May 31, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 9:29 AM


China Accuses U.S. and Japan of Sowing Discord in Asia-Pacific (HELENE COOPER, MAY 31, 2014, NY Times)

China struck back harshly at the United States and Japan on Saturday, as a senior Chinese military official accused Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan of acting in concert to sow controversy and division in the Asia-Pacific region.

That's who we are; it's what we do : destabilize non-democracies.  

Posted by orrinj at 8:34 AM


'The Intellectual Life of Edmund Burke' considers one of the great thinkers of all time : David Bromwich's biography of Edmund Burke is a masterpiece of intellectual history. (Anthony Domestico, May 29, 2014, CS Monitor)

Burke was a pragmatic thinker and so it can be difficult to identify the abstract ideals on which he based his politics. We know that he valued "prescription," which Bromwich defines as humankind's "natural presumption in favor of social practices that have lasted a long time." These customs - the existence of the aristocracy and its leading role in politics, for instance - provide society with the restraint that it needs in order to survive. In concrete terms, this meant that Burke resisted calls for more frequent and more democratic elections. We also know that he loathed cruelty and abuse of power; this led to his calling for more lenient laws against debtors.

In Bromwich's analysis, Burke is a "moral psychologist": a man whose political thinking arose from his reading of man's moral nature. Burke sees humankind as defined by feeling. Our actions are driven more by the affections - by sympathy and fear, trust and betrayal - than by reason, and any good political theory must recognize this fact. So, when confronted with the American Revolution, Burke imagined his way into the American position, looking not just for the abstract causes of rebellion but for the feelings of betrayal and injustice that underlay the uprising. Burke ultimately suggested reconciliation rather than war; history would prove his the wiser choice. In Burke's view, the exemplary politician must be an exemplary reader of human feeling. Politics is sympathy by other means.

Burke was as good a writer as he was a thinker. Bromwich, a professor of English at Yale, has this to say about Burke's prose: "Read him for an hour or two, and try to disagree. It is harder than it should be. And the next author whom you read seems to be playing an inferior instrument." 

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Posted by orrinj at 8:24 AM


Video: The best paper plane ever was at Wembley last night (Backpage Football, MAY 31ST, 2014) 

Posted by orrinj at 8:19 AM


D-Day gratitude kept alive in France (CATHERINE GASCHKA AND ANGELA CHARLTON, May 31, 2014, AP)

SAINTE-MERE-EGLISE, France (AP) -- Andree Auvray, nine months pregnant, was hiding from German bombings in a Normandy ditch with her husband one night in June 1944 when their dogs started barking. The shadows of three soldiers appeared.

"We both came out to see what was going on," she recalls. She initially thought the men were the Nazi occupiers who had upended life in her quiet farming village. "And then I said 'No, it's not the Germans!'

The soldiers were Americans. D-Day had begun.

Even if the invasion was a mistake.
Posted by orrinj at 8:07 AM


A Jew Joins the Académie Française  (Benjamin Ivry, May 31, 2014, iForward)

In April, after the deaths in recent years of such venerable French Jewish members as anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss and biologist François Jacob, the Académie française increased its quotient of Yiddishkeit. That day, the author Alain Finkielkraut, born in Paris in 1949 to a family of Polish Jewish origin, was elected to join the group of 40 so-called "immortals" who defend the French language by compiling a dictionary. The son of a leather merchant who survived Auschwitz, Finkielkraut told France Inter radio after hearing the news: "Fifty or perhaps 60 years ago, certain circles of the Académie would have taken offense at the son of a Polish Jew with an unpronounceable name. Today, my national identity is being reproached. The spirit of the times changes, but what can you do? Stupidity is perennial."

The stupidity in question was an ill-fated protest that took place after Finkielkraut had been asked to declare his candidacy for the Académie. Some academics who remained anonymous told the French press that Finkielkraut was too "divisive" (using the French neologism "clivant" which, some journalists pointed out, is not even in the Académie's dictionary). One objector even stated that if Finkielkraut were elected, then France's far-right wing National Front party would "enter the Académie."

Jean Clair, an art historian and former director of Paris's Picasso Museum, told Le Monde it was "ignominious" to call Finkielkraut a "harbinger of the [National Front]," given his family history and the latter party's extensive record of anti-Semitic rhetoric. Yet other observers of the French literary world contended that for some years, Finkielkraut had been "playing with fire," as Jean Birnbaum wrote last year in Le Monde in a review of Finkielkraut's "Unfortunate Identity" ("L'Identité malheureuse"), a lament about doomed French society, permanently ruined by immigrants. Finkielkraut was not criticizing his parents' generation of immigrants, but rather more recent ones from Africa who refused to assimilate.

The more recent the immigrant the more nativist. 
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Posted by orrinj at 7:54 AM


Steinitz: Defense establishment manipulating state for funds (YIFA YAAKOV, May 31, 2014, Times of Israel)

Strategic Affairs and Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz (Likud) on Saturday harshly berated the defense establishment for using "undemocratic" means and "manipulating" the public to try to pressure the government into allotting it a larger budget.

Steinitz, who preceded Yair Lapid as finance minister in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's previous administration, warned that it was "undemocratic" for the military to involve itself in the affairs and decision-making processes of the higher echelons of government. [...]

Early Saturday afternoon, sources close to Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon (Likud) said it was "irresponsible" of Steinitz to criticize the IDF "and those who serve in it."'s that the military is above criticism by civilians.

May 30, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 6:54 PM


What your last name says about your politics (CHRIS CILLIZZA, May 29, 2014, Washington Post)

A few months back, the folks at GovBeat showcased a fascinating tool that allowed you to simply type in your first name and find out what it said about your political leanings -- and the political leanings of all the people who shared your first name. Now, you can find out what your last name says about your politics too.

The tool is below -- thanks to the good people, at Targetsmart, a "data firm specializing in providing high-quality data and data integration technology to organizations that communicate directly with large numbers of people," according to its website

Posted by orrinj at 6:22 PM


Report: US births up for first time in 5 years (Associated Press,  May 28, 2014)

Now the economy has picked up and so has child-bearing, at least in women ages 30 and older -- the teen birth rate dropped sharply once again, and birth rates still fell for women in in their 20s.

Falling deliveries was a relatively new phenomenon in this country. Births were on the rise since the late 1990s and hit an all-time high of more than 4.3 million in 2007. Then came the drop attributed to the nation's flagging economy.

Both the number of births and birth rate fell fairly dramatically through 2010. Then the declines became smaller. In 2012, the number of births was only a few hundred less than in 2011.

Last year's tally was a little under 4 million.

The nation also may be seeing a more pronounced shift to having children a bit later in life, said Rob Stephenson, an Emory University demographer focused on reproductive health. That follows a trend western Europe experienced more than a decade ago, he said.

"Maybe the new norm is having children in your 30s," he said.

Posted by orrinj at 6:16 PM


Being Postmodern and Conservative (Peter Augustine Lawler, May 28, 2014, National Review)

To be postmodern means to be about conserving what's true and good about the modern world, as well sustaining or restoring what's true and good about various premodern forms of thought and life. It is also, as Solzhenitsyn explained, about criticizing the modern world for its excessive materialism and its replacement of God and virtue with legalism, and the medieval world for its excessively single-minded focus on spiritual life or the soul at the expense of the body.

One of our conservative criticisms of purely modern thought is its prejudice in favor of endless innovation, which can be seen, for example, in its overly technological view of science. Maybe the purest sources of modern thought these days is the hyper-libertarianism of some economists and Silicon Valley technologists, which points in the direct of transhumanism. The false hope is that through techno-innovation we can become better or freer than human, a hope that depends on ungratefully misunderstanding how stuck and how blessed we are to be beings born to know, love, and die. That's not to say that we believe, as do those existentialists, that death is the final word about who each of us is.

So to be postmodern and conservative is to take our stand somewhere between the traditionalists and the libertarians. The traditionalists focus is on who each of us is as a relational being with duties and loyalties to particular persons and places. The libertarians -- or, to be more clear, the individualists -- focus on who each of us is as an irreducibly free person with inalienable rights, a person who can't be reduced to a part of some whole greater than himself or herself. A postmodern conservative is about showing how a free person with rights is also a relational person with duties. The truth is that each of us is a unique and irreplaceable free and relational person. 

May 29, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 2:18 PM


Strange Bedfellows and a Strange Calm in Lebanon : As the Syrian war rages next door, an unlikely alliance between Hezbollah and the U.S.-funded Lebanese security forces is keeping the violence at bay. (SUSANNAH GEORGE, MAY 20, 2014, Foreign Policy)

On April 17, the Lebanese Army sent a communiqué to newsrooms across the country announcing the arrest of Bilal Kayed, a member of the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, a Sunni extremist group with ties to al Qaeda. Lebanese military intelligence took full credit for the arrest, hailing it as "an important milestone" in its struggle against a growing insurgent campaign that had terrorized predominantly Shiite neighborhoods and towns with car bombs and rocket attacks.

The true story, however, was more complicated. The operation leading to the arrest -- like a number of similar operations preceding it -- was the product of months of intensified cooperation between Lebanon's rival security agencies and the paramilitary group Hezbollah, according to Lebanese security sources. [...]

The story of the last several months, however, is that the Syrian war has stopped spilling over into Lebanon. There has not been a car-bomb attack in the country since late March, while rocket fire by anti-Assad insurgents on areas considered sympathetic to Hezbollah have also decreased significantly. 

The violence appears to have been thwarted by an alignment of interests among some unlikely allies: Lebanon's Sunni political elite, the United States, and Hezbollah.

Posted by orrinj at 1:37 PM


EconTalk Episode with Yuval Levin :Yuval Levin on Burke, Paine, and the Great Debate  (Russ Roberts, EconTalk)

Yuval Levin, author of The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right and Left, talks to EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the ideas of Burke and Paine and their influence on the evolution of political philosophy. Levin outlines the differing approaches of the two thinkers to liberty, authority, and how reform and change should take place. Other topics discussed include Hayek's view of tradition, Cartesian rationalism, the moral high ground in politics, and how the "right and left" division of American politics finds its roots in the debates of these thinkers from the 1700s.

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Posted by orrinj at 1:31 PM


Creepy Photos Surface of First American Suicide Bomber in Syria (JOHN HUDSON, MAY 29, 2014, Foreign Policy)

Posted by orrinj at 1:28 PM


Obama Bows to American Exceptionalism at West Point (MATTHEW ROTHSCHILD, May 29, 2014, The Progressive)

Like Bush before him, Obama equated "democracy and market economies," and he saluted "the World Bank and IMF" as "force multipliers."

And he genuflected on the altar of American arrogance. "I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being," he said. He also repeated the haughty phrase that was popular both in the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations. Said Obama: "The United States is and remains the one indispensable nation." He vowed that it would remain so for 100 years. "That has been true for the century passed, and it will be true for the century to come," he said.

Posted by orrinj at 1:24 PM


How the NRA Rewrote the Second Amendment : The Founders never intended to create an unregulated individual right to a gun. Today, millions believe they did. Here's how it happened. (MICHAEL WALDMAN, May 19, 2014, Politico)

The Second Amendment consists of just one sentence: "A well regulated militia, being necessary for the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed." Today, scholars debate its bizarre comma placement, trying to make sense of the various clauses, and politicians routinely declare themselves to be its "strong supporters." But in the grand sweep of American history, this sentence has never been among the most prominent constitutional provisions. In fact, for two centuries it was largely ignored.

The amendment grew out of the political tumult surrounding the drafting of the Constitution, which was done in secret by a group of mostly young men, many of whom had served together in the Continental Army. Having seen the chaos and mob violence that followed the Revolution, these "Federalists" feared the consequences of a weak central authority. They produced a charter that shifted power--at the time in the hands of the states--to a new national government.

"Anti-Federalists" opposed this new Constitution. The foes worried, among other things, that the new government would establish a "standing army" of professional soldiers and would disarm the 13 state militias, made up of part-time citizen-soldiers and revered as bulwarks against tyranny. These militias were the product of a world of civic duty and governmental compulsion utterly alien to us today. Every white man age 16 to 60 was enrolled. He was actually required to own--and bring--a musket or other military weapon.

On June 8, 1789, James Madison--an ardent Federalist who had won election to Congress only after agreeing to push for changes to the newly ratified Constitution--proposed 17 amendments on topics ranging from the size of congressional districts to legislative pay to the right to religious freedom. One addressed the "well regulated militia" and the right "to keep and bear arms." We don't really know what he meant by it. At the time, Americans expected to be able to own guns, a legacy of English common law and rights. But the overwhelming use of the phrase "bear arms" in those days referred to military activities.

There is not a single word about an individual's right to a gun for self-defense or recreation in Madison's notes from the Constitutional Convention. Nor was it mentioned, with a few scattered exceptions, in the records of the ratification debates in the states. Nor did the U.S. House of Representatives discuss the topic as it marked up the Bill of Rights. In fact, the original version passed by the House included a conscientious objector provision. "A well regulated militia," it explained, "composed of the body of the people, being the best security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed, but no one religiously scrupulous of bearing arms, shall be compelled to render military service in person."

Though state militias eventually dissolved, for two centuries we had guns (plenty!) and we had gun laws in towns and states, governing everything from where gunpowder could be stored to who could carry a weapon--and courts overwhelmingly upheld these restrictions. Gun rights and gun control were seen as going hand in hand.

The Constitution enshrines liberty, not freedom.

May 28, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 9:54 PM


García Márquez's Blind Spot (Enrique Krauze, 5/28/14, NY Times)

In three famous dispatches (a journalistic series entitled "Cuba From Head to Tail"), García Márquez wrote of the "almost telepathic communication" he saw between Castro and the Cuban people and asserted "he has survived intact from the insidious and ferocious corrosion of the daily application of power" and "set up a whole system of defense against the cult of personality." He called Fidel "a genius reporter" whose "immense spoken reports," made the Cuban people "one of the best informed in the world about its own reality." Soon after this, however, when Alan Riding of The New York Times asked him why he didn't move to Cuba, García Márquez replied: "It would be very difficult to ... adapt myself to the conditions. I'd miss too many things. I couldn't live with the lack of information."

When he finally did get a house in Cuba, García Márquez began to share culinary adventures with Castro. Fidel's Cuban master chef named a lobster dish "Langosta a lo Macondo" in honor of Gabo, its great enthusiast. When questioned about his closeness to Castro, García Márquez responded that, for him, friendship was a supreme value. That may well have been so, but there was certainly a hierarchy to his friendships -- with Fidel at the top.

In 1989, while García Márquez was living in his Cuban home, the murky trial of Gen. Arnaldo Ochoa and the brothers Tony and Patricio de la Guardia took place, resulting in death sentences for General Ochoa and Col. Tony de la Guardia, charged with drug trafficking and betraying the revolution. There was much opposition to the death sentence for General Ochoa, a hero of the Cuban victory in Angola over the invading army of the South African apartheid regime, and Colonel de la Guardia was a close personal friend of García Márquez. The colonel's daughter Ileana, implored García Márquez to intercede with Castro to spare the life of her father. But he did nothing, and Ileana reported that he had even secretly attended a part of the trial, screened behind "a large mirror" in the company of Fidel and his brother Raúl.

In March 2003, Fidel suddenly ordered a massive show trial of 78 dissidents, sentencing them to between 12 and 27 years in prison, some for crimes as minor as "possessing a Sony tape recorder." Shortly after, he had three men executed for trying to flee to the United States in a small boat. At a book fair in Bogotá, Colombia, Susan Sontag confronted García Márquez and, after first praising him as a writer, said that it was unpardonable for him to have said nothing against the Cuban regime's actions. García Márquez's public response to this and his justification in saying nothing restated one of his old arguments for his personal relation to Castro: "I cannot calculate the number of prisoners, dissidents and conspirators that I have helped, in absolute silence, to be freed from jail or emigrate from Cuba over at least 20 years."

But if he actually did so, then why "in absolute silence"? He must have considered the imprisonments unjust. Instead of continuing to support a regime that committed such injustices, wouldn't it have been far more valuable to issue a public denunciation and so help shut down Cuba's political prisons?

Posted by orrinj at 9:41 PM


You Can Now Get a 3D Printer for Under $200 (POLLY MOSENDZ, 5/28/14, The Wire)
Three-dimensional printing is about to get a whole lot easier, cheaper, and more user-friendly. What once seemed like science fiction can now be yours for just $199, thanks to New Matter's new MOD-t 3D printer. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:15 PM


The view from the church of baseball (Adam Shoemaker, May 23, 2014, The Times News)

"Baseball is a road to God." That is the intriguing premise of a book written by NYU president John Sexton, who based it upon discussions he had while teaching a popular course on the same topic. According to Sexton the real idea "is to develop heightened sensitivity and a noticing capacity. So baseball's not 'the' road to God. For most of us, it isn't 'a' road to God. But it's a way to notice, to cause us to live more slowly and to watch more keenly and thereby to discover the specialness of our life and our being, and, for some of us, something more than our being." As a priest and a baseball enthusiast, I could not agree more.

"America's national pastime" has always been a passion of mine. I first fell in love with the game at an early age thanks to childhood heroes like Darryl Strawberry and Gary Carter, Dwight Gooden and Keith Hernandez. In time I came to rise and fall, inning by inning, with my beloved New York Mets. Over the years I have bonded with friends and strangers through the shared experience of our team's miraculous victories and crushing defeats, and I have talked through hopes and dreams, relationships, and job searches all while sitting in the bleachers of Shea Stadium (now Citi Field) with fellow fans. As the fictional character Terence Mann (portrayed by the actor James Earl Jones) once observed in the classic film, "Field of Dreams," for me a "constant through all the years ... has been baseball ... (amidst change and uncertainty; joy and sorry; victory and defeat) baseball has marked the time." Religion, at its best, helps us to to do just that: to mark the time and to remain hopeful in times of plenty and in times of adversity (perhaps especially in times of adversity!).

Posted by orrinj at 5:54 PM


Niall Ferguson's (Mostly) Comforting History of Central Bank Balance Sheet Expansions (DAVID WESSEL, 5/28/14, WSJ)

Niall Ferguson, the Harvard University historian, has a message for those who fret about the size of the Federal Reserve's balance sheet: Don't worry too much.

In a paper presented at the European Central Bank's inaugural forum in Sintra, outside of Lisbon, Mr. Ferguson and two co-authors (Moritz Schularick, a University of Bonn economic historian, and Andreas Schaab, a Harvard undergrad) offer a few intriguing conclusions from newly assembled data tracing the history of central bank balance-sheet expansions (23) and contractions (17) of 12 advanced economies since 1900:

-The size of central bank balance sheets has fluctuated between 10% and 20% of gross domestic product most of the time - except during World War II and the recent crisis, which "has eclipsed all other historical precedents." The motivations for the expansions differ over time.

-Central bank balance sheets, measured as a percentage of GDP, had shrunk significantly in the three decades preceding the global financial crisis. "By that yardstick, their [recent] expansion merely marks a return to earlier levels," they write. Put differently, central bank balance sheets had become small relative to the financial sector. Contemporary policy appears "unconventional" only because of the post-1980 paradigm that declared balance sheet operations to be an ineffective tool of monetary policy. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:50 PM


New Strategy for Student Achievement: Spend Less (Christopher Flavelle, 5/28/14, Bloomberg View)

Take Wisconsin, where Republican Governor Scott Walker took office in January 2011 vowing to cut taxes and spending. That year the state spent $11,774 per public school student. (Charter schools are mostly excluded from the data.)

Walker has since made good on his promise. In 2012, per-pupil spending fell 6.2 percent, to $11,042 -- the largest drop in the country -- moving the state from 18th to 22nd in the nation by that measure. After adjusting for inflation, Wisconsin spent less per pupil in 2012 than at any point during the previous decade. [...]

A recent report from the CATO Institute found that the funding increases over the past 40 years haven't led to an increase in verbal or math skills, and that states that lowered their funding saw no decline in test scores.

That research is partially borne out by Wisconsin's limited experience so far with reduced funding. On nationwide standardized tests given to fourth- and eighth-graders in math and reading in 2013, Wisconsin was one of the states that failed to show improvements over its 2011 test results in any category. But its scores didn't fall either.

Moreover, while the marginal benefit of an extra dollar spent on education is hard to quantify, an extra dollar in tax cuts is tangible, clear and satisfying. You don't have to be Ayn Rand to acknowledge that the purpose of government isn't to spend money; it's to spend money to further a meaningful objective. If the status quo doesn't work, we could at least stop paying so much for it.

Posted by orrinj at 5:44 PM


Orthodox Rabbi Stuns Agudath Gala With 'Heresy' Attack on Open Orthodoxy (Josh Nathan-Kazis, May 28, 2014, Forward)

Perlow's speech, the evening's most fiery, condemned non-Orthodox streams of Judaism and used particularly harsh language to condemn Open Orthodoxy, the movement led by Rabbi Avi Weiss and centered at Yeshiva Chovevei Torah in Riverdale that pushes for a greater role for women in Jewish ritual, among other things. Perlow criticized the Israeli Chief Rabbinate for not being harsh enough in their treatment of Open Orthodoxy.

Perlow said that the threat posed by the Conservative and Reform movements had largely passed. "They've become oblivious, and they've fallen into the pit of intermarriage and assimilation," he said. "They have no future, they almost have no present."

Yet he warned of the danger to the ultra-Orthodox posed by Open Orthodoxy. Perlow said that Open Orthodoxy is "steeped in apikorsos," or heresy.

"There's a grave danger out there...outside New York City, that positions of leadership amongst Orthodox Jews is being taken over by people who have completely deviated from [the preservation of holiness.]" Perlow said that Isareli Chief Rabbinate is "not sensitive this," and called on the Modern Orthodox to "stand up and reject these new deviationists, cloaking themselves in the mantle of Orthodoxy."

One Jewish leader who attended the gala and was not ultra-Orthodox criticized the remarks.

"The comments were absolutely appalling and divisive, and really have no place in Jewish communal life," he said. "This guy is basically saying that 95% of Jews aren't Jewish."

Posted by orrinj at 5:37 PM


If Income Inequality Is Caused By The Lack Of Wealth, Then Help Workers Create Wealth (Merrill Matthews, 5/28/14, Forbes)

But what if workers were able to put that same amount of money--their 12.4 percent Social Security (FICA) tax; $5,555 in Stererle's example--into a personal retirement account that could be invested in broad-based equities?

Stock market guru Jeremy Siegel, author of Stocks for the Long Run, claims that since the market's inception U.S. stocks' average long-term real rate of return is about 7 percent.  Financial Advisor magazine estimates that the future long-term real rate of return for U.S. stocks is closer to 5 percent--but both are close to the 6 percent that Picketty only ascribes to the wealthiest.

Using an interest calculator, a $5,555 annual contribution over 40 years at 6 percent grows to about $970,000.  Factor in that wealth and income inequality largely evaporates.  People don't have to be in that top thousandth percent of income to get excellent returns on their money and create real wealth.  All they need is a private property right to keep and invest what they are contributing to Social Security right now.

To be sure, there are financial challenges in transitioning to a system of personal accounts, not the least of which is how to cover the promised benefits of current retirees when workers redirect part or all of their FICA contributions to their personal accounts.  But there are equally great financial challenges with the status quo.

It's time to re-embrace personal accounts.  

May 27, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:12 PM


How the west embraced Chairman Mao's Little Red Book (JOHN GRAY, 23 MAY, 2014, New Statesman)

Reading the essays brought together here, you would hardly realise that Mao was responsible for one of the biggest human catastrophes in recorded history. Launched by him in 1958, the Great Leap Forward cost upwards of 45 million human lives. "When there is not enough to eat, people starve to death," Mao observed laconically. "It is better to let half of the people die so that the other half can eat their fill." He did not specify how those condemned to perish would be made to accept their fate. Ensuing events provided the answer: mass executions and torture, beatings and sexual violence against women were an integral part of a politically induced famine that reduced sections of the population to eating roots, mud and insects, and others to cannibalism. When Mao ordered an end to the horrific experiment in 1961, it was in order to launch another. The Cultural Revolution was nothing like as costly in fatalities, but it left a trail of broken lives and cultural devastation, the memory of which is one of the chief sources of the post-Mao regime's legitimacy.

There will be some who object that everyone knows about Mao's failings - why bang on about them now? However, if today we know the scale of Mao's crimes, it is not as a result of decades of academic work on the subject. The first detailed examination of the famine, Hungry Ghosts (1996), was written by the Hong Kong-based journalist Jasper Becker. It was only in 2010 that the historian Frank Dikötter's Mao's Great Famine appeared, a pioneering study based on years of research in recently opened
Chinese archives. Apart from accounts given in the memoirs of those who survived, the human costs of the Cultural Revolution were best captured by Simon Leys (the pen-name of the Belgian sinologist and literary critic Pierre Ryckmans) in his books Chinese Shadows (1974) and The Burning Forest (1987). The authoritative and revelatory Mao: the Unknown Story (2005) is the work of Jung Chang and her husband, Jon Halliday. Aside from Dikötter's, none of the books that captured the human experience of life under Mao was written by a professional academic.

In fastidiously avoiding any reference to the oppressive realities of the Mao years, academics were faithful followers of conventional opinion. The predominant western perception of Mao's regime was of a progressive political project - if at times it got a little out of hand, that was no more than the exuberance that goes naturally with such a liberating enterprise. When in the 1970s I raised with a British communist the millions who were killed in rural purges in the years immediately after Mao came to power, he told me, "Those sorts of numbers are just for western consumption." Further conversation showed that his estimates of the actual numbers were significantly lower than those conceded by the regime. No doubt unwittingly, he had stumbled on a curious truth: the prestige of the Mao regime in the west was at its height when the leadership was believed to be at its most despotic and murderous. For some of its western admirers, the regime's violence had a compelling charm in its own right.

Julian Bourg recounts how in France Mao's thoughts became à la mode with the August 1967 release of La Chinoise, Jean-Luc Godard's film about a youthful Parisian Maoist sect. Among French thinkers, Bourg notes, "Mao's language of violence had a certain rhetorical appeal." In fact, it was his combination of rhetorical violence with sub-Hegelian dialectical logic that proved so irresistible to sections of the French intelligentsia. Eulogising Mao's distinction between principal and secondary contradictions, Louis Althusser deployed Maoist categories as part of an extremely abstract and, indeed, largely meaningless defence of "the relative autonomy of theory".

Althusser's student Alain Badiou (for many years professor of philosophy at the École Normale Supérieure) continued to defend Maoism long after the scale of its casualties had become undeniable. As recently as 2008, while commending himself for being "now one of Maoism's few noteworthy representatives", Badiou praised Mao's thought as "a new politics of the negation of the negation". From one point of view, this stance is merely contemptible - a professorial pirouette around a vast pile of corpses. But one must bear in mind the fathomless frivolity of some on the French left. Already in 1980, two former Maoist militants had announced their rejection of the creed in the language of fashion: "China was in . . . Now it is out . . . we are no longer Maoists." Against this background, Badiou's persistence is almost heroically absurd.

Nothing soi becomes the English-speaking world as its contempt for intellectuals.

Posted by orrinj at 7:02 PM


His Renaissance on Record (TOM NOLAN, May 26, 2014, WSJ)

In the late 1940s, fronting a big-band out of step with the times and recording best-selling but saccharine-sounding vocal platters, Armstrong was being scorned by jazz critics and despaired over by devotees of the earlier hot music he'd helped invent. The renaissance in his sound and reputation came in 1947, when the charismatic performer pared down his ensemble to a combo of "All Stars" for a series of concert-hall appearances that played to his strengths as a virtuoso trumpeter, an inspiring leader, and a witty and emotional singer.

That period of reinvention is vividly presented on "The Columbia and RCA Victor Live Recordings of Louis Armstrong and the All Stars," an ear-opening, nine-CD Mosaic boxed set to be released next week. Annotated by Armstrong biographer and archivist Ricky Riccardi, the package documents performances from 1947 to 1958 in venues from New York to Amsterdam to Accra.

Whether played in an outdoor stadium or an indoor studio, there's a copious amount on these Mosaic discs of truth, beauty, spontaneous joy and technical prowess--be it the fierce ensemble swing generated on "Royal Garden Blues," the sweetness of "Faithful Hussar" (a European folk tune in which Armstrong seems to scat sing in German) or the at-home party feel of trombonist Trummy Young on "You Can Depend on Me." Armstrong's upper-register notes--a stunning array of high C's, D's, E-flats and even an F--are especially heart-piercing on the slow-drag "Back o' Town Blues," while his loose and winning way with a lyric is demonstrated through three separate versions (at three different tempos) of "On the Sunny Side of the Street." And not until Jimi Hendrix deconstructed the national anthem at Woodstock a decade later would there be anything to rival the ripping, impassioned, bravura "Star Spangled Banner" with which Armstrong caps the All Stars' set at the Newport Jazz Festival of 1958.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:58 PM


Sisi's Big Day Is a Bust : The Egyptian election was supposed to bring the former Army chief to office on a massive wave of popular support. So why did so many voters stay home? (DAVID KENNER MAY 27, 2014, Foreign Policy)

Former Egyptian Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi faced the first setback of his effort to consolidate power in Cairo, as voter turnout in the election that was widely expected to bring him to the presidency was reportedly anemic. Despite widespread reports of empty polling stations throughout the country, the Egyptian government took the unusual step of extending the ballot into a third day in an attempt to drum up more voters.

Sisi has touted the importance of overwhelming public participation as vital to confirming the Egyptian people's endorsement of the new political order that followed President Mohamed Morsi's ouster last summer and to giving the incoming president a mandate to rule. The former Army chief said in an interview aired on Egyptian television that he hoped 40 million people, or roughly 75 percent of registered voters, would go to the polls. Both the Sisi campaign and that of his sole challenger, leftist politician Hamdeen Sabahi, objected to the extension of the vote.

In an email to reporters on the afternoon of Tuesday, May 27, the second day of voting, the Sabahi campaign estimated that turnout stood at between 10 and 15 percent. The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, an independent NGO in Cairo, also estimated turnout at 15 percent after the first day of voting. If the turnout is anywhere close to those numbers, it will be far below what Sisi's supporters were hoping for.

...the Islamists stayed home.

Posted by orrinj at 6:39 PM


Damning verdict: Nick Clegg and Lib Dems face wipeout (Patrick Wintour and Nicholas Watt, 5/26/14, The Guardian)

Polling suggest the Liberal Democrats' chances at the 2015 general election would be improved if Nick Clegg was no longer party leader. Photograph: Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images
The electoral oblivion apparently confronting the Liberal Democrats as led by Nick Clegg was underscored on Monday by leaked opinion polls in four seats showing that the party will be wiped out.

Commissioned by a Lib Dem supporter from ICM and subsequently passed to the Guardian, the polling indicates that the Lib Dem leader would forfeit his own Sheffield Hallam constituency at the next election.

The party would also lose its seats in in Cambridge, Redcar and Wells, costing MPs Julian Huppert, Ian Swales and Tessa Munt Westminster seats. [...]

The damning verdict comes after a crestfallen and visibly exhausted Clegg said in the early afternoon that he would not buckle in the face of woeful European election results that lost the party 10 of its 11 MEP and left it in fifth place.

No one misses the Bull Moosers either.

May 26, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 12:32 PM


Poland's Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski Dies at 90 (VANESSA GERA, 5/25/14,  Associated Press)

Commenting on his death, Walesa called him a "great man of the generation of betrayal."

"Those times were complicated, I'm leaving the assessment to God," Walesa said.

Another of Jaruzelski's chief adversaries, communist-era dissident Adam Michnik, believes now that general had no choice.

"If you have to choose between martial law and a Russian military intervention, you should not hesitate," Michnik told The Associated Press on Sunday. "It's clear that it was the lesser evil."

Jaruzelski preferred to be remembered for the negotiations he backed eight years later that helped dismantle the regime and set Poland on track to become the thriving democracy it is today. [...]

Jaruzelski, who headed the government from 1981-85 and the party from 1981 until the communist regime's collapse in 1989, repeatedly defended his decision.

"The greater evil would have been a (Soviet) intervention," he said in a 2005 interview with the AP.

He sought historical vindication.

"The structures of the state were paralyzed. ... A general strike was imminent. We were staring hunger, cold, and blackout in the face," Jaruzelski said at Kansas State University in 1996.

"I spent the week prior to taking the decision on martial law as in some horrible nightmare. I entertained thoughts of suicide. So what held me back? The sense of responsibility for my family, friends and country," he said.

Jaruzelski claimed partial credit for negotiating the peaceful transition to democracy as Poland's last communist leader. Many Poles recognized him for allowing the "Round Table" talks with Solidarity in 1989 that paved the way for a peaceful transition to democracy. For about a year, he served as the president.

"Jaruzelski's role was positive, during the Round Table and after it," Michnik said. "He was a very loyal president toward the democratic changes that were taking place."

Unlike Gorbachev, he wasn't trying to save communism, just Poland.
Posted by orrinj at 7:41 AM


Making the Memorial (Maya Lin, 11/02/00, NY Review of Books)

I made a conscious decision not to do any specific research on the Vietnam War and the political turmoil surrounding it. I felt that the politics had eclipsed the veterans, their service, and their lives. I wanted to create a memorial that everyone would be able to respond to, regardless of whether one thought our country should or should not have participated in the war. The power of a name was very much with me at the time, partly because of the Memorial Rotunda at Yale. In Woolsey Hall, the walls are inscribed with the names of all the Yale alumni who have been killed in wars. I had never been able to resist touching the names cut into these marble walls, and no matter how busy or crowded the place is, a sense of quiet, a reverence, always surrounds those names. Throughout my freshman and sophomore years, the stonecutters were carving in by hand the names of those killed in the Vietnam War, and I think it left a lasting impression on me...the sense of the power of a name.

One memorial I came across also made a strong impression on me. It was a monument to the missing soldiers of the World War I Battle of the Somme by Sir Edwin Lutyens in Thiepval, France. The monument includes more than 100,000 names of people who were listed as missing because, without ID tags, it was impossible to identify the dead. (The cemetery contains the bodies of 70,000 dead.) To walk past those names and realize those lost lives--the effect of that is the strength of the design. This memorial acknowledged those lives without focusing on the war or on creating a political statement of victory or loss. This apolitical approach became the essential aim of my design; I did not want to civilize war by glorifying it or by forgetting the sacrifices involved. The price of human life in war should always be clearly remembered.

But on a personal level, I wanted to focus on the nature of accepting and coming to terms with a loved one's death. Simple as it may seem, I remember feeling that accepting a person's death is the first step in being able to overcome that loss.

I felt that as a culture we were extremely youth-oriented and not willing or able to accept death or dying as a part of life. The rites of mourning, which in more primitive and older cultures were very much a part of life, have been suppressed in our modern times. In the design of the memorial, a fundamental goal was to be honest about death, since we must accept that loss in order to begin to overcome it. The pain of the loss will always be there, it will always hurt, but we must acknowledge the death in order to move on.

What then would bring back the memory of a person? A specific object or image would be limiting. A realistic sculpture would be only one interpretation of that time. I wanted something that all people could relate to on a personal level. At this time I had as yet no form, no specific artistic image.

The use of names was a way to bring back everything someone could remember about a person. The strength in a name is something that has always made me wonder at the "abstraction" of the design; the ability of a name to bring back every single memory you have of that per-son is far more realistic and specific and much more comprehensive than a still photograph, which captures a specific moment in time or a single event or a generalized image that may or may not be moving for all who have connections to that time.

Then someone in the class received the design program, which stated the basic philosophy of the memorial's design and also its requirements: all the names of those missing and killed (57,000) must be a part of the memorial; the design must be apolitical, harmonious with the site, and conciliatory.

These were all the thoughts that were in my mind before I went to see the site.

Without having seen it, I couldn't design the memorial, so a few of us traveled to Washington, D.C., and it was at the site that the idea for the design took shape. The site was a beautiful park surrounded by trees, with traffic and noise coming from one side--Constitution Avenue.

I had a simple impulse to cut into the earth.

I imagined taking a knife and cutting into the earth, opening it up, an initial violence and pain that in time would heal. The grass would grow back, but the initial cut would remain a pure flat surface in the earth with a polished, mirrored surface, much like the surface on a geode when you cut it and polish the edge. The need for the names to be on the memorial would become the memorial; there was no need to embellish the design further. The people and their names would allow everyone to respond and remember.

It would be an interface, between our world and the quieter, darker, more peaceful world beyond. I chose black granite in order to make the surface reflective and peaceful. I never looked at the memorial as a wall, an object, but as an edge to the earth, an opened side. The mirrored effect would double the size of the park, creating two worlds, one we are a part of and one we cannot enter. The two walls were positioned so that one pointed to the Lincoln Memorial and the other pointed to the Washington Monument. By linking these two strong symbols for the country, I wanted to create a unity between the nation's past and present.

The idea of destroying the park to create something that by its very nature should commemorate life seemed hypocritical, nor was it in my nature. I wanted my design to work with the land, to make something with the site, not to fight it or dominate it. I see my works and their relationship to the landscape as being an additive rather than a combative process.

We went last Spring and The Wife and kids had never been before.  Just observing their reactions to it reminded again of what Ms Lin accomplished.

[originally posted : 11/16/13]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:39 AM


THE BATTLE HYMN OF THE REPUBLIC by Julia Ward Howe and William Steffe (Mark Steyn, A Song For The Season)

[W]hatever the tune's origin, when Julia Ward Howe heard the song for the first time that fall day, "John Brown's Body" was already famous. She loved the martial vigor of the music, but knew the words were "inadequate for a lasting hymn". So her minister, Dr Clark, suggested she write some new ones. And early the following morning at her Washington hotel she rose before dawn and on a piece of Sanitary Commission paper wrote the words we sing today, casting the war as a conflict in which one side has the advantage of God's "terrible swift sword":

I have seen Him in the watchfires of a hundred circling camps
They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps
I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps...

She finished the words and went back to bed. It was published in The Atlantic Monthly in February 1862. They didn't credit Mrs Howe and they paid her only four dollars.

Julia Ward Howe came from a distinguished lineage. Her forebear Richard Ward was Royal Governor of the British colony of Rhode Island and his son Samuel Ward was Governor of the American State of Rhode Island. Her husband, like his friend, the poet Lord Byron, had played an important role in helping the Greeks win independence from the Turks. Mrs Howe herself wrote many poems, Broadway plays and newspaper columns. But "The Battle Hymn Of The Republic" is her greatest achievement. Henry Steele Commager called it "the one great song to come out of the Civil War, the one great song ever written in America".

Whether or not that's true, most of us understand it has a depth and a power beyond most formal national songs. When John F Kennedy was assassinated, Judy Garland insisted on singing it on her TV show - the producers weren't happy about it, and one sneered that nobody would give a damn about Kennedy in a month's time. But it's an extraordinary performance. Little more than a year later, it was played at the state funeral of Winston Churchill at St Paul's Cathedral. Among those singing it was the Queen. She sang it again in public, again at St Paul's, for the second time in her life at the service of remembrance in London three days after September 11th 2001. That day, she also broke with precedent and for the first time sang another country's national anthem - "The Star-Spangled Banner". But it was Julia Ward Howe's words that echoed most powerfully that morning as they have done since she wrote them in her bedroom in Washington 140 years earlier:

As He died to make men holy
Let us die to make men free
While God is marching on.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:24 AM


Memorial Day (Joyce Kilmer)

The bugle echoes shrill and sweet,
But not of war it sings to-day.
The road is rhythmic with the feet
Of men-at-arms who come to pray.

The roses blossom white and red
On tombs where weary soldiers lie;
Flags wave above the honored dead
And martial music cleaves the sky.

Above their wreath-strewn graves we kneel,
They kept the faith and fought the fight.
Through flying lead and crimson steel
They plunged for Freedom and the Right.

May we, their grateful children, learn
Their strength, who lie beneath this sod,
Who went through fire and death to earn
At last the accolade of God.

In shining rank on rank arrayed
They march, the legions of the Lord;
He is their Captain unafraid,
The Prince of Peace...Who brought a sword.

[originally posted: 5/31/10]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:15 AM


IT IS THE SOLDIER (Father Dennis Edward O'Brien , United States Marine Corps)

It is the Soldier, not the reporter
Who has given us freedom of the press.

It is the Soldier, not the poet,
Who has given us freedom of speech.

It is the Soldier, not the campus organizer,
Who has given us the freedom to demonstrate.

It is the Soldier, not the lawyer,
Who has given us the right to a fair trial.

It is the Soldier, who salutes the flag,
Who serves beneath the flag,
And whose coffin is draped by the flag,
Who allows the protestor to burn the flag.

(originally posted: 5/30/2005)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:08 AM


Thucydides: Pericles' Funeral Oration

Most of those who have spoken here before me have commended the lawgiver who added this oration to our other funeral customs. It seemed to them a worthy thing that such an honor should be given at their burial to the dead who have fallen on the field of battle. But I should have preferred that, when men's deeds have been brave, they should be honored in deed only, and with such an honor as this public funeral, which you are now witnessing. Then the reputation of many would not have been imperiled on the eloquence or want of eloquence of one, and their virtues believed or not as he spoke well or ill. For it is difficult to say neither too little nor too much; and even moderation is apt not to give the impression of truthfulness. The friend of the dead who knows the facts is likely to think that the words of the speaker fall short of his knowledge and of his wishes; another who is not so well informed, when he hears of anything which surpasses his own powers, will be envious and will suspect exaggeration. Mankind are tolerant of the praises of others so long as each hearer thinks that he can do as well or nearly as well himself, but, when the speaker rises above him, jealousy is aroused and he begins to be incredulous. However, since our ancestors have set the seal of their approval upon the practice, I must obey, and to the utmost of my power shall endeavor to satisfy the wishes and beliefs of all who hear me.

I will speak first of our ancestors, for it is right and seemly that now, when we are lamenting the dead, a tribute should be paid to their memory. There has never been a time when they did not inhabit this land, which by their valor they will have handed down from generation to generation, and we have received from them a free state. But if they were worthy of praise, still more were our fathers, who added to their inheritance, and after many a struggle transmitted to us their sons this great empire. And we ourselves assembled here today, who are still most of us in the vigor of life, have carried the work of improvement further, and have richly endowed our city with all things, so that she is sufficient for herself both in peace and war. Of the military exploits by which our various possessions were acquired, or of the energy with which we or our fathers drove back the tide of war, Hellenic or Barbarian, I will not speak; for the tale would be long and is familiar to you. But before I praise the dead, I should like to point out by what principles of action we rose ~ to power, and under what institutions and through what manner of life our empire became great. For I conceive that such thoughts are not unsuited to the occasion, and that this numerous assembly of citizens and strangers may profitably listen to them.

Our form of government does not enter into rivalry with the institutions of others. Our government does not copy our neighbors', but is an example to them. It is true that we are called a democracy, for the administration is in the hands of the many and not of the few. But while there exists equal justice to all and alike in their private disputes, the claim of excellence is also recognized; and when a citizen is in any way distinguished, he is preferred to the public service, not as a matter of privilege, but as the reward of merit. Neither is poverty an obstacle, but a man may benefit his country whatever the obscurity of his condition. There is no exclusiveness in our public life, and in our private business we are not suspicious of one another, nor angry with our neighbor if he does what he likes; we do not put on sour looks at him which, though harmless, are not pleasant. While we are thus unconstrained in our private business, a spirit of reverence pervades our public acts; we are prevented from doing wrong by respect for the authorities and for the laws, having a particular regard to those which are ordained for the protection of the injured as well as those unwritten laws which bring upon the transgressor of them the reprobation of the general sentiment.

And we have not forgotten to provide for our weary spirits many relaxations from toil; we have regular games and sacrifices throughout the year; our homes are beautiful and elegant; and the delight which we daily feel in all these things helps to banish sorrow. Because of the greatness of our city the fruits of the whole earth flow in upon us; so that we enjoy the goods of other countries as freely as our own.

Then, again, our military training is in many respects superior to that of our adversaries. Our city is thrown open to the world, though and we never expel a foreigner and prevent him from seeing or learning anything of which the secret if revealed to an enemy might profit him. We rely not upon management or trickery, but upon our own hearts and hands. And in the matter of education, whereas they from early youth are always undergoing laborious exercises which are to make them brave, we live at ease, and yet are equally ready to face the perils which they face. And here is the proof: The Lacedaemonians come into Athenian territory not by themselves, but with their whole confederacy following; we go alone into a neighbor's country; and although our opponents are fighting for their homes and we on a foreign soil, we have seldom any difficulty in overcoming them. Our enemies have never yet felt our united strength, the care of a navy divides our attention, and on land we are obliged to send our own citizens everywhere. But they, if they meet and defeat a part of our army, are as proud as if they had routed us all, and when defeated they pretend to have been vanquished by us all.

If then we prefer to meet danger with a light heart but without laborious training, and with a courage which is gained by habit and not enforced by law, are we not greatly the better for it? Since we do not anticipate the pain, although, when the hour comes, we can be as brave as those who never allow themselves to rest; thus our city is equally admirable in peace and in war. For we are lovers of the beautiful in our tastes and our strength lies, in our opinion, not in deliberation and discussion, but that knowledge which is gained by discussion preparatory to action. For we have a peculiar power of thinking before we act, and of acting, too, whereas other men are courageous from ignorance but hesitate upon reflection. And they are surely to be esteemed the bravest spirits who, having the clearest sense both of the pains and pleasures of life, do not on that account shrink from danger. In doing good, again, we are unlike others; we make our friends by conferring, not by receiving favors. Now he who confers a favor is the firmer friend, because he would rather by kindness keep alive the memory of an obligation; but the recipient is colder in his feelings, because he knows that in requiting another's generosity he will not be winning gratitude but only paying a debt. We alone do good to our neighbors not upon a calculation of interest, but in the confidence of freedom and in a frank and fearless spirit. To sum up: I say that Athens is the school of Hellas, and that the individual Athenian in his own person seems to have the power of adapting himself to the most varied forms of action with the utmost versatility and grace. This is no passing and idle word, but truth and fact; and the assertion is verified by the position to which these qualities have raised the state. For in the hour of trial Athens alone among her contemporaries is superior to the report of her. No enemy who comes against her is indignant at the reverses which he sustains at the hands of such a city; no subject complains that his masters are unworthy of him. And we shall assuredly not be without witnesses; there are mighty monuments of our power which will make us the wonder of this and of succeeding ages; we shall not need the praises of Homer or of any other panegyrist whose poetry may please for the moment, although his representation of the facts will not bear the light of day. For we have compelled every land and every sea to open a path for our valor, and have everywhere planted eternal memorials of our friendship and of our enmity. Such is the city for whose sake these men nobly fought and died; they could not bear the thought that she might be taken from them; and every one of us who survive should gladly toil on her behalf.

I have dwelt upon the greatness of Athens because I want to show you that we are contending for a higher prize than those who enjoy none of these privileges, and to establish by manifest proof the merit of these men whom I am now commemorating. Their loftiest praise has been already spoken. For in magnifying the city I have magnified them, and men like them whose virtues made her glorious. And of how few Hellenes 1 can it be said as of them, that their deeds when weighed in the balance have been found equal to their fame! I believe that a death such as theirs has been the true measure of a man's worth; it may be the first revelation of his virtues, but is at any rate their final seal. For even those who come short in other ways may justly plead the valor with which they have fought for their country; they have blotted out the evil with the good, and have benefited the state more by their public services than they have injured her by their private actions. None of these men were enervated by wealth or hesitated to resign the pleasures of life; none of them put off the evil day in the hope, natural to poverty, that a man, though poor, may one day become rich. But, deeming that the punishment of their enemies was sweeter than any of these things, and that they could fall in no nobler cause, they determined at the hazard of their lives to be honorably avenged, and to leave the rest. They resigned to hope their unknown chance of happiness; but in the face of death they resolved to rely upon themselves alone. And when the moment came they were minded to resist and suffer, rather than to fly and save their lives; they ran away from the word of dishonor, but on the battlefield their feet stood fast, and in an instant, at the height of their fortune, they passed away from the scene, not of their fear, but of their glory.

Such was the end of these men; they were worthy of Athens, and the living need not desire to have a more heroic spirit, although they may pray for a less fatal issue. The value of such a spirit is not to be expressed in words. Any one can discourse to you for ever about the advantages of a brave defense, which you know already. But instead of listening to him I would have you day by day fix your eyes upon the greatness of Athens, until you become filled with the love of her; and when you are impressed by the spectacle of her glory, reflect that this empire has been acquired by men who knew their duty and had the courage to do it, who in the hour of conflict had the fear of dishonor always present to them, and who, if ever they failed in an enterprise, would not allow their virtues to be lost to their country, but freely gave their lives to her as the fairest offering which they could present at her feast. The sacrifice which they collectively made was individually repaid to them; for they received again each one for himself a praise which grows not old, and the noblest of all tombs, I speak not of that in which their remains are laid, but of that in which their glory survives, and is proclaimed always and on every fitting occasion both in word and deed. For the whole earth is the tomb of famous men; not only are they commemorated by columns and inscriptions in their own country, but in foreign lands there dwells also an unwritten memorial of them, graven not on stone but in the hearts of men. Make them your examples, and, esteeming courage to be freedom and freedom to be happiness, do not weigh too nicely the perils of war. The unfortunate who has no hope of a change for the better has less reason to throw away his life than the prosperous who, if he survive, is always liable to a change for the worse, and to whom any accidental fall makes the most serious difference. To a man of spirit, cowardice and disaster coming together are far more bitter than death striking him unperceived at a time when he is full of courage and animated by the general hope.

Wherefore I do not now pity the parents of the dead who stand here; I would rather comfort them. You know that your dead have passed away amid manifold vicissitudes; and that they may be deemed fortunate who have gained their utmost honor, whether an honorable death like theirs, or an honorable sorrow like yours, and whose share of happiness has been so ordered that the term of their happiness is likewise the term of their life. I know how hard it is to make you feel this, when the good fortune of others will too often remind you of the gladness which once lightened your hearts. And sorrow is felt at the want of those blessings, not which a man never knew, but which were a part of his life before they were taken from him. Some of you are of an age at which they may hope to have other children, and they ought to bear their sorrow better; not only will the children who may hereafter be born make them forget their own lost ones, but the city will be doubly a gainer. She will not be left desolate, and she will be safer. For a man's counsel cannot have equal weight or worth, when he alone has no children to risk in the general danger. To those of you who have passed their prime, I say: "Congratulate yourselves that you have been happy during the greater part of your days; remember that your life of sorrow will not last long, and be comforted by the glory of those who are gone. For the love of honor alone is ever young, and not riches, as some say, but honor is the delight of men when they are old and useless.

To you who are the sons and brothers of the departed, I see that the struggle to emulate them will be an arduous one. For all men praise the dead, and, however preeminent your virtue may be, I do not say even to approach them, and avoid living their rivals and detractors, but when a man is out of the way, the honor and goodwill which he receives is unalloyed. And, if I am to speak of womanly virtues to those of you who will henceforth be widows, let me sum them up in one short admonition: To a woman not to show more weakness than is natural to her sex is a great glory, and not to be talked about for good or for evil among men.

I have paid the required tribute, in obedience to the law, making use of such fitting words as I had. The tribute of deeds has been paid in part; for the dead have them in deeds, and it remains only that their children should be maintained at the public charge until they are grown up: this is the solid prize with which, as with a garland, Athens crowns her sons living and dead, after a struggle like theirs. For where the rewards of virtue are greatest, there the noblest citizens are enlisted in the service of the state. And now, when you have duly lamented, every one his own dead, you may depart.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:06 AM


The bivouac of the dead (Theodore O'Hara, 1847)

The muffled drum's sad roll has beat
The soldier's last tattoo'
No more on life's parade shall meet
That brave and fallen few;
On Fame's eternal camping ground
Their silent tents are spread;
But Glory guards with solemn round
The bivouac of the dead.

[originally posted: 5/31/10]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:05 AM


[originally published : 5/30/10]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:01 AM


Let us cross over the river (Paul Greenberg, May 24, 2002, Jewish World Review)
Let us take our text today from the words and deeds of T.J. Jackson, Gen., C.S.A. In his final delirium, Jackson was still coming to Lee's aid. ("Order A.P. Hill to prepare for action! Pass the infantry to the front rapidly! Tell Major Hawks...") Then he paused, and said his last. The words capture the right spirit for this quiet Memorial Day morning in what, Glory Be, turned out to be his country and all of ours after all: Let us cross over the river and rest under the shade of the trees.

Have a good holiday, Gentle Reader, a restful holiday, and return from the land of memory strengthened and renewed. Nations need rest and remembrance, too, because the battles are far from over.

This fine essay opens with some lines from Allen Tate's poem, Ode to the Confederate Dead, which gives us an idea for how to commemorate this weekend. You can find more at Poetry of the Civil War, but here are some verses we like (please feel free to submit you own--with a link to the text if you can find it online) :

Ode to the Confederate Dead (Allen Tate 1899-1979)

Row after row with strict impunity
The headstones yield their names to the element,
The wind whirrs without recollection;
In the riven troughs the splayed leaves
Pile up, of nature the casual sacrament
To the seasonal eternity of death;
Then driven by the fierce scrutiny
Of heaven to their election in the vast breath,
They sough the rumour of mortality.

Autumn is desolation in the plot
Of a thousand acres where these memories grow
From the inexhaustible bodies that are not
Dead, but feed the grass row after rich row.
Think of the autumns that have come and gone!-
Ambitious November with the humors of the year,
With a particular zeal for every slab,
Staining the uncomfortable angels that rot
On the slabs, a wing chipped here, an arm there:
The brute curiosity of an angel's stare

Turns you, like them, to stone,
Transforms the heaving air
Till plunged to a heavier world below
You shift your sea-space blindly
Heaving, turning like the blind crab.

Dazed by the wind, only the wind
The leaves flying, plunge

You know who have waited by the wall
The twilight certainty of an animal,
Those midnight restitutions of the blood
You know-the immitigable pines, the smoky frieze
Of the sky, the sudden call: you know the rage,
The cold pool left by the mounting flood,
Of muted Zeno and Parmenides.
You who have waited for the angry resolution
Of those desires that should be yours tomorrow,
You know the unimportant shrift of death
And praise the vision
And praise the arrogant circumstance
Of those who fall
Rank upon rank, hurried beyond decision-
Here by the sagging gate, stopped by the wall.

Seeing, seeing only the leaves
Flying, plunge and expire

Turn your eyes to the immoderate past,
Turn to the inscrutable infantry rising
Demons out of the earth-they will not last.
Stonewall, Stonewall, and the sunken fields of hemp,
Shiloh, Antietam, Malvern Hill, Bull Run.
Lost in that orient of the thick-and-fast
You will curse the setting sun.

Cursing only the leaves crying
Like an old man in a storm

You hear the shout, the crazy hemlocks point
With troubled fingers to the silence which
Smothers you, a mummy, in time.

The hound bitch
Toothless and dying, in a musty cellar
Hears the wind only.

Now that the salt of their blood
Stiffens the saltier oblivion of the sea,
Seals the malignant purity of the flood,

What shall we who count our days and bow
Our heads with a commemorial woe
In the ribboned coats of grim felicity,
What shall we say of the bones, unclean,
Whose verdurous anonymity will grow?
The ragged arms, the ragged heads and eyes
Lost in these acres of the insane green?
The gray lean spiders come, they come and go;
In a tangle of willows without light
The singular screech-owl's tight
Invisible lyric seeds the mind
With the furious murmur of their chivalry.

We shall say only the leaves
Flying, plunge and expire

We shall say only the leaves whispering
In the improbable mist of nightfall
That flies on multiple wing;
Night is the beginning and the end
And in between the ends of distraction
Waits mute speculation, the patient curse
That stones the eyes, or like the jaguar leaps
For his own image in a jungle pool, his victim.

What shall we say who have knowledge
Carried to the heart? Shall we take the act
To the grave? Shall we, more hopeful, set up the
In the house? The ravenous grave?

Leave now
The shut gate and the decomposing wall-
The gentle serpent, green in the mulberry bush,
Riots with his tongue through the hush-
Sentinel of the grave who counts us all!

[Originally posted: 5/24/02]
Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


MEMORIAL DAY (Mark Steyn, 5/30/05, Chicago Sun Times)

Memorial Day in my corner of New Hampshire is always the same. A clutch of veterans from the Second World War to the Gulf march round the common, followed by the town band, and the scouts, and the fifth- graders. The band plays "Anchors Aweigh," "My Country, 'Tis of Thee," "God Bless America" and, in an alarming nod to modernity, Ray Stevens' "Everything Is Beautiful (In Its Own Way)" (Billboard No. 1, May 1970). One of the town's selectmen gives a short speech, so do a couple of representatives from state organizations, and then the fifth-graders recite the Gettsyburg Address and the Great War's great poetry. There's a brief prayer and a three-gun salute, exciting the dogs and babies. Wreaths are laid. And then the crowd wends slowly up the hill to the Legion hut for ice cream, and a few veterans wonder, as they always do, if anybody understands what they did, and why they did it.

Before the First World War, it was called Decoration Day -- a day for going to the cemetery and "strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion." Some decorated the resting places of fallen family members; others adopted for a day the graves of those who died too young to leave any descendants.

I wish we still did that. Lincoln's "mystic chords of memory" are difficult to hear in the din of the modern world, and one of the best ways to do it is to stand before an old headstone, read the name, and wonder at the young life compressed into those brute dates: 1840-1862. 1843-1864.

In my local cemetery, there's a monument over three graves, forebears of my hardworking assistant, though I didn't know that the time I first came across them. Turner Grant, his cousin John Gilbert and his sister's fiance Charles Lovejoy had been friends since boyhood and all three enlisted on the same day. Charles died on March 5, 1863, Turner on March 6, and John on March 11. Nothing splendid or heroic. They were tentmates in Virginia, and there was an outbreak of measles in the camp.

For some reason, there was a bureaucratic mixup and the army neglected to inform the families. Then, on their final journey home, the bodies were taken off the train at the wrong town. It was a Saturday afternoon and the stationmaster didn't want the caskets sitting there all weekend. So a man who knew where the Grants lived offered to take them up to the next town and drop them off on Sunday morning.

When he arrived, the family was at church, so he unloaded the coffins from his buggy and left without a word or a note to anyone. Imagine coming home from Sunday worship and finding three caskets waiting on the porch. Imagine being young Caroline Grant, and those caskets contain the bodies of your brother, your cousin and the man to whom you're betrothed.

He's still keeping up this charade about having a staff of assistants?

[Originally posted: 5/30/05]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Memorial Day Address (Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., May 30, 1884, at Keene, NH, before John Sedgwick Post No. 4, Grand Army of the Republic.)
Not long ago I heard a young man ask why people still kept up Memorial Day, and it set me thinking of the answer. Not the answer that you and I should give to each other-not the expression of those feelings that, so long as you live, will make this day sacred to memories of love and grief and heroic youth--but an answer which should command the assent of those who do not share our memories, and in which we of the North and our brethren of the South could join in perfect accord. So far as this last is concerned, to be sure, there is no trouble. The soldiers who were doing their best to kill one another felt less of personal hostility, I am very certain, than some who were not imperilled by their mutual endeavors. I have heard more than one of those who had been gallant and distinguished officers on the Confederate side say that they had had no such feeling. I know that I and those whom I knew best had not. We believed that it was most desirable that the North should win; we believed in the principle that the Union is indissoluable; we, or many of us at least, also believed that the conflict was inevitable, and that slavery had lasted long enough. But we equally believed that those who stood against us held just as sacred conviction that were the opposite of ours, and we respected them as every men with a heart must respect those who give all for their belief. The experience of battle soon taught its lesson even to those who came into the field more bitterly disposed. You could not stand up day after day in those indecisive contests where overwhelming victory was impossible because neither side would run as they ought when beaten, without getting at least something of the same brotherhood for the enemy that the north pole of a magnet has for the south--each working in an opposite sense to the other, but each unable to get along without the other. As it was then , it is now. The soldiers of the war need no explanations; they can join in commemorating a soldier's death with feelings not different in kind, whether he fell toward them or by their side. But Memorial Day may and ought to have a meaning also for those who do not share our memories. When men have instinctively agreed to celebrate an anniversary, it will be found that there is some thought of feeling behind it which is too large to be dependent upon associations alone. The Fourth of July, for instance, has still its serious aspect, although we no longer should think of rejoicing like children that we have escaped from an outgrown control, although we have achieved not only our national but our moral independence and know it far too profoundly to make a talk about it, and although an Englishman can join in the celebration without a scruple. For, stripped of the temporary associations which gives rise to it, it is now the moment when by common consent we pause to become conscious of our national life and to rejoice in it, to recall what our country has done for each of us, and to ask ourselves what we can do for the country in return. So to the indifferent inquirer who asks why Memorial Day is still kept up we may answer, it celebrates and solemnly reaffirms from year to year a national act of enthusiasm and faith. It embodies in the most impressive form our belief that to act with enthusiam and faith is the condition of acting greatly. To fight out a war, you must believe something and want something with all your might. So must you do to carry anything else to an end worth reaching. More than that, you must be willing to commit yourself to a course, perhpas a long and hard one, without being able to foresee exactly where you will come out. All that is required of you is that you should go somewhither as hard as ever you can. The rest belongs to fate. One may fall-at the beginning of the charge or at the top of the earthworks; but in no other way can he reach the rewards of victory. When it was felt so deeply as it was on both sides that a man ought to take part in the war unless some conscientious scruple or strong practical reason made it impossible, was that feeling simply the requirement of a local majority that their neighbors should agree with them? I think not: I think the feeling was right-in the South as in the North. I think that, as life is action and passion, it is required of a man that he should share the passion and action of his time at peril of being judged not to have lived. If this be so, the use of this day is obvious. It is true that I cannot argue a man into a desire. If he says to me, Why should I seek to know the secrets of philosophy? Why seek to decipher the hidden laws of creation that are graven upon the tablets of the rocks, or to unravel the history of civilization that is woven in the tissue of our jurisprudence, or to do any great work, either of speculation or of practical affairs? I cannot answer him; or at least my answer is as little worth making for any effect it will have upon his wishes if he asked why I should eat this, or drink that. You must begin by wanting to. But although desire cannot be imparted by argument, it can be by contagion. Feeling begets feeling, and great feeling begets great feeling. We can hardly share the emotions that make this day to us the most sacred day of the year, and embody them in ceremonial pomp, without in some degree imparting them to those who come after us. I believe from the bottom of my heart that our memorial halls and statues and tablets, the tattered flags of our regiments gathered in the Statehouses, are worth more to our young men by way of chastening and inspiration than the monuments of another hundred years of peaceful life could be. But even if I am wrong, even if those who come after us are to forget all that we hold dear, and the future is to teach and kindle its children in ways as yet unrevealed, it is enough for us that this day is dear and sacred. Accidents may call up the events of the war. You see a battery of guns go by at a trot, and for a moment you are back at White Oak Swamp, or Antietam, or on the Jerusalem Road. You hear a few shots fired in the distance, and for an instant your heart stops as you say to yourself, The skirmishers are at it, and listen for the long roll of fire from the main line. You meet an old comrade after many years of absence; he recalls the moment that you were nearly surrounded by the enemy, and again there comes up to you that swift and cunning thinking on which once hung life and freedom--Shall I stand the best chance if I try the pistol or the sabre on that man who means to stop me? Will he get his carbine free before I reach him, or can I kill him first?These and the thousand other events we have known are called up, I say, by accident, and, apart from accident, they lie forgotten. But as surely as this day comes round we are in the presence of the dead. For one hour, twice a year at least--at the regimental dinner, where the ghosts sit at table more numerous than the living, and on this day when we decorate their graves--the dead come back and live with us. I see them now, more than I can number, as once I saw them on this earth. They are the same bright figures, or their counterparts, that come also before your eyes; and when I speak of those who were my brothers, the same words describe yours. I see a fair-haired lad, a lieutenant, and a captain on whom life had begun somewhat to tell, but still young, sitting by the long mess-table in camp before the regiment left the State, and wondering how many of those who gathered in our tent could hope to see the end of what was then beginning. For neither of them was that destiny reserved. I remember, as I awoke from my first long stupor in the hospital after the battle of Ball's Bluff, I heard the doctor say, "He was a beautiful boy", [Web note: Lt. William L. Putnam, 20th Mass.] and I knew that one of those two speakers was no more. The other, after passing through all the previous battles, went into Fredericksburg with strange premonition of the end, and there met his fate.[Web Note: Cpt. Charles F. Cabot, 20th Mass.] I see another youthful lieutenant as I saw him in the Seven Days, when I looked down the line at Glendale. The officers were at the head of their companies. The advance was beginning. We caught each other's eye and saluted. When next I looked, he was gone. [Web note: Lt. James. J. Lowell, 20th Mass.] I see the brother of the last-the flame of genius and daring on his face--as he rode before us into the wood of Antietam, out of which came only dead and deadly wounded men. So, a little later, he rode to his death at the head of his cavalry in the Valley. In the portraits of some of those who fell in the civil wars of England, Vandyke has fixed on canvas the type who stand before my memory. Young and gracious faces, somewhat remote and proud, but with a melancholy and sweet kindness. There is upon their faces the shadow of approaching fate, and the glory of generous acceptance of it. I may say of them , as I once heard it said of two Frenchmen, relics of the ancien regime, "They were very gentle. They cared nothing for their lives." High breeding, romantic chivalry--we who have seen these men can never believe that the power of money or the enervation of pleasure has put an end to them. We know that life may still be lifted into poetry and lit with spiritual charm. But the men, not less, perhaps even more, characteristic of New England, were the Puritans of our day. For the Puritan still lives in New England, thank God! and will live there so long as New England lives and keeps her old renown. New England is not dead yet. She still is mother of a race of conquerors--stern men, little given to the expression of their feelings, sometimes careless of their graces, but fertile, tenacious, and knowing only duty. Each of you, as I do, thinks of a hundred such that he has known.[Web note: Unfortunately for New England, no such "conquerors" have played for the Red Sox since 1918]. I see one--grandson of a hard rider of the Revolution and bearer of his historic name--who was with us at Fair Oaks, and afterwards for five days and nights in front of the enemy the only sleep that he would take was what he could snatch sitting erect in his uniform and resting his back against a hut. He fell at Gettysburg. [Web note: Col. Paul Revere, Jr., 20th Mass.]. His brother , a surgeon, [Web note: Edward H.R. Revere] who rode, as our surgeons so often did, wherever the troops would go, I saw kneeling in ministration to a wounded man just in rear of our line at Antietam, his horse's bridle round his arm--the next moment his ministrations were ended. His senior associate survived all the wounds and perils of the war, but , not yet through with duty as he understood it, fell in helping the helpless poor who were dying of cholera in a Western city. I see another quiet figure, of virtuous life and quiet ways, not much heard of until our left was turned at Petersburg. He was in command of the regiment as he saw our comrades driven in. He threw back our left wing, and the advancing tide of defeat was shattered against his iron wall. He saved an army corps from disaster, and then a round shot ended all for him. There is one who on this day is always present on my mind. He entered the army at nineteen, a second lieutenant. In the Wilderness, already at the head of his regiment, he fell, using the moment that was left him of life to give all of his little fortune to his soldiers.I saw him in camp, on the march, in action. I crossed debatable land with him when we were rejoining the Army together. I observed him in every kind of duty, and never in all the time I knew him did I see him fail to choose that alternative of conduct which was most disagreeable to himself. He was indeed a Puritan in all his virtues, without the Puritan austerity; for, when duty was at an end, he who had been the master and leader became the chosen companion in every pleasure that a man might honestly enjoy. His few surviving companions will never forget the awful spectacle of his advance alone with his company in the streets of Fredericksburg. In less than sixty seconds he would become the focus of a hidden and annihilating fire from a semicircle of houses. His first platoon had vanished under it in an instant, ten men falling dead by his side. He had quietly turned back to where the other half of his company was waiting, had given the order, "Second Platoon, forward!" and was again moving on, in obedience to superior command, to certain and useless death, when the order he was obeying was countermanded. The end was distant only a few seconds; but if you had seen him with his indifferent carriage, and sword swinging from his finger like a cane, you would never have suspected that he was doing more than conducting a company drill on the camp parade ground. He was little more than a boy, but the grizzled corps commanders knew and admired him; and for us, who not only admired, but loved, his death seemed to end a portion of our life also. There is one grave and commanding presence that you all would recognize, for his life has become a part of our common history. Who does not remember the leader of the assault of the mine at Petersburg? The solitary horseman in front of Port Hudson, whom a foeman worthy of him bade his soldiers spare, from love and admiration of such gallant bearing? Who does not still hear the echo of those eloquent lips after the war, teaching reconciliation and peace? I may not do more than allude to his death, fit ending of his life. All that the world has a right to know has been told by a beloved friend in a book wherein friendship has found no need to exaggerate facts that speak for themselves. I knew him ,and I may even say I knew him well; yet, until that book appeared, I had not known the governing motive of his soul. I had admired him as a hero. When I read, I learned to revere him as a saint. His strength was not in honor alone, but in religion; and those who do not share his creed must see that it was on the wings of religious faith that he mounted above even valiant deeds into an empyrean of ideal life. I have spoken of some of the men who were near to me among others very near and dear, not because their lives have become historic, but because their lives are the type of what every soldier has known and seen in his own company. In the great democracy of self-devotion private and general stand side by side. Unmarshalled save by their own deeds, the army of the dead sweep before us, "wearing their wounds like stars." It is not because the men I have mentioned were my friends that I have spoken of them, but, I repeat, because they are types. I speak of those whom I have seen. But you all have known such; you, too, remember! It is not of the dead alone that we think on this day. There are those still living whose sex forbade them to offer their lives, but who gave instead their happiness. Which of us has not been lifted above himself by the sight of one of those lovely, lonely women, around whom the wand of sorrow has traced its excluding circle--set apart, even when surrounded by loving friends who would fain bring back joy to their lives? I think of one whom the poor of a great city know as their benefactress and friend. I think of one who has lived not less greatly in the midst of her children, to whom she has taught such lessons as may not be heard elsewhere from mortal lips. The story of these and her sisters we must pass in reverent silence. All that may be said has been said by one of their own sex--- But when the days of golden dreams had perished, And even despair was powerless to destroy, Then did I learn how existence could be cherished, Strengthened, and fed without the aid of joy. Then did I check the tears of useless passion, weaned my young soul from yearning after thine Sternly denied its burning wish to hasten Down to that tomb already more than mine. Comrades, some of the associations of this day are not only triumphant, but joyful. Not all of those with whom we once stood shoulder to shoulder--not all of those whom we once loved and revered--are gone. On this day we still meet our companions in the freezing winter bivouacs and in those dreadful summer marches where every faculty of the soul seemed to depart one after another, leaving only a dumb animal power to set the teeth and to persist-- a blind belief that somewhere and at last there was bread and water. On this day, at least, we still meet and rejoice in the closest tie which is possible between men-- a tie which suffering has made indissoluble for better, for worse. When we meet thus, when we do honor to the dead in terms that must sometimes embrace the living, we do not deceive ourselves. We attribute no special merit to a man for having served when all were serving. We know that, if the armies of our war did anything worth remembering, the credit belongs not mainly to the individuals who did it, but to average human nature. We also know very well that we cannot live in associations with the past alone, and we admit that, if we would be worthy of the past, we must find new fields for action or thought, and make for ourselves new careers. But, nevertheless, the generation that carried on the war has been set apart by its experience. Through our great good fortune, in our youth our hearts were touched with fire. It was given to us to learn at the outset that life is a profound and passionate thing. While we are permitted to scorn nothing but indifference, and do not pretend to undervalue the worldly rewards of ambition, we have seen with our own eyes, beyond and above the gold fields, the snowy heights of honor, and it is for us to bear the report to those who come after us. But, above all, we have learned that whether a man accepts from Fortune her spade, and will look downward and dig, or from Aspiration her axe and cord, and will scale the ice, the one and only success which it is his to command is to bring to his work a mighty heart. Such hearts--ah me, how many!--were stilled twenty years ago; and to us who remain behind is left this day of memories. Every year--in the full tide of spring, at the height of the symphony of flowers and love and life--there comes a pause, and through the silence we hear the lonely pipe of death. Year after year lovers wandering under the apple trees and through the clover and deep grass are surprised with sudden tears as they see black veiled figures stealing through the morning to a soldier's grave. Year after year the comrades of the dead follow, with public honor, procession and commemorative flags and funeral march--honor and grief from us who stand almost alone, and have seen the best and noblest of our generation pass away. But grief is not the end of all. I seem to hear the funeral march become a paean. I see beyond the forest the moving banners of a hidden column. Our dead brothers still live for us, and bid us think of life, not death--of life to which in their youth they lent the passion and joy of the spring. As I listen , the great chorus of life and joy begins again, and amid the awful orchestra of seen and unseen powers and destinies of good and evil our trumpets sound once more a note of daring, hope, and will.
In his book, The Metaphysical Club, Louis Menand explores how the horror of the Civil War led Holmes and the other pragmatists to try to drain political disagreements of their ideological passion. [Originally posted: 5/30/05]

May 25, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 6:19 PM


Today's teenagers are the best-behaved generation on record (Sarah Kliff, May 25, 2014, Vox)

The Centers for Disease Control released a monster report last week on the state of Americans' health. The 511-page report makes one thing abundantly clear: teens are behaving better right now than pretty much any other time since the federal government began collecting data.


Posted by orrinj at 5:47 PM


Petro Poroshenko wins Ukraine presidency, according to exit polls (Shaun Walker in Donetsk and Alec Luhn in Kiev, 5/25/14, The Guardian)

Pro-European businessman Petro Poroshenko has won a landmark presidential election in Ukraine with 56% of the vote, according to exit polls, clearing the 50% threshold to win the vote outright without a second round. Former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko was trailing far behind, with about 13%. [...]

Earlier in the day, voters said they felt the election was an important step toward solving the country's political crisis , and several repeated the oft-cited argument that they wanted Poroshenko to exceed the 50% threshold so the election would finish without a run-off vote in three weeks.

"Since Russia doesn't recognise our government, it's very important that the people say that now there is one person they support. Then the whole world will understand that their position is absurd," said Vladimir Pestenkov, an executive at an IT company.

Posted by orrinj at 7:40 AM


Don't believe in God? Don't bother to run for president (SCOTT MARTELLE, 5/24/14, LA Times)
According to a recent Pew Research Center survey, more than half of Americans reported they would be less likely to vote for an atheist running for political office than for a believer. In fact, they preferred pot smokers and adulterers over atheists, which makes the study a little hard to dissect. Does that mean not believing in sin is worse than sinning?

Posted by orrinj at 7:09 AM


What Is Hillary Clinton Afraid Of? (GLENN THRUSH and MAGGIE HABERMAN, MAY/JUNE 2014, Politico)

As much as anything else, her ambivalence about the race, they told us, reflects her distaste for and apprehension of a rapacious, shallow and sometimes outright sexist national political press corps acting as enablers for her enemies on the right.

Clinton isn't insane, and she's not stupid. "When you get beat up so often, you just get very cautious," says Mike McCurry, her husband's former press secretary, who joined the White House team to find a first lady traumatized by the coverage of her failed Hillarycare initiative. "She [has] had a very practical view of the media. ... 'I have to be careful, I'm playing with fire.'"

And while the white-hot anger she once felt toward the media has since hardened into a pessimistic resignation (with a dash of self-pity), she's convinced another campaign would inevitably invite more bruising scrutiny, as her recent comments suggest. Public life "gives you a sense of being kind of dehumanized as part of the experience," she lamented a few weeks ago to a Portland, Ore., audience. "You really can't ever feel like you're just having a normal day."

When asked why Clinton hasn't done more to reach out to reporters over the years, one Clinton campaign veteran began to spin several theories. She was too busy, she was too prone to speaking her mind and the like--then abruptly cut to the chase:

"Look, she hates you. Period. That's never going to change."

How much is Hillary Clinton's fear and loathing of the media going to influence her decision about whether to run in 2016? Of course, there are other considerations: her health, the impact of a campaign on mother-to-be Chelsea, whether the 66-year-old Clinton wants to spend "the rest of her useful life" being president, in the words of one confidant.

But consider this recent speech by one of the more improbable rising stars in Clintonworld: her tormentor-turned-defender David Brock, who exposed many of the ugliest Arkansas scandals of the Clinton years when he was a conservative investigative reporter in the 1990s. "Fox has accused Hillary Clinton of murder, compared her to a murderer and suggested she commit suicide," Brock told a crowd at the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service in March, arguing that she's the ultimate victim of "misogyny."

Through intermediaries, Clinton let Brock know she appreciated that sentiment--then echoed it publicly a short time later, a welcome signal to those in her camp who felt she was too afraid to speak her mind during the 2008 presidential primary campaign she so famously lost to Barack Obama. Both Clintons still attribute that defeat to fawning coverage of her rival. "The double standard is alive and well," Clinton told an audience in New York last month. "And I think in many respects the media is the principal propagator of its persistence."

Thankfully, she's not going to run, because we haven't seen such self-pity since Richard Nixon.  It's probably the worst quality a leader can have.

Posted by orrinj at 6:36 AM


Jeb Bush Gives Party Something to Think About (MICHAEL BARBARO, MAY 24, 2014, NY Times)

Allies said that reputation -- as what the Republican strategist Karl Rove called the "deepest thinker on our side" -- could prove vital in selling Mr. Bush as a presidential candidate to an electorate still scarred by George W. Bush's legacy of costly wars abroad and economic meltdown at home.

But the bookishness and pragmatism that strike mainstream Republican leaders as virtues highlight the potential difficulty that Mr. Bush may face in igniting the passions of more conservative members of the party.

The questions he grapples with most frequently, and enthusiastically, revolve around improving the effectiveness of government in areas like education, immigration and criminal justice. It is a message unlikely to electrify Tea Party and libertarian wings of his party that are openly hostile to the very idea of government.

"There is skepticism that maybe Jeb Bush wants too much government in people's lives," said Greg Mueller, a Republican strategist who has advised the presidential campaigns of Pat Buchanan, Steve Forbes and Bob Dole. "I don't know that he will ever win over the limited-government conservatives."

Mr. Bush, who has cast himself as a party reformer, seems unfazed by such critiques: At times, he has appeared to deliberately fan them by publicly castigating the leaders of his own party for adhering to failed tactics and outdated messages.

After Mitt Romney's resounding defeat in 2012, in a presidential campaign that struggled to leaven its harsh tone with an optimistic vision for governing, Mr. Bush was unsparing, warning that the Republican brand risked becoming a millstone, "associated with being anti-everything." Much of the electorate, he said, believes that "Republicans are anti-immigrant, anti-woman, anti-science, anti-gay, anti-worker."

Those who have hashed over policy and politics with Mr. Bush describe him as a conservative animated less by rigid ideology than a technocrat's quest to identify which solutions work best.

"He's not interested in proving some sort of conservative point that less government is better, though he might believe that," said Philip K. Howard, the author of influential books about law and government, who has spoken frequently with Mr. Bush. "In all of my dealings with him, he's interested in how you make government deliver effectively. What are the incentives? How do you hold people accountable?" He added: "These are the discussions, frankly, that you want government leaders to have." [...]

The approach, aides said, suffused his government, which became a hothouse for ambitious, mostly conservative policy programs. They included assigning A through F grades to public schools, offering performance bonuses to government workers, privatizing many public services  and, through billions of dollars in land purchases, locking in the conservation of the Everglades.

Barney could have graduated from the University of Texas in three.
Posted by orrinj at 6:12 AM


On eve of vote, separatist drive faltering (Trudy Rubin, 5/25/14, Philadelphia Inquirer)

Even Vladimir Putin appears to recognize that his project to annex Ukraine's south and east, or install friendly separatists there, is failing. Putin calls this region (known as the Donbass) Novorossiya, a term used when the czars conquered the area at the end of the 18th century. Putin wanted it as a land bridge to Crimea, which Russia has already seized and annexed.

Yet things didn't go as he expected. Putin has been forced in the last few days to step back from the new Cold War he started over Ukraine. His efforts to foment civil war in eastern Ukraine - while blaming everything on Kiev - have boomeranged, causing serious economic damage to Russia and to his business cronies.

The people on whom the Kremlin relied to stir up trouble - nobodies like Pushilin, cronies of deposed President Viktor Yanukovych, rootless youths, and petty criminals - are falling out with one another, and alienating the locals, even supporters of Russia. Putin's pledge on Friday to recognize Sunday's presidential elections - which he had loudly denounced - shows he wants to cut his losses.
In Donetsk, you can see why.

The Russian leader clearly misunderstood Ukraine. 

May 24, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 12:31 PM


Republican star Mia Love gets second chance to make political history (Jennifer Dobner, 5/24/14, Reuters) 

Utah's Mia Love, a Republican darling who could become the first conservative black woman elected to U.S. Congress, is getting a second, and likely better, chance to make history after narrowly losing to a popular incumbent Democrat in 2012.

Love, 39, is a Mormon mother of three who is upending stereotypes about the state and its predominant faith. She locked up her party's nomination to vie for an open seat in Utah's 4th District at a state convention last month with an overwhelming 78 percent of the vote. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:27 PM


Interview: Mark Steyn Surveys the Passing Parade (Ed Driscoll, May 21st, 2014, PJ Media)

Featuring obituaries of figures ranging from Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, all the way to show business personalities as diverse as Bob Hope, Tupac Shakur, Evel Knievel, James Doohan, and Michael Jackson, the Passing Parade is a brilliant time capsule of popular and political culture at the dawn of the 21st century.

During our 35 minute long interview, Mark will discuss:

● How his career as an obituarist began.
● The secret Tupac Shakur, Evel Knievel, Wayne Newton connection -- revealed!
● How England's decline in the 1970s was a preview of America in the Obama years.
● How Margaret Thatcher returned foreign policy respectability to England -- even without hashtags. 
● How did a four-decade old Bob Hope joke lead to Mark's parting of the ways with National Review? 
● What's the status of the legal imbroglio involving Mark and Michael Mann?

Posted by orrinj at 9:21 AM


Robots will replace fast-food workers (James O'Toole, May 22, 2014, CNNMoney)

As protesters across the country call for the fast-food chains to raise their wages, a number of companies have begun experimenting with new technology that could significantly reduce the number of restaurant workers in the years to come.

Restaurant industry backers warn that a sharp rise in wages would be counterproductive, increasing the appeal of automation and putting more workers at risk of job loss.

Posted by orrinj at 9:17 AM


The Great War and Iraq: Britain's poisonous legacy (IAN RUTLEDGE, 17 May 2014, Open Democracy)

By early 1916, Britain had suffered two catastrophic defeats at the hands of the Ottoman army: Gallipoli, and Kut al-Amara in Iraq, where an over-confident Anglo-Indian army was surrounded and forced to surrender. In desperation, the British government offered the aged and deeply conservative Sharif Hussein of Mecca and his sons a vaguely delineated Arab empire to be carved out of the Ottoman territories, in return for rebelling against their Turkish overlords, an offer lubricated by a generous monthly subsidy in gold sovereigns. 

Sykes was now faced with the onerous task of accommodating the territorial aspirations of the Sharif of Mecca while at the same time recognising the ambitions of its French ally to establish a colony in the Levant (as well as Russia's demand for the straits). His solution - and he apparently convinced himself it would be an acceptable solution to all sides - was the 1916 Sykes-Picot agreement. This proposed a British protectorate in the Iraqi provinces of Baghdad and Basra, and a French protectorate in Lebanon and southern Anatolia. Palestine, with its "holy places" would be "internationalised". And as a "concession" to Sharif Hussein there would be two semi-independent Arab emirates: one in the interior of Syria, the other stretching from northern Iraq extending south-west through present-day Jordan to a point just south of Palestine. These "Arab" regions, however, would be effectively under the control of French and British "advisors".

But within a year, military and political developments dictated the abandonment of Sykes-Picot. During the Russian revolution in 1917, the Bolsheviks discovered and published the terms of the agreement. To mollify the Sharif of Mecca and an enraged Arab world, Sykes authored a public declaration, issued in Baghdad in March 1917, which promised to satisfy the Arabs' "aspirations". Although the word "independence" wasn't used, educated Arab opinion took it to mean just that. Then, faced with the United States president, Woodrow Wilson's declared support for "self-determination" for subject peoples, a second proclamation (again authored by Sykes) was made in November 1918 offering the Arabs "complete liberation". 

Nevertheless, after the Americans had withdrawn from the post-war peace negotiations in disgust at its Allies' manifestly imperialist manoeuvrings, In April 1920, Britain and France simply awarded themselves the "mandates" for the whole of Iraq and Syria - in theory, the responsibility to gradually lead these countries to full independence but in practice, little more than indefinite protectorates. And on the same day that the mandates were distributed, Britain and France agreed to share Iraq's future oil production with British-controlled companies getting 75%.

The decision to focus on the League instead of on self-determination was the most ill-fated of any president.

Posted by orrinj at 8:57 AM


Six Reasons Why Putin Seems To Have Lost In Eastern Ukraine (Paul Roderick Gregory, 5/24/14, Forbes)

There is a growing consensus that Vladimir Putin has abandoned his campaign to take control of east Ukraine. The fog of war, such as the killing of nearly 20 Ukrainian soldiers yesterday, is obscuring the distinct turn in the tide. Putin's goal has changed from dismantling Ukraine as a united state to destabilizing Sunday's presidential election in the east. Ukraine has a chance for a third lease on life. It cannot afford to blow this chance by returning to its old ways of governing. Ukraine's third lease on life will likely be its last if wasted.

The noted Russian civil rights activist and political analyst, Lilia Shevtsova, wrote on her Facebook page that Vladimir Putin has "buried the New Russia project in a copper urn."  Businessweek headlines that Ukraine's government has gained the advantage over the separatists. The New York Times cites the metalworkers' retaking of Mariupol from the separatists as the turning point in the battle. An unauthenticated document that is burning up the internet shows the military commander of separatist forces ordering up a plan for escape to the Russian border. To add icing to the cake, Ukraine's richest man has just announced peace marches and demonstrations of honking automobiles throughout the Donbass against the so-called People's Republic of Donetsk, whose leaders, he sarcastically notes, no one in the region knows or has heard of.

Quite a change from two weeks back.

Which is why conservatives are never in a rush.

Posted by orrinj at 8:35 AM


Army of robots to invade Amazon warehouses (Katie Lobosco, May 22, 2014, CNNMoney)

Amazon will be using 10,000 robots in its warehouses by the end of the year.

CEO Jeff Bezos told investors at a shareholder meeting Wednesday that he expects to significantly increase the number of robots used to fulfill customer orders. [...]

The robots are made by Kiva Systems, a company Amazon bought for $775 million two years ago.

They are tied into a complex grid that requires months of planning and testing. But once the system is in place, it can save time and cut down on fulfillment costs.

Posted by orrinj at 8:30 AM


Piketty findings undercut by errors (Chris Giles, 5/23/14, Financial Times)
[A]ccording to a Financial Times investigation, the rock-star French economist appears to have got his sums wrong.

The data underpinning Professor Piketty's 577-page tome, which has dominated best-seller lists in recent weeks, contain a series of errors that skew his findings. The FT found mistakes and unexplained entries in his spreadsheets, similar to those which last year undermined the work on public debt and growth of Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff.

The central theme of Prof Piketty's work is that wealth inequalities are heading back up to levels last seen before the first world war. The investigation undercuts this claim, indicating there is little evidence in 
Prof Piketty's original sources to bear out the thesis that an increasing share of total wealth is held by the richest few.

Prof Piketty, 43, provides detailed sourcing for his estimates of wealth inequality in Europe and the US over the past 200 years. In his spreadsheets, however, there are transcription errors from the original sources and incorrect formulas. It also appears that some of the data are cherry-picked or constructed without an original source.

For example, once the FT cleaned up and simplified the data, the European numbers do not show any tendency towards rising wealth inequality after 1970. An independent specialist in measuring inequality shared the FT's concerns.

The guy has even the Left agreeing that we could close the inequality gap by giving the "poor" more capital.  He's the most effective advocate for privatizing Social Security we've ever had.

Posted by orrinj at 8:24 AM


More Democratic, Less Liberal (SHADI HAMID, MAY 23, 2014, NY Times)

Americans tend to see liberalism and democracy as going hand in hand. But in the Middle East, democratization, contrary to academic and popular wisdom, is likely to push Islamist parties toward greater illiberalism.

In religiously conservative societies, there is widespread support for more mixing of religion and politics, not less. In Egypt, for example, available polling data makes clear that majorities support Shariah, or Islamic law, as the primary or only source of law; religiously derived criminal punishments; gender inequality; and a role for religious leaders in drafting legislation. If the popular demand is there, someone will need to supply it. Moreover, democracy means that groups like the Brotherhood no longer have a monopoly on the votes of the Islamist faithful. They have to compete with newly established Salafi parties that believe in a strict, literalist Islam, producing a "Tea Party effect" where the center-right is dragged further rightward.

This poses a thorny question for Western observers: Do Arabs have the right to decide -- through the democratic process -- that they would rather not be liberal?

May 23, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 5:01 PM


Paul Ehrlich Predicts Cannibalism, Plot Finally And Irretrievably Lost (Tim Worstall, 5/23/14, Forbes)
Host John Zepps asked Ehrlich if in the decades and centuries to come, we will need to change the way we use and consume animals. Not to worry, Ehrlich said.

"I don't think there's going to be the centuries to come with our kind of civilizations and with the kind of ethical issues that at least some people (Republicans) in our civilization are concerned with," he said, chuckling. "I think the issues are more likely to be "is it perfectly OK to eat the bodies of your dead because we're all so hungry."

Seemingly taken aback, Zepps asked, "Really? We'll get that bad?"

"Oh," Ehrlich said. "It's moving in that direction with ridiculous speed."

Posted by orrinj at 4:52 PM


The Shawshank Residuals (RUSSELL ADAMS, May 22, 2014, WSJ)

"Shawshank" was an underwhelming box-office performer when it hit theaters 20 years ago this September, but then it began to redeem itself, finding an audience on home video and later becoming a fixture on cable TV.

The film has taken a near-mystical hold on viewers that shows no sign of abating. Steven Spielberg once told the film's writer-director Frank Darabont that he had made "a chewing-gum movie--if you step on it, it sticks to your shoe," says Mr. Darabont, who went on to create "The Walking Dead" for AMC.

...but there was only one way to redeem the triteness : when Morgan Freeman dug up the box the murder weapon should have been inside.

May 22, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 5:59 PM



A new Marquette Law School Poll finds that the Wisconsin governor's race has tightened to a dead heat, with both Republican Gov. Scott Walker and Democratic challenger Mary Burke receiving the support of 46 percent of registered voters, while 6 percent are undecided or say they do not know whom they would support.

Posted by orrinj at 5:56 PM


Rouhani: Nuclear deal 'very likely' by July deadline (AFP, May 22, 2014)

Talks between Iran and six world powers on a comprehensive deal over its nuclear program are "very likely" to reach a successful conclusion by a July 20 deadline, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Thursday. [...]

[T]he UN atomic watchdog said Wednesday that Iran has agreed to address some of the many long-held allegations that it conducted research into making nuclear weapons before 2003 and possibly since.

The International Atomic Energy Agency said that Iran, which denies ever having sought nuclear weapons, has undertaken to implement "practical measures" by a separate deadline of August 25.

"It takes time" to resolve outstanding issues, Rouhani said a day after attending an Asian security forum in China's commercial hub of Shanghai.

"We cannot expect it to be resolved in a few meetings."

Posted by orrinj at 5:48 PM


Labor's Digital Displacement (Michael Spence, 5/22/14, Project Syndicate)

Now comes a second, potentially even more powerful, wave of digital technology that is replacing labor in increasingly complex tasks. This process of labor substitution and disintermediation has been underway for some time in service sectors - think of ATMs, online banking, enterprise resource planning, customer relationship management, mobile payment systems, and much more. This revolution is spreading to the production of goods, where robots and 3D printing are displacing labor.

It is important to understand the economics of these technologies. The vast majority of the cost comes at the start, in the design of hardware (like sensors) and, more important, in creating the software that produces the capability to carry out various tasks. Once this is achieved, the marginal cost of the hardware is relatively low (and declines as scale rises), and the marginal cost of replicating the software is essentially zero. With a huge potential global market to amortize the upfront fixed costs of design and testing, the incentives to invest are compelling.

In other words, unlike the preceding wave of digital technology, which motivated firms to gain access to and deploy underutilized pools of valuable labor around the world, the driving force in this round is cost reduction via the replacement of labor.

Posted by orrinj at 5:44 PM


Proposed Rules on Tax-Exempt Groups Face Revision (John D. McKinnon, 5/22/14, WSJ)

The Obama administration on Thursday said it would likely revise a proposal to tighten rules on political activity by tax-exempt groups, following an outpouring of negative public reaction to a plan released late last year. [...]

"Given the diversity of views expressed and the volume of substantive input, we have concluded that it would be more efficient and useful to hold a public hearing after we publish the revised proposed regulation," the IRS said. "Treasury and the IRS remain committed to providing updated standards for tax-exemption that are fair, clear, and easier to administer."

Posted by orrinj at 3:30 PM


Poll: Barghouti top Palestinian presidential candidate (MARISSA NEWMAN, May 22, 2014, Times of Israel)

Imprisoned Fatah leader and convicted terrorist Marwan Barghouti is the Palestinians' favored candidate for their next president, a poll by the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion published Thursday found. [...]

In a 2012 interview, Barghouti said he could envision himself as the next president of the Palestinian Authority.

On Tuesday, Meretz MK Zahava Gal-on said, "The only figure who can replace Abu Mazen [Abbas] is Barghouti."

"Knowledgeable people say that the only one capable of stabilizing the situation after [Abbas] is Barghouti," Gal-on said.

Gal-on also said Israel had seriously considered releasing the Palestinian leader, but it "never came to fruition."

Elect him anyway and force them to release him.

Posted by orrinj at 3:27 PM


Iran releases young people arrested for making a 'Happy' video (JASON REZAIAN, May 22, 2014, Washington Post)

[T]he most discussed reaction in Tehran, and the one that many believe may have led to the group's release, came from Iran's president, Hassan Rouhani.

Late on Wednesday, Rouhani tweeted, "#Happiness is our people's right. We shouldn't be too hard on behaviors caused by joy."

Posted by orrinj at 2:55 PM


Working hard or hardly working? : People claim they're putting in more time at their jobs than ever before. Turns out we toil a lot less than we think. (Tamsin McMahon, May 5, 2014, MacLean's)

The overwork epidemic is now the defining plight of the modern worker. But as popular as the narrative has become, there is scant evidence that we're actually busier or more overworked than in the past. If anything, today's employees work less, do less housework, spend more time with their kids and get more sleep than previous generations. "The data goes back to 1965, almost 50 years now, and there's just no evidence a lot of people are pressed for time," says John Robinson, a University of Maryland professor who heads Americans' Use of Time Project and does some of the most comprehensive international studies of time use. "That's not to say that there aren't people out there who are genuinely stressed, but on average it's not an epidemic."

Despite a sluggish economy that has left millions of Americans feeling they have to work harder just to keep their jobs, the average employed American worked just 34.2 hours a week last year, while the number of people working "extreme jobs" of more than 60 hours a week makes up just one per cent of the population. Meanwhile, Americans report getting slightly more than eight hours of sleep a night, a number that's remained roughly constant over the past half-century. If anything, workers are getting slightly more sleep than they did in the past, Robinson says. [...]

Despite all evidence to the contrary, we really do believe we're suffering from an epidemic of busyness. In a study of both U.S. and Belgian workers, Robinson compared people's perceptions of how much time they dedicated to various activities--everything from working at the office, to doing laundry at home--to the amount of time they actually reported spending on those activities in time diaries, which required them to give a detailed breakdown of what they did during every hour of their day.

He's found that the average person overestimates how much time they spend at their jobs by roughly two to three hours per week. That adds up. Assuming three weeks of vacation and an eight-hour work day, people on average spend the equivalent of 18 full days thinking they're working when they're actually not. We also drastically overestimate how much time we spend doing household chores--both men and women say they spend almost twice as much time doing housework as they actually do. We exaggerate how much time we spend attending religious services and volunteering. We underestimate how much sleep we get by nearly an hour. And when it comes to free time, the researchers found we have a full 10 hours more of it per week than we believe. The amount of time we spend watching television also continues to rise, despite how much time we now spend on the Internet and on our smartphones. "It's part of this mindset that we always have to keep busy," Robinson says. "It's a status symbol to say that you feel busy. If you're not busy, you're not a functioning person in our 24-7 economy. But it's largely self-imposed." [...]

When they broke down the U.S. time estimates by profession, Robinson and colleagues found that the more education and skill required for a job, the more people exaggerate how much they work. CEOs overestimate their work hours far more than office managers. Police officers exaggerate more than security guards.

Lawyers were some of the worst offenders, overestimating their work week by 7.2 hours. Despite the stereotype of the 80-hour work week in law, fewer than two per cent of lawyers actually worked that much and only 15 per cent worked 60 hours or more. The typical lawyer works, in fact, 43 hours a week, says Robinson. "People think that lawyers work 80 hours a week. Lawyers think they work 80 hours a week. They tell people that. But have them keep a diary and you'll find out where their time really goes." On the other end of the spectrum, those in low-skill jobs like food service actually tended to underestimate how much they worked: waiters underestimate their work week by nearly two hours, stock clerks by more than three hours.

In a culture that equates long work hours and workplace stress with success, Robinson thinks people have begun to "misestimate" how they use their time in ways that seem more socially desirable. Those at the top of the career ladder exaggerate the most because they're under the greatest pressure to prove to the world that they're worth every penny they earn. Those at the bottom of the ladder tend to consider their time less valuable and therefore underestimate how hard they work.

Let's face it, we resent even the two productive hours we spend at work each day.

May 21, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 8:10 PM


The proud neoliberalisation of Iraqi-Kurdistan (SCHLUWA SAMA, 21 May 2014, Open Democracy)

[I]t seems as if one major issue goes unnoticed: the creeping process of neoliberalisation.

Especially after the US-invasion in 2003, neoliberal transformation took unprecedented forms throughout Iraq. By the time Paul Bremer, head of the Coalition Provisional Authority left in 2004, 100 regulations and orders were implemented that paved the way for opening the country to free trade and a large privatization campaign. Soon after the implementation of these policies, violence gained ground in central and southern Iraq.

However, the Kurdish region that had already implemented its governing structure since the establishment of a no-fly zone in 1991 remained relatively safe. Thus, on the look-out for local elites to support their vision of Iraq as a free market economy, the US and its allies saw in the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), or rather in its two ruling parties the KDP (Kurdistan Democratic Party) and the PUK (Patriotic Union of Kurdistan), strategic partners for the implementation of their projects. Since the 1990s, the KDP and PUK cannot only be considered political parties. They control nearly all economic activity in Kurdistan through their business concerns (e.g. the Nokan Group that belongs to the PUK, and Korek that belongs to KDP).

Kurdistan became the gateway for major foreign companies, among them WesternZagros and ExxonMobil, to the rest of Iraq. To attract foreign direct investment the KRG implemented in July 2006 laws in order "to create a climate for promoting investment in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region". This process was inevitably accompanied by a certain discourse. The KRG started to present itself as a US-friendly region, launching the "the other Iraq" campaign. But these campaigns do not confine themselves to presenting Kurds in the guise of reliable western allies, they also deepen the alienation between Kurds and Arabs within Iraq.

Posted by orrinj at 7:55 PM


'Modern' families struggle more financially than conventional ones, study says (Walter Hamilton, 5/21/14, LA Times)

Nontraditional families, such as those headed by single parents or same-sex couples, are in far worse financial shape than conventional households headed by married heterosexuals with children, according to a new study.

Nontraditional families fare much worse across a variety of measures, including their ability to save money for emergencies and their own sense of economic well-being, according to the survey by insurance company Allianz.

May 20, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 8:53 PM


Russell Kirk and The Making of The Conservative Mind (Henry Regnery, 5/19/14, Imaginative Conservative)

For Russell Kirk, conservatism begins with Edmund Burke; one can say, in fact, that for him, the teachings of Burke comprise the basic principles of conservatism. In any practical sense," Kirk asserts, Burke is the founder of our conservatism." The opening chapter of The Conservative Mind, "Burke and the Politics of Prescription," quite appropriately, therefore, is devoted to the thought of Kirk's teacher, and with an eloquence of language worthy of the great Whig himself, under such headings as Providence and humility, Prejudice and prescription, Equality and aristocracy, The Principle of order, Kirk sets before us the principles of conservatism as developed by Edmund Burke. "Edmund Burke's conservative philosophy was a reply to three separate radical schools: the rationalism of the philosophes; the romantic sentimentalism of Rousseau and his disciples; and the nascent utilitarianism of Bentham,"[4] but it was a philosophy derived from a deep sense of piety and a profound understanding of the sources of order. Now and again," Kirk tells us, "Burke praises two great virtues, the keys to private contentment and public peace: they are prudence and humility, the first preeminently an attainment of classical philosophy, the second preeminently a triumph of Christian discipline. Without them, man must be miserable; and man destitute of piety hardly can perceive either of these rare and blessed qualities."[5]

Russell Kirk sees Burke's accomplishment, "taken as a whole," as "the definition of a principle of order," and he states Burke's position, "in the simplest terms," as he says, in the following paragraph:

Revelation, reason, and an assurance beyond the senses tell us that the Author of our being exists, and that He is omniscient; and man and the state are creations of God's beneficence. This Christian orthodoxy is the kernel of Burke's philosophy. God's purpose among men is revealed through the unrolling of history. How are we to know God's mind and will? Through the prejudices and traditions which millenniums of human experience with Divine means and judgments have implanted in the mind of the species. And what is our purpose in this world? Not to indulge our appetites, but to render obedience to Divine ordinance.

Posted by orrinj at 8:29 PM


A Finland model for Ukraine? (David Ignatius, May 20, 2014, Washington Post)

After months of war fever over Ukraine, perhaps the biggest surprise is that citizens there will be voting to choose a new government in elections that observers predict will be free and fair in most areas.

This electoral pathway for Ukraine seemed unlikely a few weeks ago, given Russian President Vladimir Putin's annexation of Crimea and his covert campaign to destabilize the Russian-speaking areas of eastern Ukraine. There were dire warnings of a new Cold War, and even of a ground war in Ukraine. The country seemed at risk of being torn apart. [...]

 It wasn't Ukrainian government troops that restored order in eastern cities such as Donetsk and Mariupol. The army's performance was middling, at best. Stability returned because of the deployment in at least five eastern cities of steelworkers and miners apparently dispatched by Ukraine's richest man, Rinat Akhmetov, who opposed a breakup of his country.

Posted by orrinj at 2:42 PM


China: Biggest Loser In India's 'Modislide' Election (Gordon G. Chang, 5/20/14, Forbes)

Gandhi is not the biggest loser overall, however.  That honor belongs to Beijing, because it's certain that in the coming years direct foreign investment will head to India instead of China.  For a Chinese economy needing outside cash, the redirection will not come at a worse time.

In India, times could not be better for the BJP.  Its win was the most decisive since 1984, when Congress's Rajiv Gandhi won after the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, his mother and Rahul's grandmother. 

As a result of the landslide, the BJP's charismatic Narendra Modi formally takes over Wednesday as India's 14th prime minister. 

Modi ran on a platform of fundamental economic reform, promising to do for all of India what he accomplished as chief minister of the western state of Gujarat, where with liberal policies he engineered a boom.  "He provided Gujarat with India's first real free-market economy that led to new infrastructure and job creation," says Subrata Mukherjee, a retired political science professor at Delhi University. 

As the Wall Street Journal's Geeta Anand and Gordon Fairclough report, voters like Congress Party subsidies and giveaways but voted for Modi because they wanted India to become one big Gujarat.  The breath of the BJP victory, therefore, signals a change in the mentality of a country, a clear rejection of the socialism of its founders.

Posted by orrinj at 2:39 PM


First-Born Children Are More Likely to Grow Up Into Conservatives (TOM JACOBS, May 20, 2014, Pacific Standard)

Given how strongly we tend to feel about our political beliefs, it's somewhat disconcerting to think that they developed largely as a result of circumstances beyond our control.

Yet that's the conclusion of a growing number of researchers, who have traced ideological predispositions to various personality traits and evolutionary needs. One idea, first raised in the 1990s, is that first-born children grow up to be more conservative, on average, than their siblings.

Newly published research from Italy confirms that thesis, and finds it is not related to the political beliefs of one's parents. It suggests the first-born child is more likely to lean to the right regardless of his parents' beliefs.

...and liberalism is simply a function of insecurity.

Posted by orrinj at 2:36 PM


Could a robot do my job? Probably, but I'm still optimistic (John Aziz, 5/20/14, The Week)

The word robot comes from the Czech robota, meaning "drudgery" or "servitude." Robots are -- by definition -- machines created to perform tasks human workers would rather not do.

And yet there are two sides to this. As robots become more sophisticated and better at doing things deemed too boring, dangerous, or expensive for humans, they may endanger something that most of us rely upon: paying jobs.

When I go to the supermarket, I often use the automated checkout. I follow the instructions of the disembodied voice -- to scan my item, to place it in the bag, and then to insert my card and pay. It sometimes becomes confused about where I have placed the item, and needs to be reset by a human attendant, but otherwise it runs smoothly, customer after customer. The supermarket doesn't need to pay it a wage. It only needs to pay for the hardware, and then pay one attendant to watch over four or six automated checkouts.

And this pattern isn't just playing out for cashiers -- it's playing out for food servers, bank tellers, telephone operators, receptionists, mail carriers, travel agents, typists, telemarketers, stock market traders. And the next target? Office workers. As Randall Parker, Professor of Economics at East Carolina University, recently wrote: "Robots and other automated equipment have increased factory automation so much that factories are a dwindling source of all jobs. The next big target for automation has been and continues to be office work."

One recent study suggested up to 80 percent of jobs could be automated, leading me to ask a question many are probably asking themselves: are robots coming for my job?

Not fast enough.

May 19, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 6:52 PM


Has al-Qaida lost its mantle as the leading jihadi organization? (ARIEL BEN SOLOMON, 05/19/2014 , Jerusalem Post)

A report published on the Carnegie Endowment's Syria in Crisis website by Jean-Pierre Filiu, professor of Middle East studies at Sciences Po's Paris School of International Affairs and a long-time French diplomat who served in Arab countries, makes the bold argument that al-Qaida is no longer "the core of a global jihadi movement."

"The former Iraqi branch of al-Qaida [ISIL] has now superseded [Osama] bin Laden's network to become the more important driving force behind the global jihad," he said.

Ayman al-Zawahiri, who took over al-Qaida after bin Laden's death in May 2011, has been leading what "typically has been seen as a complex of overlapping 'franchises' that together make up the core of a global jihadi movement."

There is a series of narrow insurgent movements, not a global one.

Posted by orrinj at 6:46 PM


China Gets Upper Hand in Russia Gas Deal (ABHEEK BHATTACHARYA, May 14, 2014, WSJ)

Russia's conflicts on its western frontier are pushing it into the arms of its eastern neighbor. That could finally seal Russia's long-promised natural gas deal with China--but more on China's terms. [...]

In the past year, though, CNPC has gained the upper hand. Gazprom's European price has fallen to about $10.8 per mmBtu as of April, as it offers discounts to compete against Norwegian and African supplies. Meanwhile, U.S. gas exports are set to grow on the back of its shale revolution, possible given added impetus by a desire to reduce Russia's market power amid the Ukraine crisis. This gives China more options down the road. And as for China's desperation to tackle pollution, a gas deal wouldn't clear the skies overnight anyway.

Russia last year said a price formula was at hand, though China has been more circumspect about whether the two sides are so close. Even if Russia gets its wish for an oil-linked formula, CNPC could force a link to oil at a low level in its favor, says Trevor Houser at the Rhodium Group, a New York research firm. CNPC buys Turkmen gas at an oil-linked but low-level price.

Gazprom may also need to tap Chinese financing. It has to spend $80 billion to build the China pipeline and associated projects, according to James Henderson at the Oxford Institute of Energy Studies. That gives CNPC another bargaining chip.

The more isolated Russia gets from the West, the more it must pivot to China in energy matters. The two energy giants may soon come together on natural gas, but not as equals.

Posted by orrinj at 6:35 PM


Tehran treads social liberties tightrope (Amin Shahriar , 5/19/14, Asia Times Online)

In hindsight, the liberal urban middle class was very much in a minority when the Iranian revolution, or the Islamic revolution as it is referred to by Iranian authorities, overthrew the secular regime of the shah. Being traditional and religious, the majority of people had no difficulty coming to terms with the standards advocated by the new regime and the dissenting minority was easily silenced. 

The war provided the regime with justification to violate people's social freedoms for eight years. Unfortunately for the Islamic regime, the population composition of large cities have undergone a fundamental change, creating threats for the regime at every turn. 

The silent move towards requesting social liberties has long begun. Now that the kids born in the 1990s are coming of age, they don't appear to agree with their parents or even their elder siblings. Called third generation revolution kids, they are much less attached to the revolutionary values and not in the least concerned about religion and politics. 

Teenagers and young adults seem to prefer a lifestyle resembling that of Western countries. Drinking is no more a taboo and young boys and girls have very liberal relationships which were almost unheard of about two decades ago. The rate of divorce has increased and now there are a large number of uninhibited single and divorced young women who have economic independence and, therefore, do no seek marital support to meet their financial needs. Many of these young people have opted for a lifestyle that is by no means congruent with what is portrayed by officials as the single right way to live. 

The media have of course had a very strong role to play. According to official statistics, about 70% of Iranians tend to watch satellite television. This means that they are not as susceptible to the government propaganda as they once were. The Internet has also removed the geographical boundaries, making it possible for young people in Iran to become part of the youth culture globally. Social networks have expedited this shift. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:30 PM


Fifty Years After We Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (Bradley J. Birzer, 5/19/14, Imaginative Conservative)

Though most remember it for just a very few lines and hand motions offered by the Nazi turned America, Dr. Strangelove, played by Sellers, it is really George C. Scott who steals the show. His Shatner-esque, over the top, acting works perfectly.

As Mr. Birzer nearly kens, he's the only male character.

Posted by orrinj at 6:24 PM

60 in '14:

POLITICO poll shows mounting danger for Dems  (ALEXANDER BURNS, 5/19/14, Politico)

President Barack Obama's job approval slump and voters' entrenched wariness of his health care law are dogging Democrats ahead of the 2014 midterm elections, and Republicans have captured a lead in the areas home to the year's most competitive races, according to a new POLITICO poll.

In the congressional districts and states where the 2014 elections will actually be decided, likely voters said they would prefer to vote for a Republican over a Democrat by 7 points, 41 percent to 34 percent.

May 18, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 4:03 PM


What Does A Modi Win Mean? (DAVID DANELO, May 15, 2014, American Interest)

The powerful Indian nationalist sentiment Modi has tapped into draws upon allegiances and ties some Americans might find troubling. At a May 8 BJP rally in Varanasi, Modi honored a 115 year old Indian colonel who served under Subhash Chandra Bose in the Indian National Army (INA). Known to most Indians as Netaji, Bose was recognized by the Axis Powers during World War II as India's rightful government, whose support he sought against the British to help India achieve independence. INA soldiers fought alongside the Japanese against the British in the Burma campaign, were defeated, and 300 officers were tried for treason. In August 1945, Netaji (Bose) died in a plane crash in Japanese-occupied Taiwan.

Outside of India, the INA's legacy has been mostly forgotten. But within the country--and especially among India's rising business titans--Netaji is revered. "I believe India would have been a powerful exporter much before China if only Netaji had a front seat in our policy making along with (Jawaharlal) Nehru," said Infosys Technologies founder Narayana Murthy at Netaji's 114th birthday celebration. "Netaji was one of the most courageous leaders in India."

It is the name absent from that list which speaks loudest. Mahatma Gandhi, whom many Americans see as India's most important founding father, does not command the same respect throughout his country. Although Gandhi's 1948 assassination inspired national mourning, it was sponsored by the Hindu Mahasabha, the spiritual and political forerunner to the BJP. The conspirators saw killing Gandhi as a necessary evil, believing his policies would destroy India. In the Hindu nationalist view, although Gandhi led a powerful nonviolent resistance movement, he was responsible for giving away Pakistan, setting India on a ruinous economic course, and promoting the country's cultural division into 22 official languages.

Although Gandhi had few good options for evicting the British and uniting India, Hindu nationalists believe his nonviolence and socialism were fine for spirituality but had no place in statecraft. Ironically, this makes Modi the Mahatma's antithesis and populist successor. Like Gandhi, Modi's charismatic patriotism, austere lifestyle and disciplined leadership have won India's trust. But Modi's conservative policies run contrary to the socialist Congress, and thus the vote is a clear mandate for change. "He is our Obama..."

Posted by orrinj at 3:59 PM


Jeb Bush, looking more seriously like a 2016 contender, hits the road (Alex Leary, 5/18/14, Tampa Bay Times)

Two appearances last week in starkly different settings -- a black-tie dinner Monday in Manhattan and a commencement address Saturday at the Christian college that bears this town's name -- suggest that the former Florida governor is summoning the energy and exposing his strengths and weaknesses for a 2016 campaign.

"If you feel inspired to serve your fellow citizens, don't let the ugliness of politics keep you from pursuing public office. There's always room for informed, engaged, passionate leaders at every level of government," Bush told the graduates of Grove City College, an hour's drive north of Pittsburgh, imploring them to work hard in whatever they choose.

Speaking on the 60th anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education, Bush said progress has been made, but "not nearly enough," citing an achievement gap between white students and minorities. He criticized a federal government that is "willingly violating" religious freedom and made the case for immigration reform as an economic engine.

Posted by orrinj at 11:05 AM


Saudi Arabia Recalibrates (HASSAN HASSAN, MICHAEL WEISS, May 12, 2014, American Interest)

 The Obama Administration's torpid response to the humanitarian catastrophe in Syria, combined with its comparatively energetic pursuit of a deal with the mullahs at almost any cost, has convinced Riyadh that Washington may in fact be implementing a quiet, unacknowledged policy of détente, if not outright rapprochement, with the Islamic Republic. As Abdullah al-Askar, the chairman of the foreign affairs committee in the Shoura Council, Saudi Arabia's advisory parliament, told Reuters last October: "I am afraid in case there is something hidden. If America and Iran reach an understanding it may be at the cost of the Arab world and the Gulf States, particularly Saudi Arabia." He spoke in what he insisted was a personal capacity, but was clearly channeling widespread anxiety in King Abdullah's court.

Elsewhere, this interoperation has been helped by the President himself, as when he told the New Yorker's David Remnick, in an interview published in early January: "If we were able to get Iran to operate in a responsible fashion--not funding terrorist organizations, not trying to stir up sectarian discontent in other countries, and not developing a nuclear weapon--you could see an equilibrium developing between Sunni, or predominantly Sunni, Gulf states and Iran in which there's competition, perhaps suspicion, but not an active or proxy warfare."

Since 9-11 our policy has been to liberate and strengthen our inherent allies, the millinerian Shi'a, to counter the Salafist enemy.  If the Sa'uds want off the hook they need to Reform their religion.

Posted by orrinj at 6:45 AM


Experts Debate Value of Self-Exam for Testicular Cancer (HealthDay, May 17, 2014)

[T]he U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and the American Cancer Society discourage the self-exams when no symptoms are present.

According to Dr. Michael LeFevre, task force chair and a professor of medicine at the University of Missouri, the task force takes only health benefits, not costs, into account in making its recommendations.

"The task force found that there is no evidence that teaching young men how to examine themselves for testicular cancer would improve health outcomes," he said. That opinion was rendered in 2011.

Given the low prevalence of testicular cancer, limited accuracy of screening tests and no evidence for the benefits of screening, the task force concluded that the harms of screening [unnecessary treatment] exceed any potential benefits, LeFevre said.

However, he added, "the task force understands that many adolescent and adult males will want to continue to regularly self-examine...

Posted by orrinj at 6:40 AM


The World Cup in an Album : In Colombia, a Soccer Sticker Trading Craze Cuts Across Class Lines (JESSICA WEISS, MAY 17, 2014, NY Times)

The Panini Group, a family-run operation based in Modena, Italy, that produces collectibles and comics, is well known for its popular World Cup album, sold worldwide, featuring adhesive stickers for participating teams and their players, tournament stadiums and FIFA emblems. The album first hit the market in 1970, for the ninth World Cup, the first to be televised, in Mexico. It officially arrived in Colombia in 1982.

A Panini factory in Brazil handles supply for most of Latin America, printing nine million sticker packs a day.

Carla Ruosi, a Panini Group export manager, said the album had always been well known in the region, "but in certain countries, qualifying can increase the perception and enthusiasm."

This year, Continente S.A., the company responsible for distribution in Colombia, authorized more than 25,000 sales points, from commercial locations to roving street vendors.

The company estimated that 1.4 million Colombians had albums, each costing $2.

A box of 500 stickers costs $60, and each envelope of five stickers costs 60 cents. On the street, stickers for popular players like Lionel Messi, Ronaldo and Radamel Falcao were going for up to $2.50 a sticker, fueling a myth that some stickers were harder to find than others -- a claim Panini denied.

Four stickers were all Juan Novoa needed: the Australian midfielder Mark Bresciano, the Ecuadorean defender Gabriel Achilier, the Bosnian goalkeeper Asmir Begovic and the Argentine team sticker.

"The fewer you need, the harder it gets," Novoa, a 36-year-old entrepreneur, said recently as he walked briskly toward a parking lot, a popular trading spot. There, next to vendors selling snacks and World Cup paraphernalia, hundreds of people stood shoulder to shoulder, in pairs or in small groups, making trades.

"There's sort of a protocol," Novoa said as he approached, pulling out the doubles that he would try to trade. "The person with fewer missing stickers gets to ask first."

Juan Carlos Castillo, 39, mans his stand from 6 a.m. until 9 p.m., seven days a week. He sells food and drinks, Colombia soccer flags, shirts, balls, mascot-themed items, magnets and more.

"It doesn't matter if you're rich or poor, old or young; the album is bringing us together," Castillo said. "It's nice to watch people help each other out. I have not seen one argument here. Only smiles."

Novoa tested his luck in front of Castillo's stand around lunchtime, approaching people, including a chef, a businessman and a mother-son pair, in search of his last four stickers: Nos. 412, 433, 361 and 176.

After five minutes, Novoa traded three of his stickers for a random pack of five, but the pack turned out to have none of his missing stickers. On his 10th try, Novoa found his Argentine team card, for which he traded two player cards.

Traders can buy individual cards from hundreds of distributors across the city, but most agree that is not as fun.

"People ask me why I don't just buy the ones I need," Novoa said. "I guess there's a bit of romanticism in me. Buying is not the real way to do it. I want to fill the album through trading."

On Sirius/XM this week an analyst was saying it would cost about $1600 to collect the entire set by buying at random.  Of course, the correct way to collect is by scaling cards in the schoolyard.

Posted by orrinj at 5:59 AM


After Islamist rule, Egypt Copts see bulwark in Sissi (AFP May 18, 2014)

Hailed as a savior for overthrowing an Islamist president, former army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sissi can count on the vote of Egypt's Coptic Christians who view him as a bulwark against fundamentalists.

The next time there's an election in Egypt, the winner needs to drive out the Copts.

May 17, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 8:38 AM


Iestyn Davies: Tiny Desk Concert (TOM HUIZENGA, 5/17/14, NPT: Tiny Desk Concert)

One of the best of today's crop of countertenors is Iestyn Davies (pronounced YES-tin DAY-vis). Lately, he's been exploring the meticulously crafted, melancholy songs of Elizabethan composer John Dowland. Joining Davies is lutenist Thomas Dunford, who has been affectionately dubbed "the Eric Clapton of the lute" by the BBC.

Dowland was a master of melancholy, a condition viewed differently in Elizabethan England than it is today. You might say that, back then, it was almost hip to have the blues, and Dowland instinctively knew how to tap into feelings of rejection, regret and general malaise in his music. (Dowland himself seemed to nurse a lifelong disappointment in never landing a job with Queen Elizabeth.)

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Posted by orrinj at 8:29 AM


Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity May Not Exist (Ross Pomeroy, May 14, 2014, Real Clear Science)

But like any meticulous scientist, Gibson wasn't satisfied with his first study. His research turned up no clues to what actually might be causing subjects' adverse reactions to gluten. Moreover, there were many more variables to control! What if some hidden confounder was mucking up the results? He resolved to repeat the trial with a level of rigor lacking in most nutritional research. Subjects would be provided with every single meal for the duration of the trial. Any and all potential dietary triggers for gastrointestinal symptoms would be removed, including lactose (from milk products), certain preservatives like benzoates, propionate, sulfites, and nitrites, and fermentable, poorly absorbed short-chain carbohydrates, also known as FODMAPs. And last, but not least, nine days worth of urine and fecal matter would be collected. With this new study, Gibson wasn't messing around.

37 subjects took part, all confirmed not to have celiac disease but whose gastrointestinal symptoms improved on a gluten-free diet, thus fulfilling the diagnostic criteria for non-celiac gluten sensitivity.** They were first fed a diet low in FODMAPs for two weeks, then were given one of three diets for a week with either 16 grams per day of added gluten (high-gluten), 2 grams of gluten and 14 grams of whey protein isolate (low-gluten), or 16 grams of whey protein isolate (placebo). Each subject shuffled through every single diet so that they could serve as their own controls, and none ever knew what specific diet he or she was eating. After the main experiment, a second was conducted to ensure that the whey protein placebo was suitable. In this one, 22 of the original subjects shuffled through three different diets -- 16 grams of added gluten, 16 grams of added whey protein isolate, or the baseline diet -- for three days each.

Analyzing the data, Gibson found that each treatment diet, whether it included gluten or not, prompted subjects to report a worsening of gastrointestinal symptoms to similar degrees. Reported pain, bloating, nausea, and gas all increased over the baseline low-FODMAP diet. Even in the second experiment, when the placebo diet was identical to the baseline diet, subjects reported a worsening of symptoms! The data clearly indicated that a nocebo effect, the same reaction that prompts some people to get sick from wind turbines and wireless internet, was at work here. Patients reported gastrointestinal distress without any apparent physical cause. Gluten wasn't the culprit; the cause was likely psychological. Participants expected the diets to make them sick, and so they did. The finding led Gibson to the opposite conclusion of his 2011 research:

"In contrast to our first study... we could find absolutely no specific response to gluten."

The most important facet is that pretending that you require any such kind of diet makes you feel special.  It's just a way to combat low self-esteem.

Posted by orrinj at 8:15 AM


The Ghosts on the Roofs, Still (ADAM J. WHITE, 5/12/14, Weekly Standard)

Written in 1945, when the world was asking, as it does now, what does Russia want?, Chambers reflected on the scene at Yalta from the vantage point of Czar Nicholas II and six fellow "ghosts" and the muse of history, perched atop Yalta's Livadia Palace. Whereupon Nicholas explains, to the muse, that he is a great admirer of Stalin--that he is himself, astonishingly, a communist. ("I don't see any reason why you should be so surprised, Madam," the Tsarina told the muse. "After the way you have favored Communism for the last 27 years, you are little better than a fellow traveler yourself!")

"And now," added Nicholas, "The greatest statesmen in the world have come to Stalin":

"Who but he would have had the sense of historical fitness to entertain them in my expropriated palace! There he sits, so small, so sure. He is magnificent. Greater than Rurik, greater than Peter! For Peter conquered only in the name of a limited class. But Stalin embodies the international social revolution. That is the mighty, new device of power politics which he has developed for blowing up other countries from within."

"With it he is conquering Rumania and Bulgaria!" cried the Tsarina.

"Yugoslavia and Hungary!" cried the Tsar.

Ghosts on the Roof was not well-received at first, as Sam Tanenhaus recounts in his biography of Chambers. "Some, including several of Chambers's adversaries, admired the piece. But most saw it as the culmination of his irrational zeal ... Chambers had slandered the Russians and endangered the peace." Of course, in only a short time it became all too clear that Chambers' assessment of Stalin was correct, as the iron curtain fell across Europe. "In January 1948," Tanenhaus concludes, "Time reprinted 'The Ghosts on the Roof,' this time as political prophecy. After only three years Chambers's outrageous whimsy seemed 'a mild and orthodox comment . . .'"

Today, Putin's latest maneuvers have led some to look back to George Kennan's famous Foreign Affairs essay, "The Sources of Soviet Conduct," published in 1946. But all would do well to go back one year further, to Chambers's masterpiece, to remind us of how history repeats--not merely in terms of Russia's actions, but also the West's initial reactions.

And, because history always repeats itself, Stalin sits with those historically unfit ghosts and Putin soon will, bemoaning how the Russian dream has failed again. Hope the Muse brought a whole roll of WintoGreen Life Savers...  

Posted by orrinj at 7:43 AM


Entranced by Reality : a review of A Life Worth Living: Albert Camus and the Quest for Meaning, Robert Zaretsky (IAN MARCUS CORBIN, May 15, 2014, American Conservative)

[A]s Zaretsky demonstrates, the interwoven beauty and violence of Camus's Algerian childhood made an indelible mark on the whole of his wide-ranging thought. It is a signal achievement of Zaretsky's book to show how the different parts of Camus's thinking cannot be neatly compartmentalized. They all flow from Camus's singular commitment to concrete reality, forged beneath the hot Algerian sun. The determination to not just think, but also to look, is key to Camus's greatness.

There is no way for a thinker--or indeed, a user of language--to eschew abstraction entirely, of course, but Camus was deeply attuned to the dangers of excessive abstraction. This may not sound particularly heroic, but it can be, and it certainly was in Camus's day. Camus's peers, mid-century French intellectuals, were all too susceptible to the raptures of abstraction. The Left Bank bien pensants were, with few exceptions, stalwart armchair Marxists, obliquely aware that the divine dream of the worker's paradise was exacting a brutal toll on the actual humans of the Soviet bloc, but blissfully unmoved by this fact. Camus publicly, angrily, charged that their fixation on beautiful ideas made them insensate to the ugly cost such ideas imposed on the much-beloved proletariat. And indeed, it is now difficult--impossible--to think Camus wrong.

Zaretsky quotes the French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty, who writes of the Stalinist horrors with chilling coolness, explaining that only the unfolding of history will "give us the final word as to the legitimacy of a particular form of violence." Camus righteously fumes in response that "man has been delivered entirely into the hands of history ... because we live in a world of abstraction, a world of bureaucracy and machinery, of absolute ideas and of messianism without subtlety." Camus's rejection of blood-draining Stalinist abstraction put him far out of favor with his peers, most notably his once-close friend Jean Paul Sartre, who publicly denounced him for his political apostasy.

It was not only the neat certainty of Soviet ideology that Camus resisted. During his lifetime, his native Algeria was torn in a long and bitter struggle between French colonizers, who flagrantly oppressed native Algerians, and Algerian nationalists, who took up arms against civilian pied noirs. On the Left Bank, this was understood to be a clear-cut, one-sided battle between virtuous freedom fighters and vicious colonial oppressors.

Having grown up on actual Algerian soil, Camus simply didn't recognize the black and white situation described by comfortable French intellectuals. He condemned the violence on both sides, and called for a peaceable coexistence between the pied noirs and the native Algerians. While in Stockholm in 1957, accepting the Nobel Prize for literature, Camus was confronted by a young Algerian nationalist who demanded to know why Camus had not taken an unambiguous pro-Algerian position. Camus famously responded: "People are now planting bombs in the tramways of Algiers. My mother might be on one of those tramways. If that is justice, then I prefer my mother." [...]

In an essay titled "The New Mediterranean Culture," he describes a deep spiritual connection between Mediterranean people and "the courtyards, the cypresses, the strings of pimentos" that mark their land. He concludes that "There are, before our eyes, realities stronger than we ourselves are. Our ideas will bend and become adapted to them." This "fidelity," to mere reality, Zaretsky explains, is the source of Camus's "measure"--his stubborn refusal, or perhaps inability, to trade the finite real for visions of some infinite ideal.

This stubbornness is the key marker of Camus's perspicacious political vision, and it is buttressed by his deep love for the beauty of his native landscape. He was not just an important political polemicist, but also a beauty-seized rhapsode, susceptible to being carried away by the raw sensuality of his homeland, and then capable of writing prose that takes his readers along with him.

In one of his most lyrical essays, "Nuptuals at Tipasa," Camus exults in the stark beauty of an Algerian mountain town on the verge of the Mediterranean Sea: "Deep among wild scents and concerts of somnolent insects, I open my eyes and heart to the unbearable grandeur of this heat-soaked sky." Caught up in the rapture of reality, this professional man of letters, a perceptive commentator on Kierkegaard and Dostoevsky and Kafka, seems almost ready to renounce the life of reflection: "We walk toward an encounter with love and desire. We are not seeking lessons or the bitter philosophy one requires of greatness. Everything seems futile here except the sun, our kisses, and the wild scents of the earth." One could very sensibly argue that the pleasure and vibrancy of his aesthetic experiences served as a vital counterbalance to one of the most common and dangerous pitfalls of professional thinkers: the temptation to float off into the cool, exhilarating ether of abstraction, leaving messy, mundane realities behind.

The eldest is taking a class on modern literature, nearly all of which the kids, quite rightly, hate.  And they've taken to reading our review for a counter-point after reading the books.  So when the teacher said she had nothing to say about The Stranger, they asked if I could teach the class that day instead.  

Rather than boring them with a lecture, we had a discussion in which I suggested possibilities for them to consider.  Among them, that one can not simultaneously believe that Camus was an effective writer and that Merseault is intended to be a heroic figure.  Rather than understanding the novel as a vindication of Existentialism/Absurdism/Nihilism/etc., we might want to read it as a repudiation of these ideas (whether conscious on Camus's part or not).   

Several of the kids--chiefly those who are still struggling with their own identities and feel estranged from social norms--felt that Merseault's trial was a miscarriage of justice because of the focus on his reaction to his mother's death, rather than on the murder he committed.  But we explored the possibility that even if there was some doubt about the murder--Camus, of course, stacks the deck against his own argument by leaving no such doubt--we might still prefer that a jury convict him simply to remove him from society, since his fidelity to his own notion that nothing matters makes him an inherent threat to kill eventually.  One would merely note that Camus, indeed, preferred his mom to his ideas. 

He was rejected by the French intelligentsia because he is, like de Tocqueville, essentially a figure of the Anglosphere

Book Review: 'The Soul of the World' by Roger Scruton : A first kiss is more than the mating ritual of gene-perpetuating machines. It summons 'the consciousness of another in mutual gift.' (IAN MARCUS CORBIN, May 15, 2014, WSJ)

"The Soul of the World" is an example of what conservatism can be, at its best--a clear-eyed, affectionate defense of humanity and a well-reasoned plea to treat the long-loved with respect and care. This kind of conservatism comes into being when something good is threatened: Here Mr. Scruton aims to conserve "the sacred" in the face of threats from scientific reductionism, an ideology that asserts that all phenomena--including things like love, art, morality and religion--are most accurately described using the vocabulary of contemporary science.

Viewed through the lens of scientific reductionism, all existence is fundamentally the bouncing around of various material particles, some arranged in the form of gene-perpetuating machines we call humans. Mr. Scruton almost agrees--we are, in fact, gene-perpetuating machines, and the finer, higher aspects of human existence emerge from, and rest upon, biological machinery. As he points out, though, it's a long jump from this acknowledgment to the assertion that "this is all there is." The jump, according to Mr. Scruton, lands us in "a completely different world, and one in which we humans are not truly at home." A truly human outlook involves the intuition of intangible realities that find no place in even our most sensitive systems of biology, chemistry or physics.

Philosophers and theologians have traditionally understood that certain things transcend our abilities to fully perceive, comprehend and articulate them and that the way we incorporate those things into our lives is through the experience of the sacred--the irruption of the transcendent into our mundane reality. The sacred stands, as Mr. Scruton puts it, "at the horizon of our world, looking out to that which is not of this world" but also "looking into our world, so as to meet us face-to-face." While sacredness is most commonly associated with religious actions and artifacts--such as sacraments, scriptures and holy places--it is not limited to these. Mr. Scruton argues that our encounters with one another, and indeed with nature, are experiences of the sacred as well.

The key insight of the Anglo philosophical tradition is, of course, even more radical.  It is that the encounter with ourselves can not be explained in terms of materialism either, but, likewise, partakes of the sacred.  All being intangible, we necessarily begin from faith.

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Posted by orrinj at 7:18 AM


India's Shinzo Abe (Brahma Chellaney, 5/16/14, Project Syndicate)

After a prolonged period of political drift and paralysis, India's new government will be led by a man known for his decisiveness. Just as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's return to power in late 2012, after six years of political instability, reflected Japan's determination to reinvent itself as a more competitive and confident country, Narendra Modi's election victory reflects Indians' desire for a dynamic, assertive leader to help revitalize their country's economy and security.

Like Abe, Modi is expected to focus on reviving India's economic fortunes while simultaneously bolstering its defenses and strengthening its strategic partnerships with likeminded states, thereby promoting regional stability and blocking the rise of a Sino-centric Asia. The charismatic Modi - a darling of business leaders at home and abroad - has promised to restore rapid economic growth, saying there should be "no red tape, only red carpet" for investors.

The 63-year-old Modi mirrors Abe's soft nationalism, market-oriented economics, and new Asianism, seeking close ties with Asian democracies to create a web of interlocking strategic partnerships.

Posted by orrinj at 7:09 AM


Leading GOP Senate Candidate: Creationism Should Be Taught in Public Schools (Dana Liebelson, May 16, 2014, Mother Jones)

In a little-noticed 2012 interview, Rep. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), the front-runner in Montana's open 2014 Senate race, expressed support for teaching creationism in public schools.

In an interview that aired on November 2, 2012, Sally Mauk, news director for Montana Public Radio, asked Daines, who was then running for Montana's lone House seat, whether public schools should teach creationism. Daines responded, "What the schools should teach is, as it relates to biology and science is that they have, um, there's evolution theory, there's creation theory, and so forth. I think we should teach students to think critically, and teach students that there are evolutionary theories, there's intelligent-design theories, and allow the students to make up their minds. But I think those kinds of decisions should be decided at the local school board level." He added, "Personally I'd like to teach my kids both sides of the equation there and let them come up to their own conclusion on it."​ suggesting that Creationism and Intelligent Design are not evolutionary theories and that, in its current state, Evolution is not designist/creationist.

Posted by orrinj at 6:59 AM


How BASIC Opened Up Computers to All of Us (DAN ROCKMORE, May 16, 2014, WSJ)

Fifty years ago, at 4 a.m. on May 1, 1964, in the basement of College Hall at Dartmouth College, the world of computing changed forever. Professor John Kemeny, then the chairman of the mathematics department at Dartmouth and later its president, and Mike Busch, a Dartmouth sophomore, typed "RUN" on a pair of computer terminals to execute two programs on a single industrial-sized General Electric "mainframe" computer. The programs were written in Basic (Beginner's All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code), a fledgling computer language designed for the everyman, by Prof. Kemeny, Professor Tom Kurtz and a team of eager students.

Back then, using a computer was almost exclusively the privilege of a select minority of scientists and engineers who were conversant in the early languages of assembly code and Fortran. Prof. Kemeny, who had been a programmer on the Manhattan Project for Richard Feynman and an assistant to Albert Einstein, and Prof. Kurtz, a former student of the computing pioneer John Tukey, saw great potential in computers for advancing teaching and research, but they realized that this would require a whole new level of accessibility. [...]

At Dartmouth, faculty, staff and students were given easy access to the computer and terminals around campus and were encouraged to use them as they saw fit. The lasting legacy of Basic was that it opened up the world of computing to the full range of creative exploration. Early on we saw the harbingers of most modern computing phenomena: Users created games (an early computer football game was a particular campus favorite) and initiated computational projects in the sciences, social sciences and humanities. A new Dartmouth Kiewit Computer Center became a place that students would go to impress their dates--perhaps the first computer dating "site."

Interest spread beyond Dartmouth. Remote computer access via phone lines was soon given to the local Hanover High School, and a first generation of "computer kids" was born. Hints of an Internet can be seen in the consortium of Northeast schools (including Exeter and Mount Holyoke) that sprouted up to regularly use the Dartmouth machine. [...]

But Professors Kurtz and Kemeny never profited from Basic. The thought of controlling the idea and implementation of Basic was antithetical to the two men's vision for the democratization of computing. Moreover, Prof. Kemeny's sincere patriotism fueled an ethos that federally funded work (including Basic) was the property of the people.

Posted by orrinj at 6:49 AM


Author Debunks Myths About Divorce Rates, Including of Churchgoers (ALEX MURASHKO, 5/16/14, CHRISTIAN POST)

Many of the most demoralizing beliefs about marriage, especially when it comes to discouraging statistics commonly passed around, are just not true, says social researcher and best-selling author Shaunti Feldhahn. [...]

CP: What was some of the most important good news that you learned?

Feldhahn: The most important big-picture truth: contrary to popular opinion, most marriages are strong and happy for a lifetime. That doesn't mean most marriages are perfect; there are still plenty of legitimate concerns out there. But for our culture as a whole, the marriages that are unhappy, the ones that don't make it, are the exception rather than the rule.

To prove that, we debunk five different discouraging pieces of conventional wisdom about marriage in the book. Let me just mention two here.

First, is the idea that, half of all marriages are ending in divorce. While some high risks groups (like those married as teenagers) may have a 50% divorce rate, we've never come close as an overall average. After looking at dozens of studies, I believe one of the most meaningful statistics is the one I mentioned earlier: 72% of people are still married to their first spouse.

Now, that is only an overall average at one point in time, and the real question is what the numbers are for people who have had many years of chances to get divorced. And that is where I was really astonished. The highest-risk age group today is baby boomers, and many of that group have had thirty years of chances to get divorced. And among those who have only been married once, even seven in ten baby boomers are still married to their first spouse! 

May 16, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:36 PM


Once again, a Russian rocket breaks up after launch. (Alissa de Carbonnel, Reuters, Dmitry Solovyov, Reuters / May 16, 2014)

A Russian rocket carrying a $275 million telecommunications satellite failed and burned up shortly after launch on Friday, the latest in a series of setbacks for Russia's once-pioneering space industry.

Posted by orrinj at 7:18 PM

Video: The Second Annual Walter Duranty Prize (Ed Driscoll, May 15th, 2014, PJ Media)

Atop this post is the complete show, in chronological order, followed by individual segments spotlighting each presenter, and James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal, who MCed the show and introduced each speaker. First up was Roger L. Simon to to explain the concept of the Duranty Prize, followed by PJM's Claudia Rosett and Ron Radosh, New Criterion publisher and PJM columnist Roger Kimball, and then finally Roger L. Simon, to present the "Rather Award" for lifetime achievement in journalist mendacity.

Posted by orrinj at 7:03 PM


Has Your Child Outgrown the Pediatrician? (Lisa Esposito May 15, 2014, US NEWS)

As your kids get older, you've probably considered whether it's time to move on from the pediatrician who's taken care of them all their lives.

And teens - coping with hormonal changes, or seeking treatment for a tattoo-related infection, or in need of counseling about birth control or an eating disorder - might be feeling out of place in a waiting room where toddlers clamber on the furniture and moms coo to babies on their laps.

If you're trying to figure out the right age or moment for your kid to move on from the pediatrician, "the answer is, that depends," says Cora Breuner,a professor of pediatrics and adolescent medicine at Seattle Children's Hospital and the University of Washington.

In my early twenties, I broke a car windshield with my head and got stitched up in the emergency room.  But it was back in the days of cloth stitches and they wouldn't take them out a few weeks later.  So I called my pediatrician and begged him to do it.  

The nurse led me into the examination room and I hopped up on the table.  The doc came in and he would have needed a hook and ladder to reach my head.  

Me: "You used to be a whole lot bigger."

Him: "You used to be 10!"

Posted by orrinj at 6:59 PM


The 'Right To Be Forgotten,' Or Europe's Embrace Of Its Own Decline (Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, 5/14/14, Forbes)

The "right to be forgotten" is a thing that has been circulated in many years. That means that if there is embarrassing stuff about you on the internet, you should be able to ask people to delete it. For the first time, the European Court of Justice has recognized such a right. As the Telegraph points out, the obvious happened: people whose pasts really shouldn't be forgotten are trying to exercise their "right": a pedophile, a politician running for reelection, and a doctor with bad reviews, according to the story.

The "right to be forgotten" is a right that Europe seems quite keen on exercising indeed, whether it is in the realm of international affairs, or by its own citizens, standing for nothing more than itself, in a navel-gazing infinite loop. After 500 years when it could not be ignored, for good or for ill, now Europe is going after the right to be forgotten.

The other revealing thing about this "right to be forgotten" is that, democratic though their nations may be, in their heart, Europeans still want to bend the knee. A "right to be forgotten," or a right to ask third parties to scrub public information about you from public notice, is incompatible with a vibrant public square and the kinds of free speech protections that Americans enjoy. It is hyperbolic, but it's hard not to think of those infamous Soviet propaganda photos where officials would be deleted as the political winds turned.

Posted by orrinj at 6:56 PM


Workers Seize City in Eastern Ukraine From Separatists (ANDREW E. KRAMER, MAY 15, 2014, NY Times)

Thousands of steelworkers fanned out on Thursday through the city of Mariupol, establishing control over the streets and banishing the pro-Kremlin militants who until recently had seemed to be consolidating their grip on power, dealing a setback to Russia and possibly reversing the momentum in eastern Ukraine.

By late Thursday, miners and steelworkers had deployed in at least five cities, including the regional capital, Donetsk. They had not, however, become the dominant force there that they were in Mariupol, the region's second-largest city and the site last week of a bloody confrontation between Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian militants.

The Vladivostok warship, one of two ships ordered by the Russian Army, in France last week.France's Sale of 2 Ships to Russians Is Ill-Advised, U.S. WarnsMAY 14, 2014
While it was still far too early to say the tide had turned in eastern Ukraine, the day's events were a blow to separatists who recently seized control here and in a dozen or so other cities and who held a referendum on independence on Sunday. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:36 PM


For the First Time in 93 Years, a 19th-Century Whaling Ship Sets Sail : Built in 1841, the Charles W. Morgan is plying the waters off New England this summer (Constance Bond, 5/15/14, SMITHSONIAN.COM)

And now, the Charles W. Morgan--the last remaining wooden whaling ship in existence, and the most treasured possession of the Mystic Seaport Museum, a Smithsonian Affiliate--will set out on her 38th voyage. The ship has just undergone an extensive five-year renovation and, on May 17, she will be towed down the Mystic River (her first time below the Mystic River Bascule bridge since she arrived in 1941) and over to New London, where she will remain for a month for the final preparations for this, her first modern voyage. Then she will cruise up the New England coast, paying visits to other historic ports. Her itinerary includes New Bedford, her homeport for 60 years, with its fine whaling musem; and Boston, where she will be berthed alongside the USS Constitution, the only American ship older than the Morgan. The port visits will include tours of the ship, whaleboat races, dockside exhibits--a full-out immersion in the history of whaling.

There will also be another very important stop--a reunion of sorts. Mooring offshore near Provincetown, the Morgan will make several day sails to Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, which is a center for whale watching in New England. But it certainly wasn't at the time of the Morgan; the sperm whales that had made Nantucket the whaling capital of the world before the rise of New Bedford had long since been hunted to near-oblivion in those waters. One whaling ground after another throughout the world was depleted, furnishing endless supplies of whale oil to lubricate the machines of the Industrial Revolution and to light people's houses--a wild ride that ended only with the discovery of petroleum in Titusville, Pennsylvania, in 1859. But today, with the wisdom of hindsight, we can see the damage. So, on this 38th voyage, the Morgan will carry knowledge about protecting the whales, not casks filled with their oil.  

"The idea that we might get the ship out to Stellwagen Bank and she might be surrounded by whales--that would be amazing," says Mary K. Bercaw Edwards, who will crew on the Morgan during that leg of the 38th voyage.

May 15, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 3:53 PM


A Conservative's Case for Moderation (Peter Berkowitz, May 15, 2014, Real Clear Politics)

One benefit of the decision by St. Augustine's Press to reissue "The Meaning of Conservatism," written by British philosophy professor Roger Scruton, is to call attention to the varieties of conservatism and the tensions between them. First published in 1980 and then revised in 2002 to take account of Margaret Thatcher's tenure as prime minister, this short, bold book sparkles with passion, purpose, and discernment. As a young scholar in the 1960s, Scruton had "rebelled against the prevailing ethos of rebellion." Writing at the dawn of what would become the Reagan-Thatcher era, his aim was to explain "the conservative view in politics and in the course of doing so to show the possibility of subscribing to them."

Like many conservatives, Scruton argues as if his version of conservatism is the true and only one. At the same time, he presents a striking alternative to the forms of conservatism that dominate in Britain and America, which see conserving liberty as the goal of politics. In contrast, Scruton sees freedom as a vital means, but still only a means, to the preservation of society and the state.

His account of conservatism's characteristic instincts, attitudes, and principles converges with what in the United States was once called traditionalist conservatism and overlaps considerably with what are today called social conservatism and paleoconservatism. In the years following World War II, Richard Weaver, Peter Viereck, and Russell Kirk set forth traditionalism's tenets and themes and explored its sensibility. Venerable magazines Modern Age and The University Bookman continue to provide forums for its ideas. And organizations such as the Intercollegiate Studies Institute and the Philadelphia Society cultivate its spirit.

Such a movement shares much with the conservatism of Edmund Burke, but alters the delicate balance struck by the 18th century British statesman: Whereas Burke emphasized the services tradition renders to liberty, Scruton stresses the services that liberty renders to tradition.

Accordingly, he places maintaining public order and honoring duty ahead of the protection of rights. This would be apostasy to libertarian-leaning Republicans such as Rand Paul -- who sometimes sound as fearful of government as they are of terrorism -- and unacceptable to most other conservatives.

Scruton would further worry many American conservatives by arguing that it all starts with society rather than with the individual. He holds that "citizens are bound to each other and the state" by a "web of obligations." This brand of conservatism recognizes the utility of rights, but emphasizes "the constraints on freedom" that "arise through the law's attempt to embody (as for a conservative it must embody) the fundamental values of the society over which it rules." Freedom, thus, is inseparable from traditions of thought concerning its limits and the social and political institutions that define its scope.

Which is literally what it means to be republican.
Posted by orrinj at 3:49 PM


Scientists back carbon pricing over direct action (Tim Dean, 5/15/14, Cosmos)

Analysts agree the existing carbon pricing scheme that the Coalition is itching to junk, and the emissions trading scheme (ETS) it was intended as a stepping stone towards, are a more effective and cost-efficient way to reduce emissions. One economic benefit of an ETS, for example, is that it lets market forces find the cheapest ways of reducing emissions, rather than the government choosing those it believes will be most likely to work.

...and let the market choose among alternatives.

Posted by orrinj at 3:41 PM


I Will Support The Fair Tax When Its Backers Tell The Truth (Jeffrey Dorfman, 5/15/14, Forbes)

The Fair Tax is a proposed alternative federal tax system that would replace all current federal taxes--income, payroll, and corporate--with a new consumption (or sales) tax to be collected on all new items purchased. While such a consumption tax has much to recommend it from an economic point of view (better incentives, fewer distortions), I cannot support the Fair Tax as long as its backers continue to make implausible claims for their proposed reform.

When you think rhetoric trumps policy you are unserious.

Posted by orrinj at 3:36 PM


Poll: Tories build on lead, make inroads in Toronto (Chris Fox, 5/14/14,

The Progressive Conservative party continues to enjoy a big lead over the Liberals with less than a month to go until Ontarians cast their ballots, a new poll has found. [...]

The result represents a slight increase in popularity for the Tories, who had the support of 37 per cent of respondents in a similar poll released last Friday.

Posted by orrinj at 3:33 PM


Kindergarten bots teach language to tots (Hal Hodson, 5/15/14, New Scientist)

BLUE, a fluffy robot with cartoon eyes, is telling a little girl a story about a snowman. The tale plays out in pictures on a tablet that sits between the preschooler and Blue's soft plastic feet. Blue's eyes look down at the characters as it describes them, then up at the child to check that she's paying attention. The 5-year-old is one of the first children to learn language skills from a robot, and she is captivated.

The girl is part of an eight-week experiment by MIT's Media Lab now taking place in a preschool in the Boston area. The idea is to see how well children learn from robots - it is one of a handful of similar experiments being run by graduate student Jacqueline Kory.

Kory and colleagues are testing children to see how well they remember new words learned from robots over time. As the weeks go by, Blue and other robots like it, dubbed DragonBots, will adapt their stories as a child learns new words, keeping pace with individual development. Kory and the team leader, Cynthia Breazeal, will be logging everything and tracking how well they learn.

The team believe robots represent a powerful new way to enhance children's education. Unlike educational TV shows, say, the robots are physically present and have some of the same social skills as humans. That gives them the potential to tap into a child's appetite for one-to-one communication and help kids learn in many of the same ways a human teacher does.

Posted by orrinj at 3:30 PM


A Simple Yet Brilliant $1.50 Sanitation Idea (Ariel Schwartz, 5/15/14, Co.Exist)

The most advanced sanitation solutions for the developing world aren't always cheap--for proof, take a look at the self-contained, waste-treating toilet that won the Gates Foundation's Reinvent the Toilet Challenge. Anyone would be lucky to have it in their home or community, but it costs $1,500. In many places, that's just too much money.

Bathroom and kitchen fixture company American Standard has come up with a cheaper solution, also funded by the ever-present Gates Foundation: a $1.50 latrine pan that cuts down on sanitation-related disease transmission by sealing off pit toilets.

Posted by orrinj at 3:05 PM


Another conservative governor finds a way to expand Medicaid (JASON MILLMAN, May 15, 2014, Washington Post)

It looks as if Indiana is about to join the list of red states signing up for Obamacare's Medicaid expansion. [...]

Pence last year insisted that he would only expand coverage if he could do it through the Healthy Indiana Plan, a health savings account-type of program for about 45,000 adult Hoosiers who didn't qualify for the traditional Medicaid program.

The Obama administration maintained that Indiana couldn't expand Medicaid through HIP because the program had an enrollment cap, and some cost-sharing features may have been problematic. HIP's design has been praised by conservatives for requiring Medicaid beneficiaries to be more conscious consumers because they take more financial responsibility for their care.

It looked like HIP was at risk of expiring in 2013, but the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and Indiana struck a deal last September to keep the program running through the end of this year. It gave both sides more time to negotiate on the Medicaid expansion, and it allowed people enrolled in HIP to keep their coverage in the meantime.

Pence will lift HIP enrollment caps, opening up the program to working-age adults earning less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level ($16,105 for an individual or $32,913 for a family of four). Between 334,000 and 598,000 people will be covered under the plan, according to Pence's office. Enrollment will open in 2015, with federal approval. [...]

The HIP deductible is increasing from $1,100 to $2,500, but Indiana is covering those extra costs. By comparison, the average deductible for a mid-level "silver" plan under the ACA is slightly higher than HIP's, at $2,907, according to to HealthPocket. And while Obamacare opponents have criticized high-deductible individual plans under the health-care law, Pence says the HIP high-deductible plans are an intentional design feature.

"Exposure to and awareness of the cost of care are key components of the consumer-directed model that encourages price and quality transparency from providers," according to a document Pence's office. "The increased deductible aligns with private market high deductible health plans paired with a health savings account, providing members valuable experience with a private market plan design."

Posted by orrinj at 2:59 PM


China Inc. moves factory floor to Africa (Peter Wonacott, 5/14/14, WSJ)

Each sparkly green television motherboard that rolls off the Hisense Co. factory line here moves China a tiny step toward a new global manufacturing base.

The line's eight South African technicians monitor the assembly process by computer and have incentives to work quickly. In less than a year of operation, they are producing at the same clip of 70 seconds per board as their Chinese counterparts.

But there's a hitch: Hisense factories in China use half as many workers to make the same product. In South Africa, one technician monitors one machine. In China, the company's technicians monitor two machines apiece.

"Step-by-step," says Jerry Liu, general manager for the Middle East and Africa unit of the home-appliance maker. "We'll get there."

Faced with rising labor costs at home and negative perceptions about their employment practices in Africa, Chinese companies are setting up new factories on the continent and hiring more Africans. The companies efforts will test whether the masters of low-cost manufacturing can be as productive in Africa as they are in China.

Many bet they can be.

Posted by orrinj at 2:52 PM


Stemming fall in population (Ikuko Higuchi and Daisuke Segawa, 5/15/14,  Yomiuri Shimbun)

The fertility rate, or the average number of children a woman is expected to have during her lifetime, was 1.41 in 2012. If the fertility rate remains at the current low level, the nation's population decline will accelerate, with the population falling to less than 87 million in 2060. In addition, as people aged 65 or older will account for 40 percent of the population, Japan is expected to face a combination of two adverse factors in future: a sharp decline in population coupled with an elderly society. With that in mind, Mimura said, "We must do everything in our power to avoid such a future." [...]

While boosting the country's fertility rate to 2.07 by 2030 is necessary to achieve this goal, it will be no easy task. As a drastic measure to address the falling birthrate, the committee proposed shifting emphasis on the allocation of tax resources and social security spending from the elderly to children. Of the country's spending on social security benefits, which amounted to ¥107 trillion in fiscal 2011, about 70 percent was for elderly people, while only about 4 percent was for children. The proposal called on the government to address the current situation by doubling its budget related to benefits for childbirth and child-rearing.

According to several surveys, many couples decide not to have a child for economic reasons. In countries that succeeded in recovering the fertility rate to around 2.0, such as France, Britain and Sweden, social security benefits for children stand at more than 3 percent of their gross domestic products, compared to 1 percent in Japan. With this in mind, the panel said, "Support for child-rearing should be increased to levels like that in other countries, and the necessary expenses should be shouldered by the current generations."

...and they don't have a culture, like England and Sweden do.

May 14, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 8:11 PM


U.S. Is No. 1, China Is So Yesterday (Josef Joffe, 5/12/14, Bloomberg View)

 China's demography is a disaster. About 2015, the seemingly boundless labor pool will begin to shrink. One reason is rapid aging, which presages that China will become old before it becomes rich. By 2050, China will have lost one-third of its working-age population. Meanwhile, the U.S. will bestride the earth as the youngest industrialized nation after India.

Also in this decade, the number of China's dependents will start to soar. The U.S. curve will rise only slowly, due to high fertility and immigration, two classic sources of rejuvenation. By midcentury, one Chinese worker will have to support two dependents, a ratio worse than anywhere in the West. If ample labor is the food of growth, China is looking at starvation.

Another data set should also have given pause to the World Bank: China's cost advantage in manufacturing is almost history. Wages have risen exponentially since 2000, by an average of 19 percent annually. The figure for the U.S. was 4 percent.

As a study by Boston Consulting notes, "By around 2015, the total labor-cost savings of manufacturing many goods in China will be only 10 to 15 percent annually when actual labor content is factored in." Subtract from this margin the cost of shipping and a global supply chain. So jobs are already wandering off to cheaper locales. Today it is Vietnam; tomorrow it will be Africa. Or the jobs will come home to the U.S., nourishing the country's "re-industrialization" in tandem with plentiful cheap energy from fracking.

Finally, China's politics are wrong. Authoritarian modernization -- call it "modernitarianism" -- runs up against its built-in limits, as did the Soviet Union's. Frenzied industrialization under the knout of the party is easy, but the knowledge economy takes its cues from the markets. The watchword is "freedom" -- for entrepreneurs and capital, ideas and innovation. There is no Silicon Valley in China's future.

Look at the assets that multiply returns. For instance, ask where human capital is being generated. U.S. education is always said to be in crisis. But 17 of the world's top 20 universities are in the U.S., and 34 of the top 50. No other country produces more doctorates in science and engineering. Although 40 percent of the recipients come from abroad, two-thirds of them stay. Add triadic patents and citations in scientific journals, and it isn't even a race between China and the U.S. This serendipitous story will continue, but it comes with a warning: The U.S. has to remain open and welcoming.

Posted by orrinj at 8:01 PM


Michael Boggs, an Unacceptable Judicial Nominee (SCOTT LEMIEUX, MAY 14, 2014, American Prospect)

U.S. District Court nominee Michael Boggs seems like an all-too-depressing example of a typical 21st-century Republican federal judicial appointment. As a state legislator, he voted to keep a symbol of treason in defense of slavery and lawlessness in defense of apartheid on the state flag. He opposes reproductive freedom. He supported amending the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage. Given his conservative views and apparent neoconfederate sympathies, he has attracted strong opposition from members of Congress like the civil rights icon John Lewis.

What's even more depressing is that Boggs was nominated not by George W. Bush but by Barack Obama.

Posted by orrinj at 7:58 PM


McDonald's hires 7,000 touch-screen cashiers (Amanda Kooser , May 17, 2011, C-NET)

McDonalds recently went on a hiring binge in the U.S., adding 62,000 employees to its roster. The hiring picture doesn't look quite so rosy for Europe, where the fast food chain is drafting 7,000 touch-screen kiosks to handle cashiering duties.

The move is designed to boost efficiency and make ordering more convenient for customers.

May 13, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 6:58 PM


All but three percent of Swedes lead 'happy' lives (The Local, 13 May 2014)

A comprehensive survey of the 28 EU member states revealed that an EU-high 91 percent of Swedes believe immigrants contribute significantly to society, and 97 percent are satisfied with their lives. [...]
But what does it mean to a Swede to be "satisfied"?  
Herlitz, who has studied Swedish culture extensively and published a book called Swedes: The Way We Are and Why, suspects the answer may lie in deep-rooted cultural norms.
"If I'm not happy with my life in Sweden, then I'm saying something about myself," Herlitz explained. "Sweden is a society where everyone is expected to make his or her own way. Of course you receive support from the authorities. But if I say that I am very dissatisfied with my life, then I haven't really tried. It falls back on each individual."

Posted by orrinj at 6:54 PM


Obama judge pick Michael Boggs faces fierce Democratic opposition in the Senate (Ed O'Keefe, May 13, 2014, Washington Post)

Democratic senators opposed to one of President Obama's nominees to serve on a federal court in Georgia sharply questioned the pick Tuesday about his previous statements, votes and court decisions related to abortion rights, gay rights and civil rights.

Michael Boggs is a Georgia state judge tapped by Obama to serve on a U.S. district court in Georgia. The White House has stood by Boggs despite strong opposition from a handful of Democratic senators, members of the Congressional Black Caucus, civil rights leaders, NARAL Pro-Choice America and gay rights groups.

Posted by orrinj at 6:43 PM


Legal Alliance Gains Host of Court Victories for Conservative Christian Movement (ERIK ECKHOLM, MAY 11, 2014, NY Times)

Alan Sears, who has run the Christian legal group Alliance Defending Freedom since its founding 20 years ago, turned to a picture of Abraham Lincoln in his office here and noted the decades of blood and tears it took to abolish slavery.

"I think there is no question that one day, this country will again recognize that marriage is between a man and a woman," said Mr. Sears, a former top official in the Reagan Justice Department.

The comparison may or may not prove apt, but these are heady days for Alliance Defending Freedom, which, with its $40 million annual budget, 40-plus staff lawyers and hundreds of affiliated lawyers, has emerged as the largest legal force of the religious right, arguing hundreds of pro bono cases across the country. It has helped shift the emphasis of religious freedom enshrined in the Constitution. For decades, courts leaned toward keeping religion out of public spaces. Today, thanks to cases won by the alliance and other legal teams focused on Christian causes, the momentum has tilted toward allowing religious practices with fewer restrictions.

The group last Monday celebrated a major victory in the Supreme Court, where a client, the Town of Greece, N.Y., won the right to open council meetings with mainly Christian prayers.

The alliance awaits the decision in another case that could redefine the boundaries of religious freedom -- the challenge by its client Conestoga Wood Specialties, along with Hobby Lobby, to the provision in the Affordable Care Act requiring companies to cover birth control in employee-funded health plans.

Posted by orrinj at 3:30 PM


GOP goes quiet on ObamaCare (Elise Viebeck, 05/12/14 , The Hill)

House Republicans have no scheduled votes or hearings on ObamaCare, signaling a shift in the party's strategy as the White House rides a wave of good news on the law.  
Not a single House committee has announced plans to attack the healthcare law in the coming weeks, and only one panel of jurisdiction commented to The Hill despite repeated inquiries. 

GOP campaign committees also declined to say whether they will launch any new efforts on the law.
The lack of action highlights the GOP's struggle to adjust its message now that enrollment in the exchanges beat projections and the uninsured rate is going down. Insurers also report that 80 to 90 percent of new policyholders are paying their premiums, contradicting a frequent criticism from the GOP. 

This dynamic was laid bare last week as Republicans failed to land punches against the healthcare law in a hearing of a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee. In a rare display, Democrats began to control the message as witnesses from health insurance companies rebuffed several lines of GOP questioning. 

There's mending to do.  It's never ending.
Posted by orrinj at 3:24 PM


GOP blocks energy bill, scuttling vote on Keystone XL pipeline (Alexander Bolton - 05/12/14, The Hill)

Senate Republicans on Monday blocked bipartisan-energy efficiency legislation and derailed a promised vote on the Keystone XL pipeline, striking a blow against two Democratic incumbents facing tough re-election races. [...]

The filibuster also thwarted Sen. Mary Landrieu (La.), another vulnerable incumbent who sought a vote on the pipeline. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) promised a vote on Keystone if Republicans let the Shaheen-Portman energy efficiency bill reach a final vote. [...]

Monday's impasse likely dooms a Senate vote on the pipeline, a high priority of Republicans and Democrats from energy rich states, for the rest of this year.

Landrieu said last week that she needed only two or three more votes to reach the 60 required to pass a stand-alone bill authorizing the pipeline's construction.

It's only politics when the President does it, eh?

May 12, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 6:53 PM


Healthcare to undergo serious surgery in tough Australian budget (MATT SIEGEL, May 12, 2014, Reuters)

[O]f the sectors examined by the National Commission of Audit it was healthcare, which accounted for 8.9 per cent of GDP in 2010-2011 according to OECD figures, that was singled out as the country's most serious long-term fiscal challenge.

In support of that position, the audit recommended an A$15 ($14) fee for doctors' visits and proposed a U.S.-style healthcare model in which all Australians would be required to buy private health insurance, with lower wage earners receiving a subsidy.

We're all headed to the same place--universal mandated health savings accounts.

Posted by orrinj at 6:49 PM


Planned Parenthood defunded in Kansas as the abortion business drops lawsuit (DUSTIN SIGGINS, May 12, 2014, 

The nation's largest abortion clinic has dropped its lawsuit over whether a state can deny funding to abortion clinics.

On Friday, Planned Parenthood stopped suing the state of Kansas after it was ordered to pay $1,300 to cover part of the cost of the state's defense. The ruling was made by a three-judge panel in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.

It is unusual for government agencies in public lawsuits to ask for reimbursement of costs when it prevails in litigation. However, according to Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Steven Haden, "Kansas is showing good stewardship with taxpayer dollars."

Posted by orrinj at 4:23 PM


Support for Labour drops six points as Tories take lead in latest ICM poll (Tom Clark, 5/12/14, The Guardian)

Labour's support is draining away, according to a Guardian/ICM poll which records the first Conservative lead in over two years when people are asked how they will vote at the next general election.

In a result that will add to Labour nerves a week and half before European and local elections, Cameron's party emerges two points ahead on 33% because Labour has sunk by a six points since April, taking the opposition to 31%, its lowest ebb since June 2010 - the bitter aftermath of Gordon Brown's election defeat.

May 11, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 4:01 PM


Giants Leave Little Room for Rackspace (SPENCER JAKA, 5/11/14, WSJ)

It isn't quite death by a thousand cuts, but Rackspace Hosting Inc. RAX -1.35%  has been bloodied lately.

The problem is the fierce price war taking place in so-called cloud computing. In late March, for example, Inc., AMZN +1.36%  Google Inc. and Microsoft Corp. MSFT -0.25%  all announced price cuts in the 30% to 80% range in various services also provided by Rackspace.

Amazon told Credit Suisse that it was the 42nd price reduction for the Amazon Web Services division, which had revenue last year about twice that of Rackspace. Those three competitors have market values between 40 and 110 times as high as Rackspace.

Posted by orrinj at 1:03 PM


The Budget Picture Is Getting Better. Seriously. (Chad Stone, May 9, 2014, CS Monitor)

1. Deficits are not spiraling out of control. Federal deficits (the annual gap between spending and revenues) have fallen sharply in relation to the economy since peaking at 10 percent of gross domestic product in 2009, at the height of the Great Recession. The center projects - based on data and projections from the Congressional Budget Office and the latest reports of the Social Security and Medicare Trustees - that deficits will be below 3 percent of GDP through 2018 but begin rising thereafter. Even in 2040, however, the deficit will be half its 2009 level.

Posted by orrinj at 12:51 PM


If US Manufacturing Hasn't Declined Then We Don't Have To Explain The Decline Of US Manufacturing (Tim Worstall, 5/11/14, Forbes)

It is absolutely true that manufacturing as a percentage of the US economy has fallen. But that's not because manufacturing itself has shrunk, that's because other parts of the economy, most obviously services, have grown faster than manufacturing. It is also true that manufacturing employment has dropped precipitately. But to decry that while production is still rising is to be most foolish. For having rising output combined with falling employment is generally regarded as a good thing. Labour, workers, are a cost of making something. An input into the system. And if we get more out of the system while putting fewer resources into it then this means that our system is becoming more productive. And another name for the system becoming more productive is that we're all getting richer. For whatever limited resources we have available to us we're getting more things that people can drop on their feet: we're getting richer.

All we have to do is determine how we're going to redistribute the riches now that we don't use jobs anymore.

Posted by orrinj at 12:45 PM


Nordic cuddly capitalism: Utopia, no. But a global model for equity : The cuddly capitalism of the Nordic nations provides an economic equity that makes a middle class lifestyle the norm, where the sharp edges of worry about the cost of health care, elder care, child care, and education simply don't exist. But is it a sustainable model for anyone but the pragmatic North? (Sara Miller Llana, May 11, 2014, CS Monitor)

To crystallize the Nordic experience, most casual visitors would start with a relentless quest for security, in all forms and nuances: private and public, economic and social. Long, dark winter days - often punctuated by harsh winds - have something to do with it, as citizens of these resilient lands could not endure without looking after one another.

Uffe Østergaard, a history professor at the Copenhagen Business School, traces the Nordic welfare state to the Lutheran Church "universalist" practices of delivering public goods to the population. (He cites a Danish church ordinance from 1539 stating that "children shall be taught properly [and] schools and the poor shall have their food.") Danish political scientist Gert T. Svendsen reaches further back to the Vikings, who shifted from "roving to stationary banditry" around the 10th century, focusing on security for the community around them. 

As far back as scholars can trace it, the Nordics overwhelmingly strove for social safety. [...]

[T]he success of various industries here has most to do with the fact that Sweden and other Nordic countries have always been, despite their big states, zealous free-marketeers. Markus Uvell, president of the free-market think tank Timbro, says foreigners, especially Americans, often ask him how the country's business success coexists with its big-state mentality. His answer: the country's uncontested embrace of an open economy. "That has never been challenged." 

Nordic social reformers - as early as the 1930s - were genuine in their ambition to marry government stimuli and social solidarity on the one hand with open trade and private entrepreneurship on the other. It was the only way to grow their economies and continue paying for their welfare states.

And as such, Nordics have defied the conventional wisdom that a big state precludes big winners. According to the Global Innovation Index, a composite measure of things such as infrastructure, market sophistication, business environment, and technological and creative output, Sweden ranks No. 2 worldwide (behind Switzerland), with Finland and Denmark (and the US) in the top 10. 

Not only is big state good for innovation, but innovation is also a boon for the welfare state.

Posted by orrinj at 12:37 PM


Calls to class far-right Jewish settlers as terrorists after Israeli soldiers attacked (Orlando Crowcroft, 5/11/14,

Calls are mounting for hardline Jewish settlers to be classified as terrorists after a spate of attacks on Palestinian property in the West Bank and Israel, and threats of violence towards Israeli soldiers.

Last week, the justice minister, Tzipi Livni, and the internal security minister, Yitzhak Aharonovitch, both argued that rightwing extremists should be classified as terrorists following attacks on soldiers at the hardline West Bank settlement of Yitzhar.

Making of a martyr : a review of The Reckoning: Death and Intrigue in the Promised Land. By Patrick Bishop (The Economist, May 3rd 2014)

Most Zionist movements in Palestine suspended their armed struggle at the start of the second world war, judging that Nazi Germany's determination to annihilate the Jews was a far bigger threat. At least 30,000 signed up for the British army, receiving training, security information and weapons, which later proved decisive in Israel's war of independence in 1948. But a fringe broke away under the leadership of a Polish-born romantic poet, Avraham Stern. Throughout the war, they ambushed British forces, even soliciting fascist and Nazi support for their campaign.

Patrick Bishop sets out in detail the story of the British manhunt to root out "Herr" Stern and his small band of "Fighters for the Freedom of Israel", better known by its Hebrew acronym, Lehi. As long as Stern's men were perpetrating atrocities against Palestinians, the British continued to hold the ring. His militants sewed explosive vests and planted bombs in chocolate boxes and milk-churns in Arab cinemas, cafés and markets. When caught, they did spells in detention camps, often escaping with remarkable ease.

But when the Stern gang began turning those same tactics on British administrators and the Jewish "collaborators" who worked for them, booby-trapping their officers along Tel Aviv's main drag, Dizengoff, and detonating gelignite under commanders' cars, Britain's chief of police in Palestine sought its "liquidation". Encircled by Vichy forces in Lebanon and Syria, a Nazi-backed takeover in Iraq and Rommel's forces advancing into Egypt, the British were loth to leave Axis sympathisers on the loose in Palestine. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:31 PM


These Solar Roads Could Power The Entire Country (Adele Peters, 5/08/14, Co.Exist)

There are nearly 18,000 square miles of roads in the U.S., an area that's bigger than the entire states of New Hampshire and Massachusetts combined. By some estimates, there are also as many as 2 billion parking spaces. Since most of that pavement is soaking up sun all day long, a couple of entrepreneurs had an idea: Why not put it to use generating solar power?

The Solar Roadways project, now crowdfunding on Indiegogo, hopes to re-pave the country in custom, glass-covered solar panels that are strong enough to drive on while generating enough power to light the road, melt ice and snow, and send extra energy to cities. Eventually, if every paved surface was covered in the product, the panels would produce more power than the nation uses.

May 10, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 8:11 PM


Real Goal of Abortion 'Limits': Bans (THE EDITORIAL BOARD, MAY 10, 2014, NY Times)

Anti-abortion groups that saw a chance to get state legislatures to restrict women's reproductive rights piously declared that all they wanted to do was to make women safer. This argument had little credibility then, and it has even less now. What has actually happened is that in state after state, with the enthusiastic support of Republican lawmakers, it has become increasingly difficult, if not impossible, for women to get safe and legal abortion care.

"In some parts of the country," says Brigitte Amiri of the American Civil Liberties Union, "women will be living in a pre-Roe v. Wade situation, when those who weren't wealthy or couldn't travel long distances -- especially the young and poor -- couldn't access safe and legal abortion services."

Posted by orrinj at 1:41 PM


Alexander Hamilton Was Even More Amazing Than You Thought (Peter Coy,  May 09, 2014, Business Week)

Today, a blog post from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York credits Hamilton with being the inventor of a bank crisis-management technique that's usually attributed to a Brit who came 80 years later.

Hamilton's innovative bank rescue came in the Panic of 1792, which authors James Narron and David Skeie call "Wall Street's first crash." A speculator named William Duer tried to corner the market in U.S. Treasury bonds, borrowing heavily to finance his purchases. When the bonds' prices fell and Duer defaulted, panic ensued. To stabilize the market, Hamilton, in coordination with the Bank of New York, stepped in as a buyer of last resort of Treasury bonds. He bought from whoever wanted to sell, but acquired only fundamentally sound assets, and he paid less than the full price, so only parties in desperate straits would resort to raising money that way.

What Hamilton did is close to what Walter Bagehot, a British journalist who was editor-in-chief of the Economist, advocated in his 1873 book, Lombard Street, which contains the concept of lending freely in a crisis at a penalty rate against good collateral.

Posted by orrinj at 1:25 PM


National Train Day: Why slow travel may be better for families : Trains offer a link to the days of slower travel, personal service and enjoying the trip as well as the destination. National Train Day on May 10 offers families a chance to celebrate train travel and its simple pleasures. (Susan Sachs Lipman,  May 10, 2014, CS Monitor)

Sunset Limited. Hiawatha. Empire Builder. Super Chief. I can't hear the names of the great American train lines without finding myself completely smitten. The Romance of the Rails has gotten to me pretty much every time I've taken a train, even a lowly commuter one.

Annually, May 10 is National Train Day, and hundreds of cities and towns across the US are celebrating with events, entertainment, and exhibits at train stations and other locations.

Posted by orrinj at 8:28 AM


How the right sold austerity as the only economic solution : More than 30 years of neoliberalism and six years of austerity have floored us, yet the left is incapable of mounting a serious challenge to this economic orthodoxy. Why? (Richard Seymour,  28 March 2014, The Guardian)

The austerity projects we face today are different in one important respect: they come after almost 40 years of neoliberal offensive. This is something which large sections of the left have totally misunderstood; a significant reason for its disarray. For most of the past three decades, neoliberalism has been chiefly analysed as a kind of free market fundamentalism, which is but a glimpsing scratch of the surface.

If neoliberalism was chiefly about free market fundamentalism, then it would be possible to understand the salience of the state as a post-credit crunch economic factor as a repudiation of that orthodoxy. Indeed, many on the left did prematurely pronounce neoliberalism deceased.

However, the dominant strains of neoliberalism have always favoured an interventionist state. It is not the volume of state activity that is the concern of neoliberals, but its character. Neoliberalism is unlike classical liberalism in that it does not assume a human propensity to truck, barter and trade as the basis for political organisation; neoliberals learned through the bitter experience of the 20th century that human behaviour could be as collective as it could be competitive. Thus, a strong state was required not merely to protect property, but to discipline its subjects and educate them in the new neoliberal dispensations.

This is evident in the expansion of penal and coercive institutions, the periodic bailouts of dominant sectors of industry and finance, and the fusion between capital and the state particular to neoliberalism, in which state functions are outsourced or semi-privatised, while being publicly funded. The British government's bailout of finance is an extension of this latter pattern.

So what has 40 years of neoliberal statecraft achieved? The political possibilities have been narrowed through serial defeats of the left, the consequent incorporation of social democratic parties into the neoliberal consensus, and the transformation of state apparatus in a less democratic direction. No governing social democratic party offers a serious alternative to the austerity remedy. The diminution of practical solidarity following on from the state-led defeats inflicted on organised labour is far-reaching. Nine out of 10 private sector workplaces have never seen a union rep, let alone a picket line; the number of days lost to strike action in recent years have been, barring a relatively small spike in 2011, at historic lows. The idea of "rank and file" organisation, let alone wildcat strike action, is something seen only on the peripheries of the labour movement. Trade unions have been effectively disciplined. This is an important reason why the labour response to austerity has been so feeble.

The traditional ruling class is not merely good at exploiting opportunities; it thinks long-term in a way the left must learn to do

Ideologically, there has been a long-term generational shift against the welfare state, and in favour of competitive behaviour. Indeed, competition has increasingly been built into the public sector ("internal markets"), and disciplinary techniques built into social security (in the form of "workfare", for example.) While older generations experienced the welfare state as part of a collective unity, younger generations have experienced it as part of a zero-sum competition for resources. This is the ground on which support for some of the most punitive aspects of austerity, such as welfare cuts, has been constructed; this is the result of a conscious political strategy. The traditional ruling class is not merely good at exploiting opportunities; it thinks long-term in a way the left must learn to do.

Today's austerity projects thus build on the successes of the past, and may continue to do so in the face of the left's perplexity until we begin anew.

It's that fusion bit that the Left should be focussed on, encouraging higher levels of public funding for the state function of building a welfare net.  Yes, they'd need to accept that they'd lost the economics argument and that net was going to rely on capitalist means. But, on the other hand, the fact that provision of the net is universally considered a core state function means that they won the argument about ends.  
Posted by orrinj at 8:12 AM


The Great Society at Fifty : What LBJ wrought (NICHOLAS EBERSTADT, May 22, 2014, Weekly Standard)

[T]he proposition that a higher fraction of Americans are stuck in absolute poverty today than nearly half a century ago cannot be taken seriously. It is preposterous on its very face. 

Consider that the health of Americans of all ages is markedly better now than then: life expectancy at birth rose by more than eight years between 1966 and 2010 alone and is higher at every age these days​--​even for centenarians. Americans are not only healthier, but also much more educated​--​in 1966, nearly a third of adults 25 or older had a grade school education or less, compared to just 5 percent in 2013. And Americans are more likely now to be working in paid jobs: Despite the terrible 2008 economic crash, the percentage of employed adults 20 and older was still higher in 2013 than in 1966 (61 percent versus 57 percent). 

The idea that such a population would at the same time suffer a higher incidence of absolute poverty does not even pass the laugh test. This picture is an illusion, a distorted reflection from the statistical variant of a funhouse mirror, and the funhouse mirror in question is the poverty rate itself. The poverty rate is a highly misleading measure of living standards and material deprivation​--​incorrigibly misleading, in fact. 

The central and irresolvable trouble with the official poverty rate is that it presumes an immediate and exact equivalence between income levels and consumption levels​--​so that any home in any year with a reported income level below the poverty line must perforce also be constrained to sub-poverty-line spending power. In real-world America, by contrast, income is a poor predictor of spending power for lower-income groups at any given point in time​--​and that predictive power has dramatically worsened over the course of our postwar era. 

In 1960-61, according to the BLS Consumer Expenditure Survey, the bottom one-fourth of American homes spent about 12 percent more than their pretax reported incomes each year. By 2011, according to that same survey, those in the lowest quintile were spending nearly 125 percent more than their reported pretax incomes and nearly 120 percent more than their reported posttax, posttransfer incomes. 

This growing discrepancy between income and expenditures on the part of the poorer strata in recent decades is by no means impossible to explain. Not least important, households are subject to greater year-to-year earnings swings than in the past and have greater wherewithal (through borrowing, asset drawdowns, and other means) to buffer their consumption when they hit a bad year, or even a couple of bad years. But this phenomenon also means that people reporting ostensibly poverty-level incomes are less and less likely to be consigned to poverty-level living standards, as that standard was originally conceived in the early 1960s. Increasing noncash transfers of means-tested public benefits (including, especially, health care) only further widen the gap between reported income and actual consumption for America's "poverty population."

Thus, the actual living conditions of people counted as living "in poverty" in America today bear very little resemblance to those of Americans enumerated as poor in the first official government count attempted in 1965. By 2011, for example, average per capita housing space for people in poverty was higher than the U.S. average for 1980, and crowding (more than one person per room) was less common for the 2011 poor than for the nonpoor in 1970. More than three-quarters of the 2011 poor had access to one or more motor vehicles, whereas nearly three-fifths were without an auto in 1972-73. Refrigerators, dishwashers, washers and dryers, and many other appliances were more common in officially impoverished homes in 2011 than in the typical American home of 1980 or earlier. Microwaves were virtually universal in poor homes in 2011, and DVD players, personal computers, and home Internet access are now typical in them​--​amenities not even the richest U.S. households could avail themselves of at the start of the War on Poverty.  Further, Americans counted as poor today are manifestly healthier, better nourished (or overnourished), and more schooled than their predecessors half a century ago. 

To be clear: The poor in America are not well-to-do. They are poorer than the rest of America. This has not changed. What has changed is their standard of living​--​which has risen markedly since the beginning of the War on Poverty, as have living standards for all the rest of us. Work by economists like Daniel Slesnick at the University of Texas, Bruce Meyer at the University of Chicago, and James X. Sullivan at the University of Notre Dame demonstrates that an ever-smaller share of our country subsists on consumption levels demarcated by our old, official, 1960s-era poverty line. 

Consumption-focused assessments of the poverty problem are stunningly different from our official numbers. In a recent research paper, for example, Meyer and Sullivan indicate that such "consumption poverty" afflicted less than 4 percent of the population in 2008. In the wake of the 2008 crash, "consumption poverty" rose​--​but as of 2010, when postcrash conditions were possibly most dire, just 3.7-4.5 percent of America was subject to it, according to their calculations. 

This research underscores a significant point, all too often misunderstood in both policy and intellectual circles today. Poverty in America​--​the sort of material deprivation people knew back in the 1960s​--​has been all but eliminated. 

The current wave of Third Way welfare reforms throughout the Anglosphere--privatized social security and unemployment accounts, mandated HSAs, educational accounts, housing vouchers, etc.--represents a progression from mere consumption to actual capital accumulation.  

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Posted by orrinj at 7:44 AM


The slow death of purposeless walking (Finlo Rohrer, 5/01/14, BBC News Magazine)

[Y]ou don't have to be an author to see the value of walking. A particular kind of walking. Not the distance between porch and corner shop. But a more aimless pursuit.

In the UK, May is National Walking Month. And a new book, A Philosophy of Walking by Prof Frederic Gros, is currently the object of much discussion. Only last week, a study from Stanford University showed that even walking on a treadmill improved creative thinking.

"Some years ago, a temporary inability to sleep, referable to a distressing impression, caused me to walk about the streets all night, for a series of several nights. The disorder might have taken a long time to conquer, if it had been faintly experimented on in bed; but, it was soon defeated by the brisk treatment of getting up directly after lying down, and going out, and coming home tired at sunrise."

Across the West, people are still choosing to walk. Nearly every journey in the UK involves a little walking, and nearly a quarter of all journeys are made entirely on foot, according to one survey. But the same study found that a mere 17% of trips were "just to walk". And that included dog-walking.

Posted by orrinj at 7:38 AM


Fan wants Browns pallbearers ( , 7/09/13)

A lifelong Cleveland Browns fan has gone to his final rest, but not before making one last request from the team.

Scott E. Entsminger, 55, of Mansfield, Ohio, died on July 4. Entsminger, a Columbus native, was a musician and a Browns season-ticket holder who wrote a song for the team each year and sent it in, along with his advice on how to run the team.

According to his obituary in the Columbus Dispatch, Entsminger also "respectfully requests six Cleveland Browns pall bearers so the Browns can let him down one last time."

Report: Browns star WR Josh Gordon facing ban for failed drug test, unexpected twist for team (TOM WITHERS, 5/10/14, AP)

A day of celebration dissolved into confusion for the Browns.

Hours after quarterback Johnny Manziel's arrival had Cleveland's football pulse racing faster than it had in years, a report that star wide receiver Josh Gordon may be facing an indefinite suspension shattered the city's collective joy.

May 9, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 11:10 PM


Mortgage rates defy forecasts (E. SCOTT RECKARD, 5/09/14, LA Times)

As 2014 arrived, experts were confident that the 30-year mortgage rate would rise to at least 5% this year as the Federal Reserve cut back a bond-buying program, which had depressed the rates to unheard-of lows in 2013.

So much for the experts. The Fed has reduced purchases to $20 billion a month in mortgage bonds, down from $40 billion when the program began in September 2012. Yet lenders this week were offering 30-year fixed home loans at an average of 4.2%, the lowest rate in six months, according to home finance giant Freddie Mac.

Posted by orrinj at 11:07 PM


Massachusetts court rules 'under God' in pledge does not discriminate against atheists (AP, May 9, 2014)

The Pledge of Allegiance does not discriminate against atheists and can be recited at the start of the day in public schools, Massachusetts' highest court ruled Friday.

Posted by orrinj at 6:00 PM


America's Enduring Leadership (Bruce Jones, 5/08/14, Project Syndicate)

[T]he US remains the most influential global actor - not least because of the strong alliances that it maintains. All of the attention given to China's economic rise - and, to a lesser extent, that of India and Brazil - has overshadowed the success of US allies like South Korea, Turkey, Indonesia, and Germany. In fact, the vast majority of the world's strongest economies are allied with the US.

Moreover, far from coalescing into a united anti-Western bloc, the emerging powers remain sharply divided. There are far more overlapping interests between the established and the emerging powers than the "West versus the rest" narrative suggests; indeed, the rising powers often share as many interests with their Western counterparts as they do with each other.

Given this, even the economic powerhouses that are not US allies do not want to upend the existing world order, but rather to gain more space within it, such as through increased authority in international institutions. After all, they rose precisely by integrating themselves into the global economic system.

Even China, which arguably seeks to curtail US leadership in some domains, has no choice but to cooperate with the US and its allies on many foreign-policy issues.

Posted by orrinj at 5:54 PM


The Chinese and the Jews (Michael Ledeen, May 6th, 2014, PJM)

[T]hey found-surprise!-lots of Jews involved in capitalist enterprises, from banks to stock exchanges to corporations.  Indeed, the Jews had a history of doing it.  Maybe the Jews knew something the others didn't?  Well, look at Israel...or New York...

And so they're talking to Jews, not about capitalism but about Judaism.  State radio now broadcasts in Hebrew.  The Jewish experts who are brought to China find themselves speaking Hebrew with their Chinese interlocutors.  Chinese students can now learn Hebrew, and immerse themselves in Jewish studies (maybe they'll give Ayaan Hirsi Ali an honorary degree sometime soon?).

If you grew up when I did, this will all remind you of jokes that used to be told in New York City.  I can't repeat them here because political correctness forbids it, but they're about Chinese people in New York who only speak Yiddish.

I wish them well, and I have a bit of advice for the Chinese quest for the secret of capitalist success.  First, the Jews do well at lots of things because Judaism is a quest for the right questions, not a canon of correct answers.  The constant questioning, and the resultant playfulness of Jewish culture, are central to our success.  This is hard for the leaders of the PRC to absorb, and dangerous to their political enterprise, even though in the long run it's the only way they're going to get away from the folly of attempting to maintain political control over a "free" economy.

Posted by orrinj at 5:52 PM


Open access is revolutionizing science, and it's a growing research market online (Deutsche-Welle, 5/07/14)

More and more scientists are publishing their results online. And as a result, it's becoming easier to link to new knowledge. A Berlin-based platform called ScienceOpen wants to tap into that.

"It's really important for me that everyone gets immediate access to the wonderful work that scientists do," says Stephanie Dawson. The Yale-educated biologist is the managing director for ScienceOpen, a research platform that went live this week.

"Access to this research is like a human right," Dawson told DW. "After all, it's all research funded with taxpayers' money."

Posted by orrinj at 5:49 PM


Iranian FM: I won't allow official Holocaust denial (AP, TIMES OF ISRAEL,AND AFP May 6, 2014)

Mohammad Javad Zarif was summoned to parliament and questioned in a session that was broadcast live on state radio on Tuesday.

Comprised of religious figures, former lawmakers and officials as well as some current MPs, the critics were unhappy about Zarif's more moderate foreign policy, including what they call his "reactionary stance towards the bastard (Israeli) Zionist regime and the Holocaust."

Zarif said that, as long as he is foreign minister, he will not allow Iran's reputation to be damaged with statements about "Holocaust denial."

Posted by orrinj at 5:44 PM


Transformed, 'Body and Soul' : Tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins, 83, is a recipient of the National Medal of Arts and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. His latest album is "Road Shows Vol. 3" (Doxy/OKeh). He spoke to reporter Marc Myers (5/09/14, WSJ)

It's hard today to fully appreciate how different Coleman Hawkins's "Body and Soul" sounded when it hit Harlem jukeboxes in late 1939. On that three-minute record, Coleman took a popular torch song and, with his tenor saxophone, turned it into a personal statement without ever losing track of the original melody. Wow, that was completely new, and it really changed me.

I first heard "Body and Soul" when I was 10 years old. I was standing outside the Big Apple Bar on the corner of 135th Street and Seventh Avenue, across from Small's Paradise, and heard it on the jukebox through an open window.

Back then, I was playing alto saxophone and idolized [alto saxophonist] Louis Jordan --and still do. But when I heard Coleman's "Body and Soul," a light went off in my head. If he could personalize a popular song like that without lyrics, any song was possible if you had that intellectual capacity.

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May 8, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 4:43 PM


Alexander Hamilton: Conservative Statesman? : a review of The Political Philosophy of Alexander Hamilton, Michael P. Federici (George W. Carey, 5/08/14, Imaginative Conservative)

[A]lthough he was influenced by various political theorists, Hume and Montesquieu being among the most notable, Federici concludes that he does not fit comfortably into any school of political thought.

The character and foundations of Hamilton's political thought are apparent, however, from Federici's revealing treatment of Hamilton's imagination, in which Federici employs Irving Babbitt's distinction between the "idyllic imagination," evidenced in the thought and approaches of both Rousseau and Bacon, and the "moral imagination" that fashioned Burke's thinking. Federici offers compelling reasons to believe that Hamilton's imagination was akin to Burke's.

Hamilton, for instance, rejected "the idea that human nature is malleable," which, in turn, contributed mightily to his realism "about the possibilities of politics." He "was not enamored with the wisdom of the people or with plebiscitary forms of democracy" and, along with Marshall and Washington, he saw an imperative need for "constitutional checks and restraints" in order to control the "will to power."

Yet his "moral and political realism...the product of an imagination imbued with Christian and Classical realism regarding the human condition" clearly did not prevent him from advocating change. Indeed, Federici remarks, "few Americans did more than Hamilton to change the nation's political and economic institutions." But lasting and beneficial change or reform for Hamilton, as for Burke, could only take place "within the parameters of a structure of reality...defined by historical experience."

As Federici shows, these views and assumptions, among others, serve to highlight the basic differences between Hamilton's views and those of Jefferson (the latter deriving from Jefferson's "idyllic imagination"). These differences, not surprisingly, manifest themselves in their respective attitudes toward the Jacobins and the French Revolution. Federici points out that Jefferson, even after the culmination the French Revolution, could write, "The liberty of the whole earth was depending on the issue of the context, and was ever such a prize won with so little innocent blood?" Hamilton, on the other hand, condemned the revolution along the same lines as Burke and concluded that for "a deluded, an abused, a plundered, a scourged and oppressed people," the Revolution has left "not even the shadow of liberty."

Posted by orrinj at 4:40 PM


Want to Do Something About Greenhouse Gas? Try A Carbon Tax (Howard Gleckman, 5/06/14, Forbes)

This morning, the White House released a massive report on the effects of climate change. In sum: The problem is already bad, it is going to get worse, and we need to address it quickly. The science of greenhouse gas emissions and climate change may be clear (though, of course, always evolving). But the policy response is far murkier.

Yet there is a relatively simple solution, based on the old economic maximum: If you want people to do less of something, raise the price. In this case, if you want people to use less carbon-emitting fuel, tax it--a lot.

Posted by orrinj at 4:34 PM


Forever Young? America Stays Relatively Youthful Even as World Population Ages (NEIL SHAH, 5/06/14, WSJ)

Roughly 1 in 5 Americans (about 21%) will be 65 years old and up by 2050, compared with just 13% in 2010 and less than 10% in 1970, according to a new U.S. Census Bureau report released Tuesday.

These look like eye-popping demographic changes, but they seem less so when you compare them to what's happening in places like Japan, Germany, Italy and even China.

In 2050, around 40% of Japan's population will be 65-plus, up from 24% in 2012. In Germany and Italy, over 30% will be 65+ (up from about 21% for both). Spain and Poland are in the same ballpark (31%, 32%).

Meanwhile, similar figures for Canada and China are 26% (up from 16%) and 27% (up from 9%). That's right: By 2050, China, whose 1.3 billion people are relatively young now, will have a larger share of its population over 65 than the U.S. will. [...]

[T]he big -- or rather, global -- picture is that the U.S. remains relatively young compared with its peers. As Census points out, this is partly due to immigration, which has boosted the U.S.'s younger working-age population.

Posted by orrinj at 4:30 PM


The $20 Smartphone Proves That Trickle Down Economics Works (Tim Worstall, 5/07/14, Forbes)

[L]et us [...] look at a way in which trickle down economics really does work. Which is that new products often start out as baubles, trinkets, for the rich to play with and then it's the great genius of the capitalism, free market mixture that makes them affordable for the masses relatively quickly. Which brings us to this prediction from ARM Holdings:

Two factors will drive entry level shipments: the performance of entry-level devices, and their overall cost. ARM believes the floor for an entry level smartphone running Android (today with a single-core Cortex A5 based SoC) is $20, and that we'll see the first devices on sale at that price point in the next few months.

The smartphone, as a viable technology, is still less than a decade old.

Posted by orrinj at 3:22 PM


The Secret History of Life-Hacking (NIKIL SAVAL, April 22, 2014, Pacific Standard)

We live in the age of life-hacking. The concept, which denotes a kind of upbeat, engineer-like approach to maximizing one's personal productivity, first entered the mainstream lexicon in the mid-2000s, via tech journalists, the blogosphere, and trendspotting articles with headlines like "Meet the Life Hackers." Since then the term has become ubiquitous in popular culture--just part of the atmosphere, humming with buzzwords, of the Internet age.

Variations on a blog post called "50 Life Hacks to Simplify Your World" have become endlessly, recursively viral, turning up on Facebook feeds again and again like ghost ships., one of the many horses in Gawker Media's stable of workplace procrastination sites, furnishes office workers with an endless array of ideas on how to live fitter, happier, and more productively: Track your sleep habits with motion-sensing apps and calculate your perfect personal bed-time; learn how to "supercharge your Gmail filters"; oh, and read novels, because it turns out that "reduces anxiety." The tribune of life hackers, the author and sometime tech investor Timothy Ferriss, drums up recipes for a life of ease with an indefatigable frenzy, and enumerates the advantages in bestselling books and a reality TV show; outsource your bill payments to a man in India, he advises, and you can enjoy 15 more minutes of "orgasmic meditation."

Life-hacking wouldn't be popular if it didn't tap into something deeply corroded about the way work has, without much resistance, managed to invade every corner of our lives. 

Note the contradiction : the modern job consists of nothing but surfing the web, yet you think you're busy. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:15 PM


Seaver's Double Duty for the White Sox (TYLER KEPNER, MAY 4, 2014, NY Times)

Thirty years ago, when the old Comiskey Park stood across the street, a different White Sox manager also ran out of relievers. But Tony La Russa had a better option, one of history's greatest starting pitchers, who was ordered to put down his crossword puzzle, get dressed and win the longest game -- by time -- in the history of Major League Baseball.

The game, between the White Sox and the Milwaukee Brewers, began on May 8, 1984. After 17 innings, it was suspended under an American League curfew rule that existed at the time. It resumed the next day, before a regularly scheduled game. Harold Baines won it for the White Sox, 7-6, with a homer in the bottom of the 25th inning.

The winning pitcher was Tom Seaver, a future Hall of Famer who started the day with 274 career wins and ended it with 276. That's right: Seaver finished the first game in relief and then started the second game, working eight and a third innings to win again, 5-4. [...]

The May 8 matchup looked lopsided. The Brewers started Don Sutton, one of six future Hall of Famers, including La Russa, who ended up taking part in the game. The White Sox started Bob Fallon, a rookie who was sent to the minors after the game and never started again in the majors.

Tom Paciorek, a veteran outfielder and first baseman, thought he had the night off. Early in the game, he ordered pizza from Connie's and had it delivered to the umpires' room. As he chowed down with the other bench players, he said, a bat boy burst in. Ron Kittle had come out of the game with shin splints.

"He says, 'Hey, Wimpy, you've got to go bat for Kittle,' " Paciorek said, using his nickname. "I said, 'When is he up?' And he said he was up next. So I go sprinting through the umpires' room, through our clubhouse, grab a bat, pizza sauce all over my shirt, and I go up there against Sutton, and he punched me out on three straight pitches. I said, 'Kittle, you could have done that yourself!' "

That was in the fourth inning. By the end, Paciorek would have the most hits in the game -- five, a major league record for a player who did not start. When he came to bat to lead off the bottom of the ninth, though, the White Sox were down, 3-1 -- Milwaukee had scored the go-ahead run on a throwing error by Carlton Fisk -- and facing Rollie Fingers.

Paciorek reached second on a two-base error by Brewers right fielder Charlie Moore. He scored on a two-out double by Julio Cruz, and then Fingers just missed on a two-strike pitch to Rudy Law. Jim Sundberg, the Brewers' catcher, pumped his fist, thinking the game was over. Instead, Law singled to tie the score, 3-3.

"We had two outs and a two-run lead with a Hall of Famer on the hill for us," Lachemann said, still rueful. "And we messed it up."

Those were the last runs to score on May 8. As the innings dragged on, a shoeshine man named Anthony Mayfield, who worked under the grandstand, shined 150 pairs of shoes. "I made a killing," he told The Chicago Tribune. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:08 PM


Tea party faces uphill climb in crowded Republican Senate primary in Georgia (Paul Kane, May 7, 2014, Washington Post)

[I]n a recent evening, Rep. Jack Kingston (R) strode across the stage at Cagle's Family Farm with the surprising air of a front-runner. He is exactly the kind of candidate the tea party movement most reviled: a 22-year member of Congress with a history of doling out federal dollars. 

In this crowded Republican primary, however, Kingston has seemingly found a path toward the top and is poised to advance beyond the May 20 primary to what is likely to be a two-candidate runoff in July. His most conservative challengers, meanwhile, have struggled to catch on.

The Savannah congressman's position in this Senate race is emblematic of the tea party's pains nationwide. On Tuesday, the movement floundered in North Carolina, where the establishment choice, Thom Tillis, cruised to the nomination over underfunded conservatives. In Kentucky, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) has eviscerated his tea party challenger ahead of the May 20 primary.

The movement's Washington-based advocates, disappointed in the quality of conservative candidates, have stayed on the sidelines or have latched on to people who don't fit neatly into their anti-establishment mold.

Posted by orrinj at 2:29 PM


The GOP's foot-shooting addiction (AARON BLAKE, May 8, 2014, Washington Post)

[A] huge chunk of that money is being used to tear down fellow Republicans.

According to a great new study from the Center for Public Integrity's Dave Levinthal, conservative super PACs and other outside groups this year have spent nearly three times as much money directly attacking fellow Republicans ($9.7 million) as directly attacking Democrats ($3.7 million).

If they could they'd hold show trials....

May 7, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 6:40 PM


Deficit now expected to be even lower (Jeanne Sahadi,  April 14, 2014, CNNMoney)

The Congressional Budget Office projected Monday that the 2014 shortfall will decline to 2.8% of GDP -- or $492 billion. That's about $23 billion below what the CBO forecast just a few months ago. And it's well below the 4.1% -- or $680 billion -- recorded last year.

Posted by orrinj at 1:39 PM


Most Docs Believe Patients Get Too Many Medical Tests (Randy Dotinga, May 7, 2014, HealthDay News) 

Most physicians believe that doctors order too many medical tests, yet half admit to doing so themselves in response to a pushy patient, a new survey shows.

Posted by orrinj at 1:36 PM


Universe evolution recreated in lab  (Pallab Ghosh, 5/07/14, , BBC News)

An international team of researchers has created the most complete visual simulation of how the Universe evolved.

The computer model shows how the first galaxies formed around clumps of a mysterious, invisible substance called dark matter.

It is the first time that the Universe has been modelled so extensively and to such great resolution.

They even used the term evolution properly.

Posted by orrinj at 1:31 PM


Tuesday's takeaways: GOP establishment prevails (JAMES HOHMANN | 5/6/14, Politico)

GOP groups won out Tuesday night.

"We engaged early and worked closely with other center-right groups to help Tillis overcome a late dirty-tricks campaign orchestrated by Hagan and national Democrats," American Crossroads President and CEO Steven Law said in a statement. "It was clear from the start that Thom Tillis is the only proven conservative who can defeat Kay Hagan and take on President Obama's liberal agenda."

The North Carolina results are a strong indication that the GOP rank and file is undergoing a shift from prioritizing purity to prizing victory. Just like D.C. strategists, voters watched Akin and Richard Mourdock blow it in 2012 and didn't want a repeat this year.

May 6, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 8:04 PM


The Piketty Fallacy : The upside of economic inequality is that it makes life better for everyone, especially the poor.  (Richard A. Epstein, 5/06/14, Defining Ideas)

One of the most striking defects of the Piketty analysis is its flawed understanding of the relationship between social wealth and income inequality. The initial point goes to the question of how ordinary people ought to regard the accumulation of vast stores of wealth by the few, much of which gets passed on by inheritance to other people. For Piketty, their greater wealth leaves (all else being equal) poorer people worse off because of their apparent loss of political influence to the great and mighty.

Not so fast. First, as an economic matter, the increase of the wealth of some without a decline of wealth in others counts as a Pareto improvement, which is in general to be welcomed, even if it increases overall levels of inequality. But to egalitarians like Piketty, the increased wealth inequality is bad in itself, as their objective is to minimize differences in wealth and income, rather than to increase their overall totals. Piketty's assumptions lead to the conclusion that a world in which the rich average 1,000 and the poor average 10 is less desirable than a world in which the rich average 300 and the poor average 5, given that the absolute and relative differences in wealth are lower in the second state of the world than the first.

Piketty does not actually state this conclusion in those bald terms. Instead he makes the argument that the wealth of the rich gives them too much influence over political affairs in a democratic society. But in so doing, he misses the key point that the wealthiest among us include the two Koch Brothers ($40 billion each), and also Bill Gates ($76 billion), Warren Buffet ($58.2 billion), and George Soros ($23 billion) whose political preferences move in decidedly different ways.

It is pure fantasy to assume that the super rich move as a unified political bloc. Nor should it be assumed that they have disproportionate influence. To James Madison, the great concern with democratic (as opposed to republican) forms of government was that voters with more influence in the political arena could satisfy, as it is put in Federalist 10, "a rage for paper money, for an abolition of debts, for an equal division of property, or for any other improper or wicked project."

Progressive writers in the twentieth century and after have taken strong exception to Madison's views. But my point here is descriptive, not normative. The place of large concentrations of capital in a democratic society is deeply vulnerable to majoritarian politics, as evidenced by the strongly progressive income tax rates and estate tax rates. In other words, the great wealth of the few makes them politically vulnerable, not politically unstoppable. In a political climate that treats as a major political objective the rectification of inequalities of fortune, the net transfers in the United States are not to, but from, the financial elites.

...we're just going to redistribute capital downwards.
Posted by orrinj at 7:36 PM


Polling Immigration (JASON L. RILEY, May 6, 2014 , WSJ)

[D]oes the immigration commentary so often heard in conservative media accurately reflect the sentiments of most Republican voters? Not according to the polls. Here's the exact wording of a Fox News survey question from January:

Which of the following comes closest to your view about what government policy should be toward illegal immigrants currently in the United States?

1. Send all illegal immigrants back to their home country?

2. Have a guest worker program that allows immigrants to remain in the United States to work, but only for a limited amount of time?

3. Allow illegal immigrants to remain in the country and eventually qualify for U.S. citizenship, but only if they meet certain requirements like paying back taxes, learning English, and passing a background check?

4. Don't know.

Some 68 percent of all respondents, and 60 percent of Republican respondents, chose the citizenship option--i.e., "amnesty."

Posted by orrinj at 7:31 PM


Did Samantha Power Just Rebuke Obama on Syria? (Jeffrey Goldberg, 5/06/14, Bloomberg View)

Last week, in a powerful speech that should have received more attention than it has so far, Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, seemed to rebuke the administration in which she serves for its handling of the Syria catastrophe.

Power was speaking at a Holocaust Memorial Museum dinner, at which she presented the museum's Elie Wiesel Award to the Canadian general Romeo Dallaire -- one of the few Westerners who tried to protect Rwandans as they were being slaughtered (as opposed to weeping for them after they were murdered, which was the more common Western response).

In the course of her speech, Power condemned those who argue that the choice facing the West in Syria is between full-on military engagement and doing nothing. She was also particularly harsh on the subject of leaders who avoid acting until humanitarian crises spin into chaos.

"In preventing mass atrocities, we must redouble our emphasis on early engagement," Power said. "The sooner we act, the more options we will have. That requires developing solutions to potential atrocities before they become actual ones. And to those who would argue that a Head of State or government has to choose only between doing nothing and sending in the military -- I maintain that is a constructed and false choice, an accompaniment only to disengagement and passivity."

So who, exactly, is propagating these constructed and false choices?

Posted by orrinj at 6:50 PM


Obama Biographer: 'The World Seems to Disappoint Him' (DANIEL HALPER, 5/06/14, Weekly Standard)

David Remnick, an Obama biographer and the editor of the New Yorker, said this morning on national TV that President Obama is disappointed in the world: [...]

"[T]hat's what's frustrating to me sometimes about Obama is that the world seems to disappoint him," he continued to laughter from others on the TV set. "Republicans disappoint him, Bashar al-Assad disappoints him, Putin as well. And the fighting spirit sometimes is lacking in the performative aspects of the presidency."

May 5, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 2:52 PM


Supreme Court ruling favors prayer at council meeting (The Associated Press, 5/05/14)

The Supreme Court said Monday that prayers that open town council meetings do not violate the Constitution even if they routinely stress Christianity.

The court said in 5-4 decision that the content of the prayers is not significant as long as officials make a good-faith effort at inclusion.

Posted by orrinj at 2:49 PM

60 in '14:

Poll: For the midterms, a tilt to the GOP (Susan Page and Kendall Breitman, 5/05/14, USA TODAY)

A nationwide USA TODAY/Pew Research Center Poll shows the strongest tilt to Republican candidates at this point in a midterm year in at least two decades, including before partisan "waves" in 1994 and 2010 that swept the GOP into power.   [...]

In the 2014 elections, registered voters are inclined to support the Republican candidate over the Democrat in their congressional district by 47%-43%. That 4-percentage-point edge may seem small, but it's notable because Democrats traditionally fare better among registered voters than they do among those who actually cast ballots, especially in low-turnout midterms.

Posted by orrinj at 2:45 PM


Rooted in Mexico, Cinco de Mayo Flowered in the U.S. (Carl M. Cannon, May 5, 2014, RCP)

California had been admitted to the Union in 1850 as a free state, and the context of the Cinco de Mayo celebrations was the Civil War between North and South. The anti-slavery movement in California had been an alliance of Northern immigrants and local Latinos, and the Battle of Puebla was as emotionally significant to them as the Battle of Bull Run was to Americans living in the East.

In Mexico, Cinco de Mayo historically was observed only in the state of Puebla. In California, it never really went away. Celebrated originally in places like Old Town San Diego or the sprawling barrio of East Los Angles -- or even the gold country town (now ghost town) of Columbia -- it grew gradually and incrementally. By the late-20th century, Californians visiting Mexico on that day would invariably express surprise that south of the border it wasn't really much of a holiday at all.

As UCLA professor David E. Hayes-Bautista has noted, this raised an obvious question: "Why is it that Latinos in the United States celebrate Cinco de Mayo so intensely, when it is not celebrated in Mexico?"

The answer, he says, is simple: "Cinco de Mayo is not a Mexican holiday -- it is an American Civil War holiday, created spontaneously by Mexicans and Latinos living in California who supported the fragile cause of defending freedom and democracy during the first years of that bloody war between the states."

Posted by orrinj at 2:43 PM


Louis Armstrong's Secret Lessons From Judaism : Satchmo Nibbled on Matzo and Wore a Star of David (Benjamin Ivry, May 05, 2014, Tablet)

A massive, and massively detailed new biography, reminds music mavens that jazz pioneer Louis Armstrong assimilated lessons from Judaism and expressed them through music and writing during his long career.

"Louis Armstrong, Master of Modernism" by Thomas Brothers is a tribute to an unsurpassed jazz trumpeter and singer who relished Yiddishkeit. Born in 1901, Armstrong performed and recorded nearly until his death in 1971. Grateful early on for the respect, encouragement and affection he received as a boy from the Karnofskys, a Lithuanian Jewish family in his hometown of New Orleans, he later became dependent for decades on his manager Joe Glaser, a Jew with mob ties. Toward the end of his life, he repeatedly jotted down thanks to Jewish doctors who prolonged his career. At home, Armstrong snacked on matzoh as a preferred treat and wore a Star of David (accounts differ over whether it was given to him by the Karnofskys or by Glaser). The jazz photographer Herb Snitzer, who captured an image of Armstrong on a bus in 1960 with the Star of David clearly visible, commented: "[Armstrong] wore the Star his entire life."

Brothers, a Duke University musicologist, offers up captivating details about Armstrong, who was very vocal about his overindulgence in marijuana, laxatives and extra-marital affairs.

Posted by orrinj at 2:38 PM


How parents are ruining youth sports : Adults should remember what athletics are really about. (Jay Atkinson, MAY 04, 201, Boston Globe Magazine)

Not long ago, I was invited to speak at the annual banquet for an "elite" youth hockey organization. Before dinner, the organization's president mentioned how he and his neighbor, another hockey dad, had seen the need for a top-tier program in their area, and how much planning and money it had required to create one. He rhapsodized about the championships his teams had won in their first two years of operation. He also said his 6-year-old son and his neighbor's boy were hockey-crazed best friends -- or at least they used to be. His neighbor's son was not selected for the mite team that first year, and the two men and their boys had not spoken to each other since.

In brief, that's exactly what's wrong with youth sports. Too much money, too much parent involvement, and too many brokenhearted 6-year-olds. (Not to mention too many well-meaning adults who have no clue about all of the above.) [...]

Three out of four American families with school-aged children have at least one playing an organized sport -- a total of about 45 million kids. By age 15, as many as 80 percent of these youngsters have quit, according to the Open Access Journal of Sports Medicine. One reason is the gap between the child's desire to have fun and the misguided notion among some adults that their kids' games are a miniature version of grown-up competitions, where the goal is to win.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:54 AM


The Church's Hidden Jewishness: Hebrew thinking in a Greek world. a review of In the Shadow of the Temple: Jewish Influences on Early Christianity by Oskar Skarsaune (David Neff, 09/15/2003, Christianity Today)

Some scholars see the development of early Christian thought and practice as a series of Hellenizing moments, as Christianity became increasingly less Hebraic and more Greek. Skarsaune devotes much of his book to debunking such claims.

One of the most crucial examples is the way the early Christians clung to key Hebrew notions about the material world: God is the creator of the material world. Creation was good. The Hebrew Bible is a genuine revelation. And the Bible's teaching about the resurrection of the body--that God will restore those who trust him to a bodily existence for eternity--must be believed.

By contrast, as Tom Wright demonstrated in The Resurrection of the Son of God, there were no parallels to the resurrection of the body in the ancient Mediterranean world. The Greeks thought Paul foolish when he preached the resurrection in Athens (Acts 17:32). If the early Christians had been trying to become user-friendly in a Hellenized culture, they would have avoided the Resurrection and rejected, as Marcion and the Gnostic heretics did, the Old Testament and its affirmation of the material world.

Scholars like Princeton University's Elaine Pagels are promoting an alternative Christianity these days by trying to rehabilitate Gnostic texts like the Gospel of Thomas. They claim these materials were excluded from the New Testament because of political struggles between Christian factions. For them, heresy is more about politics than truth. But it is crucial to note that early church definitions of heresy uniformly focus on the goodness of the material world. Skarsaune cites Justin Martyr writing in the middle of the second century and the Syrian Didascalia Apostolorum from the middle of the third. Both define heresy as the rejection of the creator God portrayed in the Hebrew Scriptures and the denial of the resurrection of the body. And to underscore how Jewish this is, Skarsaune cites the Mishnah (Sanhedrin 10:1), which lists among those who have "no share in the world to come" those who deny that the Torah teaches the resurrection of the dead and those who say that the Torah did not come from heaven.

Skarsaune offers similar arguments regarding conversion rites. The practice of Christian baptism (in "living water" that is allowed to touch every part of the body), accompanied by a formal renunciation of Satan and ritual exorcism followed by a first Eucharist in the early church have their parallels in Jewish texts about proselyte baptism (also in "living water" that is allowed to touch every part of the body), accompanied by a renunciation of idols and the offering of a first sacrifice.

Pagans were not known for dying for their religions. But Christians and Jews were.

There's been more than enough dying on the part of Christians and Jews; time to recognize similarities, get past differences, and give others an opportunity.

[Originally posted: September 21, 2003]

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May 4, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 9:33 PM


Gary S. Becker : He was a pioneer in applying economics to human behavior. (WSJ, May 4, 2014)

Gary Becker made his reputation in particular by applying economics to human behavior and problems not typically thought to be subject to economic analysis. His study of racial discrimination, for example, upended the view that bias benefits those who discriminate. He showed that an employer loses if he refuses to hire a productive worker for reasons of bias, and he demonstrated that discrimination is less likely in the most competitive industries that need to hire the best workers.

George Digby and Willie Mays, the one who got away (Gordon Edes, 5/03/14,

George Digby, the legendary Red Sox scout who died Friday at the age of 96, signed a Hall of Famer in Wade Boggs and other Sox stars in Mike Greenwell and Jody Reed, but could have altered the course of Sox history if he had not been blocked by the team's racist ownership. 

"I had Willie Mays bought for $4,500," Digby told me when I interviewed him in 2005. "I called up the Red Sox. I said, 'I got Willie Mays. He'll break the color line.'" 

Digby, who had been a high school baseball coach in New Orleans, was the team's first full-time scout in the South, and in 1949 -- two years after Jackie Robinson broke the color line in major league baseball -- recommended a 17-year-old Mays, who was playing for the Birmingham Black Barons. The Sox had a minor league team in Birmingham, the Barons, that shared the same ballpark, Rickwood Field, with the Black Barons. 

Digby said he didn't know Sox GM Joe Cronin well enough at the time to make the call himself. 

"Eddie Glennon, the GM of our club in Birmingham, called Cronin," recalled Digby. "The owner of the Black Barons had told us we could have Mays for $4,500. I said, 'I'll be back to you by tomorrow.' Glennon had asked me, 'What do you think?' I said, 'I think he's a big leaguer.' We could have had Mays in center and [Ted] Williams in left. 

"Cronin sent another scout down to look at him, but [owner Tom] Yawkey and Cronin already had made up their minds they weren't going to take any black players." 

Posted by orrinj at 9:23 PM



The standoff brought Cliven Bundy worldwide attention and acclaim from small-government conservatives, but he was reduced to a national punchline two weeks later, when he delivered a pair of racist rants during his daily press conferences near his ranch.

Several of those who filed complaints Friday accuse federal agents involved the roundup of impersonating police officers. Bundy and company do not recognize the federal government's authority over them and believe public land belongs only to the people of the state and local jurisdictions where it is found.

It's a legal argument that has been roundly rejected by judges and legal scholars. As University of Nevada, Reno, geography professor Paul Starrs put it, the law is clear: "When Nevada obtained statehood, it gave up its public land."

"His version of history just isn't true," Starrs said of Cliven Bundy. "Just because you say it doesn't make it so."

Friday's action at Metro drew a one sentence response from the BLM, courtesy of spokesman Jeff Krauss: "We welcome Mr. Bundy's new interest in the American legal system."

In their own written statement Friday afternoon, Metro officials said the 22 voluntary statements they received would be reviewed by the agency and a response would be crafted in consultation with the county and federal prosecutors.

Just don't expected Metro officers to start hauling in BLM rangers for questioning.

"It is not our practice to take crime reports on law enforcement agencies conducting a law enforcement function," says the statement from Metro. "In this case, the Bureau of Land Management is a recognized federal law enforcement agency."

When you make even government bureaucrats funny you know you've lost.

Posted by orrinj at 6:49 PM


The Origins of Office Speak : What corporate buzzwords reveal about the history of work (and what a corporate-buzzword quiz reveals about you) (Emma Green, APRIL 24, 2014, Atlantic)

Douglas McGregor may have written the fourth most influential management book of the 20th century, but Peter Drucker wrote the third: In his 1954 manifesto, The Practice of Management, he wrote that "the manager is the dynamic, life-giving element in every business." Over the next five decades, Drucker helped companies find new ways to turn "resources"--people, in other words--into productivity engines.

In 1981, Drucker started working with one of his biggest clients: General Electric. The company had just been taken over by Jack Welch, who was looking to overhaul its management in the midst of a recession. Over the next decade, Welch systematically redesigned the culture of the organization, hitting a peak in 1989 with his Work-Out program, which was designed to help managers and employees solve problems faster. In the language of Work-Out, low-hanging fruit were problems that were easily identified and solved. Other fantastic jargon from the program included rattlers, or obvious problems (so-named because they "make a lot of noise") and pythons, or challenging problems that come from bloated bureaucracy. A little ironically, Welch wrote that Work-Out would create "a company where jargon and double-talk are ridiculed and candor is demanded."

Although Work-Out is credited with reinvigorating General Electric, other attempts to overhaul company culture failed miserably. After AT&T was broken up into multiple companies in 1984, the newly independent telephone service provider Pacific Bell hired two associates of Charles Krone, a California-based management consultant known for following the teachings of Armenian mystic Georges Gurdjieff. His "leadership development" program, known as "kroning," maintained that certain words helped employees communicate better, improving the health of the organization. Some 23,000 employees went through the $40 million training program, learning new terms like task cycle and functioning capabilities that were supposed to help them care more about their work and express themselves more clearly.

Instead, the company's language became incredibly opaque. For example, its 1987 "statement of principles" defined "interaction" as:

The continuous ability to engage with the connectedness and relatedness that exists and potentially exists, which is essential for the creations necessary to maintain and enhance viability of ourselves and the organization of which we are a part.

When the San Francisco Chronicle reported that the training had caused widespread discontent, the California Public Utilities Commission started an investigation, and the program was discontinued. "Perhaps one thing that we learn from the Krone case," wrote University of Richmond professor Joanne Ciulla in 2004, " is that attempts at engineering appropriate attitudes and emotions can actually undercut genuine feelings for a company."

Clear communication in the workplace scares people, justifiably. 
Posted by orrinj at 9:00 AM


Robots Will Take Our Jobs : Three scenarios for how technology will change the workforce. (Niall Firth, 5/04/14, Slate)

Niall Firth: Are robots really taking our jobs?

Andrew McAfee: Sure, but there has always been job destruction because of automation and technological progress. The important thing to keep in mind is that there has also always been job creation because of these same forces. Right now, there is a wave of tech hitting the economy and the workforce. The question is: is the balance shifting?

NF: How do you see it playing out?

AM: Three possible scenarios could happen with this current wave of technology. One is that it is going to hit the economy, and it might take a while to work itself out, but in the end we will reach a happy equilibrium. The Industrial Revolution was great news, eventually, for British workers. Electrification of factories eventually led to a large, stable, and prosperous American middle class. That pattern should give us confidence that we will wind up in another happy equilibrium.

NF: What are the other possible scenarios?

AM: Scenario two is that we see successive waves: artificial intelligence, automated driving that will impact people who drive for a living, robotics that will impact manufacturing. If scenario two happens, the problem is a bit worse because it will be difficult for the economy to keep adjusting and for workers to keep retraining.

Scenario three is that we finally transition into this science-fiction economy, where you just don't need a lot of labor.

NF: Do you really think that we'll shift away from having human laborers altogether?

AM: I believe that in my lifetime--I'm in my mid-40s--we're going to see that third scenario. We won't see a zero-labor economy, but we're going to head into a labor-light economy. Of course, people like me have been saying some version of that for 200 years. The Luddites, John Maynard Keynes, a lot of people have said it and been wrong. But when I look at the encroachment of digital stuff into the total bundle of skills and abilities that humans have, I think this time it is different.

But how am I goimng to find any satisfaction in life if the tedious robotic tasks I get paid for are done by a robot while I spend time with my family, friends, neighbors, church and community?
Posted by orrinj at 8:23 AM


Hassan Rouhani faces growing criticism in Iran over nuclear talks (Simon Tisdall, 5/04/14,

The Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, is facing growing criticism from a broad array of political hardliners and rightwing opponents who say his government is being duped by the US in an over-hasty attempt to clinch a nuclear deal with the west and end economic sanctions. [...]

Pressure on Rouhani has been building in recent weeks as the likelihood of a deal has grown. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader and a staunch religious conservative, has backed the president's negotiation policy but made clear that certain red lines cannot be crossed. To appease rightwingers, he has ordered a review of the negotiators' performance. [...]

The US and Britain have expressed guarded confidence that a final nuclear deal with Iran can be reached by the deadline of 20 July, describing the talks as "very substantive".

Rouhani and his chief negotiator, Mohammad Javad Zarif, have echoed those sentiments. "Iran is optimistic about the results of the talks and has taken great steps to reach a comprehensive deal and aims to achieve a win-win result," Rouhani told Iranian television last week.

Rouhani hit back angrily at his critics. "Through lies and hype some people are trying to derail the government from its path, and this is against national interests and the leader's order ... Iran does not compromise on the people's interests," he said.

Part of the pressure on Rouhani stems not from public concern about the nitty-gritty of the nuclear deal but from entrenched partisan opposition to his new centrist government, which took office last year after defeating the conservative and rightwing principlist factions that dominated political life during the Ahmadinejad years.

Rouhani's main electoral pledge was to improve the economy. The lifting of sanctions is key to that objective, and has become more critical in the past nine months as economic conditions have deteriorated for most Iranians.

Posted by orrinj at 8:19 AM


HealthEquity Surpasses One Million Health Savings Accounts (Fort Mill Times, May 1, 2014 )

Now more than ever, Americans realize the power of health savings accounts (HSAs) to thrive in today's changing health care scene and save for the future, while reducing tax liability today. HealthEquity, one of the largest HSA non-bank custodians, announces it now manages over one million health savings accounts.

HealthEquity was founded in 2002, approximately one year before HSAs became law. The company was founded with the vision to help consumers to make more informed health care saving and spending decisions. Since then, the company has experienced significant growth as HealthEquity has empowered millions to build health savings for the short and long term.

"We are delighted that we are able to change the lives of so many," stated Jon Kessler, HealthEquity president and CEO. "Reaching one million HSAs is very significant for HealthEquity, not only because it is a major milestone, but also because of the profound impact it represents for our members and the billion-plus dollars amassed in savings."

We all know where we're headed.

May 3, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:28 PM


Media Slant: A Question of Cause and Effect (N. GREGORY MANKIW, 5/03/14, NY Times)

A natural hypothesis is that a media outlet's perspective reflects the ideology of its owner. Indeed, much regulatory policy is premised on precisely this view. Policy makers sometimes take a jaundiced view of media consolidation on the grounds that high levels of cross-ownership reduce the range of political perspectives available to consumers.

From their study of newspapers, however, Mr. Gentzkow and Mr. Shapiro, find little evidence to support this hypothesis. After accounting for confounding factors like geographic proximity, they find that two newspapers with the same owner are no more likely to be ideologically similar than two random papers. Moreover, they find no correlation between the political slant of a paper and the owner's ideology, as judged by political donations.

So, if not the owner's politics, what determines whether a newspaper leans left or right? To answer this question, Mr. Gentzkow and Mr. Shapiro focus on regional papers, ignoring the few with national scope, like The Times. They find that potential customers are crucial.

If a paper serves a liberal community, it is likely to lean left, and if it serves a conservative community, it is likely to lean right. In addition, once its political slant is set, a paper is more likely to be read by households who share its perspective. [...]

The bottom line is simple: Media owners generally do not try to mold the population to their own brand of politics. Instead, like other business owners, they maximize profit by giving customers what they want.

Which is how you end up in the echo chamber.

Posted by orrinj at 7:20 PM


Olive trees uprooted in West Bank 'price tag' attack (TIMES OF ISRAEL, 5/03/14)

The words "Arab thieves" and "price tag" were found spray painted on rocks next to where 32 olive trees were uprooted, Ynet reported. [...]

 Earlier on Saturday, former Mossad and Shin Bet chiefs criticized the Israeli government for not doing enough to prevent "price tag" attacks. [...]

MK Issawi Freij (Meretz) on Saturday called "price tag" attacks a "racist cancer," and said that the phenomenon was growing and in the end would harm the entirety of Israeli society.

Posted by orrinj at 1:31 PM


Doctors Think Others Often Prescribe Unnecessary Care (Jordan Rau, MAY 1ST, 2014, Kaiser Health News)

Three out of four physicians believe that fellow doctors prescribe an unnecessary test or procedure at least once a week, a survey released Thursday finds. The most frequent reasons that physicians order extraneous--and costly--medical care are fears of being sued, impulses to be extra careful and desires to reassure their own assessments of the patient, the survey said.

Posted by orrinj at 1:25 PM


Al Qaeda Chief Ayman Al-Zawahri Urges Militants To Leave 'Political Disaster' In Syria (Reuters, 5/03/14) 

Iraqi al Qaeda's entry into Syria's civil war caused "a political disaster" for Islamist militants there, the movement's global leader Ayman al-Zawahri said in a video message, urging the faction to redouble its efforts in Iraq instead.

Zawahri has repeatedly tried to end infighting between the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and another al Qaeda-aligned group, the Nusra Front.

So long as you don't care about the people of Syria, you can consider the mess there a good result. Of course, we're Americans, so we do care about them.
Posted by orrinj at 12:47 PM


Ancient Tundra Discovered Under Greenland Ice Sheet (Niki Blasina, 4/18/14, WSJ)

A team of scientists have found organic soil that has been frozen to the bottom of the Greenland Ice Sheet for 2.7 million years, providing strong evidence that the ice sheet has survived many periods of global warming. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:36 PM


This column will change your life: open-plan offices : 'The "flexibility" of the modern office mainly just means freedom for the most powerful forces to assert themselves (Oliver Burkeman, 2 May 2014, The Guardian)

Earlier this year, the Manhattan advertising firm the Barbarian Group unveiled its "superdesk": one huge, continuous single desk for all 125 staff, which it describes as "4,400 square feet of undulating, unbroken awesomeness to keep people and ideas flowing". Its surface swoops upwards into archways, creating nooks underneath for meetings, down to sitting height, then up again, so employees can work standing up. Like many such office innovations, it's tremendously forward-thinking, and totally undermined by psychology research. There's overwhelming evidence that open offices are associated with lower job satisfaction; poorer interpersonal relations; worse concentration and creativity; damaged sleep, thanks to people working farther from windows; and more sickness, due to the potential for infection. Yet the open-plan idea seems too powerful to resist. How could more spontaneous interactions between workers be a bad thing? Actually, experts who have studied the matter say those off-the-cuff chats are pretty superficial, because people are self-conscious about being overheard. But never mind the data: feel that free-flowing, laid-back awesomeness!

...everyone can see your screen.

Posted by orrinj at 12:31 PM


Interview: Charles Murray on The Curmudgeon's Guide to Getting Ahead (Ed Driscoll, May 2nd, 2014, PJ Media)

During our interview, he'll discuss:

● The inspiration of the new book.

● His recent "open letter to the students of Azusa Pacific University," after the university rescinded his speaking opportunity.

● What does the average curmudgeon think about tattoos, piercings, and hair colors not found in nature?

● Now that age of the mandatory suit and tie has passed in many industries, how does a new employ navigate the complexities of contemporary office dress?

● How did young people gain such a sense of supreme entitlement?

● What's wrong with being "nonjudgmental?"

● Plus some thoughts on Murray's earlier books, such as Apollo and Coming Apart.

And much more.

Posted by orrinj at 9:41 AM


Rule of 20: Is the Stock Market Fairly Valued? (Michael P. Regan, May 01, 2014, BusinessWeek)

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 AM


Thomas Piketty book on inequality bad news for Hillary Clinton (SCOTT RASMUSSEN, MAY 1, 2014, Washington Examiner)

Piketty also says that, theoretically, "there is no reason a country cannot decide to devote two-thirds or three-quarters of its national income to taxes." Clearly, this is a man who's never had to pitch higher taxes to voters.

He says that this level of taxation would be acceptable if the money was used "for purposes everyone agrees are of high importance." What are those purposes? Piketty suggests, "education, health, culture, clean energy, and sustainable development." Just about everyone agrees on the importance of education and health, of course, but there are massive disagreements on how to improve them. Promoting the use of tax dollars to support "culture, clean energy, and sustainable development" is also more than a little challenging in the political arena. Wow.

These are the attitudes of Democrats who believe President Obama has not been liberal enough. They don't want to fix the president's health care law, but want to replace it with a single-payer system. Like Piketty, they are disappointed that the 2008 economic crash didn't lead to an even bigger role for the government in managing the economy. People with such attitudes see former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as even more "conservative" than the "centrist" Obama.

As a result, the public embrace of Piketty's book by leading liberal voices creates one more reason to believe that Clinton will not be the party's presidential nominee in 2016. The party is leaving her behind as it becomes more liberal. Additionally, the views expressed in Piketty's book are a repudiation of former President Bill Clinton's tenure in the White House. He rescued the Democrats from similar elitist attitudes a generation ago by adopting a more centrist approach.

If the party wants to revert to its pre-Clinton ways, Hillary Clinton will not be the messenger.

May 2, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:01 PM


The long tradition of thinking we're miserable - when we're not ( Geoff Colvin, 4/29/14, CNN Money)

If it's any comfort -- and it should be -- declinism has a very long history and an extremely poor record. The ancient Greeks believed human history had occurred in successive ages, the gold, silver, bronze, and iron (their age), each more miserable than the one before, with worse to come. We will "waste away with toil and pain" said the poet Hesiod. Don't count on the next generation: "Sons and daughters will be quick to offend their aging parents ... and speak to them with rudeness," among many other curses.

The decline of youth has been a particularly popular theme ever since. The first edition of the U.S. Boy Scouts Handbook, published in 1911, emphasizes that the whole scouting movement was based on this distressing trend. America's boys had turned into "a lot of flat-chested cigarette-smokers with shaky nerves and doubtful vitality," it says. "It is the exception when we see a boy respectful to his superiors and obedient to his parents." Remarkably, adults today also believe that kids were a lot better back when they were kids. A recent Harris poll of U.S. adults finds that 79% believe that when they were young, students respected teachers, but only 31% think students respect teachers today.

Similarly, the fear that we're going to "waste away with toil and pain" is an eternal favorite of the declinists. Remember the 1980s? Japan, with an inherently superior culture and economic system, was going to eat America's lunch. Japan As Number 1 was a bestseller. The Japanese bought Rockefeller Center and the Pebble Beach golf course, which felt to many Americans as if they were buying our soul. Today the source of our doom has moved only slightly west, to China.

Let's do a reality check. The 1980s were followed in the U.S. not by the apocalypse but by one of the greatest booms in history. More generally, our material lives are so much better than they were a generation ago, not to mention a hundred generations ago, that we should be embarrassed ever -- ever -- to complain. The long-term trajectory of economic advance could not be clearer, yet we've always believed it's coming to an end. The problem is that we can never forecast exactly where tomorrow's progress will come from, so we conclude that it won't happen at all. Yet in a large sense we do know where it comes from: the imagination, innovativeness, and ambition of humanity, which are at least as great as they ever were.

Compared to those degenerate boys of a century ago, today's boys and girls look forward to immensely longer, healthier lives enriched by a far more advanced education than the eighth-grade standard of 1911. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:59 PM


Online Gaming Shuns Subscription Model Spawned by 'World of Warcraft' (LIZETTE CHAPMAN, May 2, 2014 , WSJ)

For much of the past decade, online-gaming companies poured millions of dollars into developing, marketing and releasing their signature creations to a community of gamers willing to pay set monthly fees to play.

That worked out well--until the gamers stopped paying.

The shift in consumer preferences from subscription-style games to a free-to-play model has caught some startups off guard.

Posted by orrinj at 6:36 PM


Jeb Bush raps federal lawmakers for inaction on immigration (Maeve Reston, May 2, 2014, LA Times)

After the Florida House on Friday gave final approval to a bill granting in-state tuition to the children of some immigrants in the country illegally, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush used the occasion to criticize Washington lawmakers -- including members of his own party -- for inaction on immigration reform. [...]

The bill had strong bipartisan support -- including from Gov. Rick Scott and his Democratic opponent, Charlie Crist. And it has been cited by some Republican leaders nationally as a bright spot for the GOP as they try to make inroads with Latino voters, who favored President Obama over Mitt Romney 71% to 27% in the 2012 election.

Once Scott signs the measure into law, Florida students will be able to pay in-state tuition rates regardless of their immigration status, as long as they have attended a Florida high school for three years and enroll within two years of graduation. They will now simply have to provide their high school transcript, rather than proof of a parent's residency, a requirement which had been impossible for some families in the country illegally.

In his statement, Bush said the change was "the right thing to do" and would help Florida capitalize on its talent, "making our future workforce more globally competitive than ever."

Though the U.S. Senate passed a sweeping immigration reform bill last year, the legislation has stalled in the U.S. House because of resistance from some lawmakers. The White House has kept the pressure on, and Speaker John A. Boehner recently drew heat for mocking fellow lawmakers who have complained that the politics of the immigration overhaul were "too hard."

W went after Newt and company to start his campaign too.

Posted by orrinj at 6:17 PM


Donors Weigh Jilting Christie for Jeb Bush (MICHAEL BARBARO and NICHOLAS CONFESSORE, MAY 1, 2014, NY Times)

Jeb Bush's increasingly serious and public examination of a run for president has shaken the ranks of establishment Republican donors and fund-raisers who had planned to back Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey in 2016, forcing many of them to rethink their allegiance to the embattled governor.

In private conversations that are now seeping into public view, some of them are signaling to Mr. Christie's camp that, should Mr. Bush enter the race, their first loyalty would be to him, not to Mr. Christie, according to interviews with more than two dozen of them. [...]

"They feel good about Jeb," said Barry Wynn, a fund-raiser for George W. Bush and a former chairman of the Republican Party in South Carolina. "They don't have any questions about his integrity."

The family name, he said, remains a powerful draw. "They love the Bush family," Mr. Wynn said. "They love the whole package, and they feel Jeb is just a part of the package."

Posted by orrinj at 5:30 PM


The private sector is up, public sector is down (Matthew Yglesias, May 2, 2014, Vox)

Posted by orrinj at 5:25 PM


The Problem With Free Health Care (H. GILBERT WELCH, APRIL 30, 2014, NY Times)

NOW that it's clear that Obamacare is here to stay, its supporters should focus on making the program better. Fixes are not a sign of weakness. They are a sign of responsiveness and of good management. And the Affordable Care Act does have its flaws. Here's a big one: It favors screening over diagnosis.

While the distinction may seem arcane, it has real-world implications. Screening is what we offer to the well; it's the effort to find abnormalities in those who do not have signs or symptoms of disease. 

Posted by orrinj at 2:27 PM


Irish-American stronghold Boston stunned by Gerry Adams' arrest (SCOTT MALONE, May 2, 2014, Reuters)

In the bars of South Boston, Irish-Americans reacted with shock on Thursday to the news that Gerry Adams, a man some regard as a hero for his role in the peace process, had been arrested in Northern Ireland in connection with a murder committed 42 years ago.

Some were worried that Adams' arrest would cause trouble back in Ireland and expressed anger that the U.S. government had cleared the way for the release of a trove of documents by Boston College researchers that may have paved the way for the arrest.

Posted by orrinj at 2:24 PM


Vice President Joe Biden Defends Intellectual Property (Alisa Wiersema, May 2, 2014, ABC News)

May 1, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:09 PM


The Ship-Breakers : In Bangladesh men desperate for work perform one of the world's most dangerous jobs. (Peter Gwin, May 2014, National Geographic)

Oceangoing vessels are not meant to be taken apart. They're designed to withstand extreme forces in some of the planet's most difficult environments, and they're often constructed with toxic materials, such as asbestos and lead. When ships are scrapped in the developed world, the process is more strictly regulated and expensive, so the bulk of the world's shipbreaking is done in Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan, where labor is cheap and oversight is minimal.

Industry reforms have come in fits and starts. India now requires more protections for workers and the environment. But in Bangladesh, where 194 ships were dismantled in 2013, the industry remains extremely dirty and dangerous.

It also remains highly lucrative. Activists in Chittagong told me that in three to four months the average ship in Bangladeshi yards returns roughly a one-million-dollar profit on an investment of five million, compared with less than $200,000 profit in Pakistan. I called Jafar Alam, former head of the Bangladesh Ship Breakers Association. He denied that profit margins were that high. "It varies by ship and depends on many factors, such as the current price of steel," he said.

Whatever the actual profits, they are realized by doggedly recycling more than 90 percent of each ship. The process begins after a ship-breaker acquires a vessel from an international broker who deals in outdated ships. A captain who specializes in beaching large craft is hired to deliver it to the breaker's yard, generally a sliver of beach barely a hundred yards wide.

Once the ship is mired in the mud, its liquids are siphoned out, including any remaining diesel fuel, engine oil, and firefighting chemicals, which are resold. Then the machinery and fittings are stripped. Everything is removed and sold to salvage dealers--from enormous engines, batteries, generators, and miles of copper wiring to the crew bunks, portholes, lifeboats, and electronic dials on the bridge.

After the ship has been reduced to a steel hulk, swarms of laborers from the poorest parts of Bangladesh use acetylene torches to slice the carcass into pieces. These are hauled off the beach by teams of loaders, then melted down and rolled into rebar for use in construction.

Posted by orrinj at 7:03 PM


Half in Illinois and Connecticut Want to Move Elsewhere (Lydia Saad, 5/01/14, Gallup)

Every state has at least some residents who are looking for greener pastures, but nowhere is the desire to move more prevalent than in Illinois and Connecticut. In both of these states, about half of residents say that if given the chance to move to a different state, they would like to do so. Maryland is a close third, at 47%. By contrast, in Montana, Hawaii, and Maine, just 23% say they would like to relocate. Nearly as few -- 24% -- feel this way in Oregon, New Hampshire, and Texas.

Posted by orrinj at 6:54 PM


For Some, the Earth Is Still Flat (KATIE HEANEY,  May 01, 2014, Pacific Standard)

A British man named Samuel Shenton, then in his early twenties, was doing research in the British Library at Bloomsbury when he came upon a book called Zetetic Astronomy: Earth Not a Globe. Published in 1881 by a man named Samuel Rowbotham, the gist of the 430-page book is summed up neatly by its subtitle: The Earth, Rowbotham proposed, is flat.

'Brane-Storm' Challenges Part of Big Bang Theory (Robert Roy Britt, 18 April 2001,

The inflationary model of the universe, developed in the 1980's by Alan Guth (MIT), Andre Linde (Stanford), Andreas Albrecht (UC Davis) and Steinhardt, was designed to resolve these very same problems, relying on a period of exponential hyper-expansion, or inflation.

Conceptually, the ekpyrotic model is very different. There is no inflation or rapid change happening at all. The approach to collision takes places very slowly over an exceedingly long period of time. It is quite fascinating that rapid change and very slow change can produce nearly the same effects. The difference results in one distinctive observational prediction, though: Inflationary cosmology predicts a spectrum of gravitational waves that may be detectable in the cosmic microwave background. The ekpyrotic model predicts no gravitational wave effects should be observable in the cosmic microwave background.

In the ekpyrotic model, when the two three-dimensional worlds collide and "stick," the kinetic energy in the collision is converted to the quarks, electrons, photons, etc. that are confined to move along three dimensions. The resulting temperature is finite, so the hot Big Bang phase begins without a singularity. The universe is homogeneous because the collision and initiation of the Big Bang phase occurs nearly simultaneously everywhere.

The energetically preferred geometry for the two worlds is flat, so their collision produces a flat Big Bang universe.