September 30, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 7:08 PM


New study: 6.8 million Jews living in US (JTA,  September 30, 2013)

An estimated 6.8 million Jews live in the United States, with 65 percent of them concentrated in six states, according to a new study.

Posted by orrinj at 6:57 PM


Remember Cairo? : While Washington focuses on Syria and Iran, Egypt looks headed for a dangerous and destabilizing insurgency. (SHADI HAMID, PETER MANDAVILLE | SEPTEMBER 30, 2013, Foreign Policy)

The Obama administration responded to the military crackdown, which resulted in more than 1,000 deaths, with the diplomatic equivalent of a few light raps on the knuckles of Egypt's generals. It canceled joint military exercises with Egypt and announced that the White House's national security staff would begin a comprehensive review of bilateral aid. Since late August, a recommendation to suspend the majority of U.S. military assistance to Cairo has been sitting with the president. Meanwhile, Egyptian security forces have re-escalated their campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood, raiding the movement's strongholds and arresting the few remaining senior Brotherhood figures not already in custody.

The Obama administration knows that things are not going well in Egypt. U.S. officials -- privately and rather halfheartedly -- tried to walk back Secretary of State John Kerry's bizarre claim that Egypt's military leaders were "restoring democracy" and have also delayed delivery of F-16 fighters to Egypt. [...]

The Obama administration appears to be hoping that the Egyptian military, despite its brutality -- or perhaps because of it -- will provide a modicum of stability. This risks repeating the same mistakes of the pre-Arab Spring era: While a sense of calm has returned to parts of Cairo, the specter of renewed violence still looms large. An insurgency is gathering pace in the Sinai Peninsula, with a sharp increase in attacks on security personnel after Morsy's ouster. Meanwhile, the state has lost control of some pro-Morsy strongholds, requiring the use of overwhelming force in the towns of Dalga and Kerdasa in an attempt to regain its authority.

These flare-ups may prove to be only an initial taste of what's to come. The Algerian civil war, which resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands, offers a cautionary note: The conflict spiraled into full-scale violence not right after the military's January 1992 coup, but at least seven months later.

To make matters worse, the new Egyptian government does not appear to aspire to a return to the stagnant ancien régime, but something worse and more dangerous. Unlike Hosni Mubarak's regime -- which tolerated a certain level of dissent in parliament and the media -- this new political order is aiming for a far more all-encompassing grip on power, where even the mildest criticisms of the Egyptian Army can lead one to be branded a traitor. The sort of repression we are seeing today -- including four mass killings over the summer, one of which was the worst massacre in modern Egyptian history -- will have lasting consequences for Egyptian society. As the New York Times reported recently, "Neighbors have turned against one another and families have been torn apart" by political divisions.

Posted by orrinj at 4:33 PM


Hugs Are Falsely Intimate Power Plays. Stop Imposing Them on Everyone You Meet. (Amanda Hess, 9/30/13, Slate)

In theory, a hug sounds nice. In practice, it can turn even the simplest hello into a logistical nightmare. But the most pernicious aspect of the act is the false sense of intimacy it imposes over all human relationships, from the most superficial acquaintances to the deepest friendships. It doesn't matter if we love each other, hate each other, or don't know each other at all--we're all expected to awkwardly collide at the same rate, reducing a potentially intimate act into a rote affectation. [...]

It is time for us to recognize the hug for the charade that it is. Rarely is it a gesture of sincere fellowship, compassion, or affection. More often, it is a soulless imposition that is gravitating toward its victim at an alarming rate. So next time I see you, let's try keeping our limbs to ourselves. It's nothing personal--and that's the point.

We don't hug.
Posted by orrinj at 4:30 PM


Graph: U.S. Federal Government Shutdowns (TAMMY FRISBY | MARCH 06, 2011, Advancing Free Society)

On Monday, I'll be teaching a class on the politics of federal fiscal policy to my Introduction to American Government and Politics students here at Stanford. As I've been putting together my teaching materials, I've been hunting for a visual representation of government shutdowns over the last few decades. I couldn't readily find one, so I put together my own, based on information provided by the Congressional Research Service in one of their reports. It struck me that others might find this graph helpful in discussions of the current federal budget battle, so I'm sharing it via this blog. If you do use this graph, proper attribution to me and the Hoover Institution would be appreciated.


Posted by orrinj at 4:20 PM


The Government Shutdown: The Sky is Falling! (Or Maybe Not) (John Steele Gordon, 09.30.2013, Commentary)

Non-essential government workers will be furloughed and not paid for the duration of the shutdown. Whether they will be paid for those days eventually is up to Congress. But air-traffic controllers, border and prison guards, and weather forecasters will all be on the job. As will the military.

Those parts of the federal government that are not funded by annual appropriations (which is, in fact, most of the government, at least as measured by cash flow if not personnel), such as Social Security and Medicare, will tick along as usual.

Non-essential workers make up about 825,000 workers out of 2 million. So it's not a shutdown of the government, it's a shutdown of 40 percent of it.  The National Labor Relations Board will furlough all but 11 of its 1611 employees, while the EPA will lay off about 97 percent of theirs. In both cases that strikes me as good news, not bad news.

Still, the average man in the street, unless he wants to apply for a passport or visit a national park or museum, will not notice much of a difference in his quotidian routine. Police, firemen, train conductors, etc. are all state or local employees. Even Amtrak will continue to chug along.

Posted by orrinj at 4:07 PM


Iran Scores Breakthrough Meeting With Lawmakers as Diplomatic Thaw Builds : Groundbreaking Three-Hour Meeting Includes Mideast Hawks (Larry Cohler-Esses, September 30, 2013, Forward)

On Sunday night, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif met with a delegation of Congress members from both parties for three hours at the home of Iran's UN Ambassador.

"There were a lot of members present," said Marshall Breger, a former senior official in the administrations of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, who was there. "And they included people normally considered hawkish."

Iran studies logistics with eye to resumption of direct flights to US (ARIEL BEN SOLOMON, 09/30/2013. Jerusalem Post)

The decision is seen as trying to solve transportation issues for Iranian citizens living in the US, the Iranian Tasnim News Agency quoted Akbar Torkan, a presidential adviser and the caretaker of the supreme council for Iranian expatriates' affairs, as stating.

"The president issued an order to study how it would be possible to establish direct flights between Iran and the United States of America in order to resolve the transportation problems of the [Iranian] compatriots residing in the US," he said.

September 29, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 9:57 PM


Solar Power Plant in the Mojave Could Power 140,000 Homes (Josh Dzieza, Sep 28, 2013, Daily Beast)

The massive solar plant nearing completion in the California's Mojave desert doesn't look like the solar plants you might be used to seeing. It has no solar panels, for one thing. Instead, it has mirrors--300,000 of them--all arrayed in rings around three giant towers. The mirrors reflect sunlight onto vats of water sitting on top of the towers, heating them to 500 degrees and powering a steam turbine, providing enough energy for 140,000 homes. When it goes online at the end of the year, it will be one of the biggest solar plants in the world. But the technology at its heart is relatively simple: mirrors, water boilers, and steam turbines.

The plant, called Ivanpah, is funded by Google, NRG, and BrightSource, a company that specializes in what's called concentrated solar power, or CSP, a method of using focused sunlight to turn a steam generator.

Posted by orrinj at 1:30 PM


The resource curse, or the paradox of poverty from plenty (NICHOLAS SHAXSON, 23 September 2013, Open Democracy)

As I arrived in Angola in 1993 a British academic, Richard Auty, was putting a name to a then poorly-understood phenomenon: what is now widely known as the 'Resource Curse'. Countries that depend heavily on natural resources like oil or diamonds often perform worse than their resource-poor peers in terms of human development, governance and long-term economic growth. Studies by renowned economists such as Jeffrey Sachs, Paul Collier, Terry Lynn Karl, Joseph Stiglitz and many others have now established the Resource Curse in the academic literature, and in the public mind too.

A weak version of this Curse, which few would disagree with, holds that resource-dependent countries tend to be bad at harnessing those resources to benefit their populations. The windfalls are squandered. A stronger version is more surprising: natural resources tend to make matters even worse than if they had been left in the ground, leading to higher rates of conflict, more corruption, steeper inequality, deeper absolute poverty, more authoritarian government, and lower long-term economic growth. I am in no doubt that the stronger version of the curse applied to Angola on all these metrics when I lived there. 

To be fair, the wider cross-country evidence here is more complicated. Some countries like Norway that already have good governance in place before resources are discovered seem to fare relatively well - but being rich first is no guarantee of success either. Michael Edwardes, the former chairman of ailing British car manufacturer British Leyland, spoke of this with some prescience in 1980, following the OPEC oil price shocks: "If the cabinet does not have the wit and imagination to reconcile our industrial needs with the fact of North Sea oil, they would do better to leave the bloody stuff in the ground." Even if some rich countries can suffer from mineral windfalls, it is poor, badly governed countries that tend to suffer the most.

Posted by orrinj at 1:19 PM


Fatah official praises Hamas 'moderates' (ELHANAN MILLER, September 29, 2013, Times of Israel)

In a surprisingly conciliatory interview with London-based daily Al-Hayat, Fatah Central Committee member Jibril Rajoub added that Egyptian media tended to exaggerate the role of Hamas in harming Egyptian security.

"I know the [Egyptian] media exaggerates Hamas's role in the anarchy taking place in Egypt, but some Hamas officials lambaste the Egyptians," Rajoub said, referring specifically to comments by Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri. "Despite this, we are prepared to serve as a bridge not only between them and the Egyptians but with the entire world, on the basis of pluralism."

Rajoub's statements appeared to go against the grain of Fatah's efforts to publicly delegitimize Hamas in the Arab media.

Posted by orrinj at 7:31 AM


Book Review: 'The Age of Oversupply' by Daniel Alpert  (ANDY KESSLER, 9/25/13, WSJ)

Over the last two decades, some 3 billion people have been added to the global economy, more than half of them from China, India and the former Soviet Union. And rather than buy iPhones or Kate Spade handbags, these new workers have generally chosen to put their earnings into savings accounts, causing a glut of capital. China's reserves were $250 billion in 2000, $2 trillion in 2008 and are probably more than $3 trillion today. Add to this the $5 trillion in money printing/quantitative easing by the Fed, the European Central Bank, the Bank of England and the Bank of Japan, and it's easy to see that the world is swimming in cheap credit. But is this a good thing or a bad thing?

Certainly it's good if you're a worker in Shenzhen, China. Or buying a 40-inch TV for $268 at Wal-Mart. But these same shifts in capital have caused dislocations to industries and labor. Since the financial crisis five years ago, economic growth in advanced economies has been lame and unemployment has been stubbornly high. In the past, growth usually came roaring back as new technology was introduced and workers adapted to the alterations in job markets. It has become fashionable, as it often does, to suggest "it's different this time."

Maybe it is, maybe we have entered a new era based on too many workers and too much money. In "The Age of Oversupply," Wall Street banker Daniel Alpert writes that an "unprecedented global explosion of cheap labor and cheap money" has become "a central obstacle to restarting growth." As I read the first half of his book, which diagnoses the problem, I found myself agreeing with most of the factors he identifies as causes for this oversupply: globalization, lower trade barriers, too much debt, sticky wages, sticky prices.  [...]

In my mind, calls for a managed economy are often cries of desperation from those who can't trust pricing and markets to do their thing. Increased living standards are all about productivity--using what is in oversupply to do more. But Mr. Alpert worries that "productivity is, after all, similar to cholesterol--there is good productivity" (technological advances) "and bad productivity" (workers are paid less). At the end of the day, Mr. Alpert's big idea is to "juice up demand with public spending," rather than to let markets reallocate resources and provide more of what is scarce....

Man, they're right on the edge there.  But to arrive at the central fact of the modern economy you have to ask what exactly is it that is scarce?  

The answer is that, since productivity increases have been liberated from domestic labor inputs, a process which is only in its infancy and which will accelerate in coming decades, what is going to become increasingly scarce is work, but, more importantly from a public policy viewpoint, remuneration for work.  The dilemma that confronts us is that we have an economy and a culture premised on such remuneration as the basis for redistributing wealth.  

There are then three possibilities we can choose from going forward: 

(1) The First Way: We could simply accept the ever more radical wealth disparities that completely free markets would produce.  Except, of course, that this is a democracy and the majority won't long tolerate such results for very long.

(2) Or, the Second Way, we could move back towards a managed economy, the goal of which would be to  preserve jobs and the old redistribution system.  Except, of course, that the cost of this would be to radically decrease wealth and to retard economic growth.  However fondly we may wish for full-employment, as a way of avoiding making some jarring public policy choices, we aren't going to institute the USSR's economic system.

(3) Finally, a Third Way, we could embrace the dynamics of the modern (neoliberal) economy that Thatcher and Reagan bequeathed us and make increasing productivity and creating ever more wealth our central goals, even though this means accepting the declining need for labor, and we could replace the job as the sole basis for redistribution of the ever larger pie. This will be done with instrumentalities like O'Neill accounts, HSAs, personalized and heritable Social Security, housing grants, National Service, etc. and will occasion the adoption of taxation on consumption rather than on income.  

For all the agita that the transition is causing, and will cause, it's obvious which of the three we're going to choose.  Indeed, the politics of the Anglosphere and Scandinavia over the past couple decades boils down to nothing more than choosing the party that is currently most identified with choice number 3.  

We still await the politicians and parties capable of fully articulating the third program, but their caution is understandable given what a departure this future represents from both parties past ideologies.

Posted by orrinj at 7:21 AM


A bachelor's degree could cost $10,000 -- total. Here's how. (Dylan Matthews, September 26, 2013, Washington Post)

[H]elpfully, the good folks at Third Way have noticed that the conversation about how to reign in tuition has gotten a little too small-minded. "For both parties, in particular Democrats, our solution to the problem of rising cost of college has been to subsidize the rising cost,"  the think tank's president, Jonathan Cowan, says. "That's been our official policy, to subsidize the rising cost, and that has to be seen as a fairly intellectually bankrupt approach. We need a dramatically different approach that is about driving down the rising price."

To that end, Third Way is publishing a new report by Anya Kamenetz, one of the most interesting writers on higher ed innovation in the game, that lays out a detailed plan for pushing the total cost of a public bachelor's degree down to $10,000. Not $10,000 a year, mind you: $10,000 total. She's not the first to have this idea, as Govs. Rick Perry (R-Tex.), Scott Walker (R-Wis.) and Rick Scott (R-Fla.) have all proposed $10,000 degrees.

Government spending/loan guarantees are just middle class welfare and once you strip the system down to thing we're trying to buy, which is just the degrees, you can drive costs down pretty quickly.

Posted by orrinj at 6:55 AM


REVIEW: of Zibaldone: The Notebooks of Leopardi, by Giacomo Leopardi, edited by Michael Caesar and Franco D'Intino (Robert Pogue Harrison, Financial Times)

For Leopardi, nature may be our enemy, yet it is the only sponsor we have: "It is no more possible for man to live completely cut off from nature, which we are constantly drawing farther away from, than it is for a tree cut off at the root to bear flowers and fruit." He wonders, in the same passage, whether humankind will soon face extinction as a result of its detachment not only from the natural world itself but also from those fundamental familial, communal and social ways of being human that Leopardi considered "natural".

Leopardi believed that the modern detachment from nature is due to our aggressive and excessive reliance on reason. He believed furthermore that the modern age, despite its self-deception on this score, has only one veritable religion, namely the pursuit of truth at all costs, regardless of the consequences. The consequences are grave indeed, for the pursuit of truth dispels our life-enhancing illusions and destroys every higher "value" that makes life worth living. The will-to-truth ends up casting humankind into a universe with no overseeing God, no ultimate purpose, and no concern whatsoever for the unspeakable suffering to which it condemns its inhabitants, "not only individuals, but species, genera, realms, spheres, systems, worlds", as Leopardi puts it in one of his entries.

Though he lived in an age that considered reason the agent of progress, Leopardi held that an excess of reason can lead to forms of barbarism unknown in the ancient world. "Reason is often the source of barbarism (indeed is barbarous in itself) and an excess of reason always is." Not only can reason be used to justify immoral actions, its abstract notions of the good will often incubate the most monstrous means to bring about ideological ends. "In the end nothing is barbarous apart from what is contrary to nature," writes Leopardi, for "nature and barbarism are opposites, and nature cannot be barbarous", whereas reason often is.

In such remarks we catch fore-glimpses of the catastrophes that would incinerate much of 20th-century history. I mean those genocides brought on by the ideologies of totalitarian regimes which were as "rational" as they were barbarous in their murderous logic. Barbarism in our age is never "natural" but is always underpinned or justified by the abstractions of ideology.

A profound contradiction, of which he was well aware, informs Leopardi's philosophy. Although he saw in the will-to-truth the primary cause of the nihilism that he believed was drawing modern civilisation into its vortex, Leopardi fully embraced reason, logic, science and this will-to-truth. He followed the truth wherever it led him, refusing to shy away from its conclusions or to seek refuge in mystifications and self-deceiving consolations.

Except, of course, that such thinkers could never take themselves as far as those of the Anglosphere and accept that the embrace of Reason is nothing but an act of faith.

The barbarism of reason: John Gray on the Notebooks of Leopardi : The first full translation of a reclusive Italian poet's philosophical "hotchpotch" is a major event in the history of ideas. (JOHN GRAY, 26 SEPTEMBER 2013, New Statesman)

His sympathies lay with the ancients, whose way of life he believed was more conducive to human happiness. A product of the increase of knowledge, the modern world is driven by the pursuit of truth; yet this passion for truth, Leopardi suggests, is a by-product of Christianity. Before Christianity disrupted and destroyed the ancient pagan cults with its universal claims, human beings were able to rest content with their local practices and illusions. "Mankind was happier before Christianity than after it," he writes.

Christianity was a reaction against corrosive doubt, a condition that took hold partly as a result of the habit of sceptical inquiry inculcated by philosophy: "What was destroying the world was the lack of illusions. Christianity saved it, not because it was the truth but because it was a new source of illusion." This new illusion came in the form of a claim to truth that all the world had to accept: an inordinate demand that with the rise of the Enlightenment shifted to science, which has become a project aiming to dissolve the dreams in which humanity has hitherto lived. The result is modern nihilism - the perception that human beings are an insignificant accident in a scheme of things that cares nothing for them or their values - and a host of rackety creeds promising some kind of secular salvation.

Leopardi's account of the paradoxical process whereby a Christian will to truth gave birth to nihilism has much in common with Nietzsche's - an affinity that the fiery German thinker recognised. Here as elsewhere, Nietzsche was following a path opened up by Schopenhauer, who wrote that it was a tragedy that the world's three great pessimists - "Byron, Leopardi and myself" -were in Italy at the same time but never met. (I'm not sure that a meeting between Leopardi and Schopenhauer would have been a success. Unlike Schopenhauer, who lamented the human lot, Leopardi believed that the best response to life is laughter.)

What fascinated Schopenhauer, along with many later writers, was Leopardi's insistence that illusion is necessary to human happiness. Matthew Arnold, A E Housman, Herman Melville, Thomas Hardy, Fernando Pessoa (who wrote a poem about the Italian poet) and Samuel Beckett were all stirred by his suggestion that human fulfilment requires a tolerance of illusion that is at odds with both Christianity and modern science. A version of the same thought informs the work of Wallace Stevens, perhaps the greatest 20th-century English-language poet, who saw the task of poetry as being the creation of fictions by which human beings can live.

Unlike philosophers today, Leopardi aims to do more than provide a comforting justification for the intuitions of well-meaning liberals. Just as much as Nietzsche, though much more soberly, he is a critic of modern ethics. Leopardi found the unthinking moral certainty of secular thinkers highly questionable, not least because of their hidden debts to Christianity. In an irony of which he was undoubtedly aware, this opponent of the Enlightenment ideal of reason was in many ways a child of the Enlightenment, not least because he shared the Enlightenment suspicion of Christianity.

Yet Leopardi's resistance to Christianity was not simply, or even mainly, an intellectual objection to its theological claims. It was a moral objection, which applied equally to the secular successors of Christianity. He criticised Christianity not because he believed it to be untrue (he accepted that human beings cannot live without illusions) but because he saw the militant assertion of its truth as being harmful to civilisation. The universalism of which Christianity and its humanist offshoots are so proud was, for Leopardi, an openended licence for savagery and oppression.

Leopardi was emphatic in affirming the constancy of human nature and the existence of goods and evils that are universally human. He was far from being a moral relativist. What he rejected was the modern conceit that aims to turn these often conflicting values into a system of universal principles - a project that fails to comprehend the irresolvable contradictions of human needs. "No one understands the human heart at all," he wrote, "who does not understand how vast is its capacity for illusions, even when these are contrary to its interests, or how often it loves the very thing that is obviously harmful to it." Modern rationalists imagine they do not succumb to this quintessentially human need for illusion, but in reality they display it to the full.

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Posted by orrinj at 6:41 AM


Iran's Hassan Rouhani Wants to Make a Nuclear Deal -- Leaving Israel Isolated (Larry Cohler-Esses, September 28, 2013., The Forward)

Longtime advocates of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can often be heard saying that after decades of talks, "everyone knows what the deal on the table is." Known it may be. But it always seems that one, the other, or both of the parties involved have their reasons for never being able to bite the bullet.

With Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and President Barack Obama, things are quite different.

From the moment the white-turbaned cleric strode into the reception room at New York's One UN Hotel for the final press conference of his recent New York visit, he projected the air of a man who knows very well what the deal on the table is. And he seems eager to take it.

The process on which he is embarking, he told reporters, will "ensure that the Iranian people can enjoy their rights, and at the same time build confidence in the international community that those rights are being used for peaceful purposes."

"Within a very short period of time there will be a settlement of the nuclear issue," he said. "And step-by-step [this will] pave the way for Iran's better relations with the West, including the expansion of economic ties, the expansion of cultural ties and the expansion of relations between the Western nations and Iran."

September 28, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 8:35 PM


Pasta-maker in hot water as rival posts pro-gay imagery on social media (Tracy McVeigh, 9/28/13, The Observer)

Spaghetti wars have broken out in Italy as rivals of the world's leading pasta-maker were this weekend taking full advantage of a row over homophobia to promote their own pro-gay credentials.

Bertolli Germany has been posting pro-gay imagery on its social media feeds, pushing the slogan "Love and pasta for all" and encouraging the re-emergence of a 2009 advert that featured a male customer in a pasta restaurant falling for a handsome waiter.

There's a marketing genius, we're the gay pasta! They're the family pasta.
Posted by orrinj at 4:43 PM


Tunisia's Islamist-led government agrees to step down (Deutsche Welle, 9/28/13)

Tunisia's incumbent Islamist party, Ennahda, agreed on Saturday to cede power to an independent transitional government in a bid to end a political crisis triggered by the assassination of a secular opposition figure last July.

Negotiations between Ennahda and the secular opposition are expected to begin in the coming days. The talks, aimed at appointing the caretaker government, are slated to last three weeks. Dates for parliamentary and presidential elections are also expected to be set.

Posted by orrinj at 8:56 AM


Is Bach The Voice Of God In Music? (DANIEL JOHNSON, October 2013, Standpoint)

[T]he old-fashioned Lutheran view of Bach as the "Fifth Evangelist" is not completely at odds with Gardiner's portrait, as the celestial castle of its title indicates. As Gardiner relates, to mark the 250th anniversary of Bach's death in 2000, he conducted all 198 surviving church cantatas in one year, according to the liturgical calendar, in 50 cities and 13 countries. This Bach cantata pilgrimage -- the recordings of which remain as an aural monument, both to the composer and to Gardiner -- was unique, not only in musical but also in ecclesiastical history. The cantatas are of course only one of many facets of Bach's oeuvre; but their sheer quantity and quality, encompassing his entire career, provide an inexhaustible fount of inspiration. Christianity is central to Bach's music, not just because his was a deeply religious time and place, but because only a composer who saw music-making literally as worship could have produced works of such a kind and on such a scale. Bach annotated his copy of the Calov Bible, now preserved in Leipzig, with 348 marginalia, including the following, which might serve as his credo: "NB. Wherever there is devotional music, God with his grace is always present." Gardiner comments: "This strikes me as a tenet that many of us as musicians automatically hold and aspire to whenever we play music, regardless of whatever 'God' we happen to believe in."

Bach's God, however benign, does not believe in letting humanity take it easy. Unlike his older contemporary Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Bach never believed that his was the best of all possible worlds: on the contrary, its suffering was made tolerable only by redemption at the hands of Jesus, "the man of sorrows". Aged 22, he was already composing the miraculous work of consolation, the Actus Tragicus. Against George Steiner's dictum that Christian drama by definition cannot be tragic, Gardiner contends that the two Bach Passions, especially the later St Matthew Passion, belong squarely in the grand tradition of classical tragedy that extends from the Greeks to Shakespeare, Racine and beyond. He sees the revival of non-operatic music drama as "one of Bach's great achievements", pre-empting those of Mozart and Wagner: "Bach set in motion a new burgeoning of the genre, leading his listeners to confront their mortality and compelling them to witness things from which they would normally avert their eyes." However, Bach expected his audiences to use their imagination to visualise the tragic events evoked by his music, and Gardiner has an aversion to the staging of the Passions as "proxy-operas". They were written for the church, not the theatre; "extraneous aesthetic baggage" can only distract from and diminish this music. "Their power lies in what they leave unspoken," he concludes. "We ignore that at our peril." Amen to that. [...]

It is hardly surprising that such a distinguished conductor takes it for granted that others will share his reverence for Bach the man, whose fiery personality he discerns both in his music and in anecdotes passed down by musicians -- ripping off his wig and stamping on it in moments of rage, for instance. Gardiner describes his own reaction to seeing the Haussmann portrait again in Princeton some 60 years after it left his childhood home: "The overall impression is of someone a lot more complex, nuanced and, above all, human than the formal posture of a public figure would seem to allow." 

Yet Bach's humanity is inseparable from his faith in God's mercy. Blind, crippled by a stroke and dying, he dictated his "deathbed" chorale BWV 668a, Wenn wir in höchsten Nöten sein ("When we are in desperate straits"), which directly addresses God: "Turn not Thy gracious countenance / From me, a poor sinner." Nothing, it is safe to say, could be less congenial to the "Olympian" mentality of modern man. "It is Bach," Gardiner defiantly declares, "making music in the Castle of Heaven, who gives us the voice of God -- in human form." For that reason Bach must remain a closed book to those for whom the category of divinity is meaningless, and hence deny that it is possible "to make divine things human and human things divine". Music -- even Bach's music -- cannot be "divine" unless God is a presence, unseen and perhaps unconscious, in our lives. We instinctively reach for theological metaphors when we experience the numinous quality of sacred art and music. But for these words to mean anything, we must have at least some confidence that the universe itself has meaning. Bach puts us back in touch with that numinous, on occasion even visceral, presence of the divine. And this involuntary response tells us that there is something transcendental within us, at the very core of our being, that recognises itself in this music. We are made in the image of God, the Bible tells us; in the same way, our music is a distant echo of Paradise. 

Bach is as close as our echo comes to the real deal.
Posted by orrinj at 8:51 AM


Samuel Gompers Versus Reagan (GROVER G. NORQUIST from the SEPTEMBER 2013, American Spectator)

Some of the right's loudest voices, on talk radio and congressional backbenches, have opposed comprehensive immigration reform of the kind historically championed by Ronald Reagan, Jack Kemp, Milton Friedman, and George W. Bush. Today, conservative opponents of immigration reform stand opposite the Southern Baptist Convention, the National Association of Evangelicals, the Church of Latter-day Saints, the United States Council of Catholic Bishops, and virtually the entire business community--the Chamber of Commerce, farmers, Silicon Valley entrepreneurs--and an Ivory soap percentage (remember those "99 and 44/100 percent pure" ads?) of free market economists. Why?

Hostility to immigration has traditionally been a union cause. The first American law limiting immigration was the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, championed by labor bosses. Samuel Gompers, the president of the AFL-CIO from 1886 to 1924, strongly supported the Chinese Exclusion Act and urged Congress to similarly restrict Japanese immigration. Professor Vernon Briggs of Cornell University writes that "At every juncture and with no exception, prior to the 1980s, the union movement either directly instigated or strongly supported every legislative initiative enacted by Congress to restrict immigration and to enforce its provisions." Union opposition to labor mobility also brought us the Davis-Bacon Act of 1931, which set minimum wage restrictions designed to stop the internal migration of black workers from the South to compete with white construction workers in the North.

Steve Sailer, himself a foe of immigration reform, has pointed out that in 1969, United Farm Workers union leader César Chávez led protests against illegal immigration. Senator Walter Mondale joined the march and the UFW picketed the INS offices to demand closure of the border--long before the Minutemen.

Union leaders believed that immigration challenged the monopoly rents they won through barring non-union members from union shops. Later, unions were joined by radical environmentalists who believed that more Americans were bad for Mother Earth, and that zero population growth, ZPG, could not be achieved simply by limiting the number of live births. Birth control would have to be matched with immigration control. Environmentalists, led by John Tanton, created three front groups--Numbers USA, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, and the Center for Immigration Studies--to act as a conservative mask for his environmentalist goals. 

It begins with hating the other.

Posted by orrinj at 8:42 AM


Estranged wife of George Zimmerman says she's doubtful of husband's innocence in Trayvon Martin killing (JOE KEMP, 9/26/13, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

"This person that I'm married to, that I'm divorcing, I've kind of realized now that I don't know him," she told Matt Lauer on Thursday. "And I really don't know what he's capable of."

Trayvon Martin does.

Posted by orrinj at 8:01 AM


Cuba loosens reins on athletes (Anne-Marie Garcia and Peter Orsi,  09/27/2013, AP)

Cuba announced Friday that athletes from all sports will soon be able to sign contracts with foreign leagues, a break with a decades-old policy that held pro sports to be anathema to socialist ideals.

It's a step toward the day when the road from Havana to Yankee Stadium might mean simply hopping on a plane rather than attempting a perilous sea crossing or sneaking out of a hotel at midnight in a strange land.

Posted by orrinj at 7:58 AM


Exclamation mark : His .406 campaign was punctuated by determination and emotion (Bob Duffy, 07/05/02, Boston Globe)

His chief rival for baseball eminence, New York Yankees outfielder Joe DiMaggio, established a standard that was immediately regarded as immortal. From May 15 to July 17, DiMaggio hit in every game the Yankees played -- 56 in row. It shattered the previous milestones for hitting streaks -- the modern mark of 41 by the St.Louis Browns ' George Sisler in 1923 and the all-time record of 44 by the Baltimore Orioles ' Wee Willie Keeler in 1897.

DiMaggio 's target was more finite, more readily comprehensible, than Williams 's, and his streak dominated fans' interest and news coverage as the summer progressed. But there were no hard feelings from Williams. While the two may have been portrayed as the symbols of the eternal Boston-New York feud, such enmity in fact was not personal.

Dom DiMaggio, Joe 's brother as well as Williams's teammate, had a unique perspective.

''All I can remember,'' he says,''is that Ted would look at the scoreboard and yell over, 'Hey, Dommy, Joe got another one.' ''

Williams's appreciation was sincere, Dom DiMaggio believes.

''I think they had a great admiration for each other,'' he says.''Ted thought Joe was the greatest player ever, and Joe said many times that Ted was the finest hitter he 'd ever seen.''

The writers, with whom Williams was perpetually at odds, apparently considered DiMaggio 's achievement -- and the fact that he won the one component of the triple crown that Williams didn 't, the RBI title with 125 -- the more noteworthy. After the season, they voted him the Most Valuable Player Award, with Williams a close runner-up.

But a certain perspective is in order. Without diminishing DiMaggio 's streak, the fact is that during that 56-game stretch in which he was un- stoppable, he batted .408, just .002 higher than Williams hit during the full 154-game season. And Williams did it despite being walked a league-leading 145 times, getting 456 at-bats. So loath were pitchers to challenge Williams that he often had only one or two chances to swing the bat in games; otherwise, he was on a constant free shuttle to first base.

And Williams had the higher average during those 56 games.

Posted by orrinj at 7:55 AM


Tehran's new tone sparks interest at home and abroad (Deutsche-Welle, 9/28/13)

Rouhani said it was desirable that more political prisoners are released from prisons in his country. "We want to have empty prisons," he said at an event sponsored by the Asia Society and the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi called for the release of the leaders of the opposition Green movement, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mahdi Karroubi. Whether this will happen, however, is questionable.

"The supreme leader Ali Khamenei seems to be allowing Rouhani more freedom on issues of censorship and the handling of detainees," Scott Lucas, an Iran expert at the University of Birmingham, UK, and editor of the Middle East portal EA WorldView, told DW.

Lucas said he does not believe that Mousavi and Karroubi will be released soon. "Only if Rouhani's foreign and economic policy bears fruit and those who have been released do not cause problems, the most prominent dissidents could be freed," Lucas said.

Posted by orrinj at 7:26 AM


Genesis: The Tree of Knowledge or Blind Faith? (Eylon Aslan-Levy, SEPTEMBER 27, 2013, Times of Irsrael)

The difference between religion in and of itself and knowledge, the Hebrew seems to suggest, is that the former is blind: it is what remains when a system of reasoning and thought is stripped of anything that could validate its conclusions. Knowledge exists when the rich heritage and teachings of religion are fused with real-world experience, and when people are willing to judge what they have been told in light of what they see, and evaluate what they have been taught in light of what they can learn. Religion and knowledge are not mutually exclusive, as some more haughty atheists might sneer: knowledge is religion built beyond its bare bones.

So why does God punish man for acquiring moral knowledge? The answer is that the expulsion from the Garden of Eden is not a punishment: it is a liberation. In Eden, amid conditions of plenty, where every want is sated, there are few opportunities for wrongdoing. It is sufficient for Adam and Eve's moral code to include only two laws: be fruitful and multiply, and don't eat the fruit from that tree. In short, it is enough for religion (God's commandment) to provide the foundation for human living.

Once man has acquired this awesome power to divine right from wrong for himself, however, Eden is an infantilising habitat: for without the trials and tribulations of a difficult world replete with moral dilemmas, there are few opportunities for man to exercise this power of his. The power of moral reasoning is superfluous when it rarely needs to be exercised. God banishes Adam and Eve in order to allow them to make tough moral decisions for themselves, and thereby redeem this extraordinary potential of moral agency within them. slay Abel.

September 27, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 11:07 PM


Obama and Rouhani talk, first direct US-Iran contact since 1979 (Deutsche-Welle, 9/27/13)

US-Iranian diplomatic relations moved one step forward on Friday with a phone call between the leaders of the two countries. Obama and Rouhani's conversation was the first between presidents of the US and Iran since the Islamic Revolution in Tehran over three decades ago. [...]

Obama and Rouhani reportedly discussed their plans for moving negotiations forward as quickly as possible. The conversation took place as the Iranian president was on his way to the airport.
"While there will surely be important obstacles to moving forward and success is by no means guaranteed, I believe we can reach a comprehensive solution," Obama told White House reporters following the phone call.

Posted by orrinj at 11:04 PM


Is Sudan's Uprising the Beginning of the End of Omar al Bashir? (John Prendergast Sep 28, 2013, Daily Beast)

An uprising throughout Sudan's cities is gaining traction and metastasizing hourly. Dozens, perhaps hundreds, of protesters have been killed by Bashir's security services, which are using live ammunition to attempt to quell the unrest. Young protesters appear to comprise the bulk of those killed so far. (Here is a Flickr account with sometimes graphic photos from the protests.)

These latest killings have occurred in the context of a spiral of popular protests triggered by the removal of subsidies on essential commodities, which has led to a burst of inflation. More deeply, the street action is driven by an explosion of anger after nearly two and a half decades of total and unilateral control of the political life and national economy by Khartoum's Islamist regime, led by the ruling National Congress Party (known as the NCP).

"This wide range in the geographic scope of the protests is exhausting police and security efforts, who have to scatter their resources."
Regime policies of concentrating political and economic power in the hands of NCP members and their cronies have led the country to economic implosion, making life worse for the average Sudanese. The ruling party's discriminatory and, in some instances, blatantly racist policies led South Sudan to opt for independence in 2011, and have since fueled raging wars in the "New South" of the Sudan, the historically marginalized regions of Darfur, South Kordofan, and Blue Nile. In these war zones, the NCP regime unleashes daily bombing raids against civilian targets aimed at forcing the population to leave rebel-held areas, supplemented by attacks by the ethnic-based militias as well as obstruction of humanitarian aid and agricultural activities. It is, in total, a blunt form of ethnic cleansing, as vicious and insidious as Slobodan Milosevic's efforts in the former Yugoslavia. Famine becomes a convenient and cheap weapon of war.

However, although rebellions have raged nonstop in Sudan since Bashir's coup in 1989, what has been missing is a corresponding urban uprising that complemented the rural wars. Without any pressure in Sudan's northern cities, the Islamist regime has remained somewhat comfortably in power. That is why this week's violence is potentially so significant.

The spread of information through the Internet and social media has emboldened protesters throughout Sudan's cities.

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Posted by orrinj at 8:47 PM

DE-SPITE (self-reference alert):

Having put in 40 hours this week by 9am this morning, the rest of the day was wide open for skylarking, and a few thoughts occur.

Hauled the trash to the dump and, whatever the evils of the instrumentality, when cranking the following out the windows on a crisp fall day in the Upper Valley, the automobile nearly justifies itself

Then a visit to Home Depot for a nut and bolt The Daughter requires. The sheer abundance of tools, materials, parts, etc. boggles the mind. Thence to the grocery store for milk, almond milk, bananas and eggs, all for about $10.

Time for a nap and then a long walk with the dog. Listening to Patrick O'Brian's The Letter of Marque, which includes Maturin's hilarious defense of laudanum--the ultimate man of Reason completely lacking in self-awareness as he dismisses the possibility of addiction for any but the weakest sorts of men.

Then to a summer playlist that includes:

And, along the way, an opportunity to get today's cloud pics:

Meanwhile, the Sox are the best team in baseball, the Pats are 3-0, the Bruins are improved after losing the Cup by one game, and Liverpool is back.

Which brings us to the great mystery that confronts the Puritan (and conservative)mind : regardless of what wretched creatures we are, God is beneficent.

Posted by orrinj at 9:35 AM


Breaking Bad's Endgame (Steve Erickson, 9/27/13, American Prospect)

Breaking Bad's achievement of psychology over plot is a rarity on television even at its best, and while "arc" may be the most overused word in visual storytelling, including by people who don't know an arc from a boomerang, this is TV's arc of triumph, which accounts for a viewer passion that's 96 percent blue ice and the stuff of untamed addictions.  I entirely take my friend Tom Carson's point, expressed on this site a few weeks back, that White is a dinosaur and the figure who finally will exhaust the current vogue for antiheroes, and not only has Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan taken the point as well but he's run with it and made it the show's unspoken agenda: What antihero, on TV or anywhere else, can possibly follow a hero so anti that any heroism left is only our collective delusion?  Week in and week out over the course of five seasons the show has challenged our need for something redeemable about White, and the only suspense left for the finale to resolve has less to do with him than with us: Will the show grant to White the slightest absolution, and will we be able to stand it if it doesn't?

Of course I root for absolution, but then I'm a cheap sentimentalist who nonetheless harbors a gnawing dread. Last year at the San Diego ComicCon where I took my teenager (with whom I bond over Breaking Bad like other dads and sons do over baseball), Gilligan and the show's cast convened before an overflow crowd that posed quandaries of existential ethics like: When did White cross the line? At what point did the break to bad become irreparable? Even as some arguments raged for earlier moments of damnation, everyone agreed a moral rubicon was reached at the end of the second season when White passively watched the girlfriend of partner-in-crime Jesse Pinkman choke on her own vomit. Gilligan, however, was having none of it: Walter, he maintained, had gone wrong from the get-go. 

From the moment you heard the premise this was an impossible series to care about.  After all, if personal economics justified crime Jean Valjean would be the hero of Les Miserables.
Posted by orrinj at 9:26 AM


Heitkamp warns Obama on Keystone XL Pipeline approval (Susan Page, 9/27/13, USA TODAY)

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, a freshman Democrat from North Dakota, is ready to take on President Obama over the long-delayed approval for the Keystone XL Pipeline -- and she predicts her side will prevail.

"We know that we have the votes here in the Senate; we certainly have the votes in the House," she told USA TODAY on Thursday. "In fact, I think we could build enough votes to override a veto." [...]

"The Keystone Pipeline decision has taken longer than it took us to defeat Hitler," she said. "There's just something wrong with this process."

Obama "got himself painted into the corner" by environmentalists who oppose the pipeline, she said. "He's having a very difficult time to find a real, factual, legal reason to deny the permit."

Posted by orrinj at 4:42 AM


Iran Jews mark Sukkot with hopes pinned on Rouhani (AFP, SEPTEMBER 27, 2013)
Iranian Jews have shed more than 70% of their 80,000 to 100,00 population of before the 1979 Islamic revolution. Now some 8,750 - according to a 2011 census - to 20,000 Jews still live in Iran.

Those who have chosen to remain - scattered across Iran but mostly in Tehran, Isfahan and Shiraz - "have an easy life," Tehran's Jewish community head Homayoun Sameyah Najaf Abady told AFP.

"We do not have a problem. The government does not create problems for us," he said in a Sukkot prayer ceremony in the Abrishami synagogue in the centre of the capital, attended by some 200 faithful. [...]

Recognised as a religious minority, along with Christians and Zoroastrians, the Jewish community has a representative in parliament and appears to be well-integrated in a society dominated by Muslims.

It operates schools, a library and a hospital - funded in part by public funds - in Tehran.

But they hope that with the presidency of Rouhani, a moderate mid-ranking Shiite cleric who took office in August, their standing will improve.

September 26, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 8:32 PM


Rachel Carson's Deadly Fantasies (Henry I. Miller, 9/26/13, Forbes)

Carson's proselytizing and advocacy raised substantial anxiety about DDT and led to bans in most of the world and to restrictions on other chemical pesticides.  But the fears she raised were based on gross misrepresentations and scholarship so atrocious that, if Carson were an academic, she would be guilty of egregious academic misconduct.  Her observations about DDT have been condemned by many scientists.  In the words of Professor Robert H. White-Stevens, an agriculturist and biology professor at Rutgers University, "If man were to follow the teachings of Miss Carson, we would return to the Dark Ages, and the insects and diseases and vermin would once again inherit the earth."

In 1992, San Jose State University entomologist J. Gordon Edwards, a long-time member of the Sierra Club and the Audubon Society and a fellow of the California Academy of Sciences, offered a persuasive and comprehensive rebuttal of "Silent Spring." As he explained in "The Lies of Rachel Carson," a stunning, point by point refutation, "it simply dawned on me that that Rachel Carson was not interested in the truth about [pesticides] and that I was being duped along with millions of other Americans."  He demolished Carson's arguments and assertions, calling attention to critical omissions, faulty assumptions, and outright fabrications.

Consider, for example, this passage from Edwards' article: "This implication that DDT is horribly deadly is completely false.  Human volunteers have ingested as much as 35 milligrams of it a day for nearly two years and suffered no adverse effects.  Millions of people have lived with DDT intimately during the mosquito spray programs and nobody even got sick as a result.  The National Academy of Sciences concluded in 1965 that 'in a little more than two decades, DDT has prevented 500 million [human] deaths that would otherwise have been inevitable.' The World Health Organization stated that DDT had 'killed more insects and saved more people than any other substance.'"

In addition, DDT was used with dramatic effect to shorten and prevent typhus epidemics during and after WWII when people were dusted with large amounts of it but suffered no ill effects, which is perhaps the most persuasive evidence that the chemical is harmless to humans.  The product was such a boon to public health that in 1948 the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to Dr. Paul Müller for his discovery of the "contact insecticidal action" of DDT.

Posted by orrinj at 8:30 PM


Taking Toyota's hydrogen car on the road (Brian Dumaine, 9/26/13, Fortune)

What strikes you first when driving a hydrogen vehicle is the quiet and the acceleration -- it puts out lots of torque. These cars also have far fewer moving parts than other cars -- no engine, fancy transmission, or drivetrain -- so it will be much simpler and cheaper to maintain. The retrofitted Highlander I drove can travel 300 miles on a tank of hydrogen and takes less than four minutes to fill. The production version of Toyota's new hydrogen car will be unveiled at the Tokyo auto show in November.

Posted by orrinj at 8:22 PM


An American Prime Minister : a review of Margaret Thatcher: The Authorized Biography: From Grantham to the Falklands By Charles Moore (MATTHEW WALTHER, SEPTEMBER 2013, American Spectator) 

For American observers, to whom the Tory mind has been an object of bemusement, antipathy, or both for two centuries now, it is difficult to understand Moore's objections--to say nothing of those voiced by such disaffected stand-pats as Auberon Waugh, Michael Wharton (who actually sided with Scargill during the miners' strike), and A.N. Wilson. Our nostrils do not flare at the whiff of Whiggery or the effluvium of Philistia; we are reassurred rather than repulsed by the idea that Mrs. Thatcher's was, to repurpose Yeats' phrase, a "levelling, rancorous, rational sort of mind" neither animated by Tory prejudice nor graced by Tory flexibility. Reagan's children, would-be builders of Shining Cities on Hills, equate conservative governance with dynamism rather than quiescence, action rather than obstruction, and reform rather than reaction or, much less, restoration. What, we wonder, could possibly have been wrong with a woman who went about thumping desks with Hayek paperbacks? [..]

I would like to suggest, only half-facetiously, that, if thrift, tough-mindedness, and, above all, honest, manful effort are still those things that characterize the silent majority of Americans, then Margaret Thatcher, who, whatever her shortcomings, apotheosized all of these, may have been Britain's first American prime minster--hence our astonishment at how dim a view "proper Tories" took of her at the time. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:18 PM


Iran holds 'constructive' high-level nuclear talks with world powers (Deutsche-Welle, 9/26/13)

After the meeting, Kerry told reporters the negotiations with Zarif had proved "constructive." He praised the foreign minister's presentation "which was very different in tone, and very different in the vision that he held out with respect to the possibilities in the future."

But he stressed that words alone were not enough to convince western powers that Tehran was not seeking to develop a nuclear weapon.

"We've agreed to try to find a way to answer the questions that people have about Iran's nuclear program," Kerry said. "Needless to say, one meeting and a change in tone, that was welcome, does not answer those questions."

Speaking after Kerry, Zarif reiterated that the meeting had been "very constructive" and "very businesslike."

September 25, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 6:46 PM


Rouhani sees a nuclear deal in 3 months (David Ignatius, September 25, 2013, Washington Post)

Here are some highlights from the interview:

●Rouhani stressed that he is "fully empowered to finalize the nuclear talks" by Iran's supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, a claim confirmed by Western intelligence reports. Analysts say Khamenei was surprised and rebuffed by the popular wave of support for Rouhani's moderate policies and has given him a chance to cut a deal.

●The Iranian president wants to move very quickly to resolve the nuclear issue, through negotiations. Rouhani said his "choice" would be a three-month timetable, and that six months would still be "good," but this should be a matter of "months, not years." The speedy timeline may reflect the pressure of sanctions on the Iranian economy or Rouhani's fear of a political backlash from conservative rivals. Whatever the reason, the time is short.

●Rouhani said he was prepared to offer extensive "transparency" measures to reassure the West that Iran doesn't intend to build a bomb. He likened these measures to what Iran allowed from 2003 to 2005, when he was the country's chief negotiator, including acceptance of intrusive "additional protocols" from the International Atomic Energy Agency, as well as inspections to assess what the IAEA calls "possible military dimensions." [...]

●Rouhani said Iran wants to join a new round of Geneva negotiations for a political transition in Syria so long as there are no preconditions on Iranian participation. The Obama administration has tentatively decided to offer Iran a seat at these talks, reasoning that a stable political transition would be impossible if the Iranians weren't a co-guarantor. He said that, in terms of a future government in Damascus, Iran would let Syrians decide at the ballot box; that's the standard Iranian formula.

Posted by orrinj at 6:08 PM


The Case for Banning Internet Commenters (DEREK THOMPSON, SEP 24 2013, Atlantic)

Another study found that even simple disagreements between commenters "impacted readers' perception of science," wrote Suzanne LaBarre, PopSci's online content director.

Like a narrow Supreme Court opinion, PopSci's defense was case-specific, without presuming to tell other sites they should follow along. Comments "erode the popular consensus" on scientifically validated topics, LaBarre wrote, such as climate change and evolution.


Posted by orrinj at 2:29 PM


The hidden downsides of cheap ObamaCare insurance (Peter Weber, 9/25/13, The Week)

The first big caveat is that prices will vary a lot by where you live. A resident of Brooklyn will pay more than her socioeconomic doppelgänger in Rochester, for example. In some states, like New Hampshire and West Virginia, many areas will have only one insurer offering plans on the exchange.

The second caveat: There's scant information about how much gold and platinum plans will cost. "Want to know what you might pay for health coverage in an exchange next year?" say Politico's Brett Norman and Jason Millman. "Too bad. The report gives lots of examples of the kinds of people who will get good prices -- but everyone else will remain in the dark until at least next Tuesday, when ObamaCare is supposed to open its doors."

The third, and potentially biggest, caveat: People enrolled in exchanges may not have a very broad choice of doctors or hospitals to choose between.

Posted by orrinj at 2:21 PM

THAT WAS THEN (via The Other Brother):

Poland and Germany should unite, says Lech Walesa (Matthew Day, 24 Sep 2013, The Telegraph)

Lech Walesa has called for Poland to unite with Germany to form one European state, despite the bloody history between the two countries.

The Nobel Peace Prize winner and former Polish president, whose Solidarity trade union played a key role in bringing an end to the Cold War, said the world had changed and needed new ways of organising itself.

"We need to expand economic and defence co-operation and other structures to create one state from Poland and Germany in Europe," he said.
Speaking to Russia's Itar-Tass news agency, Mr Walesa, 69, said national boundaries were not as relevant as they once were.

It's a sweet sentiment, but Germany is already too large and there's nothing to defend against.  Tighter trade co-operation will suffice.

Posted by orrinj at 2:00 PM


Californians and the Military : General James Harold "Jimmy" Doolittle (1896-1993) (Colonel (CA, Ret) Norman S. Marshall and Chief Warrant Officer (CA) Mark J. Denger, California Center for Military History)

A month after the Pearl Harbor disaster, at a White House meeting on January 4, 1942, President Roosevelt asked his senior military leaders to find a way to strike back at Japan. At this grim point in the Pacific War, he believed that an air attack against Japan was the best way to bolster American morale.

Realistically, little could be done. Proposals included sending Army planes to bomb Japan from bases in the Aleutian Islands, Soviet Siberia, and China. But the Aleutians were too far from the main Japanese island of Honshu. The Soviet Union and Japan were not at war. Transporting bombs and fuel to bases in China was extremely difficult, and Japanese air and ground forces could easily thwart such a venture.

Roosevelt was particularly taken with the idea of bombing from bases in China. Lieutenant General H. H. Arnold responded that he was studying such a bombing mission against Japan. Preliminary plans were being developed calling for the bombers to fly to advanced bases in China, land under cover of darkness, refuel, and fly on to bomb Japan. But, added Arnold, it would take "a few months" to get the gasoline and fields available for the bombers and that these advanced bases in China could be easily attacked should the Japanese learn of the operations.

The problem seemed unsolvable until an idea came to Captain Francis S. "Frog" Low, the operations officer on the staff of Admiral Ernest J. King, Commander in Chief U.S. Fleet. Captain Low advised Admiral King that when he was taking off from Norfolk, Virginia, on a flight back to Washington, he had noticed the outline of a carrier flight deck painted on the runway of the naval airfield used to train Navy pilots. "I saw some Army twin-engine planes making bombing passes at this simulated carrier deck. I thought if the Army had some twin-engine bombers with a range greater than our [carrier planes], it seems to me a few of them could be loaded on a carrier and used to bomb Japan."

After listening to Low, a submariner, King, who had been both an aviation and submarine officer, leaned back and thought a moment. Then he said, "You may have something there, Low. Talk to Duncan about it in the morning. And don't tell anyone else about this." Thus, the plan was born for the first direct attack against Japan. It was the evening of January 10, 1942, on board King's flagship VIXEN, a former German yacht moored at the Washington Navy Yard.

The next morning, Low met with Captain Donald B. Duncan, a pilot, who was King's air operations officer. Duncan told Low that it was impossible for an Army twin-engine bomber to land on a carrier. If it could be lifted on by crane, a fully armed plane might be able to take off, but it would have to fly back to a land base.

Despite the many provisos, Duncan was intrigued by the possibilities of a carrier-based raid on Japan, and for the next few days he and Low read Army technical manuals on twin-engine aircraft, checked carrier specifications, and prepared a 30-page handwritten memo. It was a brilliant analytical paper. It concluded that such an operation was possible, although fraught with problems and risks. Duncan and Low then went to Admiral King and briefed him on their progress. After hearing them out, King told them, "Go see General Arnold about it, and if he agrees with you, ask him to get in touch with me. And don't you two mention this to another soul!"

On January 17, Low and Duncan outlined the idea to General Arnold, who immediately agreed to the proposal. Duncan and Low proposed a test takeoff of twin-engine B-25 Mitchell bombers from the aircraft carrier HORNET, then at Norfolk, Virginia. Arnold assigned three B-25s to try some short-field takeoffs, and on February 2 two of them were lifted aboard the HORNET by crane and spotted, one forward and one aft, as if they were two of 15 tightly arranged on the flight deck. The carrier steamed out into the Atlantic, and the Army pilots easily took off. But there was a great difference between flying off two bombers, with little fuel and no bombs, and perhaps a dozen or more fully loaded planes in the rough seas of the North Pacific.

Meanwhile, Arnold had assigned Lieutenant Colonel James H. Doolittle to assemble a group of volunteer pilots and planes for the raid, modify the planes with extra gas tanks and other features, and start a training program -all quickly and with the utmost secrecy.
Doolittle now began one of the most intense training programs in aviation history.

We could strike their homeland at our nadir; they couldn't reach ours at their apex.

Posted by orrinj at 4:45 AM


The End of Poverty, Soon (JEFFREY D. SACHS, 9/25/13, NY Times)

According to the World Bank's scorecard, the proportion of households in developing countries below the extreme-poverty line (now measured as $1.25 per person per day at international prices) has declined sharply, from 52 percent in 1980, to 43 percent in 1990, 34 percent in 1999, and 21 percent in 2010. Even sub-Saharan Africa, the region with the most recalcitrant poverty, is finally experiencing a notable decline, from 58 percent in 1999 to 49 percent in 2010.

The gains are more marked in health. According to the latest Unicef study this month, the mortality rate of children under 5 in Africa declined from 177 deaths per 1,000 births in 1990, to 155 per 1,000 births in 2000, to 98 per 1,000 in 2012. This is still too high, but the rate of progress is rapid and accelerating.

While the recent gains are undoubted, the question is how to ensure that progress on incomes, health and other dimensions of poverty eradication (including access to schooling, safe water, electricity, sewerage) continues until extreme poverty is vanquished. Debates rage on this question and often shed more heat than light.

Here are the basics: economic growth, and hence a market economy, is vital.

Posted by orrinj at 4:42 AM


How dare God disagree with Richard Dawkins (Charles Moore, 9/22/13, The Telegraph)

[H]is passionate eloquence suggests something else, something that smacks of the religious zeal that Dawkins says he so detests. In the opening paragraph of chapter one, which Dawkins reprints, he says: "Living organisms had existed on earth, without ever knowing why, for over 3,000 million years before the truth finally dawned. His name was Charles Darwin.'' Replace the words ''Charles Darwin'' with ''Jesus Christ'', and you will see how strongly, in temperament, Dawkins resembles the preacher rather than the cool-headed thinker. He is Darwin's St Paul. His anger against God seems to arise not so much from His non-existence as from His effrontery in disagreeing with Messrs Darwin and Dawkins.

Nothing reveals Dawkins's self-absorption more tellingly than his moments of strategic modesty. This book concludes with a comparison of his own writings with those of Darwin, purportedly to prove Darwin's superiority, but really establishing a subliminal link between the two great men. As he approaches his last page, Dawkins suddenly bursts out against Darwin's lack of public recognition: he was ''never Sir Charles, and what an amazing indictment of our honour system that is''.

Indeed, and it is notable that, despite strong lobbying in that direction, he is not yet Sir Richard. I feel he is trying to tell us something.

Posted by orrinj at 4:38 AM


Rouhani condemns Holocaust as crime against humanity (TIMES OF ISRAEL, September 25, 2013)

In a major break from his predecessor, Iranian President Hasan Rouhani on Wednesday condemned the Holocaust as a crime against humanity in a CNN interview with Christiane Amanpour.

"I am not a historian and when it comes to speaking of the dimensions of the Holocaust it is the historians that should reflect," Rouhani said during his visit to New York.

"But in general I can tell you that any crime that happens in history against humanity, including the crime the Nazis created towards the Jews, is reprehensible and condemnable," CNN translated the newly elected president saying.

September 24, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 6:43 PM


Here's the Deal the U.S. and Iran Should Make Right Now (KENNETH M. POLLACK, 9/24/13, New Republic)

The rough outlines of a nuclear deal seem to be crystalizing as fast as ice-nine. Iran would halt enrichment of uranium beyond 5 percent purity, accept limits on how much low-enriched uranium it could have in the country, cap the number (but not the quality) of centrifuges it would retain, forswear plutonium separation, and agree to an intrusive inspections regime usually referred to as the "Additional Protocol plus." In return, the international community would lift most, if not all, of the multilateral trade and financial sanctions imposed on Iran.

Such a deal would be a godsend for the United States, Israel, Saudi Arabia and our other allies in the region and beyond. If we can get such a deal, we should take it.

Posted by orrinj at 6:28 PM


Persona Non Grata : The United States should arrest Sudan's genocidal president in New York. (JOHN PRENDERGAST, OMER ISMAIL | SEPTEMBER 23, 2013, Foreign Policy)

There should be a global strategy of total isolation against Bashir and any official who uses genocidal tactics to brutally retain power. Thus, if it is allowed, Bashir's visit to the U.N. should result in U.S. authorities arresting him and sending him to The Hague. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:14 PM


Re-election in Hand, Merkel Moves to Form New German Government (ALISON SMALE and JACK EWING, 9/24/13, NY Times)

On Monday morning, Ms. Merkel met with leaders of her center-right Christian Democratic party to discuss strategy for forming a coalition government, most likely with the center-left Social Democrats, who finished second in the polling. [...]

The surprising show of strength for Ms. Merkel and the Christian Democrats -- even their own polls had not suggested such a result -- was just short of an absolute majority, according to preliminary results published on Monday. No chancellor has achieved an absolute majority since Konrad Adenauer in 1957.  [...]

In the past three years, the Social Democrats have given crucial support to Ms. Merkel in Parliament in passing credit lines and aid packages, tied to painful reforms, for euro-zone countries in need. But the center-leftists are likely to extract a high price in domestic reforms -- a minimum wage, or social change -- in exchange for joining a Merkel government in which they would be clearly the junior partner. Preliminary official results showed them with 25.7 percent, far below their center-right rivals.

Sigmar Gabriel, the chairman of the Social Democrats, said Ms. Merkel called him early Monday, but he indicated that he was in no rush to begin coalition talks. Instead, the party will hold a conference at the end of the week to discuss with its membership how to proceed.

The Social Democrats find themselves in a tough position, given their last experience in a coalition with the chancellor from 2005 to 2009. The party lost popularity afterward, and recovered only slightly in this round of voting.

Posted by orrinj at 6:10 PM


The Lincoln Blueprint : a review of Lincoln Unbound: How an Ambitious Young Railsplitter Saved the American Dream--and How We Can Do It Again
by Rich Lowry (LEWIS E. LEHRMAN from the SEPTEMBER 2013 , American Spectator)

RICHARD LOWRY, editor-in chief of National Review, has written a Lincoln book to inspire a great awakening of the classical American dream. Lowry's Lincoln Unbound brings America's 16th president to life in ways that few biographies have attempted. His is a book intended to rejuvenate conservatism and the Republican Party, placing it squarely on the foundation of Lincoln's public philosophy--though the Democrats, if they want to bypass the neo-socialism and statism of their present leadership, would do well to pay attention too. Lowry makes it clear that until the modern Republican Party embraces most (but not all) of Lincoln's comprehensive vision of the American opportunity society, political victory will be elusive. [...]

Lowry spells out this Republican-conservative doctrine: "Lincoln believed in a dynamic capitalism that dissolved old ways of life," that "all men were created equal," and that all persons "deserved the opportunity to make the most of themselves." America, Lincoln believed, would be at its best as a diversified commercial and industrial republic grounded in free soil and free men. With every fiber of his being, Lincoln worked to make America a nation open to all talents--in peace, even in war. For example, his economic program during the war was an extraordinary design for growth and nation-building, employing capital and labor cooperatively in order to defeat the Confederacy and stitch together a prosperous continental country for the future. The land-grant colleges, the transcontinental railroad, the Homestead Act--which privatized the vast public lands of the Plains states--the National Banking Act, the Freedmen's Bureau, and so much more were launched during the Civil War. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:05 PM


Population Decline of Unauthorized Immigrants Stalls, May Have Reversed (Jeffrey Passel, D'Vera Cohn and Ana Gonzalez-Barrera, 9/23/13, Pew Hispanic Trends)

Estimates of the U.S. Unauthorized Immigrant Population, 1990-2012The sharp decline in the U.S. population of unauthorized immigrants that accompanied the 2007-2009 recession has bottomed out, and the number may be rising again. As of March 2012, 11.7 million unauthorized immigrants were living in the United States, according to a new preliminary Pew Research Center estimate based on U.S. government data.

The estimated number of unauthorized immigrants peaked at 12.2 million in 2007 and fell to 11.3 million in 2009, breaking a rising trend that had held for decades. Although there are indications the number of unauthorized immigrants may be rising, the 2012 population estimate is the midpoint of a wide range of possible values and in a statistical sense is no different from the 2009 estimate.

When everyone who wants to work is working, you have to get workers elesewhere.

Posted by orrinj at 6:01 PM


Iran Icebreaker Set at U.N. ( JAY SOLOMON, LAURENCE NORMAN And CAROL E. LEE, 9/24/13, WSJ)

U.S. and European leaders, citing past failed openings, said they were being careful about embracing Tehran's new diplomatic overtures and the Iranian regime's expressed willingness to negotiate on the nuclear dispute.

A group including the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany has served as the main diplomatic channel for negotiating with Iran on its nuclear program, which the West, despite Tehran's denials, says is aimed at the production of nuclear weapons.

U.S. and European officials said they would closely monitor whether Mr. Zarif engages more substantively on the nuclear questions than his predecessors. They are also hoping he will formally respond to previous offers made by the global powers, known as the P5+1, that sought commitments from Tehran to cap its nuclear program in return for Western economic incentives and a slackening of international sanctions on Tehran.

"The question remains open" on whether Iran is serious, said a senior U.S. official involved in the diplomacy. "The ball has been in their court for some time."

A second U.S. official said the P5+1 was "waiting to see what [the Iranians] come with" on Thursday. The P5+1 and Iran will resume talks next month in Geneva, the European Union's foreign-policy chief, Catherine Ashton, said Monday.

Posted by orrinj at 5:58 PM


Turkish President Abdullah Gül: Assad must go (Lally Weymouth, Published: September 23, 2013, Washington Post)

It seems that President Bashar al-Assad is left in power by this agreement. Is that wrong?

That's not something we can live with.

We have to remember that when these events broke out, there was a lot of hope given to the Syrian people. The rhetoric was high, but the actions did not match the rhetoric. So far more than 100,000 people have been killed, and almost half of the population is in a refugee status. If today we say this is not our job, it is people fighting in that country among themselves, then we have to question the rhetoric at the beginning.If we leave things on their own, there is a danger that what is happening in Afghanistan will happen on the shores of the Mediterranean, and no one can tolerate that.

September 23, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 7:57 PM


Kludgeocracy in America (STEVEN M. TELES, Fall 2013, National Affairs)

The most insidious feature of kludgeocracy is the hidden, indirect, and frequently corrupt distribution of its costs. Those costs can be put into three categories -- costs borne by individual citizens, costs borne by the government that must implement the complex policies, and costs tothe character of our democracy.

The price paid by ordinary citizens to comply with governmental complexity is the most obvious downside of kludgeocracy. For example, one of the often overlooked benefits of the Social Security program -- which represents an earlier era's approach to public policy -- is that recipients automatically have taxes taken out of their paychecks, and, then without much effort on their part, checks begin to appear upon retirement. It's simple and direct. By contrast, 401(k) retirement accounts, IRAs, state-run 529 plans to save for college costs, and the rest of our intricate maze of incentivized-savings programs require enormous investments of time, effort, and stress to manage responsibly. But behavioral economics -- not to mention common sense -- makes clear that few investors are willing to make these investments, and those who do are hampered by basic flaws in decision-making.

Health insurance, too, is made nearly impossible to understand by the interplay of federal and state rules that only insurance companies fully understand. In fact, a recent study by George Loewenstein found that only 14% of people with health insurance could correctly answer basic questions about the definitions of deductibles and co-pays. Understanding the rules and the options involved requires an enormous amount of time (and often money); failing to understand them can be even more costly. Straightforward social insurance would dramatically reduce the transaction costs in the system -- not to mention the rents paid to asset managers and health insurers -- while depending far less on the free time and capacity for calculation of ordinary citizens.

The transaction costs of the tax code are just as impressive and disturbing. The American tax code is almost certainly the most complicated in the Western world. The Internal Revenue Service's taxpayer advocate estimates that in 2008 the direct and indirect costs of complying with that complexity amount to $163 billion each year. Included in that cost are the remarkable 6.1 billion hours a year that American individuals and businesses spend complying with the filing requirements of the tax code.

The web of deductions and credits also pushes up marginal tax rates for everyone: The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform (more commonly known as the Simpson-Bowles commission) estimated that eliminating all tax deductions other than the Earned Income Tax Credit, the child tax credit, and a few others would allow marginal rates on middle-income taxpayers to be cut in half and those on the top earners to be cut by about a third, without reducing government revenue. It's highly unlikely we could achieve anything like that level of tax simplicity, but it is a striking illustration of just how much we are paying in higher marginal tax rates to preserve our kludgey tax system.

The compliance costs that kludgeocracy imposes on governments are just as impressive as those that confront private citizens. The complexity of our grant-in-aid system makes the actual business of governing difficult and wasteful, sometimes with tragic results. As Melissa Junge and Sheara Krvaric argue in a recent report published by the American Enterprise Institute, the multiplicity of overlapping and bewildering federal programs for K-12 education creates a compliance mentality among school leaders, making them wary of new ideas and pushing them to focus on staying on the right side of the rules rather than on improving their schools.

Similarly, in a 2007 paper published in Public Administration Review, Martha Derthick showed that the tangled joint administration of the flood-protection system in New Orleans played a key role in the system's failure during Hurricane Katrina. Derthick quotes Maine senator Susan Collins as having found that there was "confusion about the basic question of who is in charge of the levees" -- the type of problem that is common as a consequence of our pervasive, kludgey interweaving of federal and state responsibilities. Because administering programs through inter-governmental cooperation introduces pervasive coordination problems into even rather simple governmental functions, the odds are high that programs involving shared responsibility will suffer from sluggish administration, blame-shifting, and unintended consequences.

Kludgeocracy is also a significant threat to the quality of our democracy. The complexity that makes so much of American public policy vexing and wasteful for ordinary citizens and governments is also what makes it so easy for organized interests to profit from the state's largesse. The power of such interests varies in direct proportion to the visibility of the issue in question. As Mark Smith argues in his book American Business and Political Power, corporations are most likely to get their way when political issues are out of the public gaze. It is when the "scope of conflict" expands that the power of organized interests is easiest to challenge. That is why business invests so much money in politics -- to keep issues off the agenda.

Policy complexity is valuable for those seeking to extract rents from government because it makes it hard to see just who is benefitting and how; complexity so thoroughly obscures the actual mechanism of political action that it is difficult to mobilize against. That is why businesses prefer to receive benefits through the tax code or through obscure regulatory advantages rather than in straightforward handouts from the state. Politicians may posture against "corporate welfare," but kludge-ocracy makes it hard for voters to see how much business profits from government, which makes it difficult to effectively target their anger. As a consequence, that anger diffuses onto our system of government as a whole, leading to a loss of trust and to skepticism of the possibility that the public sector could ever be an effective instrument of the public good.

Policy complexity also benefits interests other than business. For example, the federal government has become increasingly involved in funding K-12 education over the last 50 years. But instead of just handing over big checks to school districts on the basis of need, the federal government showers the states with dozens of small programs. There is not much evidence that federal funding has improved the quality of schooling, and yet the morass of federal grant programs in primary and secondary schooling survives and grows. It persists because the system's sheer complexity makes it easier to organize a supportive coalition for federal education funding. When that funding is divided into individual grants targeted to specific constituencies, those recipients will act to secure their particular aid. The complicated structure of federal education policy has thus created an army of Lilliputians who lock in the multitude of grants even though the work of keeping those grants coming often makes it harder to actually run school districts. Kludgeocracy ensures that what William Bennett and Chester Finn have called the "blob" of education interests wins, while the capacity of the federal government to actually improve educational opportunity diminishes.

Neither party is immune to the costs of kludgeocracy -- the interests of both liberals and conservatives are ill-served by policy complexity. It hurts conservatives by concealing the true size of government. As Suzanne Mettler argues in her important recent book The Submerged State, our complex, hidden welfare state obscures government action, leading citizens to mistake as "private" programs that are in fact pervasively shaped by government. Mettler's research shows, for instance, that Americans who benefit from education-savings programs run through the tax code (like 529 plans) do not experience them as government at all, despite the fact that they redistribute huge sums of money. The same is true for the deduction for employer-provided health care and a variety of other pieces of the welfare state hidden in the tax and regulatory codes. This perpetuates the national myth of radical individualism and independence while creating the impression that only other, less deserving people draw upon government largesse.

Pursuing public goals through regulation and litigation does not eliminate the costs of government, but it does make it hard for citizens to see the costs of public action, which appear in the prices of goods and services rather than on the government's books. Perversely, pushing inevitable government action into these lower-profile mechanisms results in trading a type of government institution that is well understood and relatively easy to control for one that conservatives have always found difficult to rein in. We know, for instance, what the government spends down to the dollar and have a reasonably centralized means of allocating it, but serious estimates of the costs of litigation (like that encouraged by laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act) vary by orders of magnitude, and the individuals imposing the costs are often hundreds of very imperfectly coordinated judges and juries.

Kludgeocracy also harms liberalism, by creating both the image and the reality that government is incompetent and corrupt. The complexity of the tax code, for instance, facilitates tax cheating and creative accounting, and along with it the impression that tax compliance is lower than it actually is. Much of the legitimacy of the law and the willingness of citizens to contribute to public goods rests on the perception that others are doing their share. Complexity eats away at this perception, which is crucial for maintaining public support for the expansion of the kinds of state activity that liberals favor.

Because the current political environment nurtures suspicion of government action, liberal politicians have developed the sneaky habit of finding back doors through which to advance their goals. This habit has had a corrosive effect on liberalism. In searching for ways to promote public activism in spite of institutional and cultural resistance, liberals have developed a pattern of dishonesty and evasiveness instead of openly making the argument for a muscular role for government. This is why, despite liberalism's legislative victories, very few recent liberal policies have successfully provided platforms from which to launch new rounds of policy innovation.

So while liberals are harmed by the opacity of kludgeocracy's successes, conservatives are hurt by the inscrutability of its failures. In both cases, the complexity of government is not good for our politics. And the fact that so much of our welfare state is jointly administered -- either inter-governmentally or through contracting with private agents -- makes it hard for Americans to attribute responsibility when things go wrong, thus leading to blame being spread over the government in general, rather than targeted precisely where it could do some good. Complexity thereby leads to diffuse cynicism, an attitude certain to undermine good citizenship -- of either the conservative or liberal form -- in our republic.

Posted by orrinj at 7:24 PM


This time, the west must not turn its back on diplomacy : President Rouhani's UN speech can reignite the diplomacy that over a decade ago I saw was the only path to a better world (Mohammad Khatami, 9/23/13, The Guardian)

President Rouhani's government was elected by a society seeking positive change, at a time when Iran and the wider region was desperately in need of prudence and hope. This vote was not limited to a specific political camp; as well as many reformers, many political prisoners and a significant body of conservatives had a share in Rouhani's victory. For the first time there is an opportunity to create a national consensus above and beyond partisan factionalism - one that may address the political predicaments of the country, with an emphasis on dialogue and mutual understanding globally.

Explicit public support from the supreme leader of the Islamic republic provides Rouhani and his colleagues with the necessary authority for a diplomatic resolution of a number of foreign policy issues with the west, not just the nuclear issue.

A peace-seeking Iran can contribute as a willing partner not only to solving its own differences with the global powers, but also to overcoming some of the region's chronic political disputes. But it requires a degree of courage and optimism from the west to listen to the voices of the Iranian people who have been painfully targeted by unjust sanctions, which have threatened the very fabric of civil society and democratic infrastructures.

Failure now to create an atmosphere of trust and meaningful dialogue will only boost extremist forces on all sides. The consequences of such a failure will be not only regional, but global. For a better world - for the Iranian people and the next generation across the globe - I earnestly hope that Rouhani will receive a warm and meaningful response at the United Nations.

Iran today is different from the Iran of years ago, and the consequences of the Islamic revolution are still playing out. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:21 PM


Obamacare: Good For Workers, Bad For Unions (JOSH BARRO, 9/23/13, Business Insider)

Obamacare discourages the sort of high-end health plans some unions have negotiated. Starting in 2018, the law imposes an excise tax on the most expensive health plans, as a way to both discourage high health care spending and raise revenue to finance the law. A lot of the "Cadillac" plans that will be subject to this tax are high-end ones that labor unions have negotiated for their members.

Obamacare is financed in part through taxes on health insurance premiums. [...]

Obamacare will undermine union-run Taft-Hartley multiemployer plans. This is at the center of LIUNA's complaint: Employers who currently participate in these plans are likely to drop out and give their employees cash to buy plans in the Obamacare exchanges instead. The unions claim that this is bad for the workers who currently enroll in Taft-Hartley plans. I don't buy that; the reason Taft-Hartley plans are expected to fall out of favor is that many current participants in those plans will become eligible for much larger subsidies if they buy in the exchanges. But whatever the impact on union members, the demise of Taft-Hartley plans is clearly bad for the union leaders who run them.

Obamacare will make non-union workers better off. Access to exchange subsidies is good for union workers, but it's even better for non-union workers, who are more likely to lack access to health care through work currently. This win-win for workers will make it harder for unions to organize workplaces. As Avik Roy points out, access to a Taft-Hartley health plan is a key selling point to workers considering affiliating with certain unions. Losing that advantage of union membership may make workers less keen on joining a union.

Universal health care will reduce the importance of collective bargaining.

Just as the Heritage Foundation intended.

Posted by orrinj at 6:18 PM


George W. Bush talks about 'our president' (Jonathan Capehart, September 23, 2013, Washington Post)

Not one Republican showed up for the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington last month. But Bush, recovering from a surgical procedure on his heart, issued a pitch-perfect statement.  "Just to the East of the Lincoln Memorial, where President Obama will speak on Wednesday, stands the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial," Bush said. "There on the National Mall our President, whose story reflects the promise of America, will help us honor the man who inspired millions to redeem that promise."

"Our president." To those of us tired of the disrespect shown the sitting president by people perpetually offended that he holds the office, those two words are music to our ears. Bush and Obama agree on very little. But when it comes to showing respect for the office and the man who must bear the burdens that go with it, Bush is a model statesman.

Posted by orrinj at 6:13 PM


Tesla Model S: (almost) no maintenance required (John Voelcker, September 23, 2013, CS Monitor)

[A]mong the things you may not know about Tesla is this: The Model S requires almost no maintenance.

Like pretty much any battery-electric vehicle, a Model S lacks many of the components that go wrong in gasoline cars.

Without the valves, camshafts,a crankshaft, connecting rods, gears, clutches, and more found in a gasoline car, the Tesla Model S, like any battery-electric car, needs almost no almost no regular adjustment.

Posted by orrinj at 6:09 PM


Weakened al-Shabab seeks a foothold in Kenya (Jim Michaels, 9/23/13, USA Today)

The militant group that carried out the attack, al-Shabab, wants to establish an Islamist government in Somalia.

In recent years, however, African Union troops in Somalia have driven the militants out of most parts of the capital city of Mogadishu as a U.S.-supported government there has attempted to establish control over the country. At one time, al-Shabab controlled parts of Mogadishu.

The attack in Nairobi underscores al-Shabab's organizational skills and their commitment to die for a cause, said David Shinn, a former U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia and a professor at George Washington University.

But it also highlights that the group has to rely on high-profile terrorist attacks that generate headlines because they lack popular support and have failed in any direct fights with African Union forces in Somalia.

"Increasingly, al-Shabab has alienated the average Somali," Shinn said.

Posted by orrinj at 4:33 AM


Syria and the Peace of Westphalia (Robert Zaretsky, September 20th, 2013, LA REview of Books)

The treaty, which oversaw the creation of sovereign states free of external interference and defined by borders reflecting a single cultural and religious character, trumpeted the beginning of the modern international order. [...]

There are, of course, deep structural differences between the nature of the sectarian violence that fractured Christendom and that which fissures Islam. But there is one critical similarity: both in Middle Europe and the Middle East, religious differences piggybacked on geopolitical designs. At times, the latter trumped the former: Catholic France and Protestant Sweden became unlikely allies to parry the ambitions of the Catholic Habsburgs. While no Richelieu, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's refusal to openly support his fellow Shia in Syria, while also attempting to create bridges to Iraqi Sunnis, nevertheless reflects the Red Eminence's sense of realpolitik. Wilson's claim that the Thirty Years' War was religious only to the extent "that faith guided all early modern public policy and private behavior" can, with caution, be applied to today's Middle East.

With the murderous unraveling of Syria and Iraq, and the growing fragility of Lebanon, an increasing number of commentators are busily paying their last respects to the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916, with which the French and British sliced and diced the carcass of the Ottoman Empire. Rather than creating viable states, the agreement instead spawned entities bereft of culturally or religiously coherent populations. David Lloyd George's opinion of Sykes-Picot remains tragically relevant: "[a] fatuous arrangement judged from any and every point of view."

History, of course, allows no mulligans: the past cannot be redone or undone. The diplomats gathered in Westphalia understood this fact. They were not idealists, much less torchbearers of modern tolerance. Instead, they were what the French called les politiques: pragmatic men who reworked the basis of the Augsburg Peace with their eyes fastened not on past grievances, but on present necessities. 

Five centuries later, another unspeakably savage intra-confessional war is devastating an entire region and murdering tens of thousands of innocents. The least bad option may well be a settlement in the spirit of Westphalia. Its goal would be to revise the map of Syria as it now stands, shattered into confessional and ethnic shards. Under the aegis of an existing supranational agency -- the UN, NATO, or the Arab League -- or an ad hoc group led by the United States and Russia, Westphalia 2.0 would make it possible for Syrians who felt it necessary to move to those areas where their co-religionists were in the majority. Should they decide to remain as a religious minority, they would be granted limited rights and protection to practice their faith.

The region should indeed subdivide into organic nations.  But the Anglosphere long ago redefined sovereignty to include a requirement that the resulting state be governed liberally.

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Posted by orrinj at 4:21 AM


There is no population explosion on this planet (Robert Newman, 9/22/13, The Guardian)

Let's get one thing straight from the start. There is no population explosion. The rate of population growth has been slowing since the 1960s, and has fallen below replacement levels half the world over. But what about the other half? That's where population is exploding, right? Well, actually, no. The UN Population Division's world fertility patterns show that, worldwide, fertility per woman has fallen from 4.7 babies in 1970-75 to 2.6 in 2005-10. As Peoplequake author Fred Pearce puts it: "Today's women have half as many babies as their mothers ... That is not just in the rich world. It is the global average today."

Attenborough's overpopulation thesis is, therefore, flawed. But even if the whispering naturalist were right, even if there were a population explosion, it would still be inhuman to say that there are too many humans on the planet. You can say there are too many people in a lift ("eight persons max") but not on Earth. To wish to reduce the number of living, breathing humans on this planet is an obscenity.

Today's overpopulation hysteria is not a patch on what it was a hundred years ago, however, when mainstream intellectuals such as HG Wells, WB Yeats, Virginia Woolf and DH Lawrence were proposing not just sterilisation but actual extermination. 

September 22, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 1:46 PM


Rising Immigrant Deaths Become Burden For Texan Border County (Fox News Latino, 9/22/13)

By the time the woman perished, she had probably slogged 25 miles through dry ranch lands in her quest to enter the United States. She was found just feet from a highway where she might have been picked up and taken to Houston with other migrants making the same journey.

Not long ago, her body would have been taken to a funeral home for a cursory attempt at identification, then buried in this town an hour north of the Mexico border under a sign reading "unknown female."

Her death, probably from hypothermia, is part of a mounting body count that has overwhelmed sparsely populated Brooks County, providing further evidence that immigrants are shifting their migration routes away from the well-worn paths into Arizona and instead crossing into deep southern Texas. The changing patterns have put an extra burden on local governments with limited experience in such matters and even fewer financial resources.

"There are some counties that have the economic wherewithal to take on these issues, and there are other counties that just don't have any money, so that puts them into a real bad bind," said Raquel Rubio Goldsmith, coordinator of the Binational Migration Institute at the University of Arizona, which researches immigration issues.

Posted by orrinj at 1:04 PM


Merkel's Christian Democrats come out on top with 42 percent in early results (Deutsche-Welle, 9/22/13)

Sunday's election has proved yet another victory for Chancellor Merkel's center-right CDU party. Exit polls showed 42 percent of the vote went to the CDU extending their hold on the Bundestag for another four years.

In 2009 the CDU and its CSU sister party won 33.8 percent of the vote with 239 seats in parliament. They formed a coalition with the business friendly Free Democrats (FDP) who won 14.6 percent of the vote. However, on Sunday the FDP earned just 4.7 percent of the vote, below the 5 percent threshold to get in to the Bundestag.

Federal Labor Minister Ursula von der Leyen shared her enthusiasm over her partys results.

"This is fantastic. It is well over 40 percent, which we haven't achieved in over 20 years," von der Leyen said to broadcaster ARD.

...for a conservative party to lose a Western election.

Posted by orrinj at 12:37 PM


Russia accuses West of exploiting Syria chemical weapons deal against Assad (REUTERS, 09/22/2013)

Russia accused the West on Sunday of trying to exploit a chemical weapons deal with Syria to push through a UN resolution threatening force against President Bashar Assad. to only realize now that they got played.  An Assad with less means of taking his own people with him is just a riper target for attack.

Posted by orrinj at 8:40 AM


It's Hard to Argue with the EPA  (Max Ehrenfreund, 9/21/13, Washington Monthly)

The Environmental Protection Agency proposed revised rules yesterday for new power plants, setting limits on the amount of carbon dioxide new facilities fired by coal and natural gas can legally emit. The rules will not be final until a year from now, at which point they will likely be challenged in court. And natural gas plants already produce less than the proposed limit, and the industry was not going to build any new coal-fired plants anyway, because natural gas is more economical. So the new rules essentially have no practical consequences.

Still, they're important... the faith that acts without consequences are important.

Posted by orrinj at 8:13 AM


The Baseball Archaelogist :  In Search of Baseball's Holy Grail : How one man is rewriting the history of the game -- one diary at a time (Bryan Curtis on September 18, 2013, Grantland)

Do you think anybody will find this interesting?"

David Block was being painfully modest. I'd gone all the way to San Francisco to meet the Robert Langdon of baseball's Da Vinci Code, and here was Block trying to suppress my interest. His wife, Barbara, knows the drill. David will flip through an old book and find a secret about the ancient game of baseball. At dinner, he'll casually tell Barbara, "Oh, by the way, I found this interesting thing today ... "

The Blocks live on the top two floors of a blue house in the Mission District of San Francisco. Block is 69 years old, with a bald head and neatly trimmed beard. One afternoon, Block was pulling old books off his shelf. They are volumes with disintegrating covers and foxed pages and the labels of long-dead booksellers. "I have tons of stuff," Block said. "It literally takes hours to look at all my stuff. And I never have the opportunity to show it to people."

This is our fault rather than his. In a just world, Block would be an archaeologist hero. What Bill James did for 20th-century baseball, Block is doing for 18th-century baseball. Eight years ago, Block came out with a book called Baseball Before We Knew It. Said Tom Shieber, the senior curator at the Baseball Hall of Fame: "Baseball Before We Knew It and its aftermath is to me probably the single most important baseball research of the last 50 years, if not more."

"He definitely is on a mission," said Block's brother, Philip. "It is a passion. It is everything like those archaeological hunts, looking for whatever holy grail you want to be looking for." Holy grail is the right term, at least in the Dan Brown sense, for with those old books Block is trying to solve a riddle: Who is the father of baseball?

Block has discovered a 245-year-old dictionary and a 258-year-old comic novel and other "interesting things" that point toward the answer. But that afternoon, he left the room and came back with a copy of his newest find: a 264-year-old English newspaper called the Whitehall Evening-Post. The paper has news of inmates attempting a jailbreak from Newgate Prison, and of a chestnut mare that disappeared from a local forest. On Page 3, there is a small item. It reads:

On Tuesday last his Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, and Lord Middlesex, played at Base-Ball, at Walton in Surry; and notwithstanding the Weather was extreme bad, they continued playing for several Hours.
The date of the game was September 12, 1749. That's 90 years earlier than, and 3,500 miles away from, baseball's alleged conception in Cooperstown, New York. The "Base-Ball" player is the heir to the British throne. Block is rewriting the prehistory of the game. He is exposing a century's worth of lies. He has come up with a shocking answer to the riddle of baseball's parentage.
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Posted by orrinj at 8:07 AM


Sri Lankan Tamil party wins landslide victory in provincial polls (Deutsche-Welle, September 21, 2013)

The TNA, which was the former political arm of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam rebels, dealt a crushing blow to the United People's Freedom Alliance of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, which received just seven seats. A Muslim party won one.

The vote was the first provincial council election in the north in 25 years, and came partly as a result of international pressure on the national government to restore democracy after the war, which ended with the rebels' defeat in 2009.

The election result would seem to indicate that Tamils, who make up about 14 percent of Sri Lanka's population of 20 million, still aspire to autonomous rule.
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September 21, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 8:56 PM


A visit to Vermont's King Arthur Flour Co. (J.M. HIRSCH, 9/20/13, Associated Press)

As odd as it sounds, the 220-year-old company's headquarters -- nestled into a rolling field just over the Connecticut River from Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H. -- is a must-stop destination.

You can shop, dine and even sign up for a range of baking classes with King Arthur's experts.

This is no soulless corporate HQ. That's obvious the moment you pull up to the sprawling but beautiful post-and-beam building. Waves of freshly baked goodness waft out to you in the parking lot. First you whiff bread, then maybe scones. Or is it muffins? Definitely sugar cookies in the mix, too.

Step inside and the aromas intensify. Dead ahead is a cafe backed by a wall of freshly baked breads and pastries. To the right, an open kitchen where cavernous ovens produce heaps of carby treats.

But resist and head first to the left, where a massive store offers endless baking gadgets and supplies, not to mention every variety of flour and baking mix a home or pro cook could hope for. If you time it right, the demo kitchen in the back corner will be showing off and sampling all manner of goodies. [...]

If you can afford to build a bit more time into your visit, plan ahead and check out the Baking Education Center's class offerings. The classes, which range from quick flatbread and cookie courses to intensive, weeklong baking 101 immersions, are all taught in the beautiful kitchen classrooms right next to the cafe. Warning: Classes fill up fast.

...stop and say hello to the curmudgeon in the corner with the laptop..

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Posted by orrinj at 10:53 AM


Did US Intelligence Help Pinochet's Junta Murder My Brother?  (Janis Teruggi Page, Sep. 21, 2013, Mother Jones)

On September 21, 1973, a 24-year-old U.S. citizen named Frank Teruggi Jr. was executed in the National Stadium in Santiago, Chile, one of the first of thousands of victims of General Augusto Pinochet's murderous 17-year military dictatorship.  In the wake of the U.S.-backed coup that cost Frank, and so many others, their lives, I lost my older brother.  Forty years after his death, my family is still seeking a modicum of truth and justice for his murder.

The story of Frank's experience in Chile is not well-known.  He was an anti-Vietnam war activist from Chicago--as a student at CalTech, he started an SDS chapter there--who enrolled in the University of Chile in early 1972, drawn by the promise of Salvador Allende's "peaceful road to socialism." Along with a group of North American expats that included Charles Horman, the other U.S. citizen killed in the stadium, Frank worked at a small newsletter called FIN (Fuente de Informacion Norteamericano) translating and distributing articles on the activities of the U.S. government and corporations in Chile. [...]

The issue of what role, if any, U.S. intelligence officials who collaborated in the coup might have played in both Frank and Charles Horman's death remains the key mystery of this tragedy.  The Academy Award-winning 1982 movie Missing, postulated that Charles had been killed because he had stumbled across information of a covert U.S. role in the coup.

Our role should never have been covert; it's one of Nixon's few achievements.
Posted by orrinj at 8:51 AM


Exclusive: CIA Files Prove America Helped Saddam as He Gassed Iran : The U.S. knew Hussein was launching some of the worst chemical attacks in history -- and still gave him a hand. (SHANE HARRIS AND MATTHEW M. AID | AUGUST 26, 2013, Foreign Policy)

In 1988, during the waning days of Iraq's war with Iran, the United States learned through satellite imagery that Iran was about to gain a major strategic advantage by exploiting a hole in Iraqi defenses. U.S. intelligence officials conveyed the location of the Iranian troops to Iraq, fully aware that Hussein's military would attack with chemical weapons, including sarin, a lethal nerve agent.

The intelligence included imagery and maps about Iranian troop movements, as well as the locations of Iranian logistics facilities and details about Iranian air defenses. The Iraqis used mustard gas and sarin prior to four major offensives in early 1988 that relied on U.S. satellite imagery, maps, and other intelligence. These attacks helped to tilt the war in Iraq's favor and bring Iran to the negotiating table, and they ensured that the Reagan administration's long-standing policy of securing an Iraqi victory would succeed. But they were also the last in a series of chemical strikes stretching back several years that the Reagan administration knew about and didn't disclose.

U.S. officials have long denied acquiescing to Iraqi chemical attacks, insisting that Hussein's government never announced he was going to use the weapons. But retired Air Force Col. Rick Francona, who was a military attaché in Baghdad during the 1988 strikes, paints a different picture.

According to recently declassified CIA documents and interviews with former intelligence officials like Francona, the U.S. had firm evidence of Iraqi chemical attacks beginning in 1983. At the time, Iran was publicly alleging that illegal chemical attacks were carried out on its forces, and was building a case to present to the United Nations. But it lacked the evidence implicating Iraq, much of which was contained in top secret reports and memoranda sent to the most senior intelligence officials in the U.S. government. The CIA declined to comment for this story.

In contrast to today's wrenching debate over whether the United States should intervene to stop alleged chemical weapons attacks by the Syrian government, the United States applied a cold calculus three decades ago to Hussein's widespread use of chemical weapons against his enemies and his own people. The Reagan administration decided that it was better to let the attacks continue if they might turn the tide of the war. And even if they were discovered, the CIA wagered that international outrage and condemnation would be muted.

Posted by orrinj at 7:48 AM


THE REAL CLASH IS WITHIN CIVILISATIONS : Twenty years on, Samuel Huntington's seminal essay remains misunderstood. (FRANK FUREDI, 20 SEPTEMBER 2013, spiked)

The main strength of this thesis was to draw attention to the decoupling of ideological factors from global conflict. This was difficult for many to accept after decades of ideologically driven struggles, domestic and international. Yet Huntington's focus on struggles between cultures did capture an important dynamic at work in the late twentieth century. He was right, for instance, to point out the significance of culture as a medium for the expression of conflict.

But his assertion that such conflicts will assume the form of civilisational clashes was misguided. Aside from the dubious status of civilisational narratives, it is clear that the defining feature of the contemporary world is that these divisions exist within society itself. When Huntington claimed that 'civilisational identities will replace all other identities', he appeared to overlook the fact that such identities are constantly contested within a civilisation itself. One possible reason why Huntington focused on civilisational struggles, and particularly on the theme of the 'West versus the Rest', was the difficulty he and members of the Western political elites have in openly acknowledging the depth of the cultural divisions within their own society, particularly in the US. There is a perceptible tendency - especially on the part of anti-traditionalist and anti-conservative commentators - to minimise the issues at stake in the so-called Culture Wars. The title of one such sceptic's tome - 'Culture War? The myth of a polarised America' - vividly expresses this orientation.

In his response to his critics, 'If not civilisations, what?', Huntington sought to strengthen his argument by pointing to the cultural divisions within his own society: he called attention to the increasing tendency within America to question the traditional representation of the American way of life; he wrote of a movement of 'intellectuals and politicians' who promote the 'ideology of "multiculturalism"' and who 'insist on the rewriting of American political, social, and literary history from the viewpoint of non-European groups'; he pointed to what he called the possible 'de-Westernisation of the United States', and asked whether this will 'also mean its de-Americanisation'.

He was clearly exercised by the disintegration of the idea of an American Way Of Life. And he was clearly concerned by the potentially destructive consequences of the Culture Wars for the values he himself held dear. However, like many of his colleagues, he found it difficult actually to engage with what he calls the 'internal clash of civilisations'. Hence he was far more comfortable externalising his concerns by focusing on the alleged threat from Confucian, Islamic and other civilisations. On closer examination, Huntington's focus on the clash of civilisations starts to appear as an act of displacement, a means to avoid confronting his real problem: the internal clash of civilisations. [...]

Anti-Americanism and contempt for aspects of the so-called Western way of life exercise widespread influence in many European countries. These sentiments are most systematically expressed through cultural critiques of consumerism, capitalist selfishness, greed and ambition. Ideas that denounce Western arrogance and its belief in science and progress are actually generated from within the societies of Europe and America. As the authors of the book Suicide of the West noted, the crisis of the West 'is internally generated': 'it lies in Western heads'. Sadly, far too many people can only make sense of a problem of their own making when it assumes the form of an exotic threat from abroad.

In reality, the clash within the West was over even when Mr. Huntington wrote, there simply is no counter-culture that offers a plausible alternative to democratic/capitalist/protestantism and so there is virtually no one--certainly no one with any access to power--advocating one.

There are still a few remnants abroad where dictators and terrorists impose or seek to impose alternatives.  But, of course, the fact that they have to be imposed and maintained by force demonstrates their terminal weaknesses   Global Politics today consists of little more than the need to replace a couple of rump Communist regimes--the PRC and North Korea--and a few Arab dictatorships--Syria, Saudi Arabia, etc.--while continuing to decimate Islamicist terror organizations in Waziristan, Yemen and other essentially ungoverned areas.

The rather limited nature of this conflict does make the diminutive term "clash"  more appropriate than "war."

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Posted by orrinj at 7:43 AM


Offshoring Linked to Declining U.S. Labor Share, Likely to Continue (Michael Elsby, Bart Hobijn, and Aysegul Sahin, Fall 2013, BPEA)

In "The Decline of the U.S. Labor Share," authors Michael Elsby of the University of Edinburgh, Bart Hobijn of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, and Aysegul Sahin of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York find that the decline of the labor share, which has been driven by a decline in the share of payroll compensation in national income over the last 25 years, is likely due to the offshoring of the labor-intensive component of the U.S. supply chain.

Comparing the mean payroll shares for the time blocks of 1948-1987 to 2010-2012, the authors find an almost 4 percentage point drop, from 57.1 to 53.3 percent, and then further posit that the majority (about 3.3 of the 3.9 percent) of the decline is related to the import exposure of U.S. businesses. Looking at other pieces of business sector income over those two time periods, they find that the decline of the labor share does not reflect an increase in corporate profit rates but rather an increase in the share of income paid for the use of structures and equipment.

The authors note that if globalization continues apace, the labor share will most likely continue to decline, especially in sectors that face the largest increases in foreign competition.

All you'd have to do to preserve jobs at the current historically high level is impose trade and technology barriers, which would, of course, reduce profits and the corresponding national wealth we have on hand to re-distribute.

Posted by orrinj at 7:23 AM


An English Football Invasion (OWEN SLOT, 9/19/13, WSJ)

The English Premier League was our gift to you. And yes, fair enough, NBC paid $250 million for it. But we always assumed that it was just too good for you.

We like to think our game is too sophisticated, that the U.S. audience couldn't appreciate a 0-0 draw. That you'd miss the ad breaks and the beer commercials, that you won't understand why there are two halves and not four quarters and no end-of-season playoffs. We kind of hope you don't get it. My, how we chortled when we heard that NBC had muddled Robin van Persie with Ruud van Nistelrooy. [...]

So we are snobs and you are the nouveau riche. You don't understand what you've got. At least that's how we like to look at it. It's like you've got a new toy: We're glad you've made the purchase, but we're laughing at the sight of you all thumbing through the instruction leaflet, unable to decipher how it works.

That's why I like the sound of your soccer mums. You get the impression they all drive shiny SUVs, are immaculately turned-out, hardly break a sweat in their daily red-hot yoga class (though I may be fantasizing here) and would assume that Crystal Palace is a second home for the Royal Family when they're not at Windsor Castle. Our football mums may be more likely to have a touchline fight with the opposition parents, but they'll at least have an opinion on the quality of Özil's left foot.

However, if this NBC EPL revolution works as they tell us it will, if you do decipher the instructions, and you really do all become Villans and Stokies and your soccer mums work out that Hull is not just a part of a boat, where does that leave us and our soccer superiority complex?

Your NBC has good pundits. It is showing every game, which is more than we get. You clearly have more potential fans than we do. To top it all, your plutocrats have been slowly buying our EPL clubs. There is serious evidence here that we might actually have to respect you as a proper football nation. God forbid, you might actually start calling it football and not soccer.

So it is good that your own football is back. Don't desert your heartland. And don't completely annex ours.

Contra Mr. Slot, not only is the game incredibly simple, but Americans, coming to it with eyes and brains trained by decades of sports analytics, understand it's possibilities far better than the rest of the world (except maybe the Dutch).   As in all sports, the key lies in spatial relationships and most coaches and teams are just horrible at exploiting them.  If you gave Bill Belichick a team to coach he'd revolutionize the game.  

Meanwhile, besides its simplicity, the game has no greater draw than its lack of commercials and the fact it lasts just two hours instead of the three-plus of our unwatchable baseball and football games. 

And once our influence gets them to ditch the offsides rule and replace it with a blue line they'll have a much better game.

They'll catch up to our understanding, but it'll take awhile.

Posted by orrinj at 6:58 AM


Why We're Still Struggling to Make Sense of Modernism : We may like to think of ourselves as postmodern, but the modernists upended conventions--in art and in life--in ways that have challenged us ever since. (MICHAEL LEVENSON, SEP 18 2013, Atlantic)

Beckett wrote "unenjoyable" books, says Martin Amis. Paulo Coelho believes Joyce's Ulysses caused "great harm," while Roddy Doyle doubts any readers are "really moved by it." "Shabby chic" is the Financial Times' verdict on modernist architecture. You hear it often these days, this grousing about difficult, pretentious modernism: Woolf, Kafka, Stein, and Picasso come in for it too. The emperor has no clothes. The flight from modernism--we know the names but skirt the works--may be a sign of the cultural times, a symptom of our special mix of fatigue, cynicism, and complacency. And then, of course, the art can indeed try your patience and stamina. Its demands are relentless; these are creations that decline to traffic in reassurance or open themselves to clicks and scans.

One hundred years ago, more or less, those rebel modernists were not aiming to make trouble for its own savage sake. Their forbidding work belonged to complicated, unforgiving times. Living without the gods of progress or reason--and without God--they tried this, tried that, reached further, failed, and then failed better (Beckett's phrase). Not all: some had no clothes. But for roughly four decades, from 1890 to 1930, many risked poverty and courted humiliation. Even the most extraordinary had no idea that their works would endure, or be read by more than a few hundred committed admirers--much less find their place on college reading lists. Now, even unread, they haunt the present, ghostly images of what visionary culture might be.

Except that it's easy to make sense of once you accept that they were just rebelling for it's own sake. And because what they were rebelling against was Western aesthetics--the obligation of art to be objectively beautiful and truthful--what they rendered was subjective, ugly, incoherent, and meaningless.  Sure, you can jerry-rig a fad out of this sort of sensationalism, and the art-buying classes will never figure out the hoax, but the anti-intellectual masses of us were never listening, looking nor reading the stuff even at its peak.

But what made it impossible for Modernism to gain a toehold in the Anglosphere, as opposed to the continent, was that we were already Post-Modern and never Cartesian.   After all, Modernism's supposedly radical assertion is that Faith cannot withstand Reason, but Post-Moderrnism's genuinely radical insight is that Reason cannot withstand Reason. This returns us to Faith alone as the basis for organizing our beliefs and the choice between what is beautiful or what is ugly. And there's a reason Kate Upton is in SI's swimsuit issue, not me in a Speedo.  

Posted by orrinj at 6:46 AM


The Irresistible Rise of the Muslim Middle Class (Shahid Javed Burki, 9/20/13, Project Syndicate))

What this new middle-class "Muslim Street" wants is an inclusive political system - a demand heard not only in Egypt, but also in Iran, as Hassan Rouhani's victory in the country's presidential election in June attests. Likewise, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's Islamist-leaning government has met with considerable resistance as it has sought to define public policy along ever-narrower religious lines. Protests in Istanbul's Taksim Square this summer, triggered by plans to develop a city park, resonated countrywide, because Erdoğan has increasingly governed with too exclusive a public in mind.

This conflict, like the one in Egypt, will be resolved only when political systems that institutionalize respect for pluralism and the sensitivities of minorities are established. It also highlights another important aspect of protest politics in the Muslim world. While members of the new middle-class appreciate economic progress, they no longer want it to come at the expense of political rights. Economic development must be accompanied by respect for ordinary citizens.

Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson advance this line of thought in their recent book Why Nations Fail. They emphasize the importance of inclusive political development as a prerequisite of sustained economic growth. Political systems in many emerging countries, they argue, become unstable because their composition is insufficiently representative and their policy preferences are excessively narrow. Long-term stability requires both political inclusion and equal access to economic opportunities.

Breaking oil will only accelerate the process.

Posted by orrinj at 6:42 AM


The 'Columbian Exchange': How Discovering the Americas Transformed the World (Johann Grolle, 9/20/13, Der Spiegel)

Extinct in large parts of North America since the Ice Age, earthworms began spreading there once again following Christopher Columbus' voyage. Wherever this species appeared in American forests, it changed the landscape, aerating the soil, breaking down fallen foliage and accelerating erosion and nutrient exchange. Earthworms make it easier for some plants to grow, while robbing others of habitat. They take away living space from other bugs, while providing a new source of food for some birds.

In short, a forest with worms is a different one from a forest without them. As a result, the earthworm started transforming America.

This surprising anecdote is just one of many compiled by journalist Charles Mann in his latest book, "1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created," now available in German translation. Where Mann's previous best-seller, "1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus," focused on the history of the pre-Columbian Americas, he now turns his attention to the changes brought about by Europeans' discovery of this continent.

No other person, Mann suggests, changed the face of the Earth as radically as Columbus did. Columbus' crossing of the Atlantic, Mann says, marked the start of a new age, not only for the Americas but also for Europe, Asia and Africa.

It was the dawn of the era of global trade. Oceans no longer represented barriers to people, goods, animals, plants and microbes. It was as though Pangaea, the supercontinent that broke apart some 150 million years ago, had been reunited in a geological blink of the eye.

Before the ships Niña, Pinta and Santa Maria set sail in 1492, not only was the existence of the Americas unknown to the rest of the world, but China and Europe also knew little about one another. A century later, the world looked very different. Spanish galleons sailed into Chinese harbors bearing silver mined by Africans in South America. Spanish cloth merchants received Chinese silk in exchange, delivered by middlemen in Mexico. And wealthy people looking for relaxation -- whether in Madrid, Mecca or Manila -- lit up tobacco leaves imported from the Americas.

Rousingly told and with a great deal of joy in the narrative details, Mann tells the story of the creation of the globalized world, offering up plenty of surprises along the way. Who among us knew the role the sweet potato played in China's population explosion? Who knew that improving agricultural yield with bird droppings as fertilizer began in Peru? Certainly few know what a decisive role malaria-carrying mosquitoes played in the fate of the United States.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:36 AM


Reformists hold out hope as Iraq's Kurdistan votes for parliament (Deutsche-Welle, 9/21/13)

A total of 1,129 candidates, including 166 women, are running Saturday for parliament's 111 seats, 30 percent of which are reserved for women. The parliament reserves 11 more for members of the autonomous region's religious and ethnic minorities, including Yezidis, Turkmen, and Assyrian and Chaldean Christians.
For the first time since 1992, Kurdistan's two main factions, regional President Massoud Barzani's Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) - projected to win the plurality of the seats - and Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), have competed against each other. A third contender, the Gorran Movement founded in 2009 by Nawshirwan Mustafa, also hopes to make a strong showing in the polls. Two smaller Islamic parties - the Kurdistan Islamic Union and the Islamic League - are hoping to make gains as well.

In the 2005 and 2009 elections, the KDP and PUK ran on a joint list. They have also rotated the region's premiership on a two-year basis. That agreement, too, has now ended.

September 20, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 7:55 PM


The Best, Brightest, and Least Productive? (Robert J. Shiller, 9/20/13, Project Syndicate)

[A] 2011 paper by Patrick Bolton, Tano Santos, and José Scheinkman argues that a significant amount of speculation and deal-making is pure rent-seeking. In other words, it is wasteful activity that achieves nothing more than enabling the collection of rents on items that might otherwise be free.

The classic example of rent-seeking is that of a feudal lord who installs a chain across a river that flows through his land and then hires a collector to charge passing boats a fee (or rent of the section of the river for a few minutes) to lower the chain. There is nothing productive about the chain or the collector. The lord has made no improvements to the river and is helping nobody in any way, directly or indirectly, except himself. All he is doing is finding a way to make money from something that used to be free. If enough lords along the river follow suit, its use may be severely curtailed.

Those in "other finance" often engage in similar behavior. They skim the best business deals, creating a "negative externality" on those who are not party to them. If the bad assets that they reject - for example, the subprime mortgage securities that fueled the 2008 financial crisis - are created anyway and foisted on less knowledgeable investors, financiers contribute no more to society than a lord who installs a chain across a river.

In a forthcoming paper, Patrick Bolton extends this view to look at bankers and at the Glass-Steagall Act, which forbade commercial banks from engaging in a wide variety of activities classified as "investment banking." Ever since the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999 repealed Glass-Steagall, bankers have acted increasingly like feudal lords. The Dodd-Frank Act of 2010 introduced a measure somewhat similar to the Glass-Steagall prohibition by imposing the Volcker Rule, which bars proprietary trading by commercial banks, but much more could be done.

To many observers, Glass-Steagall made no sense. Why shouldn't banks be allowed to engage in any business they want, at least as long as we have regulators to ensure that the banks' activities do not jeopardize the entire financial infrastructure?

In fact, the main advantages of the original Glass-Steagall Act may have been more sociological than technical, changing the business culture and environment in subtle ways. By keeping the deal-making business separate, banks may have focused more on their traditional core business.

Posted by orrinj at 7:23 PM


Hassan Rouhani sets out his vision for a new and free Iran (Julian Borger and Saeed Kamali Dehghan,  19 September 2013, The Guardian)

President Hassan Rouhani has signalled his intention to lead a new Iran on to the international stage at the United Nations next week, laying out a manifesto for personal freedom at home and compromise abroad.

"We want the people in their private life to be completely free," the newly elected president told NBC News, after a string of prisoner releases. He also pledged to create a citizens' rights commission "in the near future".

"In today's world, having access to information and the right of free dialogue and the right to think freely is the right of all people, including the people of Iran," Rouhani said.

Rouhani also vowed that Iran would never seek nuclear weapons and insisted his government had "complete authority" to resolve the 11-year international impasse over Iran's nuclear aspirations.

The bold rhetoric, backed up by a series of concrete steps taken with the apparent backing of Iran's supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, has raised hopes of major diplomatic breakthroughs in the coming months, affecting the long-stalled nuclear negotiations and perhaps the Syrian conflict too.

White House hints Obama may meet with Iranian president over sanctions (Dan Roberts, 9/19/13,

The White House has hinted at the possibility of a historic meeting with Iranian president Hassan Rouhani during his visit to the United Nations next week, praising what it called "welcome rhetoric" from Iran on nuclear weapons.

September 19, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 4:40 AM


McCain tells Russia Putin 'doesn't believe in you' (AFP, September 19, 2013)

US Senator John McCain penned a blistering column for a Russian news website on Thursday, telling the Russian people that their President Vladimir Putin is a dissent-quashing tyrant who "doesn't believe in you."

The senior US lawmaker and the 2008 Republican presidential nominee accosted Putin and his associates for rigging elections, imprisoning and murdering opponents, fostering corruption and "destroying" Russia's reputation on the world stage.

"I am not anti-Russian," McCain wrote in the piece for website. "I am pro-Russian, more pro-Russian than the regime that misrules you today."

Posted by orrinj at 4:22 AM


A Winner Heard 'Round the World (HAL G.P. COLEBATCH on 9.16.13, American Spectator)

Abbott is cast in the mold of the great conservative leaders -- Thatcher, Reagan, and his political mentor and predecessor in Australia John Howard. He is super-fit, a boxer (with an unbroken nose), and a former Rhodes Scholar. Modestly paralleling the young summer lifeguard Ronald Reagan, he saved lives at some risk to his own on two occasions (without staying around to be thanked). He is also, at 55, relatively young. He has studied Law and has been a professional journalist, writing for Australia's highest-quality publications, including the old Bulletin and the Murdoch-owned National daily, the Australian.

He has never hesitated to espouse causes that send the left into a mouth-frothing rage. He studied for a time at a Catholic seminary, was a leading light in Australians for Constitutional Monarchy (playing a major role in defeating the left-inspired push for a republic), and highly skeptical about global warming and climate change. He resigned from the Liberal front bench in 2009, over then-leader Malcolm Turnbull's support for Labor's emissions trading scheme.

He can be expected to undo Labor's irrational and employment-destroying "carbon tax" and its even crazier tax on mining (mining being Australia's chief source of wealth). It seems likely that he will rebuild Australia's dangerously diminished defense forces. He has given notice that he will not increase foreign aid, though it would be better for all parties if he cut it down to nothing but disaster relief.

He is personally opposed to abortion although he did not attempt to ban it when Minister for Health in the Howard Government. A ludicrous attempt to paint him as a misogynist by the previous Labor leader and Prime Minister Julia Gillard was rightly laughed to scorn. He has taken over a disunited and demoralized Liberal Party, unified it, and led it to a crushing victory. As Melanie Phillips put it: "He has faced down the intellectual thuggery and demonization by the Left."

Although the left have attacked Abbott with a full battery of slanders, including the nickname "The mad monk" and a ludicrous charge that as a student he once punched a wall near a feminist student politician, no one has been able to credibly suggest that he lacks integrity. In the words of Mark Steyn: "We're not talking about a Cameronesque trimmer and opportunist here."

As his championship of ACM indicated, Abbott is orientated towards the political values of Churchill and the Anglosphere (Britain, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand all now have leaders to the right of Obama, though in the case of Britain the difference is fairly minuscule).

It's minuscule for all of them.
Posted by orrinj at 4:18 AM


Abortion clinic closings on rise in U.S., 44 tallied year to date (Tom Strode, 9/06/13, BP)

This year, 42 clinics that provided surgical abortions have shut their doors, and two that offered chemical abortions by drugs also have closed, according to Operation Rescue, which monitors closings and health and safety violations by clinics nationwide. That number far surpasses the 25 surgical clinics shutdown last year and the 30 in 2011, by Operation Rescue's count. While others estimate a smaller number of closings, the pattern is clear.

Some of the shutdowns have been of major clinics. For instance, Virginia's No. 1 abortion provider closed, The Washington Post reported in July. NOVA Women's Healthcare in Fairfax, Va., shut down after state and local governments enacted regulations the abortion provider appeared unable to meet. The northern Virginia clinic performed 3,066 abortions in 2012 and 3,567 in 2011.

The reasons given for the upswing in closings are varied even among pro-lifers. They include:

-- the increasing state regulation and oversight of clinics;

-- a growth in pro-life opinion and activity, and 

-- a decline in the abortion rate.

In some cases, clinics have shut down when abortion doctors retired or were no longer licensed.

State legislatures enacted 69 pro-life laws this year, according to a report released Thursday (Sept. 5) by Americans United for Life. In all, 48 states considered about 360 such proposals in 2013, AUL reported.

The legislative action this year continued a recent trend in states: 70 "life-affirming measures" became law in 2011 and 38 in 2012, according to AUL.

September 18, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 7:56 PM


Fracking Leads To Cleaner Air (IBD, 08/20/2012)

Carbon emissions in the U.S. have hit a 20-year low due to a supposedly environmentally unfriendly drilling technique that has created an abundance of cheap natural gas. The free market, it seems, does it better than the EPA.

Environmentalists find themselves between shale rock and a hard place after a little noticed technical report documented how the natural gas boom caused by the use of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has actually helped the environment in a major way while also creating jobs and economic growth.

For Natural Gas-Fueled Cars, Long Road Looms Ahead (Josie Garthwaite, 9/04/13,  National Geographic)

The natural gas boom that fracking wrought has shaken up the global energy landscape. Now its effects are rippling toward the fuel tanks of U.S. cars and trucks, although a few leaps may be required for natural gas vehicles to go mainstream.

The natural gas industry is making a big push for passenger vehicles that can run on either natural gas or gasoline. As a demonstration, the industry group America's Natural Gas Alliance this summer unveiled six vehicle models retrofitted with these fuel systems for less than $3,000 apiece. And starting next year, Ford plans to equip a version of its best-selling pickup truck, the F-150, to run on either gasoline or compressed natural gas (CNG).

Posted by orrinj at 7:49 PM


We need easier money. So why taper? (Scott Sumner, 9/18/13, The Week)

You only need to look to Europe to see the substantial risks of tightening money too soon. In 2011, the European Central Bank tried raising interest rates before a recovery was well-established -- Europe slid back into a double dip recession. Their attempt to "normalize" interest rates actually pushed Europe several years further away from any sort of normal economic situation. It's as if someone who has been seriously ill and bed-ridden suddenly felt well enough to run a marathon, only to run out of gas and injure themselves before the finish line. America and Europe otherwise had similar fiscal policies; what kept our economy from great self-harm was that our central bank was more aggressive in monetary stimulus.

If the Fed does decide today to taper it will be a big gamble. It will mean moving away from the its normal focus on inflation and employment targets, and instead responding to vague and poorly understood fears of "bubbles." The Fed should continue to focus on its mandate: Stable prices (which they interpret as two percent inflation) and full employment.

And that means we actually need easier monetary policy, not tighter.

The new Chairman will have to tighten for emotional reasons, irrespective of economic consequences.
Posted by orrinj at 7:46 PM


Tesla Motors eyes self-driving cars. How they could save energy. (David J. Unger, September 18, 2013, CS Monitor)

"My opinion is it's a bridge too far to go to fully autonomous cars," Mr Musk said in an interview with the Financial Times. "It's incredibly hard to get the last few per cent [of miles driven]."

But automating 90 percent of miles driven is possible within three years, Musk said, declining to offer specific details on Tesla's plans. 
It's a step towards reducing the inefficiencies of imperfect human pilots. Drivers have a tendency to accelerate too quickly, brake too hard, and jam together in bottlenecks that are as grating on cars as they are on commuters. Driverless cars would optimize traffic with the aid of sensors, data, and algorithms, the theory goes, getting people from point A to B with fewer traffic jams, fewer starts and stops, and thus less energy use.  

In 2011 alone, Americans lost 4.8 billion hours, 1.9 billion gallons of fuel, and $101 billion in delay and fuel costs due to traffic congestion, according to the Texas Transportation Institute.

Posted by orrinj at 7:42 PM


The Best Fall Foliage in the U.S. (MARISA LASCALA and ALLISON WILLIAMS, SEPTEMBER 18 2013, Conde Nast Traveler)


The longest season: New Hampshire's Lakes Region

When to go: Late September through late October

Why go: The secret to finding a lingering foliage season is steering clear of the weather that knocks leaves from their branches. "I would choose those locations away from the wind of the coast and at higher elevations," says Jerry Monkman, co-author of The Colors of Fall Road Trip Guide. This New Hampshire region--which encompasses Lake Winnipesaukee, Squam Lake, Lake Ossipee, Mirror Lake, Newfound Lake and Lake Winnisquam--is protected from the harsh winds of the coast and doesn't rise more than 600 feet above sea level, giving you the best chance for a long leaf season.

Where to get the best view: Obviously, from the middle of a lake (pick one). Bring a kayak and tone your paddling arms. "You can see red maples along the waterways showing their bright colors on the trees, and then reflected down into the water as well," says Tai Freligh, communications manager for New Hampshire's Division of Travel and Tourism Development.

Posted by orrinj at 7:14 PM


Sweden slashes income tax in pre-election budget (The Local, 16 Sep 2013)

The Swedish government has presented plans to introduce a fifth earned income tax credit into its budget proposition which will be presented to parliament on Wednesday, its last budget ahead of the 2014 election.

"People who work should get more in their pocket," Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt said at a press conference on Monday morning.

Posted by orrinj at 7:00 PM


Netanyahu to US: Iran for Palestine? (Ben Caspit, September 17, 2013, AI-Monitor)

The Israeli right is terrified. The rumor has been going around for weeks, perhaps even months. Ministers, Knesset members, settlers, lobbyists and right-wing journalists have all been murmuring -- sometimes loudly -- about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's move. The big plan. The historic abandonment of Judea and Samaria.. [...]

So what is the grand plan? In broad strokes, its tenets are as follows. This is a plan hatched between the US administration and Netanyahu, with Palestinian knowledge as well as the tacit knowledge of other elements in the Middle East. Its general underlying principle is "Iran for Palestine." US President Barack Obama pledges, by also giving his own personal guarantee, to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear capability. In return, Netanyahu will reciprocate by awarding him a diplomatic achievement vis-a-vis the Palestinians. We have seen the first step in this direction in recent weeks in the arrangement Obama has worked out to disarm Syria of its chemical weapons. Netanyahu did not speak against this arrangement, partly because he has received US assurances that this will not be a precedent, that the Iranian issue is entirely different from the Syrian one and that the "credible threat" of a military strike on Syria still remains on the table.

Netanyahu is unable to reach a permanent status agreement with the Palestinians. Everyone in Ramallah, Washington, Jerusalem and the settlements knows that. According to the plan, at some point in the negotiations all the parties will have reached this conclusion, and at that juncture the Americans will lay out their alternative proposal. It will consist of a permanent arrangement in phases, beginning with an interim arrangement between Israel and the Palestinians in the setting of which a Palestinian state will be established under temporary borders.

Netanyahu hopes that he will not have to evict any settlements in the framework of this arrangement and that the Palestinian state will be established in areas A and B, which are under Palestinian security or civilian control. The United States will give the Palestinian Authority (PA) guarantees that this is not the final arrangement but rather an interim stage that is limited in time. The issues of Jerusalem, the refugees and final borders will be postponed to later stages. The Palestinian state will be recognized by the United Nations, with the support of Israel, which will withdraw to the separation fence line.

Peace and co-operation between Palestine and Israel on the one hand and Iran and America on the other is inevitable.  But if it's secured on the UR's watch, he makes some tweaks to Obamacare to make it more HSA driven, he gets most of the work done on the two big trade treaties, a government shutdown crisis reduces spending further and he gets an immigration bill, a thus far inconsequential presidency is transformed into a rather good one. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:58 PM


Medical-Price Inflation Is at Slowest Pace in 50 Years (ERIC MORATH  and LOUISE RADNOFSKY, 9/18/13, WSJ)

The prices paid for medical care in July rose just 1% from a year earlier, the slowest annual rate of growth since the early 1960s, according to Commerce Department data. Health-care increases now trail overall inflation, which itself has been historically slow in recent years. [...]

The recent slowdown in medical inflation is partly the result of less-generous health plans forcing patients to pay more attention to prices, doctors say.

"Fifteen years ago, pricing was not as important ... [but] when the co-pay is coming out of a patient's pocket, they more often want to know what they're paying," said Moshir Jacob, medical director at the Toledo Clinic . The Ohio practice advertises that it offers lower prices than area hospitals.

Sara Boehm, 32, of Santa Monica, Calif., Began comparison-shopping for prescription drugs using an app on her phone after she took a job at a startup company. She recently saved $ 300 on medicine she needed for a trip to Tanzania. " I use Amazon to comparison-shop for televisions and laptops-I should at least be putting in as much effort for health care, "she said.

Posted by orrinj at 3:30 PM


Iran's prisoner release may signal push to dismantle security state (Scott Peterson, September 18, 2013, CS Monitor)

The release of prisoners held on security charges is the latest signal by Iran's new centrist government that it aims to fulfill its promises to improve personal freedoms at home and engage the US and the West on nuclear and other issues abroad.

The release resonates particularly strongly inside Iran, where it appeared to mark a first clear act of dismantling what analysts have called the "securitization" of the country: a process that gave increasing power to internal security forces, beginning with the 2005 election of arch-conservative President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and deepening appreciably after his fraud-tainted 2009 reelection and its violent aftermath.

Mr. Rouhani has called his shocking mid-June victory over a slate of conservative candidates the "beginning of a new chapter," with expectations that the "era of sorrow is coming to an end." 

Posted by orrinj at 1:58 PM


Companies Unplug From the Electric Grid, Delivering a Jolt to Utilities (REBECCA SMITH  and CASSANDRA SWEET, 9/18/13, WSJ)

These two projects, plus the electric output of solar panels at four Kroger grocery stores, and some energy-conservation efforts are saving the Cincinnati-based grocery chain $ 160 million a year on electricity, said Denis George, its energy manager. That is a lot of money that isn't going into the pockets of utilities.

From big-box retailers to high-tech manufacturers, more companies across the country are producing their own power. Since 2006, the number of electricity-generation units at commercial and industrial sites has more than quadrupled to roughly 40,000 from about 10,000, according to federal statistics.

Experts say the trend is gaining momentum, spurred by falling prices for solar panels and natural gas, as well as a fear that power outages caused by major storms will become more common. [...]

The growing number of companies that are at least partly energy self-sufficient is sending a shudder through the utility industry, threatening its revenues and growth prospects, according to a report earlier this year by the Edison Electric Institute, a trade association for investor-owned electric companies.

Posted by orrinj at 1:53 PM


IT worker in court for 'trying to commit a sexual act with a sheep' outside Tottenham's training ground (JOHN DRAYTON, 18 September 2013, Daily Mail)

Posted by orrinj at 1:37 PM


Walgreen to Shift Health Plan for 160,000 Workers (TIMOTHY W. MARTIN  and CHRISTOPHER WEAVER, 9/18/13, WSJ)

Walgreen Co. is set to become one of the largest employers yet to make sweeping changes to company-backed health programs. On Wednesday, the drugstore giant disclosed a plan to provide payments to eligible employees for the subsidized purchase of insurance starting in 2014. The plan will affect roughly 160,000 employees, and will require them to shop for coverage on a private health-insurance marketplace. [...]

Like the shift from pension plans to 401 (k) plans beginning in the 1980s, the moves mark a transition in which employers are handing their workers more control over their benefits, some experts say. But as companies set their contributions at fixed amounts to limit benefits spending, workers could wind up shouldering a greater share of the burden if health costs increase.

Medical prices are rising at their slowest pace in a half century, according to Commerce Department data. That trend may help businesses, but it also reflects how cost burdens are shifting to patients. Many are being asked to comparison-shop or make tough choices on medical care as their health plans have become less generous.

Conservative plan in, conservative results out.

Posted by orrinj at 1:25 PM


Iran frees political prisoners ahead of Hassan Rouhani's UN visit (Saeed Kamali Dehghan 18 September 2013, Guardian)

Iran has released the award-winning human rights lawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh, and several other political prisoners from jail a week before President Hassan Rouhani's visit to New York for the UN general assembly, in what appears to be the most tangible sign of change so far under his moderate administration.

The authorities drove Sotoudeh from Evin prison in Tehran to her house in another part of the Iranian capital and told her she did not need to return to jail.

Posted by orrinj at 4:38 AM


World's Best Universities : Top 400 (US News)

You'll note a haunting similarity.

Posted by orrinj at 4:32 AM


Obama wants to 'test' Iranian willingness for dialogue (TIMES OF ISRAEL, September 18, 2013)

On Tuesday, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said that Iran is not opposed to dialogue with the West concerning its nuclear program and will show flexibility in negotiations.

A day earlier, German news magazine Der Spiegel reported that Rouhani was prepared to shut down Iran's uranium enrichment facility at Fordo in exchange for eased Western sanctions.

Obama said the US is interested "in resolving this nuclear issue in a way that would allow Iran to rejoin the international community" but Iran will have to prove to the world "that it's not trying to weaponize nuclear power."

On Sunday, Obama revealed that he had exchanged letters with the recently elected Iranian president, a fact confirmed by Tehran on Tuesday.

The two leaders will both attend next week's United Nations General Assembly in New York, with Obama expected to address the plenum on Tuesday morning, and Rouhani speaking on Tuesday afternoon. Officials says no meeting has been scheduled between them, although White House press secretary Jay Carney said Tuesday that he doubted Obama would "duck into another hall" to avoid the Iranian president should they encounter each other in the halls of the UN.

On Monday, Iran's nuclear chief, Ali Akbar Salehi, said the chances for a breakthrough have improved thanks to unity among the new Iranian leadership over what it will seek in the next round of negotiations.

Posted by orrinj at 4:16 AM


Sorry, Wall Street. Janet Yellen is no dove (Cyrus Sanati, 9/17/13, FORTUNE)

The equity markets and liberal Democrats may rue the day they ever cheered for a Yellen-led Federal Reserve. Both the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq soared close to new highs Monday on the news that Larry Summers had withdrawn his name for consideration to be the next chairman of the Federal Reserve, leaving Janet Yellen as the only viable candidate for the position. Apparently, Yellen is seen by the markets as being more "accommodative" than Summers when it comes to printing money to drive growth, which Wall Street has interpreted as being good for the stock market.

But the notion that Yellen is some sort of easy money "dove" and that Summers is a tight-fisted "hawk" has no basis in reality. Unfortunately, this simplistic contrasting construct, which has been accepted lock, stock, and barrel by both the markets and the media, has managed to irreparably damage the search for the next Fed chairman and has effectively handed the keys to the vault over to Yellen. But now that she is the front-runner and Summers is out of the way, it would be wise for investors to take a much closer look at Yellen's record. Contrary to what has been largely said and written, this sweet dove may prove to have very sharp talons.

The UR should take advantage of the mistaken perception and appoint the perceived hawk.  Any new Fed chairman's first step has to be to prove his anti-inflation bona fides.  Even Republican appointees--who generally don't have as much dovish stigma, being perceived as tools of the bankers--have to bump rates, which is how both Alan Greenspan and Ben Bernanke helped trigger economic crises, since they were doing so into the teeth of deflation.

By playing up Mr. Summers's supposed hawkishness in hearings, where Democrats would have been his attackers, the administration might have avoided the need for the harmful rate increases Ms Yellen will institute.

Posted by orrinj at 4:13 AM


Interstate 2.0: Modernizing the Interstate Highway System Via Toll Finance : The 20th-century fuel tax cannot deliver a second-generation Interstate highway system, 21st-century all-electronic tolling can (Robert Poole, September 12, 2013, Reason)

The need for massive investment to transform the first-generation Interstate into what this report calls Interstate 2.0 occurs just as our 20th-century highway funding system--based on fuel taxes and state and federal highway trust funds--is running out of gas. Steady increases in vehicle fuel economy, the lack of inflation indexing of fuel tax rates, and political gridlock over increasing fuel tax rates all make it very difficult even to maintain current pavement and bridge conditions and prevent congestion from getting even worse. The transportation community agrees that we need to phase out fuel taxes and replace them with a more sustainable funding source, generally agreed to be mileage-based user fees of some sort. But no consensus exists on how and when to do this.

This study seeks to address both problems: replacing the aging Interstate system with a 21st-century Interstate 2.0 and taking the first major step toward implementing mileage-based user fees. It proposes that the United States finance the Interstate 2.0 project based on per-mile tolls collected using all-electronic tolling (AET). Over several decades, the transformation of the Interstate system, state by state, would convert at least one-fourth of all travel from per-gallon fuel taxes to per-mile charging.

The study makes quantitative estimates for each state of the cost of reconstructing the existing Interstates, identifies specific corridors in each state that need widening, and estimates the cost of doing so. Reconstruction is estimated at $589 billion in 2010 dollars and lane additions at $394 billion, for a total 2010 cost of $983 billion. To get a handle on the feasibility of toll financing, the study models a tolling system based on 3.5¢/ mile for cars and 14¢/mile for trucks, indexed annually for inflation. Using state-by-state estimates of annual growth in travel by cars and by trucks, over a 35-year period, it calculates the net present value (NPV) of toll revenue and compares that with the net present value of construction and reconstruction costs. Overall, the NPV of revenue equals 99% of the NPV of cost, indicating that the overall system is likely to be toll- financeable. [...]

The study also explains why per-mile tolling is a better highway user fee than per-gallon taxes. The reasons include:

Per-mile tolls can be tailored to the cost of each road and bridge, rather than being averaged across all types of roads, from neighborhood streets to massive Interstates; this ensures adequate funding for major highway projects like Interstate reconstruction and modernization.

Per-mile tolling reflects greater fairness, since those who drive mostly on Interstates will pay higher rates than those who drive mostly on local streets.

If per-mile tolling is implemented as a true user fee, it will be self-limiting, dedicated solely to the purpose for which it was implemented (and enforceable via bond covenants with those who buy toll revenue bonds).

Per-mile tolling will guarantee proper ongoing maintenance of the tolled corridors, since bond-buyers and other investors legally require this as a condition of providing the funds.

Per-mile tolling also provides a ready source of funding for future improvements to the tolled corridor.

Toll financing means needed projects, such as reconstruction and widening, can be done when they are needed, and paid for over several decades as highway users enjoy the benefits of the improved facilities.

Finally, a per-mile tolling system using AET can easily implement variable pricing on urban expressways to reduce and manage traffic congestion.

Converting from the 20th-century Interstate 1.0 to a toll-financed Interstate 2.0 would be a major change, which elected officials may be leery of leading. That's why it is critically important that one pioneering state step forward to be a role model for the others. Currently, federal law prohibits tolling for reconstruction of Interstates--except for a three-state pilot program. However, all three slots are now occupied by states that have not solved the political problem of getting legislative approval to go forward. And the pilot program permits only a single facility in each (e.g., I-95 in North Carolina) to be rebuilt using tolls. This situation could be changed by Congress in the 2014 reauthorization of the federal surface transportation program. The one needed step is to "mainstream" the tolled-reconstruction pilot program, so that it is (1) available to all states, and (2) applicable to all of a state's Interstate facilities.

America needs a second-generation Interstate highway system. The 20th-century fuel tax system is inadequate for this trillion-dollar task. This study shows that the alternative of financing this transformation via all-electronic tolling is feasible. The one needed enabler is permission from Congress to begin this transition.

September 17, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 8:52 PM


Iran's supreme leader: We'll be flexible in nuclear talks (ADIV STERMAN and REBECCA SHIMONI STOIL, September 18, 2013, Times of Israel)

Speaking at a meeting with Revolutionary Guards commanders, Khamenei went on to deny that the Islamic Republic strove to acquire nuclear weapons, calling the possession of such weapons contrary to Islamic ideals.

"We do not believe in nuclear weapons because of our beliefs, not for the sake of the US or other countries, and when we say that no country should possess nuclear weapons, we ourselves are definitely not trying to possess them," he said.

Khamenei is ready to allow real-time oversight of Iran's nuclear facilities via camera, and surprise visits by UN inspectors, Israel's Channel 2 news further reported Tuesday night. Assuming Iran did not have secret facilities elsewhere, such oversight, the report said, would preclude a "break out' by Iran to the bomb, as might be possible in the current situation during periods between scheduled visits by inspectors.

Posted by orrinj at 8:41 PM


ADHD, or Childhood Narcissism?  (ENRICO GNAULATISEP, 17 2013, The Atlantic)

With numbers like these, we have to wonder if aspects of the disorder parallel childhood itself. Many people recognize the symptoms associated with ADHD: problems listening, forgetfulness, distractibility, prematurely ending effortful tasks, excessive talking, fidgetiness, difficulties waiting one's turn, and being action-oriented. Many also may note that these symptoms encapsulate behaviors and tendencies that most kids seem to find challenging. So what leads parents to dismiss a hunch that their child may be having difficulty acquiring effective social skills or may be slower to mature emotionally than most other kids and instead accept a diagnosis of ADHD?

Today's parents are well versed in ADHD terminology. They can easily be pressured into bypassing richer descriptions of their kid's problems and are often primed to cut to the chase.
The answer may lie, at least in part, with the common procedures and clinical atmosphere in which ADHD is assessed. Conducting a sensitive and sophisticated review of a kid's life situation can be time-consuming. Most parents consult with a pediatrician about their child's problem behaviors, and yet the average length of a pediatric visit is quite short. With the clock ticking and a line of patients in the waiting room, most efficient pediatricians will be inclined to curtail and simplify the discussion about a child's behavior. That's one piece of the puzzle. Additionally, today's parents are well versed in ADHD terminology. They can easily be pressured into bypassing richer descriptions of their kid's problems and are often primed to cut to the chase, narrowly listing behaviors along the lines of the following: 

Yes, Amanda is very distractible.

To say that Billy is hyperactive is an understatement.

Frank is impulsive beyond belief.

All too often, forces conspire in the doctor's office to ensure that any discussion about a child's predicament is brief, compact, and symptom-focused instead of long, explorative, and developmentally focused, as it should be. The compactness of the discussion in the doctor's office may even be reassuring to parents who are baffled and exasperated by their kid's behavior. It is easy to understand why parents may favor a sure and swift approach, with a discussion converging on checking off lists of symptoms, floating a diagnosis of ADHD, and reviewing options for medication.

Posted by orrinj at 6:11 PM


US and Iran could become unlikely allies in resolving Syrian conflict (Michael Theodoulou, Sep 17, 2013, TheNational)

Mr Rouhani was elected in an upset landslide victory over conservative rivals in June with promises to secure relief from international sanctions imposed because of Iran's nuclear programme.

He does not want the Syrian crisis scuttling his efforts, so can be expected to press President Bashar Al Assad to honour the chemical disarmament deal.

Even before the poison gas attack in Damascus last month that triggered the disarmament plan, there were signs of division within the Iranian regime about the strategic value of continuing to support Mr Al Assad.

Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran's foreign minister, castigated Damascus earlier this month. "We believe that the government in Syria has made grave mistakes that have, unfortunately, paved the way for the situation in the country to be abused," he said.

And on Monday, Mr Rouhani said Iran would accept anyone elected by the Syrian people as ruler, even if that is not Mr Al Assad.

Tehran also has a genuine abhorrence of chemical weapons and has vociferously condemned their use in Syria. In the 1980s, Saddam Hussein's Iraq subjected Iran to the worst chemical weapon attacks since the First World War, killing thousands of soldiers and civilians while the West turned a blind eye.

Mr Obama said last week that the Russian plan "may have a chance of success" because "Syria's allies, like Iran, detest chemical weapons" and it may be that Mr Al Assad is "under pressure from them as well".

Although on opposite sides of the Syrian conflict, Iran shares an interest with the US and its Arab rivals in ensuring that militants affiliated to Al Qaeda, who are spearheading the battle against the Assad regime, do not come to power.

For these reasons and more, many Iran experts argue that Tehran should have a seat at the long-mooted Geneva 2 talks to resolve the Syrian crisis. Saudi Arabia and hawkish US politicians oppose Iranian participation, insisting that Iran, as part of the problem, cannot be part of the solution.

But, said Hooman Majd, an Iranian-American author based in New York who knows many of the key players in Washington and Tehran, "if you want to solve a problem, then by definition you have to talk to the people you think are part of the problem". Iran "was probably instrumental in getting Assad to agree to the Russian deal".

Mr Obama on Sunday raised the prospect of Iran getting involved in the broader talks on Syria. That would be a wise move, argued a western diplomat who has served in Tehran. "Iran has resources, people on the ground and influence in Syria," the envoy said. "You can't ignore them."

Moreover, he added: "You can't ignore the parallels from 2001 when Iran was instrumental in forging the compromises that led to the formation of a new government in Afghanistan after the US-led invasion ousted the Taliban regime following the September 11 attacks."
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September 16, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 7:58 PM


Posted by orrinj at 7:06 PM


We got the following offer via e-mail today and it looks intriguing:

Dear Orrin, 

Hope you are well. November marks the 50th anniversary of JFK's assassination. I'm working with Larry J. Sabato, the founder and director of the renowned Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, to promote the release of his book, his free online class, and his PBS documentary - each titled "The Kennedy Half Century."

In particular, I hoped to put the class, The Kennedy Half Century, on your radar. It starts October 21st and enrollment for this free course if open now! I've include more information about it below. A trailer for the "The Kennedy Half Century" class is available here.

Enrollment opens for Professor Sabato's 
free online course "The Kennedy Half Century"

(Charlottesville, Va.) -- Enrollment is now open for Prof. Larry J. Sabato's free online course about President John F. Kennedy's life, administration and legacy.

The four-week, massive open online course (MOOC), "The Kennedy Half Century," will begin on Oct. 21, with two hours of video instruction each week by Prof. Sabato. The course is available through Coursera, an educational website that partners with some of the world's top universities, including the University of Virginia, to provide free online courses. Anyone can register for the course at

The MOOC is one of several initiatives the U.Va. Center for Politics is unveiling this fall in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of JFK's assassination. Prof. Sabato's latest book, The Kennedy Half Century: The Presidency, Assassination and Lasting Legacy of John F. Kennedy, will be released in October as the class begins. Also in October, the Center will premiere a one-hour national PBS documentary on the same subject, which is being produced in partnership with Community Idea Stations. The Center for Politics and Community Idea Stations recently received an Emmy Award for their previous documentary, "Out of Order," which is about political dysfunction in Washington.

A trailer for the "The Kennedy Half Century" class is available here.

"The University of Virginia Center for Politics has long been committed to providing accessible educational tools about American politics and government. This free online course about how JFK and his legacy have influenced the public, the media, and each of the nine U.S. presidents who followed President Kennedy is one way we can deliver high-quality instruction, at no charge, to a large audience," Prof. Sabato said.

The course begins with the early legislative career of John F. Kennedy and progresses through the 50 years since Kennedy's death, focusing on how each president, Lyndon Johnson through Barack Obama, has used JFK to craft their own political image. The class offers more than eight hours of video consisting of 40 lessons averaging 10-20 minutes each in length. Each week, there will be at least two new hours of content, including historical footage from each of the 10 presidential administrations of the last half-century. Prof. Sabato will focus four lessons around Kennedy's assassination as the nation marks the 50th anniversary of 11/22/63.

New portions of the class will be posted to the Coursera page each week. Students who complete the course do not receive university credit, but they will receive a statement of accomplishment. More information about the course's specifics, including a syllabus, is available at

Online learning is not new to the U.Va. Center for Politics, which has provided online education tools through its Youth Leadership Initiative (YLI) since 1998. YLI conducts regular mock elections for students, as well as an interactive legislative simulation called E-Congress.

"For the last 15 years YLI has developed and distributed free civics education lesson plans using the Internet," noted Prof. Sabato. "Today YLI reaches more than 50,000 teachers and millions of students throughout the country and around the world."

* * *

Founded by political analyst and Professor Larry J. Sabato, the U.Va. Center for Politics ( is a nonpartisan institute that seeks to promote the value of politics, improve civics education, and increase civic participation through comprehensive research, pragmatic analysis, and innovative educational programs.

Author Bio
Larry J. Sabato
 is the founder and director of the renowned Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. He has appeared on dozens of national television and radio programs, including 60 Minutes, Today, Hardball, and Nightline. He has coanchored the BBC's coverage of U.S. presidential returns and inaugurations, and has authored or edited more than a dozen books on American politics, including the highly praised A More Perfect Constitution: Why the Constitution Must Be Revised -- Ideas to Inspire a New Generation. His other books include Feeding Frenzy, about press coverage of politicians; The Rise of Political Consultants; and Barack Obama and the New America. Sabato runs the acclaimed Crystal Ball website, which has the most comprehensive and accurate record of election analysis in the country. In 2001, the University of Virginia gave him its highest honor, the Thomas Jefferson Award. He lives in Charlottesville, Virginia.

For more information please visit or, and follow the author on Facebook and Twitter

Posted by orrinj at 6:52 PM


Iranians Gain Access to Facebook and Twitter (THOMAS ERDBRINK, 9/16/13, NY Times)

Internet users in Iran were surprised on Monday to find that they could access Facebook and Twitter without having to evade the government's firewall, which had blocked direct access to the Web sites for years. [...]

The country's new president, Hassan Rouhani, has promised several times to reduce Internet censorship, and several of his cabinet ministers, including the foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, have set up Facebook pages and opened Twitter accounts, some of them quite active.

Iranian Internet users reacted to the apparent unblocking on Monday as if a digital Berlin Wall had just crumbled on their computer screens.

"Hurray, I came to Facebook without using VPN," a user called Bita posted on her wall. "Thank you Rouhani!!!," Nima wrote.

Posted by orrinj at 6:45 PM


Iran said ready to dismantle underground nuclear facility (RAPHAEL AHREN, September 16, 2013, Times of Israel)

In a potentially dramatic development, Iran is willing to close its uranium enrichment facility at Fordo in return for an easing of Western sanctions, the German news magazine Der Spiegel reported Monday.

Quoting intelligence source, the magazine reported that Iran's new president, Hasan Rouhani, might consider closing down the heavily fortified Fordo facility, near the holy city of Qom, and allow international observers to supervise the destruction of the centrifuges, if the West were to lift the sanctions regime it has placed on Iran's oil industry and central bank. Rouhani could make the offer later this month at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, the report said.

Posted by orrinj at 3:38 PM


Obama invites Rouhani to join great game (M K Bhadrakumar, 9/16/13, Asia Times)

He has forced the Syrian regime out of its denial mode to acknowledge for the first time its chemical weapons stockpiles and to join the international convention banning the use of such weapons and got the Russians who are the Syrian regime's "primary sponsors" to volunteer they'd "push Syria to get all of their chemical weapons out of the country". 

Obama spoke just before the deal was formally struck in Geneva on Saturday, but he fully factored in that the Syrian issue is about to come under Chapter VII of the UN Charter and an Iraq-like framework is being put in place through a UN Security Council resolution that:

contains steps to ensure verification and effective implementation of the deal;
defines the UN's role in eliminating Syria's chemical weapons;
provides for Security Council review of the implementation on a regular basis;
also provides for Security Council imposing "measures" under Chapter VII in the event of non-compliance by Syria. 

The Geneva deal also harmonized US and Russian estimation of the amount and type of Syria's chemical weapons and expects the Syrians to:
turn in within a week their inventory list within a week, including the location and form of storage;
provide "unfettered access" to the UN and Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) personnel to "inspect any and all sites" in Syria who will work on the control, removal and destruction of the stockpiles; 

Alongside, Obama maintained that a foundation is also being laid for an international process to begin over a political transition in Syria. 

The expectation is predicated on the defanging of the Syrian regime via the Geneva deal and the incremental shift that would follow once Russia realizes that continued support of President Bashar al-Assad is unsustainable in the world opinion. 

Obama didn't speak of regime change as such, but he thinks it is becoming apparent that Assad has lost legitimacy and as long as he remains in power there is going to be "some sort of conflict there" - which in turn would compel Russia to look at a "post-Assad" scenario for Syria.  [...]

The stunning part of the ABC interview was Obama's tacit acknowledgement that the templates beneath the great US-Iran standoff have finally begun to move. 

Interestingly, on Saturday, the influential chairman of the Iranian parliament's national security and foreign policy commission, Alaeddin Broujerdi, suggested that the next round of the P5+1 (the US, Britain, France, Russia and China plus Germany) talks might be held in Tehran. If that were to happen, a visit by a top US diplomat to Tehran becomes necessary and it would be the first since the US broke off diplomatic relations with Iran on April 7, 1980. 

Again, Tehran also announced on Sunday that Rouhani has "agreed to meet" British Foreign Secretary William Hague "at London's request" on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting in New York later this month. 

In sum, traction can develop in the incipient US-Iranian engagement much sooner than one may imagine. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:35 PM


Obama's Syria Meanderings Border on Incompetence (Albert R. Hunt, Sep 15, 2013, Bloomberg)

On public diplomacy, Obama is failing. There is no coherent message, little explanation of the complexities and contradictions created by difficult circumstances. By taking on the role of the agonizingly reluctant warrior on Syria, he has reinforced the country's skepticism. He announced he was seeking congressional authorization for a military strike on the Saturday afternoon before Labor Day -- not exactly prime time for attracting the nation's attention.

Worse, the president reached this decision to turn to Congress after consulting only with his small core of top advisers, none of whom have faced an election. He should have relied on Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Vice President Joe Biden, who between them spent 76 years in Congress.

Then, there was the confusing display on Sept. 9. Kerry had dismissively raised the possibility that Syria could relinquish its chemical stockpiles if it wanted to avoid a U.S. military response -- a statement that the secretary's spokesman quickly said was only "rhetorical." White House aides assailed Kerry's clumsiness and National Security Adviser Susan Rice warned that the Russians couldn't be trusted.

Only hours later, in interviews with television anchors, the president said he had discussed the proposal with Putin the week before in St. Petersburg and was open to exploring it further.

These convolutions didn't build confidence in the president among politicians, the public, U.S. allies or adversaries. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:29 PM


We're almost break even on the bailout (Chris Isidore, 9/15/13, @CNNMoney)
The bailouts, which include money disbursed through TARP as well as other funds used to shore up Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and AIG, may even show a profit by the time the sixth anniversary arrives. So far, Treasury and the Federal Reserve have recouped $670 billion of those funds. That's far more than could have been imagined in the dark days of 2008. Most of the money has been returned to U.S. coffers via the sale of stock in the companies that were rescued. The firms also repaid the government by selling off assets and making loan and dividend payments.
But exactly what W imagined.
Posted by orrinj at 1:32 PM


Rouhani: Iran will accept any elected Syria leader (AP,  September 16, 2013)

Iran's President Hasan Rouhani said his country will accept anyone as ruler of Syria who is elected by the Syrian people, the official news agency reported Monday.

September 15, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 7:56 PM


The Costly Paradox of Health-Care Technology (Jonathan S. Skinner, September 5, 2013, MIT Technology Review)

Unlike many countries, the U.S. pays for nearly any technology (and at nearly any price) without regard to economic value. This is why, since 1980, health-care spending as a percentage of gross domestic product has grown nearly three times as rapidly in the United States as it has in other developed countries, while the nation has lagged behind in life-expectancy gains.

Other researchers have found that just 0.5 percent of studies on new medical technologies evaluated those that work just as well as existing ones but cost less. The nearly complete isolation of both physicians and patients from the actual prices paid for treatments ensures a barren ground for these types of ideas. Why should a patient, fully covered by health insurance, worry about whether that expensive hip implant is really any better than the alternative costing half as much? And for that matter, physicians rarely if ever know the cost of what they prescribe--and are often shocked when they do find out.

The implications for innovation policy are twofold. First, we should pay only for innovations that are worth it, but without shutting out the potential for shaky new ideas that might have long-term potential. Two physicians, Steven Pearson and Peter Bach, have suggested a middle ground, where Medicare would cover such innovations for, say, three years; then, if there is still no evidence of effectiveness, Medicare would revert to paying for the standard treatment. Like many rational ideas, this one may fall victim to the internecine political struggles in Washington, D.C., where it's controversial to suggest denying even unproven treatments for dying patients.

For this reason, the best way technology can save costs is if it is used to better organize the health-care system. While the U.S. may lead the world in developing costly new orthopedic prostheses, we're far behind in figuring out how to get treatments to patients who want and could actually benefit from them. Doing so requires a greater emphasis on organizational change, innovations in the science of health-care delivery, and transparent prices to provide the right encouragement. This means smartphone diagnostics, technology to help physicians and nurses deliver the highest-quality care, or even drug container caps with motion detectors that let a nurse know when the patient hasn't taken the daily dose. The overall benefits from innovation in health-care delivery could far exceed those arising from dozens of shiny new medical devices.

Posted by orrinj at 7:38 PM


Iran's Rouhani may meet Obama at UN after American president reaches out (Julian Borger, 9/15/13, The Guardian)

An exchange of letters between Barack Obama and the Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, has set the stage for a possible meeting between the two men at the UN next week in what would be the first face-to-face encounter between a US and Iranian leader since Iran's 1979 revolution.

Britain's foreign secretary, William Hague, is also due to meet his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, at the UN general assembly meeting in New York, adding to guarded optimism that the June election of Rouhani, a Glasgow-educated moderate, and his appointment of a largely pragmatic cabinet, has opened the door to a diplomatic solution to the 11-year international standoff over Iran's nuclear programme.

Tehran took the Foreign Office by surprise, tweeting on Rouhani's English-language feed that the president would also be prepared to meet Hague, something the UK had not even requested.

Posted by orrinj at 2:10 PM


Syria Deal Faces Long Odds (Max Boot, 09.15.2013, Commentary)

[I]f the deal is implemented as advertised, it would be an unprecedented and almost unbelievable achievement: UN inspectors will have to catalogue, seize, and destroy some 1,000 tons of chemical weapons while a brutal civil war rages around them. Little wonder that Kerry added, when he first offered a way for Syria to avoid American military action, that such a plan couldn't and wouldn't be accepted. Now it has been accepted at least by the U.S. and Russia but without any obvious sticks to compel Assad's cooperation, with Russia steadily refusing to support a Chapter VII resolution to compel Syrian compliance.

The indications from Damascus are, at best, mixed: Assad most recently said he would eliminate his chemical weapons only if the U.S. stopped threatening him and stopped supporting the opposition. [...]

Indeed, if he submitted a full and complete list of weapons and sites he would be in danger of putting a noose around his neck, since it would be tantamount to an admission that the chemical-weapons attack which killed some 1,400 civilians was carried out by government forces-something that Moscow and Damascus continue to strenuously deny, in no small part because Assad must know he faces the possibility of trial as a war criminal. have to also imagine him a man willing to surrender power.  That's not how such regimes work.  W understood that about Saddam, which is why he let Colin Powell and Tony Blair make their play with a UN resolution.

Posted by orrinj at 2:04 PM


Saudi-US differences on Egypt and Syria should push Riyadh to reassess its security strategy (The National, Sep 15, 2013 )

[T]his beginning of a rapprochement between Washington and Iran, which actually began after the election of President Hassan Rouhani, should come as a wake-up call to Saudi authorities, who rely to a significant degree on the US for the preservation of peace and security in the Arabian Peninsula, the writer concluded.

From the beginning of the WoT, the dynamic has been the democratic Shi'a, the reformist Brotherhood and the US vs the Wahabbis and other Sunni Islamicists. It can't have taken even the Sa'uds that long to figure it out. 

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Posted by orrinj at 10:00 AM


What's It Like When You Know You're About to Lose an Election? (PHILIP BUMP, SEP 9, 2013, The Atlantic)

 Political campaigns are zero-sum. You invest months of your time, huge amounts of money, and in one evening either learn you have a job for several years -- or you have nothing. Even for staff, campaigns are tense and time-limited, efforts to balance a thousand priorities following a formula that ideally cobbles together the necessary votes for victory. The process of losing is so unpleasant that a number of former candidates we reached out to weren't interested in revisiting the topic.

Mel Gagarin was. In 2009, Gagarin ran for city council in New York's 29th Council District, an area in Queens that overlaps a little with Weiner's old congressional seat. Gagarin's candidacy, facing what was, in effect, two incumbents, was "an uphill climb from jumpstreet," in his words. But that didn't mean he didn't think he might win.

"I think two things happen" when you run for office, he told The Atlantic Wire by email. "One is you become trapped inside of your own campaign bubble and your own internal numbers of doors knocked, etc. That gives a false sense of hope. ... Second is you've invested so much into it that it's almost impossible to admit defeat until the very end."

We've told the story here before, but in 1985 I almost accidentally ended up working on the NJ gubernatorial campaign of Essex County Executive Peter Shapiro, at that point, one of the bright lights of the Technocrat movement in the Democratic Party (just barely preceding the New Democrats). 

I liked Mr. Shapiro and didn't especially like Governor Tom Kean and there was never any chance that the incumbent would lose.  At the time, Ronald Reagan had the highest popularity ratings in NJ polling history and Governor Kean was second.  The idea was that winning the primary would position Mr. Shapiro for the next statewide race, which he'd actually have a shot at winning.

But, of course, that's not how you sell a campaign to staff, volunteers and donors, nor even to yourself necessarily.  Everyone (nearly) has to buy into the possibility of winning or the campaign won't be serious.

Just before the primary I worked in the campaign headquarters in Newark for several weeks and the staff was so barebones that they had me drive the candidate a few times on weekends, a task that also included working as "security," the advance man, and the press liaison.  After he upset the field and won the nomination they put me in the car with the candidate during the week also, though two Essex County cops alternated the driving/security Monday through Friday.

Much of the staff was upset that a young Reagan Republican was chosen for a spot that had continual access to the nominee--which is the be-all-and-end-all of politics. [For some perspective, the one unforgivable sin in the eyes of most was support for the contras.]  But his wife in particular--who'd given incredibly mature birth to their child that spring--liked having me there because I was the one staffer with no personal stake in the race and who she could count on to ignore the demands of the rest of the staff and fellow pols, precisely because I had nothing to gain from acceding to them, having no future in Democratic politics.  Whatever the rest of the campaign thought my role was, the reality was that I was in large part there to insulate the candidate from them and make sure he spent as much time as possible with his family.  

The race that Fall may have been pre-determined--the governor grudgingly allowed one debate and the Times had to be threatened into doing its previously standard Editorial Board interview--but the campaign was pretty innovative.  The message was boiled down to just three issues: toxic waste, property taxes and car insurance rates.  It was Mr. Shapiro who taught me that political campaigns, if they are lucky, can only convey a limited set of themes and must repeat them ad nauseum.  [Given NJ's position between the NYC and Philly tv markets it's incredibly hard to be heard at all.] Such tv ads as we could afford were done by Mandy Grunwald, who later became Bill Clinton's director of advertising.  The ads, loosely based on the Wham! video where they have on t-shirts with one giant word on them, used white words on a background to hammer home the three themes. Against a less popular incumbent some of it might even have mattered.

But nothing mattered.

As the poll numbers came in late in October and showed that the needle hadn't moved at all, each member of the senior staff went through a psychic break where they realized we were toast.  Normally decent and reasonable people spent a day or two being surly and disconsolate.  Then they'd break through to the other side and several of them actually enjoyed the last two weeks of the race, having been relieved of all pressure.

Comically, after she went through her breakdown--which included an ugly encounter with me--the press secretary asked if I'd mind if she rode along in the press bus (mini-van) that I drove the last week.  I told her it was her bus and we'd love to have her with us.  We enjoyed ourselves greatly. There is no more exciting vantage from which to enjoy a political campaign than on the hustings with the candidate, mingling with the crowds and kibbitzing with the ink-stained wretches.

Reconciled to the inevitable, and seeing no point in standing around a ballroom while the ugly numbers rolled in, we all spent Election Night in an upstairs suite getting good and drunk.  Earlier that day I'd cast my one and only vote for a Democrat to this day, with never a glimmer of a notion that he could even come close to winning. But the final tally was even worse than anyone thought it could be with the candidate carrying only three towns, including the obscure liberal enclave of Roosevelt, which changed its name to honor FDR when he died.

By the time I got downstairs all the senior party leadership had fled, lest they acquire the stench of defeat.  Quotes for the next day's election post-mortems were being gathered from that blistering phallus Robert Toricelli--who was gleefully stabbing the candidate in the back, declaring his career over--and from sobbing teenage volunteers whingeing hysterically.  Despite handling the press at events for the past five months I'd never wavered from the campaign script nor extemporized, but right then and there I got to as many of the press as I could find and emphasized that it was always an unwinnable race and that no one in the party could have done any better.

When next we met, the candidate gave me a good deal of grief about adopting the role of campaign spokesman, but also expressed his gratitude that the stories had some balance.  I never saw him despair about the coming defeat, but did get some sense then of just how lonely and rejected it must make one feel.  

I often tell people that to really appreciate the glory of the republic they need to participate fully in at least one political campaign.  And nothing is more remarkable about our politics than that after we vote, and a winner is declared, the loser wishes him well, accepts his defeat, and moves on.  We've been doing it so long and it's become so natural that we've lost sight of how honorable this acceptance of defeat is.  

For all the contempt folks hold politicians in, it's a terribly demanding profession and they get put through a meat grinder. What's it like to lose an election?  You know that old adage about how you don't want to watch the legislative process too closely any more than you want to watch your sausage being made?  Well, at the end of the electoral process the winner at least gets to be a hot dog.  The loser is left to gather the bits and pieces of himself back together and make himself whole again.

You wouldn't wish it on anybody.  You wish everybody went through it once.  

Posted by orrinj at 9:52 AM


U.S. Constitution a document worth celebrating (WILFRED MCCLAY, September 14, 2013, Oklahoman)

Tuesday is Constitution Day, a uniquely American holiday and far more unique than the Fourth of July. Many countries celebrate an independence day. But only the United States has a 226-year-old written Constitution that authoritatively shapes its national life.

Other countries, such as France, have lived under many regimes; for the French, the nation is something distinct from the form of government. Not so for Americans, who have lived since the 1780s under the same "regime." The significance of this seems to escape us. We revere our Constitution blandly, not troubling ourselves to know very much about it and without reflecting much about what it says about our national identity.

Ties of race, religion and ethnicity have never been what bound Americans. 

Begin with Creation and the rest follows.  Start from anywhere else and you can't get to here.

Posted by orrinj at 9:46 AM


Mao's Willing Executioners : a review of The Tragedy of Liberation: A History of the Chinese Revolution 1945-57 By Frank Dikötter (Jonathan Mirsky, September 2013, Literary Review)

The Chinese famine was indeed one of the worst in world history, but the real disaster for China, until his death in 1976, was Mao himself, the man whose gigantic portrait still gazes down from Beijing's Forbidden City onto Tiananmen Square.

This is clearer than ever in Dikötter's path-breaking new book on the years 1945 to 1957, the period that the Chinese call 'Liberation'. Beyond everything else, he shows us that Mao 'liked killing', as Li Rui, one of his secretaries, put it some years ago to a Harvard symposium on the Chairman. From the 1930s, Mao began persecuting and killing his adversaries; once he was snug in his guerrilla headquarters in Yan'an, intellectuals were left in no doubt about what the Great Teacher expected and what would happen to them if they deviated, to use one of the Communist Party's favourite terms for disagreement.

The Tragedy of Liberation, writes Dikötter, 'is first and foremost a history of calculated terror and systematic violence'. Calculated and systematic, indeed: very soon after 1949 Mao set a quota for executions of 'class enemies', 'counter-revolutionaries' and 'black elements'. With the help of henchmen such as Deng Xiaoping (than whom no one was more keen to kill), these ratios - sometimes fewer than two per thousand, sometimes rather more - were extended throughout the country. Since there were already over half a billion Chinese, the number of deaths in the first years of Liberation, even before the famine of 1958-62, was enormous.

First there were the so-called landlords. In the 1920s the agronomist John Lossing Buck (Pearl Buck's first husband) showed, in Dikötter's words, that 'over half of all farmers were owners, many were part-owners, and fewer than 6 per cent were tenants ... Tenants were not generally much poorer than owners.' But Mao learned from Stalin, who had slaughtered the kulaks, and outdid him. 'In a pact sealed in blood between the party and poor, close to 2 million so-called "landlords", often hardly any better off than their neighbours, were liquidated.' I say 'outdid him' because, as Dikötter shows throughout his chilling narrative, whereas Stalin usually relied on 'the organs' to do his bloody work, Mao induced the Chinese to turn on each other, something well documented during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and 1970s, but already common from 1950. During the Great Terror of 1951, 'close to 2 million people had been murdered, sometimes during public rallies in stadiums, but more often than not away from the public eye, in forests, ravines, besides rivers, alone or in batches'.

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Posted by orrinj at 9:43 AM


Wealthy, Hispanics, Retirees Among the Most Content in America: Poll (NEIL KING JR., 9/13/13, WSJ)

Money may not buy love, but it seems to buy happiness.

Wealthier Americans are among those most content with their lives, the new Wall Street Journal / NBC News poll finds. So are retirees, Hispanics and Westerners. People in these groups disproportionately rate their lives a solid 10 on a 1-to-10 scale, with a 1 being the depths of personal disappointment.

Among the least content are Southerners and people who consider themselves poor. They give lower ratings to their lives than do Americans as a whole. [...]

Nothing makes more difference, though, than wealth. In households making $ 75,000 a year or more, 66% gave their lives an 8 or better, compared with just 36% of those in households making less than $ 30,000 a year.

And people wonder why we're trending towards greater transfers of wealth for less work?

Posted by orrinj at 9:36 AM


How to Make School Better for Boys : Start by acknowledging that boys are languishing while girls are succeeding. (CHRISTINA HOFF SOMMERSSEP 13 2013, The Atlantic)

What can we do to improve the prospects of boys? For one thing, we must acknowledge the fact that boys and girls are different. In many education and government circles, it remains taboo to broach the topic of sex differences. Many gender scholars insist that the sexes are cognitively interchangeable and argue that any talk of difference only encourages sexism and stereotyping. In the current environment, to speak of difference invites opprobrium, and to advocate for male-specific interventions invites passionate and organized opposition. Meanwhile, one gender difference refuses to go away: Boys are languishing academically, while girls are soaring.

 Young men in Great Britain, Australia, and Canada have also fallen behind. But in stark contrast to the United States, these countries are energetically, even desperately, looking for ways to help boys improve. Why? They view widespread male underachievement as a national threat: A country with too many languishing males risks losing its economic edge. So these nations have established dozens of boy-focused commissions, task forces, and working groups. Using evidence and not ideology as their guide, officials in these countries don't hesitate to recommend sex-specific solutions. The British Parliamentary Boys' Reading Commission urges, "Every teacher should have an up-to-date knowledge of reading material that will appeal to disengaged boys." A Canadian report on improving boys' literacy recommends active classrooms "that capitalize on the boys' spirit of competition"-- games, contests, debates. An Australian study found that adolescent males, across racial and socioeconomic lines, shared a common complaint, "School doesn't offer the courses that most boys want to do, mainly courses and course work that prepare them for employment." 

Sumitra Rajagopalan, an adjunct professor of biomechanics at Canada's McGill University, developed a program for disengaged teenage boys in Montreal, where one in three male students drops out of high school. The male students she met were bored by their classroom instruction and starved for hands-on activities. She was shocked to find that many had never held a hammer or screwdriver.  Under her supervision, the boys built a solar driven Stirling engine from Coca-Cola cans and straws." Boys are born tinkerers," she said. "They have a deep-seated need to rip things apart, decode their inner workings, create stuff."

Rajogopalan's insight is supported by a large body of research showing that taken as a group, men prefer working with things and women prefer working with people. Of course, there are female tinkerers who like to work with things and gladly enter occupations such as pipefitting and metallurgy. But the number of men eager to enter these fields is substantially greater. Women still predominate--some­times overwhelmingly--in empathy-centered fields such as early-childhood education, social work, veterinary medicine, and psychology, while men prevail in the mechanical vocations such as car repair, oil drilling, and electrical engineering.

Young men may be a vanishing breed on the college campus, but there are some colleges that have no trouble attracting them--schools whose names include the letters T-E-C-H. Georgia Tech is 68 percent male; Rochester Institute of Technology, 68 percent; South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, 74 percent. This affinity pattern points to one highly promising strategy for reconnecting boys with school: vocational education, now called Career and Technical Education (CTE).

In a rare example of the academic establishment taking note of boys' trouble in school, the Harvard Graduate School of Education recently published a major study, Pathways to Prosperity, that highlights the "yawning gender gap" in education favoring women: "Our system... clearly does not work well for many, especially young men." The authors call for a national revival of vocational education in secondary schools. They cite several existing programs that could serve as a model for national reform, including the Massachusetts system, sometimes called the "Cadillac of Career Training Education."

Massachusetts has a network of 26 academically rigorous vocational-technical high schools serving 27,000 male and female students. Students in magnet schools such as Worcester Technical, Madison Park Technical Vocational, and Blackstone Valley Regional Vocational Technical take traditional academic courses but spend half their time apprenticing in a field of their choice. These include computer repair, telecommunications networking, carpentry, early childhood education, plumbing, heating, refrigeration, and cosmetology. As Pathways reports, these schools have some of the state's highest graduation and college matriculation rates, and close to 96 percent pass the states' rigorous high-stakes graduation test.

Blackstone Valley Tech in Upton, Massachusetts, should be studied by anyone looking for solutions to the boy problem.  It is working wonders with girls (who comprise 44 percent of the student body), but its success with boys is astonishing. According to a white paper on vocational education by the Commonwealth's Pioneer Institute, "One in four Valley Technical students enter their freshman year with a fourth-grade reading level." The school immerses these students in an intense, individualized remediation program until they read proficiently at grade level. These potentially disaffected students put up with remediation as well as a full load of college preparatory courses (including honors and Advanced Placement classes), because otherwise they could not spend half the semester apprenticing in diesel mechanics, computer repair, or automotive engineering.

In former times, vocational high schools were often dumping grounds for low achievers. Today, in Massachusetts, they are launching pads into the middle class.

The white collar jobs we're educating women for can be done by computer programs, though many need not be done at all.  The vocations we should be training boys for--construction trades, automotive mechanics, repair work--are going to be with us for awhile and are actually useful.

Posted by orrinj at 9:16 AM


Wall St. Exploits Ethanol Credits, and Prices Spike (GRETCHEN MORGENSON and ROBERT GEBELOFF, 9/15/.13, NY Times)

It was supposed to help clean the air, reduce dependence on foreign oil and bolster agriculture. But a little known market in ethanol credits has also become a hot new game on Wall Street.

The federal government created the market in special credits tied to ethanol eight years ago when it required refiners to mix ethanol into gasoline or buy credits from companies that do so. The idea was to push refiners to use the cleaner, renewable fuel, or force them to buy the credits.

A few worried that Wall Street would set out to exploit this young market, fears the government dismissed. But many people believe that is what happened this year when the price of the ethanol credits skyrocketed 20-fold in just six months, according to an analysis of regulatory documents and interviews with more than 40 people involved in the market, including industry executives, brokers, traders and analysts.

If you want to foster alternative energy sources you just tax the one you don't want.  Government isn't very good at picking winners, but it's excellent at choosing losers.  Raise the price of oil and let markets sort out the alternatives.

Posted by orrinj at 9:05 AM


Iran's conservatives silent as Rouhani puts nuclear talks on diplomatic footing (The Guardian, 9/12/13)

The news came in a low-key, brief statement from Hassan Rouhani's public relations office: "The president has handed the responsibility for nuclear negotiations with foreign nations to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs."

No longer would the Iranian side be led by the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC). Within hours of the announcement, Catherine Ashton, the European Union foreign policy chief, announced she had contacted Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran's new foreign minister, and agreed to meet on the sidelines of the UN meeting in New York later this month. [...]

Rouhani's new move is partly to create a clearer decision-structure but also reflects his confidence in Zarif, who is US-educated as well as known to many US politicians, including vice-president Joe Biden, from his stint in New York from 2002 to 2007 as Iran's UN representative.

"Having a new foreign minister, the first to be respected internationally in three decades, and also a quick decision-making process between him and the president, this is the only workable way to tackle the crippling nuclear crisis," said Kourosh Zaim, a leading member of the opposition National Front party in Tehran.

In the reformist press, Samira Farahbakhsh argued in Mardom Salaarie (Democracy) that Zarif was "held in high esteem" by western diplomats given his "relatively comprehensive understanding of the behaviour of Western players".

It has also been argued it was important for Rouhani to put talks under a diplomatic rather than a security rubric.

Iran Diplomacy, a website associated with Sadegh Kharrazi, former ambassador to both the UN and France, has posted an article headlined The End of Viewing Nuclear Negotiations a Security Issue, suggesting the move "tells foreigners that Iran has changed the character of the issue from one of security to diplomatic/political, and that they should reconsider their stance as well...[as understanding] the Iranian side is looking for a win-win outcome".

Elections have consequences.

Popular Israeli rabbi may meet Iran's Rouhani (YIFA YAAKOV and DAVID SHAMAH September 12, 2013, Times of Israel)

A powerful Israeli rabbi with influence in the country's halls of power has been invited to meet with the president of Iran, in what could be a remarkable development after years of harsh rhetoric between the two countries.

Rabbi Yoshiyau Yosef Pinto, seen as a spiritual leader for some of Israel's biggest politicians and business leaders, may meet Hassan Rouhani in New York at the UN General Assembly later this month.

Rabbi Yossi Elituv, an Israeli journalist and Pinto's media liaison, told The Times of Israel that Rouhani had expressed interest in the meeting.

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Posted by orrinj at 8:46 AM


The Bay of Pigs' unfinished battle (George F. Will, Published: September 13, 2013, Washington Post)

Fifty-two years and many misadventures later, the invasion still fascinates as, in historian Theodore Draper's description, "one of those rare events in history -- a perfect failure." It had a perverse fecundity.

It led to President John Kennedy's decision to demonstrate toughness by deepening U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Rasenberger writes that, three weeks after the April 1961 invasion, Kennedy sent Vice President Lyndon Johnson to Saigon: "Johnson's assignment was to deliver a message to [South Vietnam's President Ngo Dinh] Diem that the United States intended to fully support the South Vietnamese effort to beat the Communists." (Thirty months later, the United States was complicit in the military coup -- regime change -- in which Diem was murdered.) The Bay of Pigs led to Nikita Khrushchev's disdainful treatment of Kennedy at the June summit in Vienna, and to Khrushchev being emboldened to put missiles in Cuba. [...]

This autumn, a federal appeals court is expected to hear arguments about disclosing the document written in 1981 by CIA historian Jack Pfeiffer, who retired in 1984 and died in 1997. The National Security Archive, a private research institution and library, is arguing that no important government interest is served by the continuing suppression of a 32-year-old report about a 52-year-old event.

The CIA admits that the volume contains only a small amount of still-classified information. It argues, however, that it should be covered by the "deliberative process privilege" that makes it exempt from release under the Freedom of Information Act. The argument is that, for some unclear reason, release of this volume, unlike the release of the first four volumes, would threaten the process by which the CIA's histories are written. Supposedly candid histories will not be written if the writers know that, decades later, their work will become public.

This unpersuasive worry -- an excuse for the selective censorship of perhaps embarrassing scholarship -- is surely more flimsy than the public's solid interest in information. And the government's interest.

In his 1998 book "Secrecy: The American Experience," Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan argued that secrecy makes government stupid by keeping secrets from itself. Information is property, and government agencies hoard it. For example, in the 1940s, U.S. military code breakers read 2,900 communications between Moscow and its agents in America. So, while the nation was torn by bitter disagreements about whether Alger Hiss and the Rosenbergs committed espionage, the military knew they had. But it kept the proof from other parts of the government, including President Harry Truman.

Intelligence is, in fact, public property and none of it should be kept from us.  Not least because opening it would allow the wisdom of crowds to reshape it before we act on it.

Posted by orrinj at 8:38 AM


Five myths about cruise missiles (Eliot A. Cohen, September 12, 2013, Washington Post)

3. Cruise missiles, launched from sea, can do anything airplanes can do, but without endangering pilots.

Tomahawks are expensive -- between $1 million and $2 million each. Precision-guided bombs dropped from airplanes are cheap -- tens of thousands of dollars apiece. The United States may have several thousand Tomahawks in its arsenal; it probably has hundreds of thousands of gravity bombs. A gravity bomb can deliver at least twice as much high explosive as a cruise missile. Because of the physics of being dropped from a plane at 10,000 or 20,000 feet, a bomb with a hardened nose can penetrate layers of reinforced concrete. To take out an underground bunker (rather than, say, a radar site or another soft target), you usually need gravity bombs.

Moreover, it is relatively easy to turn airplanes around, up to the last moment. The crews of aircraft carriers welcome back the pilots of F-18 fighters; the crews of missile-firing destroyers do not welcome back Tomahawks that have decided to return to base.

Best to use up our Tomahawk inventory on the last remaining totalitarian regimes and then mothball the fleet.
Posted by orrinj at 8:31 AM


Prouty Cancer fundraising surpasses $2.75 million goal for 2013 (Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, Sep 12 2013)

The Prouty, which started in 1982 with four nurses on bikes raising $4000, has surpassed its 2013 fundraising goal of $2.75 million.  This pushes total fundraising from the 32 editions of the event over $20 million.  The funds support cancer patients and cancer research at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Norris Cotton Cancer Center.

This year's Prouty took place July 12-13 in Hanover, N.H.  Established to honor cancer patient Audrey Prouty, the weekend now attracts more than 5,000 participants to a slate of events that includes one- and two-day bicycling routes, multiple walk routes, rowing on the Connecticut River, and golf.  [...]

In addition to some 25,000 donations so far in 2013, more than 200 corporations have supported the Prouty this year.  The corporate support, coupled with an army of more than 1,300 volunteers, keep costs low so that nearly 87 cents of every dollar raised goes directly to cancer patient support services and cancer research at Norris Cotton. 

Mind you, Hanover is a town of about 8500 people (in Summer, when school's out). 
Posted by orrinj at 8:23 AM


Don't blame climate change for extreme weather (Bjørn Lomborg, September 13, 2013, Washington Post)

Global warming is real. It is partly man-made. It will make some things worse and some things better. Overall, the long-run impact will be negative. But some of the most prominent examples of extreme weather are misleading, and some weather events are becoming less extreme.

The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) delivered a 600-page reporton extreme weather in 2011. It got little attention -- because it is nuanced.

Global warming, in general, will mean higher temperatures. This causes more heat waves -- more extreme weather. But it also causes fewer cold waves -- less extreme weather. Many more people die from excessive cold than excessive heat, so fewer people will die from cold and heat in the future. By mid-century, researchers estimated in 2006, that means about 1.4 million fewer deaths per year. In the continental United States, heat waves in the past decade exceeded the norm by 10 percent, but the number of cold waves fell 75 percent.

Moreover, global warming will mostly increase temperatures during winter, at night and in cold places, making temperature differences less extreme.

Global warming will also cause more heavy rain; this is clearly more extreme. But warming will also help alleviate water scarcity -- less extreme. About 1.2 billion fewer people are expected to live with water scarcity by the end of the century because of increased precipitation.

Drought is expected to increase in some regions while decreasing in others. Overall, the impact will probably be slightly more extreme. Likewise, sea levels will rise, which will mean more flooding of coastal structures -- more extreme weather. The total impact is likely to be less than 0.1 percent of global economic output.

Hurricane wind speeds are likely to increase (more extreme), but the number of hurricanes is likely to decrease or hold steady (less extreme). The number of extra-tropical cyclones is likely to decline (less extreme).

Posted by orrinj at 8:15 AM


Lifelines for Poor Children (JAMES J. HECKMAN, 9/13/14, NY Times)

The cognitive skills prized by the American educational establishment and measured by achievement tests are only part of what is required for success in life. Character skills are equally important determinants of wages, education, health and many other significant aspects of flourishing lives. Self-control, openness, the ability to engage with others, to plan and to persist -- these are the attributes that get people in the door and on the job, and lead to productive lives. Cognitive and character skills work together as dynamic complements; they are inseparable. Skills beget skills. More motivated children learn more. Those who are more informed usually make wiser decisions.

These established findings should lead to a major reorientation of policies for human development. Because skill begets skill, the opportunity for education should begin at birth -- and not depend on the accident of birth.

The family into which a child is born plays a powerful role in determining lifetime opportunities. This is hardly news, but it bears repeating: some kids win the lottery at birth, far too many don't -- and most people have a hard time catching up over the rest of their lives. Children raised in disadvantaged environments are not only much less likely to succeed in school or in society, but they are also much less likely to be healthy adults. A variety of studies show that factors determined before the end of high school contribute to roughly half of lifetime earnings inequality. This is where our blind spot lies: success nominally attributed to the beneficial effects of education, especially graduating from college, is in truth largely a result of factors determined long before children even enter school.

Improving the early environments of disadvantaged children is a promising way to reduce inequality, but conventional wisdom is to level the playing field with cash transfers, tuition assistance and raising the minimum wage. High-quality early childhood programs are great economic and social equalizers -- they supplement the family lives of disadvantaged children by teaching consistent parenting and by giving children the mentoring, encouragement and support available to functioning middle-class families. Children in these programs develop foundational skills on par with those of more affluent children and create a stronger family structure for themselves. Caring parents and early stimulation are essential ingredients of successful early childhood environments.

Critics say that early childhood education is expensive and that it is not effective. They are right about the cost, but terribly wrong about the large return on the investment. Quality early childhood programs for disadvantaged children more than pay for themselves in better education, health and economic outcomes.

Proof comes in the form of a long-term cost-benefit analysis of effective early childhood programs. The Perry Preschool project was an intensive two-year voluntary program administered between 1962 and 1967 to disadvantaged 3- and 4-year-old, low-I.Q. African-American children in Ypslanti, Mich. The curriculum emphasized the development of self-control, perseverance and social skills in conjunction with basic cognitive skills. It also worked with the mothers to foster attachment, develop parenting skills and deepen their interactions with their children. The participants were randomly assigned to treatment and control groups, with the outcomes evaluated over a period of four decades.

Perry did not produce lasting gains in the I.Q.'s of its participants, but it did boost character skills that produced better education, economic and life outcomes. The economic rate of return from Perry is in the range of 6 percent to 10 percent per year per dollar invested, based on greater productivity and savings in expenditures on remediation, criminal justice and social dependency. This compares favorably to the estimated 6.9 percent annual rate of return of the United States stock market from the end of World War II to the 2008 meltdown. And yes, these estimates account for the costs of raising taxes and any resulting loss of economic activity.

Posted by orrinj at 8:01 AM


Poll: 75% of Israelis say Syrians won't give up chemical weapons (GIL HOFFMAN, 09/15/2013, Jerusalem Post)

More than three-quarters of Israelis do not believe Syria will keep its commitment to dismantle its chemical weapons program, according to a poll published in this weekend's Israel Hayom.

If History Is Any Measure, the Clock Is Ticking (WILLIAM J. BROAD and DAVID E. SANGER, 9/14/13, NY Times)

Weapons experts and diplomats say that if President Bashar al-Assad is serious about complying with the landmark agreement announced in Geneva on Saturday, he will have to take similarly dramatic action in the coming weeks. Anything short of an immediate demonstration of willingness, they say, will be a sign that Mr. Assad is seeking to drag out the process, betting that time is on his side as memories fade of the attack that is said to have killed more than 1,400 people and prompted a military standoff with the United States.

The benchmarks laid out in the Geneva agreement seek to capitalize on the momentum by imposing quick deadlines, including a requirement that Syria submit a complete list of its chemical weapons, and storage and production facilities within a week. The agreement also requires "immediate and unfettered" access to chemical weapons sites by international inspectors.

The agreement calls for the destruction of chemical agent mixing equipment by November and, perhaps most ambitious, for Syria to completely rid itself of chemical weapons and production facilities in less than a year, a timetable that would set a speed record and one that many experts doubt could be completed even with Syria's full cooperation.

To comply with the deal that was negotiated over his head, Assad would have to essentially surrender sovereignty over his state.

W, of course, laid exactly the same trap for Saddam, then used his noncompliance as the basis for his ouster::

Last September, I went to the U.N. General Assembly and urged the nations of the world to unite and bring an end to this danger. On November 8th, the Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 1441, finding Iraq in material breach of its obligations, and vowing serious consequences if Iraq did not fully and immediately disarm.

Today, no nation can possibly claim that Iraq has disarmed. And it will not disarm so long as Saddam Hussein holds power. For the last four-and-a-half months, the United States and our allies have worked within the Security Council to enforce that Council's long-standing demands. Yet, some permanent members of the Security Council have publicly announced they will veto any resolution that compels the disarmament of Iraq. These governments share our assessment of the danger, but not our resolve to meet it. Many nations, however, do have the resolve and fortitude to act against this threat to peace, and a broad coalition is now gathering to enforce the just demands of the world. The United Nations Security Council has not lived up to its responsibilities, so we will rise to ours.

Meanwhile, suppose for the nonce that he were to disarm himself, all that would do is deprive him of the means to retaliate against his own people when we do attack him.

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Posted by orrinj at 7:48 AM


On Their Honor : The thriving of the medieval cult of chivalry. (Charlotte Allen, September 23, 2013, Weekly Standard)

Nigel Saul, a professor of medieval history at the University of London, tries to put paid to these common assumptions. He argues that chivalry was a thoroughly masculine creation aimed directly at reshaping that most masculine of human activities: warfare. Its focus wasn't on rescuing damsels in distress, but on fostering an ethos of knighthood that upheld loyalty to one's comrades and superiors and respect for one's enemies, who were also knights, in combat. Furthermore, Saul argues, the warfare-linked idea of chivalry pervaded aristocratic culture (in England, at least) to the point that the fortress-like crenellations of medieval castles became a standard architectural feature of gentry homes during the 13th and 14th centuries. 

Chivalry was not a movement or institution cut off from the mainstream of society; on the contrary, it formed part of the wider ethos and value system of society. It was central to the identity of the English medieval elite.

Chivalry arrived in England with the Norman Conquest... [...]

Partly because Continentals were shocked at the apparent barbarity of all-or-nothing Anglo-Saxon and Viking warmongering, and partly because the Roman Catholic church had been trying for decades to tame feudal nobles' incessant infighting by advancing the concept of the "just war," the Normans instituted a new battlefield ethos in which captured knights, as the social and moral equals of their captors, were to be held for ransom instead of being killed outright. The new rule, which took hold as the 12th century unfolded, bespoke a respect for the knight's status that transcended his particular feudal or national loyalties. It demanded a reciprocal courtesy that was similarly transcendent. 

It was this new standard, Saul argues, that transformed medieval English warfare and culture. The knight became more than a mere warrior; he was "an idealized figure," Saul writes, who "was given a role to perform in a divinely ordered hierarchy, that of protecting the other two orders of society, the clergy and the labouring classes. He was invested with nobility, good fortune and charisma."

A body of literature comprising romances, poetry, and histories focused on knighthood and its virtues quickly arose. It included not just the stories of King Arthur and his Round Table embodying chivalric ideals of courage, humility, and graciousness, but also quasi-legendary chronicles of the new Norman baronial dynasties that had established a more recent foothold in England. The crusader-king Richard the Lion-Hearted, appearing as the living embodiment of knightly heroism in the service of religious faith, became an English folk hero. The new art of heraldry centered on the colorful visual display of the symbols of bravery and honor that every knightly family sought to advertise. The tournaments in which knights regularly jousted on horseback weren't mere pageantry for impressing the ladies; they were the practical means by which the knights honed and perfected the skills that served them in battle. 

By this route chivalry, which had originated as a practical military code, developed into a code of manners defining a civil elite no longer composed of men exclusively of military experience, but embracing lawyers, civil servants and others who sought respectability in the partial embrace of aristocratic culture.

In other words, chivalric values became democratized. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:18 AM


Going for it on fourth down - lessons from football analytics (Dan Peterson, 9/12/2013, USA Football)

Kevin Kelley, head coach of Pulaski Academy in Little Rock, Ark., has only one game situation in his playbook when he will punt on fourth down - if his team is winning convincingly and he doesn't want to run up the score. 

Otherwise, the numbers clearly tell him that punting reduces your chance of winning a game by giving away possession.  In the same way, getting the ball back after a score is just as important. Hence, he will regularly call an onside kick.

"Everyone says football is a game of field position, but it's not," Kevin Kelley told ESPN. "It's a game of scoring points, which only happens when you possess the ball. If you're not obsessed with field position, then you don't punt. You onside a lot. You don't even try to return punts or to block punts, because getting the ball back is far more important than risking a muff or a roughing-the-kicker flag."

Making bold decisions during a game requires analyzing probabilities and coming to logical conclusions prior to kickoff. 

"In high school, the average opponent's start after a regular kickoff is the 33-yard line. After a failed onside, it is the 47," Kevin Kelly said. "So you are risking 14 yards of field position in return for a good chance of a turnover. If there were a blitz action that would risk a 14-yard gain by the offense versus a turnover for your defense, you'd call it constantly. That is the equation for an onside, yet the play is hardly ever called."

Does the risk yield rewards?  Since 2005, when Kevin Kelley started his unorthodox analysis, Pulaski has won two state championships, including an undefeated 2011 season. His program has the second most wins in Arkansas during the last 10 years.

Posted by orrinj at 12:12 AM


Americans love to complain about rising food prices; here are three reasons you should stop whining (Mark J. Perry, September 14, 2013, AEI)

It's a favorite pastime in this country - Americans love to complain about rising food prices. Even when they aren't. In fact, given all of the complaining you would never know that average food price inflation in recent years is actually the lowest in several generations. Below are three reasons that Americans should stop whining about food prices, and be a little more appreciative of how affordable food is in the US today, especially when compared to other countries, or when compared to previous decades in US history.


September 14, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 7:07 PM


Have We Got Matthew Shepard All Wrong? : A new book argues that America's most notorious hate crime was not a hate crime at all. (AARON HICKLIN SEPTEMBER 13 2013, The Advocate)

What if nearly everything you thought you knew about Matthew Shepard's murder was wrong? What if our most fiercely held convictions about the circumstances of that fatal night of October 6, 1998, have obscured other, more critical, aspects of the case? How do people sold on one version of history react to being told that facts are slippery -- that thinking of Shepard's murder as a hate crime does not mean it was a hate crime? And how does it color our understanding of such a crime if the perpetrator and victim not only knew each other but also had sex together, bought drugs from one another, and partied together?

None of this is idle speculation; it's the fruit of years of dogged investigation by journalist Stephen Jimenez, himself gay. In the course of his reporting, Jimenez interviewed over 100 subjects, including friends of Shepard and of his convicted killers, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, as well as the killers themselves (though by the book's end you may have more questions than answers about the extent of Henderson's complicity).  In the process, he amassed enough anecdotal evidence to build a persuasive case that Shepard's sexuality was, if not incidental, certainly less central than popular consensus has lead us to believe.  [...]

But in what circumstances does someone slam a seven-inch gun barrel into their victim's head so violently as to crush his brain stem? That's not just flipping out, that's psychotic -- literally psychotic, to anyone familiar with the long-term effects of methamphetamine. In court, both the prosecutor and the plaintiffs had compelling reasons to ignore this thread, but for Jimenez it is the central context for understanding not only the brutality of the crime but the milieu in which both Shepard and McKinney lived and operated. [...]

Despite the many interviews, Jimenez does not entirely resolve the true nature of McKinney's relationship to Shepard, partly because of his unreliable chief witness. McKinney presents himself as a "straight hustler" turning tricks for money or drugs, but others characterize him as bisexual. A former lover of Shepard's confirms that Shepard and McKinney had sex while doing drugs in the back of a limo owned by a shady Laramie figure, Doc O'Connor. Another subject, Elaine Baker, tells Jimenez that Shepard and McKinney were friends who had been in sexual threesome with O'Connor. A manager of a gay bar in Denver recalls seeing photos of McKinney and Henderson in the papers and recognizing them as patrons of his bar. He recounts his shock at realizing "these guys who killed that kid came from inside our own community."

Just a lifestyle choice.
Posted by orrinj at 6:23 PM


Washington Builds a Bugaboo : How does Senator Ted Cruz tick off liberals? Let us count the ways. (Andrew Ferguson, September 23, 2013, Weekly Standard)

The essence of McCarthyism is bullying, and Cruz is frequently called a bully--not only of men like Chuck Hagel but also of women like Dianne Feinstein, the California senator who redoubled her efforts for gun control after the killings at Sandy Hook elementary school. For his part, as a private lawyer, solicitor general of Texas, and now as a senator, Cruz expresses a special, not to say obsessive, fondness for the widest possible reading of the Second Amendment. 

In a widely replayed exchange, Cruz asked Feinstein to explain why she felt that the Second Amendment allowed the government to restrict the kinds of weapons citizens were allowed to buy, when she would never allow similar restrictions on the First Amendment or the Fourth. 

By any objective reading, Cruz's point was weak--no constitutional right is completely unrestricted--and his unblinking insistence on pursuing it was unsettling to watch, but his tone was never harsh or disrespectful or, for that matter, bullying. It was Feinstein's wounded, girlish reply, which quickly caromed around the Internet, that allowed his opponents to portray Cruz as a bully. 

"Senator, I'm not a sixth-grader," she said, adding, in a non sequitur, that she had, as a mayor in the 1970s, seen people who were shot. Therefore she didn't need a "lecture" on the Constitution.

Feinstein's reasoning was no more careful than Cruz's. His larger transgression, however, was threatening to filibuster the gun bill with his Senate colleagues Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky. In Cruz's telling, the threat led to a delay in the Senate vote on the bill. This bought gun control opponents enough time to turn weak-kneed Republicans against it. The result was that a major piece of legislation that had looked unstoppable was turned back over a weekend. Gun control, for now, is dead as a federal issue. 

In a more respectable cause--blocking an anti-abortion measure, for example, or stopping a cut in food stamp funding--Cruz's defeat of the gun bill would look like what it was: a daring and skillful piece of parliamentary maneuvering. Instead it rendered him guilty of an offense even greater than bullying: effectiveness. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:10 PM


"Brighter future for politics and policy requires a different Republican Party" (THOMAS E. MANN AND NORMAN J. ORNSTEIN, 9/14/13, Salon)

The deep dysfunction that has gripped our political system for the past several years has not disappeared. If anything, it is even more pronounced in the House of Representatives and in many states. Lizza noted in his March 2013 New Yorker profile of Cantor: "House Republicans as a group are farther to the right than they have ever been. The overwhelming majority still fear a primary challenge from a more conservative rival more than a general-election campaign against a Democrat. They may hope that the Party's national brand improves enough to help win the White House in 2016, but there is little incentive for the average member of the House to moderate his image."

However sincere Boehner's professions of desire for conciliation, the Lizza description of the House Republican majority dominated the policy and political dynamic in the weeks following the election, as Congress and the president grappled with the looming "fiscal cliff"--the expiration on December 31, 2012, of all the Bush tax cuts from 2001 and 2003, of the payroll tax cut and other Obama-sponsored tax reductions to stimulate a tepid recovery, and of a series of tax extenders including the research and development credit, along with the first wave of across-the-board budget cuts known as the sequester, enacted as part of the last-minute deal in 2011 to avert the breach in the debt ceiling.

The resolution of the fiscal cliff showed both that dysfunction continued to be dangerously high and that any successes in policy making through at least the remainder of the 113th Congress would come via the route of bipartisan supermajorities in the Senate (with a half dozen or more Republicans joining almost all of the Democrats) forcing the hand of the more partisan and reluctant House. 

...that two core jobs of the government are budget-making and fostering economic growth.

Now let us consider what the most dysfunctional legislative body in the history of the Multiverse has produced: massive strides towards balancing the budget; and a growing economy despite uniform predictions that the former would make the latter impossible.

If one disregards the atmospherics and judges them solely on the basis of what they've done, it would be hard for a non-partisan observer to ask for much more from Congress.

Sadly, for all their posturing to the contrary, the authors are not non-partisan.

Posted by orrinj at 9:00 AM


And then there was one (Tom Engelhardt , 9/13/13, Asia Times)

[F]or all his foresight, Orwell had no more power to peer into the future than the rest of us. So it's no fault of his that, almost three decades after his year of choice, more than six decades after his death, the shape of our world has played havoc with his vision. Like so many others in his time and after, he couldn't imagine the disappearance of the Soviet Union or at least of Soviet-like totalitarian states. More than anything else, he couldn't imagine one fact of our world that, in 1948, wasn't in the human playbook. 

In 1984, Orwell imagined a future from what he knew of the Soviet and American (as well as Nazi, Japanese, and British) imperial systems. In imagining three equally powerful, equally baleful superpowers - Oceania, Eurasia, and Eastasia - balanced for an eternity in an unwinnable global struggle, he conjured up a logical extension of what had been developing on this planet for hundreds of years. His future was a version of the world humanity had lived with since the first European power mounted cannons on a wooden ship and set sail, like so many Mongols of the sea, to assault and conquer foreign realms, coastlines first. 

From that moment on, the imperial powers of this planet - super, great, prospectively great, and near great - came in contending or warring pairs, if not triplets or quadruplets. Portugal, Spain, and Holland; England, France, and Imperial Russia; the United States, Germany, Japan, and Italy (as well as Great Britain and France), and after World War II, the United States and the Soviet Union. 

Five centuries in which one thing had never occurred, the thing that even George Orwell, with his prodigious political imagination, couldn't conceive of, the thing that makes 1984 a dated work and his future a past that never was: a one-superpower world. To give birth to such a creature on such a planet - as indeed occurred in 1991 - was to be at the end of history, at least as it had long been known. [...]

Today, almost 12 years after 9/11, the US position in the world seems even more singular. Militarily speaking, the Global War on Terror continues, however namelessly, in the Obama era in places as distant as Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. The US military remains heavily deployed in the Greater Middle East, though it has pulled out of Iraq and is drawing down in Afghanistan. In recent years, US power has, in an exceedingly public manner, been "pivoting" to Asia, where the building of new bases, as well as the deployment of new troops and weaponry, to "contain" that imagined future superpower China has been proceeding apace. 

At the same time, the US military has been ever-so-quietly pivoting to Africa where, as TomDispatch's Nick Turse reports, its presence is spreading continent-wide. American military bases still dot the planet in remarkable profusion, numbering perhaps 1,000 at a moment when no other nation has more than a handful outside its territory. 

The reach of Washington's surveillance and intelligence networks is unique in the history of the planet. The ability of its drone air fleet to assassinate enemies almost anywhere is unparalleled. Europe and Japan remain so deeply integrated into the American global system as to be essentially a part of its power-projection capabilities. 

The imbalance is even greater because we have genuine partners across the Anglosphere, in particular, and beyond.  Our enemies throughout the Long War have never had any genuine allies only partners of convenience. And our last enemy in that war--Islamicism--lacks even a single state, nevermind any allies.  As importantly, given our overwhelming technological superiority, it can never hold power anywhere. In order to even attempt its proposed different model of governance it would have to make itself a target for our weaponry.  

Perhaps it's time to stop referring to superpowers at all.  America and its network of democratic/capitalist/protestant brethren are simply the power in world affairs.  There are no rivals.  That's what it means to be at the End of History.

Posted by orrinj at 8:56 AM


How oil poisoned Gulf governance : a review of Collaborative Colonialism: the Political Economy of Oil in the Persian Gulf by Hossein Askari (Robert E Looney, 9/13/13, Asia Times)

Throughout the book, one senses Professor Askari's disdain for the region's callous and often corrupt leaders as he leads us through the grim terrain: with oil financed governments less accountable, the region's populations have experienced more repression and less in the way of freedoms relative to other parts of the world. 

The region has no doubt experienced more wars and conflicts than would have occurred in the absence of oil. Outside interference from the major world powers has eroded the confidence of large segments of populations in their leaders, while radicalizing others. 

With governments deriving large chunks of their revenues from oil, relatively little attention has been devoted to developing a dynamic private sector. In fact, many governments have gone out of their way to discourage entrepreneurship and the creation of private sector wealth on the fear that competing power-base might challenge their authority. 

As stagnant private sectors and governments fail to fulfill their traditional role of employer of last resort, unemployment rates are soaring in countries even as well-endowed as Saudi Arabia. Even individuals that may have benefited from subsidized food and fuel are facing the stark reality that their dysfunctional governments are unable to sustain these handouts and as such are facing the prospect rapidly falling standards of living. 

The associated Dutch Disease (strengthening of the real exchange rate) has impeded economic diversification and decimated agriculture in countries like Iran and Iraq, leaving many of the rural populations little alternative but an uncertain future in a unfamiliar urban setting. Iraq's per capita income today, despite the country having potential oil reserves possibly as large as those in Saudi Arabia, is probably what it was around 1950. 

And despite the mullahs' vow of radically changing the structure of the Iranian economy, little change in this regard has taken place since the shah's day. 

Ironically, the Arab Spring forces sweeping through the region have brought little in the way of fundamental change in the oil countries. Government's large military and security budgets have helped preserve the regimes, while stepped up subsidies and handouts have bought a few more years of domestic peace. In short oil has enabled governments to be unaccountable to their populations, pursue irresponsible and inept policies and deny future generations their rightful legacy. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:38 AM


Is the Nation-State Dying? (Alan Wolfe, Chronicle of Higher Education)

[P]ierre Manent, a political philosopher at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, in Paris, and Benjamin R. Barber, a political theorist and senior research scholar at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. The leading Straussian of our time, Manent, a conservative, is pessimistic to the point of despair, while Barber, a man of the left, believes that a solution to our problems lies just around the corner. Manent writes in dense prose, Barber with breathless earnestness. The former dwells in the past, while the latter speculates about the future. One is deeply read in theology and the history of religion, while the other praises a pragmatism unmoved by larger questions about human meaning.

Manent's interpretation of how we got where we are runs something like this: The Greek city-state taught that people are capable of directed action toward a telos, or higher end, such as justice. Actions require words to justify them, and as the West developed, that task was fulfilled by, among others, the church. The discrepancy between a state that acted and a church that held actions to a higher standard was resolved by Machiavelli, who advised leaders to do what was necessary rather than what was good.

The modern state inherited that task by giving authoritative meaning to words, and it did so by claiming to represent the society for which it speaks. In our time, however, the representative regime, the nation-state, is losing its authoritative character. The ideal to which modern nations strive is a sense of humanity itself, leaving them lacking any higher goals. As a result, Manent writes, "the necessity to articulate words and actions politically has been lost from view. The technological norm and juridical rule are supposed to be enough for organizing common life." [...]

Manent has chosen an odd time to proclaim the "self-destruction of Europe." Since the end of World War II, Europe has carried out the single most impressive political feat since the creation of the Roman Empire: more than half a century of peace, accompanied by astonishing prosperity. That system, or, as Straussians like to say, regime, is fraying and could even unravel as demands for austerity clash with popular public programs. But it takes an especially gloomy perspective to ignore all of the benefits that ordinary European cities have obtained--children no longer sent off to die in war, extensive vacation time and travel, guaranteed health care--and to focus instead on the state's inability to find words that satisfactorily justify its actions. [...]

If both authors fail to persuade, they do not do so equally. My political views are closer to Barber's than to Manent's, yet the latter's book is by far the more impressive. I cannot do justice to Manent's close readings of classic and modern texts. His vision of a political science that joins experience and reflections on experience is far richer than nearly all of what appears in the American Political Science Review. When so much emphasis is placed on the importance of technology, it is refreshing to be reminded of the purpose of politics.

Odd time?  Mr. Wolfe seems curiously oblivious to Europe's reality.  And it is, of course, precisely because secularized Europe has no higher purpose that it is dying so rapidly.

Posted by orrinj at 7:25 AM


Yes, Wall Street Has Changed Since Lehman Went Bust (Kevin Roose, 9/12/13, New York)

Complaint: The banks are still overleveraged.

This objection stems from the fact that capital ratios (a way of measuring the cushions banks have against losses) aren't as big as some reformers would like them to be. As Anat Admati wrote in the New York Times last month: "We will never have a safe and healthy global financial system until banks are forced to rely much more on money from their owners and shareholders to finance their loans and investments."

Admati is right about a lot. But she's being overly cynical here. Banks are, in fact, much better capitalized than they were in 2008, thanks to Basel III and other standards put in place since the crisis. As the below chart shows, equity-to-asset ratios among the big banks are at their highest point in 25 years. Tier 1 capital ratios (a slightly better equity-to-asset measure that uses risk-weighted assets) are also high relative to historical norms. Even David Dayen, who doesn't think Wall Street has changed much since 2008, concedes that "Dodd-Frank and Basel III have made marginal improvements" to the quality of banks' capital structures.

Posted by orrinj at 7:18 AM


Left revokes President Obama's liberal card (EDWARD-ISAAC DOVERE, 9/13/13, Politico)

Now many liberals feel sure: Barack Obama was not the one they'd been waiting for.

The man who won the presidency in part due to his opposition to the Iraq War was suddenly leading a charge to use military force against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad. The Republican refusal to go along was to be expected. The liberal backlash, though, was particularly intense.

That came on top of the fears that the president will, for all the current tough rhetoric, again go into the fall political fights about the budget and debt ceiling starting from a position of over-concession.

The White House says he's still a proud progressive. And, of course, he'll always be a socialist to the Republican base. To prominent liberals, though, Obama's center-left, sure. But he's no liberal.

Folks on the Right who accuse him of being Nixonian are right, but for the wrong reason.

Posted by orrinj at 7:14 AM


Walmart's iPhone prices undercut Apple's own (Karis Hustad, September 13, 2013, CS Monitor)

Walmart announced it will be offering the iPhone 5C starting at $79 ($20 less than the list price) on contract from AT&T, Sprint, or Verizon - the lowest offer on a current-generation iPhone to date. The retailer will also be offering the iPhone 5S starting at $189 (a $10 discount).

Don't need the latest version? You're even more in luck. Walmart will be offering the iPhone 5 for $79 with a two-year contract, the iPhone 4S for 79 cents with a two-year contract, and the iPhone 4 for only 10 cents with a two-year contract, plus they'll throw in a $100 gift card. Not a bad deal.

Pretty soon they'll be available as burners from Tracfone....

Posted by orrinj at 7:10 AM


The Adults' Debate on Syria : A brief moral and strategic outline (George Weigel, 9/13/.13, National Review)

If the just-war tradition does not, save on the rarest occasions, provide clear answers that virtually everyone will recognize as such, then what does it do? One of the most important things this way of thinking does is to suggest that the discussion of what to do will go off the rails if it begins with means; rather, serious consideration of what to do must begin with ends. Now it is certainly true that, as the cliché has it, the end doesn't justify any means. But as a noted just-war theorist used to say, "If the end doesn't justify the means, what does?" Means detached from ends are not serious, although they may be lethal. A measure of clarity about the morally and politically appropriate end being sought by those who legitimately bear responsibility for the common good -- those who have what we might call moral compétence de guerre -- is thus the absolute prerequisite to considering appropriate means intelligently.

And this is precisely what has been missing from the Obama administration's Syria policy: a strategically and morally defensible definition of the end being sought. Now, the refusal to define the appropriate end -- a Syria (in whatever form) safe for its people, posing no threat to its neighbors, and detached from the evil purposes of both the Iranian regime and various jihadists -- has led to the absurd situation in which the goal of U.S. policy has been reduced to the defense of a "norm," which in this instance is the up-market term for a taboo (albeit a useful taboo). Moreover, it is now proposed, the defense of that useful taboo will be achieved in de facto alliance with Putin's Russia, long one of the chief international obstacles to getting traction on WMD-proliferation issues around the world. 

Furthermore, because the administration cannot bring itself to define a reasonable goal for what every serious analyst knew a half-decade ago was going to be a fractious and potentially explosive Syria, it cannot define morally and strategically appropriate means to respond to Assad's crimes and depredations. The president has lectured that the United States military "doesn't do pinpricks." But the day before the president said this in his recent address to the nation, a senior administration official explained that what we were about to do was like taking away Assad's spoon and forcing the Syrian dictator to eat his Cheerios with a fork.

The end in Syria, as it was in Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt, etc., is to kill the dictator, remove his regime and let the people govern themselves.  Then it's on to North Korea, one of the Crusade's last remaining objectives.

Posted by orrinj at 7:07 AM


Overpopulation Is Not the Problem (ERLE C. ELLIS, 9/13/13, Washington Post)

MANY scientists believe that by transforming the earth's natural landscapes, we are undermining the very life support systems that sustain us. Like bacteria in a petri dish, our exploding numbers are reaching the limits of a finite planet, with dire consequences. Disaster looms as humans exceed the earth's natural carrying capacity. Clearly, this could not be sustainable.

This is nonsense. Even today, I hear some of my scientific colleagues repeat these and similar claims -- often unchallenged. And once, I too believed them. Yet these claims demonstrate a profound misunderstanding of the ecology of human systems. The conditions that sustain humanity are not natural and never have been. Since prehistory, human populations have used technologies and engineered ecosystems to sustain populations well beyond the capabilities of unaltered "natural" ecosystems.

Posted by orrinj at 6:54 AM


High Holiday reflections on Jews in America (Tevi Troy, 9/04/13, Washington Jewish Week)

As Jews across the region, the country and the world prepare for the holiest days of the Jewish year, it is worth doing a bit of self-assessment regarding where we stand as a community. Jews in America are in one of the safest and most welcoming environments we have known across our long and often sad history. Jews in America have the freedom to worship how and where they want, and to be as open or as closed about their Judaism as they choose to be.

Lord knows I don't want to be the umpteenth analyst to count the number of Jewish senators and congressman, or to talk about how many Jewish Nobel Prize winners there have been. But the fact remains that America has allowed many talented Jews to reach their potential in a variety of fields. Furthermore, and of greater importance as we go into the High Holidays, American Jews do not have to choose between observance and success. Jewish students today can know that they can pursue and be successful in their areas of interest without having to compromise religious observance to do so.

Not only do Jews have a great deal of latitude regarding how they worship, but many communities make special accommodations for Jewish holiday requirements. As a child, I was always impressed when I heard that New York suspended its alternate side of the street parking rules for Jewish holidays. (New York, you should know, takes its parking restrictions very seriously.) Today, these kinds of accommodations now go beyond the Jewish capital of New York, and also include my own community in Montgomery County, which closes schools in honor of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

September 13, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 6:50 PM


Experts: White House H2O evidence murky (JOSH GERSTEIN, 9/12/13, Politico)

"There really isn't data to support this," said Dr. Stanley Goldfarb of the University of Pennsylvania. "I think, unfortunately, frankly, they're not basing this on really hard science. It's not a very scientific approach they've taken. ... To make it a major public health effort, I think I would say it's bizarre."

Goldfarb, a kidney specialist, took particular issue with White House claims that drinking more water would boost energy.

"The idea drinking water increases energy, the word I've used to describe it is: quixotic," he said. "We're designed to drink when we're thirsty. ... There's no need to have more than that."

Posted by orrinj at 6:48 PM


Did the Senate just declare war on bloggers? (Harold Maass, 9/13/13, Washington Post)

The Senate Judiciary Committee is sending the full Senate a bill designed to shield journalists from being compelled to reveal their sources. One catch: First, the panel's members had to define who counts as a journalist.

The committee, in a 13-5 vote, approved a proposal that would protect anyone who reports news for "an entity or service that disseminates news and information," a definition that covers freelancers and part-timers for traditional and online media, but excludes posts on Twitter, blogs, or social media from independent writers not employed by a media outlet.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) insisted on limiting protection to "real reporters," according to the Los Angeles Times.

The bill covers too many, not too few.
Posted by orrinj at 6:44 PM


Obama administration denies labor's request for health care waiver (Ezra Klein, September 13, 2013, Washington Post)

 A senior administration official tells me that the administration "does not see a legal way for individuals in multiemployer group health plans to receive individual market tax credits as well as the favorable tax treatment associated with employer-provided health insurance at the same time." A Treasury Department letter is being released that lays out the administration's reasoning in more detail.

What the White House is willing to do is work with unions to convert their plans into qualified insurance plans that follow the rules of the marketplaces and so can qualify for subsidies in them. "The Administration will work with multiemployer plans and other non-profit plans and encourage them to offer coverage through the Marketplace, on an equal footing, to create new, high-quality, affordable options for all Americans," the official says.

Some unions are looking into that idea, but they're not necessarily happy about it. It means giving up the advantages they get by being associated with employers, and it will entail significant disruption for their members.

Posted by orrinj at 6:26 PM


When the best chance for peace means war (Sebastian Junger, September 13, 2013, Washington Post)

Every war I have ever covered -- Kosovo, Bosnia, Sierra Leone and Liberia -- withstood all diplomatic efforts to end it until Western military action finally forced a resolution. Even Afghanistan, where NATO troops stepped into a civil war that had been raging for a decade, is experiencing its lowest level of civilian casualties in more than a generation. That track record should force even peace advocates to consider that military action is required to bring some wars to an end.

And yet there's been little evidence of that sentiment in American opposition to missile strikes against military targets in Syria. Even after 1,400 Syrian civilians, including 400 children, were killed in a nerve gas attackthat was in all likelihood carried out by government forces, the prospect of American military intervention has been met with a combination of short-sighted isolationism and reflex pacifism -- though I cannot think of any moral definition of "antiwar" that includes simply ignoring the slaughter of civilians overseas.

Of course, even the most ardent pacifist can't deny that the credible threat of U.S. force is what made the Syrian regime at all receptive to a Russian proposal that it relinquish control of its stockpiles of nerve agents. If the deal falls apart or proves to be a stalling tactic, military strikes, or at least the threat of them, will again be needed.

Posted by orrinj at 6:18 PM


U.K.'s Royal Mail goes public (Virginia Harrison, September 12, 2013, CNNMoney)

The British government plans to sell a majority of its stake in the Royal Mail through an initial public offering that will be one of the U.K.'s largest in decades.

Analysts forecast the iconic postal service could be valued up to £3 billion. The government hasn't determined how much of its of stake will be sold.

September 12, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 6:12 PM


A Plea for Caution From Russia (VLADIMIR V. PUTIN, 9/11/13, NY Times)

No one wants the United Nations to suffer the fate of the League of Nations, which collapsed because it lacked real leverage. This is possible if influential countries bypass the United Nations and take military action without Security Council authorization.

The potential strike by the United States against Syria, despite strong opposition from many countries and major political and religious leaders, including the pope, will result in more innocent victims and escalation, potentially spreading the conflict far beyond Syria's borders. A strike would increase violence and unleash a new wave of terrorism. It could undermine multilateral efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear problem and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and further destabilize the Middle East and North Africa. It could throw the entire system of international law and order out of balance.

The entire system of international law is whatever we say it is.  The danger is that if we pay attention to our enemies we might balance it.  Meanwhile, if taking out Assad really would take out the UN as collateral damage it just makes the strikes even more useful.

Posted by orrinj at 2:35 PM


AFL-CIO steps up criticism of health care law (Sam Hananel, 9/12/13, Associated Press) 

The AFL-CIO on Wednesday approved a resolution critical of parts of President Barack Obama's health care law in spite of efforts by White House officials to discourage the labor federation from making its concerns so prominent.

The strongly worded resolution says the Affordable Care Act will drive up the costs of union-sponsored health plans to the point that workers and employers are forced to abandon them.

Disfavoring plans that encourage consumption of medicine is an obvious key to bringing down prices.

Posted by orrinj at 2:30 PM


Michelle Obama launches 'Drink up' effort to get Americans to drink more water (AP, SEPTEMBER 12, 2013)

The American Beverage Association, which represents the makers of soft drinks, sports drinks, energy drinks, juices and juice drinks, and bottled water and water beverages, supports the campaign, as does the International Bottled Water Association, among others, Soler said.

Individual bottled water brands behind the push include Aquafina, Dasani, Deer Park, Evian, Nestle Pure Life, Poland Spring and Zephyrhills, Soler said. The Brita water filter company also is on board.

Susan Neely, president and chief executive of the American Beverage Association, said staying hydrated is important and that "bottled water provides people with a convenient and popular choice."

Democrats, the anti-science party.

Posted by orrinj at 2:25 PM


Will Pope Francis let priests get married? The Vatican's No. 2 suggests the matter is open to debate (Harold Maass, 9/12/13, The Week)

Pope Francis has promised to shake up the Catholic Church, and his new secretary of state did just that this week, saying that the tradition of priestly celibacy should be open to debate.

Italian Archbishop Pietro Parolin, the Vatican's second-in-command, told Venezuela's El Universal newspaper that celibacy is not dogma, meaning divine law, so it could theoretically be changed to "reflect the democratic spirit of the times."

September 11, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 7:58 PM

HARDLY FOREIGN--THEY'RE THE 51st STATE (via The Other Brother):

NSA shares raw intelligence including Americans' data with Israel (Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras and Ewen MacAskill, 9/11/13,

The agreement for the US to provide raw intelligence data to Israel was reached in principle in March 2009, the document shows. Photograph: James Emery
The National Security Agency routinely shares raw intelligence data with Israel without first sifting it to remove information about US citizens, a top-secret document provided to the Guardian by whistleblower Edward Snowden reveals.

Details of the intelligence-sharing agreement are laid out in a memorandum of understanding between the NSA and its Israeli counterpart that shows the US government handed over intercepted communications likely to contain phone calls and emails of American citizens. The agreement places no legally binding limits on the use of the data by the Israelis.

Posted by orrinj at 4:48 PM


Catalans join hands in huge human chain for independence from Spain (Stephen Burgen in Barcelona and Paul Hamilos in Madrid, 9/11/13, The Guardian)

Hundreds of thousands of Catalonians joined hands to form a human chain 250 miles (400km) long, running from the border with neighbouring France to the region of Valencia in a call for Madrid to recognise Catalan independence.

Wednesday, was la Diada, or Catalan National Day, when the region commemorates the defeat of its troops in the Spanish war of succession in 1714. And at 5.14pm the human chain - or Via Catalana - linked arms.

Posted by orrinj at 4:33 PM


Reform Without Liberty: Chile's Ambiguous Legacy : an interview with Milton Friedman (PBS Commanding Heights)

INTERVIEWER: Tell us about some of the abuse you had to suffer and the degree to which you were seen as a figure out on the fringes. 

MILTON FRIEDMAN: Well, I wouldn't call it abuse, really. I enjoyed it. The only thing I would call abuse was in connection with the Chilean episode, when Allende was thrown out in Chile, and a new government came in that was headed by Pinochet. At that time, for an accidental reason, the only economists in Chile who were not tainted with the connection to Allende were a group that had been trained at the University of Chicago, who got to be known as the Chicago Boys. And at one stage I went down to Chile and spent five days there with another group -- there were three or four of us from Chicago -- giving a series of lectures on the Chilean problem, particularly the problem of inflation and how they should proceed to do something about it. The Communists were determined to overthrow Pinochet. It was very important to them, because Allende's regime, they thought, was going to bring a communist state in through regular political channels, not by revolution. And here, Pinochet overthrew that. They were determined to discredit Pinochet. As a result, they were going to discredit anybody who had anything to do with him. And in that connection, I was subject to abuse in the sense that there were large demonstrations against me at the Nobel ceremonies in Stockholm. I remember seeing the same faces in the crowd in a talk in Chicago and a talk in Santiago. And there was no doubt that there was a concerted effort to tar and feather me. 

INTERVIEWER: It seems to us that Chile deserves a place in history because it's the first country to put Chicago theory into practice. Do you agree? 

MILTON FRIEDMAN: No, no, no. Not at all. After all, Great Britain put Chicago theory in practice in the 19th century. The United States put the Chicago theory in practice in the 19th and 20th century. I don't believe that's right. 

INTERVIEWER: You don't see Chile as a small turning point then? 

MILTON FRIEDMAN: It may have been a turning point, but not because it was the first place to put the Chicago theory in practice. It was important on the political side, not so much on the economic side. Here was the first case in which you had a movement toward communism that was replaced by a movement toward free markets. See, the really extraordinary thing about the Chilean case was that a military government followed the opposite of military policies. The military is distinguished from the ordinary economy by the fact that it's a top-down organization. The general tells the colonel, the colonel tells the captain, and so on down, whereas a market is a bottom-up organization. The customer goes into the store and tells the retailer what he wants; the retailer sends it back up the line to the manufacturer and so on. So the basic organizational principles in the military are almost the opposite of the basic organizational principles of a free market and a free society. And the really remarkable thing about Chile is that the military adopted the free-market arrangements instead of the military arrangements. 

There are two important facts about the other 9-11: first, General Pinochet restored democracy after communism was defeated; and second, Chile has a GDP per capita that is twice Cuba's.
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Posted by orrinj at 4:07 PM


The Reformation Comes to Rome? An Evangelical Reviews Evangelical Catholicism (Mark Noll, 9/06/13, Cardus)

In one of the very few serious evangelical Protestant assessments of the Second Vatican Council, David Wells wrote in Revolution in Rome about four possibilities he saw coming out of the seismic changes precipitated by the Council. Three of them, from Wells's point of view, were negative: mass exodus from Catholicism by individuals who exploited the Council's stress on human subjectivity by choosing simply to leave; unification between Catholics and the World Council of Churches on the basis of a watered-down theological liberalism; or capitulation to Latin American leftists who spoke of "liberation" but meant "Marxian class conflict." The fourth possibility was that the Council's positive stance toward Scripture would lead many Catholics to acknowledge that historical Protestant convictions charted the right way to go.

George Weigel has not embraced David Wells's fourth possibility as such, but it is a near-run thing. The book's development is almost entirely free of the criticism directed against Protestant evangelicals of the sort that had once been standard in such works (and that is still common in Catholic rhetoric wherever in the world active Protestant movements take in lapsed or inactive Catholics). There is also frequent enough reference to C. S. Lewis, N. T. Wright, and publishing projects like the Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible to show that Weigel has benefited from a broad ecumenicity of Christian instruction. To be sure, he does pause to say that "his notion of a Church always in need of purification and reform is drawn not from the Reformation slogan ecclesia semper reformanda [the Church must always be reformed], but from within the Church's deepest inner dynamics." But, otherwise, Weigel's energy is directed to a positive statement of reform that, when assessed from the angle of classical Protestantism, looks more than vaguely familiar.

The most obvious reason for thinking that Weigel is pursuing something like David Wells's fourth option, though conspicuously without pausing to acknowledge that Luther and Calvin got it right, is his presentation of ten "characteristics" that set an evangelical Catholic "profile . . . of the future" and supply "standards for seeking deep reform in the church." Remarkably, six of these characteristics say almost exactly what a Reformed Protestant like Abraham Kuyper would also advocate for a healthy Christian church, whether Catholic or Protestant.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:11 AM


The Falling Man (Tom Junod, September 2003, Esquire)

Do you remember this photograph? In the United States, people have taken pains to banish it from the record of September 11, 2001. The story behind it, though, and the search for the man pictured in it, are our most intimate connection to the horror of that day.

Original photo from Esquire replaced with Wikimedia image (9/12/2013)

In the picture, he departs from this earth like an arrow. Although he has not chosen his fate, he appears to have, in his last instants of life, embraced it. If he were not falling, he might very well be flying. He appears relaxed, hurtling through the air. He appears comfortable in the grip of unimaginable motion. He does not appear intimidated by gravity's divine suction or by what awaits him. His arms are by his side, only slightly outriggered. His left leg is bent at the knee, almost casually. His white shirt, or jacket, or frock, is billowing free of his black pants. His black high-tops are still on his feet. In all the other pictures, the people who did what he did--who jumped--appear to be struggling against horrific discrepancies of scale. They are made puny by the backdrop of the towers, which loom like colossi, and then by the event itself. Some of them are shirtless; their shoes fly off as they flail and fall; they look confused, as though trying to swim down the side of a mountain. The man in the picture, by contrast, is perfectly vertical, and so is in accord with the lines of the buildings behind him. He splits them, bisects them: Everything to the left of him in the picture is the North Tower; everything to the right, the South. Though oblivious to the geometric balance he has achieved, he is the essential element in the creation of a new flag, a banner composed entirely of steel bars shining in the sun. Some people who look at the picture see stoicism, willpower, a portrait of resignation; others see something else--something discordant and therefore terrible: freedom. There is something almost rebellious in the man's posture, as though once faced with the inevitability of death, he decided to get on with it; as though he were a missile, a spear, bent on attaining his own end. He is, fifteen seconds past 9:41 a.m. EST, the moment the picture is taken, in the clutches of pure physics, accelerating at a rate of thirty-two feet per second squared. He will soon be traveling at upwards of 150 miles per hour, and he is upside down. In the picture, he is frozen; in his life outside the frame, he drops and keeps dropping until he disappears. [...]

THEY BEGAN JUMPING NOT LONG after the first plane hit the North Tower, not long after the fire started. They kept jumping until the tower fell. They jumped through windows already broken and then, later, through windows they broke themselves. They jumped to escape the smoke and the fire; they jumped when the ceilings fell and the floors collapsed; they jumped just to breathe once more before they died. They jumped continually, from all four sides of the building, and from all floors above and around the building's fatal wound. They jumped from the offices of Marsh & McLennan, the insurance company; from the offices of Cantor Fitzgerald, the bond-trading company; from Windows on the World, the restaurant on the 106th and 107th floors--the top. For more than an hour and a half, they streamed from the building, one after another, consecutively rather than en masse, as if each individual required the sight of another individual jumping before mustering the courage to jump himself or herself. One photograph, taken at a distance, shows people jumping in perfect sequence, like parachutists, forming an arc composed of three plummeting people, evenly spaced. Indeed, there were reports that some tried parachuting, before the force generated by their fall ripped the drapes, the tablecloths, the desperately gathered fabric, from their hands. They were all, obviously, very much alive on their way down, and their way down lasted an approximate count of ten seconds. They were all, obviously, not just killed when they landed but destroyed, in body though not, one prays, in soul. One hit a fireman on the ground and killed him; the fireman's body was anointed by Father Mychal Judge, whose own death, shortly thereafter, was embraced as an example of martyrdom after the photograph--the redemptive tableau--of firefighters carrying his body from the rubble made its way around the world.

From the beginning, the spectacle of doomed people jumping from the upper floors of the World Trade Center resisted redemption. They were called "jumpers" or "the jumpers," as though they represented a new lemminglike class. The trial that hundreds endured in the building and then in the air became its own kind of trial for the thousands watching them from the ground. No one ever got used to it; no one who saw it wished to see it again, although, of course, many saw it again. Each jumper, no matter how many there were, brought fresh horror, elicited shock, tested the spirit, struck a lasting blow. Those tumbling through the air remained, by all accounts, eerily silent; those on the ground screamed. It was the sight of the jumpers that prompted Rudy Giuliani to say to his police commissioner, "We're in uncharted waters now." It was the sight of the jumpers that prompted a woman to wail, "God! Save their souls! They're jumping! Oh, please God! Save their souls!" And it was, at last, the sight of the jumpers that provided the corrective to those who insisted on saying that what they were witnessing was "like a movie," for this was an ending as unimaginable as it was unbearable: Americans responding to the worst terrorist attack in the history of the world with acts of heroism, with acts of sacrifice, with acts of generosity, with acts of martyrdom, and, by terrible necessity, with one prolonged act of--if these words can be applied to mass murder--mass suicide.

IN MOST AMERICAN NEWSPAPERS, the photograph that Richard Drew took of the Falling Man ran once and never again. Papers all over the country, from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram to the Memphis Commercial Appeal to The Denver Post, were forced to defend themselves against charges that they exploited a man's death, stripped him of his dignity, invaded his privacy, turned tragedy into leering pornography.

Four years on it remains the case, as we've said on past anniversaries, that the same fundamental decency that won't allow us to use the horrible images of 9-11 dulls the anger we should still feel afresh and inhibits our determination to pursue Islamicism with the fury we ought. However, it is likewise true that it is because of the kind of society we are that we are Reforming the Middle East far faster and more thoroughly than most dreamed possible those four years ago.

It is the great irony of 9-11 that what rose from the ashes that our fellow citizens fell into was not just a better, more serious, America but a better, more liberal, represenative, and hopeful Islamic world as well. One would not wish ever to seem to be referring to the attacks as "worthwhile," but the ascent of liberty that has followed them at least means that none died in vain that day. Correction: 19 actually did die in vain, their evil actions producing exactly the opposite effect they'd planned on. Those 72 raisins must taste damned bitter.

N.B.: One of the books I keep handy, for the express purpose of recapturing the righteous anger that 9-11 should always provoke, is Face of the Tiger, the collection of Mark Steyn's columns from its aftermath. Mr. Steyn is always worth reading but was never better than in the wake of 9-11.


[originally posted: 9/11/05]

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September 10, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 10:03 PM


Richard Dawkins under fire for 'mild pedophilia' remarks (Trevor Grundy, Sep 9, 2013, RNS) 

Richard Dawkins, one of the world's best-known and outspoken atheists, has provoked outrage among child protection agencies and experts after suggesting that recent child abuse scandals have been overblown.

In an interview in The Times magazine on Saturday (Sept. 7), Dawkins, 72, he said he was unable to condemn what he called "the mild pedophilia" he experienced at an English school when he was a child in the 1950s.

Referring to his early days at a boarding school in Salisbury, he recalled how one of the (unnamed) masters "pulled me on his knee and put his hand inside my shorts."

Posted by orrinj at 6:09 PM


The U.S. Ignores the U.N. Charter Because It's Broken : Obama should explain what should replace it. (Eric Posner, Sept. 9, 2013, Slate)

The deeper problem is that the rules and principles that serve America's interest conflict with the interests of China, Russia, and other countries. The rule of humanitarian intervention would authorize the use of military force against countries where mass atrocities occur--and whether or not you think the political persecution that routinely takes place in China and Russia count as "mass atrocities," both countries experience periodic bouts of political turmoil where mass atrocities really do occur. Even more so for their partners, such as North Korea and Sudan. A rule of humanitarian intervention would help delegitimize these repressive regimes. And the same is true for many other countries in the world, from Pakistan to Ethiopia to Venezuela. Even if China and Russia themselves do not fear an American invasion, they do fear American interventions that will lead either to broader instability or to more American dominance.

China and Russia thus very sensibly resist the establishment of an international norm that authorizes intervention in their own countries and the lands of their allies and not in the United States and (most of) its allies. They are content with the U.N. system, which enables them to oppose efforts to establish such a norm.

Meanwhile, here at home, for 30 years five presidents of both parties have disregarded the U.N. rules on the use of force. It seems fair to say that while the United States continues to use the language of law, its position is more a self-made doctrine of American exceptionalism, which lays out U.S. claims and expectations and does not make them reciprocal for other states (as "law" necessarily does). Something like the Monroe doctrine, but applied to both hemispheres. The Bush-Obama doctrine, as one might call it (though there are some variations between the presidents), extends throughout the world. It declares that dictatorships that stay in power through violence and threaten their neighbors must fear America's might, whatever the rest of the world might say.

This can last only as long as the United States can overwhelm other countries with its power. For a country often thought to be on the brink of decline, it's a bold stance to take.

...nevermind on the Security Council, which should have one permanent member from each continent: America, England, India, Australia, Brazil and Liberia.

September 9, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 7:49 PM


Sir David Attenborough says humans have stopped evolving (James Meikle, 9/09/13, The Guardian)

"We stopped natural selection as soon as we started being able to rear 90-95% of our babies that are born. We are the only species to have put a halt to natural selection, of its own free will, as it were," he tells this week's Radio Times.

"Stopping natural selection is not as important, or depressing, as it might sound - because our evolution is now cultural ... We can inherit a knowledge of computers or television, electronics, aeroplanes and so on."

Posted by orrinj at 7:30 PM


Erdogan's Kurdish Dilemma (Morton Abramowitz, Omer Zarpli | September 9, 2013, National Interest)

In Syria Kurds have been the only beneficiaries from the unending civil war. Assad gave free rein to his Syrian Kurds, in part to complicate Ankara's security problems. Despite recent tensions with Turkish-supported jihadist groups leading to Kurdish refugee flows to Iraq, The dominant PKK-linked Syrian Kurds carved out something of an autonomous zone in the North. Today, Turkey's southern borders are mostly controlled by Kurds. How much of a threat this poses to Ankara's handling of its Kurdish peace process is debatable. Surprisingly Ankara recently made the practical but unexpected decision to engage with the Syrian Kurdish leadership. But Kurdish self-rule in Syria emboldens the PKK and makes more complicated Turkey's management of its own Kurdish problem. Indeed, Turkey's support of anti-Kurdish jihadist forces in Syria is still a liability, distorting the anti-Assad cause, raising ire in Washington, and fostering instability on Turkey's border.

Ankara's only friends in the region are now the Iraqi Kurds. Iran's fallout with Turkey over Syria and its hosting of a NATO missile-defense radar led apparently Tehran to cut a deal with the Iranian branch of the PKK and to turn something of a blind eye to its activities as long as they were not directed against Tehran. Relations with Iraqi prime minister Nuri al-Maliki are in tatters, ironically because of Turkey's ties to Iraqi Kurds, but also because of its sectarian involvement in Iraq's domestic politics and Maliki's dictatorial tendencies and cozy relations with Tehran. While Ankara sees Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) president Massoud Barzani as its man in Iraq, he is unlikely to take on his brethren despite his differences with the PKK and of his ambitions to become a pan-Kurdish leader.

Turkey's vast trade and investment in Kurdish Iraq complicate its freedom of action in Baghdad and along its Iraq border. Over the last few years Ankara has become a major source of the KRG's efforts to reduce its dependency on Baghdad, while Kurds have become not only a major trade partner but also important to Turkey's plans of becoming a regional energy hub.

Posted by orrinj at 7:23 PM


Federal hiring declines to six-year low point (Lisa Rein, September 9, 2013, Washington Post)

With fiscal pressures continuing to force spending cuts, government agencies made fewer than 90,000 new hires last year, the smallest number in six years and a 37 percent drop since 2009, federal data show. [...]

The drop in hiring comes as agencies face a wave of retirements by baby-boomers, who are calling it quits amid budget cuts, furloughs and poor morale caused by a negative public view of federal service.

Not just retirement-age workers are leaving, but younger employees who tend to move in and out of government. A total of 115,341 people left the federal rolls in 2012, up from 83,317 departures in 2009, OPM data show. About 25,600 more people left than were replaced, challenging agencies to think harder about who they hire and make hard decisions about which services and functions to pull back.

Posted by orrinj at 4:58 PM


Tide Reverses in Latin America : Brazil's Prospects Fall While Mexico's Rise as Fed Prepares to Ease Bond Buying (THOMAS CATAN, 9/09/13, WSJ)

By comparison, Mexico has seen lackluster growth, partly because it has been tied to a struggling US economy It has also suffered from deep problems of its own:. Laws that banned foreign investment in energy, a dysfunctional tax code, a tattered education system and hidebound economy dominated by a handful of near-monopolies. And it suffered a surge in drug violence, deterring tourists and investors.

Mexico's economic growth averaged 2.6% per year over the past decade, while its currency has slipped slightly in value.

Now the shoe's on the other foot. Brazil is being punished by investors as the US Federal Reserve signals a coming wind-down of its ultra-loose money policies and as China's hunger fades for its raw materials. Brazil's currency and stocks have both sunk by more than 10% this year.

"Brazil has done very well over the past 10 years on the back of a commodities boom that's transferred massive wealth from China, said David Rees, emerging-markets economist at Capital Economics." That's now coming to an end. "

Brazil largely squandered the bonanza, investing little in roads and other areas that could foster its development. Its government has pursued a state-led economic model, rendering many of its businesses uncompetitive abroad. And businesses and households loaded up on debt, further constraining future growth. It has developed a significant trade gap that must be financed by foreign borrowing.

Meanwhile, Mexico used its lean years to overhaul its economy, revamping the country's labor laws, education system and its telecommunications system, financial and energy sectors-including a plan to open up its oil and gas sector to private investment. If completed, economists expect the changes to lift the country's growth potential at a time when Mexico's biggest trading partner, the US, kicks into higher gear.

At the same time, Mexico has maintained a relatively small trade deficit that is easily financed by long-term foreign investment in companies and factories there. It isn't as dependent on fickle flows of short-term foreign cash and, as a result, has been less affected by the turmoil roiling Brazil and other emerging markets in recent weeks.

Posted by orrinj at 4:53 PM


Let's Please Stop Pretending That Obama is Reluctant to Take Military Action (Kevin Drum, Sep. 8, 2013, Mother Jones)

E.J. Dionne chastises Democrats for not supporting President Obama on Syria:

The wretched experience of Iraq is leading many Democrats to see Obama's intervention in Syria as little different from what came before. Never mind that the evidence of Assad's use of chemical weapons against his own people is far clearer than the evidence was about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, or that Obama has been so reluctant to take military action up to now.

Wait a second. I realize that Dionne is only talking about Syria here, but in the past five years Obama has (a) escalated twice in Afghanistan, (b) massively ramped up the drone war in Pakistan and expanded it to Yemen, (c) joined NATO's air strikes against Libya, and (d) is now asking Congress to approve a punitive military mission against Syria.

Posted by orrinj at 4:47 PM


Parallel worlds: If human history turns on the tilt of the multiverse, can we still trust our ideas of achievement, progress and morality? (Andrew Crumey, 9/02/13, Aeon).'

Where did this idea of parallel universes come from? Science fiction is an obvious source: in the 1960s, Captain Kirk met his 'other self' in a Star Trek episode called 'Mirror, Mirror', while Philip K Dick's novel The Man in the High Castle (1963) imagined an alternate world in which the US was a Nazi puppet state. Since then, the idea has become mainstream, providing the image of forking paths in the romantic comedy Sliding Doors (1998), and the spine-chilling 'What if?' in Philip Roth's novel The Plot Against America (2004), which envisaged the anti-Semitic aviator Charles Lindbergh defeating Roosevelt in 1940. But there's also science fact. In 1935, Erwin Schrödinger proposed his famous thought experiment involving a cat in a box whose life or death is connected to a quantum event, and in 1957 the American physicist Hugh Everett developed his 'many worlds' theory, which proposed that the act of opening Schrödinger's box entailed a splitting of universes: one where the cat is alive, and another where it is dead.

Recently, physicists have been boldly endorsing a 'multiverse' of possible worlds. Richard Feynman, for example, said that when light goes from A to B it takes every possible path, but the one we see is the quickest because all the others cancel out. In The Universe in a Nutshell (2001), Stephen Hawking went with a sporting multiverse, declaring it 'scientific fact' that there exists a parallel universe in which Belize won every gold medal at the Olympic Games. For Hawking, the universe is a kind of 'cosmic casino' whose dice rolls lead to widely divergent paths: we see one, but all are real.

Surprisingly, however, the idea of parallel universes is far older than any of these references, cropping up in philosophy and literature since ancient times.

Posted by orrinj at 4:39 PM


REVIEW of The Social Conquest of Earth, by Edward O. Wilson (Christopher Booker, 7 September 2013, The Spectator)

If extra-terrestrials had visited earth three million years ago, Wilson suggests, they might have concluded that 'the apex of social evolution' had been reached by the ants: certainly not by the few thousand early australopithecines shambling across the African savannah. But he then devotes a third of his book to rehearsing the not-unfamiliar story of how, with astonishing speed in geological terms, that handful of higher primates not much removed from apes evolved ever larger brains, became recognisably human, discovered language and an ever greater range of skills, formed complex co-operative societies, fanned out across the globe and became masters of all they surveyed.

Clearly this has not come about just through the classical Darwinian process, whereby evolution works through that infinite series of minute genetic variations which has supposedly led life step by tiny step up the evolutionary ladder. Wilson therefore falls back on the idea of 'cultural' or 'multi-level evolution', allowing successive generations to pass on each progressive step along the way, independent of genetic mutations (taking side-swipes as he does so at the 'inclusive theory' championed by Richard Dawkins and others, which makes 'kinship selection' within particular groups the main driver of the process).

But Wilson then moves on to those 'eusocial' insects which have long been his special subject, showing how, like mankind, ants and bees have developed societies made up of different classes -- queens, workers, soldiers, drones -- each making a complementary contribution to the common good, even, as with Amazonian leaf-
cutter ants, practising agriculture, as they mulch chewed up leaves with their faeces, to grow a unique fungus to feed their larvae.

All this may be fascinating enough, but what Wilson completely misses out is any recognition of what is by far the most glaring difference between humans and ants. What marks out humankind as unique is the degree to which we have broken free from the dictates of instinct. We may in terms of our individual 'ego-instincts', such as our urges to eat, sleep, live in social groups and reproduce our species, be just as much governed by instinct as other creatures. But in all the ways in which we give expression to those urges, how we build our shelters, obtain our food, organise our societies. we are no longer guided entirely by instinct. Unlike any other species, we have become free to imagine how all these things can be done differently. Whereas one ant colony is structured exactly like another, the forms of human organisation may vary as widely as a North Korean dictatorship and a village cricket club.

It is our ability to escape from the rigid frame of instinct which explains almost everything that distinguishes human beings from any other form of life. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:32 PM


Why it's so hard for states to break up  (Jon Terbush, 9/09/13, The Week)

Last week, a northern California county voted to secede from the rest of the state. The country, Siskiyou, asked other northern California and southern Oregon municipalities to join it in creating the new State of Jefferson. Piece of cake, right?

Except people can't go around arbitrarily declaring they've carved new states out of old ones. If they could, we would probably have the state of Austin, as well as Jon Rulesland, an autocratic state encompassing solely my apartment.

As the Washington Post's Michael S. Rosenwald noted in an article on a nascent secession movement in Maryland, statehood via secession is a monumental task:

Hard is probably understating the challenge. Political experts and historians say the efforts at new statehood around the country will be nearly impossible to pull off, though they could spread virally through social media, attracting mainstream attention.

"As a legal matter, it will be incredibly difficult, and it's probably not going to happen," says Wellman, the secession expert at Washington University. [Washington Post]

There have been hundreds of efforts to split states since America's founding, but only a handful have proven successful, none in the past 150 years. Maine, Kentucky, and Tennessee all owe their founding to secession, as does West Virginia, which during the Civil War became the last state to secede its way into existence.

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Posted by orrinj at 2:31 PM


The Devil They Know : Why Most Syrian Christians Support Bashar al-Assad (Gabriel Said Reynolds, September 2, 2013, Commonweal)

When the Arab Spring broke out in Tunisia, the entire country turned as one against President Ben Ali. So too in Egypt, where Coptic Christians, who make up 6 percent of the country's population, closed ranks with Muslims in opposition to Hosni Mubarak. In Syria, though, most Christians have remained loyal to Assad.

September 8, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 11:39 AM


Why is 'Duck Dynasty' so popular? (Jennifer A. Marshall, September 8, 2013, Philadelphia Inquirer)

The low point came after Phil kicked out Kay and their three sons at the time. Kay moved the boys into an apartment that a church helped pay for. She put everything in her maiden name, fearing for their safety. 

Phil showed up a few months later, broken by the meaninglessness of life without his family. Kay, who had become a Christian before the separation, insisted that getting right with God was essential to Phil's getting back on track. Phil met with her pastor. Convinced and convicted, he was baptized. 

Phil worked as a commercial fisherman before finding his true "calling" - as he punningly puts it - making duck calls. He started a company called Duck Commander, now headed by third son Willie. Hard work involving all four sons paid off. Later the Robertsons began making hunting videos. Hollywood came a-calling. 

The wild popularity of Duck Dynasty doesn't seem to have changed the Robertsons much. They're still most comfortable outdoors hunting or fishing or blowing up stuff in West Monroe, La., affectionate toward one another, and open about their Christian faith. 

Nearly every episode ends with the extended family in prayer around the dinner table. Speaking around the country and to media, family members are evangelistic and candid about how their faith shapes their lives.

For one thing, they're serious about marriage. 

"One of the great tragedies I see is people not putting every effort into the foundation of their marriage," Miss Kay writes. "My grandmother told me that it's one man and one woman for life and that your marriage is worth fighting for."

Posted by orrinj at 11:34 AM


Assad forces fear rebel rampage in aftermath of U.S. strikes (Reuters, 9/08/13)

"I'm more afraid now than I was ever when we fought in Qusair or Khalidiyeh," said Saleem, referring to some of the most hard-fought battles of the past six months.

"If a foreign strike comes and the rebels manage to intensify their operations simultaneously, that's a whole new level of combat. I'm still more scared of rebel mortars than U.S. cruise missiles."

Interviews conducted remotely with more than a dozen Syrian soldiers, officers and members of militia groups backing President Bashar al-Assad reveal deep fears as they prepare for U.S. strikes at locations across the country.

Most of the soldiers were contacted by a Syrian journalist working for Reuters, now based in Beirut, who cannot be identified for security reasons. The soldiers he spoke to also requested anonymity or used only their first names.

Their comments reveal a military worried about its prospects after strikes that could reshape the battlefield in a war that has already killed more than 100,000 people and driven a third of the population of 22 million from their homes.

Many said their greatest worry is not the American missiles themselves, but the prospect that outside intervention could embolden their rebel enemies, who could launch an offensive and tip the balance of power in the two-and-a-half year civil war.

War plans don't matter.

Posted by orrinj at 9:58 AM


Global warming? No, actually we're cooling, claim scientists (Hayley Dixon, 08 Sep 2013, The Telegraph)

There has been a 60 per cent increase in the amount of ocean covered with ice compared to this time last year, they equivalent of almost a million square miles.

In a rebound from 2012's record low an unbroken ice sheet more than half the size of Europe already stretches from the Canadian islands to Russia's northern shores, days before the annual re-freeze is even set to begin.

The Northwest Passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific has remained blocked by pack-ice all year, forcing some ships to change their routes.

A leaked report to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) seen by the Mail on Sunday, has led some scientists to claim that the world is heading for a period of cooling that will not end until the middle of this century.

Posted by orrinj at 9:52 AM


There's no unlimited right to bear arms (Joseph J. Ellis, September 8, 2013, LA Times)

The language of the 2nd Amendment is quite clear: "A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed." As the minority in the Heller decision argued, and more than a century of judicial precedent at the federal level established, the right to bear arms was not an inherent right of citizenship but rather a right that derived from service in the militia.

The historical context in which these words were crafted clarifies what was in James Madison's mind when he wrote them. In 1787-88, seven of the states that ratified the proposed Constitution did so on the condition that Congress give consideration to adding several amendments if and when it went into effect. These states proposed 124 amendments, none of which mentioned the right to bear arms but several of which mentioned the fear of a standing army.

When Madison sat down to write what became the Bill of Rights in the summer of 1789, those 124 proposed amendments served as the basis for his deliberations. He distilled from them an essence of 12 amendments, subsequently reduced by the states to 10. The 2nd Amendment represented Madison's attempt to respond to the fears of a standing army by assuring that national defense would reside in the states and in militias, not at the federal level in a professional army. The right to bear arms derived from the need to assure that state militia could perform its essential mission.

Posted by orrinj at 9:48 AM


Israel Must Bring Ultra-Orthodox Into the Fold (Peter Berkowitz, September 8, 2013, Real Clear Politics)

"Secular Israelis," an Israeli friend told me over lunch in the breathtaking Judean Mountains southwest of Jerusalem, "love to hate the Haredim." Hatred is an understandable reaction, she hastened to add, among those who rely solely on Israeli media for information about the ultra-Orthodox.

Not that the steady stream of grim reports reverberating far beyond Israel about the ultra-Orthodox world - sky-high birth rates, confinement of women to the backs of buses, stoning of vehicles on the Sabbath, wide-spread poverty -- are untrue. But there is more to the story.

As it turns out, rigorous observance of traditional Jewish law and a determination to keep popular culture and contemporary moral sensibilities at bay needn't negate citizenship in a modern nation-state. Indeed, beneath the radar screens of the majority of Israelis, encouraging trends can be discerned. They bespeak a small, but noteworthy, Israelization of the ultra-Orthodox.

If you had strolled, say, 25 years ago through the Jerusalem neighborhood of Mea Shearim, home to some of the most extreme ultra-Orthodox sects, you would have been likely to hear nothing spoken but Yiddish -- the everyday tongue of Eastern European Jews before the Holocaust. Today, you will also hear Hebrew, particularly among those under the age of 35.

On Israeli Independence Day in 1988, the only residents of Mea Shearim you would have seen taking notice would have been those denouncing the presumptuous creation of a Jewish state before the Messiah's return. On Independence Day 2013, you would have observed, here and there, affirmations of pride.

In 1988, you would have seldom seen an Israel Defense Forces uniform hanging out to dry in an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood. Today such sightings are not uncommon. Twenty-five years ago, it was rare for an ultra-Orthodox Jew to attend college. Today, private organizations cooperate with colleges to meet the increasing demand among the ultra-Orthodox for higher education.

Moreover, a significant majority of ultra-Orthodox citizens identify with the state. Teenage yeshiva students pray for the nation's security and admire Israeli soldiers. They enthusiastically follow Maccabi Tel Aviv, Israel's top basketball team.

Israel's only hope for a Jewish future was that the Orthodox would assimilate the secular. The opposite will produce a more decent country but a dying nation.

Posted by orrinj at 8:39 AM


Plenty of firefighters, but where are the fires? : As 'emergency' changes its meaning, some critics are arguing it's time to revisit a century-old system (Leon Neyfakh, SEPTEMBER 08, 2013, Boston Globe)

[A]s a recent Globe Story reported, City Records show That major Fires Are Becoming Vanishingly Rare. In 1975, there Were 417 of Them. Last year, there Were 40. That's a decline of more than 90 percent. A City That was once a tinderbox of wooden houses has become-thanks to better building codes, automatic sprinkler systems, and more careful behavior-a much less vulnerable place.

As this has happened, however, the number of professional firefighters in Boston has dropped only slightly, from around 1,600 in the 1980s to just over 1,400 today. The cost of running the department, meanwhile, has increased by almost $ 43 million over the past decade , and currently stands at $ 185 million, or around 7.5 percent of the city's total budget.

The trend in Boston is part of a striking nationwide phenomenon. The number of career firefighters per capita in the United States is essentially unchanged since 1986, but of the roughly 30 million calls America's fire departments responded to in 2011, the last year for which statistics are available, only about 1.4 million were fire-related-down by more than 50 percent since 1981, according to the National Fire Protection Association. 

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Posted by orrinj at 8:31 AM


Tony Abbott wins one for Christian conservatives: Australia's Lefties must be weeping into their beer (Tim Stanley , September 7th, 2013, The Telegraph)

On the quiet, Abbott has picked up some of the politics that the ALP abandoned. He is said to be a devotee of BA Santamaria, the Catholic thinker who tried to build a Christian Democratic movement that combined social justice and social conservatism. Abbott's conservatism is plain to see: he rejects doctrinaire environmentalism and favours a far freer and competitive market than the ALP's clients would ever tolerate. But he also has Santamaria's concern for social justice: Abbott wants to introduce a scheme that would pay for parental leave to encourage mothers and fathers not only to spend more time with their children but to have more of them, too. Dig beneath that hard man image and you'll find a politician who is considerably softer and complex. Whereas some Western conservatives seem to be entirely motivated by the desire to win (Romney, Cameron), Abbott has a philosophy and - almost unique in our materialist age - a theology.

This puts him in the George W Bush, Stephen Harper compassionate conservative tradition - the tradition that tends to attract the most votes. For while British Tories might look at Abbott's politics and language and sneer, they would do well to remember this important distinction. Tony Abbott wins elections; David Cameron has yet to do even that.

Posted by orrinj at 8:14 AM


Not Being There (Joseph Epstein, August 22, 2013, The American)

When the U.S. Open begins, I shall be at my post, not in Arthur Ashe or Louis Armstrong Stadiums in Flushing Meadows but ensconced in my chair, a cup of coffee or tea or a glass of Reisling on the lamp table at my side. I shall probably record on my DVR what look to be the most promising matches, and thus be able to watch them at my convenience. While watching, I plan to take two or three breaks to grab a nectarine from the refrigerator, check my computer for e-mail in the next room, or maybe walk out on an errand, all while the match in question is left on hold. In fact, if the match itself doesn't live up to expectations, I might well fast-forward it toward its final set. Ah, the simple pleasures of not being there.

As it happens, I shall be going to a Chicago Cubs-Washington Nationals game this week. My ticket cost $75; it will cost another $35 to park my car; and a beer, a hot dog, maybe some peanuts will add another $20 - a quick 130 bucks for an afternoon at the old ball park. I'm going because a friend from high-school days suggested it. I'm also going because by this time next year, Wrigley Field will likely have added a Jumbotron, one of those monstrous scoreboards that resemble a Brobdignagian smart phone, though one that never shuts off. Under the tyranny of the Jumbotron, while sitting at once tranquil Wrigley Field, conversations about the game, old friends, the state of the world will have to give way to the race of the M&Ms, Fan Cam, players statistics, advertisements, and rock music.

Pro basketball games, I note, no longer allow any time for repose. Once a time-out is called, out come the dancing girls, miniature blimps, acrobats, jugglers, magicians - everything but human sacrifices. Sports promoters seem to believe that, as on radio, there should be no dead time during a game: something must be happening every second. Silence is prohibited. The eye must have something to engage it at all times.

No bag is more mixed for the couch potato than technology and sports. Technology can make viewing sports events on the scene at ball parks, stadiums, and tennis courts more irritating, as in the instance of the Jumbotron, while making viewing them at home more pleasing. Owing to DVRs, replays, slow-motion cameras, and the rest, watching sports on television makes the couch potato feel in better control of the game experience. I haven't been to more than five or six hockey games in my life, but at none of them have I ever actually seen a goal get scored; I only saw people around me jump to their feet and begin to scream. Only through television replay, usually entailing a slow-motioning of the action, have I seen goals scored. Reliance on replays applies to so many other fast-action moments in sports.

..and you can really on get a sense of the speed and violence of hockey in person, but given that every sporting event has gotten longer by adding inaction instead of action, they're almost unbearable in person.  Add in the cost and there's no reason to get off the couch.
Posted by orrinj at 8:08 AM


Want To Create American Jobs? Remove American Barriers To Immigration (Ian E. Scott, 9/06/13, Forbes)

While an improvement, the current business immigration reform proposals do not go far enough and a U.S. job protectionist cloud hangs over most of the proposals.   A few observations.

While the proposed Senate Bill increases the annual cap on H-1B visas from 85,000 to up to ultimately (over a period of years) a maximum of 180,000, it still maintains changeable quota levels, adds additional wage and other compliance requirements, and also makes the fees associated with the Visa much more expensive for some IT companies.  This type of additional protectionism is not warranted (or needed) given most employers would already chose a U.S. worker given the current fees and administrative requirements.  While the proposed H-1B reform takes a positive step by providing more H-1B Visas, this is outweighed by burdensome wage and other requirements. The last thing that businesses need is added costs and additional reporting and compliance requirements.

One very positive aspect of the reform proposals though, is the elimination of cap amounts in some visa categories and the principles here should be extended to other Visas.  For example, highly skilled and exceptionally talented immigrants are not subject to a cap.  In addition, candidates with advanced degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering & Math (STEM) fields from U.S. universities will also not be subject to the cap and it will be easier (not easy enough though) for them to find jobs after graduation.  While this is a positive move for these students, there are students in many other fields that have spent years (and hundreds of thousands of dollars) being educated here and will not benefit from these proposals.  While a "merit based" system is also being introduced, the phase in time is long dated and it is not clear how it will benefit all of the stakeholders.

So what about those who want to start a business?  As another attempt to attract foreign investment and create jobs, the bill creates an X visa and EB-6 Visa.  Both are geared towards entrepreneurs whose businesses have attracted a substantial investment amount ($100,000 and up) in investment, or have created jobs (three to five depending on the Visa), and generated significant annual revenue ($250,000 - $750,000).   The person who meets these requirements should be given a visa but isn't that obvious?  Also the bar is high given that many technology success stories start out as a mere idea.

While these are positive additions for those with large bank rolls, perhaps a revamp of the E-2 visa simplifying some of the requirements (in particular the investment amount requirement) and expanding the availability to all countries would make business start-up more accessible to all.  The idea would be to create a system to provide small business start-ups who have good ideas and a bit of capital the chance to live the American dream. Founders that have great ideas should be presented with an opportunity rather than an obstacle and the current proposals do not go far enough to give great idea the chance to success.  Even a foreign founder with a great idea like Facebook would have a difficult time getting a visa under the current proposals without a substantial capital investment.

Posted by orrinj at 7:51 AM


Suddenly Germany may be in trouble - too little growth, two few babies : Its economy may be thriving now: but as elections loom, the country's vaunted industrial base faces a skills shortage of startling proportions (Katie Allen, 9/07/13, The Observer)

Sonneberg and its neighbouring towns also offer glimpses of a longer-term problem facing Germany. Europe's growth engine is grappling with the costs of one of the lowest birth rates in the world, and here at its heart the resulting skills shortage is already being felt.

This is the biggest issue for more than 500 local Mittelstand bosses gathering for their Industrie- und Handelskammer (chamber of commerce and industry) gala, a short dash up the recently extended motorway in the town of Suhl. The chamber's latest survey showed a record number of businesses on good form, and there are high spirits at the annual knees-up, which features speeches, dance routines by a troupe draped in locally made LED lights, a prizegiving and a buffet of potato salad, schnitzels and sausages.

But there are nods of recognition when the chamber president for South Thuringia, Dr Peter Traut, highlights a worsening labour crunch. "When I started in this role 10 years ago there were 2,200 young people finishing their exams. Now there are 1,000 fewer. The maths is easy: it has virtually halved."

The drive to attract young trainees is something Karl-Heinz Sladek has been working hard at. He is general manager of HPT Pharma Packaging, based in Sonneberg, and says the tables have been turned on German employers. While their counterparts in eurozone countries such as Spain and Greece are inundated with applicants for every job, German bosses are left wondering where to find young people to meet the rising demand for their car parts, biotech innovations and other exports.

"It is no longer a case of young people applying to us; it's us applying for future trainees," he says.

Companies are wooing school leavers with golden hellos, petrol vouchers, gym memberships and help with childcare. But the numbers are not in the employers' favour. The regional employment agency in Suhl has just reported a record August for trainee demand. There were 869 unfilled training slots but just 336 applicants still looking for a placement. [...]

Peter Stahlhut manages production at Glaswerk Ernstthal, on the edge of the town of Lauscha in the nearby Thuringia mountains. Workshops here have been crafting glass since the 16th century and claim to be the birthplace of the Christmas bauble. Lauscha is to Christmas decorations what Sonneberg is to toys.

Stahlhut's factory now produces decorative glass bottles for the spirits industry, more than a third of them for export. The plant has 30 trainees among its 500 staff. But holding on to them is tough.

"In our industry you need experience to do the job well... that means years of learning and doing," says Stahlhut. "But a glass works isn't the sexiest place to work. It's hot. It's noisy. You have to expect to lose 50% of the people you start training."

Economists say the skills shortage will become more acute as the German population continues to fall. The official projections are for drastic ageing: in 2060, every third person will be 65 or older.

Not only are people living longer, but when it comes to having children, Germans lag well behind most other OECD countries. There is anecdotal evidence among women that combining a job and a family is still frowned on. There is also research, including by the OECD, suggests that finding childcare remains a barrier to starting a family for some.

This demographic time bomb has received too little attention in the election campaign, say many economists. "They are not concentrating on structural reform, and that is what you need for women to have more kids," says Laurence Boone, chief European economist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

Analysts say that Germany also faces mounting pension and healthcare costs as the population ages and its advantageous economic position starts to crumble away.

"There are big implications for trend growth," says Boone. "The more people who work, the more you grow. And if you have to choose between kids and working, you take women out of the workforce. You need children being born and women working. Not only is Germany's trend growth going to be lower than it was before the crisis five years ago, it's going to be closer to Italian trend growth and below Spanish, UK and French trend growth."

September 7, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 7:30 AM


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Posted by orrinj at 5:33 AM


Farming as rocket science : Why American agriculture is different from the European variety (Lexington, Sep 7th 2013, The Economist)

Foreign rivals are right about the power of market forces in America, but wrong to see its farmers as passive victims. Americans have thought differently about agriculture for a long time--and not by accident. Settled in a rush of migration, peaking in the 1880s, Nebraska's prairies were parcelled out to German, Czech, Danish, Swedish and even Luxemburgish pioneers. From the start the plan was to convert Old World homesteaders to the scientific ways of the New World. As the system developed, Congress sent county agents from universities to teach menfolk modern farming and their wives such skills as tomato-canning. In the 1920s educational trains trundled through the prairies, pulling boxcars of animals and demonstration crops. At each stop, hundreds would gather for public lectures. Older folk resisted such newfangled ideas as planting hybrid corn bought from merchants rather than seedcorn from their own harvests. Enter the 4-H movement, which gave youngsters hybrid seeds to plant, then waited for the shock as children's corn outgrew their parents'. Later youngsters promoted such innovations as computers.

Because America was a new country, argues Greg Ibach, head of agriculture in Nebraska's state government, a primary concern was feeding a growing population and moving food large distances. Europeans fussed about appellations and where food came from. Americans "treated food as commodities".

Such differences of history and culture have lingering consequences. Almost all the corn and soyabeans grown in America are genetically modified. GM crops are barely tolerated in the European Union. Both America and Europe offer farmers indefensible subsidies, but with different motives. EU taxpayers often pay to keep market forces at bay, preserving practices which may be quaint, green or kindly to animals but which do not turn a profit. American subsidies give farmers an edge in commodity markets, via cheap loans and federally backed crop insurance.

Nebraska, a big beef and corn producer, feels bullish in more ways than one. There is much talk of China's meat-craving middle class and a fast-growing global population. Last year farming graduates at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln could pick from multiple job offers. America is "completely set up" to supply soaring world demand--as long as it can keep using GM crops and other technology, says Will Miller, a UNL student who reared enough heifers as a 4-H member to pay his way through college.

Posted by orrinj at 5:28 AM


A very different flavour : The new president is testing the water at home and abroad (The Economist, Sep 7th 2013)

For a start, he has brought in a cabinet of technocrats, most of whom last held office during the years of two reform-minded presidents, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani (1989-97) and Muhammad Khatami (1997-2005). They were both said to represent Iran's "modern right" school, trying to steer the economy towards a freer market, while broadening the tax base and seeking credit from global institutions such as the World Bank.

The new finance minister, Ali Tayyebnia, who did a stint at the London School of Economics, has signalled that he wants to revamp Iran's VAT and income-tax systems in order to reduce the country's reliance on oil exports, which have slumped by more than half since Western sanctions were imposed at the end of 2011. The oil minister, Bijan Zangeneh, another reformer, wants to offer more generous contracts to foreign oil companies and is looking for foreign capital and expertise.

Mr Rohani also says he will reopen the Management and Planning Organisation, the closest thing Iran had to an independent budget auditor, which Mr Ahmadinejad summarily closed in 2007. The president's new chief of staff, Muhammad Nahavandian, has suggested a series of additional economic reforms, among other things to reduce currency speculation. Large crowds around men holding up bricks of dollars are a common sight in Tehran's Grand Bazaar, as speculators seek to exploit the volatility of the rial.

The new head of Iran's central bank, Valiollah Seif, has hinted that interest rates should rise in order to control inflation. That, says Kevan Harris of Princeton University, a frequent visitor to Iran, will "cause a lot of bankruptcies because of the loose monetary policies of the last several years. So the state will need to be ready to deal with that, and not simply expect the market to sort it out."

In any event, unless Mr Rohani can get American and European sanctions against Iran's banks and oil lifted, his intended reforms are likely to stall. He was elected to his post largely because voters reckoned he would have the best chance of getting sanctions lifted.

Posted by orrinj at 5:03 AM


LIVE: Federal election 2013 polling day (News Limited Network  September 07, 2013)

TONY Abbott will storm to victory and take almost 100 seats tonight, with Wayne Swan to lose his seat and Kevin Rudd's deemed too close to call, according to a major exit poll.

With polling booths closing in the eastern states and counting beginning, the Newspoll exit poll, conducted for Sky News, has found the Liberals will win 97 seats, Labor will be reduced to 51 seats and Andrew Wilkie and Bob Katter the lone members on the crossbenches.

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Posted by orrinj at 4:44 AM


Another Wild Win for Sox : Napoli's Grand Slam Keys Big Rally as Boston Stops N.Y. (Mike Fitzpatrick, September 7, 2013, AP)

Will Middlebrooks homered for the third straight day and Boston erased a five-run deficit in another wild game between these longtime rivals. One night earlier, the Yankees took an 8-7 lead with a six-run seventh -- only to lose 9-8 in 10 innings on Victorino's tiebreaking single.

New York has lost consecutive games when scoring at least eight runs for the first time since September 1949, according to STATS. The last time it happened with both games at home was 1911 against Cleveland.

Napoli also doubled, singled and walked twice in a perfect night at the plate. He scored three times, one night after sparking Boston's ninth-inning comeback with a two-out single off Mariano Rivera.

The Red Sox, who began the day with a 6½-game lead in the AL East over Tampa Bay, have slowed New York's wild-card charge by winning the first two games of a four-game set, improving to 9-5 against New York this year. They have scored 41 runs in their past three games and won 11 of 13 overall. [...]

The game lasted exactly 4 hours, one night after the teams played 10 innings in 4:32.

Sox odyssey sweetened by oddities (Gordon Edes, 9/07/13,

This is the week the Red Sox crossed over the threshold from rational to irrational, from fact to fiction, from things that can be explained to things that go bump in the night.

Our humble suggestion: Just accept this as a baseball odyssey like very few others, and grab on with both hands for the ride. And if you're able to grow a beard -- or a single whisker, which was about all that separated Mike Napoli's game-tying grand slam from being just another fly ball to right field in Yankee Stadium Friday night -- so much the better.

As the great Ned Martin said in a broadcast long ago during another wildly improbable saga, words that surely echoed in the memories of longtime Sox fans: "If you've just turned your radio on, it's happened again."

A franchise that began the year bent on winning back New England hearts and minds can not only declare mission accomplished, but can lay claim to reviving a message that once inflamed the imagination of an entire generation of Sox fans.

Did you say impossible? Tell that to Yaz and Rico and Gentleman Jim, then try slipping that by the Soggy Bottom Boys of Napoli and Gomes, Victorino and Ross, Carp and Pedroia. Good luck with that.

Will Middlebrooks, who homered for the third straight game himself, celebrates with Shane Victorino after the Flyin' Hawaiian's blast gave the Sox the lead for good.
"Impossible? I don't think there's anything impossible about it," Jonny Gomes said.

September 6, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 9:23 PM


Fertility Rate Stabilizes as the Economy Grows (SABRINA TAVERNISE, September 6, 2013, NY Times)

The United States has a higher fertility rate than many other developed countries, bolstered by Hispanic immigrants, who are more likely than whites to be in their childbearing years. When rates are lower, as they are in countries like Germany and Japan, youth populations shrink, which can lead over time to a reduction in the size of the labor force and diminished tax bases.

"There's a widespread perception that a moderately growing population is advantageous for economic growth and for a growing society," said Hans-Peter Kohler, a professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania.

That is why news of the 2012 figures had demographers buzzing.

"It's exciting," Professor Kohler said. "My prediction would be that we'll see further stabilization and possibly growth in 2013."

Posted by orrinj at 2:23 PM


In Iran, a change in tone on Syria (Jason Rezaian, September 4, 2013, Washington Post)

As the Obama administration builds its case for military strikes on Syria, Iran's new president and his foreign policy team are steering clear of a confrontational tone even as they express support for Tehran's longtime allies in Damascus.

On Wednesday, President Hassan Rouhani told a key decision-making body here that Syria's stability and security remain top priorities, but he made no mention of offering military support to President Bashar al-Assad.

"If something happens to the Syrian people, the Islamic Republic of Iran will do its religious and humanitarian duties to send them food and medicine," Rouhani told the Assembly of Experts. He described the situation in Syria as "dire" and condemned "military attacks on countries in this region, especially on Syria."

They'll help with the Syrian people after we remove the regime.

Posted by orrinj at 2:06 PM


Obamacare Insurance Costs Affordable, Kaiser Survey Finds (Alex Wayne, Sep 5, 2013, Bloomberg)

A 25-year-old New Yorker earning $25,000 a year will pay as little as $62 a month for health insurance next year, and a peer living in Vermont may pay nothing, according to a 17-state survey of premiums under the U.S. health-care overhaul. [...]

"There's obviously intense interest in what the choices are going to look like for consumers and what they're going to have to pay in 2014," Larry Levitt, a senior vice president at Menlo Park, California-based Kaiser, said in a phone interview. "For the most part insurers seem to find this market attractive and they're pricing accordingly." [...]

Rand Corp. researchers, looking at 10 states, said in an Aug. 29 report that predictions of sharp increases in premiums were overstated. "Our analysis found no widespread trend toward sharply higher prices in the individual market," Christine Eibner, a Rand senior economist, said in a statement with the report. [...]

"What has surprised me is how inexpensive some of these bronze plans will be," Levitt said. "They'll come with high deductibles and significant out-of-pocket costs for consumers, but for those who are looking for catastrophic protection there will be some inexpensive options out there, particularly if you're eligible for a tax credit."

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Posted by orrinj at 1:51 PM


Iranian FM: Tehran never denied the Holocaust, the man who did is gone (JPOST.COM, 09/06/2013)

Zarif's comments came in a twitter exchange with Christine Pelosi, the daughter of US House of Representatives Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.

In response to a tweet in which Zarif wished Jews a "Happy Rosh Hahshanah" on the occasion of the Jewish new year, Pelosi tweeted: "Thanks. The new year would be even sweeter if you would end Iran's Holocaust denial, sir."

Zarif replied that "Iran never denied it. the man who did is now gone. happy new year." The tweet apparently referred to Ahmadinejad, who denied the Holocaust on repeated occasions.

Posted by orrinj at 5:32 AM


A stand for Syria -- and Obama (Michael Gerson, September 5, 2013, Washington Post)

The refusal to authorize force would be taken as an ideological pivot point. Nations such as China, Russia and Iran would see this as the triumph of a political coalition between the peace party of the left and the rising isolationists of the right. And they would be correct. The strategic calculations of every American enemy and friend would be adjusted in ways that encourage challenge and instability. Prime Minister David Cameron's recent loss of the vote authorizing military action -- the first such repudiation since 1782 -- has weakened Britain as an actor in the world. America should refuse to follow it down.

I would prefer to defend a form of internationalism less conflicted and hesitant than President Obama's. But even so, it is better than the alternative of seriously compromising the credibility of the presidency itself. And those who claim that this credibility has already reached bottom are lacking in imagination.

Posted by orrinj at 5:25 AM


The Evolutionary Case for Great Fiction : Might reading literature help with species survival? (JENNIFER VANDERBES, SEP 5 2013, Atlantic)

[A]mong the many things that set humans apart from other animals is our capacity for counterfactual thinking. At its most basic level, this means we can hypothesize what might happen if we run out of milk; in its most elaborate form--we get War and Peace. Stories, then, are complex counterfactual explorations of possible outcomes: What would happen if I killed my landlady? What would happen if I had an affair with Count Vronsky? How do I avoid a water buffalo? According to Denis Dutton, these "low-cost, low-risk" surrogate experiences build up our knowledge stores and help us adapt to new situations. ("Mirror neuron" research indicates that our brains process lived and read experiences almost identically.)  A good "cautionary tale," for example, might help us avert disaster. Stories can also provide useful historical, scientific, cultural and geographical information. Bruce Chatwin's Songlines illustrates this on two tiers: In armchair-travel fashion, the book acquaints readers with the Australian Outback, while simultaneously describing how Aboriginals sang stories walking at a specific pace so that geographical markers within the story would guide their journey.

In addition to travelogues, stories also offer nuanced thought maps. An imaginative foray into another person's mind can foster both empathy and self-awareness. This heightened emotional intelligence might, in turn, prove useful when forming friendships, sniffing out duplicity, or partaking in the elaborate psychological dance of courtship ... which brings us back to the second Darwinian evolutionary imperative: Getting laid.

In terms of sexual advantages, a tale well told can undoubtedly up the storyteller's charm factor.  Tales aren't bland renderings of narrative events; they are, at their best, colorful, brilliant, and poetically polished.   They get gussied up.  And when storytellers use ornament and plumage to draw attention to their tales they inevitably draw eyes themselves.  (Think: author photos, author profiles, literary performances, awards - or, 45,000 years ago, the rapt gaze of the Pleistocene clan.) Literary peacockery benefits the audience as well. When we read books, we enhance our vocabulary. We glean information about particle physics or virtual reality or Australian Aborigines that make us better conversationalists. We hone our metaphors, refine our wit.  From the elaborate plumage of the story the reader, too, makes off with a few feathers.   [...]

[O]ur choice of which stories to consume is more crucial than ever. They need to be as useful as lived experience, or more so, or we're putting ourselves at a disadvantage.

And, really, what's left of the theory but choices?

September 5, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 5:42 PM


Conservative Postmodernism, Postmodern Conservatism (Peter Augustine Lawler, 9/05/13, Imaginative Conservative)

Astute thinkers from Hegel onward have claimed that we live at the end of the modern world. That does not mean the modern world is about to disappear: the world, in truth, is more modern than ever. So we must contest Hegel's assertion that the modern world is the end, the fulfillment, of history. The longings of human beings have neither been satisfied nor have they disappeared. Modern strivings continue to be fueled by a progressively more restless and anxious human discontent. But if the modern world were to be succeeded by another--as it eventually will be--human beings would continue to be human, beings with souls or capabilities and longings not shared by, and higher, than those of other animals.

What has distinguished the modern world, above all, is a particular definition of what a human being is. That definition does not describe a real or complete human being. It was not even meant to be completely true, but mainly to be useful as a fiction in the pursuit of unprecedented freedom, justice, and prosperity. Modern thought has held that a human being is an individual, and the modern individual is an abstraction, an invention of the human mind. That individual is made more free from social and political constraints, and less directed toward duty and goodness by God and nature, than a real human being ever could be. The modern individual is distinguished from the political animals--the citizens, statesmen, and philosophers--described by the Greek and Roman philosophers, and from the social, familial creatures described by Christian theologians. The modern individual is liberated from the philosopher's duty to know the truth about nature, from the citizen's selfless devotion to his country, from the creature's love and fear of God, and even from the loving responsibilities that are inseparable from family life. Conservatives today oppose liberal individualism both because its understanding of the human being is untrue and because that definition erodes all that is good about distinctively human existence.

The modern world has now ended only in the sense that we have now seen enough of it to judge it. Although we have reason to be grateful for the wealth, health, freedom, and power that modern achievements have given us, we know that the individual's pursuits of security and happiness will remain always pursuits--and not possessions. So even as the modern world continues to develop, we can be free of its characteristic delusion, its utopianism. We can speak of its strengths and its limitations from a perspective "outside" modernity, and that perspective is the foundation of conservatism today. Conservatives can be (perhaps the only) genuinely postmodern thinkers. The reason we can see beyond the modern world is that its intention to transform human nature has failed. Its project of transforming the human person into the autonomous individual was and remains unrealistic; we can now see the limits of being an individual because we remain more than individuals. The world created by modern individuals to make themselves fully at home turns out to have made human beings less at home than ever. [...]

It is no longer enough for Americans to be abstracted modern individuals most of the time and full human creatures only in fleeting private moments. All of our institutions must be consistently understood in light of what we really know about human nature. We have religious liberty because human beings, by nature, really are open to God, and because what we really know about nature points to the real possibility that we are created. We have political liberty because we are more than citizens, but that liberty is compatible with political responsibility because we are, among other things, citizens. Because human freedom and human responsibilities make possible and necessary both virtue and spiritual life, we can live well with death. The beginning of the postmodern world is the replacement of the individual by the whole human being, and the using of our natural capabilities for thought and action to make the world worthy of him. This is not to say that any particular changes to our form of government are now necessary. Our constitutionalism might actually be better defended from the perspective of the created human being than that of the abstract individual--as Orestes Brownson in the nineteenth century and Robert Kraynak and Carey McWilliams very recently have explained. Postmodern conservatism is quite compatible with liberal or limited and democratic government, and it certainly has a higher view than does liberal individualism of the capacity of the ordinary person to choose truth and virtue over security and comfort.

Getting the political, economic and religious structures universally right doesn't change what we are, just creates a climate in which we are freer to try and achieve what we can be.  Of course, the sad reality of being human is that too few will.

Posted by orrinj at 5:36 PM


Why Are You Not Dead Yet? : Life expectancy doubled in the past 150 years. Here's why. (Laura Helmuth, Sept. 5, 2013, Slate)

Clean water may be the biggest lifesaver in history. Some historians attribute one-half of the overall reduction in mortality, two-thirds of the reduction in child mortality, and three-fourths of the reduction in infant mortality to clean water. In 1854, John Snow traced a cholera outbreak in London to a water pump next to a leaky sewer, and some of the big public works projects of the late 1900s involved separating clean water from dirty. Cities ran water through sand and gravel to physically trap filth, and when that didn't work (germs are awfully small) they started chlorinating water.

Closely related were technologies to move wastewater away from cities, but as Grob points out in The Deadly Truth, the first sewage systems made the transmission of fecal-borne diseases worse. Lacking an understanding of germs, people thought that dilution was the best solution and just piped their sewage into nearby waterways. Unfortunately, the sewage outlets were often near the water system inlets. Finally understanding that sewage and drinking water need to be completely separated, Chicago built a drainage canal that in 1900 reversed the flow of the Chicago River. The city thus sent its sewage into the greater Mississippi watershed and continued taking its drinking water from Lake Michigan.

The germ theory of disease didn't catch on all that quickly, but once it did, people started washing their hands. Soap became cheaper and more widespread, and people suddenly had a logical reason to wash up before surgery, after defecating, before eating. Soap stops both deadly and lingering infections; even today, kids who don't have access to soap and clean water have stunted growth.

Housing, especially in cities, was crowded, filthy, poorly ventilated, dank, stinky, hot in the summer, and cold in the winter. These were terrible conditions to live in as a human being, but a great place to be an infectious microbe. Pretty much everyone was infected with tuberculosis (the main cause of consumption), the leading killer for most of the 19th century. It still has a bit of a reputation as a disease of the young, beautiful, and poetic (it claimed Frederic Chopin and Henry David Thoreau, not to mention Mimì in La Bohème), but it was predominantly a disease of poverty, and there was nothing romantic about it. As economic conditions started improving in the 19th century, more housing was built, and it was airier, brighter (sunlight kills tuberculosis bacteria), more weather-resistant, and less hospitable to vermin and germs.
We live like kings today--we have upholstered chairs, clean beds, a feast's worth of calories at any meal, all the nutmeg (people once killed for it) and salt we could ever want. 

But wealth and privilege didn't save royalty from early deaths. Microbes do care about breeding--some people have evolved defenses against cholera, malaria, and possibly the plague--but microbes killed off people without regard to class distinctions through the 1600s in Europe. The longevity gap between the rich and the poor grew slowly with the introduction of effective health measures that only the rich could afford: Ipecac from the New World to stop bloody diarrhea, condoms made of animal intestines to prevent the transmission of syphilis, quinine from the bark of the cinchona tree to treat malaria. Once people realized citrus could prevent scurvy, the wealthy built orangeries--greenhouses where they grew the life-saving fruit.

Improving the standard of living is one important life-extending factor. The earliest European settlers in North America suffered from mass starvation initially, but once the Colonies were established, they had more food and better nutrition than people in England. During the Revolutionary War era, American soldiers were a few inches taller than their British foes. In Europe, the wealthy were taller than the poor, but there were no such class-related differences in America--which means most people had enough to eat. This changed during the 1800s, when the population expanded and immigrants moved to urban areas. Average height declined, but farmers were taller than laborers. People in rural areas outlived those in cities by about 10 years, largely due to less exposure to contagious disease but also because they had better nutrition. Diseases of malnutrition were common among the urban poor: scurvy (vitamin C deficiency), rickets (vitamin D deficiency), and pellagra (a niacin deficiency). Improved nutrition at the end of the 1800s made people taller, healthier, and longer lived; fortified foods reduced the incidence of vitamin-deficiency disorders.

Posted by orrinj at 5:27 PM


Book Review: 'The Bet' by Paul Sabin : Paul Ehrlich predicted an imminent population catastrophe-Julian Simon wagered he was wrong. (JONATHAN V. LAST, 8/30/13, WSJ)

Mr. Ehrlich, a biologist specializing in butterflies, became famous in the 1970s after publishing "The Population Bomb" (1968), in which he updated the 19th-century projections of Thomas Malthus-people were overbreeding, the supply of food and resources couldn 't possibly keep up-and dialed the calamity to 11. Within a few short years, hundreds of millions of people would starve to death as civilization unraveled. Or so predicted Mr. Ehrlich. "The Population Bomb" was reprinted 22 times in the first three years alone, and its author would appear as Johnny Carson's guest on "The Tonight Show" at least 20 times, becoming a national figure and an influential player in Democratic politics. Mr. Ehrlich's ideas attracted a remarkable number of passionate adherents. They also attracted the scornful criticism of a little-known economist named Julian Simon.

When he began exploring demographics, Simon, too, had been concerned about overpopulation. But the more he studied the subject, the more he became convinced that Mr. Ehrlich's thesis was fundamentally flawed. Mr. Ehrlich believed that the laws of nature that governed insects also applied to humans, that natural constraints created cycles of population booms and busts. Simon believed that man's rational powers-and the economies man constructed-made those laws nearly obsolete.

So in 1980 Simon made Mr. Ehrlich a bet. If Mr. Ehrlich's predictions about overpopulation and the depletion of resources were correct, Simon said, then over the next decade the prices of commodities would rise as they became more scarce. Simon contended that, because markets spur innovation and create efficiencies, commodity prices would fall. He proposed that each party put up $ 1,000 to purchase a basket of five commodities. If the prices of these went down, Mr. Ehrlich would pay Simon the difference between the 1980 and 1990 prices. If the prices went up, Simon would pay. This meant that Mr. Ehrlich's exposure was limited while Simon's was theoretically infinite.

. Simon even allowed Mr Ehrlich to rig the terms of the bet in his favor:... Mr Ehrlich was allowed to select the five commodities that would be the yardstick Consulting two colleagues, John Holdren and John Harte, Mr Ehrlich chose chromium, copper , nickel, tin and tungsten, each of which his team supposed was especially likely to become scarce. As they settled on their terms, Mr. Sabin notes, Messrs. Ehrlich, Holdren and Harte "felt confident that they would prevail."

They didn't. In October 1990, Mr. Ehrlich mailed a check for $ 576.07 to Simon. Mr. Sabin diplomatically reports that "there was no note."

...not just to be wrong, but to be graceless about it, and to go right on clinging to the theories that flow from the error.
Posted by orrinj at 5:04 PM


James Cotton On World Cafe (NPR, September 05, 2013)

Harmonica master James Cotton is a giant of the blues. Born in 1935 on a cotton plantation in Tunica, Miss., he learned the instrument from Sonny Boy Williamson, who had a radio program right across the river in West Helena, Ark. After listening to the show and imitating him on a harmonica, Cotton met Williamson, who took him under his wing.

At 15, Cotton met and played with Howlin' Wolf, who took him to record at Sun Studios in Memphis. Later, while on tour, Muddy Waters asked Cotton to replace Junior Wells in his band; Cotton stayed on the road with Waters for a dozen years.
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Posted by orrinj at 4:57 PM


A Rx for retirement: HSAs (Stephanie AuWerter, 9/04/13, Money)

How would you like a triple-tax-free way to save for certain retirement expenses?

No, this isn't the latest Nigerian email scam. Rather, it's the very real advantage of a Health Savings Account (HSA), an investment vehicle available to those with qualifying high-deductible health insurance plans.

The pretax money you put in is meant to be used for that year's unreimbursed health costs, but unspent funds can be rolled forward to grow tax-deferred and withdrawn tax-free at any later date to pay for health care.

After 65, you can also tap the account for nonmedical expenses without penalty; those withdrawals will be taxed as income just like a traditional IRA.

Considering that a 65-year-old couple leaving the workforce today can expect to spend $220,000 on health care, as Fidelity reports, it's no wonder HSAs are gaining traction as a retirement savings tool. "They're the best deal in town," says Scottsdale, Ariz., financial planner Dana Anspach, author of Control Your Retirement Destiny.

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Posted by orrinj at 1:53 PM


Andrew McAfee: What will future jobs look like? (TED Talks, June 2013)

Economist Andrew McAfee suggests that, yes, probably, droids will take our jobs -- or at least the kinds of jobs we know now. In this far-seeing talk, he thinks through what future jobs might look like, and how to educate coming generations to hold them.

September 4, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 7:31 PM


U.S. reverses slide in competitiveness (Virginia Harrison, 9/04/13, CNNMoney)

The United States has been named the world's fifth most competitive country as growing confidence in the country's financial system helped reverse a four year slide down the leader board.

In the World Economic Forum's annual Global Competitiveness Report released Wednesday, the U.S. climbed two places to take fifth spot. Switzerland retained its number one ranking, with Singapore, Finland and Germany rounding out the top five.

The WEF rates a country's competitiveness based on its performance in 12 categories, including quality of institutions, infrastructure, financial market development and higher education and training.

America's rise this year was "down to a perceived improvement in the country's financial market as well as greater confidence in its public institutions," it said.

"The de-leveraging process in the banking sector continues to show positive effects on the stability and efficiency of the country's financial markets."

Big deficits don't matter in themselves, economically, but they do have a psychological effect.  Any time you have a peace dividend and you can rapidly close wartime deficits people will believe that institutions are working better.

Posted by orrinj at 7:18 PM


Your Commute Is Killing Your Inner Citizen (Walter Russell Mead, 9/04/13, American Interest)

Slogging your way to and from work every day makes for bad citizens, according to a new study from researchers at the University of Connecticut and Stony Brook University. Longer commutes drain the will to participate in politics (by, for example, voting, contacting one's political representative, or working on campaigns). From the report (h/t Lukas Neville):

Drawing upon national survey data, this article analyzes the independent effects of time spent working and commuting on political participation. Our results indicate that, even after controlling for a variety of relevant individual and contextual factors, time spent working exerts no impact on one's level of participation. An increase in time spent commuting, however, is found to lead to a significant decrease in participation.

Interestingly, the authors found that the effect of commuting on political participation varied widely between low and high income groups. Long commutes for low income earners led to a significant decrease in both political interest and political participation, but those earning big bucks were more interested and engaged in politics as their commutes lengthened. The authors were concerned by this finding:

[O]ur results suggest that the societal processes increasingly forcing commuting on individuals, and leading to longer commuting times, are working to further distance an already weakly active and often marginalized segment of the populace from the democratic process.

The decline of labor and driving will makes us better citizens, family members, neighbors, etc.

Posted by orrinj at 7:16 PM


Oil's dwindling role in Middle East affairs (Claude Salhani, September 4, 2013, CS Monitor)

[A]s we have just seen by the latest crisis revolving around the issue of Syria and the alleged use of chemical weapons by the regime, and the threats of war and of punitive actions taken by the United States and its allies, not even once during the deliberations of whether to attack or not to attack Syria was the issue of how an escalation of violence would affect the oil markets.

Not once was any mention made to the dangers of Iran becoming involved in the conflict and how that would impact the oil route out of the Gulf in the event that it was closed down by fighting or purposely by the Iranians by attacking the strategic Straits of Hormuz.

Posted by orrinj at 7:10 PM


More Employers Overhaul Health Benefits : Some Let Their Workers Pick a Plan From an Online Marketplace (ANNA WILDE MATHEWS, 9/04/13, WSJ)

This fall, tens of thousands of U.S. workers will learn that they're getting their health benefits next year in a radical new way: Their employers will give them a fixed sum of money and let them choose their plan from an online marketplace. [...]

The private exchanges for employers are separate from the government-operated marketplaces that are being created in each state under the federal health law, which will serve individual consumers and small companies.

Employers hope the exchanges will trim costs and make their health spending more predictable. But some experts say workers could be squeezed by the fixed-sum approach if the dollars allotted each year don't keep up with the rising cost of coverage. "Is the defined contribution going to increase with premiums, and how much is it going to go up? It is a question," said Paul Fronstin, director of health research at the nonprofit Employee Benefit Research Institute.  [...]

Operators of employer health-insurance marketplaces say many workers pick cheaper coverage than they previously had and that is one way the exchange approach can save money.

In an exchange run by Liazon Corp. that has around 60,000 people enrolled, about 75% of the workers have chosen less-expensive plans, accepting bigger deductibles and other out-of-pocket charges, as well as smaller choices of health-care providers and restrictions such as primary-care gatekeepers. "They want value for their money," said Alan Cohen, Liazon's chief strategy officer.

The employer contribution should keep up with the cost of the high deductible/HSA plan but not other plans.
Posted by orrinj at 7:05 PM


Send the Right Signal to WMD Proliferators (Max Boot, 09.04.2013, Commentary)

It is critically important to upset Assad's expectations-to ensure that an American attack, if there is one, is not simply cosmetic. Congress cannot force Obama to act decisively, but with a lopsided vote for a strong resolution which gives the president full freedom of action, it can at least create the conditions for decisive action should administration hawks, led by Secretary of State John Kerry, prevail in their internal deliberations.

The alternative-of not granting the administration authorization to act-is too dangerous to contemplate: It would be a green light to WMD proliferators from North Korea to Iran who will now know that the U.S. will do nothing to stop them. 

First, remove the regime.  Second, bomb North Korea's military facilities simultaneously.
Posted by orrinj at 6:57 PM


The Disruptive Dozen (Erik Brynjolfsson, James Manyika, Andrew McAfee, 9/04/13, Project Syndicate)

To help cut through the hype that surrounds the arrival of almost all new technologies, the McKinsey Global Institute examined more than 100 rapidly evolving technologies and identified 12 that are almost certain to disturb the status quo in the coming years. The MGI estimates that the combined annual economic impact of this "disruptive dozen" - which span information technology, machinery and vehicles, energy, bioscience, and materials - will reach $14-33 trillion by 2025. Much of this value - in many cases, a significant majority - is likely to accrue to consumers.

Consider the mobile Internet, with an annual economic impact that is projected to reach $10 trillion by 2025. As advanced-country consumers continue to amass benefits from constant access to an increasing amount of information, apps, and online services, more than two billion developing-country citizens could gain access to the same benefits from technological progress in the rest of the world. The value of these benefits would dwarf the value likely to be reaped by suppliers of mobile devices and Internet services.

Similar user-oriented value shifts are occurring across Internet-related technologies, including those not among the disruptive dozen. For example, only a small fraction of the $1 trillion in estimated annual value of online search will likely go to the service providers.

But, for workers, the news is not all positive, with machines replacing humans in an increasing number of domains - far beyond routine physical and clerical activities. As computer-processing power grows and artificial-intelligence software advances, machines are increasingly able to perform complex tasks requiring abstract thinking, such as inferring meaning and making judgments.

As a result, companies are beginning to automate more highly skilled knowledge-based jobs in fields like law and medicine. While this process will generate a significant amount of value - more than $5 trillion in 2025, according to MGI estimates - it will not be distributed evenly among workers, leaving many to confront the need to retrain for new jobs.

Entrepreneurs, executives, and stockholders face similar uncertainty as disruptive technologies change the rules of the game by reducing entry barriers and lowering the minimum efficient scale (the smallest amount a company must produce while still taking full advantage of economies of scale). For example, 3D printing allows start-ups and small companies to "print" highly complicated prototypes, molds, and products in a variety of materials with no tooling or setup costs.

Posted by orrinj at 6:39 PM


Tony Abbott poised for victory in Australia elections (Lenore Taylor, 9/04/13, The Guardian,)

Australia is poised for a lurch to the political right this weekend when the ruling Labor party faces electoral defeat at the hands of Tony Abbott and his conservative Coalition.

Opinion polls predict a convincing victory for Abbott, a social conservative and political pugilist who has toned down his aggressive persona, narrowed policy differences with Labor and boosted his personal popularity during the five-week election campaign.

It's long past time to stop talking about lurches as we all seamlessly transition from liberal conservative party rule to conservative liberal party rule and back.
Posted by orrinj at 6:11 PM


America 3.0: The Coming Reinvention of America (James C. Bennett and Michael J. Lotus, August 20, 2013, The American)

America has already once made a change on the scale of that which is happening now. That was when it transformed itself from the rural and agrarian society of the founding era -- which we call America 1.0 -- to the urban and industrial society that peaked in the mid-20th century -- which we call America 2.0. That earlier transition, from roughly 1860 to 1920, was more painful than most people think. Yet the transformed, industrial America became the wonder of the world. 

The American political and economic regime now in crisis was built for the world of America 2.0. Today, we are in the midst of a dramatic transition to a new technological and political configuration -- which we call America 3.0. Institutions that once looked permanent are cracking at the foundations. Technology will drive the transition, and the shape of future technology can only be known in broad outline. 

Most importantly, the cultural foundation of America, based on its unique type of family life, will remain intact. This is the continuous thread linking each of the three "versions" of America. Our deeply rooted orientation toward personal and economic freedom will allow us to dismantle America 2.0 and build a better, freer, and more prosperous America 3.0 in its place.

American Exceptionalism: Based on the American Family

American exceptionalism is based on our family structure, which has the following characteristics. 

Individuals freely select their own spouses. There are no arranged marriages and very few limitations on whom a person can marry; essentially, only marriage to close relatives is forbidden.

Women enjoy a high degree of freedom, autonomy, and equality.

Parents are free to give more or less financial assistance to different children, and they are not required to treat their children equally.

Grown children leave their parents' homes, marry, form new households, and create new families of their own.

Extended families are weak. People have no right to help from relatives.

These things seem normal to Americans, but many cultures have dramatically different customs. For example, in some cultures extended families act as protective networks and their members have a duty of loyalty and assistance to one another.

As a result of our family structure, American culture has the following characteristics.

Americans Are Individualistic. The American family pushes Americans to be autonomous, self-reliant, and freedom-loving.

Americans Value Liberty. Americans expect to be on their own, choosing their own spouses, making their own way in the world, and managing their own affairs. 

Americans Are Non-Egalitarian. Americans have a comparatively low interest in economic equality. 

Americans Are Competitive. Americans generally consider an economy with winners and losers to be fair. They believe in a minimal safety net compared to other communities. 

Americans Are Enterprising. The family has been the engine of economic progress in America, creating America's well-known "go-getting" and "hustling" spirit. 

Americans Are Mobile. Americans form their own families, acquire their own homes, and have always been willing to move to where the work is. 

Americans Volunteer. Because Americans do not have extended family networks, they have formed voluntary associations as the foundation of the economy and of civil society.  

Americans Have Middle-Class Values. Most Americans, whatever their actual wealth, consider themselves to be middle class, and they are interested in public order and safety for their families and property. 

Americans Have an Instrumental View of Government. They see the government as a tool to accomplish things that benefit them and protect the interests of the middle class.

These factors led to one of America's greatest achievements: the creation of suburbia. A house that fits one family and provides some comfort and privacy is the heart of the American dream.

Where did these cultural patterns come from? The short answer: England. America inherited its family structure from its mother country. It has been a critical factor in many of the political, legal, economic, and cultural developments in England, and then in America, for 1,500 years.

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Posted by orrinj at 4:12 PM


Iranian president tweets Rosh Hashanah greeting (YOEL GOLDMAN September 4, 2013, Times of Israel)

Jews around the world received an unexpected holiday greeting on Wednesday from new Iranian President Hasan Rouhani.

Rouhani, considered by many to be a reformer, took to his Twitter account to wish "all Jews, especially Iranian Jews, a blessed Rosh Hashanah."

Posted by orrinj at 4:06 PM


California county votes to secede from state (DAVID KNOWLES, 9/04/13,  NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

The Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 on Tuesday in favor of a declaration of secession from the state.

Citing a lack of representation in the California legislature, as well as new annual fees for fire service to the county's remote, rural areas, the board passed the declaration in front of approximately 100 residents, most of whom voiced support for the measure.

"I haven't had one contact in regard to this issue that's in opposition," Supervisor Michael Kobseff told the Redding Record Searchlight.

Many in attendance also said they planned to try and drum up support in neighboring counties in Northern California and Southern Oregon to form a new state called Jefferson.

Posted by orrinj at 2:22 PM


How Tyranny Paved the Way to Wealth and Democracy: The Democratic Transition in Ancient Greece (F. Andrew Hanssen and Robert K. Fleck, February 15, 2011, SSRN)
When a ruling elite is unable to commit to future growth-promoting policies, it may cede political power to a broader segment of the public, as in North and Weingast (1989). Alternatively, as we show in this paper, commitment may be achieved by moving in the opposite direction: installing a single authoritarian ruler who favors growth-promoting policies. Although this narrows the distribution of power in the short run, it may - as our model illustrates - be a step toward, not away from, democracy. We apply the model to ancient Greece. Many of the famously democratic poleis (city-states) of Greece's Classical period were ruled by tyrants in the earlier Archaic period. The tyrannies of Archaic Greece were transitory institutions, generally lasting only a few decades, with strong similarities across poleis in the factors that led to their appearance and the types of policies enacted. Using a unique data set, we examine the relationships between the potential for economic growth, Archaic period tyranny, and Classical period democracy. We conclude that a high potential for economic growth led to a pro-growth political institution (the tyrant) that led in turn to increased wealth and, eventually, to democracy.

The Global Elite's Favorite Strongman (JEFFREY GETTLEMAN, 9/08/13, NY Times Magazine)

No country in Africa, if not the world, has so thoroughly turned itself around in so short a time, and Kagame has shrewdly directed the transformation. Measured against many of his colleagues, like the megalomaniac Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, who ran a beautiful, prosperous nation straight into the ground, or the Democratic Republic of Congo's amiable but feckless Joseph Kabila, who is said to play video games while his country falls apart, Kagame seems like a godsend. Spartan, stoic, analytical and austere, he routinely stays up to 2 or 3 a.m. to thumb through back issues of The Economist or study progress reports from red-dirt villages across his country, constantly searching for better, more efficient ways to stretch the billion dollars his government gets each year from donor nations that hold him up as a shining example of what aid money can do in Africa. He is a regular at Davos, the world economic forum, and friendly with powerful people, including Bill Gates and Bono. The Clinton Global Initiative honored him with a Global Citizen award, and Bill Clinton said that Kagame "freed the heart and the mind of his people."

This praise comes in part because Kagame has made indisputable progress fighting the single greatest ill in Africa: poverty. Rwanda is still very poor -- the average Rwandan lives on less than $1.50 a day -- but it is a lot less poor than it used to be. Kagame's government has reduced child mortality by 70 percent; expanded the economy by an average of 8 percent annually over the past five years; and set up a national health-insurance program -- which Western experts had said was impossible in a destitute African country. Progressive in many ways, Kagame has pushed for more women in political office, and today Rwanda has a higher percentage of them in Parliament than any other country. His countless devotees, at home and abroad, say he has also delicately re-engineered Rwandan society to defuse ethnic rivalry, the issue that exploded there in 1994 and that stalks so many African countries, often dragging them into civil war.

But Kagame may be the most complicated leader in Africa. The question is not so much about his results but his methods. He has a reputation for being merciless and brutal, and as the accolades have stacked up, he has cracked down on his own people and covertly supported murderous rebel groups in neighboring Congo. At least, that is what a growing number of critics say, including high-ranking United Nations officials and Western diplomats, not to mention the countless Rwandan dissidents who have recently fled. They argue that Kagame's tidy, up-and-coming little country, sometimes described as the Singapore of Africa, is now one of the most straitjacketed in the world. Few people inside Rwanda feel comfortable speaking freely about the president, and many aspects of life are dictated by the government -- Kagame's administration recently embarked on an "eradication campaign" of all grass-roofed huts, which the government meticulously counted (in 2009 there were 124,671). In some areas of the country, there are rules, enforced by village commissars, banning people from dressing in dirty clothes or sharing straws when drinking from a traditional pot of beer, even in their own homes, because the government considers it unhygienic. Many Rwandans told me that they feel as if their president is personally watching them. "It's like there's an invisible eye everywhere," said Alice Muhirwa, a member of an opposition political party. "Kagame's eye."

The United States has a long history, of course, of putting aside concerns over human rights and democratic principles and supporting strongmen who can protect its strategic interests, like keeping the oil flowing or Communist sympathizers or Muslim extremists in check. But what makes the Kagame situation different from the one in Egypt, say, where the army has mowed down crowds, or in Saudi Arabia, where misogynistic princes rule, is that there is no obvious strategic American interest in Rwanda. It is a tiny country, in the middle of Africa, with few natural resources and no Islamist terrorists. So why has the West -- and the United States in particular -- been so eager to embrace Kagame, despite his authoritarian tendencies? One diplomat who works in Rwanda told me that Kagame has become a rare symbol of progress on a continent that has an abundance of failed states and a record of paralyzing corruption. Kagame was burnishing the image of the entire billion-dollar aid industry. "You put your money in, and you get results out," said the diplomat, who insisted he could not talk candidly if he was identified. Yes, Kagame was "utterly ruthless," the diplomat said, but there was a mutual interest in supporting him, because Kagame was proving that aid to Africa was not a hopeless waste and that poor and broken countries could be fixed with the right leadership. "We needed a success story, and he was it."

Posted by orrinj at 11:28 AM


Think The World Is Crowded?  (Sydney Brownstone, 9/04/13, Co.Exist)

But before anyone takes Rush Limbaugh's advice that environmentalists ought to save the planet by committing suicide, let's take a step back and unpack what "overpopulation" really means. The good people at Wait But Why have come out with another set of dazzling infographics (we first saw them when they made this shocking piece about the death tolls of major disasters) that deal with rethinking population density and space. For example, if we lived at the density that people live in Manhattan, the entire global population could fit in New Zealand...

Posted by orrinj at 5:13 AM


Vascular Window Keeps Room Cooler (Cynthia Graber, 9/03/13, Scientific American)

When animals get hot, tiny capillaries near the surface of the skin dilate. Circulating blood helps transfer the body heat out to the air.

In that spirit, the researchers created a super-thin silicone-rubber layer with a network of tiny sealed channels. When the rubber is stretched over a window, it's completely transparent.

Water running through the channels absorbs heat and transfers it to the outside air. In the researchers' model, a large window at 100 degrees Fahrenheit can be lowered to a much more manageable 86 degrees. And the energy needed to pump the water is far less than what would be needed to cool the room equivalently with air conditioning.

Posted by orrinj at 5:02 AM


On the Front Lines of Syria's Civil War : The conventional wisdom--that jihadists are running the rebellion--is not what I've witnessed on the ground. (ELIZABETH O'BAGY, 9/03/13, WSJ)

Moderate opposition forces--a collection of groups known as the Free Syrian Army--continue to lead the fight against the Syrian regime. While traveling with some of these Free Syrian Army battalions, I've watched them defend Alawi and Christian villages from government forces and extremist groups. They've demonstrated a willingness to submit to civilian authority, working closely with local administrative councils. And they have struggled to ensure that their fight against Assad will pave the way for a flourishing civil society. One local council I visited in a part of Aleppo controlled by the Free Syrian Army was holding weekly forums in which citizens were able to speak freely, and have their concerns addressed directly by local authorities.

Moderate opposition groups make up the majority of actual fighting forces, and they have recently been empowered by the influx of arms and money from Saudi Arabia and other allied countries, such as Jordan and France. This is especially true in the south, where weapons provided by the Saudis have made a significant difference on the battlefield, and have helped fuel a number of recent rebel advances in Damascus. [...]

There is no denying that groups like Jabhat al Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham have gained a foothold in the north of Syria, and that they have come to dominate local authorities there, including by imposing Shariah law. Such developments are more the result of al Qaeda affiliates having better resources than an indicator of local support. Where they have won over the local population, they have done so through the distribution of humanitarian aid.

Yet Syrians have pushed back against the hard-line measures imposed on them by some of these extremists groups. While I was last in northern Syria in early August, I witnessed nearly daily protests by thousands of citizens against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham in areas of Aleppo.

Where does this leave the U.S. as the White House contemplates a possible strike? The Obama administration has emphasized that regime change is not its goal. But a punitive measure undertaken just to send a message would likely produce more harm than good. If the Syrian government is not significantly degraded, a U.S. strike could very well bolster Assad's position and highlight American weakness, paving the way for continued atrocities.

September 3, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 5:11 PM


RANKED: The Most Corrupt States (ROB WILE, SEP. 3, 2013, Business Insider)

The states with the fewest conviction rates were South Carolina, Oregon, Washington, New Hampshire, Minnesota and Utah, each with no more than 1.3 convictions per 100,000. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:57 PM


The Gridlock Illusion : If Washington seems to get much less done than it once did, it is partly because it is trying to do so much more. (R. Shep Melnick, Winter 2013, Wilson Quarterly)

There can be no doubt but that the gridlock argument captures key features of American government. Who could deny that the Constitution establishes what civics textbooks call an "obstacle course on Capitol Hill" that makes it excruciatingly difficult to enact legislation on controversial issues? We should remember, though, that the Founders had good reason to make the legislative process so arduous. James Madison was not enamored of every component of the Constitution he had helped to create--he was especially dismayed by the clause providing for equal representation of all states in the Senate--but he provided a sophisticated defense of the features that are commonly blamed for gridlock.  

Making it easier to pass legislation, Madison observed, would increase the "mutability of the law." The resulting "public instability" would not only undermine public confidence and weaken the United States internationally but would give an "unreasonable advantage" to "the sagacious, the enterprising, and the moneyed few over the industrious and uniformed mass of the people." But by providing an opportunity for a "sober second thought," bicameralism would reduce the possibility that legislation would be the product of momentary public passions or manipulation by political insiders.

Furthermore, by requiring very broad majorities to enact laws, the Constitution reduces the power of what Madison called "majority faction." By combining a lower house whose members serve two-year terms with an upper house whose members enjoy six-year terms, the Constitution also combines responsiveness to current public opinion with attention to the long-term interests of the nation. Moreover, by dividing the legislature into two parts and granting veto power to the president, the Constitution prevents the legislative branch--which "necessarily predominates" in republican government, Madison wrote--from "drawing all power into its impetuous vortex." In other words, it protects both judicial independence and presidential power.

Today's critics of the Constitution tend to be less skeptical than Madison was of simple majoritarianism. From Woodrow Wilson a century ago to University of Texas law professor Sanford Levinson today, they have argued that the greatest shortcoming of the Constitution is its failure to allow popular majorities to prevail. What about the danger of majority faction and tyranny of the majority? Certainly no contemporary law professor can be indifferent to the plight of politically unpopular minorities. The unstated assumption of contemporary progressives is that this job can safely be left to the courts. Since we already have an activist judiciary, we can now tolerate an activist Congress. Let Congress do more, then let the Supreme Court invalidate those portions of the law that five of the justices consider unfair.

The Constitution's critics also tend to assume that the dangers created by government inaction are far greater than those caused by rash, premature, or intemperate action. They express no concern about the "mutability" and "instability" that so worried Madison. They tend to assume--despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary--that government's mistakes can be easily remedied. In reality, government programs create constituencies that are highly organized, acutely aware of the benefits they receive from government, and strategically placed to block substantial change. In other words, delays are often temporary, but mistakes last forever. 

Inaction can certainly be costly but sometimes there are advantages to inaction. Consider the case of acid rain. It became a political issue in the 1970s, but Congress did nothing to address it until 1990. For many years, this was considered a prime example of gridlock--just as congressional inaction on greenhouse gases is today. But the regulatory scheme Congress eventually used to control acid rain, marketable emission rights, has proved much better at reducing pollution quickly and cheaply than the kind of command-and-control regulation Congress relied upon almost exclusively in the 1970s. In other words, delay produced smarter government action.

Posted by orrinj at 4:39 PM


Automation Anxiety : The automation crisis of the 1960s created a surge of alarm over technology's job-killing effects. There is a lot we can learn from it. (Daniel Akst, Summer 2013, Wilson Quarterly)

Related to this misunderstanding about consumerism was the idea that the time was nigh when people would hardly have to work at all. Harried families in today's suburbs will be astonished to learn that some critics even worried about what we would do with all that leisure time.

These ideas weren't as far fetched as they sound. In the first half of the 20th century, the number of hours worked per week had shrunk by a quarter for the average worker, and in 1967 the futurist Herman Kahn declared that this trend would continue, predicting a four-day work week--and 13 weeks of vacation.

There was a serious debate among many of the era's leading thinkers about whether all this leisure would be a good thing. Herbert Marcuse, the philosopher who served as an intellectual godfather to the New Left, was optimistic. He saw automation and the attendant increase in leisure as "the first prerequisite for freedom" from the deadening cycle of getting and spending which cost the individual "his time, his consciousness, his dreams." But Riesman and the influential psychologist Erich Fromm were among those who worried that people would be unfulfilledwithout work, or that work itself would be unfulfilling in an automated society, with equally unfulfilling leisure the result. As late as 1974, when the U.S. Interior Department drafted the Nationwide Outdoor Recreation Plan, people still thought they could see the leisure society just around the bend. And it was a good thing they could see it coming, too. As the Interior Department intoned, "Leisure, thought by many to be the epitome of paradise, may well become the most perplexing problem of the future."

Advocates on both sides of the automation debate thus fell into the classic extrapolation trap, assuming that the trends they saw in front of them would continue indefinitely. But as the old saying goes, even a train stops. You don't hear too many of those lucky enough to hold a job today complaining about having too much leisure on their hands.

The same unwarranted extrapolation was at work in thinking about household incomes. Many thoughtful people of the day, with no inkling of what we'd someday lay out for health care, higher education, and pets, just couldn't imagine that Americans would find a way to spend all the money the technology revolution would enable them to make.

Indeed, we work a four day week:

hours spent at work

And just broke our own record for household net worth.

Which means that--if you were to think of the nation as a household--we could, today, pay off not just current debt but even all our unfunded liabilities out of our savings.

Why we're working less than our parents did (Steve Hargreaves, July 29, 2013, CNN Money)

It's a common complaint: You feel like you're working constantly, and there's never enough time to enjoy life.

But as a whole, Americans are working far less now than they did a generation ago, and have more leisure time than ever.

The Dark Side of Americans' Rising Net Worth (ANIELLE KURTZLEBEN, June 7, 2013, US News)

Americans' net worth has shaken off the effects of the recession and hit a record high, according to data released by the Federal Reserve this week. Taken together, American households were worth $70.3 trillion in the first quarter, up $3 trillion from the fourth quarter of 2012 and well up from a recession-era low of $54 trillion. Household net worth is now even further past pre-recession levels; in 2007, household net worth was at $66.9 trillion.

Posted by orrinj at 4:32 PM


Syria Commons vote: Our ill-informed MPs are too careless with the facts to dictate foreign policy (Richard Spencer World, September 3rd, 2013, The Telegraph)

Some backbenchers made articulate arguments. Some with specialist knowledge, like Brooks Newmark, who has met Assad a number of times, weighed in forcefully. But it was disappointing how many members trotted out arguments and "facts" that have little credibility.

Regrettably, those responsible were often those "mavericks" whom we are encouraged to admire for the fact that they don't toe the party line. Kate Hoey, for example, widely respected for standing up to her party over everything from the Gulf War to hunting, was among a number who trotted out the "fact" that Carla del Ponte, a member of the UN commission on Syria, had "pointed out" that the rebels had used poison gas. This is the danger of MPs deciding their positions on a shallow reading of newspaper columnists with whom they agree, Twitter and other social media - all of which have been reposting this line obsessively for the last ten days in support of the tenuous idea that the East Ghouta attack was the work of the opposition. Cursory checks would reveal that this claim by Ms del Ponte was based on a misreading of what her commission was told, and was not supported by the UN, which issued a correction. She herself has never explained what she said (in a BBC interview), defended, provided evidence, or said why she said it. The UN was accused of "covering up" her claims, but that seems nonsensical.

David Davis, the Tory MP for Haltemprice, who also opposes his party leadership on many issues, made the same error, compounded by the fact that he got Ms del Ponte's title wrong. For good measure he threw in "reports" that jihadist rebels had been arrested in Turkey with 2kg of sarin (it turned out to be antifreeze) and concluded that there were three explanations for the chemical weapons attack - that the regime did it, that a rogue part of the regime did it without Assad knowing, and that the rebels did it. Mystifyingly, he first described the first possibility as "probably the most likely" and then said that the second "may be the most likely explanation", which tells you all you need to know on that score.
Several others based their arguments on the idea that the rebels "could have done it", as if this was a real theory. Well, they "could" have, but it is worth pointing out that no one credible has argued that they did. No one involved in studying the issue has argued that they have the capacity or the material to conduct anything on this scale, or found any evidence of preparations in this case. On the other hand, just from open source material (videos etc) you can see the regime missile barrage on the night in question, see the remains of missiles compatible with chemical weapons delivery in the ground, apparently directed from regime positions, and see the same types of missile being loaded and fired by regime troops on other occasions.

Then there's George Galloway, not to the taste of many but not to be ignored for his long knowledge of the region and strongly held views. He made some fair points - who indeed is to say which vetoed Security Council resolutions are more valid than others? - but he too trots out "facts" gleaned from the blogosphere, such as the one about jihadis sawing off the head of a Christian priest (a bunch of Chechens, not Syrians, did indeed decapitate someone, but the idea it was a priest was an invention).

There is another argument in a category all of its own, best put by Roger Godsiff, another Labour MP: the argument from Assad's rationality, that he was not a fool and would not carry out this attack, out of self-interest. "What is in this for Assad? Why should he deliberately participate in an atrocity guaranteed to bring an international response," he said, before voting against just such an international response, apparently unaware of the joke.

Posted by orrinj at 4:10 PM


Traveling Without Seeing (FRANK BRUNI, 9/20/13, NY Times)

SHANGHAI -- I'm half a world from home, in a city I've never explored, with fresh sights and sounds around every corner. And what am I doing?

I'm watching exactly the kind of television program I might watch in my Manhattan apartment.

Before I left New York, I downloaded a season of "The Wire," in case I wanted to binge, in case I needed the comfort. It's on my iPad with a slew of books I'm sure to find gripping, a bunch of the music I like best, issues of favorite magazines: a portable trove of the tried and true, guaranteed to insulate me from the strange and new.

I force myself to quit "The Wire" after about 20 minutes and I venture into the streets, because Baltimore's drug dealers will wait and Shanghai's soup dumplings won't. But I'm haunted by how tempting it was to stay put, by how easily a person these days can travel the globe, and travel through life, in a thoroughly customized cocoon.

I'm not talking about the chain hotels or chain restaurants that we've long had and that somehow manage to be identical from time zone to time zone, language to language: carbon-copy refuges for unadventurous souls and stomachs.

I'm talking about our hard drives, our wired ways, "the cloud" and all of that. I'm talking about our unprecedented ability to tote around and dwell in a snugly tailored reality of our own creation, a monochromatic gallery of our own curation.

What culture does he think the natives are consuming?
Posted by orrinj at 4:06 PM


Theocracy Now, in Wisconsin and Beyond (Ian Murphy, September 3, 2013, The Progressive)

Governor Scott Walker, the duly elected son of a preacher, has ruled Wisconsin with religious fervor.

He's successfully managed to compel the state's taxpayers to fund the religious education of students with vouchers--500 this year, 1,000 the next, most of whom were already attending private schools.

Walker's proudly signed a bill into law restricting the reproductive rights of women across the state--though the provision requiring abortion providers to have ready access to surgery rooms has been temporarily struck down by a Seventh Circuit Court injunction.

Even Act 10, Walker's defining piece of anti-labor legislation, which stripped most public union employees of their collective bargaining rights, smacks of an entrenched religiosity that justifies fruitless toil on Earth so that one may earn a living wage in heaven.

It's ultimately up to voters in the Badger State to decide where to draw the line between church and state--or whether to erase it entirely.

Enter: Assembly Joint Resolution 43 and Senate Joint Resolution 38, a proposed "Religious Freedom Amendment" to Article 1, Section 18, of the Wisconsin Constitution which, if it passes the legislature, will be ratified or rejected at the ballot.

And demographics mean we'll be able to keep pushing further.
Posted by orrinj at 7:16 AM


What Myanmar Must Do To Free Itself Of China (Stanley Weiss, 9/03/13, Forbes)

"China is corrupt and rotten to the core," one Myanmar businessman told me earlier this year. The Chinese have taken Myanmar's resources on terms approaching theft. By 2010, Myanmar's rulers were convinced that they needed an offsetting great-power relationship. So beginning with Aung San Suu Kyi in November that year, they began freeing political prisoners. A new constitution followed, as did multi-party elections early last year. But few in the West noticed that the constitution left the military free of civilian control and did not mention ethnic group rights. Instead, the U.S. government ignored the non-Burman ethnic groups.

For example, the Pentagon established military to military exchanges with the Burman-dominated army. Yet unless and until the military includes all ethnic groups, Myanmar can never be a viable nation.  Similarly, when President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Myanmar in the past two years, neither met with members of the non-Burman leadership, a major lost opportunity.

Meanwhile, U.S. corporations doing business in Myanmar have not been encouraged to engage with non-Burman ethnic leaders. They should be pressed to respect the property rights of local people, not hide behind Burman claims of eminent domain. In particular, they should make sure that just compensation is given when land is taken.

In the past month, a conference among many of the country's ethnic groups convened in what organizers called "the liberated area."  The conference's closing statement called for replacing the current constitution with one that a broad cross section of national groups would draft.  The non-Burmans' goals included establishing the long promised federated state and a national government that incorporated federal principals, a defense force made up of all ethnicities and a peace negotiation among "the ethnic forces, the democratic forces and the government" to be held in a neutral place in the presence of international observers.

Posted by orrinj at 6:48 AM


Unintended Consequences (THOMAS SOWELL, 9.3.13, American Spectator)

One of the many unintended consequences of the political crusade for increased homeownership among minorities, and low-income people in general, has been a housing boom and bust that left many foreclosed homes that had to be rented, because there were no longer enough qualified buyers.

The repercussions did not stop there. Many homeowners have discovered that when renters replace homeowners as their neighbors, the neighborhood as a whole can suffer.

The physical upkeep of the neighborhood, on which everyone's home values depend, tends to decline. "Who's going to paint the outside of a rented house?" one resident was quoted as saying in a recent New York Times story.

Renters also tend to be of a lower socioeconomic level than homeowners. They are also less likely to join neighborhood groups, including neighborhood watches to keep an eye out for crime. In some cases, renters have introduced unsavory or illegal activities into family-oriented communities of homeowners that had not had such activities before.

Which is why the stimulus program should have just helped them buy homes outright.

September 2, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 1:54 PM


The Most Surprising Things About America, According To An Indian International Student (GUS LUBIN, AUG. 29, 2013, Business Insider)

Aniruddh Chaturvedi came from Mumbai to Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Penn., where he is majoring in computer science. This past summer he interned at a tech company in Silicon Valley.

During two years in the U.S., Chaturvedi has been surprised by various aspects of society, as he explained last year in a post on Quora.

Chaturvedi offered his latest thoughts on America in an email to Business Insider.

The most surprising things about America:

Nobody talks about grades here. 

Everyone is highly private about their accomplishments and failures. Someone's performance in any field is their performance alone. This is different compared to India where people flaunt their riches and share their accomplishments with everybody else.

The retail experience is nowhere near as fun/nice as it is in India. Because labor is cheap in India, there is always someone who will act as a "personal shopper" to assist you with holding your clothes, giving suggestions, etc. In America, on the other hand, even if you go to a Nordstrom or Bloomingdales, there is almost nobody to help you out while you're shopping. Shopping in America is more of a commodity / chore than it is a pleasurable activity 

This may be biased/wrong because I was an intern, but at least in the tech world, nobody wants to put you under the bus for something that you didn't do correctly or didn't understand how to do. People will sit with you patiently till you get it. If you aren't able to finish something within the stipulated deadline, a person on your team would graciously offer to take it off your plate.

The same applies to school. Before I came to the United States, I heard stories about how students at Johns Hopkins were so competitive with each other that they used to tear important pages from books in the library just so other students didn't have access to it. In reality, I experienced the complete opposite. Students were highly collaborative, formed study groups, and studied / did assignments till everyone in the group "got it". I think the reason for this is that the classes are / material is so hard that it makes sense to work collaboratively to the point that students learn from each other. 

Strong ethics -- everyone has a lot of integrity. If someone cannot submit their completed assignment in time, they will turn in the assignment incomplete rather than asking for answers at the last minute. People take pride in their hard work and usually do not cheat. This is different from students from India and China as well as back home in India, where everyone collaborates to the extent that it can be categorized as cheating. [...]

An almost-classless society: I've noticed that most Americans roughly have the same standard of living.  Everybody has access to ample food, everybody shops at the same supermarkets, malls, stores, etc. I've seen plumbers, construction workers and janitors driving their own sedans, which was quite difficult for me to digest at first since I came from a country where construction workers and plumbers lived hand to mouth. 

Posted by orrinj at 10:18 AM


The state of the union is weak: Young Americans are not joining unions anymore (Vickie Elmer, September 1, 2013, Quartz)
The number of young Americans in unions is declining at twice the rate of all other workers.

Union members ages 16 to 24 fell 26% from 2002 to 2012, compared to an 11% overall decline in union membership, according to US Bureau of Labor Statistics data. [...]

[T]he sectors that are most likely to be unionized--government workers, teachers and library jobs--may not appeal to 20-somethings. Young workers are more likely to land a job in technology or with a smaller company or in retail and restaurants, none of which has many unions, says Michelle Kaminski, an associate professor at Michigan State University who teaches labor courses.

Posted by orrinj at 10:15 AM


Lessons in Maryland for Costs at Hospitals (EDUARDO PORTER, 8/28/13, NY Times)

This hardscrabble city at the base of the Appalachians makes for an unlikely hotbed of health care innovation.

Yet Western Maryland Health Systems, the major hospital serving this poor and isolated region, is carrying out an experiment that could leave a more profound imprint on the delivery of health care than President Obama's reforms.

Over the last three years, the hospital has taken its services outside its walls. It has opened a diabetes clinic, a wound center and a behavioral health clinic. It has hired people to follow up with older, sicker patients once they are discharged. It has added primary care practices in some neighborhoods.

The goal, seemingly so simple, has so far proved elusive elsewhere: as much as possible, keep people out of hospitals, where the cost of health care is highest. that it too will keep you out of expensive hospitals in favor of cheaper options.

Posted by orrinj at 10:05 AM


What 'The Butler' gets wrong about Ronald Reagan and race (Steven F. Hayward, Paul Kengor, Craig Shirley and Kiron K. Skinner, 9/02/13, Visions & Values)

One cold evening in Dixon, Ill., in the early 1930s, a young man known as Dutch Reagan brought home two African American teammates from his Eureka College football team. The team was on the road, and the local hotels had refused the two black players. So Reagan invited them to spend the night and have breakfast with his family.

In November 1952, in one of his final meetings as president of Hollywood's Screen Actors Guild, Ronald Reagan called upon the entertainment industry to provide greater employment for black actors. His stand went against the times and received national media attention.

As president, in the same March 1983 speech in which he called the Soviet regime an "evil empire," Reagan decried "the resurgence of some hate groups preaching bigotry and prejudice" in America. And at a reception for the National Council of Negro Women in July of that year, Reagan declared: "I've lived a long time, but I can't remember a time in my life when I didn't believe that prejudice and bigotry were the worst of sins."

These are just a few examples of Reagan's sensitivity to racial discrimination. This attitude was instilled by his mother, who was deeply involved in the Disciples of Christ, and his father, who refused to allow him to see the movie "Birth of a Nation" because it glorified the Ku Klux Klan.

But you don't get any sense of that in the film "Lee Daniels' The Butler."

Based on an article by The Washington Post's Wil Haygood, adapted for the screen by Danny Strong and directed by Daniels, "The Butler" is the story of Eugene Allen, an inspiring African American who worked under eight presidents in the White House, Reagan among them. As historians of the 40th president, having written more than a dozen biographies between us, we are troubled by the movie's portrayal of Reagan's attitudes toward race. We are especially concerned because many Americans readily accept Hollywood depictions of history as factual.

Two particular incidents in the film concern us:

The butler character (played by Forest Whitaker) is invited by the Reagans to a state dinner, a gracious move wholly typical of the first family. The butler's wife (Oprah Winfrey) clearly enjoys the evening, but the butler is portrayed as uncomfortable. He feels he's being used as a political tool, a prop, a token African American. Shortly after this supposed humiliation, he resigns from his White House job.

In reality, Allen felt no such thing. As noted by Religion News Service, "He was especially fond of the Reagans." A member of Allen's church recalled that "he often talked about how nice they were to him." Allen did leave the White House during the Reagan administration, but as Haygood's profile mentioned, he received a "sweet note" from the president and a hug from the first lady.

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September 1, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 10:36 AM


Why only four Republicans won high office in Colorado in 40 years (Dick Wadhams,  08/31/2013, Denver Post)

Colorado Republicans need to understand why Armstrong, Brown, Allard and Owens won while so many others lost. Was it because they were "moderate" Republicans while the others were too conservative? No, all four were unapologetic fiscal and economic conservatives. Armstrong, Allard and Owens were also pro-life in a state that is pro-choice with limited restrictions. Brown's pro-choice position gave the aura of a "moderate" Republican, but his record reveals a fierce fiscal conservatism. And Democrats attacked all four as being too "extreme" for Colorado, just as they did the unsuccessful candidates.

So what set these four conservative Republicans apart from those who lost? Armstrong, Brown, Allard and Owens had individual strengths but common threads run through their winning campaigns:

• They were positive, upbeat leaders who did not convey hostility to any voters. They were, in a word, likeable, and a majority of voters could personally relate to them.

• They each ran on substantive, conservative agendas that appealed to unaffiliated voters as well as Republicans.

Armstrong was the "guy who wants to cut my taxes" and he indexed taxes against inflation to protect the middle class. Brown incessantly fought to balance the budget and eliminate government waste.

Allard campaigned to balance the budget, reduce taxes and regulations on families and small businesses, and return power to state government. Owens had a substantive agenda to cut taxes, reform education and improve transportation when he became the only Republican governor to be elected in the past 40 years.

• They went beyond their traditional Republican agendas and were unafraid to embrace issues Democrats think they own such as the environment and education. Armstrong and Brown authored legislation to expand wilderness areas while protecting Colorado's water rights. Allard doggedly pursued the cleanup of the old Rocky Flats nuclear weapons site and sponsored the Spanish Peaks Wilderness Area and Great Sand Dunes National Park. Owens fought for education reform and constantly cited Hispanic kids as being failed by a mediocre education system.

• Elections are about choices, and each of the four built a strong campaign team that aggressively defined contrasts with their Democratic opponents and effectively counter-attacked Democratic distortions.

• They were disciplined candidates who were not pulled into extraneous debates that were not consistent with their fiscal agendas.

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Posted by orrinj at 10:32 AM


Obama, Congress and Syria : The president is celebrated for seeking a vote on his latest war even as his aides make clear it has no binding effect (Glenn Greenwald, 9/01/13,

It's a potent sign of how low the American political bar is set that gratitude is expressed because a US president says he will ask Congress to vote before he starts bombing another country that is not attacking or threatening the US. That the US will not become involved in foreign wars of choice without the consent of the American people through their representatives Congress is a central mandate of the US Constitution, not some enlightened, progressive innovation of the 21st century. George Bush, of course, sought Congressional approval for the war in Iraq (though he did so only once it was clear that Congress would grant it: I vividly remember watching then-Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Joe Biden practically begging the Bush White House to "allow" Congress to vote on the attack while promising in advance that they would approve for it).

But what makes the celebratory reaction to yesterday's announcement particularly odd is that the Congressional vote which Obama said he would seek appears, in his mind, to have no binding force at all. There is no reason to believe that a Congressional rejection of the war's authorization would constrain Obama in any way, other than perhaps politically. To the contrary, there is substantial evidence for the proposition that the White House sees the vote as purely advisory, i.e., meaningless.

Posted by orrinj at 8:26 AM


Can Microsoft Be Saved? Maybe Not (Vivek Wadhwa, 8/31/13, PBS)

The Windows 8 fiasco illustrates the problems that Microsoft faces. Windows RT, the version of Windows 8 that was designed for tablet computers with touch screens, has a beautiful user interface and functionality. In many ways, it is better than Apple's iOS and Google's Android. But Microsoft was obsessed with protecting its Windows operating system and Office tools franchise. So it bundled a version of Microsoft Office into RT. To make the desktop version of Windows 8 consistent with RT, it added to it the same tiled user interface and removed the Start button.

Most desktop computers and laptops, however, don't have touch screens. And Windows users aren't used to computers without Start buttons. So they hated Windows 8 desktop, and it was a commercial disaster.

The inclusion of Microsoft Office on RT and Microsoft's desire to protect its operating system's pricing structure led it to charge re-sellers a price rumored to be about $85 (the re-seller price is a well-guarded secret). This is more than what lower-end tablets will soon cost, and competes directly with Android, which Google gives away. That's why RT, too, was a commercial disaster.

The sensible thing for Microsoft to do would have been to provide a lighter version of RT -- for free. It would have competed head to head with Android and would likely have won because it has a superior user interface. Microsoft could have made money by charging for special features and apps such as Office. If Microsoft's RT division had had the freedom, it might also have done the unimaginable by bundling Google's Office apps and other competitive products into it.

Tablet prices are dropping rapidly. I expect that next year, there will be several players selling devices that cost less than $100. Full-featured tablets that cost around $50 -- and less -- are also on the horizon. When these become available, the market for tablets will explode. There will be hundreds of millions, perhaps billions, of such devices. Instead of running Microsoft's RT, they will likely run Android. Microsoft has lost its opportunity to sell additional products on these devices through its obsession with protecting its legacy software. Windows and Office will likely slip into oblivion like the five year plans and Politburo the Soviet Union clung to.

But there is still hope for Microsoft. It has a wealth of great people and great technologies in its labs. They need to be untethered from the central bureaucracy and set free to compete and take big risks. I am not too optimistic, though, that this will happen. I worry that Microsoft will go the way of Kodak, RIM and Nokia -- or even the former Soviet Union -- all of which tanked because they were busy protecting old turf.

Software is just information and "information wants to be free."
Posted by orrinj at 8:20 AM


Oman sultan's visit reportedly a mediation bid between Iran and U.S. (Paul Richter, August 30, 2013, LA Times)

 Iranian newspapers are reporting that a visit to Tehran this week by the leader of the Persian Gulf state of Oman was aimed at beginning quiet talks between the United States and the Islamic Republic. [...]

Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has been staunchly opposed to any concessions to the West on the nuclear program. But years of U.S. and European sanctions have badly hurt Iran's economy. The country's newly installed president, Hassan Rouhani, campaigned on a promise that he would seek to reduce Western sanctions.

Qaboos reportedly received special treatment during his three-day visit, which began Sunday and included meetings with Khamenei, Rouhani and Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran's new foreign minister. 

Takeyh, who is now with the Council on Foreign Relations, said Qaboos' objective might have been leaked to the newspapers by conservative elements opposed to any deal with the United States.

As the hardliners recognize, when two sides sit down to negotiate one has already lost.
Posted by orrinj at 8:05 AM


Barack W. Bush: Unilateral War In Syria (Jacob Heilbrunn, August 30, 2013, National Interest)

Barack W. Bush. Joe Cheney. Here they come. Girded for a war that the British took one look at and bailed out on before it even began. Announcing that they are prepared to go it alone. Who said that unilateralism went away with George W. Bush?

Obama said acting unilaterally was a bad thing when he campaigned for office in 2008. That was then. Obama, who has followed in Bush's footsteps on national security surveillance measures, as the Washington Post's extensive revelations about the reach of government spy agencies show today, is about to go to war again.

Vice-president Joe Biden sounds like Cheney redivivus when he declares that there is "no doubt" that Bashar al-Assad authorized the use of weapons of mass destruction. All that's missing is a reference to yellow cake or the claim that this enterprise will be a cake walk. Meanwhile, the White House is engaging in magisterial Bush-speak, invoking the defense of the homeland: "The president of the United States is elected with the duty to protect the national security interests in the United States of America," said White House spokesman Josh Earnest. 

...if he tried finding areas where the UR has diverged from his predecessor's policies.  It's been obvious he was just Bush Lite since he was inaugurated.

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