was Born : What drove Tim Berners-Lee to imagine this game-changing model for information sharing, and will its openness be its undoing? (Larry Greenemeier, March 12, 2009, Scientific American)

Twenty years ago this month, a software consultant named Tim Berners-Lee at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (better known as CERN) hatched a plan for an open computer network to keep track of research at the particle physics laboratory in the suburbs of Geneva, Switzerland. Berners-Lee's modestly titled "Information Management: A Proposal," which he submitted to get a CERN grant, would become the blueprint for the World Wide Web.

The Web was not an overnight success. In fact, it took nearly two years before Berners-Lee--with help from CERN computer scientist Robert Cailliau and others--on Christmas Day 1990 set up the first successful communication between a Web browser and server via the Internet. This demonstration was followed by several more years of tireless lobbying by Berners-Lee, now 53, to convince professors, students, programmers and Internet enthusiasts to create more Web browsers and servers that would soon forever change the world of human communication.

August 12, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 11:56 AM


Who Ruined the Humanities? (Lee Siegel, 7/12/13, WSJ)

Every other academic subject requires specialized knowledge and a mastery of skills and methods. Literature requires only that you be human. It does not have to be taught any more than dreaming has to be taught. Why does Hector's infant son, Astyanax, cry when he sees his father put on his helmet? All you need to understand that is a heart.

So you see, I am not making a brief against reading the classics of Western literature. Far from it. I am against taking these startling epiphanies of the irrational, unspoken, unthought-of side of human life into the college classroom and turning them into the bland exercises in competition, hierarchy and information-accumulation that are these works' mortal enemies.

The notion that great literature can help you with reading and thinking clearly is also a chimera. One page of Henry James's clotted involutions or D.H. Lawrence's throbbing verbal repetitions will disabuse you of any conception of literature's value as a rhetorical model. Rather, the literary masterworks of Western civilization demonstrate the limitations of so-called clear-thinking. They present their meanings in patchwork-clouds of associations, intuitions, impressions. There are sonnets by Shakespeare that no living person can understand. The capacity to transfix you with their language while hiding their meaning in folds of mind-altering imagery is their rare quality.

The literary classics are a haven for that part of us that broods over mortal bewilderments, over suffering and death and fleeting happiness. They are a refuge for our secret self that wishes to contemplate the precious singularity of our physical world, that seeks out the expression of feelings too prismatic for rational articulation. They are places of quiet, useless stillness in a world that despises any activity that is not profitable or productive.

Literary art's sudden, startling truth and beauty make us feel, in the most solitary part of us, that we are not alone, and that there are meanings that cannot be bought, sold or traded, that do not decay and die. This socially and economically worthless experience is called transcendence, and you cannot assign a paper, or a grade, or an academic rank, on that. Literature is too sacred to be taught. It needs only to be read.

Posted by orrinj at 11:43 AM


Chronically gay? California doctor diagnoses gay man's  'homosexual behavior' as chronic illness (JOE KEMP, 8/11/13, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

A California doctor diagnosed an openly gay patient with "homosexual behavior" during a recent check-up -- and then told the man that it should be treated as a chronic illness.

Mathew Moore, 45, said another physician requested him to get the physical with the Manhattan Beach doctor, who wrote "homosexual behavior (302.0)" among a list of other diagnoses, according to NBC Los Angeles.

...doesn't make self-destructive behavior any less an illness.

Posted by orrinj at 11:34 AM


Marx's Lesson for the Muslim Brothers (SHERI BERMAN, August 10, 2013, NY Times)

It should come as no surprise that Egyptian liberals would implore the military to begin a coup to end the country's first experiment with democracy just two years after they joined hands with Islamists to oust an authoritarian regime. In the early stages of a country's political development, liberals and democrats often don't agree on anything other than the desirability of getting rid of the ancien régime.

Establishing a stable democracy is a two-stage process. First you get rid of the old regime, then you build a durable democratic replacement. Because the first stage is dramatic, many people think the game is over when the dictator has gone. But the second stage is more difficult. There are many examples of broad coalitions coming together to oust dictators but relatively few of them stayed together and agreed on what the new regime should look like. Opposition movements tend to lose steam, falling prey to internal squabbles and the resurgent forces of the old regime.

...Morsi needed to purge the military. The lack of violence was the failure of the democratic revolution.

Posted by orrinj at 5:56 AM

The Avett Brothers, Live In Concert: Newport Folk 2013 (STEPHEN THOMPSON, 7/28/13, NPR)

Few bands blend showmanship and poignancy quite like The Avett Brothers: The band's songs reflect thoughtfully on life and death and love, while toggling between swoonily pretty roots-pop ballads and frenetic, barnstorming punk-bluegrass hybrids. Led by multi-talented North Carolina brothers Seth and Scott Avett, the group digs especially deep on last year's album The Carpenter, which explores mortality and hope in the aftermath of a cancer diagnosis for the young daughter of bassist Bob Crawford. But playfulness and warmth still win out; in The Avett Brothers' music, they always do.

Hear the band perform as part of the 2013 Newport Folk Festival, recorded live on Saturday, July 27 in Newport, R.I.

Posted by orrinj at 5:07 AM


Nuke the Cat : Star Script Doctor Damon Lindelof Explains the New Rules of Blockbuster Screenwriting (Scott Brown, 8/4/13, Vulture)

[H]ollywood's gigantism, Lindelof points out, is practically algorithmic--and the effect tendrils all the way down to the storytelling level. When ever-larger sums are spent to make and market ever-fewer, ever-bigger movies, and those movies are aimed at Imax screens, then world-­shattering comic-book I.P. and gigantic special effects are expected, with larger-than-life characters wielding those effects. No one necessarily asks for it; it just kind of happens. It's what Lindelof calls Story Gravity, and dealing with it--whether that means resisting it or simply surfing it skillfully--is the great challenge of writing this new breed of tentpole blockbuster. The question used to be: How do we top ourselves? The new one seems to be: How do we stop ourselves?

"Once you spend more than $100 million on a movie, you have to save the world," explains Lindelof. "And when you start there, and basically say, I have to construct a MacGuffin based on if they shut off this, or they close this portal, or they deactivate this bomb, or they come up with this cure, it will save the world--you are very limited in terms of how you execute that. And in many ways, you can become a slave to it and, again, I make no excuses, I'm just saying you kind of have to start there. In the old days, it was just as satisfying that all Superman has to do was basically save Lois from this earthquake in California. The stakes in that movie are that the San Andreas Fault line opens up and half of California is going to fall in the ocean. That felt big enough, but there is a sense of bigger, better, faster, seen it before, done that."

"It sounds sort of hacky and defensive to say, [but it's] almost inescapable," he continues. "It's almost impossible to, for example, not have a final set piece where the fate of the free world is at stake. You basically work your way backward and say, 'Well, the Avengers aren't going to save Guam, they've got to save the world.' Did Star Trek Into Darkness need to have a gigantic starship crashing into San ­Francisco? I'll never know. But it sure felt like it did."

With that in mind, I've given ­Lindelof--who's written some hugely embiggened pictures and successfully wrestled others down to human scale--a challenge that only a five-star general in Hollywood's elite fantasy screenwriting corps would have the chops to attempt: Pitch us a summer blockbuster based on something very, very unblockbustery, a simple American tall tale. Let's say, the ballad of folk hero John Henry: the nineteenth-century ex-slave who raced a steam-tunneler through a mountain, won, and perished, the first martyr in the great war twixt Man and Machine. Lindelof, not missing a beat, tongue firmly in cheek but mind fully engaged, dives in--no notes, no pauses, barely stopping for breath. Then he goes even further, giving us anticipated revisions as the notes come in, as the blockbuster hormones surge, as Story Gravity takes hold.

"Well, I think the first thing that would happen is you would say the fundamental, most important part of the story is that he dies--[and that] he is victorious, he beats the machine. It's the triumph of the human spirit over technology. But with that comes a price. And all the studio execs would say, 'Absolutely. That's what we love about this story.' Two drafts later somebody would say, 'Does he have to die?' "
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Posted by orrinj at 4:22 AM


Internet trolls: a guide to the different flavours : It's relatively easy to deal with those who pour forth hatred online. But the greater threat comes from the more subtle spreaders of misery and doubt (Claire Hardaker, 7/01/13,

Many of us have a working idea of what trolling is - causing mischief online for fun. But fewer of us realise that trolling comes in a wide variety of flavours. A small handful of those in my research include RIP trolls, who spend their time causing misery on memorial sites; fame trolls, who focus all their energies on provoking celebrities; care trolls, who purport to see abuse in every post about children or animals; political trolls who seek to bully MPs out of office; and many others besides.

Moreover, trolls don't simply spew vile tirades of abuse. In fact, the data repeatedly shows that such obvious trolls are easier to deal with. When someone pours forth unprovoked hatred, there is really only one interpretation: they're aiming to manipulate your feelings (eg to hurt you) or even your behaviour (eg to delete your Twitter account). However, such attempts are so painfully obvious that they are easy to identify, block, and if serious enough, to prosecute.

Where we need greater understanding is in the world of covert trolling. This craftier breed is neither obviously hateful, nor openly offensive. Instead, these trolls live in the twilight between what we think their intentions are, and what they really intend. The fact is that we never know another person's intentions. We are only ever guessing, based on the evidence they present us with, and a crafty troll will present just enough evidence of being credible that to block them would seem like a dangerous step towards infringing free speech. Such trolls will even use this defence, and accuse those who block them of cowardice, censorship, and losing the argument. The average individual is left stuck between doing the morally upstanding thing (upholding free speech, engaging in a debate) and the wise thing (protecting their own peace of mind).

In short, while obvious trolls are an unsophisticated hammer on the nerves, covert trolls are the insidious, fine-tuned torture of doubt and misery. These are the trolls whose behaviour is most difficult to capture under current legislation (and indeed, some free-speech activists would argue that their behaviour should not be captured), yet they are also the type that, for the ordinary user, can be most damaging. The most common question I get now is, "How should I deal with trolls?"

Our theory regarding trolls is pretty simple : while it is unobjectionable for commentors to be merely wrong (in other words, to disagree with us) we're ultimately responsible for what appears on our site, so we don't tolerate them being malicious.  

We set ourselves some rules for the front of the blog:

(1) No profanity. 

(2) Minimal self-reference (though none would be unnatural) 

(3) Minimal linking to other blogs. 

(4) Minimal reference to comments.  (Folks who write comments don't get to do so on the front page, so we try not to write about them on the front.) 

(5) Try--though I'm bad about this myself--to only quote about three paragraphs, or no more than a third,  of any story you blog.  We want folks to go read it at the site that owns it.  But if you need to use more to make the excerpt make sense, no problem. 

(6) Always link to the original--we want folks to read the whole thing--and don't use links that pop up a new browser window.  It's annoying for readers and if we aren't interesting enough for them to navigate back to us, that's our problem. 

(7) Never let it interfere with real life. 

And, in turn, have a few requirements in the comments:

(1) No profanity

(2) No personal attacks

(3) No linking to dubious sources

(4) No espousal of hateful political theories (which, predictably, only ever occurs in discussions of religion, Darwinism and immigration)

And, lastly, a guideline, rather than a rule:

(5) Ask one question or raise one point at a time and we'll be happy to address it.  Ask or raise 5 and we'll still address just one.


August 11, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 5:24 AM


Onward, Christian Soldiers: Arthur Sullivan's greatest hit (Christopher Howse,  09 Aug 2013, The Telegraph)

Arthur Sullivan did not want to be remembered for his comic operas with W S Gilbert. "My sacred music is that on which I base my reputation as a composer," he wrote. "These works are the offspring of my liveliest fancy, the children of my greatest strength."

Perhaps, but even among his sacred pieces, it is not his oratorios, The Prodigal Son or The Light of the World, that are sung. By far the most popular sacred music that came from Sullivan's pen is the tune for Onward, Christian Soldiers.
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August 10, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 5:42 AM


What's the Trade Deal? (IRWIN M. STELZER, 8/10/13, Weekly Standard)

The biggest plus for the President's negotiators is that they can tell the trade unions, liberal Democrats' most potent supporters and usually skeptical of freer trade, that this would be the first trade deal with a region that has higher labor and energy costs than the United States, and is therefore unlikely to cost jobs, and might actually create some. 

But the biggest barrier to a U.S. sign-on is the President's demand that any agreement exclude the financial sector. Banks generally favor freer trade, but their special enthusiasm for this deal stems from its promise of harmonizing the regulations under which they do business in the U.S. and the EU. It is precisely that prospect that arouses the Obama's suspicion: he fears harmonization would allow backdoor repeal of portions of the Dodd-Frank law that Democrats see as necessary to prevent a repeat of the post-Lehman Brothers turmoil in financial markets. Bankers' enthusiasm for regulatory harmonization might wane if they use their summer vacations to consider whether the application to them of EU restrictions on bankers' bonuses might make the price of mansion rentals in the Hamptons next summer a bit beyond their reach.

Bankers are not alone in seeing themselves as winners. Auto manufacturers would benefit significantly from the increased economies of scale that would result from agreement to eliminate NTBs that are the equivalent of a 26 percent tariff, according to data provided by Jeffrey Werner, a Daimler executive. A single set of safety standards, eliminating the need to build vehicles with flashing brake lights to meet EU requirements, and cars with steadily shining ones to meet requirements in this country, is one example of such saving. And then there are America's farmers, who would in the aggregate benefit from freer competition, but some of whom will resist the loss of their generous subsidies, and reside in states with important political clout--think Iowa, corn, and the first presidential primaries. Of course, it may never come to that, since agriculture is one of the land mines on which trade negotiators avoid stepping by leaving that sector out of many trade agreements.

Posted by orrinj at 5:03 AM


China's Big Commodity Chill : With the end of the supercycle, copper prices have dropped 30% from their 2011 peak, and iron ore is down 32%. (DANIEL YERGIN, 8/09/13, WSJ)

Though it was summertime, a tinge of ice was in the June air at this year's St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. "There is no magic wand we can wave," said Russian President Vladimir Putin, acknowledging the abrupt drop in Russia's growth rate. "Prices for our main exports rose fast" for many years, he told the forum, but now "the situation has changed. There are no magic solutions."

What is giving Russia and many other countries the shivers is the China Chill that is the result of the slowing Chinese economy. It means a recalibration for the world's exporters, who have come to count on vigorous Chinese demand. It will be a particular challenge for commodity exporters. Over the past decade, they have been the great beneficiaries of the commodity "supercycle"--the combination of accelerating demand and rising commodity prices that have delivered GDP growth. With China's slowing, the supercycle is over, meaning tough choices ahead.

Posted by orrinj at 4:52 AM


Hope for democracy in the Arab world (David Ignatius, August 9, 2013, Washington Post)

Two books help make sense of what's going on in the Arab world. They describe the foundations on which a new order might be built -- economic and socio-political. They're both contrarian, in that they challenge the pessimism of the moment, when democrats seem to be on the run and demagogues are back in the saddle.

The first is "Startup Rising: The Entrepreneurial Revolution Remaking the Middle East." It's written by Christopher M. Schroeder, a former colleague at The Washington Post Co. and a longtime friend. Chris is a startup guy, and over the last three years he has traveled the Arab world looking for kindred spirits.

What Schroeder found will startle even the most jaded observer. Despite the turmoil of the last few years, a new generation of entrepreneurs is inventing products, getting them funded and bringing them to market. Even the dead weight of repressive government and religious intolerance hasn't stopped this new breed.

Schroeder offers compelling illustrations to buttress his case: He wanders around a "celebration of entrepreneurship" in Dubai and finds a Saudi woman who has designed and marketed a line of iPod accessories, a Syrian who has created a computer-animation venture and a Kuwaiti who created a mobile game application that has been downloaded by more than a million users.

These Arab startup kids may be buffeted by political events, but they are tightly connected to the global technological base that Karl Marx woodenly described as the "means of production." Schroeder tours the business landscape like an open-air bazaar: is an Arab version of WebMD; is the biggest online retailer in the region with 500 employees and 8 million customers; is an online shoe retailer, like Zappos, that sells 12,000 different styles of shoes. A third of the Arab tech startups are founded by women, says Schroeder, a figure unheard of in Silicon Valley.

The base for rapid economic growth is there, in embryo, across the Arab world. 

August 8, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 6:43 PM


Egypt must restore its fledgling democracy - and fast (Abdullah Gul, 8/08/13, Financial Times)
The coup that ousted Mohamed Morsi, Egypt's first democratically elected president, was a clear derailment of the country's progress. Perhaps the deadlock could have been avoided. Maybe this situation could have been averted by calling for early elections. But problems should, in any case, have been corrected through democratic mechanisms.

Our own experience has taught us how important it is to keep those mechanisms functioning and to remain committed to open democratic values. This is not a mantra only for the good times. At moments of peril, it is more important than ever to stick closely to the democratic path. [...]

Egypt's future lies in democracy, where the free will of the Egyptian people prevails, constitutional legitimacy is upheld and where rights and freedoms are guaranteed. No other solution will be right for Egypt - and nothing short of it will bring stability. That is why everyone must do their utmost to win a democratic future for the country. Under the current circumstances, it faces a risk of further polarisation.

At this juncture, I believe the following steps are vital to put democracy back on track. First, a quick return to democracy - which was the aim of the revolution - through an inclusive transition process, is of utmost importance. Second, all political groups should be allowed to take part in the forthcoming elections. The exclusion of any political party will undermine the success of the ensuing period. Third, release of Mr Morsi and his fellow politicians would make a tremendous contribution to reconciliation and stability. Fourth, everyone should exercise restraint to avoid further casualties. Further loss of life could make recovery unattainable, even if the leaders in Egypt act with their best intentions to break the deadlock.

Posted by orrinj at 6:38 PM


Study: No Impact From Keystone on Greenhouse Gases (Keith Johnson, 8/08/13, WSJ)

Fresh analysis out from energy consultancy IHS Cera says the pipeline, which would carry Canadian tar sands crude from Alberta to Nebraska and eventually to the U.S. Gulf Coast, "will not have any impact on GHG emissions."

Essentially, IHS concluded, Canadian tar sands will find a way to market either through all-Canadian pipelines or through the increasing use of railcars to ship the heavy oil. "Even if new pipelines lag oil sands growth, rail will fill the gap, as it is doing today," the consultancy found, echoing the draft conclusions by the U.S. State Department.

Posted by orrinj at 6:35 PM


Fannie Mae doubles profits to send further $10bn to US Treasury (Stephen Foley, 8/08/13, Financial Times)

The latest payment will mean that the company, which was put into government conservatorship amid the financial crisis of 2008, has returned $105.3bn in dividends to the US taxpayer, on bailout funds of $117.1bn.

Posted by orrinj at 6:32 PM


Soldier attacked by ultra-Orthodox mob in Jerusalem (LAZAR BERMAN, August 8, 2013, Times of Israel)

An IDF soldier was attacked in an ultra-Orthodox area of Jerusalem on Thursday, the fourth such attack in the past few weeks.

The assault occurred mid-day in Beit Yisrael, just north of Mea Shearim. A religious soldier was walking through the neighborhood to visit relatives when Haredi youngsters began to gather and call him names, including "Nazi."

Posted by orrinj at 6:28 PM


John McCain ♥ Samantha Power (Owen Alterman, 8/08/13, Times of Israel)

She once personified high-minded liberal do-gooderness. But, these days, Samantha Power has a few new best friends: Republican Senators John McCain, Lindsay Graham, Bob Corker, and Saxby Chambliss. These and others in Power's GOP fan club were the driving force behind her swift confirmation by an 87-10 Senate vote last Friday as the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:11 AM


Shale Revolution Not So Simple (Leonardo Maugeri, August 8, 2013, National Interest)

Whereas drilling intensity won't prevent the United States from becoming the largest oil producer globally in just few years, it will likely prove a daunting obstacle for the rest of the world--for several reasons.

First, the United States holds more than 60 percent of the world's drilling rigs, and 95 percent of these are capable of performing horizontal drilling--which, together with hydraulic fracturing (fracking), is crucial to unlock shale production. No other country or area in the world has even a fraction of such "drilling power," which takes several years to build up. For example, all across Europe (excluding Russia) there are no more than 130 drilling rigs (as against 180 in North Dakota alone), and only one-third of them are capable of doing horizontal drilling.

Moreover, no other country has ever experienced even a fraction of the drilling intensity that has characterized the U.S. oil and gas history.

Consider: in 2012 the United States completed 45,468 oil and gas wells (and brought 28,354 of them on line). Excluding Canada, the rest of the world completed only 3,921 wells, and brought only a fraction of them on line. To my knowledge, Saudi Arabia brings on line no more than two hundred wells per year.

Other factors will contribute to prevent the development of shale resources in the rest of the world.

One is the absence of private mineral rights in most countries. In the United States, landowners also own the resources under the ground--and have a very strong incentive to lease those rights; in the rest of the world, such resources usually belong to the state, so that landowners usually get nothing from drilling on their lands but the damage brought about by such activity.

Also absent outside North America are independent oil companies with a guerrilla-like mindset, a crucial aspect of the U.S. boom. Until now, the development of shale resources has not proved to be Big Oil's strength--since shale oil requires companies capable of operating on a micro-scale, pursuing a number of micro-objectives and leveraging short-term opportunities. Only the United States (and partly Canada) possesses a plethora of such aggressive companies. It is no accident that they have been, and still are, the protagonists of the shale revolution.

Finally, we even don't know with any reasonable approximation either the real size of the shale formations in the world, or the costs to develop them. The problem is that the geology of the United States is by far the best known, explored, and assessed, whereas for most countries shale deposits are a matter of pure speculation. [...]

True, the amount of crude oil imported each day by the United States has plummeted steadily from its peak in 2007 (when it reached more than 10 million barrels), and it will probably be less than 50 percent of consumption by the end of 2013. However, even in the most favorable scenario I outlined above, 25 percent of U.S. crude oil requirements will have to be imported in the future.

This implies that if the United States wants to target the highest degree of oil security, it should rely not only on an increase of its domestic crude-oil production, but also on energy-efficiency measures that could curtail crude-oil consumption.

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August 7, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 8:27 PM


Freddie Mac Posts Profit of $5 Billion (NICK TIMIRAOS and SAABIRA CHAUDHURI, 8/07/13, WSJ)

Freddie Mac FMCC +1.43% reported $5 billion in second-quarter earnings, the second-largest quarterly profit in the company's history and the latest reminder of how the gains at Freddie and its larger sibling, Fannie Mae, FNMA +1.99% could reshape the debate over their futures.

The earnings compare with a year-earlier gain of $3 billion and marked the seventh straight profit for the mortgage-finance company. Rising home prices, falling mortgage delinquencies and higher loan fees have marked a sharp turnaround from a four-year period in which the company suffered heavy losses that forced it to seek large infusions from the U.S. Treasury.

Posted by orrinj at 4:38 PM


How Tesla Is Driving Electric Car Innovation : If you believe Tesla, affordable, long-range electric cars could be here sooner than many think. (Kevin Bullis on August 7, 2013, MIT Technology Review)

Today's electric vehicles promise several advantages over gas-powered cars. For commuters, there are no trips to the gas station--all you need is an outlet at home or work--and a full charge only costs a couple of dollars. And electric motors, which need only a single gear for all speeds, can also be surprisingly responsive and powerful. What's more, electric cars use no gasoline and emit no pollution. Even when you factor in the carbon emissions and pollution from the power plants that produce the electricity to power the cars, and from manufacturing and disposal, electric cars produce about 40 percent less carbon dioxide and ozone than conventional cars.

But for all their attributes, electric cars still are haunted by two damning factors: high costs and less-than-optimal batteries.

That's where Tesla hopes to make a difference. The company's innovative battery and charging technology has given it a substantial lead in making batteries cheaper and recharging quicker, and it's also helping Tesla lower costs faster than its competitors. [...]

Recharging was far easier than I'd expected, having once spent an afternoon charging a Chevrolet Volt at a standard public charging station to get just 30 miles of charge. The car recognized an RFID tag in the charger handle and automatically popped open the outlet door. By the time I'd walked across the parking lot, bought a cheeseburger, and carried it back to the car, the range was already up to 92 miles, plenty to finish the day's driving. I chatted with a Model S owner for a while and then got back on the road. I returned the car that evening with 129 miles of range left in the battery--more than the fully charged range of battery-electric cars from Toyota, Nissan, Ford, GM, Honda, Fiat, Renault, Mitsubishi, Smart, or Scion, or upcoming electric cars from Mercedes and BMW.

Posted by orrinj at 4:36 PM


GOP election prospects are good and getting better (Ed Rogers, August 6, 2013, Washington Post)

In politics, we only keep score (via elections) every two years.  Everything else is just talk.  And when you look at what will drive the elections -- the natural cycles (in 2014, the 6-year itch), the economy, and the big issue of the day (in this case, health care) -- there is nothing today that suggests anything other than a pretty good election environment for Republicans in 2014.

Republicans currently hold 46 seats in the Senate. Republicans should have a majority in the Senate today, and the 2014 midterms should be about beefing up that majority. Even Democrats know their majority in the Senate is undeserved. 

August 6, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 8:26 PM


First Inductively Charged City Bus System Now Rolling : One South Korean city started testing them yesterday. (Francie Diep,  08.06.2013, Popular Science)

Here's one way you could charge electric cars in the future. A South Korean city is testing electric buses that get their charge from cables buried underneath the road.

The cables create magnetic fields that a device on the underside of the buses converts into electricity. (In principle, they're like enormous versions of the induction power that charges toothbrushes and smartphones wirelessly.) The charging works both while the buses are driving and when they're sitting still.

Posted by orrinj at 8:17 PM


Did We Waste a Financial Crisis? (ADAM DAVIDSON, 8/06/13, NY Times)

I asked [Anat Admati and Charles Calomiris, prominent finance professors at Stanford and Columbia, respectively] to explain their problem with the current system. I randomly chose Citigroup's most recent annual S.E.C. report, a 300-page tome filled with complex legal jargon outlining the bank's performance. The key number that we looked for was the capital-adequacy ratio, which is a measure of how much capital you need to back up the risk of your assets. This is supposed to be the one number that makes clear whether a bank is prepared for a crisis. A high ratio means the bank's owners could bear most losses without requiring a bailout. A low number means the opposite.

It was extremely hard, though, to know how Citi was faring. Calomiris pointed out that the bank reports several different measures, ranging from what appears to be a safe capital ratio of 17.26 percent (implying the bank maintains a loss-absorbing buffer of $17 for every $100 of the assets it owns) to a potentially worrisome 7.48 percent (with stops at 14.06, 12.67 and 8.7 percent). When I asked Admati how healthy the bank was, she replied, "It's hopeless for anyone to know."

The problem isn't Citigroup's. The problem, both Admati and Calomiris say, is the rules themselves, which instruct banks to use complex formulas to calculate their leverage ratios based on different definitions of capital and debt. If it's enough to confuse finance professors, how are the rest of us supposed to make any sense of this? (A spokesman for Citi responded by e-mail that "Citi is a strong and well-capitalized institution" that follows regulatory standards and guidelines.)

Admati, Calomiris and numerous economists have told me they would like to replace this system with something simple. There are many ways to do this. Regulators could define capital very narrowly (as money that the shareholders of banks could lose without requiring a bailout), and debt quite broadly (as all the exposure a bank has, including derivatives, off-balance-sheet entities and so forth). The ratio could be set higher than it is now, somewhere around 10 percent. (There is still plenty of disagreement over this number. Admati would love to more than double it.) But once that percentage was set, reviewing the soundness of a bank would be as simple as checking the letter grade of a restaurant in New York City.

Most bankers I've met, and even a few economists, say that such rules would make lending more burdensome and therefore weaken the overall economy. If the rules were imposed in the United States but not elsewhere, their argument goes, it would hamper American competitiveness. Many suggest, as one bank official recently told me, that calculating a bank's capital is just complicated, and that there's no way to make it simple.

However, most experts I've talked to -- particularly those who aren't paid by banks -- favor strong and simple bank rules.

Posted by orrinj at 8:07 PM


Was Hiroshima Needed to End the War? : New evidence suggests that the bombing, rather than saving `500,000' US lives, was a warning to Moscow (Gar Alperovitz and Kai Bird, 8/06/13, CS Monitor)

Most experts now accept the once controversial view that geopolitical and diplomatic concerns about the Soviet Union influenced Truman, Stimson, and Byrnes, consciously or unconsciously, when they chose what Stimson called the "master card" (the atomic bomb) over other readily available ways to end the war.

Scholars differ in the precise weight to accord this motive in the thinking of each policymaker, and some specialists like Bernstein continue to hold that military factors were paramount, or that the weapon's use was "inevitable" because of technological or bureaucratic momentum (and infighting) built up during the war. Gregg Herken, the author of "The Winning Weapon: The Atomic Bomb in the Cold War 1945-1950," observes, however, that "responsible traditional as well as revisionist accounts of the decisi on to drop the bomb now recognize that the act had behind it both an immediate military rationale regarding Japan and a possible diplomatic advantage concerning Russia." Yale Prof. Gaddis Smith writes: "It has been demonstrated that the decision to bomb Japan was centrally connected to Truman's confrontational approach to the Soviet Union."

...would have been to drop it on Moscow, saving tens of millions of lives.

Posted by orrinj at 5:21 AM


How should the US deliver food aid? (David Loyn, 8/06/13, BBC)

Other countries prefer to give cash or vouchers. Innovative schemes are bringing the most advanced technology to cope with the needs of hungry people.

The Care relief agency, for example, has a database of people in potential need in remote places such as the semi-arid lands of northern Kenya.

Vulnerable people have plastic cards like credit cards, which they can use at a time of need.

Ezekiel Lentorer, from Care, said this means they can remain where they are for longer at times of drought, not losing their animals or livelihoods.

He said: "I prefer cash every time, much better than food aid...With food aid, you give me maize only, at the end of the day I have no salt, no oil. And [with cash] all of the aid gets to the recipient, rather than being lost on the way."

Elsewhere in Kenya the World Food Programme (WFP) is pioneering a scheme to improve crops and the marketing skills of farmers, encouraging them to form co-operatives to give them more bargaining power.

The WFP guarantees to buy some of the produce to give to hungry people elsewhere, so the programme has a double benefit.

She said her agricultural productivity had improved and her income had increased.

But the US remains limited by law as to how much it can put into these sorts of schemes. A leading expert on food security, Chris Barrett of Cornell University, says it has lost the economic argument.

"In terms of the policy merits, this is a settled issue. The resistance turns on the political economy. In particular a coalition of large agribusinesses that benefit from present arrangements," he said.

This is not a partisan issue.

President George Bush's aid officials succeeded in a very modest reform, increasing flexibility.

August 5, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 5:28 AM


Tamerlan Tsarnaev 'had right-wing extremist literature' (Hilary Andersson, 8/04/13, BBC News)

Panorama has spent months speaking exclusively with friends of the bombers to try to understand the roots of their radicalisation.

The programme discovered that Tamerlan Tsarnaev possessed articles which argued that both 9/11 and the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing were government conspiracies.

Another in his possession was about "the rape of our gun rights".

Reading material he had about white supremacy commented that "Hitler had a point".

Tamerlan Tsarnaev also had literature which explored what motivated mass killings and noted how the perpetrators murdered and maimed calmly.

There was also material about US drones killing civilians, and about the plight of those still imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay.

Posted by orrinj at 5:21 AM


A Plan to Avert the Pension Crisis (RICHARD J. RIORDAN and TIM RUTTEN, August 4, 2013, NY Times)

President Obama should propose, and push Congress to establish, a public employee pension reform program, similar to a plan proposed by the economist Joshua D. Rauh, now a professor of finance at Stanford's business school and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution.

In our version of the plan, the program would essentially serve as an insurance agency. It would not bail out distressed local retirement plans. Instead, cities, and perhaps states, would be permitted to sell bonds to cover their pension liabilities, with the federal government guaranteeing repayment. Participants would pay fees -- a kind of insurance premium -- to finance the program, so there would be no net cost to Washington. The program would give cities access to low-cost, long-term capital. But in exchange for what would amount to federal bond insurance, the cities would have to agree to certain reforms of their pension and health care programs for current and former workers. At a minimum, those reforms should include a single national standard for projecting returns on pension investments -- remarkably, there isn't one -- and negotiated reductions in current benefits.

And participating polities should be required to convert to defined contribution systems.

Posted by orrinj at 4:52 AM


'In vitro' beef - it's the meat of the future  (STEVE CONNOR, 28 JULY 2013, Independent)

The scientist behind the "in vitro" burger believes synthetic meat could help to save the world from the growing consumer demand for beef, lamb, pork and chicken. The future appetite for beef alone, for instance, could easily lead to the conversion of much of the world's remaining forests to barren, manicured pastures by the end of this century.

The precious patty will be made of some 3,000 strips of artificial beef, each the size of a rice grain, grown from bovine stem cells cultured in the laboratory. Scientists believe the public demonstration will be "proof of principle", possibly leading to artificial meat being sold in supermarkets within five to 10 years.

Stem cells taken from just one animal could, in theory, be used to make a million times more meat than could be butchered from a single beef carcass. The reduction in the need for land, water and feed, as well as the decrease in greenhouse gases and other environmental pollutants, would change the environmental footprint of meat eating.

August 4, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 9:44 AM


America's 'Baby Bust' May Be Over (BETH BRAVERMAN, 8/02/13, The Fiscal Times)

"The United States has seen marked declines in childbearing in the wake of the Great Recession," Demographic Intelligence President Sam Sturgeon said in a statement. "But we think that this fertility decline is now over. As the economy rebounds and women have the children they postponed immediately after the Great Recession, we are seeing an uptick in U.S. fertility."

Part of the reason for the turnaround is that religious women are having more babies, the report finds. Women who attend weekly religious services intend to have 2.62 children, while those who rarely or never attend services plan to have 2.1 children.

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Posted by orrinj at 9:34 AM



James Montgomery Boice writes in Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace that secularism "means disregarding the eternal and thinking only of the 'now'." He notes that the word comes from the Latin word saeculum with means "age." Secular things have literally to do with the present. Secularism is a deification of the now, worshipping this time as opposed to all other times: the past or the future. Boice continues by quoting R.C. Sproul who says: "For secularism, all life, every human value, every human activity must be understood in light of this present time..." Sproul goes on to describe the fundamentalist and exclusivist demands of secularism. This god demands supreme and exclusive allegiance: "We must make our decisions, live our lives, make our plans, all within the closed arena of this time - the here and now."

This is very helpful since it frequently feels like the categories of sacred and secular default into spatial ones. Sacred things are over there, while secular things are over here. Or perhaps we attempt to draw topical distinctions: those subjects are religious; these subjects are non-religious. But our demonstrative pronouns still betray our spatial grooves. Sunday is a holy day, but Monday is a... a... another sort of day, and our calendars still organize our thoughts spatially. On the other hand, an eschatological description of the world like the one Sproul and Boice describe lines up more faithfully with the way the Bible actually speaks. Christians are called to live by faith on what Rosenstock-Huessy called the "cross of reality," stretched between the past, the present, and the future because we serve the One who was and is and is to come. We worship the Man who is the Lord of all time, who is the Alpha and the Omega. He is Lord of this age and the age to come.

The good news of the Kingdom is that the "age to come" has already begun to invade this age. N.T. Wright describes this phenomenon particularly well in one lecture on the sacraments and time, using the story of the spies returning from Canaan with the enormous cluster of grapes carried by two men on a pole. He says that the sacraments in particular are the life of the Kingdom, the fruit of the Promised Land brought back into our wilderness, they are the life of the future brought back into the present. This signifies what the life of the Church is all about, what we pray for and work for. Our prayer is that the Kingdom would come and the will of God would be done on earth as it is in heaven. In other words, we pray for and work for the sanctification of the whole world.

Are human politics "secular?" Well, certainly, in so far as they are not yet fully what they are to become. But the kingdoms of this world have become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever. In this sense, our current human lives are also "secular": our bodies groan under the weight of the curse of sin, awaiting their full redemption. Our marriages are "secular" in this sense: they are types of the marriage supper of the Lamb, types of the love that Christ has for His bride, the Church. They are not yet what they will become; they have not been glorified into resurrection love. But we are not secularists, and this means that we refuse to look at the present with tunnel vision. We will not look at today as though it has no relation to yesterday or tomorrow.

The classic critique of certain forms of postmillennialism and Kuyperianism is that it "immanentizes the eschaton," we pretend the future has already arrived in full form before it actually has. We pretend to know the key to bringing our version of utopia to the present. We baptize a civil order and call it heaven. And I'm sure that has sometimes been a temptation. But I think the real failure is a lack of temporal sensibility. When we celebrate a child's birthday, singing songs, giving gifts, blowing out candles, and eating cake and ice cream, no one is seriously tempted to believe that this child has arrived. The fact that the kid turned 8 years old is, what we might say, a good step in the right direction, but as Christians we won't really be satisfied until the resurrection. 

Behind nearly every criticism of the End of History lies the mistaken belief that Francis Fukuyama was saying that the End involved such sanctification..

Posted by orrinj at 8:39 AM



A market-based approach, like a carbon tax, would be the best path to reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, but that is unachievable in the current political gridlock in Washington. Dealing with this political reality, President Obama's June climate action plan lays out achievable actions that would deliver real progress. He will use his executive powers to require reductions in the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the nation's power plants and spur increased investment in clean energy technology, which is inarguably the path we must follow to ensure a strong economy along with a livable climate.

The president also plans to use his regulatory power to limit the powerful warming chemicals known as hydrofluorocarbons and encourage the United States to join with other nations to amend the Montreal Protocol to phase out these chemicals. The landmark international treaty, which took effect in 1989, already has been hugely successful in solving the ozone problem.

Rather than argue against his proposals, our leaders in Congress should endorse them and start the overdue debate about what bigger steps are needed and how to achieve them -- domestically and internationally. 

As administrators of the E.P.A under Presidents Richard M. Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George Bush and George W. Bush, we held fast to common-sense conservative principles -- protecting the health of the American people, working with the best technology available and trusting in the innovation of American business and in the market to find the best solutions for the least cost.

The genuine Republican case is based almost exclusively on economics.  A substantial carbon tax--offset by reducing taxes on corporate profits and personal capital gains--would jump start the transition towards taxing consumption.  Meanwhile, as the editorialists note, it would improve the climate for innovation, as companies raced to engineer the next generation of energy sources, which would suddenly be more competitive price wise.

Posted by orrinj at 8:28 AM


Career Arc: Bill Parcells : How a free-agent coach mastered the NFL (Bryan Curtis on April 18, 2013, ESPN)

The question to ask about Parcells is pretty basic: Why was he messing with us? Why'd he leave job after job after after performing miracles on the field, like the football version of Larry Brown? As it turns out, Parcells's career arc was a lot more rational that it looked. For early on, Parcells experienced a traumatic event that changed his whole approach to coaching. Let's begin right there, with the moment that created the Big Tuna as we knew him.

December 1983. Parcells was finishing his first season as an NFL head coach. The Giants were god-awful. Phil Simms had gotten hurt. Even before that, Parcells had tried starting Scott Brunner, who would end his career with a 56.3 career QB rating. On December 4, the Giants lost to the Cardinals at the Meadowlands, falling to 3-10-1. It was around that time -- accounts vary -- that the betrayal happened. General manager George Young went on a secret trip to see Howard Schnellenberger, the coach of the University of Miami. Young wanted to talk to Schnellenberger about replacing Parcells.

Jimmy "The Greek" Snyder broke the news on The NFL Today. Parcells was enraged. "His personality seemed to change after that," David Halberstam wrote. "He became ... harder-edged, more cynical about it all, less trusting of anyone and everything." Parcells no longer saw a football coach as a lifer who trudges forward until ownership opens the trapdoor -- a.k.a., the Tom Landry/Paul Brown model. Parcells saw a football coach as a cold-eyed businessman whose power games didn't end with his players. Young had set the tone. Parcells never let himself get close to being fired again.

The notion that it took that long for Mr. Parcells to realize that all the parts in football are interchangeable is simply wrong.  He spent his freshman year of college at Colgate, but transferred after a superior player was recruited at the same position.  The guy walked up to the coach thirty years later at a banquet and said, "You may not remember me, but I'm "so-and-so"...  At which point, the coach broke in and said, "Of course, I remember you, you're the [s-o-b] who took my job."

Posted by orrinj at 8:13 AM


Jump-starting electric vehicle sales with workplace charging stations (Catherine Green, August 3, 2013,LA Times)

[T]he real key to extending the cars' range, and easing consumer fears of running out of power and getting stranded on the road, may well be getting large workplaces to add chargers -- allowing EV-driving employees to double their commuting distance or to run more errands.

"That would really help increase the viability of the EV market," said John Boesel, chief executive of Calstart, a clean transportation consulting firm.

According to statistics provided by charging station supplier Ecotality, workplace chargers are used three times as often as typical public chargers, which might sit outside the Jonathan Club in downtown Los Angeles, for instance, or the Department of Water and Power office on Hope Street.

In a recent survey, Ecotality found its workplace chargers showed a dramatic increase in usage over the first half of 2013, up about 61%. That growth mirrored a rise in EV ownership. 

We're installing them at King Arthur Flour's retail store alongside a set of solar panels.

Posted by orrinj at 8:09 AM


State cashes in on personal information (The Local,  4 Aug 2013)

Government agencies are cashing in by selling personal information to advertising firms without Swedish citizens even knowing about it. 
The Dagens Nyheter newspaper suggested the Transport Agency (Transportstyrelsen) was making as much as 30 million kronor ($4.5 million) a year as a result of the process. Both the National Tax Agency (Skatteverket) and the national board of student aid (CSN) are also sharing private details for a fee, the paper revealed. 

August 3, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 5:40 PM


A Winelike Sea (Caroline Alexander, Lapham's Quarterly)

          But Achilles,
weeping, quickly slipping away from his companions, sat
on the shore of the gray salt sea, and looked out to the wine-dark sea.
--Homer, The Iliad

The famous likening of the sea to wine has endured through ages, from at least the late eighth century BC, the composition date of The Iliad, and the phrase "wine-dark" is now so securely lodged in our collective consciousness as to be known even by people who have never read Homer. It is not The Odyssey, Homer's sailor's saga, but the earlier, land-bound Iliad, set on Trojan soil, that first launched one of the best-known of all Homeric epithets on the world. The phrase occurs here only six times, the same incidence as "tumultuous" or "loudsounding," while the less vivid "gray-gleaming" is used a dozen times. Yet it is "wine-dark" that has stuck with us, and it is clear why. The phrase is alluring, stirring, and indistinctly evocative. It is also, strictly speaking, incomprehensible, and for all the time the phrase has been relished, readers and scholars have debated what the term actually means. In what way did the sea remind Homer of dark wine? And of the myriad ways to evoke the sea, why compare it to wine at all? A translator's task is to render into English both the plain meaning and the sensibility--the felt meaning--of a Homeric phrase or word, and so it is a duty, albeit a perilous one, to plunge deeper into this celebrated sea phrase, and grope for clarity. Impertinent questions must be floated: what does it mean--and is there possibly a better rendering?

In ancient Greek, the phrase is oínopa pónton--oi´nopa being a compound of oínos, meaning "wine," and óps, meaning "eye" or "face"--literally, "wine-faced," and thus "wineish," or "winelike." The enduring "wine-dark" was established in the Greek-English Lexicon famously compiled by Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott and first published in 1843. Liddell, vice chancellor of Oxford University, dean of Christ Church, and one of the most famous Greek scholars of his day, was also the father of Alice Liddell, the muse for Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. (One imagines the two men busy at their different labors across the quad, the dean seeking to mine and render with exquisite exactitude the innermost meanings of the vocabulary of the ancient Greeks, Carroll plumbing the English language for the inspired nonsense of "Jabberwocky.") According to Liddell and Scott, oínopa means "wine-colored" and is used by Homer, in both The Iliad and The Odyssey, only of oxen and the sea. When used of the sea, the authors suggest, it is best rendered "wine-dark," meaning, within its broader context, "the color of dark wine." They do not hazard what Homer meant by this phrasing, and a survey of principal modern English translations provides neither consensus nor clarity. Richmond Lattimore, in his landmark version of 1951, used, inexplicably, "the wine-blue sea." Robert Fitzgerald in his translation of 1974 tweaked the dictionary to the collapsed "winedark," while Robert Fagles stayed true to Liddell and Scott.

Posted by orrinj at 10:11 AM


Why Fire Makes Us Human : Cooking may be more than just a part of your daily routine, it may be what made your brain as powerful as it is (Jerry Adler, June 2013, Smithsonian magazine)

Wherever humans have gone in the world, they have carried with them two things, language and fire. As they traveled through tropical forests they hoarded the precious embers of old fires and sheltered them from downpours. When they settled the barren Arctic, they took with them the memory of fire, and recreated it in stoneware vessels filled with animal fat. Darwin himself considered these the two most significant achievements of humanity. It is, of course, impossible to imagine a human society that does not have language, but--given the right climate and an adequacy of raw wild food--could there be a primitive tribe that survives without cooking? In fact, no such people have ever been found. Nor will they be, according to a provocative theory by Harvard biologist Richard Wrangham, who believes that fire is needed to fuel the organ that makes possible all the other products of culture, language included: the human brain. [...]

Wrangham, who is in his mid-60s, with an unlined face and a modest demeanor, has a fine pedigree as a primatologist, having studied chimpanzees with Jane Goodall at Gombe Stream National Park. In pursuing his research on primate nutrition he has sampled what wild monkeys and chimpanzees eat, and he finds it, by and large, repellent. The fruit of the Warburgia tree has a "hot taste" that "renders even a single fruit impossibly unpleasant for humans to ingest," he writes from bitter experience. "But chimpanzees can eat a pile of these fruits and look eagerly for more." Although he avoids red meat ordinarily, he ate raw goat to prove a theory that chimps combine meat with tree leaves in their mouths to facilitate chewing and swallowing. The leaves, he found, provide traction for the teeth on the slippery, rubbery surface of raw muscle.

Food is a subject on which most people have strong opinions, and Wrangham mostly excuses himself from the moral, political and aesthetic debates it provokes. Impeccably lean himself, he acknowledges blandly that some people will gain weight on the same diet that leaves others thin. "Life can be unfair," he writes in his 2010 book Catching Fire, and his shrug is almost palpable on the page. He takes no position on the philosophical arguments for and against a raw-food diet, except to point out that it can be quite dangerous for young children. For healthy adults, it's "a terrific way to lose weight."

Which is, in a way, his point: Human beings evolved to eat cooked food. [...]

Unsurprisingly, Wrangham's theory appeals to people in the food world. "I'm persuaded by it," says Michael Pollan, author of Cooked, whose opening chapter is set in the sweltering, greasy cookhouse of a whole-hog barbecue joint in North Carolina, which he sets in counterpoint to lunch with Wrangham at the Harvard Faculty Club, where they each ate a salad. "Claude Lévi-Strauss, Brillat-Savarin treated cooking as a metaphor for culture," Pollan muses, "but if Wrangham is right, it's not a metaphor, it's a precondition." [...]

We are, of course, animals, but that doesn't mean we have to eat like one. In taming fire, we set off on our own evolutionary path, and there is no turning back. We are the cooking animal.

The egomania that led Darwinists to refuse to believe that Man had been Created by a superior being is perfectly understandable, if irrational.  No less so is their almost inevitable refusal to believe that Nature had evolved us and their eventual arrival at a belief that we evolved ourselves.

Posted by orrinj at 7:25 AM


Exposing evil: 'Witness' has its 60th anniversary (Stephen Smoot, 7/31/2012, Human Events)

The story tortures the mind with the casualness by which intelligent Americans, including Chambers himself for a time, chose to betray their country.  It gives the reader a view through the looking glass of treason.

The dramatic confrontation between Chambers and the system dominates the second half of the book.  By now, a "pudgy, benign, if slightly mysterious editor," Chambers did embrace his Christian faith during his several years at Time magazine.  Although it was a relatively calm period in his life, Chambers was one of Henry Luce's field commanders in the effort starting in 1944 to educate Americans about the evils of Soviet Communism.

Two protagonists dominate this autobiography.  The rumpled and "heavy" Chambers first allies with and befriends Alger Hiss. They work closely together for most of the 1930s.  Then, about ten years later, Chambers named Hiss to a congressional committee as a Soviet spy.

Hiss appeared to be a perfect example of the New Deal Sadducees who filed into the bureaucracy during the Great Depression and rose quickly to influence American policy at crucial periods such as the Yalta Conference.  They expanded the bureaucratic grip on America's economy and society with confident and pleasant public demeanors.  Beneath the Johns Hopkins and Harvard educated, impeccably dressed, smiling visage of Hiss lay a man who continued to betray the secrets of his country even as the United States and the Soviet Union moved closer to conflict.

Chambers' testimony that an entire network of malefactors had metastasized within the Franklin Roosevelt administration came at great personal cost.  Every segment of liberal society rose to demonize him.  Some even issued threats.  Despite the mounting evidence Chambers produced, he could not put the establishment to silence.  They closed their eyes and insisted that his record, which included clearly identifiable handwriting samples, was not true. Even President Truman, who usually derided men like Hiss as "the striped pants boys," denounced him.  Revelations in the 1990s from Soviet records and defectors have affirmed every major detail explained by Chambers.

Towards the end of the book, the double meaning of "witness" overtly intertwines.  Chambers describes his experience testifying in front of Congress and at the Hiss trial, also recording the attacks on him and his reactions.  Then he expands his scope and describes the Christian moral imperative that drives him to expose the truth.  In the Book of Acts, comes the challenge to Saul, later St. Paul, that "for thou shalt be his witness unto all men of what thou hast seen and heard."  But, unlike in Job, there is no material reward at the end of suffering.  St. Paul will only earn imprisonment and execution at the hands of Nero for his witness.  Chambers loses his job, his health, his friends, and nearly is stripped of his beloved farm.

Chambers conceived a gloomy pessimism for the fate of the world, knowing that "God who is a God of Love is also the God of a world that includes the atom bomb and the virus."  Complete faith in the face of personal persecution and complete pessimism over the fate of civitas mundi is what inspired Robert Novak, among others, to work towards choosing a strong Christian faith.  Belief in the Christian underpinning of free society thus became a guiding principle of mid to late 20th century American conservatism.

Posted by orrinj at 7:18 AM


Israel's New Chief Rabbi in Hot Water Already : David Lau under fire for using racial slur while speaking at a summer camp (Tal Kra-Oz|July 30, 2013, Tablet)

[J]udging by a recording recently broadcast by a Haredi news service, Lau isn't always such a unifying figure--nor is he a fan of technology. Speaking at an ultra-Orthodox summer camp, Lau told a group of youngsters that he had trouble defending Haredi youth against critics intent on drafting them into the IDF, when confronted with the behavior of many of these yeshiva students. While the Haredi community claims these individuals must be exempted from the army in order to study Torah, Lau said, this argument is often belied by their conduct. For instance, many Haredi youth can be found in local establishments in the evenings, watching the exploits of Maccabi Tel Aviv in the Euroleague basketball series. "On some Thursday nights in my hometown of Tel Aviv" said Lau, "the kiosks have a screen that has colors on it, surrounded by people. Some of them have a hat and suit on, some of them just a shirt, but most of them have their tzitzit out and wear a black kippah." It's a fair point, but the rabbi's next one wasn't: "Mai nafka minnah," he jokingly asked (a Talmudic phrase meaning "what difference does it make"), "whether the kushim paid in Tel Aviv beat the kushim paid in Greece?"

While the word kush has biblical origins (for example, the first verse of the Book of Esther refers to lands of Kush), kushim has been used in Israel as a derogatory term for black people for decades, almost as bad as the N-word (though lacking that word's deep, painful history). And while the national pride caused by the success of the Maccabi Tel Aviv team, many of whose stars are not actually Israeli, has been a source of mystification for some, racism is clearly not the proper response.

August 2, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 9:42 PM


DANGER AHEAD: America's bridges and roads crumbling, and the Highway Trust Fund is set to go broke in 2014 (DAVID KNOWLES, 8/02/13, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

When it comes to improving its infrastructure, America seems to be on a bridge to nowhere.

One out of every nine bridges in the United States--a grand total of 66,503 bridges altogether--has been found to have one or more significant defects, according to a June report by Transportation for America.

For the 260 million drivers who put themselves at risk on these aging structures each day, that statistic may not come as a shock. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:49 AM


A Lecture on Johnson and Boswell (Jorge Luis Borges. NY Review of Books)

Boswell conceived of the idea of an extensive biography, one that included his conversations with Johnson, whom he saw several times a week, sometimes more. The Life of Samuel Johnson, by Boswell, has often been compared to Conversations of Goethe, by Eckermann, a book that in my opinion is in no way comparable, even though it was praised by Nietzsche as the best book ever written in German. Because Eckermann was a man of limited intelligence who greatly revered Goethe, who spoke with him ex cathedra. Eckermann very rarely dared to contradict Goethe. Then he'd go home and write it all down. The book has something of catechism about it. In other words: Eckermann asks, Goethe answers, the first writes down what Goethe has said.... Eckermann almost doesn't exist except as a kind of machine that records Goethe's words. We know nothing about Eckermann, nothing about his character--he undoubtedly had one, but this cannot be deduced from the book, cannot be inferred from it.

On the other hand, what Boswell planned, or in any case what he carried out, was completely different: to make Johnson's biography a drama, with several characters. There is [Sir Joshua] Reynolds, there is [Oliver] Goldsmith, sometimes the members of the circle, or how would we call it, the salon, of which Johnson was the leader. And they appear and behave like the characters in a play. Indeed, each has his own personality--above all, Dr. Johnson, who is presented sometimes as ridiculous but always as lovable. This is what happens with Cervantes's character, Don Quixote, especially in the second part, when the author has learned to know his character and has forgotten his initial goal of parodying novels of chivalry. This is true, because the more writers develop their characters, the better they get to know them. So, that's how we have a character who is sometimes ridiculous, but who can be serious and have profound thoughts, and above all is one of the most beloved characters in all of history. And we can say "of history" because Don Quixote is more real to us than Cervantes himself, as Unamuno and others have maintained. .... And at the end, Don Quixote is a slightly ridiculous character, but he is also a gentleman worthy of our respect, and sometimes our pity, but he is always lovable. And this is the same sensation we get from the image of Dr. Johnson, given to us by Boswell, with his grotesque appearance, his long arms, his slovenly appearance. But he is lovable.

....Now, in the same way that we have seen how Johnson is similar to Don Quixote, we have to think that just as Sancho is the companion Quixote sometimes treats badly, we see Boswell in that same relation to Dr. Johnson: a sometimes stupid and loyal companion. There are characters whose role is to bring out the hero's personality. In other words, often authors need a character who serves as a framework for and a contrast to the deeds of his hero. This is Sancho, and that character in Boswell's work is Boswell himself. That is, Boswell appears as a despicable character. But it seems impossible to me that Boswell didn't realize this. And this shows that Boswell positioned himself in contrast to Johnson. The fact that Boswell himself tells anecdotes in which he appears ridiculous makes him not seem ridiculous at all, for if he wrote them down, he did it because he saw that the purpose of the anecdote was to make Johnson stand out. [...]

Perhaps Boswell simply felt it as an aesthetic necessity that to better showcase Johnson, there should be a very different character alongside him. Something like in the novels of Conan Doyle: the mediocre Dr. Watson makes the brilliant Sherlock Holmes stand out even more. And Boswell gives himself the role of the ridiculous one, and he maintains it throughout the entire book. Yet, we feel a sincere friendship between the two in the same way we feel it when we read Conan Doyle's novels. It is natural, as I have said, that this would be so; for Johnson was a famous man and alone, and of course he liked to feel by his side the friendship of a much younger man, who so obviously admired him.
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Posted by orrinj at 5:36 AM


The History and Psychology of Clowns Being Scary : You aren't alone in your fear of makeup-clad entertainers; people have been frightened by clowns for centuries (Linda Rodriguez McRobbie, 8/01/13,,)

[C]lowns have always had a dark side, says David Kiser, director of talent for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. After all, these were characters who reflected a funhouse mirror back on society; academics note that their comedy was often derived from their voracious appetites for food, sex, and drink, and their manic behavior. "So in one way, the clown has always been an impish spirit... as he's kind of grown up, he's always been about fun, but part of that fun has been a bit of mischief," says Kiser.

"Mischief" is one thing; homicidal urges is certainly another. What's changed about clowns is how that darkness is manifest, argued Andrew McConnell Stott, Dean of Undergraduate Education and an English professor at the University of Buffalo, SUNY.

Stott is the author of several articles on scary clowns and comedy, as well as The Pantomime Life of Joseph Grimaldi, a much-lauded 2009 biography of the famous comic pantomime player on the Regency London stage. Grimaldi was the first recognizable ancestor of the modern clown, sort of the Homo erectus of clown evolution. He's the reason why clowns are still sometimes called "Joeys"; though his clowning was of a theatrical and not circus tradition, Grimaldi is so identified with modern clowns that a church in east London has conducted a Sunday service in his honor every year since 1959, with congregants all dressed in full clown regalia.

In his day, he was hugely visible: It was claimed that a full eighth of London's population had seen Grimaldi on stage. Grimaldi made the clown the leading character of the pantomime, changing the way he looked and acted. Before him, a clown may have worn make-up, but it was usually just a bit of rouge on the cheeks to heighten the sense of them being florid, funny drunks or rustic yokels. Grimaldi, however, suited up in bizarre, colorful costumes, stark white face paint punctuated by spots of bright red on his cheeks and topped with a blue mohawk. He was a master of physical comedy--he leapt in the air, stood on his head, fought himself in hilarious fisticuffs that had audiences rolling in the aisles--as well as of satire lampooning the absurd fashions of the day, comic impressions, and ribald songs.

But because Grimaldi was such a star, the character he'd invented became closely associated with him. And Grimaldi's real life was anything but comedy--he'd grown up with a tyrant of a stage father; he was prone to bouts of depression; his first wife died during childbirth; his son was an alcoholic clown who'd drank himself to death by age 31; and Grimaldi's physical gyrations, the leaps and tumbles and violent slapstick that had made him famous, left him in constant pain and prematurely disabled. As Grimaldi himself joked, "I am GRIM ALL DAY, but I make you laugh at night." That Grimaldi could make a joke about it highlights how well known his tragic real life was to his audiences.

Enter the young Charles Dickens. After Grimaldi died penniless and an alcoholic in 1837 (the coroner's verdict: "Died by the visitation of God"), Dickens was charged with editing Grimaldi's memoirs. Dickens had already hit upon the dissipated, drunken clown theme in his 1836 The Pickwick Papers. In the serialized novel, he describes an off-duty clown--reportedly inspired by Grimaldi's son--whose inebriation and ghastly, wasted body contrasted with his white face paint and clown costume. Unsurprisingly, Dickens' version of Grimadli's life was, well, Dickensian, and, Stott says, imposed a "strict economy": For every laugh he wrought from his audiences, Grimaldi suffered commensurate pain. 

Stott credits Dickens with watering the seeds in popular imagination of the scary clown--he'd even go so far as to say Dickens invented the scary clown--by creating a figure who is literally destroying himself to make his audiences laugh. What Dickens did was to make it difficult to look at a clown without wondering what was going on underneath the make-up: Says Stott, "It becomes impossible to disassociate the character from the actor." That Dickens's version of Grimaldi's memoirs was massively popular meant that this perception, of something dark and troubled masked by humor, would stick.

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Posted by orrinj at 5:32 AM


Britain and the Warsaw Rising (Norman Davies)
Throughout the Warsaw Rising, British public opinion was deeply divided. A vociferous section of the left-wing press led by the Daily Herald and the Daily Worker was actively pro-Soviet, shamelessly repeating Moscow's line about the Rising being a 'criminal adventure' run by 'fascists' and 'reactionaries'. The foreign columns of The Times, led by E.H. Carr, followed a similar line in more guarded language. Yet most people were simply bewildered. There was no shortage of praise for Poland's courage but equally no explanation why Allied policy was so ineffective. The underlying problems were rarely understood. And little discussion was spent on critical issues, such as Stalin's ban on the airlift or the weeks of Soviet inactivity on the Vistula after Rokossovsky's initial setback. The Foreign Secretary, Anthony Eden, did not face prolonged or determined questioning from the House of Commons until the Rising's very last days.
Only one powerful voice was raised against the prevailing complacency. On 1 September, George Orwell, who at the time was writing Animal Farm, published a trenchant piece to the socialist journal Tribune. He condemned the lack of principle in the press in general and in the left-wing press in particular. His immediate target was a young historian, Geoffrey Barraclough, then working at the Foreign Office. But his criticisms were aimed at the public at large whose infatuation with the Soviet Union obstructed all serious analysis.
Once the Home Army had capitulated, there was an effusive outpouring of sympathy, and widespread hand-wringing about 'the Warsaw tragedy'. But there was little readiness among the British public and still less in Government circles, to reflect on Britain's contribution to the tragedy. Britons, already anticipating the end of the war, were in no mood to dwell on their failures.
Churchill took Mikołajczyk with him to Moscow in early October to resume the Polish-Soviet talks postponed for two months. In the course of a dramatic meeting with Molotov, it was revealed that a year earlier at Teheran Churchill had secretly proposed the Curzon Line as a basis of the future Polish-Soviet frontier. In other words, all the territorial plans and negotiations throughout 1944, which had poisoned relations with Stalin, and had minimised the chances of his co-operation during the Rising, had been conducted on false assumptions. Churchill, shame-facedly admitted his fault, but later turned his rage on the Polish premier whom he had so inexcusably misled. This must be one of the most discreditable episodes of Churchill's career. Mikołajczyk soon resigned; and the close alliance between the British and Polish Governments ceased to function.

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Posted by orrinj at 5:26 AM


Death of Sculptor Larry Nowlan of Windsor Called a 'Big, Big Loss' (Alex Hanson, 8/01/13, Valley News)

Nowlan was still a student at the New York Academy of Art when he came to Cornish in 1995 as an artist-in-residence at the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site.

"That first summer really kind of set the course for his career," Henry Duffy, curator at the historic site and a friend of Nowlan's, said Wednesday.

In short order, Nowlan went from graduate school to his first major commission, a set of large bronze figures for the National Wildland Firefighters Monument in Boise, Idaho.

Since then, Nowlan has worked steadily in the tradition of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, producing bronze memorials of great heft and emotional clarity for clients around the country. His work resides at the entrance to New York's Port Authority Bus Terminal, in the form of a bronze likeness of Ralph Kramden, Jackie Gleason's character in The Honeymooners. Outside Citizen's Bank Park in Nowlan's native Philadelphia is a sculpture of legendary Phillies announcer Harry Kalas. The University of Iowa hosts at least three works by Nowlan, who had a particular gift for recreating the grace and power of sports.

More recent work includes a monument at the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole, Mass., a series of bas relief portraits of chefs and vintners for the Culinary Institute of America in Napa, Calif., and a pair of monuments commissioned by the city of Dublin, Ireland in honor of Saint-Gaudens, who was born in Ireland. [...]

As a figurative artist starting out in the mid-1990s, Nowlan was working against the tide of abstraction that had come to dominate artistic expression.

But Nowlan took to sculpture as a true calling. His grandfather Philip Nowlan was the creator of Buck Rogers. Nowlan studied art in college, at Millersville University in Millersville, Pa., but went to work afterward as an art director and designer at a Philadelphia advertising agency. It paid the bills but he was miserable, he told the Valley News in 1999. His interest in sculpture was sparked by a chance encounter with the works of Auguste Rodin in Philadelphia. The teacher of a night class in sculpture at the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts recognized Nowlan's talent and pushed him to go to art school.

He arrived in Manhattan a guy with decidedly working-class tastes, knowing less about art than about sports. "I grew up with regular, everyday working people," Nowlan said in 1999. "I was overwhelmed in Manhattan. I didn't know anybody. I thought, 'Oh man, what am I doing here?' "

His affable nature and fierce work-ethic served him well. He earned the Saint-Gaudens residency after his first year in art school. He was in residence at the park for five summers.

"He got more than the average person would get out of being here because he really saw this place as a school," Duffy said. "It was really from Saint-Gaudens that he began to learn low-relief portraiture."

His regular-guy persona and love of sports gave Nowlan a particularly deft touch in depicting the human form, Duffy said. "You see a common touch in his art," he said.

Posted by orrinj at 5:21 AM


Noir Down Under (OHRAB AHMARI, 8/02/13, WSJ)

The collector is Jack Irish (Guy Pearce), the eponymous antihero of this intelligent, hard-boiled thriller set in Melbourne, Australia. It's the first episode in a series based on the novels of Peter Temple, Australia's answer to James Ellroy. "Jack Irish: Bad Debts" aired Down Under last year and is now finding a U.S. audience online thanks to AcornTV. [...]

[I]f the show's pacing and character development aren't as crisp as they should be, "Jack Irish" more than compensates with terrific atmospherics and solid acting. Like "Chinatown" and other American noirs whose spirit it channels, most of the action here takes place in well-lit exteriors, rendering the evil it depicts all the more terrible. Deserted cityscapes provide an eerie backdrop for the conclusion's rapid-fire action sequences. "Jack Irish" also benefits from Mr. Pearce's and Ms. Dusseldorp's understated and good-humored performances; the larger cast of characters, especially Jack's shady racetrack partners, provide additional comic relief.

One final note. Almost everyone here speaks with a heavy Australian accent, in addition to which there is much slang that will be unfamiliar to U.S. viewers. But this isn't a major cause for concern. Noir is an international language.

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Posted by orrinj at 5:17 AM


Beyond the Brain (DAVID BROOKS, 6/17/13, NY Times)

The brain is not the mind. It is probably impossible to look at a map of brain activity and predict or even understand the emotions, reactions, hopes and desires of the mind.

The first basic problem is that regions of the brain handle a wide variety of different tasks. As Sally Satel and Scott O. Lilienfeld explained in their compelling and highly readable book, "Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience," you put somebody in an fMRI machine and see that the amygdala or the insula lights up during certain activities. But the amygdala lights up during fear, happiness, novelty, anger or sexual arousal (at least in women). The insula plays a role in processing trust, insight, empathy, aversion and disbelief. So what are you really looking at?

Then there is the problem that one activity is usually distributed over many different places in the brain. In his book, "Brain Imaging," the Yale biophysicist Robert Shulman notes that we have this useful concept, "working memory," but the activity described by this concept is widely distributed across at least 30 regions of the brain. Furthermore, there appears to be no dispersed pattern of activation that we can look at and say, "That person is experiencing hatred."

Then there is the problem that one action can arise out of many different brain states and the same event can trigger many different brain reactions. As the eminent psychologist Jerome Kagan has argued, you may order the same salad, but your brain activity will look different, depending on whether you are drunk or sober, alert or tired.

Then, as Kagan also notes, there is the problem of meaning. A glass of water may be more meaningful to you when you are dying of thirst than when you are not. Your lover means more than your friend. It's as hard to study neurons and understand the flavors of meaning as it is to study Shakespeare's spelling and understand the passions aroused by Macbeth.

Finally, there is the problem of agency, the problem that bedevils all methods that mimic physics to predict human behavior. People are smokers one day but quit the next. People can change their brains in unique and unpredictable ways by shifting the patterns of their attention.

What Satel and Lilienfeld call "neurocentrism" is an effort to take the indeterminacy of life and reduce it to measurable, scientific categories.

August 1, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 7:38 PM


American aid makes the U.S. complicit in the Egyptian army's acts (Robert Kagan, Thursday, August 1, 2013, Washington Post)

The stage is set for a deadly government assault not only against the Muslim Brotherhood but against the millions of Egyptians who voted for the Brotherhood in elections over the past two years. Combined with the arrests on trumped-up charges of Morsi and others linked to the Brotherhood, the military appears intent on eradicating the organization from Egypt's politics, jailing its leaders and followers or driving them underground. 

Through its continued support of the Egyptian military, the United States is complicit in these acts. Despite our repeated claims of neutrality and our calls for reconciliation, in reality we have taken sides in the burgeoning violent confrontation. We winked at the coup against a democratically elected government, and, most important, we remain the leading provider of assistance to Egypt's military: Even as violent and undemocratic intentions have become increasingly clear, the administration and Congress are pressing ahead with the annual provision of $1.3 billion in military assistance.

Posted by orrinj at 7:20 PM


A 3-D Printer Can Pay For Itself In Less Than A Year (Dan Nosowitz, 08.01.2013, Popular Science)

The researchers used a RepRap printer and printed about 20 household items, from shower rings to iPhone cases, and found that the total cost of material swas about $18. (It's a bit of a change from this cool stuff.) The "lowest retail cost we could find for the same items online was $312 and the highest was $1,943," said Joshua Pierce, one of the researchers. The study projected that a 3-D printer could could save consumers between $300 and $2,000 a year. [...]

"The unavoidable conclusion from this study is that the RepRap [3D printers] is an economically attractive investment for the average U.S. household already," concludes the paper, published in Mechatronics.

Posted by orrinj at 7:17 PM


The Precarious State of Abortion Clinics in North Carolina (ALLIE JONES , 8/01/13, Atlantic Wire)

On Wednesday, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human services suspended the license of an Asheville abortion clinic, citing almost two dozen safety violations discovered in a recent inspection. This throws the fate of the state's abortion clinics further into doubt, because the suspended clinic, Femcare, was the only one in North Carolina that was also an ambulatory surgical center, the higher standard demanded by the new law Gov. Pat McCrory signed two days ago. State officials say the clinic's suspension has nothing to do with the new legislation.

Abortion rights activists were already concerned because the new law could force clinics to close unless they fit some standards of ambulatory surgical centers. The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services has yet to say what those standards are, however. Melissa Reed, the Vice President of public policy for Planned Parenthood, suggested that clinics make sure they are up to code now: "It is absolutely critical that every single clinic meet current regulations, and that any violations are met in a direct and speedy manner." 

Posted by orrinj at 7:13 PM


Conservatives 'Won' the Phony IRS Scandal. And Democrats Helped Them. (ALEC MACGILLIS, 7/29/13, New Republic)

 It's easy to forget, just a few months on, just how much the media lost its head over the story, fueled by, and in turn reinforcing, statements of outrage from panicked Democrats, including those at the White House. Politico, to cite just one example, had more than a dozen pieces on the scandal on its home page the day after it broke, far outweighing even its hyperventilation over the two concurrent scandals du jour, Benghazi and the Department of Justice's monitoring of AP phone records. The hysteria was not abated by reporting in the days immediately following that strongly suggested that the scandal amounted more to bureaucratic bungling in attempting to enforce the muddled law around 501(c)(4) organizations than a grand conspiracy to suppress conservative groups.

In the weeks since, even more has emerged to put the outrage in dubious light. We know that one key staffer in the Cincinnati office overseeing the 501(c)(4) evaluations, a self-described conservative Republican, avowed to congressional investigators that there was no political motivation behind the scrutiny for Tea Party groups, testimony that Rep. Darrell Issa, the Republican leading the charge against the agency, tried to keep from getting out. We know that the IRS Inspector General who produced the report that touched off the whole scandal, a former Republican Hill staffer, had overlooked signs that some non-conservative groups were getting flagged for extra scrutiny as well. We know that the IRS office did nothing to stop the big election spending by large conservative groups like Crossroads GPS, hardly what you would expect to see if there was a conspiracy to suppress activity on the right.

More and more, it looks as if what happened in Cincinnati was that agency staffers lacking direction from their Washington superiors on how to enforce an unworkable law amid a wave of applications from groups that seemed to be testing the vague bounds of that law did what bureaucrats in such situations tend to do: stalled for time, kicked the problem upstairs and sent out more and more paper in the form of needlessly nettlesome questionnaires to the applicants.

Posted by orrinj at 6:31 AM


Core PCE Inflation Falls To Second-Lowest Level Ever (MATTHEW BOESLER, JUL. 31, 2013, Business Insider)

Core personal consumption expenditure (PCE) data in today's GDP release showed that inflation fell to 0.8% in the second quarter of 2013 from an upward-revised 1.4% in the first quarter.

The lowest level on record for Core PCE inflation is 0.7%. That was in the first quarter of 2009, in the fallout of the financial crisis and the ensuing recession. Core PCE also touched 0.7% twice in the early 1960s, which is about as far back as the data go.

Posted by orrinj at 6:23 AM


Home Ron! Cristiano pitches up at Dodgers game (but he should stick to football...) (ADAM SHERGOLD, 1 August 2013, Daily Mirror)

The Real Madrid superstar was given the honour of throwing the first pitch as the Los Angeles Dodgers hosted the New York Yankees - but his effort was high, wide and not very handsome, almost decapitating the cameraman.

Posted by orrinj at 6:19 AM


Pentagon presents possible sequester cuts (Ernesto Londoño, July 31, 2013, Washington Post)

The Pentagon on Wednesday presented detailed, stark options it is considering in light of steep cuts to the federal budget, warning, for instance, that it could be forced to decommission three Navy aircraft carriers and overhaul the military's generous benefits package. [...]

If sequestration remains in place, the Pentagon would have to trim $50 billion from its budget during 2014 and $500 billion over the next decade.

Hagel said any approach to reducing the budget would have to include slashing compensation costs, which account for roughly half of the Pentagon's budget. Personnel costs soared during the past decade, when the military had to go to great lengths to recruit and retain service members during wartime.

Posted by orrinj at 6:02 AM


Welcome to the surveillance economy : The value of Big Data is said to be nearly $40 billion per year -- and it's growing rapidly. (Martin Hirst, 30 July 2013, MercatorNet)

Surveillance is "big data" and big data is big business. The surveillance economy puts information transactions at its core and when the bottom is dropping out of the market for real goods and services, capitalism will adapt. The latest systemic adaptation is to embrace new ways of surveilling customers and then turning the collected data into something that someone else is willing to buy.

The value of big data has been compared to the oil boom or "panning for gold" in terms of potential profitability. The numbers are staggering: 50 billion devices connected to the Internet by the end of this decade; so much available data to be mined that it doesn't yet have a number to describe it. So many connections are available to be tapped, correlated, combed, combined and sold that any attempt to visualise the connections would look like a spaghetti junction map of the universe with every planet, star and comet connected to every other object. The value of this market is currently estimated at over A$39 billion annually and growing at around 9% per year according to analysts IDC.

Posted by orrinj at 5:54 AM


Identifying China's successors : As costs rise in China, businessmen are moving their factories to countries where they can manufacture more cheaply. (George Friedman, 31 July 2013, MercatorNet)

China has become a metaphor. It represents a certain phase of economic development, which is driven by low wages, foreign appetite for investment and a chaotic and disorderly development, magnificent in scale but deeply flawed in many ways. Its magnificence spawned the flaws, and the flaws helped create the magnificence.

The arcs along which nations rise and fall vary in length and slope. China's has been long, as far as these things go, lasting for more than 30 years. The country will continue to exist and perhaps prosper, but this era of Chinese development -- pyramiding on low wages to conquer global markets -- is ending simply because there are now other nations with even lower wages and other advantages. China will have to behave differently from the way it does now, and thus other countries are poised to take its place.

But perhaps no other nation has begun its decline from such a stunted point of development.

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Posted by orrinj at 5:49 AM


Resuscitating Chivalry (NY Times, 7/30/13)

When married politicians are sexting and some college kids are less interested in courtship, it's easy to believe that chivalry is dead. Even pop star Miley Cyrus has proclaimed it so.

A 2010 Harris poll found that 80 percent of Americans think that women are treated with less chivalry today than in the past. Is it time for the once-romantic and noble concept to peter out, or should it evolve to be more inclusive for our liberated and cynical age?

Ah, sir, may God forgive you for the damage you've done to the whole rest of the world, in trying  to cure the wittiest lunatic ever seen!  Don't you see, my dear sir, that whatever utility there might be in curing him, it could never match the pleasure he gives with his madness?  

Posted by orrinj at 5:45 AM



What, if anything, will unite the Brotherhood's opponents in Egypt in the years ahead, other than political and economic opportunism? Will any new ideology emerge--one based on nationalism, or propagating some theory of economic modernization or of the separation of religion and state--to sustain the struggle against Islamists? General Pervez Musharraf, in Pakistan, tried a version of Davos-friendly secular modernism after the September 11th attacks; it turned out to be hollow, and he was soon routed by both Islamist and liberal opponents. In the Arab world, Nasserism and Baathism are long dead. The kings who rule from Kuwait to Jordan to Morocco--and keep the Islamists sidelined--look shaky and anachronistic. In places like Tunisia, the anti-Islamist opposition is made up of old socialists, opportunists, and trade unionists, all struggling to connect with that country's young, online, globally aware population. What ideas will mark the next wave of secular or nationalistic Arab politics, or simply provide a plausible veneer for Arab militaries as they send the Brotherhood's leaders back to prison?

Posted by orrinj at 5:42 AM


Energy Efficiency: Now Free to Consumers : The government is really bad at guessing how much extra we'll pay to make appliances energy efficient. That's awesome! (Michael Todd, 7/31/13, Pacific Standard)

Oddly enough, efficiency standards for white goods--quite unlike vehicle mileage standards--had traditionally been accepted as pretty benign. Perhaps that's because they always come in cheaper than expected ...

The source of the original estimates on the high side was the U.S. Department of Energy, which is tasked by law with figuring out how much extra the new rules will cost during the rule-making process. Between 2000 and 2010, the period covered by this report, in every case the manufacturers' selling prices came in under the estimate, "generally substantially so." (The manufacturers' selling price is not the same as the retail price.) Moreover, this is the same pattern observed in prior years in studies by the Lawrence Berkley National Lab and the efficiency council.

Looking at products ranging from refrigerators and electric water heaters to commercial air conditioners and lighting ballasts, on average a manufacturer's price dropped $12 on the new item instead of rising the DOE-predicted $148. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:29 AM


Books: Robert Zubrin's Merchants Of Despair Reveals Racism And Genocide Cloaked In Green Camouflage (Larry Bell, 7/31/13, Forbes)

If there is one person to be attributed the title "Father of Manipulated Gloom and Doom Environmental Fright", it must be Thomas Robert Malthus, a political economy professor at the British East India Company's East India College who lived from 1766-1834.  His "zero-sum-gain" population and resource theories have had tremendous influence on global agendas, policies and travesties which continue unabated today.

Malthus initiated an alarmist international movement with an unsigned pamphlet titled "An Essay on the Principle of Population"  that first appeared in London bookstores in 1798. The publication forecast a terrifying world future whereby the population would increase geometrically while agriculture necessary to sustain it would increase only arithmetically.

Malthus proclaimed as "incontrovertible truths" that because of the "fixity of land", growing families would overwhelm means to feed them. This circumstance would lead to "misery or vice"-some combination of disease, famine, foregone marriage, barbarianism and war that reduced population to a sustainable subsistence level. This, he argued, would be "decisive against the existence of a society, all the members of which should live in ease, happiness, and comparative leisure."

The remedies Malthus proposed to ensure lives of "ease, happiness and comparative leisure" were draconian to say the least. For example, he argued to condemn doctors who find cures in order to reduce population ...even encouraged efforts to keep wages low:

"We are bound in justice and honor to disclaim the right of the poor to support...[W]e should facilitate, instead of foolishly and vainly endeavouring to impede, the operations of nature in producing mortality; and if we dread the too frequent visitation of the horrid form of famine, we should sedulously encourage the other forms of destruction, which compel nature to use. Instead of recommending cleanliness to the poor, we should encourage contrary habits."

Malthus went on to propose: "In our towns we should make streets narrower, crowd more people into the houses, and court the return of the plague. In the country, we should build our villages near stagnant pools, and particularly encourage settlements in all marshy and unwholesome situations. But above all, we should reprobate specific remedies for ravaging diseases; and the benevolent, but much mistaken men, who have thought they were doing a service to mankind by projecting schemes for the total extirpation of particular disorders."

Even during his own time, his theories were used to justify regressive legislation against lower classes...influences that led to establishment of England's Poor Law Act of 1834 and which motivated the British government to refuse aid during the Irish Famine of 1846.

Yet also during Malthus's time, while England's population was growing, the food supply was actually growing even more rapidly. Studies were soon beginning to indicate an inverse relationship between wealth and population change, where wealthier regions had lower growth rates. Then with the birth of the European Industrial Revolution, living conditions for many improved dramatically, if not by standards approaching those we enjoy today.

Darwinism: Providing an Uncivilized Basis for Racism

Although Charles Darwin was a superb naturalist who certainly contributed much to our understanding of evolutionary principles, his influential 1871 book, The Descent of Man, presented a far different view of human racial equality than civil liberal- or conservative-minded people alike can countenance today. To wit, Chapter VI states:

"At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilized races of man will almost certainly exterminate, and replace, the savage races throughout the world. At the same time the anthropomorphous apes...will no doubt be exterminated. The break between man and his nearest allies will then be wider, for it will intervene between man in a more civilized state, as we may hope, even than the Caucasian, and the same ape as low as a baboon, instead of as now between the negro or Australian and the gorilla." 

Zubrin points out that while the concept of "survival of the fittest" did not originate with Darwin...being traceable back as far as Victorian philosopher Herbert Spencer's "struggle for existence". In any case, that survival struggle common to nature in general...and mankind  in particular...that Darwin  proposed, fit handily with  the idea of straining out "inferior" races in the face of limited resources based upon Malthusian theory. And whereas Malthusians could claim that population control through imperial rule was necessary as an unfortunate and unavoidable consequence of constraints of Earth's bounty, many Darwinians of the time saw such horrors as a blessing which would advance humanity by weeding out "unfit" individuals and races.

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