October 31, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 7:51 PM


JFK and the Seeds of Disaster in Vietnam : A U.S.-backed coup marked the triumph of politics over policy (MARK MOYAR, Oct. 31, 2013, WSJ)

A nationalist respected even by his communist enemies, Diem had managed to hold together a fractious nation and had turned the war around in 1962 by empowering a rising generation of dynamic leaders. In South Vietnam as in most countries with an authoritarian political culture, liberalization signaled weakness and encouraged subversion.

After Diem's death, anti-government protests intensified. Ultimately, the government used far more force to suppress these protesters than Diem ever had. The leaders of the 1963 coup proved much less competent than the man they replaced. They squabbled and purged many of the government's best leaders because of past loyalties to Diem.

Vietnamese Communist leaders hailed the coup as a "gift," telling the Australian journalist Wilfred Burchett that "the Americans have done something that we haven't been able to do for nine years and that was get rid of Diem." The ineffectiveness of the government that replaced Diem led to the fall of successive South Vietnamese governments, stimulating the North Vietnamese offensive that compelled the U.S. to intervene on the ground.

Posted by orrinj at 7:42 PM


Time for the American right to declare peace on the US welfare state (James Pethokoukis | October 31, 2013, AEI Ideas)

The federal government's income definition misses a lot of stuff such as food stamps, subsidized school lunches, Medicare, Medicaid, and Earned Income Tax Credit benefits. Add in all that, factor for taxes, and you'll find, as e21 economist Scott Winship has, middle-income buying power is essentially back at its 2007 peak -- which was an all-time high. "In short, while the middle class--and especially the poor--saw declines in market income after 2007, the safety net appears to have performed just as we would hope, mitigating the losses experienced by households," Winship concludes.

And while the recovery's glacial pace, both in terms of GDP and jobs, is unacceptable, the safety net's performance is encouraging. The pain from the Great Recession, as bad it was, would have been far worse for middle- and low-income Americans if we were still in a sort of 1920s, Coolidgean world that many on the right these days seem to long for. As Arthur Brooks, AEI's president, puts it:

One of the things, in my view, that we get wrong in the free enterprise movement is this war against the social safety net, which is just insane. The government social safety net for the truly indigent is one of the greatest achievements of our society. And we somehow want to zero out food stamps or something, it's nuts to want to be doing something like that. We have to declare peace on the safety net.

Now declaring peace isn't the same thing as surrendering to the status quo. As currently structured, the US safety net is financially unsustainable and retards economic growth too much, promotes dependency over work, and discourages family formation. If there are any limits on the welfare state's expansion, the left only speaks of them sotto voce if at all. But the welfare state needs thoughtful and thorough reform. And that doesn't mean just slapping arbitrary spending caps on federal programs and block granting them back to the states. Rather, it means restructuring programs so they are both better targeted towards those who truly need help and give a lift to those trying to get on or stay on the ladder of economic opportunity. Oh, and making programs affordable. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:30 PM


Italy: The Nation That Crushes Its Young (BEPPE SEVERGNINI, 10/31/13, NY Times)

[I]taly is special. Old-age pensions swallow 14 percent of the country's gross domestic product and 57 percent of all social spending. No other country in Europe spends so much on making its past comfortable.

And the future? Unemployment among people ages 15 to 24 is a record 40.1 percent, while the number of people 55 or over who are still working has ballooned to 3.5 million from 2.8 million in just five years. Italy is no country for young men, apparently.

Italy is still one of the world's most attractive countries, a land graced by the arts and blessed by the weather; it is sumptuous at table and abounding in elegance. But clearly this is not enough. Many young Italians have begun to flee their iconic, pythonic homeland.

It would be sad if Italy's emigration went back to the way it was in the 1950s, when people had to leave for Northern Europe, the United States or Australia to feed their families. And yet that seems increasingly likely. About 60,000 move abroad every year, seven out of 10 taking a college degree with them.

Almost 400,000 graduates have left Italy in the past decade, and only 50,000 similarly qualified foreigners have arrived. This is not the healthy, free movement of people that the European Union was set up to encourage. This is a nation on the run.

Posted by orrinj at 7:25 PM


The Slow Death Of Defense (Robert D. Kaplan, 10/31/13, Forbes)

[T]he world may finally be turning into a place where the public sees less and less reason for an overwhelmingly large defense budget.

For instance, if the United States can achieve a rapprochement of sorts with Iran, that will reduce further the public's appetite for military involvement anywhere in the Middle East. And if China enters a period of tumultuous economic and social change, it may begin to look like less of a threat, and that will also lessen the public's willingness to sustain massive defense outlays. Yes, there are unconventional threats like al Qaeda cells in Pakistan, Yemen and other places. But aren't the drones used to hunt such terrorists a lot cheaper than manned aircraft? And, again, how does this justify all those aircraft carriers and B-2 bombers? Such is how the public may think.

The public, in short, wants protection on the cheap. It may not necessarily be willing to police the world with a big navy and a big air force at least to the degree that it has in the past -- that is, unless a clear and demonstrable conventional threat can be identified.

Posted by orrinj at 6:28 PM


On Health Care, A Time For Choosing (Pete Spiliakos, 10/31/13, First Things)

The pre-Obamacare status quo is gone and recedes a little more every day. Conservatives have an opportunity to appeal to both the rising pro-health care reform electorate and the Republican-leaning base that already hates Obamacare.

That means convincing members of the rising electorate that conservatives have plans that will provide catastrophic health care coverage to working families. It means explaining that catastrophic health insurance provides the health benefits of insurance at lower cost. It means explaining to members of the rising electorate that conservatives have policies to help people with pre-existing conditions. It means explaining to the existing conservative electorate that market-oriented reforms are authentically conservative. Market-oriented health care reform would make it easier to repeal Obamacare, make it harder to impose single-payer, and cost the government less money than alternative health care proposals.

Conservatives do not have to be a dwindling band futilely trying to reenact the victories of an earlier generation. Conservatives can write a new chapter in their story. To win the domestic political battles of our time, conservatives need to advance the ideas of health care wonks like James Capretta and Avik Roy with all the enthusiasm they once showed for Milton Friedman.

Posted by orrinj at 6:18 PM


Driverless Cars Sound Awesome, But The Actual Economic Impact Is Going To Blow Your Mind (Ben Schiller, 10/31/13, Co.Exist)

 Computers are already better drivers than tired, drunk, and distracted humans. More than 40% of fatal crashes today are caused by alcohol, drugs, or fatigue. Up to 90% of crashes are the result of errors, rather than equipment or infrastructure failures. It may be a while before AVs can deal with complex or unusual conditions. But Eno expects it to happen. AVs could cut accidents to 1% of current rates, or nearer to aviation or rail levels, it estimates.

AVs will also do a better job of sensing and anticipating the movement of other cars, leading to smoother braking and better fuel usage. Eno expects AVs to use "existing lanes and intersections more efficiently through shorter headways, coordinated platoons, and more efficient route choices." Vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication could allow cars to drive closer together (as seen here) and reduce stop-starting on freeways. Reducing accidents will also help cut congestion.

Putting all factors together, Eno estimates the potential benefits in reduced crashes, lives lost, and economic gains. The numbers are impressive. At a 10% AV penetration rate, it expects 1,100 lives saved a year, 211,000 fewer crashes, and $5.5 billion in economic savings. At 50%, it predicts 9,600 fewer fatalities, 1.8 million fewer crashes, and $48.8 billion in savings. At 90%, it says there could be 21,700 fewer deaths, 4.2 million fewer crashes, and $109.7 billion in savings.

AVs could cut accidents to 1% of current rates, or nearer to aviation or rail levels.
And those are just the economic savings from reduced crashes. When you include fuel and congestion benefits, and more efficient parking, the number gets on for half a trillion dollars a year ($447 billion). That's not chump change.

Posted by orrinj at 6:12 PM


Another Obamacare horror story debunked (Michael Hiltzik, October 30, 2013, LA Times)

I talked with Cavallaro, 60, after her CNBC appearance. Let's walk through what she told me.

Her current plan, from Anthem Blue Cross, is a catastrophic coverage plan for which she pays $293 a month as an individual policyholder. It requires her to pay a deductible of $5,000 a year and limits her out-of-pocket costs to $8,500 a year. Her plan also limits her to two doctor visits a year, for which she shoulders a copay of $40 each. After that, she pays the whole cost of subsequent visits.

This fits the very definition of a nonconforming plan under Obamacare. The deductible and out-of-pocket maximums are too high, the provisions for doctor visits too skimpy. 

As for a replacement plan, she says she was quoted $478 a month by her insurance broker, but that's a lot more than she'll really be paying. Cavallaro told me she hasn't checked the website of Covered California, the state's health plan exchange, herself. I did so while we talked. 

Here's what I found. I won't divulge her current income, which is personal, but this year it qualifies her for a hefty federal premium subsidy.

At her age, she's eligible for a good "silver" plan for $333 a month after the subsidy -- $40 a month more than she's paying now. But the plan is much better than her current plan -- the deductible is $2,000, not $5,000. The maximum out-of-pocket expense is $6,350, not $8,500. Her co-pays would be $45 for a primary care visit and $65 for a specialty visit -- but all visits would be covered, not just two. 

Is that better than her current plan? Yes, by a mile.

If she wanted to pay less, Cavallaro could opt for lesser coverage in a "bronze" plan. She could buy one from the California exchange for as little as $194 a month. From Anthem, it's $256, or $444 a year less than she's paying now. That buys her a $5,000 deductible (the same as she's paying today) but the out-of-pocket limit is lower, $6,350. Office visits would be $60 for primary care and $70 for specialties, but again with no limit on the number of visits. Factor in the premium savings, and it's hard to deny that she's still ahead.

Posted by orrinj at 6:08 PM


Truckers Tap Into Gas Boom : Operators of U.S. Truck Fleets Are Accelerating a Shift to Natural Gas Fueled Vehicles (MIKE RAMSEY, Oct. 29, 2013, WSJ)

Operators of some of the largest U.S. truck fleets, including Lowe's LOW -0.74%  Cos., Procter & Gamble Co. PG -0.94%  and United Parcel Service Inc., UPS -0.04%  are accelerating a shift to natural gas fueled trucks, betting on new engine technology that promises to drop the cost of shifting from diesel fuel. [...]

The nation's supply of relatively cheap natural gas is helping spur this shift. So are new natural gas engines that can power heavy-duty trucks that weigh up to 80,000 pounds. The first, a 12-liter Cummins Westport Inc. natural gas engine went on sale in July. Next year, Volvo AB, VOLV-B.SK -0.77%  the Swedish heavy truck maker, will introduce a natural gas engine for its trucks.

Long-distance trucking companies, like Con-way Inc., CNW -8.67%  Schneider National Inc., Swift Transportation Corp. SWFT -1.76%  and Werner Enterprises Inc. WERN -0.69%  are testing compressed natural gas and liquefied natural gas powered trucks as they awaiting more powerful engines and a nationwide fueling and repair infrastructure.

October 30, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 7:36 PM


U.S. deficit falls to $680 billion (Jeanne Sahadi, October 30, 2013, CNNMoney)

The federal government's latest annual deficit is the smallest it's been since 2008, according to Treasury Department data released Wednesday.

At $680 billion, the fiscal 2013 deficit is 51% less than it was in 2009, when it hit a record high nominally of $1.4 trillion.

As a percent of the economy, it's also considerably smaller than it's been in the past five years, coming in at 4.1% of gross domestic product. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:33 PM


Most Iranians in favor of relations with US, according to government poll (ARIEL BEN SOLOMON, 10/31/2013, Jerusalem Post)

According to an article written by Fereshteh Ghazi in the Iranian website Rooz, made up mostly of exiled Iranian journalists and based in France, Iranian cleric Mohsen Gharavian said polls conducted on Iran-US relations showed that Rouhani's talks with the US are in line with the wishes of the people.

Gharavian is a student of the leading hardline cleric Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah- Yazdi.

Gharavian said that the majority of clerics in the city of Qom, Iran's center for Shia study, supports the president's outreach efforts with the US.

Ghazi wrote that the Alef website affiliated with conservative MP Ahmad Tavakoli announced that the results of the poll showed that between 80 percent and 90% of Iranians want to give relations between the two countries a chance, and that the 10% to 20% who do not want any relations agree to end the "death to US" chants during Friday prayers.

Posted by orrinj at 7:30 PM


Seven reasons HSAs are taking off (KATHRYN MAYER, September 11, 2013, BenefitsPro)

We've all seen the numbers: Health savings accounts just keep growing.

The still relatively new health savings vehicle has now grown to an estimated $18.1 billion in assets representing more than 9.1 million accounts. That's a 29 percent increase in both accounts and assets in just one year, according to research from investment consulting firm Devenir.

Devenir said the average account balance continues gradual growth. The average balance halfway through 2013 grew to $1,981 from $1,879 at the end 2012, roughly a 5 percent increase.

HSA contributions also are rising sharply. Total contributions to HSA accounts from June 2012 to June 2013 are estimated to have reached $16.7 billion, with accountholders retaining about 23 percent of those contributions.

HSA investment assets reached an estimated $2 billion in June, up 14 percent from the end of 2012 and 26 percent year over year. The average investment account holder has a $10,484 average total balance (deposit and investment account).

Posted by orrinj at 1:17 PM


Obama's Top Economic Adviser Tells Democrats They'll Have to Swallow Entitlement Cuts (Joshua Green,  October 25, 2013, Business Week)

This morning, Gene Sperling, director of the White House's National Economic Council, appeared before a Democratic business group for what was billed as a speech about the economy after the shutdown, followed by a Q&A session. The White House didn't push this as a newsmaking event, so it didn't get much billing. But I went anyway, and I was struck by what Sperling had to say, especially about the upcoming budget negotiations that are a product of the deal to reopen the government.

In his usual elliptical and prolix way, Sperling seemed to be laying out the contours of a bargain with Republicans that's quite a bit different that what most Democrats seem prepared to accept. What stood out to me was how he kept winding back around to the importance of entitlement cuts as part of a deal, as if he were laying the groundwork to blunt liberal anger. Right now, the official Democratic position is that they'll accept entitlement cuts only in exchange for new revenue--something most Republicans reject. If Sperling mentioned revenue at all, I missed it.

Posted by orrinj at 1:08 PM


How the Alger Hiss Case Explains the Tea Party (Cass R. Sunstein, Oct 29, 2013, Bloomberg)

The Hiss case casts light on why conservatives and liberals are suspicious of each other, on their different attitudes toward elitism, on their understandings of patriotism and on the parallel universes in which they seem to live. [...]

The conviction was stunning, for Hiss had been a member of the nation's liberal elite. A graduate of Harvard Law School and a law clerk for the revered Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, he held positions of authority in the Agriculture, Justice and State departments. He was tall, handsome, elegant, gracious, even dashing.

At his 1949 perjury trial, an extraordinary number of liberal icons served as character witnesses for Hiss, including two Supreme Court justices (Stanley Reed and Felix Frankfurter); John W. Davis, who was the Democratic presidential nominee in 1924; and Adlai Stevenson, who was to become the Democratic nominee for the presidency in 1952 and 1956.

By contrast, Chambers was short, plump and badly dressed. He was a college dropout. After abandoning Communism, he became a conservative and a Christian, and he saw the 20th century as a great battle between Communism on one hand and religious devotion on the other. [...]

Most of those who have carefully studied the case, and who have explored evidence emerging long after the trial itself, have concluded that Chambers was telling the truth and that Hiss did indeed perjure himself. But the legacy of the case extends well beyond the issue of Hiss's guilt.

Yes, it's not just that Hiss was guilty, which liberals refused to acknowledge until the Venona transcripts became public, if at all, but that the Ivy Leaguers accusser was a commoner and a Christian to boot.  

The target of the essay is ostensibly the Tea Party but the shot lands on the Left.

Posted by orrinj at 12:57 PM


Here's The Truth About Your 'Private' Health Insurance -- It's Already A Big Government Program (JOSH BARRO, OCT. 29, 2013, Business Insider)

This system is a kind of shadow fiscal policy, redistributing income from the healthy to the sick. It can only work if consumer choice is restricted in such a way that many people are induced to buy policies that cost much more than they can expect to get back. Obamacare contains many such inducements (including subsidies and the individual mandate) but so does the pre-Obamacare status quo in health policy.

I'll start with the individual market, which is pretty small (about 5% of Americans get their coverage there) but is being significantly disrupted by the launch of Obamacare.

Individually-purchased health insurance is usually a one-year contract. But these insurance policies are subject to a federal policy called "guaranteed renewability." Once an insurer covers you, it has to offer you renewals as long as you want them, and it's not allowed to raise your premium based on new information about your health.

This rule, created by the bipartisan Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), is basically rent control for health insurance. It benefits the sick by obligating health insurers to write policies at a loss; they make up the difference by charging more to the healthy.

In most states, there are additional regulations on the individual insurance market that promote cost-shifting. These state regulations fall into two main categories; a 2008 report produced by the Department of Health and Human Services provides a good overview.

One set of regulations requires comprehensiveness of health insurance coverage: For example, plans must cover maternity care or mental health. These regulations constitute a transfer from people who don't need these coverages to those who do. Without these rules, insurance coverages that only some people need are likely to be expensive or unavailable.

The other set of regulations pertains to how insurers may set rates, limiting the extent they can charge people more because they are likely to make more claims. These rules are more restrictive of insurers than guaranteed renewability because they apply to people who are buying new insurance, not just those who are renewing it. [...]

Redistributive public policy is even more of a theme in the group health insurance market, which is nine times larger than the individual market and the dominant source of "private" health coverage. The government massively subsidizes this market by excluding employer-provided health benefits from income and payroll taxes. Federal tax advantages for health insurance add up to $300 billion a year.

These tax subsidies are highly coercive. Take a family with salary income of $60,000 and a health plan worth $15,000. If this family instead took all of its income as $75,000 in cash salary, it would face an income and payroll tax hit of around $4,500, or about 6% of their income. For comparison, the individual mandate penalty in Obamacare will be limited to 2.5% of income.

Employers are also limited in their ability to pick and choose whom they offer insurance to. You can limit coverage to full-time workers only, but you have to offer it to all of them on approximately the same terms, without premium adjustments for claims or health status. The tax advantage combined with this universality requirement results in a large majority of full-time workers getting covered through work -- and that benefit ends up being much more valuable to people with high health costs than with low ones.

That's a summary of the "private" health insurance system we have today: Subsidize and regulate to push as many people as possible into insurance pools, and shift costs among them so the healthy subsidize the sick.

...is that they force healthy you to set aside the money to subsidize the sick you of the future, enough money so that there's more than sick you could ever spend.

Posted by orrinj at 12:50 PM


Against Despair : The bad ideas behind the shutdown. (Ramesh Ponnuru & Rich Lowry, 10/28/13, National Review)

The need for greater purity, the ever-present danger of betrayal: These have been long-standing themes on the right. When our people get power, they immediately stop being our people, the great conservative journalist M. Stanton Evans quipped decades ago. Yet this assessment of what ails conservatism has grown less and less true with time.

The Rockefeller Republicans who once ruled the party have long been vanquished. Today's Republican party has a bolder plan to rein in our fastest-growing entitlement program, Medicare, than Ronald Reagan did, and that plan has the support of such establishment Republicans as John Boehner and Mitt Romney. What they don't have are the votes to enact it. Today's Republican party is more committed to confirming judicial conservatives and blocking judicial liberals than it has ever been. (Compare the confirmation votes on Robert Bork and Samuel Alito, or Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan.) It just isn't in a position to win those fights. Replace Mitch McConnell as Senate Republican leader with Ted Cruz, the Texas senator who led the defunding brigades, and that would still be true.

While conservatives are right to be dissatisfied with the results that our political engagement over the decades has yielded, it has produced real achievements. Persuasion, winning elections, passing legislation the normal way: That's the approach that helped bring the top tax rate down from 70 percent, reduce the crime rate, reform welfare, and . . . oh yes, topple the Soviet Union. Few aspects of our national life are more disheartening than the enduring regime of Roe v. Wade. Even on that issue, however, incrementalism has enabled some victories, changing public opinion in a pro-life direction and reducing the abortion rate.

Many conservatives would like to believe that purifying the Republican party isn't an alternative to expanding it but an essential means to that end. On this theory, Republicans lost power because they were too compromising under a "compassionate conservative" president, nominated two moderate presidential candidates in a row, and in general demoralized conservative voters. The available evidence does not lend much credence to this theory. Both of those last two nominees -- who really did have more moderate records than most Republicans -- ran ahead of most of their party's other federal candidates, for example. That's not an argument, in our view, for a left turn by Republicans. But it is an argument against the idea that moving in the opposite direction will in itself pay political dividends.

Jim DeMint, the former senator who now heads the Heritage Foundation, famously said that he would "rather have 30 Republicans in the Senate who believe in the principles of freedom than 60 who don't believe in anything." By any reasonable standard, though, we have had at least 30 conservatives in the Senate for the entire time DeMint has been in Washington. The trouble is that, without elected allies, 30 conservative senators cannot govern the country or even block liberal initiatives.

An emphasis on purity -- even when defined essentially by matters of style and attitude rather than policy views -- has too often kept such allies out of power. It has led Republican primary voters on several occasions to choose candidates who lost races that mainstream conservatives would likely have won. William F. Buckley Jr. said that conservatives should support the rightwardmost viable candidate, with viability understood to include the ability to make the case for conservatism in a way voters will find compelling. For the purists, viability is an unacceptable compromise. Which leads us to such candidates as Sharron Angle.

The people who backed these candidates reply that nobody has a perfect track record of picking winners, and that many of their candidates, including Marco Rubio and Cruz, have succeeded. Those are fair points, and this magazine backed both men over their more established rivals. To note the inconsistency of the pattern, though, is to acknowledge that circumstances matter -- in which state the race is taking place, how skillful the candidates are -- and that purity can exact a price. National Review joined the purists in supporting Richard Mourdock in Indiana, too, and that turned out to be a mistake. Too many conservatives have not admitted it or drawn appropriate conclusions.

Posted by orrinj at 12:43 PM


How an apocalyptic cult invented baseball beard power : A century before the 2013 Red Sox, the House of David captivated the nation with the shaggiest team of all time. (Christopher Klein,   OCTOBER 27, 2013, Boston Globe)

WHEN IT WAS founded in 1903, the House of David wouldn't have struck anyone as a future sports powerhouse. It was more of a minor apocalyptic cult.

A Christian commune founded in Michigan by Benjamin Franklin Purnell, a self-proclaimed messenger of God, the sect sought to reunite the 12 tribes of Israel in preparation for the return of Jesus Christ at the onset of the new millennium. Members gave all their worldly possessions to the commune and were required to refrain from sex, alcohol, tobacco, and meat.

With nearly a century left before the second coming, members were left with plenty of time to kill. By 1914, Purnell began to field a baseball team as a recreational outlet for his members--and, as a growth-minded religious leader, he realized that the team could be an effective vehicle for spreading the word to new recruits.

The House of David team found early success against local ball clubs, and by 1917 it began to barnstorm around the Midwest. It quickly became a sensation. This was in part due to the players' flashy fielding, hitting prowess, and speed on the base paths, but even more for their distinctive look. Like the other men in Purnell's sect, the House of David ballplayers sported extra long beards and hair that flowed down to the belts on their heavy woolen uniforms. Their personal grooming fulfilled a divine edict in Leviticus 19:27: "You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard." They also saw facial hair as a way to live in the likeness of Jesus and his apostles.

The House of David team was a strange sight, especially in a clean-cut era. Handlebar moustaches had become relics of 19th-century tobacco cards; ballplayers of the time were all freshly shaven. Billboards on Fenway Park's famous left-field wall hawked Gem Safety Razors as a way to "avoid 5 o'clock shadow."

Their beards and long locks separated the House of David from the competition. By the 1920s, posters advertising appearances by the bearded troupe shouted, "Whiskers! Whiskers!" Playbills touted them as the "most unique attraction in baseball."

Millions of fans filled sold-out ballparks to watch them play. They were dazzled by the House of David's invented game of "pepper"--a baseball version of the Harlem Globetrotters famed basketball weave--in which the players with lightning speed tossed the baseball from behind their backs and between their legs and used sleight-of-hand tricks that included concealing the ball inside their bushy beards. The team began to take on all comers, including exhibitions against major league and even Negro League squads at a time when the rest of the sport was rigidly segregated.

In 1927, however, the sect was rocked by a public scandal: Purnell stood trial for sexual assault against young girls in the commune, and for embezzlement. Five weeks after being convicted of fraud, the charismatic preacher died. The religious colony fell into receivership. It would never recover, splintering into factions and eventually ending recruitment of new members in 1947.

Remarkably, despite the negative publicity, the House of David continued to thrive as a baseball enterprise. Numerous factions inside the sect fielded teams using the now-famous brand name, and generic knockoffs of the cult's teams even began to appear.

By the 1930s, House of David teams began to hire professional players, including future Hall of Famers Grover Cleveland Alexander and Satchel Paige, the Negro League star who wouldn't be allowed in the major leagues for another 15 years. These ringers were not required to be converts. But, except for the stubborn superstar Alexander, there was one requirement: an immense beard, real or fake. With facial hair marking their celebrity, they traveled the country, carting their own portable lighting system to stage night games, which were a novelty at the time.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Posted by orrinj at 12:31 PM


Hammond statue to immortalize 'A Christmas Story' prank (Andy Grimm, October 29, 2013, Chicago Tribune)

The triple-dog dare scene from the holiday classic "A Christmas Story" will get the treatment commonly afforded to war memorials, as northwest Indiana tourism officials this morning plan to unveil a bronze statue of elementary schooler Flick's fateful, failed attempt to prove one's tongue would not stick to a frozen flagpole.

The statue will sit outside a welcome center just south of Interstate 80-94 in Hammond, with today's ceremony marking the 30th anniversary of the release of the film, a sleeper hit that has become a seasonal staple on cable TV and introduced the warning "you'll shoot your eye out!" into popular culture. [...]

Flickinger died in 1997, but his daughter is scheduled to attend today's unveiling, as is Scott Schwartz, the actor who played Flick on-screen. Schwartz did his own stunts, according to media accounts, though his tongue was adhered to the flagpole with a suction cup.

Posted by orrinj at 12:29 PM

DO I HEAR $5000?:

First-of-Its-Kind Online Master's Draws Wave of Applicants (Douglas Belkin, 10/30/13, WSJ)

The Georgia Tech program is the first master's degree from a top-ranked university based on the technology that drives MOOCs. The only difference is it is not "open," or free, as a MOOC is traditionally defined. Students have applied from 50 states and 80 foreign countries, according to the school. To graduate, they will never have to step foot on campus and will pay about $6,600, compared with about $44,000 for residential students.

The application period for the computer-science master's program, which ended on Sunday, marks another inflection point in the growth of MOOCs, as corporations, schools and online providers team up to create more such credentialed programs. [...]

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, along with its MOOC partner edX, is starting a course sequence called the XSeries, For up to $700, students will be able to take a test and earn a "verified certificate" in subjects like computer science and supply-chain management.

"I think this is symptomatic of a lot of what we're going to be seeing in the future," said Ronald Ehrenberg, the director of the Cornell Higher Education Research Institute.

Posted by orrinj at 12:26 PM


How to Be Happy at Work (Miriam Salpeter, 10/30/13, US News)

Since most people spend a majority of their time at work, here are some of Bijou's suggestions for how to remain upbeat and positive on the job.

1. Help a colleague or co-worker. One of the quickest and most effective ways to change a "poor me" attitude is to reach out to someone in the workplace who could use your mentoring or assistance with a project. "Give without expecting anything in return," Bijou says. "This instantly shifts the focus from you to another person," and changes your perspective from an attitude based on anger, fear or sadness to one that's positive, helping and generous.

2. Improve your personal brand. "There's always one person in the workplace whom everyone is happy to see," Bijou says. That's the person who smiles when she sees you, takes bad news lightly and gives genuine compliments or support frequently. Bijou says changing how others perceive you will also change how you feel about yourself. "People will love to work with you because you're happy. What they don't know is that you're making yourself happier in the process." [...]

4. Replace the negative chatter. According to Bijou, one way to neutralize unhappy thoughts is to find a statement about yourself that is 100 percent true and can't possibly be refuted - then keep repeating it until you feel better. This creates a new, positive thought pattern that replaces the negative one

Posted by orrinj at 12:22 PM


Wholesale prices down 0.1% in September (AP, October 29, 2013)

A big decline in food costs helped hold down U.S. wholesale prices in September, contributing to a 0.1% decline, the first drop since April. [...]

Aside from sharp swings in gas prices, consumer and wholesale inflation has barely risen in the past year. Overall wholesale prices were up just 0.3% for the 12 months ending in September. It was the slowest increase since the 12 months ending in October 2009, a period that included the Great Recession.

Posted by orrinj at 12:20 PM


Why Go To The Doctor When You Can Talk To A Doctor In Your Phone? (Ariel Schwartz, 10/30/13, Co.Exist)

If you want an answer to a very simple medical question, there is little reason to go to a doctor's office these days. You can just use Google. If that doesn't yield the expected answers, many doctors let patients email them with questions. And then there is HealthTap, the company that has persuaded more than 50,000 physicians to answer medical questions for free, mostly by creating a rating system to help doctors boost their online reputation as well as their brick-and-mortar practice. [...]

 The service is free, unless you want to ask a question longer than 150 characters (that's 99 cents) or have a private online chat with a doctor (that's $9.99).

October 29, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 4:30 AM


The Real Lessons of Prohibition (Anthony Esolen, 10/29/13, Crisis)

[I]f Prohibition was intended to curtail hard drinking, it did work. It's always easier to look at something that happened than to imagine what would have happened but didn't. Most people obeyed the law. Of course there were speakeasies and bootleggers. The Kennedy family made their fortune on illegal whiskey. But there wasn't a speakeasy on every street or a still in every backyard. Actuarial tables show that, shortly after Prohibition began, deaths from cirrhosis of the liver dropped considerably, and continued to drop through the twenties, leveling off by the time Prohibition was repealed in 1933. After all, Prohibition did enjoy some wide support. Billy Sunday, baseball player and itinerant preacher, campaigned for it. Even Irish Catholics were not uniformly in opposition. I recall a photograph of a parade held in my coal-mining town in 1918, to celebrate the armistice. Prominent were the Knights of Father Mathew, an Irish temperance society.

So, then, what does Prohibition teach us?

That amendment inserted into the Constitution a law that neither protected fundamental rights nor adjusted the mechanics of governance. It was a radical break from tradition. It is crucial to understand this. It took a juridical break from tradition to obliterate the customs, the lived traditions, of the American people and their forebears.

Granted, Prohibition addressed problems that certainly needed solving. Prohibition was sold, in large part, as a measure to protect women and children from alcoholic husbands and fathers. An evil-tempered workingman, coming home drunk after a day underground with a pickax or on the railroad with a sledgehammer, might beat his wife and children, or he might already have drunk half his money away.

But the avenue chosen was too problematic.

October 28, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 9:28 PM


Comparison Shopping for Knee Surgery : The same procedure Might cost $ 20,000 or $ 120,000. Here's one way to bring down prices. (JAMES C. ROBINSON, Oct. 27, 2013, WSJ)

A small number of large employers have developed "reference pricing" for At least some of the services covered by their health-insurance programs, a major shift from traditional designs benefit. Some insurers are Incorporating it into their product designs. Under reference pricing, the employer or insurer sets a maximum contribution it will make toward the payment for a test or treatment. The employee or enrollee can select any hospital or clinic but must pay the difference Between the contribution limit and the actual price.

Reference pricing serves as a reverse deductible. Rather than the patient paying up to a defined limit and then the insurer covering the remainder, the insurer pays up to a defined limit and the patient pays the remainder. This has the remarkable feature of exposing the patient to the variation in prices for treatments That are above deductible thresholds. And the patient's contribution is not limited by an annual out-of-pocket maximum.

Apparently, the prospect of paying more sharpens the attention of buyers on the bottom line, que in turn changes the behavior of sellers.

An example of reference pricing is the initiative by the California Public Employees' Retirement System, or Calpers, for orthopedic knee and hip replacement. 

Medicine is just another consumer good.

Posted by orrinj at 9:25 PM


Solving Syria (Michael O'Hanlon, 9/27/13, Newsweek)

Under any realistic peace plan, Assad's Alawite minority would keep a section of the country, most likely along the coast, where local police would be the main security forces. The Alawite majority there would self-govern for the most part (perhaps electing a former government official, though ideally not a close associate or relative of Assad's). Assad himself would have to step down from the presidency and hopefully would go into exile. Kurds would keep sections of the country in the north. A coalition of Sunnis would be in charge elsewhere, and we would have to work with them to suppress the role of extremists. The country's main central cities would be shared, as were certain places in Bosnia, like Mostar (even if they were effectively divided in most cases). And of course, minority rights would be enshrined in the deal that ultimately codified this arrangement.

Posted by orrinj at 9:21 PM


UPS program delivers unnerving surprise (David Lazarus, October 28, 2013, LA Times)

[T]he UPS rep said that if Miller joined the company's My Choice program, she'd be able to set a narrower delivery window.

So Miller went online and began the multi-step process to register a My Choice account. She was asked for her name, address, phone number and email address.

And then she came to a page asking her to verify her identity. Miller was instructed to select the city in which she'd never lived from a list of four cities.

She was asked to select the street on which she'd once lived from a list of four streets. Both questions revealed that UPS knew precisely where Miller had resided in the past.

Then came a question asking Miller to select the month in which her daughter was born. And it included her daughter's name.

Posted by orrinj at 9:19 PM


'Time' reviews the state of the U.S. Army, and raises some interesting questions (Thomas E. Ricks, October 28, 2013, Foreign Policy)

The Nov. 4 edition of Time magazine has a long look by the estimable Mark Thompson at the state of the Army. It quotes me and other suspects, but the best comment is from Arnold Punaro, about the cost of benefits to the Pentagon: "We're going to turn the Depart­ment of Defense into a benefits company that occasionally kills a terrorist."

Posted by orrinj at 9:16 PM


The Iron Oracle: Thatcher Ahead Of Her Time On European Union (Carrie Sheffield, 10/28/13, Forbes)

A recent front-page news article in The Wall Street Journal neatly summarizes how the European Union is backing away from plans for deeper integration, they've "run aground as financial markets have calmed and mistrust has simmered between power centers including Berlin, Brussels and Paris." This mistrust built up throughout the global financial crisis and seemed to abate with various proposals last year for stronger financial linkages. But of late these plans have sputtered, and are likely to continue to disintegrate.

Of course the Iron Lady, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who passed away this year, would have been too stateswomanlike to tackily rub it in anyone's face, but she was absolutely right in her outspoken euroskepticism. Decades ago, she rightly foresaw that a single currency union would be fraught with strain between vibrant, disciplined economies and laggard, overstretched ones. Thatcher was smeared as a xenophobe, and her firm opposition led to her downfall from power (though there were other factors that contributed, including her earlier support of the poll tax).

After leaving office, her 2002 book Statecraft accurately predicted the failure of the union, "economically, politically and socially."

Posted by orrinj at 9:12 PM


Why Arabs Fear a U.S.-Iran Détente (MARWAN BISHARA, October 27, 2013, NY Times)

[I]ranian-American détente will likely deepen the sectarian divisions between Iran and Saudi Arabia, setting the stage for an all-out regionwide sectarian conflict.

Since its 1979 revolution, Iran has become increasingly militarized and religiously radicalized. The Shiite-Sunni tensions that fueled the Iran-Iraq War of 1980-88 have only grown worse.

As the Saudi government made clear last week, authoritarian Sunni regimes in the region will probably seek to undermine -- rather than accept -- any agreement that foresees growing Iranian influence in their backyard.

And that's what it boils down to: democrats vs authoritarians.
Posted by orrinj at 6:29 PM


THE GREAT AWAKENING : Sleep has overtaken yoga and carb-free diets as America's favorite fitness craze. It's about time. (CATHERINE PRICE, June 2, 2008, Outside)

[A]s little as 20 hours without sleep leaves you with the same impaired attention and slow reflexes of someone who is legally drunk. Chris Eatough, six-time winner of the World Solo 24 Hours of Adrenaline Championship mountain-bike race, says that during a day-long competition, his vision will occasionally stop. "I'll be flying downhill with rocks and trees to dodge," he says, "and I'll get a snapshot of the trail that doesn't change for four or five seconds."

New research also suggests that insufficient rest wreaks havoc on your emotions and intelligence. Last October, Matthew Walker, a sleep researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, found that when he showed people unpleasant images, such as attacking sharks and vipers, sleep-deprived subjects had a 60 percent stronger emotional response than well-rested ones. Sleep also appears crucial to learning and memory: Walker found in 2008 that we're about 40 percent less effective at forming new memories if we haven't had sufficient sleep beforehand. "It's not practice that makes perfect," he says. "It's practice with a night's sleep that seems to make perfect."

The list goes on: Research suggests that those who don't sleep enough have higher stress levels and an increased risk of heart attack. In 2004, researchers at the University of Chicago Medical Center found that sleep deprivation screws with the hormones tied to appetite and insulin resistance. Translation: Not sleeping can make you fat and put you at a higher risk of Type 2 diabetes.

Sounds daunting, especially since most of us don't get those elusive eight hours. (Think your Red Bull-charged system needs less? You're wrong. As you tire, your perception of what's normal changes, and you don't recognize that you're impaired.) But here's the good news: There are plenty of non-pharmaceutical methods for improving sleep--and you don't need to shove a tube up your nose to figure out what to do. (That might not help much. I slept horribly at the clinic, waking up 14 times per hour, above the normal rate of zero to five.) Set up your bedroom the right way, eat well, and exercise with the end of the day in mind and you can ditch that third cup of coffee. Your body knows how to sleep. Your job is learning how to get out of the way.

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 PM

SHAVE 100:

It's Time For Companies To Fire Their Human Resource Departments (Kyle Smith, 4/04/13, Forbes)

HR places a disturbingly high premium on what it calls "communication skills" and what you and I call "talking." A survey found that 83 percent of HR professionals cited training in communication skills (they spent their college years in Watercooler 101?) as important to getting a job in the field, while only two percent cited the importance of classes in finance. Actually knowing how the business runs doesn't much register with HR. Using HR as talent spotters makes about as much sense as asking the florist for help filling out the roster on your basketball team.

The HR industry has noticed that (as CBS News once put it), "Everyone hates HR." But its inclination is to what all failing industries do: dig in their heels. "The consensus in the industry," wrote Times of London columnist Sathnam Sanghera, after reviewing some HR publications, "is that the only way to rescue HR is to elevate its importance."

Fortunately, business is moving the other way, to reduce HR departments by outsourcing its paper-pushing functions; PriceWaterhouseCoopers, for instance, estimates it can shave 15 to 25 percent off your HR costs. These humans are simply not resourceful enough. We should be glad HR is going the way of acid-wash jeans.

Posted by orrinj at 4:52 PM


US Military Drone Strike Targeted Al-Shabab Bomb-Maker (Luis Martinez, Oct 28, 2013, ABC News)

The main target of the missile strike was Ibrahim Ali, whom they described as al-Shabab's top bomb-maker who oversaw the group's improvised explosive device network, one of the officials said. The extremist group is tied to al Qaeda and at one time controlled the Somali capital of Mogadishu.

U.S. officials are optimistic that Ali died in the attack, the official said.

The strike killed at least two al-Shabab operatives, according to local news reports. An al-Shabab member said one of those killed in the attack was the group's bomb-making expert, also known as "Anta," The Associated Press reported. [...]

In early October, members of the Navy's elite SEAL Team Six conducted an unsuccessful raid to "snatch" a top al-Shabab planner known by the moniker "Ikrima."  He is described as having plotted attacks in eastern Africa.

Posted by orrinj at 4:46 PM


The NFL's Pinkwashing Problem (PAT GAROFALO, October 27, 2013, US News)

According to an analysis by Business Insider, just 8 percent of the money spent on the plethora of pink gear being sold by the NFL actually winds up going towards cancer research at the American Cancer Society, the supposed beneficiary of the league's efforts. Since 2009, when pink first appeared on the field, the NFL has donated a grand total of $4.5 million towards the cause, while the league made $9 billion (that's billion, with a b) in revenue last year alone. As Business Insider's Cork Gaines wrote, "if the point is to actually help fight cancer, fans would have a much bigger impact if they skipped the NFL and donated directly to the ACS or other organizations working to fight cancer."

But an unclear picture regarding the distribution of funds is not the only reason the NFL's pink October is so maddening. Another is its elevation of one disease to the explicit exclusion of all others. Nothing symbolized that situation more perfectly than Chicago Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall and his green shoes.

Marshall, who has been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, wanted to wear green kicks during a game on October 10 in support of Mental Health Awareness Week, which ran from October 6 to 12. The NFL fined him $10,500 for violating uniform protocol (a fine which Marshall happily paid and then matched with a donation to charity). The NFL is so pink-centric that one player wearing a pair of shoes for a different cause was seen as something worthy of punishment. Initially, the league even looked to prevent Marshall from playing entirely if he sported the green shoes, before relenting and settling on just a fine.

And mental health isn't the only cause steamrolled by the pink NFL juggernaut. "I was pretty sure we were toast," said Rita Smith, the executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, upon first seeing the NFL go pink. "There was no way we were ever gonna match them." The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence also uses October as its awareness month, with purple being its color of choice. As Ann Friedman noted in New York Magazine, domestic violence will actually affect more women than breast cancer, but attempts to prevent the former are losing fundraising ground to the latter, in large part due to the pinkification of October that gets a serious boost from the NFL's efforts.

By focusing solely on breast cancer year after year - and by making its campaign mostly about raising the ever-ambiguous "awareness" of the disease, as if something affecting hundreds of thousands of women is somehow a secret - while sending little in the way of real funds towards research, how much good the NFL is doing is an open question. Is all this "awareness" actually worth anything? And if it is, why not try and highlight a lesser known set of diseases next year, or perhaps a problem that is not even medical? 

Posted by orrinj at 4:44 PM


Iran lawmakers reject president's minister pick (AP, October 27, 2013)
Iran's parliament has rejected a close ally of President Hassan Rouhani for a ministerial post.

In a vote Sunday, 141 out of 261 lawmakers present voted against Reza Salehi Amiri, who Rouhani nominated as sports and youth minister.

Posted by orrinj at 3:05 PM


Slaves of the Internet, Unite! (TIM KREIDER, 10/27/13, NY Times)

NOT long ago, I received, in a single week, three (3) invitations to write an original piece for publication or give a prepared speech in exchange for no ($0.00) money. As with stinkbugs, it's not any one instance of this request but their sheer number and relentlessness that make them so tiresome. It also makes composing a polite response a heroic exercise in restraint.

People who would consider it a bizarre breach of conduct to expect anyone to give them a haircut or a can of soda at no cost will ask you, with a straight face and a clear conscience, whether you wouldn't be willing to write an essay or draw an illustration for them for nothing. [...]

This is partly a side effect of our information economy, in which "paying for things" is a quaint, discredited old 20th-century custom, like calling people after having sex with them. The first time I ever heard the word "content" used in its current context, I understood that all my artist friends and I -- henceforth, "content providers" -- were essentially extinct. This contemptuous coinage is predicated on the assumption that it's the delivery system that matters, relegating what used to be called "art" -- writing, music, film, photography, illustration -- to the status of filler, stuff to stick between banner ads.

Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism's ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It's especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge. I now contribute to some of the most prestigious online publications in the English-speaking world, for which I am paid the same amount as, if not less than, I was paid by my local alternative weekly when I sold my first piece of writing for print in 1989. More recently, I had the essay equivalent of a hit single -- endlessly linked to, forwarded and reposted. A friend of mine joked, wistfully, "If you had a dime for every time someone posted that ..." Calculating the theoretical sum of those dimes, it didn't seem all that funny.

We are paid what we're worth, which is why this blog costs us money.

Posted by orrinj at 2:59 PM


Islamic Comrades No More (VALI R. NASR, October 28, 2013, NY Times)

With the Brotherhood as an underdog it patronized, Saudi Arabia could afford to be both Islamic and pro-West, and to support Islamic causes while backing secular regimes like that of Hosni Mubarak of Egypt -- even as he barred the Brotherhood from political power.

All of that changed when the Brotherhood took power in Egypt by winning the presidential election in 2012.

The election produced an ambitious ideological regime, speaking for Islam and eager to shape the Arab world in its own image -- stands that would pose the same degree of threat to Saudi Arabia's stolid monarchy as Nasser's secular Arab populism had. Saudi monarchs could be comfortable with the Brotherhood as a powerless client, but not as an equal ruler of a state. So Riyadh supported the Egyptian military's coup in July.

The Muslim Brotherhood was born in 1928 in opposition to an Egyptian monarchy. Its ideology blends Islam with Arab nationalism to denounce autocracy and the West. It promises to empower both the people and Islamic law in an ideal "republic" -- a sharp contrast to the Saudi monarchy. Since Saudi identity is wrapped tightly around a puritanical interpretation of Islam, and Saudi nationalism draws on the centrality of Mecca and Medina to the Islamic faith, secular democracy has yet to find a large Saudi following. But the Brotherhood's populist Islamism, which promises justice and equity, and empowerment of the individual in religion and politics, does resonate with the many unemployed and restless young Saudis.

With the imminent fall of the Ba'athists in Syria, only Realists, Israel and the Sa'uds still support authoritarianism in the region.

Posted by orrinj at 2:34 PM


Li-Fi breakthrough: internet connections using light bulbs are 250 times faster than broadband (JAMES VINCENT, 28 OCTOBER 2013, Independent)

Li-Fi, an alternative to Wi-Fi that transmits data using the spectrum of visible light, has achieved a new breakthrough, with UK scientists reporting transmission speeds of 10Gbit/s - more than 250 times faster than 'superfast' broadband. [...]

Many experts claim that Li-Fi represents the future of mobile internet thanks to its reduced costs and greater efficiency compared to traditional Wi-Fi.

Both Wi-Fi and Li-Fi transmit data over the electromagnetic spectrum, but whereas Wi-Fi utilises radio waves, Li-Fi uses visible light. This is a distinct advantage in that the visible light is far more plentiful than the radio spectrum (10,000 times more in fact) and can achieve far greater data density.

Li-Fi signals work by switching bulbs on and off incredibly quickly - too quickly to be noticed by the human eye. This most recent breakthrough builds upon this by using tiny micro-LED bulbs to stream several lines of data in parallel.

Posted by orrinj at 7:28 AM


America's 'other' health-care revolution : While everyone focuses on 'Obamacare's' controversial public exchanges, big changes are coming to the place where most people get their coverage - at work. Here's how they might affect you. (Harry Bruinius, October 27, 2013, CS Monitor)

From taking tighter control over the health insurance market themselves to pushing decisions and costs down to individuals, businesses are experimenting with a host of new ways to offer health-care coverage, spurred in part by the launch of the Affordable Care Act, but also by the inexorable rise in the cost of medical care in the United States. The moves promise to change a social compact that has existed between employers and employees over health-care coverage for more than a half century.

Already, for instance, several large corporations have announced they are setting up private exchanges like the one the fictitious tool-and-die maker belongs to. More than 1 million workers are set to purchase plans on a private exchange in 2014, and by some estimates, as many as 40 million workers will be enrolled in such private exchanges by 2018.

"Going from 1 million to 40 million in five years is ... hypergrowth," says Rich Birhanzel, managing director of Accenture's Health Administration Services. [...]

"Whenever you have competition on a retail basis, prices go down," says Ken Sperling, national health exchange strategy leader at Aon Hewitt, and one of the architects of the private health exchange concept. "And an exchange is a very efficient way to bring buyers and sellers together to drive competition."

People need to be offered fewer choices.

Posted by orrinj at 7:26 AM


Message of peace replaces anti-US billboards in Tehran (ILAN BEN ZION AND LAZAR BERMAN, October 27, 2013,Times of Israel)

Officials in Iran's capital have ordered that anti-American billboards be taken down, and in their place a message of peace was plastered over a major Tehran thoroughfare.

In a possible sign of thawing ties between Iran and the West, the state-run news agency IRNA on Saturday quoted a Tehran city hall spokesman saying the municipality ordered the removal of the posters because the organization responsible didn't get approval for the advertisements.

Posted by orrinj at 7:14 AM


Lou Reed, Velvet Underground Leader and Rock Pioneer, Dead at 71 : New York legend, who helped shape nearly fifty years of rock music, underwent a liver transplant in May (JON DOLAN, OCTOBER 27, 2013, Rolling Stone)

With the Velvet Underground in the late Sixties, Reed fused street-level urgency with elements of European avant-garde music, marrying beauty and noise, while bringing a whole new lyrical honesty to rock & roll poetry. As a restlessly inventive solo artist, from the Seventies into the 2010s, he was chameleonic, thorny and unpredictable, challenging his fans at every turn. Glam, punk and alternative rock are all unthinkable without his revelatory example. "One chord is fine," he once said, alluding to his bare-bones guitar style. "Two chords are pushing it. Three chords and you're into jazz."

Lewis Allan "Lou" Reed was born in Brooklyn, in 1942. A fan of doo-wop and early rock & roll (he movingly inducted Dion into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989), Reed also took formative inspiration during his studies at Syracuse University with the poet Delmore Schwartz. After college, he worked a staff songwriter for the novelty label Pickwick Records (where he had a minor hit in 1964 with a dance-song parody called "The Ostrich"). In the mid-Sixties, Reed befriended Welsh musician John Cale, a classically trained violist who had performed with groundbreaking minimalist composer La Monte Young. Reed and Cale formed a band called the Primitives, then changed their name to the Warlocks. After meeting guitarist Sterling Morrison and drummer Maureen Tucker, they became the Velvet Underground. With a stark sound and ominous look, the band caught the attention of Andy Warhol, who incorporated the Velvets into his Exploding Plastic Inevitable. "Andy would show his movies on us," Reed said. "We wore black so you could see the movie. But we were all wearing black anyway."

"Produced" by Warhol and met with total commercial indifference when it was released in early 1967, VU's debut The Velvet Underground & Nico stands as a landmark on par with the Beatles' Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band and Bob Dylan's Blonde On Blonde. Reed's matter-of-fact descriptions of New York's bohemian demimonde, rife with allusions to drugs and S&M, pushed beyond even the Rolling Stones' darkest moments, while the heavy doses of distortion and noise for it's own sake revolutionized rock guitar. The band's three subsequent albums - 1968's even more corrosive sounding White Light/White Heat, 1969's fragile, folk-toned The Velvet Underground and 1970's Loaded, which despite being recorded while he was leaving the group, contained two Reed-standards "Rock & Roll" and "Sweet Jane," were similarly ignored. But they'd be embraced by future generations, cementing the Velvet Underground's status as the most influential American rock band of all time.

Listen: 8 songs to remember Lou Reed by Reed died on Sunday, but his music was always the thing he left behind (Peter Weber, 10/28/13, The Week)

Posted by orrinj at 6:45 AM


In Fed and Out, Many Now Think Inflation Helps (BINYAMIN APPELBAUM, 10/28/13, NY Times)

Inflation is widely reviled as a kind of tax on modern life, but as Federal Reserve policy makers prepare to meet this week, there is growing concern inside and outside the Fed that inflation is not rising fast enough.

Some economists say more inflation is just what the American economy needs to escape from a half-decade of sluggish growth and high unemployment.

The Fed has worked for decades to suppress inflation, but economists, including Janet Yellen, President Obama's nominee to lead the Fed starting next year, have long argued that a little inflation is particularly valuable when the economy is weak. Rising prices help companies increase profits; rising wages help borrowers repay debts. Inflation also encourages people and businesses to borrow money and spend it more quickly.

The school board in Anchorage, Alaska, for example, is counting on inflation to keep a lid on teachers' wages. Retailers including Costco and Walmart are hoping for higher inflation to increase profits. The federal government expects inflation to ease the burden of its debts. Yet by one measure, inflation rose at an annual pace of 1.2 percent in August, just above the lowest pace on record.

"Weighed against the political, social and economic risks of continued slow growth after a once-in-a-century financial crisis, a sustained burst of moderate inflation is not something to worry about," Kenneth S. Rogoff, a Harvard economist, wrote recently. "It should be embraced."

Congress could pass just a few laws and produce inflation by counteracting the past century:

(1) Smoot-Hawley II--Abrogate all our trade treaties.

(2) Johnson-Reed II--Deport every non-citizen immigrant.

(3) NLRA II--require that all employees be union members.

(4) Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act II--require all recipients of federal aid to have jobs and employers to hire them

(5) King Ludd Act--banning the use of electroncs-based technology

By just getting rid of free trade, value-added based wages, retirement/unemployment, and technology we could so severely impede efficiency and productivity that prices would rise.

Posted by orrinj at 6:34 AM


Eat Popcorn, Be Immune to Advertising (Drake Bennett  October 14, 2013, Businessweek)

The research, published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology and conducted by psychologists at the University of Cologne, involved sending people to a movie. Before the film started, the German test subjects were shown commercials for Tostitos (PEP), Pert Plus shampoo, Danish butter Lurpak, Korean body lotion Innisfree (HELE), and other beverages, foods, and medicines unfamiliar to them. Half the participants were given popcorn, the other half a sugar cube. One week later they were invited back to the lab and shown images of various products. The sugar-cube moviegoers had a clear preference for the products they'd seen advertised, while the popcorn eaters didn't. In other words, the ads hadn't stuck with them.

What accounts for popcorn's seemingly talismanic power? The researchers posit that it's not popcorn at all; it's chewing. Ads can be masterpieces of visual invention, but one of their most persuasive mechanisms is repetition--that's why marketers find ways to say the name of a product over and over. Experiments going back to the late 1960s have documented what psychologists call the "mere exposure effect." Simply having seen or heard something before predisposes people to liking it. And the way consumers familiarize themselves with something new is with their mouths.

When people read, they tend to mime the act of speaking. Even if they're not saying the words out loud, the brain simulates the corresponding muscle movements of the throat and mouth. Sascha Topolinski, one of the popcorn study's authors and a neuroscientist at the University of Cologne, calls this "covert pronunciation simulation." The same thing happens when we hear something--the name of a new product, for example. Chewing, however, disrupts the process by monopolizing the speech muscles (unlike eating a sugar cube, which dissolves on its own), effectively drowning out any subvocalization and, with it, the process of familiarization.

"What we found was that if you prevent the mouth from simulating the pronunciation by chewing, you don't get repetition effects," Topolinski says.

Posted by orrinj at 6:19 AM


Gomes' 3-run blast lifts Red Sox over Cards; series tied 2-2 (CBSSports.com, Oct. 27, 2013)

An entertaining, even goofy World Series is tied at two games apiece following Boston's 4-2 victory against the St. Louis Cardinals on Sunday night, which ensured the title will be decided back at Fenway Park.

"What's going on inside here is pretty special, magical," Gomes said.

Inserted into the lineup about 75 minutes before gametime, Gomes hit a tiebreaking, three-run shot off reliever Seth Maness in the sixth inning.

Felix Doubront and surprise reliever John Lackey, both starters during the regular season, picked up for a gritty Clay Buchholz to help the Red Sox hang on.

And of course, another bizarre ending: Uehara picked off pinch-runner Kolten Wong -- with postseason star Carlos Beltran standing at the plate.

Of the 1,404 postseason games in major-league history, the past two are the only ones to end on an obstruction call and a pickoff, according to STATS.

October 27, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 9:11 AM


A black box in your car? Some see a source of tax revenue (Evan Halper, October 26, 2013, Los Angeles Times)

 As America's road planners struggle to find the cash to mend a crumbling highway system, many are beginning to see a solution in a little black box that fits neatly by the dashboard of your car.

The devices, which track every mile a motorist drives and transmit that information to bureaucrats, are at the center of a controversial attempt in Washington and state planning offices to overhaul the outdated system for funding America's major roads. [...]

"This really is a must for our nation. It is not a matter of something we might choose to do," said Hasan Ikhrata, executive director of the Southern California Assn. of Governments, which is planning for the state to start tracking miles driven by every California motorist by 2025. "There is going to be a change in how we pay these taxes. The technology is there to do it." [...]

Wonks call it a mileage-based user fee. It is no surprise that the idea appeals to urban liberals, as the taxes could be rigged to change driving patterns in ways that could help reduce congestion and greenhouse gases, for example. California planners are looking to the system as they devise strategies to meet the goals laid out in the state's ambitious global warming laws. But Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), chairman of the House Transportation Committee, has said he, too, sees it as the most viable long-term alternative. The free marketeers at the Reason Foundation are also fond of having drivers pay per mile.

"This is not just a tax going into a black hole," said Adrian Moore, vice president of policy at Reason. "People are paying more directly into what they are getting."

Posted by orrinj at 8:36 AM


What Is Total Shots Ratio? And How Can It Improve Your Understanding of Soccer? (Mike L. Goodman, August 12, 2013, Grantland)

As with lots of analytics concepts, TSR is just a fancy set of letters for an incredibly simple idea: Let's count shots. Specifically, TSR is the ratio of how many shots a team takes versus the number of total shots (actual equation: shots for/(shots for + shots against). For example, Manchester United took 562 shots and conceded 494 shots last season. That works out to a TSR of 0.53. And it turns out counting shots is pretty important. Because goals are so rare, and can be scored in such odd and wonderful ways, a team's past scoring record isn't a particularly reliable predictor of future goals. Looking at how frequently a team shoots predicts future goals much more accurately. In that way, it's similar to baseball's run differential. If you want to predict how often a baseball team will win, figure out how much better they are at doing the thing that leads to winning (scoring runs). If you want to figure out how often a soccer team will score goals, figure out how often they do the thing that leads to scoring goals (shooting). TSR is a measure of a team's ability to take shots while preventing opponents from shooting.

Why Bother With TSR?

The biggest thing that TSR has going for it is that it works. A team's point tally is definitely correlated with how good its TSR is (for some actual math on how highly correlated TSR and points are, you can check out Martin Eastwood's work on the subject).

The biggest problem with soccer as played in its major leagues is not the imbalance in finances, but the style of play that follows from their spending.  When a big budget team plays a small budget team the latter will play defensively and try to absorb shots in hopes of scoring a fluke goal on one of their minimal attacking opportunities. In essence, they stack TSR against themselves.  They play to lose(*). 

This allows even pretty lousy iterations of the biggest clubs to pile up points against everyone but their financial peers.  And, perversely, it makes it difficult for superior teams with less financial resources to compete for titles, because other teams don't cut them this inappropriate slack and hand them undeserved results.  

(*) Imagine that your favorite NFL team played the prevent defense for 60 minutes and you'll understand the problem.

Posted by orrinj at 8:29 AM


The Issue That Divides Dems: Public Pension Reform (Carl M. Cannon, October 27, 2013, Real Clear Politics)

The Democrats' theater of battle is not primarily in Washington--it's the state capitals and cities--and the issue is public employee pension reform. It's not a sexy subject. Even ominous actuarial tables are more likely to induce glazed eyes and yawns than memorable battle cries. Yet what up for grabs is the very quality of life in some of America's most iconic cities and suburbs.

Typically, reform is being led by Democratic mayors. It's being resisted by leaders of public employee unions, who are also Democrats. California state legislators tend to side with the unions over the mayors, preferring the status quo--and the campaign contributions from unions--to an intramural fight.

The problem, however, is that the status quo will not hold any longer. Detroit is virtually a one-party city. It has also filed for bankruptcy. These two facts are not entirely coincidental. Five decades' practice of awarding generous pension benefits to city employees, even while Detroit was in the process of losing two-thirds of its population and slashing the workforce, has left the city with a budget in which 40 percent goes to paying former workers--with long-term obligations to these retirees approaching $44 billion.

Even as the city faced bankruptcy, the unions were disinclined to negotiate any changes in their contracts, preferring to fight in court, which is where matters stand today: a trial began in federal court in Michigan this past week. Litigation is also where the city of San Jose, Calif., is headed.

Last year, under the urging of Mayor Chuck Reed, San Jose's city council put a ballot measure before voters that limited pensions for new employees, gave employees the choice of either contributing more to their pensions or accepting a lower-cost plan, required retired employees to kick in higher health care premiums, and gave the council control over cost-of-living adjustments. This measure was put before voters--Democratic "blue" voters in a "blue" city in "blue" California--who passed it with nearly 70 percent support.

So everyday Americans get it--they understand math--even if union leaders and their enablers in state government do not. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:23 AM


The Democrat's Version of Health Insurance Would Have Been Cheaper, Simpler, and More Popular (So Why Did We Enact the Republican Version and Why Are They So Upset?) (Robert Reich, 10/26/2013, The Hill

While Republicans plot new ways to sabotage the Affordable Care Act, it's easy to forget that for years they've been arguing that any comprehensive health insurance system be designed exactly like the one that officially began October 1st, glitches and all.

For as many years Democrats tried to graft healthcare onto Social Security and Medicare, and pay for it through the payroll tax. But Republicans countered that any system must be based on private insurance and paid for with a combination of subsidies for low-income purchasers and a requirement that the younger and healthier sign up.

Not surprisingly, private health insurers cheered on the Republicans while doing whatever they could to block Democrats from creating a public insurance system.

In February 1974, Republican President Richard Nixon proposed, in essence, today's Affordable Care Act. Under Nixon's plan all but the smallest employers would provide insurance to their workers or pay a penalty, an expanded Medicaid-type program would insure the poor, and subsidies would be provided to low-income individuals and small employers. Sound familiar?

Private insurers were delighted with the Nixon plan but Democrats preferred a system based on Social Security and Medicare, and the two sides failed to agree.

Thirty years later a Republican governor, Mitt Romney, made Nixon's plan the law in Massachusetts. Private insurers couldn't have been happier although many Democrats in the state had hoped for a public system.

When today's Republicans rage against the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act, it's useful to recall this was their idea as well.

In 1989, Stuart M. Butler of the conservative Heritage Foundation came up with a plan that would "mandate all households to obtain adequate insurance."

Insurance companies loved Butler's plan so much it found its way into several bills introduced by Republican lawmakers in 1993. Among the supporters were senators Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Charles Grassley, R-Iowa (who now oppose the mandate under the Affordable Care Act). Newt Gingrich, who became Speaker of the House in 1995, was also a big proponent.

Romney's heathcare plan in Massachusetts included the same mandate to purchase private insurance. "We got the idea of an individual mandate from [Newt Gingrich], and [Newt] got it from the Heritage Foundation," said Romney, who thought the mandate "essential for bringing the health care costs down for everyone and getting everyone the health insurance they need."

Republicans can make Obamacare even more Republican or they can push us into single-payer.  
Posted by orrinj at 8:13 AM


The Republican Embrace of the Welfare State : The establishment GOP has accepted progressivism's central premise.  (Andrew C. McCarthy, 10/27/13, National Review)

Charles Krauthammer has come to my rescue. You see, I've been on the receiving end of some spirited reaction since asserting in last weekend's column that what we commonly call the Republican establishment -- i.e., not all individual Republicans but GOP leadership -- "is more sympathetic to Obama's case for the welfare state than to the Tea Party's case for limited government and individual liberty." The statement may have been provocative in the sense of expressing a truth that people on the political Right prefer not to talk about. But it was not controversial because it is indisputably true.

This week, Dr. Krauthammer, Washington's most influential expositor of mainstream GOP thought, obligingly spared me the need to prove my point. He gave as clear an account of the modern Republican conception of "conservatism" as you will find. Fittingly, he did it on the program of progressive commentator and comedian Jon Stewart. Today's smartest Republicans, self-aware enough to know their core views deviate significantly from those of conservatives in the tradition of Buckley, Goldwater, and Reagan, are more likely to say what they think to Jon Stewart.

...and note that not only did Ronald Reagan accept it but he was the last great defender of the Second Way welfare state.  The deal he worked out with Tip O'Neill to save it is the reason reforming it has been so difficult.

And reforming it is the only option.  The question of whether there is going to be a welfare state was settled when Ike left it in place after the Depression and WWII had ended.  The only question remaining is whether it will be a Second Way--defined benefit--system or a Third Way--defined contribution--system.  To the extent that the writers and readers still imagine the fight is to end social welfare they are superfluous, if not counter-productive.

Posted by orrinj at 7:58 AM


Marty Sullivan figured out how the world's biggest companies avoided billions in taxes. Here's how he wants to stop them. (Steven Pearlstein, October 26, 2013, Washington Post)

For years, big multinational corporations, waving the banner of competitiveness, have been pushing hard for corporate tax reform. "Reform" means different things to different people, but to multinational corporations, it has meant a sizeable cut in the 35 percent corporate tax rate and an end to all U.S. taxation on profits earned overseas.

Now, however, revelations of elaborate tax dodges by respected companies such as Apple, Google, Microsoft and Starbucks have badly undermined their "reform" push, not just in the United States but around the globe.

At a recent meeting in St. Petersburg, the leaders of the 20 leading industrial nations vowed to push ahead with tough new global standards that would put an end to "stateless" income and limit the ability of firms to avoid taxation by shifting profits to tax havens. After years of competing against one another for corporate investment by offering ever-more-favorable tax regimes, cash-strapped governments have decided to go after the companies rather than each other.

"There's been a race to the bottom, and the multinationals were winning," said Eric Toder, co-director of the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center in Washington.

In Washington, meanwhile, a newly appointed House-Senate conference committee has been instructed to come up with a long-term budget plan by mid-December in the hopes of avoiding a replay of this month's government shutdown. President Obama, along with both Republican and Democratic leaders have expressed hope that some form of corporate tax reform will be included in that budget blueprint.

The chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), is in the final stages of crafting a "revenue neutral" tax reform proposal that looks to lower the corporate rate by closing the most egregious loopholes while imposing what amounts to a modest minimum tax on overseas profits. The chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Max Baucus (D-Mont.), promises his own plan by the end of the year that is likely to be even less tax-friendly to overseas operations.

For multinationals, in other words, the political tide seems to have turned. Rather than coming out the winners from corporate tax reform, as they once fantasized, they now face the very real prospect of paying more taxes rather than less-- an outcome Apple's Cook told the Senate his company is prepared to accept.

"For a long time, much of the corporate community was in denial about their tax strategies," a senior partner in the Washington office of one of the big accounting firms told me recently. "The politics of that have now changed -- and a lot of it goes back to the work that Marty Sullivan has done."

As we use social welfare reform to make stock ownership universal and the core of accounts for everything from health care to education to unemployment to retirement, we want businesses focussed on maximizing and reporting their profits. Profits should not be taxed at all, anymore than income should be.   

October 26, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 8:46 PM


Sorry liberals, Obamacare's problems go much deeper than the Web site (Ezra Klein, October 25, 2013, Washington Post)

As Sarah Kliff and I wrote in our overview of the health-care launch's technical issues, the challenges right now can be grouped into three broad categories: problems with the consumer experience on the HealthCare.gov Web site, problems with the eligibility system, and problems with the hand-off to insurers.

The problems with the Web site are the difficulties consumers are facing when they try to log on and shop for insurance coverage. These problems -- error messages, site timeouts, difficulty logging in to an account -- make it hard for an individual to buy coverage through the marketplace. They are the reason why some people have made upward of 20 attempts at purchasing a plan. These are the problems that are being fixed fastest and that are the least serious.

The eligibility problems strike when consumers send in their information and the government's computer systems tell them whether they're eligible for Medicaid, health insurance subsidies or nothing at all. The system is returning incorrect data for many applicants -- meaning they might be eligible for Medicaid and not know it, or they might think they have subsidies that will later be revoked.

The insurance problems are seen by the insurance companies. Health plans are supposed to get a report when someone uses HealthCare.gov to buy their health insurance policy. Those reports are full of inaccurate data, such as the wrong address, or are being sent in duplicate. (One insurance company reported getting one of these reports, known as an "834 transmission," that said one individual had three spouses. This person was not, for the record, a polygamist.) And it's not just private insurers: The federal system is also failing to sign people up for Medicaid.

No one quite knows the extent of the problems in each of these areas. No one knows how long it will be until all these systems are working tolerably well. No one has any idea how long it'll be until they're working smoothly. And if that was all this was -- a multi-month delay and a lot of frustration and problems for people trying to sign up for health care -- that would be bad enough. That would be a story worth covering aggressively and constantly until the problems cleared up.

Posted by orrinj at 1:53 PM


NC GOPer Who Called Blacks 'Lazy' Uses N-Word To Defend Himself (CATHERINE THOMPSON, OCTOBER 25, 2013, TPM)

Don Yelton, the North Carolina GOP official who resigned over the fallout for his racially charged "Daily Show" interview, used the N-word to defend himself in an interview with TheWrap.com Friday. 

"When a n--- can use the word n--- and it not be considered racist, that's the utmost racism in the world, and it's hypocrisy," he said. 

Yelton told a North Carolina radio station Thursday that the "Daily Show" had edited his interview in such a way that his comments were taken out of context. In the interview on voter ID laws, Yelton had criticized "lazy black people that wants the government to give them everything," and told correspondent Aasif Mandvi that one of his "best friends" is black.

Posted by orrinj at 1:50 PM


These Trains Are So Luxurious, You'll Never Want to Get Off (Conde Nast Traveler, 10/26/13)

In an age when air travel is trying our collective last nerve, is it any wonder trains are making a comeback? But not just any trains, though. We're talking luxury long-haul rail lines that transport you across a country in high style. Exhibit A: Seven Stars in Kyushu, a luxury "cruise train" on the Japanese island of Kyushu. The journey begins in Hakata, one of the country's oldest cities, and continues in a four-day loop through Kyushu's green mountains, past its active volcano, and along its seaside. The train's lounge car features a bar and grand piano, so passengers can enjoy live music (and magic shows) throughout the journey.

It's not just in Japan, either.

Posted by orrinj at 1:45 PM


Obama's Top Economic Adviser Tells Democrats They'll Have to Swallow Entitlement Cuts (Joshua Green, October 25, 2013, Bloomberg)

This morning, Gene Sperling, director of the White House's National Economic Council, appeared before a Democratic business group for what was billed as a speech about the economy after the shutdown, followed by a Q&A session. The White House didn't push this as a newsmaking event, so it didn't get much billing. But I went anyway, and I was struck by what Sperling had to say, especially about the upcoming budget negotiations that are a product of the deal to reopen the government.

In his usual elliptical and prolix way, Sperling seemed to be laying out the contours of a bargain with Republicans that's quite a bit different that what most Democrats seem prepared to accept. What stood out to me was how he kept winding back around to the importance of entitlement cuts as part of a deal, as if he were laying the groundwork to blunt liberal anger. Right now, the official Democratic position is that they'll accept entitlement cuts only in exchange for new revenue--something most Republicans reject. If Sperling mentioned revenue at all, I missed it.

STORY: Political Polarization: It's Worse Than You Think
But he dwelt at length--and with some passion--on the need for more stimulus, though he avoided using that dreaded word. He seemed to hint at a budget deal that would trade near-term "investment" (the preferred euphemism for "stimulus') for long-term entitlement reform. That would be an important shift and one that would certainly upset many Democrats.

Posted by orrinj at 7:37 AM


Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander takes shots at tea party in Tennessee primary race (Paul Kane, Published: October 25, 2013, Washington Post)

[I]n speeches across the Volunteer State, Alexander is in the habit of delivering thinly veiled blasts against the "Washington people" and their "voting score cards" who propose to tell Tennesseans what it means to be a Republican. That's clearly a shot at conservative advocacy groups such as Heritage Action and the Club for Growth, two of the groups that have set new purity criteria for Republicans and have been funding primary challenges against many who do not meet their standards.

At every campaign stop, Alexander offers a parable about the future of the Republican Party based on the tale of two famous Tennesseans who went to battle in Texas almost 175 years ago -- Davy Crockett and Sam Houston. It is a story about defiance and defeat vs. pragmatism and victory.

Too many of today's congressional Republicans, Alexander says, are like Crockett, who fought to the death and lost at the Alamo. For his part, Alexander explains, he'd rather be like Houston, who made his stand on the more favorable terrain of San Jacinto.

"He withdrew to a better place -- he got some criticism for that -- he showed some patience. But then he defeated Santa Anna and won the independence of Texas," Alexander said, as nearly 100 heads nodded at the Gibson County Farm Bureau meeting last month.

"We remember and honor Davy Crockett's death at the Alamo. But we celebrate every year Texas Independence Day because of Sam Houston's victory."

Posted by orrinj at 7:29 AM


Dem: Obama should consider stopping all deportations of illegal immigrants (Justin Sink, 10/25/13, The Hill)
President Obama "has the responsibility" to stop deportations of illegal immigrants if Congress proves unable to pass a comprehensive immigration bill, Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) argued in an interview published Friday. [...]

In an interview with Telemundo in September, the president said that advocates of immigration reform shouldn't expect him to use prosecutorial discretion to address the issue if Congress is unable to agree to reform legislation.

Obama said doing so would mean "essentially ... ignoring the law" and would be "very difficult to defend legally."

Just issue a blanket pardon for immigration violations.

Posted by orrinj at 7:16 AM

DON'T KID YOURSELF, SISTER... (self-reference alert):

A Hairy Chest Makes a Man (ROSS KENNETH URKEN, OCT 25 2013, Atlantic)

Given that I come from a clan of hirsute Russian Jews, it is a particularly personal disappointment that my chest is bare, save the circum-areolar growth and few stray hairs in the center that continue sparsely toward my happy trail. [...]

It depends on your outlook. Of course, the loss of body hair was a distinguishing evolutionary feature when human beings departed from our primate brethren. Body hair kept us warm, and we lost it for specific advantageous evolutionary reasons.

One prominent theory, according to Dr. Mark Pagel of the University of Reading in England and Dr. Walter Bodmer of the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, holds that human beings rid themselves of body hair to avoid fur-infesting parasites. The lack of fur passed through natural selection and onto sexual selection, where those who weren't prone to fleas and ticks were deemed to have a higher fitness.

As confirmed by Markus J. Rantala at the University of Jyväskylä in Finland, human beings veered toward bare skin when the cost-benefit analysis favored having  "fewer parasites" over a "warming, furry coat." To boot, Cambridge University zoologist Charles Goodhart postulated that because men preferred the "hairless trait" in women, they passed along the trait to their offspring, both male and female.

Today's use of hair-removal products--among both sexes--demonstrates the hands-on continuation of the human striving for hair-free bodies. Far from a Neanderthal, maybe I am an evolved modern man.

Of course even posers like Hemingway have chest hair, back hair makes the man.  

Last week we ran a water table for the CHAD half marathon and one of the little girls working with us gave me a wide berth all day.  Turns out, folks had warned her to be careful because I was part yeti.

Posted by orrinj at 7:09 AM


The Tortoise, the Hare, and the Massachusetts Lesson for Obamacare : It is much, much easier to sign people up for free health coverage than subsidized plans--especially in the first months of a rollout. (GARANCE FRANKE-RUTA, OCT 24 2013,Atlantic)

Slow and steady wins the race, according to the old Aesop fable, and that's also what happened in the state of Massachusetts, when it rolled out its new health-coverage plans in 2007. Today, 97 percent of people in the state have health insurance of one type or another. But when the state's bid for universal coverage got started, it launched to a very slow start, according to those oversaw the rollout in the state. And that's without all the website issues that have plagued Healthcare.gov.

"To my friends in the media, I have one message: please take a chill pill. You won't see 7 million enrollees for a while, and that's not failure, that's real world," John McDonough, a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health who was deeply involved in the passage and implementation of Massachusetts' 2006 health reform law, wrote of the new Obamacare program in mid-October. In Massachusetts, getting people signed up "was a slow crawl, not a sprint."

Data from the first full year of enrollment in the Commonwealth Care plans in Massachusetts shows that the number of people who purchased premium plans was minuscule at first, with a rate of increase of only 123 people in February 2007. That surged to 3,645 in April and then remained fairly steady all year, before spiking to 7,783 in the month before the penalty deadline for remaining uninsured kicked in.

Posted by orrinj at 7:01 AM


How good are computers as tutors? (Tyler Cowen, October 26, 2013, Marginal Revolution)

Here is a 2011 Kurt VanLehn paper (pdf) on human vs. computer systems of tutoring:

This article is a review of experiments comparing the effectiveness of human tutoring, computer tutoring, and no tutoring.  "No tutoring" refers to instruction that teaches the same content without tutoring.  The computer tutoring systems were divided by their granularity of the user interface interaction into answer-based, step-based, and substep-based tutoring systems.  Most intelligent tutoring systems have step-based or substep-based granularities or interaction, whereas most other tutoring systems (often called CAI, CBT, or CAL systems) have answer-based user interfaces.  It is widely believed as the granularity of tutoring decreases, the effectiveness increases.  In particular, when compared to No tutoring, the effect sizes of answer-based tutoring systems, intelligent tutoring systems, and adult human tutors are believed to be d = 0.3, 1.0, and 2.0 respectively.  This review did not confirm these beliefs.  Instead, it found that the effect size of human tutoring was much lower: d = 0.79. Moreover, the effect size of intelligent tutoring systems was 0.76, so they are nearly as effective as human tutoring.

One more specific result found in this paper is simply that human tutors very often fail to take advantage of what are supposed to be the advantages of human tutoring, such as flexibility in deciding how to respond to student problems.

But we all go right on thinking our job is uniquely necessary.
Posted by orrinj at 6:56 AM


The Glorious, Futile Progressive Policy Agenda : The left is unified and full of exciting ideas. What's the point? (MOLLY BALL, OCT 25 2013, Atlantic)

A few months ago, Terry O'Neill, the president of the National Organization for Women, summed up the state of the left. "We're winning the politics," she told me. "But on policy, we're just getting killed."

On the one hand, a handily reelected liberal president; demographic trends turning more and more states blue, with no end in sight; growing public support for liberal causes like gay marriage; and a fractured, warring, dismally unpopular opposition. On the other hand, a failure on the national level to consider even modest changes to environmental, immigration, or gun policy; a federal government that, rather than growing to serve more people, has been subject to draconian cuts. On the state level, a drumbeat of assaults on collective bargaining, restrictions on access to abortion, cuts to education, taxes, and social services, and curbs to voting rights. After 20 elementary-school children died in last year's gun massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, more states sought to expand access to guns than to constrain it.

Progressives are trapped in a frustrating dichotomy: a feeling that even though they're winning the public argument, their policy ideas are largely an irrelevant pipe dream.

Nowhere was this more evident than at a policy summit convened Thursday by the Center for American Progress, a liberal think-tank hatched by Clinton Administration alums during the dark days of the first George W. Bush Administration. A star-studded lineup of Democratic power players took the stage: former Vice President Al Gore, Secretary of State John Kerry, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. And yet their speeches and discussions were suffused with a sense of futility.

"We know what we have to do. It's pretty straightforward," Glenn Hutchins, a private-equity investor and former Clinton White House adviser, said from the dais toward the end of a panel on economic growth. Investments in education, infrastructure, research and development--all the types of government outlays that have been slashed by the recent federal "sequestration" cuts. "But we can't do it," Hutchins added. "We have a huge governing problem. So we're stuck .... Some of these discussions have the air of surrealism. We know what we have to do; we can't do it."

Question after question from the audience echoed Hutchins's angst. "I'm looking for hope given the obstruction we face from this conservative Congress," pleaded one. "How can this message get out in the public debate and be accepted?" asked a second. Larry Summers, the former Obama economic adviser and Federal Reserve runner-up, said of the sputtering recovery, "I don't think the problem is with financial engineering. The problem is political will."

The main obstructionists are voters and the Republican president who won't propose any progressive measures because of them.
Posted by orrinj at 6:35 AM


The 1929 Stock Market Crash (Harold Bierman, Jr.,,  2010-02-05, Economic History)

From 1925 to the third quarter of 1929, common stocks increased in value by 120 percent in four years, a compound annual growth of 21.8%. While this is a large rate of appreciation, it is not obvious proof of an "orgy of speculation." The decade of the 1920s was extremely prosperous and the stock market with its rising prices reflected this prosperity as well as the expectation that the prosperity would continue.

The fact that the stock market lost 90 percent of its value from 1929 to 1932 indicates that the market, at least using one criterion (actual performance of the market), was overvalued in 1929. John Kenneth Galbraith (1961) implies that there was a speculative orgy and that the crash was predictable: "Early in 1928, the nature of the boom changed. The mass escape into make-believe, so much a part of the true speculative orgy, started in earnest." Galbraith had no difficulty in 1961 identifying the end of the boom in 1929: "On the first of January of 1929, as a matter of probability, it was most likely that the boom would end before the year was out."

Compare this position with the fact that Irving Fisher, one of the leading economists in the U.S. at the time, was heavily invested in stocks and was bullish before and after the October sell offs; he lost his entire wealth (including his house) before stocks started to recover. In England, John Maynard Keynes, possibly the world's leading economist during the first half of the twentieth century, and an acknowledged master of practical finance, also lost heavily. Paul Samuelson (1979) quotes P. Sergeant Florence (another leading economist): "Keynes may have made his own fortune and that of King's College, but the investment trust of Keynes and Dennis Robertson managed to lose my fortune in 1929."

Galbraith's ability to 'forecast' the market turn is not shared by all. Samuelson (1979) admits that: "playing as I often do the experiment of studying price profiles with their dates concealed, I discovered that I would have been caught by the 1929 debacle." For many, the collapse from 1929 to 1933 was neither foreseeable nor inevitable.

The stock price increases leading to October 1929, were not driven solely by fools or speculators. There were also intelligent, knowledgeable investors who were buying or holding stocks in September and October 1929. Also, leading economists, both then and now, could neither anticipate nor explain the October 1929 decline of the market. Thus, the conviction that stocks were obviously overpriced is somewhat of a myth.

The nation's total real income rose from 1921 to 1923 by 10.5% per year, and from 1923 to 1929, it rose 3.4% per year. The 1920s were, in fact, a period of real growth and prosperity. For the period of 1923-1929, wholesale prices went down 0.9% per year, reflecting moderate stable growth in the money supply during a period of healthy real growth.

Examining the manufacturing situation in the United States prior to the crash is also informative. Irving Fisher's Stock Market Crash and After (1930) offers much data indicating that there was real growth in the manufacturing sector. The evidence presented goes a long way to explain Fisher's optimism regarding the level of stock prices. What Fisher saw was manufacturing efficiency rapidly increasing (output per worker) as was manufacturing output and the use of electricity.

The financial fundamentals of the markets were also strong. During 1928, the price-earnings ratio for 45 industrial stocks increased from approximately 12 to approximately 14. It was over 15 in 1929 for industrials and then decreased to approximately 10 by the end of 1929. While not low, these price-earnings (P/E) ratios were by no means out of line historically. Values in this range would be considered reasonable by most market analysts today. For example, the P/E ratio of the S & P 500 in July 2003 reached a high of 33 and in May 2004 the high was 23.

The rise in stock prices was not uniform across all industries. The stocks that went up the most were in industries where the economic fundamentals indicated there was cause for large amounts of optimism. They included airplanes, agricultural implements, chemicals, department stores, steel, utilities, telephone and telegraph, electrical equipment, oil, paper, and radio. These were reasonable choices for expectations of growth.

To put the P/E ratios of 10 to 15 in perspective, note that government bonds in 1929 yielded 3.4%. Industrial bonds of investment grade were yielding 5.1%. Consider that an interest rate of 5.1% represents a 1/(0.051) = 19.6 price-earnings ratio for debt.

In 1930, the Federal Reserve Bulletin reported production in 1920 at an index of 87.1 The index went down to 67 in 1921, then climbed steadily (except for 1924) until it reached 125 in 1929. This is an annual growth rate in production of 3.1%. During the period commodity prices actually decreased. The production record for the ten-year period was exceptionally good.

Factory payrolls in September were at an index of 111 (an all-time high). In October the index dropped to 110, which beat all previous months and years except for September 1929. The factory employment measures were consistent with the payroll index.

The September unadjusted measure of freight car loadings was at 121 -- also an all-time record.2 In October the loadings dropped to 118, which was a performance second only to September's record measure.

J.W. Kendrick (1961) shows that the period 1919-1929 had an unusually high rate of change in total factor productivity. The annual rate of change of 5.3% for 1919-1929 for the manufacturing sector was more than twice the 2.5% rate of the second best period (1948-1953). Farming productivity change for 1919-1929 was second only to the period 1929-1937. Overall, the period 1919-1929 easily took first place for productivity increases, handily beating the six other time periods studied by Kendrick (all the periods studies were prior to 1961) with an annual productivity change measure of 3.7%. This was outstanding economic performance -- performance which normally would justify stock market optimism.

In the first nine months of 1929, 1,436 firms announced increased dividends. In 1928, the number was only 955 and in 1927, it was 755. In September 1929 dividend increased were announced by 193 firms compared with 135 the year before. The financial news from corporations was very positive in September and October 1929.

The May issue of the National City Bank of New York Newsletter indicated the earnings statements for the first quarter of surveyed firms showed a 31% increase compared to the first quarter of 1928. The August issue showed that for 650 firms the increase for the first six months of 1929 compared to 1928 was 24.4%. In September, the results were expanded to 916 firms with a 27.4% increase. The earnings for the third quarter for 638 firms were calculated to be 14.1% larger than for 1928. This is evidence that the general level of business activity and reported profits were excellent at the end of September 1929 and the middle of October 1929.

Barrie Wigmore (1985) researched 1929 financial data for 135 firms. The market price as a percentage of year-end book value was 420% using the high prices and 181% using the low prices. However, the return on equity for the firms (using the year-end book value) was a high 16.5%. The dividend yield was 2.96% using the high stock prices and 5.9% using the low stock prices.

Article after article from January to October in business magazines carried news of outstanding economic performance. E.K. Berger and A.M. Leinbach, two staff writers of the Magazine of Wall Street, wrote in June 1929: "Business so far this year has astonished even the perennial optimists."

To summarize: There was little hint of a severe weakness in the real economy in the months prior to October 1929. There is a great deal of evidence that in 1929 stock prices were not out of line with the real economics of the firms that had issued the stock. Leading economists were betting that common stocks in the fall of 1929 were a good buy. Conventional financial reports of corporations gave cause for optimism relative to the 1929 earnings of corporations. Price-earnings ratios, dividend amounts and changes in dividends, and earnings and changes in earnings all gave cause for stock price optimism. [...]

Although no consensus has been reached on the causes of the 1929 stock market crash, the evidence cited above suggests that it may have been that the fear of speculation helped push the stock market to the brink of collapse. It is possible that Hoover's aggressive campaign against speculation, helped by the overpriced public utilities hit by the Massachusetts Public Utility Commission decision and statements and the vulnerable margin investors, triggered the October selling panic and the consequences that followed.

An important first event may have been Lord Snowden's reference to the speculative orgy in America. The resulting decline in stock prices weakened margin positions. When several governmental bodies indicated that public utilities in the future were not going to be able to justify their market prices, the decreases in utility stock prices resulted in margin positions being further weakened resulting in general selling. At some stage, the selling panic started and the crash resulted.

The Puritan within us makes us wish that the booms were the bubbles and the crashes a return to reality.  In the two biggest of the past century it was the opposite.

JPMorgan to pay feds $5 billion (Julian Hattem, 10/25/13, The Hill)
JPMorgan Chase has reached a $5.1 billion settlement with federal housing regulators over loans and mortgage-backed securities it sold to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. [...]

According to the housing regulator, bank officials knowingly misrepresented details about the loans.

Derivative fraud was the unregulated margin this time.

Posted by orrinj at 6:29 AM


The Real Reason Couples Have Sex : Two New Studies Examine What Motivates Couples to Have Sex (ELIZABETH BERNSTEIN, Oct. 21, 2013, WSJ)

For many years, scientists believed that humans had sex for a few simple reasons: to reproduce, experience physical pleasure or relieve sexual tension. Then a 2007 study from the University of Texas identified 237 expressed motives for sex. The reasons ranged from the mundane (stress reduction) to the spiritual (to get closer to God) and from the altruistic (to make the other person feel good) to the spiteful (to retaliate against a partner who cheated by cheating).

Now, two studies by University of Toronto researchers published this month in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, have divided the most common reasons why people have sex--and the ones most relevant to long-term relationships--into two broad categories of motivation: approach and avoidance. Approach motives pursue a positive outcome. ("I want to increase intimacy with my spouse" or "I want to feel closer to my partner.") Avoidance motives aim to evade a negative outcome. ("I want to avoid conflict" or "I don't want to feel guilty.")

Each category is also divided into subcategories: self-focused or partner-focused.

The researchers paid particular attention to partner-focused goals. "They have the greatest impact on the outcomes of a relationship," says Amy Muise, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Toronto and lead researcher on the study.

October 25, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 9:34 PM


States' pledge could boost electric car business (Gregory Wallace, October 25, 2013, CNNMoney)

Electric car makers are about to get a little more help that could boost sales.

Eight states representing nearly a quarter of U.S. auto sales on Thursday agreed to aggressively move to increase the number of electric- and hydrogen-fueled cars, trucks and buses on the roads.

The initiative focuses on three things: developing standards for charging stations, expanding financial incentives to buy the cars and lowering consumer electric rates.

Posted by orrinj at 9:14 PM


How Jon Stewart became President Obama's biggest problem (CHRIS CILLIZZA, October 22, 2013, Washington Post)

President Obama's biggest problem when it comes to selling the American public on the so-far rocky rollout of his health-care law isn't John Boehner or Mitch McConnell or even Ted Cruz. It's Jon Stewart.

Stewart, the host of the wildly popular "Daily Show" on Comedy Central, has emerged as a harsh critic of HealthCare.gov and the Obama administration's inability to fix it.

Stewart dedicated the entire first 10 minutes of his show -- three full segments -- on Monday to slashing hits on the Web site and the president's handling of the problems.  He compared Obama to "Gil," the hapless salesman from "The Simpsons," showed "Daily Show" correspondent John Oliver stuck in a computer after trying to sign up for Obamacare and expressed amazement that even the calculator on the HealthCare.gov Web site doesn't work. (And, remember, Stewart was heavily critical of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius during an appearance on his show earlier this month.)

Posted by orrinj at 7:46 PM


Paul Ryan: Focus on 'achievable goals' (DAVID ROGERS, 10/24/1, Politico)

The first round of sequestration last March has already brought discretionary spending down to about $986.7 billion. A second round in January would cut an additional $20 billion approximately -- largely from defense.

Implicit in Ryan's remarks is a warning that Republicans won't back away from sequestration simply to protect defense. But the chairman was clearly signaling he is open to a good-faith bargain in which mandatory savings can be substituted for appropriations to restore more order for both sides. [...]

Democrats admit privately that it is very doable to have a short-term fix for sequestration, relying on perhaps $75 billion to $100 billion in mandatory savings already in President Barack Obama's 2014 budget.

Posted by orrinj at 6:22 PM


How Software Will Make Computer Shopping Obsolete : Soon, you'll wirelessly pack your new system onto your old one. (Corinne Iozzio, 10.24.2013, Popular Science)

Connectivity is now just as important as hardware, which gives users ready access to software and backup services over the Internet. There's Gaikai for videogames, Amazon Instant Video for movies and TV, and Spotify for music--just to name a few. And in 2011, Google introduced Chromebooks, the first laptops that rely almost entirely on the cloud to deliver software to users. As a result, the machines need only a bit of memory and a low-power processor.

Software improvements can push the Chromebook idea a step further by transforming the cloud into a portable personal mainframe. Neverware, a New York start-up, has developed software that can deliver complete instances of Windows to up to 100 computers over Ethernet or Wi-Fi. The system even works on machines with as little as 128 MB of RAM and 500mHz processors. More than 30 public schools have installed the central server, dubbed the Juicebox 100. And as broadband access improves, Neverware hopes to deliver the entire service through the cloud.

The mainframe model could expand beyond PCs. Intel Labs's Clone Cloud project, for example, could do for old smartphones what Neverware does for old computers. When a phone's performance starts to lag, users would load a clone of their system to Intel's server and assign it tasks that the processor can no longer handle (say, graphics rendering). The service would deliver data over a cellular or Wi-Fi connection. And it won't stop there; wherever there's a screen--be it a tablet or television--and Internet access, there could also be a functioning computer. Every videogame, every website, every piece of software will work everywhere. And hardware will never be out-of-date again.

Posted by orrinj at 6:19 PM


North Colorado? (JOHN H. FUND, OCTOBER 2013, American Spectator)

New secession movements insist that they have learned from the mistakes of previous efforts. Proponents of the Colorado split say that they see a path to getting Washington's approval. Commissioner Sean Conway of Weld County says that if Puerto Rico or Washington, D.C. ever become states, there will have to be a move to balance what will be a boon for Democrats. After all, Alaska and Hawaii entered the Union as part of a similar deal. "You can almost make the argument that you're allowing two states in so you don't disrupt the percentages in terms of the United States Senate," Conway told reporters. In an era when decentralization and an aversion to excessive bureaucracy seem to be gaining hold, it would be nice to think our map of 50 states isn't sacrosanct. We're probably stuck with it, but that doesn't mean efforts to break up states don't have any effect. "It's the political equivalent of smashing the china," Professor John Pitney of California's Claremont McKenna College told the Wall Street Journal. "But sometimes, that's the only way to get attention." Here's to continued china smashing when conditions call for it. Our Founding Fathers would be pleased some Americans still have some revolutionary fighting spirit left in them. 

It's devolving into several countries that will be contentious, though inevitable given our size and what we know about the size of nations.

Posted by orrinj at 6:15 PM


How to Make Social Security Last : If we're going to live longer, we'll need it more than ever. (Matthew Yglesias, 10/25/13, Slate)

Taxes are part of the picture, but one important idea should come to us from a now-forgotten aspect of the debate over the Bush tax cuts. Back in 2001, you see, then-Chairman of the Federal Reserve Alan Greenspan endorsed a large cut in taxes on the grounds that the federal budget deficit was becoming too low. Right now Social Security collects more in payroll taxes than it spends in benefits, in order to anticipate the eventual retirement of the baby boomers. But that Social Security surplus is invested in federal government debt. These investments produce a Social Security Trust Fund that in effect is more of an accounting convention than an investment vehicle. Greenspan warned that unless we cut taxes to increase the deficit, we might run out of debt for the Trust Fund to buy, and it would be forced to move into other asset classes, like owning stocks and corporate bonds. That, Greenspan warned, would lead to all manner of political malfeasance in the private economy.

With more than a decade of subsequent history under our belts, this looks like excessive fear of socialism pushing the country into unsound fiscal policy. And we should be open to the opposite conclusion. It's time to stop letting excessive fear of socialism block us from doing the sensible thing and investing Social Security funds in private assets. The spread of successful sovereign wealth funds from Persian Gulf monarchies and Singapore to Norway and even Canada shows us that it's workable in principle. And any investment adviser would tell you that an all-Treasurys portfolio is an exceptionally risk-averse posture--one that individuals or institutions with long time horizons should avoid. As the American government aspires to last essentially forever, it ought to have a fairly aggressive investment portfolio.

The concern that such a fund's clout would be put to bad political purposes ought to be addressed rather than simply used as a conversation-stopper. Rather than one gigantic fund, the government could create 30 smaller ones to which citizens are randomly assigned. Or the government could sponsor a discrete set of private funds run by existing investment companies and let citizens opt into the one of their choice. The name of the game is to avoid creating a single entity so enormous that it dominates the marketplace, while still taking advantage of the kind of scale enjoyed by major university endowments or small countries' sovereign wealth funds.

Why 30 too powerful government entities when we could have 500 million individuals with their own funds?

Posted by orrinj at 3:53 PM


Imagining a Remapped Middle East (ROBIN WRIGHT, 9/28/13, NY Times)

The Arab Spring was the kindling. Arabs not only wanted to oust dictators, they wanted power decentralized to reflect local identity or rights to resources. Syria then set the match to itself and conventional wisdom about geography.

New borders may be drawn in disparate, and potentially chaotic, ways. Countries could unravel through phases of federation, soft partition or autonomy, ending in geographic divorce.

Libya's uprising was partly against the rule of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. But it also reflected Benghazi's quest to separate from domineering Tripoli. Tribes differ. Tripolitanians look to the Maghreb, or western Islamic world, while Cyrenaicans look to the Mashriq, or eastern Islamic world. Plus, the capital hogs oil revenues, even though the east supplies 80 percent of it.

So Libya could devolve into two or even three pieces. The Cyrenaica National Council in eastern Libya declared autonomy in June. Southern Fezzan also has separate tribal and geographic identities. More Sahelian than North African in culture, tribes and identity, it could split off too.

Other states lacking a sense of common good or identity, the political glue, are vulnerable, particularly budding democracies straining to accommodate disparate constituencies with new expectations.

After ousting its longtime dictator, Yemen launched a fitful National Dialogue in March to hash out a new order. But in a country long rived by a northern rebellion and southern separatists, enduring success may depend on embracing the idea of federation -- and promises to let the south vote on secession.

A new map might get even more intriguing. Arabs are abuzz about part of South Yemen's eventually merging with Saudi Arabia. Most southerners are Sunni, as is most of Saudi Arabia; many have family in the kingdom. The poorest Arabs, Yemenis could benefit from Saudi riches. In turn, Saudis would gain access to the Arabian Sea for trade, diminishing dependence on the Persian Gulf and fear of Iran's virtual control over the Strait of Hormuz.

The most fantastical ideas involve the Balkanization of Saudi Arabia, already in the third iteration of a country that merged rival tribes by force under rigid Wahhabi Islam. The kingdom seems physically secured in glass high-rises and eight-lane highways, but it still has disparate cultures, distinct tribal identities and tensions between a Sunni majority and a Shiite minority, notably in the oil-rich east.

Social strains are deepening from rampant corruption and about 30 percent youth unemployment in a self-indulgent country that may have to import oil in two decades. As the monarchy moves to a new generation, the House of Saud will almost have to create a new ruling family from thousands of princes, a contentious process.

Other changes may be de facto. City-states -- oases of multiple identities like Baghdad, well-armed enclaves like Misurata, Libya's third largest city, or homogeneous zones like Jabal al-Druze in southern Syria -- might make a comeback, even if technically inside countries.

A century after the British adventurer-cum-diplomat Sir Mark Sykes and the French envoy François Georges-Picot carved up the region, nationalism is rooted in varying degrees in countries initially defined by imperial tastes and trade rather than logic. The question now is whether nationalism is stronger than older sources of identity during conflict or tough transitions.

Natiuons are made up of people who think themselves similar, not of borders.

October 24, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 8:03 PM


Customer Centricity : In five years, what will fundamentally change the customer experience as we know it today? (MIT Technology Review Custom, October 24, 2013)

Empowered by technology, transparency, and an abundance of information, today's consumers are dictating new terms of modern commerce. They want their voices to be heard. They insist on transacting across multiple mediums. And they expect their needs to be anticipated. They are a demanding lot, and when their needs are not met, they will not hesitate to patronize a competitor, or broadcast their displeasure to everyone they know (and even some they don't).

Not surprisingly, this customer revolution is driving change deep throughout the value chain of most product and service providers. Perhaps that's why, in response to our question about what will fundamentally change the customer experience as we know it, @ashulman2600 responded simply, "Just about everything."

Indeed companies are dedicating entire teams to studying this customer phenomenon, even appointing chief customer officers to lead the charge. And the number-one weapon at their disposal is, without question, data. "I think real intelligence about the customer will be applied to every transaction, experience and interaction," responded @robfinley. "Big Data will be at the core."

Posted by orrinj at 7:39 PM


Tomorrow's Electric Cars Could Store Energy In Their Body Panels (Jim Gorzelany,  110/17/13, Forbes)

[T]omorrow's EVs could eliminate big and bulky - not to mention costly - battery packs altogether, instead using their body panels as a source of power. Volvo has been working on the concept over the past three and a half years in conjunction with other participants as part of a European Union research project headed by London's Imperial College.

Here, advanced nano-structured batteries and super capacitors are deftly incorporated into carbon fiber panels using an advanced resin; the panels are, in turn, formed to fit around a car's frame. Just as with a conventional EV battery, the super capacitor-infused material can be fully charged via the power grid or refreshed while en route via regenerative braking.

Volvo says the electrified material charges faster than conventional batteries, and is strong and pliant enough to be fully integrated within a vehicle's structure. It's said to not only be lighter in weight than today's batteries, but lighter than conventional structural materials as well; it's also clamed to be both cost effective and eco-friendly to produce.

Posted by orrinj at 7:33 PM


A Married Mom and Dad Really Do Matter: New Evidence from Canada (Mark Regnerus, 10/24/13, Crisis)

There is a new and significant piece of evidence in the social science debate about gay parenting and the unique contributions that mothers and fathers make to their children's flourishing. A study just published in the journal Review of the Economics of the Household--analyzing data from a very large, population-based sample--reveals that the children of gay and lesbian couples are only about 65 percent as likely to have graduated from high school as the children of married, opposite-sex couples. And gender matters, too: girls are more apt to struggle than boys, with daughters of gay parents displaying dramatically low graduation rates.

Unlike US-based studies, this one evaluates a 20 percent sample of the Canadian census, where same-sex couples have had access to all taxation and government benefits since 1997 and to marriage since 2005.

Wagner's Incestuous Narcissism (David P. Goldman, Aug/Sep 2011, First Things)

Wagner remains the consummate bard of narcissistic love, of passion for our own alter egos. That is a side of his genius that his detractors miss. "Wagner's heroines, once they have been divested of their heroic husks, are indistinguishable from Madame Bovary," Nietzsche sniffed. But Flaubert's provincial housewife did not elope with her long-lost twin brother. The great novelist kept his protagonist at a critical distance, and there is a touch of black humor in her suicide by poison. Where Emma Bovary pursued a fantasy of romantic love in what ultimately is a cautionary tale, Wagner recreates the sensuous reality of self-love. 

Wagner wants to counterpose a love of pure impulse to the covenantal order of traditional society. He despises covenantal order; as Nietzsche wrote, "Whence arises all evil in the world, Wagner asked himself? . . . From customs, laws, morals, institutions, from all those things on which the ancient world and ancient society rests." 

Wagner reminds us why Judeo-Christian society rests on the institution of marriage. It is not merely because marriage produces children and socializes them. A republic is defined, Augustine argued in The City of God, not only by a common interest but by a common love. Western polity depends on the mutual love of God and his people. In the normative love of men and women, it is opposites that attract; that is why, since Hosea, heterosexual love has served as the metaphor par excellence for the love of the absolute Other.

Far better than the political philosophers, Wagner understood that the covenant that underlies Western society is not a Hobbesian calculation but rather a nuptial commitment. The family is the fundamental unit of society because it nurtures in the sphere of intimacy an approximation of the covenantal bond between God and Israel.

Posted by orrinj at 7:29 PM


The errors of ideology: Pope Francis, Russell Kirk, the Religious Right, and the Tea Party (Stephen Bainbridge, 102213, ProfessorBainbridge.com)

The Pope continued, Jesus told us: "You burden the shoulders of people [with] many things; only one is necessary." This, therefore, is the "spiritual, mental" thought process of one who wants to keep the key in his pocket and the door closed: "The faith becomes ideology and ideology frightens, ideology chases away the people, distances, distances the people and distances of the Church of the people. But it is a serious illness, this of ideological Christians. It is an illness, but it is not new, eh? Already the Apostle John, in his first Letter, spoke of this. Christians who lose the faith and prefer the ideologies. His attitude is: be rigid, moralistic, ethical, but without kindness. This can be the question, no? But why is it that a Christian can become like this? Just one thing: this Christian does not pray. And if there is no prayer, you always close the door."

It calls to mind, of course, Russell Kirk's wonderful text on the errors of ideology:

Ideology, in short, is a political formula that promises mankind an earthly paradise; but in cruel fact what ideology has created is a series of terrestrial hells. I set down below some of the vices of ideology.

Ideology is inverted religion, denying the Christian doctrine of salvation through grace in death, and substituting collective salvation here on earth through violent revolution. Ideology inherits the fanaticism that sometimes has afflicted religious faith, and applies that intolerant belief to concerns secular.

Ideology makes political compromise impossible: the ideologue will accept no deviation from the Absolute Truth of his secular revelation. This narrow vision brings about civil war, extirpation of "reactionaries", and the destruction of beneficial functioning social institutions.

Ideologues vie one with another in fancied fidelity to their Absolute Truth; and they are quick to denounce deviationists or defectors from their party orthodoxy. Thus fierce factions are raised up among the ideologues themselves, and they war mercilessly and endlessly upon one another, as did Trotskyites and Stalinists.

Ideology is the great moral, spiritual, and political failure of our time. Democrats have alsways been ideologues, of course, as are their fellows on the left. [...]

As we have just seen in the government shutdown, these new pseudo-conservative ideologues reject compromise out of hand. And, of course, they drum anyone who dares deviate in any way from the prescribed path out of the conservative movement. Precisely the characteristics Kirk identified as the attributes of ideological partisans.

Posted by orrinj at 6:43 PM


Stocks rise on strong corporate earnings (Ken Sweet, 10/24/13, AP)

So far, corporate earnings have come in pretty much as most money managers expected. Companies are reporting bigger profits, but most of the growth has come from cost-cutting, a trend that hasn't changed very much since the financial crisis.

Posted by orrinj at 6:35 PM


How the New Yorker's Ryan Lizza Became a Mistaken Poster Boy for Obamacare : "It was the Twitter equivalent of blurbing a book using the one positive line from a review that actually trashed the book," the Washington correspondent says. (Charles Ornstein, 10/24/13, Pacific Standard)

Last week, Ryan Lizza, a Washington correspondent with the New Yorker, did what I and many other journalists have done in the past three weeks: He attempted to sign up for an account on healthcare.gov, the federal government's health insurance marketplace site.

And like me, at least, he initially thought he had succeeded. What follows is an instructive lesson in the speed of the news cycle and how incorrect information takes on a life of its own.

October 23, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 9:41 PM


US Is Figuring Out Green Growth (Walter Russell Mead, 10/23/13, American Interest)

America's energy-related carbon emissions dropped 3.8 percent in 2012 to their lowest level in 18 years. Emissions were down even while the American economy grew; it was the largest drop ever recorded in a non-recession year. The Energy Information Administration reports:

Although GDP increased by 2.8 percent in 20121, energy consumption fell by 2.4 percent (2.4 quadrillion Btu) in that same year--the result was a 5.1 percent decline in energy use per dollar of GDP and this meant emissions were about 282 million metric tons CO2 (MMTCO2) lower.

Much of Europe's recent emissions decreases have been attributed to its anemic economy. But America's recent green success has come from its ability to decouple economic growth from energy consumption (and therefore carbon emissions). 

Posted by orrinj at 4:26 AM


Obama's Uncertain Path Amid Syria Bloodshed (MARK MAZZETTI, ROBERT F. WORTH and MICHAEL R. GORDON, October 22, 2013, NY Times)

A close examination of how the Obama administration finds itself at this point -- based on interviews with dozens of current and former members of the administration, foreign diplomats and Congressional officials -- starts with a deeply ambivalent president who has presided over a far more contentious debate among his advisers than previously known. Those advisers reflected Mr. Obama's own conflicting impulses on how to respond to the forces unleashed by the Arab Spring: whether to side with those battling authoritarian governments or to avoid the risk of becoming enmeshed in another messy war in the Middle East.

And, as the debate dragged on, the toll of civilian deaths steadily rose, Syria's government was emboldened to use chemical weapons on a larger scale, and America's relations with some of its closest allies were strained.

Some of Mr. Obama's defenders argue that, while the past two years of American policy on Syria have been messy, the events of the past six weeks have been a successful case of coercive diplomacy. Only under the threat of force, they said, has Mr. Assad pledged to give up his chemical weapons program. They argue that this might be the best outcome from a stew of bad alternatives.

"We need to be realistic about our ability to dictate events in Syria," said Benjamin J. Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser. "In the absence of any good options, people have lifted up military support for the opposition as a silver bullet, but it has to be seen as a tactic -- not a strategy."

But others are far more critical, saying that the administration's paralysis left it unprepared for foreseeable events like the Aug. 21 gas attack. Decisive action by Washington, they argue, could have bolstered moderate forces battling Mr. Assad's troops for more than two years, and helped stem the rising toll of civilian dead, blunt the influence of radical Islamist groups among the rebels and perhaps even deter the Syria government from using chemical weapons.

As one former senior White House official put it, "We spent so much damn time navel gazing, and that's the tragedy of it."

October 22, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 7:49 PM


Why young people are saying 'no' to the workforce (Steve Hargreaves, October 22, 2013, CNNMoney)

A job used to be the next step after a diploma. But now, young people aren't in any rush to start working.

Less than 78% of people aged 20 to 34 either have jobs or are looking for work, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That's down from the peak of 83% in 2000, and the lowest since the 1970s.

Posted by orrinj at 7:45 PM


Why Republicans are winning the big battle in Washington (Robert Reich, October 22, 2013, CS Monitor)

The deficit shouldn't even be an issue because it's now almost down to the same share of the economy as it's averaged over the last thirty years.

The triumph of right-wing Republicanism extends further. Failure to reach a budget agreement will restart the so-called "sequester" -- automatic, across-the-board spending cuts that were passed in 2011 as a result of Congress's last failure to agree on a budget.

These automatic cuts get tighter and tighter, year by year -- squeezing almost everything the federal government does except for Social Security and Medicare. While about half the cuts come out of the defense budget, much of the rest come out of programs designed to help Americans in need: extended unemployment benefits; supplemental nutrition for women, infants and children; educational funding for schools in poor communities; Head Start; special education for students with learning disabilities; child-care subsidies for working families; heating assistance for poor families. The list goes on.

The biggest debate in Washington over the next few months will be whether to whack the federal budget deficit by cutting future entitlement spending and closing some tax loopholes, or go back to the sequester. Some choice.

Posted by orrinj at 3:53 PM


Finally, a cure for baldness? (Peter Weber, 10/21/13, The Week)

There are many treatments for baldness, but no cure. That's not for lack of trying. Currently, balding men can get hair transplanted from the back of their scalp to their chrome-domed pate, and various drugs claim to stop the upward march of hairlines or even stimulate new hair growth -- but come on: If Rogaine (minoxidil) really cured baldness, maker Upjohn would be worth more than Apple.

The holy grail of baldness research is finding a way to grow new hair. Whoever accomplishes this feat will be hailed as a hero by millions of men and a smaller number of balding women, and will very likely retire with great wealth.

Making hair-style a moot point is a blessing.
Posted by orrinj at 3:31 PM


Electric car prices decelerate (Peter Valdes-Dapena, 10/22/13, Money)

Electric car prices have gotten shockingly reasonable.

In August, GM took $5,000 off the $40,000 price of its rechargeable Chevy Volt. Thank California, which has passed sales quotas for eco-friendly vehicles -- and helped spark a price war.

If you buy an electric, a $7,500 federal tax credit brings the cost down to little more than a similar gas-powered car. And leases are cheap too.

October 21, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 9:57 PM


Why have young people in Japan stopped having sex? : What happens to a country when its young people stop having sex? Japan is finding out... (Abigail Haworth., 10/19/13, The Observer)

Japan's under-40s appear to be losing interest in conventional relationships. Millions aren't even dating, and increasing numbers can't be bothered with sex. For their government, "celibacy syndrome" is part of a looming national catastrophe. Japan already has one of the world's lowest birth rates. Its population of 126 million, which has been shrinking for the past decade, is projected to plunge a further one-third by 2060. Aoyama believes the country is experiencing "a flight from human intimacy" - and it's partly the government's fault. [...]

The number of single people has reached a record high. A survey in 2011 found that 61% of unmarried men and 49% of women aged 18-34 were not in any kind of romantic relationship, a rise of almost 10% from five years earlier. Another study found that a third of people under 30 had never dated at all. (There are no figures for same-sex relationships.) Although there has long been a pragmatic separation of love and sex in Japan - a country mostly free of religious morals - sex fares no better. A survey earlier this year by the Japan Family Planning Association (JFPA) found that 45% of women aged 16-24 "were not interested in or despised sexual contact". More than a quarter of men felt the same way.

Posted by orrinj at 9:36 PM


The ACA and High-Deductible Insurance -- Strategies for Sharpening a Blunt Instrument (J. Frank Wharam, M.B., B.Ch., B.A.O., M.P.H., Dennis Ross-Degnan, Sc.D., and Meredith B. Rosenthal, Ph.D., N Engl J Med 2013)

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) will cause a major expansion of high-deductible health insurance, a fact that has received little attention but has substantial implications for patients, health care pro-viders, and employers. High-deductible health plans (HDHPs), often considered "blunt instruments" that indiscriminately reduce utilization of both appropriate and discretionary care, require annual out-of-pocket payments of $1,000 to $10,000 for many services before more comprehensive coverage begins.1 Unfortunately, large gaps remain in our understanding of HDHPs' effects on vulnerable populations, life-saving services, and health outcomes.2,3

In the ACA, Congress chose market-based cost controls over measures that are common internationally, such as global budgets. Mandating coverage while requiring affordable premiums without enacting other cost-control mechanisms almost inevitably gives rise to increased cost sharing as the simplest mechanism for reducing premiums. The ACA is therefore expected to cause a "seismic shift" in HDHP enrollment.[...]

[T]he United States is poorly prepared for an increasingly HDHP-centered system. An accelerated research agenda is needed, but until better evidence emerges, policymakers and employers will have to use the best available information and commonsense strategies. First, they should educate consumers about the best venues for purchasing health insurance. For example, families with incomes below 200% of the poverty level whose employers offer "unaffordable" coverage (as defined by the ACA) will receive more generous benefits if they purchase insurance through a state exchange. Second, vulnerable people should be shifted into low-cost-sharing plans. Larger employers might be best positioned to adopt this approach, by making employees' premium and deductible obligations proportional to their income. They could do so in a cost-neutral manner by cross-subsidizing low-income workers.

Third, employers could facilitate contributions to health savings accounts (HSAs), especially for vulnerable people. HSA contributions are not taxed, roll over from year to year, and are portable across employers. The accumulation of funds over time could reduce barriers to care and protect vulnerable people from major medical expenses. Employers that fund HSAs could prioritize contributions to vulnerable workers in a cost-neutral manner. State exchanges should attempt to offer HSA-eligible plans.

Fourth, state exchanges, employers, and payers could intensify education about HDHPs. Enrollees in these plans generally have a poor understanding of their benefit arrangements; they should be informed about coverage details and about choosing clinically effective, cost-efficient care. Fifth, providers, health insurers, and state exchanges should facilitate shared patient-physician decision making and access to decision tools for patients seeking care. Nurse hotlines or other rapid-communication methods might help prevent adverse health outcomes.

Researchers should evaluate the effectiveness and optimal dissemination of these five strategies. In the long term, a more sophisticated HDHP-centered system will depend on focused research, advanced decision-support tools, and evidence-based policies aiming to ensure equity and the best achievable health outcomes. Studies should examine HDHPs' long-term effects on vulnerable and chronically ill populations such as patients with mental illness, expensive conditions such as cancer, health outcomes such as cardiovascular events and mortality, and health costs.

Posted by orrinj at 8:21 PM


In Praise of Fast Food (Rachel Laudan, from the book The Gastronomica Reader, September-October 2010, UTNE Reader)

Eating fresh, natural food was regarded with suspicion verging on horror; only the uncivilized, the poor, and the starving resorted to it. When the ancient Greeks took it as a sign of bad times if people were driven to eat greens and root vegetables, they were rehearsing common wisdom. Happiness was not a verdant Garden of Eden abounding in fresh fruits, but a securely locked storehouse jammed with preserved, processed foods.

As for slow food, it is easy to wax nostalgic about a time when families and friends met to relax over delicious food, and to forget that, far from being an invention of the late 20th century, fast food has been a mainstay of every society. Hunters tracking their prey, shepherds tending their flocks, soldiers on campaign, and farmers rushing to get in the harvest all needed food that could be eaten quickly and away from home. The Greeks roasted barley and ground it into a meal to eat straight or mixed with water, milk, or butter (as Tibetans still do), while the Aztecs ground roasted maize and mixed it with water (as Mexicans still do).

What about the idea that the best food was country food, handmade by artisans? That food came from the country goes without saying. The presumed corollary--that country people ate better than city dwellers--does not. Few who worked the land were independent peasants baking their own bread and salting down their own pig. Most were burdened with heavy taxes and rents paid in kind (that is, food); or worse, they were indentured, serfs, or slaves. They subsisted on what was left over, getting by on thin gruels and gritty flatbreads.

The dishes we call ethnic and assume to be of peasant origin were invented for the urban, or at least urbane, aristocrats who collected the surplus. This is as true of the lasagna of northern Italy as it is of the chicken korma of Mughal Delhi, the moo shu pork of imperial China, and the pilafs, stuffed vegetables, and baklava of the great Ottoman palace in Istanbul. Cities have always enjoyed the best food and have invariably been the focal points of culinary innovation.

Nor are most "traditional foods" very old. For every prized dish that goes back 2,000 years, a dozen have been invented in the last 200. The French baguette? A 20th-century phenomenon, adopted nationwide only after World War II. Greek moussaka?  Created in the early 20th century in an attempt to Frenchify Greek food. Tequila?  Promoted as the national drink of Mexico during the 1930s by the Mexican film industry. These are indisputable facts of history, though if you point them out you will be met with stares of disbelief.

Were old foods more healthful than ours? Inherent in this vague notion are several different claims, among them that foods were less dangerous, that diets were better balanced. Yet while we fret about pesticides on apples and mercury in tuna, we should remember that ingesting food is and always has been dangerous. Many plants contain both toxins and carcinogens. Grilling and frying add more. Bread was likely to be stretched with chalk, pepper adulterated with the sweepings of warehouse floors, and sausage stuffed with all the horrors famously exposed by Upton Sinclair in The Jungle.

By the standard measures of health and nutrition--life expectancy and height--our ancestors were far worse off than we are. Much of the blame was due to diet, exacerbated by living conditions and infections that affect the body's ability to use food. No amount of nostalgia for the pastoral foods of the distant past can wish away the fact that our ancestors lived mean, short lives, constantly afflicted with diseases, many of which can be directly attributed to what they did and did not eat.

Posted by orrinj at 8:13 PM


The False Hysteria Over 'Part-Time Nation' : Two-thirds of part-time workers say they are 'voluntary' in that role (EZEKIEL EMANUEL and AND ANDREW STEINMETZ, Oct. 13, 2013, WSJ)

 According to research by the Federal Reserve of San Francisco, in 2013, 19.5% of the workforce is part-time. This is a historically high proportion. But it is not unprecedented. In the recoveries from the recessions of 1982-83 and 1990-91, the share of part-time work was also high. In 1983, for example, it was above 20%.

More than two-thirds of current part-time workers identify themselves as "voluntary" in that role. They cite noneconomic reasons for why they chose a part-time job-reasons like the need to care for a child or to finish school or to deal with a medical condition.

A more important consideration is that part-time work ebbs and flows with the health of the economy. It always has. The San Francisco Federal Reserve concluded in August that the sluggish economic recovery is the culprit for a high proportion of part-time workers. And that "the elevated level of involuntary part-time work is likely to fall as the labor market recovery continues."

Indeed, the share of workers who are working part-time due to a cutback of hours is actually declining steadily as we get further away from the Great Recession-not increasing as we get close to implementation of the ACA employer mandate. In 2009, that share was about 5%. Today it is just over 3%.

Posted by orrinj at 8:10 PM


Chamber of Commerce: Raise gas tax to fix roads (Jennifer Liberto, October 21, 2013, CNNMoney)

The U.S. should raise federal gas taxes to help fix roads and bridges, according to an influential business group in Washington.

"Twenty years. It's been 20 years since we had an increase in the federal fuel tax. What kind of car were you driving 20 years ago?" asked Thomas Donohue, president of the Chamber of Commerce, at a breakfast Monday morning sponsored by The Christian Science Monitor.

Donohue said Congress should consider increasing the federal gas tax to pay for major infrastructure needs.

October 20, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 7:59 AM


John F. Kennedy's Final Days Reveal A Man Who Craved Excitement (Larry Sabato, 10/16/13, Forbes)

Friend and foe alike agree that John Kennedy seized every moment, embraced every challenge, and lived life to its absolute fullest. This restless ambition sometimes produced great blessings for the nation. In September 1963 the Senate approved his Atmospheric Test Ban Treaty; never again would the Soviet Union or the United States detonate nuclear devices above ground. According to Ted Sorensen, "No other single accomplishment in the White House ever gave him greater satisfaction." The treaty helped preserve the environment and also reduced tensions between the two superpowers, while paving the way for future Cold War agreements.

Moreover, JFK convinced the country that, however huge the obstacles, it could land a man on the moon. Twenty-four hours before he died, Kennedy spoke at the Aerospace Medical Health Center in San Antonio, where he encouraged his fellow citizens to keep their eyes on the heavens:

We have a long way to go. Many weeks and months and years of long, tedious work lie ahead. There will be setbacks and frustrations and disappointments. There will be, as there always are, pressures in this country to do less in this area as in so many others, and temptations to do something else that is perhaps easier. But this research here must go on. This space effort must go on. The conquest of space must and will go ahead. That much we know. That much we can say with confidence and conviction.

Other, small achievements toward the conclusion of the Kennedy presidency are often overlooked but deserve mention. After standing up to Soviet aggression in Cuba, Kennedy offered his enemy an olive branch when the threat diminished. In October 1963 he authorized the sale of American wheat to the Soviets in order to help them cope with a poor harvest. The same month, while Congress debated his civil rights bill, the President's Commission on the Status of Women issued its final report. In response, JFK created the Interdepartmental Committee on the Status of Women and the Citizens' Advisory Council on the Status of Women. Both committees "provided ongoing leadership" on gender issues which, according to some Kennedy advocates, helped usher in the modern women's rights movement. Kennedy's New Frontier agenda also included the Equal Pay Act, signed by JFK in June 1963, which claimed to eliminate pay inequities based on gender. In practice, it had little effect in most economic sectors until strengthened by court decisions in the 1970s and further congressional action in subsequent administrations. Otherwise, Kennedy produced few advances for women in politics or government. His cabinet, for example, did not include a single woman, and he was certainly no feminist in his professional or private life. 

Mr. Sabato's free  course on the book's thesis starts Monday on Coursera and to get ready I've not only been reading his book but two that give an overview of the pathologies that shaped not just the man but his presidency: The Kennedy Imprisonment by Garry Wills and A Question of Character by Thomas C. Reeves.

Unfortunately, as you can see from above, Mr. Sabato seems to hold roughly the same view of the Kennedy presidency that the original Camelot crew did.  That "great blessings for the nation" bit is deeply silly, as demonstrated by the "achievements" that follow: the test ban treaty; a rocket-driven space program; wheat sales; and an ineffective first step on women's rights.  Really?  That's the positive Kennedy legacy?

Nevermind whether this list is worth much, can it possibly compensate for his bungling in the Bay of Pigs, Cuban Missile Crisis and Vietnam or for his relative inaction on Civil Rights? 

As to the discussion of the assassination in the book, after Gerald Posner's Case Closed Lee Harvey Oswald and the Assassination of J. F. K., there just isn't much left to say and to treat all the conspiracy theories as if they need answers is like arguing with David Ickes Babylonian Brotherhood theory.

But the big problem with Mr. Sabato's text is that while playing down JFK's character and playing up his presidency, there is a conspicuous failure to consider how the two were tied together.  Mr. Wills develops his argument around Max Weber's description of charisma and charismatic leadership.  He shows, pretty dispositively, that JFK fit the description with all that implies for his leadership style, not least the tendency to attack existing bureaucracy, institutions and processes and to center everything in the leader, whom subordinates then submit to almost unquestioningly.  The archetypal instance of this is the way JFK used a portion of the CIA  to launch the Bay of Pigs, ignoring the rest of the agency and the military.  To the extent the latter two were even solicited for opinions they were skeptical if not outright opposed, but they could be ignored because legitimacy lay within the person of JFK, who'd decided to go ahead, and certitude that going outside the bureaucracy would yield results more efficiently.

It's shocking then to hear Mr. Sabato say in an interview:

A lot of historians debate whether Kennedy would have gotten us involved in Vietnam to the degree that Johnson did. What conclusions do you make about it now?

I have a long section about why I think Kennedy would not have ever come close to sending a half-million troops to Vietnam, as LBJ did. Beyond the Democratic Party itself, Kennedy's real base was "intellectual America" in the universities and the media. Johnson was the opposite. He was a graduate of a small state teacher's college in Texas, not Harvard. He hated the intellectuals. The fact they didn't like his Vietnam policy made it right in his mind. Johnson had surprisingly little foreign policy experience, but Kennedy had a great deal of it. Kennedy had a better grasp of what could be done successfully, and what could and should not be done. And he had the Bay of Pigs experience and was wary of the generals and their often hawkish advice. 

It was, of course, JFK himself who was hawkish, not the generals and the intellectuals he'd brought into his administration not only cheer-led as he made his mistakes but systematically covered up for them afterwards. Given a presidency that was about the charisma of the leader rather than about any set of ideas, the support of American intellectuals was necessarily cultish rather than a function of intellect.

All of this is important because when it comes time to consider JFK's legacy, what matters is not just how subsequent presidents borrowed his rhetoric to justify their own policies--as supply-siders have always done with regard to his tax cuts--but whether they understood how his character shaped his leadership-style and resulted in such an unsuccessful presidency, the reputation of which was rescued only by his martyrdom.  Since getting yourself killed seems a dubious way to earn a legacy, oughtn't we seek to understand what studying his actual legacy of governing can teach us?  

And the most important legacies would appear to be that the sort of charismatic leadership style he represented requires: subordinates (including those intellectuals) to be subservient to the man; a considerable level of disorganization, to distance that leader from contrary opinion; and a courtship of crisis, a milieu in which the elevation of a "leader" seems justified.  

What we ought to be seeking in a president--and what those seeking the office ought to model--is: a man with an agenda that will drive his presidency, as opposed to his own will to power driving it; a man who is comfortable surrounding himself with other leaders who are not subservient to him and can manage their own departments; and a man who is steady and takes events in stride rather than conflating them into apocalyptic crises.  Amusingly, the presidency that seems most directly the opposite of JFK's and to have absorbed the lessons of his legacy is George W. Bush's. W laid out a thorough agenda during his campaign and achieved much of it.  Even those items that he failed to achieve--SS privatization and immigration reform--were still focuses in his second term.  W surrounded himself with former Chiefs of Staff and governors--peers, not just staff. And he was such a steady presence even in times of actual crises that it infuriated people--as when he told folks to go about their normal lives after 9-11 or told FEMA it was doing a fine job in responding to Katrina or when he calmly met the financial crises by passing measures that prevented a second Depression.  One trembles to think how badly JFK--or any other merely charismatic leader--would have butchered those.


Shedding new light on John F. Kennedy's legacy: An interview with Larry Sabato Sabato's new book, The Kennedy Half Century, also uses new scientific methods to probe one of the most famous assassinations in American history (Joe Gandelman, October 15, 2013, The Week)

Posted by orrinj at 7:54 AM


Political polarization and the American public: From geography to dating (Alexandra Raphel, October 8, 2013, Harvard Kennedy School's Shorenstein Center)

Casey A. Klofstad of the University of Miami, Rose McDermott of Brown University and P.K. Hatemi of Pennsylvania State University explore a different possible reason for the increased political polarization: dating. In a 2013 study published in Political Behavior, "The Dating Preferences of Liberals and Conservatives" (open version here), the authors use a random sample of about 3,000 online dating profiles to determine whether "positive mate assortation -- like seeks like -- on nonpolitical factors such as lifestyle and demographics could lead to inadvertent assortation on political preferences."

Building on prior scholarship that demonstrates a link between the political preferences of parents and their children, the researchers test the hypothesis that "spousal concordance on political preferences could be due to mates seeking others who are similar to themselves on traits related to ideology."

Study findings include:

Although the profiles do not place heavy emphasis on politics, "daters appear to sort on other traits, which correlate with ideology. As such, individuals may find their ideological matches by assorting on characteristics informed by the social environments where individuals reside, and these traits are related to political preferences in undefined yet systematic ways."

With a few exceptions, both liberals and conservatives in the sample generally preferred to date people like themselves: "Positive assortion behavior is pervasive."

Some cases were found in which liberals and conservatives take different dating approaches. For example, conservatives are more likely than liberals to want to date someone who shares their relationship status and views on tobacco usage, while more progressively minded daters are more willing to date someone with a different body type than their own.

"If all things remain constant, the number of individuals in [the] extreme left and right ideological tails will be almost 2 times greater in 5 generations and 2.5 times greater in 25 generations merely as a result of assortive mating."

The authors conclude that the "increasing prevalence of Internet dating may hasten the process of assortation, and potentially political polarization as well, as individuals can easily select potential mates that are similar to themselves by searching through detailed profiles before investing the time and energy involved with courtship.

Posted by orrinj at 7:49 AM


How Mexico is upending the U.S. auto industry (Brad Plumer, October 18, 2013, Washington Post)

The big story here is Mexico, which has massively expanded its share of North American auto manufacturing since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994. Automakers from GM to Nissan have been opening plants south of the border, attracted by Mexico's low wages and dense industrial clusters:

In 2012, Mexico produced more than 3 million vehicles, compared with 10.8 million in the United States. Automotive plants in Mexico assemble everything from GM Silverado pickups to Chrysler engines. Nissan, Mazda and Audi are all building plants in the country. And jobs have followed.

Since 2000, overall auto industry employment in North America has fallen from 2 million to 1.5 million -- partly because more and more positions have been automated. But Mexico actually added jobs in that time, going from 554,000 to 579,000. Today, nearly 40 percent of auto jobs on the continent are in Mexico. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:38 AM


Has David Birnbaum solved the mystery of existence? (Oliver Burkeman, 10/18/20,The Guardian)

In the summer of 2012, a number of philosophers at British and American universities received a bulky, unmarked package in the post. It contained a 560-page book, written in English but with the Latin title Summa Metaphysica, by an amateur whose name they didn't recognise: David Birnbaum. It isn't unusual for philosophy departments to get mail from cranks, convinced they have solved the riddle of existence, but they usually send stapled print-outs, or handwritten letters; Summa Metaphysica stood out "for its size and its glossiness", says Tim Crane, a professor of philosophy at Cambridge. The book was professionally typeset. It even included endorsements from Claude Lévi-Strauss, the legendary French anthropologist, who described it as "remarkable and profound", and from the Princeton physicist John Wheeler, who once collaborated with Einstein. It would later transpire that 40,000 copies were in circulation, a print run any academic philosopher might kill for. The book claimed to have sliced through countless fundamental problems in philosophy, physics and theology, and there on the spine, where the publisher's name appears, was one deeply reassuring word: "Harvard".

Then the story grew stranger. In May this year, the US-based Chronicle of Higher Education reported that prominent scholars - scientists, philosophers and theologians - had been persuaded to attend an expenses-paid "international academic conference" at Bard College, a respected institution in upstate New York, devoted to Birnbaum's work. "We are especially pleased to announce that David Birnbaum will be present during discussion," the invitations glowingly explained. They hinted that his work might point the way toward a reconciliation of science and religion.

But the event itself, on Bard's leafy campus beside the Hudson river, proved disorienting. It was "definitely, absolutely the strangest conference I ever attended", the astrophysicist Marcelo Gleiser told the Chronicle. Tammy Nyden, an expert on Spinoza, the great rationalist of 17th-century philosophy, "felt hesitant about the invitation to begin with", the Chronicle reported, "but because it was taking place at a venerable institution like Bard, she decided to go". On the one hand, Birnbaum's work had attracted plenty of credible endorsements: a typical blurb for Summa Metaphysica, attributed to a mathematician at Warwick University named Hugo van den Berg, described it as "unparalleled and magisterial". On the other, nothing about Birnbaum's approach was conventional. Conference-goers were surprised to find him handing out Summa Metaphysica T-shirts; it subsequently emerged that he had provided thousands of dollars of his own money to fund the gathering. Nyden recalled feeling uneasy: "Here's someone with a lot of money," she thought, "and they're buying a lot of legitimacy." [...]

To grasp why a successful New York jeweller, with little philosophical or scientific expertise, might want to probe such questions, it is illuminating to consider Birnbaum's early life. He had been haunted by these grand mysteries, he told me, since the age of 11, when he attended an Orthodox Jewish school, or yeshiva, in Queens. It was the early 1960s and many of his classmates were the children of Holocaust survivors, or other Jewish émigrés from Nazi Europe: humanity's capacity for great evil loomed large in recent memory. Yet the yeshiva boys were urged daily to put their faith in a just and merciful God. The contradiction that weighed on the young Birnbaum was the ancient theological puzzle known as the "problem of evil": how could God be just and merciful, yet allow something like the Holocaust to happen? The secular side of the curriculum proved equally dissatisfying. If everything began with the Big Bang - a term coined just a few years previously, in the 1940s - then what caused the Big Bang? If evolution explained how living things changed, why did life start to begin with? Why was there anything?

"So, pretty soon, it becomes clear to me that I'm not going to get answers," Birnbaum said. "Everybody's smart. Everybody means well. But we never quite get there." Through college, and on to an MBA at Harvard Business School, the questions never stopped nagging. "There must be an answer," he remembered thinking, "but how is it possible that so many brilliant people, over thousands of years, have missed it?" That was when he began to suspect the answer might have remained hidden not because it was too complicated, but because it was too simple: "I decided it must be hiding in plain sight."

The answer, after years of fruitless reflection, dawned unexpectedly. Birnbaum was in Barbardos on holiday in 1982, sunbathing on a beach and turning matters over in his mind. "I'm good on the beach," he explained. "My brain is working a little better... And then" - he snapped his fingers - "it was clear to me." The answer was: potential.

This part takes a little explaining.

Birnbaum considers his specialism to be metaphysics, that hard-to-define corner of philosophy that deals with the most basic questions of what there is. It's the territory into which you cross when you reach the limits of what biology, chemistry or physics can tell you. Metaphysical explanations aren't supposed to be substitutes for scientific ones, though; they just claim to be even more fundamental. And what could be more fundamental than potential? What must have existed, before everything else, but the potential for all those things that later came into existence? If you believe in God, the potential for God must have been there first. And prior to the Big Bang, there must have been the potential for the Big Bang.

Rising from the Barbadian sand, Birnbaum saw the world in a new light: everything and everyone around him was an expression of cosmic potential, working itself out. Why? Because that's what potential does. Birnbaum calls this process "extraordinariation". It is explained in depth in the hundreds of pages of Summa Metaphysica, but the core idea is concise enough to fit on a T-shirt. The universe itself is potential, actualising itself.

You may be raising your eyebrows at this. But Birnbaum's perspective isn't without precedent. Since Aristotle, some thinkers have been drawn to the notion that the world must be heading somewhere - that there is some kind of force in the universe, pushing things forward. These teleological arguments are deeply unfashionable nowadays, but there's nothing inherently unscientific about them. In his controversial 2012 book Mind And Cosmos, the US philosopher Thomas Nagel argues that teleology might be the only way to account for the still unsolved mystery of why consciousness exists. Still, as Birnbaum explained his theory, I must have looked underwhelmed, because he leaned forward in his chair to emphasise his point. "It works!" he said. "It's powerful! And with all due respect to Harvard, Oxford, etcetera... it's more powerful than anything you got!"

From Timothy Ferris' The Whole Shebang: A State-of-the-Universe(s) Report (1997). (Timothy Ferris)

Heisenberg discovered quantum indeterminacy while working under Bohr, who was quick to appreciate its implications. Bohr was a wide-reaching thinker Heisenberg regarded him as "primarily a philosopher, not a physicist"-and it was due chiefly to his influence that the world soon came to regard quantum weirdness as a significant philosophical problem. [19] Although many capable theorists are like composers who play only the piano, Bohr and Einstein were both universalist thinkers, akin to those composers who can play every instrument in the orchestra. The world knows Einstein; perhaps we may take a moment to meet Bohr.

He was one of the physical physicists, blessed with a lifelong appetite for fresh air and exercise. He saw life as a whole and was immune to the scholarly delusion that brain power is superior to muscle power. Heisenberg tells a story that illustrates Bohr's integrated view of thought, action, and mystical philosophy: "Once, when on a lonely road I threw a stone at a distant telegraph post, and contrary to all expectations the stone hit, he said, ´To aim at -such-a-distant-object and-hit it-is-of course impossible . But if one has the impudence to throw in that direction without aiming, and in addition to imagine something so absurd as that one might hit it, yes, then perhaps it can happen. The idea that something perhaps could happen can be stronger than practice and will.'" [20] Bohr's younger brother Harald was a soccer star-a member of the Danish team that won a silver medal in the 1908 London Olympics-and Niels might have matched him athletically had he not been so preoccupied. Playing goalie against a German club, he busied himself tracing equations with his index finger on the goalpost, nearly letting an errant ball roll slowly into the goal. Like Einstein, Bohr was a sailor, but while Einstein liked to trace broad reaches on lakes, Bohr preferred blue water. (The greatest tragedy of his life came when his eldest son, Christian, was swept to his death from the deck of Bohr's cutter, the Cbita, in a summer storm in 1934. Only the restraining grip of friends on deck prevented Bohr from leaping into the sea after him.) Bohr viewed ignorance as an integral part of the learning process and regarded confusion and paradox as signposts on the road of inquiry. He complained on his deathbed that the philosophers too often "have not that instinct that it is important to learn something, and that we must be prepared to learn." [21]

Blunt and tenacious to a fault, Bohr was too serious to be pompous and too honest to be facile. If his way of speaking was often confusing, that was because he was himself frankly confused and liked to think out loud, and held that one should, as he put it, "never express yourself more clearly than you think." [22] (When Carl Friedrich von Weizsacker wrote in his diary on meeting Bohr, "I have seen a physicist for the first time. He suffers as he thinks," he meant that Bohr suffered out loud. [23]) His habit of being both frank and frankly uncertain could get Bohr in trouble. Winston Churchill, having been urged by Bohr to reveal nuclear secrets to the Soviets since they were bound to learn them anyway, responded in an outraged note to his science adviser, Lord Cherwell, who had arranged the meeting, "It seems to me Bohr ought to be confined or at any rate made to see that he is very near the edge of mortal crimes .... I did not like the man when you showed him to me, with his hair all over his head, at Downing Street .... I do not like it at all:" [24] Bohr fared little better-with -the -American secretary of state, Dean Acheson, with whom he met in the spring of 1950 to discuss a planned open letter to the United Nations. "The meeting began at, say, two o'clock, Bohr doing all the talking. At about two thirty Acheson spoke to Bohr about as follows. Professor Bohr, there are three things I must tell you at this time. First, whether I like it or not, I shall have to leave you at three for my next appointment. Secondly, I am deeply interested in your ideas. Thirdly, up till now I have not understood one word you have said." [25]

Bohr's explications of the Copenhagen outlook can sound as oracular as if he had uttered them from atop a tripod while chewing laurel leaves, but he was earnestly trying to bring as much clarity to quantum weirdness as he could, and his position is not all that difficult to understand. Briefly put, it is that since, owing to quantum indeterminacy, neither we nor any other observers anywhere in the universe can know everything about a given microscopic particle or system, it is pointless to speculate about whether the missing information "exists." Physics is not the pursuit of imaginary ideals, and physicists need not waste time speculating about quantities (such as whether a photon is "really" particle or wave) that are known to be unascertainable: "It is wrong to think that the task of physics is to find out how nature is," Bohr wrote. "Physics concerns what we can say about nature .... Our task is not to penetrate into the essence of things, the meaning of which we don't know anyway, but rather to develop concepts which allow us to talk in a productive way about phenomena in nature." [26] The Copenhagen interpretation asserts, to paraphrase John Wheeler (who was paraphrasing Bohr), that no elementary phenomenon is a phenomenon until it is an observed phenomenon.

To clarify this ontology, Bohr spoke of what he called complementarity. The wavelike or particlelike potential states of an undisturbed photon (or its polarization states, or the hard/soft and sweet/sour states of the particles in our schematic experiment) complement each other, like the black and white sides of the yin-yang diagram that Bohr incorporated into his family coat of arms. Bohr saw complementarity as a kind of chiaroscuro, an essential embracing by nature of opposites and contradictions that had been revealed to us by Heisenberg indeterminacy but that has wider implications. The more closely one looks at one side of the issue (e.g., studies the photon as a wave), the more paradoxical the other side (but it's a particle!) becomes.

Every interpretation of quantum weirdness amounts to sweeping the weirdness under one or another carpet, and a magic carpet at that. The magic carpet of the Copenhagen interpretation is the act of observation. It is by making an observation-a measurement-that one "collapses the wave function," thus resolving the superposed system into one or the other of its states. But what, exactly, is an observation? From this question have sprung the most enduring thought experiments to have probed the dark realms of quantum weirdness.

The best known of them is "Schrödinger's cat." It consists of a system with two potential states, A and B. This could be a piece of radium with a 50 percent chance of decaying within one hour, or a sweet/sour box into which is introduced a single particle that has a 50 percent chance of emerging from the sweet output window -any probabilistic quantum setup. The important point is that, according to Bohr, the system has no definite state-neither decayed nor undecayed, neither sweet nor sour-until it is observed. Instead it exists in a superposed state, one fully designated by the probabilities of its wave function. The radium or other quantum object is set up to trigger one of two devices located inside an opaque box that also contains a cat. If the system goes one way (if, say, the radium atom decays) it opens a canister of cyanide gas inside a sealed box, killing the cat. If it goes the other way (no decay), the cat survives. We set up the apparatus, then wait one hour before opening the box. Question: Right before we open the box, is the cat dead or alive? The Copenhagen interpretation answers that until we open the box and observe it, the cat is neither dead nor alive but exists in a superposed state of dead/alive. This seems implausible, and that is the point of the thought experiment: Schrodinger's cat critiques the Copenhagen interpretation by reducing it to absurdity. Its object is to deny the plausibility of a bifurcated, quantum-classical universe by demonstrating that such segregation yields nonsensical results. (Minimalists comfortable with a bifiircated physics can and do shrug it off. Stephen Hawking, paraphrasing Hermann Goering, says, "When I hear of Schrödinger's cat, I reach for my gun." [27])

The issue can be illuminated by considering our frame of reference. Suppose that the cat experiment is conducted in a locked laboratory, at night, with only one scientist keeping watch. At the end of the hour, he opens the box and sees . . . what? Until the scientist picks up the phone and announces the result, or runs into the street shouting "Eureka!" we don't know the outcome. [28] The wave function was collapsed in that scientist's frame of reference, but not in ours. That this is problematical is not terribly surprising: In science as in art, the choice of frame counts for a lot. (G. K. Chesterton: "Art is limitation; the essence of every picture is the frame." [29]) It amounts to saying that the Copenhagians are vague when it comes to defining just what, exactly, is meant by "measuring" or "observing" a phenomenon or "collapsing the wave function"-all of which mean the same vague thing.

Another thought experiment, more subtle than the cat but no less telling, was composed in 1935 by Einstein and two of his young associates at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, Boris Podolsky and Nathan Rosen. It is known as the EinsteinPodolsky-Rosen ("EPR") "paradox," and works rather like our beam-sputter experiment. We start with a particle that decays into two other particles, X and Y, that must have a total spin equal to zero. So if one particle has a spin of + 1, the spin of the other must be -1. We let the particles fly far apart-this is the now-familiar amplification part of the experiment-and when they are separated by, say, one light-year, a physicist measures one of them, particle X, and finds that its spin is -1. He then knows that particle Y, a light-year away, must have a spin of + 1, as can be verified by a second physicist, off yonder where particle Y is. That would be perfectly sensible for a macroscopic system-if, say, the particles were replaced by a pair of one-ton gyroscopes that had been spinning in opposite directions all the way out. But according to the Copenhagen interpretation, remember, the particles were in neither spin state until their spin was observed. It seemed to Einstein-and has seemed to like-minded thinkers since-that if in fact a particle's spin is indeterminate, then the only way for Y to "know" that X had suddenly resolved itself into a spin -1 state would be if some sort of signal propagated instantaneously across a light-year of space, bringing the news from X to Y. And that, of course, would violate both special relativity and common sense. Einstein called it "spooky action at a distance." "No reasonable definition of reality could be expected to permit this," wrote Einstein, Podolsky, and Rosen. [30]

Much of the subsequent discussion of the Copenhagen interpretation-and such critiques of it as Schrödinger's dead-and-alive cat and the EPR "paradox"-has been infected with confusion. It helps in dispelling the mists to keep in mind that Bohr did not exactly maintain that a quantum system has no state prior to its being observed. Rather, he said that its state, prior to observation, cannot in principle be determined, and that attempts to define it are therefore meaningless. Bohr was an agnostic on the issue of what might be going on in nature beneath the threshold of its theoretical observability. Einstein used to poke fun at the Copenhagen interpretation by asking colleagues whether they really believed that the moon existed only when they looked at it. Bohr's answer was not that the moon does not exist when unobserved, but that we cannot know whether it, or some thoroughly unobserved moon of a remote and uninhabited planet, exists, until it is observed. His position sports a certain tough-minded bluntness: It confronts quantum weirdness and refuses to blink. But in doing so, it amounts, in the words of David Z. Albert, a physicist who holds a chair in philosophy at Columbia University, to a "radical undermining . . . of the very idea of an objective physical reality" [31]-which, I would add, has long been regarded as the whole point of science. [32] So it is understandable that at least a few philosophically minded scientists kept searching for a more accommodating way to draw quantum weirdness into the embrace of macroscopic logic.

Of course, the reaction to Mr. Birnbaum's entirely derivative idea is a demonstration of Bohr,'s dictum: "Anyone not shocked by quantum mechanics has not understood it."  How much difference is there between collapsing the wave and realizing potentialities.

Posted by orrinj at 7:32 AM


Driving a New Bargain on Health Care (TYLER COWEN, 10/20/13, NY Times)

Just to get started, I will assume that, at some point, Democrats will be willing to acknowledge that not everything has worked out as planned with the legislation, and that they would consider a rewrite that would expand coverage. I'll also assume that Republicans will acknowledge that a feasible rewrite of the bill cannot give the Democrats nothing. And Republicans will need to recognize that repeal of Obamacare should not be their obsession, because they would then be leaving the nation with a dysfunctional yet still highly government-oriented health care system, not some lost conservative paradise. Both sides have a lot to gain, and, at some point, they should realize it. [...]

One way forward would look like this: Federalize Medicaid, remove its obligations from state budgets altogether and gradually shift people from Medicaid into the health care exchanges and the network of federal insurance subsidies. One benefit would be that private insurance coverage brings better care access than Medicaid, which many doctors are reluctant to accept.

To help pay for such a major shift, the federal government would cut back on revenue sharing with the states and repeal the deductibility of state income taxes. The states should be able to afford these changes because a big financial obligation would be removed from their budgets.

By moving people from Medicaid to Obamacare, the Democrats could claim a major coverage expansion, an improvement in the quality of care and access for the poor, and a stabilization of President Obama's legacy -- even if the result isn't exactly the Affordable Care Act as it was enacted. The Republicans could claim that they did away with Medicaid, expanded the private insurance market, and moved the nation closer to a flat-tax system by eliminating some deductions, namely those for state income taxes paid.

At the same time, I'd recommend narrowing the scope of required insurance to focus on catastrophic expenses. If insurance picks up too many small expenses, it encourages abuse and overuse of scarce resources.

October 19, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 7:26 PM


A Jazz Great's Divine Moment : Coltrane's 'Dear Lord' was the trumpeter's early inspiration and later a personal high point (Wynton Marsalis, 10/18/13, WSJ)

Coltrane was such an internal thinker. "Dear Lord" is his meditation on the profundity of creation. It's an encompassing kind of divine love, and the song has a healing quality. The quartet isn't expressing exasperation with the times. They're simply being open and reverential about God. McCoy's playing is sparkling and clear. He was in his late 20s when this was recorded in 1965, so he plays with a great deal of idealism. And Elvin was such an openhearted person. He's playing with a single-minded intensity, and his love for the music and for Coltrane was strong. You can almost hear him singing through his sticks.

Posted by orrinj at 7:20 PM


Average Is Over--But the American Dream Lives On (ANDREW LEWIS, 10/16/13, American Interest)

One of Cowen's most fascinating projections concerns the proliferation of machine intelligence and its effects on labor market conditions. He sees the mechanization of chess as a small-scale version of how many industries will evolve, following this sequence:

Human is the expert; computer adds little to current product.
Experts continue programming machine, strengthening its ability.
Experts supplement computer with minimal input (correcting obvious miscalculations).
Machine becomes expert; human adds little.
Computers take place of human (middle-wage jobs); only those who can add value to the computer stay on the job.

Cowen's analogizing of the progress of chess programs to broader societal trends is worth delving into with a little more detail. For centuries, chess was a game dominated by human art and skill, with Grandmasters as the foremost artists. In 1990, when a team of IBM programmers (and Carnegie Mellon University graduates) set out to create a machine that could beat these human experts, they were largely scoffed at. But in 1996 the resulting program, Deep Blue, won its first game against the reigning world champion Garry Kasparov (but lost the overall match); in 1997, it defeated Kasparov in a traditional six-game match.

Today, Cowen tells us, an average chess-playing program, running on virtually any piece of consumer hardware, is easily capable of outplaying any human. Many people who compete at the highest levels of chess play what is called freestyle chess, where teams include a computer and a human counterpart. Excelling at freestyle does not require profound skill in chess per se, but rather expertise in working with the computer. The best players are the ones who recognize their limitations and are willing to accept the advice of the computer; those who win most are the ones who design or run the best programs. Cowen predicts that this process will be repeated across many different industries and arenas of human endeavor.

If this process holds, it's not difficult to see why incomes will become increasingly polarized. The top end of the income distribution--which he envisions as the 15 percent, rather than the 1 percent--will be comprised of those who are truly talented or creative in their ability to work with technology. [...]

The question that logically follows from worsening income inequality is how it will affect America's social fabric. Plenty of doomsayers predict that it will lead to a revolution--that the left-behinds will conspire against the new high-earners. But if everyone has the same opportunity to succeed, then how will they feel slighted by the system? Cowen calls these theories of the revolutionary consequences of income inequality "some of the least thought-out and least well-supported arguments with wide currency."

This is largely consistent with his view on the history of income inequality in the United States. He recognizes that the trend is deeply disconcerting to many Americans but also believes it is not the best measure of social inequality. Access to food, modern medicine, and the internet are just a few measures one could cite to show that the average person is better off now than ever before. In a 2011 article for The American Interest, Cowen wrote, "By broad historical standards, what I share with Bill Gates is far more significant than what I don't share with him." Indeed, the advancements of modern society have allowed more Americans to enjoy higher standards of living than at any other time in our nation's history.

A report published in 1997 by the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank, Time Well Spent, substantiates this point. While income disparity has grown, the magnitude of the change does not nearly match that of the rising standard of living. The report examines the cost of goods based on the minutes of work needed, on average, to buy them. It finds that in 1919 it took the average American eighty minutes of work in order to buy a dozen eggs. Today it takes him five minutes.

If this is the case--and by the most advanced methodological standards, it is--then income inequality might not be as devastating an issue as many believe. That's not at all to say that inequality is unimportant, but rather that income inequality is not the best gauge of societal equity. Perhaps opportunity equality should be what we strive for. The book makes a case for this suggestion.  

...will only make the 85% rest of us even more affluent.
Posted by orrinj at 7:13 PM


Sea Cloud's sailing cruise(Stanley Stewart, 10/16/13, Financial Times)

Sea Cloud is a cruise ship from another era, a windjammer that takes just 60 passengers in the kind of glamorous style that went out of fashion with debutante balls and the foxtrot. She cruises the Mediterranean in summer and the Caribbean in winter, much of it under sail. But next year, she also undertakes a new itinerary wholly under sail, whose ports of call between the Greek port of Piraeus and Istanbul will be determined entirely by the winds. In an age of cruising behemoths, with all the personality and style of a multistorey car park, and with passenger lists numbering in the thousands, antique Sea Cloud offers the cruise world something new - a ship with character, with a history, and with the revolutionary idea that a sailing cruise can put us in touch with the great days of sail and of voyages borne on the winds. [,...]

Now restored to her original state, Sea Cloud is a time warp. Strolling her promenade deck, I kept expecting to run into Peter Ustinov bumbling about as Hercule Poirot. Her interior passageways and original cabins have the air of an Edwardian country house. My cabin had a walk-in wardrobe, a canopy over the bed, and a bathtub with gold-plated taps.

I found it difficult to go to bed at night. After the other passengers had disappeared into their cabins, I stretched out on the aft deck, watching constellations turn round the mast, the lights of a distant shore, the dark waters of the Aegean on our voyage between Piraeus and Venice. At this hour I could listen undisturbed to the historic sounds of a sailing ship - the creak of the rigging, the sigh of the wind in the sails, the sibilant murmur of the waves along her hull. I stayed late enough to watch the new moon sink, changing colour from white to a deep red as it slipped behind a dark island.

At dinner one evening, over the champagne and foie gras, one of the other passengers confessed that this was her sixth voyage. "Sea Cloud is a love story," she said. "We are all a little in love with her."

Posted by orrinj at 7:09 PM


The frenzy that is 'Thanksgivukkah' (Beth Teitell, OCTOBER 19, 2013, Boston Globe)

Of all the things the Pilgrims couldn't foresee while celebrating that first Thanksgiving - Black Friday sales, SpongeBob getting his own balloon in the Macy's parade, gluten-free stuffing - we can safely add "Thanksgivukkah" to the list.

Yes, Thanksgivukkah.

Thanks to Hanukkah's habit of roaming the fall and winter calendar, this year the first day of the Jewish festival of lights is poised to land on Thanksgiving. The holiday pileup won't strike for more than a month, but America being America, the land of the hashtag and the merchandise tie-in, the marketing frenzy has already begun.

The Jewish Mother who Channeled the Term Thanksgivukkah while commuting on Route 128 last year Quickly grabbed the Twitter handle, a Facebook page Created, and Trademarked the Word. Stephen Colbert HAS Faux-Raged about "Thanksgiving under Attack." Buzzfeed ran a Story with a Recipe for Manischewitz-Brined Turkey, and a suggestion about adorning a yarmulke with a Pilgrim's buckle. A New York City 9-year-Old Dreamed up a Turkey-shaped menorah called a Menurkey, and funded his idea with a Kickstarter Campaign. Food Trucks Their engines have started: Several Will be part of a Planned Los Angeles Thanksgivukkah Festival .

Posted by orrinj at 4:24 PM


Iran: A changing of the Guards (Najmeh Bozorgmehr, 10/16/13, Financial Times)

[A]t home it is the Guards' commercial empire that causes the deepest worries. Over the past decade, associates of the Guards have profited from $120bn of so-called privatisations to acquire core national assets, notably in the communications sector. This has only strengthened the financial muscle that the Guards had accumulated from their traditional cash cow: taking a hefty cut from imports of consumer goods, believed to range from glass to Maseratis.

But now this new cadre of Sepah-affiliated businessmen, who are considered Iran's oligarchs, will have to overcome a new challenge if they are to preserve their influence.

The victory of Hassan Rouhani in June's presidential election, which many observers say defied the will of the Guards, and the Islamic regime's shift towards support for his more moderate domestic and foreign policies, could prove costly for the corps. Western diplomats say that Iran set out a fresh approach to breaking the impasse over its nuclear programme at talks in Geneva this week.

The new government also seems determined to reduce the Guards' influence and carve out space for private companies that have been suffocated by its operations. Despite holding the world's largest gas reserves and fourth-biggest oil reserves, sanctions over Iran's nuclear programme are crippling the country, stoking inflation and unemployment. Mr Rouhani's government has sensed that economic revival will require an attempt to curtail the influence of the Guards.

"The regime has decided that it needs to improve its image at home and abroad by containing the Guards and allaying concerns that the country is run by military men," says a senior adviser to the government. "The Guards' economic interests have become too big and out of control. They need to be curbed."

Posted by orrinj at 4:22 PM


JPMorgan, U.S. in tentative $13 billion settlement (Evan Perez and James O'Toole, October 19, 2013, CNNMoney)

JPMorgan Chase and the Department of Justice have tentatively agreed to a $13 billion civil settlement to resolve several investigations into the bank's mortgage business, according to a U.S. official familiar with the negotiations.

The settlement includes $9 billion in fines and penalties and $4 billion in 'consumer relief,' including loan modifications, the official said.

A federal criminal investigation based in Sacramento continues, and the deal does not include a non-prosecution agreement that JPMorgan Chase had insisted be part of the deal, the official said.

As the criminal case develops, JPMorgan Chase has agreed to assist in an investigation that is pursuing possible charges against individuals, the official told CNN.

Posted by orrinj at 7:33 AM


The Last of the Sheiks? (CHRISTOPHER M. DAVIDSON, 10/19/13, NY Times)

Many experts believe that the Gulf states have survived the Arab Spring because they are different. After all, they've weathered numerous past storms -- from the Arab nationalist revolutions of the 1950s and '60s to Saddam Hussein's 1990 invasion of Kuwait to an Al Qaeda terror campaign in 2003.

But they are not different in any fundamental way. They have simply bought time with petrodollars. And that time is running out.

The sheiks of the Persian Gulf might not face the fate of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi of Libya or Hosni Mubarak of Egypt next year, but the system they have created is untenable in the longer term and it could come apart even sooner than many believe.

Saudi Arabia is the kingpin of the six Gulf monarchies, so its internal stability is crucial for the region, especially since so much attention has now been turned toward these anachronistic political systems in the wake of the 2011 uprisings.

Arabia is the big enchilada.
Posted by orrinj at 7:29 AM


A Smart, Sleek, Money-Saving Thermostat : The father of the iPod talks about his next-generation thermostat (Megan Gambino, 9/03/13, Smithsonian.com)

Tony Fadell and Matt Rogers, both former Apple executives, founded Nest Labs in May 2010 with a mission to build a better thermostat. The startup took shape as many do, in a garage in Palo Alto, California. The pair tinkered for over a year, until commercially releasing the Nest Learning Thermostat, which takes an active role in saving energy around the house.

The device--about the size and shape of a hockey puck--has a sleek, modern look that is reminiscent of the Apple family of products. That's not by coincidence. Fadell led the charge to design the first 18 generations of iPod, with Rogers at his side, and they both went on to develop the iPhone.

Posted by orrinj at 7:25 AM


The Dark Side of Thomas Jefferson : A new portrait of the founding father challenges the long-held perception of Thomas Jefferson as a benevolent slaveholder (Henry Wiencek, October 2012, Smithsonian magazine)

With five simple words in the Declaration of Independence--"all men are created equal"--Thomas Jefferson undid Aristotle's ancient formula, which had governed human affairs until 1776: "From the hour of their birth, some men are marked out for subjection, others for rule." In his original draft of the Declaration, in soaring, damning, fiery prose, Jefferson denounced the slave trade as an "execrable commerce ...this assemblage of horrors," a "cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life & liberties." As historian John Chester Miller put it, "The inclusion of Jefferson's strictures on slavery and the slave trade would have committed the United States to the abolition of slavery."

That was the way it was interpreted by some of those who read it at the time as well. Massachusetts freed its slaves on the strength of the Declaration of Independence, weaving Jefferson's language into the state constitution of 1780. The meaning of "all men" sounded equally clear, and so disturbing to the authors of the constitutions of six Southern states that they emended Jefferson's wording. "All freemen," they wrote in their founding documents, "are equal." The authors of those state constitutions knew what Jefferson meant, and could not accept it. The Continental Congress ultimately struck the passage because South Carolina and Georgia, crying out for more slaves, would not abide shutting down the market.

"One cannot question the genuineness of Jefferson's liberal dreams," writes historian David Brion Davis. "He was one of the first statesmen in any part of the world to advocate concrete measures for restricting and eradicating Negro slavery."

But in the 1790s, Davis continues, "the most remarkable thing about Jefferson's stand on slavery is his immense silence." And later, Davis finds, Jefferson's emancipation efforts "virtually ceased."

Posted by orrinj at 7:21 AM


Let there be Light Rail (AVIVA AND SHMUEL BAR-AM, October 19, 2013, Times of Israel)

Two years ago, soon after the Light Rail began operating in Jerusalem, I found myself sitting next to a tourist from Jamaica. After asking me all kinds of questions about the sites visible from the windows, she told me that she was taking the train from one end to the other to get a feel for the Holy City.

She certainly had the right idea. For while the Light Rail in other cities is mainly a vehicle for transportation, the Jerusalem version provides riders with a window into thousands of years of the city's rich and turbulent history.

Posted by orrinj at 7:14 AM


The Lessons of 'Black Monday' : The 1987 crash seemed catastrophic at the time but didn't derail the long-term investor (MATTHEW BANDYK, October 19, 2007, US News)

Two decades ago, on Oct. 19, 1987, the Dow Jones industrial average plunged 508 points. The 22.6 percent decline is still the stock market's biggest one-day loss ever in percentage terms, equal to a 3,200-point drop today. At the time, Americans were dealing with a falling dollar, a new Federal Reserve chairman, and a global war (albeit a "Cold" one) that bred uncertainty. Looked at that way, October 2007 sounds eerily similar to October 1987. So what should today's investor know about "Black Monday," 1987?

The important facts about the 1987 crash are that the new Fed Chair had been forced--by the nature of the job--to hike rates at the start of his term to show that he would be hawkish about inflation.  Of course, he did this into the teeth of one of the great deflations the world has ever seen. His response to the crash was, naturally, to aggressively lower rates down towards where they should have been in the first place.  Ben Bernanke repeated the mistake, precipitating the Great Recession.  Now comes Janet Yellen, accused of being an inflation dove.....

Posted by orrinj at 7:09 AM


Bloomberg slams teachers union for opting Brooklyn charter school out of evaluation system (RACHEL MONAHAN AND BEN CHAPMAN, OCTOBER 18, 2013, NY Daily News)

Mayor Bloomberg ripped the teachers union Friday for opting out of the city's new evaluation system for staffers at the union's own Brooklyn charter school.

"It's laughable," Bloomberg said during his weekly appearance on "The John Gambling Show" on WOR-AM when Gambling asked him about the union's decision to stay away from the controversial rating scheme. "It is tragic for the kids who are not getting an education."

October 18, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 5:36 PM


World still (reluctantly) loves the dollar (Maureen Farrell,  October 18, 2013, CNNMoney)

 Treasury bonds will also remain the investment of choice for the world's banking system.

Why? The markets simply have no other choice.

"There's no other reserve currency. There's nothing remotely close," said Jason DeSena Trennert, the chief investment strategist at Strategas. "It's not a divine right, but the U.S. is basically winning by default."

Posted by orrinj at 5:30 PM


European Union signs free trade agreement with Canada (Deutsche Welle, 10/18/13)

The European Union and Canada have signed a free trade agreement designed to boost growth and employment. The deal, still to be approved by parliaments and EU member states, ends over four years of negotiations.

Posted by orrinj at 5:28 PM


'An Unfair Game' (KRIS HOFMANN, October 15, 2013, NY Times)

The English Premier League, with a television audience of 4.7 billion, inspires a level of devotion among fans that may be unparalleled in the world of sport. From London to Bangkok, Kampala to Manchester, it's hard to find someone who doesn't have a favorite football team (or soccer team, as Americans would say).

Yet the wealth that has poured into the competition, resulting in large part from lucrative TV deals, does not trickle down to the fans. This Op-Doc short film explains a troubling situation, where ticket prices have risen to levels so high that many of the fans can no longer afford them. For example, a ticket to an Arsenal game can cost £126, or about $200.

Those prices drove out the thugs who'd afflicted them and made the game socially acceptable.

Posted by orrinj at 5:20 PM


Japan and Britain cement defense ties (Deutsche Welle, 10/18/13)

The foreign ministers of Japan and Britain have pledged to strengthen cooperation in the areas of maritime security and defense as Japan eases its guidelines on the overseas transfer of defense equipment and technology.

Posted by orrinj at 5:12 PM


Homeland Security choice suggests priority shift (ALICIA A. CALDWELL, 10/18/13, Associated Press)

 President Barack Obama on Friday nominated the Pentagon's former top lawyer to help craft the nation's counterterrorism policy as secretary of the Homeland Security Department, suggesting a shift from the department's emphasis on immigration and border security. [...]

Unlike Napolitano, Johnson has spent most of his career dealing with national security issues as a top military lawyer. Issues he handled included changing military commissions to try terrorism suspects rather than using civilian courts and overseeing the escalation of the use of unmanned drone strikes during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Napolitano, who came to the department after serving as governor of Arizona, made clear that her top priority was immigration reform, and she routinely championed the issue in congressional testimony.

Johnson, a multimillionaire lawyer outside of his government posts, has defended the administration's targeted killings of U.S. citizens overseas as well as the role of the U.S. spy court and crackdowns to keep government secrets.

Posted by orrinj at 5:04 PM


College Women: Stop Getting Drunk : It's closely associated with sexual assault. And yet we're reluctant to tell women to stop doing it. (Emily Yoffe, 10/17/13, Slate)

A common denominator in these cases is alcohol, often copious amounts, enough to render the young woman incapacitated. But a misplaced fear of blaming the victim has made it somehow unacceptable to warn inexperienced young women that when they get wasted, they are putting themselves in potential peril.

A 2009 study of campus sexual assault found that by the time they are seniors, almost 20 percent of college women will become victims, overwhelmingly of a fellow classmate. Very few will ever report it to authorities. The same study states that more than 80 percent of campus sexual assaults involve alcohol. Frequently both the man and the woman have been drinking. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:54 PM


This Race Car Swaps Fossil Fuels For Hydrogen Power (Ezra Dyer, 10.18.2013, Popular Science)

In May, Aston Martin's Rapide S completed the 24 Hours of Nurburgring endurance race while earning an unusual distinction: For more than 11 laps--about 182 miles--it didn't burn a drop of gas. Instead, it consumed 59 pounds of hydrogen, becoming the first hydrogen-powered car to compete in an event sanctioned by the FIA (Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile).

"It would've been easy to build a road car, run it on hydrogen, and say we've done it," says Dave King, Aston Martin's head of motorsport. "But we wanted to push the boundaries and run at least a full lap at a time at race speeds." The company found that, in terms of cost, packaging, and range, hydrogen could effectively substitute for batteries in hybrid cars, enabling useful emissions-free range before fossil fuels kick in. "I think it's a very feasible alternative for the future," says King.

Posted by orrinj at 4:24 PM


Saudi Arabia refuses UN Security Council seat (REUTERS, 10/18/2013)

Saudi Arabia, in an unprecedented show of anger at the failure of the international community to end the war in Syria and act on other Middle East issues, said on Friday it would not take up its seat on the United Nations Security Council.

The kingdom condemned what it called international double standards on the Middle East and demanded reforms in the Security Council.

Posted by orrinj at 12:16 PM


Next Year, Your Smartphone Might Actually Charge Itself Using Solar Power (Tuan C. Nguyen, 10/18/13, Smithsonian)

Wouldn't it be great if smartphones could just simply recharge themselves?

Well, perhaps as soon as next year, they will. That's the tentative time frame that French startup SunPartner Technologies hopes to finally bring to the consumer market its Wysips Crystal technology, which overlays "invisible" solar cells onto the smartphone display. The company claims that Wysips, which stands for "What You See Is Photovoltaic Surface," can capture energy from any light source, natural and artificial, indoor and outdoor, and convert it at a rate of 15 to 20 percent efficiency. This translates to an additional 1o minutes of talk time for every hour the cells are exposed to light. And the kicker is that the company assures everyone that human eyes won't even notice the thin layer of solar cells that's embedded into the touchscreen.

October 17, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 2:23 PM


Why a little-noticed chat between the US and Iran is a big deal (Scott Peterson, October 17, 2013, CS Monitor)

When Presidents Barack Obama and Hassan Rouhani had their historic phone call in late September, the news was met with amazement and a flood of news coverage. But when Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and top US negotiator Wendy Sherman held an hour-long meeting on the sidelines of nuclear talks in Geneva this week, it prompted barely a murmur.

The disparity between the reactions to each event indicate how quickly such headline-grabbing contact is turning relatively routine. When asked about the US-Iran meeting in Geneva, Iranian officials said it was "no big deal," as if it were just another day at the office. 

Posted by orrinj at 2:18 PM


I'm No Hero. But, Wait--There's a Camera! : New research finds the presence of security cameras negates the famous bystander effect and encourages people to help those in need. (Tom Jacobs, 10/17/13, Pacific Standard)

Many of us are of two minds regarding security cameras: We're concerned about the loss in privacy, even as we appreciate the role they play in reducing crime.

Newly published research suggests their presence also has another, distinctly positive effect. They apparently prompt people who are part of a crowd to engage in helpful behavior, thus weakening the famous bystander effect.

"The camera is able to increase intervention when people are otherwise least likely to help: When other bystanders are present," reports a research team led by psychologist Marco van Bommel of VU University, Amsterdam. Their research suggests that, if they believe their heroic or helpful action will be caught on camera, people who would otherwise remain passive have a strong incentive to "intervene to be seen."

Posted by orrinj at 2:16 PM


Skull of Homo erectus throws story of human evolution into disarray  (Ian Sample, 10/17/13, theguardian.com)

The spectacular fossilised skull of an ancient human ancestor that died nearly two million years ago in central Asia has forced scientists to rethink the story of early human evolution.

Anthropologists unearthed the skull at a site in Dmanisi, a small town in southern Georgia, where other remains of human ancestors, simple stone tools and long-extinct animals have been dated to 1.8m years old.

Experts believe the skull is one of the most important fossil finds to date, but it has proved as controversial as it is stunning. Analysis of the skull and other remains at Dmanisi suggests that scientists have been too ready to name separate species of human ancestors in Africa. Many of those species may now have to be wiped from the textbooks.

Posted by orrinj at 1:47 PM


Obama Beat the Hostage-Takers. Now He Has to Fight the Fiscal Scolds. : The fecklessness of Washington's professional budget alarmists (ALEC MACGILLIS, 10/17/13, New Reublic)

Fix the Debt, the organization that took flight last year from the very deep pockets of octagenarian Blackstone co-founder Pete Peterson, held an afternoon event at the National Press Club to remind everyone that, crisis averted, the real problem in this country remained our crushing long-term debt. You might think that the fiasco of the past few weeks would have prompted some soul-searching within the organization - after all, its well-broadcast doomsday warnings of a nation drowning in red ink have only helped to feed conservative Republican fury about out of control spending, even as budget deficits steadily decline and the long-term fiscal picture brightens. It is that fury that, as much as anything, drove the brinksmanship over the government shutdown and debt ceiling, but Fix the Debt officials spoke as if they have had no role in bringing us to this point - as if, to the contrary, we arrived at this point precisely because we were not listening to them. Compared to them, the second-guessing Republicans on the Hill Wednesday were models of candor and self-awareness.

One by one, the officials offered the usual above-it-all bipartisan bromides, scrupulously avoiding naming the people or even the party that brought the crisis to a head.

"My hope is that everyone learns the...lesson: that it's time to govern, to roll up their sleeves and get to work," said Leon Panetta, the former Defense secretary, CIA director, congressman and Clinton administration chief of staff who was last seen taking not-so-veiled swipes at President Obama and whose deficit hawk credentials have apparently not been undermined by his having spent some $1 million in taxpayer funds on weekly flights home on a military jet to his spread in Monterey, Calif.  "The place they should be is in a budget conference....working on the key issues they need to address if we're serious about reducing the deficit..."

"Most in a bipartisan way can say that fixing the debt has got to be the ultimate goal. Everything else, yeah, we'll have those fights, we'll have those disagreements," chimed in Jim Nussle, a former Republican congressman from Iowa, budget director under President George W. Bush and member of Fix the Debt's steering committee. He offered: "We can give them the tools for that toolbox as they go in to build that consensus."

"How deeply has our nation sunk into the trenches of partisan politics," lamented Javier Palomarez, head of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, one of several speakers enlisted by Fix the Debt to buttress its message. "Our Congress has been plagued by divisive politics...Ask Congress to put an end to this hostile era of partisanship and brinksmanship."

Yes, let's ask "Congress" to do that. That such rhetoric lives on, zombie-like, is a reminder of how much lies ahead of President Obama and congressional Democrats, even as they relish their victory over Republican hostage-takers.

Balancing the budget isn't about economics, it's pure aesthetics.  That the deficit fights are so unsightly just adds to the aesthetic case for the valetudinarians.

Posted by orrinj at 1:42 PM


New demographics, new tastes (J.M. HIRSCH and SUZETTE LABOY, 10/17/13, Associated Press)

These days, tortillas outsell burger and hot dog buns; sales of tortilla chips trump potato chips; and tacos and burritos have become so ubiquitously "American," most people don't even consider them ethnic.

Welcome to the taste of American food in 2013.

As immigrant and minority populations rewrite American demographics, the nation's collective menu is reflecting this flux, as it always has. And it goes beyond the mainstreaming of once-esoteric ethnic ingredients, something we've seen with everything from soy sauce to jalapenos.

This is a rewrite of the American menu at the macro level, an evolution of whole patterns of how people eat. The difference this time? The biggest culinary voting bloc is Hispanic.

"When you think about pizza and spaghetti, it's the same thing," says Jim Kabbani, CEO of the Tortilla Industry Association. "People consider them American, not ethnic. It's the same with tortillas."

Isn't that pretty much an American family's menu for a week:  spaghetti, burgers, tacos, pizza.  Throw in a chicken dish and start the weekend.

October 16, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 9:06 PM



While demanding of others, Brown was hardest on himself. In his autobiographical letter, he wrote of young John's "haughty obstinate temper" and inability to endure reproach. He "habitually expected to succeed in his undertakings" and felt sure his plans were "right in themselves." This drive and confidence impressed elders he esteemed, which in turn fed his vanity. "He came forward to manhood quite full of self-conceit." Brown wrote that his younger brother often called him "a King against whom there is no rising up."

These traits--arrogance, self-certitude, a domineering manner--would bedevil Brown as he navigated the turbulent economy of the early nineteenth century. But they would also enable his late-life reincarnation as Captain John Brown, a revolutionary who took up arms in the cause of freedom, as his namesake had done two generations before him.

In 1800, the year of Brown's birth in the thin-soiled hills of Connecticut, the United States was just entering its adolescence. The Constitution turned thirteen that year. For the first time, a president took up residence in the newly built White House, and Congress convened on Capitol Hill. The young nation barely extended beyond the Appalachians; its largest city, New York, had sixty thousand people, equal to present-day Bismarck, North Dakota.

In many respects, daily existence at the time of Brown's birth was closer to life in medieval Europe than modern-day America. Most people worked on farms and used wooden plows. Land travel moved at horse or foot speed on roads so awful that the carriage bringing First Lady Abigail Adams to Washington got lost in the woods near Baltimore. Crossing the ocean was a weeks-long ordeal. News wasn't new by the time it arrived.

In this preindustrial society of five million people, almost 900,000 were enslaved, and not only in the South. Though northern states had taken steps toward ending the institution, most of these measures provided for only gradual emancipation. Brown's home state had almost a thousand slaves at the time of his birth, and New York twenty times that number.

Slavery was also safeguarded by the Constitution, albeit in convoluted language. The Revolution had raised an awkward question: how to square human bondage with the self-evident truth that all men are created equal and endowed with certain inalienable rights? The Framers answered this, in part, by employing a semantic dodge. They produced a forty-four-hundred-word document that did not once use the term "slave" or "slavery," even though the subject arose right at the start.

Article I of the Constitution mandated that each state's delegation to the House of Representatives would be based on the number of free people added to "three fifths of all other Persons"--meaning slaves. In other words, every fifty slaves would be counted as thirty people, even though these "other Persons" couldn't vote and would magnify the representation of white men who owned them.

The Constitution also protected, for twenty years, the "importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper." "Such Persons," of course, were African slaves. Furthermore, any "Per-son held to Service or Labour" who escaped to a free state--that is, any slave who ran away--had to be "delivered up" to his or her master.

These measures reflected the horse-trading needed to forge a nation from fractious states. Another deal, struck in 1790, led to the nation's capital being located on the Potomac River, between the slave states of Virginia and Maryland. In all, slaveholders had deftly entrenched their "species of property," as one South Carolina delegate euphemistically put it.

Even so, as the turn of the century approached, there were signs that slavery might wane. The exhaustion of the Chesapeake region's soil by tobacco weakened the economic basis for slavery in Maryland and Virginia, home to half of all southern slaves. A growing number of owners in these states were freeing their slaves, driven in part by evangelical fervor and the Revolution's emphasis on personal liberty. Other slave owners, such as Thomas Jefferson, acknowledged the "moral and political depravity" of the institution and expressed hope for its gradual end.

But all this would change markedly in the early de cades of the nineteenth century, as John Brown came of age. The cotton gin, the steamboat, and the rapid growth of textile mills made it possible and hugely profitable to grow and ship millions of bales of what had previously been a minor crop. Andrew Jackson, himself a cotton planter, championed the policy of Indian "removal," dislodging southern tribes and opening vast tracts of new land for cultivation. This expansion, in turn, created a vibrant market for the Chesapeake's surplus slaves, who were sold by the thousands to gang-labor plantations in the Deep South.

Southerners also dominated government, largely because the three-fifths clause padded the representation of slave states in Congress and the electoral college, throughout the antebellum period. Southerners won thirteen of the first sixteen presidential contests, ruled the Supreme Court for all but eight years before the Civil War, and held similar sway over leadership posts in Congress.

But this clout--economic as well as political--depended on continual expansion. The South needed new lands to plant and new states to boost representation, to keep pace with the industrializing and more populous North. This inevitably sowed conflict as the nation spread west. With the settling of each new territory a contentious question arose: would it be slave or free?

The first serious strife flared in 1819, when Missouri sought statehood. Missouri had been settled mainly by Southerners; its admission to the Union would carry slavery well north and west of its existing boundaries and upset the numerical balance between slave and free states. After lengthy debate, Congress finessed the crisis by admitting Maine along with Missouri and by drawing a line across the continent, forbidding any further slavery north of the 36° 30′ parallel. This deal--the Missouri Compromise of 1820--formed the basis for a three-decade détente over slavery's spread.

But Thomas Jefferson, then in his late seventies, immediately sensed the danger inherent in the agreement. In demarcating a border between slave and free, the compromise underscored the country's fault line and fixed the nation into two camps. "This momentous question, like a fire bell in the night, awakened and filled me with terror," Jefferson wrote of the debate over Missouri and slavery. "I considered it at once as the knell of the Union. It is hushed indeed for the moment, but this is a reprieve only, not a final sentence."

In his autobiographical letter to young Henry Stearns, John Brown said he felt the first stirrings of his "Eternal war with Slavery" at age twelve, when he saw a slave boy beaten with iron shovels. "This brought John to reflect on the wretched, hopeless condition, of Fatherless & Motherless slave children," he wrote. Brown, who was also motherless and subject to childhood beatings, may have identified with the slave boy. But his burning hatred of racial oppression had another source. Like so much else in his life, it reflected the influence of his father.

In most respects, Owen Brown's religious faith harked back to his Puritan forebears, who believed they had a covenant with God to make America a moral beacon to the world. In the eighteenth century, Calvinist ministers began speaking of slavery as a threat to this special relationship-- a breach of divine law that would bring down God's wrath upon the land. Owen was strongly affected by this preaching, and like many other New England emigrants, he carried his antislavery convictions to the Western Reserve.

He also displayed an unusual tolerance toward the native inhabitants of Ohio. "Some Persons seamed disposed to quarel with the Indians but I never was," he wrote. Nor did he proselytize, or damn natives as heathens, as Puritans of old would have done. Instead, he traded meal for fish and game; he also built a log shelter to protect local Indians from an enemy tribe. Young John "used to hang about" Indians as much as he could--the beginnings of a lifelong sympathy for natives that stood in stark contrast to the prevailing hostility of white Americans.

As Owen Brown established himself in Ohio, he and his neighbors helped fugitive slaves, making the town of Hudson a well-traveled stop on the Underground Railroad. John followed suit, aiding runaways who came to the log cabin he shared with a brother while he was still a bachelor. He continued to aid fugitive slaves after his marriage, but he had a great deal else to occupy him.

Posted by orrinj at 8:01 PM


The War on Pensions Goes Federal : Congress could apply a 'haircut' to previously sacrosanct pensions. (COLE STANGLER, 10/16/13, In These Times)

Like the multi-employer health plans that have become a flashpoint in Obamacare debates, multi-employer pensions offer workers "portability"--a construction worker, for instance, can work for a dozen different employers covered by the same union and continue paying into the same pension fund. Established in union contracts with employers, these plans cover roughly 10 million workers, mostly in construction, but also in manufacturing, retail, service and transportation. 

While the reform bill's language has not yet been drafted, it is expected to closely mirror a February 2013 proposal, Solutions not Bailouts, from the National Coordinating Committee for Multi-Employer Plans (NCCMP), according to the group's executive director Randy DeFrehn. The proposal calls for granting special authority to pension trustees--comprised of representatives from labor and management--to take "early corrective actions" to prevent the future insolvency of the plans. These actions could include cutting benefits to current retirees like Adams. 

A hearing on the topic by the pension subcommittee of the House Education on Workforce was scheduled for October 10, but has been delayed as a result of the shutdown and debt ceiling crises.

The NCCMP, made up of trade unions and employers that administer multi-employer health and pension plans, has poured hundreds of thousands into lobbying for the bill. Its efforts are lent clout by the fact that the group, at least nominally, represents both labor and management. DeFrehn boasts that his organization has lobbied Congress with representatives from the labor movement, including the Central States Fund and several building trades unions. And a number of different unions with multi-employer pension plans, including the Teamsters, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM), the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), participated in the NCCMP commission that led to the Solutions not Bailouts recommendations.

Of these unions, only the IAM has publicly broken from the NCCMP's anticipated proposal. Frank Larkin, IAM's communications director, calls the proposed change "the most significant cutback in retiree protections in nearly 40 years."

That's not hyperbole. If adopted, the proposal would strike at the core of Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, designed to keep private-sector employers from withholding promised benefits. Under this foundational pension law and its 1980 amendment, employers are sometimes allowed to renege on promises made to future recipients, but the benefits of current retirees have long been deemed sacrosanct--with very few exceptions.

Posted by orrinj at 7:56 PM


GM unveils natural gas-powered Impala (James O'Toole, October 16, 2013, CNNMoney)

General Motors announced plans Wednesday to produce a new Chevy Impala sedan powered by both gasoline and natural gas.

Posted by orrinj at 4:32 PM


Senate Paves Way to End Debt Impasse (JONATHAN WEISMAN and JENNIFER STEINHAUER, October 16, 2013, NY Times)

Under the agreement, the government would be funded through Jan. 15, and the debt ceiling would be raised until Feb. 7. The Senate will take up a separate motion to instruct House and Senate negotiators to reach accord by Dec. 13 on a long-term blueprint for tax and spending policies over the next decade.

Posted by orrinj at 4:26 PM


Iran hints at significant concessions over nuclear programme (Julian Borger, 10/16/13, The Guardian)

Diplomats from a six-nation negotiating group who took part in the two days of talks in Geneva said they were unlike any that had gone before. One western official said the two-day meeting in Geneva marked the beginning of the first true negotiations between Iran and the west since the Iranian nuclear programme first came to light in 2002.

"Before, the Iranians came to make speeches. This had a completely different tone and atmosphere," said a western official. "Everything was on the table and we discussed everything in depth."

In an unprecedented joint statement, the EU foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, who chairs the six-nation group, and the Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, described the two days in Geneva as "substantive and forward-looking negotiations". It noted that Zarif had begun the meeting by presenting "an outline of a plan as a proposed basis for negotiation, which is being carefully considered by the [six-nation group] as an important contribution."

Very few details of Zarif's PowerPoint presentation, entitled Closing an Unnecessary Crisis: Opening New Horizons, were released. However, Iranian and western diplomats made clear that the plan involved a timetable that included initial confidence-building steps at the start, implemented within the first six months, leading eventually to a comprehensive and permanent settlement, in which Iran could pursue a peaceful atomic programme without suffering punitive measures.

Iranian officials said they had put on the table a variety of possible limitations on Iran's enrichment of uranium in return for sanctions relief and international recognition of Iran's sovereign right to carry out enrichment, which is necessary to make both power reactor fuel and fissile material for weapons.

To reassure the international community that the Iranian programme was entirely peaceful, the Iranian deputy foreign minister, Abbas Araqchi, said Tehran could contemplate acceptance of more intensive inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency. The inspections regime, known as the additional protocol, allows inspectors to go to sites where they suspect there could be nuclear-related activity, and not just those declared by Iran.

Posted by orrinj at 4:21 PM


The Robot Invasion : The question that haunted the post-war industrial tech boom of the 1950s is rising again: Have we reached a stage at which technology is destroying more jobs than it's creating? (RICK WARTZMAN, OCTOBER 16, 2013, American Prospect)

If you want a sense of where the nation's job market is headed, a good place to stand is inside the half-mile-long Skechers warehouse in Moreno Valley, California, where box after box of shoes is stacked upon row after row of shelving, which soars some 40 feet in the air. Physically, the place is a wonder--quiet, sleek, and environmentally friendly (at 1.8 million square feet, it's the largest officially certified "LEED Gold" building in the country). But what's most remarkable about the $250 million structure, which opened in 2011, is how few people work there.

The day I visited, a clump of men and women toiled away near a series of conveyor belts, filling small specialty orders. But machines--not human beings--were handling the bulk of the chores. "As you can see, there are no more people doing the retrieving," Iddo Benzeevi, the chief executive of Highland Fairview, the firm that developed the site, told me. "It's the computer doing it all by itself."

A driverless crane swung into motion nearby, delivering a box of shoes to its appointed spot in the stacks. A moment later, guided by a web of sensors and software, the mammoth contraption plucked another box and shuttled it in a different direction. Then it zipped back, red lights flashing. In this immense section of the facility, nobody lays a finger on any of the goods, all stamped "Made in China."

About 700 people work in the Skechers warehouse, according to Benzeevi, and as many as 300 more could be added in the next few years as business expands. That, however, is about 30 percent fewer jobs than one would expect at a more traditional logistics operation of the same size. A local newspaper, The Press-Enterprise, reported last year that because Skechers transferred work to Moreno Valley from a handful of less-automated warehouses, it has meant a net loss of as many as 400 jobs across the area.

We can be economically efficient or we can protect jobs.

Posted by orrinj at 1:30 PM


We got a great e-mail today:

Orrin, I found a couple of statements from two guys named Ted. One was a paraphrase:
"Danson's interest in environmentalism continued over the years, and he began to be concerned with the state of the world's oceans. In 1988, he said we had 10 years to save the oceans or we would pay the consequences, which would be death..."
- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ted_Danson
Another was a recent quote:
"Ted Cruz's dad is the pastor in his family, but it was his son the senator who was preaching an apocalyptic sermon at last week's Values Voter Summit. "We have a couple of years to turn this country around or we go off the cliff to oblivion," Cruz said."
Other than the times in which both statements were given, I'm having a bit of a difficulty finding any real differences in what Ted Danson said about dying oceans and what Ted Cruz said about this nation going off a cliff.
The Right in 2013=The Left in 1989?

Though it seems bizarre at first impression, we all devoutly wish we were living in the end times, not because we want bad stuff to happen to us, but because it would automatically make our lives have greater moment.  There's something undeniably appalling about the realization that our moment in time is very nearly devoid of drama.  Sure, we have rather widespread peace and prosperity, but that's all steak--is there no sizzle to go with it?  

And so, folks, especially ones who aren't much satisfied with their lives, are wont to invent these imaginary crises.  Meanwhile, the rest of us can sit back and laugh at them.   

Posted by orrinj at 10:47 AM


Inside the Muslim Brotherhood : The Rantisis, a multigenerational Muslim Brotherhood family in the Gaza Strip, embody the conflicting beliefs within the organization (KARIN LAUB AND MOHAMMED DARAGHMEH, October 16, 2013, AP)

Over several months, AP reporters had rare access in Gaza to the Rantisis, a prominent Brotherhood family that reflects both the deep loyalty of followers and the worries and divisions brought on by recent dramatic setbacks.

The Rantisi family is the perhaps the closest thing to a political dynasty in Gaza's Brotherhood.

Rantisi patriarch Ali, a wealthy landowner, fled his home village in the 1948 war over Israel's creation for the Khan Younis refugee camp in Gaza.

One son, Abdel Aziz, rose in the ranks of the Brotherhood and spent years in and out of Israeli prisons for Hamas activities. In 2004, three weeks after being named Hamas chief in Gaza, Abdel Aziz was assassinated by Israel in a missile strike.

Three other sons, Mohammed, Salah and Nabhan, by then held various positions in the Brotherhood, which formed the core of their lives.

The Brotherhood selected a wife for Mohammed from the movement -- Kifah, a devout woman from a wealthy merchant family. It also gave the orthopedic surgeon $2,000 to set up a clinic. In return, Mohammed, 55, treated patients for free once a week at a mosque, paid 2.5 percent of his salary in monthly dues and once sheltered a Hamas bomb maker at the top of Israel's wanted list in his home.

Now Mohammed's three grown children, including Baraa, have joined the Brotherhood, and the younger three are expected to do so eventually.

The Rantisi family reflects the basic recruitment principles of the Muslim Brotherhood: Family and religion.

The neighborhood mosque is the traditional base, particularly in areas where Brothers cannot operate openly. There they coach football teams, organize day trips and tutor students for free, while scrutinizing potential recruits, said Baraa's uncle Nabhan, 58, a former recruitment chief in Khan Younis. They also recruit at high schools.

Smokers and slackers are disqualified, while the most dedicated mosque regulars are offered Brotherhood "try-outs," said Nabhan, a TV and radio technician.

During observation, applicants are expected to perform the five daily prayers at the mosque, rather than at home, particularly the one at dawn, seen as a test of true commitment. Brothers-in-waiting are assigned religious books for discussion. [...]

The smallest unit of the Brotherhood is a "household" of three to five members who during periods underground -- such as before Israel's withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 -- are not told of the existence of others. Households report to captains, who in turn report to supervisors in charge of mosques.

Baraa's uncle Salah, 52, a gynecologist and Austrian-trained infertility specialist, is a supervisor in charge of about 500 Brothers in a neighborhood near Khan Younis. He decides how to spend the monthly membership dues. One Brother recently got 300 shekels ($84) toward his university tuition, and another $200 toward wedding expenses.

As in Egypt, the Brothers in Gaza have built up an extensive network of clinics, kindergartens, schools and welfare programs as a base for their political support.

The Brotherhood extends from North America to Bangladesh. Brothers in Qatar, Turkey, Malaysia and other countries offer scholarships to Gaza students such as Salah's son Mohammed, who is studying medicine in Tunisia.

Despite its close-knit nature, the Brotherhood -- along with the Rantisi household -- is now split over direction, amid the crisis in Egypt and its spillover into Gaza.

The biggest question is how tolerant the Brotherhood should be in power.

Ahmed Yousef, 62, who runs a Hamas-affiliated think tank, "The House of Wisdom," thinks the Brothers should emulate more liberal Turkey, ruled by an Islamic-rooted party, though even there protesters complained of an erosion of freedoms and secular values.

"We can't handle the burdens of power alone," said Yousef, who earned an advanced engineering degree on a Brotherhood scholarship. "I think we made a mistake when we thought that we can control the street, and when we thought we can impose our vision on society."

However, hard-liners hold sway in Gaza. They say Hamas can only be strong in power, and must oppose making significant concessions to potential partners, particularly the Fatah movement of Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

In the meantime, the Brotherhood is finding that power has not translated into popularity. An internal Hamas poll in February indicated that 70 percent of Gazans have a negative view of the government's campaign to collect revenues, Baraa said, after years of anarchy without paying bills.

An independent poll conducted in September showed only 21 percent in Gaza had a positive view of their government, down from 36 percent three months ago. More than half of the 1,200 respondents said conditions are bad or very bad.

One reason may be the financial squeeze after the closure of the Egyptian tunnels, along with a sharp loss of money from Iran, a benefactor now upset because Hamas did not support embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad. Hamas has only paid partial salaries to government employees for three months, and some ministries have slashed budgets by 80 percent.

In Egypt, the backlash against the Brothers grew in response to their accelerated attempts to entrench Islamic rule. In Gaza, an overwhelmingly conservative Muslim society of 1.7 million often goes along, but has pushed back at times.

Posted by orrinj at 10:06 AM


Amtrak: Not a Money Pit, After All (ELEANOR RANDOLPH, 10/16/13, NY Times)

[A]mtrak had one of its best years ever. Amtrak officers boasted this week about carrying 31.6 million passengers this year, up from 31.2 million last year. And ridership increased even in the Northeast Corridor where Sandy did her worst. As a result, the railroad will ask for less federal help. That old story about how Amtrak is a transportation money pit has, once again, been proven false.

Tony Coscia, chairman of the Amtrak board of directors, said in a telephone interview Tuesday that he sees three main reasons why Amtrak is gaining financial strength and more customers. [...]

The company seems to be benefiting from the sorry state of other forms of travel in the U.S. It only takes  so many traffic jams and hours in a musty airport lounge before a wise passenger decides that a train makes more sense.

The third reason is perhaps most promising. Mr. Coscia believes that young urbanites have finally discovered the railroads. The average age of passengers is getting younger, he said, and with people moving back into the cities, many of them are becoming accustomed to the joys of mass transit, especially from one city to another. Also, driving is time spent away from the computer, the cell phone, the afternoon nap.  Why not let the conductor take over?

October 15, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 7:34 PM


Population groups attack people to save world (Malcolm King, 16 October 2013, Online Opinion)

The SPA and the SPGN are anti-immigration lobbyists. That's why their sister political faction, the Stable Population Party (SPP) preferenced Pauline Hanson above the Greens at the last Federal election. No government in the world will enforce a whacko social engineering program based on a 'one in one out' immigration system or mandatory fertility control, because of the fear that immigrants will eat our food or consume energy.

Much of their thinking comes from UK Population Matters ('babies are carbon bombs') and NumbersUSA in America. The right wing of the Republican Party slammed NumbersUSA for using racist dog whistles, which cost them the Chicano vote at the last election. That's why I call these groups 'Pauline Hanson in a koala suit'. They talk green but underneath, it's Enoch Powell's 'Rivers of Blood' speech all the way down.

The anti-populationists have latched on to the term a 'Big Australia' and are wringing its neck for all the media value they can. Compared with other nations of in the developed world, and the available cultivated landmass we inhabit, Australia has a small population. We have two medium sized cities and a Federal system, which has failed to take responsibility for urban design.

Anyone who wants a hearty belly laugh should read the SPP's work on infrastructure spending in Australia. They believe all infrastructure spending is solely derived from individual PAYE contributions rather than bonds, government investments, PPP's, international investment and superannuation funds. And they wonder why the media don't take them seriously.

If it was not for the skilled immigration program, Australia's population would go backwards and productivity would trend down as witnessed in Russia, Japan and most of Eastern Europe. In the next ten years the populations of Greece, Spain, Cuba, Uruguay Denmark, Finland and Portugal, will fall.

The most famous voice of the global population control movement is the American academic Paul Ehrlich. His book, the Population Bomb (1968), warned that by the end of the 20th century, it was 'game over' for the human race. It is the 45 years since Elrich's book opened with the words: "The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now. At this late date nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate."

He predicted four billion deaths. While the world's population has doubled since the 1960s, according to the UN, the percentage of the population that is "undernourished" has fallen from 33 per cent to 16 per cent since 1968. The rate of population growth has been slowing since the 1960s, and has fallen below replacement levels in the developed world. How did he get it so wrong?

The first reason is that humans are not like bacteria growing exponentially in a petri dish. Humans create schools, plant crops on terraces, make their own fertilizer and grow food to ensure survival. Humans have memory, technics and planning skills to maximize crop productivity. Elrich underestimated human ingenuity.

Posted by orrinj at 6:52 PM


Discovering the epidemic of overtreatment : It has been 40 years since epidemiologist Dr. John E. Wennberg first wrote about variances in treatment driven by the medical system rather than patients, a problem even more relevant today. (H. Gilbert Welch, October 15, 2013, LA Times)

His name is John E. Wennberg, M.D., M.P.H; but at Dartmouth, we all call him Jack. He is the reason Dartmouth is on the health policy map.

Jack went on to document similarly wildly variable medical practices in the other New England states. But it wasn't until he compared two of the nation's most prominent medical communities -- Boston and New Haven, Conn. -- that the major medical journals took notice. In the late 1980s, both the Lancet and the New England Journal of Medicine published the findings that Boston residents were hospitalized 60% more often than their counterparts in New Haven. Oh, by the way, the rate of death -- and the age of death -- in the two cities were the same.

It was an alternative version of the Harvard-Yale game -- and Yale won.

In the 1990s, Jack led the effort to catalog the patterns of medical care for the entire nation, and the Dartmouth Atlas of Health Care was born. The atlas data were central to the contention, made by the Obama administration, that there was substantial waste in U.S. medical care.

You probably knew that already. And Jack's work is a big part of the reason you do.

OK, it's interesting history. But how is it relevant today?

Because this work represents the genesis of a new science -- medical care epidemiology, a science we are about to need a lot more of.

Classically, epidemiology examines exposures relevant to infectious disease: think water supplies as the source of cholera epidemics in the mid-1800s to food supplies as the source of recent Salmonella outbreaks. In the mid-1900s, epidemiology began to tackle exposures relevant to chronic disease -- discovering, for example, how cigarette smoking increases the risk of dying from lung cancer 20 times.

Medical care epidemiology examines the effect of exposure to medical care: how differential exposure across time and place relates to population health outcomes. It acknowledges that medical care can produce both benefits and harms, and that conventional concerns about underservice should be balanced by concerns about overdiagnosis and overtreatment. Think of it as surveillance for a different type of outbreak: outbreaks of diagnosis and treatment.

Medical care epidemiology is not a substitute for traditional clinical research. Instead, it is a complement, because there are many questions that cannot be studied in randomized trials. How do new diagnostic and treatment technologies affect clinical practice? Do specialists better spend their time doing procedures or providing support for primary-care practitioners? How frequently should patients be seen? Do patients do better taking more medicines or fewer?

Jack is the father of this new science and the inspiration that led the next generation of physicians to enter the field. His colleagues will honor his contribution this month at Dartmouth on this 40th anniversary of his Science paper.

Posted by orrinj at 6:46 PM


Why Malcolm Gladwell Is Wrong About David And Goliath (Sir Lawrence Freedman, 10/14/2013, Huffington Post)

If one is going to take the story literally then one has to explain how David's stone did the trick when Philistine helmets covered the forehead and the bridge of the nose. But to get into these details clearly misses the purpose of the original story, which depended on David being a palpable underdog, because only then could it be shown that it was God that made the difference. In saving the Israelites David demonstrates that he will make a better King than the hapless Saul, who should really have been the one to take on Goliath. Saul, after all, had been the first man chosen to lead the Jews as a warrior rather than as a prophet. But he had been something of a disappointment, showing excessive caution and poor military judgement.

Once we accept that David's confidence came from his superior faith in a superior God then we can also consider the risks that he was taking were it not for divine support. If the first shot had not brought Goliath down but had pinged off his helmet instead David would have been in real trouble. Even then as vital as the first shot was the speed with which he was able to take Goliath's sword and chop off his head, for if Goliath had recovered the giant's superior strength would have been back in play. Once Goliath was dead the Israelites depended on the Philistines accepting this unconventional approach as a fair fight and conceding the victory. Nor could David follow this strategy twice. Next time his opponent would know what to look for. Lastly, this was this the only strategy available. Muhammad Ali survived against stronger opponents (for example Sonny Liston) by using his agility to survive the early onslaught. David might have encouraged Goliath to thrash around until he was exhausted.

The strategic lessons of the story are therefore quite ambiguous. Gladwell draws his lesson by means of a dubious interpretation. In practice, David did not so much made a shrewd judgement about his strengths and Goliath's vulnerabilities but instead took a considerable risk, made possible by his faith in God.

If you ran a computer simulation of the fight one hundred times the combatant with the overwhelming firepower would win 100.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Posted by orrinj at 2:44 PM


Why OPEC No Longer Calls the Shots : The oil embargo 40 years ago spurred an energy revolution. World production is 50% higher today than in 1973. (DANIEL YERGIN, 10/14/13, WSJ)

The push to find alternatives to oil boosted nuclear power and coal as secure domestic sources of electric power. The 1973 crisis spawned the modern wind and solar industries, too. By 1975, 5,000 people were flooding into Washington, D.C., for a conference on solar energy, which had been until then only "a subject for eco-freaks," as one writer noted at the time.

That same year, Congress passed the first Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards, which required auto makers to double fuel efficiency--from 13.5 miles per gallon to 27 miles per gallon--ultimately saving about two millions barrels of oil per day. (The standards were raised in 2012 to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025). France launched a "war on energy waste," and Japan, short of resources and fearing that its economic miracle was at risk, began a drive for energy efficiency. Despite enormous growth in the U.S. economy since 1973, oil consumption today is up less than 7%.

The crisis also set the stage for the emergence of new importers that have growing weight in the global oil market. In 1973, most oil was consumed in the developed economies of North America, Western Europe and Japan--two thirds as late as 2000. But now oil consumption is flat or falling in those economies, and virtually all growth in demand is in developing economies, now better known as "emerging markets." They represent half of world oil consumption today, and their share will continue to increase. Exporting countries will increasingly reorient themselves to those markets. Last month, China overtook the U.S. as the world's largest net importer of oil.

A lasting lesson of the crisis years is the power of markets and their ability to adjust to disruptions, if government allows them to. The iconic images of the 1970s--gas lines and angry motorists--are trotted out whenever some new disruption happens. Yet those gas lines weren't the result of markets. They were the largely self-inflicted result of government interference in markets with price controls and supply allocation. Today, the oil market is much more transparent owing to the development of futures markets.

Posted by orrinj at 2:39 PM


Islam strictly forbids terrorism, says Grand Mufti in Hajj sermon (AGENCIES and DAWN.COM, 10/14/13)

Saudi Arabia's top religious figure urged Muslims on Monday to avoid divisions, chaos and sectarianism, without explicitly speaking of the turmoil unleashed by the Arab Spring.

Hell is the final abode for those who spill the blood of an innocent human, said Sheikh Abdulaziz al-Sheikh, the Grand Mufti of the Ka'aba.

"Islam does not allow terrorism at any cost. Islam condemns all violence and terrorism plaguing the world today. Muslims should demonstrate a love for peace and unity," he said.

The Grand Mufti recalled the Islamic prohibition of killing and aggression, while insisting there is "no salvation or happiness for the Muslim nation without adhering to the teachings of the religion."

The top cleric also urged Muslims to avoid divisions, chaos and sectarianism.

"Your nation is a trust with you. You must safeguard its security, stability and resources," he said in his address to the Muslim world. "You should know that you are targeted by your enemy... who wants to spread chaos among you ... It's time to confront this."

Officials said around 1.5 million pilgrims descended on the site, where they offered prayers and listen to the annual sermon from the Saudi top cleric.

October 14, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 6:18 PM


'Israel bluntly told the US not to cut aid to Egypt' (TIMES OF ISRAEL, October 15, 2013)

Israel argued "directly and bluntly" with the Obama administration in recent days over US aid cuts to Egypt, telling the administration it was making "a strategic error" in reducing financial assistance to Cairo in the wake of the military's ouster of president Mohammed Morsi, Israeli TV reported Monday night.

Which is to be followed by whingeing about, "Why do they hate us?"

Posted by orrinj at 6:00 PM


Welcome Back, Epic Boston Comeback (Jeremy Gordon, 10/14/13, WSJ)

For a while, it seemed like the Red Sox were ready to replicate a glum-faced performance from Game 1 as their offense failed to get anything going against Detroit Tigers starter Max Scherzer, who apart from having a great baseball name proved totally unhittable for most of his time on the mound. Heading into the eighth inning, the Red Sox faced worse odds than the Rebel Alliance attacking the Death Star. But Scherzer couldn't pitch every inning, and against a Tigers bullpen held together with stick and tape all year, Ortiz pounced on the first pitch he saw to even up a 5-1 deficit. Tigers outfielder Torii Hunter, capable of he is of leaping over the wall like Spider-Man, was left legs dangling and fuming afterwards at the conveniently storybook ending. It was, as the Boston Globe's Dan Shaughnessy puts it with barely restrained glee, a "Ruthian" turn of events. (Indeed, Ortiz's home run moved him into a tie with the Babe for career postseason dingers.) The game-winning single from Jarrod Saltalamacchia in the bottom of the ninth felt like a foregone conclusion, especially since it came a few hours after Tom Brady delivered a similarly improbable last second win against the New Orleans Saints.

...but Tom Brady is no longer an NFL quarterback.  Only against a prevent defense can he hit a receiver over 5 yards away.

Posted by orrinj at 5:54 PM


10 Health Myths That Just Won't Die, Debunked by Science (Adam Dachis, 10/14/13, Lifehacker)

Myth 5: Gluten-Free Foods Are Healthier

The gluten-free craze recently took hold and you'll find tons of options as a result. Will you benefit from eating them? That depends on what your specific body needs. Just because some people need to eat gluten-free doesn't mean it will work for you. Bellatti explains when you need to rid it from your system and when it's fine:P

If you are celiac or gluten sensitive, gluten is problematic. Otherwise, the body is technically able to process gluten. The absence of gluten in a food does not automatically make it healthier (soda is gluten-free). A lot of gluten-free breads are made with refined starches, which are not healthful. While I think many people can tolerate gluten just fine, I also don't get concerned if someone tells me they feel better when they don't eat it. Shunning gluten from your diet doesn't put you at any sort of nutritional risk.

Dr. Stewart, for the most part, agrees:

Gluten-free foods are only healthier for you if you are allergic to gluten. If you aren't, eating a gluten-free diet restricts the amount of fiber, vitamins, and minerals you are able to consume. A variety of foods that are high in whole grains (such as foods containing wheat, rye, or barley) also contain gluten, and these foods are an essential part of a healthy diet. Most people have no trouble digesting gluten.P
Why don't most people have difficulty digesting gluten? Dr. Nadolsky explains:P

You just cannot eat enough grain lectin (ie. gluten) to damage this tissue appreciably unless you have some preexisting impairment in the regenerative capacity of the intestines, which would refer to celiacs and maybe those with 'sensitivities.' Otherwise, worry about gluten is overblown since the intestines are made to recover from these stressors.

Posted by orrinj at 4:19 AM


Swedish students better at English than Swedish (The Local, 14 Oct 2013)

Swedish ninth graders perform better in English than in Swedish, with experts explaining that English is increasingly accessible for the students, who find the subject more applicable than ever before.
"English is so fun. It's a subject that I can use every day. I've truly enjoyed the lessons," Markus Johansson, student at Källbrinksskolan in Stockholm's Huddinge, told the Dagens Nyheter newspaper.

English is what Esperanto wanted to be.

October 13, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 5:54 PM


The Confederate Flag Won't Help Conservatives Win the Shutdown (CONNOR SIMPSON, 10/13/13, Atlantic)

Someone actually thought it was a good idea to bring a Confederate flag to protests at the White House, ones attended by Sarah Palin and Ted Cruz. Shockingly the flag's presence is backfiring for Conservatives who hoped today's protests would be the big momentum turn in their favor. 

Rallier tells Obama to 'put the Quran down' (Ashley Killough and Shannon Travis and Brian Rokus, 10/13/2013, CNN)

One speaker went as far as saying the president was a Muslim and separately urged the crowd of hundreds to initiate a peaceful uprising.

"I call upon all of you to wage a second American nonviolent revolution, to use civil disobedience, and to demand that this president leave town, to get up, to put the Quran down, to get up off his knees, and to figuratively come out with his hands up," said Larry Klayman of Freedom Watch, a conservative political advocacy group.

What a bunch of goobers...

Posted by orrinj at 12:58 PM


Vatican beatifies over 500 'martyrs of the faith' killed during Spanish civil war (Paul Hamilos, 10/13/13, theguardian.com)

The Vatican on Sunday beatified more than 500 "martyrs of the faith" who were killed during the Spanish civil war, despite calls for the pope to cancel the event because of the Catholic church's support for General Francisco Franco.

The West won, get over it.
Posted by orrinj at 12:41 PM


Turning Education Upside Down (TINA ROSENBERG, 10/13/13, NY Times)

It's well known by now that online education is booming. You can study any subject free in a MOOC -- a massive open online course -- from single-digit addition to the history of Chinese architecture to flight vehicle aerodynamics. Courses are being offered by universities like Harvard and M.I.T. and by the teenager next door making videos in his garage. Among the best-known sources are the Khan Academy, Coursera and Udacity. But while online courses can make high-quality education available to anyone for the price of an Internet connection, they also have the potential to displace humans, with all that implies for teachers and students.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Posted by orrinj at 12:30 PM


Self-driving cars are no longer from the realm of science fiction (David Crossland, October 13, 2013, The National)

Self-driving cars are no longer science fiction. Engineers and software developers around the world are already test-driving them, and although they still have some key problems to sort out, they work. The sensors, cameras and radar technology they are based on are already in use as standard features on cars, such as parking assistance and cruise control systems.

The big challenge lies in the software programming of onboard computers that must enable the car to respond to any eventuality on the road.

Daimler is among the leaders in developing self-driving technology. Its main rivals include Google, which is testing driverless cars fitted with its Google Chauffeur software in California and Nevada.

Google has modified a number of models including the Toyota Prius, Lexus and Audi TT and they have clocked up more than 650,000 kilometres without accidents.

This summer, Daimler successfully completed a 103km journey in a modified S-class limousine equipped with eight radar systems and three cameras.

It mastered city traffic and busy roundabouts without "the driver" having to use the steering wheel, brake or accelerator.

"There were no dangerous situations," says Daimler board member Thomas Weber, the head of group research. "A lot of research work is still needed, but it showed us how extremely far we've come."

Posted by orrinj at 11:23 AM


Iranians Are Making Fun of Netanyahu for Following a Naughty Twitter Account (CONNOR SIMPSON, 10/12/13, Atlantic)

Making fun of Isreali Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is becoming the favorite pastime for Iranians online. Netanyahu was taking some well-deserved flack Saturday after being caught following a racy Twitter account. Last week Iranians were sending him pictures of their pants. Now they're making jokes about what may or may not be going on in his. 

Meet Persian Hot Book, an Iranian sex education account, or the porn feed favored most by the Israeli head of state.

Posted by orrinj at 11:15 AM


New Hampshire's Fiscal Year Finishes With Surplus (ASSOCIATED PRESS, 10/04/13)

Governor Maggie Hassan says strong fiscal management by state leaders and an improving economy have boosted the state's budget surplus to $76 million for fiscal year 2013.

That figure is $19 million more than the $57 million lawmakers had anticipated.

Hassan also said Friday that a monthly forecast shows the state currently running almost $27 million ahead for the 2014 fiscal year.

Posted by orrinj at 9:58 AM


The future of inequality (John McDermott, Financial Times)

"Life is better now than at almost any time in history", Angus Deaton writes in The Great Escape. The Princeton economist's account of health and wealth is a fundamentally positive story. Lives are longer, healthier, richer and more satisfying than ever before. To take one statistic from this compendium of progress: in every country in the world, infant and child mortality is lower than it was in 1950. On average, humankind is having a pretty good run.

Our incomplete flight from deprivation and early death is, however, more than a story of averages. Deaton's lucid book celebrates the riches brought by growth while judiciously explaining why some people are always "left behind". He draws a distinction between the inequalities that are opened up by advances in knowledge and those caused by flawed political systems. For it is humanity's lot that, ultimately, "inequality is the handmaiden of progress".

Does this matter? Yes. But inequality is a knotty subject. There is little agreement on what ought to be equal. Should it be a measurable outcome such as income or wealth; a hazier outcome such as power or freedom; or a vague aspiration such as "equality of opportunity"? It is often said that the world is becoming more unequal. But it is less than clear what is meant by that. As Deaton notes, income inequality between countries has grown over the past three centuries but it may now be narrowing between the world's people as a whole.

Regardless of the precise metrics, what matters most is the dynamics of inequality. Complete equality of income is neither practical nor desirable, but the consequences of inequality can be highly corrosive, as Deaton shows. He explores how it took a long time for humanity to acquire this problem. Ninety-five per cent of our time on earth has been spent as "egalitarian" hunter-gatherers. There is no clear evidence that agriculture marked a material advance; this only came definitively with the scientific and industrial revolutions.

And with them came the widespread inequalities that have marked the modern world. Deaton uses medical innovations as an example. The application of new knowledge, such as inoculation and germ theory, was first available to the rich before becoming cheaper and popular. In his telling, these material inequalities are temporary, justifiable side-effects of material progress.

Deaton adds that these differences did not narrow by chance. Politics matters. The implementation of germ theory required sanitation, which in turn "required action by public authorities, which required political agitation". A similar argument could be made concerning the bans on smoking in public places now common in Europe and North America. Functioning democracy helps ensure fewer people are "left behind".

Significantly, the reforms that conservatives propose to things like health care--Ryan/Wyden for instance--are universal and result in a lessening of inequality [or, at least, making "poverty" even more lucrative than it already is].

Enhanced by Zemanta

Posted by orrinj at 9:22 AM


Tristram Hunt signals Labour policy shift on free schools (Nicholas Watt, 10/13/13, theguardian.com)

Tristram Hunt has signalled a major change of approach in Labour's education policy by declaring that parents and social entrepreneurs will be able to open free schools in areas of need.

In a sign of Labour's determination to show it is open to reform and to upholding high academic standards, the new shadow education secretary described the recent OECD report that highlighted poor standards as a "wakeup call". [...]

Hunt said: "If you are a group of parents, a group of social entrepreneurs, teachers interested in setting up a school in areas where you need new schools then the Labour government will be on your side. We are in favour of enterprise and innovation.

Posted by orrinj at 9:00 AM


The Kurtz Republicans (ROSS DOUTHAT, October 12, 2013, NY Times)

"THEY told me," Martin Sheen's Willard says to Marlon Brando's Kurtz in "Apocalypse Now," at the end of a long journey up the river, "that you had gone totally insane, and that your methods were unsound."

His baldness bathed in gold, his body pooled in shadow, Kurtz murmurs: "Are my methods unsound?"

And Willard -- filthy, hollow-eyed, stunned by what he's seen -- replies: "I don't see any method at all, sir."

This is basically how reasonable people should feel about the recent conduct of the House Republicans.

Politics is a hard business, and failure is normal enough. It's not unusual for political parties to embrace misguided ideas, pursue poorly thought-out strategies, persist in old errors and embrace new ones eagerly.

So we shouldn't overstate the gravity of what's been happening in Washington. There are many policies in American history, pursued in good faith by liberals or conservatives, that have been more damaging to the country than the Republican decision to shut down the government this month, and many gambits that have reaped bigger political disasters than most House Republicans are likely to face as a result.

But there is still something well-nigh-unprecedented about how Republicans have conducted themselves of late. It's not the scale of their mistake, or the kind of damage that it's caused, but the fact that their strategy was such self-evident folly, so transparently devoid of any method whatsoever.

If the GOP used the crisis in order to get further budget balancing and some more Third Way reforms to Obamacare then there would really be no difference from a usual policy dust-up.  The problem is that many seem to believe they can actually return the country to the First Way.  

The folly of that belief would be evident if they just told the Tea Party that they were going to take away Medicare because it too is socialist. The older, whiter, wealthier membership of these groups just wants to prevent government spending on others so that it is there for themselves.  Those within the Beltway demanding ideological purity represent groups whose raison d'etre is impure.

Posted by orrinj at 8:38 AM


Create Jobs by Ending the Swipe Fee Rip-Off (Doug Kantor, October 13, 2013, RCP)

Even though the monthly jobs report went undisclosed last week because of the government shutdown, recent ones from the Labor Department have sent a clear message: If we want to quicken the pace of the economy recovery, we must do more than what we currently are.

Here's one idea: Cut the fee that merchants and consumers pay to swipe credit and debit cards.

A recent study found that more than 154,000 jobs could be created annually if debit card swipe fees were limited to 12 cents a transaction (as originally proposed by the Federal Reserve) and credit card swipe fees were limited to 24 cents -- amounts that would still allow credit card companies and the banks that issue the cards to realize a healthy profit, given the low cost to process transactions.

Banks make money on debit cards even without swipe fees because it's the cheapest way for the banks to give customers access to their money. And the cost to process a credit card transaction is small, only a few cents a swipe. But banks are charging anywhere from 2 to 4 percent of the total bill for credit cards and 24 cents a swipe for debit cards. That amounted to about $50 billion for the banks in 2012 -- or more than $400 for each American family.

Posted by orrinj at 8:33 AM


From the Start, Signs of Trouble at Health Portal (ROBERT PEAR, SHARON LaFRANIERE and IAN AUSTEN. October 12, 2013, NY Times)

 In March, Henry Chao, the chief digital architect for the Obama administration's new online insurance marketplace, told industry executives that he was deeply worried about the Web site's debut. "Let's just make sure it's not a third-world experience," he told them.

Two weeks after the rollout, few would say his hopes were realized.

For the past 12 days, a system costing more than $400 million and billed as a one-stop click-and-go hub for citizens seeking health insurance has thwarted the efforts of millions to simply log in. The growing national outcry has deeply embarrassed the White House, which has refused to say how many people have enrolled through the federal exchange.

Even some supporters of the Affordable Care Act worry that the flaws in the system, if not quickly fixed, could threaten the fiscal health of the insurance initiative, which depends on throngs of customers to spread the risk and keep prices low.

October 12, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 6:03 PM


Premier League scores in the US as NBC coverage finds growing audience : Clever marketing and an aggressive commercial strategy result in sports-mad Americans taking to the English game (James Riach, 10/12/13, The Observer)

[S]atirical humour has played just a small part in NBC's success. A vast marketing operation - which included Premier League advertisements in Times Square, individual club badges wrapped around the New York subway and British taxis decked in club colours- plus an aggressive commercial strategy have ensured the Premier League's popularity has surged across the United States.

All 380 Premier League matches are available to NBC viewers this season, across various platforms, the majority on NBC Sports Network, which was established in January 2012 and costs viewers a subscription of $0.31 (19p) a month.

Ratings are steadily growing as the season develops, with Everton's home match against Chelsea in September, broadcast across the whole NBC network, pulling in an average audience of 917,000. Highlights are shown and matches previewed on Sundays during live coverage of the NFL, something Miller describes as unprecedented, and 12 million people have tuned in - a significant increase on the 5.5m managed by ESPN and Fox Soccer this time last year. "We expected it to do well - it's lived up to our expectations and, in a lot of cases, exceeded them," says Miller. "What is surprising is how many people have jumped on this bandwagon so quickly and have fallen in love with it.

"There have always been a lot of people in this country who have loved soccer, but I don't think as many people really embraced the Premier League as they have now. It has become part of the daily conversation in this country, much more relevant and important.

"It's rapidly overtaking other sports in terms of attention and social conversation, coverage in print and broadcast news. You're seeing a real growth, while sports like baseball have levelled off a little bit. Fringe college football has been marginalised, so some of those properties have taken a hit."

They've made one weakness out of what should have been a strength by not going all in on their version of Match of the Day and by not exploiting America's superior sports analytics.  Rather than a couple ex-soccer players their studio analysts should be more along the lines of Bill James, John Madden, Pete Carrill, Billy Beane, etc.  It is we who should be explaining the game to the rest of the world, not vice versa.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Posted by orrinj at 5:55 PM


The joy of cloudspotting: 10 incredible visions in clouds (Kate Torgovnick, July 16, 2013, Ted Blog)

A "cloud on the horizon" means that something bad is about to happen. Meanwhile, someone with their "head in the clouds" is thoroughly out to lunch. As Gavin Pretor-Pinney points out in today's talk, clouds get a bad rep when it comes to language.

"But I think they're beautiful, don't you?" he says. "It's just that their beauty is missed because they're so omnipresent, so commonplace that people don't notice them ... unless they get in the way of the sun."

Pretor-Pinney is the founder of the Cloud Appreciation Society and, in this talk, he asks each of us to do something we excelled at when we were kids -- looking up at the clouds and letting our imaginations run wild. He shows many evocative cloud formations -- some created by specific, named types of clouds -- and calls on us all to take part in this global Rorschach test. To that end, the Cloud Appreciation Society (which has 32,000+ members) last week released a CloudSpotter iPhone app that allows people to capture and share their own cloud images. Bonus: NASA will use anonymous data from the app to help calibrate its cloud-observing satellites.

Below, Pretor-Pinney (and a few guests) shares a few cloud images with the TED Blog.

Posted by orrinj at 5:50 PM


Discover the amazing and unexpected world of clouds with CloudSpotter Your virtual guide to the wonders of the sky (cloudspotterapp)

From the fluffy Cumulus that form on a sunny day, to the rare Noctilucent clouds that shine from the fringes of space, the fleeting beauty and endless variety of clouds have always fascinated scientists and daydreamers alike.

Introducing 40 uniquely different cloud species and light phenomena with hundreds of spectacular photographs and extensive descriptions, CloudSpotter enables you to easily identify and spot them in the sky.

Become a CloudSpotter, build your collection, unlock Stars and Achievements as you join the global community and compete with other CloudSpotters around the globe!

An astounding, eye-opening experience for sky lovers and cloud novices of any age, created by Gavin Pretor-Pinney and The Cloud Appreciation Society.

Posted by orrinj at 5:38 PM


Shrinking Hours (RICHARD A. FRIEDMAN, October 12, 2013, NY Times)

ONCE, an hour with your therapist ran for about 60 minutes. But there's been a steady time deflation: first there was the 50-minute hour and now we have 45-minute "hours."

Patients may wonder if they are being shortchanged, or if they are paying more for less? Or did therapy somehow got more efficient, so that less is now more?

...for more than about ten minutes of the whining?

Posted by orrinj at 10:28 AM


Former EDL leader Tommy Robinson vows to help police track down 'racists' within the organisation (LIZZIE EDMONDS, 12 October 201, Daily Mirror)

Tommy Robinson, who dramatically quit the English Defence League this week, has vowed to help police tackle racism within the organsation and has apologised for causing fear among British Muslims.

Mr Robinson, 30, said he would work with police to help them investigate racism in the organisation - known for its thuggish street protests and extremist followers.

Mr Robinson, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, also said he was sorry for creating a 'us and them' culture and for causing fear among British Muslims.

Posted by orrinj at 9:54 AM


Gartner's dark vision for tech, jobs : In a world where smart machines do most of the work, expect high unemployment, unrest and tumult (Patrick Thibodeau, October 10, 2013, Computerworld )

Machines have been replacing people since the agricultural revolution, so what's new here?

In previous technological leaps, workers could train for a better job and achieve an improvement in their standard of living. But the "Digital Industrial Revolution," as the analyst firm terms it, is attacking jobs at all levels, not just the lower rung. Smart machines, for example, can automate tasks to the point where they become self-learning systems.

Smart machines "are diagnosing cancer, they are prescribing cancer treatments," said Kenneth Brandt, a Gartner analyst. These machines "can even deliver [treatment] to the room of the patient."

Gartner sees all kinds of jobs being affected: Transportation systems, construction work, mining warehousing, health care, to name a few. With IT costs at 4% of sales for all industries, there's very little left to cut in IT, but there is a great opportunity to cut labor.

The companies on the leading edge of this trend include Amazon, which spent $775 million last year to acquire Kiva Systems, a company that makes robots used in warehouses. Google is also on the forefront, with its effort to develop driverless cars. Gartner applies a broader template, and says that the jobs most susceptible to machine replacement involve a range of back-office functions, including transactions, specialization, objectivity, high control, high scale, compliance and science.

This shift will affect employment, said Brandt, at Gartner's Symposium ITxpo. "We believe there will be persistent and higher unemployment."

...is that jobs are a counterproductive means of redistributing the wealth we create as a society. So we'll devise other means. And we'll do so more quickly because the people who always thought their labor was irreplaceable turn out to be freeloaders too.

Posted by orrinj at 9:44 AM


 The Anglosphere and the Future of Liberty (Roger Kimball, October 6th, 2013, PJ Media)

By the time Andrew Roberts extended Churchill's work in his magisterial A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900 (2006), the Anglosphere had expanded to include Commonwealth Caribbean countries and, more to the point, India with its 1.1 billion people and the burgeoning capitalist dynamo that is its economy. The inclusion of India shows, as Roberts argues, that the defining quality of the Anglosphere is not shared race or ethnicity but shared values. It is a unity, as Madhav Das Nalapat put it in his contribution to an earlier TNC-SAU collaboration, a unity of ideas, "the blood of the mind" rather than "the blood of the body." Its force is more intangible than physical--set forth primarily in arguments rather than armies--but no less powerful for that. The ideas in play are so potent, in fact, that they allow India, exotic India, to emerge as an equal partner with Britain and the United States at "the core of a twenty-first-century Anglosphere."nativetongue

I'll say something about the substance of those ideas in a moment. First, it is worth pausing to register the medium in which the ideas unfold: English. Nalapat remarks that "The English language is . . . a very effective counter-terrorist, counter-insurgency weapon." I think he is right about that, but why? Why English? In a remarkable essay called "What Is Wrong with Our Thoughts?," the Australian philosopher David Stove analyzes several outlandish, yet typical, specimens of philosophical-theological linguistic catastrophe. He draws his examples not from the underside of intellectual life--spiritualism, voodoo, Freudianism, etc.--but from some of the brightest jewels in the diadem of Western thought: from the work of Plotinus, for example, and Hegel, and Michel Foucault. He quoted his examples in translation, he acknowledges, but notes that "it is a very striking fact . . . that I had to go to translations. . . . Nothing which was ever expressed originally in the English language resembles, except in the most distant way, the thought of Plotinus, or Hegel, or Foucault. I take this," Stove concludes, "to be enormously to the credit of our language."

Indeed. But why? What is it about English? I do not have an answer, but I note the fact that there seems to be some deep connection between the English language and that most uncommon virtue, common sense. I do not mean that English speakers act any less extravagantly than speakers of other tongues, but rather that English generally acts to tether thought to the empirical world. This is something Bishop Thomas Sprat dilated on in his History of the Royal Society (1667): "The general constitution of the minds of the English," he wrote, embraces frankness and simplicity of diction, "the middle qualities, between the reserv'd subtle southern, and the rough unhewn Northern people."

English, Bishop Sprat thought, is conspicuously the friend of empirical truth. It is also conspicuously the friend of liberty. Andrew Roberts, reflecting on the pedigree of certain ideas in the lexicon of freedom, notes that such key phrases as "liberty of conscience" (1580), "civil liberty" (1644, a Miltonic coinage), and "liberty of the press" (1769) were first expressed in English. Why is it that English-speaking countries produced Adam Smith and John Locke, David Hume and James Madison, but not Hegel, Marx, or Foucault? "The tongue and the philosophy are not unrelated," the philologist Robert Claiborne writes in Our Marvelous Native Tongue: The Life and Times of the English Language (1983). "Both reflect the ingrained Anglo-American distrust of unlimited authority, whether in language or in life."

Compare this to the French insistence on official language and you begin to grasp the Long War

Posted by orrinj at 9:17 AM


The true value of Norman Rockwell, America's patriot painter : Rockwell is often called 'folksy', yet his art, which now fetches millions, was deeply engaged with the great issues of his day (Nicolaus Mills, 10/12/13, theguardian.com)

At a time when the art world is still feeling the effects of the recession, it's understandable why there should be such interest in the prices buyers are willing to pay for Rockwell's depiction of "homey, small-town America" - as one report on the Sotheby's auction put it. The problem with this focus on the dollar value of Rockwell's most nostalgic paintings, though, is that it undermines his greater importance and influence.

We forget that, in the dark days of the second world war, Rockwell played a critical role in helping Americans on the home front understand what was at stake in the fighting going on in Europe and the Pacific. The British had Lawrence Olivier reminding them of their heroic past with his Henry V of 1944. Americans had Rockwell reminding them of their basic decency.

Nowhere is Rockwell's achievement clearer than in the second world war era paintings marking their 70th anniversary this year - Rosie the Riveter and the Four Freedoms, the series Rockwell did illustrating the "four freedoms" that President Franklin Roosevelt declared were the bedrock of a democratic society.

In Rockwell's hands, the Four Freedoms cease being merely abstract principles. They become a familiar way of life, ideals worth defending: Freedom from Want shows a family sharing a Thanksgiving meal; Freedom from Fear portrays parents tucking their children into bed; Freedom to Worship consists of close-ups of people of different faiths praying; and Freedom of Speech centers on a town meeting in which a man - who looks much like a beardless Abraham Lincoln - has his say while his neighbors respectfully listen. These paintings, done in a muted palette, reflect Rockwell at his most serious.

Americans immediately took to the paintings, and in April 1943, the Four Freedoms began a nationwide tour in which over 1.2m people viewed them and also bought $132m-worth of war bonds. At a time when families planting victory gardens in their backyards accounted for 40% of the vegetables grown in the United States, the Four Freedoms confirmed how the decisions Americans made in their everyday lives mattered. When the paintings came to New York, they were not confined to a museum; they were put on display at Radio City Music Hall.

One is reminded of what Stravinsky comprehended about America.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Posted by orrinj at 9:06 AM


Conservatism and Ideological Politics (Glen Austin Sproviero, Imaginative Conservative)

Political conservatism must not be tethered to any particular body of inflexible policy goals. It possesses no body of infallible tenets and claims no absolute creed. It accepts the world as an imperfect place, populated by imperfect beings. 

Of course, the fact that conservatism derives from The Fall means that it has an absolute creed.  People of the Right need not believe in God, nor the Fall.  Conservatives must.  All other beliefs are prone to the utopianism, and the adoption of measures designed to realize Utopia, that conservatism rejects utterly.
Posted by orrinj at 8:15 AM


Rescuing Compromise (JONATHAN RAUCH, FALL 2013, Commentary)

A funny thing happened on the way to legislative gridlock and fiscal meltdown in the past few years. In paralyzed, polarized Washington, where Democrats refuse to reduce spending without revenue increases that Republicans peremptorily reject, Democrats have accepted spending cuts, Republicans have accepted tax increases, and deficits have come down.

It is true that all of that happened in an ugly, piecemeal fashion, with the two parties lurching from one self-created crisis to another. At one stage, Republicans seemed willing to default on the national debt rather than compromise; at another, an automatic "sequestration" cut spending in what everyone agreed was a nonsensical fashion. Instead of joining hands in the grand bargain so ardently desired by pundits and much of the public, Congress and President Obama fought their way through a series of stopgaps, each of them greeted as disappointing if not appalling.

Yet the results bear pondering. The cumulative effect of Washington's serial muddling has been to stabilize the national debt as a share of gross domestic product over the coming decade, according to Congressional Budget Office projections. The resulting level, by many accounts, is still too high, and more remains to be done about long-term increases in health-care spending and other entitlement costs. But the near-term debt emergency is over.

To get here, Congress cut spending by about $2.6 trillion over ten years, and raised taxes by about $700 billion (according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities). After adjusting for padding and assorted gimmicks on the spending side, that ratio of spending cuts to tax increases looks remarkably close to the ratio of between 2-to-1 and 3-to-1 recommended by many of the mainstream economists and pundits who called for a grand bargain.

And at least as important, all of that fiscal tightening happened at a pace that slowed but did not abort a delicate economic recovery. Too much deficit reduction would have caused a recession, aggravating the debt problem; too little would have left the underlying crisis untended. Unlike Europe, America seemed to have gotten both the pace and the magnitude of the fiscal adjustment about right.

In short, the system acquitted itself quite well, and better than any of the individual actors within it -- steering a course between hostile political factions and dangerous economic outcomes. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:04 AM


Looking Through Orwell : The unmoored nature of the freelance life : a review of George Orwell: A Life in Letters Selected and Annotated by Peter Davison (ANDREW FERGUSON, OCTOBER 2013, American Spectator)

It's odd that a writer who respected transparency and clarity of language above all things should himself be so misunderstood by at least half his admirers. Among the scribbling classes, Orwell fans seem to me to be equally divided between right and left. To cite an easy illustration: Norman Podhoretz's famous essay from 1983 claimed Orwell as an early incarnation of neoconservatism (a proto-neo!), owing to his staunch anti-communism and pro-Western sympathies. Podhoretz's essay was furiously rebutted by the late Christopher Hitchens, who later went on to produce a book called Why Orwell Matters, citing his hero's emphatic atheism, anti-imperialism, and socialism as evidence of his undying identity as a man of the left. Somebody here has got Orwell all wrong. [...]

The letters show us in detail Orwell's effort to steer the BBC and other employers away from hiring hacks he knew from personal experience to be fellow travelers or worse. He even made lists, running finally to more than 130 names. When the lists and letters were first made public a decade ago, Orwell's stature wobbled on the left. Hitchens leapt to his defense by insisting that he didn't "name names" at all. Orwell, wrote Hitchens, "wasn't interested in unearthing heresy or in getting people fired or in putting them under the discipline of a loyalty oath." Actually, as the letters make clear, Orwell did want to do those things, with the possible exception of enforcing a loyalty oath. The letters give those of us sympathetic to the argument for Orwell-as-proto-neocon another chance not to act smug.

The key to Orwell is rather simple : he revered the past and dreaded the future.

Posted by orrinj at 7:57 AM


Duke Ellington, King of Jazz : Ellington transformed feelings into music-and his songs sound as fresh today as they did in his time (TERRY TEACHOUT, 10/12/13, WSJ)

What makes Ellington's music sound so powerfully, unmistakably individual? To begin with, he was the first jazz composer to write music that used the still-new medium of the big band with the same coloristic imagination brought by classical composers to their symphonic works. " You know, Stan Kenton can stand in front of a thousand fiddles and a thousand brass and make a dramatic gesture, and every studio arranger can nod his head and say, 'Oh, yes, that's done like this,' "said André Previn, one of his best-informed admirers. "But Duke merely lifts his finger, three horns make a sound, and I don't know what it is!"

Nor were Ellington's innovations limited to the field of orchestration. What set him apart was not his virtuoso command of instrumental timbre but how he used it. Mere arrangers took pop songs and dressed them up in new colors and harmonies, but Ellington, though he recorded his share of engagingly catchy hits, was better known and more widely esteemed for the pieces in which he used the language of jazz to say things that it had never said before.

Previn compared him to Stravinsky and Prokofiev; Percy Grainger compared him to Bach and Delius;. Ralph Ellison likened him to Ernest Hemingway Within the tight confines of a single 78 side, he spun "tone parallels" (a phrase he coined) to every imaginable human emotion. He and the 900 musicians who passed through his band sang of joy and loneliness, passion and despair, faith and hope.

October 11, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 1:37 PM


Iran official slams censorship policy (Golnaz Esfandiari, 10/11/13, Asia Times)

Iranian Culture Minister Ali Jannati has said that book censorship was too strict under the country's former government. In comments quoted by Iran's semi-official ILNA news agency on October 8, Jannati said censors would have rejected the Koran, which Muslims believe is a revelation by God. [...]

A few days before Jannati's remarks, more than 200 Iranian writers, poets, and translators called on him to lift the censorship policy and allow authors to take responsibility for their own writing.

In an open letter published by several Iranian news sites, they said the widespread censorship of recent years had created an atmosphere of fear that would not go away easily. They suggested that a committee be created within the Culture Ministry that writers could consult to avoid breaching guidelines. 

Posted by orrinj at 1:31 PM


The Army Goes Green, but Not to Save the Earth (Ehren Goossens, Oct 10, 2013, Bloomberg Businessweek) 

Daniel Rice takes taxis down long desert roads in Afghanistan's combat zones to make sales calls. He travels at night, unarmed, and when he's dropped at the gate of a U.S. military base, soldiers often call Rice crazy before whisking him inside. The former U.S. Army officer is there to sell commanders on something he wishes the military used eight years ago when he served in Iraq and lost friends in attacks on convoys: solar panels.

Rice, co-founder of SunDial Capital Partners, tells the officers that his portable solar systems can reduce fuel consumption. "Why are soldiers still dying in fuel convoys when the military could significantly reduce its fuel at remote locations and at the same time save taxpayer dollars?" he asks.

The Army has spent $10 million to equip Special Forces units with SunDial's systems. It's part of a $4 billion green campaign the Army launched in 2009, with plans to spend billions more over the next three decades. The mission isn't about saving the environment. It's about saving money and lives. "A fuel tanker can be shot at and blown up," says Richard Kidd, deputy assistant secretary of the Army in charge of energy and sustainability. "The sun's rays will still be there."

Posted by orrinj at 1:28 PM


Iran cancels anti-Israel forum (Ali Akbar Dareini, October 11, 2013, The National)

 The administration of Iran's new president Hassan Rouhani has cancelled an anti-Israeli conference as part of his outreach to the West and efforts to map out a new diplomatic path for Iran.

The annual event was set up by Mr Rouhani's predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and showcased the former president's vitriolic anti-Israeli rhetoric and promoted his anti-Israeli sentiments.

Posted by orrinj at 1:24 PM


A Computer-Generated Vision of Gaudí's Unfinished Masterpiece (Kristin Hohenadel, 10/08/13, Slate)

[T]hanks to the magic of computer-rendered animation, what Gaudí could not complete in a lifetime is virtually realized in the space of a one-minute YouTube video released by the Sagrada Familia foundation. The stunning video uses digitally enhanced helicopter footage to magically fill in the future outlines of Gaudí's dream. It shows the completed church as Gaudí envisioned it, with its 18 towers dedicated to various religious figures. The foundation projects the work will be completed by the 100-year anniversary of Gaudí's death, in 2026.

The video offers a thrilling voyage into the future. But it's also a pointed reminder that much of the magic of the UNESCO World Heritage Site for the 2.5 million who visit each year lies in its semi-realized state. The world has long known the poetry of half-bombed churches and other ruins, but how often does modern civilization have a chance to witness in slow motion as a great building is built? Not a skyscraper that might take years, but a historic building that has been in the works for more than a century?

Even unfinished, Sagrada Familia is a masterpiece, the crown jewel in Barcelona's architectural landscape. This living monument that began as an homage to the life of Christ has ended up becoming a testament to the divine possibilities of the human imagination.

Posted by orrinj at 1:18 PM


The Perils of Premature Deindustrialization (Dani Rodrik, Oct. 11, 2013, Project Syndicate)

In the United States, manufacturing employed less than 3% of the labor force in the early nineteenth century. After reaching 25-27% in the middle third of the twentieth century, deindustrialization set in, with manufacturing absorbing less than 10% of the labor force in recent years. [...]

Only a few developing countries, typically in East Asia, have been able to emulate this pattern. Thanks to export markets, South Korea industrialized exceptionally rapidly. With manufacturing's share of employment rising from the low single digits in the 1950's to a high of 28% in 1989 (it has since fallen by ten percentage points), South Korea underwent in three decades a transformation that took a century or longer in the early industrializers.

But the developing world's pattern of industrialization has been different. Not only has the process been slow, but deindustrialization has begun to set in much sooner.

Consider Brazil and India, two emerging economies that have done comparatively well in the last decade or so. In Brazil, manufacturing's share of employment barely budged from 1950 to 1980, rising from 12% to 15%. Since the late 1980's, Brazil has begun to deindustrialize, a process which recent growth has done little to stop or reverse. India presents an even more striking case: Manufacturing employment there peaked at a meager 13% in 2002, and has since trended down.

It is not clear why developing countries are deindustrializing so early in their growth trajectories. One obvious culprit may be globalization and economic openness, which have made it difficult for countries like Brazil and India to compete with East Asia's manufacturing superstars. But global competition cannot be the main story. Indeed, what is striking is that even East Asian countries are subject to early-onset deindustrialization.
CommentsConsider China. In view of its status as the world's manufacturing powerhouse, it is surprising to discover that manufacturing's share of employment is not only low, but seems to have been declining for some time. While Chinese statistics are problematic, it appears that manufacturing employment peaked at around 15% in the mid-1990's, generally remaining below that level since.

China is a very large country, of course, with much of its workforce still in rural areas. But most migrant workers now find jobs in services rather than in factories. Similarly, it is extremely unlikely that the new crop of manufacturing exporters, such as Vietnam and Cambodia, will ever reach the levels of industrialization attained by the early industrializers, such as Britain and Germany.

An immediate consequence is that developing countries are turning into service economies at substantially lower levels of income. When the US, Britain, Germany, and Sweden began to deindustrialize, their per capita incomes had reached $9,000-11,000 (at 1990 prices). In developing countries, by contrast, manufacturing has begun to shrink while per capita incomes have been a fraction of that level: Brazil's deindustrialization began at $5,000, China's at $3,000, and India's at $2,000.

Posted by orrinj at 4:40 AM

DON'T BELIEVE THE HYPE (profanity alert):

The Six Big Takeaways From the Government Shutdown (Nate Silver, October 10, 2013, Grantland)

1. The media is probably overstating the magnitude of the shutdown's political impact.

Remember Syria? The fiscal cliff? Benghazi? The IRS scandal? The collapse of immigration reform? All of these were hyped as game-changing political moments by the news media, just as so many stories were during the election last year. In each case, the public's interest quickly waned once the news cycle turned over to another story. Most political stories have a fairly short half-life and won't turn out to be as consequential as they seem at the time.

Or consider the other story from President Obama's tenure in office that has the most parallels to the shutdown: the tense negotiations, in 2011, over the federal debt ceiling. The resolution to that crisis, which left voters across the political spectrum dissatisfied, did have some medium-term political impact: Obama's approval ratings declined to the low 40s from the high 40s, crossing a threshold that historically marks the difference between a reelected president and a one-termer, and congressional approval ratings plunged to record lows.

But Obama's approval ratings reverted to the high 40s by early 2012, enough to facilitate his reelection. Meanwhile, reelection rates for congressional incumbents were close to their long-term averages.

It's a minor squabble over how quickly to balance the budget.  It's fun, but essentially meaningless.

Posted by orrinj at 4:29 AM


Surprise! Roku LT is a better buy than Apple TV (Adrian Covert, 10/10/13,CNNMoneyTech)

The $50 Roku LT hits the perfect sweet spot of low cost and abundant content, which is why it is CNNMoney's Best In Tech for the set-top-box category.

Using the Roku LT, you'll find the obligatory Netflix (NFLX) and Hulu apps, along with HBO Go. But in addition to those staples, there's also the likes of Amazon (AMZN, Fortune 500) Instant Video, Crackle, Epix, PBS, Fox (FOX), Blockbuster, Time Warner Cable (TWC, Fortune 500), Syfy, and the music video app Vevo. There's access to streaming music services like Rdio, Spotify and Pandora (P), and live pro baseball, hockey, basketball and soccer games.

And that just cracks the surface. There's a lot of content you won't currently find on an Apple (AAPL, Fortune 500) TV or Google (GOOG, Fortune 500) Chromecast.

The Roku box itself is small, quiet and more than up to the task of handling HD video. The top resolution of streaming content is only 720p, but the vast majority of people will be hard pressed to notice the difference in quality from the top-of-the-line (and twice-as-expensive) Roku 3.

Posted by orrinj at 4:17 AM


ROC centennial highlights the miracle of democracy (The China Post, October 8, 2011)

During the next decade, in both nations, the push for industrialization and development gathered and then lost steam, as lives were also lost, to cultural crusades and martial law. Both Mao and Chiang Kai-shek refused to transition to anything like a democratic system. Though still an authoritarian state, the R.O.C. began economic reforms and well-planned infrastructure projects -- the first steps on the road to stability. In China this same process took decades longer, and it was not until Deng Xiaoping that real progress was made. By that time, the R.O.C. had already won praise as one of the Four Asian Tigers, and was preparing to win further plaudits for its burgeoning democracy.

We all know the story since then. A miracle has occurred before our very eyes -- an economic miracle. Chinese people have been lifted from poverty by the tens of millions, all by the invisible hand of almost-capitalism. Incomes have shot up in time with skyscrapers as GDP growth raced ahead in double-digits. In fear of missing the bandwagon, the rest of the world jumped on it. In February this year, China overtook Japan as the world's second largest economy. Commentators, especially in the Chinese media, pointed to this as further proof of the economic miracle. But this is not a miracle. It is exactly what should have been expected.

What else would be expected when opening up a poverty-stricken, undeveloped, agriculture-based country of over a billion people to trade and investment? Of course the world will take advantage of cheap wages and tens of millions of migrant workers looking for factory jobs. Of course hedonistic investors will funnel money into Chinese companies, either unaware or apathetic to their corrupt, opaque roots.
Becoming the No. 2 economy was not miraculous -- it is the least that should have been expected. Imagine if, instead of the Great Leap Forward in 1958, special economic zones were introduced 20 years earlier. Imagine if, instead of the Cultural Revolution in 1966, officials and leaders were chosen by free and fair elections. These are the things which have led Taiwan to the very top tier of the U.N.'s Human Development Index, while the mainland is still quite far behind.

If the PRC had made the same reforms at the same times as the R.O.C., imagine how much further ahead it could be. Instead of 73.47 years, life expectancy could be over 78, like in Taiwan. The infant mortality rate per thousand live births could be closer to Taiwan's 6.29 deaths, instead of the current 22.12. In this light surely China is an underachiever.

Posted by orrinj at 4:12 AM


Niall Ferguson Gets It Backwards, The Budget Deficit 'Threat' Is An Opportunity (John Tamny, 10/10/13, Forbes)

Back in 2008 in the lead-up to the 2008 presidential elections, John Stewart's Comedy Channel show did a feature on John McCain going back to 1980. Each year offered a video clip of the Arizona Senator warning of a looming fiscal crisis related to the nation's budget deficit.

Though one would be foolish to use The Daily Show as an economics lesson, the underlying point of the McCain segment was valid. Politicians, economists and mere members of the U.S. citizenry have been predicting deficit doom for as long as this writer's been sentient, and probably even as long McCain's been kicking. [...]

Simply put, economic growth is easy. Taxes are a penalty placed on work and investment, so reduce the penalty on both to get more of both. Regulations don't work (see the banks overseen by the Fed, SEC and the rest), but they do inhibit the profit motive for distracting executives who should be focused on the shareholder, and by extension, the customer. Trade is why we get up for work each day so that we can exchange our surplus for that of others, so when barriers to trade are put up, we foster inefficiency all the while taxing the purpose of work. Money is how we measure the value of the goods we exchange, and the investments we enter into, so stabilize its value. Notable with money is that in his masterful book, The Cash Nexus, Ferguson wrote of 'forever' British debt instruments that forever paid out low rates of interest precisely because the Pound had a stable definition in terms of gold.

To make basic what already is, growing countries never have to worry about deficits simply because their debt is so attractive. Greece isn't suffering a debt crisis because it owes too much money, rather it's in trouble because its even more hapless political class doesn't understand that its debt problems would disappear if it adopted growth policies like the ones listed above. As Forbes contributor Louis Woodhill has pointed out regularly, interest rates on Greek debt became even more onerous once its politicians raised taxes to 'fix' the problem. What they missed is that the deficit problem was one of too little growth. It's much the same here.

In short, rather than worry about a debt 'threat' that never seems to materialize, we should view the deficit as an opportunity to implement policies that always work, and that may even turn people like John McCain into optimists.

October 10, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 3:03 PM


The maturing of democracy : Picking up the tab : a review of  The Confidence Trap: A History of Democracy in Crisis from World War I to the Present. By David Runciman  (The Economist, Oct 5th 2013)

Mr Runciman's main targets are false promises and undue hopes. Failure is as normal in democracies as success. A historian of ideas, he takes a long view. Democracy lives, and has always lived, in crises. These are mild at times, severe at others. Either way, democracies, being flexible, tend to muddle through. Mr Runciman stresses "muddle". Crises do not reveal great truths. Nor do democracies learn much from crises. Democracies are complicated and opaque, which partly explains the mood swings from elation to despair and back. Not to see that is to fall into the "confidence trap" of his book's title.

Mr Runciman illustrates his thoughts with seven critical episodes: unforeseen war (1918), unexpected slump (1933), threats to post-war Europe (1947), possible annihilation in the Cuban missile crisis (1962), stagflation (1974), short-lived triumphalism (1989) and financial meltdown (2008).

Add those up, and you get a fair list of the challenges facing present-day democracies. So why do they repeat mistakes? Oddly, perhaps, for a historian, Mr Runciman suggests that ignoring the past is a democratic strength. Old problems recur, but never quite in the same form. Unlike autocracies, which are "fatalistic" and inflexible, democracies expect the future to be different. Counting on ceaseless change, in other words, helps democracy adapt and muddle through.

October 9, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 7:51 PM


'THE MESSAGE IS THAT ALL OUR PROBLEMS ARE IN OUR BRAINS' : Joanna Moncrieff talks to spiked about the myth that we're all mentally ill. (TIM BLACK, 7 OCTOBER 2013, spiked)
"I think that psychiatry as an institution is based on a fundamental misconception: that mental illness is a real, physical bodily illness. I don't think it is. That is not to say there isn't a role for some sort of medical intervention - some drug treatment can be useful in some circumstances. But I think it's important to use those drugs very carefully and very knowledgeably.'

And there's the rub for Joanna Moncrieff, a senior lecturer at University College London and a practising consultant psychiatrist. Antipsychotics, the drugs used to treat people suffering from some forms of psychosis, are neither being used carefully nor knowledgeably. They are, she tells me, increasingly being given to people enduring little more than the 'ups and downs' of life - a diagnosis which could apply to 'absolutely anyone'.

As Moncrieff explains in her enthralling sequel to The Myth of the Chemical Cure, The Bitterest Pills: The Troubling Story of Antipsychotic Drugs, the almost all-purpose prescription of antipsychotics for what amounts to everyday emotional distress is a new phenomenon. [...]

So what is going on? Why are there so many more people being given a diagnosis that demands the prescription of powerful antipsychotics?

Moncrieff is quick to answer: 'That's an easy one - it's the pharmaceutical industry. The new range of antipsychotics started to appear on the market in the 1990s, and the first target was to get the new drugs to replace the old antipsychotics used to treat people with severe disorders like schizophrenia. Once that had been achieved, the pharmaceutical companies started looking for new markets for these drugs. And that is when they started trying to expand the definitions of schizophrenia and psychosis to try to pull more people into the diagnostic ambit of those serious conditions. And this was done partly by the transformation of one diagnosis in particular: bipolar disorder.'

Given the eagerness on the part of too many people to proclaim themselves 'bipolar', Moncrieff's description is illuminating: 'Twenty years ago, bipolar disorder used to be known as manic depression. It was a very serious condition which almost always led to the sufferer ending up in hospital when they had an episode. But it has been transformed over the last few years into something which consists of mood variability - of ups and downs - and which could therefore apply to absolutely anyone.'  Little wonder pharmaceutical companies were so keen to gain a licence to use antipsychotics to treat this changing version of bipolar disorder: 'It enabled them to market the drugs to anyone who has suffered ups and downs.' That is a pretty big market.

Posted by orrinj at 7:09 PM


Iran Readies Offer to Limit Its Nuclear Program (JAY SOLOMON, 10/08/13, WSJ)

Iran is preparing a package of proposals to halt production of near-weapons-grade nuclear fuel, a key demand of the US and other global powers, according to officials briefed on diplomacy ahead of talks in Geneva next week.

Tehran in return will request that the US and European Union begin scaling back sanctions that have left it largely frozen out of the international financial system and isolated its oil industry, the officials said.

"The Iranians are preparing to go to Geneva with a serious package," said a former Western diplomat who has discussed the incentives with senior Iranian diplomats in recent weeks. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:04 PM

60-40 NATION:

The conservative shift in public opinion has happened in all 50 states (Peter Enns, 10/09/13, Washington  Post)

Recently on this blog, Larry Bartels drew attention to an astonishing fact: the public is as conservative as it has been in 50 years. To highlight this point, Professor Bartels presented the public's policy mood -- James Stimson's measure of public support for government programs--from 1950 to 2012. In a recent article, Julianna Koch and I generated measures of policy mood for each state from the 1950s to 2010 (our measures our here). What we found is that the conservative opinion shift Professor Bartels highlighted repeats itself in every state.

October 8, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 9:22 PM


Democratic cracks open in debt-limit fight (MANU RAJU and JOHN BRESNAHAN, 10/7/13, Politico)

Just as top Senate Democrats began to lay the groundwork to raise the U.S. government's borrowing limit through 2014, senior White House officials refused to rule out a short-term increase. The divergent messages caused major heartburn for top Senate Democrats and gave Republicans fresh hope that they could defeat a yearlong debt ceiling hike and win concessions from President Barack Obama in this fall's fiscal battles.

By late Monday afternoon, nervous Senate Democrats had reached out to the White House to ensure they were on the same page -- and the concerns on Capitol Hill seemed to be alleviated after senior administration officials downplayed the idea of a short-term increase.

But the incident underscored the fear among the congressional Democratic leadership that President Barack Obama may eventually back away from the no-negotiation stance he and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) have voiced for weeks in order to avoid a first-ever default. And it raised questions about Senate Democrats' next step in the debt ceiling debate if Republicans successfully filibuster a bill to increase the $16.7 trillion national debt ceiling.

It can't really have taken them this long to figure out that he doesn't care about them, can it?

Posted by orrinj at 9:16 PM


Let's Call The Shutdown What It Is: Secession By Another Means (BILL MOYERS, OCTOBER 8, 2013, TPM) 

It's a minor budget squabble for goodness sake.  The Dems need to take a deep breath.

Posted by orrinj at 9:13 PM


Why I'm Very Happy About Janet Yellen (Justin Wolfers, Oct 8, 2013, Bloomberg)

Yellen is quite simply more qualified for the job than any of her predecessors. She's an imaginative and technically adept economist possessed of a brilliant and precise mind. As a researcher, she has made fundamental contributions to our understanding of unemployment and the importance of smoothing out the ups and downs of the economy. She has demonstrated an ability to navigate political corridors, having served successfully as the chairman of President Bill Clinton's Council of Economic Advisers.

She's also battle-tested, having worked in key policy roles through both the Asian financial crisis and the recent global financial crisis. She has spent most of the past two decades as a leading voice within the Fed, initially as a member of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, then as president and chief executive officer of the San Francisco Federal Reserve Board, and over the past four years as vice chairman of the Federal Reserve.

No Fed chairman has ever been subject to as robust a public vetting as Yellen has over the past two months. It's notable that through the drawn-out public debate over who should replace current Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, not a single economist who has ever worked with Yellen has had a bad word to say about her.

Posted by orrinj at 4:31 PM


How Obama Can Deal with the Irate Republican Army (PHILIP BUMP, 10/08/13, Atlantic)

The picture that goes with the story is charming too.  But, remember...Republicans are the angry ones...

Posted by orrinj at 4:40 AM


Israel and India, a Match Made in the U.S., Develop Their Own Military Romance : How last month's attacks in Nairobi, a reminder of the Mumbai siege, may bring them even closer together (Mark Bergen, October 8, 2013, Tablet)

Last year, Israel topped the list of arms suppliers to India--just as India officially became the globe's largest arms importer. And it's not just missiles and drones: India has increasingly leaned on Tel Aviv for high-tech warfare, scooping up the Phalcon airborne radar and advanced electronic surveillance systems along with equipment to retrofit now-rickety Soviet-era weaponry. In New Delhi, Israel is seen not just as a ready and competent supplier, but as a kindred nation. "India and Israel both imagine themselves as democracies under siege," said Bhairav Acharya, a legal analyst with the Centre for Internet and Society, a Bangalore think tank. "Relationships are extremely one-sided and based almost solely on combat weapons."

For India, the Shabab terrorist attack in Nairobi last month struck a nerve. It was eerily reminiscent of the siege by a militant group from Pakistan in Mumbai, five years ago, in which more than 160 people were killed, including the local Chabad rabbi and his wife. Since then, the Indian government has grown closer to Israel, which was one of the first nations to come to its aid in 2008. Their courtship began as a multilateral relationship, with the United States acting as partner and matchmaker. But the road between Jerusalem and Delhi no longer passes through Washington. "In fact, if the U.S. were to take an active interest, it would complicate this relationship," said Harsh V. Pant, a defense studies lecturer at King's College, London.

As India continues to ramp up its military might, it looks set to grow closer still, as Israel seeks to cement its relationship not just with a customer for its defense industries but with a friend among the world's major non-Islamic powers. In November, the two nations are set to hold a seventh round of talks on a bilateral free-trade agreement. If finalized, it's expected to broaden economic exchange beyond government contracts, to private-sector deals in information technology, agriculture, and energy. "The relations between Israel and India are not based on the relations between India and the U.S.," Ohad Horsandi, the Israeli Embassy spokesman in New Delhi, told me. "These are completely independent relations."

Posted by orrinj at 4:35 AM


Federal Shutdown Starts to Crimp Trade : Importers, Exporters Can't Get Approval to Ship Computer Gear, Lumber, Steel (BETSY MORRIS  , DON CLARK  and MIKE ESTERL, 10/08/13, WSJ)

The US government's partial shutdown is beginning to gum up trade.

All pesticide imports to the US have been halted, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, which must approve them but has had more than 90% of its staff furloughed. Some US technology companies can't fill overseas orders because they cannot obtain US Department of Commerce authorization to export. Steel imports are stranded at customs-clearance warehouses awaiting paperwork.

"It's a mess," said Marianne Rowden, president of the American Association of Exporters and Importers.

More than 40 government agencies, including the EPA, the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Commerce, are involved in trade shipments, said Ms. Rowden. Fourteen agencies have "release and hold" authority that trumps clearance from US Customs and Border Patrol, she said.

...permanently waive all such authorizations and disband the 40 agencies.

October 7, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 6:27 PM


222-0 : The Story of The Game of the Century (G. Frank Burns, Cumberland University Historian)

The world immediately recognizes three sets of figures: 2001, December 7, and 222 to 0. The first is a movie, the second is a day that lives in infamy, and the third is indissolubly connected with Cumberland football, a veritable landmark of American sports. On October 7, 1916, Georgia Tech played Cumberland in Atlanta. Tech won 222 to 0, the worst walloping in the history of American college football. There was a worse defeat in prep school records but the 227 to 0 win by Dickinson over Haverford is suspect.

From the beginning of football at Cumberland in 1894, an ambitious schedule had each season included Southern football powers: Sewanee, Vanderbilt, the University of Mississippi, Mississippi A. & M. (now Mississippi State), Alabama, Tulane, South Carolina, Louisiana State, Tennessee, and Georgia Tech. In 1902 Cumberland's 16 to 5 win over A. & M. attracted attention. In 1903 there was the 6-0 victory over Vanderbilt, the five-day road trip that on November 14, 16, and 18 furnished consecutive victories over Tulane, Louisiana State, and Alabama, and the post-season game with Clemson, arranged by Coach John Heisman for the championship of the South, which ended with the score 11 to 11. Cumberland was proclaimed the Southern champion.

Incidentally, John Heisman's Clemson team beat Georgia Tech 73 to 0 in 1903; the next season Heisman was coaching at Georgia Tech.

The sport was dropped at Cumberland in 1906, resumed in 1912, dropped in 1915, and resumed briefly in 1916 when the memorable 222-0 game with Georgia Tech was played in Atlanta.

There is no such thing as a true account of this game. There is a contemporary play-by-play record, without color, in the files of an Atlanta newspaper. But no matter who tells the story, the temptation to embroider is irresistible.

When we were kids there was one football book we all read--was it called Unforgettable Football Facts?--and the only three things I remember from it were this game, Colgate's undefeated, untied, unscored-upon, uninvited season and the Ice Bowl.

Posted by orrinj at 6:01 PM


Why the capture of al Qaeda's Abu Anas al-Libi is a big deal (Peter Weber, 10/07/13, The Week)

On Saturday morning in Tripoli, four vans with tinted windows surrounded the car of suspected al Qaeda leader Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, (better known as Abu Anas al-Libi), smashed his car window, grabbed him, and sped away with one of America's most-wanted terrorist suspects. Al-Libi is now reportedly onboard the USS San Antonio in the Mediterranean, undergoing what's probably going to be a prolonged interrogation.

The failure to capture or (probably) kill Ikrimah is a mixed bag. Al Shabab -- which says it was tipped off about the raid -- gets some bragging rights for fending off the mighty SEAL Team Six, but they also lost as many as seven militants and inflicted zero casualties. It might also be rattling to have the U.S. bring the fight to al Shabab's shrinking territory. But the capture of al-Libi by Army Delta Force commandos is a big deal, for several reasons.

The first reason is that al-Libi "is seen as a potential intelligence gold mine, possessing perhaps two decades of information about al Qaeda, from its early days under Osama bin Laden in Sudan to its more scattered elements today," say Benjamin Weiser and Eric Schmitt in The New York Times. He was indicted in U.S. federal court in 2000 for his suspected role in the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Al-Libi has a $5 million bounty on his head.

The model the Obama administration hopes to emulate is Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame, an al Shabab military commander the U.S. captured in the Gulf of Aden in 2011. Warsame was interrogated on a Navy ship for about two months, then read his legal rights; he waived them and started cooperating with the U.S. government. After his interrogation, al-Libi will similarly be handed to a new FBI team, then prosecuted in U.S. federal court, probably in New York.

Posted by orrinj at 5:58 PM


Nuclear fusion milestone passed at US lab (Paul Rincon, 10/07/13, BBC New)

Researchers at a US lab have passed a crucial milestone on the way to their ultimate goal of achieving self-sustaining nuclear fusion.

Harnessing fusion - the process that powers the Sun - could provide an unlimited and cheap source of energy. [...]

The BBC understands that during an experiment in late September, the amount of energy released through the fusion reaction exceeded the amount of energy being absorbed by the fuel - the first time this had been achieved at any fusion facility in the world.

Posted by orrinj at 5:50 PM


What If Default Isn't a Disaster? : Since the crisis is purely self-inflicted, the ability of the U.S. to grow fast enough to meet its obligations would not have been altered (ZACHARY KARABELL, OCT 4 2013, Atlantic Monthly)

To begin with, there is currently just a tad under $12 trillion of debt held by the public, out of nearly $17 trillion of total U.S. debt. That is a considerable portion of the global bond market, comprising between 10 and 20 percent of all bonds issued globally depending on how one calculates. And some significant portion of that global market is priced relative to the price of U.S. Treasuries, which remain one of the few highly-liquid, highly-rated, and easily bought and sold instruments of credit in the world.

The size of the market for U.S. bonds is one reason for the high level of concern about what would happen if these supposedly safe and secure instruments were suddenly shown to be not so safe and not so secure. But that size also means that U.S. bonds are not like any other financial instrument. Faced with a default of a normal bond, investors shy away. They demand to be paid more for higher levels of risk. They sell what they have. Faced with a default of U.S. bonds, however, people are running towards them.

Bond yields have actually fallen in the past weeks, suggesting higher demand. Searching for safety in risky times, investors -- and that means not just traders on Wall Street but large asset managers, investment advisors, pension funds and foreign governments -- turn to the one thing that has been safe, U.S. bonds, even as the one thing that looks to be increasingly less safe is...U.S. bonds.

Now you could say that this is a sign of additional risk, because it flies in the face of common sense. Why buy the very thing that looks most imperiled by the political crisis in Washington? Because U.S. bonds are not like any other financial product.

Posted by orrinj at 5:46 PM


The Tyrant as Editor  (Holly Case, 10/07/13, The Chronicle Review)

The editor is the unseen hand with the power to change meaning and message, even the course of history. Back when copy-proofs were still manually cut, pasted, and photographed before printing, a blue pencil was the instrument of choice for editors because blue was not visible when photographed. The editorial intervention was invisible by design.

Stalin always seemed to have a blue pencil on hand, and many of the ways he used it stand in direct contrast to common assumptions about his person and thoughts. He edited ideology out or played it down, cut references to himself and his achievements, and even exhibited flexibility of mind, reversing some of his own prior edits.

So while Stalin's voice rang in every ear, his portrait hung in every office and factory, and bobbed in every choreographed parade, the Stalin behind the blue pencil remained invisible. What's more, he allowed very few details of his private life to become public knowledge, leading the Stalin biographer Robert Service to comment on the remarkable "austerity" of the "Stalin cult."

But we should not confuse Stalin's self-effacement with modesty. Though we tend to associate invisibility with the meek, there is a flip side that the graffiti artist Banksy understands better than most: "invisibility is a superpower."

For Stalin, editing was a passion that extended well beyond the realm of published texts. Traces of his blue pencil can be seen on memoranda and speeches of high-ranking party officials ("against whom is this thesis directed?") and on comic caricatures sketched by members of his inner circle during their endless nocturnal meetings ("Correct!" or "Show all members of the Politburo"). During the German siege of Stalingrad (1942-43), he encircled the city from the west with his blue pencil on a large wall map in the Kremlin, and, in the summer of 1944, he redrew the borders of Poland in blue. At a meeting with Winston Churchill a few months later, the British prime minister watched as Stalin "took his blue pencil and made a large tick" indicating his approval of the "percentages agreement" for the division of Europe into Western and Soviet spheres of influence after the war.

The few who visited the Soviet leader in his Kremlin study mention the blue pencil in their memoirs. Georgy Zhukov, commander of the Soviet military during World War II, observed that "Stalin usually made notes in blue pencil and he wrote very fast, in a bold hand, and legibly." The Yugoslav Communist Milovan Ðilas was surprised to find that Stalin was not the calm, self-assured man he knew from photographs and newsreels:

He was not quiet a moment. He toyed with his pipe ... or drew circles with a blue pencil around words indicating the main subjects for discussion, which he then crossed out with slanting lines as each part of the discussion was nearing an end, and he kept turning his head this way and that while he fidgeted in his seat.
The Stanford historian Norman Naimark describes the marks left by Stalin's pencil as "greasy" and "thick and pasty." He notes that Stalin edited "virtually every internal document of importance," and the scope of what he considered internal and important was very broad. Editing a biologist's speech for an international conference in 1948, Stalin used an array of colored pencils--red, green, blue--to strip the talk of references to "Soviet" science and "bourgeois" philosophy. He also crossed out an entire page on how science is "class-oriented by its very nature" and wrote in the margin "Ha-ha-ha!!! And what about mathematics? And what about Darwinism?"

Even when not wielding his blue pencil, Stalin's editorial zeal was all-consuming. He excised people--indeed whole peoples--out of the manuscript of worldly existence, had them vanished from photographs and lexicons, changed their words and the meanings of their words, edited conversations as they happened, backing his interlocutors into more desirable (to him) formulations. "The Poles have been visiting here," he told the former Comintern chief Georgi Dimitrov in 1948. "I ask them: What do you think of Dimitrov's statement? They say: A good thing. And I tell them that it isn't a good thing. Then they reply that they, too, think it isn't a good thing."

All editors, wrote the cultural historian Jacques Barzun, "show a common bias: ... what the editor would prefer is preferable." Being an author is well and good, and Stalin wrote several books--the word "author" does after all share a root with the word "authority"--but he knew that editing was a higher power. Naimark argues that editing is as much a part of Stalinist ideology as anything he said or wrote. This insight warrants amplification. Under Stalinism, anyone could speak or write, but since Stalin was the supreme gatekeeper of the censorship hierarchy and the gulag system, the power to edit was power itself.

Posted by orrinj at 5:39 PM


Young Chinese shunning factory jobs, says Foxconn founder (Ben Bland in Nusa Dua, Bali and Sarah Mishkin in Taipei, 10/07/13, Financial Times)

Young people across China are increasingly shunning monotonous, low-paid assembly line jobs, leaving Foxconn, the maker of iPhones and iPads, struggling to attract enough workers, according to the electronics manufacturer's chairman.

Terry Gou, founder of the company which is China's largest private employer, says he is upgrading Foxconn's training programs and automating more of its assembly lines in the face of a labour shortage.

"The young generation don't want to work in factories, they want to work in services or the internet or another more easy and relaxed job," he said on the sidelines of a meeting of Asian business and political leaders in Bali, Indonesia.

People want jobs, not to work.

Posted by orrinj at 5:34 PM


Book Review: 'The Memoirs of Walter Bagehot' by Frank Prochaska : A speculative autobiography of the "Greatest Victorian." (GEORGE SELGIN, WSJ)

In "The English Constitution" (1867), his insider's view of the workings of England's system of government, he dismissed as a "pompous conceit" the view, enshrined in our own founding document, that the success of England's electoral system rested upon a separation of powers. The separation that mattered, he said, was that between the government's "dignified" and its "efficient" components. The first, embodied by Queen Victoria, served to secure its power by commanding the reverence of the masses. The second , represented by Parliament, saw to that power's effective employment The monarchy's field of influence was the invisible world;.. Parliament's was the visible one To treat the monarchy as just another cog of government was to risk tampering with the very foundations of national stability. "We must not," Bagehot insisted, "let daylight in upon magic."

The importance he assigned to the romance of royalty derived from a view of the lower classes that was anything but romantic. "We have in a great community like England," he said, "crowds of people scarcely more civilized than the majority of two thousand years ago. "In a campaign speech, he noted that the appropriate reaction to the 1832 Reform Bill may have been" Register! Register! Register!, "but with the franchise being further widened in 1867, it must become" Educate! Educate! Educate! "He feared politics would otherwise degenerate into a contest over which party could most convincingly promise the moon to ignorant voters.

Bagehot's economics were of a piece with his politics. He knew that the 1846 repeal of the Corn Laws, which had made it prohibitively expensive to import grain into Britain and thus kept food prices artificially high, contributed much more to human happiness than any expansion of the vote through parliamentary reform ever could. Yet his distrust of both hurried reform and abstract speculation kept him from championing laissez-faire even when he recognized the harm done by government interference. Thus in "Lombard Street" (1873), in which he offered advice for dealing with financial crises that central bankers still honor, if mainly in the breach, Bagehot traced British financial instability to the Bank of England's special privileges, which, by restricting other banks' ability to issue circulating notes, caused them to employ Bank of .. England notes rather than gold as their cash-reserve medium Yet Bagehot was content simply to point out the Bank's duty to place the public interest ahead of its own As for withdrawing its privileges, he wrote: "You might as well try to alter the English monarchy and substitute a republic .... Nothing but a revolution would effect it, and there is nothing to cause a revolution. "

Bagehot's writings glow, not with zeal but with zest-a reflection of his keen interest in human affairs and relative indifference to abstract ideas. This is especially evident in his literary essays, in which, unlike so many modern and postmodern critics, he treated authors , not just their works, as interesting subjects.

That Bagehot is an interesting subject of his own works is the premise of Frank Prochaska's "The Memoirs of Walter Bagehot"-an ambitious "reconstruction" of a never-written book drawn from Bagehot's published writings with biographical details supplied by Mr. Prochaska in his role of "amanuensis."

Enhanced by Zemanta

Posted by orrinj at 4:49 PM


De-radicalisation of Iranian foreign policy (MAGED MANDOUR 7 October 2013, Open Democracy)

In terms of the ideological roots of the Islamic Republic, in his lucid study of Khomeinism, Ervand Abrahamia compellingly argues that the ideological roots of Islamic Republic is not religious fundamentalism, but rather it was influenced by writers that mixed certain religious elements of Shiism and secular ideas from the left, especially Marxism, most notably Maoism.

Khomeini did not attribute the development of his ideas directly to others, particularly if they were secular writers. However, it is easy to see the traces of the writings of other revolutionary thinkers, whose writings have a strong Marxist flavour on the ideological development of Khomeini, most notably, Jalal El-Ahmed, the ex-Tudeh writer who advocated a return to the Islamic roots of the country, and Ali Shariati whose works had a strong Marxist flavour. Some even argue that the ideology of the MKO, who later engaged Khomeini in a bloody struggle, had a direct influence on Khomeini. Khomeini divided society into the oppressed "Mostafeen" and the oppressors "Mostakbreen", a division that echoes the Marxist distinction between the bourgeoisie and the workers, with the revolution siding with the oppressed. In the end Khomeini had more in common with Third world, nationalist movements, than religious fundamental movements. 

Thus, the ideological and social base of the Iranian Revolution has produced a regime that is hegemonic, and representative of the aspirations of a large segment of Iranian society, combining the interests of the traditional middle class and the lower classes. The Republic is a more vibrant political polity than most regimes in the Middle East, even after the advent of the Arab Spring. However, this does not mean that the Iranian political order is completely democratic. It still maintains a significant level of coercion and oppression, as the struggle between the right and left wings of the Islamic Republic, the events of the Presidential elections in 2009, and the fate of Mousavi, the Imam's prime minister clearly show. Moreover, the Iranian regime has been following economic policies that have disenfranchised its older allies, privileging monopolistic Islamic foundations and overt and covert military and paramilitary economic activities. This has been reflected in the critique of Grand Ayatollah Montazeri of the increased role of the military, which might signal a change in the nature of the Iranian regime and its hegemony. However, up till now the Iranian regime remains mostly hegemonic.

How does this translate into the realm of foreign policy? Based on the above, one might predict that Iran will behave on the international front in a manner that would promote the aspirations of the Iranian nationalist movement in the region. Iran has attempted to follow policies that would break down Iranian isolation as a Persian, Shia state surrounded by Arab Sunni neighbours. In other words, it has attempted to create inroads into the Arab world by soliciting the support of the Arab masses and enhancing its Iranian soft power. Take the infamous denial of the holocaust by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. In the west, most commentators argued that this was due to the fundamental, anti-Semitic nature of the Islamic Republic. However, on closer examination one can see that this remark had another audience in mind, namely a domestic conservative audience, and the wider Arab masses in the Middle East. This was a realist, pragmatic approach that attempted to consolidate support for the Iranian regime at home and within the region. Rather than being a piece of irrational, racist, rhetoric targeted at western audiences, the main audience was regional and domestic. Iranian championing of Palestinian rights, as well as support for radical movements in the Middle East, like Hamas and Hezbollah, fall within the same category and the same rationale, namely to increase the power of Iran in the region motivated by pragmatic realist reasons, rather than ideological, fundamental motivations.

...Iran and the US are natural allies. Because American policy is to liberalize the Iranian regime, its people and America's have a natural affinity.
Posted by orrinj at 4:33 PM


As recession eases, people start moving into New Hampshire again (DAVID BROOKS, 9/26/13, Nashua Telegraph)

"I don't want to make too big a deal of this - it's the first year of data. But it is suggestive that trends may be changing," said Ken Johnson, senior demographer with the Carsey Institute at UNH, a national authority on migration and demographic trends in the U.S.

Johnson was reacting to reports from the American Community Survey conducted by the Census Bureau, which indicated that in 2012, 11,800 more people moved into New Hampshire than moved out, compared to small losses in 2011 and 2010.

During the boom years, New Hampshire benefited from what is called "domestic in-migration" - people moving here from other states. In-migration helped balance out the shortage of births by New Hampshire residents that has contributed to it being one of the oldest states in the nation. That aging demographic has been called a "silver tsunami," a reference to the hair color of New Hampshire's relatively high proportion of senior citizens, who contribute relatively little to the working economy but add to health-care burdens.

Posted by orrinj at 2:00 PM


In Conversation: Antonin Scalia : On the eve of a new Supreme Court session, the firebrand justice discusses gay rights and media echo chambers, Seinfeld and the Devil, and how much he cares about his intellectual legacy ("I don't"). ( Jennifer Senior, Oct 6, 2013, New York)

Had you already arrived at originalism as a philosophy?

I don't know when I came to that view. I've always had it, as far as I know. Words have meaning. And their meaning doesn't change. I mean, the notion that the Constitution should simply, by decree of the Court, mean something that it didn't mean when the people voted for it--frankly, you should ask the other side the question! How did they ever get there?

But as law students, they were taught that the Constitution evolved, right? You got that same message consistently in class, yet you had other ideas. 

I am something of a contrarian, I suppose. I feel less comfortable when everybody agrees with me. I say, "I better reexamine my position!" I probably believe that the worst opinions in my court have been unanimous. Because there's nobody on the other side pointing out all the flaws.

Really? So if you had the chance to have eight other justices just like you, would you not want them to be your colleagues?

No. Just six.

That was a serious question! 

What I do wish is that we were in agreement on the basic question of what we think we're doing when we interpret the Constitution. I mean, that's sort of rudimentary. It's sort of an embarrassment, really, that we're not. But some people think our job is to keep it up to date, give new meaning to whatever phrases it has. And others think it's to give it the meaning the people ratified when they adopted it. Those are quite different views.

Posted by orrinj at 4:30 AM


IBM now employs more workers in India than US (John Aidan Byrne, October 5, 2013, NY Post)

The sun is rising in India for America's outsourced jobs.

But it's a bad sign for New York's dwindling middle-class workforce, say labor analysts.

New York's labor markets are in convulsions as American employers ship more well-paid jobs to lower-cost countries like Mexico, the Philippines, China and India -- where IBM, culling 747 jobs from the Empire State, has achieved landmark status. It now employs more workers in India than in the US, according to a leaked IBM document reviewed by The Post. The average IBM pay in India is $17,000, compared with $100,000 for a senior IT specialist in the US.

...is that their jobs can't be done abroad or by machines. As reality dawns, wealth redistribution will quickly lose its stigma.

Posted by orrinj at 4:27 AM


US government work is losing cachet for some (SAM HANANEL, October 6, 2013, AP)

There was a time when being a federal employee meant a steady paycheck, great benefits and pride in serving the country.

But these days, many federal workers are frustrated, anxious and growing tired of being pawns in a never-ending political struggle over government funding.

''The pay has fallen behind, the uncertainty of having a job from day to day, the stability which was a drawing factor for a large portion of the people is gone now,'' said Tommy Jackson, an Air Force acquisitions manager in Warner Robins, Ga., who has spent 30 years in government.

October 6, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 7:59 AM


The Deal That's There for the Taking (GERALD F. SEIB, 10/05/13, WSJ)

Republicans would have to acknowledge that the Obamacare gambit didn't work; they don't have the votes to either defund the new health-care program or to delay its requirement that individuals get health insurance.

Instead, the GOP would pivot to the issue where they have had success-and are in a position to continue having it-which is holding down government spending.

Many Republicans think this is the issue where their efforts should have been focused in the first place. Annually appropriated spending has declined for two straight years. And though this has been lost in the din, Democrats have agreed to accept current spending levels for the rest of this year, even though they don't like them.

That's a victory Republicans can rightfully claim.

For their part, Democrats would declare success on their primary goal, which was to defend the president's health-care law against the most sustained attack Republicans can muster. The law is in effect and will remain so. This is a significant victory for Democrats to claim.

At that point, the decks would be cleared for a turn to a discussion of a potentially significant budget deal, the outlines of which can be seen through the fog.

Here, the common ground lies in the parties' shared distaste for the crude ceiling on spending put in place by the sequester, the automatic limits passed into law two years ago.

Democrats have swallowed the $ 988 billion limit on annually appropriated spending required by the sequester for the rest of this calendar year, but they hate the idea of ​​pushing that figure down to $ 967 billion next year, as required under current law. Republicans like the lower spending limit but hate the idea that much of the new reductions would come out of defense.

We need both sides to lose that last fight.
Posted by orrinj at 7:51 AM


US special forces raids target Islamist militants in Libya and Somalia (Kevin Rawlinson, 6 October 2013, The Guardian)

The US secretary of state, John Kerry, confirmed the capture of the al-Qaida militant, born Nazih al-Ragye, and said: "Those members of al-Qaida and other terrorist organisations literally can run but they can't hide."

Speaking on Sunday in Indonesia, before an Asia-Pacific summit, he added: "We hope this makes clear that the United States of America will never stop in its effort to hold those accountable who conduct acts of terror. We will continue to try to bring people to justice in an appropriate way with hopes that ultimately these kinds of activities against everybody in the world will stop."

Liby, a Libyan believed to be 49, was indicted in New York in 2000 for his alleged role in the bombings two years earlier, which killed 224 people. The FBI had a $5m (£3.1m) bounty on his head under the US state department's Rewards for Justice programme.

"As the result of a US counter-terrorism operation, Abu Anas al-Liby is currently lawfully detained by the US military in a secure location outside of Libya," the Pentagon spokesman George Little said.

According to the Associated Press, witnesses and Libyan militant sources said the raid in Tripoli followed morning prayers. "As I was opening my house door, I saw a group of cars coming quickly from the direction of the house where Ragye lives. I was shocked by this movement in the early morning," said one of his neighbours, who did not give his name. "They kidnapped him. We do not know who they are."

The agency said two Islamist sources had confirmed the details and Liby's brother Nabih had said three vehicles full of armed men had approached Liby's home and surrounded him as he parked his car. He claimed the men smashed Liby's window, seized his gun and sped away with him.

The US said it had informed the Libyan government and received its support in the operation. But the Libyan administration denied this, saying it had never helped US forces in the country.

...the UR is on one heck of a roll as Commander in Chief.

Posted by orrinj at 7:33 AM


Gluten-Free Triple Chunk Oatmeal Coconut Cookie Bars (Amy Trage, King Arthur Flour)

10 tablespoons soft butter
1 large egg
4 tablespoons water
3 cups add-ins of your choice (chips, dried fruit, oats, nuts, etc.)


1) Preheat your oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 9" x 13" pan lined with parchment paper.
2) Prepare the cookie dough according to the box instructions, using the amounts of butter and water in the ingredients list at left.
3) Stir in 3 cups of any combination of chips, dried fruit, or nuts.
4) Spread the dough evenly in the prepared pan.
5) Bake the bars at 350° for 20 to 25 minutes. The top should be lightly browned when they are done. Cool them to lukewarm before serving.
Enhanced by Zemanta

October 5, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 3:39 PM


U.S. Says Navy SEALs Stage Raid on Somali Militants (NICHOLAS KULISH and ERIC SCHMITT, 10/04/13, NY Times)

 A Navy SEAL team targeted a senior leader of the Shabab militant group in a raid on his seaside villa in the Somali town of Baraawe on Saturday, American officials said, in response to a deadly attack on a Nairobi shopping mall for which the group had claimed responsibility.

The SEAL team stealthily approached the beachfront house by sea, firing on the unidentified target in a predawn gunbattle that was the most significant raid by American troops on Somali soil since commandos killed Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, a Qaeda mastermind, near the same town four years ago.

The Shabab leader was believed to have been killed in the firefight, but the SEALS were forced to withdraw before that could be confirmed, a senior American official said. Such operations by American forces are rare because they carry a high risk, and indicate that the target was considered a high priority. Baraawe, a small port town south of Mogadishu, the Somali capital, is known as a gathering place for the Shabab's foreign fighters.

Of all the things about the Obama presidency that will confuse historians, none will perplex them more than his Nobel Peace Prize.

Posted by orrinj at 3:32 PM


How Kansas Governor Brownback Schooled Missouri On Tax Cuts, And Showed The Region How To Grow (Rex Sinquefield, 10/04/13, Forbes)

[Kansas Governor Sam] Brownback's tax plan flattened and simplified the tax code, cut personal income tax rates for most earners from 6.45% to 4.9%, and got rid of small business income taxes.

Gov. Brownback's singular goal was to grow the economy of his state. At the time Kansas had the second highest tax burden in the region, a cash balance of less than $1,000, a projected deficit of $500 million and an unemployment rate of 6.9%. In addition, 73% of the counties in Kansas had witnessed a decline in population.

Instead of continuing to watch billions of dollars in Net Adjusted Gross Income leave Kansas to other states, such as Florida, Texas and Tennessee (all no-income tax states), the legislature and governor identified and seized the opportunity to increase its competitive advantage with neighboring states. It was a bold political move to say the least, but an idea that ultimately struck a chord with politicians, employers and workers across the state.

Just one year later, a close look at the data backs up the economic projections of Brownback's visionary leadership. Lower income tax rates have in fact stimulated the economy by reducing the price both of work and conducting business in the state, not to mention that lower rates have predictably proven effective when it comes to luring out-of-state businesses to Kansas' friendlier business environment.

A progress report issued recently by the state's former budget director, Steve Anderson, one published in the Kansas City Star, shows many indicators of improvement. According to Anderson, the state's cash balance has risen to $585 million today and they are projecting a surplus in 2014 of nearly $510 million. In addition, the unemployment rate fell from near 7% to 5.8%, as 45,000 jobs were created and the state's population grew by 27,000. All this while the state reduced the tax burden on workers to the second lowest in the region, and handed just under $250 million back to workers.

Posted by orrinj at 3:27 PM


Creationists on Texas Panel for Biology Textbooks (MOTOKO RICH, 9/28/13, NY Times)

One is a nutritionist who believes "creation science" based on biblical principles should be taught in the classroom. Another is a chemical engineer who is listed as a "Darwin Skeptic" on the Web site of the Creation Science Hall of Fame. A third is a trained biologist who also happens to be a fellow of the Discovery Institute, the Seattle-based center of the intelligent-design movement and a vice president at an evangelical ministry in Plano, Tex.

As Texas gears up to select biology textbooks for use by high school students over the next decade, the panel responsible for reviewing submissions from publishers has stirred controversy because a number of its members do not accept evolution and climate change as scientific truth.

In the state whose governor, Rick Perry, boasted as a candidate for president that his schools taught both creationism and evolution, the State Board of Education, which includes members who hold creationist views, helped nominate several members of the textbook review panel. Others were named by parents and educators. Prospective candidates could also nominate themselves. The state's education commissioner, Michael L. Williams, a Perry appointee and a conservative Republican, made the final appointments to the 28-member panel. Six of them are known to reject evolution.

October 4, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 8:33 PM


Pragmatic Rouhani senses limited options (Shahram Akbarzadeh, 10/04/13, Asia Times Online)

More important than the diplomatic tone of the new president is the fact that the Iranian negotiating team is managed by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. This is another break with the mold, as the negotiations were managed by the Supreme National Security Council in the past. That Council reported directly to the conservative Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, while the Minister for Foreign Affairs Javad Zarif is reputed to be a seasoned diplomat and sits on the cabinet of President Rouhani. This is a significant shift and demonstrates Khamenei's confidence in Rouhani's leadership. 

Do these changes amount to a qualitative shift in Iranian policies? Can Rouhani bring change to Iran? Those who voted for him certainly hope so. His electoral victory in the June presidential race took Iran watchers by surprise. Rouhani won with the support of the reform movement and the endorsement of two former presidents, one known for his pragmatism and the other for his reformist agenda. The surge of popular support for Rouhani one week before the elections was a significant show of optimism, hope and expectations that he could reverse the damages done by the firebrand Mahmud Ahmadinejad. 

Expectations for change have been high. And Rouhani's measured and polite interaction with the Western media, his respectable performance at the United Nations and his twitted well-wishes to the Iranian Jewish minority have sustained them. 

However, Rouhani's scope for change is quite limited. And he is well aware of this. The Supreme Leader maintains the final say and can veto the initiatives of the elected president, directly or through the Guardian Council. This became clear under the presidency of Mohammad Khatami whose efforts at opening up the domestic political and cultural scene as well as Iran's external relations were thwarted, and eventually rolled back. 

The lesson for Rouhani is to keep the Supreme Leader on his side. And he has done well so far. Ali Khamenei's speech on the importance of "heroic flexibility" as a necessary aspect of Islamic governance as long as it does not jeopardize key principles, on the eve of Rouhani's UN speech, was a clear green light. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:27 PM


Why The Right Fights (Ross Douthat, 10/02/13, NY Times)

For the American mainstream -- moderate and apolitical as well as liberal -- the Reagan era really was a kind of conservative answer to the New Deal era: A period when the right's ideas were ascendant, its constituencies empowered, its favored policies pursued. But to many on the right, for the reasons the Frum of "Dead Right" suggested, it was something much more limited and fragmented and incomplete: A period when their side held power, yes, but one in which the framework and assumptions of politics remained essentially left-of-center, because the administrative state was curbed but barely rolled back, and the institutions and programs of New Deal and Great Society liberalism endured more or less intact.

This divide, I think, explains a lot of the mutual incomprehension surrounding size-of-government debates. To liberals and many moderates, it often seems like the right gets what it wants in these arguments and then just gets more extreme, demanding cuts atop cuts, concessions atop concessions, deregulation upon deregulation, tax cuts upon tax cuts. But to many conservatives, the right has never come remotely close to getting what it actually wants, whether in the Reagan era or the Gingrich years or now the age of the Tea Party -- because what it wants is an actually smaller government, as opposed to one that just grows somewhat more slowly than liberals and the left would like. And this goal only ends up getting labeled as "extreme" in our debates, conservatives lament, because the right has never succeeded in dislodging certain basic assumptions about government established by F.D.R. and L.B.J. -- under which a slower rate of spending growth is a "draconian cut," an era of "small government" is one which in which the state grows immensely in absolute terms but holds steady as a share of G.D.P., and a rich society can never get rich enough to need less welfare spending per capita than it did when it was considerably poorer.

Very few seem to grasp that a considerable portion of Reagan's legacy was saving the Second Way, for at least a couple decades, via SS reform.  Which was perfectly consistent with his never disavowed status as a pro-FDR New Dealer.  

The Right's problem is that it continues to imagine that what comes after the Second Way is a restoration of the First Way.  Which is just silly.

Posted by orrinj at 6:58 PM


The curtain finally rises: PM Erdoğan announces the long awaited 'Democracy Package' (DERYA LAWRENCE 3 October 2013, Open Democracy)

[T]he protests that raged throughout the summer months across Turkey - reports state that protests were held in 79 cities out of 81 - were embraced by a multitude of identities encapsulating Alevis, Anti-Capitalist Muslims, Armenians, Kurds, Nationalists, Seculars and LGBT activists alike... [...]

Undoubtedly, there will be those who find the package satisfactory. Deputy PM Bülent Arınç is of the opinion that '75%' of the population is satisfied. It must also be stated that any expansion of democratic avenues is a beneficial development and there are many provisions in the package that expand on democratic governance in areas of political rights and fundamental rights and freedoms.

The amendment that lifts the ban on headscarves in all public institutions apart for the army, police and judiciary is a positive democratic reform. The creation of a cultural institute and language courses for Roma Communities is a very progressive step, even if it is only a beginning. The re-instatement of the Mor Gabriel Monastery to the Assyrian Community is another example of a positive step taken to safeguard the human rights of minorities.

However, the BDP (Kurdish political party) have already stated that the democracy package is inadequate in terms of the expansion of rights and freedoms for Kurds. As far as they are concerned, the proposed changes are mere breadcrumbs and don't tackle root problems.

Education in the mother tongue, reduced to private schools only, is not a large enough step forward, given that the AKP had already allowed for private language schools to teach Kurdish through legal amendments in 2002.

More importantly, although part of the package allows villages, though not districts or provinces, to   be re-named with their Kurdish names, and Kurds will be able to procure ID cards with more accurate spelling of their proper names, the ongoing insistence on a highly centralised political system turns a deaf ear to Kurdish demands for local governance. Essentially the centralist, controlling mindset of Turkish rule remains intact. And of course the largest shortcoming for the Kurdish cause has been the lack of reform of a Turkish Penal Code that has put thousands of Kurdish activists behind bars (the KCK trials).

Similarly, through discussions on social network sites, it would appear that the sections of Turkish society who were active during the Gezi Demonstrations and who have also been calling for an expansion of individual rights and freedom, are equally dissatisfied.

Posted by orrinj at 6:54 PM


America Is Spending Too Much on Defense (John Mueller, 10/03/13, Slate)

First, it is time to consider the fact that a cataclysmic conflict like World War II is unlikely to recur. As such, the continued spending for an ever-receding likelihood needs to be seriously assessed. Relevant to this consideration is the rise of China. Although China's oft-stated desire to incorporate (or re-incorporate) Taiwan into its territory should be watched; armed conflict would be extremely costly to both countries. Most notably, Chinese leaders, already rattled by internal difficulties, seem to realize this. Likewise, it might make sense to maintain a containment and deterrent capacity against particular states such as Iran and North Korea in formal or informal coalition with other concerned countries. However, neither country is militarily impressive, and the military requirements for the task are limited. Then, concern about the proliferation of nuclear weapons is justified, but experience suggests that when countries obtain the weapons, they "use" them only to stoke their national ego and to deter real or imagined threats.

The United States will likely remain involved in preserving the security of its allies. But Europe seems to face no notable military threats, the Taiwan/China issue remains a fairly remote concern, and Israel's primary problems derive from the actions of sub-state groups. So it is appropriate to consider at what level the USA should continue to pay for these "threats."

Dealing with current threats mainly calls for policing and intelligence work with occasional focused strikes by special units as necessary.

Posted by orrinj at 6:38 PM


Lockheed Martin to Furlough 3,000 Workers (Chris Isidore, October 4, 2013, CNN Money)

Lockheed Martin became the latest government contractor to announce furloughs due to the federal government shutdown.

The defense contractor said it will furlough 3,000 workers starting Monday, Oct. 7.

"I'm disappointed that we must take these actions, and we continue to encourage our lawmakers to come together to pass a funding bill that will end this shutdown," said CEO Marillyn A. Hewson.

Posted by orrinj at 1:45 PM


How the GOP painted itself into a corner on the shutdown (Jon Terbush, 10/04/13, The Week)

Polls have been uniformly rosy for Democrats, giving them ample reason not to budge. Even a Fox News poll released Thursday offered almost exclusively good news, showing rising approval ratings for Obama and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), and falling favorables for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).

Meanwhile, the approval rating for the Republican Party as a whole hit its lowest point in the poll's history. As with several other surveys, the poll also found Americans more likely to pin blame for the shutdown on Republicans.

Some Republicans have openly acknowledged that the party cannot win and must move on, particularly as Congress heads toward a default on the national debt that would certainly be far more economically harmful than the shutdown. Yet a committed bloc of hardcore conservatives remains unwilling to throw in the towel just yet -- even though they, too, see no winning endgame.

Though hard-line Republicans "see no plausible way out of the current impasse," The Washington Examiner's Byron York reports, they were nonetheless committed to pressing on "because they've come so far they cannot imagine backing down now."

In short, they know they've lost, but aren't willing to walk away embarrassed and empty-handed.

"I think there's a sense that for us to do a clean [continuing resolution] now -- then what the hell was this about?" one House member told York.

The pressure on the parties is more balanced than this suggests because Democratic constituencies want the government to spend money. That means the GOP can hold out for a compromise.  

The question is whether this congressional party is capable of accepting a compromise.

If they could accept that they can't repeal health care then they could accept reforming health care.  One easy deal would be to provide genuinely universal coverage, but to do it through a Wyden-Ryan approach and greater use of HSAs.  

Meanwhile, just take another 10% off the top of the CR and declare victory.

October 3, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 4:42 PM


Iran Cyber Chief Found Gunned Down, Reports Say (PAUL D. SHINKMAN, October 3, 2013, US News)

The chief of Iran's Cyber War Headquarters has been gunned down outside Tehran, according to local sources and news reports [...]

This marks the latest in a string of killings targeting high-profile leaders within Iran. Five nuclear scientists have been killed since 2007, as well as the head of the country's ballistic missile program.

Posted by orrinj at 2:55 PM


How to Tax Carbon : Conservatives can fight climate change without growing government. (ANDREW MOYLAN, October 2, 2013, American Conservative)

A conservative carbon tax has three key components: revenue neutrality, elimination of existing taxes, and regulatory reform. When combined, these policies would yield a smaller, less powerful government; a tax code more conducive to investment and growth; and the emissions reductions the law says we must achieve.

The first and arguably most important component is absolute, bona fide revenue neutrality. The federal government is already too large and expensive. Conservatives routinely oppose efforts by the left to raise revenue in order to shore up lavish spending and broken entitlement programs. A carbon tax should no more be used to fund bigger government than any other tax. Every single dollar raised by a carbon tax must be devoted to tax reductions elsewhere in the code.

There are alternative carbon-tax proposals that make bogus claims of revenue neutrality. For example, the so-called "fee and dividend" model pushed by some climate advocates and members of Congress would levy a fee on carbon dioxide emissions that then would be returned to citizens through some sort of flat dividend payment. Such a scheme easily could prove vulnerable to abuse: one can imagine dividends would be suspended in years of high deficits or that the program would morph into a slush fund that flows to progressives' pet projects.

Instead of empowering government to generate a pot of money and relying on the beneficence of elected officials to return it to the people, reform must devote every dime of carbon-tax revenue to reducing other tax rates or abolishing other taxes altogether. Turning on one revenue stream while turning off others is how we prevent growth in government.

Which brings us to the second component of a conservative carbon tax: outright elimination of some of the most damaging and anti-growth levies on the books. For example, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology analysis estimates that a $20 per ton tax on carbon dioxide emissions could generate roughly $1.5 trillion in revenue over ten years. That's enough to allow for the complete elimination of several levies that conservatives rightly regard as structurally deficient or duplicative: capital gains and dividends taxes, the death tax and tariffs.

If the average economist sat down to draft an ideal tax code from scratch, it's unlikely that any of the aforementioned levies would exist. Capital gains and dividends already are taxed at the corporate level, and taxing them again when received by individuals is duplicative. Similarly, the death tax places a new levy on assets on which taxes already were paid. And tariffs, though they now produce a relatively small share of federal revenue, erect substantial barriers to international trade.

The consensus of conservative economic thought today is that governments should reform taxation to focus on consumption rather than income or investment. In other words, governments should target taxation on "bads" like pollution rather than on good things like labor, wages, and profits in order to raise revenue with as light a touch on economic growth as possible. This is why such prominent conservative economists as Kevin Hassett, Glenn Hubbard, Greg Mankiw, and Art Laffer have expressed support for a carbon tax swap. (The way this philosophy has manifested itself on the state level is in ongoing efforts, primarily driven by Republicans in places like North Carolina, to reduce or eliminate income taxation in favor of expanded sales taxes.)

The final component of a conservative carbon tax plan is wholesale reform of regulations that are intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Because of its cost and complexity, a carbon tax should not be layered atop an existing regime to regulate carbon emissions. Instead, we should preempt the EPA's ability to regulate emissions from power plants while also considering elimination of policies like Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards for automobiles. In short, the carbon tax should supplant entirely the myriad regulations that exist to reduce emissions. After all, if the tax on carbon is priced properly so that it "internalizes the externality" posed by emitting a ton of the gas, there is no need for other policies to achieve reductions.

Posted by orrinj at 2:08 PM


How Oil Reforms Could Trigger Mexico's Biggest Economic Boom In A Century (Christopher Helman, 10/02/13, Forbes)

Mexico has one of the world's most notoriously closed-off oil industries. The Mexican constitution makes it illegal for anyone but the state oil monopoly Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex) to even own a barrel of oil. If you're a farmer in Mexico and oil is discovered underneath your land, not one drop of the black gold is yours -- it belongs to the state, to the people. As a result, Pemex is the only game in town. There are no private companies operating oilfields in Mexico, no risk-based production sharing contracts or joint ventures with any international oil companies. This could not be more different than the United States, where private ownership of mineral rights is taken for granted.

Yet Mexico's oil sector is set to begin a radical transformation. Under the leadership of President Enrique Peña Nieto, Mexico's congress will, by the end of this year (according to a half-dozen analysts I spoke to) pass a constitutional amendment to open up the sector to private investment. By this time next year the likes of ExxonMobil, PetroChina and Statoil could even have contracts in place to start exploring for Mexico's untapped oil and gas bounty.

How big could these oil reforms be for Mexico's economy? Not only will it be bigger than the revolution in shale drilling and fracking has been in the United States, says Duncan Wood, director of the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center, "This will be the most significant change in Mexico's economic policy in 100 years."

Posted by orrinj at 1:58 PM


Unauthorized Immigrant Arrivals Are On The Rise, And That's Good News (adeline Zavodny, 1/02/13, Forbes)

Unauthorized immigration is a bellwether of the strength of the economy. Unlike legal immigrants who may have waited years or even decades for a visa, illegal immigrants respond quickly to changes in economic conditions. Inflows rise faster when the economy, especially the construction sector, is growing, and slow down when the economy is shrinking. This turnaround is consistent with other signs that the economy is recovering and that residential construction activity in particular is gaining steam--good news for homeowners.  [,...]

[T]he House should focus on addressing the fundamental factor that motivates most illegal immigration: jobs. Employers turn to undocumented immigrants because current immigration policy makes it impossible to bring in foreign workers quickly and legally when employers can't find Americans to fill jobs. The current H-2A and H-2B temporary foreign worker programs require planning months in advance and following complicated rules. It's far easier to hire an unauthorized immigrant.

To reduce unauthorized immigration, immigration policy needs to reproduce the flexibility that employers value in unauthorized workers. Allowing temporary foreign workers to easily move across employers is critical. Current policy ties H-2A and H-2B visa holders to their employers, increasing the potential for abuse and weakening market forces. If temporary foreign workers could freely move to an employer who offered them a higher wage or better working conditions, they would. Such mobility would force employers to raise wages when labor markets tighten, which would benefit competing American workers, too. The Senate bill creates far more mobility than current programs but still allows only pre-approved employers hire temporary foreign workers, not the spot labor market that employers need when trying to get motel rooms cleaned, meals cooked, or crops picked.

Posted by orrinj at 1:54 PM


Why productivity increased during the downturn (Anne Fisher, October 3, 2013, Fortune)

If you're a manager in a locale where unemployment skyrocketed during the recession, you might already have noticed something you didn't expect: The people under you who contributed the least in boom times suddenly started bringing their "A" game, in some cases even outshining your stars.

That's the conclusion of a study from Stanford University's business school and the David Eccles School of Business at the University of Utah, published by the National Bureau of Economic Research. Called "Making Do With Less: Working Harder During Recessions," the study set out to analyze why productivity rose sharply from 2007 to 2009, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, while the recession was at its worst. [...]

 "Productivity increases were too big to be accounted for by changes in the composition of the workforce," Stanton says. Rather, "the people who had been the least productive, before the recession, started putting in much more effort. Star employees, meanwhile, did not increase their efforts or their output much, if at all."

Posted by orrinj at 1:47 PM


The GOP's Unheralded Victory on Spending (DAVID WESSEL, 10/03/13, WSJ)

The Republicans have mostly won the battle over government spending, but seem reluctant to declare victory.

Largely overlooked in arguing over Obamacare, the parliamentary maneuvering and Talmudic decisions about which government employees can come to work during the shutdown are a couple of stark facts:

Both parties in Congress are now arguing about funding the government for the current fiscal year at much lower levels than either President Barack Obama or Democrats wanted.

For the just-ended fiscal year, Republicans succeeded in keeping annually appropriated government spending down. In fact, the Congressional Budget Office says it was 1% below 2007 levels, adjusted for inflation (and excluding one-off items such as the war in Afghanistan and hurricane relief.)

Some Republicans are beginning to talk about this. "When you think about it, this is the first time since 1955 and 1956 that we've had actual declines in discretionary spending," Sen. Bob Corker (R., Tenn.) told my colleague Jerry Seib. ("Discretionary" is Washington-speak for that spending that requires annual approval.)

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Posted by orrinj at 4:32 AM


Why Iran Blinked (Ana Palacio, 10/02/13, Project Syndicate)

[T]he Islamic Republic appears eager to end the showdown with the West over its nuclear program.

This shift - and Iran's surprising role as an outlier of hope in a region of disorder - invites reflection on America's global leadership and what the United States can achieve when it uses multilateralism (and transatlanticism in particular) to its full potential. At a time when the US often projects an image of indecision and weakness - reflected in the unfortunate slogan "leading from behind" - Iran exemplifies the potential of an international response with the US leading from the front.

The US has maintained a broad sanctions regime against Iran since the mid-1990's, and has enforced it vigorously - imposing $1.9 billion in penalties on the bank HSBC last year, for example, and blacklisting entities that help Iran evade financial restrictions. But it was only with growing participation by a wide range of countries that the sanctions really began to bite.

This was clearly reflected in Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's overwhelming election victory in June. Rouhani campaigned on a pledge to pursue "constructive engagement" with the international community. His early momentum and the apparent support - or at least tolerance - of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei reflect Iranians' weariness with international isolation and their bitterness over the economic havoc that ever-tightening sanctions have wrought.

The international sanctions imposed on Iran have grown tighter, of course, as their leaks have been sealed. After overcoming its initial reticence, the European Union significantly strengthened its punitive approach toward Iranian entities connected to nuclear activities (though recent court rulings have cast doubt on some measures). More important, at the EU's request, the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) decided in 2012 to remove 14 Iranian banks from its network (which is the leading conduit of international electronic interbank transactions). The desire to reverse this measure reportedly has been a key factor behind Iran's diplomatic change of course.

Enhanced by Zemanta

October 2, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 7:58 PM


Stalin's gulags and his Left wing British apologists (Michael Burleigh, 1 October 2013, Daily Mail)

The U.S. historian Anne Applebaum estimates that a minimum of 2,750,000 people died in the gulag system.

The camps were but one aspect of a tyrannical socialist system that, from the beginning of the Russian Revolution in 1917, under Lenin, relied on extreme violence to purge Soviet society of its 'class' enemies.

About 14 million people were killed in the civil war that followed the revolution, five million of them in a famine triggered by the insane economic policies of the Bolshevik government. 

A deliberate famine, designed to force peasants into collective farms, resulted in a further seven million deaths between 1928 and 1932.

Historians have compared conditions in some camps with those that Allied troops met in Hitler's Belsen concentration camp, with starving people lying down waiting to die. Many survivors resorted to cannibalism.

Such a system -- whose goal was 'social justice' -- relied on any number of Western apologists to deny what others had witnessed first-hand. 

Many of these were British academics, intellectuals and journalists. Among them were the founders of the London School of Economics, Sidney and Beatrice Webb. 

They merely said of Stalin's terror famine: 'Strong must have been the faith and resolute the will of the men who, in the interest of what seemed to them the public good, could take so momentous a decision.' 

When Stalin decided to purge entire swathes of the Communist party in the mid-1930s -- resulting in 600,000 or so people being tortured and shot -- Western apologists lined up to excuse actions that had been motivated by his envy, paranoia, hatred and spite.

The fact that the vengeance extended to the families and children of the Soviet butcher's victims, and blighted the lives of others down the generations, was no hindrance to putting a rosy gloss on mass murder. 

For Stalin established a few model prisons especially to show visiting Western dupes such as Professor Harold Laski, the mentor of Ralph Miliband at the LSE and chairman of the Labour Party.

Laski, who was seemingly not shocked by prisoners having their teeth smashed out with iron bars, reported back: 'Basically, I did not observe much of a difference between the general character of a trial in Russia and in this country.'

This pattern of exculpation of extreme brutality -- provided it was meted out in the name of social justice -- extended to justifying the infamous Nazi-Soviet Pact in 1939, which led to their joint invasion of Poland, the occupation of the Baltic states by Russia, and the Soviet invasion of Finland. 

Among Western socialist sympathisers of the Soviets was Ralph Miliband's friend, the Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm, who claimed the real enemy was capitalism, not the two criminals in Berlin and Moscow. 

Of course, every revolutionary organisation needs the fig-leaf of well-intentioned academics -- and there was no shortage of such apologists. These were the kind of people whom Lenin had earlier called 'useful idiots'.

The irony is that these Western intellectuals of the Left were the very people who should have been most suspicious of naked power. 

But, in fact, they more often than not worshipped Stalin -- demonstrating a shocking naivety, or, worse, a frightening amoralism worthy of Stalin himself.

Indeed, Hobsbawm remained a Communist Party member despite Soviet tanks rolling into Hungary in 1956.

He was still lecturing his Marxist creed to students and writing books at a time when Soviet tanks rolled into Czechoslovakia in 1968, and during the period when thousands of dissidents were imprisoned or shot dead by execution squads.

Posted by orrinj at 7:54 PM


Richard Dawkins: It's insane that people still doubt Darwin : In an excerpt from his new book, the famed atheist wonders what would have happened if Hitler's dad only sneezed (RICHARD DAWKINS, 9/29/13, Salon)

 I've already speculated that we mammals owe our existence to a particular sneeze by a particular dinosaur. What if Alois Schicklgruber had happened to sneeze at a particular moment - rather than some other particular moment - during any year before mid-1888 when his son Adolf Hitler was conceived? Obviously I have not the faintest idea of the exact sequence of events involved, and there are surely no historical records of Herr Schicklgruber's sternutations, but I am confident that a change as trivial as a sneeze in, say, 1858 would have been more than enough to alter the course of history. The evil-omened sperm that engendered Adolf Hitler was one of countless billions produced during his father's life, and the same goes for his two grandfathers, and four great-grandfathers, and so on back. It is not only plausible but I think certain that a sneeze many years before Hitler's conception would have had knock-on effects sufficient to derail the trivial circumstance that one particular sperm met one particular egg, thereby changing the entire course of the twentieth century including my existence. Of course, I'm not denying that something like the Second World War might well have happened even without Hitler; nor am I saying that Hitler's evil madness was inevitably ordained by his genes. With a different upbringing Hitler might have turned out good, or at least uninfluential. But certainly his very existence, and the war as it turned out, depended upon the fortunate - well, unfortunate - happenstance of a particular sperm's luck. [...]

If his father had sneezed at a particular hypothetical moment, Adolf Hitler would not have been born. Nor would I, for I owe my improbable conception to the Second World War - as well as to much less momentous things that happened. And of course all of us can take the argument back through countless previous generations, as I did with my hypothetical dinosaur and the destiny of the mammals.

Taking on board the contingent frailty of the event chain that led to our existence, we can still go on to ask - as I did a moment ago - whether the course of a named individual's life is sucked back, magnetically, into predictable pathways, despite the Brownian buffetings of sneezes and other trivial, or not so trivial, happenings. What if my mother's joking speculation were really true, if the Eskotene Nursing Home really had muddled me up with Cuthbert's son and I had been brought up as a changeling in a missionary household? Would I now be an ordained missionary myself? I think geneticists know enough to say no, probably no.

If my family had stayed on in Africa and I had persisted at Eagle rather than moving to Chafyn Grove, and then been sent to Marlborough rather than Oundle, would I still have got into Oxford and met Niko Tinbergen?

Posted by orrinj at 7:23 PM


Politics, Ideas, and the West (Samuel Gregg, 10/02/13, Acton)

This brings me to what I think has to be conservatism's long-term agenda as well as a central element in any lasting conservative resurgence: the defense and promotion of what we should unapologetically call Western civilization. By this, I mean that unique culture which emerged from the encounter of Jerusalem, Athens, and Rome, the brilliance of which--if I may be deeply politically-incorrect for a moment--is somewhat harder to discern in other societies. As anathema as this culture may be in the contemporary faculty lounge, this is the tradition that conservatives should be in the business of safeguarding and advocating: not just in opposition to those who deploy violence in the name of a divine un-reason, but also against the obsessive egalitarianism, rank sentimentalism and wild-eyed utopianism of those who live inside the West's gates but who have long inhabited a different mental universe altogether.

The best minds from whom conservatives continue to draw inspiration, ranging from Edmund Burke and Wilhelm Röpke to Augustine and Alexis de Tocqueville, have always understood that civilizational questions are the ones which ultimately matter. The genius of the West can be expressed in a number of propositions, but among the most prominent are the following: that freedom is to be found in the self-mastery that results from freely choosing to live in the truth rather than lies; that reason includes but encompasses far more than just the empirical sciences; and that in awareness of our fallen nature and the lessons of history we find some of the best defenses against our restless impulse to attempt to construct heaven-on-earth.

Yet as the French theologian Jean Daniélou S.J. once observed, there is no true civilization that is not also religious. In the case of Western civilization, that means Judaism and Christianity. The question of religious truth is something with which we must allow every person to wrestle in the depths of their conscience. But if conservatism involves upholding the heritage of the West against those who would tear it down (whether from without and within), then conservatives should follow the lead of European intellectuals such as Rémi Brague and Joseph Ratzinger and invest far more energy in elucidating Christianity's pivotal role in the West's development--including the often complicated ways in which it responded to, and continues to interact, with the movements associated with the various Enlightenments.

Such an enterprise goes beyond demonstrating Christianity's contribution to institutional frameworks such as constitutional government. Conservatives must be more attentive to how Judaism and Christianity--or at least their orthodox versions--helped foster key ideas that underlie the distinctiveness of Western culture. These include:

their liberation of man from the sense that the world was ultimately meaningless;
their underscoring of human fallibility and consequent anti-utopianism;
their affirmation that man is made to be creative rather than passive;
their insistence that there are moral absolutes that may never be violated,
their tremendous respect for human reason in all its fullness;
their crucial distinction between religious and civil authority; and
their conviction that human beings can make free choices.
This last point is especially important precisely because of the difficulty of finding strong affirmations of the reality of free choice outside orthodox Judaism, orthodox Christianity, and certain schools of natural law thought. Beyond these spheres, the world is basically made up of soft determinists (like John Stuart Mill) or hard determinists (like Marx).

There is, however, something more elemental of which modern conservatism stands in desperate need. In the first episode of his acclaimed 1969 BBC series Civilisation, the art historian, the late Kenneth Clark, sat in the foreground of an old viaduct and spoke about the Romans' "confidence." By that, he didn't mean arrogance. What Clark had in mind was the Romans' self-belief: their conviction that the ideas and institutions which they had inherited, developed, and extended throughout Europe and the Mediterranean amounted to a singular cultural accomplishment worthy of emulation.

Posted by orrinj at 7:15 PM


The Ongoing Health-Care Debate (Yuval Levin, 10/02/13, National Review)

Republicans did not do nearly well enough in the last election to enact legislation that would repeal Obamacare. In order to repeal that law and attempt an effective reform of our health-care system along conservative lines, they will need to do better in the next election and the one to follow. To that end, they can take several kinds of steps with regard to Obamacare in the meantime: steps that would weaken the law (by highlighting its faults or disabling some of its elements) and ultimately make it easier to replace; steps that would weaken the law's supporters (by further connecting them to the law in the public's mind and forcing them to defend its least popular elements) and ultimately make them easier to replace; and steps that would strengthen the law's opponents (by clearly identifying them as opponents of an unpopular measure and champions of a more appealing approach) and help them gain more public support. 

In my view (shared with all who would listen to no avail, for what it's worth) the original defund strategy was not well suited to doing any of these things. The members pursuing that strategy seemed to realize that this past weekend -- essentially every House Republican voted for temporary budget bills that would have funded Obamacare, in pursuit of more strategic objectives. The bill they ended up with Monday night, which would have avoided a shutdown by delaying Obamacare's individual mandate and denying members of Congress and their staffs an exemption from the part of the law that applied to their own health coverage, involved all three of the above approaches to some extent: highlighting some of Obamacare's least popular elements and Republican opposition to them and forcing every red-state Democrat running for reelection to explain in the coming campaign season a vote to shut down the government to protect Congress's health coverage and the individual mandate. 

The shutdown itself is not a catastrophe, though it achieves nothing and should have been avoided. Shutting down 40 percent or so of the federal government won't have immediate implications in the lives of most Americans, at least at first. The president's dire warnings yesterday were, like his warnings about the direct effects of the sequester cuts, exaggerated and misguided. But the expectations of some Republicans that a shutdown would bring a public uprising in opposition to Obamacare were surely even more misguided. Both sets of expectations assume the federal government is at the center of Americans' lives and is the focus of their attention, and it just isn't. That's a good thing, and conservatives more than anyone should remember that.

The urgency underlying the defund efforts of the past few weeks was itself also driven in part by a view of the American public that is unbecoming of conservatives. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:13 PM


Gul hints at political ambitions in speech to Turkey's parliament (Daniel Dombe, 10/01/13, Financial Times)

In a possible reference to criticism that the prime minister has become more authoritarian and has muzzled the media, Mr Gul said: "The separation of powers, a free press, and an effective opposition are also among the indispensable elements of democracy."

Speaking after weeks during which Mr Erdogan slammed protesters as plotters, looters and terrorists, he said: "We cannot view every issue and every debate in terms of 'black or white', 'right or wrong', 'justified or unjustified', 'us and them' or 'friend or foe'."

While Mr Erdogan blamed this year's Gezi protests on a nebulous "interest rate lobby" that sought to hold Turkey's growth back, Mr Gul argued that Turkey, like other emerging markets, was affected by the reining-in of US monetary stimulus and needed to reduce its dependence on short-term foreign funds and attract more foreign direct investment.

The contrast between Mr Gul's conciliatory speech, which also highlighted the EU as the "centre of gravity" of Turkish foreign policy, and Mr Erdogan's more combative style is particularly significant since Turkey is headed for an uncertain transition of power ahead of the country's first direct presidential elections next year.

Posted by orrinj at 4:46 PM


No Friends But the Kurds (Aliza Marcus | October 2, 2013, National Interest)

[A]s President Barack Obama seeks to strip Syria of its chemical weapons, it's time for Washington to build ties to those inside Syria who are committed to the same anti-Assad and anti-jihadist goals: the Kurds.

Many Kurds in Syria, for decades oppressed and marginalized by the regime, oppose both Assad and the jihadists. They have championed reshaping Syria into a democratic state that can protect their rights. They have expanded their hold over the traditionally Kurdish region of north and northeast Syria bordering Turkey and Iraq. In the process, the Kurds have built up fledgling and secular local governing institutions.

Just as importantly, the Kurds are actively fighting Al Qaeda-linked militants from Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. In late August, following months of intermittent clashes, Kurdish fighters from the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the largest and most powerful of the dozen or so Kurdish political groups inside Syria, launched a counter attack against the jihadists. The Kurds killed tens of jihadists of Jabhat al-Nusra, Al Qaeda's Syrian arm. Clashes with armed Islamist groups continue.

Posted by orrinj at 4:40 PM


Israel, Gulf states said discussing new alliance to stop Iran (AARON KALMAN, October 2, 2013, Times of Israel)

Israel has held a series of meetings with prominent figures from a number of Gulf states in recent weeks in an attempt to muster a new alliance capable of blocking Iran's drive toward nuclear weapons, Israel's Channel 2 reported Wednesday.

According to the report, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been supervising a series of "intensive meetings" with representatives of these other countries. One "high ranking official" even came on a secret visit to Israel, the report said.

...against Shi'a democracy puts Israel not just on the wrong side of history but the side opposite America,

Posted by orrinj at 4:41 AM


Fruit of Labor : The Pearson family has been growing Georgia peaches pretty much the same way for 128 years. The only thing that's changed is who's picking them. (Tony Rehagen, 10/01/13, Atlanta)

Pearson Farm is a patchwork of orchards spread over two square miles of Peach, Crawford, and Macon counties, a half hour south of Macon. This is the cradle of peach country. Perched 530 feet above sea level atop the Fort Valley Plateau, this land sees winters cool enough to allow the trees to blossom yet is high enough to avoid late snaps that bring killing cold to the lowlands in early spring. In summer this orange earth soaks up the Georgia heat, day and night, upon which peaches thrive. And it was in a corner of this clay that Moses Winlock Pearson planted the first Pearson peach trees in 1885--the start of what would become one of the oldest peach farms in Georgia.

Moses had twelve children. Back then, most agriculture outside of cotton was for subsistence and local markets. The family workforce, along with a few hired hands, was sufficient. But with the expansion of the railroads and the advancement of cold storage, grocers in New York and Philadelphia began stocking this exotic Southern fruit. Demand exploded. Farmers like the Pearsons bought up adjacent land and planted peach trees. New families moved in to do the same. By 1928 Georgia was producing 8 million bushels a year--18,000 iced railcars of fruit went through Fort Valley, the Peach County seat, that year.

Mass production required labor on a large scale. Fortunately, there were ample reinforcements in neighboring cotton fields. The seasons alternated perfectly: Plant cotton in spring, thin peaches, chop cotton, pick peaches, pick cotton in the fall. Both crops provided hard, hot, low-wage jobs taken typically by local residents, mostly black, who could barely make a living doing both. On their backs, the Georgia peach industry thrived.

Competition between farms was fierce. In the late spring of 1941, while rambling through the orchard in his beat-up Cadillac, John Pearson, Moses's oldest son, spotted a branch carrying peaches as big as a fist ten days before any other peaches had ripened. He marked the branch with a ribbon and found it the following year, again bearing early fruit. He cut a bud and grew a tree of gun-jumper peaches. Then he planted an orchard. John patented the Pearson Hiley in 1947.

This Hiley was big, beautiful, red--and barely edible. Have received six loads of Pearson Hiley peaches, read the cable from a New York grocer. When will you send sugar? Tart or not, by beating the other farms by a whole week, the new peach gave the Pearsons a huge advantage in the marketplace, and the family emerged as an industry leader. John Pearson's protectiveness of his patent helped earn him the nickname "The Hammer."

The Pearsons would need the advantage. As the Great Depression set in, central Georgia's peach market became saturated. By 1950, the amount of Georgia acreage used for peaches had dropped by more than 40 percent. A freeze in March 1955 wiped out that summer's crop--John Pearson found a total of two peaches, ate one, and gave the other to his wife. There had been around eighty farms at the region's peak, but by the end of the century, only a handful remained.

With fewer jobs, local pickers migrated to better climes--like California, where peaches grow year-round--or left the industry altogether for factories in Macon, Atlanta, and elsewhere. What labor was left dwindled through the 1960s and 1970s as cotton production declined and finally mechanized, rendering cotton pickers obsolete.

But peaches were too delicate for machines to pick. For Pearson and the remaining growers, finding manpower to bring in the crop became a yearly struggle against the prospect of total ruin.

There are 1,400 acres of peaches at Pearson Farm. On this late-July morning, the thirty-two Mexicans are picking one block--3,250 peach trees, no taller than ten feet, lined up in twenty-five uniform rows.

Aguilar divides the Mexicans into two crews, each covering four rows on either side of a tractor tugging plastic bins into which the peaches are emptied. Two men start on a tree, determining size, color, and feel in a fraction of a second as they rapidly fill their baskets--these men can pick a tree clean, leaving undesirables, in twenty seconds. Once a basket holds about fifty peaches, the worker dashes to the bins and gently dumps his fruit while the driver uses a wand to scan a button the size of a nickel that's pinned to the worker's hat. Each high-pitched beep records one load for that worker. Right now, the height of the season, one man can dump between twenty and thirty baskets per hour. Beep. Beep. Beep. By the time the two crews are finished, 3,250 trees have been stripped in less than three hours.

Aguilar, a short man with salt-and-pepper hair, wedding band slightly askew to reveal a white stripe on his sun-soaked skin, crouches to see if the workers' feet are lined up across the rows. He checks the ground for good fruit knocked down by a hasty worker, scans picked-over branches for missed ripes and bins for greens. "They'll put green ones at the bottom of their buckets," he says. "I know that trick."

Aguilar is forty-eight and has been picking since he was nine, piling into his father's truck with seven siblings to drive north from Cotija, Mexico. Every year they would start with Florida oranges in January, then move to Ohio tomatoes in summer, then Michigan apples in fall before returning home for Christmas. If they didn't already have work lined up, the family would park in supermarket lots, suffering stares from locals, while the men scouted farms. In 1981, on their way up I-75, they spotted the Giant Peach in Byron, Peach County, Georgia. They eventually found their way to Pearson Farm.

By then, most area growers had started employing migrants to replace the evaporating local labor pool. But each new season was a frenzy to find enough hands. Aguilar says crews were a mix of migrants and a few locals, black and white, who often treated the task like a part-time job, showing up late, if they showed up at all. "It was like they wanted to work only for their next bottle of liquor," says Aguilar. Conversely, most migrants were professionals, diligent and hardworking. The Aguilars became perennials at Pearson Farm and settled in Fort Valley in 1984, where they eventually gained citizenship. Aguilar's father, Alberto, became foreman for Al Pearson, John's grandson, who had taken over in 1979. And while Lawton was away at college in the 1990s and then law school, deciding whether he wanted to follow in the family business, Israel succeeded Alberto as foreman and emerged as a sort of number two in charge of the workers in the field.

Of course, not all migrants were here legally. In 1991 the Immigration and Naturalization Service raided nearby Lane Packing Company, capturing and deporting 130 Mexican illegals and fining Lane $1.1 million. The Vidalia onion fields were raided in 1998. That same year, Al Pearson was looking at a massive crop without workers. Panicked, he called in a migrant crew. But he sensed something was amiss. He called the Department of Labor, and sure enough, the agency informed Al that he was about to be raided, that he should get rid of the workers immediately.

Posted by orrinj at 4:38 AM


THE HUMAN BODY HAS A STORY TO TELL : Harvard biologist Daniel Lieberman's new book, The Story of the Human Body, digs deep into the real meaning of "paleo" and why we struggle to stay fit and healthy in the modern age. (NICK HEIL, October 2013, Outside)

Daniel Lieberman, the Harvard evolutionary biologist sometimes credited for sparking the barefoot running revolution, has a new book out--The Story of the Human Body--and it's a doozy. Lieberman argues that only by looking at human physiology through an evolutionary lens can we truly begin to understand how we get fit, and, consequently, why we get fat. [...]

OUTSIDE: It seems like one of the key turning points has been this idea that, for many generations,  humans have been trying to get enough calories, and now we've suddenly entered this period where we have too many calories.

DANIEL LIEBERMAN:  Mm, it's amazing. And we're just not very well adapted for it.

Do you look at this from an evolutionary perspective and think, wow, we're really in this bizarre and transformative period?

I think so, yeah. One of my jobs is to try to look around at the world we live in, and to think about what's really normal and what's abnormal from an evolutionary perspective. It's normal to think that the world you grow up in is normal, right? We think it's normal to fly in airplanes, drive a car, eat breakfast cereal from a box, and all the other things that you and I probably do--but actually they're abnormal.

Everything else is Natural but us.

October 1, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 9:24 PM


The Shale Boom, Just Getting Started: Interview with Tyler Cowen (James Stafford, 25 September 2013, Oilprice)

Tyler Cowen: The shale boom is just getting started, most of all on a global level. And a lot of complicated substitutions are required for shale gas to lower retail gasoline prices, for instance greater use of gas to power transportation. The US public never has been very rational about the price of gasoline, and don't expect that to change anytime soon.  Gasoline is a price which we see and pay very often, too often. That means voters remember it all too well.

Oilprice.com: How has the US shale boom affected the global economy, and how will US exports play into this?  

Tyler Cowen: Our shale boom is only starting to affect the global economy. The question is who else will follow suit. Russia?  Argentina?  Poland? We will see, but I expect a lot more supply to come on line.

Oilprice.com: In the world of finance and banking, energy market manipulation has become a hot topic, most recently with the scandal around JPMorgan. How does this style of energy market manipulation affect consumers?  

Tyler Cowen: Not much at all.

Oilprice.com: Is this a trend we can't stop?

Tyler Cowen: We can't stop it easily. Consumers are not really the losers here, rather some traders benefit at the expense of others. There is more churn than we would like to have in prices and short-term inventories. That's a problem, but pretty far down on my list of worries.

Posted by orrinj at 9:19 PM


The nine most painful impacts of a government shutdown (Brad Plumer, Published: October 1, 2013, Washington Post)

Here's a rough list:

1) More than 2 million federal workers will see their paychecks delayed -- and 800,000 of them might never get repaid. [...]

2) Millions of veterans may not receive benefits if the shutdown lasts more than two weeks. [...]

Note that these aren't the only consequences of the shutdown. There are plenty of others: Businesses won't be able to access E-Verify to check the immigration status of potential hires. The National Institutes of Health will stop accepting new patients for clinical trials. The Bureau of Land Management will stop issuing permits for oil and gas companies on public lands.

How painful the above impacts are depends on your perspective. Obviously the people affected will care a lot. But how big an outcry will there be from the broader public? Over at Business Insider, Joe Weisenthal suspects that "there's no obvious one thing [about a shutdown] that will be so annoying to the public that the two sides would quickly have to come to a deal." If that's true, a shutdown could last for quite some time.

It's also worth noting that we've already seen disruptive cuts this year after Congress allowed sequestration to hit -- and lawmakers haven't exactly rushed to reverse those haphazard budget cuts. Indeed, much of Washington appears to have made peace with sequestration.

Posted by orrinj at 8:38 PM


David and Goliath : Malcolm Gladwell subverts our assumptions about winners and losers in his newest work (Randy Dotinga, October 1, 2013, CS Monitor)

It's not just a rock that slays Goliath, it turns out, and David is more than a man with a slingshot. As Gladwell explains, being a hulk of a guy - or, as the behemoth's mother might have put it, just big-boned - gives Goliath advantages and disadvantages.

The Big G isn't agile. He may suffer from a disease that boosts his size but hurts his vision. And his lavish confidence makes him oblivious to his own vulnerabilities. David, meanwhile, is armed with what one historian describes as the equivalent of a .45 automatic pistol, and he knows how to use it. So who's the real underdog here?

..it was hardly a fair fight.

Posted by orrinj at 6:10 PM


Get a life (C.W. and A.J.K.D., Sep 24th 2013, The Economist)

For the countries for which data are available the vast majority of people work fewer hours than they did in 1990: 

And it seems that more productive--and, consequently, better-paid--workers put in less time in at the office. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:07 PM


Iran Staggers as Sanctions Hit Economy (THOMAS ERDBRINK, 9/30/13, NY Times)

In repeated meetings during the week, Mr. Rouhani and his foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, said the government's financial condition was far more dire than the previous president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, had let on.

Mr. Rouhani and Mr. Zarif did not publicly specify the severity of the cash squeeze. But Western economists believe the crisis point may be much closer than previously thought, perhaps a matter of months. Iran news outlets have reported that the government owes billions of dollars to private contractors, banks and municipalities.

Because of the sanctions, oil sales, which account for 80 percent of the government's revenue, have been cut in half. While Mr. Ahmadinejad had asserted that Iran had $100 billion in foreign exchange reserves, the total had shrunk to $80 billion by mid-2013, according to a new study by Roubini Global Economics, a research firm based in New York, and the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington group that advocates strong sanctions against Iran.

But even that vastly overstates the amount readily available to Iran. Three-quarters of the $80 billion is tied up in escrow accounts in countries that buy Iranian oil -- the result of an American sanctions law that took effect in February. Under that law, the money can be spent only to buy products from those countries.

Even gaining access to the remaining $20 billion is difficult -- it has to be physically moved in cash because of Iran's expulsion from the global banking network known by its acronym Swift, which had allowed the money to be transmitted electronically.

"They can't repatriate the money back to Iran," said Mark Dubowitz, the executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. "This is the dilemma Iran finds itself in."

The sanctions pose other problems. Unable to arrange simple financing for business deals, executives are forced to transfer suitcases of cash through street-level money changers to shady bankers abroad. This is not only costly, with middlemen exacting fees every step of the way, but also dangerous, the cash making a tempting target for thieves.

Lower-level officials here and businesspeople are even more alarmed than the leadership, with some saying Iran's economy is already on the verge of collapse.

Posted by orrinj at 6:05 PM


FreedomPop Now Offers Completely Free Mobile Phone Service (Lifehacker)

Free voice calls, free texts, free data. Yes, really. FreedomPop, which started out offering free mobile internet access, now is launching the first completely free mobile plan.

Posted by orrinj at 2:47 PM


You're fired. Stock rises. Wall Street loves layoffs (Paul R. La Monica, October 1, 2013, CNN Money)

Merck announced 8,500 new job cuts today. That's on top of previously disclosed plans to lay off 7,500 workers. Shares of Merck rose more than 2% on the news.

But here's the crazy thing. It's not as if Merck (MRK) had been struggling before Tuesday's job cut announcement. The stock is now up nearly 20% so far in 2013 and shares are just 3% below their 52-week high.

Merck is not alone. Several companies that have been posting decent earnings increases are also getting rid of workers. And investors keep cheering. 

If only they'd add boondoggle jobs and make themselves less productive....
Posted by orrinj at 2:32 PM


Obama-Rouhani tango irks Iranian reactionaries (MICHAEL BASSIN October 1, 2013, Times of Israel)

Echoing Israeli leaders, commanders of Iran's Revolutionary Guards denounce direct US-Iran talks.

Posted by orrinj at 4:36 AM


Japan Sales Tax to Increase Next Year, Abe Says (HIROKO TABUCHI, October 1, 2013, NY Times)

 Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Tuesday that he would raise Japan's nationwide sales tax rate next year as planned, sweeping aside concerns that an increase might put the brakes on the country's nascent economic recovery. [...]

Trickier still is a plan pushed by Mr. Abe to hasten the expiration of a surcharge on Japan's corporate tax, implemented by the previous government to cover reconstruction costs in the wake of Japan's tsunami and nuclear disaster of 2011. Removing the surcharge, originally set to expire in 2015, would bring Japan's effective corporate tax rate down to 35 percent from 38 percent. The move, Mr. Abe has said, would further bolster the country's competitiveness and encourage more foreign corporations to bring their operations to Japan.