April 30, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 10:22 PM


Neanderthals were not less intelligent than modern humans, scientists find (Ian Sample, 30 April 2014, The Guardian)

Scientists have concluded that neanderthals were not the primitive dimwits they are commonly portrayed to have been.

The view of the Neanderthal man as a club-wielding brute is one of the most enduring stereotypes in science, but researchers who trawled the archaeological evidence say the image has no basis whatsoever.

They said scientists had fuelled the impression of Neanderthals being less than gifted in scores of theories that purport to explain why the Neanderthals died out while supposedly superior modern humans survived.

Posted by orrinj at 10:19 PM


Deadly Blast Undermines Chinese President's Vow to Beat Terrorism (DANIELLE WIENER-BRONNER, 4/30/14, The Wire)

An attack on a plaza near a busy railroad station in China's fraught Xinjiang province left three dead and 79 injured, marking another violent incident in the region and serving as a somber reminder that Chinese efforts to stem terrorist attacks might not be working. 

The Uighurs just want self-determination.

Posted by orrinj at 6:32 PM


Bill Gross wants you to sneeze -- and make money (Ben Rooney, April 30, 2014, CNN Money)

Interest rates need to remain low, he argues, so that "debtors can survive." It would also make government debt less of a concern.

Gross acknowledges that determining the right policy on interest rates (Gross dubs it a "neutral policy") is not an easy task for Fed chair Janet Yellen or any other central banker to achieve.

But he says focusing on what the neutral rate might be is "the critical key to unlocking value in all asset markets."

Gross believes a neutral interest rate will ultimately be closer to 2%, compared with the 4% rate that Fed officials have targeted in the past.

If that's the case, Gross says stocks and real estate investments will be more attractive than cash. It would also mean that "current fears of asset bubbles would be unfounded."

Posted by orrinj at 6:27 PM


The Right's Piketty Problem (J. Bradford Delong, 4/29/14, Project Syndicate)

Piketty's argument is detailed and complicated. But five points seem particularly salient: [...]

2. Time and chance inevitably lead to the concentration of wealth in the hands of a relatively small group: call them "the rich." [...]

To be sure, everyone disagrees with 10-20% of Piketty's argument, and everyone is unsure about perhaps another 10-20%. But, in both cases, everyone has a different 10-20%. In other words, there is majority agreement that each piece of the book is roughly correct, which means that there is near-consensus that the overall argument of the book is, broadly, right.

Unless Piketty's right-wing critics step up their game and actually make some valid points, that will be the default judgment on Piketty's book. No amount of Red-baiting or French-bashing will help.

As Tyler Cowen pointed out, Mr. Piketty has essentially made the case for Social Security privatization (and the entire Third Way, come to that), concentrating wealth in the universal group.  Why would we try to discredit him?  

Posted by orrinj at 6:16 PM


Koch Brothers Still Unknown to Many Americans - WSJ/NBC Poll (REID J. EPSTEIN, 4/30/14, WSJ)

Most Americans don't know who the Koch brothers are, and yet they continue to be the focus of Democrats' attacks.

Wednesday's Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found a full half of Americans didn't recognize the names of Charles and David Koch. Another 20% have neutral feelings about them - leaving just 21% with negative feelings and 10% with positive opinions.

The unknown rating is the highest among political figures in the WSJ/NBC poll - four percentage points more than Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) and nearly twice as high as likely 2016 GOP presidential candidate Rand Paul (R., Ky.)

April 29, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:46 PM


Fighting Crime by Going Cashless (Cass R. Sunstein, 4/29/14, Bloomberg View)

Since the early 1990s, crime rates have generally been falling in the U.S. In particular, there has been a big drop in the incidence of robbery, burglary and larceny. How come?

New research suggests an unexpected factor. In the 1990s, the national government started requiring states to deliver welfare benefits through the new Electronic Benefit Transfer system instead of paper checks. EBT allowed beneficiaries to get their money via debit cards -- meaning a big reduction of cash on the street and, as a result, significantly lower crime rates.

Posted by orrinj at 7:39 PM


Rich nations' greenhouse gas emissions fall in 2012, led by U.S. (ALISTER DOYLE, Apr 25, 2014, Reuters) 

Industrialized nations' greenhouse gas emissions fell by 1.3 percent in 2012, led by a U.S. decline to the lowest in almost two decades with a shift to natural gas from dirtier coal, official statistics show. [...]

In 2012 "the success story is the declining emissions in the United States," said Glen Peters, of the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research in Oslo. "Europe is a mix with slow GDP growth offset by a shift to coal in some countries."

Posted by orrinj at 7:34 PM


What do you get if you cross a donkey with a zebra? A zonkey! (DAILY MAIL, 27 April 2014)

A female zebra called Rayas, and his father, a blue-eyed albino donkey named Ignacio, used to visit every afternoon. Eventually, Rayas became pregnant. 

The zoo says the animal is extremely rare because zebra and donkey chromosomes were thought to be incompatible.

However, Khumba is not the first zonkey. Ippo, a zonkey born in Italy, became a huge sensation when he was born in Florence last year.

Posted by orrinj at 7:24 PM


Brokerage CEO: Small investors are back, baby! (Jesse Solomon, April 29, 2014, Money)

TD Ameritrade CEO Fred Tomczyk says individual investors are getting back into the markets at a record pace.

Individual investors are jumping back into the market at a record pace, according to Fred Tomczyk, CEO of online brokerage firm TD Ameritrade.

"People are generally more bullish on the U.S. economy," Tomczyk told CNNMoney at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Los Angeles Tuesday.
Tomczyk said that trading volume on TD Ameritrade (AMTD) hit all-time highs in the first quarter of 2014, a trend that's been echoed in earnings reports by TD and other online brokerages such as Schwab (SCHW) and E* Trade (ETFC). The surge in trading by so-called small or "mom and pop" investors comes over a period when the markets experienced a lot of volatility.

It's America; we're all capitalists.

Posted by orrinj at 7:20 PM


This Weekly Meeting Took Up 300,000 Hours a Year (Michael C. Mankins, April 29, 2014, Harvard Business Review)

How much time does your organization squander? My colleagues and I gathered data about time use at one large company and found that people there spent 300,000 hours a year just supporting the weekly executive committee meeting.

Posted by orrinj at 2:55 PM


Robert Moses Vs. Jane Jacobs, The Central Drama Of Urban Planning, Will Be An Opera (Shaunacy Ferro, 4/29/14, Co.Design)

A legendary 1960s battle over the urban design of New York City is getting its dramatic due. The struggle between urban planner Robert Moses and journalist/activist Jane Jacobs over Moses's proposed Lower Manhattan Expressway will become an opera, thanks to composer Judd Greenstein and director Joshua Frankel.

Moses and Jacobs had deeply divergent visions of New York City's future. Moses was the powerful planner behind a swath of New York City expressways that displaced half a million people during his reign as the city's master builder. He envisioned a city built for easy driving. Jacobs, who popularized the idea of eyes on the street--the notion that streets are safer and more vibrant when there are pedestrians on them--vehemently opposed Moses's plans to raze Washington Square Park and much of Greenwich Village, where she lived, to build yet more miles of highway.

Posted by orrinj at 2:46 PM

60 in '14

Public Preference for a GOP Congress Marks a New Low in Obama's Approval (Gary Langer, Apr 29, 2014, ABC News)

Registered voters by 53-39 percent in the national survey say they'd rather see the Republicans in control of Congress as a counterbalance to Obama's policies than a Democratic-led Congress to help support him. It was similar in fall 2010, when the Republicans took control of the House of Representatives and gained six Senate seats.

Obama's job approval rating, after a slight winter rebound, has lost 5 points among all adults since March, to 41 percent, the lowest of his presidency by a single point.

Posted by orrinj at 2:41 PM


Is Israel an Apartheid State? (Jeffrey Goldberg, 4/29/14, Bloomberg View)

 I myself have used the word "apartheid" not only to describe a possible terrible future for Israel, but also as a way of depicting some current and most unfortunate facts on the ground.

In a 2004 New Yorker article I described how the settlement movement was slowly destroying the idea of a Jewish democratic state of Israel:

[Ariel] Sharon seems to have recognized -- belatedly -- Israel's stark demographic future: the number of Jews and Arabs between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea will be roughly equal by the end of the decade. By 2020, the Israeli demographer Sergio Della Pergola has predicted, Jews will make up less than forty-seven per cent of the population. If a self-sustaining Palestinian state -- one that is territorially contiguous within the West Bank -- does not emerge, the Jews of Israel will be faced with two choices: a binational state with an Arab majority, which would be the end of the idea of Zionism, or an apartheid state, in which the Arab majority would be ruled by a Jewish minority.

A de-facto apartheid already exists in the West Bank. Inside the borders of Israel proper, Arabs and Jews are judged by the same set of laws in the same courtrooms; across the Green Line, Jews live under Israeli civil law as well, but their Arab neighbors -- people who live, in some cases, just yards away -- fall under a different, and substantially undemocratic, set of laws, administered by the Israeli Army. The system is neither as elaborate nor as pervasive as South African apartheid, and it is, officially, temporary. It is nevertheless a form of apartheid, because two different ethnic groups living in the same territory are judged by two separate sets of laws.

I suppose this passage makes me an enemy of Israel, in the same way Kerry is an enemy of Israel, and in the same way that the former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak (who is also Israel's most decorated soldier) is an enemy of Israel, because Barak has also warned about the dangers of the status quo: "As long as in this territory west of the Jordan River there is only one political entity called Israel," he said in 2010, "it is going to be either non-Jewish, or non-democratic. If this bloc of millions of Palestinians cannot vote, that will be an apartheid state."

Few of the conditions I described in that 2004 article have changed, but I have decided, for a number of reasons, to try to avoid using the term apartheid to describe the situation in the West Bank. 

They define Judaism racially and insist on being recognized as a "Jewish state."  How's that different than insisting on being recognized as a white state?

April 28, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:23 PM


Wall Street Republicans' dark secret: Hillary Clinton 2016 ( BEN WHITE and MAGGIE HABERMAN, 4/28/14, Politico)

Two dozen interviews about the 2016 race with unaligned GOP donors, financial executives and their Washington lobbyists turned up a consistent -- and unusual -- consolation candidate if Bush demurs, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie doesn't recover politically and no other establishment favorite gets nominated: Hillary Clinton.

Posted by orrinj at 7:11 PM


After the midterms: Democrats fear President Obama could give in ( DARREN SAMUELSOHN and MANU RAJU, 4/28/14, Politico)

Democrats have something else to fear after the November midterms besides just an all Republican-controlled Congress: President Barack Obama.

With Obama's political career winding down and poll numbers continuing to languish, his party brethren fret that their own president -- forced to work with GOP majorities -- would give away the store on key policy issues ranging from the budget to energy and trade. It's a concern congressional Democrats have voiced every time Obama and Vice President Joe Biden tried to cut big fiscal deals with Republicans -- and the panic is now more palpable with the growing prospect of a Senate GOP majority.

Hard to imagine him moving much further right.

Posted by orrinj at 6:46 PM


Philippines pact gives US 'pivot' to Asia some military muscle (Anna Mulrine, April 28, 2014, CS Monitor)

;[N]ews Monday that the US has inked a military agreement with the Philippines is seen by defense analysts as a major step forward for the Pentagon's presence in the region. The terms of the deal allow the US to rotate troops through and pre-position fighter jets and supplies at Filipino bases.

Posted by orrinj at 6:22 PM


Are We Under-Saving for Retirement? (Robert Samuelson - April 28, 2014, Washington Post)

 As millions of baby boomers pass their mid-60s, the specter of widespread under-saving has taken hold. Huge numbers of present and future retirees will exhaust their savings before they die. Mass hardship looms, even as the costs of an aging society already weigh on the young and middle-aged. It's a scary vision. But is it likely? Probably not.

Typical retirees are hardly bereft. In 2010, roughly 80 percent of households 65 to 74 owned their homes, and half of these had fully repaid their mortgages, reports economist Peter Brady of the Investment Company Institute, the trade group for mutual funds. Among those with a mortgage, the median amount was less than half (44 percent) of the house's value. For all homeowners, median home equity -- the amount not owed on the mortgage -- was $120,000. (The median signifies the midpoint. Amounts were higher for half the households, lower for the other half.)

To supplement Social Security, retirees can borrow against their home equity. They can also draw on retiree savings from defined benefit pensions, individual retirement accounts (IRAs) and 401(k) accounts. In 2010, almost three-quarters of households aged 55 to 64 had some combination of these retirement vehicles. The median value of the IRA and 401(k) accounts was $100,000, Brady says.

Posted by orrinj at 6:18 PM


How Internet Access Can Boost The Economy And Social Equality (Eva Arevuo, 4/28/14, Forbes)

Fast and affordable Internet access will be this generation's greatest leveler. Access to the Internet means access to information, and access to communication networks: access that will improve education, health, and career outcomes.

In Internet "wealthy" communities, children are born connected and access is taken for granted. All members of this new generation are called "digital natives," but some young people and their communities - as many as 19 million Americans - are being left behind.

The government has a duty to provide basic access that could then serve as a foundation for private initiatives and public-private partnerships to build on. What better way to serve the underserved than to empower the institutions often at the center of these communities: schools and libraries?

Posted by orrinj at 6:14 PM


US high school graduation rates hit historic high : Four-year high school graduation rates hit 80 percent, capping a decade of significant improvement and suggesting that US schools can hit even more ambitious goals by 2020. (Amanda Paulson, April 28, 2014, CS Monitor)

"It's really significant. After 30 years of flat-lining high school graduation rates and four successive US presidents setting a 90 percent graduation goal, finally over the last decade we've seen a 10 percentage point gain," says John Bridgeland, coauthor of the 2014 Building a Grad Nation report, which was also released Monday.

That steady success in the past decade has meant 1.7 million more high school graduates, and there has been a reduction of nearly 650 so-called "dropout factories" - high schools that graduate fewer than 60 percent of their students, says Mr. Bridgeland, CEO of Civic Enterprises. The most significant progress has come in recent years, when graduating from high school has become more challenging.

April 27, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 1:21 PM


For Russia, Negatives Seem to Outweigh Positives of an Invasion (NEIL MacFARQUHAR, APRIL 26, 2014, NY Times)

Yet the reasons for Mr. Putin to refrain from further military adventurism make a longer, more tangled list: the cost of a huge occupation force and the responsibility for the welfare of millions more people; the effect of new, more severe Western sanctions on an already weak economy; the possibility of significant Russian casualties caused by an insurgency in eastern Ukraine; a new, implacably anti-Russian western section of Ukraine; and likely pariah status internationally.

Posted by orrinj at 10:13 AM


Memo To The New York Times; Creating Jobs Is A Cost, Not A Benefit, To The Economy (Tim Worstall, 4/27/14, Forbes)

It's rather sad to see the editorial board of the would be newspaper of record, the New York Times, committing what is probably my least favourite economic fallacy. The idea that the creation of jobs is good economics, or good for the economy or us. It's true that jobs are lovely things but they're not a benefit, they're a cost. [...]

It's not even true that jobs are a benefit to the people that do them. The income from having a job is definitely a benefit: but that's exactly what proves that the job itself isn't. For we get the benefit of the income in return for putting up with the cost of having to go to work. You know, we all like working so much that they have to bribe us with cash to get us to do it? And at the macroeconomic level jobs are also a cost: anyone working to produce prose for the Grey Lady is obviously not also available to do something more socially useful like cleaning the sewers.

We would all far prefer to have an income without going to work, we'd also far rather have everything we desire in the way of newspapers, electricity and everything else provided without anyone else having to go to work and the fewer jobs that there are in providing us with any particular thing then the more things that can be provided by the people now available to produce those other things.

The modern economy is about solving the problem of our having to have jobs.

Posted by orrinj at 7:02 AM


Governor With Eye on 2016 Finds His Rise Under Scrutiny (MONICA DAVEY, APRIL 26, 2014, NY Times)

[I]f anything has defined Mr. Walker's political life over the past decade, it was his drive to limit unions just six weeks into his tenure as governor in 2011, a move foretold in his years as Milwaukee County executive. Although Mr. Walker had made it clear as a candidate for governor that unions could expect to see change, his critics say he never made clear the extent of his intentions until he was elected.

But as county executive, he also clashed with public-sector unions, calling for 35-hour workweeks instead of 40, with corresponding reductions in compensation. He pushed to privatize cleaning and food-service workers. He demanded spending cuts and battled openly with the Board of Supervisors in a county that leaned Democratic. At one point, he went so far as to suggest that the county government itself might be abolished as a way to spare waste.

"It came from eight years of being a county executive," he said in a recent interview in this southern Wisconsin village. "Nobody needed to tell me what needed to be done. Anytime I had a reasonable option, I'd get shot down by the public-employee union leaders who would rather lay off hundreds of people before they would take even a 35-hour workweek. So I had just grown so frustrated with them throughout the process that I said, 'Something's got to change.' "

Mr. Walker, the son of a Baptist preacher, was drawn to politics at seemingly every turn. An Eagle Scout, he came of age during the administration of Ronald Reagan, whom Mr. Walker describes as a hero of his.

He lost a hard-fought race for student government president at Marquette University, and eventually withdrew without a degree -- an issue that is now drawing extra scrutiny. The last president without a college degree was Harry Truman. Mr. Walker and his wife, Tonette, have two sons in college, and he has said lately that he was thinking about finishing the remaining credits.

After winning a special election for a State Assembly seat in 1993 and holding it for almost a decade, Mr. Walker looked to the Milwaukee County executive's office, which was engulfed in a scandal over pension payouts in 2002. He ran in a special election to finish the resigning incumbent's term -- an opportune moment for Mr. Walker's message of transparency and waste cutting.

"Honestly, I can't remember a time other than maybe that first year where we weren't in a fight with him," said David Eisner, who helped lead a union of county workers at the time. "He seemed like a guy on a mission."

By 2009, Mr. Walker said, frustrations led him to run for governor. "I just had had it with where the economy was," he said. "I thought the state was headed in the wrong direction."

Mr. Walker's practical message -- delivered in unadorned terms and his nasal, Wisconsin flatness -- matched the moment of financial crisis in a state that Barack Obama had carried in 2008 and would again in 2012. Mr. Walker regularly mentioned his daily lunch along the campaign trail: two ham-and-cheese sandwiches from home. Plain fare for austere times.

In fact, Mr. Walker had looked at the possibility of a run for governor earlier. His decision in 2006 to wait brought more good fortune: The national Republican wave of 2010 ushered not only Mr. Walker into office but also new Republican majorities in both state legislative chambers.

Posted by orrinj at 6:38 AM


THE BALLAD OF GEESHIE AND ELVIE : On the trail of the phantom women who changed American music and then vanished without a trace. (JOHN JEREMIAH SULLIVAN, APRIL 13, 2014, NY Times Magazine)

IN THE WORLD of early-20th-century African-American music and people obsessed by it, who can appear from one angle like a clique of pale and misanthropic scholar-gatherers and from another like a sizable chunk of the human population, there exist no ghosts more vexing than a couple of women identified on three ultrarare records made in 1930 and '31 as Elvie Thomas and Geeshie Wiley. There are musicians as obscure as Wiley and Thomas, and musicians as great, but in none does the Venn diagram of greatness and lostness reveal such vast and bewildering co-extent. In the spring of 1930, in a damp and dimly lit studio, in a small Wisconsin village on the western shore of Lake Michigan, the duo recorded a batch of songs that for more than half a century have been numbered among the masterpieces of prewar American music, in particular two, Elvie's "Motherless Child Blues" and Geeshie's "Last Kind Words Blues," twin Alps of their tiny oeuvre, inspiring essays and novels and films and cover versions, a classical arrangement.

Yet despite more than 50 years of researchers' efforts to learn who the two women were or where they came from, we have remained ignorant of even their legal names. The sketchy memories of one or two ancient Mississippians, gathered many decades ago, seemed to point to the southern half of that state, yet none led to anything solid. A few people thought they heard hints of Louisiana or Texas in the guitar playing or in the pronunciation of a lyric. We know that the word "Geechee," with a c, can refer to a person born into the heavily African-inflected Gullah culture centered on the coastal islands off Georgia and the Carolinas. But nothing turned up there either. Or anywhere. No grave site, no photograph. Forget that -- no anecdotes. This is what set Geeshie and Elvie apart even from the rest of an innermost group of phantom geniuses of the '20s and '30s. Their myth was they didn't have anything you could so much as hang a myth on. The objects themselves -- the fewer than 10 surviving copies, total, of their three known Paramount releases, a handful of heavy, black, scratch-riven shellac platters, all in private hands -- these were the whole of the file on Geeshie and Elvie, and even these had come within a second thought of vanishing, within, say, a woman's decision in cleaning her parents' attic to go against some idle advice that she throw out a box of old records and instead to find out what the junk shop gives. When she decides otherwise, when the shop isn't on the way home, there goes the music, there go the souls, ash flakes up the flue, to flutter about with the Edison cylinder of Buddy Bolden's band and the phonautograph of Lincoln's voice.

I have been fascinated by this music since first experiencing it, like a lot of other people in my generation, in Terry Zwigoff's 1994 documentary "Crumb," on the life of the artist Robert Crumb, which used "Last Kind Words" for a particularly vivid montage sequence. And I have closely followed the search for them over the years; drawn along in part by the sheer History Channel mysteriousness of it, but mainly -- the reason it never got boring -- by their music.

Outside any bullyingly hyperbolical attempts to describe the technical beauty of the songs themselves, there's another facet to them, one that deepens their fascination, namely a certain time-capsule dimension. The year 1930 seems long ago enough now, perhaps, but older songs and singers can be heard to blow through this music, strains in the American songbook that we know were there, from before the Civil War, but can't hear very well or at all. There's a song, Geeshie's "Last Kind Words," a kind of pre-blues or not-yet-blues, a doomy, minor-key lament that calls up droning banjo songs from long before the cheap-guitar era, with a strange thumping rhythm on the bass string. "If I get killed," Geeshie sings, "if I get killed, please don't bury my soul." There's a blues, "Motherless Child," with 16-bar, four-line stanzas, that begins by repeating the same line four times, "My mother told me just before she died," AAAA, no variation, just moaning the words, each time with achingly subtle microvariations, notes blue enough to flirt with tonal chaos. Generations of spirituals pass through "Motherless Child," field melodies and work songs drift through it, and above everything, the playing brims with unfalsifiable sophistication. Elvie's notes float. She sends them out like little sailboats onto a pond. "Motherless Child" is her only song, the only one of the six on which she takes lead to my ears -- there are people who think it's also her on "Over to My House." On the other songs she's behind Geeshie, albeit contributing hugely. The famous Joe Bussard (pronounced "buzzard"), one of the world's foremost collectors of prewar 78s, found one of two known copies of "Motherless Child" in an antique store in Baltimore, near the waterfront, in the mid-1960s. The story goes that Bussard used to have people over to his house to play for them the first note of "Motherless Child," just the first few seconds, again and again, an E that Elvie plucks and lets hang. It sounds like nothing and then, after several listens, like nothing else. "Baby, now she's dead, she's six feet in the ground," she sings. "And I'm a child, and I am drifting 'round."

Before there could be the minor miracle of these discs' having survived, there had to be an earlier, major one: that of people like Geeshie and Elvie ever being recorded. To understand how that happened it's needful to know about race records, a commercial field that flourished between the world wars, and specifically the Paramount company, a major competitor in that game throughout the 1920s.

A furniture company, that's how it started. 
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Posted by orrinj at 6:32 AM


Tea party PACs reap money for midterms, but spend little on candidate (Matea Gold, April 26, 2014, Washington Post)

The Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund, which blew through nearly $2 million on expenses such as fundraising, polling and consultants in the first three months of this year, is not alone in its meager spending on candidates.

A Washington Post analysis found that some of the top national tea party groups engaged in this year's midterm elections have put just a tiny fraction of their money directly into boosting the candidates they've endorsed.

The practice is not unusual in the freewheeling world of big-money political groups, but it runs counter to the ethos of the tea party movement, which sprouted five years ago amid anger on the right over wasteful government spending. 

They're a Beltway employment program, not a movement.

Posted by orrinj at 6:01 AM


Willie Mays recalls 1954 World Series (John Shea, April 26, 2014, SF Gate)

Mays dropped this line, almost in passing: "If I hadn't been in the service two years, I would've gotten to the Babe without any problem. But you had to go serve your country."

Mays has said many times he has no regrets and was proud to be in the Army and proud of his playing career.

He finished with 660 homers, 54 fewer than Babe Ruth hit. Mays hit a total of 92 homers in '54 and '55, so it's realistic to suggest 714 would have been reachable, as it could have been for Ted Williams, who hit 521 homers despite missing nearly five full seasons serving in the military.

Posted by orrinj at 5:55 AM


In the long run, wars make us safer and richer (Ian Morris, April 25, 2014, Washington Post)

When looking upon the long run of history, it becomes clear that through 10,000 years of conflict, humanity has created larger, more organized societies that have greatly reduced the risk that their members will die violently. These better organized societies also have created the conditions for higher living standards and economic growth. War has not only made us safer, but richer, too.

Thinkers have long grappled with the relationships among peace, war and strength. Thomas Hobbes wrote his case for strong government, "Leviathan," as the English Civil War raged around him in the 1640s. German sociologist Norbert Elias's two-volume treatise, "The Civilizing Process," published on the eve of World War II, argued that Europe had become a more peaceful place in the five centuries leading to his own day. The difference is that now we have the evidence to prove their case.

Take the long view. The world of the Stone Age, for instance, was a rough place; 10,000 years ago, if someone used force to settle an argument, he or she faced few constraints. Killing was normally on a small scale, in homicides, vendettas and raids, but because populations were tiny, the steady drip of low-level killing took an appalling toll. By many estimates, 10 to 20 percent of all Stone Age humans died at the hands of other people.

This puts the past 100 years in perspective. Since 1914, we have endured world wars, genocides and government-sponsored famines, not to mention civil strife, riots and murders. Altogether, we have killed a staggering 100 million to 200 million of our own kind. But over the century, about 10 billion lives were lived -- which means that just 1 to 2 percent of the world's population died violently. Those lucky enough to be born in the 20th century were on average 10 times less likely to come to a grisly end than those born in the Stone Age. And since 2000, the United Nations tells us, the risk of violent death has fallen even further, to 0.7 percent.

As this process unfolded, humanity prospered. Ten thousand years ago, when the planet's population was 6 million or so, people lived about 30 years on average and supported themselves on the equivalent income of about $2 per day. Now, more than 7 billion people are on Earth, living more than twice as long (an average of 67 years), and with an average income of $25 per day.

This happened because about 10,000 years ago, the winners of wars began incorporating the losers into larger societies. The victors found that the only way to make these larger societies work was by developing stronger governments; and one of the first things these governments had to do, if they wanted to stay in power, was suppress violence among their subjects.

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Posted by orrinj at 5:50 AM


Barbara Comstock wins Virginia 'firehouse' primary (TARINI PARTI, 4/26/14, Politico)

Virginia Delegate Barbara Comstock handily won the GOP "firehouse" primary to replace retiring Rep. Frank Wolf, ensuring a heated general election contest for the battleground district.

Comstock -- the establishment favorite who has worked for years in Republican politics -- won with about 54 percent of the vote, according to unofficial results released by 10th District Republican committee, which conducted the election. The former Wolf aide and political consultant beat out five other contenders for the nomination, despite the lower-turnout nominating process that could have caused an upset.

Posted by orrinj at 5:11 AM


Beyond GDP: Get Ready For A New Way To Measure The Economy (Mark Skousen, December 16, 2013, Forbes)

Starting with my work The Structure of Production in 1990 and Economics on Trial in 1991, I have made the case that we needed a new statistic beyond GDP that measures spending throughout the entire production process, not just final output.  GO is a move in that direction - a personal triumph 25 years in the making.

GO attempts to measure total sales from the production of raw materials through intermediate producers to final retail.  Based on my research, GO is a better indicator of the business cycle, and most consistent with economic growth theory.

GO is a measure of the "make" economy, while GDP represents the "use" economy.  Both are essential to understanding how the economy works.

While GDP is a good measure of national economic performance, it has a major flaw:  In limiting itself to final output, GDP largely ignores or downplays the "make" economy, that is, the supply chain and intermediate stages of production needed to produce all those finished goods and services.  This narrow focus of GDP has created much mischief in the media, government policy, and boardroom decision-making. For example, journalists are constantly overemphasizing consumer and government spending as the driving force behind the economy, rather than saving, business investment, and technological advances.  Since consumer spending represents 70% or more of GDP, followed by 20% by government, the media naively concludes that any slowdown in retail sales or government stimulus is necessarily bad for the economy.  (Private investment comes in a poor third at 13%.)

For instance, the New York Times recently reported, "Consumer spending makes up more than 70% of the economy, and it usually drives growth during economic recoveries." ("Consumers Give Boost to Economy," New York Times, May 1, 2010, p. B1)  Or as the Wall Street Journal stated a few years ago, "The housing bust has chilled consumer spending -- the largest single driver of the U. S. economy..." ("Home Forecast Calls for Pain," Wall Street Journal, September 21, 2011, p. A1.)

Or take this report during the economic recovery:

"Friday's estimates of second-quarter gross domestic product [1.3%, well below consensus forecasts] provided a sobering look at how a decline in public spending and investment can restrain growth....The astonishingly slow growth rate from April through June was due in large part to sluggish consumer spending and an increase in imports, which subtract from growth numbers. But dwindling government spending also held back growth."  ("The Role of Government Spending," New York Times, July 29, 2011.)

In short, by focusing only on final output, GDP underestimates the money spent and economic activity generated at earlier stages in the production process. It's as though the manufacturers and shippers and designers aren't fully acknowledged in their contribution to overall growth or decline.

Gross Output exposes these misconceptions.  In my own research, I've discovered many benefits of GO statistics.  First, Gross Output provides a more accurate picture of what drives the economy.  Using GO as a more comprehensive measure of economic activity, spending by consumers turns out to represent around 40% of total yearly sales, not 70% as commonly reported. Spending by business (private investment plus intermediate inputs) is substantially bigger, representing over 50% of economic activity.  That's more consistent with economic growth theory, which emphasizes productive saving and investment in technology on the producer side as the drivers of economic growth.  Consumer spending is largely the effect, not the cause, of prosperity.

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April 26, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:36 AM


Even Without Sanctions, Russia's Economy Is Looking Sicklier Than Ever (Carol Matlack  April 25, 2014, Business Week)

Signs of Russia's growing economic distress became even clearer today, as the central bank unexpectedly raised interest rates for the second time since March, while Standard & Poor's cut the country's debt rating to one notch above junk.

In lifting the benchmark borrowing rate from 7 percent to 7.5 percent, the bank said it was acting to cool inflation that's now running above 7 percent. But, says economist Tim Ash of Standard Bank in London, "it has nothing to do with inflation. It's all about signaling that the central bank is shoring up its defenses" to strengthen the ruble and stem the flight of capital from the country.

Whether the bank can achieve those goals looks doubtful. 

The Right thinks Putin is winning.

Posted by orrinj at 7:33 AM


Yearning to breathe free : More of the middle classes are leaving, in search of a cleaner, slower life (The Economist, Apr 26th 2014)

FOR years Lin Chen resisted his wife's entreaties to move abroad. Then, when their daughter was born in 2012, he started thinking about her schooling. He realised he wanted a less stressful education than the one he and his wife endured in their climb to the middle classes, and he wanted to leave space for fun. "My wife and I suffered a lot," he says. "I don't want my daughter to suffer through all that."

And so the Lin family will soon be off to Adelaide, Australia, part of the greatest and most consequential wave of emigration in modern Chinese history: middle-class Chinese seeking not better opportunities or political freedoms but a better quality of life. Chinese emigrants are leaving good jobs, cashing out their high-priced homes (or investment properties) and leaving China's rat race behind. They are unlikely to find better jobs anywhere else, but the air and water are less polluted where they are going, the social safety-net less frayed and the food safer to eat. And there is no one-child policy.

Posted by orrinj at 7:22 AM


One More Thought On Thomas Piketty's Capital, Is Global Wealth Inequality Actually Rising? (Tim Worstall, 4/26/14, Forbes)

But leave that aside and instead look at what the late 19th and late 20th centuries also have in common: they're both periods of significant globalisation. In fact, they're the only two periods of significant globalisation that we have available for our study. And one of the things we know about globalisation is that we expect within country income inequality to increase during that process. We most especially expect to see what we do in fact see: an extreme rise in the incomes (an thus, subsequently, wealth) of the top 0.1%, the top 0.01%. For these are the very people that globalisation frees from the limits of earning in a purely national economy and allows them to earn from that global one. Only those very top competitors are going to be able to do this. And the 90%, 99%, are not only still going to be earning purely from that national economy they're also going to be facing competition from those billions of low cost workers entering the global economy.

As an example, think about the earnings of Tiger Woods. In a non-globalised world he'd still be just as good as a golf player. But he would be earning rather less, as his appeal as an image, as an endorser or advertiser, would be based upon his value as an image purely to US, or possibly North American, consumers. But with a globalised economy he's also used to sell golf clubs in Taiwan, watches in Germany and credit cards in South Africa (assuming those are the endorsements Woods actually has). So, while he might still be getting $1 each for his value in advertising to US golf fanatics he's also getting some amount, a $1 or 10 cents or whatever, for his value in advertising to all global golf fanatics. Wayne Rooney's vast income is similarly partly financed by Far Eastern Manchester United fans and the fortunes of Bill Gates and Larry Ellison, Jeff Bezos, rely on the fact that they created globally competitive forms, not ones just limited to the economy of the USA.

So, in a period of globalisation we would expect to see an increase in in-country income and wealth inequality. This is also something we do see.

But as the work of Branco Milanovic tells us we're not seeing, in this same period of globalisation, an increase in global income inequality. Quite the opposite: the process of globalisation itself is increasing in-country inequality and also reducing global income inequality. As those hundreds of millions, nay billions, climb up out of the $1 a day poverty of peasant destitution and join something approaching the global middle class.

Posted by orrinj at 7:08 AM


John Henry and the Making of a Red Sox Baseball Dynasty (Joshua Green,  April 24, 2014, Business Week)

As sports saviors go, Henry cuts an unusual figure. He has a thatch of gray hair, parchment skin, and black-framed glasses. When he arrived in sparkling Fort Myers, Fla., for spring training, he floated through the Red Sox's new $78 million facility in his customary dark jeans and blazer, beneath a giant black umbrella he carried to ward off the sun. With everyone else in golf wear, he looked like the Angel of Death. "A strange and wonderful man," says Hall of Fame baseball writer Peter Gammons. "He don't talk much," says star slugger David Ortiz. "But we appreciate what he's done for the team."

For so prominent a figure, Henry is a bit of a mystery. He limits contact with the press and, when he does communicate, prefers e-mail. In person, he's so reserved that it often appears as if he's working out a difficult algebraic formula in his head. Which is what he may, in fact, be doing. "He's the most mathematically talented person I've ever met," says Lucchino, the team's co-owner and chief executive officer. "I think that element of the game very much appeals to him. And he's a competitive guy. He wants to win. He wants to measure his success. When you put it all together, he's got more dimensions than most baseball owners."

As different as he may seem, Henry captures baseball's current era. A mathematical whiz who made a fortune as a pioneering trader of commodities futures, he's part of a wave of owners from the financial world that's sweeping professional sports. In baseball, this includes Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg, a former Goldman Sachs (GS) partner, and Milwaukee Brewers owner Mark Attanasio, founder of the investment firm Crescent Capital Group. All are keenly attuned to the statistical revolution that has upended the game and compete as vigorously against each other as anyone on Wall Street. Last year, Henry shut down his commodities trading firm to concentrate on his many other endeavors. In addition to the Globe (where I'm a contributor), he and his partners own the English Premier League soccer team Liverpool and a stake in Nascar's Roush Fenway Racing team. But just as his trading algorithms did, baseball has furnished him with the most spectacular payoffs. [...]

As 2013 began, expectations were modest. Ben Cherington, the new general manager, says internal team projections had the Red Sox winning 85 to 90 games, rarely enough to earn a playoff spot in the American League. Many outside forecasts were worse. "People thought we'd taken a stupid pill," says co-owner Werner. Instead, the team won 97 games and added to its trophy collection.

This owed a lot to a philosophical overhaul that Cherington says took place after the Dodgers trade and produced what were initially greeted as a series of odd decisions. Before the season, the Red Sox appeared to overpay a group of solid but unspectacular veterans who were signed to short-term deals--players such as Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino, and Stephen Drew. Sports radio callers suspected the front office of writing off the season as it waited for its younger talent to develop, an inexpiable sin in sports-crazed Boston. What was really happening, Cherington says, was a recommitment to a long-term strategy built on data, performance analysis, and finding hidden value. "In my conversations with John," he says, "he has always stressed that it's really hard to predict the future. He sees the game objectively. He was able to really look down deep into the engine and be impervious to all the pressure coming from outside."

Henry thought they had let emotion cloud their judgment. "We'd gotten into this cycle," says Cherington, "of retaining high-profile veteran players and trying to extend our success that way." It hadn't worked. Says Henry: "We went back to what had made us great for a very long time."

A Bloomberg Sports analysis of the Red Sox's 2013 season conducted for Bloomberg Businessweek sheds light on what lay behind the team's worst-to-first turnaround. In a nutshell: The Red Sox got on base more often than any other team in baseball, saw a ton of pitches, rarely swung, and crushed the balls they did swing at, especially fastballs. Napoli was all these tendencies rolled into one. The team's defensive efficiency also improved, thanks particularly to Victorino and Drew. All of this came together in the World Series, when the Red Sox wore down St. Louis Cardinals pitchers, led by Ortiz, who hit .688 and won Most Valuable Player honors. "David kept saying, 'They're throwing us fastballs. What do they expect to happen?' " Lucchino recalls with a laugh. "He couldn't understand it. But it's a function of plate discipline. You force guys to throw curveballs, you take a lot of pitches, they fall behind in the count, then they have to throw you fastballs." [...]

One of the papers presented at the Sloan conference attempts to quantify how all this is affecting the game. In "Can't Buy Much Love: Why Money Is Not Baseball's Most Valuable Currency," Martin Kleinbard arrives at a conclusion that mirrors Henry's own thoughts about where the true value lies in baseball today. Kleinbard finds a weak correlation between payroll disparity and winning, arguing instead that "youth dominance"--a team's reliance on younger, cheaper players not yet eligible for free agency--has become a much stronger predictor of success. "To me, the most important thing this study shows is that virtually all of the underpaid players are under 30 and virtually all the overpaid players are over 30," says Henry. "Yet teams continue to extravagantly overpay for players above the age of 30."

In other words, it's not expensive players, but inexpensive ones, who are becoming baseball's prized commodity. Henry's Red Sox have been shedding the former while betting heavily on the latter.

What's even more interesting is that his Liverpool team is about to win the British soccer title in exactly the same way--unable to bid as much on players as teams with larger stadiums and more profligate owners, they've gone young.  Of course, the players who cost the most are "established" stars, who, it turns out, simply can't keep up with young guys on the field.   

Posted by orrinj at 7:04 AM


The World's Resources Aren't Running Out : Ecologists worry that the world's resources come in fixed amounts that will run out, but we have broken through such limits again and again (MATT RIDLEY, April 25, 2014, WSJ)

[H]ere's a peculiar feature of human history: We burst through such limits again and again. After all, as a Saudi oil minister once said, the Stone Age didn't end for lack of stone. Ecologists call this "niche construction"--that people (and indeed some other animals) can create new opportunities for themselves by making their habitats more productive in some way. Agriculture is the classic example of niche construction: We stopped relying on nature's bounty and substituted an artificial and much larger bounty.

Economists call the same phenomenon innovation. What frustrates them about ecologists is the latter's tendency to think in terms of static limits. Ecologists can't seem to see that when whale oil starts to run out, petroleum is discovered, or that when farm yields flatten, fertilizer comes along, or that when glass fiber is invented, demand for copper falls.

That frustration is heartily reciprocated. Ecologists think that economists espouse a sort of superstitious magic called "markets" or "prices" to avoid confronting the reality of limits to growth. The easiest way to raise a cheer in a conference of ecologists is to make a rude joke about economists.

I have lived among both tribes. I studied various forms of ecology in an academic setting for seven years and then worked at the Economist magazine for eight years. When I was an ecologist (in the academic sense of the word, not the political one, though I also had antinuclear stickers on my car), I very much espoused the carrying-capacity viewpoint--that there were limits to growth. I nowadays lean to the view that there are no limits because we can invent new ways of doing more with less. [...]

The best-selling book "Limits to Growth," published in 1972 by the Club of Rome (an influential global think tank), argued that we would have bumped our heads against all sorts of ceilings by now, running short of various metals, fuels, minerals and space. Why did it not happen? In a word, technology: better mining techniques, more frugal use of materials, and if scarcity causes price increases, substitution by cheaper material. We use 100 times thinner gold plating on computer connectors than we did 40 years ago. The steel content of cars and buildings keeps on falling.

Until about 10 years ago, it was reasonable to expect that natural gas might run out in a few short decades and oil soon thereafter. If that were to happen, agricultural yields would plummet, and the world would be faced with a stark dilemma: Plow up all the remaining rain forest to grow food, or starve.

But thanks to fracking and the shale revolution, peak oil and gas have been postponed. They will run out one day, but only in the sense that you will run out of Atlantic Ocean one day if you take a rowboat west out of a harbor in Ireland. Just as you are likely to stop rowing long before you bump into Newfoundland, so we may well find cheap substitutes for fossil fuels long before they run out.

The economist and metals dealer Tim Worstall gives the example of tellurium, a key ingredient of some kinds of solar panels. Tellurium is one of the rarest elements in the Earth's crust--one atom per billion. Will it soon run out? Mr. Worstall estimates that there are 120 million tons of it, or a million years' supply altogether. It is sufficiently concentrated in the residues from refining copper ores, called copper slimes, to be worth extracting for a very long time to come. One day, it will also be recycled as old solar panels get cannibalized to make new ones.

Or take phosphorus, an element vital to agricultural fertility. The richest phosphate mines, such as on the island of Nauru in the South Pacific, are all but exhausted. Does that mean the world is running out? No: There are extensive lower grade deposits, and if we get desperate, all the phosphorus atoms put into the ground over past centuries still exist, especially in the mud of estuaries. It's just a matter of concentrating them again.

In 1972, the ecologist Paul Ehrlich of Stanford University came up with a simple formula called IPAT, which stated that the impact of humankind was equal to population multiplied by affluence multiplied again by technology. In other words, the damage done to Earth increases the more people there are, the richer they get and the more technology they have.

Many ecologists still subscribe to this doctrine, which has attained the status of holy writ in ecology. But the past 40 years haven't been kind to it. In many respects, greater affluence and new technology have led to less human impact on the planet, not more. Richer people with new technologies tend not to collect firewood and bushmeat from natural forests; instead, they use electricity and farmed chicken--both of which need much less land. In 2006, Mr. Ausubel calculated that no country with a GDP per head greater than $4,600 has a falling stock of forest (in density as well as in acreage).

Haiti is 98% deforested and literally brown on satellite images, compared with its green, well-forested neighbor, the Dominican Republic. The difference stems from Haiti's poverty, which causes it to rely on charcoal for domestic and industrial energy, whereas the Dominican Republic is wealthy enough to use fossil fuels, subsidizing propane gas for cooking fuel specifically so that people won't cut down forests.

Part of the problem is that the word "consumption" means different things to the two tribes. Ecologists use it to mean "the act of using up a resource"; economists mean "the purchase of goods and services by the public" (both definitions taken from the Oxford dictionary).

But in what sense is water, tellurium or phosphorus "used up" when products made with them are bought by the public? They still exist in the objects themselves or in the environment. Water returns to the environment through sewage and can be reused. Phosphorus gets recycled through compost. Tellurium is in solar panels, which can be recycled. As the economist Thomas Sowell wrote in his 1980 book "Knowledge and Decisions," "Although we speak loosely of 'production,' man neither creates nor destroys matter, but only transforms it."

Posted by orrinj at 6:51 AM


Abbas: Palestinian unity government will recognize Israel (AVI ISSACHAROFF AND TIMES OF ISRAEL STAFF, April 26, 2014, Times of Israel)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday said the Palestinian unity government Hamas and Fatah will form as part of their reconciliation deal will recognize Israel and respect its international agreements.

April 25, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 6:47 PM


Neanderthals Are People, Too (SVANTE PAABO, APRIL 24, 2014, NY Times)

[M]y research group and I have worked to sequence the genome of a Neanderthal, the closest evolutionary relative of all present-day humans. We have also sequenced a genome from a small bone excavated in a Russian cave close to the border with China; this genome came from a previously unknown Asian relative of the Neanderthals -- a group that we call the Denisovans.

These ancient genomes show that the Neanderthals were genetically very similar to us. In fact, for most of the genome, some people living today are closer to the Neanderthals than to other people.

April 24, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:09 PM


Increasingly, Robots of All Sizes Are Human Workmates : Even conventional industrial robots are becoming safer to work around, making them more likely to collaborate with humans. (Will Knight on April 23, 2014, MIT Technology Review)

 Industrial robots often sit behind metal fences, their mechanical arms a blur of terrific speed and precision; to prevent serious injury to humans (or worse), these robots are normally shut down when anyone enters their workspace.

In recent years, however, the fences have started to disappear as a gentler breed of robot has entered the workplace and new features have made even conventional industrial robots safer to be around. This shift is altering the dynamics of labor in many factories and workshops, allowing humans and robots to work together in efficient new ways.

Human-robot collaboration is "gaining an enormous amount of momentum," says Henrik Christensen, executive director of the Institute for Robotics and Intelligent Machines at Georgia Tech. "In the past, robots have penetrated 10 percent of the industry. There's still 90 percent of the industry, and that's where you need collaborative robots."

Posted by orrinj at 7:07 PM


Solar Power Is Now As Cheap As Grid Electricity In These European Countries (Jay Cassano, 4/23/14, Co.Exist)

Choosing solar power no longer has to be a sacrifice for the sake of the environment. In Germany, Italy, and Spain, installing your own solar panels can now actually save money.

A report released by European renewable energy consulting firm Eclareon shows that solar energy has reached "grid parity." In other words, over the full lifetime of the equipment, the total cost of owning and operating rooftop solar panels is about the same as buying electricity from the grid.

There are a lot of variables involved in grid parity calculations, such as installation and maintenance costs and estimates of how long a solar panel will last. That also means there are a lot of reasons that can prevent solar power from being cost-effective, not the least of which is the amount of sun an area gets.

Because of tax benefits in the U.S., installing a rooftop solar system can already cost less over time than buying power from the grid. But grid parity is a measurement that doesn't take into account tax benefits. It instead shows the true market competitiveness of running a solar panel.

Posted by orrinj at 7:04 PM


Why China's Communist Party is headed for collapse It might take years or even decades, but the cracks are already starting to show (Isaac Stone Fish, April 2014, Foreign Policy)

[B]y obsessing over the USSR, "I think they're looking at the wrong example," says Jorge Guajardo, who served as Mexico's ambassador to China from 2007 to 2013. In hindsight, he told Foreign Policy, "living in China on a daily basis felt like living in Mexico under the PRI."

Guajardo remembers watching the celebrations for the 60th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party on Oct. 1, 2009, held on the Avenue of Eternal Peace in central Beijing. The celebrations -- meant to communicate longevity and legitimacy -- featured a military parade of 10,000 troops, where then-Chinese President Hu Jintao declaimed the oft-spoken slogan "gongchandang wansui" -- literally, "Ten thousand years for the CCP." The CCP's confidence -- and that of his fellow ambassadors, who seemed to believe that that the CCP would govern in perpetuity -- reminded Guajardo of the PRI. "Everyone agreed that Mexico was governed by one party, and that it would be that way forever," he said. (In 1995,Guajardo joined the opposition National Action Party [PAN], whose victory in the 2000 elections ended the PRI's monopoly on power.)

The similarities between the widely held assumption that China is the party and the party is China reminded him of a time, in the not-too-distant past, when there was no daylight between the PRI and Mexico. Guajardo, who's now a senior director at McLarty Associates, a Washington, D.C.-based consultancy, started noticing other comparisons. The dissatisfaction with the government's handling of a massive earthquake in Sichuan in 2008 helped spur the growth of civil society, which reminded him of the 1985 Mexico City earthquake, "which laid bare the PRI's corruption, lack of transparency, and inefficiency," he said in a January 2014 speech.

And just as the PRI fought corruption by going after the "big fish," Xi has vowed to go after "tigers and flies" -- both high-ranking and low-ranking corrupt officials.

"On economic, political, and social dimensions -- in some ways they're very similar," says Li He, a professor at Merrimack College in Massachusetts and author of the book From Revolution to Reform: A Comparative Study of China and Mexico. Both countries, Li said, faced wrenching peasant revolutions before a strong, single party unified the country. Both adapted liberal economic reforms both domestically and internationally -- Mexico joined NAFTA in 1994, China entered the WTO in 2001, nearly 25 years after it began its comprehensive Reform and Opening policy.

The PRI lost power in 2000, "but until the 1990s, it was completely laughable to be in the opposition," Guajardo said. "You were seen as a loser who couldn't get a real job. Same in China."

Guajardo recalls a 2008 meeting in Beijing between Enrique Peña Nieto, then a state governor and now the first post-2000 PRI president of Mexico, and an official from China's Communist Party who focused on Latin American affairs: "The first question they asked was, 'Why did the PRI lose power?' Nieto responded, 'The tiredness of the system. Since we were the single party in power, we were blamed for everything.'" (Nieto's spokesperson couldn't be reached for comment.)

Posted by orrinj at 6:58 PM


Gabriel Garcia-Marquez--Castro Propagandist & Police Snitch (Humberto Fontova, April 24, 2014, Front Page)

In fact, fully contrary to the New York Times' whitewash, Garcia Marquez' "intercession" is what got some of those dissidents jailed and tortured by his friend Castro in the first place. Let's not mince words. Let's call out Garcia-Marquez categorically: on top of his decades of pro-bono propaganda services for Castroism, Garcia-Marquez was also a volunteer snitch for Castro's KGB-mentored secret police.

Here I'll turn over the floor to someone intimately familiar with the issue Armando Valladares, who himself suffered 22 torture-filled years in Castro's prisons and was later appointed by Ronald Reagan as U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Human Rights Commission:

"Many years ago Garcia Marquez became an informer for Castro's secret police," starts a recent expose' by Mr Valladares. "At the time, back in Havana, Cuban dissident and human-rights activist, Ricardo Bofill, with help of the then-reporter for Reuters, Collin McSevengy, managed to enter the Havana hotel where García Márquez was having a few drinks. In a quiet corner, with absolute discretion, Bofill gave García Márquez a series of documents relating to several Cuban artists.

A few weeks later Castro's police arrested Ricardo Bofill-and displayed on the table right next to Castro's secret-policeman -were the very documents which Bofill had given Garcia Marquez."     

Bofill, a peaceful human-rights activist inspired by  Gandhi and Martin Luther King, went on to suffer 12 years in Castro's prisons--thanks to Gabriel Garcia-Marquez. On October 13, 1968 the Spanish newspapers ABC and Diario 16, published Bofill's disclosures and headlined that: "García Márquez' revelations led to the imprisonment of numerous Cuban writers and artists." Seems all this was all conveniently "forgotten" by most media outlets last week.

But enough from me. Instead let's hear from some folks much closer to this issue. Let's hear from Cuban writers who were suffering in Castro's KGB-designed dungeons and torture chambers while Gabriel Garcia-Marquez contributed his literary influence and might towards glorifying their torturer.

The late Reynaldo Arenas' autobiography Before Night Falls was on the New York Times (no less!) list of the ten best books of the year in 1993. In 2000 the book became a movie starring Javier Bardem, Johnny Depp and Sean Penn (no less!) Throughout the 70's Arenas was jailed and tortured by Castro's police for his rebellious writings and gay lifestyle. He finally escaped on the Mariel boatlift tin 1980. Here's his take on Gabriel Garcia Marquez from 1982:

"It's high time for all the intellectuals of the free world (the rest don't exist) to take a stand against this unscrupulous propagandist for totalitarianism. I wonder why these intellectual apologists for communist paradises don't live in them? Or is it that they prefer collecting payment there and here, while enjoying the comforts and guarantees of the western world?"

In fact, Garcia-Marquez did live on and off in Cuba, in a (stolen) mansion Castro gifted him, where he frolicked with adolescent girls between traveling through Havana in a (stolen) Mercedes also gifted him by Castro.

Here's Cuban-exile author Roberto Luque Escalona, briefly an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience who escaped Cuba in 1992:

"Only a five star-scoundrel would put his literary fame in the service of a cause as vile and malignant as the Castro tyranny. Simple frivolity cannot possibly justify an embrace so long and strong as the one Garcia-Marquez gave someone who devastated a nation, murdered thousands, jailed and tortured tens of thousands dispersed an entire nation and debased the rest."

...his writing stunk.

Posted by orrinj at 2:42 PM


A Defiant Rancher Savors the Audience That Rallied to His Side (ADAM NAGOURNEY, APRIL 23, 2014, NY Times)

"I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro," he said. Mr. Bundy recalled driving past a public-housing project in North Las Vegas, "and in front of that government house the door was usually open and the older people and the kids -- and there is always at least a half a dozen people sitting on the porch -- they didn't have nothing to do. They didn't have nothing for their kids to do. They didn't have nothing for their young girls to do.

"And because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do?" he asked. "They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I've often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn't get no more freedom. They got less freedom."

A spokesman for Mr. Paul, informed of Mr. Bundy's remarks, said the senator was not available for immediate comment. 

Scratch a libertarian....

Posted by orrinj at 5:38 AM


Wanted: Jeb Bush or another grown-up (JENNIFER RUBIN, April 23, 2014, Washington Post)

Such a candidate must be prepared and interested in national security. If that person is not already fully up to speed on the myriad of international challenges, the potential grownup should be hitting the books, talking to experts and traveling -- now. I will be blunt: If the person is too busy now, either because there is a reelection campaign looming or his or her day job takes too much time, it is unlikely the person will be able to get command of the facts, articulate reasoned views and be able to go toe-to-toe with Hillary Clinton. If you wait until the presidential announcement date to learn history and geopolitics it will be too late. If potential candidates think they are busy now, wait until a presidential campaign comes along. Running for president may be the hardest thing they will ever do, and time for gaining national security proficiency will be virtually nonexistent. [...]

In addition, the grownup will need an even-keel personality and a highly professional staff that can battle for the candidate effectively without getting into a blood match with every critic. The voters can tell when a presidential candidate is comfortable in his own skin and his staff is up to speed and confident about its candidate. Voters will need to imagine these people dealing with foreign crises or difficult lawmakers. If the candidate and/or the circle of advisers are frantic, bellicose, slipshod or ignorant, voters will run the other way.

The reason, I suspect, Jeb Bush is stirring so much interest is that there are grave doubts, not only among the donor class, about whether there is a grown-up among the potential contenders. 

April 23, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 4:53 PM


Keystone Pipeline May Be Big, but This Is Bigger (CORAL DAVENPORT, APRIL 21, 2014, NY Times)

Experts say that Mr. Obama's eventual decision on the pipeline will have a marginal impact on global warming emissions, while those dull-sounding E.P.A. rules and treaty talks will determine his enviromental legacy.

Consider the numbers: In 2011, the most recent year for which comprehensive international data is available, the global economy emitted 32.6 billion metric tons of carbon pollution. The United States was responsible for 5.5 billion tons of that (coming in second to China, which emitted 8.7 billion tons). Within the United States, electric power plants produced 2.8 billion tons of those greenhouse gases, while vehicle tailpipe emissions from burning gasoline produced 1.9 billion tons.

By comparison, the oil that would move through the Keystone pipeline would add 18.7 million metric tons of carbon to the atmosphere annually, the E.P.A. estimated. In other words, the carbon emissions produced by oil that would be moved in the Keystone pipeline would amount to less than 1 percent of United States greenhouse gas emissions, and an infinitesimal slice of the global total.

Within that context, "the Keystone pipeline is a rounding error," said Kevin Book, the founder of ClearView Energy Partners, an energy analysis firm.

Posted by orrinj at 4:49 PM


Hamas, Fatah reach deal on unity government, Israel reacts sharply (Deutsche Welle, 4/23/14)

Militant group Hamas and the Fatah-led Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) have agreed to form a technocrat unity government, according to a joint statement by the two groups.

"An agreement has been reached on the formation within five weeks of an independent government headed by president Mahmud Abbas," the statement said. Following the announcement, thousands of people in Gaza City took to the streets to celebrate.

The announcement came after Fatah and Hamas started their first reconciliation talks since 2007 when Hamas - an opponent to US-led peace talks with Israel - was voted into power in Gaza.

The agreement could pave the way for elections and a national strategy towards Israel. It could give Abbas some degree of sovereignty in Gaza but also help Hamas, which is hemmed in by an Israeli-Egyptian blockade, to become less isolated.

Posted by orrinj at 4:45 PM


The policy proposals Thomas Piketty forgot to mention (Tyler Cowen, April 22, 2014, Marginal Revolution)

[T]here are more straightforward remedies.  Social Security privatization is another option, if r > g is truly such a likelihood.  Yet Piketty and his boosters won't mention this.  By the way, I am opposed to social security privatization -- scroll down in that link -- but I probably would favor it if it my views were closer to Piketty's.

We no longer have policy differences, only arguments over the pace of achieving the consensus position.

April 22, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 6:05 PM


White Sox, Furthering Legacy, Provide Warm Home for Cubans Amid Chill (TYLER KEPNER, APRIL 19, 2014, NY Times)

"All I'm going to tell you is it was difficult," Abreu said of his ordeal. "But with God's help, you're able to do those things and feel good about them. It's a difficult thing once you leave your country and do those things. It's a difficult time in your life."

The White Sox helped Abreu with his diet in spring training; he would typically skip breakfast and lunch, feel depleted after workouts, and then be famished at night and eat a big dinner.

They have experience in such matters with Ramirez, who toasted his major league debut in Cleveland, Hahn said, with a creative pregame snack.

"He essentially made a mayonnaise and Krispy Kreme sandwich," Hahn said. "That's not really what we teach in terms of pregame meals. But it was just a matter of not having access to the nutritional programs that we have thoroughly researched."

Posted by orrinj at 5:48 PM


Uncivil Disobedience (Weekly Standard, APR 28, 2014)

For the sake of argument, The Scrapbook is willing to concede that it is possible that Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher, ought to be allowed to graze his cattle on federal land in Nye County. And that protecting the desert tortoise as an endangered species on that same federal land is no good reason to impose a fee for grazing livestock. Reasonable people can disagree about these issues, and will do so.

But in the United States of America, since 1789, we have had ways of settling these disputes. We have a judicial system that gives citizens due process and the right to seek redress for grievances. We have a political system that encourages citizens to elect people to public office who will pass laws we like, or rescind laws we don't like, and uphold the laws they have enacted. We also have a Bill of Rights in our Constitution, the very first item of which protects the freedom of speech, allowing supporters and critics of laws to influence public opinion and government. All of these remedies have been, and remain, available to Cliven Bundy.

Posted by orrinj at 5:39 AM


Quantum-Dot Windows Harvest Solar Energy (R. Colin Johnson, 4/18/2014, EE Times)
Quantum dots are already revolutionizing displays, such as those used in widely praised Kindle Fire e-readers whose backlight uses a quantum-dot enhanced film (QDEF) manufactured by Nanosys. Now researchers are poised to revolutionize solar energy collectors with quantum dots.

By harvesting light coming from the sun with embedded quantum dots, the researchers hope to turn windows into efficient solar-panel concentrators. Their strategy is to place photovoltaic (PV) solar cells around the edges of quantum-dot-impregnated windows, thus turning them into luminescent solar concentrators (LSCs).

Posted by orrinj at 5:30 AM


This Bot Does Windows (Seth Stevenson, 4/21/14, Slate)

Cleaning windows is so arduous and dangerous that it earned its own 20th-century catchphrase. "I don't do windows"--a warning that the speaker may be desperate but still has limits--was a frequent sitcom one-liner in the '70s. The meme grew popular enough that, according to William Safire, it likely spawned the entire "I don't do [mornings/Mondays/etc.]" phrasal construction.

How miserable is the chore? I'll let country songsmith Hank Cochran answer. In the 1980 ditty "I Don't Do Windows," he equated scrubbing panes with eternal damnation: "There's some things that I just won't do. I think it's time that I told them to you. I don't do windows and I won't go to hell for you."

My own windows are a source of mild shame. Anyone in the building across the way can observe how flecked with schmutz they've become. I haven't cleaned their exteriors since I moved in a couple of years ago. Partly that's because I'm lazy (as evidenced by the fact that I haven't cleaned their interiors either), but partly it's because to do so I'd need to wager life and limb by dangling out over a four-story drop.

Thus I was excited to borrow a Winbot--a robot that pledges to polish your windows, mirrors, and other glass surfaces without you rigging up a harness and going all human fly. This compact, square droid will vacuum-attach itself to a pane and then scuttle around squeegeeing off all the muck it encounters.

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 AM


Dozens killed as Yemen, US mount air war on al-Qaeda (AFP, April 22, 2014)

An "unprecedented" US and Yemeni aerial campaign in Yemen killed at least 68 al-Qaeda militants in a bid to head off attacks by the network's local affiliate, officials said Monday. [...]

The Interior Ministry said the raids lasted several hours, adding that "terrorists of Arab and foreign nationalities are among the dead and are in the process of being identified."

The top official said Yemeni MiG-29 jet fighters took part in the raids, which tribal sources said involved unmanned drones.

The United States is the only country operating drones over Yemen, but US officials rarely acknowledge the covert drone program.

Posted by orrinj at 5:18 AM


Thomas Piketty Revives Marx for the 21st Century : An 80% tax rate on incomes above $500,000 is not meant to bring in money for education or benefits, but 'to put an end to such incomes.' (DANIEL SHUCHMAN, April 21, 2014, WSJ)

So what is to be done? Mr. Piketty urges an 80% tax rate on incomes starting at "$500,000 or $1 million." This is not to raise money for education or to increase unemployment benefits. Quite the contrary, he does not expect such a tax to bring in much revenue, because its purpose is simply "to put an end to such incomes." It will also be necessary to impose a 50%-60% tax rate on incomes as low as $200,000 to develop "the meager US social state." There must be an annual wealth tax as high as 10% on the largest fortunes and a one-time assessment as high as 20% on much lower levels of existing wealth. He breezily assures us that none of this would reduce economic growth, productivity, entrepreneurship or innovation.

Not that enhancing growth is much on Mr. Piketty's mind, either as an economic matter or as a means to greater distributive justice. He assumes that the economy is static and zero-sum; if the income of one population group increases, another one must necessarily have been impoverished. He views equality of outcome as the ultimate end and solely for its own sake. Alternative objectives--such as maximizing the overall wealth of society or increasing economic liberty or seeking the greatest possible equality of opportunity or even, as in the philosophy of John Rawls, ensuring that the welfare of the least well-off is maximized--are scarcely mentioned.

There is no doubt that poverty, unemployment and unequal opportunity are major challenges for capitalist societies, and varying degrees of luck, hard work, sloth and merit are inherent in human affairs. Mr. Piketty is not the first utopian visionary. He cites, for instance, the "Soviet experiment" that allowed man to throw "off his chains along with the yoke of accumulated wealth." In his telling, it only led to human disaster because societies need markets and private property to have a functioning economy. He says that his solutions provide a "less violent and more efficient response to the eternal problem of private capital and its return." Instead of Austen and Balzac, the professor ought to read "Animal Farm" and "Darkness at Noon."

Of course, Mr. Piketty's own book suggests one obvious alternative objective to the "problem" that capital provides wealth : provide capital universally in order to make wealth universal.  Not equal, mind you, but universal.

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Posted by orrinj at 5:00 AM



I had first been drawn to Robert Moses out of curiosity, in a very idle, fleeting form. As a new reporter at Newsday during the early nineteen-sixties, I would, as the occupant of an extremely low rung on the city-room totem pole, occasionally be assigned to write a short article based on one of the press releases that poured in a steady stream from one or another of the twelve governmental entities he headed, and as I typed "New York City Park Commissioner Robert Moses announced today . . ." I would wonder for a moment what that title had to do with the fact that he was also building something that was not a park, and was mostly not even in the city -- the Long Island Expressway. I would type "Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority Chairman Robert Moses" and it would cross my mind that he was also chairman of some other public authority -- actually the New York State Power Authority -- that was building gigantic hydroelectric power dams, some of the most colossal public works ever built by man, hundreds of miles north of the city, along some place with the romantic name of the "Niagara Frontier." It gradually sunk in on me that in one article or another I was identifying him as chairman or "sole member" of quite a few authorities: the Bethpage State Park Authority, the Jones Beach State Park Authority, the Henry Hudson Parkway Authority, the Marine Parkway Authority, the Hayden Planetarium Authority -- the list seemed to go on indefinitely. And as, within a few months of my coming to Newsday, my interest began to narrow to politics, I began to wonder what a public authority was, anyway. They were always being written about simply as non-political entities that were formed merely to sell bonds to finance the construction of some public work -- a bridge or a tunnel, usually -- to collect tolls on the work until the bonds were paid off, and then to go out of existence, and, in fact, a key element of the image of Robert Moses that had for forty years been created and burnished by him and by an adoring press was that he was the very antithesis of the politician, a public servant uncompromisingly above politics who never allowed political considerations to influence any aspect of his projects. After all, the reasoning went, he built most of his projects through public authorities, which were also outside politics. 
No journalist or historian seemed to see authorities as sources of political power in and of themselves. I remember looking up every article on public authorities that had been written in newspapers, magazines, and scholarly journals for some years past; there was not one that analyzed in any substantial way the potential in a public authority for political power. Yet, in some vague way, they certainly seemed to have some. Moreover, Robert Moses held still other posts -- city posts, such as New York City Construction Coördinator, and chairman of the city's Slum Clearance Committee; and state posts, such as chairman of the State Council of Parks, and chairman of the Long Island State Park Commission. I began to feel that I was starting to glimpse, through the mists of public myth and my own ignorance, the dim outlines of something that I didn't understand and couldn't see clearly, but that might be, in terms of political power, quite substantial indeed.

Then I was drawn to Robert Moses by my imagination -- by an image that lodged in it, and grew vivid.
The more I thought about Robert Moses, and about the power he exerted, and about my ignorance -- and, it seemed to me, everyone's ignorance -- concerning the extent of his power, and the sources behind it, the more it became apparent to me that trying to determine the extent and identifying the sources, and then to explain what I found out, was something beyond the scope of daily journalism; no newspaper, in the journalistic practices of that day, would give you the time to conduct such an exploration or the space to print what you found.

It would be necessary to do a book. And, while I was trying to decide whether I really wanted to write one on Robert Moses, I began reading material on him, and one of the things I read, in a typescript in the Columbia University Oral History Collection, was the oral history of Frances Perkins, who would later be Franklin Roosevelt's Secretary of Labor, but in 1914 was a young reformer, who often spent her Sundays walking around New York City with another young reformer, Robert Moses.

Born on December 18, 1888, to a wealthy German Jewish family active in the settlement-house movement, Moses had been educated at Yale and Oxford, and had returned to New York to earn his Ph.D. in political science at Columbia and join a municipal-reform organization as a researcher. In 1914, at the age of twenty-five, he was filled with idealism -- he had devised an elaborate plan to cleanse New York of Tammany Hall's influence by eliminating patronage from the city's corruption-ridden civil-service system -- and with ideas, many of them about public works. "Everything he saw walking around the city made him think of some way it could be better," Miss Perkins had told her oral history interviewer. "He was always burning up with ideas, just burning up with them." 
The biggest idea of all concerned the western shoreline of Manhattan Island from about Seventy-second Street up to about 181st Street. That six miles of shoreline, below the high cliff of Riverside Drive, was popularly called Riverside Park, but, unlike the park's landscaped upper level, in 1914 the part along the edge of the Hudson was nothing more than a six-mile-long wasteland of mud and rapidly eroding landfill, and through its entire length ran four tracks of the New York Central Railroad, lined by high, sharp-edged fences that for seventy years had cut the city off from its waterfront. Since the locomotives that towed the endless trains carrying cattle and pigs south to the slaughterhouses downtown burned coal or oil, the "park" seemed continuously covered with a thick, gritty, foul-smelling black smog. Huge mounds of raw garbage lay piled there, waiting for scows to collect it and carry it out to sea. There were several large shantytowns in it, inhabited by derelicts so intimidating that their shacks were avoided even by the police; at night, the residents of Riverside Drive apartment houses could see the derelicts' open fires glowing in the darkness by the river. But one Sunday in 1914, as a group of young men and women were taking a ferry to a picnic in New Jersey, Robert Moses was standing beside Frances Perkins on the deck, and as the ferry pulled out into the Hudson, and the bleak mudflats shrouded in smog spread out behind them, he suddenly said excitedly, "Isn't this a temptation to you? Couldn't this waterfront be the most beautiful thing in the world?" And, Miss Perkins was to recall, he began to talk, faster and faster, and she realized, to her amazement, that "he had it all figured out. How you could build a great highway that went uptown along the water. How you'd have to tear down a few buildings at Seventy-second Street and bring the highway around a curve," how the railroad tracks would be covered by the highway, and cars would be driving serenely along it with their passengers delighting in the river scene, how there would be long green parks filled with people playing tennis and baseball and riding bicycles, and elegant marinas for sailboats.
Looking up from the typescript (bound, I still remember, in a gray loose-leaf notebook), I realized that what Robert Moses had been talking about on that long-ago Sunday was what I knew as Riverside Park and the West Side Highway -- the great park and road that, as long as I could remember, had formed the western waterfront of Manhattan Island. Although many other plans had been conceived for this waterfront, this immense public work would be built by him -- in 1937, almost a quarter of a century after the ferry ride. And it would be built -- this urban improvement on a scale so huge that it would be almost without precedent in early-twentieth-century America, this improvement that would, in addition, solve a problem that had baffled successive city administrations for decades -- in very much the same form in which he had envisioned it as a young municipal reformer just out of college.

At the same time, moreover, from other oral histories, and brief references in articles, I was learning how Robert Moses had envisioned it -- where he was standing when he did so, even what he might have been wearing. He lived then with his parents on Central Park West, but often, after work, he would tell his taxi-driver to take him instead to Riverside Drive, at the end of Seventy-sixth Street, overlooking the Hudson. And then, as the sun set behind the Palisades across the river, he would get out and stand staring down at the smog-covered wasteland below him. He was a striking young man -- tall, very slim, darkly handsome, with olive skin and deep, burning eyes, elegant and arrogant -- and fond of white suits, wearing them from early spring well into the autumn. And he was passionate when, defending his plan for civil-service reform, he talked night after night before hostile, Tammany-packed audiences, speaking into storms of invective -- so passionate that another reformer was to say, "Once you saw him on those nights, you could never forget him." In my mind, I saw him now, staring down in the evenings on the Hudson waterfront, and I couldn't forget him. 

Sometimes, in my imagination, I saw him from below -- a tall, handsome, haughty figure in white, standing on the edge of a high cliff and gazing down on a vast wasteland with the eyes of a creator, determined to transform it into something beautiful and grand. Sometimes, I saw him from behind -- a tall black silhouette against the setting sun. Robert Moses gazing down on Riverside Park lodged in my imagination and, in my imagination, became entangled in a mystery. I had previously been aware only of the Robert Moses of the nineteen-fifties and sixties: the ruthless highway builder who ran his roads straight through hapless neighborhoods, the Robert Moses of the Title I urban-renewal scandals -- some of the greatest scandals of twentieth-century New York, scandals almost incredible both for the colossal scale of their corruption (personally "money honest" himself, Moses dispensed to the most powerful members of the city's ruling Democratic political machine what one insider called "a king's ransom" in legal fees, public-relations retainers, insurance premiums, advance knowledge of highway routes and urban-renewal sites, and insurance-free deposits in favored banks, to insure their coöperation with his aims) and for the heartbreaking callousness with which he evicted the tens of thousands of poor people in his way, whom, in the words of one official, he "hounded out like cattle." Now I saw something very different: the young Robert Moses, the dreamer and idealist. How had the one man become the other?

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April 21, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:34 PM


Obama Handles Russia Like Republicans: Overpromise, Under-Deliver, and Write Off (Ron Fournier, April 21, 2014, National Journal)

Being a fair-minded reporter, Baker gave space to the White House spin:

The prevailing view in the West Wing, though, is that while Mr. Putin seems for now to be enjoying the glow of success, he will eventually discover how much economic harm he has brought on his country. Mr. Obama's aides noted the fall of the Russian stock market and the ruble, capital flight from the country, and the increasing reluctance of foreign investors to expand dealings in Russia.

The White House makes the same case against Republicans, noting demographic trends that threaten the future of the GOP as a national party. The trouble with this thinking is that being right about the future doesn't assure success in the present. For instance, looking weak while being "right" on foreign policy can actually affect future outcomes.

In politics, being a bit more "right" than the GOP is no badge of honor. Voters want changes, not excuses.

I may be reading too much into it, but Baker's story on the Putin reset raises a series of familiar questions. Did the president promise too much? Deliver too little? Or a bit of both? As much as he might try, history won't completely absolve Obama for the sins of his rivals.

Posted by orrinj at 7:27 PM


Reading Burke in Sydney: Tony Abbott's Sensible Conservatism (Tom Switzer, May-June 2014, National Interest)

From the outset, I should acknowledge that I have known Abbott for fifteen years. I like him enormously and consider him a friend, or--in Australian parlance--a top bloke with a larrikin streak. He's been so faithful to his mates that he has not lost any. He is a volunteer bushfire fighter and lifeguard in his federal seat on Sydney's northern beaches. He is deeply committed to the welfare of indigenous Australians, and spends weeks living in remote Aboriginal communities in the outback. There is nothing phony about him.

But although I am not one of his many critics in Australia's media and intellectual community, neither am I an uncritical admirer. Among other things, his oratory tends to lack range and theatrical effect. At times, he is even rhetorically challenged, more likely to address his fellow citizens in simple sound bites than in an engaging conversational style. He gave unqualified support to the previous government's commitment of Australian troops in the depressing and endless war in Afghanistan. Never mind that our presence there had not been yielding lasting improvements that were commensurate with the investment of blood and treasure. (Australia lost nearly forty lives in the last four years.)

Moreover, despite his vaunted commitment to reducing the size and scope of the federal government, he is hardly the second coming of Milton Friedman. His government, not even three months old last December, controversially rejected a takeover bid by the U.S. agricultural giant Archer Daniels Midland of Australia's GrainCorp. Given Abbott's declaration on the night he was elected that Australia was "open for business," it was an uncharacteristic move, one that earned an editorial rebuke from the usually sympathetic Wall Street Journal. His plan for an expensive paid paternal-leave program also suggests a social-engineering streak.

Still, one can concede Abbott's flaws and broadly support his political agenda. At the heart of his appeal is his brand of conservatism, something both his friends and foes misunderstand. Abbott does not subscribe to the left-liberal consensus, which explains why the well-educated folk of inner-city Sydney and Melbourne are full of scorn. But neither does he cleave as faithfully to the conservative "movement" as do many American conservatives. Nor could he genuinely be described as "right-wing" in any crude ideological sense. Such terms and labels are inappropriate ways of properly understanding the true nature of conservatism.

Conservatives, traditionally speaking, are essentially antidoctrinaire and opposed to programmatic laundry lists. Like Tories of old, and unlike Tea Partiers today, they prefer flexibility and adaptability to rigid consistency and purity of dogma. As Samuel Huntington observed in an important article in the American Political Science Review in 1957, the antithesis of conservatism is not simply left-liberalism or even socialism. It is radicalism, which is best defined in terms of one's attitude toward change. For conservatives, temperament should always trump ideology, and the single best test of temperament is a person's attitude toward change. Although conservatism accepts the need for change, the onus of proof is always on those who advocate for it.

Abbott more or less represents this tradition. He is temperamentally conservative, someone who likes to do things in settled and familiar ways, and he recognizes that radical change is fraught with the danger of unintended consequences. This is a man at ease quoting Michael Oakeshott, Roger Scruton and Paul Johnson, distinguished conservative writers who champion incremental and consensual change over the large and divisive variety.

That is why Abbott defends the monarchy and opposes a republic. His critics try to paint him as a romantic loyalist who is sentimentally attached to the queen and "Mother Country" (where he was born in 1957). But his position is based on a belief that a republican form of government could amount to radical tinkering with the constitutional arrangements that have undergirded the nation's stability and prosperity since 1901, when Britain granted formal independence to its colony.

Abbott's conservatism also explains why he is skeptical about alarmist claims of global warming: he has proposed to abolish the previous government's carbon tax on the grounds of its expense and uselessness. And it is why Abbott is wary of unfettered free markets and lax foreign ownership laws, lest they create a radical backlash from the losers involved in the process of what Joseph Schumpeter called "creative destruction."

On the other hand, many American conservatives, especially Tea Partiers, fail the temperament test abysmally. They do well on the doctrinal purity scale. They impatiently lust after radical change and upheaval. And they yearn to be consistent in the application of a fixed doctrine. But they attach little or no value to continuity. Nor do they place much emphasis on the role of changing circumstances and conditions in the course of devising policy. Given the intransigence congressional Republicans and presidential primary candidates have displayed in recent years, and their utterly unconservative refusal to ground ideological ambitions in political realities, there is much to be said for Abbott's mind-set.

What also distinguishes the Australian prime minister from his conservative brethren across the Pacific is his belief that a center-right party should represent a big tent, one capable of embracing a variety of beliefs and implementing a range of policies depending on the circumstances and conditions. He is fond of quoting a 1980 address by Liberal prime minister Malcolm Fraser on the natural compatibility between liberalism, understood in nineteenth-century terms, and conservatism, understood in eighteenth-century terms. (As it happens, the speech was written by Owen Harries, a fellow Australian conservative who became founding coeditor of The National Interest in 1985.)

Like many Australian Liberals before and since his tenure (1975-1983), Fraser believed that the Liberal Party is the custodian of the center-right tradition in politics. But he also stressed the importance of both liberal and conservative thought in shaping public policy. Liberalism "always emphasises the freedom of the individual and the absence of restraint," Abbott approvingly quotes Fraser (and Harries) as saying. "Conservatism . . . stresses the need for a framework of stability, continuity and order not only as something desirable in itself but as a necessary condition for a free society." And he further asserts: "The art of handling this tension, of finding that creative balance between the forces of freedom and the forces of continuity which alone allows a society to advance, is the true art of government in a country like ours."

Again, in striking contrast, Tea Party Republicans and many conservatives inside and outside the Beltway place more stress on classical liberalism as a rigid political ideology, à la John Stuart Mill and the Enlightenment, and less emphasis on the more classical conservative virtues of prudence, stability and measured change, à la Edmund Burke and Alexander Hamilton. This perhaps also helps explain why Tea Party Republicans exhibit a far deeper hostility toward the state than, say, Australian or indeed most Western conservatives.

Posted by orrinj at 7:18 PM


Stop dressing so tacky for church (John Blake, 4/19/14, CNN)

 If the Rev. John DeBonville could preach a sermon to lift the souls of churchgoers across America, his message would be simple:

Stop dressing so tacky for church.

DeBonville has heard about the "come as you are" approach to dressing down for Sunday service, but he says the Sabbath is getting too sloppy.

When he scans the pews of churches, DeBonville sees rows of people dressed in their Sunday worst. They saunter into church in baggy shorts, flip-flop sandals, tennis shoes and grubby T-shirts. Some even slide into the pews carrying coffee in plastic foam containers as if they're going to Starbucks.

"It's like some people decided to stop mowing the lawn and then decided to come to church," says DeBonville, rector at the Church of the Good Shepard in Massachusetts. "No one dresses up for church anymore."

...but what would have sent our grandparents over the edge is the people with travel coffee mugs, water bottles and, of course, smart phones.

Posted by orrinj at 2:44 PM


Our Neoliberal President : Obama wants to privatize the Tennessee Valley Authority. (MELVYN DUBOFSKY, 4/21/14, In These Times)

Obama endorses higher minimum wages and offers rhetorical support of unions and collective bargaining, which cost not a penny of federal funds, but balks at a well-financed public works project that employs workers at good wages but might affect the federal budget.
President Obama's 2015 budget request last month revived his abortive 2014 budget proposal to privatize the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). What are we to make of a Democratic president repeatedly proposing to sell off the publicly financed and administered redevelopment program, widely seen as one of the great successes of the New Deal? This move tells us much about Obama. [...]

His proposal that TVA be privatized fits well into a neoliberal framework and satisfies Democratic Party circles in the financial world. As the nation's first black president, Obama may represent a greater triumph for the dormant Democratic Leadership Council--which moved the party from New Deal politics to neoliberalism--than its original standard bearer, Bill Clinton, the first figurative black chief executive.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:38 AM


Searching For Paul Revere (G. Tracy Mehan, III, 7/03/10, Catholic Exchange)

Paul Revere, as described by Fischer, was a successful artisan and businessman, connected to all the various revolutionary cells active in the Massachusetts of 1775. In fact, he belonged to more groups and knew more operatives and political leaders than almost anyone, certainly in Boston. Moreover, he developed a significant intelligence and communications network for which he was one of the central nodes.

Fischer observes that "Paul Revere's primary mission was not to alarm the countryside. His specific purpose was to warn Samuel Adams and John Hancock, who were thought to be the objects of the expedition." The military stores at Concord were of secondary concern. Still, by morning thousands of fully-armed militia had arrived on the field at both Lexington and Concord ready for closed formation fighting.

"Paul Revere and the other messengers did not spread the alarm merely by knocking on individual farmhouse doors," says David Hackett Fischer. "They also awakened the institutions of New England. The midnight riders went systematically about the task of engaging town leaders and militia commanders of their region. They enlisted its churches and ministers, its physicians and lawyers, its family networks and voluntary associations....They knew from long experience that successful efforts requires sustained planning and careful organization."

A hurry of hoofs in a village street
A shape in the moonlight, a bulk in the dark,
And beneath, from the pebbles, in passing, a spark
Struck out by a steed flying fearless and fleet;
That was all! And yet, through the gloom and the light
The fate of a nation was riding that night;
And the spark struck out by that steed, in his flight,
Kindled the land into flame with its heat.

By the way, Fischer notes that Paul Revere did not say, "The British are coming." New Englanders all considered themselves to be British. This is why they were so outraged at the loss of what they considered to be their traditional rights as such. Revere and his countryman would have called the advancing forces Regulars, Redcoats, the King's men or "Ministerial Troops." The split in national identity had not yet happened.

Notwithstanding the greatness of Longfellow's poem, it seems to have made quite a hash of the historical record, poetic license seemingly run riot. According to Fischer New England historians have been laboring to correct these errors for years.

We grew up with a print of the Copley portrait on our dining room wall, our grandparents having been caretakers at the Paul Revere House.

[originally posted : 7/03/2010]

Posted by orrinj at 5:34 AM


The Verse Heard Round the World : Emerson's patriotic poetry captured the spirit of Lexington for generations to come. (AMANDA FOREMAN, April 18, 2014, WSJ)

At its heart lie the nameless "embattled farmers" who gave their lives to the cause of liberty. The question for Emerson was how to memorialize their selfless acts when their identities were lost to history. In part, he found the answer in his own act of writing. Memory won't last, he acknowledged, "When, like our sires, our sons are gone." He could only hope that the monument commemorating the battle, "Time and Nature gently spare." Instead, Emerson put his faith in the ineffable "Spirit, that made those heroes dare/ To die." It had inspired the farmers as it now inspired him--and would, he believed, have the same effect on future generations who read his poem.

On the eve of the Civil War, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow revisited the events surrounding the Battle of Lexington. Like Emerson, he was deeply convinced of the transformative power of poetry. Choosing the night before the battle as his subject, Longfellow offered a similar lament about the fragility of memory: "Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere, On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;/ Hardly a man is now alive/ Who remembers that famous day and year." He also revisited the nameless farmers, who "gave them ball for ball."

But Longfellow was recalling the spirit "borne on the night-wind of the Past" not as a celebration but a warning. The Union had been brought into existence by a single shot; the message in "Paul Revere's Ride" was that a similar event could trigger its destruction. Longfellow's poem could be described as a prayer, an invocation that "The people will waken and listen to hear...the midnight message of Paul Revere."

April 20, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 6:40 PM


How to Energize a Lackluster Recovery (Edward P. Lazear, April 20, 2014, WSJ)

An easy way to remove the impediment to growth is to move toward a consumption tax by allowing the full and immediate deductibility of capital investment.

The argument rests on two points. First, consumption taxes are better for economic growth than are income taxes. Second, allowing full expensing (immediate deductibility) of investment turns the current tax system into a consumption tax.

Consumption taxes are better for economic growth because they create stronger incentives to save and invest than do income taxes. Under an income tax, a person who consumes what he earns immediately is taxed once, specifically on the earnings that he receives in that year. If instead he invests what he earns, the interest on that investment, which is compensation for deferring consumption, is also taxed. This pushes him toward consuming more now and saving less.

The reduced incentive to save that results from taxing returns drives up interest rates and retards investment. Incentives to invest would be improved if the returns were untaxed. By contrast, a consumption tax does not tax the returns to investment. It taxes only once, at the time that actual consumption occurs. Moving to a consumption tax eliminates the tax on returns to investment and improves investment incentives.

Allowing investment expenses to be fully and immediately deductible turns an income tax into a consumption tax, but the logic is subtle. All of an economy's output is used to produce either current consumption or investment goods. If all income, which must equal output, is taxed, then both consumption and investment are taxed. But if we tax only the part of output that is not investment by allowing investment expenditures to be deductible, all that remains is consumption so only consumption is taxed.

Making the transition to the Third Way easier is the happy fact that the Left has settled on just one objection to capitalism--that benefitting from it requires that one have capital.  All the Third Way does is require the citizenry to hold its own capital in investment accounts and use this to fund our own entitlements.  The beautiful irony is that the solution to the universally agreed flaw in capitalism--that on its own it produces excessive inequality--is more capitalism. 

The Most Important Book Ever Is All Wrong (Clive Crook, 4/20/14, Bloomberg View)

So what's the problem?

Quite a few things, but this to start with: There's a persistent tension between the limits of the data he presents and the grandiosity of the conclusions he draws. At times this borders on schizophrenia. In introducing each set of data, he's all caution and modesty, as he should be, because measurement problems arise at every stage. Almost in the next paragraph, he states a conclusion that goes beyond what the data would support even if it were unimpeachable.

This tendency is apparent all through the book, but most marked at the end, when he sums up his findings about "the central contradiction of capitalism":

The inequality r>g [the rate of return on capital is greater than the rate of economic growth] implies that wealth accumulated in the past grows more rapidly than output and wages. This inequality expresses a fundamental logical contradiction. The entrepreneur inevitably tends to become a rentier, more and more dominant over those who own nothing but their labor. Once constituted, capital reproduces itself faster than output increases. The past devours the future. The consequences for the long-term dynamics of the wealth distribution are potentially terrifying ...
Every claim in that dramatic summing up is either unsupported or contradicted by Piketty's own data and analysis. (I'm not counting the unintelligible. The past devours the future?)

As he explains elsewhere, r>g isn't enough by itself to trigger the dynamic he describes. If capital grows faster than the economy, inequality will indeed tend to increase because ownership of capital is concentrated -- though much less so than in the past. But capital will outpace the economy only if owners of capital save a sufficiently large part of the income they derive from it. (Suppose they save none of it: Their wealth won't grow at all.)

You might say this misses the point. Wolf offers this clarification: Piketty "argues that the ratio of capital to income will rise without limit so long as the rate of return is significantly higher than the economy's rate of growth. This, he holds, has normally been the case." That's better: The gap between r and g has to be "significant." The bigger the gap, the more likely it is that saving will build capital faster than output rises -- and Piketty does show that the gap usually has been big.

The trouble is, he also shows that capital-to-output ratios in Britain and France in the 18th and 19th centuries, when r exceeded g by very wide margins, were stable, not rising inexorably. The same was true of the share of national income paid to owners of capital. In Britain, the capitalists' share of income was about the same in 1910 as it had been in 1770, according to Piketty's numbers. In France, it was less in 1900 than it had been in 1820.

What about the 21st century? Perhaps the capitalists' share will rise inexorably in future -- and that's what matters.

Perhaps it will, but Piketty advances reasons to doubt this too. He expects r to be a bit lower and g a bit higher than their respective historical averages. There are many other factors to consider, as he says, but on his own analysis the chances are good that the future gap between return on capital and growth will be smaller than the gap that failed to produce an inexorably rising capital share in the two centuries before 1914.

As I worked through the book, I became preoccupied with another gap: the one between the findings Piketty explains cautiously and statements such as, "The consequences for the long-term dynamics of the wealth distribution are potentially terrifying."

Piketty's terror at rising inequality is an important data point for the reader. It has perhaps influenced his judgment and his tendentious reading of his own evidence. It could also explain why the book has been greeted with such erotic intensity: It meets the need for a work of deep research and scholarly respectability which affirms that inequality, as Cassidy remarked, is "a defining issue of our era."

Maybe. But nobody should think it's the only issue. For Piketty, it is. Aside from its other flaws, "Capital in the 21st Century" invites readers to believe not just that inequality is important but that nothing else matters.

Posted by orrinj at 6:31 PM


Income tax for low earners in Italy cut to boost growth  (Israel Herald Friday 18th April, 2014)

The 10 billion euros in income-tax cuts, which will affect 10 million Italians, will be a permanent measure providing approximately 80 euros monthly, effective next month. The decree, which contained no real surprises, also set a salary cap for senior officials at State-controlled companies of 240,000 euros,.

"This in general begins a process of reorganization of the State," Renzi said after his cabinet approved a major financial decree that included large tax cuts as well as minor government reforms.

The tax cuts will be funded by a 400 million euros reduction in defence spending and other savings including 150 million euros from a review of the F-35 fighter-jet programme.

...and why would Italy have a military?

Posted by orrinj at 6:27 PM


If talks fail, Abbas said to be weighing dissolution of Oslo, PA (TIMES OF ISRAEL AND AFP April 20, 2014)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has reportedly threatened to dissolve the PA and disband Palestinian security forces operating in the West Bank if peace negotiations with Israel fail, a move which would create huge security and diplomatic problems for Israel.

According to Palestinian sources cited by Yedioth Ahronoth on Sunday, Abbas and top PA officials are considering the drastic move, which would involve cancelling the 1993 Oslo Accords and announcing that the Palestinian Authority is a "government under occupation" without full sovereignty, which would technically move full responsibility for the Palestinians, in the West Bank at least, to Israel.

Do West Bank Israelis, Palestinians live under different set of laws? (Daniel Estrin; Josef Federman, 4/20/14, Associated Press)

While Israeli settlers in the West Bank fall mostly under civilian rule, Palestinians are subject to Israeli military law. Israeli and Palestinian youths face inequities at every stage in the path of justice, from arrests to convictions and sentencing, according to police statistics obtained by The Associated Press through multiple requests under Israel's freedom of information law.

The results can ripple for years.

"Jail destroyed his life," said the Palestinian boy's father.

Only 53 Israeli settler youths were arrested for stone-throwing over the past six years, the data shows, and 89 percent were released without charge. Six were indicted. Four of those were found "guilty without conviction," a common sentence for Israeli juveniles that aims not to stain their record. One was cleared. The sixth case was still in court as of October, the most recent information available.

By contrast, 1,142 Palestinian youths were arrested by police over the same period for throwing stones, and 528 were indicted. All were convicted. Lawyers say the penalty is typically three to eight months in military prison.

Posted by orrinj at 6:24 PM


Three at a Time (Roger Angell, 4/19/14, The New Yorker)

I wasn't on hand on August 23, 2009, when Phillies second baseman Eric Bruntlett grabbed a low liner, tagged a nearby runner, and almost dazedly stepped on second for a game-ending unassisted triple play, becoming the first player to pull off this caper since 1927. The abruptly losing team against Bruntlett's play was the Mets, which simultaneously and perfectly illustrated the opposite of unexpected.

Posted by orrinj at 5:46 PM


How Does A Jewish Artist Tell The Ultimate Christian Story? (ANASTASIA TSIOULCAS, March 17, 2013, NPR)

Golijov says that as a Jew reading the Christian Bible, he found a transcendental message: "When I asked within the Jewish community, 'What is so revolutionary?' they would say, 'Well, it was simply an extension of what Hillel did, what the Jewish rabbis have said.' But when I started to learn the New Testament for real, to prepare to write the Passion, I realized how transcendentally different the message was, even if there are things that you can tell are in a line that started by Hillel. The entire paradigm has changed with Jesus.

"The two most important things I learned were the shifting of the paradigm toward love as the foundation of life and transcending the fear of death."

To help convey that, the composer incorporated some pretty lively music -- sometimes in rather shocking ways. The introduction of Judas Iscariot is set to a hot Afro-Cuban dance; the crucifixion itself is accompanied by a samba that wouldn't be at all out of place at a Brazilian carnaval.

"I never expected a Passion to have this funk and Spanish and everything inside it. I never thought I would be able to sing them," says Andrew Farella, a 16-year-old bass in the chorus. He and his friend Jerry Ortiz, another 16-year-old bass, say they're thrilled to hear all these different kinds of music within Golijov's work -- ones they know well from their own lives.

"I'm actually very excited to do this piece, me being from the Latin culture," says Ortiz, who is Dominican and Puerto Rican. "Everything that's in here is based on my culture, my background. So I can feel the music when we sing it. I was kind of surprised to hear African and also Indian stuff. But he talked about how in Latin America we come from three places. There's our white side, our Native American side and there's our African side. And that's basically what La Pasión is -- coming from those three to combine into one, the Holy Trinity."

Golijov says evoking that mix was essential to his vision of the Passion. And it's not just in the music. He wanted the language he used to reflect the multiracial and multicultural reality of Latin America.

"The story is so well-known that you can almost sculpt the language," Golijov says. "I would say that 90 percent of the people listening to the Passion know what's going on. So therefore the language is not so much a conveyor of sense as it is of sound. You can rhythmicize the language. And that's what I did. For the translations to Spanish, rather than using the academic translations, I bought several copies that usually handicapped vendors sell in the subway stops and so forth, and you pay what you have for them."

"And then from those popular translations," the composer continues, "I still changed some words for synonyms that would end with the stresses on the last syllable, because to me it was almost like what in my mind is an Africanization of the Spanish. To me, it was very important to bring all the African, Yoruban traditions that merged with both the Spanish and the Portuguese colonizing traditions to create this metamorphosis of the Passion that has happened in Latin America."

It's ultimately a rather trifling work.
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Posted by orrinj at 1:01 PM


Pipeline delay gives boost to Obama's political base (JEFF MASON AND STEVE HOLLAND, Apr 20, 2014, Reuters)

The latest delay to a final decision on the Keystone XL oil pipeline will reinforce a White House strategy to energize President Barack Obama's liberal-leaning base before fall elections in which Democrats risk losing control of the U.S. Senate. [...]

The State Department's announcement on Friday that it would give government agencies more time to study the project was seen by strategists from both parties as a move to prevent that and boost Obama in the eyes of his supporters. Support for the president, or lack of it, is generally reflected in mid-term voter turnout.

Approval of the pipeline would also have risked dampening the enthusiasm of wealthy donors such as billionaire investor Tom Steyer, who is spending tens of millions of dollars to boost environmentally-friendly candidates.

Charlie Brown always thinks Lucy will leave the ball there.

Posted by orrinj at 11:57 AM


What Muslims and Jews should learn from Brandeis (Yossi Klein Halevi and Abdullah Antepli, 4/17/14, Times of Israel)

Brandeis' decision to rescind its offer of an honorary degree to former Dutch parliamentarian and women's rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, needs to be seen in that context. Ali crossed the line from critic of Islamist extremism to demonizer of Islam itself, repeatedly labeling the faith of more than a billion believers as an enemy against whom war must be waged.

Had the Jewish-affiliated university fulfilled its initial intention to honor Ali, it would have sent a message of contempt to its own Muslim students, to the Muslim American community and to Muslims around the world.

Posted by orrinj at 11:53 AM


Bundy is no victor (Las Vegas Sun, April 20, 2014)

Since 1993, he has refused to pay grazing fees, as thousands of other ranchers do, and since 1998, he has been in violation of a string of court orders by continuing to run his cattle on federal land. Along the way, he has made vague threats about the BLM and what might happen should it ever move to enforce the courts' orders.

Early this month, the nation saw he was serious after the BLM moved in and started to move his cattle off federal land. Bundy and heavily armed self-appointed militiamen from throughout the country provoked a dangerous situation, confronting officers trying to uphold the law.

The pictures were frightening, particularly one of a man perched in a sniper pose, his rifle facing down toward law enforcement officers.

After the BLM wisely backed off, Bundy and his supporters gave air to views that this was a range war over states' rights and federal land management. Those are issues that should be discussed but not in this case. This wasn't a matter of a rancher pushing back against the government or a show of patriotism by Bundy and militia types; this was an open act of rebellion against the rule of law.

Bundy had his day in court and lost. He has actually had years in court, and he has laid out his arguments several times. Bundy claims that he has a right to the land and says the federal government doesn't own it. But each time, a judge has denied Bundy's claims, pointing to the law, the facts and decades of court cases that all contradict the rancher. Indeed, the federal government has controlled the land long before Bundy's family arrived on the scene.

Still, after years of loses in court, he had options. He could have gone to Congress to try to change the law and rally political support. He could have tried to work out a deal with the BLM. He could have staged an act of civil disobedience to garner help.

Instead, Bundy, who proudly says he doesn't "recognize" the federal government, became his own law and has followed his own beliefs as to what was right.

What he and his supporters are really doing is dismissing the American form of government.

Posted by orrinj at 9:23 AM


These 3D Printed Mini Apartments Could Be the Future of Mobile Homes (KAITLYN SCHAEFFER, APR 19, 2014, Complex)

The 3D printer has been revolutionizing everything from art to medicine to accessories, and its latest foray has been into the field of architecture. Peter Ebner, architect and UCLA professor, tasked his architecture students with a homework assignment for the ages: develop a 3D-printed apartment that's easy to transport and manage.

The class rose to the challenge and then some, constructing mini mobile homes that measure 50 square feet and are equipped with thermal insulation, electricity, water, heating, and sewage systems (which are also 3D printed). The living area comes with a collapsible counter, a foldaway toilet, a pullout bed, and a wall-sized entertainment system.

Posted by orrinj at 9:19 AM


5 Great Historical Myths And Traditions About Hot Cross Buns, a Pre-Easter Pastry : From solidifying friendships to driving evil spirits away, legends abound about these sweet dough balls (Rachel Nuwer, 4/20/14, SMITHSONIANMAG.COM)

Here are five favorites: 

A 12th-century monk was the first person to mark the bun with a cross.

This monk baked the buns on Good Friday, in honor of the upcoming Easter holiday, IrishCentral reports, and they soon gained popularity around England as a symbol of the holiday weekend. However, the first definite record of hot cross buns comes from a 16th and 17th century text stating: "Good Friday comes this month, the old woman runs, with one or two a penny hot cross buns." [...]

And cement friendships.

Those who share a hot cross bun are supposed to enjoy a strong friendship and bond for the next year. A line from an old rhyme captures this lore, says Irish Central: "Half for you and half for me, between us two, good luck shall be." 

Posted by orrinj at 9:17 AM


What Easter Really Means (Robert Barron, 4/20/14, RCR)

When the risen Jesus presented himself alive to his disciples, they were, we are told, afraid. Their fear might not have been simply a function of their seeing something uncanny; it might have been grounded in the assumption that he was back for vengeance. However, after showing his wounds, the risen Jesus said to his friends, "Shalom," Peace. The teacher who had urged his followers to turn the other cheek and to meet violence with forgiveness exemplified his own teaching in the most vivid way possible. And what he showed, thereby, was that the divine manner of establishing order has nothing to do with violence, retribution, or eye-for-an-eye retaliation. Instead, it has to do with a love which swallows up hate, with a forgiveness which triumphs over aggression. It is this great Resurrection principle which, explicitly or implicitly, undergirded the liberating work of Martin Luther King, Jr. in America, of Gandhi in India, of Bishop Tutu in South Africa, and of John Paul II in Poland. Those great practitioners of non-violent resistance were able to stand athwart the received wisdom only because they had some sense that in opting for the way of love they were going with the deepest grain of reality, operating in concert with the purposes of God.

Secondly, the Resurrection means that God has not given up on his creation. According to the well-known account in the book of Genesis, God made the whole array of finite things -- sun, moon, planets, stars, animals, plants, things that creep and crawl on the earth -- and found it all good, even very good. There is not a hint of dualism or Manichaeism in the Biblical vision, no setting of the spiritual over and against the material. All that God has made reflects some aspect of his goodness, and all created things together constitute a beautiful and tightly-woven tapestry.

As the Old Testament lays out the story, human sin made a wreck of God's creation, turning the garden into a desert. But the faithful God kept sending rescue operation after rescue operation: Noah's Ark, the prophets, the Law and the Temple, the people Israel itself. Finally, he sent his only Son, the perfect icon or incarnation of his love. In raising that Son from the dead, God definitively saved and ratified his creation, very much including the material dimension of it (which is why it matters that Jesus was raised bodily from death).

Over and again, we have said no to what God has made, but God stubbornly says yes. Inspired by this divine yes, we always have a reason to hope.

Posted by orrinj at 8:12 AM


13 Suspected Militants Killed in Yemen (REUTERS, APRIL 19, 2014)

An airstrike killed 13 people suspected as Qaeda militants in the central Yemeni province of al-Bayda on Saturday, a security official and tribal representatives said. Three civilians in a nearby car were also killed, they said.

"An airstrike targeted cars that suspected Al Qaeda militants were in and killed 13 of them in the Sawma'a area of al-Bayda," a security official said.

Posted by orrinj at 8:10 AM


China on course to become 'world's most Christian nation' within 15 years (Tom Phillips, 19 Apr 2014, The Telegraph)

Officially, the People's Republic of China is an atheist country but that is changing fast as many of its 1.3 billion citizens seek meaning and spiritual comfort that neither communism nor capitalism seem to have supplied.

Christian congregations in particular have skyrocketed since churches began reopening when Chairman Mao's death in 1976 signalled the end of the Cultural Revolution.

Less than four decades later, some believe China is now poised to become not just the world's number one economy but also its most numerous Christian nation.

"By my calculations China is destined to become the largest Christian country in the world very soon," said Fenggang Yang, a professor of sociology at Purdue University and author of Religion in China: Survival and Revival under Communist Rule.

"It is going to be less than a generation. Not many people are prepared for this dramatic change."

Posted by orrinj at 8:08 AM


Greg Abbott takes poll position (Amarillo Globe-News, April 19, 2014)

If Texas Tech University's numbers are any indication, the race for Texas governor won't be all that competitive.

According to a poll released last week by Tech's Earl Survey Research Lab, GOP gubernatorial candidate and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has about lapped Democratic candidate state Sen. Wendy Davis.

Granted, there is a long way to go before the Nov. 4 election, but with 54 percent of respondents saying they would vote for Abbott -- and only 25 percent backing Davis -- the attorney general has reason for optimism, at least according to this poll.

So fares the leading spokesman for abortion.

Posted by orrinj at 8:01 AM


Why Easter is so important to Christians To us, Easter proves that death is a joke (Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, 4/20/14, The Week)

Unlike the Eucharist and the crucifixion, which seem to almost make a mockery of any traditional notion of God, the Easter story is fairly easy to comprehend as the logical consequence of the previous episode. We Christians are crazy enough to believe that God can be killed, but not so crazy as to believe that God must stay dead. 

Belief in the bodily -- literal, not metaphorical -- resurrection of Jesus Christ is the belief on which every other Christian belief rests. It's how we know that this bizarre 1st-century preacher was not just a preacher, but actually the Son of God. He rose from the dead. 

Indeed, the Oxford historical scholar and Anglican bishop N.T. Wright has argued very thoroughly that the only way to explain the sudden and baffling growth of early Christianity, despite Jewish and Roman opposition, was that Jesus of Nazareth really did rise from the dead. There was no notion of bodily resurrection from the dead in Jewish or Greek or Roman religion. And in the history of 1st century Judaism, when there were plenty of people who claimed to be the Messiah, nobody ever, ever claimed that a would-be Messiah who had been killed by the occupier was the Messiah, for the self-evident reason that according to Judaism, the Messiah would not fail. 

We have a patronizing way of thinking that people in the 1st century might very well believe that someone rose from the dead because they were primitives who believed in fairy stories. This is a cultural prejudice. If anything, everything about their religion and culture made 1st-century Jews even less likely to believe in a bodily resurrection, or that a crucified man could be a Messiah, than our society that believes in astrology and homeopathy. The best and perhaps only explanation for the fact that a bunch of 1st century Jews suddenly, inexplicably, started running around claiming that their crucified prophet was the Messiah and had risen from the dead, Wright argues, is that they saw him bodily risen from the dead. 

Now, though Wright's scholarship is very well regarded, this is nowhere near empirical "proof" of Jesus' resurrection. And obviously, you could line up many scholars who don't believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is just to emphasize that, yes, Christians believe it actually happened. Literally. 

But Christians celebrate Easter not just for historical reasons. They believe that Jesus' triumph over death on Easter wasn't just his triumph -- it was ours, too. This is a bit harder to explain.

Posted by orrinj at 5:29 AM


No One Walks Off The Island : Two years ago, Yasiel Puig fled Cuba in the hands of black-market smugglers. This is the story of how the cost of the defection journey - in money and human lives - shadows him still. (Scott Eden, 04/17/14, ESPN the Magazine)

Just before dawn one day in late April 2012, four young Cubans stood on an otherwise deserted beach, peering hard into the Caribbean darkness. They were trying to escape their native country, and they were waiting for the boat that would take them away. Thirty minutes passed, then 60. Still no boat. Three men and one woman, the group had arrived at the designated spot close to the appointed hour: 3.a.m. By design, the rendezvous point was located on one of the most isolated coastal stretches in a country famous for nothing if not isolation -- so remote it could be reached only by foot.

They had spent the previous 30 hours hiking there, without sleep, and had reached varying levels of emotional distress; the stakes were high. Covert interests in Miami and Cancun had made the arrangements from afar. Their goal was to extract from Cuba a baseball player of extraordinary talent and propitious youth. Just 21 years old at the time, Yasiel Puig already was well-known to both Cuba's millions of fervid baseball fans as well as officials high in the hierarchy of the Cuban state-security apparatus.

With Puig was Yunior Despaigne, then 24. A former national-level Cuban boxer and a friend of Puig's from their teens, Despaigne had spent the previous year recruiting Puig to defect, under the direction of a Cuban-born resident of Miami named Raul Pacheco. If caught and found out as an aider and abettor, Despaigne would inevitably face serious prison time. He and Puig had together made four failed attempts to escape the island over the previous year. The authorities were almost certainly wise to their machinations. They needed this trip to work.

According to Despaigne, in the escape party were Puig's girlfriend and a man who, Despaigne says, served as a padrino, or spirit guide, a kind of lower cleric in the Afro-Catholic religion of Santeria. Sometime before this latest escape attempt, Puig and his girlfriend had sought out the padrino; a vatic ritual had revealed that their voyage would end in good fortune, Despaigne says. The couple decided to take the padrino along so as to improve their chances for safe passage.

From the start, the journey had seemed both hexed and charmed. Two days earlier, they'd hitched a ride from Cienfuegos, the city they all lived in, to a sleepy seaside hamlet called Playa Girón, where, around nightfall, they were supposed to meet their guide. Instead, they spied what appeared to be a squadron of police milling around close to their planned meeting place. They drove past without stopping; they placed a few frantic cellphone calls; they managed to reconvene with their guide 35 kilometers up the coast in the town of Playa Larga. But almost immediately, right near the beach, they ran into two policemen. Among the guide's first instructions: "Run!" They ran along the beach and then into the sea -- it was tranquil and waveless there -- and waded in water up to their necks. They could see police on land trying to pursue. Dogs barked, and the beams of flashlights played in the air and on the water. When they saw the lights range over the water, they dived. Eventually, the police gave up, but the Cuban coast guard did not. The guide's course took them along the edge of a fjord-like inlet that cuts deep into the country. On its western side stretches a vast Evergladian swamp -- the Ciénaga de Zapata, one of the most prodigious wetlands on earth. It was slow going. During daylight hours, they picked their way through dense mangrove thickets, careful to keep their distance from the packs of crocodiles that lazed in the lagoons and among the marsh grasses, and careful not to walk on the beach, far easier though it would have been, and risk exposing themselves to the coast guard making regular patrols just offshore. At nights, they resumed hiking along the beach, occasionally plunging into the water up to their noses, driven there by swarms of mosquitoes.

Now, at the rendezvous point, dawn broke. In the gray morning light, the group came to a decision. Despaigne and Puig, veterans of the defection process, knew that the smugglers who helmed these vessels, lancheros, as they're known across Cuba -- would almost assuredly not want to risk capture by attempting a daylight pickup. And so the group decided to give up. They would surrender. All were severely dehydrated, and starving, having ditched their provisions when they were forced to run from the police into the sea. They would start walking back toward the nearest settlement, some 40 kilometers in the direction they'd come, and in the meantime attempt to flag down one of the patrolling coast guard ships. Better to go to prison then die in the Ciénaga de Zapata.

They'd walked about 400 meters when the padrino stopped; he said he had to go back. At the rendezvous point, he'd left something important behind: the figurine of Elegua, a Santeria deity, Lord of the Crossroads, a powerful spirit in the faith's pantheon of them -- in the words of Despaigne, also a believer, "the one who opens and closes the way." You don't leave Elegua behind. All four turned around and trekked back, except the guide, who at that point had had enough and abandoned the group. They found Elegua resting safely on the sand; Puig was the one who reached down and picked it up. That's when, raising their eyes to the Caribbean horizon one last time, they saw it. A vessel. It appeared to be approaching. At first they thought: coast guard. But as it drew nearer its details emerged: 40 or 45 feet, outboard engines of many growling horsepower -- a long, lean, late-model cigarette boat, "like the ones you see," Despaigne recalls, "on Miami Beach."

"Are you Puig?"

"Are you Despaigne?

The lancheros wanted ID confirmation, and before anyone knew it, Puig, Despaigne, Puig's girlfriend and the padrino had waded out and climbed aboard to meet their ferrymen. As Despaigne and the rest would later learn, these men were the leaders of an alien-smuggling-and-boat-theft ring with links to the Mexican cartel Los Zetas. At least two were fugitives from American justice, their names on the wanted lists of several law enforcement agencies. The lancheros apologized for their lateness; they'd gotten lost.

As Cuba receded, the four defectors went quiet. The moment must have been bittersweet. They'd finally escaped, yes, but they were leaving home, maybe never to return. 

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:22 AM


From Jesus to Christ: How did a Jewish prophet come to be seen as the Christian savior? The epic story of the empty tomb, the early battles and the making of a great faith. (Jon Meacham, 3/28/05, Newsweek International)

The story, it seemed, was over. Convicted of sedition, condemned to death by crucifixion, nailed to a cross on a hill called Golgotha, Jesus of Nazareth had endured all that he could. According to Mark, the earliest Gospel, Jesus, suffering and approaching the end, repeated a verse of the 22nd Psalm, a passage familiar to first-century Jewish ears: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" There was a final, wordless cry. And then silence.

Why have you forsaken me? From the Gospel accounts, it was a question for which Jesus' disciples had no ready answer. In the chaos of the arrest and Crucifixion, the early followers had scattered. They had expected victory, not defeat, in this Jerusalem spring. If Jesus were, as they believed, the Jewish Messiah, then his great achievement would be the inauguration of the Kingdom of God on earth, an age marked by the elimination of evil, the dispensation of justice, the restoration of Israel and the general resurrection of the dead.

Instead, on the Friday of this Passover, at just the moment they were looking for the arrival of a kind of heaven on earth, Jesus, far from leading the forces of light to triumph, died a criminal's death. Of his followers, only the women stayed as Jesus was taken from the cross, wrapped in a linen shroud and placed in a tomb carved out of the rock of a hillside. A stone sealed the grave and, according to Mark, just after the sun rose two days later, Mary Magdalene and two other women were on their way to anoint the corpse with spices. Their concerns were practical, ordinary: were they strong enough to move the stone aside? As they drew near, however, they saw that the tomb was already open. Puzzled, they went inside, and a young man in a white robe--not Jesus--sitting on the right side of --the tomb said: "Do not be amazed; you seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here, see the place where they laid him." Absorbing these words, the women, Mark says, "went out and fled from the tomb; for trembling and astonishment had come upon them; and they said nothing to any one, for they were afraid."

And so begins the story of Christianity--with confusion, not with clarity; with mystery, not with certainty. According to Luke's Gospel, the disciples at first treated the women's report of the empty tomb as "an idle tale, and... did not believe them"; the Gospel of John says that Jesus' followers "as yet... did not know... that he must rise from the dead."

For many churchgoers who fill the pews this Holy Week, re-enacting the Passion, contemplating the cross and celebrating the Resurrection, the faith may appear seamless and monumental, comfortably unchanging from age to age. In a new NEWSWEEK Poll, 78 percent of Americans believe Jesus rose from the dead; 75 percent say that he was sent to Earth to absolve mankind of its sins. Eighty-one percent say they are Christians; they are part of what is now the world's largest faith, with 2 billion believers, or roughly 33 percent of the earth's population.

Yet the journey from Golgotha to Constantine, the fourth- century emperor whose conversion secured the supremacy of Christianity in the West, was anything but simple; the rise of the faith was, as the Duke of Wellington said of Waterloo, "the nearest-run thing you ever saw in your life." From the Passion to the Resurrection to the nature of salvation, the basic tenets of Christianity were in flux from generation to generation as believers struggled to understand the meaning of Jesus' mission.

Jesus is a name, Christ a title (in Hebrew, Messias, in Greek, Christos, meaning "anointed one"). Without the Resurrection, it is virtually impossible to imagine that the Jesus movement of the first decades of the first century would have long endured. A small band of devotees might have kept his name alive for a time, even insisting on his messianic identity by calling him Christ, but the group would have been just one of many sects in first-century Judaism, a world roiled and crushed by the cataclysmic war with Rome from 66 to 73, a conflict that resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem.

So how, exactly, did the Jesus of history, whom many in his own time saw as a failed prophet, come to be viewed by billions as the Christ of faith whom the Nicene Creed says is "the only-begotten Son of God... God of God, Light of Light, Very God of very God... by whom all things were made"? And why did Christianity succeed where so many other religious and spiritual movements failed? [...]

Though many scholars rightly raise compelling questions about the historical value of the portraits of Jesus in the Gospels, the apostles had to arrive at their definition of his messianic mission somehow, and it is possible that Jesus may have spoken of these things during his lifetime--words that came flooding back to his followers once the shock of his resurrection had sunk in. On historical grounds, then, Christianity appears less a fable than a faith derived in part from oral or written traditions dating from the time of Jesus' ministry and that of his disciples. "The Son of man is delivered into the hands of men, and they shall kill him; and after that... he shall rise the third day," Jesus says in Mark, who adds that the disciples at the time "understood not that saying, and were afraid to ask him."

That the apostles would have created such words and ideas out of thin air seems unlikely, for their story and their message strained credulity even then. Paul admitted the difficulty: "... we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and folly to Gentiles." A king who died a criminal's death? An individual's resurrection from the dead? A human atoning sacrifice? "This is not something that the PR committee of the disciples would have put out," says Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. "The very fact of the salvation message's complexity and uniqueness, I think, speaks to the credibility of the Gospels and of the entire New Testament."

Jesus' words at the last supper--that bread and wine represented his body and blood--now made more sense: he was, the early church argued, a sacrificial lamb in the tradition of ancient Israel. Turning to the old Scriptures, the apostles began to find what they decided were prophecies Jesus had fulfilled. Hitting upon the 53rd chapter of Isaiah, they interpreted the Crucifixion as a necessary portal to a yet more glorious day: "... he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities... and with his stripes we are healed." In the Book of Acts, Peter is able to preach a sermon in which Jesus is connected to passages from Isaiah, Joel and the Psalms.

Skepticism about Christianity was widespread and understandable. From a Jewish perspective, the first-century historian Josephus noted: "About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man. He worked surprising deeds and was a teacher... He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks... And the tribe of Christians, so called after him, has not disappeared to this day." In a separate reference, Josephus writes of "James the brother of the so-called Christ." A good Jew of the priestly caste, Josephus is not willing to grant Jesus the messianic title. In Athens, Stoic and Epicurean philosophers asked Paul to explain his message. "May we know what this new teaching is which you present?" they asked. "For you bring some strange things to our ears..." They heard him out, but the Resurrection was too much of a reach for them. In the second century, the anti-Christian critic Celsus called the Resurrection a "cock-and-bull story," and cast doubt on the eyewitness testimony: "While he was alive he did not help himself, but after death he rose again and showed the marks of his punishment and how his hands had been pierced. But who say this? A hysterical female, as you say, and perhaps some other one of those who were deluded by the same sorcery, who either dreamt in a certain state of mind and through wishful thinking had a hallucination due to some mistaken notion... or, which is more likely, wanted to impress others by telling this fantastic tale..."

But why invent this particular story unless there were some historical basis for it--either in the remembered words of Jesus or in the experience of the followers at the tomb and afterward? "Once a man has died, and the dust has soaked up his blood," says Aeschylus' Apollo, "there is no resurrection." Citing the quotation, N. T. Wright, the scholar and Anglican Bishop of Durham, notes that various ancients may have believed in the immortality of the soul and a kind of mythic life in the underworld, but the stories about Jesus had no direct parallel. And while Jews believed in a general resurrection as part of the Kingdom (Lazarus and others raised by Jesus were destined to die again in due course), Wright adds that "nowhere within Judaism, let alone paganism, is a sustained claim advanced that resurrection has actually happened to a particular individual."

The uniqueness--one could say oddity, or implausibility--of the story of Jesus' resurrection argues that the tradition is more likely historical than theological. Either from a "revelation" from the risen Jesus or from the reports of the earliest followers, Paul "received" a tradition that the resurrection was the hinge of history, the moment after which nothing would ever be the same. "If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain..." Paul writes. "Lo! I will tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet."

The Resurrection may have been necessary to convince the doubters, but the Crucifixion itself is the point of the tale, as the following reminds, Jesus' Reminders (Philip Yancey)
Jesus, who said he could call down the angels at any moment and rescue himself from the horror, chose not to - because of us. For God so loved us, that he sent his only Son to die for us.

What practical effect does Christ's identification have on the person who actually suffers? A dramatic example of the effect of this truth was seen in the ministry of Dr. Paul Brand while he was working among leprosy patients in Vellore, India. There he preached a sermon, one of his best known and best loved. At the time, Brand and his workers were among the few in the area who would touch or closely approach a person with Hansen's disease - townspeople quarantined them. Brand slipped in late to a patients' gathering, sitting on the mat at the edge of an open courtyard. The air was heavy with combined odors of crowding bodies, poverty, stale spices, treated bandages.

The patients insisted on a few words from Dr. Brand, and he reluctantly agreed. He stood for a moment, empty of ideas, looking at the patients before him. His eyes were drawn to their hands, dozens of them, most pulled inward in the familiar "leprosy claw-hand," some with no fingers, some with a few stumps. Many patients sat on their hands or otherwise hid them from view.

"I am a hand surgeon," he began, and waited for the translation into Tamil and Hindi. "So when I meet people, I can't help looking at their hands. The palmist claims he can tell your future by looking at your hands. I can tell your past. For instance, I can tell what your trade has been by the position of the calluses and the condition of the nails. I can tell a lot about your character; I love hands."

He paused and looked at the eager faces. "How I would love to have had the chance to meet Christ and study his hands! But knowing what he was like, I can almost picture them, feel them."

He paused again, then wondered aloud what it would have been like to meet Christ and study his hands. He traced the hands of Christ, beginning with infancy when his hands were small, helpless, futilely grasping. Then came the hands of the boy Jesus, clumsily holding a brush or stylus, trying to form letters of the alphabet. Then the hands of Christ the carpenter - rough, gnarled, with broken fingernails and bruises from working with saw and hammer.

Then there were the hands of Christ the physician, the healer. Compassion and sensitivity seemed to radiate from them, so much so that when he touched people they could feel something of the divine spirit coming through. Christ touched the blind, the diseased, the needy.

"Then," continued Dr. Brand, "there were his crucified hands. It hurts me to think of a nail being driven through the center of my hand, because I know what goes on there, the tremendous complex of tendons and nerves and blood vessels and muscles. It's impossible to drive a spike through its center without crippling it. The thought of those healing hands being crippled reminds me of what Christ was prepared to endure. In that act he identified himself with all the deformed and crippled human beings in the world. Not only was he able to endure poverty with the poor, weariness with the tired, but - clawed hands with the cripple."

The effect on the listening patients, all social outcasts, was electrifying. Jesus - a cripple, with a claw-hand like theirs?

Brand continued. "And then there were his resurrected hands. One of the things I find most astounding is that, though we think of the future life as something perfected, when Christ appeared to his disciples he said, 'Come look at my hands,' and he invited Thomas to put his finger into the print of the nail. Why did he want to keep the wounds of his humanity? Wasn't it because he wanted to carry back with him an eternal reminder of the sufferings of those on earth? He carried the marks of suffering so he could continue to understand the needs of those suffering. He wanted to be forever one with us."

As he finished, Paul Brand was again conscious of hands as they were lifted, all over the courtyard, palm to palm in the Indian gesture of respect, namaste. The hands were the same stumps, the same missing fingers and crooked arches. Yet no one tried to hide them. They were held high, close to the face, in respect for Brand, but also with new pride and dignity. God's own response to suffering made theirs easier.

[Originally posted: March 25, 2005]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:01 AM


Obedience to the unenforceable is a statement of grace as old as the bible. (Peter Sellick, June 09, 2003, Online Opinion)
Let us tell a different story. The man Jesus pushes against the powers of his day (and ours) that bring bondage to human beings. These are the "principalities and powers" of the world, not least of which are the religious powers. These powers respond in fear and dread and rig his trial, convict him of blasphemy and deliver him over to a criminal's death. He does not resist but allows them to do their worst. Afterward it is found that the one who was judged becomes the judge. Through the nailing of the body of Jesus to the cross we find that human sin, that we have encountered so graphically in Romans chapter 8, has been judged. The tables have been turned, Christ is vindicated, and the religious authorities, or, to universalise, the unruly passions of the human heart, are crucified. This realisation and its eternal (rather than secular) nature is the meaning of the resurrection. The crucified one becomes the source of human freedom from the death-dealing powers of the world.

Christians henceforth talk about being crucified with Christ and rising with him to a new life in which sin is put to flight. It is thus not knowledge that saves us from the turmoil of the inner person but an event in history, the affect of which rolls down the ages to us. This opens the way to an effective religious practice that looks with hope for change in the inner person; the transformation of our desire. It is only then that we find that the law hasbecome irrelevant.

This is the only way that I know in which the unenforceable becomes the force that transforms ourselves and our society. It does so by tutoring the heart in desire. Its nature in the world is such that it cannot be controlled or imposed because it is grace and not law. Neither can it be foisted upon another party by those who do not themselves take it as a serious challenge to their lives. In other words is belongs to the provenance of God.

Why is this proposition not taken seriously in our present time and society? It does not invoke discredited notions of the miraculous or the supernatural and therefore cannot be refuted by today's scientists. Neither does it recommend uncritical belief. Rather, it is an argument based on a particular interpretation of an historical event. We are used to those. We look at the holocaust and wonder about the nature of Western civilisation in which a nation immersed in Christianity and high culture can carry out such an abomination. No one calls such exploration "religious" and therefore to be left to the privacy of the believer. Indeed such arguments are taken very seriously in our academe. The crucifixion of Jesus and the holocaust both speak about the contents of the human heart and how those contents cannot be trusted to guide our actions even when, perhaps especially, they are dressed up in the clothes of religious authority or of blood and soil. However, such is the tenor of the times, one is deemed to be religious and the other secular. One is given no credence in the public sphere and the other much.

This bias is based on the popular notion that religion has to do with the supernatural, however the basis of theological thought is not the otherworldly, the ghostly and the ghastly, but the world of the past as it impinges on the present. The theological science is an historical science that illuminates the present. The genius of the nation Israel lies in the way it refused religious fancy and instead plumbed the depths of meaning of events in history and in the way it created legends that interpreted the world aright. That is why both the Old and New Testament are occupied with events in time even when the literary genre is that of legend.

It seems old-fashioned and a little bit na•ve to say that our affections are changed when we read the stories from the bible. But that is just what the church professes. But how else are our lives formed but by narrative, we live in an "enstoried" universe. The biblical stories are stories that were selected because they accurately interpret our lives and our place in the world in relation to the person next to us. This is why these writings are the centre for preaching. They are a rich source because they are not simple morality tales but stories that evoke and puzzle and lead us on into an unknown reality that would be hidden from us if we did not have them. In that way they enable us to transcend our narcissism and turn to the person next to us and see them for the first time. This is the basis of a civilised society in which secular law is enforced rarely because responsibility and
peaceableness has been written on the hearts of the citizens.

This too is the crux upon which the possibility of human freedom hangs. For if we can not and/or do not internalize certain limitations upon our own desires then we create a society in which those limitations will be enunciated, imposed, and enforced entirely by the state. To date we man has come up with no equally effective means of restricting the self, as the great monotheistic religions, yet modern men reject those religions. And so, wittingly or un, they fling themselves into the eager embrace of the state. [Originally posted: June 10, 2003]
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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:52 AM


The Priest of Spring (G.K. Chesterton, A Miscellany of Men)

There is one piece of nonsense that modern people still find themselves
saying, even after they are more or less awake, by which I am particularly
irritated. It arose in the popularised science of the nineteenth century,
especially in connection with the study of myths and religions. The
fragment of gibberish to which I refer generally takes the form of saying
"This god or hero really represents the sun." Or "Apollo killing the
Python MEANS that the summer drives out the winter." Or "The King dying in
a western battle is a SYMBOL of the sun setting in the west." Now I
should really have thought that even the skeptical professors, whose
skulls are as shallow as frying-pans, might have reflected that human
beings never think or feel like this. Consider what is involved in this
supposition. It presumes that primitive man went out for a walk and saw
with great interest a big burning spot on the sky. He then said to
primitive woman, "My dear, we had better keep this quiet. We mustn't let
it get about. The children and the slaves are so very sharp. They might
discover the sun any day, unless we are very careful. So we won't call
it 'the sun,' but I will draw a picture of a man killing a snake; and
whenever I do that you will know what I mean. The sun doesn't look at all
like a man killing a snake; so nobody can possibly know. It will be a
little secret between us; and while the slaves and the children fancy I am
quite excited with a grand tale of a writhing dragon and a wrestling
demigod, I shall really MEAN this delicious little discovery, that there
is a round yellow disc up in the air." One does not need to know much
mythology to know that this is a myth. It is commonly called the Solar

Quite plainly, of course, the case was just the other way. The god was
never a symbol or hieroglyph representing the sun. The sun was a
hieroglyph representing the god. Primitive man (with whom my friend
Dombey is no doubt well acquainted) went out with his head full of gods
and heroes, because that is the chief use of having a head. Then he saw
the sun in some glorious crisis of the dominance of noon on the distress
of nightfall, and he said, "That is how the face of the god would shine
when he had slain the dragon," or "That is how the whole world would bleed
to westward, if the god were slain at last."

No human being was ever really so unnatural as to worship Nature. No man,
however indulgent (as I am) to corpulency, ever worshipped a man as round
as the sun or a woman as round as the moon. No man, however attracted to
an artistic attenuation, ever really believed that the Dryad was as lean
and stiff as the tree. We human beings have never worshipped Nature; and
indeed, the reason is very simple. It is that all human beings are
superhuman beings. We have printed our own image upon Nature, as God has
printed His image upon us. We have told the enormous sun to stand still;
we have fixed him on our shields, caring no more for a star than for a
starfish. And when there were powers of Nature we could not for the time
control, we have conceived great beings in human shape controlling them.
Jupiter does not mean thunder. Thunder means the march and victory of
Jupiter. Neptune does not mean the sea; the sea is his, and he made it.
In other words, what the savage really said about the sea was, "Only my
fetish Mumbo could raise such mountains out of mere water." What the
savage really said about the sun was, "Only my great great-grandfather
Jumbo could deserve such a blazing crown."

About all these myths my own position is utterly and even sadly simple.
I say you cannot really understand any myths till you have found that one
of them is not a myth. Turnip ghosts mean nothing if there are no real
ghosts. Forged bank-notes mean nothing if there are no real bank-notes.
Heathen gods mean nothing, and must always mean nothing, to those of us
that deny the Christian God. When once a god is admitted, even a false
god, the Cosmos begins to know its place: which is the second place. When
once it is the real God the Cosmos falls down before Him, offering flowers
in spring as flames in winter. "My love is like a red, red rose" does not
mean that the poet is praising roses under the allegory of a young lady.
"My love is an arbutus" does not mean that the author was a botanist so
pleased with a particular arbutus tree that he said he loved it. "Who art
the moon and regent of my sky" does not mean that Juliet invented Romeo to
account for the roundness of the moon. "Christ is the Sun of Easter" does
not mean that the worshipper is praising the sun under the emblem of
Christ. Goddess or god can clothe themselves with the spring or summer;
but the body is more than raiment. Religion takes almost disdainfully the
dress of Nature; and indeed Christianity has done as well with the snows
of Christmas as with the snow-drops of spring. And when I look across
the sun-struck fields, I know in my inmost bones that my joy is not solely
in the spring, for spring alone, being always returning, would be always
sad. There is somebody or something walking there, to be crowned with
flowers: and my pleasure is in some promise yet possible and in the
resurrection of the dead.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:52 AM


God the Rebel (G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy)

In a garden Satan tempted man: and in a garden God tempted God. He passed in some superhuman manner through our human horror of pessimism. When the world shook and the sun was wiped out of heaven, it was not at the crucifixion, but at the cry from the cross: the cry which confessed that God was forsaken of God.

And now let the revolutionists of this age choose a creed from all the creeds and a god from all the gods of the world, carefully weighing all the gods of inevitable recurrence and of unalterable power. They will not find another god who has himself been in revolt. Nay (the matter grows too difficult for human speech), but let the atheists themselves choose a god. They will find only one divinity who ever uttered their isolation; only one religion in which God seemed for an instant to be an atheist.

You'll often read that missionaries had trouble convincing various uncivilized peoples that they should become Christians because those peoples could not imagine that a God who could be killed would be worthy of worship. But it is not even His death that is the most radical part of the story--it is His despair.

[Originally posted: April 4, 2004]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:52 AM


What is the 'West?' (Jeffrey Hart, Dartmouth Review)
The Master Narrative that seems to me to "cover the facts" has been called "Athens and Jerusalem." Those proper nouns stand for Greek philosophy and Jerusalem's spiritual aspiration.

So far as I know, the first major figure to use that expression as I do here was Tertullian (160?-230?), a Church father, who demanded to know "What is Athens to Jerusalem?" He wanted to exclude Greek philosophy from the Christian perspective. He was opposed by Clement of Alexandria (150-220) and Origen (185?-234), who argued that Greek philosophy was neutral or damaging, depending upon how it was used. It could be a valuable tool. After all nature was part of the Creation. Within the Church Clement and Origen won, Tertullian lost. One consequence was that philosophy and science were institutionalized in Western universities. Thus Aquinas taught that grace completes but does not cntradict nature. Athens and Jerusalem became recognized components of the Western mind from the earliest days.

And implicitly so before the arguments of these Church fathers. But, of course, Athens and Jerusalem had long been vital and polar components.The first chapter of John combines the scriptural narrative of Jesus with Greek Logos (ultimate pattern of the universe) philosophy. Paul, a contemporary of Jesus, was a Roman citizen, a rabbi, a Greek writer and speaker, and a Christian. In the climactic scene of Acts, he journeys to Athens to speak in the Aeropagus, the scene deliberately written to remind us of the trial of Socrates. In I Corinthians 15, Paul presents excellent reasons for crediting reports of the Resurrection. Speaking in Athens, he tells the audience that Jesus spoke Greek. His contemporary Paul certainly did. It was the international language of the learned.

An enormous amount is at stake here. "Athens" stands for the view that truth is discovered through intellect. "Jerusalem" stands for the view that truth is delivered through the insights of recognized genius. "Athens" stands for cognition, philosophy, and science. "Jerusalem" stands for the spiritual aspiration to holiness, or purity of soul.

Of course, I was reminded of the "Athens" and "Jerusalem" dialectic in important works by Matthew Arnold, Nietzsche, and Leo Strauss; but most recently by a pregnant observation Paul Cantor of the University of Virginia made in his excellent book Hamlet: "The conflict between the classical and the Christian has been central to Western civilization, and has produced that basis for both its proudest and most deeply problematical moments."Athens and Jerusalem are at the core of Western Being--not Confucius, not Buddha, certainly not Mohammed, nor the Aztecs and Incas. And it is the tension between Athens and Jerusalem that generates the peculiar and powerful envergy of the West. There is tension between the goal of knowing through intellect, and the goal of spiritual aspiration to holiness. They are not incompatible, but they are not altogether compatible either. Off at the edge, do we place our final be on intellect or on inspired insight that has been confirmed by experience? Both have claims. There are immensely powerful intensities behind who we actually are. And they are unique in human history.

Mr. Hart has long been one of the great writers on political philosophy and he's lost nothing off his fastball. [Originally posted: October 17, 2002]
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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:32 AM


The Problem with Christus Victor: An increasingly popular view of the atonement forces the question: What are we saved from? (Mark Galli, 4/07/2011, Christianity Today)

The Christus Victor model has much to commend it. The idea is this: Christ is victor. Christ in his death and resurrection overcame over the hostile powers that hold humanity in subjection, those powers variously understood as the devil, sin, the law, and death. While the model assumes humanity's guilt for getting ourselves into this predicament--beginning with the original sin of Adam and Eve--the theory's anthropology (view of humanity) emphasizes not our guilt but our victimhood, at least the way it is often discussed today. The main human problem is that we are trapped and we need to be rescued: "Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery" (Heb. 2:14-15) . [...]

On the other hand, "neurotic substitutionary atonement" needs to be abandoned. The picture of a wrathful Father having his anger appeased by the death of his Son is wrong on many fronts. Here's one: It separates the work of the Father from the Son, as if they have competing concerns--the Father with righteousness, the son with compassion. It sounds like the Son saves us from the Father! This is manifestly unbiblical, for Paul clearly says that "in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself" (2 Cor. 5:19). While we were sinners, God took action. God would not have come to us in Christ had he not already determined to reconcile with us. This is not the behavior of a God who stands aloof in a huff, waiting for propitiation before he'll have anything to do with us. [...]

I have noticed--and do tell me if you see otherwise--that in general those who publically champion Christus Victor don't pepper their talks and prayers with personal guilt for sin or the need for divine forgiveness. By way of contrast, note the oldest advocates of Christus Victor, the Eastern Orthodox. Personal sin and guilt, and the consequent wrath of God, regularly weave themselves into their prayers. Note this prayer recommended for each morning:

Arising from sleep I thank you, O holy Trinity, because of the abundance of your goodness and long-suffering, you were not angry with me, slothful and sinful as I am. Neither have you destroyed me in my transgressions, but in your compassion raised me up as I lay in despair, that at dawn I might sing the glories of your Majesty.

But for some reason, when the Christus Victor theory is extolled by Protestants today, personal sin and guilt take a back seat. Way back sometimes.

If all He represented was victory He wouldn't even be particularly interesting. If all He represented was some kind of sacrifice He wouldn't be worthy of worship. It is because God loves us so much that He was willing to become Man and fail like us that the Story is transcendent. And it is, of course, His failure that reconciles Him with us.

[originally posted: 4/07/11]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:05 AM


If Christ Has Not Been Raised: The Case for the Resurrection (Mark P. Shea , 4/23/11, Inside Catholic)

Ah, yes. They say. But why should we believe them? What if the Eleven were just body snatchers, stealing the corpse of Christ in order to portray themselves as the martyr's best buddies and found a cult with Jesus as putative head but themselves as the adored big cheeses?

The difficulties with this are numerous. First of all, they don't act like any cult leaders we know. The records they leave behind do not describe fearless, shiny, happy, faith-filled dynamos of apostolic courage, theological acumen, and intellectual agility. They show us a group of men whose chagrined honesty compelled them to carefully incorporate into the public record the fact that they were snobbish, spiteful, cowardly, factional nitwits who were slow on the uptake, ambitious, blind, selfish, and, when the supreme test came, quite willing to bolt and run in the hour of their Master's terrible trial. Compare this with the adoring exhalations of the North Korean press on the Manifold Virtues of The Fearless Leaders, or the flawless perfection of Stalin according to the Stalinist press of the 1930s, or the Nazi hagiography of Hitler. The apostles make sure that their public preaching and the public record include a faithful recitation of their many, many sins. Moreover, they continue to preach the Resurrection for decades, despite separation, persecution, poverty, threats, torture, and martyrdom (except for John, who had the pleasure of watching his brother James executed for his testimony). In short, they speak and act like honest men, not like men out to make a buck or acquire power.

Indeed, so honest are they that they even make Jesus look rather ungodlike at first blush. Jesus is recorded displaying weakness, showing fear, confessing ignorance, and asking questions. He is described as unable to do certain things. The disciples' official record has Him saying things that sound dangerously like denials of deity, such as "Why do you call me good? There is none good but God alone" (Mark 10:18) or "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46). Yet we are to believe that cunning liars who carefully doctored history to make Jesus appear to be the Risen Lord also managed not to notice such unsettling details in their account?

No. What comes across with terrific force in the New Testament is that the testimony has been given by people who tell the truth, even about awkward facts not instantly advantageous to their claims. They come across as people who genuinely believe Christ risen, not as people who lie about a body that they know perfectly well was stolen or eaten by dogs. For the rest of their lives (right through to their torture and execution), the apostles behaved like men utterly convinced that they had met the Risen Christ. Indeed, so convinced are they that they include numerous details that, frankly, no liar would ever make up. So, for instance, no first-century Jewish liars would call as their first witness Mary Magdalene. For the Magdalene was prima facie incredible to a first-century Jewish audience on two counts: First, she was a woman; second, she was a woman out of whom seven demons were supposed to have been driven -- a rather shady psychological profile (Mark 16:9). The Gospels read like accounts by honest people who are stuck with the facts -- including the fact that one of the first witnesses of the Resurrection was a woman of uncertain reputation.

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[originally posted: 4/24/11]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:00 AM


"Holy Week at Monreale," the Author: Romano Guardini: An extraordinary lesson on the liturgy, drawn from life and written by the theologian who was Joseph Ratzinger's instructor. It's a short text translated from the original German for the first time (Sandro Magister, 4/12/06, Chiesa)

Monreale, Holy Saturday. When we arrived, the sacred ceremony had come to the blessing of the Paschal candle. Immediately afterward, the deacon solemnly advanced along the principal nave, bearing the Lumen Christi.

The Exultet was sung in front of the main altar. The bishop was seated to the right of the altar, on an elevated throne made of stone, where he sat listening. After the Exultet came the readings from the prophets, and I rediscovered the sublime significance of those mosaic images.

Then there was the blessing of the baptismal water in the middle of the church. All the concelebrants were seated around the font, with the bishop in the center and the people standing around them. The babies were brought forward - one could see the emotion and pride in their parents - and the bishop baptized them.

Everything was so familiar. The people's conduct was simultaneously detached and devout, and when anyone spoke to another person standing nearby, it was not a disturbance. And so the sacred ceremony continued on its way. It moved through almost every part of that great church: now it took place in the choir, now in the nave, now under the triumphal arch. The spaciousness and majesty of the place embraced every movement and every figure, commingling them and uniting them together.

Every now and then a ray of sunlight pierced through the vault, and a golden smile spread across the space above. And anywhere a subdued color lay in wait on a vestment or veil, it was reawakened by the gold that spread to every corner, revealed in its true power and caught up in an harmonious and intricate design that filled the heart with happiness.

The most beautiful thing was the people. The women with their veils, the men with their cloaks around their shoulders. Everywhere could be seen distinguished faces and a serene bearing. Almost no one was reading, almost no one stooped over in private prayer. Everyone was watching.

The sacred ceremony lasted for more than four hours, but the participation was always lively. There are different means of prayerful participation. One is realized by listening, speaking, gesturing. But the other takes place through watching. The first way is a good one, and we northern Europeans know no other. But we have lost something that was still there at Monreale: the capacity for living-in-the-gaze, for resting in the act of seeing, for welcoming the sacred in the form and event, by contemplating them.

I was about to leave, when suddenly I found all of those eyes turned toward me. Almost frightened, I looked away, as if I were embarrassed at peering into those eyes that had been gazing upon the altar.

[originally posted: 4/16/06]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:52 AM


The Cross-For Us: An excerpt from A Short Primer For Unsettled Laymen (Hans Urs von Balthasar)

Without a doubt, at the center of the New Testament there stands the Cross, which receives its interpretation from the Resurrection.

The Passion narratives are the first pieces of the Gospels that were composed as a unity. In his preaching at Corinth, Paul initially wants to know nothing but the Cross, which "destroys the wisdom of the wise and wrecks the understanding of those who understand", which "is a scandal to the Jews and foolishness to the gentiles". But "the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men" (I Cor 1:19, 23, 25).

Whoever removes the Cross and its interpretation by the New Testament from the center, in order to replace it, for example, with the social commitment of Jesus to the oppressed as a new center, no longer stands in continuity with the apostolic faith. He does not see that God's commitment to the world is most absolute precisely at this point across a chasm.

It is certainly not surprising that the disciples were able to understand the meaning of the Cross only slowly, even after the Resurrection. The Lord himself gives a first catechetical instruction to the disciples at Emmaus by showing that this incomprehensible event is the fulfillment of what had been foretold and that the open question marks of the Old Testament find their solution only here (Lk 24:27).

Which riddles? Those of the Covenant between God and men in which the latter must necessarily fail again and again: who can be a match for God as a partner?

The most terrifying thing about the Cross is that upon it not even Christ was a match for God.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:59 AM


Passion: Regular or Decaf? (Slavoj Zizek, 2.27.04, In These Times)

[I]s The Passion not a manifesto of our own (Western, Christian) fundamentalists? Is it then not the duty of every Western secularist to reject it, to make it clear that we are not covert racists attacking only the fundamentalism of other (Muslim) cultures?

The Pope's ambiguous reaction to the film is well known: Upon seeing it, deeply moved, he muttered "It is as it was"--a statement quickly withdrawn by the official Vatican speakers. The Pope's spontaneous reaction was thus replaced by an "official" neutrality, corrected so as not to hurt anyone. This shift, with its politically correct fear that anyone's specific religious sensibility may be hurt, exemplifies what is wrong with liberal tolerance: Even if the Bible says that the Jewish mob demanded the death of Christ, one should not stage this scene directly but play it down and contextualize it to make it clear that Jews are collectively not to be blamed for the Crucifixion. The problem of such a stance is that it merely represses aggressive religious passion, which remains smoldering beneath the surface and, finding no release, gets stronger and stronger.

This prohibition against embracing a belief with full passion may explain why, today, religion is only permitted as a particular "culture," or lifestyle phenomenon, not as a substantial way of life. We no longer "really believe," we just follow (some of) the religious rituals and mores out of respect for the "lifestyle" of the community to which we belong. Indeed, what is a "cultural lifestyle" if not that every December in every house there is a Christmas tree--although none of us believes in Santa Claus? Perhaps, then, "culture" is the name for all those things we practice without really believing in them, without "taking them seriously." Isn't this why we dismiss fundamentalist believers as "barbarians," as a threat to culture--they dare to take seriously their beliefs? Today, ultimately, we perceive as a threat to culture those who immediately live their culture, those who lack a distance toward it.

Jacques Lacan's definition of love is "giving something one doesn't have." What one often forgets is to add the other half: "... to someone who doesn't want it." This is confirmed by our most elementary experience when somebody unexpectedly declares passionate love to us: Isn't the reaction, preceding the possible affirmative reply, that something obscene and intrusive is being forced upon us? This is why, ultimately, passion is politically incorrect; although everything seems permitted in our culture, one kind of prohibition is merely displaced by another.

Consider the deadlock that is sexuality or art today. Is there anything more dull and sterile than the incessant invention of new artistic transgressions--the performance artist masturbating on stage, the sculptor displaying human excrement? Some radical circles in the United States recently proposed that we rethink the rights of necrophiliacs. In the same way that people sign permission for their organs to be used for medical purposes, shouldn't they also be allowed to permit their bodies to be enjoyed by necrophiliacs? This proposal is the perfect example of how the PC stance realizes Kierkegaard's insight that the only good neighbor is a dead neighbor. A corpse is the ideal sexual partner of a tolerant subject trying to avoid any passionate interaction.

Assuming it ever had any, liberal tolerance long ago outlived its usefulness. About time the best got back their passionate intensity.

[Originally posted: February 28, 2004]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:52 AM


Could God Abandon Christ?: Jesus' cry from the cross means that the Father is to be found when all traces of power are absent. (Stanley Hauerwas, March 2005, BeliefNet)

We do not want Jesus to be abandoned because we do not want to acknowledge that the one who abandons and is abandoned is God. We seek to "explain" these words of dereliction, to save and protect God from making a fool out of being God, but our attempts to protect God reveal how frightening we find a God who refuses to save us by violence.

God is most revealed when he seems to us the most hidden. "Christ's moment of most absolute particularity-the absolute dereliction of the cross-is the moment in which the glory of God, his power to be where and when he will be, is displayed before the eyes of the world," says David Bentley Hart. Here God in Christ refuses to let our sin determine our relation to him. God's love for us means he can hate only that which alienates his creatures from the love manifest in our creation. Cyril of Jerusalem observes that by calling on his Father as "my God," Christ does so on our behalf and in our place. Hear these words, "My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?" and know that the Son of God has taken our place, become for us the abandonment our sin produces, so that we may live confident that the world has been redeemed by this cross.

So redeemed, any account of the cross that suggests God must somehow satisfy an abstract theory of justice by sacrificing his Son on our behalf is clearly wrong. Indeed such accounts are dangerously wrong. The Father's sacrifice of the Son and the Son's willing sacrifice is God's justice. Just as there is no God who is not the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, so there is no god who must be satisfied that we might be spared. We are the spared because God refuses to have us lost.

[originally posted: 4/04/10]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:49 AM


Good News: Jesus Is Not Nice: The chaos of grace and the grace of chaos. (Mark Galli, 9/29/2011, Christianity Today)

Many examples can be given, but one in particular (Luke 6:6-11) reveals Jesus at his destabilizing best. One Sabbath, Jesus was teaching in the synagogue. In addition to the congregation, Luke notes that "scribes and Pharisees" were also present, as was a man whose right hand was withered. The religious leaders had come to catch Jesus breaking religious law, in particular, healing on the Sabbath.

Now, Jesus had a lot of ways to avoid a confrontation, and he'd have known these if he had read How to Win Friends and Influence People. First, the man with the withered hand does not actually ask for healing. Jesus is not backed into a no-win situation, where he either has to deny the request to heal or flaunt religious custom. Since the man never asked to be healed, Jesus could simply have done nothing.

Further, even if he felt compelled to heal the man, there is no reason Jesus could not have waited just a few hours, until the sun set. Then the Sabbath would be over, and the healing would be perfectly legal. The man had likely lived with this impediment for years, if not decades. He certainly could have waited a few hours to be healed. Jesus could have avoided working on the Sabbath, healed the man, and dodged controversy with religious leaders--a win-win-win! What ministry leader wouldn't strive for that?

But Jesus is not interested in maintaining a social or religious order that thwarts the dynamic work of God. So he calls the man forward in the middle of the service, in the middle of the day, before God and everybody right on the Sabbath, and heals him. Jesus deliberately provokes. Jesus initiates controversy. Jesus destabilizes the situation.

It is this sort of behavior, of course, that eventually gets him into trouble. But not before he manages to upset every expectation about God and his Messiah and the religious life. He says God is not so much enamored with the pious and the religious, but more with the poor, the sad, the meek, the hungry. No, the rich have not been blessed by God, Jesus says, but are an object of God's deepest concern for the state of their souls. He says that rather than retaliating, one should forgive. Rather than hating enemies, one should love them. Rather than keeping what is rightfully yours, you should give it away.

A man who goes about challenging such political, religious, and moral sensibilities could be mistaken for a revolutionary. And he was--and he was killed for it. We like to move through that part of the story as quickly as possible, and get on to something more hopeful, like the Resurrection. But disorder and confusion abound when we come to this part of the story as well.

Which the author just did himself, rather than pause to reflect upon the chaos on the Cross, where Christ despairs of Himself.

[originally posted: 9/29/11]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:47 AM


How can I fill this void in my life? (ANNA SMYTH, 4/08/04, The Scotsman)

As Easter Sunday approaches, Christians across the world are preparing to celebrate the most significant festival of their religious calendar. The Jewish community is currently marking Passover. Those who follow other major faiths, or fulfil spiritual needs through less mainstream outlets, will be looking forward to their own key festivities as the year moves on. But for those who do not believe in the spiritual life, where is the answer to the meaning of life? For those who don't believe in God, where may a code of personal ethics be found? [...]

According to Dr Colin Gill, psychologist and founder of Psychological Solutions, which aims to maximise employees' potential via psychology-based training, philosophy is filling the emptiness felt by many.

Gill says that a key problem facing people in the West today is the lack of a common moral code. With the separation of religion from the state and an increased promotion of multiculturalism, our ethical boundaries have been blurred. "We are now in a more confused state than we have ever been," says Gill, a psychologist who specialises in ethics, morality and personality. "We don't have one agreed set of ethics, and aside from believing that paedophilia is wrong, everything is negotiable."

Gill adds that the central problem is one of absolutes. Society may have slipped into a spiritual slumber, but human beings remain innately curious creatures. As small children we need boundaries. Even as adults, if we do not know what is acceptable behaviour, we begin to lose our grip. But our instinct is to find a firm footing again. "This is evidenced by the success of one branch of the church which has returned to strict, traditional morals," says Gill.

"Some evangelical Christians are reverting to the morality of Victorian times, and within that defined framework, they are enjoying stable marriages and successful careers.They now know what is right and wrong. The price they pay for that is to be cut off from a surrounding culture which does not adopt the same principles."

Nevertheless, what Gill describes as the "surrounding culture" is searching for a moral substitute which in earlier, more God-fearing, times was readily defined by the teachings of the Church.

Gill believes Western society's uncertainty in the post-9/11 era may have added more than a little rocket fuel to this quest. As the West faces its first coherent external threat for many years, our secular community is evaluating the foundations on which its society is built, and considering what sort of world we would like to inhabit. "For the first time in centuries we are not fighting each other," says Gill.

"We are faced with a group of people who have in themselves a very clear, defined moral code, one that is so robust they are willing to die for it. If we are to face that threat we need to be united in our own set of standards. If we are to live in a secular society, we need a secular moral code."

Nietzsche's Truth (Damon Linker, August/September 2002, First Things)
Nietzsche was hardly the first modern figure to espouse atheism. The most radical writers of the Enlightenment suspected that God was a fiction created by the human mind. G. W. F. Hegel famously declared that modernity is "Good Friday without Easter Sunday." And throughout the nineteenth century, a series of authors, from Ludwig Feuerbach and Karl Marx to Charles Darwin, claimed that religion is a human projection onto a spiritually lifeless world. Nietzsche agreed with this tradition in every respect but one. Whereas most modern atheists viewed their lack of piety as an unambiguous good--as a mark of their liberation from the dead weight of authority and tradition--Nietzsche responded to his insight into the amoral chaos at the heart of the world with considerable pathos. If in Human, All Too Human and Daybreak he flirted with the facile cheerfulness so common to his fellow atheists, beginning with aphorism 125 of The Joyful Science, Nietzsche showed that he now understood with greater depth that the passing of God has potentially devastating consequences for Western Civilization. This is the madman's requiem aeternam deo:

But how did we do this? How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us?

If God is dead, then man has completely lost his orientation. There is no human dignity, no equality, no rights, no democracy, no liberalism, and no good and evil. In the light of Nietzsche's insight, a thinker such as Marx looks extraordinarily superficial, railing against religion on the one hand while remaining firmly attached to ideals of justice and equality on the other. He has failed to grasp the simple truth that if God is dead, then nothing at all can be taken for granted--and absolutely everything is permitted.

Ms Smyth would appear to believe that Man has just now struck upon this idea of trying to fill the gaping whole left by the loss of God with the consolation of philosophy. In reality it is the failed project of modernity. At least Nietzsche had the courage of his convictions and could accept, even embrace, the consequences of God's death. Most atheists though are rather pitiable. The attraction of denying God lies in the rebellion against authority. Rebelling then against the biggest Authority conveys a certain sense of courage and self-importance that must appeal to a certain type. But if you go scurrying around afterwards trying to reconstruct the same morality, human dignity, etc. that you've just kicked the props out from under then you can't help but look pretty cowardly. On the other hand, if you go around telling people that not only are you an atheist but you don't believe in morality, you'll not find much welcome--certainly not be asked to babysit anyway. So atheists are left in the comical position outlined by Ms Smyth, denying God but insisting that they can come up with their own god-replacement that will do all the same things as the original.

MORE (via Paul Cella):
Phil's Shadow: The Lessons of Groundhog Day (Michael P. Foley, Touchstone)

Phil (masterfully played by Bill Murray) is egotistical, career-driven, and contemptuous of his fellow man. "People are morons," he tells his producer Rita, played by an adorable Andie MacDowell. "People like blood sausage." Phil, in other words, is the typical product of modernity, the bourgeois man who lives for himself in the midst of others. Rita describes him--and us--well by quoting Sir Walter Scott's "There Breathes the Man":

The wretch, concentred all in self,
Living, shall forfeit fair renown,
And, doubly dying, shall go down
To the vile dust, from whence he sprung,
Unwept, unhonoured, and unsung.

By refusing to die to himself, Phil and those like him are doomed to die doubly, triply, innumerably.

The Punxsutawney celebration of Groundhog Day culminates with the town elders consulting a real woodchuck, also named Phil, about the next six weeks. The groundhog sees his shadow, an omen that more winter is to come.

Connors cannot wait to return to Pittsburgh, but trapped by a blizzard (which he failed to predict), he and the crew must stay another night in Punxsutawney. When he awakes the next morning, Phil discovers to his dismay that it is February 2nd--again. The same thing happens the next day, and the next. For reasons that are never made clear, Phil is condemned to live Groundhog Day over and over.

Phil's situation is unique, yet the movie hints that it is not unrelated to our own quotidian lives. Commiserating with two locals over beers, Phil asks, "What would you do if every day was the same, and nothing you did ever mattered?" The men's faces grow solemn, and one of them finally belches, "That about sums it up for me." Phil's preternatural plight bears a twin resemblance to ours: first, as a symbol for the Fall, with its "doubly dying" estrangement from God and return to the vile dust from whence we sprang; and second, as a symbol for life in the wake of postmodern philosophy.

For the great father of this philosophy is Nietzsche, and the idea that frightened him most was the "the eternal recurrence of the same," i.e., that even the superior human being must bear the same dreary existence an infinite number of times. Like us, Phil is the modern man who must now confront the hardship of postlapsarian life on the one hand and the metaphysical meaninglessness of postmodern thought on the other.

Indeed, Phil's various reactions to his enslavement read like the history of philosophy in reverse. Phil is shocked at his own impotence, so much faith had he put in his meteorological training. ("I make the weather!" he tells an unconvinced state trooper.) Phone lines and automobiles prove useless, as do his visits to a doctor and a therapist. All of the Enlightenment's societal buttresses--technology, natural science, and social science--collapse under the weight of a problem outside the parameters of space and time.

Once Phil realizes that in his Nietzschean quagmire there are no consequences to his actions, he also experiences modern philosophy's liberation from any sense of eternal justice. "I am not going to play by their rules any longer," he gleefully announces. His reaction epitomizes Glaucon's argument in Plato's Republic. Remove the fear of punishment, Glaucon argued, and the righteous will behave no differently than the wicked. Nineteen hundred years later, Machiavelli, arguably the father of modern philosophy, elevated this view to a philosophical principle.

And Phil embodies it perfectly: Once he learns that he can get away with anything he wants, he becomes Machiavelli's prince. He unhesitatingly steals money from a bank, cold-cocks a life insurance agent, and seduces an attractive woman.

To Phil's surprise, however, this life of instant gratification proves unfulfilling, leading him to set his sights on Rita, his beautiful and wholesome co-worker. The name "Rita," I contend, tells us something about the role she plays in Phil's life. Rita is short for Margarita, the Latin word for "pearl." To Phil, Rita is the pearl of great price. We know from Matthew's Gospel that this pearl is the kingdom of Heaven, but it may also be appropriate to think of it as happiness, since, according to Aristotle, happiness is that towards which everything in our life is ordered.

And so the overriding question of the story becomes clear: What will it take to attain true happiness? What will it take to buy the pearl?

[Originally posted: April 9, 2004]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:45 AM


The Scandal: Jesus Hangs on the Cross to Forgive Us of Sin: A Lenten homily. (Fr. George Morelli, 3/28/09, Orthodoxy Today)

But who was Jesus? He was the son of a carpenter who came from a place of no stature or notice -- "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" (Jn. 1:46). He was an itinerant, poor preacher and would be condemned as a criminal, scourged, buffeted, spat upon and be crucified in total ignominy.

Of the coming Messiah, the Prophet Isaiah forewarned that:

He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed (Is. 53: 3-5). [...]

The power of Jesus was not of this world. His kingdom is understandable only in Divine terms -- as the suffering servant. Isaiah wrote: "He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth" (Is. 53:7). St. John Chrysostom wrote: "[Jesus] on His part also gives evidence of His power, loosing the man's sins with complete authority, and indicating in every way that He is of equal status with the One who begot Him."

St. Paul taught that Jesus is the true Christ, not anointed to be an earthly king, but to reign as the Divine King. But this kingship would be hidden from earthly eyes, because of sin. That's why the cross is a scandal. How could a King be crucified?

Particularly daunting is that the only important question about His Crucifixion is whether you and I would have helped string Him up or merely denied Him

[originally posted: 4/04/09]

Posted by orrinj at 12:41 AM

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:40 AM


The most powerful words in Christianity (K. CONNIE KANG, 4/08/07, Los Angeles Times)

Today, as 2 billion Christians around the world celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, many will read, recite and sing the Lord's Prayer in hundreds of languages in houses of worship both modest and grand.

They may be Catholics or Protestants or Eastern Orthodox, theologically conservative or liberal or in between, but in this short prayer, Christians come together.

"The Lord's Prayer really is the 'Creed' that most connects the world's Christians," said theologian Frederick Dale Bruner, author of an acclaimed two-volume commentary on the Gospel of Matthew and an expert on the Lord's Prayer.

"There is a sense of solidarity in knowing that Christians around the globe are praying together the prayer that was taught us by Christ himself," said the Rev. Clayton Schmit, a professor of preaching at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif., who has worshiped in many places around the world. "Even when Protestants and Catholics worship together, though much divides us theologically, these words always unite us."

Also called the "Pater Noster" in Latin or the "Our Father," the Lord's Prayer is found in two gospels: Matthew 6: 9-13 and Luke 11: 2-4.

[originally posted: 4/08/07]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:38 AM


11 The Cross - LoveSexy Tour Dortmund 1988
by samsarax

The Blind Boys' version is the touchstone:

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:29 AM


Christ Is Risen -- Run Away!: Why we don't always want to meet the resurrected Lord. (Mark Galli, 4/09/2009, Christianity Today)

The Genesis story tells us that God was walking in the Garden apparently the day after Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit. He was looking to get close to the guilty couple. But when they discovered that God was in the neighborhood, they hid themselves.

In the New Testament we read that Peter, after hauling in a great catch at the command of Jesus, found himself confronted with the glory of miracle and the power of God. He tells Jesus, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man!"

This Sunday, we will be reminded of another such moment: When the women realize that Jesus has been raised, they run in fear.

There is something about the great news of encountering the very glory of God that scares the spirituality out of us. There are many reasons for that, but one is this: Divine light exposes something in us that we do not like to look at.

Paint a room in normal lighting, and when you step back, it all looks pretty good. You pat yourself on the back, and start cleaning up. But shine one of those 500-watt high-intensity lamps on the walls, move the lamp up and down, and get a sideways look at it. That high-intensity light exposes all the places where the old paint still bleeds through.

To experience Christ in his resurrection glory can be something like that. The one whom the Nicene Creed calls "Light from Light" has a way of exposing all the old paint that still bleeds through our lives. So some days, the last thing I want is to meet the resurrected, glorious Christ. He just exposes too many flaws.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:24 AM


Even Suffering and Death Cannot Overpower God's Love For Us | A Palm Sunday Homily (Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers, April 5, 2009, Ignatius Insight)

Here is the truth: the Lord God suffered and died to save us from sin and death therefore we are not disgraced! Salvation does not come from us willing it; salvation comes from only one Source: the One True God--the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; the God of Peter, James and John; the God of Muslims, Jews and Atheists--and He is none other than our Lord Jesus Christ!

He is the God of Isaiah, who foretold His coming and who tells us that the Savior gave his back to those who beat him, his cheeks to those who plucked his beard, his face to buffets and spitting. He is the God of Saint Paul who tells us that His name is above every other name, and that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend in heaven, on earth and in Hell, and that every tongue proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord.

When we compromise our Catholic faith out of arrogance, we join our voices to an anemic culture that shouts, "Crucify Him!"

When we start believing in the false god of our misinformed conscience, we join with this culture of death in driving the nails deeper into the body of Christ.

When we substitute our religious faith for a nebulous "spirituality" that ignores the Holy Eucharist as the source and center of our faith, we look up at the crucified Christ and say with the Scribes and Pharisees, "Save Yourself."

The truth and beauty of Sacred Scripture cries out to us loud and clear that the idols of men are merely silver and gold, the work of human hands. The psalmist describes the fruits of this culture: "they have mouths but they cannot speak; they have eyes but they cannot see; they have ears but they cannot hear ... no sound comes from their throats. Their makers will come to be like them and so will all who trust in them."

The hardest part of the Crucifixion for even the faithful to accept is not that God died but that we are no longer disgraced by our mortality and immorality because God disgraced Himself on the Cross: My Lord, My Lord, why hast Thou forsaken Me? If even God in mortal form despaired of His love then more can not be expected of mere men. Thus was God reconciled to his creatures.

Posted by orrinj at 12:15 AM


Good Friday and Good Death: A Meditation on Michelangelo's Crucifix (Andrew Wilson Smith, 3/29/13, Crisis)

The act of physically beholding the sculpture then shifts to an intellectual contemplation, a devotional exercise. It is then that the subtle distress and restrained agony evinced by the sculpture comes to life. The perfect symmetry of the arms and chest provide a stable center to the composition and gives force to the contrast as the head shifts in one direction and the lower body in another. There is just enough tension between the ribcage and the pelvis to cause a twinge in one's own abdomen. The overlapping position of the legs carries our perturbation down to the feet, one placed on top of another and pierced by a single nail. Here all the weight of the body is concentrated in silent anguish.

Turning ultimately to the visage of Our Lord gives order and meaning to these observations and the feelings that have been elicited through this work of art. The face of Christ in this sculpture seems to accept the torment willingly and without regret. It is a portrait of pure love and devotion, inviting us to follow and take up our own crosses with similar countenances. The mind of Our Savior is already experiencing the bliss of heaven, and like the good thief, we need only believe in Him and follow Him in order to share in that bliss.

Bliss? "Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?"

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:08 AM


God Desires to Lift the Human Being to Himself (Vatican Information Service, 4/19/11)

In the homily the Holy Father, reflecting on the meaning of Jesus' pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover, explained that "he knew that ... he himself would take the place of the sacrificial lambs by offering himself on the cross. ... The ultimate goal of his pilgrimage was the heights of God himself; to those heights he wanted to lift every human being".

"But", he asked, "how can we keep pace with this ascent? Isn't it beyond our ability? Certainly, it is beyond our own possibilities. From the beginning men and women have been filled - and this is as true today as ever - with a desire to 'be like God', to attain the heights of God ... And yet the force of gravity which draws us down is powerful. With the increase of our abilities there has been an increase not only of good. Our possibilities for evil have increased and appear like menacing storms above history. Our limitations have also remained: we need but think of the disasters which have caused so much suffering for humanity in recent months".

Benedict XVI highlighted that "man finds himself betwixt this twofold gravitational force; everything depends on our escaping the gravitational field of evil and becoming free to be attracted completely by the gravitational force of God, which makes us authentic, elevates us, and grants us true freedom".

"God himself must draw us up, and this is what Christ began to do on the cross. He descended to the depths of our human existence in order to draw us up to himself, to the living God. ... Only in this way could our pride be vanquished: God's humility is the extreme form of his love, and this humble love draws us upwards".

The Pope placed special emphasis on the need we have of God. "he draws us upwards; letting ourselves be upheld by his hands - by faith, in other words - sets us aright and gives us the inner strength that raises us on high. We need the humility of a faith which seeks the face of God and trusts in the truth of his love. The question of how man can attain the heights, becoming completely himself and completely like God, has always engaged mankind".

[originally posted: 4/19/11]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:08 AM


Easter is about life. That's why we make so much noise (John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, 4/08/07, Sunday Telegraph)

In Christ we see the ultimate expression of a love turned outwards, facing the whole of humanity in a self-giving act made real on the cross. The challenge is in our response to this act: whether to also turn our love outwards to the world or to turn love in on itself, to become self-obsessed. The aria of "Me! Me!" and "I! I!" has become the most unattractive opera of our time.

It is a sad paradox born of the "me" generation that those who turn their love in on themselves are often also the unhappiest. Coerced by the culture around them, our young people in particular are at risk of becoming spiritually empty vessels, transfixed by a drug-induced narcissism. The beauty industry that turns our teenagers into anorexics, where a perversion of physical perfection is more important than health; our celebrity-obsessed media that elevates notoriety above worth, and the unending pursuit of wealth, while our children rank among the unhappiest in Europe: these are some of the symptoms of a society that needs to rediscover the beauty of the mystical and the joy of the spiritual.

But make no mistake. Inviting God into your life means being open to the possibility of renewal and change. Sometimes this can be costly. As the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Zimbabwe has recently reminded us, faith contains an imperative to challenge injustice and dictatorship. In the words of Archbishop Oscar Romero - gunned down whilst celebrating Mass - "Peace will flower when love and justice pervade our environment."

The cross and the Resurrection show us that the call, the invitation of God, powerfully present in Jesus Christ, cannot be silenced by anything. Easter is a call to accept God's invitation to become one of His friends.

So come and pray with me and party with me this Easter, come to the tomb where the stone has been rolled away, to where life is and where the Spirit moves.

[originally posted 4/08/07]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:08 AM


[originally posted 4/04/09]

Posted by orrinj at 12:07 AM


The Fourteen Stations of the Cross (Leonard Porter, Segnatura Fine Arts)

Station XII - Where Christ Dies upon the Cross

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:05 AM


Isaiah, Chapter 53

1 Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the LORD revealed?

2 For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.

3 He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

4 Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.

5 But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.

6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.

7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.

8 He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken.

9 And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth.

10 Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.

11 He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities.

12 Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

[originally posted: 3/27/05]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:05 AM


Another unholy controversy at Brooklyn museum: Video of ants skittering over crucified Jesus is enraging Christians (Erin Durkin , Mark Morales & Katie Nelson, 11/10/11, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

An avant-garde video of ants skittering over the crucified Jesus is enraging Christians who say an upcoming Brooklyn Museum art exhibit is sacrilegious.

"Ants were crawling on the image of the crucified Christ," said Msgr. Kieran Harrington, a spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, which sent a letter asking for the video to get yanked from the exhibit.

The artist understands the Crucifixion better than the opponents.

[originally posted: 11/11/11]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:03 AM


[originally posted: 4/24/11]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:02 AM


God on the Cross (Ben Merkle, 15 June 2010, Credenda)

Arius believed that we could be saved only by an atoning death, and he also confessed that a merely human death would not suffice to take away sin. At the same time, he couldn't bring himself to believe that God Himself could take flesh, suffer, and die on a cross. So he said that the Son was not eternal God, but only a high creature. The Son was everything that a creature could possibly be; he was a perfect creature. But Jesus could not be God. The one thing that Arius could never say was, "God died on the cross."

By the time of Nestorius in the fifth century, the Arian option was no longer available. Nestorius had to move the buffer. He didn't place the buffer between God the Father and God the Son, as Arius had done. He placed the buffer between the Son and His human flesh.

The specific debate sparked by Nestorius didn't focus on the cross but on the birth of Jesus. Nestorius refused to say, "Mary is God-bearer." He thought it absurd to believe that Mary, a human, could have borne the Son of God. AS his opponents saw it (perhaps unfairly), Nestorius was teaching that the birth of Jesus was an event in the life of the humanity of Jesus, but not an event in the human life of the Son of God. That meant, of course, that their life not one life. It meant that the story of the humanity and the story of the Son of God were different stories, though they overlapped and interpenetrated at various points. The same logic applied to the cross. Who died on the cross? Nestorians say, The humanity of Jesus. Meanwhile, the Son of God is kept carefully shielded from that suffering.

The heretics made sense. After all, how can God suffer and die? They made sense, but the orthodox insisted they were wrong. Impossible as it seemed, the church proclaimed, the One who suffered on the cross was none other than God the Son in human flesh, none other than the Creator become a creature.

For centuries, Christians have confessed this orthodox "nonsense" every week. Trace back the antecedents of the pronouns in the Nicene Creed. "And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God . . . very God of very God . . . being of one substance with the Father . . . who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate . . . and was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate." Who is on the cross? It is none other than the only-begotten Son of God, very God of very God, the Son who is "one substance" with the Father, the One who created all things. That Son of God died on a cross.

This is a breathtaking statement, but not just about Jesus. It is a breathtaking statement about God. What kind of God is it who can (and did) take flesh, who can be born of Mary, who can hunger and thirst and be tempted, who can stand on trial before a Roman governor, who can endure torture and beatings, who can be hung on a cross, who can die, who can cry to His Father in anguish? What kind of God do we worship who can (and did) share fully in our weakness and sufferings, who can share even our death, and yet not be overcome by death but instead overcome it?

Christians worship a God revealed by and defined according to the gospel. To paraphrase N. T. Wright: To say that the crucified Jesus is God is to make a remarkable statement about Jesus. It is also to make an astonishing statement about God.

[originally posted: 6/15/10]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:02 AM


Godforsakenness: 'Finding one's heart's desire' (John F. Kavanaugh, OCTOBER 1, 2007, America, the Catholic magazine)

Mother Teresa was living with a "great loss of certainty"--about herself, about her relationship to Christ, about her fate, about her very God. The feeling of not having faith is quite different from not having faith. Otherwise it would not be so harrowing to the believer, who cries out with nothing but trust.

It would be good if all of us, believer and nonbeliever alike, could learn once and for all that whatever faith is, it is not a crutch. Sometimes in faith, you have nothing to lean on. Nor is the "feeling" or consolation of faith something we can conjure up on our own. If anyone had such powers of conjuring it would be Mother Teresa. So much for feel-good religion--that "opiate of the masses." Morphine is much more effective.

The real story, the deepest subtext, in Mother Teresa's "dark night" is not that God was purifying her. God was actually giving her her heart's desire.

Every Missionaries of Charity community I have visited has a large crucifix with the words "I thirst" over it. It is that broken man on the cross that Mother Teresa most wanted to identify with, the same Jesus she could see in the most bereft and seemingly unloved of her brothers and sisters on earth. In one of her desperate cries to Jesus she wrote, "Lord my God, who am I that you should forsake me?" Is it possible that she could not see that her very words were the same as those uttered by the man on the cross she so longed to be with? Could she not realize that she had finally found union with the man who cried, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Perhaps it is best that she did not appreciate the intensity with which her prayers were answered. Freed from her darkness, she would have left him to his cross. Such can be the paradox of finding one's heart's desire.

[originally posted: 4/04/10]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:02 AM


Unsettling History of That Joyous 'Hallelujah' (MICHAEL MARISSEN, 4/08/07, NY Times)

IN New York and elsewhere a "Messiah Sing-In" -- a performance of Handel's oratorio "Messiah" with the audience joining in the choruses -- is a musical highlight of the Christmas season. Christians, Jews and others come together to delight in one of the consummate masterpieces of Western music.

The high point, inevitably, is the "Hallelujah" chorus, all too familiar from its use in strange surroundings, from Mel Brooks's "History of the World, Part 1," where it signified the origins of music among cavemen, to television advertising for behemoth all-terrain vehicles.

So "Messiah" lovers may be surprised to learn that the work was meant not for Christmas but for Lent, and that the "Hallelujah" chorus was designed not to honor the birth or resurrection of Jesus but to celebrate the destruction of Jerusalem and the Second Temple in A.D. 70. For most Christians in Handel's day, this horrible event was construed as divine retribution on Judaism for its failure to accept Jesus as God's promised Messiah. [...]

With Old Israel supposedly rejected by God and its obsolescence long before ensured, why did 18th-century writers and composers rejoice against Judaism at all, whether explicitly or, as here, implicitly? There must have been some festering Christian anxiety about the prolonged survival of Judaism: How could a "false" religion last so long? Might Judaism somehow actually be "true"?

These issues were a matter of life and death, says Jennens's key guide, Kidder's tome: "If we be wrong in dispute with the Jews, we err fundamentally, and must never hope for salvation. So that either we or the Jews must be in a state of damnation. Of such great importance are those matters in dispute between us and them."

This would represent ample motivation for the text and musical setting of "Messiah" to engage these issues and would perhaps help explain any lapse from decent Christian gratitude into unseemly rejoicing in the "Hallelujah" chorus.

While still a timely, living masterpiece that may continue to bring spiritual and aesthetic sustenance to many music lovers, Christian or otherwise, "Messiah" also appears to be very much a work of its own era. Listeners might do well to ponder exactly what it means when, in keeping with tradition, they stand during the "Hallelujah" chorus.

It means the Jews are wrong. But that doesn't effect their status as the Chosen. Jesus just made Jews of us gentiles.

[originally posted 4/08/07]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:01 AM


Jesus before Pilate: What happened during the final week of Jesus of Nazareth's earthly life? How did the man whom many hailed as the Messiah on Palm Sunday come to be rejected by the leaders of his own people just a few days later? In Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week - From the Entrance Into Jerusalem to the Resurrection, Pope Benedict XVI takes up these and other crucial questions. Following is an excerpt. (POPE BENEDICT XVI)

At this point we must pass from considerations about the person of Pilate to the trial itself. In John 18:34-35 it is clearly stated that, on the basis of the information in his possession, Pilate had nothing that would incriminate Jesus. Nothing had come to the knowledge of the Roman authority that could in any way have posed a risk to law and order. The charge came from Jesus' own people, from the Temple authority. It must have astonished Pilate that Jesus' own people presented themselves to him as defenders of Rome, when the information at his disposal did not suggest the need for any action on his part.

Yet during the interrogation we suddenly arrive at a dramatic moment: Jesus' confession. To Pilate's question: "So you are a king?" he answers: "You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Every one who is of the truth hears my voice" ( Jn 18:37). Previously Jesus had said: "My kingship is not of this world; if my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight, that I might not be handed over to the Jews; but my kingship is not from the world" (18:36).

This "confession" of Jesus places Pilate in an extraordinary situation: the accused claims kingship and a kingdom (basileía). Yet he underlines the complete otherness of his kingship, and he even makes the particular point that must have been decisive for the Roman judge: No one is fighting for this kingship. If power, indeed military power, is characteristic of kingship and kingdoms, there is no sign of it in Jesus' case. And neither is there any threat to Roman order. This kingdom is powerless. It has "no legions".

With these words Jesus created a thoroughly new concept of kingship and kingdom, and he held it up to Pilate, the representative of classical worldly power. What is Pilate to make of it, and what are we to make of it, this concept of kingdom and kingship? Is it unreal, is it sheer fantasy that can be safely ignored? Or does it somehow affect us?

In addition to the clear delimitation of his concept of kingdom (no fighting, earthly powerlessness), Jesus had introduced a positive idea, in order to explain the nature and particular character of the power of this kingship: namely, truth. Pilate brought another idea into play as the dialogue proceeded, one that came from his own world and was normally connected with "kingdom": namely, power - authority (exousía). Dominion demands power; it even defines it. Jesus, however, defines as the essence of his kingship witness to the truth. Is truth a political category? Or has Jesus' "kingdom" nothing to do with politics? To which order does it belong? If Jesus bases his concept of kingship and kingdom on truth as the fundamental category, then it is entirely understandable that the pragmatic Pilate asks him: "What is truth?" (18:38).

It is the question that is also asked by modern political theory: Can politics accept truth as a structural category? Or must truth, as something unattainable, be relegated to the subjective sphere, its place taken by an attempt to build peace and justice using whatever instruments are available to power? By relying on truth, does not politics, in view of the impossibility of attaining consensus on truth, make itself a tool of particular traditions that in reality are merely forms of holding on to power?

And yet, on the other hand, what happens when truth counts for nothing? What kind of justice is then possible? Must there not be common criteria that guarantee real justice for all - criteria that are independent of the arbitrariness of changing opinions and powerful lobbies? Is it not true that the great dictatorships were fed by the power of the ideological lie and that only truth was capable of bringing freedom?

What is truth? The pragmatist's question, tossed off with a degree of scepticism, is a very serious question, bound up with the fate of mankind. What, then, is truth? Are we able to recognize it? Can it serve as a criterion for our intellect and will, both in individual choices and in the life of the community?

The classic definition from scholastic philosophy designates truth as "adaequatio intellectus et rei" (conformity between the intellect and reality; Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae I, q. 21, a. 2c). If a man's intellect reflects a thing as it is in itself, then he has found truth: but only a small fragment of reality - not truth in its grandeur and integrity.

We come closer to what Jesus meant with another of Saint Thomas' teachings: "Truth is in God's intellect properly and firstly (proprie et primo); in human intellect it is present properly and derivatively (proprie quidem et secundario)" (De Verit., q. 1, a. 4c). And in conclusion we arrive at the succinct formula: God is "ipsa summa et prima veritas" (truth itself, the sovereign and first truth; Summa Theologiae I, q. 16, a. 5c). [...]

This formula brings us close to what Jesus means when he speaks of the truth, when he says that his purpose in coming into the world was to "bear witness to the truth". Again and again in the world, truth and error, truth and untruth, are almost inseparably mixed together. The truth in all its grandeur and purity does not appear. The world is "true" to the extent that it reflects God: the creative logic, the eternal reason that brought it to birth. And it becomes more and more true the closer it draws to God. Man becomes true, he becomes himself, when he grows in God's likeness. Then he attains to his proper nature. God is the reality that gives being and intelligibility.

"Bearing witness to the truth" means giving priority to God and to his will over against the interests of the world and its powers. God is the criterion of being. In this sense, truth is the real "king" that confers light and greatness upon all things. We may also say that bearing witness to the truth means making creation intelligible and its truth accessible from God's perspective - the perspective of creative reason - in such a way that it can serve as a criterion and a signpost in this world of ours, in such a way that the great and the mighty are exposed to the power of truth, the common law, the law of truth.

Let us say plainly: the unredeemed state of the world consists precisely in the failure to understand the meaning of creation, in the failure to recognize truth; as a result, the rule of pragmatism is imposed, by which the strong arm of the powerful becomes the god of this world.

At this point, modern man is tempted to say: Creation has become intelligible to us through science. Indeed, Francis S. Collins, for example, who led the Human Genome Project, says with joyful astonishment: "The language of God was revealed" (The Language of God, p. 122). Indeed, in the magnificent mathematics of creation, which today we can read in the human genetic code, we recognize the language of God. But unfortunately not the whole language. The functional truth about man has been discovered. But the truth about man himself - who he is, where he comes from, what he should do, what is right, what is wrong - this unfortunately cannot be read in the same way. Hand in hand with growing knowledge of functional truth there seems to be an increasing blindness toward "truth" itself - toward the question of our real identity and purpose.

[originally posted: 3/13/11]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


If God died for all of us, it is not ours to decide who is fit to live (Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, 27/03/2005, Sunday Telegraph)

What difference does Easter make? It is a question which, not least for professional reasons, I must ask myself each year. It helps to put the question like this: What difference would it make if Jesus had not risen? Without the Resurrection, St Paul said, "Our preaching would be in vain". A remarkable man would have lived, died the life of an unsuccessful nobody, and merited at most a few lines in Roman journals. Even his followers - those who had been most affected by the three-year ministry of Jesus - would hardly have kept his memory alive. As the gospels so vividly record, for the disciples the Crucifixion was devastating, a signal that Jesus was not, after all, the Promised One, the Saviour of Israel.

But that is not what happened. The tombstone was rolled away, and Jesus appeared, various times, in different guises. It was not easy to accept; several hundred years after the Resurrection, bishops always felt it necessary to defend the credibility of Jesus rising when preparing people for baptism. The women who first took the message to the Apostles were discredited by them; only when they had seen him for themselves - and in the case of Thomas, actually touched him - did they surrender their incredulity and declare: My Lord and my God!

Without the Resurrection, human society would not have known the one, singular, astonishing thing that underpins the best of our laws and our traditions: that God gave himself to the world in Jesus Christ, was rejected by the world, and became a victim. Without the Resurrection, Jesus would have remained an unknown victim - trampled on, and forgotten; and human society would be none the wiser. But God raised Jesus up, demonstrated His power over death, and gave those who witnessed it the knowledge that the bloodied victim abandoned on Golgotha was, after all, His beloved son.

That knowledge has changed the world. The Jews were the first to know that God was on the side of the widow, the orphan and the stranger; the Christians were the first to know that the victim was the divine Son of God himself. That is why Christian society is distinguished by its overwhelming concern for the helpless victim: the very least of us is worth God suffering and dying for. Our Easter faith does not answer the thousand and one questions that our life poses. But it turns those questions around that one, magnificent fact: we are all worth it. All of us.

[Originally posted: March 26, 2005]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Followers, not Admirers (Soren Kierkegaard, Excerpted from Provocations, available FREE in e-book format)

It is well known that Christ consistently used the expression "follower." He never asks for admirers, worshippers, or adherents. No, he calls disciples. It is not adherents of a teaching but followers of a life Christ is looking for.

Christ understood that being a "disciple" was in innermost and deepest harmony with what he said about himself. Christ claimed to be the way and the truth and the life (Jn. 14:6). For this reason, he could never be satisfied with adherents who accepted his teaching - especially with those who in their lives ignored it or let things take their usual course. His whole life on earth, from beginning to end, was destined solely to have followers and to make admirers impossible.

Christ came into the world with the purpose of saving, not instructing it. At the same time - as is implied in his saving work - he came to be the pattern, to leave footprints for the person who would join him, who would become a follower. This is why Christ was born and lived and died in lowliness. It is absolutely impossible for anyone to sneak away from the Pattern with excuse and evasion on the basis that It, after all, possessed earthly and worldly advantages that he did not have. In that sense, to admire Christ is the false invention of a later age, aided by the presumption of "loftiness." No, there is absolutely nothing to admire in Jesus, unless you want to admire poverty, misery, and contempt.

What then, is the difference between an admirer and a follower? A follower is or strives to be what he admires. An admirer, however, keeps himself personally detached. He fails to see that what is admired involves a claim upon him, and thus he fails to be or strive to be what he admires.

To want to admire instead of to follow Christ is not necessarily an invention by bad people. No, it is more an invention by those who spinelessly keep themselves detached, who keep themselves at a safe distance. Admirers are related to the admired only through the excitement of the imagination. To them he is like an actor on the stage except that, this being real life, the effect he produces is somewhat stronger. But for their part, admirers make the same demands that are made in the theater: to sit safe and calm. Admirers are only all too willing to serve Christ as long as proper caution is exercised, lest one personally come in contact with danger. As such, they refuse to accept that Christ's life is a demand. In actual fact, they are offended at him. His radical, bizarre character so offends them that when they honestly see Christ for who he is, they are no longer able to experience the tranquillity they so much seek after. They know full well that to associate with him too closely amounts to being up for examination. Even though he "says nothing" against them personally, they know that his life tacitly judges theirs.

And Christ's life indeed makes it manifest, terrifyingly manifest, what dreadful untruth it is to admire the truth instead of following it. When there is no danger, when there is a dead calm, when everything is favorable to our Christianity, it is all too easy to confuse an admirer with a follower. And this can happen very quietly. The admirer can be in the delusion that the position he takes is the true one, when all he is doing is playing it safe. Give heed, therefore, to the call of discipleship!

If you have any knowledge at all of human nature, who can doubt that Judas was an admirer of Christ!

[Originally posted: March 13, 2005]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Bach's Passions Are Revealed From Different Angles (ANTHONY TOMMASINI, 4/11/06, NY Times)

Imagine how different the history of music might have been had Bach been interested in opera. Suppose that instead of heading to Leipzig, Germany, in 1723 to become the cantor at the St. Thomas Church, he had settled in Dresden, where audiences had an insatiable passion for Italian opera.

But Bach had a higher calling: composing music for the church. In a letter to the Leipzig town electors he promised church music that "shall not last too long" and "shall be of such a nature as not to make an operatic impression, but rather incite the listeners to devotion."

Well, Bach did not entirely adhere to those goals in two of his colossal masterpieces, the "St. John Passion" and the "St. Matthew Passion." Neither is remotely an opera. Instead, the story of Jesus' crucifixion is mostly told by the Evangelist, and the narrative is regularly interrupted with timeouts for ruminative arias and reflective chorales.

Still, these scores abound with such visceral drama and operatic sweep that directors have periodically been tempted to stage them. Complete productions with costumes and scenery never succeed. But for the "St. Matthew Passion," the director Jonathan Miller, aided by the conductor Paul Goodwin, found a halfway approach. Mr. Miller dressed the chorus and orchestra members in everyday modern clothing and placed them in a circle so that they could face each other and enact the story while they performed it.

When presented at the Harvey Theater of the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 1997 and 2001, Mr. Miller's staging of the "St. Matthew" proved a revelation. It returned on Saturday night in a singable English translation based on Robert Shaw's, with Mr. Goodwin conducting.

For contrast, on April 4 at St. Thomas Church on Fifth Avenue, Bach lovers had a chance to hear the "St. John Passion" presented much the way the composer had intended: performed as a sacred work by the church's renowned choir of men and boys, with strong soloists and a fine ensemble of period-instrument players, Concert Royal. John Scott, the organist and director of music at St. Thomas, conducted.

Just hearing these two works within five days -- the "St. Matthew" so noble and severe, the "St. John" more volatile and graphic -- was privilege enough. The opportunity to compare these very different approaches was another enticement.

[originally posted: 4/15/06]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Hot Cross Buns (Fabulous Foods)

1 C milk
2 T yeast
1/2 C sugar
2 tsp. salt
1/3 C butter, melted and cooled
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
4 eggs
5 C flour
1 1/3 C currants or raisins
1 egg white

1 1/3 C confectioner's sugar
1 1/2 tsp. finely chopped lemon zest
1/2 tsp. lemon extract
1- 2 T milk

Makes 2 dozen

In a small saucepan, heat milk to very warm, but not hot (110°F if using a candy thermometer). Fit an electric mixer with a dough hook. Pour warm milk in the bowl of mixer and sprinkle yeast over. Mix to dissolve and let sit for 5 minutes.

With mixer running at low speed, add sugar, salt, butter, cinnamon, nutmeg and eggs. Gradually add flour, dough will be wet and sticky, and continue kneading with dough hook until smooth, about 5 minutes. Detach bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let the dough "rest" for 30-45 minutes.

Return bowl to mixer and knead until smooth and elastic, for about 3 more minutes. Add currants or raisins and knead until well mixed. At this point, dough will still be fairly wet and sticky. Shape dough in a ball, place in a buttered dish, cover with plastic wrap and let rise overnight in the refrigerator (see note at right if you're in a hurry). Excess moisture will be absorbed by the morning.

Let dough sit at room temperature for about a half-hour. Line a large baking pan (or pans) with parchment paper (you could also lightly grease a baking pan, but parchment works better). Divide dough into 24 equal pieces (in half, half again, etc., etc.). Shape each portion into a ball and place on baking sheet, about 1/2 inch apart. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and let rise in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours.

In the meantime, pre-heat oven to 400° F.

When buns have risen, take a sharp or serrated knife and carefully slash buns with a cross. Brush them with egg white and place in oven. Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 350° F, then bake until golden brown, about 15 minutes more. Transfer to a wire rack. Whisk together glaze ingredients, and spoon over buns in a cross pattern. Serve warm, if possible (Hot Cross Buns).

[originally posted: 3/01/06]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Chocolate and Peeps Pie (NPR)

1 1/2 cups graham crackers, crushed

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

2 full packages of Peeps, 30 Peeps total (your choice of color), plus additional for garnish

1/3 cup hot milk

1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream

1/4 teaspoon brandy

2 ounces semisweet chocolate, cut into small chunks and chilled in freezer (or two toffee bars chopped into bite-size pieces)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pulse graham crackers in a food processor until fine.

Mix butter, sugar and crushed graham crackers in a bowl. Press mixture evenly into the sides and bottom of a 9-inch pie plate.

Bake crust for 7 minutes until golden. Allow to cool to room temperature. (Crust can be made a day or two in advance and kept fresh in the refrigerator.)

Using a double boiler, stir in hot milk and Peeps until fully melted and uniform in color. Allow to cool to room temperature, 7-10 minutes. Do not allow mixture to stiffen.

Whip cream to stiff peaks using a hand blender or kitchen mixer. Add brandy during mixing.

Using large rubber spatula, fold whipped cream and chocolate pieces into the Peeps mixture. Make sure all of the ingredients are thoroughly incorporated.

Pour into graham cracker pie shell and refrigerate several hours or overnight.

Garnish with green coconut (see below), whole Peeps and/or more chocolate pieces.

Green Coconut Topping

This recipe is adapted from the official Peeps Web site.

2 cups of shredded coconut

6-8 drops green food coloring

Toss coconut in a tightly sealed container with 2-3 drops of food coloring

Continue to add 2-3 more drops to achieve desired shade of green.

Spread colored coconut on a paper towel to dry.

Top pie with coconut.

(originally posted: 4/21/06)

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Give personality to your own marshmallows (J.M. HIRSCH, 4/04/07, The Associated Press)

Because 1.5 billion Peeps a year simply aren't enough. This Easter, why not add to that staggering population by making a few of your own marshmallow critters. From scratch. [...]


(Start to finish: 1 hour active, plus setting up overnight)

Rimmed baking sheet
Stand mixer with whisk attachment
Candy thermometer
Wooden spoon
Offset spatula
Cookie cutters

3 (4-ounce) containers colored, coarse decorating sugar (all the same color)
2½ tablespoons unflavored gelatin
1 cup water, divided, plus 1 tablespoon
1½ cups sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
¼ teaspoon salt
Food coloring (gel food colorings are best, but any can be used)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Cooking spray
Decorating gel

Spread one container of the decorating sugar evenly over the rimmed baking sheet. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, stir together the gelatin and ½ cup of the water. Let stand 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a heavy 2-quart saucepan, combine the remaining ½ cup water, sugar, corn syrup and salt. Stir well, then add food coloring until desired color is reached. This also can be adjusted later.

Cook, stirring constantly, over low to medium-low heat until the sugar has dissolved.

Increase heat to medium-high and bring to a boil, stirring often. Clip a candy thermometer to side of pan.

Reduce heat to medium and boil at a moderate, steady rate, stirring frequently, until the thermometer registers 244 degrees, about 15 minutes. Watch carefully to prevent mixture from boiling over. If necessary, reduce heat to medium-low.

With the stand mixer (with whisk attachment) on low to medium-low, slowly pour the hot sugar mixture into the gelatin mixture. Increase mixer to high and beat 15 minutes. Mixture should be thick, white and nearly tripled in volume.

Add the vanilla extract and 1 tablespoon water, then beat until combined. If marshmallow is not the desired color, add additional food coloring and mix until just incorporated.

Spray the wooden spoon with cooking spray, then spoon the mixture onto the prepared pan. Spray the offset spatula with cooking spray, then use it to spread the marshmallow evenly over the pan in a 1/3- to ½-inch-thick layer.

Sprinkle a second container of decorating sugar over the marshmallow and use your hands to spread it, coating the marshmallow evenly. Let stand, uncovered, overnight.

Once the marshmallow has set, use cookie cutters to cut animals from it. Set them aside, making sure the edges don't touch. Once all the animals have been cut, discard the scraps of marshmallow, but save the excess sugar in the pan.

Gather the excess sugar in a pile and gently roll the edges of the marshmallow animals in it to coat. They now can be decorated as desired using the decorating gel.

Makes 16 large animals. (Yield varies by cookie cutter size.)

(Marshmallow recipe adapted from the September 2005 issue of Country Home magazine)

[originally posted 4/04/07]

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April 19, 2014

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:00 PM


How the egg came to symbolize Easter (Patricia Zacharias, Detroit News)
The joy and hope of Easter Resurrection has been symbolized for centuries by lambs, rabbits, lilies and crosses. The simple egg,
however is perhaps the oldest and most universal symbol of rebirth and new life. The custom of offering Easter eggs, either chocolate or hard boiled
and colored, dates back well beyond the early years of Christianity to the most ancient pagan traditions.

Egyptians and Persians used to dye eggs in spring colors and give them to friends as a symbol of renewed life long before Christ was born. The myths
of several Eastern and middle Eastern cultures maintain that the earth itself was hatched from a giant egg.

Scholars believe the name Easter is derived from Oestar, a goddess of Spring and renewal. The rabbit or hare was the symbol of fertility, new life and
of the moon in ancient Egypt. It may have become an Easter symbol because the date for Easter is determined by the moon. Also the ancient
Egyptians called the hare Wenu, an insignia of the rising of the sun, Ra, and of the resurrective powers of Osiris.

Guess what at least one set of Judd kids are doing tonight? [Originally posted: March 28, 2002]
Posted by orrinj at 8:38 PM


In Cold War Echo, Obama Strategy Writes Off Putin (PETER BAKER, APRIL 19, 2014, NY Times)

Mr. Obama is focused on isolating President Vladimir V. Putin's Russia by cutting off its economic and political ties to the outside world, limiting its expansionist ambitions in its own neighborhood and effectively making it a pariah state.

Mr. Obama has concluded that even if there is a resolution to the current standoff over Crimea and eastern Ukraine, he will never have a constructive relationship with Mr. Putin, aides said. As a result, Mr. Obama will spend his final two and a half years in office trying to minimize the disruption Mr. Putin can cause, preserve whatever marginal cooperation can be saved and otherwise ignore the master of the Kremlin in favor of other foreign policy areas where progress remains possible.

"That is the strategy we ought to be pursuing," said Ivo H. Daalder, formerly Mr. Obama's ambassador to NATO and now president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. "If you just stand there, be confident and raise the cost gradually and increasingly to Russia, that doesn't solve your Crimea problem and it probably doesn't solve your eastern Ukraine problem. But it may solve your Russia problem."

The manifestation of this thinking can be seen in Mr. Obama's pending choice for the next ambassador to Moscow. While not officially final, the White House is preparing to nominate John F. Tefft, a career diplomat who previously served as ambassador to Ukraine, Georgia and Lithuania.

When the search began months ago, administration officials were leery of sending Mr. Tefft because of concern that his experience in former Soviet republics that have flouted Moscow's influence would irritate Russia. Now, officials said, there is no reluctance to offend the Kremlin.

Pull the World Cup and add insult to injury by playing it here.
Posted by orrinj at 8:35 PM


Eight EU states in deflation as calls grow for QE in Sweden (Ambrose Evans-Pritchard,  17 Apr 2014, The Telegraph)

Sweden's Riksbank admitted in its latest monetary report that something unexpected had gone wrong, perhaps due to a worldwide deflationary impulse. "Low inflation has not been fully explained by normal correlations between developments in companies' prices and costs for some time now. Companies have found it difficult to pass on their cost increases to consumers."

They have no choice but to pass on their productivity gains.
Posted by orrinj at 7:01 PM


REVIEW : of 'Capital in the Twenty-First Century', by Thomas Piketty (Martin Wolf, 4/15/14, Financial Times)

More interesting is Piketty's theory of capitalist accumulation. He argues that the ratio of capital to income will rise without limit so long as the rate of return is significantly higher than the economy's rate of growth. This, he holds, has normally been the case. The only exceptions from the past few centuries are when a sizeable part of the return on wealth is expropriated or destroyed, or when an economy has opportunities for exceptionally fast growth, as in postwar Europe or the emerging economies today.

This theory is built on two pieces of evidence. One is that the rate of return is only modestly affected by the ratio of capital to income. In the language of economists, the "elasticity of substitution" between capital and labour is far greater than one. In the long run, this seems plausible. Indeed, an age of robotics might further raise the elasticity.

The other is that, at least in normal times, capitalists save a sufficiently large share of their returns to ensure that their capital will grow at least as fast as the economy.  [...]

[The book] does not deal with why soaring inequality - while more than adequately demonstrated - matters. Essentially, Piketty simply assumes that it does.

One argument for inequality is that it is a spur to (or product of) innovation. The contrary evidence is clear: contemporary inequality and, above all, inherited wealth are unnecessary for this purpose. Another argument is that the product of just processes must be just. Yet even if the processes driving inequality were themselves just (which is doubtful), this is not the only principle of distributive justice. Another - to me more plausible - argument against Piketty's is that inequality is less important in an economy that is now 20 times as productive as those of two centuries ago: even the poor enjoy goods and services unavailable to the richest a few decades ago.

For me the most convincing argument against the ongoing rise in economic inequality is that it is incompatible with true equality as citizens. If, as the ancient Athenians believed, participation in public life is a fundamental aspect of human self-realisation, huge inequalities cannot but destroy it. In a society dominated by wealth, money will buy power. Inequality cannot be eliminated. It is inevitable and to a degree even desirable. But, as the Greeks argued, there needs to be moderation in all things. We are not seeing moderate rises in inequality. We should take notice.

We all already recognize the obvious solution, which is to make capitalism universal even as income from labour becomes ever more marginal.  That's why O'Neill accounts, SS reform, health care mandates and the like are premised on forced savings accounts.

Posted by orrinj at 6:45 PM


Despite Rise in Spills, Hazardous Cargo Rides Rails in Secret (JAD MOUAWAD, APRIL 15, 2014, NY Times)

Little oil was transported by trains just five years ago. Today, about 784,000 barrels a day of oil, or 11 percent of domestic production, goes on trains, according to the Association of American Railroads, and those figures are expected to keep growing in the next decade. Carrying mostly oil from the Bakken, these trains cross the country to reach coastal refineries.

Oil trains regularly run through Minneapolis and St. Paul, for instance, instead of using bypass tracks to the west, according to Frank Hornstein, a Democrat in the Minnesota House of Representatives.

Delaying Keystone just helps the railroads.

Posted by orrinj at 8:48 AM


Charlie Chaplin, monster : A review of Peter Ackroyd's Charlie Chaplin. His films may have been all sweetness and light - but Chaplin's ego had few limits (Roger Lewis 12 April 2014, The Spectator)

[S]urely the truth has been staring people in the face ever since the Little Tramp first popped on the screen: Chaplin is the lost twin of Adolf Hitler.

Peter Ackroyd almost suggests as much.  [...]

He also wiggled and simpered, particularly in the presence of women. Ackroyd is correct to point out that all the flower-sellers and wistful prostitutes in Chaplin's films represent the doomed love he'd experienced as a child. In fact, says Ackroyd, after his mother had gone mad and vanished, 'Chaplin never really trusted women. He always feared loss and abandonment, slight and injury, indulging in paroxysms of jealousy on the smallest provocation.' The girls he liked were dewy 15-year-olds -- he'd wait until they were 16 before he married them, when they'd find themselves mistress of a large mansion in Beverly Hills and a body of servants, plus an obligation to the School Board of Los Angeles 'to continue their education'. As with Woody Allen, Chaplin could help his brides with their homework -- or maybe not. 'Charlie married me and then he forgot all about me,' was a frequent complaint cited in divorce hearings. He was always off chasing fresher meat, painting his private parts with iodine to ward off the clap. Louise Brooks was terrified to see his 'bright red erection' coming at her in the dark.

Did Chaplin inspire Nabokov to write Lolita? He'd have been a better Humbert Humbert than James Mason. 'I look bleary-eyed, like a murderer,' Chaplin exclaimed, seeing a photograph taken at home, when he was out of make-up. His last wife, Oona O'Neill, was 36 years his junior. 'Part of her always had to be a little girl, Charlie's little girl.' It sounds horrific. Oona became an alcoholic and people often witnessed Chaplin 'in a terrible rage and she'd run into her room and lock the door. He'd try and get her out and it was all hell.'

Meanwhile, Chaplin was earning $10,000 a week. As a director he was a dictator: 'Do this, do not do that, look this way, walk like this, now do it over.' He'd shoot 36,000 feet of negative and print 1,800 feet of it. He ordered 342 takes over a two-year period of a single shot in City Lights -- the blind flower-seller handing over a bunch of violets to the Little Tramp. Was this perfectionism? A manifestation of obsessive compulsive disorder? Or was he behaving like a simple power-crazed brute?

As America grew prosperous, it grew tired of Chaplin's sentimental visions of being down and out. His political beliefs were branded as communist. His sexual scandals, as revealed in numerous paternity suits, upset morality. In 1952, his re-entry visa to the United States was rescinded, so he moved to a villa in Switzerland. (A neighbour was Vladimir Nabokov, interestingly. Did they meet? There's a subject for Tom Stoppard.) He made Limelight, 'an echo-chamber of Chaplin's own memories and desires', about an old clown in the gaslit music halls, and Monsieur Verdoux, my own personal favourite, about a dapper Edwardian-era serial killer. (Evelyn Waugh loved it too, calling it 'a startling and mature work of art', though Ackroyd does not quote this. ) Orson Welles wrote the script. It is typical of Welles's perspicacity that he saw in Chaplin the soul of a psychopath.

...is because you can't help rooting against the Tramp.
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Posted by orrinj at 8:42 AM


What a lost prison manuscript reveals about the real Nelson Mandela : New light is shed on the president's politics, smoothed over in 'Long Walk to Freedom' (Rian Malan 18 January 2014, The Spectator)

Everyone thought Mandela was a known entity, but he turns out to have led a double life, at least for a time. By day, he was or pretended to be a moderate democrat, fighting to free his people in the name of values all humans held sacred. But by night he donned the cloak and dagger and became a leader of a fanatical sect known for its attachment to the totalitarian Soviet ideal.

When Ellis first aired this theory, it read like a Cold War thriller, but when Mandela died last month, the African National Congress and the SACP both issued statements confirming that it was true: at the time of his arrest in 1962, Nelson Mandela was a member of the SACP's innermost central committee.

This, then, is why Ellis and I were dizzy with excitement when the prison manuscript turned up last week: here was a rich new source of virgin material to be scanned for the smoking gun, the inside and untold story of Mandela's secret life as a communist plotter. Alas, the smoking gun was not there. But the prison manuscript does offer insights into the manner in which Mandela's image has been manipulated over the decades.

It is common cause that the ANC decided in the 1960s to use Mandela as the anti-apartheid movement's official poster boy. He was the obvious choice, a tall, clean-limbed tribal prince, luminously charismatic, married to the telegenic Winnie, and reduced by cruel circumstance to living martyrdom on a prison island. All you had to do was cleanse him of the communist taint and Bob's your uncle: four decades down the road, you have the president of the USA getting weepy as he describes Mandela's lifelong struggle for 'your freedom, your democracy'. There's no accounting for taste, but one wonders if Barack Obama would have said that if he'd known his hero batted for the opposition during the Cold War.

'I hate all forms of imperialism, and I consider the US brand to be the most loathsome and contemptible.'

'To a nationalist fighting oppression, dialectical materialism is like a rifle, bomb or missile. Once I understood the principle of dialectical materialism, I embraced it without hesitation.'

Ironically, the IRA, ANC & PLO are all beholden to Reagan and Thatcher.

Posted by orrinj at 8:34 AM


The return of God: atheism's crisis of faith (Theo Hobson 19 April 2014, The Spectator)

Like any movement or religion, atheism has ambitions. Over the years it has grown and developed until it has become about far more than just not believing in God: today atheism aspires to a moral system too. It comes with an idea of how to behave that's really very close to traditional secular humanism, and offers a sense of community and values. Atheism has crept so close to religion these days that it's de rigueur for political atheists like Ed Miliband to boast about a dual identity: a secular allegiance to a religions tradition, in his case Judaism. They don't of course believe any of the mumbo jumbo about God, prophets and angels.

But as pleasant and rational as this all sounds, the new atheists are now hitting the intellectual buffers. The problem that confronts them is as stark as it is simple: our morality has religious roots. Put another way: when God is rejected, the stakes are gulpingly high; the entire moral tradition of the West is put in question.

This was the insight of Friedrich Nietzsche -- and for all the different atheist thinkers and philosophers since, it remains just as true today. It's all very well to say that blind faith is a bad idea, and that we should move beyond it to a more enlightened ethical system, but this raises the question of what we mean by good and bad, and those ideas are irrevocably rooted in Christianity. Nietzsche saw this, and had the courage to seek a new ethos amid the collapse of all modern systems of meaning. Did he find one? Yes, in pagan power-worship -- the sort that eventually led to fascism. We think of him as mad and bad -- but he was brave. Imagine Ed Miliband trying to follow in this tradition, gazing into the abyss of all meaning, the dark crucible of nihilism.

The trouble is that too many atheists simply assume the truth of secular humanism, that it is the axiomatic ideology: just there, our natural condition, once religious error is removed. They think morality just comes naturally. It bubbles up, it's instinctive, not taught as part of a cultural tradition. In The God Delusion Richard Dawkins tries to strengthen this claim using his biological expertise, arguing that humans have evolved to be altruistic because it ultimately helps their genes to survive. But in the end, he admits that no firm case can be made concerning the evolutionary basis of morality.

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Posted by orrinj at 8:21 AM


The ex-FBI informant with a change of heart: 'There is no real hunt. It's fixed' (Paul Harris, 3/20/14,theguardian.com)

Monteilh was involved in one of the most controversial tactics: the use of "confidential informants" in so-called entrapment cases. This is when suspects carry out or plot fake terrorist "attacks" at the request or under the close supervision of an FBI undercover operation using secret informants. Often those informants have serious criminal records or are supplied with a financial motivation to net suspects.

In the case of the Newburgh Four - where four men were convicted for a fake terror attack on Jewish targets in the Bronx - a confidential informant offered $250,000, a free holiday and a car to one suspect for help with the attack.

In the case of the Fort Dix Five, which involved a fake plan to attack a New Jersey military base, one informant's criminal past included attempted murder, while another admitted in court at least two of the suspects later jailed for life had not known of any plot.

Such actions have led Muslim civil rights groups to wonder if their communities are being unfairly targeted in a spying game that is rigged against them. Monteilh says that is exactly what happens. "The way the FBI conducts their operations, It is all about entrapment ... I know the game, I know the dynamics of it. It's such a joke, a real joke. There is no real hunt. It's fixed," he said.

But Monteilh has regrets now about his involvement in a scheme called Operation Flex. Sitting in the kitchen of his modest home in Irvine, near Los Angeles, Monteilh said the FBI should publicly apologise for his fruitless quest to root out Islamic radicals in Orange County, though he does not hold out much hope that will happen. "They don't have the humility to admit a mistake," he said.

Monteilh's story sounds like something out of a pulp thriller. Under the supervision of two FBI agents the muscle-bound fitness instructor created a fictitious French-Syrian alter ego, called Farouk Aziz. In this disguise in 2006 Monteilh started hanging around mosques in Orange County - the long stretch of suburbia south of LA - and pretended to convert to Islam.

He was tasked with befriending Muslims and blanket recording their conversations. All this information was then fed back to the FBI who told Monteilh to act like a radical himself to lure out Islamist sympathizers.

Yet, far from succeeding, Monteilh eventually so unnerved Orange County's Muslim community that that they got a restraining order against him. In an ironic twist, they also reported Monteilh to the FBI: unaware he was in fact working undercover for the agency.

On the other hand, given the spectacular failure of 9-11, we can hardly blame our security apparatus for being over-eager for a few years.  
Posted by orrinj at 7:09 AM


Zero-hours contracts cause shopworkers' misery : Super-flexible working results in financial insecurity for supermarket workers and create potential for abuse by managers (Tracy McVeigh, 4/18/14, The Observer)

The super-flexible working conditions demanded by one of the UK's largest supermarket chains are damaging the mental health of most of its employees, according to a new report from Cambridge University.

The report has been submitted to the government's current review of zero-hours contracts being carried out at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). The authors say that in the light of their findings, the scope of the review should be widened to include all flexible working, arguing that employees should have the right to have a say in the scheduling of their hours.

The research, by Alex Wood and Brendan Burchell from the department of sociology at Cambridge, was based on a year of shop-floor observation, as well as interviews with supermarket workers and union officials. A parallel study at an American supermarket giant by the same team produced similar findings.

Burchell said they had chosen not to name the supermarket because similar practices are now widespread across all the major chains.

Just wait until managememnt is on the same contracts.

Posted by orrinj at 7:00 AM


Obama administration delays decision on Keystone XL pipeline (David Lauter and Lisa Mascaro,  April 18, 2014, LA Times)

The Obama administration has delayed a decision on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline project, perhaps until after November's midterm election.

They're already going to get killed on turnout and can't afford to alienate the base further just before the Midterm.

April 18, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:00 PM


Obama Aims to Energize Trade Talks in Japan Visit (WILLIAM MAULDIN and  MITSURU OBE, 4/18/14, WSJ)

President Barack Obama's visit to Japan and other Asian countries next week is intended to provide further impetus to Pacific trade negotiations that have bogged down over disagreements with Tokyo.

Posted by orrinj at 6:39 PM


Iran oil exports rise to 1.2 m barrels per day (AFP, April 18, 2014)

Iran's crude oil exports have hit 1.2 million barrels per day, almost doubling from eight months ago when the country elected a new president, a top government official said Friday.

Posted by orrinj at 6:36 PM


Scientists find an 'ugly duckling' to convert waste heat to electricity (Pete Spotts, April 17, 2014, CS Monitor)

Researchers looking for better ways to convert waste heat into electricity have stumbled across a simple material that is smashing records for making that conversion efficiently.

This new material - a semiconductor made by blending tin and selenium - promises to convert heat to energy more efficiently than current technologies and with relatively accessible, inexpensive elements.

Posted by orrinj at 3:08 PM


The Pretend Complexity of the Nevada Cattle-Grazing Dispute (JULIET LAPIDOS  APRIL 18, 2014, NY Times)

The Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy owes the government over $1 million in unpaid fines, incurred for grazing his cattle on protected public land. When the Bureau of Land Management tried to confiscate his cattle in early April, he resisted, attracting armed supporters clearly itching for a violent confrontation. "We were actually strategizing to put all the women up front," said one of his backers, the Tea Party leader Richard Mack. "If they were going to start shooting, it's going to be women that are going to be televised all across the world getting shot." Not nearly as histrionic or rash as Mr. Bundy and Mr. Mack, the B.L.M. backed down and said it would "work to resolve the matter administratively and judicially."

This is a pretty straightforward situation--unless you're an anti-government libertarian, or an anti-government libertarian who aspires to one day run the government.

Posted by orrinj at 7:38 AM


Your assumptions about what the opposite sex finds attractive are probably wrong (Alex Jones, 3/29/14, The Conversation)

The recent wave of "no makeup selfies" that have raised more millions of dollars for Cancer Research was based on a simple premise -- women removed their makeup, photographed themselves, and shared the image. After donating, they nominated their friends, who did the same.

The idea behind it was that by removing their makeup, the women exposed their vulnerable, "real" selves, emulating the way cancer can devastate a person's life. Despite being incredibly successful, the trend had an interesting result. Even on my own Facebook account, I saw hundreds of compliments to those going bare-faced, with men and women alike commenting on how much more attractive everyone looked. And if so, are we wrong about the perceptions created by makeup?

I was excited by this, as a recent paper of mine, in press at the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, and carried at Bangor University, examined just this question. I wondered whether makeup use, like dieting or gym workout behaviors, affected perceptions of attractiveness from same and opposite sex peers. An ideal way of testing this was to examine how much makeup is considered optimally attractive. After all, if women's ideas of what looks good to others is accurate, then everyone should find their makeup optimally attractive, right?

To test this, I photographed a group of university students with and without their makeup, and created a sequence of ultra-realistic images of them with varying amounts of makeup on. My colleagues and I then created a computer program that allowed participants to cycle through these images and stop at a point where they found the images optimally attractive to themselves. We then asked them to repeat the study, but this time selecting the image that they thought would be most attractive for other women and men.

The results were clear. Both women and men found faces with up to 40 percent less makeup than the models applied themselves the most attractive, showing a clear agreement on their opinions for cosmetics. Less was simply better. However, when they considered the preferences of others, the women and men in our study indicated that they thought other people found more cosmetics more attractive, and this was especially true when considering the preferences of other men. However, this couldn't be further from the truth. The sample of men in our study consistently chose less makeup as more attractive, while at the same time indicating that they thought their peers would find more makeup more attractive.

There was another interesting result. None of our participants, when indicating their own preferences or those of their peers, chose the actual amount of makeup worn by the models. To reiterate that: nobody thought the cosmetics worn by the models in the study was optimally attractive, and it was far in excess of the preferences of men and women.

April 17, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 6:15 PM


The Problem with Rand Paul (Peter Wehner, 04.17.2014, Commentary)

In his column earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal's Bret Stephens laid out his case against Rand Paul becoming the GOP's presidential nominee. It was a powerful indictment and perhaps one worth building on.  

Mr. Stephens highlighted what he believes would be some of the obstacles facing Senator Paul, beginning with his long political association with Jack Hunter, alias the "Southern Avenger," who among other things wrote an April 13, 2004 column titled "John Wilkes Booth Was Right."

The "Southern Avenger" said this:

Although Lincoln's assassin, John Wilkes Booth's heart was in the right place, the Southern Avenger does regret that Lincoln's murder automatically turned him into a martyr. American heroes like Thomas Jefferson and Robert E. Lee have been unfairly attacked in recent years, but Abraham Lincoln is still regarded as a saint. Well, he wasn't it - far from it. In fact, not only was Abraham Lincoln the worst President, but one of the worst figures in American history... The fact that April 15th is both the anniversary of Lincoln's assassination and tax day makes perfect sense. We might not even have had a federal income tax if it weren't for him. And I imagine somewhere in hell Abe Lincoln is probably having the last laugh.

Here is Jack Hunter, writing in his own name, declaring in 2009 that "Hitler was an admirer of the 16th president for all the obvious reasons." (The adjective "obvious" is such a nice touch.) Later that year, again in a column bearing Hunter's name, we read this:

In 1999, I already thought Americans were too different: "America is becoming more diverse and multicultural which means the multiplicity of ideas and values will increase. Only states' rights, the heart of the Confederate cause, can meet this challenge."

If divorce is considered preferable to a marriage that can't be fixed, might not divorce also be preferable to a political union that has failed as well? The Jeffersonian, decentralist philosophy and all-American radicalism I embraced fully in my youth makes even more sense today [2009] than in 1999. Whether revisiting states' rights or going the route of full-blown secession, it would be far more logical to allow the many, very different parts of this country to pursue their own visions than to keep pretending we are all looking through the same lens. And looking back on my own past, I am reminded that any future South worth avenging would do well to revisit its own radical heritage -- so that the principles of limited government might rise again.

Chris Haire, Hunter's former editor at the Charleston City Paper, wrote this: 

While a member of the City Paper's stable of freelancers, Jack wrote in support of racially profiling Hispanics, praised white supremacist Sam Francis, blasted the House of Representative's apology for slavery, claimed that black people should apologize to white people for high crime rates, defended former Atlanta Braves pitcher and racist John Rocker and Charleston County School District board member Nancy Cook after she said some mothers should be sterilized, argued that Islam was an innately dangerous threat to the U.S, professed that he would have voted for a member a British neo-Nazi political party if he could have, considered endorsing former Council of Conservative Citizens member Buddy Witherspoon in his bid to unseat Sen. Lindsey Graham, compared Abraham Lincoln to Adolf Hitler and Ike Turner, and continued to profess the erroneous claim that the primary cause of the Civil War was not the fight over slavery, ignoring the decades of American history leading up to war and South Carolina's very own Declaration of the Immediate Causes for Secession, which clearly note that protecting slavery was the preeminent motivation of state leaders. 

People are free to judge these columns individually, but there does seem to be a disturbing pattern here, no? Remember this, too: All of this was in the public domain before Hunter joined Senator Paul's staff. So how exactly does such a thing happen?

Mr. Hunter-who was also the former chairman of the Charleston, South Carolina chapter of the League of the South, a secessionist group-was Senator Paul's social media director, a person whose foreign-policy views Paul reportedly sought out, and the self-described co-author of Mr. Paul's 2011 book The Tea Party Goes to Washington. He was also the official blogger for Representative Ron Paul's 2012 presidential campaign. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:26 AM


Reagan's Philosophical Fusionism : Conservatism's political power derived from its ideas, not the other way around. (DONALD DEVINE, April 4, 2014, American Conservative)

Reagan's image of a three-legged stool was urged as a graphic way of describing the successful effort of Frank Meyer and William F. Buckley, Jr. to turn a movement from a sort of philosophical debating club into a political force. They thought that people who differed on some important policies or emphasized very different issues could be persuaded to work together. Meyer called it "fusionism" and argued successfully that these factions shared basic values--freedom, free markets, and traditional values--and the same enemies... equally threatened domestically by a growing and intrusive government... and internationally by the world communist movement.

Notice that these different ideologies were called factions that needed to be convinced to work together. But they also supposedly shared basic values. Which is it? Traditionalism was mentioned in the quote but it was not given content and otherwise was ignored in discussing policies or preferences. There was talk of "values and principles" but none about community or family. Communism was mentioned as the glue that held the three-legged stool together, but now conservatives are divided on national defense too. The only value cited that they did agree upon was: "It worked--fractious as ever, conservatives began to come together and actually elect people to public office." That is what conservatives were to fuse upon once again. The city on the hill needs public officials and the job of the conservative movement is to elect them.

That exhortation had little to do with principles. Beneath some rhetoric, it was about power, force, elections. Conservatism was specifically distinguished from a debating club on philosophy and was congratulated for moving beyond one to become a political force. Here conservatism was not about an ideal city, which was a hoped-for result, but about creating a political coalition. Coalitions do not require principles at all. In fact, the idea of a natural coalition between libertarian-individualists and traditionalist-conservatives was developed by the great political scientist Aaron Wildavsky, who was a Democrat. He argued there were four types of political cultures and the liberal-egalitarians and nationalistic-fatalists were naturally in coalition against libertarians and traditionalists, although circumstance and practice could divide the types differently. As the conservative spokesman noted, libertarians, traditionalists, and others can be persuaded to work together, if only to defeat enemies both consider worse. It is valid to label this fusing a conservative coalition, but a coalition that is based on power rather than principles, on votes rather than values. Philosophical principles and values are something entirely different.

We won; get over it.
Posted by orrinj at 5:12 AM


Intellectual Judo Or The Best Argument Yet About Thomas Piketty's On Capital (Tim Worstall, 4/08/14, Forbes)

The central thesis of Piketty's book is that in general and over time the returns to capital are higher than the general growth rate of the economy. R > g in the notation he uses. That this was not true of the early to mid-20th century is simply an historical blip, it was true before and it's going to be true for the rest of this century. Leave aside that rather Marxian determinism for a moment and let's just take that as being true, this is the judo part. So, what is the implication of this?

As Piketty points out this means that those who have capital will be increasing their wealth faster than incomes in general will rise: for it's growth that raises income. OK, we'll accept that too. But what DeMuth then points out is that this means that your investments in a pension fund will be growing faster than incomes in general. Or, again, faster than Social Security returns will rise, tied as they are to inflation and or wages. So, the logical outcome of believing Piketty in his statement that r > g for the rest of this century is that pensioners will be better off by having their Social Security premiums invested in the stock market rather than in promises from the government.

But, as we all know, that privatisation of Social Security is something that the left has fought assiduously over recent years: despite that being the same left that is so willing to believe that r > g for the future.

Posted by orrinj at 5:02 AM


Au Revoir, Entrepreneurs (LIZ ALDERMAN, MARCH 22, 2014, NY Times)

From 80 to 90 percent of all start-ups fail, "but that's O.K.," said Eze Vidra, the head of Google for Entrepreneurs Europe and of Campus London, a free work space in the city's booming technology hub. In Britain and the United States, "it's not considered bad if you have failed," Mr. Vidra said. "You learn from failure in order to maximize success."

That is the kind of thinking that drew Mr. Santacruz to London. "Things are different in France," he said. "There is a fear of failure. If you fail, it's like the ultimate shame. In London, there's this can-do attitude, and a sense that anything's possible. If you make an error, you can get up again."

Mr. Santacruz had a hard time explaining to his parents his decision to leave France. "They think I'm crazy, maybe sick, taking all those risks," he said. "But I don't want to wait until I'm 60 to live my life."

France has been losing talented citizens to other countries for decades, but the current exodus of entrepreneurs and young people is happening at a moment when France can ill afford it. The nation has had low-to-stagnant economic growth for the last five years and a generally climbing unemployment rate -- now about 11 percent -- and analysts warn that it risks sliding into economic sclerosis.

Posted by orrinj at 4:15 AM


This Fish Crawled Out of the Water...and Into Creationists' Nightmares (Chris Mooney, Apr. 11, 2014, Mother Jones)

We all know the Darwin fish, the car-bumper send-up of the Christian "ichthys" symbol, or Jesus fish. Unlike the Christian symbol, the Darwin fish has, you know, legs. Har har.

But the Darwin fish isn't merely a clever joke; in effect, it contains a testable scientific prediction. If evolution is true, and if life on Earth originated in water, then there must have once been fish species possessing primitive limbs, which enabled them to spend some part of their lives on land. And these species, in turn, must be the ancestors of four-limbed, land-living vertebrates like us.

Sure enough, in 2004, scientists found one of those transitional species: Tiktaalik roseae, a 375 million-year-old Devonian period specimen discovered in the Canadian Arctic by paleontologist Neil Shubin and his colleagues. Tiktaalik, explains Shubin on the latest episode of the Inquiring Minds podcast, is an "anatomical mix between fish and a land-living animal."

It's kind of sad, the state that Darwin's champions have been reduced to.  Because, of course, if Darwinian evolution were true, the testable scientific evidence for it would be demonstrations that speciation occurs and that it occurs exclusively as a function of natural selection.  This is, obviously, not that.  It is, however, the sort of thing they're left celebrating.

April 16, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 5:38 AM


Race Cleansing In America : A nationwide gene-purity movement promoted methods that eventually were adopted by the Third Reich. And everyone from John D. Rockefeller to W. E. B. Du Bois supported it. (Peter Quinn, March 2003, American Heritage)

Eugenics--the theory as well as the word (which means "wellborn")--originated with Francis Galton, a cousin of Charles Darwin. Inspired by Darwin's theory of natural selection, Galton's study of the family backgrounds of prominent members of British society led him to the conclusion that achievement and heredity were clearly linked. He declared in his 1869 book Hereditary Genius: An Inquiry Into Its Laws and Consequences: "It is in the most unqualified manner that I object to pretensions of natural equality." A wise and enlightened state, in Galton's view, would encourage "the more suitable races or strains of blood" to propagate and increase their numbers before they were overwhelmed by the prolific mating habits of the pauper classes.

Galton's beliefs were mirrored in the work of Cesare Lombroso, an Italian physician who warned of the "atavistic being who reproduces in his person the ferocious instincts of primitive humanity and the inferior animals." (Robert Louis Stevenson made Lombroso's theory the basis of his novel Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.) Lombroso wrote: "There exists, it is true, a group of criminals, born for evil, against whom all social cures break as against a rock--a fact which compels us to eliminate them completely, even by death."

In 1874 Richard Dugdale, a wealthy English expatriate social reformer, made a tour of upstate New York jails. Acquainted with Lombroso's notion of hereditary criminality, he focused in particular on a jail in which six inmates were related and found that they shared a family tree perennially abloom with social deviates. He called them the "Jukes," and gave the pseudonym to his book.

Dugdale insisted that human behavior was influenced by several factors, environment among them, but it was the portrait of a self-perpetuating clan of reprobates that the public focused on and embraced. He said he found among the 700 Juke descendants 181 prostitutes ("harlotry may become a hereditary characteristic," he speculated), 42 beggars, 70 felons, and 7 murderers. The Jukes became a staple of eugenic literature, a spur to similar case studies, and a symbol of all those whose poverty and aberrancy were seen as expressions of the ineluctable dictates of biology. A decade after The Jukes appeared, the eminent German biologist August Weismann added to the notion of eugenic predestination his theory of a hereditary "germ plasm," an embedded legacy that dictated individual physical, mental, and moral traits and was the collective basis of rigidly distinct race differences.

By the beginning of the twentieth century, several forces had joined together to give the eugenics movement new power and prominence, foremost among them the growing concern over the quality and quantity of the country's newest immigrants.

Nativism can not be reconciled with conservatism.

Posted by orrinj at 5:14 AM


The Spirit of Youth : What was so new about Futurism? (Morgan Meis, Smart Set)

Futurists like Pannaggi may have been trying to break civilization wide open. They may have declared a new age of speed and violence and radical newness. But as soon as they attempted to analyze that newness, as soon as they attempted to say something about their brave new world, they found themselves pulled back into history and tradition. Pannaggi wanted to show us that modern machines are unlike anything we've ever seen or experienced before. Then he created a painting that doesn't look radically different from Cézanne's paintings of Mont Sainte-Victoire, a mountain that has existed since before the dawn of the human species. Pannaggi wanted to paint the very essence of speed in the machine age. His painting, with its basic geometrical shapes, looks like a study in Platonic solids that could have come from the early Renaissance; something, maybe, by Paolo Uccello.

This inability truly to break out of the old ways must have been frustrating for the Futurists.

Newness, it turns out, is a trap. That is one of the essential discoveries of Futurism. Futurism was not the first movement to discover this trap. But the trap of newness is no less important for being discovered and rediscovered over the ages. That is part of the trap, after all. You rediscover something that has already been multiply rediscovered. What seemed brand-new at first, turns out, on further reflection, to be ancient.

Amusingly, perhaps maddeningly, you can scratch the surface of any work of Futurism and the past comes rushing back in. Take Umberto Boccioni's Futurist sculpture, "Unique Forms of Continuity in Space." Boccioni's work is to sculpture what Pannaggi's "Speeding Train" is to painting. It is the attempt to make a solid, motionless piece of cast bronze into something that is fluid in space and time. Boccioni achieves this by breaking up the surfaces of a human figure. That's to say, he sculpts a person in several moments of motion all at once. Look, especially, at the legs of the figure. The legs are thick because Boccioni is showing us multiple positions of a moving leg. It is as if Boccioni took a series of photographs of a person striding forward, spliced those photographs together, and then made a sculpture of the result. The sculpture does not freeze a moment into sculptural eternity, as a more traditional sculpture might do. Instead, it shows us that form is never frozen, but always in transition from one state to another. That's an essentially Futurist thought--all the emphasis is on dynamism, with little regard for the fixed state.

But the problem with Boccioni's sculpture is that, though it may suggest movement, as a sculpture, it is still in a fixed state. It may express dynamism, but it does so in static -- one almost wants to say classical -- form. Indeed, as has been noticed before, "Unique Forms of Continuity in Space" resembles the classical sculpture, "Winged Victory of Samothrace." You'll recall that "Winged Victory of Samothrace" was the very sculpture that Marinetti referred to in his Manifesto. Marinetti claimed that the roaring motorcar was more beautiful than the "Winged Victory of Samothrace." This was his way of rejecting past notions of beauty in the name of the resolutely modern. But Boccioni's sculpture is beautiful partly because of what it shares, formally and historically, with the "Winged Victory of Samothrace." Boccioni's sculpture does not resemble an automobile; it resembles a stone statue from ancient times. Boccioni and the sculptor of "Winged Victory" share the assumption that there is something essentially compelling about the movement of human bodies. When a human being strides forward, the rest of us pause to take a look. The lyrical quality in "Unique Forms of Continuity in Space" would have been beautiful to a citizen of 2nd century Hellenistic society, just as it is to someone wandering through the Guggenheim in the early 21st century.

Indeed, the more one looks at Futurist art, the more one suspects sleight of hand. Maybe the claim to radical newness was not so much a trap as a conscious or semi-conscious ploy. In this, Futurism was a fascist movement all the way to its core. That's to say, Futurism and fascism were both about restoring order in a disordered world.

And art is great to the extent it reflects the order of creation.

Posted by orrinj at 4:20 AM


Sizzling Satchel Paige : The pitcher with the unhittable fireball deserves as much credit for breaking baseball's color barrier as Jackie Robinson (Larry Tye, Spring 2010, American Heritage)

Leroy "Satchel" Paige, arguably the greatest pitcher ever to throw a baseball, was as green as a big league infield that April day in 1926 when he joined his first professional team, the all-black Chattanooga White Sox. Everything he owned--a couple of shirts, an extra pair of socks, underwear wrapped in an old pair of pants--still fit into a brown paper sack, the same as it had eight years earlier, when he was sentenced to the Alabama Reform School for Juvenile Negro Law-Breakers. That was a good thing, because Satchel still could not afford a suitcase. He rented a room in a flophouse at the royal rate of two dollars a week. No sooner did he collect his first five dollars than he headed to the pool hall where a pair of sharks let him win a few games, then ran the table when the betting began. "I always figured I was pretty good at nine-ball and eight-ball," Satchel told an interviewer decades afterward, "but those sleepy-eyed Chattanooga sharpies played me like the biggest fish in the Tennessee River."

He looked like a rube on the diamond, too. His new uniform hung limply over his six-foot-three-inch, 140-pound frame. Street shoes with spikes nailed to the bottom had to suffice until the team could come up with regulation cleats large enough to fit his "satchel-sized" 11 feet. The one pitch he knew was an overhand fireball, so his catchers could dispense with signs; hitters knew it would be all heaters all the time. They quickly learned that while Paige was fast, he also was wild. Worst of all, he was swaggering. He resisted offers of coaching and crowed to his receivers, "Hold the mitt where you want it. The ball will come to you."

What saved him was a willingness to work hard and a mentor as hardboiled as Alex Herman, a former semipro player. Lesson one was location, location, location: getting the ball over the plate every time. The key to control like that was practice. Herman lined up empty soda pop bottles behind home plate; Satchel worked at knocking them down, mornings before other players got to the field and evenings after they left. Herman knew there was something magical about this rookie righthander. His talent traced back to his hometown streets of Mobile, Alabama, where he fired rocks with enough power and precision to bring down a bird or a rival gang member. He learned to play at reform school and could pitch hard and sure enough to drive 10-penny nails into a plank set up behind home plate. The coach saw, too, that unless his raw gifts were refined, Satchel would stand little chance in a Jim Crow America where baseball, like every institution that mattered, was split into white and black worlds. "It got," Satchel recalled, "so I could nip frosting off a cake with my fast ball." [...]

Satchel would be coveted by white teams throughout his career in blackball. He had first heard the tease "if only you were white" back home in Mobile and would hear it repeatedly for another 20 years in Jim Crow America. Named after a white actor in blackface playing a cowering plantation slave in an 1820s minstrel show, Jim Crow refers to the amalgam of Southern statutes that legalized separation of the races everywhere from public bathrooms to hospitals, boarding houses, and even parks. It also is shorthand for a racist way of life. By either definition Jim Crow was there with Satchel in Mobile, capital of the old Confederacy and a city where many white residents still were fighting battles from a war they lost two generations before. Jim Crow is even more central to the saga of the Negro Leagues, where Satchel played most of his career. The era of black baseball ran from 1887, when the first professional league crafted its color line, through the path-breaking signing of Jackie Robinson in 1945--60 years that mirror the rise and fall of legally sanctioned segregation in America.

Satchel Paige started hacking away at Jim Crow long before the world heard of Jackie Robinson. Satchel never was a modern militant, waging war over every slight, but he brought a spotlight to the Negro Leagues. He pushed to be paid a wage commensurate with his drawing power, in the process raising the wages of his teammates. His salary in his best years at least equaled the President's, which is how he could afford 40 tailor-made suits, 30 pairs of custom-made shoes with pearls in the toes, underwear festooned with flowers, and a personal valet. He proved that black fans would fill ballparks, even when those parks had concrete seats and makeshift walls, and that white fans, too, would turn out to see black superstars. Satchel pitched so brilliantly, especially when his teams were beating the best of the white big leaguers two of every three times they played them, that fans, sportswriters, and big league owners could not help but notice.

Satchel's July 3rd telegram to Bill Veeck, who owned the Cleveland Indians, was point-blank: "Is it time for me to come?" The pitcher had swallowed his pride when Jackie Robinson broke through baseball's color bar by suiting up with the Brooklyn Dodgers at the start of that 1947 season. He was kicked in the gut again three months later, when the Indians integrated the American League by hiring Larry Doby. Veeck had claimed for years that Satchel was the greatest Negro Leaguer of all, born to break barriers. Now, a day after the Doby signing and two decades after Satchel's professional debut in Chattanooga, the aging hurler simply had to ask. Veeck's reply was a cruel twist on the old tease: "All things in due time."
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Posted by orrinj at 4:15 AM


Europe's disaffected youth too tired to riot (Costas Lapavitsas and Alex Politaki, 4/06/14, The Guardian)

As economic and social disaster unfolded in 2012 and last year, the youth of Greece became invisible in social and economic life.

The young have been largely absent from politics, social movements and even from the spontaneous social networks that have dealt with the worst of the catastrophe.

On the fifth anniversary of the events of 2008, barely a few hundred young people demonstrated in Greek urban centers.

There was no tension, no passion, no spirit, just tired processions repeating well-known slogans. Where were the 17-year-olds from five years ago?

Similar patterns can be observed in several other European countries, though perhaps not to such an extreme degree.

What is the youth of Portugal doing as the country's social structures continue to collapse? Where is the youth of France as the country drifts further into stagnation and irrelevance? Where has the youth of Britain been while the coalition government has persevered with austerity?

Posted by orrinj at 4:06 AM


Capital for the Masses : Thomas Pikettey's new book from the left provides unwitting support for private retirement accounts. (Christopher DeMuth, April 7, 2014, WSJ)

'Capital in the 21st Century," by French economist Thomas Piketty --its title inviting comparison with Karl Marx's "Das Kapital"--has electrified the intellectual left in the U.S. since its English publication in March. The book is bold, brilliant and perfectly aligned to the current obsession with economic inequality.

Mr. Piketty argues that, in modern market economies, private returns on capital investment are systematically higher than the rate of growth of income and output, and that the difference explains the increase in inequality. A fortunate few derive their income from capital: Some are celebrity capitalists like Warren Buffett or Bill Gates but most are mere business executives who extract enormous salaries from corporate earnings. Capital returns enable them to accumulate wealth at far higher rates than the mass of men whose wages grow no faster than the economy or their own productivity. [...]

That story begins with the 1976 essay of Peter Drucker in the Public Interest (later expanded to a book) on "pension fund socialism." Drucker observed that the growth of invested pension funds--corporate, union, public employee, professional and individual--had made wage earners the owners of one-third, soon to be one-half, of the equity capital of American industry.

"The U.S., without consciously trying, has 'socialized' the economy without 'nationalizing' it," Drucker wrote. Capital investment was better for workers than owning just their own firms because it offered higher returns through trading and diversification--advantages that, Drucker suggested, could be improved with earlier vesting and portability. The corporate income tax, he added, had become exceedingly regressive, because its rate was much higher than that on low-income pensioners--eliminating it, at least for pension holdings, would be a great stroke for income equality.

The left was contemptuous. Writing in the New York Review of Books, Jason Epstein pronounced Drucker's book "the sort of torpid whimsy that high-price business consultants concoct to amuse their clients." Hadn't Drucker noticed that the stock market was flat while the consumer-price index was soaring (this was 1970s stagflation)? Corporations, Mr. Epstein opined, were ripping off poor pensioners just as effectively as the then-notorious New York City politicians who had diverted city pension funds.

In the ensuing decades, academic and think-tank economists, most of them right of center, put forth a succession of proposals for transforming Social Security from a wage-transfer program (from workers to retirees) to one of real capital investment and heritable personal ownership. The aims were to anticipate the retirement of baby boomers, improve on Social Security's already poor returns on payroll taxes, increase national savings, and promote widespread ownership of productive capital.

President George W. Bush campaigned for personally owned and invested Social Security accounts in 2005. He was crushed by an avalanche of objections from progressive intellectuals, AARP lobbyists and Democratic politicians. The objections ran the gamut from high brokerage fees to consumer confusion to corporate self-dealing. But the central, ultimately decisive argument was that exposing average folks to the vicissitudes of stocks and bonds would be tantamount to shredding the social contract.

"Capital" is a comprehensive refutation of that argument. If returns on capital are as superior to the growth of GDP and wages as Mr. Piketty has found, then short- and medium-term fluctuations are a detail. They can be managed through classic diversification, as practiced by many progressive professors in their own TIAA-CREF accounts. Social Security can be divided into a minimum tax-financed guarantee augmented with personally owned, professionally managed investments like TIAA-CREF's. Nations such as Chile with capitalized pension systems have employed these and other approaches with little fuss and much success.

At the End of History, we are all capitalists.

April 15, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 5:35 AM


In the End, People May Really Just Want to Date Themselves (EMMA PIERSON, 4/09/14, 538)

I studied 1 million matches made by the online dating website eHarmony's algorithm, which aims to pair people who will be attracted to one another and compatible over the long term; if the people agree, they can message each other to set up a meeting in real life. eHarmony's data on its users contains 102 traits for each person -- everything from how passionate and ambitious they claim to be to how much they say they drink, smoke and earn.

The data reveals a clear pattern: People are interested in people like themselves. Women on eHarmony favor men who are similar not just in obvious ways -- age, attractiveness, education, income -- but also in less apparent ones, such as creativity. Even when eHarmony includes a quirky data point -- like how many pictures are included in a user's profile -- women are more likely to message men similar to themselves. In fact, of the 102 traits in the data set, there was not one for which women were more likely to contact men with opposite traits.1

Men were a little more open-minded. For 80 percent of traits, they were more willing to message those different from them. They still preferred mates who were similar in terms of height or attractiveness2, but they cared less about these traits -- and they didn't care much at all about other things women cared about, like similarity in education level or number of photos taken.3 They cared less about whether their match shared their ethnicity.4

Posted by orrinj at 5:14 AM


Shop Thrift Stores First When Looking for Long-Lasting, Reliable Tools (Eric Ravenscraft, 4/08/14, Lifehacker)

Whether it's for the kitchen, the garage, or the office, finding tools that stand the test of time isn't always easy. Finance blog The Simple Dollar suggests that one way to find tools that will last longer than a year or so is to shop for the ones that already have by checking out thrift stores.P

Merchandise at thrift stores may not come with warranties or guarantees, but what they do come with is experience. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:07 AM


You're Not As Busy As You Say You Are : Also, by talking about it so much, you're wasting time.  (Hanna Rosin, 3/23/14, Slate)

John Robinson, a sociologist known as Father Time because he was one of the first people to start collecting time use diaries, which became the basis for the American Time Use Surveys that tell us so much about how we live [...] doesn't ask us to meditate, or take more vacations, or breathe, or walk in nature, or do anything that will invariably feel like just another item on the to-do list. The answer to feeling oppressively busy, he says, is to stop telling yourself that you're oppressively busy, because the truth is that we are all much less busy than we think we are. And our consistent insistence that we are busy has created a host of personal and social ills which Schulte reports on in great detail in her book--unnecessary stress, exhaustion, bad decision-making, and, on a bigger level, a conviction that the ideal worker is one who is available at all times because he or she is grateful to be "busy," and that we should all aspire to the insane schedules of a Silicon Valley entrepreneur.

"It's very popular, the feeling that there are too many things going on, that people can't get in control of their lives and the like," Robinson says. "But when we look at peoples' diaries there just doesn't seem to be the evidence to back it up ... It's a paradox. When you tell people they have thirty or forty hours of free time every week, they don't want to believe it."

Busyness is a virtue, so people are terrified of hearing they may have empty time, as Tim Kreider wrote in "The 'Busy' Trap."* It's the equivalent of being told that you're redundant or obsolete. Robinson has Schulte keep a time use diary and shows her lots of free time she hadn't counted as such--lying in bed aimlessly, exercising, playing backgammon on her computer, talking to a friend on the phone. Yet she still doesn't believe that, as a working mother, she could possibly have any leisure time. In fact, she seems skeptical of Robinson's whole premise that we are busy because we say we are.

Posted by orrinj at 4:47 AM


Losing Interest  (Barry Eichengreen, APR 11, 2014, Project Syndicate)

Adjusted for inflation, interest rates have been falling for three decades, and their current low level encourages investors, searching for yield, to take on additional risk. Low rates also leave central banks little room for loosening monetary policy in a slowdown, because nominal interest cannot fall below zero. 

..inflation has been overstated for three decades.

Posted by orrinj at 4:42 AM


The West's Financial Arsenal (Harold James, 4/10/14, Project Syndicate)

As the former US Treasury official Juan Zarate revealed in his recent memoir Treasury's War, the US spent the decade after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks developing a new set of financial weapons to use against America's enemies - first Al Qaeda, then North Korea and Iran, and now Russia. These weapons included asset freezes and blocking rogue banks' access to international finance.

When the Ukrainian revolution began, the Russian banking system was already over-extended and vulnerable. But the situation became much worse with the toppling of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and the annexation of Crimea, which triggered a stock-market panic that weakened the Russian economy considerably and depleted the assets of Russia's powerful oligarchs.

In a crony capitalist system, threatening the governing elite's wealth rapidly erodes loyalty to the regime. For the corrupt elite, there is a tipping point beyond which the opposition provides better protection for their wealth and power - a point that was reached in Ukraine as the Maidan protests gathered momentum.

Posted by orrinj at 4:13 AM


The People Pushing the NHL Into the Advanced Stats Era (ERIC TULSKY, 4/06/14, 538)

With 17:25 left to go in the first period of a December National Hockey League game between the Philadelphia Flyers and the Edmonton Oilers, the Oilers gathered the puck in their defensive end and passed it ahead to Jordan Eberle, who was headed up the left side of the ice. The Flyers' defensemen -- Kimmo Timonen and Braydon Coburn -- were well positioned, but Eberle decided to challenge them. He cut diagonally across the ice towards Timonen, drove wide to the far boards, put on a burst of speed and beat Timonen to enter the offensive zone.

Somewhere, Jessica Schmidt was watching. She has spent the last two seasons tracking each entry into the offensive zone with a spreadsheet open in front of her. A 26-year-old diehard hockey fan, she had read some articles I wrote about the Flyers' zone entries in the 2011-12 season and the usefulness of zone entries in assessing a team's performance. When the Flyers missed the playoffs in 2013, she wanted to know what had gone wrong and volunteered to try recording the zone entries herself.

That information doesn't come easily, however. Schmidt estimates that tracking a game takes her about 90 minutes, which means that it would take an incredible amount of dedication and effort from several people to collect a year's worth of data for a handful of teams. It would take a whole platoon of volunteers to track zone entries for every NHL game, and even then they would be capturing only specific pieces of select key moments. An NBA analyst wouldn't need someone like Schmidt to put in hundreds of hours tracking zone entries; that sort of information -- and much more -- is easily gleaned from the NBA's automated video tracking system, SportVu. But hockey lacks the position-tracking systems that many other sports use, even though there are hugely important lessons their data can teach.

Instead, it has people like Schmidt. As Eberle drove around Timonen into the offensive zone, Schmidt made a note in her spreadsheet: "1 17:22 C Opp 44." Translation: in the first period, with 17:22 left, there was a carry-in (C) by the Flyers' opponent defended by the Flyers' No. 44, Timonen.

That last part -- who defended the play -- was a new wrinkle Schmidt and I added this year. Previous analysis had given us important insight into the performance of the puck-carrier, but assessment of the other nine skaters on the ice relied largely on inference. This year, I asked Schmidt to include some off-puck information -- things like which player retrieved the puck when the Flyers dumped it in, or who had primary defensive responsibility on the opponent's entry.

Tracking by Schmidt and others has helped explain that a team's entry into the offensive zone has a big impact on its shot differential. Carrying the puck into the offensive zone leads to more than twice as many shots and goals as a dump-and-chase play does, even after removing plays like odd-man rushes and dump-ins that are made just to buy time for a line change. These results have even made an impact on strategy.

April 14, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 6:58 AM


The Prospects for Community in the Age of Obama (Ross Douthat, March 17, 2014, Intercollegiate Review)

From émigré philosophers like Leo Strauss and Eric Voegelin to native-born figures like Richard Weaver, the central thinkers of the emerging American Right labored to explain how "progress" and "enlightenment" had produced the gas chamber and the gulag. In the process, they often ended up reinterpreting the whole sweep of Western intellectual history, emphasizing unusual inflection points (Machiavelli, William of Ockham) and fingering unusual suspects (gnosticism, nominalism) along the way.

All of these efforts looked backward and forward at once, explaining the Western past to illuminate the dilemmas of the future. But few of them did so more persuasively than Robert Nisbet's The Quest for Community. No prophet or futurist could have anticipated all the twists and turns that American political life has taken since 1953, when the forty-year-old Nisbet published his "Study in the Ethics and Order of Freedom." But his Eisenhower-era analysis of the modern political predicament looks as prescient as it's possible for any individual writer to be.

What was Nisbet's insight? Simply put, that what seems like the great tension of modernity--the concurrent rise of individualism and collectivism, and the struggle between the two for mastery--is really no tension at all. It seemed contradictory that the heroic age of nineteenth-century laissez faire, in which free men, free minds, and free markets were supposedly liberated from the chains imposed by throne and altar, had given way so easily to the tyrannies of Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin, and Mao. But it was only a contradiction, Nisbet argued, if you ignored the human impulse toward community that made totalitarianism seem desirable--the yearning for a feeling of participation, for a sense of belonging, for a cause larger than one's own individual purposes and a group to call one's own.

In pre-modern society, this yearning was fulfilled by a multiplicity of human-scale associations: guilds and churches and universities, manors and villages and monasteries, and of course the primal community of family. In this landscape, Nisbet writes, "the reality of the separate, autonomous individual was as indistinct as that of centralized political power."

But from the Protestant Reformation onward, individualism and centralization would advance together, while intermediate powers and communities either fell away or were dissolved. As social institutions, these associations would be attacked as inhumane, irrational, patriarchal, and tyrannical; as sources of political and economic power, they would be dismissed as outdated, fissiparous, and inefficient. In place of a web of overlapping communities and competing authorities, the liberal West set out to build a society of self-sufficient, liberated individuals, overseen by an unitary, rational, and technocratic government.

The assumption, indeed, was that the emancipated individual required a strong state, to cut through the constraining tissue of intermediate associations. "Only with an absolute sovereign," Nisbet writes, describing the views of Thomas Hobbes, "could any effective environment of individualism be possible."

But all that constraining tissue served a purpose. Man is a social being, and his desire for community will not be denied. The liberated individual is just as likely to become the alienated individual, the paranoid individual, the lonely and desperately-seeking-community individual. And if he can't find that community on a human scale, then he'll look for it on an inhuman scale--in the total community of the totalizing state.

Thus liberalism can beget totalitarianism. The great liberal project, "the progressive emancipation of the individual from the tyrannous and irrational statuses handed down from the past," risks producing emancipated individuals eager for the embrace of a far more tyrannical authority than church or class or family. The politics of rational self-interest promoted by Hobbes and Locke creates a void, a yearning for community, that Rousseau and Marx rush in to fill. The age of Jeremy Bentham and Manchester School economics leaves Europe ripe for Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer, and the dictatorship of the proletariat.

"The extraordinary accomplishments of totalitarianism in the twentieth century would be inexplicable," Nisbet concludes, "were it not for the immense, burning appeal it exerts upon masses of individuals who have lost, or had taken away, their accustomed roots of membership and belief."

But this is not the only possible modern story, he is careful to insist. The mass community offered by totalitarianism may be more attractive than no community at all, but it remains a deeply unnatural form of human association. And it's possible for both liberal government and liberal economics to flourish without descending into tyranny, so long as they allow, encourage, and depend upon more natural forms of community, rather than trying to tear them up root and branch.

Possible, and necessary. "The whole conscious liberal heritage," Nisbet writes, depends for its survival on "the subtle, infinitely complex lines of habit, tradition, and social relationship." The individual and the state can maintain an appropriate relationship only so long as a flourishing civil society mediates between them. Political freedom requires competing sources of authority to sustain itself, and economic freedom requires the same: capitalism "has prospered, and continues to prosper, only in spheres and areas where it has been joined to a flourishing associational life." Thus Nisbet quotes Proudhon: "Multiply your associations and be free."

...that will be afforded by the end of labor.

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Posted by orrinj at 5:51 AM


Why Are Rich Countries Democratic? (Ricardo Hausman, 3/26/14, Project Syndicate)

[S]uccessful political systems have had to create an alternative invisible hand - a system that decentralizes the power to identify problems, propose solutions, and monitor performance, such that decisions are made with much more information.

To take just one example, the United States' federal government accounts for just 537 of the country's roughly 500,000 elected positions. Clearly, there is much more going on elsewhere.

The US Congress has 100 senators with 40 aides each, and 435 representatives with 25 aides each. They are organized into 42 committees and 182 subcommittees, meaning that there are 224 parallel conversations going on. And this group of more than 15,000 people is not alone. Facing them are some 22,000 registered lobbyists, whose mission is (among other goals) to sit down with legislators and draft legislation.

This, together with a free press, is part of the structure that reads the millions of pages of legislation and monitors what government agencies do and do not do. It generates the information and the incentives to respond to it. It affects the allocation of budgetary resources. It is an open system in which anybody can create news or find a lobbyist to make his case, whether it is to save the whales or to eat them.

Without such a mechanism, the political system cannot provide the kind of environment that modern economies need. That is why all rich countries are democracies, and it is why some countries, like my own (Venezuela), are becoming poorer.

Posted by orrinj at 5:50 AM


It's Funny How Humor Works (SCOTT WEEMS, March 21, 2014, WSJ)

"I just shot an elephant in my pajamas," goes the old Groucho Marx joke. "How he got in my pajamas I don't know."

You've probably heard that one before, or something similar. For example, while viewing polling data for the 2008 presidential election on Comedy Central, Stephen Colbert deadpanned, "If I'm reading this graph correctly...I'd be very surprised."

Zingers like these aren't just good lines. They reveal something unusual about how the mind operates--and they show us how humor works. Simply put, the brain likes to jump the gun. We are always guessing where things are going, and we often get it wrong. But this isn't necessarily bad. It's why we laugh.

Posted by orrinj at 5:42 AM


The Original Nate Silver Also Thinks Pundits Are 'Stupid' : Bill James on "moneyball" in 2014 and backward political thinking (MARC TRACY, 3/31/14, New Republic)

MT: What would be an example of a field where the knowledge wasn't particularly well structured, but then it got better structured?

BJ: Thinking about economics is greatly better organized now than it was 60 years ago. We all know--well, there's a large segment of the public that doesn't know anything--but there are millions of Americans who have a very sophisticated understanding of how the banking system works, how an economy works. Our thinking about technology is still primitive, but is far, far ahead of where it was even when I was a young man. In politics, on the other hand, we've made no progress at all. People who are perceived as learned experts go on television and say stupid s[***], and nobody says, "Boy, that's really stupid." Don't you find that to be true?

MT: Well, yes.

BJ: I don't mean conservatives or liberals.

MT: I know exactly what you mean, and it's funny, because this sentiment has been much discussed recently because another person--a friend of yours--says much the same thing, and just launched a new website. Have you been following the discussion surrounding Nate Silver?

BJ: Sure, and I'm very impressed by what he's been able to do.

MT: Does some of the pushback resonate with what you faced 25 years ago?

BJ: No. The public's thinking about politics and the general analytical thinking about politics is probably more backward than sportswriting was 30 years ago.

MT: Why is that? The stakes seem, if anything, higher in politics.

BJ: Because people think they know things. The greatest barrier to understanding things is the conviction that you already understand them. People are so convinced that they understand politics. It creates huge barriers to understanding.

MT: But weren't people convinced they knew things in baseball as well?

BJ: Not as convinced. And--this is a point I stole from Nate: Baseball teams play 162 games a year. In politics, you have a couple elections. [In baseball all the games] act as a self-correcting method. In baseball, if you're a great team, you lose 65 games a year. It teaches you constantly that you don't understand things and you're still working on it. In politics, you have great infrequency of elections, allowing extremely sloppy analysis to flourish, because the correction cycle is so slow.

Posted by orrinj at 4:08 AM


Why don't different species have sex more often? (Matt Soniak, 4/07/14, The Week)

Desert woodrats and Bryant's woodrats are closely related. So close, in fact, that the two species can interbreed and produce healthy hybrid offspring. What has scientists puzzled is why they don't do it more often.

Both species are members of the genus Neotoma, collectively known as the packrats. They diverged, probably because of geographic isolation, some 1.6 million years ago. Today, the two species are neighbors again in the American West, and despite their genetic distinctions, they can and do mate where their territories butt against each other and produce hybrid rats.

In these hybrid zones where the two species overlap, around 13 percent of the population have genes that suggest interbreeding. Why, biologist Quinn Shurtliff, wondered, weren't there more?

April 13, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 5:23 AM


The Father of American Terrorism : Two hundred years after his birth, Americans still revere him as a martyr and loathe him as a fanatical murderer. What was he? (Ken Chowder, February/March 2000, American Heritage)

On December 2, 1859, a tall old man in a black coat, black pants, black vest, and black slouch hat climbed into a wagon and sat down on a black walnut box. The pants and coat were stained with blood; the box was his coffin; the old man was going to his execution. He had just handed a last note to his jailer: "I John Brown am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty, land: will never be purged away; but with Blood. I had...vainly flattered myself that without very much bloodshed; it might be done."
As he rode on his coffin, John Brown gazed out over the cornfields of Virginia. "This is a beautiful country," he said. "I never had the pleasure of seeing it before."

The United States in 1859 was a nation that harbored a ticking time bomb: the issue of slavery. And it was a place where an astonishing number of men were willing to die for their beliefs, certain they were following a higher law. John Brown was one of those God-fearing yet violent men. And he was already more than a man; he was a legend. In fact, there were two competing legends. To slaveholders he was utter evil--fanatic, murderer, liar, and lunatic, and horse thief to boot--while to abolitionists he had become the embodiment of all that was noble and courageous.

After a lifetime of failure John Brown had at last found a kind of success. He was now a symbol that divided the nation, and his story was no longer about one man; it was a prophecy. The United States, like John Brown, was heading toward a gallows--the gallows of war.

A scaffold had been built in a field outside Charlestown, Virginia. There were rumors of a rescue attempt, and fifteen hundred soldiers, commanded by Col. Robert E. Lee, massed in the open field. No civilians were allowed within hearing range, but an actor from Virginia borrowed a uniform so he could watch John Brown die. "I looked at the traitor and terrorizer," said John Wilkes Booth, "with unlimited, undeniable contempt." Prof. Thomas Jackson, who would in three years be known as Stonewall, was also watching: "The sheriff placed the rope around [Brown's] neck, then threw a white cap over his head....When the rope was cut by a single blow, Brown fell through....There was very little motion of his person for several moments, and soon the wind blew his lifeless body to and fro."

A Virginia colonel named J. T. L. Preston chanted: "So perish all such enemies of Virginia! All such enemies of the Union! All such foes of the human race!"

But hanging was not the end of John Brown; it was the beginning. Northern churches' bells tolled for him, and cannon boomed in salute. In Massachusetts, Henry David Thoreau spoke: "Some eighteen hundred years ago, Christ was crucified; This morning, perchance, Captain Brown was hung....He is not Old Brown any longer; he is an angel of light."

Posted by orrinj at 5:18 AM


Surprised by N.T. Wright : The Bible scholar's goal is to massively revise the way we talk about the Christian faith. By many accounts, he's already succeeded. (Jason Byassee, APRIL 8, 2014, Christianity Today)

Instead of teaching about souls being saved from hell, say Wright and others, Paul is centrally teaching about God's faithfulness to Israel.

According to the NPP (a phrase coined by Wright), Paul was not worried about where believers' souls would go after death. Christians of the late medieval period were worried about hell and felt they had to earn entry to heaven with works. This is the theology Martin Luther taught and wrote against, helping to ignite the Protestant Reformation.

But Jews of Paul's time were nowhere near so individualistic, so obsessed with the next life, so unfamiliar with grace as were the late medieval Christians. Instead of teaching about souls being saved from hell, say the NPP scholars, Paul is centrally teaching about God's faithfulness to Israel. He is showing that Yahweh is a God who keeps his promises, and so can be trusted to fulfill his promises in history. NPP scholars actually think the works commanded in the law are good gifts from God. Paul doesn't say not to do them because you'll go wrong and think you're earning salvation. He says not to do them because the Messiah has come and the world is different now. All people can worship Israel's God and should do so together without ethnic division.

In defense of the NPP, I can't remember the last time I heard Israel included in a presentation of the gospel--even a long one. It leads one to wonder: What was God doing all that time with his chosen people? Wasting time?

Since the calling of Abraham, Jews had been unique in three ways: for their monotheism (established in the Shema--"Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one"--the founding prayer that faithful Jews say to this day), election (God calls a specific people), and eschatology (God will save his people on the last day). Wright shows how the resurrection of Jesus reworks each of these central Jewish beliefs.

Wright argues that Christians believed Jesus was Lord very early in church history--not centuries later, after councils had "decided" that he was so. So when Paul invokes Christ in 1 Corinthians 8--"one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live"--he is referring to the Shema, reworking it in light of Christ. Paul is altering the Bible's cornerstone prayer to include Jesus of Nazareth.

And Paul doesn't even have to argue for it. Within a generation of the Resurrection, a Christology that ranks Jesus with the jealous God of Israel is not controversial. It simply is "common coin," to use a Wrightian phrase. So, too, with the Holy Spirit. The shekinah that is God's presence in the Scripture of Israel is the "spirit" (the lowercase reflects Wright's usage throughout PFG).

Election is similarly reworked in light of the Resurrection and the spirit. The relentless drumbeat driving this volume is that Paul's teachings are deeply Jewish. According to the NPP, Paul is clinging to his Jewishness. He has not rejected one religion for a brand-new one. In fact, he believes that the law is God's good gift of grace.

But this is where things get interesting. Wright so emphasizes the good news of God's electing grace that, in a friendly parody he passed on to me in our interview, "God so loved the world that he sent it Abraham." The Pauline phrase beloved by the Reformers--"the righteousness of God"--is actually Paul's way of referring to the covenant people extended to include Gentiles as promised in Genesis 12:1-3, "the one family of Abraham," says Wright. To belong to Abraham's family is to be marked as those who will be justified on the last day. This is what it means to be saved.

It is important to stop and note how dramatically Wright has reworked things here. It means, in part, that the evangelist at summer camp who asked me, "If you died tonight, why should God let you into heaven?" was wrong when he provided the answer, "For no reason other than that Jesus died in my place."

Righteousness in Scripture does not refer to the righteous Judge passing his righteousness to the defendant. According to Wright, passages like Romans 4 (God "justifies the ungodly"); Galatians 2 ("a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ"--though Wright and other scholars now say this is better translated "by the faithfulness of Jesus Christ"); and 2 Corinthians 5:21 ("[God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God," ESV) are not about imputed righteousness. Instead, they are about God fulfilling his promises to Israel in Christ to remake the world through one Jew-plus-Gentile family.

Wright insists often on what he told an overflow audience at Wheaton College in 2012: "I love the doctrine of justification." But it is not everything in Paul. It appears in only a few places in his letters. It is the wheel of the car, Wright says--not the whole vehicle.

So if Paul's courtroom metaphors are not about imputed righteousness, what are they about?

They have a much narrower frame of reference, says Wright. In Jewish tradition, all people will stand before the judge on the last day, after their bodies are resurrected. For the Jews who came before Jesus, those who kept Torah will be judged faithful on that day--saved, in the truest sense. The badge of their faithfulness is observing Torah. Here, studying Jewish sources such as the Dead Sea Scrolls helps to clarify the Bible's references. For those "in the Messiah," faith, ratified in baptism, is the only badge that marks out in advance our judgment on the last day. So Paul's courtroom references mean only that the judge rules the defendant is in the right, vindicated over against any accusation, and assured of resurrection on the last day.

Posted by orrinj at 5:13 AM


It's a Living : A surprisingly sprightly history of the glum designs behind the world of modern work : a review of Cubed by Nikil Saval (JERRY STAHL, April/May 2014, Bookforum)

On one level, Cubed can be seen as a study of how authority maintains authority--and of how the subjugated stay subjugated, in ways spoken and unspoken. Saval goes to great lengths to show how oppressive structure exists not just as a matter of corporate policy but in the very architecture of the workplace--the physical boundaries within which the business of business is carried out. As Saval notes, the actual walls--or lack thereof--of the office space dictate the terms of the occupants' status. Cubed takes us on the happy journey from cozy countinghouse rooms at the turn of the last century to open-plan offices in the wide-open '60s and '70s to the heinous hell-boxes born out of the mass layoffs of the '80s. In the wake of this latter shakeout, Saval writes, "corporations responded by giving a privileged elite the few remaining offices while cramming everyone else into partitioned spaces."

This was the era famously captured by Douglas Coupland's Generation X, in which he birthed the phrase "veal-fattening pen" as a painfully accurate description of the office cubicle. These holding facilities, Coupland memorably observed, were "small, cramped office workstations built of fabric-covered disassemblable wall portions and inhabited by junior staff members. Named after the small pre-slaughter cubicles used in the cattle industry." A grim stop, in other words, where the life-hating, managerially disrespected masses can kill time until they're led to their own metaphorical killing floor to be laid off.

All this talk of design and repression brings to mind the resemblance Black Panthers first pointed out between slave-ship design and the layouts of supermax prisons. Saval gives us statistics on the dimensions of a standard worker-bee workstation circa 2006, "when the average cubicle was seventy-five square feet." According to the latest information, the average Solitary Housing Unit at Pelican Bay supermax averages about eleven and a half by seven and a half feet. So in this case, if in few others, convicts serving time in solitary come out ahead of salaried cubicle dwellers. It's true that prisoners are also confined in their windowless environment twenty-three hours of every day. On the other hand, SHU residents have an hour to exercise, which may be more than the average cubicle drone can squeeze in in the course of trying to stay alive on temp pay. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:18 AM


How the Bible has shaped the West : Rabbi Jonathan Sacks detects seven key ideas in Judaeo-Christian culture which explain why the West is unique. (Michael Cook | 24 March 2014, MercatorNet)

Speaking to a packed lecture theatre, Lord Sacks highlighted seven propositions drawn from Biblical ethics which help to understand why the West developed market economics, democratic politics, human rights and the free society.

'The historian Niall Ferguson quotes the verdict of a member of the Chinese Academy of the Social Sciences, tasked with finding an explanation for why the West overtook China in the sixteenth century and went on to industrial and scientific greatness. At first, he said, we thought it was because you had better guns than we had. Then we thought it was your political system. Next we thought it was your economic system. But for the past twenty years we have had no doubt: it was your religion.'

The first three characteristics he identified were: human dignity; freedom and responsibility; and the sanctity of life - a central principle because human beings are in the image of God, therefore human life human life itself is sacred.

Citing American anthropologist Ruth Benedict, Lord Sacks said the fourth aspect was the concept of guilt as opposed to shame.  Articulating the difference between a guilt culture and shame culture, he drew on Sir Bernard Williams' observation that shame cultures are visual cultures; whereas a guilt culture is a hearing culture. Giving the example of the story of Adam and Eve, he said:

'It is an extremely significant point that the Hebrew Bible introduced a guilt culture to a world that only knew shame cultures, because guilt cultures make a distinction, and shame cultures do not, between the sinner and the sin. What is wrong is the act not the person.'

His fifth principle was the significance of marriage as the matrix of society, 'The family is sacred', he said. 

Sixth, he said, society is covenantal - threaded by the covenant that binds people together and to God in a covenantal bond.

Finally, he said his seventh aspect was a basic principle of Judaism: since every society is the result of the covenant, it means all human power, all political authority, is subject to the transcending authority of the Divine. There are moral limits to power, he asserted: 'Right is Sovereign over might.'

April 12, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 8:38 AM


Tesla Motors Inc. Is Leaving Big Energy in the Dust (Justin Loiseau, April 11, 2014, Motley Fool)

Tesla Motors, is building more than cars -- it's building a support system to overthrow the entire way we conceive of getting from Point A to Point B. The key: electric-vehicle charging stations. Tesla Motors knows it's up against a century-old status quo of gas guzzlers, so the company is doing everything in its power to ease consumers' switching costs.

While technological improvements are enabling Tesla drivers to go further on faster charges, the company's massive network of Supercharger stations is what truly sets it apart, and what energy companies wish they'd cashed in on earlier.

At what is dubbed "the fastest charging station on the planet," Tesla owners can charge their vehicles at more than 10 times the rate of public charging stations. With 84 stations open across the nation, Tesla drivers can now make a full American road trip without needing a single drop of gas. Just check out the video below for proof.

Posted by orrinj at 8:34 AM


Scottish referendum gives us hope for independence, says Catalonia minister (Harriet Alexander,  09 Apr 2014, The Telegraph)

Ask Andreu Mas-Colell, the man in charge of Catalonia's economy, for his thoughts on Scotland's forthcoming independence vote, and he hardly draws breath before answering.

"Admiration, respect and envy," he said. "It's an exemplary process." [...]

Unlike in Britain, Spain already has high levels of regional independence: Barcelona controls its own police, education system and health provisions. The Catalan language is also legally recognised.

But the wealthy region has long felt that it was paying too high a share of Spain's economic burden, and when Mr Mas failed to clinch a better financial pact for Catalonia in 2012, he revived calls for a full referendum on independence.

The spectre of a breakaway Catalonia, which accounts for a fifth of the Spanish economy and 16 per cent of its population, has become a big headache for Mr Rajoy, who is battling high unemployment and the scars of a deep recession. Mr Rajoy has so far vehemently rejected all calls to follow the Scottish path, saying that it simply wasn't possible to grant permission for a vote, which he said was prohibited by the constitution.

For Mr Mas-Colell, however, the Scottish vote gives hope to Catalonia.

"Sooner or later, Spain will have to yield to democratic imperatives," he said, speaking to The Telegraph ahead of Tuesday's vote. "No two countries are the same, but I like to think that the European traditions of democracy imposes norms for behaviour. And the Scottish process is scrupulously democratic."

Posted by orrinj at 8:31 AM

60 in '14:

Big G.O.P. Donors Stir Senate Runs (NICHOLAS CONFESSORE, APRIL 11, 2014, NY Times)

Democrats in races that will help determine control of the Senate are rapidly burning through their campaign cash, whittling away their financial advantage over Republican opponents as they fend off attacks from conservative groups, according to figures released through Friday. [...]

In Alaska, the Democratic incumbent, Senator Mark Begich, spent about as much money as he raised during the first three months of the year, while Dan Sullivan, a Republican candidate and former state attorney general, increased his fund-raising and substantially narrowed Mr. Begich's advantage in cash on hand.

In Montana, Senator John Walsh, a Democrat, spent almost three-quarters of the money he raised since January, ending with about $700,000. Representative Bruce Braley of Iowa, the likely Democratic nominee for Senate, spent over 60 percent of the cash he raised.

Senator Mary L. Landrieu, Democrat of Louisiana, spent only about a third of what she collected through the end of March. But last month, Ms. Landrieu reserved $2.7 million of advertising time, according to strategists tracking both parties' television spending, which will cut deeply into the $7.5 million she reported at the beginning of April.

"The spending totals so far show that a lot of Democratic candidates find themselves on the run," said Brad Dayspring, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Posted by orrinj at 8:24 AM


One way to pay for health-care costs in retirement (TOM TORRE, April 9, 2014, Washington Post)

HSAs are individual accounts, owned by the consumer, just like personal checking and savings accounts.  As such, they are portable - the account and the contributions in it remain the property of the account holder, even if he or she changes jobs or   enrolls in a different health insurance plan.  Consumers can continue to contribute up to the allowable IRS limit, as long as they are enrolled in qualifying high deductible health plans. The funds roll over from year to year with no expiration.

Best of all, HSA contributions are triple-tax-advantaged.  Contributions are tax free. Once HSA account balances reach a minimum threshold, funds can be invested, with interest and earnings on investments tax free.  And HSA account holders do not pay income tax on funds when they withdraw the money for qualified health-care expenses, as they do with the money in their 401Ks.

All of these features make HSAs an attractive way of managing near term health-care spending and saving for health-care costs through retirement.
Employers also benefit when their employees understand the full value of HSAs.  Employers realize an immediate tax benefit when more workers adopt HSAs and contribute to them. HSAs augment benefit programs, which are typically designed with the intent of attracting and retaining talent. Forward-thinking employers may want to offer integrated retirement planning strategies that take into account potential future health needs by offering to match contributions to HSAs, as they do for 401Ks.

HSAs are growing as more people come to understand them. According to a recent report, assets in HSAs exceeded $20 billion  as of January 2014.  Growth is stable. And HSA investment assets have now reached $2.3 billion, meaning that more than 10 percent of HSA deposits are currently invested in mutual funds or other long-term growth vehicles.  These trends are expected to continue as the popularity of HSAs grows and consumers increasingly look to HSAs as a complement to their retirement savings.

UMB grew Health Savings Accounts 40 percent last year (Greg Edwards, 4/04/14, St. Louis Business Journal)

UMB Healthcare Services, a division of UMB Financial Corp., grew Health Savings Accounts 40 percent in 2013, to 449,292 individual accounts.
Balances in the accounts grew 30 percent, surpassing $800 million, the company reported.

"We have seen tremendous growth and adoption of HSAs since their enactment 10 years ago," Dennis Triplett, CEO of UMB Healthcare Services, said in a statement. "The health care landscape continues to make these accounts attractive to not only employers, but also employees that look to economize health care spending while maintaining coverage and saving for the future."

April 11, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 5:49 PM


Jeb Bush's Stance on Education May Not Be That Controversial (NATE SILVER, 4/11/14, 538)

 This post will look at the polling on education reform -- specifically, support for the Common Core, which Bush has championed and which sets a set of recommendations for what students should know in kindergarten through high school. We'll look at the immigration numbers in a subsequent post.

National polling on educational issues is fairly sparse. This may partly be because the federal government exerts relatively little control over education as compared with states and localities. (In 2013, the federal government represented only about 9 percent of education spending, as compared with 27 percent for states and 64 percent for local governments.)

But the Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research last year conducted a poll on education that included a series of questions on the Common Core. One conclusion is that Americans don't know a whole lot about it -- only 26 percent of respondents said they'd heard a "great deal" or a "lot" about Common Core, as compared with 52 percent who said they'd heard little or nothing about it. [...] Among Republicans, 44 percent said they thought the Common Core would improve the quality of education, against 13 percent who said it would make things worse. (Another 44 percent either said they thought it would have no effect or had no opinion.) The numbers among independents and voters unaffiliated with a political party were nearly identical to the Republican figures.

Democrats were modestly more likely to be in favor of the Common Core: 57 percent said they thought it would improve educational quality as compared with 6 percent who said it would produce a decline. Still, the partisan split on this issue is mild as compared to most others.

But what about the strongest Republicans, such as those that might participate in the primaries and caucuses in some of the most conservative states?

I also split the results between "strong" and "moderate" Republicans, as respondents described themselves in the survey. Indeed, there is a divide between these groups. Among moderate Republicans, the numbers look a lot like those for Democrats: 52 percent said they thought the Common Core would improve educational quality against just 7 percent who expected a decline. "Strong" Republicans had mixed views; 29 percent said the Common Core would improve educational quality against 22 percent who said it would produce a decline.

So there is some debate within the GOP on the Common Core. But even self-described "strong" Republicans are more likely to think it improves rather than harms educational quality. And relatively few Americans of any political description have strong feelings against it.

Opposition is essentially a sign of psychosis.

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Posted by orrinj at 5:30 PM


A Major League Pitcher's Guide To Doctoring A Baseball (Dirk Hayhurst, 4/11/14)

I'm fairly certain, for instance, that last night, the entire world caught Michael Pineda shamelessly loading the ball up with the gunk he was keeping on his pine-fresh palm. Bud Selig didn't send investigators to the scene of the crime, though, nor is there--to the best of my knowledge--a suspension looming on the horizon. The umpires did their best Sergeant Schultz impression, Pineda claimed it was just dirt, and the Red Sox did their part by deeming it all no big deal.

Thus, despite Pineda having been caught brown-handed, it was like the whole thing never happened.

This shouldn't be any surprise. Advances in broadcast technology have made it so that everyone can see what people on the field always have--pitchers with various foreign substances slathered on their person, compulsively rubbing them all over the ball. Even with instant replay, additional eye-in-the-sky umpires, and HD cameras, though, these mysterious substances go completely ignored. When someone like Pineda cheats so obviously that it has to be acknowledged, it's discussed in terms of a ludicrously weak explanation that all players seem to accept: Loading the ball is not about cheating; it's about getting a grip.

Since it seems like everyone could stand to get a grip on this form of cheating in the majors, let's talk some of the ways pitchers go about getting one. This is a strange thing, existing in a sort of no-man's land. It's not really illegal, since no one gets called out for openly doing it, and yet it's not quite legal, given that no pitcher would ever just waltz out to the mound and set a towel full of pine tar down next to the rosin bag. Pitchers having to act like this is something they could get in trouble for leads to all sorts of chicanery, which at times reaches the level of fine art. To discuss it, we have to know how it's done.

Since it's a popular topic right now, we'll start with pine tar.

Posted by orrinj at 4:53 PM


Switzerland: Palestinians join Geneva Conventions on war (AFP, 4/11/14)

The Palestinian Authority has signed up formally to the Geneva Conventions, which set down the rules of warfare and humanitarian operations in conflict zones, the treaties' guardian Switzerland confirmed Friday. [...]

The Palestinians have also submitted requests to the United Nations to join 13 other international conventions and treaties, and the world body said Thursday that the move was legal.

The treaties include the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations, the convention on the rights of the child, the convention against torture, and an anti-corruption accord.

Posted by orrinj at 1:56 PM


Average US rate on 30-year mortgage falls to 4.34 pct.; 15-year loan eases to 3.38 pct. (The Associated Press, April 11, 2014) 

Average U.S. rates on fixed mortgages declined this week, edging closer to historically low levels as the spring home-buying season begins.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday that the average rate for the 30-year loan fell to 4.34 percent from 4.41 percent last week. The average for the 15-year mortgage eased to 3.38 percent from 3.47 percent.

Posted by orrinj at 1:55 PM


Are Mammograms Worth It? (EMILY OSTER, 4/10/14, 538)

Putting all of these results together, things don't look good for mammography. It would be a shame to stop with this study, though, since it's only one of many large randomized controlled trials of mammography. If we want the entire picture, we need to look at all of them together.

Most of the work is already done for us by Cochrane Reviews, which published on this topic in 2013. The Cochrane Reviews are a series of summary documents on a whole host of medical questions. Their goal is to aggregate information from individual randomized controlled trials to provide evidence-based guidance on best practices.

In the case of mammograms, the review in question aggregated eight large randomized trials encompassing more than 600,000 women. All of these trials had a similar structure to the Canadian trial: They divided women into two groups, and one group got mammograms with some frequency over a period of several years while the other group got "usual care." The researchers then compared breast cancer deaths, diagnoses and treatments between the two groups.

One of the key advantages of these Cochrane Reviews is that they try to say something about the quality of each study they cover. In this case, the authors argue that three of the large trials were well-randomized and unlikely to be biased, and five were less well randomized and more likely to be biased. What it means to be "sub-optimally randomized" varies across trials, but to give one example: in a large trial in New York, which started in the 1960s, more than twice as many people with a history of breast cancer were excluded from the mammogram group than from the control group. This suggests more women with previous breast cancer were included in the control group, thus biasing the conclusions in favor of mammograms.

When we focus on the high-quality trials (the Canadian study is one of these), the Cochrane Reviews' authors found those who were screened with mammograms were only slightly less likely to die from breast cancer in the seven or 13 years following the trial. This effect was not statistically significant. And, perhaps more important, they were no less likely to die overall.2

It's not that mammograms do nothing. Women who were randomized into the mammography group were much more likely to be diagnosed and treated for breast cancer -- this was true for all the studies. And it starkly illustrates the over-diagnosis issue. In the control group, some small tumors were not detected or treated, but they were detected in the mammogram group, hence the higher diagnosis rates in the latter group. And yet women in the control group were no more likely to die of breast cancer. This suggests those tumors that were missed were often not fatal.

Posted by orrinj at 1:49 PM

Interview: Kathy Shaidle on Confessions of a Failed Slut (Ed Driscoll, April 10th, 2014, PJM)

During our 29-minute interview, Kathy will explore:

● How the Love Boat, that weekly video voyage of the Hollywood damned, caused Kathy to begin seeing the world is "though a Gen-X filter of self-defensive snark."

● Why Glen Close's character in Fatal Attraction is "one of the most misunderstood females on film."

● Why today's women in rock and pop make the first generation of women in punk rock seem positively chaste by comparison.

● How TV's Dr. Phil caused a Twitter storm when his show tweeted, "If a girl is drunk, is it OK to have sex with her?"

● In a pop culture obsessed with sex, why does it seem like the male metrosexual is so...asexual?

● Just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean somebody of the opposite sex isn't out to meet you: Going undercover in the 9/11-"Truther"-themed InfoWars Internet dating site.

● How to break free of the Nanny State's crushing group hug.

Posted by orrinj at 5:07 AM


'Miracle material' graphene one step closer to commercial use (Euan McKirdy, 4/10/14, CNN)

As well as being super-strong -- 20 times stronger than diamond, 200 stronger than steel and six times lighter -- it is also remarkably conductive, both electrically and thermally.

If that wasn't enough, it is also almost perfectly transparent, impermeable to gas, and its properties are, scientists say, easily alterable.

Graphene is one form -- an allotrope -- of carbon, the basis of all life on earth. More familiar carbon allotropes include diamonds and graphite. What makes it unique is its thinness -- at one atom thick it is as good as two-dimensional. Its flexibility means that it could potentially be used for flexible or wearable devices.

"Graphene has a lot of potential, especially in terms of industrial applications for optical and electronic devices," says Ping Sheng, a Professor of Nanoscience at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

"The caveat is really in the quality of the graphene that can be produced on a large scale ... If they can overcome that then it will be a big breakthrough."

Another byproduct of its remarkable thinness is its low weight. It could be used to create ultra-light components for, say, the aviation industry, dramatically reducing the weight of aircraft -- and thus significantly improving fuel efficiency -- without compromising strength or integrity.

Posted by orrinj at 5:04 AM


Five things to know about Manuel Valls (Ben Hall, 3/31/14, Financial Times)

Mr Valls, 51, is about as rightwing as you can be in France's Socialist party. He is about as close as you can get in France to Britain's New Labour, which is regarded by the French left as a toxic brand. He was fond of Blairite mantras. "We must change or die," he argued in 2009, when the Socialist party was foundering under the leadership of leftwinger Martine Aubry. He even suggested ditching "Socialist" from the party name. At one point he was threatened with expulsion from the party for speaking out.

Posted by orrinj at 5:01 AM


Global solar dominance in sight as science trumps fossil fuels : Solar power will slowly squeeze the revenues of petro-rentier regimes in Russia, Venezuela and Saudi Arabia. They will have to find a new business model, or fade into decline (Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, 09 Apr 2014, The Telegraph)

Solar power has won the global argument. Photovoltaic energy is already so cheap that it competes with oil, diesel and liquefied natural gas in much of Asia without subsidies.

Roughly 29pc of electricity capacity added in America last year came from solar, rising to 100pc even in Massachusetts and Vermont. "More solar has been installed in the US in the past 18 months than in 30 years," says the US Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). California's subsidy pot is drying up but new solar has hardly missed a beat.

The technology is improving so fast - helped by the US military - that it has achieved a virtous circle. Michael Parker and Flora Chang, at Sanford Bernstein, say we entering a new order of "global energy deflation" that must ineluctably erode the viability of oil, gas and the fossil fuel nexus over time. In the 1980s solar development was stopped in its tracks by the slump in oil prices. By now it has surely crossed the threshold irreversibly.

April 10, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 6:30 PM


Jeb Bush Has as Good a Shot as Anybody (HARRY ENTEN, 4/10/14, 538)

In the GOP, establishment support has usually foretold who will win the party's nod. When a Republican candidate has won the majority of endorsements from GOP public officials, he has also won the nomination, as discussed in the book "The Party Decides." Romney, for instance, took the most endorsements in 2012.

It may be true, as Emory University political science professor Alan Abramowitz pointed out, that the tea party is the "most politically active segment of the GOP electoral base." But since Barry Goldwater took the Republican nomination in 1964, politicians who have challenged the establishment candidate from the right have always lost: Rick Santorum in 2012, Mike Huckabee in 2008 and Pat Buchanan in 1996 are some examples; Ronald Reagan won the nomination in 1980 after gathering establishment support, but not in 1976 when he challenged Gerald Ford.

Bush's overall policy positions look like those of previous GOP nominees over the past 50 years. In an analysis of different ideological rating systems by FiveThirtyEight editor-in-chief Nate Silver, Bush's ideology was similar on a left-right scale to Romney's and John McCain's.

Voters who support less extreme candidates can still swing Republican nominations, according to Henry Olsen of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a conservative advocacy group. (Just ask Romney and McCain.) And even very conservative Republicans are concerned about winning the White House: The ability to defeat Obama was the No. 1 most important quality for a candidate in 2012. The GOP insiders that Rucker and Costa cite have deemed Bush an electable candidate (for now).

Posted by orrinj at 6:10 PM


Pick two golfers, both have to make the cut, low combined score wins.

We've got some books to give away, including this one (thanks to the publisher: Quercus):

Zero Six Bravo proves that too much secrecy over Special Forces is a bad thing (Damien Lewis, 3 April 2013 , Spectator)

Zero Six Bravo tells of 60 Special Forces operators forced to remain silent in the face of accusations of 'cowardice' and 'running away from the Iraqis' in the 2003 war. In the face of such savage media criticism, and being branded as 'incompetent cowards' who ran an 'operation cluster f___' in Iraq, the men who served in this epic mission had no way to tell their own side of the story and clear their names.

Why? For two main reasons. First, because the MOD operates a policy of 'neither confirm nor deny' anything regarding UK Special Forces. This extends to neither confirming nor denying the very existence of such elite units, let alone giving any details of operations. In addition to this the Special Forces operators themselves are expected to remain silent for life about their time in UK Special Forces, including any operations they undertook.

Imagine how that rankles, and especially in the case of the Iraq mission. In March 2003, days before the war proper began, M Squadron - sixty SBS and SAS operators - was ordered to penetrate 1,000 kilometres behind enemy lines to take the surrender of the 100,000-strong Iraqi 5th Corps. Unsurprisingly, they questioned whether this wasn't some kind of a suicide mission.

What reliance could they put upon British intelligence reports that the 5th Corps were 'poised to surrender' and that the area was 'relatively benign'?  When it proved to be wholly otherwise, M Squadron were sixty elite operators riding in a handful of light-skinned Land Rovers, facing a massive hunter force boasting all weaponry up to main battle tanks.

As they fought and evaded the enemy, it became clear that there was no dedicated air cover to provide air support, and not even enough airframes - Chinook helicopters - available to lift the scattered force out of the desert. By the time US warplanes were scrambled from the race-track pattern they were flying over Baghdad, M Squadron were so closely surrounded by the enemy that the aircrew found it impossible to 'deconflict' the battle space, so as to identify friendly from hostile forces. As a result they were unable to do any airstrikes, to aid a force of elite British operators surrounded, outgunned and facing death or capture.

It was left to M Squadron to escape the Iraqi forces, or die trying.

Incredibly, the M Squadron operators managed to get every man out alive. 


Posted by orrinj at 5:30 AM


Fed Officials Shows Growing Worry About Low Inflation (Jon Hilsenrath, 4/10/14, WSJ)

Federal Reserve officials are growing concerned the U.S. inflation rate won't budge from low levels, the latest sign of angst among central bankers about weakness in the global economy.

Posted by orrinj at 5:24 AM


Why Are There So Few Job Losses from Minimum-Wage Hikes? (Richard B. McKenzie, 4/09/14, NCPA)

Employers compete with one another to reduce their labor costs, and that competition is expressed in a variety of ways in labor markets -- certainly in money wages, but also in terms of fringe benefits, work demands and all other forms of nonmoney compensation. Workers also compete for the available unskilled jobs. The competition among employers and workers will not disappear with a wage increase but will merely be redirected into the components of compensation packages not covered by the wage mandate. Wage floors, therefore, restrain competitive pressures in only one of the many ways in which businesses compete. With a minimum-wage increase, employers will move to cut labor costs in other areas. As such, employers are likely to reduce fringe benefits and/or increase work demands.

Indeed, past experience has confirmed the nonmonetary impact of a minimum-wage hike on workers, not only in reduced fringe benefits but in increased work demands and decreased job training. For example:

When the minimum wage was increased in 1967, economist Masanori Hashimoto found that workers gained 32 cents in money income but lost 41 cents per hour in training -- a net loss of 9 cents an hour in full-income compensation.

Similarly, Linda Leighton and Jacob Mincer in one study, and Belton Fleisher in another, concluded that increases in the minimum wage reduce on-the-job training and, as a result, dampen long-run growth in the real incomes of covered workers.

Additionally, North Carolina State University economist Walter Wessels determined that a wage increase caused New York retailers to increase work demands. In most stores, fewer workers were given fewer hours to do the same work as before.

More recently, Mindy Marks found that the $0.90 per hour increase in the federal minimum-wage rate in 1990 reduced the probability of workers receiving employer-provided health insurance from 66.2 percent to 63.1 percent, and increased the likelihood that covered workers would be reduced to part-time work by 26 percent.

Wessels also found that for every 10 percent increase in the minimum wage, workers lose 2 percent of nonmonetary compensation per hour. Extrapolating from Wessels' estimates, an increase in the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to only $9.00 an hour would make covered workers worse off by 35 cents an hour.

And if the minimum wage were raised to $10.10 an hour, for example, the estimated 16.5 million workers earning between $7.25 and $10.10 could lose nonmonetary compensation more valuable than the $31 billion in additional wages they are expected to receive.

Posted by orrinj at 5:17 AM


Young investors are hoarding cash (Ryan Derousseau, April 9, 2014, CNN Money)

According to investment adviser UBS, people in their early to mid-thirties with at least $100,000 to invest keep 42% of their money in cash. [...]

For young investors, though, these numbers put that risk in perspective: Over periods of 30 years, stocks have never lost money and outperformed cash-like short-term Treasuries by an annualized average of 7 percentage points.

April 9, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 6:32 PM


How the White House and Democrats stepped on their own equal pay message (NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, April 9, 2014, Washington Post)

The messaging started Tuesday in the early afternoon at the White House with Obama citing the 77 cents on the dollar figure that has become a convenient political cudgel, but has in fact been widely disputed, even by his own Labor Department.

Flanked by a diverse array of women, including Lilly Ledbetter, Obama signed an executive order that lifts the veil of "pay secrecy" from the federal contractor workforce, ensuring that federal contract employees don't face retaliation if they share salary information.

Obama hammered Republicans for "gumming up the works" when it comes to closing the gender wage gap.

But the real "gumming up" came when White House press secretary faced a second day of questioning Tuesday afternoon about the White House's own gender pay gap. 
According to an American Enterprise Institute study, women in the White House earn 88 percent of what men earn.

Here's where it got tricky and will likely stay tricky for the White House and Democrats trying to make the equal pay argument:

If the 77 cents on the dollar figure is evidence of discrimination outside the workforce, isn't the 88 cents on the dollar figure also evidence of discrimination in the White House?

Posted by orrinj at 5:32 PM


Jeb Bush Isn't a Fantasy Candidate (Ramesh Ponnuru, 4/08/14, Bloomberg View)

As I've argued in several Bloomberg columns, the party since 1984 has given its presidential nomination only to people who are at its ideological center of gravity or to its left, and never to anyone to its right. There are reasons for that pattern -- having to do with, among other things, the perennial inability of the party's right to agree on a candidate -- and those reasons haven't disappeared.

Neither Perry nor Huntsman had the support of the party's establishment, or the national network of funders and supporters, that Bush would have. Perry's notorious immigration comment during the 2012 campaign -- he called some of his opponents heartless on the issue -- harmed him so badly because he needed to solidify the conservative end of the party against an establishment candidate, Mitt Romney.

Bush wouldn't be in the same position. He'd be the establishment candidate himself (or at least one of them). He'd be trying to win over a different group of voters, who take a more moderate view of immigration. And Bush's own controversial comment on the topic last weekend -- he said illegal immigration was "an act of love" -- was also less offensive to Republicans who disagree with him, because he didn't say that they were heartless but rather that they weren't viewing the issue the right way.

Bush's position within the primary electorate, in other words, would be more like that of Senator John McCain -- who won the nomination not so long ago, in 2008. Actually, it would be better than McCain's, as McCain's record included a lot more deviations from the party line than Bush's does.

The Republican base isn't just pro-immigration but pro-amnesty (as long as we all agree to call it something else).

Posted by orrinj at 5:06 AM


The Reasons Businesses Use Open Source Are Changing Faster Than You Realize (Matt Asay Matt Asay April 07, 2014, ReadWrite)

Open-source software, once used primarily because it was cheap and "good enough," now gets top ranking for delivering high quality, according to the latest Future of Open Source survey.

While lowering costs remains the top reason companies elect to participate in open-source projects, they now view open source as a way to drive innovation, shorten time to market, and improve the quality of their software.

April 8, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:52 PM


Swedes to give six-hour workday a go (The Local, 4/08/14)

Municipal staff in Gothenburg will act as guinea pigs in a proposed push for six-hour workdays with full pay, with hopes that it will cut down on sick leave, boost efficiency, and ultimately save Sweden money.

"We think it's time to give this a real shot in Sweden," Mats Pilhem, Left Party deputy mayor of Gothenburg, told The Local. 
He explained that the municipal council would use two different departments - a test group and a control group, in essence. Staff in one section will cut down to six-hour days, while their colleagues in a different section stick to the ordinary seven-hour day.  All employees will be given the same pay.

Posted by orrinj at 7:50 PM


Homeopathy is bunk, study says : Medical experts tested research and treatments for 68 conditions and found they had no impact (Helen Davidson, 4/08/14, theguardian.com)

The draft paper by Australia's National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) assessed research into the effectiveness of the alternative medicine on 68 health conditions and concluded "there is no reliable evidence that homeopathy is effective".

Homeopathy claims to "let likes cure like," by using highly diluted forms of the ailment it is treating. The Australian Homeopathic Association states the practice treats patients as a "whole person, taking into account personality, lifestyle and hereditary factors as well as the history of the disease."

But the NHMRC review, conducted by a working committee of medical experts, said it had no impact on a range of conditions and illnesses including asthma, arthritis, sleep disturbances, cold and flu, chronic fatigue syndrome, eczema, cholera, burns, malaria and heroin addiction.

For the 68 conditions - including those listed - the review either concluded definitively that homeopathy was not more effective than a placebo, or at the very least there was no reliable evidence to suggest it was.

Posted by orrinj at 7:48 PM


Republicans are realizing that Jeb Bush is their only option in 2016  (Damon Linker, 4/08/14, The Week)

Even without a replay of the Bachmann-Cain-Gingrich-Perry-Paul GOP primary freak show of 2012, the party is heading into its confrontation with Hillary Clinton at a serious general election disadvantage. Some of the weakness has demographic roots that no single candidate can change in a single race. But the rest is a product of the party's rightward lurch over the past six years -- and a restive base that demands absolute ideological purity on the part of candidates.

The result, as in 2012, is likely to be a primary contest devoted to winning the Real Conservative trophy. Ted Cruz and Rand Paul already spend most of their days trying to out-Tea Party the other. Marco Rubio would be doing the same thing if he wasn't preoccupied with figuring out how to distance himself from his role in drafting a failed immigration reform bill that was wildly unpopular with the angry white grassroots of the party. And so it goes down the line, with Scott Walker, Rick Santorum, John Kasich, and other wannabes bringing up the rear -- all of them desperate to earn the support of the party's populist foot soldiers.

By the time it's all over, the 80+ percent of America that isn't furiously right wing will likely have been persuaded that, however disappointing the Obama years have turned out to be, there are worse things than spending another four years with a centrist Democrat in the White House.

Unless, that is, a candidate with broader appeal comes on the scene. For a time, it looked like Chris Christie might be such a candidate. But the Bridgegate scandal continues to fester, and it has managed to reinforce the impression that the man from the swamps of Jersey is a bully and a thug.

And that leaves Jeb.

Posted by orrinj at 7:42 PM


Tax Revolt Brews in House (IRA STOLL, April 8, 2014, NY Sun)

House Republicans are quietly moving ahead with dueling plans to replace the tax code with a simpler system. It's a hot topic in advance of the April 15 filing deadline for individual income tax returns.

The latest budget blueprint from the chairman of the House Budget Committee, Paul Ryan, reports that Americans spend an estimated 6 billion hours and more than $160 billion on tax compliance. That dollar figure is not the tax payments, it's just the tax-related compliance spending on things like software, accountants, and lawyers. A lot of Americans are thinking there has got to be a better way. [...]

Lower-profile, but potentially more significant long-term, are the plans offered by two other Republican lawmakers. Mr. Ryan's budget blueprint mentions them alongside the Camp proposal as "good ideas" and "growth-oriented tax plans."

One is House Resolution 25, the Fair Tax Act, offered by Congressman Rob Woodall of Georgia. It would repeal all federal corporate and individual income taxes, including payroll taxes, capital gains taxes, and the death tax. It would replace them, and fund the government's operations, with a new federal consumption tax on goods and services at a 23% rate.

The other is House Resolution 1040, the Flat Tax Act, introduced by Congressman Michael Burgess of Texas. It would give Americans the option of choosing to file with an optional one-page tax return, at a rate of 19% for the first two years and 17% bfor the years after that.

Both the Fair Tax and the Flat Tax are dramatic enough departures from our existing tax code that some skepticism about their prospects is in order. But the encouragement from Mr. Ryan means something; he may take over the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee in the next Congress. Each proposal has backing from other heavyweights among House Republicans.

April 7, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:03 PM


'Go Down, Moses': Engaging With My Complex Musical Heritage at Passover : As a black classical singer, I avoided singing negro spirituals--until Yiddish music helped me hear them in a new way as a Jew (Anthony Russell, April 7, 2014, Tablet)

The first time I heard a live rendition of "Go Down, Moses" was at the first Passover Seder I ever attended. Somewhere around the third cup of wine, a room full of Jews sang the classic negro spiritual in lively fashion, followed almost immediately by "O Freedom," another classic negro spiritual.

A feeling of bewilderment and paranoia began to steal over me: Why are they singing these songs? Are they looking at me? Do they expect me to know these songs?

That was six years ago, before I converted. Now that I've formally been a Jew for a couple of years, being the only black man in Jewish spaces has lost some of its initial awkwardness. Still, when a black man decides that he is going to attend shul regularly, he doesn't have to look for awkwardness--it will find him. There was the time I unwittingly stood on the wrong side of the mechitzah while visiting the Carlebach Shul; it was the only section with any room, so I thoughtlessly went there. Oftentimes other Jews, well-meaning and otherwise, are the source of awkwardness, like the time a synagogue greeter stopped me to request that I wear a kippah before entering the sanctuary with a stern statement: "This is the custom of our people." I was somewhat embarrassed to have to show the greeter that I already had a kippah on my head--my own kippah, in fact.

At that first Seder, I was my own source of awkwardness. I wouldn't say I'd been actively running away from negro spirituals, but I'd spent 15 years as an African-American classical singer scrupulously avoiding singing them. That Seder was indeed a "night of questions," implicated as I was by the question of the Wicked Child: What does all this mean to you?

I struggled to retain my cool. This is Passover, I told myself. A time to sing songs about Moses. A time to sing songs about freedom. This, for once, is really not about you.

Or was it? That question would be eventually answered by another question--in Yiddish.

Posted by orrinj at 7:00 PM


Is our focus on economic growth hurting employment? It's time for a new approach (Mark Thoma, 4/07/14,The Fiscal Times)

In the past, the focus of supply-side policies has been to remove tax and regulatory distortions that prevent capital markets from functioning efficiently, to promote saving and investment, and to lower the taxes on corporations and the wealthy.

Those efforts will surely reemerge as the focus turns once again to growth (though hopefully we've learned something about deregulation). But there will be something new this time around, and it will be driven by the political left.

Increasingly, the idea that the ever-growing inequality can be harmful to economic growth has been taking hold. As I pointed out in my last column, Joseph Stiglitz explains one way that rising inequality can have a negative impact on economic growth:

Many at the bottom, or even in the middle, are not living up to their potential, because the rich, needing few public services and worried that a strong government might redistribute income, use their political influence to cut taxes and curtail government spending. This leads to underinvestment in infrastructure, education, and technology, impeding the engines of growth. [The Guardian]

Or, to give another example of how reducing inequality can promote growth, if wages were higher, would we see such a large number of permanent dropouts from the labor force, a drag on economic growth? As Atif Mian and Amir Sufi document, ever since 1980, the tight link between the growth in productivity and median household income has been broken. Gains from growth that used to flow to typical households now end up at the top of the income distribution. Wouldn't a more equitable distribution of the gains from growth motivate people to remain in (or return to) the labor force?

For yet another example, if a larger share of the gains from growth had gone to lower income households, how much better off -- healthier, better educated, and more productive in the future -- would our children be? How much faster would the economy grow if more children were able to reach their potential?

Of course a focus on growth hurts employment, just as a focus on employment hurts growth.  Once we accept this truism, it appears obvious that the best way to distribute wealth is not through employment.

Posted by orrinj at 6:10 PM


Squeezed middle has prospered during the crisis, claims thinktank : Social Market Foundation report insists economic problems faced by middle-income groups have been exaggerated (Toby Helm, 4/05/14, The Observer)

The economic problems of so-called "squeezed middle" families - those on low to middle incomes - have been exaggerated, according to new analysis which concludes that many have thrived since the beginning of the economic downturn in 2008.

The Social Market Foundation (SMF), an independent thinktank, will challenge the prevailing view that this group has been stuck in a negative spiral of declining real wages and lack of hope, and assert that as a group it has demonstrated "remarkable resilience", with more than four in 10 families moving up the income scale.

The SMF says it has adopted new methodology by tracking actual working-age households rather than relying on statistical averages and other data. It followed families who were in the middle 20% of income distribution - the third income bracket - at the start of the economic downturn in 2007-08 and analysed what had happened to them by 2011-12 (the latest available data). A family in this group in 2011-12 would have had a total pre-tax income, including benefits, of between £26,100 and £41,200.

The report, Riders on the Storm, found that 41% of such families had climbed either into the fourth income bracket (£41,200 to £63,000 incomes) or the fifth or top income bracket (more than £63,000). A further 40% had stayed as they were, while 18% had fallen, either into the second-lowest or lowest income brackets, of £11,700 to £26,100 and below £11,700 respectively.

The SMF's director, Emran Mian, said politicians appeared to have missed the fact that many had shown themselves capable of upward mobility. 

To accept how easy our lives are is too embarrassing.
Posted by orrinj at 6:06 PM


Study Casts Doubt on Superiority of Stradivarius Violins (TOM JACOBS, April 07, 2014, Pacific Standard)

In the minds of many musicians, no instrument can compare to a Stradivarius. Just last month, a festival was held in Los Angeles featuring eight violins crafted by Antonio Stradivari in the early 18th century--further evidence of the unique fascination they hold.

But are these revered instruments truly superior to their contemporary counterparts? A newly published study, which describes a blind comparison test performed by 10 world-class violinists, strongly suggests the answer is no.

The results "present a striking challenge to near-canonical beliefs about old Italian violins," writes a research team led by Claudia Fritz of the University of Paris. Its study is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Posted by orrinj at 2:53 PM


Oregon Senate Poll: Merkley Under 50 Percent : Is Oregon the sleeper race in 2014? (MICHAEL WARREN, 4/04/14, Weekly Standard)

On the generic ballot, a Democratic candidate has just a 3-point lead (45 percent to 42 percent) over a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate. The poll also found that Merkley, a first-term senator, has just a 39 percent favorability rating, with 32 percent having an unfavorable opinion of him and 30 percent not sure. 

Posted by orrinj at 2:41 PM


Bush 41 Reunion Looks to Burnish His Legacy (PETER BAKER, APRIL 3, 2014, NY Times)

Frail from a form of Parkinson's disease, Mr. Bush, 89, has benefited from a wave of historical revisionism that has transformed him from the biggest incumbent loser since William Howard Taft to, by at least one measure, the most popular former president of the past half century.

"This is a man who campaigned for a kinder, gentler nation," said Mark K. Updegrove, director of the Johnson library, who is working on a book about the two President Bushes. "And it's interesting that after a quarter-century, he's getting a kinder and gentler verdict in history."

Mr. Updegrove's is one of several books in the works about the 41st president and will take its place among recent documentaries and awards. After bestowing the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Mr. Bush three years ago, President Obama brought him back to the White House last summer to honor him. Last week, Mount Vernon gave Mr. Bush its first Cyrus A. Ansary Prize for Courage and Character. Next month, he will receive the Profile in Courage award from the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation.

Mr. Bush's single term, from 1989 to 1993, proved a pivot point at home and abroad. The last president to have served in World War II, he managed the end of the Cold War, reunified Germany and expelled Iraq from Kuwait. He reauthorized the Civil Rights Act, updated the Clean Air Act and signed the Americans with Disabilities Act. But he broke his "read my lips" promise not to raise taxes and lost re-election when he seemed disengaged from a troubled economy.

"Twenty-five years later, history is beginning to recognize that George Bush was the best one-term president in American history," said James A. Baker III, his secretary of state and friend.

Robert Gates, Mr. Bush's C.I.A. director, who later served the younger Mr. Bush and Mr. Obama as secretary of defense, said, "There is no precedent for the collapse of a great empire without a war," adding that Mr. Bush was "beginning to get the credit for the way he managed that."

Posted by orrinj at 2:29 PM


Interview: Dave Barry: You Can Date Boys When You're Forty (Ed Driscoll, April 6th, 2014, PJ Media)

[T]he title of Dave's latest book is based on reading the Riot Act to his daughter: You Can Date Boys When You're Forty: Dave Barry on Parenting and Other Topics He Knows Very Little About.

Perhaps Barry is overreacting just a minuscule amount to the situation. On the other hand, you'd be feeling a bit harried too, if you recently returned from the following nightmare scenarios:

Going to your first Justin Bieber concert and listening to a stadium full of teenage girls shouting "I loooooove you!!!! I loooooove you, Justin!!!!!!"  into your ear all night long.

Paying a fortune for tickets to take your daughter to said Justin Beiber concert, only for her to eventually discover that the Bieb is an idiot. Which Barry had pointed out to her before plunking out money for the concert.

Pondering what women see in 50 Shades of Grey, and asking your wife if she wants to try out the book's scenario.

Visiting Israel on a quest for free Wi-Fi throughout the Holy Land.

Rappelling down an Israeli desert cliff and risking pooping on a rabbi due to total loss of sphincter control.

Having people approach you constantly to praise your article on the importance of colonoscopies.

The easy way for first time authors to promote their works by get booked on nationally-watched network talk shows by showing up at the studio door unannounced 15 minutes before airtime.

All of which we'll discuss in our latest interview, and more.

Posted by orrinj at 5:34 AM


Jeb Bush: Many illegal immigrants come out of an 'act of love' (ED O'KEEFE, April 6, 2014, Washington Post)

"There are means by which we can control our border better than we have. And there should be penalties for breaking the law," he added. "But the way I look at this -- and I'm going to say this, and it'll be on tape and so be it. The way I look at this is someone who comes to our country because they couldn't come legally, they come to our country because their families -- the dad who loved their children -- was worried that their children didn't have food on the table. And they wanted to make sure their family was intact, and they crossed the border because they had no other means to work to be able to provide for their family. Yes, they broke the law, but it's not a felony. It's an act of love. It's an act of commitment to your family. I honestly think that that is a different kind of crime that there should be a price paid, but it shouldn't rile people up that people are actually coming to this country to provide for their families."

The comments clearly set Bush apart from other Republicans, especially some considering runs for president in 2016. 

April 6, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 9:24 AM


Samsung researchers claim graphene breakthrough (Sophie Curtis, 04 Apr 2014, The Telegraph)

Samsung researchers have developed a new method of synthesising graphene, which they claim could accelerate the commercialisation of the so-called 'miracle material', for use in electronic devices.

Graphene is one of the thinnest, lightest, strongest and most conductive materials know to man, consisting of a single layer of carbon atoms arranged in a honeycomb structure. Its versatility means that it can potentially support a wide variety of applications in electronics, including flexible displays, wearables and other next-generation electronic devices.

Posted by orrinj at 9:21 AM


DC Water adopts Norway's Cambi system for making power and fine fertilizer from sewage (Ashley Halsey III, April 5, 2014, Washington Post)

More than a few pennies may be saved for the citizens of the District and for some Virginians and Marylanders. Those people -- 2.2 million of them -- get a monthly bill for the privilege of sending their thoroughly digested nutritional intake to the plant in Southeast Washington operated by D.C. Water.

A chunk of that monthly bill is passed on to another local utility -- Pepco. D.C. Water is the electricity company's No. 1 customer. By converting poop to power, the water company will cut its Pepco bill by about one third and reduce by half the cost of trucking treated waste elsewhere.

But enough about poop, a subject that makes many a reader a bit squeamish. Because we'd rather not drive you away from the description of a wholly remarkable plan that is very likely to affect your pocketbook, henceforth we will refer to the matter that flows through the sewage plant as "the product."

In fact, you soon will learn, it is going to be turned into a genuine product. One with a price tag. One that you may buy back.

Think about it.

The product has shed the label "wastewater" to morph into something called "enriched water," a term laden with many more intriguing possibilities.

"It could be a game changer for energy," said George Hawkins, an environmentalist who became general manager of D.C. Water. "If we could turn every enriched-water facility in the United States into a power plant, it would become one of the largest sectors of clean energy that, at the moment, is relatively untapped."

Posted by orrinj at 8:05 AM


US gives Boeing green light to sell plane parts to Iran (Deutsche Welle, 4/05/14)

Boeing, the world's biggest plane manufacturer, said late Friday the US Treasury Department issued it with a license allowing the airline to do business with Iran for the first time since 1979.

A Boeing spokesman said the company would now be allowed to export certain spare parts for commercial planes that were needed to ensure older aircraft could fly safely.

Posted by orrinj at 8:02 AM


Automation Alone Isn't Killing Jobs (TYLER COWEN, 4/05/14, NY Times)

This time around, computers, smart software and robots are seen as the culprits. They seem to be replacing many of the remaining manufacturing jobs and encroaching on service-sector jobs, too.

Driverless vehicles and drone aircraft are no longer science fiction, and over time, they may eliminate millions of transportation jobs. Many other examples of automatable jobs are discussed in "The Second Machine Age," a book by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, and in my own book, "Average Is Over." The upshot is that machines are often filling in for our smarts, not just for our brawn -- and this trend is likely to grow. [...]

Many expanding economic sectors are not very labor-intensive, be they tech fields like online retailing or even new mining and extraction industries. That means it's harder for the rate of job creation to keep up with the rate of job destruction, because a given amount of economic growth isn't bringing as many jobs.

April 5, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 8:10 PM


Capitalize Workers! (JONATHAN COWAN and JIM KESSLER  APRIL 5, 2014, NY Times)

For decades, the returns to capital have far outstripped the returns to labor. Before the mid-1980s, worker salaries constituted 65 percent of national income. In 2012, they were 58 percent. Economists rightly fret over how this contributes to wealth inequality. Well, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. If all working people, whatever their wage, could get a piece of these gains, it would improve their financial well-being exponentially. This is where the minimum pension comes in.

We are proposing a Savings Plan for Universal Retirement account, the centerpiece of which is a 50-cent-per-hour minimum retirement contribution from all employers to virtually all employees. This is not what President George W. Bush proposed when he sought to privatize Social Security in 2005. Under our plan, Social Security remains as is, but every worker would also have his or her own private Individual Retirement Account, the way many white-collar workers do now.

Contributions placed in this account would automatically go into a privately run low-fee life-cycle fund. (Life-cycle funds comprise a mix of stock and bond investments tailored to how far the owner is from retirement.) Recipients could switch investment options to say, an S&P 500 index fund. A government board like the one that now manages the retirement accounts of federal employees would sanction the investment options.

And then means test Social Security.
Posted by orrinj at 7:37 AM


'Marriage and Civilization' : a review of MARRIAGE AND CIVILIZATION: HOW MONOGAMY MADE US HUMAN By William Tucker (David DesRosiers, 4/02/14, The Washington Times)

Once upon a time, man became man, but how? Man was not fashioned as an original, say, out of the clay of the earth and breath. Christianity does play a starring role in William Tucker's study of monogamy, but it has a hugely supportive role that is treated later. Judaism is less supportive; Islam is self-consciously on the other side. All the major systems are looked at through monogamy. However, Mr. Tucker's starting point is the land of Darwin, anthropology and specifically the work of Owen Lovejoy.

The original family made a decision that separated them from our pre-human prehistory. A choice -- I'm with her, and she is with me exclusively -- was the tipping point that made us human and gave us a beneficial leg up on the monkey-mix from whence we sprang.

Just so.

Posted by orrinj at 7:33 AM


The Trial Of General Homma : Was he the Beast of Bataan, or was his true war crime defeating Douglas MacArthur? A troubling look at the problems of military justice (Hampton Sides, February/March 2007, American Heritage)

Homma's tribunal, then, was an anomaly. In Manila, a victorious army was trying the army it had vanquished. As the Supreme Allied Commander of the Pacific Theater, Douglas MacArthur was responsible for selecting the venue, the defense, the prosecution, the jury, and the rules of evidence in the trial of a man who had beaten him on the battlefield.

Homma had been indicted on 48 counts of violating the international rules of war, but during this first meeting with his lawyers the general said he was pleading "not guilty" to all of them. As the commander of the 14th Imperial Army he was "morally responsible," but he said he neither knew about nor condoned--let alone ordered--any of the crimes for which he was now being charged. Of all the charges, he seemed to understand that those associated with the Bataan Death March would be the hardest to defend against. And yet Homma appeared to have only a vague notion of what this incident was supposed to have been. He said the very first time he'd heard the term was shortly before being taken into American custody, when several reporters asked him about his role in the atrocity.

Against their expectations, Pelz and his colleagues took an almost immediate liking to the general. In his diary, Pelz wrote that Homma was "charming" and a man of "obviously high character."

It was an odd twist of fate that General Homma should have been assigned to attack the American-held Philippines in the first place. He had been openly pro-Western before the war, a self-described Anglophile who had lived for years as a military attaché in Oxford and London, and he was widely known as the most Europeanized of all the Japanese generals.

The more Homma talked about his life, the more captivated Pelz became by this surprising man. The general seemed to have traveled everywhere and known nearly everyone of consequence. He had been at the coronation of King George VI, had been to Palestine and Afghanistan, and had lived for years in India. He'd met Gandhi, Churchill, and Mussolini. During one of his several trips across the United States, he had been led to the top of the newly built Empire State Building by Mayor Fiorello La Guardia.

Homma had already laid out many of the arguments for his own defense. Pelz saw in Homma's pensive round face a resolve to fight the judgment of history. Writing of this first meeting in his diary, Pelz said the general "was obviously nervous and eager. He looked like a tired old grandfather who had girded himself for a last battle." At the same time, Homma seemed to recognize that this battle was probably unwinnable. He wrote in his journal, morosely: "Justice is not applicable to the defeated. They will start the trial on the assumption that I am guilty... . There is no hope at all that I'll be saved. There is no possibility. At night I feel dizzy from despair."

Today Robert Pelz is 88 years old. Three years ago I met him at his law offices on Park Avenue in Manhattan, where he was a senior partner in the firm of Loeb & Loeb, focusing primarily on trusts and corporate matters. He is a dapper man with a sardonic wit and black eyebrows that arch and squirm like furry caterpillars above his thick glasses. He lives in the New York suburb of Purchase, in Westchester County, and plays golf regularly. He has a taste for fine Honduran cigars, and when he is smoking, he can look strikingly like Groucho Marx. By his office desk he kept a framed photograph of Masaharu Homma from the days of the trial, the image signed by the general in a florid hand.

Pelz picked up the photograph and studied it for a moment. "Funny to say, but Homma was a nice man, a gentleman."

We went around the corner to one of Pelz's favorite lunch spots, the Four Seasons, and over his usual dry martini he talked about the general and the sensational war-crimes trial that had launched his career nearly 60 years earlier. He was 27 then, the son of a Brooklyn banker hard hit by the Depression. Pelz was barely a lawyer then--he had only recently passed the New York bar--but somehow he'd ended up on Homma's defense team, an impressionable young lieutenant handed what would be, in many ways, the most fascinating case of his career. Of the five lawyers who represented the general, Robert Pelz is the sole survivor. "You caught me just in the nick of time, before my memory goes," he told me with a wry smile.

Pelz recalled the charged atmosphere in Manila. "The war hysteria had not ended. 'The Beast of Bataan'--it was all over the newspapers." The trial was also overshadowed by an unmistakable sense of personal vendetta. Although Douglas MacArthur was not there--he was ensconced in Tokyo, running the American occupation--his powerful and often grandiose persona was vividly felt in the courtroom and indeed everywhere in Manila, the city he had long called his home. Four years after the fact, the fall of Bataan remained a torment to MacArthur. It had been the largest surrender in American history with the exception of Appomattox. By the time his men laid down their arms in the spring of 1942, MacArthur had been safely evacuated to Australia to rebuild the Army, uttering his famous line "I shall return." He had returned, and in a sense, he was still fighting General Homma.

In 1945 Pelz already held a jaundiced view of MacArthur, whom he called "the Great I Am," and his opinion hasn't changed in 60 years. "A conceited ass," he told me, "a fine general, and a terrible man."

For Homma's lawyers, it was not enough to show that Homma had no knowledge of the war crimes in question. His trial would turn on the slippery concept of "command responsibility." As the commander in the field, the court asserted, Homma was liable for crimes of commission and omission; even if he was technically innocent, he should have known what was happening and done something to stop it. No enemy of an American army had ever been tried in a capital case under so sweeping a premise.

Certainly it was not a concept that American armies have ever applied to themselves. (To raise a modern analogy, by the interpretation of command responsibility asserted in the Homma trial, Gen. Tommy Franks could be held directly responsible for the abuses that occurred at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib Prison and the more than 30 homicides that have reportedly occurred among Afghani and Iraqi prisoners while in U.S. custody.)

Pelz spent the better part of two months with Masaharu Homma, meeting with him nearly every day, and like all his colleagues on the defense team, he grew close to the general. Immediately following the trial, he escorted Homma's distraught wife, Fujiko, back to Tokyo and was a guest in the general's home on the outskirts of the ruined city. He met Homma's family and friends and got a sense of his broad and often surprising world. Over the years, he would maintain a correspondence with the Homma family.

In time Pelz came to regard Homma as a complicated, ambiguous, and thoroughly ill-starred man who had not received anything like a fair trial. The seemingly clear-cut case of the "Beast of Bataan" pointed up the enormous difficulties that can arise when the U.S. Army ignores American traditions of due process and unilaterally arrogates to itself the right to try--and condemn--an adversary.

What's more, Homma proved a thoroughly unsatisfactory villain. Here was a figure out of Shakespearean tragedy, an aesthete fighting a war he did not believe in, for a totalitarian regime he detested, and yet, in the end, having to answer with his life for that regime's savagery.

Masaharu Homma came from a military tradition. He was the son of wealthy landowners, and his rise to prominence had been controversial and erratic, marred by his liaisons with beautiful but socially undesirable women. Among his various posts, he had served as head of the Army Propaganda Department in the mid-1930s, when he befriended Japan's foremost writers, painters, and dramatists. His colleagues viewed him as fiercely intelligent, highly principled, and vaguely effeminate. He had a habit of composing verse during the heat of battle. Within the 14th Imperial Army he was widely known as the Poet General.

People close to Homma thought him temperamentally unsuited for the demands of his chosen profession. Friends told his Japanese biographer that they hated to go to movies with Homma because he would often "put his handkerchief to his face and cry endlessly." Masahiko Homma, one of his sons, remembered that his father once tore down a sharply pointed bamboo fence at the family house because he was suddenly seized with the notion that it "looked cruel."

Several years ago, while writing a book about survivors of the Bataan Death March, I went to meet Masahiko Homma at the general's birthplace, Sado Island, off the coast of Honshu. This is a magical realm dotted with temples and crumbling shrines. The people of Sado speak a dialect that is said to be closer in cadence and intonation to ancient Japanese, and the island's folktales and No rituals preserve customs that have largely disappeared on the mainland.

General Homma remains a hero here. After all, he is the only Japanese general who ever decisively defeated an American army. Masahiko Homma still lives in the general's elegant wooden house, which was built in 1881 and is set on a tangled green hilltop in the village of Hatano. On the morning I arrived, I could see a misty panorama of rice paddies stretching to the sea, an impressive sweep of terraced land that has been in the Homma family for hundreds of years.

Masahiko Homma looks a lot like his father: the same air of quiet erudition, the same round face and penetrating gaze. A taut, owlish man well into his eighties, Masahiko graciously entertained me for several days. Pouring endless cups of green tea, he and his wife showed me the general's letters and photographs, his medals, his Imperial Army sword.

Like his father, like every Japanese man of his generation, Masahiko Homma was also a soldier in the Imperial Army. In 1943 his unit was captured by Russian troops in the Kuril Islands, north of Japan, and shipped to the Soviet Far East to slave in Siberian work camps. More than 60,000 Japanese soldiers died in captivity. Homma remained a Soviet prisoner in Siberia for five years before being released to go home to Sado.

It was only then, as an ex-POW returning to American-occupied Japan and still recovering from an ordeal of unimaginable mistreatment, that he learned the bitter irony of his family's fate: His own father had been tried by the United States for the crime of mistreating POWs. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:26 AM


Housing The Homeless Saves Money--Here's The Research That Proves It (Ben Schiller, 4/05/14, Co.Exist)

The best way to stop homelessness is mindbogglingly simple: Give them homes.

Providing the homeless with a place to live may seem like a high cost for taxpayers. But the alternative, it turns out, is more costly, new research shows. Subsidized accommodation could actually be a bargain for the public, in purely economic terms.

That's because living on the street exposes men and women to higher health risks, so they're more likely to use expensive hospital services. Moreover, the homeless tend to get arrested more often than the rest of the population, which generates additional expense in the criminal justice system.

The research looked at Moore Place, an 85-apartment building that opened in Charlotte, North Carolina, in early 2012. The University of North Carolina Charlotte tracked a group of homeless a year before entering the facility, and then a year afterwards, and recorded a dramatic drop in health care use and jail time.

It's the centeal insight of the Third Way: bigger government (defining the contribution, instead of the benefit) is cheaper government.  

Posted by orrinj at 7:24 AM


Israeli Jews Who Aren't Jewish in Eyes of Rabbis Face Kafkaesque Conversion Plight : Immigrants Make Aliyah But Rejected by Rabbinate (Nathan Jeffay, April 04, 2014, Forward)

They live as part of Jewish society in the Jewish state, but the state itself does not consider them Jewish.

For Israel, some 330,000 immigrants, mostly from the former Soviet Union, represent a big assimilation problem and a big political problem, made worse by the fact that the only solution is seen as a religious one. And the remedy lies exclusively in the hands of the country's state-sponsored Orthodox rabbis, who, under Israeli civil law, have sole authority to determine the Jewish status of the state's citizens.

Now, the latest effort to address this problem has collapsed, as the Orthodox political party that was key to reform on many other fronts has balked. The religious-Zionist Jewish Home party, a member of the current government coalition, supported recent legislation to draft Haredim, or ultra-Orthodox Jews, for the first time; approved a liberalizing overhaul of marriage procedures, and created a modest dedicated space at the Western Wall for non-Orthodox prayer.

Yet the same party backing these religious reforms -- the most progressive passed by any recent Israeli government -- appears to have sabotaged a bill to help would-be converts.

That promises to leave the large number of Russian immigrants in Israel who are not considered Jewish under Orthodox religious law in limbo. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:16 AM


The Decline of Work (April 4, 2014, WSJ)

Many attribute the decline of work in America to the wave of Baby Boomers heading into retirement and the fact that the population at large is getting older. Studies show this is part of the story, though that is also a problem if those workers are retiring earlier because they lost a job and can't find a comparable one.

Yet the decline in work is also affecting those between the prime working ages of 25 and 54. The employment rate for those workers rose steadily in the postwar period, dipping during recessions but always returning to an upward climb. The nearby chart tracks the trend from 1980. The rate reached an all-time high in 1999 of 81.6% amid the dot-com boom, dipped in the early George W. Bush years, and was recovering until the recessionary collapse.

At 76.7% today, this measure of work has only recently returned to 2009 levels. That's roughly where it last hovered in 1984 and 1985 before climbing amid the Reagan growth surge. So after several years of 2% economic growth since 2009, the share of mid-career workers in their best earning years who are on the job is still historically and unusually low.

A return to historical norms is not a historical low. And we have a long decline to go before we reach the norm:

Data extracted on: April 5, 2014 (7:18:40 AM)

Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey

Series Id:           LNS11300000
Seasonally Adjusted
Series title:        (Seas) Labor Force Participation Rate
Labor force status:  Civilian labor force participation rate
Type of data:        Percent or rate
Age:                 16 years and over

April 4, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:18 PM


Poll: Americans Still Unconcerned About Global Warming (Alan Neuhauser, April 4, 2014, US News)

Temperatures may keep rising, yet public opinion has held steady: Most Americans have only low levels of concern about climate change, a new poll by Gallup finds. 

Just 34 percent of adults said they worried "a great deal" about "global warming," about the same as last year. Meanwhile, 35 percent said they felt the same way about "climate change," just a 2 percentage points more than last year.

"A major challenge facing scientists and organizations that view global warming as a major threat to humanity is that average citizens express so little concern about the issue," Gallup said. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:17 PM


Geep: Rare 'goat-sheep' born on Irish farm (BBC, 4 April 2014)

A rare, hybrid animal that is part goat and part sheep has been born on a farm in the Republic of Ireland.

The animal, referred to as a geep, was born about two weeks ago on Paddy Murphy's farm in County Kildare.

The unexpected arrival is thought to be the result of mating between a goat and one of the sheep farmer's Cheviot ewes.

Posted by orrinj at 7:13 PM


Two Ways To Fix The Corporate Income Tax: Internationalize it Or Kill It (Howard Gleckman, 4/04/14, Forbes)

In an important new paper, Eric Toder of the Tax Policy Center and Alan Viard of the American Enterprise Institute say that corporate tax reforms now being debated in Congress fall far short of solving the widespread problems with the levy. Rather than merely lowering rates and tinkering with tax rules for U.S.- based multi-national corporations, as President Obama and many members of Congress have proposed, Toder and Viard argue that the corporate system needs what they call "major surgery."

In a paper funded by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, they propose two alternatives: Either build a tax based on a broad international agreement on how to allocate corporate income among countries, or kill the corporate income tax entirely and replace it with a direct tax on shareholders. In such a system, capital gains would be taxed as they accrue rather than when they are realized upon the sale of shares.

As we make even the "poor" capitalists we will want more capital gains, not less.

Posted by orrinj at 7:11 PM


Cheaper Joints and Digits Bring the Robot Revolution Closer : Efforts to build robot hands and humanoids more cheaply could make them affordable enough for businesses and even homes. (Tom Simonite, April 4, 2014, Technology Review)

SRI won't talk about how that will be done. But the general approach will be to replace the power-hungry hydraulics that move Atlas's joints with a smaller number of lighter, more efficient, and cheaper electric components that can achieve the same thing.

Rethinking the components used in advanced prototypes such as Atlas to reduce cost and power consumption has become a major focus in robotics research as engineers seek to finally have these machines escape the lab, says Rich Mahoney, SRI's director of robotics. "We got things that are overdesigned because there's not been impetus for low cost and good design," he says.

For a long time researchers have been focused on simply answering basic questions of whether functioning, agile humanoids could be built, says Mahoney. "We were in the domain of 'Is this possible?' " He says this question has now been answered, so the time is right to drive down the costs of the components used in sophisticated robot legs, arms, and hands, making them affordable to small businesses and even consumers. "Manipulation is simply not available at that level now," says Mahoney. "But it can be." He says cheaper components would make it possible for humanoids like Atlas to become standard safety tools in places like oil rigs. "Instead of 'In case of emergency break glass,' and there's a hatchet, there would be a humanoid."

More immediately, these advances could help a market that Melonee Wise, CEO and cofounder of Unbounded Robotics, calls service robotics. "It's when you start looking at the robot doing human-scale tasks," she says. "That means having to sense and manipulate in complex ways in a complex workspace, like moving cans in a refrigerator."

Posted by orrinj at 7:07 PM


Now it's the middle class's turn to feel the employment earthquake (Christina Patterson, 4/04/14, The Guardian)

'The working classes have been here already. They've watched whole industries shipped out to China and wiped out.' Illustration: Otto
It isn't all that often that your heart bleeds for an estate agent. When I read that the Poundland boss, Steve Smith, has shacked up with the founder of the dating website Match.com to launch something called Estatesdirect.com, mine did. It would, said one newspaper, give homeowners a "warm glow". Sell your home for £390 plus VAT! Save yourself a bunch of hassle and cash! That'll show the bastards who keep messing you around.

In the brave new digital world, we're all experts. We can sell our homes online, or rent them out on the travel accommodation site Airbnb. We can post our own music, publish our own books, and edit our own magazines. We can, in other words, cut out the middle man. And this is just the start. It won't be long before we can print our own stuff on 3D printers and share energy on a global network called "the internet of things". Never mind Ed Miliband and his "cost of living crisis". It's algorithms that will cut our costs and set us free.

Quite a few people will be excited by the thought of a world where so many things are so cheap. 

April 3, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:12 PM


Stop Waiting for Obamacare to Implode (Ramesh Ponnuru, 4/01/14, Bloomberg View)

[I]t's clear now that one scenario with a lot of purchase among conservative opponents of Obamacare -- that the law would "implode," "collapse" or "unravel" -- is highly unlikely. A quick death spiral was always a remote possibility, even if the early troubles of the exchange websites made it look a little less remote. Many congressional Republicans wanted to believe the idea, though, especially because they viewed it as one more reason they could avoid coming up with their own health-care agenda. (This was illogical -- if the program was going to self-destruct in months, wouldn't the country need a replacement ready? -- but the psychological impulse was to avoid grappling with health-care issues.) [...]

The likelihood of replacement would be higher if there was an alternative that didn't take away people's insurance -- one that promised to cover roughly as many people as Obamacare does, or even more. Letting people on Medicaid buy into the market by converting much of the program into tax credits, for example, would be more viable than just kicking its new beneficiaries off the rolls.

Opponents of Obamacare should always have been thinking along these lines. Now they have less and less choice.

Posted by orrinj at 7:03 PM


The data are in: Life under Putin is a continuous downward spiral into despair (CHRISTOPHER INGRAHAM, April 1, 2014, Washington Post)

In most countries, the happiness curve bottoms out somewhere around middle age -- 47 in the United States and 41 in Britain, for instance. This usually happens long before the average person is expected to die, with one major exception: Russia. In Russia the curve doesn't bottom out until age 91. Essentially, life under Putin is one continuous downward spiral into despair.

Graham explains it bluntly: "What's going on in Russia is deep unhappiness." In the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development's Better Life Index, for instance, Russians rated their general life satisfaction a 3.0 out of 10. Three-quarters of Russians are "struggling" or "suffering," with only 25 percent "thriving," according to their responses to a 2012 Gallup survey. Contrast these figures with the United States, where life satisfaction is a robust 7.6 and nearly 60 percent are thriving.

Posted by orrinj at 7:01 PM


Obamacare Lives! (Ross Douthaut, MARCH 31, 2014, NY Times)

[W]e do know that there won't be an immediate political unraveling, and that we aren't headed for the kind of extremely-low-enrollment scenario that seemed conceivable just a few months ago, or the possible world where cancellations had ended up outstripping enrollment, creating a net decline in the number of insured. And knowing that much has significant implications for our politics. It means that the kind of welfare-state embedding described above is taking place on a significant scale, that a large constituency will be served by Obamacare (through Medicaid as well as the exchanges) in 2016 and beyond, and that any kind of conservative alternative will have to confront the reality that the kind of tinkering-around-the-edges alternatives to Obamacare that many Republicans have supported to date would end up stripping coverage from millions of newly-insured Americans. That newly-insured constituency may not be as large as the bill's architects originally hoped, or be composed of the range of buyers that the program ultimately needs. But it will be a fact on the ground to an extent that was by no means certain last December. And that fact will shape, and constrain, the options of the law's opponents even in the event that Republicans manage to reclaim the White House two years hence.

Such political and policy constraints, I should note, are potentially a good thing for would-be conservative reformers, since the serious right-of-center alternatives to Obamacare have always included policies to expand coverage, and with a coverage expansion accomplished, Republicans may find themselves effectively forced in a more serious direction. (This is a drum that Avik Roy, among others, has been beating for some time.)

We needed a Democrat to pass the mandate so that the future of the entitlement would by conservative.

Posted by orrinj at 6:58 PM


PM: Climate Change Might Work In Our Favour (Nanna Árnadóttir, 4/02/14, Rekjavik Grapevine)

Iceland's Prime Minister, Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, caused controversy yesterday when he said that while climate change was a negative phenomenon for the world overall, it presented many positive opportunities for Iceland's future. 

In an interview with RÚV yesterday, Sigmundur Davíð outlined the ways climate change might present Iceland with great opportunities for increased food production and export. The prime minister also referred to a book by Laurence C. Smith which predicts that by 2050 eight Nordic countries will benefit from the devastating effects of climate change. 

"Iceland is one of the eight countries of the future. [The World In 2050] points out that clearly a lot of opportunities will open up in the Arctic in terms of shipping routes, oil, gas and mineral development, not to mention food production," said Sigmundur Davíð. "There's a water shortage, energy is becoming more expensive, land is in short supply and it is predicted that the cost of food will rise in the foreseeable future because of increased demand. So there are great opportunities for Iceland there and we are mapping it out." 

Posted by orrinj at 6:53 PM


Obama's Quiet Offensive (Samuel Charap & Lee Feinstein, 4/03/14, Project Syndicate)

The most significant outcome of US President Barack Obama's visit to Europe last week was his announcement that the United States and its European allies would establish a "regular NATO presence" in the Eastern and Central European NATO member countries. The move - a response to these countries' call for concrete reassurance from the US following Russia's invasion and annexation of Crimea - sends a powerful message to Russian President Vladimir Putin. [...]

Obama's announcement of America's intention to bolster US allies' security is significant and builds on the process of enhancing strategic cooperation that Obama has pursued throughout his presidency.

While Europeans' perceptions of neglect matter, America's actions matter more. And, over the last six years, the US administration has quietly built an infrastructure for NATO that enabled the bold steps that Obama has just announced.

Posted by orrinj at 6:51 PM


The Tories own the future - the left is trapped in the past (John Harris, 4/02/14, The Guardian)

Let's face it: increasingly it feels as if the Tories will win the next election, possibly outright. Yes, there remain serious obstacles to Conservative success. But look at recent polls. History apparently suggests that even a five-point deficit for any Tory government will translate into a seven-point lead by the time an election campaign reaches its climax - and with the political dividend from economic recovery, not to mention the fact that coalition government has worked surprisingly well, they look like a wise bet.

Such stuff is probably best left to the psephologists. What underlines the sense that Tories are on an upswing is the fact that they, and the right more widely, have come up with a solid vision of the future, and may yet persuade a sufficient share of the public to buy in. [...]

And the left? Another lesson of history is that Labour wins when it does a good impression of owning the future - witness 1945, 1964 and 1997. On a bad day, though, it can feel like many of the people at the top of the party want to return to some mushy, statist version of social democracy redolent of 1993. Others seem to wish it was still 2006. And too much of the wider left is still rattling out the battles of the 1980s. The academic and Lib Dem peer Ralf Dahrendorf famously said that the SDP wanted "a better yesterday": the same is true of 90% of the left, not just here, but all over Europe, and beyond.

What Marx and Engels would call the mode of production has long since changed. But have enough people on the left actually noticed? A little more than 25 years ago, some of its brighter minds alighted on the idea of post-Fordism, and bundled it up in the notion of New Times: a conceptualisation of societies moving away from organised capitalism into "disorganised capitalism", and the end of the left's home comforts.

They wondered what a more plural, fragmented reality would mean for progressive politics: some eventually embraced the dead end that was New Labour, while others resisted, and carried on asking their questions. Two decades on there is still too much truth to the contention made in the "New Times" issue of Marxism Today, published in October 1988: "It is the right that now appears modern, radical, innovative ... It is the left that seems backward-looking, conservative, bereft of new ideas and out of time."

Posted by orrinj at 6:47 PM


François Hollande turns to scourge of 'pompous' left to revive fortunes (Hugh Carnegy, 4/01/14, Financial Times)

The appointment of Mr Valls, 51, is a calculated risk by Mr Hollande who has gambled that his new prime minister's public popularity, tough reputation and strong communication skills will outweigh deep suspicion within Socialist party ranks about a highly divisive figure for the left.

In an article for the Financial Times in 2009, Mr Valls lambasted the French left for being pompous and utopian, said there was "no longer an alternative to the capitalist system and market economy", and dismissed the term "socialist" as outdated. In his presidential primary campaign in 2011, Mr Valls won just 6 per cent support from Socialist voters.

Posted by orrinj at 6:44 PM


The Devastating, Sneaky Genius of John Roberts' Opinions (Emily Bazelon, 4/02/14, Slate)

I am ever in awe of Chief Justice John Roberts. He has an unparalleled talent for making the sweeping seem small and the sharp seem mild. His rhetoric is all about sounding reasonable and earnest, even if (especially if) the outcomes of his rulings are anything but. He's a champion of the long game. He's Scalia's stylistic opposite, the no-bombast justice. Isn't it lucky for conservatives to have them both?

Roberts is at his minimizing best in his opinion today striking down a key portion of the post-Watergate campaign-finance laws. Congress may still "regulate campaign contributions to protect against corruption or the appearance of corruption," he declares, and then whittles the definition of corruption down to a little nub that has nothing to do with how donors actually buy influence. And then Roberts tells Congress it can still achieve the ends of fairer and cleaner elections, it just has to alter the means it chose for getting there. Never mind that this Congress will do no such thing, just as it has failed to take up Roberts' invitation last June to pass a new version of the Voting Rights Act. 

...what business is it of a Justice that Congress has no interest in doing what complainants ask the Court to do for it?

April 2, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 3:05 PM


Jeb for prez in 2016? The idea gains steam (Scott Maxwell, 4/01/14, Orlando Sentinel)

Right now, Florida's 43rd governor towers above most of the other Republicans toying with a presidential run.

Other guys may have their moments in the sun, temporarily firing up the base with a wisecrack, filibuster or fiery talk-show appearance. But their moments are fleeting.

"None of these big donors think Rand Paul is going to win. None think Ted Cruz is going to win," MSNBC's house conservative, Joe Scarborough, told his audience Monday. "None of these big donors think ... any of these people can win. They think Jeb can win the nomination."

I agree with Joe. Of the party's current crop, he is the GOP's best shot -- a guy with a track record of doing, rather than simply yapping.

And despite Bush's coy attempts to play the part of reluctant candidate, his travel and speech schedule -- in front of all the right crowds and donors -- reveal his true interest.

Posted by orrinj at 2:43 PM


THE GREAT DIVIDE : Norman Lear, Archie Bunker, and the rise of the bad fan. (EMILY NUSSBAUM, APRIL 7, 2014, The New Yorker)

[A]s Saul Austerlitz explains in his smart new book, "Sitcom: A History in 24 Episodes from 'I Love Lucy' to 'Community,' " Lear's most successful character managed to defy his creator, with a "Frankenstein"-like audacity. "A funny thing happened on the way to TV immortality: audiences liked Archie," Austerlitz writes. "Not in an ironic way, not in a so-racist-he's-funny way; Archie was TV royalty because fans saw him as one of their own." [...]

To critics, the show wasn't the real problem: its audience was. In 1974, the social psychologists Neil Vidmar and Milton Rokeach offered some evidence for this argument in a study published in the Journal of Communication, using two samples, one of teen-agers, the other of adults. Subjects, whether bigoted or not, found the show funny, but most bigoted viewers didn't perceive the program as satirical. They identified with Archie's perspective, saw him as winning arguments, and, "perhaps most disturbing, saw nothing wrong with Archie's use of racial and ethnic slurs." Lear's series seemed to be even more appealing to those who shared Archie's frustrations with the culture around him, a "silent majority" who got off on hearing taboo thoughts said aloud.

Irony is what you call it when you're friends are all liberal and you're saying what you mean.

April 1, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 8:31 PM


Manuel Valls: Hollande's action man (Deutsche Welle, 4/01/14)

France's new prime minister is also considered to be a law-and-order type. He won over French hearts with public appearances at disasters and police events. His hard line against illegal immigrants has made him popular at the traditionally conservative interior ministry.

But Valls has opponents among the left. Discriminatory comments against Roma have led to human rights organizations accusing him of hate speech - even the EU reprimanded him. But most French approve of such statements.

"He's an ambitious, energetic politician who doesn't shy away from saying just what he thinks, and he doesn't always express himself with political correctness," Uterwedde said. "This has often fueled internal party conflicts."

As a representative for the right wing of the Socialist Party, Valls continues to butt heads. He sees leftist accomplishments like the 35-hour workweek or retirement at 60 as unviable. He'd prefer to strike the name and practice of socialism from the party name and its program altogether.

"He doesn't represent the socialist mainstream, rather he represents the conservative branch," said Norbert Wagner of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation ( Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung) in Paris. Regardless, Wagner thinks Valls has what it takes to assert himself in the party. "He has the assertiveness - and also the communication abilities," Wagner told DW.

Valls is becoming prime minister to a France in crisis: unemployment is at more than 10 percent, while sovereign debt amounts to more than 90 percent of the gross domestic product.

The new prime minister will be taking up the reins of Hollande's "Responsibility Pact" - involving tax cuts for businesses in an attempt to stimulate job growth - which is extremely unpopular among the left.

Leftists have expressed strong opposition to proposed austerity measures

He'll also have to make progress in cutting sovereign debt. And Valls will need to do all this while facing party and public expectations for policies that are socially friendly. It's no simple task, as Uterwedde pointed out

"You'll need a robust politician, who's not afraid to face criticism and resistance," Uterwedde said. "This path is highly controversial among leftist voters and the left in the party," he added.

Posted by orrinj at 8:25 PM


Soaring Profits but Too Few Jobs (William A. Galston, April 1, 2014, WSJ)

According to a report last week from the Commerce Department, corporate profits after taxes in the fourth quarter of 2013 rose to an annual level of $1.9 trillion--11.1% of GDP, a postwar high. Meanwhile, total compensation--wages and benefits such as health insurance and pensions--fell to their lowest share of GDP in at least 50 years. From December 2007 through the third quarter of 2013, the compensation share of national GDP declined to 61% from 64%. A simple calculation shows that if compensation had remained at the 2007 share, workers would have earned $520 billion more in 2013.

There's no end in sight. The Wall Street Journal's Justin Lahart reported recently that analysts expect profits for the S&P 500 to grow by 7.4% in 2014, far faster than nominal GDP. So profits will once again command a larger share of national output. Some of this, he says, reflects short-term factors. Persistently low interest rates have allowed companies to refinance debt, cutting interest costs even as they have increased net debt for 14 consecutive quarters. Moreover, companies have been able to offset gains in gross profits with losses incurred during the recession, reducing their effective tax rates.

But less cyclical trends are at work as well. Companies have not boosted hiring in line with revenues, or wages in line with productivity. As Richard Cope, the CEO of a rapidly growing firm, told this newspaper's Jonathan House, "Businesses are sitting on tons of cash . . . and they're choosing to invest their capital in hardware, rather than hiring." The reason: They believe that "investing in technology is likely to have [a] better effect on sales than hiring more people."

The point of business is to make profits, not jobs.

Posted by orrinj at 8:10 PM


Palestinians Resume Bid for Further UN Recognition (MOHAMMED DARAGHMEH and KARIN LAUB, 4/01/14, Associated Press)

In a surprise move that could derail U.S. peace efforts, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday resumed a campaign for further international recognition of a state of Palestine, despite a previous promise to suspend such efforts during nine months of negotiations with Israel.

Posted by orrinj at 7:54 PM


Hey, Robot: Which Cat Is Cuter? (ANNIE LOWREY, 4/01/14, NY Times)

[E]ven more troubling is the fact that crowdsourcing platforms are hurrying along the automation of more and more of these tasks. Erik Brynjolfsson, a co-author of the popular book "Race Against the Machine," cites image recognition as one obvious place where humans have helped robots replace them. Crowdworkers can collect pennies for identifying adorable cats in photographs, and then companies take that data and improve software that identifies adorable cats with a marginal cost that approaches zero. "We're at a real inflection point in terms of artificial intelligence and machine learning," Brynjolfsson said. "Things are speeding up."

Indeed, many Turkers are actively helping to put themselves out of jobs. "Yesterday it was spam moderation," said Panos Ipeirotis, a professor of business at New York University. "And today it's transcriptions and translation. Once we help computers solve the problem of today, we move on to more challenging tasks. Maybe in 10 years, it's something we think of as completely out of the range of computers right now. I see it happening, all the time."

This is, of course, the latest iteration of a proc­ess that has been going on at least since the evolution of the ax and the plow: Man invents a machine to make life easier, and then that machine reduces the need for man's work. Ultimately, it's a virtuous cycle, because it frees humans up to work on higher-value tasks. But technological change can also cause huge economic dislocations. And right now, the great fear is that robots are taking over jobs faster than humans can adjust. High-tech firms may be the most vibrant part of the economy, but they just don't require the manpower of former blue-chip companies. "At the height of its power, the photography company Kodak employed more than 140,000 people and was worth $28 billion," writes the computer scientist Jaron Lanier in "Who Owns the Future?" "But today Kodak is bankrupt, and the new face of digital photography has become Instagram. When Instagram was sold to Facebook for a billion dollars in 2012, it employed only 13 people." Lanier describes the future of automation as big-data "puppetry," where the actions of humans are replicated once the set of data is big enough.

White-collar jobs were once deemed mostly immune to such automation, but that is no longer true, either. Carl Benedikt Frey, an economist, and Michael Osborne, a professor of machine learning, at Oxford University estimate that about half of American jobs -- sailors, paralegals, you name it -- are susceptible to automation. "Software substitution, whether it's for drivers or waiters or nurses" is coming, Bill Gates said recently at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. "Twenty years from now, labor demand for lots of skill sets will be substantially lower. I don't think people have that in their mental model."

Posted by orrinj at 5:21 AM


Deflation risk raises head again in Europe (Mark Thompson, March 31, 2014, CNN MOney)

The annual rate of inflation fell to 0.5%, down from 0.7% in February and weaker than most economists were expecting. Inflation is now at its lowest level since November 2009.

The European Central Bank, which meets Thursday, targets inflation of just below 2% in the medium term, and the bank doesn't expect it to come close to that until late 2016.

The European economy is not generating jobs fast enough to bring unemployment down from record levels, and activity is not yet robust enough to remove the risk of deflation.

...it is that pumping currency into an economy triggers inflation.

Posted by orrinj at 5:04 AM


The Numbers Vladimir Putin Doesn't Want You to See (Maureen Orth, 3/31/14, Vanity Fair)

I decided to revisit Russia's numbers. They do not make a pretty picture.

Despite a recent slight uptick in births versus deaths, life expectancy now stands at 64 for males and 76 for women (137th and 100th in the world, respectively). According to the U.N.'s World Health Organization, the life expectancy for a 15-year-old boy in Haiti is three years higher than for a Russian boy the same age. A drop in fertility by 50 percent between 1987 and 1999 has resulted in a reduced number of women now at childbearing age, which is beginning to affect the country in a major way: Two thirds of all births in Russia take place among women between the ages of 20 and 29, and this population will decline from 13 million currently to 7 or 8 million in the coming years.

According to Murray Feshbach, a Georgetown professor emeritus and the dean of Russian demography in the United States, Russia's working-age population is also declining by a million people a year, a faster rate than the decline of the overall population, which in 2013 stood at around 143 million, 3 million less than when Putin took office. Moreover, only 30 percent of Russian babies born are born healthy. Eberstadt told me that many unhealthy Russian babies are "discarded" --sent to government institutions where they often develop cognitive difficulties. Unhealthy children grow up to be unhealthy adults: half of the conscripted Russian army has to be put in limited service because of poor health.

Twenty-five percent of Russian men still die before the age of 55, many from alcoholism and the violent deaths, plus other diseases it fosters. A protégé of Feshbach's, Mark Lawrence Schrad, has recently published a book called Vodka Politics, which analyzes how vodka has been used throughout Russian history, from tsars to dictators, as a means of social control. Cheap vodka and cigarettes were among the first free-market products available after Communism. When a partial government crackdown regulating sales of alcohol in 2009 occurred and vodka's price went up, some hard-core alcoholics simply switched to perfume or antifreeze. The government also jacked up prices on beer, often imported or owned by foreigners, and further drove the population to harder stuff. Schrad, a political scientist at Villanova, has also written that 77 percent of kids between the ages of 15 and 17 drink vodka regularly; in rural areas, the percentage can be as high as 90.

Russia, meanwhile, has more heroin addicts than any other country. To become truly grossed out, one only has to go to the Web to see the damage of krokodil, a homemade opiate that heroin addicts in Russia shoot that rots their skin and organs from within. A thriving needle culture inevitably means H.I.V., and between 2000 and 2012 the number of new cases of H.I.V. increased six fold. Many of those infected also suffer from tuberculosis. Russia is second only to India (with 1.3 billion people) in the number of cases of M.D.R. (multidrug-resistant) tuberculosis

When it comes to the environment, I found that 50 percent of Russia's water is not potable.

Posted by orrinj at 4:57 AM


Manuel Valls: a smart operator in the Blair mould : A rival of Hollande for the 2011 presidential nomination, the new French prime minister is on the right of the Socialist party (Kim Willsher, 3/31/14, The Guardian)

He was a rival of Hollande for the Socialist party's presidential nomination in 2011 but later become the president's campaign spokesman. On the right of the PS, he is an advocate of social democracy in the style of Germany and Scandinavia. In the past he has described himself as a "Blairiste" (after Tony Blair) and a "Clintonian" (after Bill Clinton) and talks of "economic realism" and "individual responsibility".

The UK's former Europe minister, Denis MacShane, a friend of Valls for a decade, told the Guardian: "He is the closest France has to a Tony Blair - a reformist, pro-growth social democrat not afraid to take on vested interests and challenge conventional statist thinking in France.

"He will come under pressure from the left but they have no answer to France's problems. It's do or die for Hollande but the departure of the Greens opens the way to France rethinking its energy policy and dropping some of the internal protectionism that slowed down growth. Valls is a tough, smart operator. If the French Socialist government can be saved he's the man to do it".

Posted by orrinj at 4:52 AM


The surprising power of peace (Simon Kuper, 3/28/14, Financial Times)

The great theorist of this trend is Steven Pinker, professor of psychology at Harvard. His book The Better Angels of Our Nature says that annual deaths in battle dropped by more than 90 per cent from the late 1940s through the early 2000s. "The decline of violence," Pinker writes, "may be the most significant and least appreciated development in the history of our species." (Syria is the great current exception, accounting for most of the world's deaths in conflict last year.)

I phoned Pinker for his take on the Crimean crisis. First, he said, it confirmed his view that conflicts are more often caused by nationalism or narcissistic leaders than by states pursuing their rational interests.

Certainly, Russia isn't on some hard-headed quest for resources. Crimea offers little more than a warm-water port, and Ukraine let Russia use that anyway. Occupying more territory gives Russia no security, because nobody will ever attempt a land war against it again.

Rather, said Pinker, "Putin has the classic symptoms of a narcissistic leader: dreams of greatness, desire to be worshipped and lack of empathy." Indeed, Pinker wrote in 2012: "Perhaps an ageing Putin will seek historical immortality and restore Russian greatness by swallowing a former Soviet republic or two."

Putin's recent narcissistic self-tribute, the Sochi Olympics, may even have precipitated this conflict. Ukrainian protesters presumably bet that Putin wouldn't spoil his own party by crushing them mid-Games. The Dutch sports historian Jurryt van de Vooren recalls the Moscow Olympics of 1980, when the USSR tolerated Polish workers' strikes because it wanted to preserve its Games. The upshot: Poland's Solidarity trade union emerged.

This time, Ukraine's president Viktor Yanukovich tried poorly calibrated violence: he murdered about 100 protesters, too few to crush the uprising, but enough to force him to flee. Yanukovich broke 21st-century political rules: you can steal, but don't kill. [...]

Most Russians oppose war with Ukraine partly for the very reason they think Crimea is "theirs": they consider Ukraine a kindred territory, almost like Russia. Many Russians have Ukrainian relatives. Many Ukrainians have mixed Russian-Ukrainian heritage, or aren't sure what they are. Marc Bennetts, author of Kicking the Kremlin, says: "An actual conflict with Ukraine is unthinkable to the vast majority of Russians. It would be like England fighting Wales, or the US fighting Texas. There is no popular support for a protracted war with Ukraine. And Putin very rarely goes against public opinion."