July 31, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 9:00 PM


Israel's stated aims in Gaza make no sense... : ...and cannot secure a just future. (Stephen Chan | 31 July 2014, MercatorNet)

"Israel has a right to defend itself". This is of course true; Israel is a recognised state and nothing will change that. Notwithstanding huge controversies as to where its state borders are, it has the same rights to self-defence as any other state. [...]

The question in Gaza, then, is: what are the objectives?

This is where the waters get really murky. One obvious objective, the destruction of Hamas's tunnel systems, has never been satisfactorily accomplished by military means; the tunnels cannot be destroyed by bombing suburbs and neighbourhoods above ground. 

Hamas's rocket-launching capacity, similarly, has scarcely been undercut by the previous Israel-Hamas skirmishes. Aside from the obvious point that the rockets kept in the tunnels are rendered all but ineffectual by Iron Dome, because they are simple systems, no amount of degradation now will prevent the rebuilding of capacity tomorrow. Secondary school children can build what Hamas builds.

The aim of undercutting Hamas as a credible governing body makes little sense either. Resistance to Israeli attacks tends to strengthen Hamas - which, after all, was democratically elected by a highly frustrated and besieged people. Degrade Hamas beyond the point of total impotence and other more radical groups will arise, just as Hamas arose to counter the corrupt ineptitude of Fatah.

The last thing Israel needs, after all, is ISIS on its doorstep.

Something must be done

The kneejerk reaction, the sense that "something must be done", is understandable - but the "something" will have consequences that will haunt the Middle East for decades to come.

"Because they started it": in fact, ever since Hamas and Fatah announced a form of unity government, Israel has been looking for new ways to degrade Hamas and its capacity to govern.

The July killing of three Israeli teenagers was immediately blamed on Hamas, even though it was more likely the work of an autonomous Hebron brigade. In retaliation, vengeful Jewish extremists burned to death a Palestinian teenager - and the stage was set for war.

If the key objective is "to teach Hamas a lesson", then it is a lesson inflicted upon over 1.8m people who have no means of escape.

Charlie Rose Talks to Hamas's Khaled Meshaal (Charlie Rose, July 31, 2014, Businessweek)
Will you pledge not to eradicate Israel? Do you want to live in coexistence with Israel?

I do not coexist with occupation and with settlements. Do you think that Palestinians who suffer from occupation and settlements can eradicate Israel? No, this is beguiling, misleading propaganda. ... We in Hamas believe in moderation of Islam. We are not fanatics. We do not fight the Jews because they are Jews per se. We fight the occupiers. I'm ready to coexist with the Jews, with the Christians, with the Arabs, with the non-Arabs. I do coexist with other religions. ... When we have a Palestinian state, then the Palestinian people can have their say. There are disproportionate standards, but we have the upper hand. Every single occupation ends, and the people are victorious.

Arafat couldn't accept a state because the PLO couldn't win elections.  Hamas can, so it will.

Posted by orrinj at 8:53 PM


This is the perfect antidote to all that scary news out of North Korea ()

Recent news out of North Korea has mostly been of the scary sort: It's threatening to nuke the White House! It's firing missiles into the sea! It's opening up a summer camp!

But here's the thing: The North Korean military is not in great shape. Despite its bluster, it's actually quite decrepit, plagued by "antiquated" and "outdated" equipment, according to a 22-page report released by the Pentagon in March. For the latest illustration, you need look back no further than today.

South Korea's Yonhap News Agency reports that the North has had to ground half its fighter jet drills after three of its MiG-19s crashed due to "aged fuselages," according to an unidentified source. The MiG-19, for the uninitiated, is a Soviet fighter jet from the 1950s -- and such museum-ready MiGs make up about three quarters of its fighters. Now, the North Korean military is increasingly counting on commandos, hackers, and nukes to make up for its aging conventional forces -- but still, it's flying out your grandfather's air force.

Posted by orrinj at 8:44 PM


What If Obamacare Isn't the Reason Medicare Spending Slowed? (JOHN FEEHERY, 7/28/14, WSJ)

In 2003, Congress passed and President George W. Bush signed into law a Medicare modernization bill that included a benefit that aimed to keep older patients out of the hospital by providing them with prescription drugs.

And guess what: It has worked. Medicare Part D is one of the most popular government programs, and using free-market principles to lower costs and to provide greater choice to consumers, it has come in under budget.

President Bush and my former boss, then-House Speaker Denny Hastert, took a lot of grief from conservatives and liberals for their efforts to give seniors a break on high drug prices.

More important was the liberation of HSAs.

Posted by orrinj at 8:37 PM

60(%) in '14:

Republicans' Senate Chances Rise Slightly to 60 Percent (The Upshot, JULY 27, 2014, NY Times)

For the last month, we've been adding one or two polls a day to The Upshot's Senate forecasting model. Today, we update all 36 races, based on estimates from a YouGov online panel that covers every congressional and governor's race across the country.

The panel, asked for its preferences in collaboration with CBS and The New York Times, is unusual in its scope: It comprises more than 66,000 people living in states with a Senate race this year. YouGov, a polling firm, also conducted online interviews with roughly half of the panelists in previous years, allowing it to know how they voted in the past.

With the addition of the YouGov estimates to our model, the overall outlook for the Senate remains roughly the same. The Republicans appear to have a slight advantage, with the most likely outcome being a Republican gain of six seats, the minimum they need to finish with a 51-to-49-seat majority. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:25 PM


Electric Utilities Get No Jolt From Gadgets, Improving Economy (REBECCA SMITH, July 28, 2014, WSJ)

Five years and an economic recovery later, electricity sales at the Columbus, Ohio-based power company still haven't rebounded to the peak reached in 2008. As a result, executives have had to abandon their century-old assumption that the use of electricity tracks overall economic conditions.

"It's a new world for us," says Chief Executive Nick Akins.

Utility executives across the country are reaching the same conclusion. Even though Americans are plugging in more gadgets than ever and the unemployment rate had dropped at one point to a level last reported in 2008, electricity sales are looking anemic for the seventh year in a row.

Sluggish electricity demand reflects broad changes in the overall economy, the effects of government regulation and technological changes that have made it easier for Americans to trim their power consumption. But the confluence of these trends presents utilities with an almost unprecedented challenge: how to cope with rising costs when sales of their main product have stopped growing.

Posted by orrinj at 4:58 PM


U.S. Pressures India on WTO Trade Agreement (RAYMOND ZHONG, July 31, 2014, WSJ)

U.S. officials pressed India anew Thursday to back away from demands on farm subsidies that risked scuttling a global trade agreement and undermining the World Trade Organization.

"There's been a real effort to try and find a common ground, because going forward is really in the best interest of all the members of the WTO, and particularly for India," U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker told the NDTV network.

Posted by orrinj at 4:55 PM


The road to recovery: a first-hand account of beating chronic fatigue syndrome (Alice Haine, July 31, 2014, The National)

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), also referred to as ME (myalgic encephalomyelitis), is a long-term debilitating illness dominated by fatigue, muscular and joint pain, flu-like symptoms, poor concentration and headaches. Fibromyalgia, a similar condition, causes tenderness and pain in the muscles and fibrous areas of the body, with sufferers experiencing a heightened reaction to pain because of subtle changes in the brain and nervous system. [...]

Just 10 weeks after the devastating diagnosis, however, I returned to full-time work, and today, 11 months on, I am almost fully recovered. So how did I do it?

I used a combination of treatments, but the most significant was to rewire my brain using the Dynamic Neural Retraining System (DNRS) - a Canadian programme that remaps the brain away from a constant cycle of illness and back to full health over a period of six months. When I completed the programme in April this year, I became the first person in the UAE to do so. I heard about the programme from a close friend in the United Kingdom, an ME sufferer whose health was finally improving after 20 years of illness. I had always relied on conventional medicine, but, by then, I was ready to try anything.

The programme was launched in 2009 by Annie Hopper, a counsellor and psychotherapist from Toronto, after she recovered from multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS). Using her professional experience and the latest research in neuroscience, she concluded that she was suffering from a limbic-system disorder where the brain is locked into a permanent trauma loop (or state of fight or flight), which makes it see everything around it as some form of threat.

Placebo is even more effective on fake stuff than real.

Posted by orrinj at 4:51 PM


12 Signs It's Time to Get Out of Gaza (William Saletan, 7/31/14, Salate)

2. You're killing too many civilians. Last time I checked, on a per-strike basis, Israel's rate of inflicting civilian casualties was lower than NATO's in the Kosovo war. But in just three weeks, Israel has launched so many strikes that its civilian casualty toll has eclipsed NATO's.

Even if you set aside mass-casualty incidents for which Israel has denied responsibility (sometimes with independent evidence), there are too many other cases in which its excuses don't begin to justify the death toll. On Wednesday, when the U.N. cited evidence that the Israel Defense Forces had killed 19 civilians in an artillery strike on a U.N. school, Israel said it was only shooting back at militants who had fired mortars "from the vicinity." On Thursday, an airstrike apparently injured 15 Gazans at a U.N. school during a strike on a nearby mosque (presumably targeted for housing military assets). Another 17 people died in a strike on a market on Wednesday. An Israeli military source told reporters that in two of these cases, terrorists "fired at IDF troops ... and our troops returned fire. It may be that one of our shells fell in the market." [...]

8. You're picking fights with everyone. First it was the U.N. Relief and Works Agency. Then it was the U.N. Security Council. Everyone who speaks up, no matter how carefully, about the pain Israel has inflicted in Gaza gets an insulting rebuke from Israel. As if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's face-to-face, on-camera lecture of President Obama three years ago wasn't enough, government sources have reportedly leaked to the Israeli press a cease-fire proposal from Secretary of State John Kerry and a fabricated transcript of an Obama-Netanyahu phone call, apparently in an attempt to embarrass Kerry and Obama. In the last week, Israeli columnists have derided Kerry in articles that implicitly channeled the contempt of Israeli officials. One article said that "very senior officials in Jerusalem" had called Kerry's proposal a "strategic terrorist attack." Israel's deputy transportation minister said it was as though "the United States is working in the service of Hamas."

This kind of escalation against anyone who doesn't affirm all your beliefs, including your friends, is mental illness. In foreign policy, the damage and self-destruction are that much greater. Now Kerry is wondering aloud whether he can take Netanyahu's stated support for a cease-fire "at face value," and the U.S. State Department is expressing dismay at the accusations from Israeli ingrates. The department's spokeswoman says, "It's simply not the way partners and allies treat each other." And Israel doesn't have any other genuine ally.

Posted by orrinj at 4:47 PM


Universal Basic Income: Something We Can All Agree on? (PAUL HIEBERT, July 31, 2014, Pacific Standard)

In the 1970s, the Canadian Government gave a lot of money to several families living in a small town in Manitoba. The goal of the experiment, which cost $17 million and lasted for four years, was to see if the community's overall health and well-being would benefit from many of its members receiving a guaranteed minimal annual income.

It worked, apparently. Life in that small pocket of the province improved. Researchers noted a decline in accidents, injuries, and visits to doctors and hospitals for mental health reasons--most likely due to the town's new-found financial security.

This past June, a group of academics and advocates gathered in Montreal to discuss and debate the advantages of governments providing citizens with basic income--an idea somewhat similar to what occurred in Manitoba a number of decades ago, except on a much larger scale. Presently, Switzerland is taking steps toward making this a reality. [...]

So the government sends an identical monthly check to every U.S. citizen regardless of whether they earn $100,000 or $20,000 per year?

Exactly. It goes to everybody. It's universal, unconditional, and paid individually. These are the three core tenets of basic income.

Now, the amount of a basic income is something that different advocates have different opinions about. My position is that basic income should be tied to basic needs. While people's needs differ depending on whether they are disabled or unable to earn another income, the amount should, in a broad sense, cover the essentials. In the U.S., for example, you could tie basic income to the poverty threshold, which is about $12,000 per person. It could be a bit lower or a bit higher, but that's a good ballpark figure.

Would the amount take into account that some parts of the country are more expensive to live in than others?

Basic income would need to be a federal benefit. It would need to be uniform across the United States; otherwise we might have the problem of people wanting to move to higher basic income areas.

Posted by orrinj at 4:38 PM


Israel and Palestinians Locked in Vicious Circle of War, Terror and Occupation (Reuters, July 31, 2014 )

When Israel ended its 38-year ground occupation of the Gaza Strip by withdrawing settlers in 2005, then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon hailed it as a "disengagement" from conflict with Palestinians in the densely populated coastal enclave.

But the conflict did not end, it only changed.

Israel kept expanding settlements in the West Bank where the Palestinians also seek a state. Hardline Islamists seized control of Gaza in 2007 and periodic U.S. efforts to broker a permanent peace between Israel and the Palestinian Authority under secular President Mahmoud Abbas have proved fruitless.

In the diplomatic vacuum, confrontation has festered.

Israel sealed Gaza in an economically choking blockade and the territory's ruling Hamas movement and other militant factions fired rockets with increasing frequency and range, though not accuracy, into the Jewish state.

Israel in turn has bombarded Gaza countless times from the air and sent in armored columns on occasion to ferret out and destroy rocket batteries and tunnels used to smuggle in arms from Egypt or infiltrate Israel for guerrilla ambushes.

Mediated ceasefires under which Israel pulled out forces and rocket fire abated brought periods of relative calm, only for the two sides to relapse into bouts of bloodshed.

Conflict management has won out over peacemaking.

Israel's current Gaza incursion, in which it aims to cripple the Hamas rocket and tunnel threat before Western opprobium over a soaring Palestinian civilian death toll boils over and forces it to pull back, echoes past offensives since 2007.

At least 1,390 Palestinians had been killed in three weeks, mostly civilians in packed urban areas hammered by Israeli air strikes and shelling. The scale of destruction of Palestinian housing and infrastructure is greater than in past offensives.

Israel has lost 56 soldiers and three civilians hit by cross-border rocket fire.

July 30, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:25 PM


Here's Proof That the Anti-Abortion Movement Is Winning : Anti-abortion restrictions slowed down in 2014. That's not good news. (Lane Florsheim, 7/30/14, New Republic)

Though the rate of passage for restrictive laws has slowed down this year, in certain states, this is because much of the damage has already been done. In these states, it seems, the pro-life movement is winning. Reproductive rights were one of many issues for which the 2010 midterms served as a turning point, thanks to the wave of newly elected conservative state legislators taking office around the country. "We've seen 226 abortion restrictions enacted over the past four years," Elizabeth Nash, State Issues Manager at Guttmacher, told me. "That speaks to some states enacting multiple restrictions, and perhaps the urgency in some of those states to adopt further restrictions is just not there." In other words, the pace of anti-abortion legislation has slowed down not because the movement has stalled, but because they've already got much of what they want.

Take Arizona. Arizona hasn't always been an overwhelmingly pro-life state; Janet Napolitano vetoed numerous abortion restrictions during her 2003-2009 governorship. When Jan Brewer became governor, however, a dramatic shift occurred. Between 2009 and 2012, Governor Brewer signed numerous bills into law that made several changes to abortion regulations: Partial-birth abortions were banned except when necessary to save the mother's life, notarized parental consent became a requirement for minors seeking an abortion, and women had to meet with a doctor at least 24 hours before a scheduled abortions. The state began to require women to get an ultrasound before an abortion and banned telemedicine abortions. That summary isn't even exhaustive. Though the breakneck speed at which Arizona passed abortion restrictions between 2009 and 2012 hasn't stopped entirely, it has since slowed significantly in the past year and a half. Despite setbacks like its failure to defund Planned Parenthood, the pro-life campaign in Arizona is succeeding. The state currently has seven abortion clinics, down from 19 in 2010.

Other states have followed a comparable trajectory. "We've seen something similar in that we saw states such as Oklahoma, Indiana, Kansas adopt multiple restrictions in 2011 and 2012 and have a bit of a dropoff in 2013, 2014," said Nash. Anti-choice crusaders in these states have gotten a lot of what they want.

Posted by orrinj at 7:22 PM


Gaza's Future (Max Boot, 07.30.2014, Commentary)

The "post Hamas, what?" question is one that I think is a major deterrent to the kind of action that Morris advocates, probably an even bigger deterrent than fear of casualties in clearing operations. Actually, support for the war in Israel has soared even as IDF casualties have mounted. But Israelis remember how easily they got into Lebanon in 1982 and how hard it was to get out. They don't want to repeat that experience. The U.S. invasion of Iraq provides a similar cautionary lesson; the U.S. had no firm idea who would replace Saddam Hussein and wound up getting sucked into a costly war.

Unless someone in Israel can figure out what comes after Hamas, the Israeli government will, for better or worse, leave Hamas in place after the current round of fighting.

Ultimately, America supports a democratic Palestine and Israel will have to accept one.  The war is just a delaying action.

Posted by orrinj at 7:09 PM


GOP Senator: We Could Build on Health Exchange Concept (KRISTINA PETERSON, 7/30/14, WSJ)

Exchanges where people can shop for health insurance is a "step in the right direction," Sen. Bob Corker (R., Tenn.) said Wednesday, suggesting that if Republicans retake the Senate in November, they might seek to rework rather than gut the 2010 health care law.

"There are some things I feel could be built on," Mr. Corker said at a Wall Street Journal breakfast Wednesday. While critical of the plans offered on the exchanges, a key part of the Affordable Care Act, Mr. Corker defended the basic concept underpinning the marketplaces as sound.

"Don't we really want individuals in our country to have their own health insurance?" Mr. Corker said, backing the ability of individuals to take their health insurance with them as they change jobs and "move away from being dependent on employers where people feel locked in."

The key is to default people into the HSA option and make them pay more for the others.

Posted by orrinj at 7:05 PM


Independance Day: A British perspective on Major League Soccer (JAMES RODGERS, 7/30/14, Backpage Football)

The MLS, founded in 1993 ahead of the 1994 FIFA World Cup, seems to have learnt from its predecessors mistakes and is now one of the most successful leagues in America. Despite early losses and rumours of its premature demise, the MLS gained more and more prestige and popularity. David Beckham marked the resurgence of European veterans to American football when he arrived at LA Galaxy from Real Madrid in 2007 and as more and more ex-superstars joined, the more attention was devoted to the league both nationally and worldwide. A trade was established where young, exciting hopefuls from the league, such as Clint Dempsey were sold to European heavyweights, while individuals such as Thierry Henry, Robbie Keane and Tim Cahill became Designated Players in the league.

Now, with average attendances higher than both NBA and NHL and an ESPN poll finding Baseball equally popular with 12-17 year olds, soccer's popularity is at an all-time high in the states and this has coincided with increase in quality and ability to attract top players. The MLS is starting to be recognised as a competitive, high quality league and in recent months Clint Dempsey returned to Seattle Seahawks for $6,500,000, while his Team USA compatriot Michael Bradley went back to Toronto from Serie A heavyweights AS Roma.

What is especially noteworthy about that move and also the expensive capture of Jermaine Defoe from Spurs is that they both had the capacity to continue at a so called "higher-level" as JD was still the Europa league top scorer at the time of purchase and Michael Bradley was in his prime at 26. In recent weeks both Frank Lampard and David Villa agreed to join the new franchise New York City, two individuals who have played and succeeded at the highest levels. The former Champions League winners will be able to impart priceless advice to the younger players and also attract a bigger following of the sport and the league in the city and worldwide. Furthermore, Brazilian former Ballon d'Or winner Kaka signed for another new franchise in Orlando City in an attempt to resurrect his stagnating career.

It was this talented and rapidly progressing league which formed the backbone of Jürgen Klinsmann's US team which progressed to the Round of 16 in the World Cup, with 8 out 11 starters in their 2-2 draw with Portugal being MLS players. They were one of the surprise packages of the tournament along with a lot of CONCACAF nations beating strong Portugal and Ghana to the second qualification spot before a heroic and stubborn performance against a technically superior Belgium side eventually saw their elimination. It is a youthful side which is sure to only improve under the excellent eye of their German coach.

However, what truly marks the sign of change is the fact that exciting, young players who impressed during the tournament have remained in their domestic league and not accepted any of the offers from traditionally bigger more prestigious league. For example, the combative Sporting Kansas duo Matt Besler and Graham Zusi stayed put at the current Eastern Conference Champions.

In this recent spate of mid-season friendlies, the MLS contingent have acquitted themselves well on the whole. Sounders drew 3-3 in a thriller against a club with lots of US connections in Tottenham Hotspur, while the Lilywhites' deadly rivals Arsenal were vanquished by ex-hero Thierry Henry and Ian Wright's son Bradley Wright-Phillips's New York Red Bulls 1-0. Bar Manchester United's 7-0 mauling against LA Galaxy none of the Premier League sides have completely dominated or embarrassed their opponents. This shows that the games are not only an attempt to tap into an emerging and potentially lucrative American soccer market but a strong test for managers to pit their players against and judge any areas of weakness.

What struck me personally was the fervency in some of the support over there. The average attendance is 18,000 and at some clubs such as the Seattle Sounders you could be forgiven for thinking that the club was from Premier League or Bundesliga judging from the fans. There is a 44,000 strong average crowd, which is higher than all but six Premier League teams.

Posted by orrinj at 7:00 PM


Europe Won't Admit It's Spiraling Into Deflation (Mark Gilbert, 7/29/14, Bloomberg View)

Back in March, European Central Bank Governing Council member Jens Weidmann said that the "deceleration of prices" seen in the euro region was a temporary phenomenon caused by a drop in energy and food prices. What sounded unlikely then now looks myopic, misinterpreted or disingenuous, depending on how charitable you're feeling.

Figures today show Spanish consumer prices dropped at an annual pace of 0.3 percent this month. Inflation there has been below 1 percent for a year. If the technical definition of a recession is two consecutive quarters of shrinking gross domestic product, it seems fair to suggest that a further slowdown in Spanish prices next month would put the country in deflation.

Moreover, prices are dropping even though growth figures also released today show the economy expanded by 0.6 percent in the second quarter, beating the 0.5 percent anticipated by the Spanish central bank. All of which bodes badly for the ECB's efforts to avert deflation in the euro area.

Posted by orrinj at 6:56 PM


From Prune Packers to pro ball (JANIE McCAULEY, 7/29/14, AP)

In one of their craziest scouting experiences, the Minnesota Twins have reached a deal with a 24-year-old pitching prospect who has thrown 100 mile per hour fastballs but has never been drafted.

Brandon Poulson was pitching earlier this month for the Healdsburg Prune Packers in a collegiate summer league. His manager was Joey Gomes, the brother of big leaguer Jonny Gomes.

Now, the Twins are about to give him $250,000.

"It's a great story," Twins West Coast scouting supervisor Sean Johnson said Tuesday. "This kid came out of nowhere."

Posted by orrinj at 6:53 PM


Chevy Volt is insurance group's Top Safety Pick (Patrick M. Sheridan, July 30, 2014, CNNMoney)

What's the safest car on the road? It's the one that can avoid getting into a crash all together.

That's why General Motors' (GM) Chevy Volt won top marks for safety in small cars.

The Volt was named "Top Safety Pick Plus" Wednesday by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, because besides earning an "acceptable" rating in an actual crash test, the hybrid electric vehicle also has an optional forward collision warning system. It was the only car out of the 12 models tested to have the crash prevention technology.

Posted by orrinj at 4:33 PM


Break up the states! The case for the United Statelets of America : Here's how Wyoming, Vermont and North Dakota are exercising tyranny over the rest of us -- and how to stop them (MICHAEL LIND, 7/29/14, Salon)

A ballot initiative that would support breaking California into six smaller and more coherent states is being backed by Timothy Draper, a tech investor.  It's a great idea.  But why stop with California?  Breaking up all of the too-large states would increase both the accountability and efficiency of the U.S. government.

America's state governments are too big to be democratic and too small to be efficient.  Given an adequate tax base, public services like public schools and hospitals, utilities and first responders are best carried out by cities and counties.  Most infrastructure is either local or regional or national.  Civil rights, including workers' rights, should be handled at the federal level, to eliminate local pockets of tyranny and exploitation.  Social insurance systems are most efficient and equitable when they are purely national, like Social Security and Medicare, and inefficient and inequitable when they are clumsily divided among the federal government and the states, like unemployment insurance, Medicaid and Obamacare.

So what are state governments particularly good at?  Nothing, really.  They interfere in local government, cripple the federal government, shake down lobbyists and waste taxpayer money.

Few if any state borders correspond to the boundaries of actual social communities with a sense of shared identity.  A look at county-level voting maps shows that, in terms of politics, rural Americans everywhere generally have more in common with their fellow hinterlanders than with their urban fellow citizens in their own states -- and vice versa.  Arbitrary state boundaries merely insure that state legislatures will be the scenes of endless battles between country mice and city mice, resulting in stalemates that don't serve the interests or reflect the values of either mouse species.

July 29, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 8:08 PM


Far-right Israelis celebrate Gaza kids' deaths (STUART WINER July 29, 2014, Times of Israel)

Video has emerged of far-right Israeli protesters celebrating the death of children in Gaza during a counter-demonstration to an anti-war rally in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square over the weekend.

"There is no school tomorrow; there are no children left in Gaza," the men can be seen chanting as part of a roughly formed song that also included the stanzas "I hate all the Arabs" and "Gaza is a cemetery."

The mob also called for Israeli Arabs to be stripped of their citizenship.

One of the ways we supporters of Israel like to differentiate it from Palestine is by saying that they are the sort of people who celebrate the deaths of children.

Posted by orrinj at 8:04 PM


Why Leisure is the Remedy for Sloth (DUSTY GATES, 7/29/14, Crisis)

Leisure is the remedy for sloth. Leisure is, perhaps paradoxically, the antithesis of both sloth and labor. A leisurely person is the opposite of a lazy one, and is also the opposite of a work addict. To be leisurely is to freely choose to engage in efforts dedicated not to the pursuit of financial compensation (which is the goal of servile labor), but to pursue the more lofty goals of life which truly benefit those engaged in them and the cultures in which they live. Louis Kelso and Mortimer Adler described this type of activity in The Capitalist Manifesto (1958) when they wrote that "leisure, properly conceived as the main content of a free, as opposed to a servile, life, consists in activities which are neither toil nor play, but are rather the expressions of moral and intellectual virtue--the things a good man does because they are intrinsically good for him and for his society, making him better as a man and advancing the civilization in which he lives."

The pursuit of leisure has been esteemed by philosophers throughout the ages as something praiseworthy, precisely because it is not, to them, the same thing as merely doing nothing. According to Kelso and Adler, "leisure is misconceived as idleness, vacationing (which involves vacancy), play, recreation, relaxation, diversion, amusement, and so on. If leisure were that, it would never have been regarded by anyone except a child or a childish adult as something morally better than socially useful work." In other words, if we are just going to waste our free time, we would be better off working.

By restoring leisure, we restore mankind to his proper place before God as recipient and steward of his good gifts, to be cultivators and co-creators with him. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:59 PM


The weird obsession that's ruining the GOP (James Pethokoukis | July 23, 2014, The Week)

[T]he inflation alarmism driving them is taking a weird turn. Some Republicans and conservatives now argue that Washington is figuring inflation all wrong, maybe even intentionally. Better, they say, to trust independent outside sources such as the website ShadowStats, which "exposes and analyzes flaws" in government economic data. According to one set of ShadowStats calculations, the true inflation rate is nearly 10 percent today. The inflation truth is out there.

In a recent National Review Online article, conservative author Amity Shlaes approvingly cites ShadowStats as supporting her thesis that "inflation is higher than what the official data suggest." Others fans include conservative intellectual Niall Ferguson, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), and a good chunk of the conservative blogosphere.

ShadowStats' popularity on the right is crazy -- because the site's methodology has been roundly ridiculed by both economists and business journalists. Critics also note that the subscription price for the ShadowStats newsletter has remained unchanged for years. Inflation for thee, but not for me. Beyond that, MIT's Billion Price Project, which tracks prices from online retailers every day, puts U.S. inflation at just over 2 percent. And consider this: If inflation were really 10 percent, that would mean the real economy, adjusted for inflation, has been sharply shrinking -- yet somehow still adding 2 million net new jobs a year.

If GOP inflationistas had their way, the weak U.S. recovery would almost surely be even weaker. Just look at Europe. Unlike the Fed, the inflation-phobic European Central Bank sat on its hands despite weak growth. The result has been an unemployment rate nearly twice America's and a nasty double-dip recession. Of course, inflation is lower than in America -- so low, in fact, that the region risks a dangerous deflationary spiral of falling prices and falling wages.

July 28, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 8:03 PM


De Blasio: Broken Windows Policing Is Here To Stay (Christopher Robbins, Jul 28, 2014, Gothamist)

Eric Garner died in police custody in part because for several decades the NYPD has doggedly enforced smaller, seemingly innocuous "quality-of-life" crimes. According to Mayor de Blasio and Police Commissioner Bratton, the NYPD will continue to strictly enforce laws against loosie peddlers and subway dancers. "I can understand why any New Yorker may say, that's not such a big deal," de Blasio said. "But a violation of the law is a violation of the law." [...]

Left unsaid was the fact that the high number of minor marijuana arrests under Mayor Bloomberg's tenure have not budged since de Blasio took office.

Posted by orrinj at 6:45 PM


Israeli concerns about Turkey and Qatar fuel dispute with Kerry (Ron Kampeas, July 28, 2014, JTA)

Behind the feud between John Kerry and Israel over the secretary of state's efforts to broker a Gaza cease-fire is a larger tension concerning the role of Turkey and Qatar in Palestinian affairs.

Israeli officials rejected the proposal for a cease-fire advanced by Kerry in part because of what they see as the outsize influence on his diplomatic efforts of these two regional powers with agendas increasingly seen as inimical to Israeli interests. While both countries are traditional U.S. allies, they are also supportive of Hamas.

Posted by orrinj at 6:14 PM


The Non-Eclipse of America (Norton A. Schwartz and John K. Hurley, JUL 28, 2014, Project Syndicate)

Perhaps the best indication of America's enduring stature is the dollar's dominance in international financial transactions. Last year's Foreign Direct Investment Confidence Index, based on a survey of more than 300 executives from 28 countries, showed that, for the first time since the Iraq War began in 2003, foreign investors view the US as the world's most attractive destination for future investment.

The ability to project power internationally begins at home. And, despite its historically slow economic recovery, there is plenty of reason for optimism in the US.

According to the US Federal Reserve Board, the index of industrial production, which had declined by 17% during the recession, returned to its pre-crisis peak in the fourth quarter of last year. The US has also made some progress in "on-shoring" manufacturing activities, and the energy sector is booming, owing to a sharp increase in natural-gas production.

Moreover, new discoveries in life sciences, particularly biotechnology, are nearing commercial breakout. Reforms in primary education, especially at the state and local levels, have bolstered test scores. And American institutions of higher education, though often prohibitively expensive, consistently rank among the best in the world. [...]

According to the International Monetary Fund, the recent recession is the first in the US since the early 1980s to be followed by a significant recovery in the GDP share of value-added manufacturing. The report cites factors like a weaker dollar relative to emerging-market currencies, a narrowing gap between labor costs in the US and emerging economies, and a significant reduction in domestic energy prices.

Posted by orrinj at 6:06 PM


Hillary Clinton tacks right: praises Bush, criticizes Obama, cozies up to Wall Street (Bonnie Kristian, 7/28/14, The Week)

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, an expected contender in the 2016 presidential election, has positioned herself to appeal to more moderate or even neoconservative audiences in recent days. Speaking to CNN on Sunday, she praised President George W. Bush's AIDS relief programs in Sub-Saharan Africa, saying his initiatives there make her "proud to be an American."

In the same interview, Clinton distanced herself from President Obama's foreign policy, suggesting that he has not made it clear how D.C. "intend[s] to lead and manage" international affairs. Clinton advocated a more interventionist approach, arguing that, "We have to go back out and sell ourselves" as guarantors of worldwide stability. Currently, the U.S. military has as many as 900 bases worldwide, and has ground troops or drones active in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and Yemen.

Meanwhile, despite objections from supporters within her own party, Clinton has repeatedly spoken to audiences at large Wall Street banks like Goldman Sachs and Ameriprise Financial.

If she ran as a doppleganger of her husband and the GOP nominated a Paul, she'd get 60%.

Posted by orrinj at 5:59 PM


Kurds hope for a brighter future (Deutsche Welle, 7/28/14)
Billed as "Irbil's newest jewel that glitters under one of the region's largest glass domes," the Family Mall is a Western-style shopping arcade a few miles from the Kurdistan regional capital's city center. Opened in 2010, it's now home to an amusement park, a vast new cinema complex and over 100 different stores, including international brands such as Carrefour, Mango, and DKNY.

In short, wandering through the neon-lit halls, you could be at any mall anywhere in the world.

And while that might disappoint foreign visitors hoping for a taste of Middle Eastern culture, for many locals the mall symbolizes Kurdistan's rapidly developing economy and the success of its first decade as a fully autonomous region within an increasingly unstable and fragmented Iraq.

Kurdistan's economic boom also provides the ground for the regional government's recent announcement that it plans to seek full independence from Baghdad and set itself up as its own nation state, says Mewan Dolamari, a 21-year-old student at the University of Kurdistan-Hewler.

Posted by orrinj at 5:49 PM


My party has lost its soul: Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and the victory of Wall Street Democrats (BILL CURRY, 7/27/14, Salon)

In 1985 moderate Democrats including Bill Clinton and Al Gore founded the Democratic Leadership Council, which proposed innovative policies while forging ever closer ties to business. Clinton would be the first Democratic presidential nominee since FDR and probably ever to raise more money than his Republican opponent. (Even Barry Goldwater outraised Lyndon Johnson.) In 2008 Obama took the torch passed to Clinton and became the first Democratic nominee to outraise a GOP opponent on Wall Street. His 2-to-1 spending advantage over John McCain broke a record Richard Nixon set in his drubbing of George McGovern.

Throughout the 1980s Nader watched as erstwhile Democratic allies vanished or fell into the welcoming arms of big business.  By the mid-'90s the whole country was in a swoon over the new baby-faced titans of technology and global capital. If leading Democrats thought technology threatened anyone's privacy or employment or that globalization threatened anyone's wages, they kept it to themselves.  In his contempt for oligarchs of any vintage and rejection of the economic and political democratization myths of the new technology Nader seemed an anachronism.

His critics would later say Nader was desperate for attention. For certain he was desperate to reengage the nation in a debate over the concentration of wealth and power; desperate enough by 1992 to run for president. His first race was a sort of novelty campaign -- he ran in New Hampshire's Democratic and Republican primaries "as a stand in for none of the above." But the experience proved habit-forming and he got more serious as he went along. In 1996 and 2000 he ran as the nominee of the Green Party and in 2004 and 2008 as an independent.

The campaigns defined him for a new generation, but he never stopped writing. His latest book, "Unstoppable," argues for the existence and utility of an "emerging left-right alliance to dismantle the corporate state." The book is vintage Nader and ranks with his best. The questions it poses should greatly interest progressives. The question is, will any read it.

It's a question because on top of all the hurdles facing even celebrity authors today, Nader is estranged from much of his natural readership. It goes back, of course, to his third race for president, the one that gave us George W. Bush, John Roberts, Sam Alito, the Iraq War and a colossal debt. Democrats blame Nader for all of it. Some say he not only cost Al Gore the 2000 election but did it on purpose. Nader denies both charges. Both are more debatable than either he or his critics allow.

In 1996 I served as counselor to President Clinton and met often with Nader to discuss that campaign. Early on he told me he wouldn't be a spoiler. Judging by his message and schedule and the deployment of his meager resources, he was true to his word. In 2000 his allocation of resources was little changed: He spent 20 days in deep blue California, two in Florida; hardly a spoiler's itinerary. But he was in Florida at the end and his equation throughout of Gore with Bush -- "Tweedledum and Tweedledee" -- outraged Democrats.

The Democrats' dismissal of Nader in 2000 was of a piece with our personality-driven politics: a curmudgeon on steroids; older now and grumpier; driven by ego and personal grievance. But Nader always hit hard; you don't get to be the world's most famous shopper by making allowances or pulling punches. The difference was that in 2000 Democrats as well as Republicans bore the brunt of his attacks. What had changed? It says a lot about the Democratic Party then and now that nobody bothered to ask the question, the answer to which is, a whole lot.

Between 1996 and 2000 the Wall Street Democrats who by then ruled the party's upper roosts scored their first big legislative wins. Until then their impact was most visible in the quietude of Congress, which had not enacted any major social or economic reforms since the historic environmental laws of the early '70s. It was the longest such stretch since the 19th century, but no one seemed to notice.

In the late '70s, deregulation fever swept the nation. Carter deregulated trucks and airlines; Reagan broke up Ma Bell, ending real oversight of phone companies. But those forays paled next to the assaults of the late '90s. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 had solid Democratic backing as did the Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999. The communications bill authorized a massive giveaway of public airwaves to big business and ended the ban on cross ownership of media. The resultant concentration of ownership hastened the rise of hate radio and demise of local news and public affairs programming across America. As for the "modernization" of financial services, suffice to say its effect proved even more devastating. Clinton signed and still defends both bills with seeming enthusiasm.

The Telecommunications Act subverted anti-trust principles traceable to Wilson. The financial services bill gutted Glass-Steagall, FDR's historic banking reform. You'd think such reversals would spark intra-party debate but Democrats made barely a peep. Nader was a vocal critic of both bills. Democrats, he said, were betraying their heritage and, not incidentally, undoing his life's work. No one wanted to hear it. When Democrats noticed him again in 2000 the only question they thought to ask was, what's got into Ralph? Such is politics in the land of the lotus eaters.

The furor over Nader arose partly because issues of economic and political power had, like Nader himself, grown invisible to Democrats. As Democrats continued on the path that led from Coehlo to Clinton to Obama, issues attendant to race, culture and gender came to define them. Had they nominated a pro-lifer in 2000 and Gloria Steinem run as an independent it's easy to imagine many who berated Nader supporting her. Postmortems would have cited the party's abandonment of principle as a reason for its defeat. But Democrats hooked on corporate cash and consultants with long lists of corporate clients were less attuned to Nader's issues.

Democrats today defend the triage liberalism of social service spending but limit their populism to hollow phrase mongering (fighting for working families, Main Street not Wall Street). The rank and file seem oblivious to the party's long Wall Street tryst. Obama's economic appointees are the most conservative of any Democratic president since Grover Cleveland but few Democrats seem to notice, or if they notice, to care.

Even the former parties of the Left in the Anglosphere noticed the End of History.
Posted by orrinj at 5:40 PM


Why Is Israel Losing a War It's Winning? (JEFFREY GOLDBERG, JUL 27 2014, The Atlantic)

Things change, of course--the only constant in the Middle East is sudden and dramatic change--but as I write it seems as if Israel is losing the war in Gaza, even as it wins the battle against Hamas's rocket arsenal, and even as it destroys the tunnels meant to convey terrorists underground to Israel (and to carry Israeli hostages back to Gaza). 

This is not the first time Israel has found itself losing on the battlefield of perception. Why is it happening again? Here are six possible reasons:

1. In a fight between a state actor and a non-state actor, the non-state actor can win merely by surviving. The party with tanks and planes is expected to win; the non-state group merely has to stay alive in order to declare victory. In a completely decontextualized, emotion-driven environment, Hamas can portray itself as the besieged upstart, even when it is the party that rejects ceasefires, and in particular because it is skilled at preventing journalists from documenting the activities of its armed wing. (I am differentiating here between Hamas's leadership and Gaza's civilians, who are genuinely besieged, from all directions.)

2. Hamas's strategy is to bait Israel into killing Palestinian civilians, and Israel usually takes the bait. This time, because of the cautious nature of its prime minister, Israel waited longer than usual before succumbing to the temptation of bait-taking, but it took it all the same.

People will accept civilians casualties if your war aim warrants them--like intentionally fire-bombing German and Japanese civilians to end World War II.

Israel's problem is that it is killing civilians in a war that is only about tunnels. Moreover, if Israel continues the occupation the tunnels will be rebuilt.  If Israel ends the occupation and recognizes the democratically elected government of a nation of Palestine, it will open the borders and obviate the need for tunnels.  It's a Helleresque exercise.

The Gaza Trap (Shlomo Ben-Ami, JUL 28, 2014, Project Syndicate)

The superior power in an asymmetrical conflict always has a problem defining its objectives. In this case, Israel aspires to achieve "quiet" with few enough Palestinian civilian casualties to minimize international criticism. But the failure to achieve this goal is precisely where the superior power is defeated in asymmetrical conflicts. Moreover, "quiet" is not a strategic goal; nor is Israel's way of pursuing it - a war every two or three years - particularly convincing.

The real question is this: Assuming that Israel gets the quiet that it wants, what does it intend to do with Gaza in the future? And what does it intend to do with the Palestinian problem of which Gaza is an integral part?

The question of Palestine is at the root of the asymmetrical wars that Israel has been facing in recent years, not only against Hamas, Qatar's Palestinian client, but also against Hezbollah, Iran's proxy in the region. These wars are creating a new kind of threat to Israel, for they add to the conflicts' strictly military dimension the domains of diplomacy, regional politics, legitimacy, and international law, in which Israel does not have the upper hand.

As a result, in asymmetrical conflicts, Israel finds its military superiority vitiated. These are political battles that cannot be won by military means. The asymmetry between the nature of the threats and Israel's response ends up putting the superior military power in a position of strategic inferiority. The spread of violence to the West Bank - and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's support of Hamas's objectives - means that Israel cannot avoid the conflict's political consequences. Hamas, a neglected opponent of Abbas's diplomatic strategy, is gradually becoming the avant-garde of Palestine's struggle for liberation.

Contrary to what Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu believes, the main existential threat facing the country is not a nuclear-armed Iran. The real peril is to be found at home: the corrosive effect of the Palestinian problem on Israel's international standing. The devastation caused by Israel's periodic asymmetrical confrontations, combined with the continuing occupation of Palestinian lands and the ever-growing expansion of settlements, has fueled a growing campaign to undermine Israel's legitimacy.

Posted by orrinj at 5:37 PM


Ground Zero cross can stay at 9/11 museum, appeals court rules (Sarah Pulliam Bailey, July 28, 2014, RNS)

A cross-shaped beam from the wreckage of the World Trade Center can remain on display in the National Sept. 11 Memorial and Museum at Ground Zero, a three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled, dismissing a lawsuit brought by atheists.

American Atheists filed a federal suit in 2012 claiming the 17-foot display at the museum built with a mix of public and private funds was unconstitutional. The group said its members suffered from both physical and emotional damages from the presence of the beamed cross, resulting in headaches, indigestion and mental pain.

Posted by orrinj at 5:23 PM


Only Blue States Need Apply : Courts could allow a system in which Obamacare only exists in part of the country. (Eric Schnurer, July 28, 2014, US News)

When the law was enacted, it was anticipated that all states would create such exchanges. After all, why wouldn't they? These were a cornerstone of the act, and, unlike the mandate and Medicaid expansion, quite uncontroversial. In fact, when Democrats like to point to the core of Obamacare being based on a conservative think tank's idea that Mitt Romney then implemented in Massachusetts, this is what they're talking about. Rather than setting up government-run or government-provided health insurance, such a system creates a free market of private providers, competing against each other, with the government providing merely the "marketplace" (here virtual) and standards for the competition, as governments have done in creating markets across the world for most of recorded history.

But a funny thing happened on the way to making health insurance affordable for every American: Republicans decided to offer massive resistance to any and every provision of Obamacare, including those that were, essentially, Republican. These exchanges, unlike the employer and individual mandates that became the catalyst for a libertarian resurgence, involve voluntary participation. And unlike the Medicaid expansion, they are aimed not at near-poor Americans but the middle class. In fact, everyone, even the wealthiest, can use the exchanges to shop for the best deal on insurance, although the most likely users are those forced into the individual market because their employers don't offer group plans. Voluntary, market-based, competition-enhancing, purely private, middle-class-oriented, Republican-designed - what's not to like? Well, basically, that they're part of Obamacare.

About one-third of states - largely those under Democratic control, in the Northeast or along the West Coast - elected to set up such exchanges, and another half-dozen (not coincidentally, the group next-most-likely to go Democratic in a presidential election) worked with the feds in doing so. But half the country - you can guess which half - refused to participate in construction of an exchange at all. The effect under the law was to leave this task to the federal government.

Most of the refusenik states also have rejected Obamacare's expansion of Medicaid to cover the near-poor rather than just the dire poor. Under the law as enacted, this was not an option: Medicaid expansion was mandatory, unless a state didn't want to take any Medicaid dollars (which all do). But the U.S. Supreme Court, in upholding Obamacare two summers ago, rewrote it (you know, what Speaker John Boehner now wants the Supreme Court to declare unconstitutional when Obama does it) to allow states to opt out of that, too. Near-poor in these states now can't get Medicaid coverage, but they also aren't eligible for the subsidies to make insurance affordable through the exchanges because Congress intended them to get Medicaid, not exchange-based, coverage, making them too poor for a government handout.

Small consolation to the citizenry, but letting these states keep their people poorer than the rest of us is federalism at its purest. Not that they will, States Try to Protect Health Exchanges From Court Ruling ( LOUISE RADNOFSKY
July 25, 2014, WSJ)

A number of states are scrambling to show that they--not the federal government--are or will soon be operating their insurance exchanges under the 2010 health law, in light of two court decisions this week.

The efforts are aimed at ensuring that millions of consumers who get insurance through the exchanges would be able to retain their federal tax credits if courts ultimately rule against the Obama administration. [...]
Among the 36 states, the level of federal involvement varies. That means states see gray areas to work with, if they want to, though the ultimate decision about their status would likely hinge on additional court decisions and determinations by the Obama administration.

For example, two states, Idaho and New Mexico, had intended to set up their own exchanges but turned to the federal government to handle their technology in May 2013. The Obama administration has described them as "federally supported state-based" exchanges and often issues data on their behalf, in which it groups them with the other 34 states with "federally facilitated" exchanges.

Two other states, Nevada and Oregon, are currently considered to be among the 14 "state-based" exchanges, but have had technological problems and are now looking to the U.S. to operate their technology for the coming year.

Idaho, Nevada and Oregon have issued statements in recent days saying they are state-based exchanges, regardless of who operates their technology. New Mexico didn't respond to inquiries.

July 27, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 PM


Gas price equivalent for electricity? 75 cents. (Antony Ingram,  JULY 27, 2014, CS Monitor)

The last time you could buy a gallon of gasoline in the US for 75 cents was around the late 1970s.

If you own an electric car today though, the price you're paying for electricity is equivalent to about 75 cents per gallon.

Posted by orrinj at 3:35 PM


Hamas will restart tunneling as soon as we leave, IDF officer says (Mitch Ginsburg, 7/27/14, The Times of Israel)

"We won't find all of them," said Col. (res) Atai Shelach, former commander of the elite Yahalom unit that tackles the tunnels, "and the moment we leave they will start digging again."

Posted by orrinj at 11:45 AM


Explaining Online Panels and the 2014 Midterms (Nate Cohn, 7/27/14, NY Times)

On Sunday, the research firm YouGov, in partnership with The New York Times and CBS News, released the first wave of results from an online panel of more than 100,000 respondents nationwide, which asked them their preferences in coming elections. The results offer a trove of nonpartisan data and show a broad and competitive playing field heading into the final few months of the campaign.

The Republicans appear to hold a slight advantage in the fight for the Senate and remain in a dominant position in the House. They need to pick up six seats to gain Senate control, and they hold a clear advantage in races in three states: South Dakota, Montana and West Virginia. The data from YouGov, an opinion-research firm that enjoyed success in 2012, finds the G.O.P. with a nominal lead in five additional states.

Posted by orrinj at 11:26 AM


Billion-Dollar Billy Beane (BENJAMIN MORRIS, 7/24/14, 538)

Beane has been a godsend to the frugal A's, enabling them to achieve top-tier performance at bottom-tier prices. For this, the A's have paid him fairly modestly4 -- but since we don't know how much winning is worth to the A's organization, it's hard to say exactly how much Beane has been worth to them.

For a team like the Red Sox, however, the picture is much more clear. Over the last 15 years, they've happily spent over $2 billion dollars in the pursuit of wins -- and because they're one of baseball's most successful franchises, no one in Beantown is complaining.

From a strictly economic perspective, not offering Beane however much money it took to get him may have been one of the Red Sox's poorest decisions since letting Babe Ruth go to the Yankees for next to nothing. And I mean that literally: Over the past 15 years, Billy Beane has been nothing less than the Babe Ruth of baseball GMs. The Red Sox offered Beane $2.5 million per year,5 but even $25 million would have been a bargain.

Finding Beane's potential dollar value to the Red Sox is relatively simple: It's the amount the team spent under general managers Theo Epstein and Ben Cherington, minus the amount it would have had to spend for the same performance with Beane as GM.6

To show this, we first we need to figure out just how many A's wins Beane has been responsible for, and how much those wins would cost on the open market.

Posted by orrinj at 11:20 AM


Up From Greenwich : The New Republican Populism (Ross Douthat, JULY 26, 2014, NY Times)

[I]f the G.O.P. fully embraces the ideas its younger-generation leaders are pursuing, the Democrats could suddenly find themselves in a difficult spot. Liberals can theoretically outbid a limited-government populism, yes -- but given the fiscal picture, they would need to raise taxes significantly to do so, alienating their own donors, the middle class or both. And the immediate liberal critique of Ryan's new plan -- that it's too paternalistic, too focused on pushing welfare recipients to work -- harkened back to debates that the Democratic Party used to lose.

Democrats can't outbid a Third Way Republican Party without offering Third Way solutions themselves, so we all win.

Posted by orrinj at 9:18 AM


Leaked document confirms US ceasefire bid generous to Hamas (Raphael Ahren, 7/27/14, The Times of Israel)

A "confidential draft" of the American ceasefire proposal leaked to the press appears to confirm what The Times of Israel reported Friday -- that Washington was willing to generously accede to many of Hamas's demands, while all but ignoring Israel's security requirements.

The published text of the proposal, obtained by Haaretz, also shows that Qatar and Turkey - Hamas's main sponsors in the region -- were given prominent roles in the mediation, while the Palestinian Authority and Egypt were entirely marginalized. [...]

According to the text, "the Palestinian factions" and the State of Israel would make three commitments: [...]

c) Convene in Cairo, at the invitation of Egypt, within 48 hours to negotiate resolution of all issues necessary to achieve a sustainable cease-fire and enduring solution to the crisis in Gaza, including arrangements to secure the opening of crossings, allow the entry of goods and people and ensure the social and economic livelihood of the Palestinian people living in Gaza, transfer funds to Gaza for the payment of salaries for public employees, and address all security issues.

All Israel has done is delay (c).

July 26, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 11:09 AM


Tylenol and Panadol Prove No Better Than Placebo at Helping Back Pain (Eliana Dockterman, July 24, 2014, TIME)

A study published this week in a medical journal called The Lancet split 1,643 people with acute low-back pain into three groups, each given two boxes. One group received two boxes of 500-miligram acetaminophen tablets, with instructions to use the second box "as needed'; the second group got a box of acetaminophen and an as-needed box of placebos; and the third group received two boxes of placebos. Researchers told the participants to take six tablets per day from the regular box and up to two from the as-needed box.

Over the course of three months, the researchers found no difference among the three groups.

...is this a reflection of the ineffectiveness of the drug or the effectiveness of placebo?

Posted by orrinj at 11:03 AM


The most conservative way to fight poverty is to send everyone a government check (Max Ehrenfreund, July 25, 2014, Washington Post)

But wouldn't it be even more amenable to conservative principles to eliminate government interference altogether, whether federal or state? Couldn't Uncle Sam simply write checks directly to everyone? After all, aren't we the people best equipped to make decisions about how to use our money?

These are arguments for what's known as a universal basic income -- a check that everyone, regardless of income, would receive from the federal government on a regular basis. Economist Milton Friedman, a pioneer of contemporary conservatism, was probably the best-known proponent of the idea, which has recently been implemented with good results so far in Brazil. Instead of filtering through layers of bureaucracy and charitable groups, the money goes directly to the people who have the most reason to use it well, because it's theirs.

The as yet unexamined danger of bigger government spending is that it will make people too independent.
Posted by orrinj at 10:58 AM


Overstated : Maybe we're not so pressed for time after all. (LAURA VANDERKAM, 25 July 2014, City Journal)

Ask anyone how she's doing these days, and she'll probably answer, "Busy!" If she also happens to be a working mother of young children, she might describe life as "scattered, fragmented, and exhausting." That's how Brigid Schulte characterizes existence in her new book, Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time. A Washington Post reporter and mother of two, she juggles deadlines while trying to be "the kind of involved mother who brings the Thanksgiving turkey for the preschool feast and puts together the fifth-grade slide show." Many of Schulte's friends inhabit this same frenzied zone.

John Robinson, an eminent sociologist who has studied time use for decades, tells Schulte that women are fooling themselves. He finds that they have at least 30 hours of leisure time per week--less than men, but still a lot. "I felt like I'd been clonged on the head with a frying pan," Schulte writes. She insists that she has no such time. Robinson has her keep a time diary for a week. She finds that she can't describe her time in the little cells of his spreadsheet, and she writes stream-of-consciousness entries like this one: "2 am - 4 am try to breathe. Discover that panic comes in the center of the chest--often in one searing spot. Fear in the belly. Dread just below that." Robinson discovers that she does have down time; she just doesn't seem to enjoy it.

Posted by orrinj at 10:40 AM


Why nobody but the US voted against the UN's anti-Israel resolution (RAPHAEL AHREN, July 24, 2014, Times of Israel)

On Wednesday, the United Nations Human Rights Council voted on a heavily one-sided resolution condemning "in the strongest terms the widespread, systematic and gross violations of international human rights and fundamental freedoms arising from the Israeli military operations" in Gaza. The Geneva-based council, which has a long history of anti-Israel bias, also declared a new "international commission of inquiry" into the events currently unfolding in Israel and Gaza, in what observers are calling a new Goldstone report.

Only the United States voted against the resolution. Twenty-nine nations voted in favor, among them not only the usual suspects such as Saudi Arabia, Algeria and South Africa, but also some ostensible friends of Israel, including Russia, Kenya, India and Mexico.

Equally hurtful for Israel, if not more so, were the abstentions of the eight European Union member states who had the right to vote: Austria, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Romania and the United Kingdom. (Montenegro and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia are not EU members but also abstained; non-member states Iceland, Serbia, Albania and Liechtenstein aligned themselves with the EU position.)

Yes, even the Czech Republic, which in November 2012 was the only EU country to oppose granting the Palestinians nonmember state status at the UN, did not vote against a resolution that denounces Israel for "disproportionate and indiscriminate attacks, including aerial bombardment of civilian areas, the targeting of civilians and civilian properties in collective punishment contrary to international law, and other actions, including the targeting of medical and humanitarian personnel, that may amount to international crimes." The resolution does not mention Hamas once.

For Israel, the vote was another heavy slap in the face. 

While Hamas celebrates, Israel focuses on its security (DAVID HOROVITZ, July 26, 2014, Times of Israel)

Hamas managed to get three-quarters of the international airlines that routinely fly in and out of Israel to temporarily stop using Ben-Gurion Airport, thanks to the pusillanimous lead of the authorities in the United States. Israel's security arrangements for flights leaving and entering are rigorous, yet the fact that a single one of those 2,000 rockets found its target near Tel Aviv, constituting no threat to incoming or outgoing flights, was enough to spark a dismal international capitulation to terrorism.

Entirely unsurprisingly, Hamas is managing to further blacken Israel's name wherever this conflict is depicted in terms that are the opposite of reality, which is most everywhere. Israel is under attack by the terrorist government of the state next door, which is openly committed to destroying it, in accordance with a perverted Islamist ideology, in partnership with Iran, Qatar, Hezbollah and the rest of this region's most pernicious governments and terrorist organizations. Year after year, Hamas improves its capacity to do Israel harm, while Israel does its best to minimize that capacity. No attacks on Israel or preparation for attacks on Israel? No suffering in Gaza. It really is as simple as that.

Doubtless, it has often been said, Israel would gain more sympathy internationally if only more Israelis were dying. Well, more Israelis are dying now -- except that since they're the soldiers of the side widely misrepresented as the aggressor, even that works to Hamas's advantage. Gaza's terrorist government does its best to kill Israeli civilians. It's managing to kill Israeli soldiers, drawing them into the residential areas where it's thus also getting Gaza civilians killed. Israel's even treating in its hospitals injured terrorists it captures emerging from the Hamas tunnels. And still, through every twist and turn of this conflict, the international presumption of blame is on Israel. The dangers to Israel are minimalized. The rocket attacks are dismissed as inconsequential (except, as mentioned, when they necessitate the abandonment of Ben-Gurion Airport) and the cross-border attack tunnels often aren't even being reported at all. Through the manipulation of the willingly manipulated, it's all Israel's fault. Wonderful news for the Islamists.

How the West Chose War in Gaza : Gaza and Israel: The Road to War, Paved by the West (NATHAN THRALL, JULY 17, 2014, NY Times)

Despite having won the last elections, in 2006, Hamas decided to transfer formal authority to the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah. That decision led to a reconciliation agreement between Hamas and the Palestine Liberation Organization, on terms set almost entirely by the P.L.O. chairman and Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas.

Israel immediately sought to undermine the reconciliation agreement by preventing Hamas leaders and Gaza residents from obtaining the two most essential benefits of the deal: the payment of salaries to 43,000 civil servants who worked for the Hamas government and continue to administer Gaza under the new one, and the easing of the suffocating border closures imposed by Israel and Egypt that bar most Gazans' passage to the outside world.

Yet, in many ways, the reconciliation government could have served Israel's interests. It offered Hamas's political adversaries a foothold in Gaza; it was formed without a single Hamas member; it retained the same Ramallah-based prime minister, deputy prime ministers, finance minister and foreign minister; and, most important, it pledged to comply with the three conditions for Western aid long demanded by America and its European allies: nonviolence, adherence to past agreements and recognition of Israel.

Israel strongly opposed American recognition of the new government, however, and sought to isolate it internationally, seeing any small step toward Palestinian unity as a threat. Israel's security establishment objects to the strengthening of West Bank-Gaza ties, lest Hamas raise its head in the West Bank. And Israelis who oppose a two-state solution understand that a unified Palestinian leadership is a prerequisite for any lasting peace.

Still, despite its opposition to the reconciliation agreement, Israel continued to transfer the tax revenues it collects on the Palestinian Authority's behalf, and to work closely with the new government, especially on security cooperation.

But the key issues of paying Gaza's civil servants and opening the border with Egypt were left to fester. The new government's ostensible supporters, especially the United States and Europe, could have pushed Egypt to ease border restrictions, thereby demonstrating to Gazans that Hamas rule had been the cause of their isolation and impoverishment. But they did not.

Instead, after Hamas transferred authority to a government of pro-Western technocrats, life in Gaza became worse.

Only Ariel Sharon could have saved Israel.

Posted by orrinj at 7:28 AM


The most important battle you've probably never heard of (Hugh Schofield, 7/25/14, BBC News)

"Bouvines is the most important battle in English history that no-one has ever heard of," says John France, professor emeritus in medieval history at Swansea University.

"Without Bouvines there is no Magna Carta, and all the British and American law that stems from that. It's a muddy field, the armies are small, but everything depends on the struggle. It's one of the climactic moments of European history." [...]
King John was not at the battle. He was still in the south. But his dreams of reconquest were dashed. He returned to England, humiliated and impoverished. Less than a year later - his barons increasingly belligerent and the French now revealing their own designs on the English crown - he was forced to sign the Magna Carta, which limited his power and formed the basis of English democracy.

"The road from Bouvines to Magna Carta was direct and short," says Sean McGlynn, an expert in the period at the Open University. "Bouvines was the last straw. If John had won the battle, Magna Carta could have been avoided. But it was the decisiveness of the defeat. All his taxation had gone to waste. He was weakened, and the barons saw their opportunity."

John France adds: "If the English and their allies had won at Bouvines, John would have had the plunder and the prestige. The baronial opposition would have melted away. This was that rare thing: a battle that was genuinely decisive."

Posted by orrinj at 7:19 AM


Stone Soup : How the Paleolithic life style got trendy. (ELIZABETH KOLBERT, July 28, 2014, The New Yorker)

The first day I put my family on a Paleolithic diet, I made my kids fried eggs and sausage for breakfast. If they were still hungry, I told them, they could help themselves to more sausage, but they were not allowed to grab a slice of bread, or toast an English muffin, or pour themselves a bowl of cereal. This represented a reversal of the usual strictures, and they were happy to oblige. It was like some weird, unexpected holiday--Passover in July.

The Paleolithic diet--"paleo," for those in the know--represents a new, very old form of eating, one confined to the sorts of food available in pre-agricultural days. These foods, as it happens, were not many. According to Sarah Ballantyne, the author of "The Paleo Approach," a paleo diet consists of "meats, fish, eggs, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds." According to John Durant, the author of "The Paleo Manifesto," even seeds are suspect and should be avoided. (A genuinely Paleolithic diet, Durant concedes, probably ought to include human flesh; however, he does not advise this.)

The list of foods that are not paleo, meanwhile, is a great deal longer; it includes cereal grains like wheat, corn, and rice; pseudo-cereal grains like amaranth and quinoa; legumes, dairy products, most vegetable oils, sugar, and anything that contains corn syrup or artificial coloring or flavorings or preservatives, which is to say, just about everything a contemporary American consumes. Most days, my kids pack their own lunches, but since I had banned the standard ingredients, starting with the bread for peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches, I figured I was obligated to step in. I rolled up some turkey slices and arranged them in a plastic container with some cut-up avocados. Then I gave each kid a banana and some paleo "cookies" I had made using ground-up almonds. The cookies looked like little hamburgers and tasted like sawdust.

There are, of course, lots of ways to resist progress. People take up knitting or quilting or calligraphy. They bake their own bread or brew their own beer or sew their own clothes using felt they have fashioned out of wet wool and dish soap. But, both in the scale of its ambition and in the scope of its anachronism, paleo eating takes things to a whole new level. Our Stone Age ancestors left behind no menus or cookbooks. To figure out what they ate, we have to dig up their bones and study the wear patterns on their teeth. Or comb through their refuse and analyze their prehistoric poop. And paleo eating is just the tip of the spear, so to speak. There are passionate advocates for paleo fitness, which starts with tossing out your sneakers. There's a paleo sleep contingent, which recommends blackout curtains, amber-tinted glasses, and getting rid of your mattress; and there are champions of primal parenting, which may or may not include eating your baby's placenta. There are even signs of a paleo hygiene movement: coat yourself with bacteria and say goodbye to soap and shampoo.

The result is a small library of what might be called paleo literature--how-to books that are mostly how-to-undo books. Such is the tenor of our time that the ultimate retro movement is lavishly represented on the Web. From a site called Paleo Grubs, I downloaded recipes for Delicious Paleo Carrot Cake Muffins and Paleo Apple Nachos, and from a site called Nom Nom Paleo I got instructions on how to make Paleo Krabby Patties and Civilized Caveman's Apple Cinnamon Cookies. (All of these dishes rely heavily on ingredients--including "flour"--made from coconuts, a quirk that reminded me of "Gilligan's Island" and its many coconut-shell contraptions.)

Three days into my family's experiment in Stone Age eating, my sons were still happily gorging themselves on sausage and grass-fed steak. My husband was ruminating on the tenuousness of existence, and, probably true to the actual Paleolithic experience, I found that I was spending more and more time preparing the few foods that we could eat.

July 25, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 9:33 PM


Let Darwinism Decide Barclays Fate (Mark Gilbert, 7/25/14, Bloomberg View)

Barclays Plc is seeking to rebut New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's lawsuit accusing it of misleading customers about who they were sparring with in the bank's dark pool. Financial Darwinism, rather than judges and courts, should be allowed to settle the issue.

Posted by orrinj at 8:18 PM


Arkansas Republicans Just Proved Why Obamacare Will Survive  (Brian Beutler, 7/25/14, New Republic)

 At the time of the ruling in 2012, zero people in the country were eligible for expanded Medicaid, because the Medicaid expansion wasn't effective until January 1, 2014. Republican governors could opt out without making anyone's lives worse. Or rather, they could make people's lives worse without taking anything away from them.

That won't be the case if the Court invalidates Obamacare subsidies in Healthcare.gov states. People will lose their health plans, and will expect their state and Congressional representatives to reinstate them. And it wasn't the case in Arkansas earlier this year, when the state had to authorize the federal funds designated for its Medicaid expansion, after tens of thousands of people had already enrolled.

The measure required 75 votes in the 100-member, Republican-dominated state House. And for weeks, more than two dozen Republicans withheld their support. In vote after vote, the authorization failed. If a handful of Republicans hadn't changed their minds, they would've kicked all those new beneficiaries out of the program, just days after they'd entered it.

But that's exactly what happened.

The Arkansas News quoted two of the GOP legislators who ultimately caved.

Rep. Kim Hammer, R-Benton, said on the House floor that he had decided to vote "yes" after voting against the appropriation earlier in the session.

"There are people that would be hurt if I don't vote for this, and I don't want to see those innocent people get hurt because of that," he said, adding that he would continue to fight for changes to the program and that he would vote against it next year if it does not produce the promised results.

Also voting for the program, after voting against it as recently as two weeks earlier, were Reps. Skip Carnine, R-Rogers, and Mary Slinkard, R-Gravette.

Carnine said later he has many reservations about the program, but he said the Legislature will have other chances to revisit it.
"Now was the time to move on," he said.

I imagine the pressures facing legislators from Healthcare.gov would be similar if subsidies suddenly became unavailable and tens of thousands of their constituents lost their health plans. Arkansas is no squishy liberal state. But the politics of sitting on your hands when your voters are about to be (or have just been) harmed don't wear well, even in the most conservative parts of the country.

Posted by orrinj at 8:08 PM


Low support among younger Americans for Israel in Hamas war (JTA, 7/25/14)

The poll posted on the pollster's website Thursday showed a statistical dead heat between those who believe Israel's actions against Hamas are justified, 42 percent, and those who believe they are unjustified, 39 percent. The difference was within the poll's margin of error of four percentage points. [...]

There were other dramatic differences in how subgroups measured support for Israel, with 65 percent of Republicans calling Israel's actions justified and just 31 percent of Democrats and 36 percent of Independents saying they were justified; 50 percent of whites said Israel was justified, while just 25 percent of non-whites agreed with that characterization; 51 percent of men agreed and 33 percent of women.

Posted by orrinj at 8:06 PM


Americans Still Oppose Lowering the Drinking Age (Jeffrey M. Jones, 7/25/14, Gallup)

Thirty years after federal legislation established 21 as a uniform minimum age to drink alcohol in all states, Americans are widely opposed to lowering the legal drinking age to 18. Seventy-four percent say they would oppose such legislation, while 25% would favor it. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:02 PM


How I learned to relax and embrace the plutocratic world of Thomas & Friends (Peter Weber, 7/25/14, The Week)

[T]he world of Thomas & Friends is deeply retrograde and anti-democratic. It celebrates logging and mining and the burning of coal and diesel; values efficiency and following orders above individual initiative and entrepreneurialism; has only a handful of female engines and characters; and is subject to the whims and fancies of Hatt and his titled peers, the Earl of Sodor and the Duke and Duchess of Boxford.

The highest praise for a Sodor engine is being "really useful," and the worst thing is "causing confusion and delay." There is a strong competitive spirit -- the engines want to be the fastest and most useful -- but it seems driven at least partly by the (apparently unfounded) fear that underperforming trains will be sent to the smelting yard of banished from Sodor. Sir Topham Hatt may be an "imperious, little white boss" whose attire suggests that he's "the Monopoly dictator of their funky little island," as Van Slyke says, but he's mostly a benevolent despot.

The rest of Van Slyke's critique reads like a parody of postmodern literary criticism. Sodor "seems to be forever caught in British colonial times," she writes, and "if you look through the steam rising up from the coal-powered train stacks, you realize that the pretty puffs of smoke are concealing some pretty twisted, anachronistic messages."

Well, yes, Britain was a colonial giant back in 1945, when the Rev. Wilbert Awdry, an Anglican minister, published the first Thomas book, based on his memories of childhood. And not much has changed on Sodor since then: the cars are still vintage-looking, like Cuba with aristocracy; the main form of transport still seems to be steam engines; and Sir Topham Hatt hasn't aged much in the last 70 years.

Posted by orrinj at 7:55 PM


Smart Aid for the World's Poor : How can rich countries best help poor ones? Matt Ridley identifies five priorities (MATT RIDLEY, July 25, 2014, WSJ)

Most of the original Millennium Development Goals will have been met or nearly so by 2015. Since 2000, for example, the number of people living in extreme poverty and hunger around the world will have been cut in half--an astonishing achievement. Other goals included universal primary education, gender equality, reductions in child mortality, improvements in maternal health, progress against HIV and malaria, environmental sustainability and (most vaguely) a "global partnership for development."

The lesson, surely, from this first round of setting development goals is the need to be even more ruthlessly selective next time. A list of eight goals is too long for most outsiders to remember. When I asked several of my colleagues in the British Parliament, they remembered only three to five. Several development experts I spoke to say that the new list should have just five discrete, quantitative, achievable goals. [...]

The Copenhagen Consensus Center process has won world-wide respect for its scrupulously fair methods and startling conclusions. Its 2012 report, published in book form as "How to Spend $75 Billion to Make the World a Better Place," came to the conclusion that the top five priorities should be nutritional supplements to combat malnutrition, expanded immunization for children, and redoubled efforts against malaria, intestinal worms and tuberculosis.

Their point wasn't that these are the world's biggest problems, but that these are the problems for which each dollar spent on aid generates the most benefit. Enabling a sick child to regain her health and contribute to the world economy is in the child's interest--and the world's.

The numbers produced by this exercise are eye-catching. Every dollar spent to alleviate malnutrition can do $59 of good; on malaria, $35; on HIV, $11. As for fashionable goals such as programs intended to limit global warming to less than two degrees Celsius in the foreseeable future: just 2 cents of benefit for each dollar spent.

Nor is this just about the cold tabulation of dollars and cents. The calculus used by the Copenhagen Consensus also includes such benefits as avoided deaths and sickness and potential environmental benefits, including forestalling climate change.

July 24, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 4:58 PM


The Secret of Saving Less for Retirement: Work Until 70 (Allison Schrager, July 24, 2014, Businessweek)

[T]he 15 percent recommended saving rate assumes retirement at age 65. Work until age 70, and you only need to save a far more manageable 6 percent.

Delaying retirement means more years of saving and fewer years of retirement to finance from savings, all things being equal. The bigger factor, though, is Social Security. As of today, taking Social Security benefits at 70 instead of 65 makes a tremendous difference. Let's take as an example a 35-year-old earning $49,000 per year, the median income for his age. If he retires at age 65, he can expect about $18,200 a year from Social Security. If he waits until he's 70, he'll get $26,500 a year, an increase of 45 percent.

Posted by orrinj at 4:49 PM


A Rocket Scientist Designed A Saucepan That Boils Water So Fast, You Can Watch It (Adele Peters, 7/24/14, Co.Exist)

Thomas Povey's day job usually involves designing jet engines, not kitchen gadgets. But when the Oxford University engineering professor was on a camping trip, he started thinking about how to make a pot that could boil water faster. A few years later, the idea has morphed into a series of ultra-efficient indoor pans that save energy and time on gas stoves. [...]

For many people, the most obvious draw of the pots and pans might be the fact that you can cook much faster with them--in tests, water came to a boil 3.3 minutes faster than in a normal pot. But the energy savings are also large.

"A conventional pan of the same size uses 44% more gas," explains Povey. "This is quite a significant saving, but also gets people thinking about energy consumption with a product that is very visibly consuming energy--unlike the invisible energy of most of appliances like dishwashers and fridges."

Posted by orrinj at 4:45 PM


George Patton's Summer of 1944 (Victor Davis Hanson, July 24, 2014, RCP)

When Patton's Third Army finally became operational seven weeks after D-Day, it was supposed to play only a secondary role -- guarding the southern flank of the armies of General Bradley and British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery while securing the Atlantic ports.

Despite having the longest route to the German border, Patton headed east. The Third Army took off in a type of American blitzkrieg not seen since Union General William Tecumseh Sherman's rapid marches through Georgia and the Carolinas during the Civil War.

Throughout August 1944, Patton won back over the press. He was foul-mouthed, loud, and uncouth, and he led from the front in flamboyant style with a polished helmet and ivory-handled pistols.

In fact, his theatrics masked a deeply learned and analytical military mind. Patton sought to avoid casualties by encircling German armies. In innovative fashion, he partnered with American tactical air forces to cover his flanks as his armored columns raced around static German formations.

Naturally rambunctious American GIs fought best, Patton insisted, when "rolling" forward, especially in summertime. Only then, for a brief moment, might the clear skies facilitate overwhelming American air support. In August his soldiers could camp outside, while his speeding tanks still had dry roads.

In just 30 days, Patton finished his sweep across France and neared Germany. The Third Army had exhausted its fuel supplies and ground to a halt near the border in early September.

Allied supplies had been redirected northward for the normally cautious General Montgomery's reckless Market Garden gambit. That proved a harebrained scheme to leapfrog over the bridges of the Rhine River; it devoured Allied blood and treasure, and accomplished almost nothing in return.

Meanwhile, the cutoff of Patton's supplies would prove disastrous. 

Should have leap-frogged Berlin.

Posted by orrinj at 4:38 PM


For GOP, a Good Crop of Senate Candidates (FRED BARNES, 7/24/14, Weekly Standard)

What makes candidates "top-tier," in the jargon of politics? They tend to be disciplined, quick-witted, have a credible message, don't say absurd or unnecessarily provocative things, can raise money, and deal effectively with the media. It doesn't hurt to be likeable, either.    

In 2014, Republicans must gain six seats to take Senate control. And they've made this easier for themselves by dodging bullets in three Republican-held seats-Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi. In those states GOP candidates that Democrats believed would be the easiest to beat were themselves defeated in the primaries.

In Georgia on Tuesday, businessman David Perdue won a Republican runoff against Rep. Jack Kingston and now faces Democrat Michelle Nunn in November. Democrats had hoped her GOP opponent would be either Rep. Paul Broun or Rep. Phil Gingrey, but both were eliminated in the primary. Perdue, the successful CEO of Dollar General stores, will be tough to beat in red-state Georgia.

One problem with landslides is that they carry in even your worst nominees and then you can't defend the seats.

Posted by orrinj at 4:21 PM


Hamas is not about to fold; like Israel, it's sure it's winning (AVI ISSACHAROFF, July 24, 2014, Times of Israel)

Wednesday's speech by the head of the Hamas political bureau, Khaled Mashaal, in Qatar, did not constitute good news. One way or another Mashaal made clear that the fighting is likely to continue for a considerable time. The stance he presented, which is accepted by all wings of Hamas -- military and political, in Gaza and overseas -- is that there will be no ceasefire without the full lifting of the blockade on the Strip.

This reality isn't easy for Israel to deal with. Among a fair proportion of Israel's political and security leadership, the hope, even the assumption, has been that Hamas is about to halt its fire, surrender, or moderate its demands. This does not reflect the reality. Hamas is adamant that it will continue to fight until Egypt and Israel accept its demands, in part because the Gaza public insists upon it. Given the very heavy price paid by Gaza, residents insist on real change and not a return to the status quo.

Mashaal set out a notably tough negotiating position, but the simple fact is that Hamas has not been sufficiently damaged and does not feel its future is existentially threatened, and therefore is not seeking compromise, much less surrender.

Israel bans radio advert listing names of children killed in Gaza (Harriet Sherwood, 24 July 2014, The Guardian)

The Israeli Broadcasting Authority has banned a radio advertisement from a human rights organisation which listed the names of some of the scores of children killed in Gaza since the conflict began 17 days ago.

B'Tselem's appeal against the decision was rejected on Wednesday. It intends to petition Israel's supreme court on Sunday in an effort to get the ban overturned.

The IBA said the ad's content was "politically controversial".

Israel vs Hamas, a war of surprises (PAUL ROGERS, 24 July 2014, Open Democracy)

[H]amas, though facing great problems in Gaza, does not appear to be losing support among the population as a whole. There, Israel and of course the United States are being blamed for the destruction. There is also an upsurge in public support for Hamas across the region, enhanced by coverage of the war on Al-Jazeera and other TV channels and the many social-media outlets. These show the human suffering and destruction in Gaza at a much starker level that the largely self-censoring western media.

The second is that aspects of the conflict are very troubling to Binyamin Netanyahu's government in ways that are just becoming apparent. Israel's great projection of power, for example, is not stopping rockets from being fired; one even evaded the missile-screen to land in the Yehud suburb of Tel Aviv close to Ben Gurion airport. The airport was then closed on safety grounds to some of the major carriers (including Delta, US Airways, Lufthansa, Alitalia and Air France). 

July 23, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:15 PM


India, US, Japan to hold naval wargames in Pacific Ocean (PTI,  23 Jul, 2014)

Ignoring Chinese objections, the navies of India, the US and Japan will begin their Malabar-series of naval wargames in the Pacific Ocean from tomorrow. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:05 PM


Can 'Moneyball' Put on Skates? (Kavitha A. Davidson, 7/23/14, Bloomberg View)

The Leafs have fired assistant general managers Dave Poulin and Claude Loiselle, replacing both with "boy wonder" Kyle Dubas. The 28-year-old stats guru -- dubbed the "Billy Beane of hockey," after the A's general manager -- is jumping to the big leagues after serving in the Ontario Hockey League. In just three seasons, Kubas turned around the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds from worst to first in the Western division, building a team around advanced statistics.

In addition to Beane, Kubas draws comparisons to Chicago Cubs general manager Theo Epstein, who embodied the youth movement in baseball's front offices. While MLB has been out in front of the analytics game, the NHL community has slowly begun to embrace advanced metrics, a push largely driven by hockey writers themselves.

As in baseball, hockey analytics demonstrate value from nontraditional sources that aren't reflected in conventional statistics. Like average, runs and RBI, goals, assists, and shots are nice, but not as holistically informative as WAR and OPS, Corsi and Fenwick. Hockey metrics tout the importance of puck possession, and in doing so turn an age-old adage on its head: The best defense is a good offense.

The use -- and usefulness -- of advanced stats has been met with predictable resistance by executives, players and coaches alike. The Leafs' inertia in particular has been front-and-center in this debate. Last year, forward Joffrey Lupul tweeted his opposition to stats like Corsi, pleading, "Lets not look at this like Moneyball."

But as SB Nation's Adam Gretz details, a Moneyball approach to hockey might have prevented the Leafs' second-half collapse last season, which can be traced to some roster moves and a shift in coaching strategy that moved away from puck possession and ultimately caused the team to surrender the most shots in the league. Stats guys such as Gretz panned the front office in particular for allowing possession players Mikhail Grabovski and Clarke MacArthur to get away from a team whose weakness in controlling the puck was exposed during the 2012-13 season.

Posted by orrinj at 6:42 PM

NOT 200%?:

Portions of master's thesis by US Sen. Walsh of Montana appear to be lifted from other sources (Associated Press, July 23, 2014)

Montana Sen. John Walsh's thesis written to earn a master's degree from the U.S. Army War College contains unattributed passages taken word-for-word from previously published papers.

The Democrat is running against Republican Rep. Steve Daines to keep the seat Walsh was appointed to in February when Max Baucus resigned to become U.S. ambassador to China, and national Democrats said Wednesday they remained "100 percent behind Sen. Walsh."

The apparent plagiarism in Walsh's 2007 thesis, titled "The Case for Democracy as a Long Term National Strategy," was first reported by The New York Times in a story posted online Wednesday afternoon. Walsh submitted the paper to earn his Master of Strategic Studies degree nearly two years after he returned from Iraq and about a year before he became Montana's adjutant general overseeing the state's National Guard and Department of Military Affairs.

Posted by orrinj at 6:35 PM

60 IN '14:

The Odds of a GOP Wave Are Increasing : This year's political environment is shaping up to be nearly as bleak as 2010, and that's ominous news for Senate Democrats. (Josh Kraushaar, July 22, 2014, National Journal)

Most political scientists define a wave in terms of House seats gained, because Senate contests only take place in one-third of the country. But in the House, gerrymandering and voter self-sorting have limited the universe of competitive seats. With a 234-seat majority, Republicans have already come close to hitting the upper limit of their representation. Emory University political scientist Alan Abramowitz found that even a sizable 5-point generic-ballot advantage for Republicans would net them only 15 House seats. The Cook Political Report, assessing a "2010-lite" environment for Republicans earlier this year, expects GOP gains of just two to 12 House seats. It's very possible Republicans could exceed expectations in the Senate while adding only marginally to their House majority.

Still, there's plenty of race-by-race evidence to suggest that most contests are trending in a Republican direction. Over the past several months, the Iowa and Colorado Senate races have turned from long shots to promising Republican pickup opportunities. In Iowa, Republican nominee Joni Ernst is running evenly with Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley in the Real Clear Politics polling average, a marked shift over the last two months. And in Colorado, Democratic Sen. Mark Udall only holds a 1-point average lead over GOP Rep. Cory Gardner, according to RCP, in a race that's shaping up to be a barn burner.

And there isn't much evidence that red-state Democrats have gained ground in recent months, either. In Arkansas, reliable public polling has been sparse, but GOP Rep. Tom Cotton has led Sen. Mark Pryor (D) in three straight public polls, along with the GOP campaign's last two internals. Pryor didn't release any polling of his own to counter. An April NYT/Upshot survey showing a double-digit Pryor lead, which shaped public perception of the race, is now looking more like an outlier.

In Louisiana, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) has never hit 50 percent in any of the all-party primary surveys, with most polls showing her well short of the mark. Outside GOP groups are already anticipating a runoff, reserving post-November election ad time on behalf of Rep. Bill Cassidy, her expected challenger. With Republicans on track to nominate a credible candidate in Georgia, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell avoiding a tough primary in Kentucky, and Sen. Thad Cochran renominated in Mississippi, it's looking less likely that Democrats can pick off a stray Republican-held seat.

To be sure, there are several races where Democrats have stabilized their standing. Sen. Kay Hagan has inched ahead of Republican Thom Tillis in North Carolina, thanks largely to the state House speaker's role in a contentious budget fight in the state Legislature. Her numbers are still weak and she remains one of the most vulnerable Democrats, but her strategy of making Tillis an unacceptable alternative is very viable. Michigan Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land is looking like a weak candidate, unable to capitalize on the favorable environment for the GOP in Michigan. And former Sen. Scott Brown hasn't dented Sen. Jeanne Shaheen's comfortable lead in New Hampshire, thanks to his middling favorable ratings and struggles to answer straightforward policy questions.

But even wave elections feature weak candidates and missed opportunities: 2010 was a historic year for Republicans, yet Sharron Angle and Ken Buck proved they weren't ready for prime time in otherwise winnable races. The wave wiped out Democrats in the South and Midwest that year, but it crested in the West. Sens. Patty Murray, Michael Bennet, and Barbara Boxer, top targets that year, all won reelection. That didn't change the reality of rough public opinion for Democrats.

If anything, this year's environment for Democrats is shaping up to be as bleak. Sizable majorities oppose the Obama administration's handling of nearly every issue, including the economy, health care, and foreign policy. The administration looks out of its element, lurching from foreign policy crises to domestic scandal over the past year. Even out of the headlines, Obamacare is still a driving force for Republicans and for unfavorable poll numbers. This week, Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg released new data showing Obama's disapproval at a whopping 60 percent in 12 Senate battlegrounds, with half strongly disapproving of his performance. Overall, Republicans held a 2-point edge on the battleground generic ballot, 46 percent to 44 percent. 

Those are the numbers that foreshadow wave elections.

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 PM


Sanctions finally find Russia's Achilles heel (William E. Pomeranz, JULY 23, 2014, Reuters)

The sanctions have definitely found Russia's Achilles' heel, and with harsher sanctions looming in the aftermath of flight MA17, Putin is finding it increasingly difficult to craft an effective reply.

Obama had raised the ante for Russia the day before the Malaysian airliner disaster by unexpectedly announcing a new round of sanctions. The designated enterprises included several major Russian banks (Gazprombank, VEB), energy companies (Rosneft, Novatek) and arms manufacturers. They were not, however, the full sectoral sanctions that Putin dreads the most. These would essentially exclude Russia from the international financial system and restrict major technological transfers. Though key Russian banks and energy companies are now prohibited from receiving medium or long-term dollar financing, U.S. companies are not otherwise prohibited from conducting business with them.

But even by hinting as to what sectoral sanctions might look like, Obama has upset Russia's economic calculations. Obama is often criticized for not backing up the "red lines" that he draws. But in Ukraine, Obama essentially has drawn a "gray line" -- demanding Russia take certain actions to end the crisis. No one knows when this gray line is crossed, however. So these new sanctions only heighten the uncertainty -- and risk -- of doing business in Russia.

Russian President Putin and German Chancellor Merkel walk during a meeting in Rio de JaneiroThe market responded immediately, with dramatic declines in the Russian ruble and the Moscow stock market. In addition, the sanctions only exacerbated an already difficult situation for Russian companies. Syndicated loans for Russian commodities producers are down more than 80 percent over the past six months. The appetite for Russian bonds has also decreased considerably in the aftermath of the Ukraine crisis. So the current round of sanctions made a bad situation worse.

Posted by orrinj at 6:20 PM


How to break Hamas's stranglehold on Gaza (David Ignatius, July 21, 2014, Washington Post)
What goal is Israel pursuing in its latest war in Gaza? That has been a hard question to answer, as Israel expanded its war aims from seeking "quiet" from Hamas rocket attacks to closing tunnels to destroying rocket-launch sites in northern Gaza.

The tragedy of this approach is that it brings death and destruction without a change in the status quo. 

...it's just domestic politics.

Posted by orrinj at 3:25 PM


On Cloudracer : The best shoe for speed work, and efficient runners with minimalist leanings. (JUSTIN NYBERG, 7/23/14, Outside)

The Cloudracer's rubber springs are no gimmick. Though the Swiss-engineered shoe sports a thin, almost minimalist mid-sole, the rubber pads compress on each impact, so it takes almost all the sting out of the road while still feeling fast and low to the ground.

Posted by orrinj at 3:21 PM


Poll: Scott Walker in dead heat against Democratic challenger (Sean Sullivan, July 23, 2014, Washington Post)

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) is running neck-and-neck against his leading Democratic challenger, according to a new poll released Wednesday.

The survey of likely voters, conducted by Marquette Law School, shows former Trek executive Mary Burke (D) leading Walker 47 percent to 46 percent. Her lead is well within the poll's margin of error. (In other words, consider it tied.)

July 22, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:57 PM


Ryan to propose deficit-neutral anti-poverty plan (Zachary A. Goldfarb, July 22, 2014, Washington Post)

Echoing an idea that has been gaining traction among conservative intellectuals, Ryan will propose a pilot program whereby the federal government consolidates existing safety-net programs into a single grant offered to a state. It would group programs such as food stamps and housing aid, although it would not include Medicaid, the health program for the poor.

Ryan is not proposing any spending cuts, and he will pledge that the resources given to the state will equal what it would have received under the current law. "It is important to note that this is not a budget-cutting exercise--this is a reform proposal," according to a Ryan document obtained by The Post. The new state grant will be called an "Opportunity Grant." The document says state initiatives would be subject to accountability standards.

Ryan's decision not to immediately seek savings with his safety net proposal is striking because, as House Budget Committee chairman, he's been known for budgets that dramatically cut spending in hopes of paying down the debt.

Given that the future lies with a defined contribution wefare state, replacing the defined benefit one, it's necessary to have an initial spurt of massive spending.  Any plan without one isn't sufficient.  The much more savings come generations down the road.

Posted by orrinj at 7:42 PM


Thomas Berger, author of Little Big Man, dies aged 89 (Associated Press,  22 July 2014)

Admirers regarded Berger as unique and underappreciated, a comic moralist attuned to the American past and present. "Berger's books are accessible and funny and immerse you in the permanent strangeness of his language and attitude, perhaps best encapsulated by Berger's own self-definition as a 'voyeur of copulating words,'" Jonathan Lethem wrote in a 2012 essay.

Berger was born in Cincinnati, the son of a public school business manager and a housewife. He was a dreamer, seeking out new worlds on the nearest bookshelf. His favourite works included the legends of King Arthur and, since he was born close enough to the 19th century to hear first-hand accounts, histories of the Battle of Little Big Horn.

"Very early in life," he once said, "I discovered that for me reality was too often either dull or obnoxious, and while I did play all the popular games that employ a ball, lower hooks into the water, and, especially fire guns, I preferred the pleasure of the imagination to those of experience, and I read incessantly."

Berger served in the army from 1943 to 1946 and used some of his experiences in Germany for his debut novel, Crazy in Berlin. He was an undergraduate at the University of Cincinnati, then a graduate student at Columbia University.

At a workshop at the New School for Social Research, Berger met such fellow students as Jack Kerouac, Mario Puzo and William Styron and a painter, Jeanne Redpath, who became his wife. He wrote short stories in his 20s but disliked the art form, believing he needed more space "to create my alternative reality".

Little Big Man was his third novel. As he told American Heritage magazine, he began the book in 1962 with "the intention of comprising in one man's personal story all the themes of the Old West that have since become legendary".

Jack Crabb was based on a fictional character, the blowhard Kit Carson in William Saroyan's play The Time of Your Life.

...but Neighbors is his funniest.  Bad movie, good book.

Posted by orrinj at 7:38 PM


When It Comes to Housing, Maybe Millennials Aren't so Different After All (NEIL SHAH, 7/22/14, WSJ)

Nearly half of Americans between the ages of 23 and 34 who lived in metro areas with "ideal housing conditions" in 2012 were married (46.1%), versus around a third who lived in "unfavorable" housing conditions, according to a new study by demographer Jonathan Vespa and others in the U.S. Census Bureau's Social, Economic and Housing Statistics Division. ("Ideal housing conditions" are defined as low costs, high availability/low competition, lots of detached homes, more rooms and low unemployment.) [...]

In a separate study last week, Jed Kolko, chief economist at Trulia Inc.TRLA +3.18%, the online real-estate information company, argued that demographic changes, such as delaying marriage and parenthood, account for nearly all of the declines in homeownership among young adults.

But many of these demographic shifts may simply postpone home-buying, rather than eliminate it. Like mom and dad, many millennials, once they finally marry and have kids, may want that white picket-fence, too. "There probably hasn't been a huge shift in millennials' attitudes toward homeownership," Mr. Kolko says.

Posted by orrinj at 7:35 PM


Will Automation Take Our Jobs? (The Editors, 7/15/14, Scientific American)

Last fall economist Carl Benedikt Frey and information engineer Michael A. Osborne, both at the University of Oxford, published a study estimating the probability that 702 occupations would soon be computerized out of existence. Their findings were startling. Advances in data mining, machine vision, artificial intelligence and other technologies could, they argued, put 47 percent of American jobs at high risk of being automated in the years ahead. Loan officers, tax preparers, cashiers, locomotive engineers, paralegals, roofers, taxi drivers and even animal breeders are all in danger of going the way of the switchboard operator.

Whether or not you buy Frey and Osborne's analysis, it is undeniable that something strange is happening in the U.S. labor market. Since the end of the Great Recession, job creation has not kept up with population growth. Corporate profits have doubled since 2000, yet median household income (adjusted for inflation) dropped from $55,986 to $51,017. At the same time, after-tax corporate profits as a share of gross domestic product increased from around 5 to 11 percent, while compensation of employees as a share of GDP dropped from around 47 to 43 percent. Somehow businesses are making more profit with fewer workers.

The point is profits not jobs.  We can always figure out better ways to share what business makes than via jobs.

Posted by orrinj at 5:33 PM


The Strange Relationship Between Global Warming Denial and...Speaking English (Chris Mooney, Jul. 22, 2014, Mother Jones)

[N]ot only is the United States clearly the worst in its climate denial, but Great Britain and Australia are second and third worst, respectively. Canada, meanwhile, is the seventh worst.

What do these four nations have in common? They all speak the language of Shakespeare.

July 21, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 4:32 PM


Audio Interview: Ed Klein on Blood Feud (Ed Driscoll, July 20th, 2014, PJ Media)

MR. DRISCOLL:  Blood Feud also helps to shed some light on one of the more mysterious members of the Obama administration, and that's Valerie Jarrett.  What is her relationship with the president?  And how long have they known each other?

MR. KLEIN:  Well, you remember The Godfather and Tom Hagen, who is a consigliere to the Godfather?

MR. DRISCOLL:  Barack Obama's favorite movie!

MR. KLEIN:  Yeah, that's right, and maybe he got the idea from that movie, because Valerie Jarrett is the Tom Hagen of the Obama administration; she is the consigliere.  Both Obama and his wife Michelle have made it clear numerous times on record that they don't make a single decision without first going to Valerie Jarrett.  She's a sort of strange combination of big sister, mother figure, consigliere.

If you recall ‑‑ if you're old enough to remember the Franklin Roosevelt administration, Harry Hopkins lived in the White House and was friends with both Eleanor and Franklin.  Well, she's like that.  She literally has moved into the White House.  She has a suite of rooms in the residence that she permanently occupies.  She has a Secret Service detail of her own.  She has forty people working for her; four-zero.  And she dines with the Obamas at night; she goes on vacations with them.  She's the last person to leave the Oval Office after a meeting.  She has the president's ear like no one else.

MR. DRISCOLL:  In Blood Feud, you argue that Jarrett played a role in some of Obama's otherwise inexplicable foreign policy decisions regarding Syria. Could you talk about that?

MR. KLEIN:  Yes; I'd be happy to.  You know, this has been a mystery to the media why did Obama renege on his threat that he was going to ‑‑ that there was a red line that he would bomb the Syrian chemical-weapons facilities if they used those weapons.  And even his own staff, including Denis McDonough, who's his chief of staff, was taken by complete surprise when he said, I'm going to go to Congress and get their approval, knowing full well that Congress was not going to approve it.

And according to my sources who I feel are absolutely impeccable on this issue, it was Valerie Jarrett who talked him out of following through on the red-line threat.  And she, according again to my sources ‑‑ and I'm talking about people who speak to Valerie Jarrett, so they're not just making this up out of whole cloth; they're talking to her, and this comes from her.  She told him, you were not elected to be a war president, you ran against being a war president, you were elected to change society and make it more equal, and all that sort of stuff, you know, because she's a very big left-winger.  And he listened to her.  And the credibility of the presidency and, even more important, the credibility of the United States, was severely damaged by his failure to go through with that threat.

MR. DRISCOLL:  Did Jarrett also play a role in turning away Obama's support for Hillary's assumed upcoming presidential bid?

MR. KLEIN:  Well, you know, I think in that case we're talking really about a triumvirate in the White House:  Barack Obama, Michelle Obama and Valerie Jarrett, all of who see pretty much eye to eye on almost all issues.  And in their view, they're already thinking about Barack Obama's legacy and who's going to carry it out after he leaves the White House.  They're already talking about his library.  They're talking about where they're going to live.  They're talking about what Michelle and Valerie are going to do, would Michelle run for office.

And one of the things they're talking about is that the Clintons ‑‑ and we know it's two for the price of one; if you vote for Hillary, you're going to get Bill too ‑‑ would undo many of the things that Obama's been trying to do and some of which he's accomplished.  And indeed Hillary, according to The Wall Street Journal and even The New York Times, has begun to fulfill their worst dreams, or nightmares, which is, distancing herself even now from Obama.

Posted by orrinj at 4:27 PM


Israelis resolute for now, but mounting military casualties could bring pressure on Netanyahu (ARON HELLER and DAN PERRY, 7/21/14, Associated Press)

[T]he Haaretz newspaper warned against mission creep and the "wholesale killing" of Palestinian civilians. "The soft Gaza sand ... could turn into quicksand," it said in its editorial Monday. "There can be no victory here. ... Israel must limit its time in the Strip."

There was always near-consensus among Israelis for the airstrikes aimed at ending the rocket fire, which they considered unreasonable and outrageous. The Palestinian fatalities caused by the airstrikes -- over 500 in two weeks, many of them civilians -- are generally blamed here on Hamas, for locating launchers in civilian areas and for proving to be cynical and nihilistic, to Israeli eyes, at every turn.

But a ground invasion of Gaza is another story, and the government had clearly hesitated to take the risk. House-to-house fighting, tanks exposed in fields, the danger of a soldier being kidnapped, to be traded for thousands after years in captivity: It is an untidy and dispiriting affair.

The government felt it necessary to take such a risky step because despite all the damage being inflicted on Gaza by the airstrikes, the Hamas rocket fire simply did not stop. Israeli officials also felt world opinion would understand after Hamas rejected a cease-fire proposal that Israel had accepted.

Complicating the situation from Israel's perspective, Hamas does not seem to be coming under significant pressure from the people of Gaza despite the devastation they are enduring. While Gaza is no democracy and Hamas rules by force, this seems to reflect genuine support for Hamas' aim of breaking the blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt on the strip.

Posted by orrinj at 4:23 PM


Smart Money Buys Brand X (Cass R. Sunstein, 7/13/14, Bloomberg View)

To test whether a lack of information is responsible for consumers' choices, Bronnenberg and his co-authors compared a range of consumers who shop in the same markets and chain stores during the same time periods. They used both indirect and direct measures of how well-informed the shoppers were about headache remedies. The indirect measures included occupation and education. The direct measures came from shoppers' responses to questions about the active ingredients in headache remedies. There was a close connection between the indirect and direct measures: The average person accurately answered the ingredient question 59 percent of the time, but that figure rose to 85 percent for registered nurses and to 89 percent for pharmacists.

Using purchase data on more than 77 million shopping trips from 2004 to 2011, the authors matched consumers' actual choices to their knowledge and professions. Pharmacists bought national brands only 8.5 percent of the time, while the average consumer bought them 26 percent of the time. People lacking a college education were especially likely to buy national brands. On the other hand, health-care professionals -- including nurses and doctors -- were more likely to buy store brands than lawyers, who don't have relevant expertise.

In the case of pantry staples (salt, sugar, baking soda and the like), national brands accounted for 40 percent of total sales volume. But among chefs, the share dropped to just 23 percent -- the smallest for any other occupation.

Posted by orrinj at 4:11 PM


Iran Continuing To Comply With Nuclear Reduction (DAVID LUDWIG, 7/21/14, The Wire)
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said that Iran is complying with an interim international deal reached last year which called for the reduction of its nuclear enrichment program in exchange for relief from economic sanctions. 

The IAEA said that as of July 20, Iran had reduced half of its 20 percent enriched uranium stockpiles to 5 percent, a level that can be used for nuclear reactors, but not weapons production. Although 90 percent enrichment is needed to produce a nuclear weapon, once production reaches 20 percent, it can be converted quickly to arm nuclear weapons.

July 20, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 10:09 AM


On the Trail of 'True Grit': A Tale Comes to Life (JAY JENNINGS, 7/16/14, NY Times)

On a January night in Fort Smith, Ark., on a desolate block off the main drag of Garrison Avenue, I was having a nightcap of Knob Creek on the rocks at Doe's Eat Place, after consuming two tamales with chili, a three-inch-thick eight-ounce filet and a couple of glasses of cabernet sauvignon. The motley collection of sports and historical memorabilia hanging on the walls cultivated a divey atmosphere consistent across Doe's eight Southern locations.

I was in this particular Doe's more for what it was than for what it is. By downing a whiskey in the winter in this rough-stone building, constructed in 1851 by Joseph Knoble as a brewery and now on the National Register of Historic Places, I was coming as close as I could in the present day to replicating the venue and circumstances that caused "a coward going by the name of Tom Chaney" to gun down Frank Ross in this town and start the revenge quest of 14-year-old Mattie Ross in Charles Portis's classic novel "True Grit." Chaney "went to a barroom and got into a game of cards with some 'riffraff' like himself," Mattie narrates. Then he "sulled up like a possum" before killing her father in the street as he tried to stop Chaney from confronting the gamblers he thought were cheating him.

I later learned of a similar true-life deadly quarrel outside the brewery in 1867, in which a man named McKenzie shot an unarmed Charles W. Brown, after the former "called him a d---d son of a bitch and told him to kiss (an indecent part of his person)," according to court records.

The old brewery is one of the few buildings that would have been standing in that tough town at the time the novel is set, the mid- to late 1870s. Joseph Knoble positioned it close to the Arkansas River so he could chip ice blocks out of it, I was told by the affable young barkeep at Doe's, going by the name of Trent Gallant (too corny for any novelist to make up). When I revealed to him my plan to retrace the novel's story, looping from Fort Smith through the modest mountains of eastern Oklahoma as do Mattie, the United States Marshal Rooster Cogburn and LaBoeuf, a Texas Ranger, he mentioned to me that the story had inspired a number of theme businesses in town, among them the five-year-old True Grit Tattoo. The tamales, a signature dish at Doe's, are also part of my itinerary, I explained: At a crowded triple hanging that Mattie attends early in the book, she finds a boy selling them from a bucket and tries the "cornmeal tube filled with spicy meat that they eat in Old Mexico," opining: "They are not bad." The ones at Doe's are better than that.

Posted by orrinj at 8:50 AM


My Problem With People Who Agree With Me (PJ O'Rourke, 7/20/14, Daily Beast)

[T]herein lies my problem. Nobody really disagrees with us these days. Our own children, at their most rebellious age, believe in the first two things we toasted. (Although, until they acquire jobs and babies, they practice passive resistance to the third.)

At the core of libertarian belief is the free market. But now everybody believes in that too, including Communist dictators in China and the rajahs of India's corrupt bureaucracy. Even villainous crony capitalists who reign over much of the rest of the world (and aren't exactly absent in the U.S.A.) believe in the free market - if they can keep other people out of it.

The next day I was talking to the new president of a libertarian think tank. "Have you been to many of these conferences?" he asked. I hadn't. He said, "They bother me a little."

"Preaching to the converted?" I ventured.

To make a ridiculous comparison, it's as if the Twelve Apostles (minus Judas Iscariot -- played by Bill Maher) never left Jerusalem. They just hung around the Mount of Olives evangelizing themselves.

"No," said the think tank president, "it's not just to whom we preach but what we're preaching."

That is, people love to hear what libertarians have to say until those people go into the voting both. Then limitations on the size, power, and expense of government start to get personal.

According to the Census Bureau, 49 percent of Americans receive some kind of government benefits. And political scientists Suzanne Mettler and John Sides of The Century Foundation (which is liberal-centrist) say that if you throw in everything that can be construed as a government benefit, e.g. mortgage interest deductions, 96% of Americans are on the take.

The dichotomy is not a problem, but an opportunity.  Nearly 100% of us agree that capitalism renders the best economic results (First Way) and nearly 100% of us agree that the liberal democratic social contract includes a safety net (Second Way).  So make the welfare state capitalist--defined contribution instead of defined benefit (Third Way).  

Posted by orrinj at 8:45 AM


Could the next generation of Republicans already be here? (Kyle Smith, July 19, 2014, NY Post)

[I]n contrast with our image of decadent, self-centered, pleasure-craving youth, in many ways today's youngsters are throwbacks -- spurning drugs, crime and disorder, being sexually responsible and making sound choices about education. They might be the least disaffected, least rebellious kids since the Kennedy years. And that might have surprising political implications down the road.

A July 12 Economist piece reviewed some surprising data, finding that (contrary to popular belief) teen drinking and binge drinking have fallen sharply in recent years. The percentage of high-school seniors who have ever taken alcohol, for instance, fell from 80% to 71% from 2000 to 2010. In 1980, that figure was 93%. Asked whether they'd had a drink in the last 30 days, only 41% said yes in 2010. In 2000, it was 50% and in 1980, 72%. Similarly, the teen pregnancy rate is slightly more than half what it was in the mid-1990s, and teens are waiting longer to have sex than they did then.

Violent-crime arrests for people from 10 to 24 are half what they were in 1995 (for males) and down 40% for females. Juvenile incarceration is at its lowest rate since 1975. Teen smoking peaked around 1997 and is now, at an all-time low of 17%, less than half of what it was then. (Pot use is an exception to the trend: 23% of high-school seniors regularly get high. But weed is still less widely used than it was in the 1970s, or even in 1999, when 26.7% reported regular use.)

What's behind all these surprising numbers? I can't say, but it's hard not to notice that a decline in destructive behavior associated with peer pressure has happened at the same moment that the US became a fully wired nation.
Now that broadband access is nearly universal -- 78% of homes, and that's not counting all the schools and library and Wi-Fi hotspot connections available to most kids with minimal effort -- restless youth don't have to go along with whatever the local knuckleheads are up to. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:40 AM


What your coffee choice says about you (Kate Mishkin, 7/20/14, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Last year, when Nicholas Coffee's prices went up minimally -- no more than 10 cents -- employee Seth Denne noticed that customers who typically order black coffee were the most observant of the price change.

"They were like 'What? That's not what I usually pay,' " he said.

This wouldn't be all too surprising to Los Angeles-based clinical psychologist Ramani Durvasula, whose study last year found that coffee drinkers tend to be simple and resistant to change.

Her online survey, coordinated in conjunction with "The Dr. Oz Show," tracked the correlation between coffee order and personality type, and found that there may be a connection between the two.

Latte drinkers tend to be people-pleasers, and those who ordered frozen or blended drinks tend to be trendsetters and sometimes reckless. Instant coffee drinkers are laid back and sometimes procrastinators, and those who ordered decaf or specially ordered drinks err on the perfectionist side and often make healthy choices. [...]

"People who order several different orders are just trying to show off and look knowledgeable or look hip," Mr. Inzana said. "Black coffee drinkers don't care what people think of them."

Although the study was more "playful," according to Ms. Durvasula, there may be some validity in her findings.

"We're a lot more pattered than we think. Even in the smallest decision, our personality drives that a bit," she said. "I don't know if anything defines anyone, but you get insight into peoples' habits."

Buying coffee instead of making it yourself is a function of moral lassitude.

Posted by orrinj at 8:36 AM


Ted Williams' honesty was refreshing - and rare (Frank Fitzpatrick, 7/20/14, Philadelphia Inquirer)

When Red Sox fans sought to make amends with great ovations, he refused to acknowledge them with a tip of his cap.

How many players would like to vent nightly at critical sportswriters? Williams did.

He disdainfully referred to Boston writers as "the knights of the keyboard." A voracious newspaper consumer, if he saw something he believed unfair or overly personal, he told off the author, usually loudly and profanely.

How many players mired in long funks would like to rail at the world? Williams did.

When he failed, he didn't don a happy mask. He moped, questioned his career choice, and sometimes threatened to quit. Once in a while, after a bad call or a prolonged 0-fer, he'd even fail to hustle.

That behavior wasn't admirable. But, from the perspective of 60-plus sanitized years later, it certainly seems refreshing. And Williams, dead for 12 years now, remains a far more complex figure than any of today's emotionally restrained stars.

In baseball, as in other sports, increased scrutiny and money have yielded less candor.

Players are coached in how to behave in public, how to interact with the media, how to protect their brand. Their answers to questions, more often than not, are bland and safe. Their real feelings remain sheltered. Though in essence they're always on camera, they've learned to reveal less, not more, of themselves.

"The pitch got away." "Our fans are the greatest." "We all make mistakes."

It's understandable. In a world in which the slightest indiscretion can go viral instantly, an honest reaction can be perilous.

Broadcaster Roy Firestone was once asked how athletes could avoid making media mistakes. His response was a guidebook for contemporary athletes.

"[Avoid] anything involving brashness. Any confrontation. It's always a big mistake to challenge the media. Keep it to yourself. Never ever . . . name- call. You don't ever make the mistake of trying to exchange verbiage with a member of the broadcast or newspaper business, because you're going to lose. And you're going to look bad. . . . Don't ever confront a member of the media. It's a mistake. They play it over and over again on TV, and you look like a fool."

Williams was a big-enough talent and a strange-enough individual that he didn't care. It's hard to imagine anyone ever behaving like him again. As a result, as well as we'd like to think we know our favorite ballplayers, we really don't.

Posted by orrinj at 8:27 AM


A safer world, even as global energy struggles abound (Robin Mills, July 20, 2014, The National)

[D]espite these conflicts, the world has become a much safer place. From a peak during the 1980s, wars within and between states have dropped sharply since 1990. Even including the Syrian civil war, the death rate from political violence has fallen steadily since the 1970s. Oil price volatility has been exceptionally low over the past three years, and although prices remain high, there has not been a 1973 or 1979-style shock.

How do we resolve these contradictions?

Even in an overall more secure world, oil companies' exposure to insecurity may have increased. Since the 1990s, higher energy prices, the depletion of traditional safe areas such as the North Sea and Alaska, and the entry of Asian companies seeking to carve out their own positions have led the industry into more risky territory. Chinese companies, which have come under attack in South Sudan and Ethiopia, have realised this.

At the same time, countries once largely inaccessible to international energy investment, such as Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan and Mexico, have opened up. The Middle East, the world's most important oil-producing region, is passing through a period of political upheaval and conflict, even though lesser producers in Latin America and South East Asia have become more peaceful.

More recently, the North American shale oil and gas boom has opened up enormous resources in safe regions, changing US perceptions about energy security and helping to cap oil and gas price volatility.

Posted by orrinj at 8:16 AM


Financial Savvy Starts in Childhood : Early Financial Lessons Influence How Adults Handle Money (LINDSAY GELLMAN, July 20, 2014, WSJ)

Regardless of whether they fully sink in at the time, having conversations about how money works early and often is the key to raising financially savvy children, financial-literacy experts say. "Money is right up there with basic hygiene" in terms of essential areas of child education, says Alexa von Tobel, founder and chief executive of financial-planning site LearnVest.com and author of "Financially Fearless."

Your child's earliest money-related memories have a lasting impact on how he or she comes to handle finances as an adult, Ms. von Tobel says, so be sure to set a positive tone in money discussions, even if circumstances are less than ideal. You might use your child's request for an expensive toy as an opportunity to talk about saving for big purchases.

Many parents establish a system where the child receives an age-appropriate allowance in exchange for performing certain household chores. Talk with your child about what to do with this income, says John Linfield, executive director at the Institute for Financial Literacy, a Portland, Maine-based nonprofit. Mr. Linfield suggests dividing the money (not necessarily evenly) among three jars: one for short-term spending, one for saving and one for donating. Help your child choose a charitable organization to which to donate, he says.

Even if you do most of your banking online, there's value in taking a field trip to a brick-and-mortar bank branch with your child, says Ted Beck, chief executive of the National Endowment for Financial Education, a financial-literacy nonprofit in Denver. Explain to your child that this organization holds money you deposit for safekeeping, he says. And teach him or her that the ATM isn't a magical money dispenser, but rather a means for withdrawing cash from your bank account, says Ms. Godfrey.

Ask about opening a savings account for your child. Some banks offer children's savings accounts that don't require large minimums. They also may offer passbooks, in which a child can track the compounding interest in his or her account.

Posted by orrinj at 8:10 AM


Sunday bloody Sunday (AVI ISSACHAROFF, July 20, 2014, Times of srael)

Video uploaded to the internet in recent hours includes horrific footage of bodies strewn in the streets, and greatly exaggerated claims are emerging of a massacre as horrendous as the one in Sabra and Shatila in 1982. Thousands of the neighborhood's residents have fled to seek refuge in UNRWA schools and in hospitals.

The difficult pictures will likely turn the tide of international public opinion, which has so far been relatively sympathetic toward Israel's campaign in the Gaza Strip. Hamas, which has refused an Egyptian ceasefire proposal, seems far from breaking. On the contrary, the organization's top brass is confident and determined to continue fighting in order to achieve a strategic diplomatic coup vis-a-vis its international standing and the status of the Gaza Strip. [...]

The question, then, is whether Hamas's achievements could be the very thing that will prompt it to change its tack and seek a ceasefire. The problem, however, is that footage of multiple civilian casualties in Shejaiya only plays into Hamas's hands and makes it stronger. The organization wants to see many civilian casualties in order to bring about strong international criticism of Israel and pressure from Cairo on Jerusalem to accede to Hamas's demands. Khaled Mashaal, the Hamas political leader, has been sitting tight in Qatar, refusing even to accept an Egyptian invitation to fly to Cairo to discuss a truce. Mashaal knows full well that Hamas's political leaders and military capabilities have barely been damaged by the Israeli campaign; it can still fire rockets at Israeli population centers, and the network of bunkers dug under Gaza enable it to target a growing number of IDF soldiers.

Mashaal is set to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday in Doha. Abbas will likely entreat him to accept an Egyptian proposal and hold his fire. But in all likelihood, Mashaal, certain that victory is in his grasp, will refuse.

Posted by orrinj at 7:56 AM


James Garner, star of 'Maverick' and 'The Rockford Files,' dies at 86 (AP, 7/20/14)

When he received the Screen Actors Guild's lifetime achievement award in 2005, he quipped, "I'm not at all sure how I got here."

But in his 2011 memoir, "The Garner Files," he provided some amusing and enlightening clues, including his penchant for bluntly expressed opinions and a practice for decking people who said something nasty to his face -- including an obnoxious fan and an abusive stepmother. They all deserved it, Garner declared in his book.

It was in 1957 when the ABC network, desperate to compete on ratings-rich Sunday night, scheduled "Maverick" against CBS's powerhouse "The Ed Sullivan Show" and NBC's "The Steve Allen Show." "Maverick" soon outpolled them both.

At a time when the networks were crowded with hard-eyed, traditional Western heroes, Bret Maverick provided a fresh breath of air. With his sardonic tone and his eagerness to talk his way out of a squabble rather than pull out his six-shooter, the con-artist Westerner seemed to scoff at the genre's values.

After a couple of years, Garner felt the series was losing its creative edge, and he found a legal loophole to escape his contract in 1960.

His first film after "Maverick" established him as a movie actor. It was "The Children's Hour," William Wyler's remake of Lillian Hellman's lesbian drama that co-starred Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine.

He followed in a successful comedy with Kim Novak, "Boys Night Out," and then fully established his box-office appeal with the 1963 blockbuster war drama "The Great Escape" and two smash comedies with Doris Day -- "The Thrill of It All" and "Move Over Darling."

Throughout his long film career, Garner demonstrated his versatility in comedies ("The Art of Love," "A Man Could Get Killed," "Skin Game"), suspense ("36 Hours," "They Only Kill Their Masters," "Marlowe"), Westerns ("Duel at Diablo," "Hour of the Gun," "Support Your Local Gunfighter").

In the 1980s and 1990s, when most stars his age were considered over the hill, Garner's career remained strong.

He played a supporting role as a marshal in the 1994 "Maverick," a big-screen return to the TV series with Mel Gibson in Garner's old title role. His only Oscar nomination came for the 1985 "Murphy's Romance," a comedy about a small-town love relationship in which he co-starred with Sally Field.

His favorite film, though, was the cynical 1964 war drama "The Americanization of Emily," which co-starred Julie Andrews.

Unlike most film stars, Garner made repeated returns to television. "Nichols" (1971-72) and "Bret Maverick" (1981-82) were short-lived, but "The Rockford Files" (1974-80) proved a solid hit, bringing him an Emmy.

His best work was the two tv shows.  The best films : Great Escape, Support Your Local Sherrif! and Marlowe.

I remember one night he was on The Tonight Show and Carson asked him if he was still doing most of his own stunts.  He said he was getting old enough (late 40s maybe) that he wanted to back off, but he'd had the same stunt double for years, who was also getting too old to do them....

July 19, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 2:04 PM


Babies Now, Marriage Later: A Failed Strategy for the Poor : New Harvard study confirms what most Americans know but would rather not acknowledge. (MARK GORDON, July 17, 2014, Aleteia)

A recently released study of social mobility conducted by researchers at Harvard University confirms what most Americans know but would rather not acknowledge: the children of single-parent households are more likely to be poor and less likely to move into the middle or upper classes during their lifetimes than the children of two-parent homes.  

The study, titled "Where is the Land of Opportunity: The Geography of Intergenerational Mobility in the United States," examines the geographical distribution of social mobility, controlling for five factors: racial segregation, income inequality, school quality, social capital, and family structure. According to the authors, "the fraction of children living in single-parent households is the single strongest correlate of upward income mobility among all the variables we explored." In other words without regard to geographical location, whether a child is the product of a single-parent home makes more difference to his or her eventual material success than any other factor.

Moreover, "family structure correlates with upward mobility not just at the individual level but also at the community level, perhaps because the stability of the social environment affects children's outcomes more broadly." Here the researchers are saying that children of single-parent homes tend to inhabit local cultures of fatherlessness, which makes their negative outcomes a community phenomenon, not just an individual one. 

Overall, the study found that social mobility is lowest in the states of the Old South, which not coincidentally is where the highest rates of single-parent families are generally found. Other areas have high percentages of single-parent families, of course, notably major cities; but in regions outside the Old South factors like better quality schools and a greater degree of social capital - private and public services - tend to blunt the effect of single-parenthood on social mobility.  

Opposition to marriage is opposition to decent lives.

Posted by orrinj at 1:56 PM


A Car That Is Smarter Than Its Driver Can Cut Pollution (Julia Pyper and ClimateWire, 7/16/14, Scientific American)

Traffic jams and collisions aren't only frustrating for drivers, but they multiply emissions and are potentially life-threatening and damaging to the economy. But these problems could dissipate as more vehicles take to the roads equipped to communicate with each other and drive themselves. [...]

Obama cited a study that found Americans spend 5.5 billion hours stuck in traffic each year at a cost of $120 billion in wasted time and gas--or $800 per commuter.

Car crashes have an even bigger price tag. The nearly 33,000 road deaths and more than 3.9 million injuries in 2010 cost Americans $871 billion in economic loss and societal harm, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The Department of Transportation, in conjunction with the auto industry, has been developing cutting-edge vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communication technology that could reduce up to 80 percent of crashes that don't involve fatigue or alcohol.

Using short-range wireless signals, connected vehicle technology can alert drivers if a car up ahead slams on the brakes or if an oncoming car is about to run a stop sign. V2V communication can also enable the highest level of vehicle automation, or self-driving capability, by giving a car complete awareness of its environment.

Posted by orrinj at 11:01 AM


Iran Nuclear Talks Extended Until Late November (LAURENCE NORMAN, July 19, 2014, WSJ)

Under Friday's deal, the U.S. will give Tehran access over the next four months to an additional $2.8 billion in oil export revenues frozen abroad by American sanctions, Secretary of State John Kerry said.

The West is seeking commitments from Iran that would prevent it from developing a nuclear weapon, and the sides agreed on new steps that go beyond those agreed in November in a six-month interim agreement. That deal took effect on Jan. 20 and provided a framework for the talks. It would have expired on Sunday without the extension.

They just keep doing stuff the neocons assure us they'll never do.

Posted by orrinj at 10:58 AM


Report: 'Vast majority' of asylum claims granted (BYRON YORK, JULY 18, 2014, DC Examiner)

[N]ew numbers released by the House Judiciary Committee show the "vast majority" of unaccompanied minors seeking asylum are granted it before even appearing before a judge. "Information from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) that shows 65 percent of unaccompanied alien minors' asylum applications have been immediately approved by asylum officers in Fiscal Year 2014," says a Judiciary Committee statement. "And this is just the first bite of the apple. Many more cases can be approved later. Where an asylum officer does not approve the application, it is then referred to an immigration judge where the applicant can try again. If that fails, they can continue to appeal their case."

The Judiciary Committee says asylum approval rates have "increased dramatically" under the Obama administration. Overall, according to the committee statement, "Approval rates by asylum officers have increased from 28 percent in 2007 to 46 percent in 2013 and approval rates by immigration judges in affirmative cases have increased from 51 percent in 2007 to 74 percent in 2013." And that does not count appeals.

"Once individuals are granted asylum," the report notes, "they have access to all major federal welfare programs."

President Reagan's blanket amnesty was more efficient.
Posted by orrinj at 10:35 AM


Euphoric Hamas needs to hear that Israel will oust it from Gaza if necessary (AVI ISSACHAROFF, July 19, 2014, Times of Israel)

In a meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Cairo on Wednesday, Moussa Abu Marzouk, the deputy head of Hamas's political bureau, dismissed Abbas's pleas regarding a ceasefire, explaining that "what are 200 martyrs compared with lifting the siege [on the Gaza Strip?]" Abu Marzouk later tweeted that there will be no truce that does not acknowledge the demands of the "resistance," and that it is "better that Israel occupy the Gaza Strip than for the siege to continue." Abu Marzouk, needless to say, resides in Cairo, far from the threat of Israeli air strikes.

All this requires Israel to reconsider its preconceived notions and its plans of action with regard to Hamas. The basic concept that has guided Israel in recent years is that Hamas's control of the Strip is manageable, even "good for the Jews," and poses, at the end of the day, less of a security risk than any alternative scenario. But Israel can no longer afford to convey the message that "quiet will be met with quiet."

Hamas has been operating under the basic assumption that Israel will ultimately work to preserve its hold on the Strip. Hence Hamas's current confidence, even euphoria. Hamas believes Israel does not want to bring it down or to assassinate its leaders.

In order to force Hamas's leaders to reconsider their stance, therefore, Israel had better change its tone, and fast. Hamas needs to understand that the rules of the game have now changed, and that Israel is willing to destroy it and its regime, including by seizing the entire Gaza Strip, if necessary. Tzipi Livni took a first step in that direction, to the surprise of her interviewers, when telling Channel 2 on Friday night that she did not rule out bringing down Hamas if that's what it takes to restore sustained quiet.

'One blood, one enemy': Solidarity for Gaza boils in West Bank (Ben Lynfield, Correspondent  JULY 19, 2014, CS Monitor)

The Israeli operation in Gaza has aroused intense feelings of solidarity among West Bank Palestinians for their Gaza counterparts, fueling anger that could easily be sparked into widespread unrest.

''People can't sit idly and watch their brothers dying in Gaza,'' says Mahdi Abdul Hadi, director of the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs. ''What happens in the West Bank now will depend on how far the Israeli army will go ahead with reoccupying and dividing Gaza. It's too early to say but there is anger and frustration among the youth.'' [...]

Although Gaza and the West Bank have been politically divided, with little in-person interaction between residents of the two since 2007, fellowship is strong when conflicts like this flare.

"I'm a son of the Palestinian people, the Gazans are also Palestinians,'" Dia Ali says, explaining why he was protesting. "Our message to the occupation is that we are one people, one blood and we have one enemy, the occupation that is destroying Gaza and we have the right to resist through all means, from rocks to rockets."

Protesters chanted, "Gaza you are sacrificing your blood for our dignity." Many carried Palestinian flags, and one held up a sign reading, ''Stand by Gaza. Stop the Genocide." A car among the demonstrators played a Hamas song. One of the lyrics is ''Take the land and security of Israel and make a volcano.'' 

Ziad Hamdan, an older merchant, said he came to the demonstration "because it is the least anyone can do to protest the killing in Gaza." Referring to the killing of four Palestinian boys by Israeli fire on the Gaza beach Wednesday, Mr. Hamdan added bitterly, "They must have been dangerous to the Israelis, that's why they killed them."

As events in Egypt demonstrated, the only way for Israel to prevent Islamist governance of the nation of Palestine is to prevent self-determination and democracy, making itself an international pariah.  

Posted by orrinj at 8:19 AM


KIND OF A BIG DEAL (Howard Megdall, 7/19/14, Sports on Earth)

"I've had that nickname ever since I played for the Dodgers," Diaz said, holding a mostly-eaten orange, as we stood in the hallway in front of the Reds clubhouse Friday. "Because we had two Jose Diazes on the team, and every time we threw in the bullpen, we needed to know who the manager wanted. So George Cooper, the pitching coach, told me, you're gonna be Jumbo Diaz from now on. And from 2002 to now, everybody call me Jumbo."

From 2002 to now, Diaz has also regularly gotten minor league hitters out. Sure, he had some mitigating circumstances. He had Tommy John surgery in 2004. Another procedure, to put a screw in his elbow, cost him the 2008 season.

But Diaz posted a sub-2 ERA in 2010 at two minor league levels, a 1.41 ERA for Double-A Bowie in 2011. His ERA at Triple-A Louisville in 2013 was 1.66, and he'd lowered that to 1.35 in 2014 before finally getting promoted. He belonged to the Dodgers, the Rangers, the Orioles, the Pirates and the Reds.

So what took so long?

When I asked Diaz's manager, Bryan Price, whether it surprised him to see someone with Diaz's talent fail to get a major league chance, he said it did. "I never had a chance to see Jumbo pitch until spring training. I had heard about him. I knew he was in the organization. He played for a lot of teams, he threw hard, and he was a huge man. And so, the weight loss, when I saw him, he didn't look abnormally large. There are some guys at 265, 270 pounds who are out there. But to think that he could throw that hard, throw that many strikes, have three quality pitches and not have pitched in the big leagues was unusual to me. I didn't get it."

But there, within Price's answer, is all that has changed about Jumbo Diaz, the first Jumbo in the major leagues since Jumbo Nash last played for the Phillies in 1972. He no longer looks "abnormally large."

Diaz didn't add a pitch in 2014. He's always thrown hard, with reasonable walk rates and strikeouts around one per inning. He didn't fine-tune command of his four-seam or two-seam offerings, both of which come in around 98 miles per hour on average, or his slider at 90, changeup at 88.

He did lose about 70 pounds. It's been, unequivocally, a great thing for his career and his life. But it's fair to wonder if perception, rather than anything that kept him from a viable career as a relief pitcher, held him back until last month.

Posted by orrinj at 8:03 AM


Income Inequality Is Not Rising Globally. It's Falling. (TYLER COWEN, 7/19/14, NY Times)

Income inequality has surged as a political and economic issue, but the numbers don't show that inequality is rising from a global perspective. Yes, the problem has become more acute within most individual nations, yet income inequality for the world as a whole has been falling for most of the last 20 years. It's a fact that hasn't been noted often enough.

The finding comes from a recent investigation by Christoph Lakner, a consultant at the World Bank, and Branko Milanovic, senior scholar at the Luxembourg Income Study Center. And while such a framing may sound startling at first, it should be intuitive upon reflection. The economic surges of China, India and some other nations have been among the most egalitarian developments in history. [...]

The evidence also suggests that immigration of low-skilled workers to the United States has a modestly negative effect on the wages of American workers without a high school diploma, as shown, for instance, in research by George Borjas, a Harvard economics professor. Yet that same immigration greatly benefits those who move to wealthy countries like the United States. (It probably also helps top American earners, who can hire household and child-care workers at cheaper prices.) Again, income inequality within the nation may rise but global inequality probably declines, especially if the new arrivals send money back home.

From a narrowly nationalist point of view, these developments may not be auspicious for the United States. But that narrow viewpoint is the main problem. We have evolved a political debate where essentially nationalistic concerns have been hiding behind the gentler cloak of egalitarianism. To clear up this confusion, one recommendation would be to preface all discussions of inequality with a reminder that global inequality has been falling and that, in this regard, the world is headed in a fundamentally better direction.

Our fifteen-year old daughter is waiting tables at a local retirement home--we don't have enough immigrants to do it--and one of the benefits is a 401k.  When we explained the miracle of compound interest and what would happen to that money over the course of a lifetime, she and her brother wre slack-jawed. These emerging nations, particularly given the youth of their populations, have an opportunity to exploit there kind of Third Way welfare structures in ways that will make their succeeding generations wealthy exponentially faster than what we in the West achieved. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:56 AM


This column will change your life: just sit down and think (Oliver Burkeman, 7/19/14, The Guardian)

Modern humans spend virtually no time on "inward-directed thought", and not solely because we're too busy: in one US survey, 95% of adults said they'd found time for a leisure activity in the previous 24 hours, but 83% said they'd spent zero time just thinking. The new study, led by Timothy Wilson of the University of Virginia, first asked students to entertain themselves with nothing but their thoughts in an "unadorned room". Most said they found it hard to concentrate; half found it unpleasant or neutral at best. In further experiments, older people, and those who rarely used smartphones, got similar results. Meanwhile, those given the chance to do something outward-directed, such as reading, enjoyed it far more. And when 42 people got to choose between sitting doing nothing and giving themselves electric shocks, two-thirds of men and a quarter of women chose the latter.

Are we mad? In his book Back To Sanity, the Leeds Metropolitan University psychologist Steve Taylor answers: yes. The condition he diagnoses, "humania", isn't recognised as a disorder, but only because we're all victims, he argues, and it's part of the definition of a mental illness that most people don't have it. The "urge to immerse our attention in external things is so instinctive that we're scarcely aware of it", he writes. We often speak of emails, tweets and texts as if they're annoyances that we'd eliminate if we could. Yet the truth, of course, is that half the time we're desperate to be distracted, and gladly embrace the interruption.

Taylor's explanation for this puzzle borrows from Buddhism (among other places). We mistake ourselves for individual, isolated beings, trapped within our heads. No wonder we don't dwell on what's inside: that would underline the loneliness of existence, so obviously watching TV is more fun. To sit comfortably with your thoughts first requires seeing that there's a sense in which they're not real. A less new agey way of putting it is simply that you don't need to believe your thoughts. Whereupon they become fun to watch, and the need for distraction subsides. To quote the title of a book by Sylvia Boorstein, a meditation teacher: don't just do something, sit there.

...lies in the notion that your own thoughts are interesting enough that you ought to be spending time with them.

July 18, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 9:13 PM


Retirement accounts hold record balances (Patrick M. Sheridan, 7/18/14, CNNMoney)

Fidelity said the balance for employees who have been in a workplace 401(k) for 10 years rose 15% a year over the past decade to $246,200.

Posted by orrinj at 7:44 PM


Mexico to open oil and gas to private sector (Deutsche Welle, 7/18/14)

Mexico's Senate voted 90-28 on Wednesday (17.7.2014) to approve the core elements of a bill setting out the regulatory framework for opening the country's oil and gas sector to private investment, according to reports by Reuters and the leading Mexican daily El Universal.

Under the new Hydrocarbons Law, a centerpiece of President Enrique Pena Nieto's economic reform agenda, production and exploration for oil and gas by private companies will once again be permitted, after a 75-year hiatus. The government hopes that opening the hydrocarbons sector to private investment will reverse the past decade's pattern of falling oil and gas output.

The Hydrocarbons Law sets out the regulations under which state-owned Pemex oil and gas company can enter into exploration or production contracts with private or foreign oil and gas corporations.

Posted by orrinj at 7:41 PM


Why Is Statehood So Popular? (Tanisha M. Fazal and Ryan Griffiths, 7/18/14, ISN)

A changing international environment has made statehood more attractive for aspiring nations. Membership in the club of sovereign states has always brought privileges, but these perks are increasing in number and improving in quality-and secessionists know it. The rise of a norm against territorial conquest and multilateral organizations that support this norm have provided a safe haven of sorts for newly independent states. Newborn states today, like Montenegro, can gain membership to organizations such as the UN; this membership offers some protection against predatory neighbors, more so at least than was afforded to new states in the 19th or early 20th centuries. Secessionists are also helped by the international community's stated allegiance to the principle of self-determination, which lends legitimacy to their cause and also provides language in which to present it.

Today's new states also enjoy a host of economic benefits unavailable to their predecessors. Smaller states such as Singapore can plug into the global economy to attract international finance. Aspiring nations like Bougainville pin their post-independence economic policies to key extractive industries like copper mining. Moreover, international aid provides a financial safety net for newborn states that may be economically insecure. But, as the secessionist government in Somaliland knows, multilateral aid agencies such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) cannot give loans to breakaway regions until they are recognized. Aid is one more perk of sovereign statehood, and young states like Eritrea, East Timor, Montenegro, and Kosovo were quick to apply to the IMF after gaining independence. [...]

This surge of secessionists presents a series of dilemmas for the international community. Most secessionists use non-violent means to advance their claims, but recent research suggests that while non-violence is generally more politically effective than violence, this is not the case for secessionism. A majority of civil wars today are already driven at least in part by claims of self-determination-the international community thus faces the challenge of persuading secessionists to remain nonviolent, even though it is the violent secessionists who tend to be let into the club of states. In deciding whether to recognize a particular secessionist movement, individual states and the international community more broadly must also determine how representative that movement is. If the group gains statehood, will the benefits of recognition reach average citizens, or will they line the pockets of the new state's political leadership? The increasing number of secessionist groups today often control large and important swathes of territory and people. In order to conduct the growing business of not-quite-international relations, new modes of diplomacy may be needed to redirect at least some of the benefits of statehood without redrawing large portions of the world map.

Posted by orrinj at 7:34 PM



[T]he Columbia University neuroscientist Daniel] Salzman first became interested in wine when he was a graduate student at Stanford University studying neuroscience (Ph.D.) and psychiatry (M.D.). "I was corrupted by some people who were very serious about wine," he told me. Together, they would host wine tastings and travel to vineyards. Over time, as his interest in wine grew, he began to think about the connections between his tastings and the work he was doing on the ways in which emotion colors the way our brains process information. "We study how cognitive and emotional processes can affect perception," he said. "And in the case of something like wine, you have the perfect example: even before you open a bottle to experience the wine itself, you already have an arbitrary visual stimulus--the bottle and the label--that comes with non-arbitrary emotional associations, good and bad." And those emotional associations will, in turn, affect what we taste.

The experiment I participated in is a case in point. Salzman doesn't let us see the bottles, but he tells us a story about them. One wine, he says, is more expensive than the other. It is from a vineyard that embraces a traditional, artisanal approach to winemaking, run by a father-and-son pair. They use only organic products. Their grapes grow on a steep hill alongside peaches and cherry trees. The particular grapes in this bottle, though, come from a producer that no longer exists--one of Salzman's personal favorites from the eighties. And then there's the "other" wine. It's correctly made, we learn, but without the same artisanal qualities. More commercial, more streamlined, more typical.

I can't speak for everyone present, but at this stage in the evening my task transitions from a simple "which wine do I like more" to a "which is the artisanal." Of course, I assume that the one I like more will be the more expensive, more carefully crafted one. I smell and taste conscientiously, smell and taste again, and scribble down my responses. I don't particularly like either wine, I admit, but I choose Wine B as the winner. I give it a seven (honestly, it's more of a three or four to my taste) and reward Wine A with a four (more of a one or two, but I don't want to be mean). Naturally, I rate Wine B as the more expensive one when I hand in my card.

Expectations, argued the neuroscientists Lauren Atlas and Tor Wager in a recent review, can influence our experience in two interrelated ways. There is the conscious influence, or those things we are knowingly aware of: I've had this wine before and liked or hated it; I've been to this vineyard; I love this grape; the color reminds me of a wine I had earlier that was delicious. As our experience grows, so do our expectations. Every time we have a wine, we taste everything we know about it and other related wines. Then there are the unconscious factors: the weather is getting on our nerves, or our dining companion is; we've loved or hated this restaurant before; I'm mad at my boss over something he said this morning; the music is too loud, and the room is too cold. These can all affect taste, too, even though they are unrelated to the wine itself.

One of the things wine researchers like to do, in fact, is manipulate some small factor of the environment or the wine to see how perceptions of taste are affected. If we are compelled by the description of the vineyard, its owners, or its history, we are likely to pay more for a bottle. Salzman admits, after we've handed in our scores, that that's the reason he gave us so much background on the wines beforehand.

Information about the vineyard at least tells us something about the wine, but even factors that don't, like price, can have an influence. More expensive wines are often rated higher on taste than cheaper ones--but only if tasters are told the price ahead of time. In one recent study, the Caltech neuroscientist Hilke Plassman found that people's expectations of a wine's price affected their enjoyment on a neural level: not only did they report greater subjective enjoyment but they showed increased activity in an area of the brain that has frequently been associated with the experience of pleasantness. The same goes for the color and shape of a wine's label: some labels make us think that a wine is more valuable (and, hence, more tasty), while others don't. Even your ability to pronounce a winery's name can influence your appreciation of its product--the more difficult the name is to pronounce, the more you'll like the wine. In 1999, psychologists from the University of Leicester found that the type of music playing in a store could influence which wines were purchased: when French music was playing, people bought French wines; when German music was turned on, German wines outsold the rest. The customers remained oblivious.

July 17, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 10:01 PM


Remaking Iran (Said A. Arjomand, JUL 16, 2014, Project Syndicate)

In his speech to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's death on June 4, Khamenei fully appropriated the discourse of the dissident clerics aligned with Khatami. Thus, he described the regime instituted by Khomeini as a religious democracy in which all high state offices, including his own, derive their legitimacy from the will of the people as expressed in elections.

But Rouhani needs more than Khamenei's backing. Khamenei is 74 and has health problems. With Mohammad Reza Mahdavi Kani, the 83-year-old chairman of the Council of Experts (the body of clerics that elects the supreme leader) gravely ill, Ghorbanali Dorri-Najafabadi, an influential member and former intelligence and security minister, has suggested that the Council should proceed to elect Khamenei's successor now. Clearly, the clerical elite is concerned about the future of its leadership after Khamenei. Should a succession process begin soon, it would significantly constrain Rouhani's room for maneuver.

Rouhani's relations with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and other security forces are of more immediate concern. Last month's unceremonious killing of a billionaire businessman detained by security forces on corruption charges seemed to reflect the tacit division of power between the president and Iran's security apparatus.

Nonetheless, tension is simmering beneath the surface. Rouhani seems to have halted the expansion of the IRGC's economic empire. The IRGC's commander, General Mohammad Ali Jafari, has publicly expressed his hostility to Rouhani's administration, while General Hassan Firouzabadi, Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces, has countered by expressing his support for the president.

It is in Iraq, however, that Iran faces its most complicated mix of challenge and opportunity. Determined to prevent the disintegration of the country, Iran has provided military and political support to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government. This appears to align Iranian and American policies, with both determined to counter the gains of radical Islamist forces in Iraq and Syria. Rouhani's circle is fully prepared to address this crisis by talking to the US.

After a year in power, Rouhani's program of economic development, environmental cleanup, and improved health care is proceeding smoothly and quietly. But, given the uncertainty of the domestic and international political context, there are no guarantees of success. Much depends on whether a nuclear deal with the international community is achieved, and the likelihood of that outcome has unexpectedly increased, owing to the common interest of Iran and the US in coping with the collapse of Iraq.

Posted by orrinj at 6:32 PM


Obamacare Isn't What's Slowing Costs (Megan McArdle, 7/05/17, Bloomberg View)

[I] think we can be pretty sure that public policy is not making the system more efficient, for two reasons. First, the decline started in the middle of the last decade, and there's no plausible policy mechanism that would have caused cost growth to moderate just then. And second, the same broad trend shows up in pretty much every high-income country. No matter how smashing you think Obamacare was, it didn't stabilize health-care spending in Switzerland.

Ms McArdle, of all people, should have known better than to pick Switzerland, Why Switzerland Has the World's Best Health Care System (Avik Roy, 4/29/11,Forbes)

Long-time readers of this blog will know that my favorite health policy topic is the Swiss health care system. So I was glad to see Megan McArdle, Tyler Cowen, and Ezra Klein devote some space to the topic on Monday, provoked by Paul Krugman's fact-free claim that "consumer-based medicine has been a bust everywhere it has been tried." (Indeed, as Tyler and Ezra point out, Krugman once praised Obamacare as a "plan to Swissify America," arguing that "a Swiss-style system of universal coverage would be a vast improvement on what we have now.")

Megan's piece is especially worth reading, as she tackles the question I have been spending a lot of time on--whether or not it is better for individuals or governments to be in control of health spending:

It's all very well to say that people shouldn't have to make those decisions on the basis of money.  But that's all the government is going to do.  Sure, there are some procedures that people just shouldn't have (like a lot of back surgery). But a lot of this is value judgements: hip replacements for elderly patients, expensive chemotherapy that may extend life by a few months, more convenient dosing schedules or better side-effect profiles for brand name drugs.  Unless we simply rely on across-the-board reimbursement cuts-which would be moronic on every level-the government is mostly not going to be deciding which treatments are effective; it's going to be deciding which treatments are cost-effective.  We haven't taken doctors out of the business of selling health care to patients; we've just added a middleman.

Now, maybe you think that the government is smarter than the consumers it's speaking for.  But how does the government know what you value most: an extra three months of life when you have cancer, or an extra five years of walking after age 89, or an extra $4,000 right now? [...]

The most significant difference between the Swiss and American systems is in the ability of individuals to consume health care in value- and cost-conscious ways. Only one tenth of Americans buy insurance for themselves, the rest getting coverage through their employers or the government. In Switzerland, everyone buys insurance for himself.

An American adaptation of the Swiss system would not require an individual mandate: there are market-based alternatives for avoiding the "adverse selection death spiral," such as requiring those who opt to forego insurance to wait a few years before buying insurance again. Ideally, the American version would give insurers a lot more latitude to come up with innovative plan designs, so that insurance could remain inexpensive, while reflecting what consumers actually want. It wouldn't force young people, just entering the workforce, to subsidize the old. Also, the Swiss system's goal of preventing individuals from spending more than 10 percent of their income on health insurance exposes the system excessively to health cost inflation; instead, the U.S. would be better off adopting a defined-contribution system, like the one proposed by Paul Ryan, in which insurance subsidies grow at a pre-defined, sustainable rate.

And, of course, we all know why the decline began in the middle of last decade, The Health Savings Account Turns 10 (Steve Harris, 4/09/14, HealthCareDaily)

In December 2003, President Bush had just signed the Medicare Prescription Drug Improvement and Modernization Act into law. [...]

According to the Employee Benefits Research Institute, since the bill was signed into law, HSAs have grown to $16.6 billion in assets. In 2013, these assets grew $5.3 billion, a jaw-dropping 47 percent increase over 2012 assets. Meanwhile, Health Reimbursement Arrangements are moving in the opposite direction. Assets have shrunk by 2 percent to $5.7 billion last year.

There is a massive shift taking place in the market as consumers shoulder more out-of-pocket healthcare expenses and demand greater transparency over quality and cost. It has forced hospitals and physicians to cope with collections and bad debt since 'We the People' are not always as reliable paying our bills as a large insurer. HSA linked plans have also sparked innovations from new swipe-card technology to alternative forms of free market care delivery.

Unfortunately, the party didn't follow his lead when he sought to reform healthcare, sticking us with the much more timid Obamacare instead, Bush Promotes Health Savings Accounts (Michael A. Fletcher, 1/27/05, Washington Post):

President Bush laid out a plan yesterday for reducing the nation's spiraling health care costs, proposing tax credits to encourage expansion of health savings accounts and calling for allowing small businesses to pool together for health coverage across state lines. [...]
The main element of Bush's plan would be health savings accounts, which allow people to save money tax-free. The accounts are used for medical expenses up to a preset deductible amount, and once that threshold is met, insurance takes over. Any money not used can roll over from one year to the next, and the cost of the policies is usually lower than that of traditional health insurance plans.

"Health savings accounts all aim at empowering people to make decisions for themselves, owning their own health care plan, and at the same time bringing some demand control into the cost of heath care," Bush said. "Our view is that if you're a consumer of health care and you're in the marketplace making health care decisions, it is more likely that there [would] be more cost control in health care than a system in which the consumer of health care has his or her health care bills paid by a third-party provider." [...]

The concept is a component of Bush's vision for an "ownership society," which seeks to reduce the cost of government entitlements. The administration pushed for inclusion of health savings accounts in the 2003 Medicare prescription drug legislation.

Posted by orrinj at 6:27 PM


Breaking Ball : A Father and Son's Pitch for Baseball Glory (GEORGE NISHIYAMA, 7/15/14, WSJ)

The rules are roughly the same as in America. But how the Japanese game is played reflects the values of society at large: discipline, teamwork, obedience, and relentless physical practice.

High-school players often sport buzz-cut hairstyles to minimize individuality. They take off their caps in front of strangers. They bow to the baseball diamond after games to show respect. Teams are expected to practice seven days a week.

There's a relentless focus on basic skills, such as the "1,000-fungo drill," in which coaches hit a long succession of grounders or pop flies.

Pitchers endure "nagekomi" - literally, "to drive oneself to throwing." It involves throwing as many as 200 pitches at full force to improve strength and pitching mechanics.

Suishu Tobita, a late manager known as the "father of varsity baseball," was famous for his belief that players should at times "vomit blood" on the practice field.

"Those who believe in the rubbish that baseball is for fun cannot reach greater heights," he said in one widely-quoted mantra. "You must suffer to find meaning in baseball."

Proponents say the system helps players respect authority, master the fundamentals, and build stamina.

"Throwing 200 pitches for a week straight every day of the week was something that I did and something that I enjoyed," Daisuke Matsuzaka of the New York Mets said in an interview. "I don't think it negatively affected me at the time."

Detractors say it can lead to injury or breakdown, especially for pitchers. (Read more on Japan's injury debate.)

Last year, high-school pitching sensation Tomohiro Anraku threw 772 pitches in five games over nine days - about as many pitches as most American players throw in a month. After dominating a major tournament, he fell apart and his team lost 17-1 in the final. He struggled much of the following year with an elbow injury.

"American coaches would call that child abuse," says Robert Whiting, author of "You Gotta Have Wa," a study of Japanese baseball.

The U.S., of course, has its own problems with pitching injuries. Major League Baseball this year is suffering from a rash of elbow injuries that has led to a surge in the number of Tommy John surgeries, in which damaged elbow ligaments are replaced with tendons taken from elsewhere in the body. Masahiro Tanaka, the New York Yankees ace, went down with a partial tear of an elbow ligament this month and will be out for at least six weeks. Doctors aren't sure why so many injuries are occurring.

Shota and his father are part of a small group who, over the years, has sought to challenge the established thinking in Japan by insisting on rest. Many experts agree there should be limits on the number of pitches a high-school player throws in a game, as happens in the U.S. There, coaches follow Little League rules stipulating no more than 105 pitches per game for 17- and 18-year-olds, with a minimum of four days' rest after a game if a player throws 76 or more pitches.

"I think 100 pitches and a day of rest afterward should be imposed on high-school players," said Daisuke Nakai, a specialist on shoulder and elbow surgery at Hachioji Sports Orthopaedic Clinic near Tokyo.

That's not the traditional path to a pro career in Japan, however. Stars with their sights on the professional league usually have to show a willingness to pitch all games, especially on Japanese high-school baseball's biggest stage: the annual Koshien competition.

Held near the city of Kobe each August, Koshien is the biggest high-school baseball tournament in the world, featuring 49 of Japan's roughly 4,000 high-school teams. Millions of Japanese fans watch broadcasts of the games.

Teams train intensively. "The really tough things I had to endure in those times, that experience alone - there will never be anything tougher than what I went through," said New York Yankees outfielder Ichiro Suzuki of his high-school baseball years leading up to Koshien, when he also played as a pitcher.

Winning pitchers face an almost assured route to the pros in an otherwise fierce competition for spots: Japan's teams usually draft fewer than 100 of Japan's roughly 200,000 eligible players.

Private schools that epitomize the Japanese way of baseball have recently dominated Koshien. Shota's team, in his hometown of Koryo, has never made it through the regional tournament that serves as a Koshien qualifier.

That regional tournament, which involves some 40 high-school teams in a knock-out competition, began on July 12. Shota's high school plays its first game Sunday and must win the tournament to enter Koshien.

Many of Shota's teammates say they never dreamed of competing at summer Koshien - until he came along.

Posted by orrinj at 6:14 PM


How John Paul the Great Won the Cold War (GEORGE WEIGEL (54) July 16, 2014, Aleteia)

The Ostpolitik of Paul VI (who worried that he was not conducting a "policy of glory") was based on the premise that the Cold War division of Europe would be a feature of the international landscape for decades, if not centuries; that the Church had to "save what could be saved" while making whatever deals it could with communist governments; and that Catholic criticism of the human rights violations of communist regimes should be muted. The results of this strategy included the effective destruction of the Church in Hungary, whose leadership became a subsidiary of the Hungarian communist party; the thorough penetration of the Vatican by Warsaw Pact intelligence agencies (to the benefit of communist negotiators); and the undercutting of Catholic leaders in Poland and in what was then Czechoslovakia.

John Paul II's approach to east central Europe was based on different premises: that the post-war division of Europe was immoral and historically artificial; that communist violations of basic human rights had to be named for what they were; and that the "captive nations" could eventually find tools of resistance that communism could not match, if they reclaimed the religious, moral, and cultural truth about themselves and lived those truths without fear. John Paul shrewdly let the Casaroli/Silvestrini diplomacy continue. But behind that clever façade -- "See, nothing has changed!" -- the Polish pope led a morally-driven campaign of resistance to communism that was vindicated in the Revolution of 1989: a complex historical event, to be sure, but one for which the Vatican Ostpolitik of the 1970s can credibly claim no credit.

The refusal of Italian curial diplomats like Cardinal Sodano to recognize the truth of the Ostpolitik's sad effects on the security and integrity of the Holy See itself is especially unfortunate. The deep penetration of the Vatican by Soviet-bloc intelligence agencies has been documented in numerous scholarly studies, many of which are cited in the second volume of my John Paul II biography, The End and the Beginning. 

Which calls to mind Robert D. Kaplan's profile of Henry Kissinger and his Realism:

He preserved what he saw as the legitimate order, in which the Soviet Union was both contained and accepted, so that revolutionary chaos was confined to the edges of the superpower battlefield, in the Third World. (In perceiving the Soviet Union as permanent, orderly, and legitimate, Kissinger shared a failure of analysis with the rest of the foreign-policy elite -- notably excepting the scholar and former head of the State Department's policy-planning staff George Kennan, the Harvard historian Richard Pipes, the British scholar and journalist Bernard Levin, and the Eureka College graduate Ronald Reagan.)

Posted by orrinj at 5:56 PM


Cast-iron cookware: Good for you and lasts forever (Miriam Rubin, 7/17/14, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

The only remaining cast-iron skillet producer in the U.S. is Lodge Manufacturing Co., located in South Pittsburg (no h), Tenn. A family-run business, they've been making skillets and Dutch ovens since 1896. One of the reasons for cast iron's popularity and resurgence, said Lodge's public-relations director Mark Kelly, is that since July 2007, the skillets have been preseasoned, using a soy-based vegetable oil. So they're ready use right away. It changed everything. "They work and keep on working," he said.

Cast iron offers positive health benefits as well, writes Ms. Brown. With worries about chemicals possibly released if nonstick pans are used when scratched or over a too high heat, cast iron offers "a safe cooking surface that, with very little effort, has always been totally nonstick." And you get some dietary iron, too, she explains, transferred into the food you cook in the skillet. Plus these things are heavy; consider it a bicep workout!

You will need to maintain the pan's seasoning. Mr. Kelly likes to rub olive oil all over the pan and heat it in a low oven for about 20 minutes prior to first using it. Repeat every three months or so, he said, until the pan retains its easy-release finish.

Ms. Brown suggests when using a new seasoned skillet to cook foods in fat, or containing fat (bacon) the first half-dozen times you use it. Also, at first, avoid cooking acid foods, like tomatoes or wine, in it because they can harm the finish. "And remember," she writes, "especially at the beginning, to always rub a little oil on the skillet after drying it with paper towels." And never use soap.

After all, you want to be able to pass it along to someone. Someday.

Posted by orrinj at 4:07 PM


The Global Slowdown in Medical Costs (Margot Sanger-Katz, 7/16/14, NY Times)

Health economists here are puzzling over the precise causes of the current slowdown. But they largely agree on a few factors.

The economic crisis drove down demand for new medical services, as people lost their jobs and coverage, or simply decided to put off elective procedures like knee replacements. Tougher times also led to policy tightening by federal and state officials -- and employers, who have increasingly moved from generous health insurance plans to those that expose their workers to more out-of-pocket costs.

The Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, expands coverage to new people, but over the last few years, it has also cut back on spending in Medicare, much of it from lower reimbursements to hospitals and insurers. The law also includes attempts to make the medical system more efficient by reducing forms of care that do not make people healthier.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 PM


The Case for a Carbon Tax (IRWIN M. STELZER, 7/17/14, Weekly Standard)

There is broad agreement that our tax structure is slowing economic growth and job creation. We are more at risk from tax inversion mergers than from weather inversions as our corporations flee to countries with half our stated corporate tax rate. Our payroll taxes, layered over with new taxes concealed in Obamacare, discourage work and risk-taking, and discriminate against modest earners. Our corporations sit on billions overseas rather than pay a huge fee for repatriating the cash.

A carbon tax would provide funds to make an attack on these nonsensical features of our tax code far easier. At minimum such a tax can be revenue-neutral, with the proceeds offsetting reductions in other taxes; at maximum, it might be what Wall Street calls revenue-accretive, generating new revenues by stimulating growth and job creation.

Posted by orrinj at 3:57 PM


The intellectual cesspool of the inflation truthers (Matt O'Brien July 17, 2014, Washington Post)

The Shadow Stats numbers would mean we've been in a depression since 1988. The total size of the economy--real GDP plus inflation--has been growing about 4 percent a year recently. So if Shadow Stats is right, and inflation is really 10 percent, that means real GDP must be falling by 6 percent.

And that's impossible. You can see just how much in the chart below. It plots the change in GDP against the change in unemployment for the past 30 years. There's usually a strong relationship between the two, so much so that economists have dubbed it Okun's Law. Now take another look at how far away the inflation truther's world is from our own. There's just no basis in reality for the economy to be contracting--let alone by 6 percent--when it's adding as many jobs as it is now.

Even worse, Shadow Stat's numbers show so much inflation the past 25 years that, as Jim Pethokoukis points out, it implies the economy hasn't grown at all during that time. So which seems likelier: that we're no better off than we were a quarter century ago, or that Shadow Stats is total bunk?

Okay, that's an easy question. Though the best evidence that we shouldn't take Shadow Stats' numbers seriously is that it doesn't either. Cullen Roche cleverly notices that, despite repeatedly predicting imminent hyperinflation, Shadow Stats hasn't increased its subscription price--a bargain at just 175 worthless fiat dollars!--in eight years.

Posted by orrinj at 3:52 PM


$1 Saved in your 20′s Equals $10 Saved in your 50′s! (G.E. Miller on July 16, 2014, 20SomethingFinance)

To hammer home the point further, take this example from Burton Malkiel, the author of A Random Walk Down Wall Street, as he highlights the following example of compound interest in action:

"William, starts saving $4,000 a year when he is 20 and stops after 20 years, after having saved $80,000. His brother, James, starts saving $4,000 at 40, and does so for 25 years, for a total of $100,000 saved.

They earn 6% on their savings.

At age 65, William will have $850,136 in his account, while James will have only $219,242. Despite having saved less, William's nest egg will be almost four times greater because of compounding."

And that's at just a 6% return. An extra 2 percentage point increase would more than double William's account.

This scenario is reason #1 for why you should save early and often.

It's why the Third Way is so cheap in the long run.

Posted by orrinj at 3:48 PM


Sweden's School Choice Disaster : Advocates for school choice might be shocked to see how badly the country's experiment with vouchers failed. (Ray Fisman, 7/15/14, Slate)

[S]wedish school reforms did incorporate the essential features of the voucher system advocated by Friedman. The hope was that schools would have clear financial incentives to provide a better education and could be more responsive to customer (i.e., parental) needs and wants when freed from the burden imposed by a centralized bureaucracy. And the Swedish market for education was open to all, meaning any entrepreneur, whether motivated by religious beliefs, social concern, or the almighty dollar, could launch a school as long as he could maintain its accreditation and attract "paying" customers.

For a while, at least if media accounts of the reforms are any indication, things looked like they were going pretty well. Voucher school students consistently outperformed their counterparts at government schools; in 2008, the London Telegraph described the reforms' impact as "tremendous." The number of private schools increased tenfold in less than a decade, with a majority run as for-profits.

But in the wake of the country's nose dive in the PISA rankings, there's widespread recognition that something's wrong with Swedish schooling. As part of ongoing efforts to determine the root cause, the Swedish Schools Inspectorate (the equivalent of the U.S. federal government's Department of Education) called for a regrading of a subset of standardized tests administered during 2010 and 2011. In total, nearly 50,000 students at all grade levels from more than 700 schools had their tests in English, Swedish, science, and math re-evaluated.

Two Stockholm University economists, Björn Tyrefors Hinnerich and Jonas Vlachos, have been analyzing the data, and their findings to date demonstrate the many ways that things can go wrong under a market-driven education system. As in many countries, Sweden has standardized tests that are administered to all students nationwide. Performance matters for both students and the schools they attend. Students who do well will have brighter admission prospects. Schools that do well attract more (and perhaps better) students; the ones that perform poorly risk losing accreditation. However, unlike, say, the SAT, which is sent off to be graded at the testing service's headquarters, in Sweden grading is done locally, often by teachers, often at the school where the test-takers are enrolled. (This setup is not uncommon in the U.S. as well: The New York state Regents Exam is administered to all students and graded by each student's own teacher.)

It's easy to imagine teachers going easy on their own students, possibly unconsciously, motivated by nothing more than a desire to help them--a study co-authored by my colleague, Jonah Rockoff, found exactly this result in an analysis of New York Regents Exam grading. In Sweden, according to the study by Hinnerich and Vlachos, the scores issued by external evaluators were indeed harsher than those assigned by internal graders. And after accounting for things like a school's location, along with basic student characteristics, it turned out that the external evaluators had downgraded the scores for students at voucher schools much more than for students at government ones. In fact, a sizable portion of the much-vaunted outperformance of voucher school students could be chalked up to nothing more than easy grading. More surprising still, the voucher school grade inflation is almost as high for math and science (where you'd think an answer is either right or wrong) as it is for Swedish. By contrast, Rockoff et al.'s Regents Exam analysis found very little evidence of test score manipulation in quantitative subjects.  

Posted by orrinj at 3:43 PM


The Hard Numbers on Social Security (WILLIAM A. GALSTON, July 15, 2014, WSJ)

 If we do nothing, the Social Security actuaries estimated last year, all Social Security reserves will be exhausted by 2033, after which revenues could cover only three-quarters of currently scheduled benefits.

To close that gap while maintaining scheduled benefits, we would need to enact an immediate increase in the payroll tax rate from 12.4% to 15.9%. For workers earning $50,000 a year, that would mean a tax increase of $900, nearly 2% of gross income. And employers would have to match it. For workers making the maximum now subject to payroll taxes (a bit under $120,000), taxes would rise by $2,100.

Because earnings covered by Social Security are capped, the payroll tax is steeply regressive: Higher-income earners pay a much lower rate than do those at lower levels. For a worker making $250,000, payroll taxes amount to only 5.9% of total earnings, less than half the rate of someone making $50,000.

Many people have proposed making the tax less regressive by bringing more of total income under the cap, and there is a historical basis for doing so. In 1983, when Congress averted insolvency in the system by enacting the recommendations of the Greenspan Commission, about 90% of total earnings fell under the taxable cap. Although that cap has risen in tandem with average wages ever since, increasing inequality in the distribution of earnings means that today only 83% of total wages are subject to the payroll tax. Restoring the ratio of three decades ago would mean doubling the maximum earnings subject to the tax to $241,600. For someone making the maximum, that would mean a tax increase of $7,600, with employers liable for the same increment. Numbers this large affect calculations about hiring and raises.

One might imagine that such a sizable increase in covered earnings would be enough to stabilize the system for the long term. In fact, the CBO calculates, it would reduce the imbalance by only 30%. Indeed, eliminating the cap and taxing all earnings would solve just 45% of the problem. If we stick with the current payroll-based funding system, any solution would have to involve an increase in the payroll tax rate as well.

Lifting the cap, raising payroll taxes, raising retirement agae and means-testing benefits gets you back to balance too easily for there to be much pressure for reformation.

Posted by orrinj at 3:38 PM


Orszag: It's time for some optimism about health care spending (Adrianna McIntyre on June 15, 2014, Vox)

Adrianna McIntyre: Can you set up what's been happening recently with health care spending and why it's such a big deal?

Peter Orszag: We have had incredibly good news over the past three to five years. If I'd been told when I was director of either CBO or OMB that we would have a 12-month period when Medicare spending was basically flat in nominal terms -- and therefore on an inflation-adjusted, per-beneficiary basis, significantly negative -- I would have thought impossible and yet that's exactly what we're living through.

If this continues, it's massive -- everything you think you know about the nation's long-term fiscal gap would be wrong. [...]

PO: I believe three things are driving the deceleration. One is that consumers are playing a bigger role in choosing their own health care and they face higher cost-sharing in the commercial space. That's not relevant to Medicare. Another factor relevant to the commercial space is the economic slowdown. That's also not relevant to Medicare; there's no evidence that Medicare is significantly affected by the state of the business cycle.

So that leaves us asking, what's affecting the slowdown in Medicare? One factor is that the systems are being digitized, so hospital executives have a much better sense of what's going on within the hospital and can target waste. The second thing is that the payment system is changing, and it's expected to continue to change.

The vignette I like to use is that lots of hospitals across the country have succeeded in reducing their readmissions. One example here is Mount Sinai in New York, where I'm on the board. They started a program to screen people at high risk of readmission; they assign social workers to those people. The intervention works very well: emergency room visits and readmissions are down 50 percent for this high-risk population.

Why is Mount Sinai doing this? Right now, it's losing a ton of money on that program -- it's bleeding money. Effectively, it's losing revenue on those lost readmissions.

But it's doing this because it expects the payment system to be different within three to five years. In particular, it expects the system to be much more value-based, with a fixed payment per patient. In that situation, incentives get flipped on their head; you really want to reduce readmissions.

There are things being done today in anticipation of what the payment system will look like tomorrow.

AM: How much of a role do you think the Affordable Care Act is playing, if any?

PO: I would say the ACA is a small part of this. If you survey hospital executives, most of them they expect the majority of their revenue to be value-based within five years. Part of that is driven by the ACA, part is driven by private insurers, and part is driven by employers pressuring private insurers to change their payment practices.

I'm not going to try to hazard a guess about exactly what share is due to health reform. I would just say that bundled payment, ACOs, and other reforms are directionally consistent with this expectation of value-based payment. The ACA has contributed to a general perception that this is the direction the system's moving.

Posted by orrinj at 3:34 PM


Why Did This Marxist Philosopher Plagiarize a White Supremacist Magazine? (Rebecca Schuman, 7/16/14, Slate)

2014 has not been a banner year for superstar Marxist philosopher Slavoj Žižek. First, there was a viral video of him appearing to sneer with disdain at the very students whose rapt sycophantism makes his career possible. And now, he's been accused of the worst professorial misdeed of them all: plagiarism. And not just any plagiarism--plagiarism of a 1999 article in American Renaissance, a white supremacist magazine published by an organization that the Southern Poverty Law Center has designated a "hate group."

It all started when the conservative writer Steve Sailer and the mystery-shrouded blogger "Deogolwulf" both noticed something very odd about a few passages in a 2006 Žižek article in the prestigious academic journal Critical Inquiry. The prose in these passages, they realized, was far too lucid. "The reason for the cat's barking, the dog's meowing, or rather, this obscurant's lucidity, is simple," Deogolwulf explains. "It is someone else's summary."

Žižek typically writes in the tradition of Derrida, Foucault, and other icons of Critical Theory, who object to clear, identifiable theses on philosophical grounds (long story). 

Posted by orrinj at 3:31 PM


The 10 Most Endangered Jobs (Or, Why You Are Reading This Online) (KATHLEEN MADIGAN, 7/15/14, WSJ)

A new study released Tuesday by job-search site CareerCast.com, lists the 10 top endangered jobs in the U.S. Using data on 200 jobs from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, CareerCast projected the least promising career paths in terms of future employment growth, income potential and existing unemployment in the job field.

Topping the list is mail carriers. Although postal workers in the tight labor markets of North Dakota received hefty pay raises last spring, CareerCast forecasts the number of postal workers will shrink by 28% by 2022. Instead of snail mail, consumers are using Facebook and Twitter to keep in touch and are paying bills on-line.

Other at-risk jobs include lumberjacks, printing workers and newspaper reporters.

"The common theme in these jobs is paper," says Tony Lee, publisher of CareerCast.

"Consumers are not eschewing reading the news or the latest bestseller, but rather are consuming their information online and not in print," the report said. (You're reading this online, aren't you?)

July 16, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 5:46 PM


We Don't Need a Corporate Income Tax (Megan McArdle, 7/16/14, Bloomberg View)

[W]hat if we made our tax system so attractive to corporations that they would have no interest in moving themselves abroad?

The problem with this extended chess game is that every move is very costly. First, it adds to the complexity of the tax code. With every new rule -- no matter how earnestly said rule attempts to close a "loophole" -- it becomes harder to know whether you are in compliance with the law. This is true on both sides; corporate tax law has now passed well beyond the point where it is possible for a single expert to be familiar with its ins and outs. This makes it harder to plan business expansions, harder to forecast government revenue, and it requires both sides to hire more experts in order to determine whether corporations are compliant. It also means more lawsuits, and longer ones, as both sides wrangle over how this morass of laws should be applied to real-world situations.

You can think of it this way: Every new law has possible intersections with every other tax law in existence. As the number of laws grows, the number of possible intersections grows even faster. And each of those intersections represents both a possible way to avoid taxes and a potential for unintended consequences that inadvertently outlaw something Congress never intended to touch. This growing complexity makes it more and more difficult for either companies or lawmakers to forecast the ultimate effects of new tax laws. That's bad. It's also expensive.

Then there's the immense amount of time, money and human talent wasted structuring business activity to minimize tax bills -- up to, and including, moving your headquarters to another country. This is a total loss to the economy: All the resources used to structure those transactions could instead have been employed doing something useful, or at least not actively harmful. [...]

All of which is to say that there is no such thing as a fair, simple corporate tax code that can't be gamed. And the harder we try to squeeze them for each extra dime, the harder -- and more expensively -- they will resist. So here's my proposal: Let's not try. Let's eliminate the corporate income tax, or at least lower the rate so far that they won't spend so much time and energy trying to avoid it.

Posted by orrinj at 5:42 PM


Cardinal George on border kids: 'We need to protect these abandoned children' (MICHAEL SNEED July 15, 2014, Christian Sun-Times)

Cardinal Francis George is stepping up to the plate.

Sneed is told that George is offering a huge helping hand to the hundreds of unaccompanied children seeking refuge in Chicago from the nightmare of their Central American countries.

"The Archdiocese of Chicago is asking the federal government to allow us to feed and provide safe temporary housing for the refugee children who are being brought here," George tells Sneed. "The many children on the Mexico-U.S. border who are in danger and without adequate shelter call for a compassionate and merciful response."

George also has enlisted the help of the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago and Maryville Academy, which is run by Sister Catherine Ryan, to provide necessary services for about 429 children currently housed in nine Heartland Alliance locations -- the locations of which are undisclosed for security reasons.

Posted by orrinj at 3:44 PM


Tax Reform To End Inversions And Grow Economy/Jobs (Steve Abramson, 7/16/14, Forbes)

Corporations should be focused on increasing earnings on behalf of shareholders. To maximize shareholder value multi-national companies have already outsourced labor to lower-wage countries and shifted profits to subsidiaries in lower-taxed countries. In addition, for decades corporations have profitably lobbied Congress for endless allowable deductions and loopholes. From 2009 to 2011, the 280 most profitable companies paid just 18.5% in Corporate Taxes, about half the 35% statutory tax rate. 78 of these companies paid zero federal income tax in one or more of these three years. In 1952, corporate taxes accounted for fully one-third of federal revenues, but in 2013 amounted to just under ten percent. Tax avoidance has been very successful and inversion mergers if they take hold will make matters worse.

There is a bold but promising solution to end corporate tax avoidance schemes: sweeping tax reform, replacing the CIT by a clean consumption tax with zero exceptions. For reasons that follow, economic growth would be expected, including increased employment, which would work towards leveling income inequality.

Posted by orrinj at 3:41 PM


The vasectomy-cancer link made me wince. But ignorance is the real danger (James Mackenzie,  14 July 2014, The Guardian)

'I've never heard anyone discuss being impotent, yet the vast numbers of blue pills can't all be going to male sex workers and the weekend-long orgy crowd.' Photograph: Alphafrance
When I had a vasectomy a few years ago it never occurred to me that it might have implications for my health. I just knew I didn't want kids. But men considering the snip now are likely to, as research from Harvard indicates it increases the chance of developing prostate cancer by 10%.

And there's worse: Harvard's data suggests that vasectomies are associated with particularly aggressive varieties of prostate cancer, and a 19% higher risk of dying from the disease.

Posted by orrinj at 3:38 PM


Dollar Stores Want to Be Grocery Stores, But Cheaper (Venessa Wong, July 15, 2014, Businessweek)

Dollar stores have added plenty of food--and alcohol--to their shelves in recent years to lure customers who are interested in more than disposable cups and paper goods. Offering speed, goods in smaller volume, and value, the strategy seems to be working. The addition of products, from milk and eggs to brand-name packaged goods such as Special K (K)cereal and Hamburger Helper have resulted in rising food sales at chains such as Dollar General (DG), Family Dollar (FDO), and Dollar Tree (DLTR).

As more consumers see the dollar store as a legitimate place to shop for food, manufacturers--from such giants as General Mills (GIS), which recently started selling Fiber One products in the dollar outlets, to trendy startups like vegan mayo maker Hampton Creek--are vying with the chains' more-profitable private brands for shelf space.

It's a particularly good place to buy milk, soy milk, bleach, toothpaste, shampoo, etc.

The failure of official measures to catch these substitutions is one of the reasons deflation is understated.

Posted by orrinj at 3:35 PM


Time is right to repeal the federal income tax (Colin Hanna, July 16, 2014, Chicago Tribune)

Perhaps, then, the current IRS scandal, which threatens American liberty and undermines the Constitution far more than anything that happened in the Watergate scandal, presents us with a historic opportunity. Instead of merely investigating and holding committee hearings, we can seize the moment and recognize that 101 years ago, our nation made a terrible mistake. We can admit that the 16th Amendment, requiring people to disclose to the U.S. government information so personal that they wouldn't ordinarily reveal it even to their closest family and friends, was a grave mistake, and reverse course.

Besides being unjust and an invitation to tyranny, the income tax is a demonstrably inefficient way to raise revenue for the government. For example, research commissioned by Americans for Fair Taxation found that the U.S. economy loses at least $200 billion every year just trying to comply with the income tax.

Let's be done with the corruption, arrogance and waste of the IRS and recover our privacy and prosperity at the same time. Let's sunset the entire unwieldy Internal Revenue Code at a date certain, like 2020, and then work out a simpler, fairer system like the Fair Tax, or another consumption tax. Why not let Americans keep their money until they decide to spend it at the cash register for goods or services?

There's a kind of delicious irony in the possibility that public shock at IRS abuses could lead to the agency's own demise -- and the restoration of principles of freedom and privacy that go back to 1215. The Magna Carta's 800th anniversary next year is a worthy target for this reform to begin.

Posted by orrinj at 3:33 PM


Gary Johnson: Abolish the IRS! (Rob Nikolewski, 7/15/2014, Human Events)

Johnson's call to abolish the agency dates back to 2009, after he met with a number of economists, including Jeffrey Miron, director of Undergraduate Studies in the Department of Economics at Harvard, who became an adviser in Johnson's 2012 campaign.

"Let's abolish the IRS, let's eliminate income tax, let's eliminate corporate tax, let's balance the federal budget and if we need a tax, it can be one federal consumption tax," Johnson said.

But how would that work?

Instead of collecting taxes from various sources, a consumption tax works from a single point of purchase. It taxes people when they spend money on any given item or service. By eliminating income tax, sales tax and others, the idea is that overall price would not go up and may, according to its advocates, actually decrease the overall tax burden on citizens.

"I think a great starting point for a debate and discussion over a national consumption tax is, let's start with the Fair Tax, legislation that has been written up and I think signed up on by 80 congressmen and women," said Johnson.

Posted by orrinj at 3:13 PM


Tesla Model 3 to challenge BMW 3 Series (Steve Fowler, 7/16/14, Auto Express)

The new Model 3 is set to be unveiled in 2016 and on sale by 2017. It's most likely to be based on an all-new platform rather than a cut-down version of the one underpinning the Model S and Model X. The new technology will be the brainchild of Tesla's British engineering chief Chris Porritt, who used to work with Aston Martin. [...]

The new car is rumoured to be about 20% smaller than the Model S and our image shows how it could look. Key to the new model, which Musk said should retail for around $35,000 (likely to equate to around £30,000 in the UK), is cheaper battery technology made possible by Tesla's forthcoming Gigafactory.

July 15, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 4:58 PM


Enslave the robots and free the poor (MARTIN WOLF, 2/11/14, Financial Times)

 For a long time the wealthiest lived a life of leisure at the expense of the toiling masses. The rise of intelligent machines makes it possible for many more people to live such lives without exploiting others. Today's triumphant puritanism finds such idleness abhorrent. Well, then, let people enjoy themselves busily. What else is the true goal of the vast increases in prosperity we have created?

Fourth, we will need to redistribute income and wealth. Such redistribution could take the form of a basic income for every adult, together with funding of education and training at any stage in a person's life. In this way, the potential for a more enjoyable life might become a reality. The revenue could come from taxes on bads (pollution, for example) or on rents (including land and, above all, intellectual property). Property rights are a social creation. The idea that a small minority should overwhelming benefit from new technologies should be reconsidered. It would be possible, for example, for the state to obtain an automatic share in the income from the intellectual property it protects.

Finally, if labour shedding does accelerate, it will be essential to ensure that demand expands in tandem with the rise in potential supply. If we succeed, many of the worries over a lack of jobs will fade away. Given the failure to achieve this in the past seven years, that may well not happen. But we could do better if we wanted to.
The rise of intelligent machines is a moment in history. It will change many things, including our economy. But their potential is clear: they will make it possible for human beings to live far better lives. Whether they end up doing so depends on how the gains are produced and distributed.

...when our main fear is that we'll have too much leisure time.

July 14, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 3:54 PM


The Ramones: never again (Andrew Calcutt, 14 JULY 2014, Spiked)

On The Ramones, The Ramones set out their big idea: make it minimal. This meant repetition rather than elaboration. The Ramones also played with pop cliché - their songs were a compressed collection of clichés - in the same way that Andy Warhol had already been playing around with mid-twentieth-century corporate marketing.

If a countercultural concept artist had taken over the Brill Building (the New York pop-song writing factory), The Ramones would have been the result. To fit in with the cliché-concept, every member of The Ramones was obliged to become, literally, a Ramone ('Tommy Ramone' was really Thomas Erdelyi, the Anglicised form of Erdelyi Tamas, the name he was born with in Budapest). Wearing jeans, sneakers and leather jackets, appearing like a toughened-up version of The Beatles, The Ramones cast themselves as dumbed-down moptops transported to Last Exit To Brooklyn; they looked like The Monkees on Skid Row.

It was a great idea - particularly in 1974, when pop had split between pap and prog. Having worked as assistant engineer on the Jimi Hendrix live album, Band of Gypsys, Tommy Ramone knew all about playing it long. But in the summer of 1976, when The Ramones was released, The Ramones kept things sharp and short - and they did so before the Sex Pistols or the Clash had anything to show on record.

Posted by orrinj at 3:42 PM


Obama pays price for inaction on immigration law (MICHAEL BARONE, JULY 13, 2014 , DC Examiner)

But it wasn't only Republicans who failed to pass such a bill. House Democrats didn't pass one either in 2009 or 2010, when they had a bigger majority than Republicans have had in 80 years.

House Democrats' priorities were the stimulus package, Obamacare and cap-and-trade legislation to address supposed global warming. They passed all three despite negative polling -- and even though cap-and-trade had no chance in the Senate.

In the short run Barack Obama paid no political price for the Democrats' decision to sidestep immigration. The only time he got pressed on the issue was a grilling by Univision's Jorge Ramos in September 2012. Obama carried 71 percent of Hispanic votes in November.

But he missed the chance to pass comprehensive immigration reform--on which, unlike the stimulus, Obamacare and cap-and-trade, he might have had significant Republican support--by his own choice.

Republicans' Failure to Pass Immigration Reform Has Cost Us $900 Billion (Brian Beutler, 7/14/14, Nrew Republic)

[O]ne need only look back to the Senate's comprehensive immigration reform bill, which Republicans helped design and pass just over a year ago.

The process of building wide stakeholder support for the bill required many complex tradeoffs and compromises, but the key partisan compromise was very straightforward: a "surge" of resources, including thousands of new border patrol agents and hundres of miles of fencing, to shore up the border for Republicans in exchange for a legal process by which 11 million unauthorized immigrants could earn citizenship.

This swap was mostly necessary because political realities stood in the way of either measure becoming law without the other. Republicans couldn't pass a border security bill on their own, and Democrats couldn't pass an amnesty provision on their own. Together, the votes materialized. But the provisions are also linked fiscally.

After all, the Republican half of the deal isn't free. The Congressional Budget Office estimated (PDF) that it would cost $22 billion over ten years. That's a tiny fraction of the overall federal budget, but it's more than five times what the White House thinks is required to address the acute migrant crisis. Those resources could probably be restructured and even increased, if Republicans decided to fulfill their promise and pass an immigration bill in the House. And unlike the $4 billion in spending they now oppose, those resources would be lasting.

They would also be paid for. Much more than paid for, actually. That's because the Democratic half of the deal is a big deficit reducer. By bringing the eleven million out of the shadows and into the labor force, government revenues would increase significantly. Some of those revenues would flow right back into the same community of eleven million in the form of social spending (think Medicaid, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and so on). More still would go to the border. But the rest (almost $200 billion in the first decade, and another $700 billion in the second) would be headroom in the budget for other priorities, whether they be infrastructure spending, education, or deficit reduction. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:40 PM


Iran reformist leader's hopes depend on nuclear talks in Vienna (Saeed Kamali 7/13/14, The Guardian)

In Tehran, the ultimate decision-maker is Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader, who despite being unelected and a top religious authority, can change the fate of the ongoing talks overnight against Rouhani's wishes.

For now, the cleric appears to be backing Rouhani's negotiating team, which is led by the country's foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif.

The US-educated veteran diplomat has described himself as a follower of Khamenei, but is also a confident of Rouhani and remains popular with the general public.

In the light of Khamenei's support, opponents of the deal have kept quiet. Among them is Saeed Jalili, Iran's former leading nuclear negotiator, who failed to bring a solution even an inch closer. Jalili and his allies can barely conceal their resentment at Rouhani's "constructive engagement" with the west.

A year after assuming power, Rouhani has had some remarkable achievements, not least putting an end to eight years of political infighting under his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

He also became the first Iranian leader to hold direct talks with a US leader, in a historic telephone call with Obama last year.

But international sanctions against Iran are still in place, almost intact in spite of an interim deal, and although Rouhani has curbed inflation, reduced the mismanagement of the Ahmadinejad era and inspired some hope among the public, he has plenty to do.

Rouhani's big challenge, besides securing a nuclear deal and ending sanctions, is an Iranian version of glasnost: increasing social freedoms and releasing imprisoned dissidents, activists and journalists. Failure to reach a nuclear deal would make reform at home difficult, if not impossible.

Posted by orrinj at 3:37 PM


Now THAT'S a power plant! (VICTORIA WOOLLASTON, 10 July 2014, Daily Mirror)

Humans have spent the last 10,000 years mastering agriculture, but it just takes a dry spell, or a flash flood to wipe out a year's worth of crops. 

Hoping to solve this problem is plant physiologist Shigeharu Shimamura, who has set up an industrial-scale farm inside a factory in Japan.  [...]

The farm uses 17,500 LED lights spread over 18 cultivation racks, and these lights are used to mimic day and night.

By monitoring the photosynthesis process carefully, the system grows lettuce two-and-a-half times faster than an outdoor farm.

It also cuts waste product by 40 per cent and productivity per square foot is up 100-fold. 

The special LED fixtures were developed by GE and emit light at wavelengths optimal for plant growth. 

Purple lighting is used to mimic night, for example, while the white lights are adjusted slowly throughout the day to mimic a sun moving through the sky. 

The environment is also monitored, including temperature, humidity and irrigation.

By doing so, the farm has cut its water usage to just 1 per cent of the amount needed by outdoor fields. 

It farm uses 17,500 LED lights spread over 18 cultivation racks, reaching 16 levels high - and these lights are used to mimic day and night.

Posted by orrinj at 3:30 PM


Dirty Tricks, Tea Party Suicide and Rising Mississippi Anger : Mark Mayfield, a Tea Party Founder, Became the Unlikely Focus of a Big Controversy (CAMPBELL ROBERTSON, JULY 13, 2014, NY Times)

What shocked practically everyone is that Mr. Mayfield, routinely described as one of the nicest men in Jackson political circles, ended up at the center of all this. Democrats and the most ardent supporters of Mr. Cochran described his cordiality and even temper. This reputation was so widespread that Mr. Mayfield customarily served as a liaison between the Tea Party and the politicians it targeted.

"We've got a bunch of excitable people who identify with the Tea Party in Mississippi," said Bill Billingsley, who was involved in the McDaniel campaign. "Mark was the reasonable one." [...]

In recent years, Mr. Mayfield had grown uncomfortable with rhetorical excesses of some of his Tea Party allies and was unmoved by some of the hot-button issues of the day like Common Core education standards, friends said. But he appeared re-energized by Mr. McDaniel's Senate campaign.

"He was trying to do whatever he could," recalled Kim Wade, a Jackson-based talk-radio host. "He was all in."

On Sunday, April 20, Clayton Kelly, a little-known 28-year-old blogger, walked through the halls of St. Catherine's Village, a gated retirement community in the affluent suburb of Madison, and found Ms. Cochran's room in the wing for Alzheimer's patients. Mr. Kelly took a short video of her, lying on her bed in a nightgown, with his phone.

On April 26, he included photographs of her in a video on his blog, Constitutional Clayton, drawing a contrast between Mr. Cochran's life as a senator, recounting his travels with a longtime female aide, and the life of the senator's ailing wife. The video was taken down quickly, but not before it had drawn the attention of the Cochran campaign.

"It was a desperate and disgusting attempt to smear Senator Cochran's good name," said Austin Barbour, a senior Cochran campaign adviser.

Most people did not learn about the video until later, and when they did they were aghast.

"The last person who should have been brought into this campaign should have been Rose, because she was the most defenseless and had such dignity," said Brad White, a former chairman of the Mississippi Republican Party.

Posted by orrinj at 3:24 PM


Netanyahu's Mistake (JEFFREY GOLDBERG, JUL 14 2014, Atlantic)

Netanyahu is not crazy, and he's also not delusional, in the manner of certain political figures to his right, who believe that Israel can keep control of the Arabs of the West Bank forever without profound moral and political consequences. He knows, as he suggested to me in an interview this spring, that the status quo is not sustainable:

The first point of [Israeli national] consensus is that we don't want a binational state. Another point of consensus is that we don't want an Iranian proxy in territories we vacate. We want a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the nation-state of the Jews. 

If Netanyahu has convinced himself that a Palestinian state is an impossibility, then he has no choice but to accept the idea that the status quo eventually brings him to binationalism, either in its Jim Crow form--Palestinians absorbed into Israel, except without full voting rights--or its end-of-Israel-as-a-Jewish-state form, in which the two warring populations, Jewish and Arab, are combined into a single political entity, with chaos to predictably ensue. (Recent events in the Middle East suggest that it is not a place ripe for experiments in coexistence.)

Netanyahu's admission that he doesn't see a path to a truly independent Palestinian state serves no purpose except to convince that diminishing number of Palestinians who believe that the two-state solution is the best solution that they have no partner for compromise. As such, Netanyahu's comments are the rhetorical equivalent of settlement expansion in the West Bank. When West Bank Palestinians see new roads being built to connect settlements to Israel proper; when they see existing settlements growing, and hear of tenders for yet more dramatic growth, they ask themselves--as any observant person would--if the Israeli government is serious about allowing a viable Palestinian state to be born on land the Palestinians consider to be theirs.

July 13, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 10:49 AM


With U.S. encouragement, VA disability claims rise sharply (Alan Zarembo, 7/13/14, )

With the government encouraging veterans to apply, enrollment in the system climbed from 2.3 million to 3.7 million over the last 12 years.

The growth comes even as the deaths of older former service members have sharply reduced the veteran population. Annual disability payments have more than doubled to $49 billion -- nearly as much as the VA spends on medical care.

More than 875,000 Afghanistan and Iraq war veterans have joined the disability rolls so far. That's 43% of those who served -- a far higher percentage than for any previous U.S. conflict, including World War II and Vietnam, which had significantly higher rates of combat wounds.

Disabled veterans of the recent wars have an average of 6.3 medical conditions each, also higher than other conflicts.

Incentives to seek disability ratings have increased due to changes in VA policy, including expanded eligibility for post-traumatic stress disorder and a number of afflictions that affect tens of millions of civilians.

Nearly any ailment that originated during service or was aggravated by it -- from sports injuries to shrapnel wounds -- is covered under the rationale that the military is a 24/7 job.

The armed services are a good place to start with mandatory universal HSAs.  End the VA system and make themn decide if they really want to spend out of their own pockets for such stuff.  

Posted by orrinj at 9:22 AM


We are the heirs of Scott's Waverley : SOON after Sir Walter Scott's debut novel was published, 200 years ago, it became a worldwide classic. Allan Massie explains why it is so important for Scots to read - or re-read it - as the referendum nears (ALLAN MASSIE, 06/07/2014, The Scotsman)

A novel, Waverley, Or 'Tis Sixty Years Since, was published 200 years ago this week, with no author's name on the title-page, and met with huge, unprecedented success. Though it was years before Walter Scott, already famous as a poet, acknowledged his authorship, few who knew him had any doubt that he was indeed the author. Within a couple of years, Jane Austen in Hampshire, was complaining, humorously, that really Walter Scott shouldn't be allowed to write novels; he had fame enough without trading on, as it were, her territory.

Scott was not the first great Scottish novelist. That title should go to Tobias Smollett, greatly admired by George Orwell, who wondered why we Scots made so little of him. Nevertheless Waverley may be fairly considered the first great Scottish novel. It has a Scottish theme, though the hero - a decidedly unheroic hero - Waverley himself is a young Englishman, and the theme, the Jacobite Rising of 1745, has been a staple of Scottish song and romance. Everybody has heard of "Bonnie Prince Charlie". [...]

When Waverley crosses the Highland Line, the mood changes again. This is the moment of take-off. The wild mountainous landscape and the Highlanders he meets were exotic to his first readers. We now enter the world of Jacobite romance, but do so with qualifications. The Highland chief, Fergus McIvor, seems at first to be the romantic hero that Waverley so evidently isn't. Certainly, spurred on by his idealistic sister Flora, he is a dashing adherent to the Prince's cause. But we soon learn that he is a calculating Jacobite too. He is gambling on the Prince's victory. After which, with the Stuarts restored to the throne, he will be a great and powerful man. So we learn that men may be Jacobites just as others may be Whigs or Hanoverians, for personal advantage. Scott shows that they may be men with the same ambitions as those on the other side. Instead of romance he offers a sceptical realism.

From this point the novel moves fast as the story unfolds. And it is a splendid and gripping story, as any fortunate enough to have heard Alan Caig Wilson's remarkable abridgement of it for four voices at the Borders Book festival last month would confirm.

It is also a highly intelligent novel. Scott was a many-sided man, combining the Border minstrel and the Edinburgh lawyer schooled by the philosophical historians of the Scottish Enlightenment. He is a novelist who makes you think as well as feel.

Scott was a novelist who set out to see Scotland whole, and succeeded in doing so because he realised, and was able to show us, that though the country and people have so often been sharply and even bitterly divided throughout our history, nevertheless the Scotland that emerges from these conflicts does not reflect the absolute victory of one party, but succeeding generations are heirs to both sides. Waverley shows us this: the Jacobites lose, Highland society will be transformed or even destroyed. Yet Scotland, as we know, will come to present an image to the world that is Jacobite and Highland rather than Whig and Lowland.

I have often told foreigners that if you want to understand Scotland and the Scottish character you should read the Waverley novels. This is good advice for us too, in this referendum year, this year of a sharp and even bitter division. Read the Waverley novels and come to a better understanding of who and what we are.

I have no doubt that Waverley is a great novel. The history is not here for decoration. It is a public novel: Scott was concerned to explore and determine the significance of a historical episode that had fired his imagination when he was a boy and met men who had been "out with the Prince". He had been brooding on it ever since, so much so that the novel often seems to be remembered rather than invented. In Waverley and his other two Jacobite novels, Rob Roy and Redgauntlet, Scott, despite his emotional - and family - connection to the Old Cause, shows that it had been bypassed by History. Accepting the Enlightenment idea of social and moral progress, he recognised that attachment to the Jacobite Cause was attachment to a society that was passing away. There has been talk in our time of "a clash of civilisations". Waverley dramatises just such a clash and may lead us today to a better understanding of contemporary conflicts. So, even if one sets aside its other merits - its humour, characterisation and narrative interest - Waverley is a novel for all time.

The novel is itself of historical importance. Its influence, reinforced by the novels that followed in such quick succession, as if a dam had broken under the force of a river in spate, was extraordinary. It spread across Europe, from France to Russia. In France, Dumas, Balzac and Hugo are evidently Scott's heirs. Alessandro Manzoni, author of the classic novel, I Promessi Sposi, said he would never have thought of writing a novel if he hadn't read Scott. Tolstoy, in War And Peace, very evidently derives his method of using fiction to reveal the shifting patterns of history from Scott.

Posted by orrinj at 9:16 AM


Hooked on Boy Books (TAMAR LEWIN, July 23, 1995, NY Times Magazine)

BOOKSTORES AND LIBRARIES CAN DIVIDE up their books however they want, but there are really only two important categories: boy books and girl books.

Boy books are biographies of dead presidents, books by almost any Eastern European intellectual ("How much Solzhenitsyn have you gotten through?" sneers a woman friend) or anything else in which the point is the ideas (Italo Calvino), the landscape (Cormac McCarthy) or the action (Robert Ludlum). It is generally guys who are in thrall to Pete Dexter or Tom Clancy.

Girl books are about relationships, families, feelings and the details of daily life. Think Jane Austen, Margaret Drabble, Alice Hoffman, Toni Morrison or Amy Tan, or the cross-writers, male authors like Henry James or Anthony Trollope who wrote girl books despite themselves.

While there are cross-readers -- women who like boy books and men who like girl books -- the difference between the sexes basically comes down to "Moby Dick" versus "Little Women." So it has been something of a shock to find myself -- an inveterate reader of girl books -- obsessed with Patrick O'Brian's Napoleonic-era historical novels, with the pictures of ships on their covers and the diagrams of the various sails inside.

Posted by orrinj at 9:08 AM


Three Little Bops : The lost world of popular jazz. (JOHN H. MCWHORTER, July 2014, Books & Culture)

In 1957, a Looney Tune cartoon called "Three Little Bops" recast the Three Little Pigs tale in jazz, with the pigs as a beret-wearing trio of jazzmen and the wolf as an interloping trumpeter trying to sit in despite his lack of talent. The entire seven minutes is set to a jazz beat, narrated in song, hipster-style. Amidst the snazzy novelty of the short, something stands out, albeit in the background: in the clubs that the pigs play in, the patrons are not countercultural beatniks but smartly dressed white people, of the same kind who had been depicted dining and dancing at nightclubs in musical films of recent decades.

One might wonder: if the cartoon was reflecting any kind of social reality, just who were those people supposed to be? It's one thing to see them attending a midcult club like Ricky Ricardo's Tropicana on I Love Lucy in the same era--but out listening to serious jazz?

Marc Myers' Why Jazz Happened sheds light on a question like that, seeking to show how jazz has adapted to popular tastes to survive. "For the past ninety-five years jazz's survival has been based on the ability of musicians to interpret their times without relinquishing the characteristics that define the art form," Myers notes. His intent is to show how the happenstances of American social history have crucially shaped the evolution of jazz since its official beginnings with the Original Dixieland Jazz Band's seminal 1917 recording.

What Myers actually chronicles, however, is less a successful series of transformations than a long decline in influence, of a music that lit up ordinary Americans in the two decades between the two world wars but then became steadily less central to the culture. Jazz's artistic development, like that of most art forms, has inevitably put it beyond the reach of the ordinary evaluator. Jazz fans tend to bristle at such verdicts. So too, in response to the equivalent argument about their music, classical music representatives insist the problem will be solved via presentation strategies and lowering ticket prices. They assume that, with those issues finally resolved, Sisyphean though the task ever appears to be, surely the music's passion, the "soul"--a term often heard from classical fans as well as from jazz buffs--will work its magic.

However, just as fish don't know they're wet, fans of refined musical forms like classical and jazz have a hard time putting themselves into the heads of ordinary listeners, especially ones nurtured in the pop-saturated musical culture of the past 60 years, focused on volume and histrionic performer charisma. Jazz in the form of candy-flavored pop tunes put across in danceable fashion--which was how most experienced the music in the Twenties and Thirties--was catnip to younger Americans of the time. However, what this kind of jazz later became--musically dense, focused on individual improvisation, and intended for quiet listening--has always been more like absinthe, now and forever a specialty taste. Myers' book neatly demonstrates this, despite his intent to reveal an art form dynamically responding to popular tastes.

Great jazz was popular music and was accessible to everyone.  But in a modern world where various fields of study became ever more esoteric, accessibility became shameful to artists and they sought to make their work product ever uglier, the antithesis of art.

Posted by orrinj at 8:52 AM


The new baby boom (John McDermott, 7/11/14, Financial Times)

Today, the increase in British birth rates has ushered in another baby-centric age, one defined by three distinct aspects. More babies of different ethnicities are being born, challenging the very notion of an ethnic "minority". They are also part of a simultaneous parenting boom: people from an ever wider array of backgrounds can become parents of healthy babies. Finally, there is an intellectual boom: as scientists and policy makers - like their political forebears - seek to use our growing knowledge about how babies and their brains develop to improve education and curb inequality.

In 2001, the number of births in England and Wales hit a 25-year low of 595,000. In 2012, there were 730,000, a 22 per cent increase. The data defy predictions made by economists that the financial crisis would cause the number of births and total fertility rates to fall, as has indeed been the case in other parts of the European Union.

New immigrants are part of the explanation; two-thirds of Gascoigne parents are from overseas. More broadly, the number of children born to mothers who were themselves born outside the UK increased from 98,000 to 189,000 between 2001 and 2012. In that year, one-quarter of children (25.9 per cent) born in the UK had foreign mothers. In London, the figure was more than half.

But British-born mothers are also having more children than at any time since the early 1970s. Many second-generation migrants are reaching parenting age. At the same time, more women are giving birth in their mid-to-late thirties and forties. Areas such as London's Hackney, Tower Hamlets and Lambeth exemplify these trends; their populations have been increased by second-generation African, Asian and, in Hackney's case, Hasidic Jewish mothers in their early twenties, as well as an influx of white young professionals, who have children later.

Posted by orrinj at 8:45 AM


The tragedy of the Arabs : A civilisation that used to lead the world is in ruins--and only the locals can rebuild it (The Economist, Jul 5th 2014)

A THOUSAND years ago, the great cities of Baghdad, Damascus and Cairo took turns to race ahead of the Western world. Islam and innovation were twins. The various Arab caliphates were dynamic superpowers--beacons of learning, tolerance and trade. Yet today the Arabs are in a wretched state. Even as Asia, Latin America and Africa advance, the Middle East is held back by despotism and convulsed by war.

Hopes soared three years ago, when a wave of unrest across the region led to the overthrow of four dictators--in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen--and to a clamour for change elsewhere, notably in Syria. But the Arab spring's fruit has rotted into renewed autocracy and war. Both engender misery and fanaticism that today threaten the wider world.

Why Arab countries have so miserably failed to create democracy, happiness or (aside from the windfall of oil) wealth for their 350m people is one of the great questions of our time. What makes Arab society susceptible to vile regimes and fanatics bent on destroying them (and their perceived allies in the West)? No one suggests that the Arabs as a people lack talent or suffer from some pathological antipathy to democracy. But for the Arabs to wake from their nightmare, and for the world to feel safe, a great deal needs to change.

While our support for artificial states and regimes brutal enough to hold them together was a contributing factor, we all know what needs to be done to fix the region : liberal democracy (self-determination); protestantism; and capitalism.  You can delay the End of History; you can't avoid it altogether.

Posted by orrinj at 8:24 AM


New study untangles the mystery of knots (Robert Matthews, July 12, 2014, The National)

Not until the 1980s did mathematicians succeed in proving what most people might regard as obvious: that the longer the string-like object being jumbled, the greater the chances of it becoming knotted.

The theory led to a formula for how the risk of knots depends on length. And the bad news is that this risk increases rapidly with length.

In other words, Murphy's Law of Knots is also true: if something can get knotted, it will.

So what can we do? I realised the very same theory suggested a remedy: simply clip together the ends of the flex, rope or whatever, to form a loop.

This cuts the risk of knots in two ways. First, it effectively halves the length of the flex available to move around. Second, the creation of a loop also eliminates the two free ends, the prime movers in the formation of knots.

While this "Loop Conjecture" sounded plausible, it clearly needed confirmation. So again I enlisted the help of schools to carry out the necessary experiment. And once again, the response was impressive: one school alone contributed more than 12,000 data-points.

The results - to be published in a refereed journal this year - confirm the theory in mathematical detail.

First, they show that the risk of knots increases rapidly with length. But more importantly, they confirmed the Loop Conjecture. Simply clipping together ends of any string-like object greatly reduces the risk of tangling.

Pretty much any type of clip will work. With headphones, it's vital to ensure that both earpiece buds are held together with the jackplug at the other end. Even a bit of leeway can be enough to allow Murphy's Law of Knots to kick in.

Posted by orrinj at 7:55 AM


Better than Obamacare  : Health savings accounts would be free from government control.  (Ben Carson  , 7/09/14, National Review)

A major problem is that many people in our entitlement society see nothing wrong with forcing others to provide for their desires. In a free and open society, anyone should be able to purchase anything he or she wants that is legal. It really should be no one else's business. Common sense dictates, however, that it immediately becomes my business if I'm being forced to pay for it.

Wouldn't it be fairer and make more sense for people wanting some form of birth control to pay for it themselves? This is exactly what would happen if everyone had access to his or her own health savings account. A woman and her health-care provider would decide on a birth-control method, and the cost would be deducted from her account with no involvement of anyone else in any way. It's so simple and upholds privacy and freedom.

Health savings accounts can be funded in a variety of ways and give people total control of where, how, and with whom they wish to spend their health-care dollars. Most people will want to get the biggest bang for the buck and will independently seek out both value and quality. That, in turn, will bring all aspects of medicine into the free-market economic model, thus automatically having an ameliorating effect on pricing transparency and quality of outcomes.

Many corporations and communities already have very positive experiences with health savings accounts. Those experiences could be further enhanced by allowing family members to shift the money in their accounts among themselves. For instance, if one family member was $500 short for a procedure or test, another family member could provide the money by authorizing its deduction from his account. This provides a whole other level of flexibility to the concept of health savings. The overwhelming majority of encounters with the medical world could be handled through this type of system, eliminating bureaucratic delays and frustration.

AHIP: Health savings accounts on the rise ( Elise Viebeck - 07/09/14 01:38 PM EDT

Insurance plans that include health savings accounts (HSA) continue to rise in popularity, the trade group for health insurers reported Wednesday. 

The number of people enrolled in HSA-eligible plans hit almost 17.4 million early this year, a nearly 12 percent increase since 2013, according to America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP).  [...]

Republicans strongly support HSAs, arguing the model is market-friendly and encourages consumers to consider their medical expenses more closely. 

AHIP agreed in a statement Wednesday. 

"HSA plans provide important tools to support individuals and families in their healthcare decisions and to help them save for future medical expenses," AHIP President Karen Ignagni said.  [...]

Total enrollment in HSAs has risen an average of 15 percent every year since 2011, AHIP said, with notable growth taking place in the large group market.

A Health Reform Framework: Breaking Out Of The Medicaid Model  (Joseph Antos and James Capretta, 7/10/14, Health Affairs)

Indiana is currently attempting to navigate a middle course on insurance for the poor. The state has so far rejected adoption of a straight Medicaid expansion, as pushed by the Obama administration. Governor Mike Pence recently announced his willingness to expand Medicaid coverage to 138 percent of poverty line so long as the state fundamentally transforms the program. Unfortunately, the proposal fails to retain key reform elements that promote consumer responsibility and fiscal restraint -- elements that have been successfully tested under the Healthy Indiana Plan (HIP).

The original HIP demonstration project expanded Medicaid eligibility to adults with incomes up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level. New enrollees are offered high-deductible health coverage combined with a Personal Wellness and Responsibility (POWER) account, similar to an HSA, instead of traditional Medicaid.

In place since 2008, the demonstration program has about 40,000 enrollees who must match state deposits into their accounts with some of their own private savings. The participants use these accounts to pay for medical care below the insurance plan's deductible.

Independent evaluations of the plan have shown that the program is working very well. According to an evaluation conducted by Mathematica Policy Research, the low-income participants in the Indiana initiative found the HSA approach attractive. More than 90 percent of those who were eligible for HIP in 2008 and 2009 made their first monthly contribution, which is necessary to enroll in the program. In the first two years, only 3 percent of enrollees dropped out because they failed to pay their monthly contributions.

HIP has also been effective in promoting the use of cost-effective services. For example, 31 percent of HIP enrollees visited the emergency room in 2012, compared to 38 percent of adult enrollees in Indiana's traditional Medicaid-managed care program. In addition, 5 percent of HIP beneficiaries decided to go to an urgent care center or their regular doctor to seek care because of the co-pay required for nonemergency use of the emergency room.

Gov. Pence has proposed to expand the HIP approach to the entire nonelderly, nondisabled population on Medicaid in Indiana and to expand Medicaid eligibility up to the ACA's 138 percent limit. However, enrollees below 100 percent of the federal poverty line would no longer be required to contribute to their POWER accounts under HIP 2.0. The proposal offers incentives for individuals to instead opt to contribute to their POWER accounts in return for a richer benefit package, but the default is effectively traditional Medicaid.

The fact that Indiana is now in negotiations with HHS to move ahead with this plan reveals the drawbacks in the ACA and the merits of a more flexible alternative. Indiana has pioneered the use of HSA accounts and high-deductible plans to expand coverage with a decidedly consumer focus, and the results are very promising. Moreover, the proposal would not require beneficiaries to pay more than the minimal amounts allowed under current Medicaid rules. Yet, to move ahead with this approach, the state must engage in extended and nontransparent negotiations with HHS.

The alternative plan for covering the poor discussed in this paper would free the states from having to engage in extended negotiations with the HHS bureaucracy. States that want to enroll their Medicaid-eligible populations in HSA-like structures could do so without further federal approval or the inevitable strings that come with HHS-negotiated demonstration programs.

July 12, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 9:04 AM


New Internet speed record blows past Google Fiber (David Goldman, July 10, 2014, CNNMoney)

Bell Labs researchers just broke the broadband Internet speed record.

It is eight times faster than the previous record -- and it was done over copper landlines.

With speeds of 10 gigabits per second, Bell Labs' technology proved to be 1,000 times faster than traditional broadband speeds. It is even 10 times faster than Google (GOOGL, Tech30) Fiber, which offers the fastest broadband available to consumers.

Alcatel-Lucent (ALU), Bell Labs' parent company, dubbed the new technology "XG-FAST." The company called it a "major breakthrough," giving broadband companies the ability to provide fiber-optic-like speeds over the existing copper landline infrastructure that blankets most of America.

Posted by orrinj at 8:59 AM


Business wants immigration reform. Why? Because they can't find enough workers (Jennifer Liberto, 7/11/14, CNNMoney)

* Hotels and restaurants can't find enough employees, said Marriott International CEO Arne Sorenson in a Washington Post editorial last August. "At large hotels at ski resorts such as Aspen or southwest Florida beaches with small local populations, we struggle to find sufficient numbers of people willing to take labor-intensive jobs during peak season," he wrote. "We must deal fairly with the 11 million people in this country who lack legal status. They are not leaving, and we must allow them to become taxpaying participants."

* Two-third of construction companies have reported labor shortages, according to a survey by the Associated General Contractors of America, a group for builders that's also pushing for immigration reforms. The shortages are hurting the nation's housing recovery, according to a study by the National Association of Homebuilders. [...]

* Farmers can't find enough pickers for ripe crops. California farmers are willing to pay wages of $30 an hour and still can't find workers, said Tom Nassif, CEO of the Western Growers Association, a trade group of California and Arizona farmers. California's farmers have 25% fewer workers than they need to harvest produce, which means crops have been rotting in the fields, he said.

We want paychecks not work.

Posted by orrinj at 8:54 AM


Germany's 12th Man at the World Cup: Big Data (STEVEN NORTON, 7/10/14, WSJ)

To gain a competitive edge, the team partnered with German software giant SAP AG to create a custom match analysis tool that collects and analyzes massive amounts of player performance data.

The tool, called Match Insights, analyzes video data from on-field cameras capable of capturing thousands of data points per second, including player position and speed. That data then goes into an SAP database that runs analytics and allows coaches to target performance metrics for specific players and give them feedback via their mobile devices.

A focus for the German team this year was speed, said Nicolas Jungkind, SAP's head of soccer sponsorships. Using Match Insights, the team was able to analyze stats about average possession time and cut it down from 3.4 seconds to about 1.1 seconds, he said. The tool allowed them to identify and visualize the change and show it to coaches, players and scouts. "That then goes into the game philosophy of the German team. What is apparent is the aggressive style Germany plays."

That style of play was evident Tuesday in Germany's 7-1 victory over Brazil, which included three goals scored in a span of 179 seconds. "Despite possessing the ball for 52% of Tuesday's game, Brazil created barely a handful of chances," the Journal's Jonathan Clegg wrote. "In contrast, Germany passed the ball at full speed to create holes in the defense and clinically took advantage." [...]

Soccer is among the growing list of sports being transformed by Big Data (Moneyball is probably an outdated reference at this point). The use of data and statistics to gain a competitive advantage has grown across a wide range of sports including basketball, tennis, and even, just a little bit, Ultimate Frisbee.

Americans, watching with unjaded eyes, have to be bewildered by how often players hold the ball until defenders collapse on them, making it more difficult to pass.  

Posted by orrinj at 8:51 AM


Old Crow Medicine Show's 8 Essential Americana Albums of the Last 15 Years (MIKE AYERS, 7/09/14, WSJ)

For the last 16 years, Nashville-based roots band Old Crow Medicine Show have slowly risen the Americana ranks after being discovered busking in Boone, N.C. by bluegrass legend Doc Watson. They've recorded eight studio albums, the latest being "Remedy," a 13-song LP that continues blending country, folk and bluegrass for another stand-out Americana album. 

Listening to any of the band's albums, you can instantly recognize that they're well-versed in traditional songwriting - and like a lot of Americana, their work transcends boundaries. A song from their 2004 self-titled debut, "Wagon Wheel," became a hit for country star Darius Rucker last year and nabbed the band their first platinum-selling single. That song was first started by Bob Dylan as a "musical sketch" in 1973 and later turned over and finished by Secor. The band did a similar thing with another unfinished Dylan tune on "Remedy," with their single "Sweet Amarillo." 

For Old Crow Medicine Show's vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Ketch Secor, that word stirs up a lot of emotions. "You're not getting turned on to Americana music by mass media," he said in an interview. "The way this music finds its way into your life is because your best friend tells you about it. It has a more of a personal connection. As connected as we are supposedly are, there's a real disconnect. This music has a real connecting force to it. That's why it gets into you. With my own records, when I talk to people about what they like about it, they often share the story of when they first heard it. That can be a defining moment." 

Here Secor walks us through eight albums he sees as defining moments in the last 15 years of Americana music - check out his picks below and stream them via Spotify.

Posted by orrinj at 8:43 AM


Teachers Union Abruptly Breaks Rank On Common Core (Blake Neff, 7/11/14, The Daily Caller)

In a major surprise, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the country's second-largest teachers union, opened its biannual convention Friday by announcing a step back from its support for Common Core education standards.

The group, gathering in Los Angeles, announced that it will now provide monetary grants from its Innovation Fund for teachers who want to critique the standards or even write entirely new ones themselves.

The AFT's executive council is also introducing a resolution, to be voted on at the convention, which would declare that the standards had noble intentions but have fallen short due to outside meddling and an inordinate focus on standardized tests.

Anyone who's surprised doesn't get standardized testing; it tests the teachers and is, thus, a union-breaking tool.

Posted by orrinj at 8:36 AM


Hanover Native Rowing for Team USA (Jared Pendak, 7/12/14, Valley News)

Hanover -- Heidi Robbins travels the world with the U.S. women's rowing team, yet continually finds herself in familiar surroundings.

Robbins, 23, works and trains at Princeton University, where the Hanover native graduated last year with a degree in biology. The U.S. crew is headquartered at Lake Carnegie, sharing a home with the Tigers.

Now Robbins is back in Hanover, staying with her father, Kris, at her childhood home on Old Lyme Road while her team trains for two weeks out of the Dartmouth College boathouse.

Following a World Rowing Cup win in France, and a stint at the Holland Becker Regatta in Amsterdam, the crew is using Hanover as a stopover point before heading back to New Jersey. Its 20 members arrived last Sunday and are lodging with host families. They'll participate in the Prouty today -- taking part, naturally, in the rowing event -- before staying to use Dartmouth's facilities for another week.

The interval is quite welcome for Robbins, a 2009 Hanover High graduate.

"I was just exclaiming to my teammates all of the things they need to do (for fun)," Robbins said after Thursday morning's practice on the Connecticut River. "I already brought them to Lou's, and they know all about the gelato place and King Arthur Flour (in Norwich). I kind of had to remind myself that this is a training trip."

Posted by orrinj at 8:33 AM


Vietnam's Overdue Alliance With America (TUONG LAI, JULY 11, 2014, NY Times)

OURS is a small country. We Vietnamese cannot and must not entrust our future to anyone, but we urgently need strategic allies at a moment in history when our priority is to defeat our present-day enemy: China.

China's move in May, to place an offshore oil rig on the Vietnamese continental shelf, and its arrogant statements in June, at an Asian security summit meeting known as the Shangri-La Dialogue, exposed China's sea piracy to the world. These developments should alarm anyone in Vietnam who still clings to the myth of brotherly love between our nation and China.

We cannot fight Chinese encroachment alone. Political isolation in a globalized world is tantamount to committing political suicide for Vietnam. And the key ally for Vietnam today is the United States -- an alliance that the Vietnamese liberation hero Ho Chi Minh ironically always wanted.

Posted by orrinj at 8:29 AM


RIP Tommy Ramone: your band captured the sound in my head (Michael Hann, 7/12/14, The Guardian)

He wasn't meant to be the drummer. He was meant to be the manager. Joey was the drummer. "What happened was, they just kept playing faster and faster, and I couldn't keep up on the drums," Joey remembered in Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain's Please Kill Me. "Tommy Ramone, who was managing us, finally had to sit down behind the drums, because nobody else wanted to," Dee Dee told McNeil and McCain. [...]

They got better. Of course they got better. They got so much better that for me (and for others, not lots of others, but enough of us) the Ramones were the best group rock'n'roll ever produced. Not the most inventive, or the most versatile, or the most skilful, or the most emotionally resonant, or the most lyrical - but the best, because every time I put on one of the Ramones' best records, I was reminded of how I felt the first time I heard it. And the first time I heard it, I felt: this is the sound I've been hearing in my head and here it is on 12 inches of black vinyl; this is what I have been waiting for since the first single I ever bought. The Ramones were the sound of juvenile excitement, expressed with such breathtaking singlemindedness that nothing could kill the excitement.

And they were never as exciting without Tommy. Partly that was because those first three albums were such perfect statements of intent that there was very little left for the Ramones to say, and so each new album became another turn around the circuit rather than a manifesto. But partly because it was Tommy, as much as Joey, Johnny or Dee Dee, who made the band truly Ramonic. Marky, his replacement, was a more skilled drummer, perhaps, but the slight increase in sophistication meant the purity of the message - and the medium was the message, in the case of the Ramones - was compromised. Marky's successor, Richie, was simply too fast: in the tragic Ramones documentary End of the Century, he boasts about shaving several minutes off the set by playing everything with such velocity. With Richie on drums, Ramones shows were a blur of noise - you'd be recognising the song, finally, as it came to an end. When what you wanted was to wallow in those glorious harmonics.

But now that's it; they're all gone. Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee and now Tommy. The band that unlocked the door for me.

And no one would ever take the pretensions of bands like the Beatles seriously again.

Posted by orrinj at 8:13 AM


Are vitamin pills even necessary? (The Week, 7/12/14)

In natural form, they're essential to the proper functioning of our bodies. The term "vitamins" covers a diverse array of molecules that fulfill a huge variety of biochemical functions -- helping human beings to grow, repair damaged tissue, and avoid such diseases as scurvy, rickets, and pellagra. In the modern world, the abundant supply of a wide variety of foods makes it possible to satisfy virtually all nutritional needs by eating a healthful, balanced diet rich in vegetables, fruit, and protein sources. But based on the idea that more of a good thing is better, companies are now selling Americans $12 billion worth of vitamins a year. Many scientists and doctors, however, question the value of gobbling vitamins -- and there is evidence that large doses of some vitamins may actually be harmful. A recent long-term study of more than 400,000 people concluded that "most vitamin supplements [have] no clear benefit" and warned that excess vitamin E and beta-carotene may actually weaken the immune system's ability to kill cancer cells. "The case is closed," the study authors wrote. "Enough is enough."

July 11, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:19 PM


How the CIA Dismissed the Status Quo, Partnered With Amazon and Changed Intelligence (Frank Konkel, July 10, 2014, Government Executive)

The intelligence community is about to get the equivalent of an adrenaline shot to the chest. This summer, a $600 million computing cloud developed by Amazon Web Services for the Central Intelligence Agency over the past year will begin servicing all 17 agencies that make up the intelligence community. If the technology plays out as officials envision, it will usher in a new era of cooperation and coordination, allowing agencies to share information and services much more easily and avoid the kind of intelligence gaps that preceded the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

For the first time, agencies within the IC will be able to order a variety of on-demand computing and analytic services from the CIA and National Security Agency. What's more, they'll only pay for what they use. 

The vision was first outlined in the IC Information Technology Enterprise plan championed by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and IC Chief Information Officer Al Tarasiuk almost three years ago. Cloud computing is one of the core components of the strategy to help the IC discover, access and share critical information in an era of seemingly infinite data. 

For the risk-averse intelligence community, the decision to go with a commercial cloud vendor is a radical departure from business as usual.

...is to open it to the general public.

Posted by orrinj at 4:30 PM


Australian judge says incest may no longer be a taboo (Jonathan Pearlman, 10 Jul 2014, The Telegraph)

A judge in Australia has been criticised after saying incest may no longer be a taboo and that the community may now accept consensual sex between adult siblings.

Judge Garry Neilson, from the district court in the state of New South Wales, likened incest to homosexuality, which was once regarded as criminal and "unnatural" but is now widely accepted.

He said incest was now only a crime because it may lead to abnormalities in offspring but this rationale was increasingly irrelevant because of the availability of contraception and abortion.

Posted by orrinj at 3:04 PM


The Common Core Commotion : Haven't we seen this movie before? (Andrew Ferguson, 7/21/14, Weekly Standard)

Most of the criticism of the Standards has come from the populist right, and the revolt of conservative parents against the pet project of a national educationist elite is genuine, spontaneous, and probably inevitable. But if you move beyond the clouds of jargon, and the compulsory gestures toward "critical thinking" and "metacognitive skills," you will begin to spy something more interesting. There's much in the Standards to reassure an educational traditionalist--a vein of subversion. At several points, Common Core is clearly intended as a stay against the runaway enthusiasms of educationist dogma. 

The Standards insist schools' (unspecified) curriculums be "content-rich"--meaning that they should teach something rather than nothing. They even go so far as to require students to read Shakespeare, the Preamble and First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and works of Greek mythology. Phonics is the chief means of teaching reading in Common Core, rejecting the notorious "whole language" method first taken up in the 1970s and--research shows!--a likely culprit in the decline in reading scores. The Standards discourage the use of calculators, particularly in early grades where it has become a popular substitute for acquiring basic math. The Standards require memorization of multiplication tables as an important step in learning arithmetic, striking a blow against "fuzzy math." Faddish notions like "visual literacy" are nowhere to be found. 

Perhaps most impressively, at least in language arts, the Standards require students to read and write ever larger amounts of nonfiction as they move toward their high school diploma. Anyone familiar with the soupy "young adult" novels fed to middle- and high-school students should be delighted. Writing assignments, in tandem with more rigorous reading, move away from mere self-expression--commonly the focus of writing all the way through high school--to the accumulation of evidence and detail in the service of arguments. The architect of the Language Arts Standards, an educationist called David Coleman, explained this shift in a speech in 2011. He lamented that the most common form of writing in high school these days is "personal writing."

It is either the exposition of a personal opinion or it is the presentation of a personal matter. The only problem, forgive me for saying this so bluntly, the only problem with those two forms of writing is as you grow up in this world you realize people really don't give a shit about what you feel or what you think.

Now, it is hard to imagine a more traditionalist sentiment than that. Yet conservative Common Core activists single out Coleman as a particularly sinister adversary, perhaps for his potty mouth. The populist campaign against the Standards has been scattershot: Sometimes they are criticized for being unrealistically demanding, at other times for being too soft. Even Common Core's insistence on making the Constitution part of any sound curriculum has been attacked as insidious. Recall that students will be required to read only the Preamble and the First Amendment. That is, they will stop reading before they reach the Second Amendment and the guarantee of gun rights. 

Coincidence? Many activists think not. 

The conservative case, as seen in videos and blogs posted on countless websites, relies heavily on misinformation--tall tales and urban legends advanced by people who should know better. Revulsion at the educationist project predates Common Core by many decades. It is grounded in countless genuine examples of faddish textbooks and politicized curriculums. For the last few years, however, Common Core has been blamed for all of them. Textbook marketers and lesson-plan designers are happy to help. Their market, after all, isn't parents but fellow educationists on state and local school boards that control purchasing budgets. Once Common Core was established as the future (for now) of education, the marketers knew the phrase was catnip. Every educational product imaginable now bears the label "common core," whether it's inspired by the Standards or not. A search of books for sale on Amazon.com shows more than 12,000 bearing the words "common core" in their titles. Many were produced long before the Standards were even a twinkle in an educationist's eye.

And so, from a popular conservative blog, we get lists of horribles like this, attributed to Common Core:

Would you be okay with your 4th grader learning how to masturbate from his school textbook? Would you think it's a good idea to teach kids that the correct answer to 72 + 81 is 150, not 153? What about cutting Tom Sawyer from the curriculum, and replacing it with articles about the imminent dangers of man-made global warming?

All these were evidently drawn from textbooks that sell themselves to educationists as being "aligned" with the Standards. Of course, if you live in the kind of school district that buys a textbook that teaches your fourth grader how to masturbate, that's most likely the kind of textbook you'll get. But Common Core has nothing to do with it. The Standards are agnostic on the onanism question at every grade level. Activist literature commonly confuses the Standards with the National Sexuality Educational Standards, a fringe concoction of left-wing "sexuality educators" that apes the Common Core but has no official or unofficial relation to it. The fact that the Common Core Standards can be plausibly linked to such enterprises is a testament to the neutrality of their content--their intentional blandness. Indeed, it might be an argument for making the Standards more demanding rather than for doing away with them altogether.

Conservative hostility to the Common Core is also entangled with hostility to President Obama and his administration. Joy Pullman, an editor and writer who is perhaps the most eloquent and responsible public critic of Common Core, wrote recently in thefederalist.com: "I wager that 90 percent of the debate over Common Core would instantly dissipate if states adopted the top-rated standards from, say, Massachusetts or Indiana and dropped the Obama administration tests." 

While the personal hostility to Obama might be overwrought, the administration's campaign on behalf of the Standards has borne all the marks of the president's other efforts at national persuasion. There is the hysterical overstatement--Secretary Duncan calls Common Core "the single greatest thing to happen to public education in America since Brown v. Board of Education." (Has he forgotten Goals 2000?) There are the same sly elisions, the buried assumptions and question begging, the drawing of Jesuitical distinctions. Here are Secretary Duncan's remarks last year to a group of newspaper editors: "The federal government didn't write [the Standards], didn't approve them, and doesn't mandate them, and we never will. Anyone who says otherwise is either misinformed or willfully misleading." 

This is willfully misleading. The federal government doesn't mandate Common Core, but when Duncan and his department made lots of federal funds contingent on a state's embrace of "common standards," the Common Core was no longer "voluntary" for most revenue-hungry state officials. At the same time, for all practical purposes, the department assumed oversight of the program. Only a federal bureaucrat can say when a state has satisfied its obligation to produce materials appropriate to the Standards. And as implementation of Common Core begins in earnest, with confusion about which tests comply with which standards, the federal role will only grow. 

Common Core does not impose a national curriculum, Duncan often insists, correctly; such an explicit move would not only be illegal but would face insurmountable resistance. Yet, in other venues where it is helpful to do so, he speaks of the program as if it had all the conveniences of a national curriculum: "Literally for the first time in American history .  .  . a fourth grade teacher in New Mexico can develop a lesson plan at night and, the very next day, a fourth grade teacher in New York can use it and share it with others if she wants to." This assertion isn't willfully misleading. To the extent it concerns the Common Core, it is nakedly untrue.

Posted by orrinj at 2:33 PM


The Federal Government Lost 40,000 More Employees Than It Gained Last Year (Eric Katz July 9, 2014, Government Executive)

Federal agencies hired nearly half the number of employees in fiscal 2013 as they did four years prior, and the gap between employees leaving and joining federal service continued to grow.

The federal government hired about 77,000 new employees in fiscal 2013, according to a Partnership for Public Service analysis of Office of Personnel Management data, a 14 percent drop off from the previous year. The number of separating employees, meanwhile, remained steady over the last two years at more than 115,000 annually. New hires represented 4.2 percent of the federal workforce last year.

An overwhelming majority of employees hired last year -- four out of every five -- were from defense and security-related agencies, PPS found. 

July 10, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:38 PM


GOP's Anti-Obamacare Ads May Have Accidentally Boosted Enrollment (ARIT JOHN, 7/10/14, The Wire)

A pair of new studies argue that the GOP's anti-Obamacare ads may have actually increased enrollment in blue states and the majority of the people who enrolled -- even Republicans -- like their plans.

The Commonwealth Fund's survey found that 9.5 million people gained insurance during the Obamacare enrollment period. Of those enrollees, 73 percent are happy with their private insurance plan and 87 percent are happy with Medicaid. Meanwhile the Brookings Institute argues that fewer people might have enrolled if conservative groups like the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity hadn't invested millions of dollars in anti-Obamacare ads. Instead of simply deterring people from enrolling, the ads seem to have raised awareness of health care reform.

The iron law of unintended consequences strikes again....
Posted by orrinj at 7:15 PM


Magna Carta turns 800 : Eight centuries of freedom is a big deal (Hugh Harley 12 July 2014, The Spectator)

In recent decades, much new light has been shed on English society of the 1100s and 1200s. Popular perception has been of a static, essentially feudal society. Consistent with this, many have sought to disparage the Magna Carta as reflecting no more than the greed of the English barons, largely an economic document with just two of its 63 clauses enjoying enduring significance to the evolution of legal rights -- clause 39 ('except by the lawful judgment of his peers') and clause 40 ('to no one will we deny or delay right or justice'). Neither, of course, is a bad start but to see it quite so narrowly misses the broader point.

Taken together, the 63 clauses of the 1215 version reflect a sophisticated and prosperous society, more similar to our own than we generally appreciate. Marriage, taxation and fines, the operation of the fledgling court system and debt collection are all covered. But it also deals with the freedom of international traders, a national system of measures, town creation, bridge building and the enclosure of forests and streams. In trying to understand better the significance of the Magna Carta as we approach 2015, this point about a sophisticated and prosperous society is critical. The fact is that the period leading to the Magna Carta was one of extraordinary change and innovation in England.

Consider the following: invention (the windmill, 1185), urbanisation (57 new towns between 1180 and 1230), education (Oxford 1167, including a school of business from the early 1200s, and Cambridge 1209), energy (the first coal to London, 1228), infrastructure (London Bridge completed in stone, 1208), currency (halfpennies and farthings, 1180), public and private record-keeping (hence continuous price, wage and monetary data from the early 1200s) and international trade (hence London's ascension over Winchester as the primary place of government by the late 1100s). The popular 'feudal' conception may be a good description for Continental Europe, but almost certainly not for England. As one English writer of the day noted, 'no one who wanted to make money need ever die poor'. London and the other rising towns proved magnets for commerce -- there was legal and economic substance in the popular saying 'town air makes you free'. That is the context for the Magna Carta.

Posted by orrinj at 7:04 PM


The Mystery of the Vanishing Screwball (BRUCE SCHOENFELD, JULY 10, 2014, NY Times Magazine)

Hector Santiago of the Los Angeles Angels was sitting at a restaurant table in Glendale, Ariz., in March, holding an orange in his left hand. He formed a circle with his thumb and forefinger, then spread his remaining fingers around the fruit with half an inch between each one. He was demonstrating how he throws his screwball, which is the best in baseball mostly because nobody else has one.

The secret, he said, is to exert no pressure with the pinkie or ring finger. As he moved his arm forward in a slow-motion simulation, he pushed hard with his middle finger on the inside of the orange until much of his hand was beneath it, creating a clockwise spin. "Like driving on your right wheels going around a curve," he said. [...]

In 1974, Mike Marshall of the Los Angeles Dodgers won the National League's Cy Young Award by relying on the screwball. Tug McGraw used it to get to three World Series as a reliever with the Mets and Phillies. In 1984, Detroit's screwballer, Willie Hernandez, was both the American League's top pitcher and Most Valuable Player. The last great practitioner was Fernando Valenzuela, most famously a Dodger, who threw a wide assortment of pitches, none more prominent -- or effective -- than his screwball.

Today few, if any, minor leaguers are known to employ the pitch. College coaches claim they haven't seen it in years. Youths are warned away from it because of a vague notion that it ruins arms. "Pitchers have given it up," says Don Baylor, the former player and manager, who now works with Angels hitters. "Coaches don't even talk about it. It's not in the equation."

Many of baseball's best hitters have never seen a screwball. This spring, I spent time in nearly a dozen clubhouses asking about the pitch. "Maybe in Wiffle ball," David Freese, the Angels' third baseman, said. "But I've never sat in a hitters' meeting and heard, 'This guy's got a screwball.' It doesn't come up. I'm not sure I even know exactly what it is."

As a result, the pitch has taken on somewhat mythical properties. "I don't think it's physically possible," the Giants' Buster Posey, the 2012 National League M.V.P., told me one morning. "I just don't believe that a right-handed pitcher can make a ball move as though he were left-handed. I just don't."

Posey's clubhouse locker faced the corner where many of the team's pitchers dress, including Tim Hudson. The veteran fastballer had overlapped in Oakland with Jim Mecir, a right-handed journeyman who threw screwballs from 1995 to 2005. "I didn't think I'd ever see one," he volunteered. "I thought screwballs were just really, really good changeups. Then Mecir threw one, and it broke like a curve in reverse. That's when I understood."

Posted by orrinj at 7:00 PM


The amazing, mysterious decline in Medicare's price tag (Sarah Kliff,  July 9, 2014, Vox)

What this chart shows is how much the Congressional Budget Office expects we'll need to pay for each and every Medicare beneficiary. And over the past four years, the forecasting agency has consistently downgraded the price of covering one senior's health care costs.

Saving $1,000 per patient adds up quickly in a program that covers about 50 million people. More precisely, it adds up to about $50 billion in savings this year. The reduction in expected costs grows to $2,369 in 2019. With an expected 60 million seniors enrolled in Medicare that year, it would work out to more than $120 billion shaved off the total cost of the program.

"The numbers are impressive, and the consecutive year-to-year reductions in projected Medicare spending are unprecedented," Kaiser Family Foundation's Tricia Neuman and Juliette Cubanski, who drew up the above chart, write. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:54 PM


THE BASEBALL WONDERS OF THE WORLD (Matthew Kory, 7/10/14, Sports on Earth)

A few weeks ago I was visiting San Diego and attended a Padres game. There I saw the Western Metal Supply Building, a historic structure that was integrated into Petco Park rather than being demolished.

Now, more than the park's foundational stone or even the ballfield itself, the Western Metal Supply Building is the focal point of the ballpark. (This may be partially due to the quality of baseball, or lack of it, the Padres have brought this season.) It makes for a great environment for a baseball game, as the game is literally played with a part of the city of San Diego.

It used to be that ballparks were built where there was land to build them. If a large building or a street was in the way, the park was shoehorned into the available space. This created oddities in ballpark design. When left undisturbed, a ballpark has a natural round shape, but when dealing with the realities on the ground, it can be shoved and jerked to fit into almost any urban space. You don't think the Red Sox really dreamed of building the "Green Monster" at Fenway Park all those years ago, right? Due to the awkward positioning of the park hard up against Lansdowne Street beyond left field, they had no choice. Now, it's the defining piece of the ballpark.

It all made me think, if you can construct a ballpark around the Western Metal Supply Building, how about doing it on a grander scale? What would it look like if you took some of the most famous buildings, monuments or structures in existence and designed ballparks around them, in the same sort of way?

So, I did! What follows are the New Baseball Wonders of the World.

Posted by orrinj at 6:52 PM


A connected-car future is closer than you think (Craig Thomas, July 10, 2014, The National)

Apps are just the start of it. New systems such as MirrorLink, Apple's CarPlay and Google's Android Auto will enable drivers to control certain smartphone apps from the dashboard, but apps that you'll be able to purchase and download direct from the car itself are starting to become available. There will be navigation and music-streaming apps, and apps to help us drive more smoothly and efficiently, but we can also look forward to some that take information from the vehicle and combine it with useful data beamed into the car.

So if, for example, the car detects that you're short on fuel, it will automatically tell you the nearest filling station or the cheapest one on the route that you've programmed into your satellite navigation system.

Or if you install a parking app on to your in-vehicle infotainment system, and you set a course for downtown to go shopping, to the cinema or to a restaurant, it will keep you constantly updated with the car parks that have spaces - and could even guide you directly to an empty bay, eliminating the need for that stressful, head-swivelling meander around the car park.

The car will be able to receive (and transmit) information because embedded SIM cards will use mobile networks to become part of what is known as the Internet of Things, which will enable all kinds of devices - from TVs and fridges to cars - to connect to each other and share data. In the case of cars, they will be constantly relaying information about a car and its driver to a cloud computing system.

This will have numerous benefits for all of us who drive. Let's imagine a time when all our cars are connected and are continuously relaying GPS data about their position and speed. If there's a traffic jam and a couple of hundred cars are communicating where they are and that they're going nowhere fast, the cloud will be able to communicate real-time traffic information to other cars heading towards the congested area, routing them away to avoid making the problem worse - and reducing the amount of wasted fuel and stress.

Because our car's exact position will be known at all times, in the event of a crash or a car malfunction, the emergency services or breakdown service will be automatically dispatched to you, knowing where you are and exactly what has happened.

And all this data about us as drivers, because it is cloud-based, will also be portable, so we will be able to log in to any car that we drive and access our apps, previous satnav destinations, music playlists - even our seat settings.

Posted by orrinj at 6:49 PM


Your Politics Are Showing: Pew Study Sorts Americans Into 8 Groups (Lindsey Cook July 10, 2014, CS Monitor)

The Pew Research Center has released its sixth Political Typology Survey, which aims to categorize the political landscape beyond red and blue.

To create the study, Pew surveyed more than 10,000 adults in the United States. Pew used cluster analysis to sort people into groups based on answers to questions about politics, lifestyle and values. Since the groups don't rely on simple party lines, Pew was able to tease out the differences between groups other than those already committed to the Republican or Democratic Party. Although many think of the political center as one homogeneous group that lands between Democratic and Republican views on key issues, the survey found the center consists of several groups that don't agree with either party and don't agree with each other.

Take the quiz to find out which group you fit with.


Posted by orrinj at 6:44 PM


In U.S., Uninsured Rate Sinks to 13.4% in Second Quarter (Jenna Levy, 7/10/14, Gallup)

The uninsured rate in the U.S. fell 2.2 percentage points to 13.4% in the second quarter of 2014. This is the lowest quarterly average recorded since Gallup and Healthways began tracking the percentage of uninsured Americans in 2008.

Reform will drive that number towards 0%, but shift more people into HSAs.

July 9, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:40 PM


Why Piketty's Wealth Data Are Worthless (ALAN REYNOLDS, July 9, 2014, WSJ)

Since 1997, by contrast, most capital gains on home sales have disappeared from the tax returns of middle-income couples, thanks to a $500,000 tax exemption. And since the mid-1980s, most capital income and capital gains of middle-income savers began to vanish from tax returns by migrating into IRAs, 401(k)s and other retirement and college savings plans.

Balances in private retirement plans rose to $12.4 trillion in 2012 from $875 billion in 1984. Much of that hidden savings will gradually begin to show up on tax returns as baby boomers draw them down to live on, but they will then be reported as ordinary income, not capital income.

Tax law changes, in summary, have increased capital income reported at the top and shifted business income from corporate to individual tax returns, while sheltering most capital income of middle-income savers and homeowners. Using reported capital income to estimate changing wealth patterns is hopeless.

Posted by orrinj at 6:48 PM


Rethinking Woodrow Wilson's 14 Points (David Ignatius, July 8, 2014, Washington Post)

President Woodrow Wilson enunciated his framework in his famous "Fourteen Points" statement in January 1918, nine months after the United States had entered World War I. Following the armistice in November 1918, Wilson's idealistic formula was a contentious centerpiece of debate at the Versailles peace conference. It was an inspiration to those who felt victimized by the old order and an annoyance to France and Britain.

Britain and France prevailed at Versailles, imposing a peace settlement so selfish and shortsighted that it all but guaranteed the rise of a revanchist Germany leading to World War II, and the endless headaches of the modern Middle East. It was, as David Fromkin titled his great 1989 history, "A Peace to End All Peace." It's this very fabric that is now ripping apart, as civil wars in Syria and Iraq create de-facto partitions of those countries. The question facing policymakers is whether to redraw the lines or let the region devolve into smaller cantons, like the ethnically cohesive "vilayets" of Ottoman times.

By pimping only for the League of Nations, President Wilson lost the fight that mattered : universal self-determination.

Posted by orrinj at 6:45 PM


How Germany went from bust to boom on the talent production line (Stuart James, 5/23/13, The Guardian)

German football is booming, reaping the rewards of the strategy drawn up after their dismal performances at Euro 2000, when Germany finished bottom of their group. Forced into an overhaul of youth football, the DFB, the Bundesliga and the clubs decided that the development of more technically proficient homegrown players would be in everyone's best interests. This led to the creation of academies right across the top two divisions.

The fruits are there for all to see. Joachim Löw, Germany's coach, is blessed with a generation of gifted young players - Julian Draxler (19), Andre Schürrle (22), Sven Bender (24), Thomas Müller (23), Holger Badstuber (24), Mats Hummels (24), Mesut Ozil (24), Ilkay Gundogan (22), Mario Götze (20), Marco Reus (23), Toni Kroos (23) ... the list goes on - and Dutt says there are more coming through in the under-21 side who will travel to Israel for the European Championship next month.

As for Saturday's Champions League final at Wembley, the DFB proudly points out that 26 of the players Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund named in their Uefa squads this season are homegrown and eligible to play for Germany. More than half of those players came through the DFB's talent development programme, which was introduced in 2003 with the aim of identifying promising youngsters and providing them with technical skills and tactical knowledge at an early age. Covering 366 areas of Germany, this impressive initiative caters for children aged 8 to 14 and is served by 1,000 part-time DFB coaches, all of whom must hold the Uefa B licence and are expected to scout as well as train the players. "We have 80 million people in Germany and I think before 2000 nobody noticed a lot of talent," Dutt says. "Now we notice everyone."

Some youngsters attending the development programme are already affiliated with professional clubs but others may be only turning out for their local junior side, which means the weekly DFB sessions are also a chance for Bundesliga teams to spot players.

It is the opposite of what happens in England, where the FA relies on clubs to develop youngsters. Dutt smiles when it is suggested to him that the DFB are doing the clubs' recruitment for them. "But if we help the clubs, we help us, because the players of our national teams - the youth teams and Joachim Löw's team - come from the clubs," he says.

The incredible depth of Germany's coaching resources, as well as the DFB's close relationship with Bundesliga clubs, helps to make the programme. According to Uefa, Germany has 28,400 (England 1,759) coaches with the B licence, 5,500 (895) with the A licence and 1,070 (115) with the Pro licence, the highest qualification. It is little wonder that Ashworth said last month that there will be no quick fix for English football. The country that invented the game has forgotten that we need people to teach it.

For Germany, post-Euro 2000 was about changing philosophies as well as employing more full-time coaches and upgrading facilities. The DFB wanted to move away from playing in straight lines and relying on "the German mentality" to win matches. Instead coaches focused on developing fluid formations that required the sort of nimble, dexterous players who would previously have been overlooked because of their lack of physical strength.

Posted by orrinj at 6:41 PM


Democrats Push Bill to Reverse Supreme Court Ruling on Contraceptives (ROBERT PEAR, JULY 8, 2014, NY Times)

 Democrats in Congress said Tuesday that they had developed legislation to override the Supreme Court decision on contraceptives. The bill would ensure that women had access to insurance coverage for birth control even if they worked for businesses that had religious objections.

The bill, put together in consultation with the Obama administration, would require for-profit corporations like Hobby Lobby Stores to provide and pay for contraceptive coverage, along with other preventive health services, under the Affordable Care Act.

...all you have to do is rewrite corporations law.  After all, anyone who doesn't want to abide by the restrictions can just forgo the benefits.

Posted by orrinj at 6:38 PM


THE GAME THAT RUTH BUILT : Babe Ruth will of course always be remembered as a Yankee, but it was the Boston Red Sox who first brought him to the major leagues. (Brian Tuohy, 7/09/14, Sports on Earth)

On July 4, 1914, the Orioles were in first place in the International League with a 47-22 record. Ruth was 14-6. Yet despite the on-the-field success, only about 5,000 total fans had shown up throughout the course of the season to see the O's play at home. Attendance was so bad, Ruth once tossed a complete game shutout versus Rochester in front of 11 paying customers. The problem for Dunn's Orioles stemmed from the rival Federal League team, the Baltimore Terrapins, which played directly across the street. Many Baltimore baseball fans, starved for a major league team since 1903, believed the Federal League would soon be a third professional league (along with the separate-at-the-time National and American Leagues). Because of this, thousands of fans flocked to see the Terrapins each day, leaving Dunn's stadium empty.

Faced with bankruptcy, Dunn was forced to sell off his players. He offered Ruth to Athletics' owner/manager Connie Mack, who had previously seen Ruth beat his team in spring training. When Mack came to see him pitch again, Ruth was roughed up and pulled by the fourth inning. Undeterred, Dunn started Ruth in the second game of the doubleheader and he responded with a shutout victory. But Mack was in financial straits as well (in fact, Mack would sell off most of his pennant-winning team after the 1914 season). He passed. The Cincinnati Reds made an offer for Ruth, as did John McGraw of the New York Giants, but Dunn wound up dealing with Red Sox owner Joe Lannin, thanks in part to a $3,000 "loan" Lannin provided so Dunn could meet his payroll. Lannin bought Ruth, catcher Ben Egan and another young pitcher named Ernie Shore for $25,000. The Red Sox raised Ruth's salary to $625 a month.

On July 10, Ruth and the other two players took an overnight train to Boston. They arrived at Back Bay Station at 10 a.m. Met there by a Red Sox representative, Ruth was informed he was to start that afternoon. Five hours later, Ruth made his American League debut against the Cleveland Naps in Fenway Park.

The 6-foot-2 lefty took the hill to face a Naps team featuring "Shoeless" Joe Jackson hitting third and future Hall of Famer Nap Lajoie batting fourth. In the first inning, the rookie "displayed why he is a veteran in many ways," as the Boston Globe's T.H. Murnane wrote of Ruth's performance. Ruth gave up a hit to leadoff hitter Jack Graney, who advanced to second on a ground out. Shoeless Joe then singled to center. On the play, Red Sox center fielder Tris Speaker threw home, forcing Graney to momentarily hold at third. Ruth cut off Speaker's throw and threw to second. As Shoeless Joe retreated back to first, Graney took off for home, but was nailed at the plate. Ruth then ended the inning by picking off Shoeless Joe from first base.

Ruth would give up a run on three hits while striking out one over the next five innings before a two-run, three-hit seventh inning proved his demise. Remarkably, Ruth finished the inning on the mound, but was pulled for pinch-hitter Duffy Lewis in the bottom of the inning (Ruth struck out and flew out in his first two at-bats). Lewis would reach base on a hit, advance on an error and score the game-winning run on a Tris Speaker single.

Credited for the 4-3 victory, Ruth's first big league win didn't set off many alarm bells. The Boston Globe's headline for the game read, "Babe Ruth leads Red Sox to win in Boston debut." Murnane would write of Ruth, "He has natural delivery, great command and a curve ball that is tough for opposing hitters. However," he would add, "there's still room for improvement for him but he will undoubtedly progress with the help of Manager Bill Carrigan." The New York Times took little note of the performance. Writing under the headline "Ruth Batted Out by the Naps," the newspaper simply stated of the game, "Ruth, formerly of Baltimore, made his debut as a local pitcher and held Cleveland to five scattered hits in the first six innings." There was no hint of the New York legend yet to come.

In fact, despite the win, Ruth made little impression on his new club. Ernie Shore, the other pitcher bought from the Orioles in the Ruth deal, pitched a two-hitter the following day, winning 2-1. With an already crowded rotation, Ruth saw little playing time while Shore would get another 15 starts, going 10-5 for the season. At the end of July, Lannin bought the Providence Grays of the International League for $75,000, and two weeks later, sent Ruth there to get more work. Ruth shined with the Grays, posting a 9-3 record on the mound and hitting .300, including his first professional home run, hit in Toronto. With the Red Sox 8.5 games behind the Athletics, Ruth was recalled from Providence to finish off the last week of the 1914 season, going 1-1. His first season in the majors may have just been a cup of coffee, but shades of legendary Babe Ruth were visible.

Why does Ruth continue to matter today? Why do so many know his name 100 years after he played in his first MLB game? It's because in many ways, Ruth had all the trappings of a modern professional athlete. His on-the-field exploits were as wild as his reputation off of it. Rumors surrounding young stars like Bryce Harper and Yasiel Puig are plentiful, yet Ruth did it all first. As a member of the Red Sox between 1915-1919, he posted a 89-46 record with a sub-3.00 ERA, won 3 World Series championships, and he set a MLB season record by hitting 29 home runs in 1919. At the same time, he broke his toe by kicking the bench in frustration after being intentionally walked, punched home plate umpire Brick Owens in the head after arguing balls and strikes which resulted in a $100 fine and a 10-game suspension, quit the team for a few days in 1918 after arguing over playing time with manager Ed Barrow, and held out for double his existing salary at the beginning of the 1919 season while threatening to become a professional boxer.

Though today Red Sox owner Harry Frazee appears the fool for selling Ruth to the New York Yankees for $125,000 in 1920 -- thus creating the "Curse of the Bambino" which the Red Sox wouldn't break until winning the World Series in 2004 -- the fact is that many thought Frazee got the better end of the deal at the time. Ruth was drinking heavily, constantly crashing his car, and despite being married, regularly visiting prostitutes. He was a managerial headache and his record-setting 29 home runs in 1919 hadn't prevented the franchise from finishing sixth in the AL, 20.5 games out of first. Some felt Ruth might flame out of baseball within a year or two given his lifestyle, despite being just 25 years old.

July 8, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 6:59 PM


Jim Brosnan dies at 84; relief pitcher wrote inside look at baseball (STEVE CHAWKINS, 7/06/14, LA Times)

The relief pitcher known to his teammates as "The Professor" listened to Bartok, read Dostoevsky, sipped martinis and hauled a portable typewriter from stadium to stadium.

Over nine seasons in the majors, Jim Brosnan was a curveball artist who also wrote penetrating, ironic and irreverent books that are seen as the first to deliver a true, warts-and-all insider's view of the national pastime. [...]
His 1960 book, "The Long Season," was praised by legendary sportswriter Red Smith as "a cocky book, caustic and candid, and in a way courageous, for Brosnan calls them as he sees them, doesn't hesitate to name names, and employs ridicule like a stiletto."

Written as a journal, the book took readers with the lanky right-hander during the 1959 season, when he threw for both the Cardinals and the Reds. While he steered clear of writing about players' on-the-road sexual conquests, he shocked a public accustomed to less honesty.

Analyzing his book years later, Brosnan said he had "violated the idolatrous image of big leaguers who have been previously portrayed as models of modesty, loyalty, and sobriety -- i.e., what they were really not like."

Broadcaster and former player Joe Garagiola labeled him "a kooky beatnik."

Brosnan's 1962 book, "Pennant Race," included a passage about getting to the stadium in Cincinnati that he thought was one of his best:

"To get to Crosley Field, I usually take a bus through the old, crumbling streets of The Bottoms. Blacks stand on the corners watching their homes fall down. The insecurity of being in the second division of the National League -- in the cellar -- leaves me. For 25 cents, the daily bus ride gives me enough humility to get me through any baseball game, or season."

Posted by orrinj at 6:57 PM

60 in '14:

Déjà Vu in Minnesota Senate Race? (Colin Diersing, 7/08/14, Roll Call)

In 2008, a first-time candidate dogged by his career history faced a formidable incumbent dragged down by an unpopular second-term president. The result: now-Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., defeated then-Sen. Norm Coleman, a Republican, in a shockingly close race that only ended after a months-long contentious recount and legal battle.

Now Coleman's handpicked candidate wants to return the favor in 2014. Franken will face a wealthy investment banker and first-time candidate, Mike McFadden, in November -- and this time, he's the senator battling an unpopular president's drag on the ballot.

"The atmosphere right now is pretty toxic," Coleman said in a recent phone interview. "This is a time when it's good to not be of Washington. Mike is part of a solution, and Franken is part of the problem."

And just like Coleman's race six years ago, the contest is expected to be much closer than originally predicted -- though recent polls show Franken still holds an advantage.

Posted by orrinj at 6:52 PM


Obama's 'imperial presidency' doesn't rule much of anything (Dana Milbank, July 7, 2014, Washington Post)

As imperial rulers go, this president has about as much oppressive might and raw dictatorial clout as Prince Hans-Adam II of Liechtenstein. Republicans have never respected Obama's authority. And now, as his popularity slips, he seems to be losing his ability to influence foreign allies, congressional Democrats and some of his previously loyal supporters.

Both the puny executive action and the criticism from erstwhile allies on Monday showed why the Obama presidency these days is falling a good bit short of imperial on the Alexander the Great scale. Education was the White House's message du jour -- lunch with teachers on the South Lawn was the only item on Obama's publicly released schedule other than his intelligence briefing -- but it didn't have a chance of wresting the national narrative away from less pleasant affairs.

On Tuesday, Obama plans to ask Congress for additional funds to process child immigrants. But then he's going on a fundraising trip to Colorado and Texas that, his spokesman confirmed Monday, doesn't include a stop at the border. This could put Obama further on the defensive by inviting the sort of criticism that followed George W. Bush's Hurricane Katrina flyover.

In recent days, Obama has spoken in scattershot fashion about education, jobs, the Highway Trust Fund, immigration legislation and Republicans' threat to sue him for his supposedly monarchical behavior. But his success in shaping the agenda has been negligible. He has been at the mercy of events, reacting to matters not of his choosing and taking executive actions that, for all the criticism, don't have the permanence or reach of legislation.

Working with the GOP he could get several trade treaties and modest reforms of Obamacare, immigration and taxes.  Combined with the Peace Dividend, he'd leave office on the same sort of high that Bill Clinton did in similar circumstances.

Posted by orrinj at 6:43 PM


The End of Progessivism (Peter Lawler, 7/07/14, Imaginative Conservative)

The primary experience of most ordinary Americans these days is the erosion--with the prospect of implosion--of the various safety nets of our relatively minimalist welfare state. The change we can actually see has been, and will continue to be, from defined benefits to defined contributions. Private and even public pensions are done for. They will continue to be replaced by 401(k)s. That kind of change will also be true of health care, as employer-based plans become unsustainable. It will also soon be true of Medicare and probably Social Security--if not quite as soon as Representative Paul Ryan thinks. Ryan, it is already obvious, will come to be known as a man just slightly ahead of his time. In that sense, just as obviously, he is the real progressive--the prophet of the more or less inevitable world to come. And his opponents, who are called Progressives, are just as obviously the real reactionaries.

The good news here, the new birth of freedom celebrated by the Tea Party, is more choice--a lot more choice--for individuals. The bad news is that risk is being transferred from the employer and the government to the individual. All of our entitlements will have to be transformed in a Lockean or individualistic direction in what might nevertheless be futile efforts to save them. Other, related changes that Lockeans should believe in include the fact that unions, both public and private, are also done for--despite President Obama's efforts to prop them up. Their reactionary attempts at protectionism have no place in a globalized and rigorously competitive marketplace. The same can be said of the ideal of employer and employee loyalty. People will be able to be--and will have to be--a lot more entrepreneurial and self-employed. One reason among many that employer-based health care cannot survive is that it depends on an increasingly obsolete model of employment. The present health-care system is actually not particularly good for the self-employed--which is to say, for more and more of us. Fear of losing insurance shouldn't be a reason for passing up an entrepreneurial opportunity, and guilt about an employee's health-care situation shouldn't be a reason for not firing superfluous or inadequately productive employees.

All these economic changes have, of course, both good and bad aspects. We might say that they are changes we can sort of half believe in. The Tea Partiers are enthusiastic about a new birth of freedom and a return to the Lockean Constitution of our Founders. And there really is a lot of good to be said about a renewed emphasis on individual responsibility, just as there is a lot of good to be said about perfecting the productive meritocracy that is the main source of our prosperity. Perhaps there will also be a new birth of voluntary associations--such as the extended family, the church, and the neighborhood--and voluntary caregiving for the social support even free individuals need to live well. Lockean political and economic reform is not incompatible with Christian charity, and anxious, lonely individuals futilely pursuing an ever-elusive happiness and even more futilely trying to cheat death might have more reason than ever to turn to the organized and relational religion of the personal Creator. Certainly the usually solidly churched, big-family, and otherwise communitarian Tea Partiers don't really share the comprehensive libertarianism of our sophisticated autonomy freaks.

It would be wrong, however, to call these changes popular. The Tea Party has peaked, and it never got anywhere near to a majority of Americans. People can't help but be conservative when it comes to preserving the entitlements on which they have come to rely. Consider that, at present, the Republicans continue to dominate the debate on health care; people remain convinced that Obamacare will wreck their employer-based plans without replacing them with anything nearly as good. Republicans are mostly campaigning against the president's bigger-government change without offering a clear alternative. They know, of course, that the employer-based schemes don't have much of a future. The Republicans' advantage over the president might fade quickly if they were to begin emphasizing the reasonable view that there is really no alternative but to have each individual buy his own private insurance, and have means-tested subsidies to make it possible for everyone to be covered. Individuals would have their own insurance; they would have more choice and could be cost-sensitive consumers; but they probably wouldn't get the coverage they have now at (to them) such a low cost.

When it comes to health care, most people are neither Progressives nor Lockeans. They are status quo conservatives, believing that change in any direction will not be progressive in the sense of serving their personal interests. But like it or not, change in the Lockean direction will come, and the institutionalization of Obamacare over the next few years will only delay the inevitable in a needlessly costly way. For now, however, this is a message no one seems prepared to hear.

With Medicare, the Democrats now have the advantage. They seem to be the status quo conservatives, defending the existing, defined-benefit, fee-for-service program. Americans have forgotten, for the moment, that one source of funding for Obamacare will be cuts in Medicare. And the Democrats don't deny that sustaining the current program will depend on waves of cuts. Newt Gingrich was clearly wrong when he called Representative Ryan's Medicare reform plan "radical social engineering"--branding it with the kind of attack Republicans usually reserve to describe Progressive experiments in bigger government. Payments under the Ryan plan would go to private insurance companies, and the resulting competition might well drive costs down (as they did in President Bush's unfairly maligned prescription drug benefit program). The Ryan plan would likely stretch the government dollar in ways which give people the best deal they can get in a time of diminished resources. But Gingrich did play to the true popular mood when he created, in effect, a moral equivalence when it comes to any significant change in the present entitlements regime. People think all change is risky and undesirable. Although everyone really knows that Medicare and Social Security as we now know them cannot last, devolving responsibility to the prudent calculations of the individual is, at best, ambiguous news.

The dying away of Second Way Progressivism merely signals the rise of Third Way Progressivism, which is neither wholly liberal nor conservative.  The key is not just that the new entitlement regime will be defined contribution, rather than defined benefit, but that society will make that contribution for everyone who can't afford to make it themself.

There is a necessary danger that after several generation the wealth effect will have made individuals so wealthy that we will lose some of our under-valued social interdependence, but that's a good sort of problem to have.

Posted by orrinj at 6:35 PM


Simpler and more foreign (Johnson, Jul 3rd 2014, The Economist)

Interestingly, about two-thirds of English-speakers are not first-language speakers of English. To put it another way: English no longer belongs to England, to superpower America, or even to the English-speaking countries generally. Rather, English is the world's language. What happens to a language when it becomes everybody's? Shaped by the mouths of billions of non-native speakers, what will the English of the future look like?

A look into the past can give us an idea. English is of course not the first language learned by lots of non-natives. When languages spread, they also change. And it turns out, they do so in specific directions.

For example, a 2010 study by Gary Lupyan and Rick Dale found that bigger languages are simpler. In more precise terms, languages with many speakers and many neighbours have simpler systems of inflectional morphology, the grammatical prefixes and suffixes (and sometimes "infixes") that make languages like Latin, Russian and Ancient Greek hard for the foreign learner. Contrary to educated people's stereotypes, the tiny languages spoken by "stone-age" or isolated tribes tend to be the world's most complicated, while big ones are less so, by this metric.

None of the other tongues will be missed.
Posted by orrinj at 6:29 PM


Why international interdependence has reduced the costs of secession (LORENZO PICCOLI, 8 July 2014, Open Democracy)

In Europe the majority of countries that were created over the last century has emerged from the disruption of established political unions. However, the breakdown of Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union bears little resemblance to the situation that is currently under discussion in the United Kingdom and with the debates on independence that are under way in Spain, Belgium, and Italy. While there is little doubt that these contemporary forms of self-determination claims have deep historical roots, they have not been caused a sudden change in the internal economic, political, or social conditions of the state. The puzzling question is why the political leaders of these regions are now successful in translating their long-term discontent into explicit demands for secession. The question is, in other words, what conditions allowed secessionism crises to gain momentum across Europe.

There are different answers to this question. Some have argued that the consequences of economic crisis have fuelled the flames of secession. Others have suggested the negative attitude of the central governments in power in the last few years has made a difference in most of these countries. These arguments help explain why the dream of nationhood is now being translated into a secession crisis across Europe. Yet, there is one crucial aspect that the debate on independence referendums has relatively overlooked, taking it for granted or treating it as something of marginal importance only. This concerns the international context and whether it has created more favourable conditions for secession. In this article I will explain that the changes that have occurred to the international environment in the course of the last twenty years have greatly contributed to turn secession into a viable political option for regions and their political leaders. My argument, in short, is that the contemporary international context has decreased the benefits that were previously associated with membership to a larger sovereign nation-state and has therefore contributed to augment both the desirability and the feasibility of secession.

One of the central arguments of Redefining Sovereignty was that the End of History (the triumph of consensual government) means that we need not overmuch fear transnationalism--no one will choose it.

Posted by orrinj at 6:24 PM


Kant confusion : a review of Onora O'Neill's ACTING ON PRINCIPLE : An essay on Kantian ethics  (MICHAEL ROSEN, 7/02/14, TLS)

In Birds of America Mary McCarthy sends her callow hero, Peter Levy, to spend a year as a student in Paris. To take with him on his travels she gives him a copy of Kant's Groundwork to the Metaphysics of Morals. Yet Peter finds it hard to lead his life on Kantian principles. Too many everyday dilemmas can, it seems, be argued both ways. Staying in a cheap hotel, for example, he wonders about the ethics of tipping:

"I tried asking myself what Kant would do in my position: "Behave as if thy maxim could be a universal law". If my maxim was not to tip because the next guy didn't, that would be pretty hard on the chambermaids of Paris, I decided. So, if he was true to his philosophy, Kant would tip. Of course he didn't have to face the issue, never leaving Königsberg. But you could also argue that tipping made it tough on the nontipper (which I could produce some empirical evidence for), and therefore Kant might be against it. If I understand him, he is saying that an action should be judged by its implications, i.e., if everybody did what you are doing, what would the world be like? Well, a world in which every student gave a five-franc gratuity to the woman who cleaned his room would be OK, but what about a world in which every other student did it?"

In the end, Peter concludes ruefully, "Maybe the categorical imperative is not the best guide for Americans abroad".

Peter is not the first person to have found turning Kant's moral philosophy into practice a frustrating business. In the extended chess tournament of the secondary literature, almost every conceivable analysis of the Groundwork has been tried out over the past two centuries, yet all have been found wanting in some way or other.

The standard opening is well agreed. Having declared that moral commands must be "categorical", Kant tells us that there is only a single categorical imperative. He formulates it first as follows: "act only according to that maxim which you can at the same time will as universal law", then slightly modifies it to read: "act as if the maxim of your action were to become a universal law of nature by your will". Kant next divides duties along two axes: duties that we owe to ourselves against those owed to others, and duties that are, as he terms them, "perfect" ("and admit of no exceptions") in contrast with those that are "imperfect" (ones that are no less obligatory yet may be balanced against other claims).

We had to read him in freshman Philosophy and Religion and my professor did not want to hear that the catehgorical imperative was incoherent and redundant.  Reason simply can't supply an objective standard for behavior.

Posted by orrinj at 6:17 PM


Bringing Iran in from the Cold (Ana Palacio,7/07/14, Project Syndicate)

Rapprochement between Iran and the West has long been a "white whale" of global politics. But it increasingly appears that the world may be on the verge of a new era, characterized by a wary yet crucial collaboration between countries - particularly Iran and the United States - that had been irreconcilable since Iran's Islamic Revolution in 1979.

The imperative for such cooperation drove last month's Bergedorf Round Table, organized by the Körber Foundation in conjunction with the Institute for Science and International Security. At the event, which I attended, 30 politicians, senior officials, and experts from Europe, the US, and Iran considered the relationship's future, producing some important insights that should inform future policy decisions.

With countries across the Middle East crumbling and territorial sovereignty disintegrating - most notably in Iraq - this effort could not be timelier. To reverse the region's slide into chaos, it needs strong stabilizing forces that can underpin coordinated action aimed at curtailing sectarian violence. Here, Iran has a key role to play.

July 7, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:50 PM


Backlash has begun against gluten-free dieters (Ellen McCarthy July 6, 2014, Washington Post)

The swelling ranks of Americans adopting gluten-free diets have given rise to another hot trend: people calling the whole thing a bunch of baloney. And then requesting that the baloney be sandwiched between two pieces of white bread. Served with a cookie for dessert.

David Klimas has a friend who recently went gluten-free, a development that the 46-year-old real estate sales manager greets with a slow eye roll. He thinks that the gluten-free thing is just a fad, promoted by food companies "as a way of making money."

"In the '50s, everyone had ulcers," he says. "Then, it was back problems. Now, it's gluten." [...]

"I don't get it," Klimas says of his friend's decision to cut gluten from his diet. "How can you all of a sudden be gluten-free? He's 45. We've been friends for 19 years. Sometimes, I think it's just for him to be cool in front of the waiters."

"He used to eat pancakes by the dozen!" adds Klimas's husband, Kurt Rieschick, as the two sat over lunch at a downtown Chipotle. (Klimas was chowing down on a taco made with a flour tortilla. "Delicious!" he reported.)

But they're so special!

Posted by orrinj at 7:45 PM


In Praise of Huddled Masses (Cont'd) : The increasingly free movement of ideas and capital needs to be matched by the free movement of people. (L. GORDON CROVITZ, July 6, 2014, WSJ)

How did the U.S. lose touch with its immigrant roots? Beyond today's partisan bickering, the larger problem is that politicians make the mistake of treating people seeking to build an American life as burdens instead of as benefits. This is not the first time.

Thirty years ago, on July 3, 1984, The Wall Street Journal published an editorial titled "In Praise of Huddled Masses." It said: "If Washington still wants to 'do something' about immigration, we propose a five-word constitutional amendment: There shall be open borders."

That was an ideal rather than an immediate prescription. "Perhaps this policy is overly ambitious in today's world, but the U.S. became the world's envy by trumpeting precisely this kind of heresy," the editorial said. "Our greatest heresy is that we believe in people as the greatest resource of our land."

The editorial was provocative, including to nativist conservatives; a writer for National Review called it the "high-water mark of loony libertarianism." There is a tradition of anonymity among editorial writers, but let's just say I had something to do with that editorial, which was approved by the late Robert Bartley, the Journal's longtime editor.

The editorial appeared during the debate about the Simpson-Mazzoli bill, which passed in 1986 and remains the last broad reform of immigration. That law gave asylum to three million people living here illegally.

Posted by orrinj at 7:23 PM


Help Wanted: Jobs in Trucking Go Unfilled : Labor Shortage in Shipping Industry Reflects a Skills and Goals Gap (BRENDA CRONIN, July 7, 2014, WSJ)

Something strange is afoot in long-distance trucking that is also bedeviling other industries: Many jobs that pay well--and don't require expensive degrees--are going unfilled for months.

U.S. Xpress Inc., a Tennessee-based carrier, has enough freight to hire an additional 100 truckers a week and is deploying recruiters daily to driving schools throughout the eastern half of the country.

Copeland Trucking, a family-owned company with about 50 trucks, is turning away business because of unfilled openings. The Minnesota-based firm's $9 million a year in revenue "could go to $13 million or $14 million overnight if I could put drivers in those trucks," said Charlie Hoag, manager of Copeland's terminal in Des Moines, Iowa.

Posted by orrinj at 7:19 PM


NEA Wants Duncan's Resignation (KIMBERLY HEFLING, 7/07/14, AP)

 The vote underscores the long-standing tension between the Obama administration and teachers' unions -- historically a steadfast Democratic ally.

A tipping point for some members was Duncan's statement last month in support of a California judge's ruling that struck down tenure and other job protections for the state's public school teachers. In harsh wording, the judge said such laws harm particularly low-income students by saddling them with bad teachers who are almost impossible to fire.

Even before that, teachers' unions have clashed with the administration over other issues ranging from its support of charter schools to its push to use student test scores as part of evaluating teachers.

Posted by orrinj at 1:45 PM


With Ukraine rebels on the ropes, some Russians ask: Where is Putin? (Fred Weir,  JULY 7, 2014, CS Monitor)

Russia's leading ultranationalist philosopher, sometimes labelled "Putin's Brain," says that Kremlin "hesitations" over extending military support to east Ukraine's embattled pro-Russian rebels could lead to a domestic political backlash against Vladimir Putin.

Alexander Dugin, whose extreme right-wing "Eurasianist" ideology has often seemed to foreshadow Kremlin actions, says that war between Russia and Ukraine is inevitable. Mr. Putin's apparent decision to abandon retreating east Ukrainian rebels to their fate risks turning into outright betrayal, which could split Putin from his key electoral base of "patriotic" Russians, he says.

Posted by orrinj at 6:21 AM


Solar has won. Even if coal were free to burn, power stations couldn't compete : As early as 2018, solar could be economically viable to power big cities. By 2040 over half of all electricity may be generated in the same place it's used. Centralised, coal-fired power is over (
Giles Parkinson, 7/06/14, theguardian.com)

Last week, for the first time in memory, the wholesale price of electricity in Queensland fell into negative territory - in the middle of the day.

For several days the price, normally around $40-$50 a megawatt hour, hovered in and around zero. Prices were deflated throughout the week, largely because of the influence of one of the newest, biggest power stations in the state - rooftop solar.

"Negative pricing" moves, as they are known, are not uncommon. But they are only supposed to happen at night, when most of the population is mostly asleep, demand is down, and operators of coal fired generators are reluctant to switch off. So they pay others to pick up their output.

That's not supposed to happen at lunchtime. Daytime prices are supposed to reflect higher demand, when people are awake, office building are in use, factories are in production. That's when fossil fuel generators would normally be making most of their money.

The influx of rooftop solar has turned this model on its head. There is 1,100MW of it on more than 350,000 buildings in Queensland alone (3,400MW on 1.2m buildings across the country). It is producing electricity just at the time that coal generators used to make hay (while the sun shines).

The impact has been so profound, and wholesale prices pushed down so low, that few coal generators in Australia made a profit last year. Hardly any are making a profit this year. State-owned generators like Stanwell are specifically blaming rooftop solar.

Posted by orrinj at 6:19 AM


In Milwaukee, one racing hot dog has his day in the ballpark (Bob Ecker, 7/06/14, The Inquirer)

With one out in the sixth, I donned "Frank," the Hot Dog outfit. The other four runners got ready too. "Bret," the Bratwurst wearing lederhosen; the natty "Posh," the Polish Dog in sunglasses; "Guido," the Italian Sausage with a chef's hat; and, the newest, "Cinco," a Chorizo wearing a gigantic sombrero. Frank looked like an all-American baseball player, with his toothy smile and eyeblack.

The costume isn't heavy, maybe six or seven pounds, but bulky, and about six feet tall. I dove in, popped my arms through the armholes, and placed the inner harness on my shoulders and that was it. Now the top of the head was about 11 feet in the air; I viewed the world through a mesh screen in the character's chest. I paced around like a caged animal, nervous but ready to run for all the mustard.

After the third out, a gate opened and we emerged from behind the left field wall, as happens in every Brewers home game. I began "Hot Doggin' " and emulating the other Sausages. I high-fived some people in the stands and strutted along the left-field foul line. Soon I moved toward the other Sausages lining up and all of a sudden, we were off. The sellout crowd of 43,812 was roaring. I was huffing and puffing - this is a 150-yard sprint, after all - and though I wasn't far behind the Chorizo, the three leaders were gone. My casing was palpitating and sweat poured through my bun. As I finally neared the finish line down the right field line, I heard one fan yell, "You suck, Hot Dog!" (His comment is still ringing in my ears.) Italian won, followed by the Brat, Polish, Chorizo and me, the Hot Dog, dead rancid last.

Posted by orrinj at 6:06 AM


Europe in Denial (Desmond Lachman, June 9, 2014, The American)

Among the more glaring weaknesses in European policymaking over the past few years has been the complacency of its political elite. Sadly, today, despite clear evidence that the European political center is crumbling, the European political elite manages to convince itself that this is but a fleeting phenomenon of no great significance. And despite the very real risk that Europe could be drifting towards Japanese-style deflation, the policy reaction of the European Central Bank continues to be too little too late.

Tectonic changes are occurring in European politics. In last month's European parliamentary elections, close to 30 percent of the European electorate voted for an assortment of political parties that are openly hostile to the European project. At the same time, parties at the political extremes that were barely on the scene some three years ago continued to make gains and now constitute a real threat to parties in the political center. Even in a country like Spain, where three years ago the two center parties enjoyed an 80 percent majority, today they poll less than 50 percent of the vote. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:02 AM


Ahmad Chalabi: from pariah to Iraq's next prime minister? : The controversial ally of the Pentagon was cut loose after the 2003 invasion. Now some see him as the country's only hope (Martin Chulov in Baghdad and Spencer Ackerman in Washington, 7/05/14, The Observer)

Chalabi's numerous foes say he has been just as instrumental in the years of chaos that have followed, turning within a year of the US invasion towards Iran, with whom he has since forged deep ties at the expense of the government that brought him there. Along the way, he has led a purge of former Ba'athists, alienated Iraq's Sunnis, manoeuvred incessantly in the byzantine corridors of Iraqi politics, and yet somehow emerged as a figure who could steward the country through its greatest test.

Throughout the past month, Chalabi's name has consistently been touted as a potential prime minister to replace the besieged incumbent, Nouri al-Maliki. With every town and border post that fell to the Isis jihadists, and as Kirkuk and the disputed territories were effectively annexed by the Kurds, Maliki's position has become ever more untenable. Chalabi, meanwhile, has been mooted as one of the few who could stop Iraq's slide towards disintegration.

He suffered for realizing before us that it was a Shi'a vs. Sunni war.

Posted by orrinj at 5:59 AM


Britain's Canadian Destiny (Clive Crook, 7/06/14, Bloomberg View)

Is Canada extraordinarily stupid for failing to see that it must seek ever closer political union with the U.S.? I'd say no. I'd say its current arrangement is quite good. And it isn't clear to me why the U.K. can't aspire to a relationship with the United States of Europe that's akin to Canada's with the U.S.

Canada's economy is highly integrated with the much larger economy to its south. Thanks to the North American Free Trade Agreement, it has privileged access to the U.S. market, and it grants privileged access to its own in return -- a good deal for both sides. At the same time, it has its own distinctive form of government and rules itself as a sovereign nation.

It's odd that Britain's commentators aren't more interested in Canada. Quite possibly, pro-EU and anti-EU politicians agree at least on this: It's an insufficiently grand ambition. Populist euro skeptics pine for a Britain that means what it used to in the world, whereas pro-EU types believe the U.K. can find a new destiny and a new significance by committing itself fully to the European project and bending that to its will.

The second of these ideas is more respectable in elite circles but hardly less delusional than the first. Britain can be a middle-sized economy of diminishing global significance running its own affairs, or it can be part of an ever closer European Union, with no more say than it had, for instance, in the decision to appoint Juncker as head of the European Commission. Neither alternative is especially grand -- but the last thing Britain needs in making this choice is delusions of grandeur.

Becoming part of the US, like Canada and Mexico chose to, would just complete the circle.

Posted by orrinj at 5:54 AM


Do doctors understand test results? (William Kremer, 7/05/14, BBC World Service)

[Gerd] Gigerenzer, director of the Harding Center for Risk Literacy in Berlin, is an expert in uncertainty and decision-making. His new book, Risk Savvy, takes aim at health professionals for not giving patients the information they need to make choices about healthcare.

But it's not just that doctors and dentists can't reel off the relevant stats for every treatment option. Even when the information is placed in front of them, Gigerenzer says, they often can't make sense of it.

In 2006 and 2007 Gigerenzer gave a series of statistics workshops to more than 1,000 practising gynaecologists, and kicked off every session with the same question:

A 50-year-old woman, no symptoms, participates in routine mammography screening. She tests positive, is alarmed, and wants to know from you whether she has breast cancer for certain or what the chances are. Apart from the screening results, you know nothing else about this woman. How many women who test positive actually have breast cancer? What is the best answer?

nine in 10
eight in 10
one in 10
one in 100

Gigerenzer then supplied the assembled doctors with some data about Western women of this age to help them answer his question. (His figures were based on US studies from the 1990s, rounded up or down for simplicity - current stats from Britain's National Health Service are slightly different).

The probability that a woman has breast cancer is 1% ("prevalence")

If a woman has breast cancer, the probability that she tests positive is 90% ("sensitivity")

If a woman does not have breast cancer, the probability that she nevertheless tests positive is 9% ("false alarm rate")

In one session, almost half the group of 160 gynaecologists responded that the woman's chance of having cancer was nine in 10. Only 21% said that the figure was one in 10 - which is the correct answer. That's a worse result than if the doctors had been answering at random.

July 6, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 9:51 AM


Why interest rates may stay very low for a lot longer (TOM PETRUNO, 7/05/14)

Now, with the U.S. economy showing resilience after a winter slump, the focus has again shifted to the question of when interest rates could begin to return to "normal" levels.

Yet many economists and investment pros believe that neither short-term nor long-term rates will go significantly higher, and stay there, in the next few years. More likely, they say, are modest increases that might even be quickly reversed.

The implications of another extended period of depressed rates would be huge for Americans' investing and saving strategies. It could continue to support stocks' bull market and home prices, for example.

But pension funds hoping for higher bond yields to fund promised retiree benefits would be stymied. And there would be more frustration for savers who now have nearly $10 trillion sitting in short-term bank accounts and money market mutual funds, earning almost nothing.

...freer trade and greater domestic savings, there can be no upward pressure on rates.
Posted by orrinj at 7:22 AM


Tech-savvy children abandon the web for 'free' mobile play : Tech companies are struggling to make a profit as parents let children use their mobiles, but don't want to pay up front for apps (Stuart Dredge, 7/05/14, The Observer)

[N]ew media companies - which are being disrupted as much as traditional firms by the shift to mobile technology - are struggling to find ways to make their products profitable.

London-based Mind Candy has more than 80 million children registered to its Moshi Monsters online virtual world, but its chief executive, Michael Acton Smith, admitted at last week's Children's Media Conference in Sheffield that the company has found it hard to follow them to mobile devices.

"We thought it would be easy to move our web stuff to mobile, and it wasn't. It was extraordinarily difficult," said Smith. "There are so many new challenges, not least how the commercial side of things works. We certainly haven't cracked it yet, despite trying very hard with a well-established brand."

Smith was speaking as Mind Candy launched PopJam, a new iPhone and Android app pitched as a safe alternative to Instagram for children aged between seven and 13. Children can take pictures, customise them with digital scribbles and stickers, then share them with friends. "Kids don't have their own app where their voice and creativity can be heard, so they are joining up to grown-up social networks in their droves. Facebook, Tumblr, Snapchat and Instagram in particular are hugely popular with kids," said Smith.

Mind Candy has a team of staff "pre-moderating" images before they are published, and is encouraging children not to share selfie photos of their own faces, unless they are disguised using the digital stickers.

Games for adults, such as Candy Crush Saga and Clash of Clans, have attracted large numbers of children, even though they sell virtual currency in quantities of up to £69.99 as in-app purchases.

"The challenge is that a lot of things possible for adult apps and game apps -in-app purchasing and advertising - are really frowned upon in a lot of kids' content," said Tom Bonnick, digital project and marketing manager at Nosy Crow, a British apps and books publisher.

The alternative is charging upfront for children's apps, but parents are unwilling to pay, which is one reason why their kids may be playing the "free-to-play" games instead.

If you can't sell ads to place on the screens you aren't going to make money.

Posted by orrinj at 7:17 AM


Power Struggles in Middle East Exploit Islam's Ancient Sectarian Rift (DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK, JULY 5, 2014, NY Times)

RIFFA, Bahrain -- Black and yellow concrete barricades block the roads entering this wealthy Sunni enclave, where foreign-born Sunni soldiers in armored personnel carriers guard the mansions of the ruling family and the business elite.

Beyond the enclave are impoverished villages of Shiites, about 70 percent of Bahrain's more than 650,000 citizens, where the police skirmish nightly with young men wielding rocks and, increasingly, improvised weapons like homemade guns that use fire extinguishers to shoot rebar.

Their battles are an extension of sectarian hostilities nearly as old as Islam. But they are also a manifestation of a radically new scramble for power playing out across the region in the aftermath of the United States invasion of Iraq and the Arab Spring revolts.

This island nation off the eastern coast of Saudi Arabia was the first place where Arab Spring demands for equal citizenship and democratic governance degenerated into a sectarian feud, and at first it seemed to be an anomaly. But Bahrain's experience now appears to have been a harbinger of what was to come as centuries old but newly inflamed rivalries between Sunni and Shiite Muslims tear apart much of the region -- threatening to erase the borders of states like Syria and Iraq, destabilizing Bahrain and Lebanon, and accelerating a regional contest for power and influence between Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia.

...came in Iraq, where we deposed the Sunni minority in favor of majority Shi'a rule.  

July 5, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 6:52 PM


The Health Care Waiting Game : Long Waits for Doctors' Appointments Have Become the Norm (ELISABETH ROSENTHAL, JULY 5, 2014, NY Times)

The Commonwealth Fund, a New York-based foundation that focuses on health care, compared wait times in the United States to those in 10 other countries last year. "We were smug and we had the impression that the United States had no wait times -- but it turns out that's not true," said Robin Osborn, a researcher for the foundation. "It's the primary care where we're really behind, with many people waiting six days or more" to get an appointment when they were "sick or needed care."

The study found that 26 percent of 2,002 American adults surveyed said they waited six days or more for appointments, better only than Canada (33 percent) and Norway (28 percent), and much worse than in other countries with national health systems like the Netherlands (14 percent) or Britain (16 percent). When it came to appointments with specialists, patients in Britain and Switzerland reported shorter waits than those in the United States, but the United States did did rank better than the other eight countries.

So it turns out that America has its own waiting problem. But we tend to wait for different types of medical interventions. And that is mainly a result of payment incentives, experts say.

Americans are more likely to wait for office-based medical appointments that are not good sources of revenue for hospitals and doctors. In other countries, people tend to wait longest for expensive elective care -- four to six months for a knee replacement and over a month for follow-up radiation therapy after cancer surgery in Canada, for example.

In our market-based system, patients can get lucrative procedures rapidly, even when there is no urgent medical need: Need a new knee, or an M.R.I., or a Botox injection? You'll probably be on the schedule within days. But what if you're an asthmatic whose breathing is deteriorating, or a diabetic whose medicines need adjustment, or an elderly patient who has unusual chest pain and needs a cardiology consultation? In much of the country, you can wait a week or weeks for such office appointments -- or longer if you need to find a doctor who accepts your insurance plan or Medicare.

Posted by orrinj at 6:17 PM


The Uyghur dilemma, 2009-14 (ENVER TOHTI BUGHDA, 5 July 2014, Open Democracy)

Five years ago, on 5 July 2009, news emerged of rioting and ethnic conflict between the Uyghur and the Han, the largest ethnic group in China. The bloody clashes took place in Ürümchi, the capital city of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in China's far west, and  claimed over 200 lives according to the official tally.

For those directly involved, as well as those indirectly implicated in the rioting, it was a tragic day. Friends and families of the victims have suffered great torments, while hundreds of Uyghurs are still waiting to hear about the fate of their missing menfolk who were rounded up in the aftermath of the riot. In fact, it was a protest march by hundreds of Uyghur women in Ürümchi on 6 July, demanding the immediate release of their missing loved ones, that changed the western media's initial indifference towards the event.

In this sense, by catapulting a local conflict onto the world stage the riot and its aftermath heralded the beginning of wider international awareness of the Uyghur cause. Today, many more people know about the Uyghurs, the historic inhabitants of the vast region known as the  "new territory/domain" (Xinjiang) which lies beyond the western limits of the Great Wall of China.

Five years on, the nature of the Ürümchi events is still unclear. Was the key event a riot or an uprising against Chinese colonial rule, a spontaneous outburst or a premeditated uprising, even an organic expression of prevailing discontent about the social injustice and racial discrimination practised by the People's Republic of China?

What is clear is that the events of this day five years ago were the violent expression of dangerous tensions in Xinjiang that over the previous decade had been heightened by several factors: a shifting demographic balance engendered by a large influx of internal migrants, land grabs, the over-exploitation of limited natural resources, the marginalisation of the indigenous inhabitants, and an increasing wealth gap along ethnic lines. In turn these reflect the legacy of events since in the mid-18th century, when the region was annexed by the Manchu Qing dynasty. Today, the situation in Xinjiang is again worsening, and heading towards an impasse for the Uyghurs and the Chinese state alike.

Posted by orrinj at 6:08 PM


Louis Zamperini, onetime Olympic runner who survived WWII ordeals, dies at 97 (MATT SCHUDEL, July 3, 2014, Washington Post)

He competed in the 5,000-meter run in the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin and was considered a favorite in the 1940 Olympics, which were scheduled for Tokyo but never took place because of World War II.

Instead, Mr. Zamperini enlisted in the Army Air Forces and became a bombardier on B-24 Liberators in the Pacific. On May 27, 1943, he and the rest of his crew were on a search-and-rescue mission 800 miles from Hawaii when the aircraft developed mechanical problems and dived nose first into the ocean.

He was one of three crew members to survive the crash. Trapped under water and wrapped in torn coils of electrical wire, Mr. Zamperini found his bearings when his class ring from the University of Southern California caught on a piece of metal. He was able to swim out of the wreckage as it drifted toward the ocean floor.

He and the other crew members climbed into a rubber life raft that had few provisions. As they drifted in the open sea, they improvised ways to capture rainwater. Mr. Zamperini fashioned the pin of his lieutenant's insignia into a fishhook, with little success.

Sharks circled the small inflatable raft, which sprang leaks as the rubber weakened under the relentless sun. One day, a Japanese warplane strafed their lonely craft, forcing them to dive into the water with the sharks.

The three castaways survived by catching birds with their bare hands and using the entrails for fish bait. When a tern landed on the raft, "Louie was so famished that he went at it with his teeth, ripping the feathers loose and spitting them out in whuffs," Hillenbrand wrote in "Unbroken."

"Almost immediately, he felt a crawling sensation on his chin. The tern had been covered in lice, which were now hopping over his face."

From a college physiology course, Mr. Zamperini recalled that the brain was a muscle that could atrophy from disuse. He and his fellow airmen told stories about their lives and repeatedly sang "White Christmas" to an empty ocean.

In place of regular meals, they recalled their favorite foods in elaborate detail.

"Louie began describing a dish, and all three men found it satisfying, so Louie kept going," Hillenbrand wrote, "telling them about each dish in the greatest possible detail. Soon, [his mother's] kitchen floated there with them: Sauces simmered, spices were pinched and scattered, butter melted on tongues.

"So began a thrice-daily ritual on the raft, with pumpkin pie and spaghetti being the favorite subjects."

After 33 days, one of the three crew members died. Mr. Zamperini and the other survivor, Russell Allen Phillips, improvised a funeral ceremony and buried him at sea.

They stayed afloat for an additional 14 days, through rainstorms that stirred up 40-foot waves and nearly capsized their tiny raft.

Mr. Zamperini and Phillips were within sight of an island when a Japanese motorboat pulled alongside their raft. The emaciated Americans were taken captive at gunpoint, their hands bound behind their backs. Mr. Zamperini, who stood 5-foot-9 and weighed about 160 pounds when his flight took off May 27, had shrunk to about 80 pounds.

He and Phillips were shipped to separate POW camps. (Phillips survived the war and died in 1998.) Adrift for 47 days, they are believed to have survived the longest time at sea without provisions.

By strange chance, a Japanese officer at one of the camps had studied at the University of Southern California and recognized Mr. Zamperini. The Japanese thought a star athlete would have propaganda value, but Mr. Zamperini refused to denounce his country. He was then subjected to almost daily torture from a sadistic guard he called "the Bird."

In the meantime, Mr. Zamperini was officially declared dead, and his parents received a letter of condolence from President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

After the Japanese surrendered in August 1945, Mr. Zamperini and 700 other prisoners were released. They knew they were free when a U.S. plane flew over the prison, and the pilot dropped a small package from the cockpit. It contained a pack of cigarettes and a chocolate bar.

The prisoners sliced the chocolate bar into 700 slivers, giving each man a faint taste of freedom.

Posted by orrinj at 10:06 AM


Vladimir Putin calls Obama for July 4th, asks him to 'cooperate' (The Week, 7/05/14)

Perhaps hoping to snag a last-minute invite to D.C's fireworks extravaganza, Russian President Vladimir Putin called President Obama on Friday to wish him a happy Fourth of July. Putin told Obama he hoped the two nations could "continue successful development on a pragmatic and equal basis despite the current differences and difficulties," according to a Kremlin statement.

Ukraine Claims Victory in Rebel Stronghold (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, JULY 5, 2014)

A rebel stronghold in east Ukraine has been taken by government troops, the country's president and a spokesman for the rebels said Saturday.

President Petro Poroshenko said in a statement that government troops took the city of Slovyansk, a city of about 100,000 that has been a center of the fighting between Kiev's troops and the pro-Russian insurgents, after a night of fighting.

Posted by orrinj at 7:18 AM


The Genesis of the Declaration of Independence (Zach Hutchins, 7/02/14, Christian Century)

Hugo Grotius and Thomas Hobbes, political theorists hardly noted for their piety, presented natural law as a code of conduct instituted by the God of Genesis, at the creation of the world. "This original law of nature," wrote John Locke, can be traced back to the divine injunction in Genesis 1:28 when

"God and his reason commanded him [Adam] to subdue the earth, i.e. improve it for the benefit of life and therein lay out something upon it that was his own, his labour. He that, in obedience to this command of God, subdued, tilled, and sowed any part of it, thereby annexed to it something that was his property, which another had no title to, nor could without injury take from him." 

The right reason and commandments given by God to Adam in Eden were a basis for the "law of nature" that forbids one individual "to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions" in Locke's thinking.

James Otis and other colonial agitators who paved the way for American Revolution also grounded their claims in the language of Genesis. The Rights of the British Colonies (1764) [read in pdf] popularized the doctrines that Jefferson would later incorporate into the Declaration. There Otis rejected Parliament's attempts to tax the colonies: "There must be in every instance, a higher authority, viz. GOD. Should an act of parliament be against any of his natural laws, which are immutably true, their declaration would be contrary to eternal truth, equity and justice, and consequently void." Government, Otis argued, is an outgrowth of God's work in Eden:

"The same omniscient, omnipotent, infinitely good and gracious Creator of the universe, who has been pleased to make it necessary that what we call matter should gravitate . . . has made it equally necessary that from Adam and Eve to these degenerate days, the different sexes should sweetly attract each other, form societies of single families, of which larger bodies and communities are as naturally, mechanically, and necessarily combined, as the dew of Heaven and the soft distilling rain is collected by the all enliv'ning heat of the sun. Government is therefore most evidently founded on the necessities of our nature."

Colonists versed in both the Bible and the natural law tradition viewed their freedom from tyranny as a right guaranteed by God during the creation in Genesis.

Posted by orrinj at 7:13 AM


What Europeans Thought of Our Revolution : It really was a shot heard round the world. (Henry Fairlie, 7/18/1988, The New Republic)

Here was a war in which the First British Empire, as it
is known to history, was falling, and it is natural we should wish that the author of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, who was a member of Parliament throughout the war, had offered a long historical perspective or a few grand philosophical reflections on so great an event. But Edward Gibbon's attitude was not only devious; it was corrupt, even if in the accepted manner of the day. No one can blame him for wishing to write the great book, or for wishing to receive some patronage as he labored at his task. He looked, of course, to the government for an appointment, and accepted the post of one of the Lords Commissioner of Trade and Plantations. With this sinecure, his voice and vote were bought by George III and his ministers, which makes one appreciate even more the king's dig at him one day, "Scribble, scribble, scribble, eh, Mr. Gibbon?"

At the end of the difficult parliamentary session in 1775, Gibbon was glad to get away, saying that "having saved the British I must destroy the Roman Empire." But this little jest was capped by an American. Horace Walpole reported with delight in a letter in 1781: "Dr. [Benjamin] Franklin ... said he would furnish Mr. Gibbon with materials for writing the History of the Decline of the British Empire." A lampoon went the rounds in London during the war. Attributed to Charles James Fox, a dauntless leader of the opposition and staunch friend of the Americans, two verses ran:

   King George in a fright
   Lest Gibbon should write
The history of England's disgrace
   Thought no way so sure

   His pen so secure
As to give the historian a place.
   His book well describes
   How corruption and bribes
O'erthrew the great empire of Rome;
   And his rantings declare
   A degeneracy there

Which his conduct exhibits at home.

We do not get wit like that from our politicians now.

Whether in Gibbon's own jest, Franklin's quip, or Fox's lampoon, there is nothing to suggest that the governing class in London could work itself into any great passion over the American war--neither the supporters nor the opponents of the American cause. (Though the consummate and by then aged orator William Pitt, for whom Pittsburgh was named, reinforced his impassioned philippic in defense of the American colonists by collapsing unconscious on the floor of the House at the end.)

We also know how the American news was received outside London. In December 1775 the daily journal of the Rev. James Woodforde (a country parson in Weston, Norfolk, of ordinary loyalty to the Crown) gave "notice of a Fast being kept on Friday next concerning the present war between America and us." Note that the colonists are not called subjects or rebels, as on the Continent, but America, as if they were already a nation. The war then seems to have aroused little interest until there was another official Day of Prayer in 1780, for it was by then clear that God was not pulling his weight. So the good parson "read the proper prayers on the Occasion, but there was no sermon preached. My Squire and Lady at the Church. ... Sister Clarke, Nancy, Sam and myself all took it into our heads to take a good dose of Rhubarb on going to bed." Rhubarb is an astringent purgative--a very English way of disposing of the news of fresh disasters, rather like taking a "nice cup o' tea" in the Blitz.

In 1781 he recorded the news that "Cornwallis and his whole army ... are all taken by the Americans and French in Virginia." That is all; not dismay, no commotion, no anger. When it was all over, the news of the Treaty of Versailles was a "joyful" event, though England had suffered a great defeat and lost a vast possession. There remained only the aftermath, an entry as late as December 9, 1785:"... to a poor soldier laterly [sic] arrived from America that had been wounded & is now ill gave 1 [shilling] and 6 [pence]"--a neglected veteran of an unpopular, unsuccessful war.

Throughout the war we could have found Horace Walpole at home in London, writing to his friends the letters that now fill 36 volumes in the Yale edition. One of Europe's most intelligent and cultivated men, he chose (happily for us) to be a spectator of great events rather than an actor in them. He returned again and again to the American question, urbane, tart, and outraged. Why are we in America? he asked, as 200 years later he might have asked about Vietnam. "We could even afford to lose America," he wrote as early as March 28,1774. After Washington's victory at Trenton he wrote: "What politicians are those that have preferred the empty name of sovereignty to that of alliance! and forced subsidies to the golden age of oceans and commerce." The Americans, he pointed out to a friend, "do not pique themselves upon modern good breeding, but level at the officers, of whom they have slain a vast number." This savage amusement at the fact that the Americans "impertinently" fired on English officers is a wholly accurate reflection of "the amazing heights which pro-Americanism could reach in London," as one researcher found it in even the popular novels of the day. The Boston Tea Party was to him the symbol of English official stupidity: "Mrs. Britannia orders her senate to proclaim America a continent of cowards, and vote it should be starved unless it drink tea with her."

By the end of 1777 Walpole was writing: "We have been horribly the aggressors." A week after the capitulation at Yorktown, but before he had news of it, he proclaimed: "The English in America are as much my countrymen as those born in the parish of St. Martin's in the Field; and when my countrymen quarrel, I think I am free to wish better to the sufferers than to the aggressors; nor can I see how my love of my country obliges me to wish well to what I despise. ... Were I young and of heroic texture, I would go to America." It is clear from all the evidence that the English people as a whole could not have their hearts in a war against their "countrymen."

[originally posted : 7/05/14]
Posted by orrinj at 7:01 AM


IRS policy that targeted political groups also aimed at open source projects (Ryan Paul, July 2 2014, Ars Technica)

The IRS was at the center of a major controversy last year following the release of internal memos revealing that the agency systematically applied a disproportionately aggressive standard of review to organizations that matched certain keywords. Targeted organizations faced greater difficulty obtaining 501(c)(3) status. Interest in the scandal has largely centered on the question of whether prominent political groups were unfairly treated, but the same internal IRS memos that defined the policy also oddly singled out open source software.

IRS personnel responsible for reviewing 501(c)(3) applications were instructed to elevate cases involving open source software to their supervisors, resulting in extensive delays in the review process and frequent rejections. In the wake of the controversy, a New York Times report highlighted how nonprofit organizations that develop open source software may, in fact, receive harsher treatment than many of the other targeted categories.

Luis Villa, a lawyer and well-known open source community member who currently serves as deputy general counsel at the Wikimedia Foundation, told the Times about two nonprofit open source software organizations that were denied tax-exempt status because their use of a targeted keyword triggered a harsh response from the agency.

"As soon as you say the words 'open source,' like other organizations that use 'Tea Party' or 'Occupy,' it gets you red-flagged," he told the Times. "None of the groups have been able to find the magic words to get over the hurdle."

In theory, it might make sense for the IRS to closely review applications from organizations that develop open source software in order to make sure that they aren't actually for-profit companies that sell commercial support or monetize their software with other services. If that were the standard of review, there would be no cause for concern. Unfortunately, it looks like the IRS is applying a much more dubious standard.

As with the political organizations, there's nothing wrong with flagging them so long as you grant the exemptions to the ones that meet the legal standard.
Posted by orrinj at 6:48 AM


Quantum state may be a real thing : Physicists summon up their courage and go after the nature of reality. (Chris Lee - July 2 2014, Ars Technica)
At the very heart of quantum mechanics lies a monster waiting to consume unwary minds. This monster goes by the name The Nature of Reality™. The greatest of physicists have taken one look into its mouth, saw the size of its teeth, and were consumed. Niels Bohr denied the existence of the monster after he nonchalantly (and very quietly) exited the monster's lair muttering "shut up and calculate." Einstein caught a glimpse of the teeth and fainted. He was reportedly rescued by Erwin Schrödinger at great personal risk, but neither really recovered from their encounter with the beast.

The upshot is that we had a group of physicists and philosophers who didn't believe that quantum mechanics represents reality but that it was all we could see of some deeper, more fundamental theory. A subclass of these scientists believed that the randomness of quantum mechanics would eventually be explained by some non-random, deterministic property that we simply couldn't directly observe (otherwise known as a hidden variable). Another group ended up believing that quantum mechanics did represent reality, and that, yes, reality was non-local, and possibly not very real either. [...]

[S]ay I shoot a single photon at a single atom, which may or may not absorb the photon. According to quantum mechanics, the atom enters a superposition state where it's both in its ground state and its excited state. We describe this superposition state with a wave function. One view of quantum mechanics states that the wave function really represents the atom. But an alternative interpretation is that the wave function represents what I, the observer, know about the atom--reality may be something else entirely. [...]

Now, a group of researchers has extended previous work to show that, yes, under a wide range of conditions, these two points of view do differ. They show that the wave function must in some sense represent the observed system rather than what the observer knows about the system.

Their work essentially boils down to creating a measure of how much two probability distribution functions overlap. They use this latest research to argue that no matter what wave function is used and what it represents, the measurement results must remain the same. That is, over multiple measurements, we should obtain the same probability distribution function. So even if the wave functions are indistinguishable, do they all reproduce the measurement results?

The answer is not very simple. The proof that the answer is correct is only understandable to other theoretical physicists, and it only applies to wave functions with three or more dimensions (these are very common). Nevertheless, let me take a shot at explaining it anyway.

If you take the view that the wave function only produces a probability distribution and then take all the wave functions that produce the same probability distribution--in other words, the observer's possible choices of wave functions, based on his or her knowledge of the system--and try to reproduce measurement results, you'll fail. Consequently, there is a single wave function that must represent reality.

Two thousand years of Science just to get back to where we started : the homocentric universe.
Posted by orrinj at 6:46 AM


Why dads don't belong in the delivery room, and other lessons of childbirth learned by a father (Neil Lyndon, 7/03/14, The Daily Telegraph, National Post)

Only one in 20 fathers now avoids being in the delivery room when his baby is being born, according to a new survey by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service. The rest, I guarantee, are desperately telling themselves to be brave, wondering where to look and wishing they could check the score in the World Cup.

One of the best things about becoming an old chap is that nobody will ever again twist my arm with mute moral blackmail to take up that pointless, useless, redundant place of the father in the delivery room. Next time a baby is born in my family, I look forward to occupying the safe seat in the hospital corridor, waiting to be invited in after that shocking business with the blood and guts has finished to meet and greet my grandchild.

Through a multitude of marriages, I have been four times to the delivery room. Every time, it was an unspoken, unquestionable assumption between me and the mother that, from the breaking of the waters to the cutting of the cord, I ought to be there. It was never stated in so many words, but I was implicitly given to understand that I would be counted among the scum of the earth if I didn't rise to this occasion, see it as a spiritual transport of delight and describe it ever after as one of the best moments of my life.

But then there's a lot about labour that nobody puts in so many words. Nobody ever told me that after the birth, I would feel as shaken as if I'd been in a car crash. That was how I felt for about two days after my oldest son was born, 32 years ago.

I now see it as my fatherly, comradely duty to pass on that kind of information, sparing no gory detail, to young men about to see service in that war zone for the first time. Nobody else -- certainly not those fluffy prenatal classes -- will fill them in.

Ah...the things we do for love....

Posted by orrinj at 6:40 AM


5 factors that are giving the US an edge over other major economies (PAUL WISEMAN, 7/05/14, AP) 

Europe is floundering. China faces slower growth. Japan is struggling to sustain tentative gains.

Yet the U.S. job market is humming, and the pace of economic growth is steadily rising. Five full years after a devastating recession officially ended, the economy is finally showing the vigor that Americans have long awaited.

Last month, employers added 288,000 jobs and helped reduce the unemployment rate to 6.1 percent, the lowest since September 2008. June capped a five-month stretch of 200,000-plus job gains -- the first in nearly 15 years.

After having shrunk at a 2.9 percent annual rate from January through March -- largely because of a brutal winter -- the U.S. economy is expected to grow at a healthy 3 percent pace the rest of the year.

Here are five reasons the United States is outpacing other major economies:


"The Federal Reserve acted sooner and more aggressively than other central banks in keeping rates low," says Bernard Baumohl, chief global economist at the Economic Outlook Group.

Posted by orrinj at 6:35 AM


Most men would rather shock themselves than be alone with their thoughts (RACHEL FELTMAN, July 3, 2014, Washington Post)

People, and especially men, hate being alone with their thoughts so much that they'd rather be in pain. In a study published in Science  Thursday on the ability of people to let their minds "wander" -- that is, for them to sit and do nothing but think -- researchers found that about a quarter of women and two-thirds of men chose electric shocks over their own company.

...to send boys to school and men to office jobs for eight hours a day?

July 4, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 2:26 PM


Can Africa leapfrog the welfare state? : The all-too-real incompetence of most African states could allow Africa to avoid the Western trap of stifling government involvement (Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, June 30, 2014, The Week)

Leapfrogging is already a reality in many sectors. Mobile phones took off in Africa much faster than elsewhere, largely because there were no landlines. And in turn, this allowed mobile payments and mobile finance to take off faster in Africa than anywhere else, largely because there was little dominant financial infrastructure. In Kenya, you can pay for basically anything with a mobile phone. And this isn't just fancy technology. Mobile finance threatens to thin the ranks of the unbanked (those without access to a formal financial system, including savings and credit), which is a prerequisite for a modern economy.

So where else might we see some beneficial leapfrogging? Well, the rich world's overbearing government control is badly in need of rethinking. Increasingly, fields like education and health care look like the places from which the innovation we need will come, but they are precisely the fields that are stuck in stultifying limbo thanks to stifling government control. You don't have to be a raging Randbot to recognize that bureaucratic control of large sections of the economy can be unhealthy.

The Western welfare state is in monumental trouble. The combination of lower-than-expected real growth and an aging population means the rich world's welfare states are all actuarially unsound. Large middle class entitlements mean government mostly shuffles money around instead of investing in the future.

Is there a way we can get what we want to get out of a welfare state, without those many drawbacks?

Africa may point to a way. 

Posted by orrinj at 1:18 PM

WE'RE NOT THE ONLY AMERICAN JUTTS (self-reference alert):

Why are Danes celebrating the Fourth of July? (Gram Slattery, JULY 4, 2014, CS Monitor)

Since 1912, thousands of Danes have congregated in a national park to picnic before Old Glory, listen to speeches from American dignitaries, watch fireworks, and sing favorites such as "Home on the Range" and "Stars and Stripes Forever." It's called Rebildfesten, and organizers say it's the largest - and perhaps the only - official celebration of the American holiday by foreigners.

The festival started in 1911, when a group of Danish-Americans - members of the Rebild Society, based in Illinois - purchased a hilly piece of land on the Danish peninsula of Jutland, revered for its beauty since the age of the Visigoths. They then gifted it to King Christian IX, on the condition that it remain natural and available for an annual American independence celebration.

[originally posted : 7/04/14]

Posted by orrinj at 10:55 AM


HEY, BABE, IT'S THE FOURTH OF JULY (Alex Whitlock, 7/04/02, RAW Observations)

Last year, the 4th of July came and went without my much noticing. In fact, if someone were to mention the day, I would have been as much likely to think about the stellar Robert Earl Keen song (written by Dave Alvin). It's not that I wasn't proud to be an American, but, you know, there were more important concerns.
I was over perusing Alex Whitlock's blog and found this reference to a great song that I forgot to list in all my myriad Independence Day links. Dave Alvin's 4th of July is an absolute anthem of morosity. It is one of the great tunes to play when you're having romantic difficulties, but, like all rock tunes, it's effective only if you're a guy.

Fourth Of July (Dave Alvin)

She's waiting for me when I get home from work
Oh, but things just ain't the same
She turns out the lights and she cries in the dark
Won't answer when I call her name

On the stairs I smoke a cigarette alone
Mexican kids are shooting fireworks below
Hey, baby, it's the fourth of July
Hey, baby, it's the fourth of July
It's the fourth of July

She gives me her cheek when I want her lips
And I don't have the strength to go
On the lost side of town in a dark apartment
We gave up trying so long ago

On the stairs I smoke a cigarette alone
The Mexican kids are shooting fireworks below
Hey, baby, it's the fourth of July
Hey, baby, it's the fourth of July

Whatever happened, I apologize
So dry your tears and baby, walk outside
It's the fourth of July

On the stairs I smoke a cigarette alone
Mexican kids are shooting fireworks below
And hey, baby, it's the fourth of July
Hey, baby, it's the fourth of July

We forgot all about the fourth of July
Hey, baby, it's the fourth of July
Hey, baby, it's the fourth of July
Hey baby, hey baby, hey baby

Now that's just ideal for queueing up about thirty times on your record player and getting stinkin' drunk. But more than that, I realized that the week of the 4th, a bunch of bloggers were talking amongst ourselves (see what we're reduced to when y'all go on vacation and stop reading us?) about the notion that while comedy is inherently and exclusively conservative, pop music is dominated by liberals and the tunes, what with their messages of rebellion and sex and drugs and what not, aren't exactly stolen from scripture. I argued then, with woeful inadequacy, that we at least had Elvis, who is the greatest Rock and Roll figure of all time.

But 4th of July got me thinking that one of the themes that unifies many of the best rock songs is that they are misogynistic screeds against the duplicity of women--it's as if they were all being sung by Adam to Eve.

So here are a few more in the same vein--they would all appear on my personal list of best rock songs ever :
Suspicious Minds (Elvis Presley)

We're caught in a trap
I can't walk out
Because I love you too much baby

Why can't you see
What you're doing to me
When you don't believe a word I say?

We can't go on together
With suspicious minds
And we can't build our dreams
On suspicious minds

So, if an old friend I know
Drops by to say hello
Would I still see suspicion in your eyes?

Here we go again
Asking where I've been
You can't see these tears are real
I'm crying

We can't go on together
With suspicious minds
And we can't build our dreams
On suspicious minds

Oh let our love survive
Or dry the tears from your eyes
Let's don't let a good thing die

When honey, you know
I've never lied to you
Mmm yeah, yeah

We're caught in a trap
I can't walk out
Because I love you too much baby

Why can't you see
What you're doing to me
When you don't believe a word I say?

We're caught in a trap
I can't walk out
Because I love you too much baby

Don't you know I'm caught in a trap
I can't walk out
Because I love you too much baby

Don't you know I'm caught in a trap
I can't walk out
Because I love you too much baby

Don't you know I'm caught in a trap
I can't walk out
Because I love you too much baby

Ramblin' on my Mind (Robert Johnson)

I got ramblin', I got ramblin' on my mind
I got ramblin', I got ramblin' all on my mind
Hate to leave my baby but you treat me so unkind

I got mean things, I got mean things all on my mind
Little girl, little girl, I got mean things all on my mind
Hate to leave you here, babe, but you treat me so unkind

Runnin' down to the station, catch the first mail train I see
I think I hear her comin' now
Runnin' down to the station, catch the old first mail train I see
I got the blues about Miss So-and-So and the child got the blues about me

And I'm leavin' this mornin' with my arm' fold' up and cryin'
And I'm leavin' this mornin' with my arm' fold' up and cryin'
I hate to leave my baby but she treats me so unkind

I got mean things, I've got mean things on my mind
I got mean things, I've got mean things all on my mind
I got to leave my baby, well, she treats me so unkind

(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay (Otis Redding)

Sittin' in the mornin' sun
I'll be sittin' when the evenin' come
Watching the ships roll in
And I watch 'em roll away again, yeah

I'm sittin' on the dock of the bay
Watching the tide roll away
Just sittin' on the dock of the bay
Wastin' time

I left my home in Georgia
Headed for the 'Frisco bay
I've had nothing to live for
Look like nothin's gonna come my way

So I'm just gonna sit on the dock of the bay
Watching the tide roll away
I'm sittin' on the dock of the bay
Wastin' time

Look like nothin's gonna change
Everything still remains the same
I can't do what ten people tell me to do
So I guess I'll remain the same, yes

Sittin' here resting my bones
And this loneliness won't leave me alone
It's two thousand miles I roamed
Just to make this dock my home

Now, I'm just gonna sit at the dock of the bay
Watching the tide roll away
Sittin' on the dock of the bay
Wastin' time

Train in Vain (The Clash)

Say you stand by your man
Tell me something, I don't understand
You said you love me and that's a fact
And then you left me, said you felt trapped

Well some things, you can explain away
But my heartache's in me till this day

Did you stand by me?
No, not at all
Did you stand by me?
No way

All the times when we were close
I'll remember these things the most
I see all my dreams come tumblin' down
I won't be happy without you around

So all alone I keep the wolves at bay
And there is only one thing that I can say

Did you stand by me?
No, not at all
Did you stand by me?
No way

You must explain why this must be
Did you lie when you spoke to me?

Did you stand by me?
No, not at all

Now I got a job
But it don't pay
I need new clothes
I need somewhere to stay

But without all of these things I can do
But without your love, I won't make it through
But you don't understand my point of view
I suppose there's nothing I can do

Did you stand by me?
No, not at all
Did you stand by me?
No way

Did you stand by me?
No, not at all
Did you stand by me?
No way

You must explain, why this must be
Did you lie when you spoke to me?

Did you stand by me?
Did you stand by me?
No, not at all
Did you stand by me?
No way

Did you stand by me?
No, not at all
Did you stand by me?
No way

No Woman, No Cry (Bob Marley and the Wailers)

No Woman No Cry
No, woman, no cry;
No, woman, no cry;
No, woman, no cry;
No, woman, no cry.

Said - said - said: I remember when we used to sit
In the government yard in Trenchtown,
Oba - obaserving the 'ypocrites
As they would mingle with the good people we meet.
Good friends we have, oh, good friends we've lost
Along the way.
In this great future, you can't forget your past;
So dry your tears, I seh.

No, woman, no cry;
No, woman, no cry.
'Ere, little darlin', don't shed no tears:
No, woman, no cry.

Said - said - said: I remember when-a we used to sit
In the government yard in Trenchtown.
And then Georgie would make the fire lights,
As it was logwood burnin' through the nights.
Then we would cook cornmeal porridge,
Of which I'll share with you;
My feet is my only carriage,
So I've got to push on through.
But while I'm gone, I mean:
Everything's gonna be all right!
Everything's gonna be all right!
Everything's gonna be all right!
Everything's gonna be all right!
I said, everything's gonna be all right-a!
Everything's gonna be all right!

Posted by orrinj at 9:41 AM


BMW 3D prints new thumbs for factory workers (Samuel Gibbs, 4 July 2014, Guardian)

German car manufacturer BMW has turned to 3D printing to physically augment its car-plant workers, giving them stronger, augmented thumbs.

The 3D-printed apparel acts like support brackets for the workers' thumbs, reducing strain and helping them to fit certain parts into the cars more easily.

Posted by orrinj at 9:38 AM


Iraqi Kurdish leader calls for independence referendum (RYAN LUCAS AND BRAM JANSSEN July 4, 2014, Times of Israel)

A Western-established no-fly zone in 1991 helped the Kurds set up their enclave, which has emerged over the years as a beacon of stability and prosperity, while much of the rest of the country has been mired in violence and political turmoil. The three-province territory was formally recognized as an autonomous region within Iraq following the US-led invasion in 2003 that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein.

Speaking to the regional legislature Thursday, the president of the Kurdistan Regional Government, Massoud Barzani, told lawmakers to set up an electoral commission to "hurry up" and prepare for "a referendum on self-determination."

Posted by orrinj at 9:26 AM


OBAMA'S IMMIGRATION INDEPENDENCE DAY (Major Garrett, July 3, 2014, National Journal)

A quick look around the table revealed the still-smoldering wound Obama felt after being branded "deporter-in-chief." The authoress of the hottest barb ever directed at Obama by the Left, Janet Murguia of the National Council of La Raza, was conspicuously absent. No representative of La Raza was even invited.

It was hard for anyone to imagine new possibilities for the White House with this schism so apparent.

Those who were there--the Service Employees International Union; AFL-CIO; Center for American Progress; Leadership Council on Civil Rights; America's Voice; the National Immigration Law Center; United Farm Workers; Center for Community Change; and others--expected another dreary appeal from Jarrett and Munoz to give House Speaker John Boehner until the August recess to try to move some form of immigration legislation. The immigration groups were fed up with what they had long regarded as Obama's doughy diffidence and had no stomach for another "stay-the-course" soliloquy from Jarrett and Munoz.

What the immigration advocates couldn't help noticing were the two empty chairs at the center of the table on the Oval Office side of the Roosevelt Room, opposite the visitors' entrance.

Jarrett and Munoz sat on either side of the empty chairs and White House counsel Neil Eggleston was to Munoz's right. Jarrett and Munoz were in the opening stanza of their immigration update when Obama and Vice President Joe Biden walked in and sat down. They stayed for more than an hour, Obama doing most of the talking and never referring to notes. Biden chimed in only when, later on, the debate turned to the current border crisis over unaccompanied minors.

Obama told the group that Boehner had informed him on June 24 there would be no votes on immigration before the midterm election but that he believed there was a good chance a comprehensive bill could pass in the next Congress. The president also told the group that Boehner urged him not to press ahead with executive action because that would make legislating more difficult next year.

Obama told the group, according to those present, his response to Boehner was: "Sorry about that. I'm going to keep my promise and move forward with executive action soon."

In the room, there was something of a collective, electric gasp. The assembled immigration-rights groups had been leaning hard on Obama for months to use executive action to sidestep Congress and privately mocked what they regarded as Pollyanna hopes that House Republicans would budge. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:04 AM


Didn't like the Hobby Lobby decision? You're going to hate the Supreme Court's follow-up. (Nico Lauricella, 7/04/14, The Week)

The latest ruling allows Wheaton College to skirt ObamaCare's contraceptive provisions as long as the evangelical school informs the government of its religious objections to providing its staff and students with any type of birth control. [...]

Saying the decision "undermines confidence in this institution," Justice Sotomayor wrote a scathing dissent, accusing the court of backtracking key elements of its Hobby Lobby decision. "Those who are bound by our decisions usually believe they can take us at our word," Sotomayor wrote. "Not so today."

She said the ruling set up unworkable regulations that risked "depriving hundreds of Wheaton's employees and students of their legal entitlement to contraceptive coverage" and allowed "hundreds or thousands of other objectors" a similar way out.

Posted by orrinj at 8:47 AM


Steven Pinker Uses Theories from Evolutionary Biology to Explain Why Academic Writing is So Bad (Open Culture, 7/04/14)

I don't know about other disciplines, but academic writing in the humanities has become notorious for its jargon-laden wordiness, tangled constructions, and seemingly deliberate vagary and obscurity. A popular demonstration of this comes via the University of Chicago's academic sentence generator, which allows one to plug in a number of stock phrases, verbs, and "-tion" words to produce corkers like "The reification of post-capitalist hegemony is always already participating in the engendering of print culture" or "The discourse of the gaze gestures toward the linguistic construction of the gendered body"--the point, of course, being that the language of academia has become so meaningless that randomly generated sentences closely resemble and make as much sense as those pulled from the average journal article (a point well made by the so-called "Sokal hoax").

There are many theories as to why this is so. Some say it's several generations of scholars poorly imitating famously difficult writers like Hegel and Heidegger, Lacan and Derrida; others blame a host of postmodern -isms, with their politicized language games and sectarian schisms. A recent discussion cited scholarly vanity as the cause of incomprehensible academic prose. A more practical explanation holds that the publish or perish grind forces scholars to turn out derivative work at an unreasonable pace simply to keep their jobs, hence stuffing journals with rehashed arguments and fancy-sounding puffery that signifies little. In the above video, Harvard cognitive scientist and linguist Steven Pinker offers his own theory, working with examples drawn from academic writing in psychology.

For Pinker, the tendency of academics to use "passives, abstractions, and 'zombie nouns'" stems not primarily from "nefarious motives" or the desire to "sound sophisticated and recherché and try to bamboozle their readers with high-falutin' verbiage." He doesn't deny that this takes place on occasion, but contra George Orwell's claim in "Politics and the English Language" that bad writing generally hopes to disguise bad political and economic motives, Pinker defers to evolutionary biology, and refers to "mental habits" and the "mismatch between ordinary thinking and speaking and what we have to do as academics."

Mr. Pinker is right to blame Science, but misunderstands why to.

Posted by orrinj at 8:17 AM


This Robot Valet Parks Your Car, Is Awesome (POLLY MOSENDZ, 7/03/14, The Wire)

The valet process is getting streamlined in Germany, as robot valets have been introduced to the Düsseldorf airport. The robot valet, created by Serva Transport Systems, is nicknamed "Ray."

To use Ray, car owners drive into a parking garage and leave their car in a designated area. After they confirm on a touchscreen that they have exited the vehicle, Ray swoops in. 

Ray measures the car, then uses a makeshift fork lift to pick up it. (Ray can carry cars up to 3.31 tons in weight.) Ray then carries the car to a valet lot at the back of the garage. This particular airport has 249 parking spots for robot valeted vehicles, though they may expand the lot if interest demands it. 

As an added bonus, Ray is connected to the airport's flight data system. The robot links customer trip info to their car, so it knows when they will return for their car and can prepare it. If the traveler is running late or has made changes to their trip, they can alter their schedule in a mobile app directly, which also links directly to Ray. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:10 AM


The Real Life Inspirations Behind Moby-Dick (GEORGE DOBBS, 7/02/14, Airship)

November 20, 1820, far out in the depths of the Pacific Ocean, 23-year-old Owen Chase saw a chilling sight:

"I observed a very large spermaceti whale, as well as I could judge, about eighty-five feet in length. ... [he] was lying quietly, with his head in a direction for the ship. He spouted two or three times and then disappeared. In less than two or three seconds, he came up again ... and made directly for us."

Chase, the first mate of Essex, the 21-man whaling ship out of Nantucket, was about to face a desperate struggle for survival. The whale struck the side of the ship "with full speed" and with a force that "threw us all on our faces," then disappeared into the depths:

"He had stove a hole in the ship. ... I turned to the boats, two of which we then had with the ship. ... While my attention was thus engaged for a moment, I was roused with the cry of a man at the hatchway: 'Here he is -- he is making for us again.' I turned round and saw him ... directly ahead of us, coming down apparently with twice his ordinary speed and ... with tenfold fury and vengeance in his aspect. ... I bawled out to the helmsman, 'Hard up!' But she had not fallen off more than a point before we took the second shock."

The ship's bow cracked. Chase rushed below to gather what supplies he could for survival at sea, but it was already too late: "the water by this time had rushed in."

The shock and despair felt by this previously "lucky" crew is evident in Chase's report a year later: "We were more than a thousand miles from the nearest land, and with nothing but a light open boat."

Melville met Chase's son William on a whaling voyage 20 years later, close to the spot where the Essex sank, and was shown a rare printed copy of the account, from which he later made detailed notes. For comparison, here is the whale attack in Melville's Moby-Dick:

"The whale wheeled round ... catching sight of the nearing black hull of the ship; seemingly seeing in it the source of all his persecutions; bethink it -- it may be -- a larger and nobler foe; of a sudden, he bore down upon its advancing prow, smiting his jaws amid fiery showers of foam."

Compare this to another excerpt taken from Chase's account: "He was enveloped in the foam of the sea. ... I could distinctly see him smite his jaws together as if distracted with rage and fury." It seems evident that Melville used the account as his primary source, not only for details of Chase's experiences but also for its vivid language.

Unfortunately Owen Chase's nightmare did not end with the whale attack. 

Reread it on our last cruise, which brought no few sidelong glances.

Posted by orrinj at 8:02 AM


How inflation nonsense took over finance : Introducing the Finance Macro Canon (Noah Smith, 7/03/14, The Week)

Stop me if you've heard this one before:

1. Inflation is caused by increases in the money supply. If the Fed expands the monetary base ("prints money"), the new money may sit for a while in the bank, but will eventually make its way into the broader economy, at which point it will cause inflation. [...]

3. Alternatively, money-printing might itself be defined as inflation. [...]

6. Government borrowing requires the Fed to buy bonds to hold down interest rates and keep the government from defaulting; this will cause/is causing/is defined as inflation. [...]

I have heard this basic story from many employees in the financial industry. I have heard it from a large number of finance writers, including some people I like and respect (but also including some who are shameless hucksters). I have heard it from undergrads at Stony Brook and Michigan. I see it on Twitter and on the blogs and on TV, and I hear it in Wall Street bars. I call it the Finance Macro Canon -- the basic framework through which a big chunk of Wall Street sees the macroeconomy.

What I think about each of these belief items is not important (Just for the record, I think #4, 5, 6, and 7 very well might be true, #3 is goofy, #2 is utterly wrong, and #1 is one of the biggest mysteries of macroeconomics). The really interesting question is why the finance industry has become such a hive mind with regards to this worldview.

First of all, part of this canon defies the data -- Japan's eternal zero interest rate policy didn't end deflation, nor did a dramatic expansion of its monetary base in the 2000s. And America's "money-printing" and ZIRP haven't done much to budge inflation. Second of all, the canon goes against the bets of the finance industry itself -- inflation expectations, as measured by TIPS breakevens, are around 2 percent, even in the long term.

This, I think, is why the Shadowstats BS -- or its cousin, the "have you seen the price of a gallon of milk lately" BS -- is so crucial to the Finance Macro Canon (FMC). Humans have cognitive dissonance -- it's difficult for us to take actions that don't jive with our beliefs. So subscribers to the FMC have to tell themselves that CPI isn't actually real inflation -- that's the only way to reconcile their bet on low CPI with their belief in the theory that QE and ZIRP cause inflation. 

Whatever may have been the case in other historical situations, it has been the case since Margaret Thatcher, Paul Volcker and Ronald Reagan combined to break the inflation of the 70s and to destroy the trade labor movement that inflation is exclusively a functio of wage inflation, which has been quiescent for over 30 years and is oonly going to be driven down by the ongoing trends in trade, immigration and technology.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:00 AM


The Adams-Jefferson Letters: The Complete Correspondence Between Thomas Jefferson and Abigail and John Adams by Lester J. Cappon (Editor)

Adams to Jefferson (Montezillo, May 12th. 1820.)

The question between spirit and matter appears to me nugatory because we have neither evidence nor idea of either. All that we certainly know is that some substance exists, which must be the cause of all the qualitys and Attributes which we perceive: Extension, Solidity, Perception, memory, and Reason, for all these are Attributes, or adjectives, and not Essences or substantives.

Sixty years ago, at College, I read Berkley, and from that time to this I have been fully persuaded that we know nothing of Essences, that some Essence does exist, which causes our minds with all their ideas, and this visible World with all its wonders. I am certain that this Cause is wise, Benevolent and powerful, beyond all conception; I cannot doubt, but what it is, I cannot conjecture.

Suppose we dwell a little on this matter. The Infinite divisibility of it had long ago been demonstrated by Mathematicians--When the Marquis De L'Hospital arose and demonstrated that there were quantities and not infinitely little, but others infinitely less than those infinitely littles, and he might have gone on, for what I know, to all Eternity demonstrating that there are quantities infinitely littles, and he might have gone on, for what I know, to all Eternity demonstrating that there are quantities infinitely less than the last infinitely littles; and the Phenomena of nature seems to coincide with De L'Hospitals demonstrations. For example, Astronomers inform us that the Star draconis is distant from the Earth 38. 000, 000. 000. 000. miles. The Light that proceeds from that Star, therefore, must fill a Sphere of 78. 000, 000, 000, 000, miles in diameter, and every part of that Sphere equal to the size of the pupil of the human Eye. Light is Matter, and every ray, every pencil of that light is made up of particles very little indeed, if not infinitely little, or infinitely less than infinitely little. If this Matter is not fine enough and subtle enough to perceive, to feel and to think, it is too subtle for any human intellect or imagination to conceive, for I defy any human mind to form any idea of anything so small. However, after all, Matter is but Matter; if it is infinitely less than infinitely little, it is incapable of memory, judgement, or feeling, or pleasure or pain, as far as I can conceive. Yet for anything I know, it may be as capable of Sensation and reflection as Spirit, for I confess I know not how Spirit can think, feel or act, any more than Matter. In truth, I cannot conceive how either can move or think, so that I must repose upon your pillow of ignorance, which I find very soft and consoleing, for it absolves my conscience from all culpability in this respect. But I insist upon it that the Saint has as good a right to groan at the Philosopher for asserting that there is nothing but matter in the Universe, As the Philosopher has to laugh at the Saint for saying that there are both Matter and Spirit, Or as the Infidel has to despise Berckley for saying that we cannot prove that there is anything in the Universe but Spirit and Idea--for this indeed is all he asserted, for he never denied the Existence of Matter. After all, I agree that both the groan and the Smile is impertinent, for neither knows what he says, or what he affirms, and I will say of both, as Turgot says of Berkley in his Article of Existence in the Encyclopedia: it is easier to despise than to answer them.


Oh delightful Ignorance! When I arrive at a certainty that I am Ignorant, and that I always must be ignorant, while I live I am happy, for I know I can no longer be responsible.

We shall meet hereafter and laugh at our present botherations. So believes your old Friend,


Jefferson to Adams (Monticello. Aug. 15. 20.)

[L]et me turn to your puzzling letter of May 12. on matter, spirit, motion, etc. It's croud of scepticisms kept me from sleep. I read it, and laid it down: read it, and laid it down, again and again: and to give rest to my mind, I was obliged to recur ultimately to my habitual anodyne, 'I feel: therefore I exist.' I feel bodies which are not myself: there are other existencies then. I call them matter. I feel them changing place. This gives me motion. Where there is an absence of matter, I call it void, or nothing, or immaterial space. On the basis of sensation, of matter and motion, we may erect the fabric of all the certainties we can have or need. I can conceive thought to be an action of a particular organisation of matter, formed for that purpose by it's creator, as well as that attraction is an action of matter, or magnetism of loadstone. When he who denies to the Creator the power of endowing matter with the mode of action called thinking shall shew how he could endow the Sun with the mode of action called attraction, which reins the planets in the tracts of their orbits, or how an absence of matter can have a will, and, by that will, put matter into motion, then the materialist may be lawfully required to explain the process by which matter exercises the faculty of thinking. When once we quit the basis of sensation, all is in the wind. To talk of immaterial existences is to talk of nothings. To say that the human soul, angels, god, are immaterial, is to say they are nothings, or that there is no god, no angels, no soul. I cannot reason otherwise: but I believe I am supported in my creed of materialism by Locke, Tracy, and Stewart. At what age of the Christian church this heresy of immaterialism, this masked atheism, crept in, I do not know. But a heresy it certainly is. Jesus taught nothing of it. He told us indeed that 'God is spirit,' but he has not defined what a spirit is, nor said that it is not matter. And the antient fathers generally, if not universally, held it to be matter: light and thin indeed, an etherial gas; but still matter. [...] All heresies being now done away with us, these schismatics are merely atheists, differing from the material Atheists only in their belief that 'nothing made something,' and from the material deist who believes that matter alone can operate on matter.

Rejecting all organs of information therefore but my senses, I rid myself of Pyrrhonisms with which an indulgence in speculations hyperphysical and antiphysical so uselessly occupy and disquiet the mind. A single sense may indeed be sometimes deceived, but rarely: and never all our senses together, with the faculty of reasoning. They evidence realities; and there are enough of these for the purposes of life, without plunging into the fathomless abyss of dreams and phantasms. I am satisfied, and sufficiently occupied with the things which are, without tormenting or troubling myself about those which may indeed be, but of which I have no evidence. I am sure that I really know many, many, things, and none more surely than that I love you with all my heart, and pray for the continuance of your life until you shall be tired of it yourself.


Though Adams' skepticism is quite obviously right, it is Jefferson's closing lines that are the kicker, for no man will deny that he loves and is loved and that this love is something quite real and independent of the world of mere material. That's not a reasoned argument, just an assertion (an expression of faith) but it is sufficient and just as sufficient now as it was then. And so, ultimately, we all groan with the Saint.

[originally posted: 9/24/03]

Posted by orrinj at 7:59 AM


The Theology of the Fourth of July (Ira Stoll, 7/03/14, TIME)

Kennedy began by talking not about taxes, or about the British, or about the consent of the governed, but about religion. "The informing spirit of the American character has always been a deep religious sense. Throughout the years, down to the present, a devotion to fundamental religious principles has characterized American though and action," he said.

For anyone wondering what this had to do with Independence Day, Kennedy made the connection explicit. "Our government was founded on the essential religious idea of integrity of the individual. It was this religious sense which inspired the authors of the Declaration of Independence: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.'"

It was a theme that Kennedy would return to during the 1960 presidential campaign, when, in a speech at the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, he described the Cold War as "a struggle for supremacy between two conflicting ideologies; freedom under God versus ruthless, Godless tyranny." And again in his inaugural address, on January 20, 1961, in Washington, D.C., when he said, "The same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe -- the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state but from the hand of God."

Whatever Kennedy's motives were as a politician for emphasizing this point, on the historical substance he had it absolutely correct. The Declaration of Independence issued from Philadelphia on July 4, 1776, included four separate references to God. In addition to the "endowed by their Creator" line mentioned by JFK in his July 4 speech, there is an opening salute to "the laws of nature's God," an appeal to "the Supreme Judge of the World," and a closing expression of "firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence."

Posted by orrinj at 7:43 AM


Have We Been Reading the Declaration of Independence All Wrong? (ABBY OHLHEISER, 7/03/14, The Wire)

Here's some fun news for the Fourth of July: America might be reading an important passage of the Declaration of Independence all wrong. A scholar's argument that an authoritative transcription of the Declaration contains a period that isn't actually in the original document has convinced the National Archives to re-examine their presentation of the document. That's according to a well-timed New York Times story on the controversy, which could change how we read the passage beginning "We hold these truths to be self-evident." 

First, let's pinpoint what's in question here. The official transcription from the National Archives reads (emphasis ours): 

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

See that period? According to Princeton professor Danielle Allen, it's not actually in the original document. If she's right, then the individual rights of "Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness" would share a sentence with what follows: 

-- That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Allen, speaking to the Times, argues that Thomas Jefferson intended to emphasize the second part of this passage -- the role of the government -- equally with the individual rights in the first part. Instead, with the period in place, there's an implied hierarchy. So you can begin to see how one little punctuation mark's presence or absence could become the subject of heated debate among those who have strong opinions about the role of government as it concerns individual liberty.

The period doesn't matter; the that's have already done the work.

We hold these truths to be self-evident:

*that (followed by the ends of government--Life, Liberty, Pursuit of Happiness)

*that (followed by the means of government--consent)

*that (followed by the remedy when government becomes non-consensual--a new consensual government)

Means are, to some degree, always inferior to ends, but note that Jefferson also makes consensual government an end in itself.  As, indeed,it can't help but be, given that Liberty is an end.

Posted by orrinj at 7:35 AM


Let Your Right Brain Run Free : For too long, conservatives have ceded the popular culture to the Left. (Adam Bellow, 7/07/14, National Review)

Recently I was asked to comment on the state of conservative publishing for an article in BuzzFeed. My major focus was the difficulty of publishing the sort of serious, intellectually demanding books that used to be the staple of the movement. I ticked off relevant factors such as the rise of conservative mass media, the proliferation of publishing imprints, the decline of book reviewing, and the bifurcation of political media into spheres of left and right, leading to the disappearance of serious controversy.

What I didn't say is this: The real problem isn't the practical challenge of turning serious books into bestsellers. The real problem is that we may have reached the limit of what facts and reasoned arguments can do. The real problem is that the whole conservative nonfiction enterprise has peaked and reached its limit of effectiveness.

Yes, conservative voices can now be heard throughout the land, and the GOP is poised for victory in the upcoming midterm elections. But even as we appear to be winning the political argument, for the moment anyway, we are losing on the cultural front. For proof, you need look no farther than the recent successful attacks on conservative spokesmen.

The Left has always demonized conservatives, and many of my authors have been subject to that kind of ugly treatment. Those who cannot win an argument often fall back on ad hominem attacks. In the past we could ignore such attacks -- indeed, they often worked in our favor. But lately they have taken a dramatic turn for the worse. Those who dissent from the prevailing liberal dogma are quickly branded as extremists and declared to be bad people. Do you support the traditional view of marriage? You're a homophobe who wants to deny equal rights to gay Americans. Do you question the economic benefits of raising the minimum wage? You are a selfish Scrooge who hates the working class. Do you want America to establish control over its borders? You hate hard-working immigrants who just want to enjoy the American dream. Do you believe a human fetus has legal and natural rights? You are a misogynist who wants to control women's bodies. Do you support the death penalty in certain cases? You're a heartless savage no better than the killers themselves, according to Charles Blow of the New York Times. Do you oppose any aspect whatsoever of Barack Obama's transformative agenda for America? You're a racist. Racist, racist, racist!

This is a bare-knuckled attempt to enforce an ideological orthodoxy by policing the boundaries of acceptable speech. The methods used -- anonymous accusers, public shaming, forced apologies, reeducation programs -- come straight out of the Stalinist playbook, and they are not only shockingly illiberal. They are shockingly effective.

By harnessing the passions of offended minorities to the power of social media, the Left has created a hurricane of politicized indignation that can be directed wherever it likes and levels everything it touches. Meanwhile the general response is the same as it was for me at Clarion: embarrassed silence and the fear of being targeted yourself. This is a key point, for just as bad as outright censorship (which cannot be imposed to the extent the Left would like) is the censorship people impose on themselves in order to avoid being punished with the loss of their reputation and livelihood.

The Left has adopted this strategy for obvious reasons: They cannot win the argument on its merits, and unlike their counterparts elsewhere they can't consistently win (or steal) elections. Political power eludes them. But like Mark Antony at Caesar's funeral, they have become expert at using the media pulpit to turn the passions of the mob against their enemies.

Conservatives do seem to understand that this is a battle that must be engaged. But they don't seem to know how to fight it. What they urgently need to realize is that this is not a battle that can be fought in the realm of ideas and politics. We can win every election for the next 50 years and it won't matter, if conservatives are not allowed to speak. Nor can we debate and argue this incipient totalitarian movement out of existence. We can publish all the polemics and blog posts we want. But if that is all we've got, we are still going to lose the larger war.

Fear not, however -- this is no doom-and-gloom scenario. I actually come bearing good news. A second front is opening in the oddly misnamed culture war (which has nothing to do with culture). The tools of our salvation are at hand. There's a new posse in town. We just need to wake up and support them.

The late Andrew Breitbart understood the importance of popular culture and was determined not to neglect it. "Politics is downstream from culture," he famously said, and he continually called upon conservatives to quit griping about liberal media bias and do something constructive instead. Write your own books, he exhorted. Record your own music. Make your own movies. Everyone agreed that this would be a great idea. But no one knew how to go about making it happen.

Well, guess what: Andrew was right. The conservative counterrevolution is coming. Indeed it is already here. It's just that most conservatives haven't noticed it yet. It came to my attention only because of the position I occupy in the New York publishing world.

As a nonfiction editor throughout my career I never missed publishing fiction. It just seemed a little bit beside the point. I figured we would win the battle of ideas first, and then the imbalance in the culture would correct itself. But that didn't seem to be happening. If anything, liberal dominance of popular culture seemed more entrenched than ever.

Meanwhile, more and more, I started hearing from conservative authors asking if I would look at their novels. I read quite a few of these, and while some of them were awful, many others were entertaining and well done. But they didn't rise to the level of proficiency required for mass-market publication, and no sectarian market existed for conservative-themed fiction. So I suggested they self-publish, making use of the new digital-distribution technologies.

At first I thought of this as an isolated phenomenon. But the queries continued and after a while I began to see it as a trend. I started poking around the Kindle store to see what was up and found dozens of self-published books by conservative authors bravely putting forth their work and hoping to be discovered. I already knew that science fiction had attracted many libertarians. But this phenomenon was clearly more extensive. Conservatives were writing books in every genre -- thriller, mystery, historical, military, western, gothic, supernatural, romance, and young adult, not to mention numerous hybrids. Similar searches at iTunes and YouTube turned up dozens of conservative and libertarian pop songs and videos.

Andrew didn't live to see it, but conservatives are making their own culture. They are writing and publishing their own books, recording their own music, and making their own videos and films. It is Breitbart's Revolt.

Posted by orrinj at 6:10 AM


To Abigail Adams (John Adams, July 03, 1776)

Yesterday, the greatest question was decided, which ever was debated in America, and a greater, perhaps, never was nor will be decided among men. A resolution was passed without one dissenting colony, "that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, and as such they have, and of right ought to have, full power to make war, conclude peace, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which other States may rightfully do." You will see in a few days a Declaration setting forth the causes which have impelled us to this mighty revolution, and the reasons which will justify it in the sight of God and man. A plan of confederation will be taken up in a few days.

When I look back to the year 1761, and recollect the argument concerning writs of assistance in the superior court, which I have hitherto considered as the commencement of this controversy between Great Britain and America, and run through the whole period, from that time to this, and recollect the series of political events, the chain of causes and effects, I am surprised at the suddenness as well as greatness of this revolution. Britain has been filled with folly, and America with wisdom. At least, this is my judgment. Time must determine. It is the will of Heaven that the two countries should be sundered forever. It may be the will of Heaven that America shall suffer calamities still more wasting, and distresses yet more dreadful. If this is to be the case, it will have the good effect at least. It will inspire us with many virtues, which we have not, and correct many errors, follies and vices which duces refinement, in States as well as individuals. And the new governments we are assuming in every part will require a purification from our vices, and an augmentation of our virtues, or they will be no blessings. The people will have unbounded power, and the people are extremely addicted to corruption and venality, as well as the great. But I must submit all my hopes and fears to an overruling Providence, in which, unfashionable as the faith may be, I firmly believe.

Had a declaration of Independency been made seven months ago, it would have been attended with many great and glorious effects. We might, before this hour, have formed alliances with foreign States...

But, on the other hand, the delay of this declaration to this time has many great advantages attending it. The hopes of reconciliation, which were fondly entertained by multitudes of honest and well-meaning, though weak and mistaken people, have been gradually and, at last, totally extinguished. Time has been given for the whole people maturely to consider the great question of independence, and to ripen their judgment, dissipate their fears, and allure their hopes, by discussing it in newspapers and pamphlets, by debating it in assemblies, conventions, committees of safety and inspection, in town and county meetings, as well as in private conversations, so that the whole people, in every colony of the thirteen, have now adopted it as their own act. This will cement the union, and avoid those heats, and perhaps convulsions which might have been occasioned by such a declaration six months ago.

But the day is past. The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epocha in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward, forevermore.

You will think me transported with enthusiasm, but I am not. I am well aware of the toil, and blood, and treasure, that it will cost us to maintain this declaration, and support and defend these States. Yet, through all the gloom, I can see the rays of ravishing light and glory. I can see that the end is more than worth all the means, and that posterity will triumph in that day's transaction, even although we should rue it, which I trust in God we shall not.

[originally posted : 7/04/14]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:00 AM


The new Nero (Francois de Bernard, 3/31/03, Ha'aretz)
[T]he time has come for us to open our eyes. The time has come to forget the old idea - forged during the course of two centuries - of the United States as the bridgehead of the "free world" and "democracy."

The reality that we are trying to keep at a distance is that the United States has become a theocracy and a pathocracy. It has become a theocracy because nearly all the important decisions of President George W. Bush's administration are taken "in the name of God" - an angry and vengeful God, not a God of love and compassion - and because this system is not encountering any serious opposition on the part of the legislative and legal institutions, not to mention the media.

We are Democracy, by the will of our angry God, and our role is to promote it in His name and for His sake. The fact that this democracy has only a marginal and metaphorical connection to 2,5000 years of political tradition is of no importance. The self-definition and the self-justification are the two breasts of the empire. Just as the United Nations is a negligible factor that can be ignored when it opposes our plans, we were established in order to impose on the rest of the world the idea of democracy that corresponds only to our convictions.

For two years now - and increasingly since September 11, 2001, there has been a great deal of focus in the discourse on the subject of "good and evil" and the strategy derived from it with respect to the "axis of evil." This has generally been based on the return, in full force, of the primitive moralizing that runs through a large part of the political and intellectual history of the United States. But in fact, it is something of an entirely different nature. It is the brutal transformation of an oligarchic republic tinged with democracy into a republic that is essentially theocratic.

If we realize this, then it is possible to understand that everything becomes possible from the point of view of Bush's administration, from the rejection of the Kyoto treaty to the perpetuation of the death penalty, from the attempt to marginalize the UN to the approaching exit from the World Trade Organization, from the war in Afghanistan to the war in Iraq.

But the United States has also become a pathocracy, that is, a regime that is neurotic in essence, the leaders of which are, quite simply, psychopaths. I offer the hypothesis that the American president is personally suffering from a paranoid psychosis and that the quartet he has formed with Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld constitutes a government that is both theocratic and pathocratic.

Mr. de Bernard states the difference between Europe (and the Left generally) and America (and the Right generally) about as starkly and honestly as you'll find anywhere: the two sides divide over the question of good and evil. It is actually he and his ilk who deny the Western political tradition, for what does that tradition consist of if not the central insight of the Fall of Man, that we are inherently sinful and incapable of changing our nature, though we must strive to contain the evil of which we are all capable, towards which we may even be inclined? You'd be hard pressed to find a Founder more closely associated with the celebration of humanity than Thomas Jefferson, but recall his words when it comes to how men should be governed: "In questions of power, let no more be heard of confidence in man but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the constitution." And, of course, the most famous passage in the Federalist Papers, and thus the most authoritative statement of how we view our political system, is Madison's (?) in Federalist 51:
[T]he great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department, consists in giving to those who administer each department the necessary constitutional means and personal motives to resist encroachments of the others. The provision for defense must in this, as in all other cases, be made commensurate to the danger of attack. Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions. This policy of supplying, by opposite and rival interests, the defect of better motives, might be traced through the whole system of human affairs, private as well as public. We see it particularly displayed in all the subordinate distributions of power, where the constant aim is to divide and arrange the several offices in such a manner as that each may be a check on the other
that the private interest of every individual may be a sentinel over the public rights. These inventions of prudence cannot be less requisite in the distribution of the supreme powers of the State. But it is not possible to give to each department an equal power of self-defense. In republican government, the legislative authority necessarily predominates. The remedy for this inconveniency is to divide the legislature into different branches; and to render them, by different modes of election and different principles of action, as little connected with each other as the nature of their common functions and their common dependence on the society will admit.

Thus is American Republicanism deeply premised on the desire of men to encroach upon each others' rights. It is no exaggeration to say that America's genesis lies in Genesis, in the millennia old revelation that men are not angels, are not "good". The United States is not, of course, a theocracy, but it very much owes its existence and endurance as the world's freest and longest-lived democracy to Judeo-Christian theology. Yet this foundation is precisely what Mr. de Bernard is proposing should be viewed as our "pathology" and "psychosis".

Indeed, Mr. Benard's view--that there is no such thing as good and evil and that religion is a kind of dangerous neuroses--informs modern European intellectual life (and that of the American Left) and has driven Europe's seemingly inexorable decline. Everything from the massive Social Welfare states they've created, with their now thoroughly discredited assumption that men will not eagerly become dependents of the State; to their permissive moralities; to their willingness to cede national sovereignty to EU and UN bureaucrats; to their increasing isolation from world affairs, as in their refusal to confront Iraq; are all fundamentally outgrowths of a fantastical belief that man is essentially good, that we can impute the best of motives to all and sundry, and that every conflict between men is a function of mere misunderstanding, rather than a clash of values, some of which are superior
to others.

The Franco-European vacation from reality can in large part be traced to Jean Jacques Rousseau, whose philosophy Mary Ann Glendon describes as follows (since we, as Americans, basically ignore Rousseau as nonsensical utopianism, it will be appropriate to quote her at length):

He began his Discourse on Inequality by scoffing at previous attempts to account for the origins of government by describing what human beings must have been like in the "state of nature." The mythic tales told by Hobbes and Locke had recounted the progress of mankind from "a horrible state of war" (Hobbes) or from a "very precarious, very unsafe" existence (Locke) into a more secure way of life in organized society. According to Rousseau, such accounts had it backwards. Prior writers had failed to understand the natural condition of man, he claimed, because they "carried over to the state of nature ideas they had acquired in society; they spoke about savage man but they described civilized man." The complex fears and desires they attributed to our early ancestors could only have been produced by society.

Rousseau then presented his own version of pre-history as universal truth: "O man, of whatever country you are, and whatever your opinions may be, listen: behold your history as I have thought to read it, not in books written by your fellow creatures, who are liars, but in nature, which never lies." The earliest human, as Rousseau imagined him, was a simple, animal-like creature, "wholly wrapped up in the feeling of [his own] present existence." He was not inherently dangerous to his fellows as Hobbes had it. But neither was he fallen as the biblical tradition teaches. Rather, he must have led a "solitary," "indolent" life, satisfying his basic physical needs, mating casually without forming ties. He possessed a "natural feeling" of compassion for the suffering of other sentient beings that made him unwilling to harm others, unless (a big unless) his own self-preservation was at stake. He was not
naturally endowed with reason, but existed in an unreflective state of pure being. The transition from this primitive state into civil society represented a "loss of real felicity," in Rousseau's view, rather than an unambiguous step forward.

Rousseau next took aim at the social contract theories of his predecessors. As he saw it, what drew human beings out of their primeval state was not rational calculation leading to agreement for the sake of self-preservation (as Hobbes and Locke thought), but rather a quality he called "perfectibility." Previous thinkers, he claimed, did not pay sufficient attention to the distinctively human capacity to change and develop, to transform oneself and to be transformed. In other words, they failed to consider the implications of the fact that human nature itself has a history. Or that human beings, through their capacity to form ideas, can to some extent shape that history. These were the insights of the Discourse on Inequality that won the admiration of such a dissimilar personality as Immanuel Kant and stirred the historical imaginations of Hegel and Marx.

With the development of human faculties, Rousseau continued, came language, family life, and eventually an era when families lived in simple tribal groups. That centuries-long stage of communal living, succeeding the state of nature and preceding organized society, he wrote, "must have been the happiest and most stable of epochs," which only a "fatal accident" could have brought to an end. That accident was precipitated by the ever-restless human mind that invented agriculture and metallurgy, which led in turn to the state of affairs where human beings lost their self-sufficiency and came to depend on one another for their survival. ("It is iron and wheat which have civilized men and ruined the human race.")

In contrast to Locke, who taught that property was an especially important, pre-political right, Rousseau wrote:

"The first man who, having enclosed a piece of ground, bethought himself of saying This is mine, and found people simple enough to believe him, was the real founder of civil society. From how many crimes, wars, and murders, from how many horrors and misfortunes might not any one have saved mankind by pulling up the stakes, or filling up the ditch, and crying to his fellows, 'Beware of listening to this imposter, you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody.' "

Contrary to Hobbes and Locke, Rousseau contended that it was civil society, not nature, that gave rise to a state of affairs that was always in danger of degenerating into war. Civil society begat governments and laws, inequality, resentment, and other woes. Governments and laws "bound new fetters on the poor, and gave new powers to the rich; which irretrievably destroyed natural liberty, eternally fixed the law of property and inequality, converted clever usurpation into unalterable right, and, for the advantage of a few ambitious individuals, subjected all mankind to perpetual labor, slavery, and wretchedness." It would be absurd to suppose, he went on, that mankind had somehow consented to this state of affairs where "the privileged few . . . gorge themselves with superfluities, while the starving multitude are in want of the bare necessities of life."

Though Rousseau's evocative imaginary depictions of primitive societies were to swell the tide of nineteenth-century romantic "nostalgia" for the simple life, he himself insisted that there was no escape from history. There was no going back, he explained, because human nature itself had changed: "The savage and the civilized man differ so much . . . that what constitutes the supreme happiness of one would reduce the other to despair." Natural man had been sufficient unto himself; man in civil society had become dependent on his fellows in countless ways, even to the point of living "in the opinions of others." Reprising the theme of his Dijon essay, Rousseau concluded that modern man, though surrounded by philosophy, civilization, and codes of morality, had little to show for himself but "honor without virtue, reason without wisdom, and pleasure without happiness."

The radical character of Rousseau's political thought is nowhere more apparent than in his treatments of reason and human nature. Together with early modern and Enlightenment thinkers, he rejected older ideas of a natural law discoverable through right reason. But by insisting that human beings are not naturally endowed with reason, he struck at the very core of the Enlightenment project, subordinating reason to feeling in a move that would characterize the politics of a later age. Like others within the modern horizon, he rejected the older view that human beings are naturally social or political. But by exalting individual solitude and self-sufficiency, he set himself apart from his fellow moderns, anticipating the hyper-individualism of a much later age--our own.

Not without justification, then, did Bloom call the Discourse on Inequality "the most radical work ever written, one that transformed the way people thought about the world." This one essay contained the germs of most of the themes Rousseau would develop in later works, and that would be further elaborated by others who came under his spell. Rousseau's lyrical descriptions of early man and simple societies fueled the nineteenth-century popular romantic revolt against classicism in art and literature. His criticism of property, together with his dark view of the downside of mutual dependence, made a deep impression on the young Karl Marx.

The thesis of the Second Discourse, that the most serious forms of injustice had their origins in civil society rather than in nature, foreshadowed Rousseau's famous charge at the beginning of The Social Contract that virtually all existing governments were illegitimate: "Man is born free; and everywhere he is in chains." Having raised the explosive issue of legitimacy, and sensing that Europe's old regimes were about to crumble, Rousseau turned to his most ambitious project to date: the question of how better governments might be established. "I want to seek," he wrote, "if, in the civil order, there can be some legitimate and solid rule of administration, taking men as they are and the laws as they can be."

Like many critical theorists before and since, Rousseau was less successful at developing a positive political vision of his own than he had been at spotting flaws in the theories of others. In The Social Contract, he framed the problem of good government as that of finding a form of political association which would protect everyone's person and property, but within which each person would remain "as free as before." The solution he devised was an agreement by which everyone would give himself and all his goods to the community, forming a state whose legislation would be produced by the will of each person thinking in terms of all (the "general will"). The state's legitimacy would thus be derived from the people, who, in obeying the law, would be obeying themselves.

That solution to the problem of legitimate government would obviously require a special sort of citizen, a "new man" who could and would choose the general will over his own interests or the narrow interests of his group. The concept of the general will thus links The Social Contract to Rousseau's writings on nurture, education, and morals, particularly Emile, which contains his program for forming the sentiments of the young so that they will retain their natural goodness while living in civil society.

The legitimate state, as Rousseau imagined it, would need not only virtuous citizens, but an extraordinary "Legislator" who could persuade people to accept the rules necessary for such a society. Law in the properly constituted state would be, among other things, an instrument of transformation: "He who dares to undertake the making of a people's laws ought to feel himself capable of changing human nature." Rousseau had learned from the classical philosophers, however, that good laws can take root only amidst good customs. It was thus implicit in The Social Contract that many existing societies were already beyond help. "What people," Rousseau asked, "is a fit subject for legislation?" His answer was not encouraging to revolutionaries bent on overthrowing unjust regimes: "One which, already bound by some unity of origin, interest, or convention, has never yet felt the
real yoke of law; . . . one in which every member may be known by every other, and there is no need to lay on any man burdens too heavy for a man to bear; . . . one which is neither rich nor poor, but self sufficient. . . . All these conditions are indeed rarely found united, and therefore few states have good constitutions."

Once a legitimate state is established, it needs to be maintained and defended. Thus, according to Rousseau, there should be no "particular associations" competing for the loyalty of citizens; religion should not be left independent of political control; and those who refuse to conform to the general will would have to be "forced to be free."

The contrast between Rousseau's program and the practical ideas that guided the American Founders could hardly be more striking. The legacy of the most influential political thinker of the eighteenth century is thus at odds with the era's greatest political achievement--the design for government framed by men who believed that good governments could be based on reflection and choice. The pragmatic authors of The Federalist had their own, clear-eyed, understanding of human nature with its potency and its limitations. They knew that human beings are creatures of reason and feeling--capable of good and evil, trust and betrayal, creativity and destruction, selfishness and cooperation. In Madison's famous formulation: "As there is a certain degree of depravity in human nature which requires a certain degree of circumspection and distrust, so there are other qualities in human nature which justify a certain portion of esteem and confidence."

And so we have Franco-European thinkers, the children of Rousseau, who imagine that governmental institutions--the State, the EU, the UN, etc.--will have a transformative effect on mankind, will create the "new man". This could not be more antithetical to Americans, children of the Founders, who erected an elaborate system of checks and balances even against fellow citizens and who know human nature to be immutable and who scoff at the idea of trusting the folk of other nations or the bureaucrats of transnational institutions with political power. Mr. de Bernard refers to us as "paranoid" because we do not trust the French, UN, the Taliban, Saddam, etc., but paranoia is a condition of irrational distrust. American distrust of their fellow Americans and even more so of non-Americans and even more than that of institutions that concentrate power is entirely rational and is justified by
long and bitter human experience. It is Franco-European faith in the good intentions of governments and bureaucrats and radical Islamicists that is in fact the product of irrational fantasy. It has been common, especially on the American Left, to dismiss the current split between America and Old Europe as driven by emotion and only temporary. Such folks contend that we are bound by more commonalities than are we divided by our differences. This is simply untrue. We diverged over two centuries ago and though it has taken some time for that to become obvious to all, the precipitous decline of Europe, as a result of the false path it has followed, is going to make it impossible to ignore any longer.

Desperately Wicked: Reckoning with evil. (Alan Wolfe, March/April 2003, Books & Culture)

"The problem of evil will be the fundamental question of postwar intellectual life in Europe," wrote Hannah Arendt in 1945. She was wrong. To be fair, her comment was not directed at the United States, and it applied to intellectual life in general rather than to academic trends in particular. Still, postwar thought in the West in the last half of the 20th century did not make evil central to its concerns. On the contrary: philosophers retreated even more deeply into analytic preoccupations with logic and language; social scientists reacted to the massive irrationalities of war and totalitarianism by treating all human behavior as if it were ultra-rational; both literary theorists and novelists were attracted to forms of postmodernism that denied any fixed distinctions, including the one between good and evil; and the most influential theologians studiously avoided neo-Augustinian
thinkers like Reinhold Niebuhr. The one European thinker who comes closest to Arendt in breadth of knowledge and passionate concern with the fate of humanity--JŸrgen Habermas--has devoted his work not to exploring the horrors of the modern world, but to the conditions under which meaningful human communication is possible.

What was not true of the past fifty years, however, may turn out to be true of the next fifty. Evil is getting increased attention. Presidents Reagan and Bush used the term in their rhetoric to significant public acclaim. Popular culture addicts know all about Hannibal Lector and consume the plots of Stephen King. And the books under review here are representative of a much larger number of recent titles, suggesting that academic fields as diverse as philosophy, theology, and psychology are turning with increasing frequency to a subject they once ignored. It has taken a half-century since the end of World War II for the study of evil to catch up with the thing itself--perhaps, given the traumas of the evils uncovered at war's end, not an unreasonable amount of time.

Now that evil is once again prominent on the intellectual and academic radar screen, the problems of understanding it have only just begun. These books not only fail to agree on what evil is, they disagree on how it came into the world and whether it ever can be expected to leave. Consider them, as all of their authors save one would want them to be considered, provisional efforts to start an inquiry rather than foundational attempts to solve a problem. [...]

Although many of the thinkers who tried to make sense out of the Holocaust were Jewish, they were influenced by Christian theology; Hans Jonas was a student of Rudolf Bultmann, and Hannah Arendt, as Charles T. Mathewes reminds us, always worked in the shadow of Augustine. Evil and the Augustinian Tradition features Arendt, along with Reinhold Niebuhr, as representing alternatives to what Mathewes calls "subjectivism," which he defines as "the belief that our existence in the world is determined first and foremost by our own (subjective) activities."

Niebuhr is often assumed to be a conservative, but, as Mathewes points out, this cannot be easily reconciled with his political activism, most of which was concentrated on left-wing causes. Moreover, because American conservatism is so tied to a Smithian love of the marketplace, it has never--with the exception of now somewhat forgotten figures such as Whittaker Chambers or the Southern agrarians--been able to develop the ironic, and often pessimistic, stance toward modernity that any good conservative mood should reflect. In Augustine's theology Niebuhr found an alternative to the prevailing American optimism of his day.

Niebuhr's voice was tragic. Evil, the realist in him recognized, is "a fixed datum of historical science"; not for Niebuhr the kind of naivete that has often characterized religious leaders' involvement in politics. At the same time, our sins are not of such a depraved nature that any hope has to be ruled out of order. We can take responsibility for our acts, and Mathewes is especially good as describing this Niebuhrian sense of responsibility. "We have no intellectual resources for 'handling' evil," he writes, "if 'handling' it means managing it." Our thought is always torn open at its side, as it were, and bleeds from the knowledge that we sinners, we evil doers, are at fault and are yet the vehicles whereby God's salvation is made manifest." [...]

We live with evil because evil has chosen to live with us. The best we can do is to be as ambitious as we can in trying to tackle one of the great mysteries surrounding us, without becoming so ambitious that we bring evil down to the level of ordinary existence. As Richard Bernstein concludes in an especially reflective summary of what we know and what we do not, evil is "an excess that resists total comprehension." Yet, he continues, "interrogating evil is an ongoing, open-ended process" which requires not only a reaffirmation of the importance of personal responsibility but also a commitment to rethinking what responsibility means. Whether we are followers of Augustine or Kant, we are individuals with free will. Faced with the Holocaust, some people chose to do the right thing--even while far more chose evil.

[originally posted: 2003-03-31]
Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:55 AM


Bored on the Fourth of July (Peter Lawler on July 4, 2011, Big Think)

[T]oday we're celebrating by sharing our allegiance to truths we hold to be self-evident. We are, as G.K. Chesterton wrote, "a nation with the soul of a church." Churches are held together by common belief in particular dogmas. We're held together by common belief in the principles set forth, Chesterton wrote, with "dogmatic lucidity" in the Declaration.

The not-so-silent Calvin Coolidge wrote that those principles are restful because they're final. We believe that no progress can be made beyond them--just as we believe that our progress comes from more faithfully and consistently actng in accordance with them. The Fourth of July, in that light, should be a day of rest for the same reason every Sunday should be. We need to take a break from our incessant activity to remind ourselves of the foundation that makes our free and restless prosperity possible.

So we can criticize the authors and signers of the Declaration for not acting in full accordance with their principles. Jefferson knew that all human beings--including those imported from Africa to be slaves--we're created equal and had inalienable rights. But he didn't always act according to what he knew.

But we remember that it was the Abolitionists, from the very beginning, who talked up more than other Americans the stirring words of the Declaration as the foundation of their liberationist cause. So did our first strong proponents of the rights of women. And the southern slaveholders ended up openly denying the Declaration's truth, saying that Jefferson didn't know what he was talking about. It was in the context of the spilling of a huge amount of blood for a new birth of freedom that Lincoln rededicated us to the Declaration's proposition that all men are created equal.

[originally posted: 7/04/11]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:10 AM


What's So Special About Democracy? (HARVEY MANSFIELD, July 26, 2006, NY Sun)

The answer to [What is special about modern politics?], Mr. Dunn indicates, is representative government, invented by Thomas Hobbes in the 17th century. Hobbes (followed by Spinoza and Locke) argued that government is properly instituted by contract among individuals in the state of nature who authorize a sovereign over themselves to represent them. The crucial new concept in this theory is the state of nature that precedes all society, is therefore insecure and full of violence, and is further characterized by the rough equality of all those who experience or imagine it. Men are equal in the state of nature, according to Hobbes, for the very realistic reason that no one can be sure of always getting the better of (i.e. killing) anyone or everyone else. Here, democracy is installed as the foundation of all government.

Democracy in the basement, however, is not necessarily democracy in the house above. A representative government may not hold elections (such as the hereditary monarchy that Hobbes wanted), and if it does, the elections may not be democratic, with universal suffrage. Representative democracy came later, in the American and French Revolutions, and of course women's suffrage was still later.Yet the nature of democracy is changed when it becomes representative. No longer does the people meet in a body to deliberate on and decide the most important questions of government, but rather the task of actual governing is delegated to a few elected (and non-elected) representatives. In this delegation, as we are often reminded, lies a hidden oligarchy dressed up as democratic. If every representative government is fundamentally democratic, every modern democracy is in practice oligarchic. The ancients knew of a mixed regime composed of democracy and oligarchy, but this is a mixed regime of a new kind in which no one speaks of oligarchy in its principle though everyone find it useful in practice. [...]

Mr. Dunn's analysis turns sober and profound when he presents the opposition between democracy as a form of government and as a way of life. As a way of life (best shown by Tocqueville) democracy is not satisfied with existing equality but tries relentlessly to equalize everything. In this sense democracy is open-ended, or points toward a goal of no power or government at all. As a form of government, however, democracy tries to contain this infinite democratization. One mode of containment is to accept, as democratic electorates even in Europe have done recently, the "order of egoism" that socialists like Babeuf and Buonarroti hate. Mr. Dunn worries that "malign consequences" will follow from the separation of the democratic ethics of equalization from the democratic reality of surrender to egoism.

One may agree that it is harmful to the souls of intellectuals, as Mr. Dunn worries, when they cherish their own moral purity as against the evils of reality. But a remedy can be found in the notion of "self-interest well understood" that Tocqueville attributes to Americans. "Egoism" in America, both in business and in government, is more about ambition than greed for money. The socialists, obsessed with money as they believed their capitalist enemies to be, always missed the point. Money is a sign of success, and success is the satisfaction of one's ambition. It is not necessary to go against egoism or self-interest in order to be public spirited. Ambition was in Aristotle's list of virtues and it is featured in James Madison's famous discussion of the separation of powers in "The Federalist." The history of democracy is the democratization, not the elimination, of oligarchic ambition.

Robert D. Kraynak, a former student of Professor Mansfield, has a better handle on the flaws of democracy.

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Posted by orrinj at 4:37 AM


The Declaration of Independence and the American Creed (David Azerrad, July 2nd, 2013, The Public Discourse)

Natural human equality is the first axiom of the American creed. The founders, of course, recognized that human beings are different and unequal in more ways than anybody could count. But for political purposes, all men and women--regardless of race, religion, sex, or whatever the oppressed category du jour might be--are born equally free and independent and therefore may not be ruled without their consent. In America, we recognize neither natural slavery nor divine-right monarchy. The differences that separate us are never so great as to create a chasm between human beings. As Thomas Jefferson explained: "Because Sir Isaac Newton was superior to others in understanding he was not therefore lord of the person or property of others."

Given the vagaries of life and the great diversity of talents and interests among human beings, we will inevitably end up in different stations in life. And so the greatest work of American political thought defined the "first object of Government" as "the protection of different and unequal faculties of acquiring property," from which result "different degrees and kinds of property."

As for the claim that equality mandates redefining marriage, it is risible. (Ryan Anderson, my Heritage Foundation colleague and the editor of Public Discourse, points out the various flaws in Obama's claim at The Foundry here.)The "Laws of Nature and of Nature's God" countenance ordered liberty, and the husband-and-wife, mother-and-father family is a core institution for securing what the Constitution calls "the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity." What's more, no one's core rights are violated if marriage is not redefined to suit their tastes.

The second axiom of the American creed is that human beings are "endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights." Other Founding era documents say that we possess them by birth or by nature. Today, we could say that they are seared into our DNA. Whatever the formulation, the point is the same: no one needs to give us our core rights. We possess them simply by virtue of being human. Criminals may violate them, governments may fail to secure them, but we are all morally entitled to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

The Declaration emphasizes rights and not duties because its purpose is to affirm the rights of man against the claims of those in power--not to teach us our duties toward our Maker or our fellow man. Its aim, in Abraham Lincoln's memorable formulation, is to act as "a rebuke and a stumbling-block to the very harbingers of re-appearing tyranny and oppression."

The Declaration isn't meant to displace the Bible or Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics as the guide to the good life. It doesn't speak of friendship, family, and music, for example, not because it denies their importance, but because they fall outside its properly defined political purpose.

It does, however, acknowledge and point to the highest things--the reasons why it's so important to resist tyranny and oppression. Hence the references to both the pursuit of happiness and happiness, the invocation of our "Creator" and "the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God," and the appeal to the "Supreme Judge of the World." Politics is about creating the conditions that allow us to pursue the comprehensive human good--it's not about directly securing the comprehensive human good for each person.

The Declaration's two axioms, though self-evidently true, are by no means obvious. In fact, no other country had ever recognized them before, none at the time did, and most today only pay lip service to them. What the founders meant by a self-evident truth is an axiomatic definition: embedded in the word "man" are the inviolable principles of equality and natural rights. Others, the Third Reich or the Ayatollahs in Iran for example, may deny this and use another definition of man, but in America, we hold these truths to be self-evident and strive to live up to their true meaning.

From this simple definition of man, the remainder of the political teaching of the Declaration of Independence logically follows. 

[originally posted : 7/04/13]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:33 AM


Lincoln and the Will of God (Andrew Ferguson, March 2008, First Things).

What Herndon didn't know was that, after his own visit to the Falls, Lincoln had been moved to write an extraordinary note to himself, apparently for his eyes only. The note, as it's come down to us, is a single page, incomplete and trailing off in mid-sentence. It wasn't discovered until after his death and wasn't made public for another thirty years. In it we hear Lincoln talking to himself.

"Niagara Falls!" it begins. "By what mysterious power," Lincoln wonders, "is it that millions and millions are drawn to gaze upon Niagara Falls? There is no mystery about the thing itself."

No mystery? It quickly becomes apparent that this dismissive remark is intended ironically. Niagara, to Lincoln, is nothing if not mysterious. He ticks off the ways in which men have used scientific means to dispense with the mystery of so great a wonder. Geologists will determine the angle of the water's plunge, and measure the volume of the water, and calculate the speed with which it passes over the precipice. "Yet this is really a very small part of that world's wonder." Other scientists and philosophers will admire Niagara's role in the purely physical process of the water cycle: "This vast amount of water, constantly pouring down, is supplied by an equal amount constantly lifted up by the sun"--and so on and so on.

And yet, "still there is more" to Niagara, much more to this wonder of the world--something inexhaustible, he writes, some immensity that human reason can't explain or quantify or otherwise bottle up and before which men are powerless. What appears as "no mystery" to the literal-minded man, to the skeptic, is mysterious indeed. Lincoln, even in speaking to himself, is mute as to what that mystery might be. The fragment is the work of a man suffused with awe, awakening to a slightly uncomfortable appreciation for the limits of human understanding. It is a religious rumination, and, as far as we can trace it, the feeling it expresses would only grow as Lincoln himself grew older.

From fifteen years later, we have another, much better known fragment. Like the Niagara note, Lincoln wrote this to himself and stashed it away. It too reveals Lincoln's religious sense but in a different, more profound phase. From an awed appreciation of the physical world, it had deepened into a much darker apprehension of a Providence that haunts human affairs. The catalyst for this change, of course, was the Civil War--the torrent of suffering and blood that threatened to destroy the country and that Lincoln himself had played a part in unleashing. His secretaries, who found the scrap among his private papers, dated it September 1862, though it could have been written later. They called it "Meditation on the Divine Will."

It is written with a logician's care, in the categories of a lawyer. "The will of God prevails," it begins. "In great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, and one must be wrong. God can not be for and against the same thing at the same time."

Yet the bloody back-and-forth of the war gives no hint as to which of the two parties God has chosen to side with. That very inconclusiveness raises the terrible possibility that God is on neither side--or, rather, that God is simply in favor of the war itself for reasons unknowable. "I am almost ready to say this is probably true--that God wills this contest, and wills that it shall not end yet." The will of God, after all, prevails; his sovereignty, Lincoln has come to believe, is the necessary condition of human affairs. "He could give the final victory to either side any day. Yet the contest ­proceeds."

Note the bloodless phrasing: "I am almost ready to say this is probably true." Almost . . . probably. It is the expression of a cautious, legalistic mind being shaken up--confronting something too large to fit the intellectual compartments he has used to understand experience. But he is also being led, or leading himself, to a definite conclusion: This is no ordinary war, because this is no ordinary country.

The question of why Providence should have willed such a calamity is foreshadowed in one final fragment to consider, written (most likely) in the early days of the war. In it Lincoln plays with the figure from Proverbs 25:11: "A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver."

To Lincoln, the image illuminates the distinction between the picture and the frame, between a thing contained and that which contains it. In his reading, the Union is the frame that contains the golden principle: the proposition of liberty and equality--that all men are created equal--advanced by the Declaration of Independence. "The assertion of that principle, at that time [of the Revolution], was the word, ' fitly spoken' which has proved an 'apple of gold' to us. The Union, and the Constitution, are the picture of silver, subsequently framed around it. The picture was made, not to conceal, or destroy the apple; but to adorn, and preserve it. The picture was made for the apple-- not the apple for the picture."

Read together, the fragments show Lincoln's mind as it matures toward his two greatest utterances, the fullest expressions of his most fundamental ideas. These are, of course, the Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural. They are not merely works of statecraft but homilies in a civil religion of his own devising, steeped in the cadences and rhetoric of the King James Bible. They were the consequence of Lincoln's deepest contemplation and belief, arrived at with some care and (we may suppose) discomfort. At Gettysburg, Lincoln explained why the country--the Union--was worth preserving. It was not any Union that was being ­preserved, it was a particular kind of Union: a Union dedicated to a timeless proposition that existed before the Union was even conceived.

The war would determine whether such a proposition could be safely entrusted to human institutions. By the time of his Second Inaugural, with the end of the war in sight and the preservation of the Union a near certainty, he could say with confidence that the proposition had survived. And this "fundamental and astounding" conclusion had come about under the watchful and unfathomable eye of a Providence whose ways are ultimately beyond explanation but "whose judgments are true and righteous altogether."

This is what we know for certain of Lincoln's religion.

[originally posted: 7/05/08]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:19 AM


[originally posted: 7/04/09]

Posted by orrinj at 4:08 AM


Happy Independence Day! (Peter Lawler, July 4, 2012, Big Think)

Even or especially the Darwinians say that we find our purpose and significance as parts of groups or tribes or wholes greater than ourselves.  We become too personally obsessive to ever be happy if we don't believe that there are people and personal causes worth dying for. We can't live well with the homelessness we can't help but experience as self-conscious persons if we don't experience ourselves as in many senses at home.  Today, we should thank God as Americans that we're not stuck with only being displaced persons. 

We Americans, of course, know that we're not merely or even most deep down citizens.  We're free from political domination, as Madison, for one, wrote, to discover our conscientious duties to our Creator--who's the God of all and so not the God of America in particular.  We also know, of course, that our personal identities includes an awareness our irreducible individuality.  We're not Spartans, thank God.

As social or relational beings, our religious and familial attachments are more personal and so inevitably trump our political attachments.  Even that doesn't mean that America doesn't require and deserve our personal attention and cultivation.

We're also not Marxists or hyper-libertarians hoping and working for "the withering away of the state."  We're not "statists" because we don't understand our country as an alien and oppressive state.

[originally posted: 7/04/12]
Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:31 AM


The Banner That Binds Us (JAY AKASIE, July 3, 2007, NY Sun)

[A]s we approach Independence Day, it's time to practice some basic flag etiquette. It's all spelled out in the United States Code, the permanent laws of the land. Title 4 of the Code, Chapter 1, outlines the federal rules and regulations governing the display and treatment of our flag. [...]

The final section of Title 4 captures the essence of why the American flag is so important -- and so different -- from any other flag: "The flag represents a living country and is itself considered a living thing."

The exceptional nature of our country and its flag wasn't lost on the founding fathers. Consider what Benjamin Franklin wrote in his post-war pamphlet, Information to Those Who Would Remove to America, an effort to advertise the wide-open American nation to the best that Europe had to offer.

Franklin wrote that in America "people do not enquire, concerning a stranger, What is he? but What can he do? If he has any useful art, he is welcome; and if he exercises it and behaves well, he will be respected by all that know him; but a mere man of quality, who on that account wants to live upon the public by some office or salary, will be despised and disregarded."

Franklin was attempting to explain to a muddled mass of European peasants and nobility alike that hard work, intelligence, and character are what matter in America.

Unless he looks German....

[originally posted: 7/04/07]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:11 AM


Gentlemen Revolutionaries: a review of
Revolutionary Characters: What Made The Founders Different by Gordon Wood ( Peter Berkowitz, Policy Review)

In the introduction to his new book, a collection of previously published and newly revised essays, Wood observes that our "special need for these authentic historical figures" does not have its source in our concern with "constitutional jurisprudence and original intent," or even in the determination to "recover what was wise and valuable in America's past." The true source, he says, is the peculiar manner in which the nation was constituted:

The United States was founded on a set of beliefs and not, as were other nations, on a common ethnicity, language, or religion. Since we are not a nation in any traditional sense of the term, in order to establish our nationhood, we have to reaffirm and reinforce periodically the values of the men who declared independence from Great Britain and framed the Constitution. As long as the Republic endures, in other words, Americans are destined to look back to its founding.

But the spirit in which we explore our inheritance is a matter not of destiny but of choice, and a more learned or lucid guide to the founding than Gordon Wood would not be easy to find.

Contrary to the dominant tendencies of his profession, Wood is a historian who, without scanting the impact of larger social forces, respects ideas and the actions of outstanding historical figures -- not least, in the case of America's founders, the actions they undertook to implement their ideas about constitutional government. He has sympathy for the common opinion among nineteenth-century Americans, still shared by many Americans today, that the founders were great men, larger-than-life figures, brilliant thinkers and bold politicians who brought forth a new kind of nation dedicated to principles of universal appeal and application. He rejects for good and sufficient reason the effort to reduce the founders to place-holders for somebody else's favorite -- or despised -- ideology and the attempt to reduce the founders to instruments of their time and circumstances. Wood is acutely aware that the founders' Constitution involved a compromise with evil, but he inclines to Lincoln's position that the ideas about freedom and equality on which it was based and the political institutions it established set the country on the path to slavery's eventual extinction. In the process of examining the founders' characters and principles, and the distinctive importance they attached to both, Wood restores the founders' complexity and humanity while making their achievements all the more vivid and worthy of study. [...]

John Adams was a cantankerous character whose political principles put him at odds not only with Hamilton and the team of Jefferson and Madison, but also, and perhaps even more, with the theory of government on which the Constitution was based. The first vice president and second president of the United States, Adams is slighted in historical memory, and he felt acutely during his lifetime that his achievements were slighted by his contemporaries. As Wood suggests, this neglect is related to his 1776 pamphlet Thoughts on Government and his A Defense of the Constitution of Government of the United States of America, published in 1787 and 1788, the very writings that established Adams as eighteenth-century America's foremost student of constitutional government. His emphasis in these documents -- and in outspoken public and private remarks -- on the necessary limits on egalitarian politics, even in a country based on liberty and equality, was hardly novel. Other founders agreed that although America was a land blissfully free of distinctions based on rank, it could not eliminate ambition or the desire for distinction, which fed competition, vanity, the love of luxury, and corruption. But Adams harped on the theme.

The genius of the Republic is that it assumes men equal at birth but rejects egalitarianism of results during their lives.

[originally posted: 7/04/06

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:00 AM


The Boy and some friends are practicing the Gettysburg Address today, so they can deliver it at a Muster Day assembly (Memorial Day for you in the subsequent states). Found these MP3s of Johnny Cash, Sam Waterston, and Jeff Daniels doing it at the great American Rhetoric site.

[Originally posted: 5/06/06]

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Posted by orrinj at 1:59 AM


[originally posted : 7/12/13]
Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:15 AM


The American Crisis (Thomas Paine, 1776)

THESE are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated. Britain, with an army to enforce her tyranny, has declared that she has a right (not only to TAX) but "to BIND us in ALL CASES WHATSOEVER," and if being bound in that manner, is not slavery, then is there not such a thing as slavery upon earth. Even the expression is impious; for so unlimited a power can belong only to God.

Iraq's Fourth of July: Democracy won't come easy--but then, it never has anywhere else. (DANIEL HENNINGER, July 2, 2004, Wall Street Journal)
Most of those stating their doubts in public about democracy in Mesopotamia are conservatives who supported the war itself but have come to believe that Middle Eastern history, culture, religion and an unseemly fascination with explosives and blood feuds makes self-government unlikely. Most liberals, meanwhile, concluded before the war that Iraqi democracy was a neoconservative plot and so are pretty much sitting out this turn in history. In his realpolitik phase a while back, John Kerry announced that notions like democracy and even human rights (a crown jewel of the modern Democratic Party) should be back-burnered.

Iraq: The Visionaries (Charles Rousseaux Published 07/02/2004, Tech Central Station)
[P]resident Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair have been castigated for the casualties that have come for their dream of a democratic Iraq. Many more may die, despite the recent transfer of sovereignty. Their critics will continue to insist that a watchful status quo would have been far preferable to the troublesome, toilsome bloody road Messers Bush and Blair took. [...]

Messers Bush and Blair have delightful dreams of the good that democracy might do in the entire region. The liberated citizens of Iraq and Afghanistan could serve as shining examples to their neighbors and become a bulwark against terror. Free states established in the heart of the region could slash at terrorists' bases of support and show potential recruits that ballots are better (or at least healthier) than bullets and suicide bombers.

The disease of democracy could be catching (heaven help the country that gets Florida-itis). In June, Jordan's King Abudullah said that although Mr. Bush's push towards freedom in the Middle East, "frightened people" it also changed the debate in a fundamental way, and "started a process you can't turn back." As The Washington Post's Jackson Diehl noted, King Abdullah is quietly making many reforms in his own country. According to Mr. Diehl, even Europeans and Democrats (can anyone tell the difference? Bueller? Bueller? Anyone?) support Mr. Bush's democratic ends even if they deplore his direct means.

It's quite fitting, actually, that the only ones left believing that the Iraqi experiment in liberty will work are the Iraqis themselves and American theocons, the last tenders of the flame of the Founders.

So we have the rather unedifying spectacle of neocons bailing out on their own core beliefs, just because the transition hasn't happened overnight, as in the following:Shattered illusions (Francis Fukuyama, 29jun04, The Australian)

OF all of the different views that have now come to be associated with neo-conservatives, the strangest one to me was the confidence that the US could transform Iraq into a Western-style democracy and go on from there to democratise the broader Middle East.

It struck me as strange precisely because these same neo-conservatives had spent much of the past generation warning about the dangers of ambitious social engineering and how social planners could never control behaviour or deal with unanticipated consequences.

If the US cannot eliminate poverty or raise test scores in Washington, DC, how in the world does it expect to bring democracy to a part of the world that has stubbornly resisted it and is virulently anti-American to boot?

Several neo-conservatives, such as Pulitzer prize-winning columnist Charles Krauthammer, have noted how wrong people were after World War II in asserting that Japan could not democratise. Krauthammer asks: "Where
is it written that Arabs are incapable of democracy?" He is echoing an argument made most forthrightly by the eminent Middle East scholar Bernard Lewis, who has at several junctures suggested that pessimism about the prospects for a democratic Iraq betrays lack of respect for Arabs.

It is, of course, nowhere written that Arabs are incapable of democracy,
and it is certainly foolish for cynical Europeans to assert with great confidence that democracy is impossible in the Middle East. We have, indeed, been fooled before, not just in Japan but in Eastern Europe after the collapse of communism.

But possibility is not probability, and good policy is not made by staking everything on a throw of the dice. Culture is not destiny, but culture plays an important role in making possible certain kinds of institutions - something that is usually taken to be a conservative insight.

Though I, more than most people, am associated with the idea that history's arrow points to democracy, I have never believed that democracies can be created anywhere and everywhere through simple political will.

Here is what Mr. Fukuyama wrote in The End of History:
What we are witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or a passing of a particular period of postwar history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.

Apparently "universal" doesn't mean the same thing to everyone.

But it is, of course, not Mr. Fukuyama who is most closely associated with the truth that time's arrow points towards democracy, but the Founders and, in the modern world, George W. Bush. So, where Thomas Jefferson wrote: "The God Who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time." Mr. Bush has said:

Americans are a free people, who know that freedom is the right of every person and the future of every nation. The liberty we prize is not America's gift to the world, it is God's gift to humanity.

We Americans have faith in ourselves, but not in ourselves alone. We do not know -- we do not claim to know all the ways of Providence, yet we can trust in them, placing our confidence in the loving God behind all of life, and all of history.

The difference here--the reason that Mr. Fukuyama has waffled, while Mr. Bush has kept the faith--is that for the Founders and for the religious today the eventual triumph of liberty is not merely an intellectual conjecture but a fulfillment of God's Creation. The denial of human freedom, no matter how persistent or seemingly intractable, can never be more than temporary, because freedom is God's gift to Man.

It's all well and good to be dubious about Iraq's immediate prospects, but to question its long term prospects, or those of the rest of the Islamic world for that matter, is in the precise sense unAmerican. It requires the disavowal of our Foundational premises:

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. --That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

The problem is that those on the far Right don't believe all men to be equal--especially not the brown ones--while the Left and the secular Right (most Libertarians, neocons, etc.) don't believe man was Created. We're left then with a situation where it's pretty much only conservative Jews and Christians who still believe in the truths that America represents.

Fortunately, at the present time, their number happens to include the President.

[originally posted: 2004-07-04]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:59 AM


This Fourth of July, why I love America, like most Muslim Americans: Americans may not be able to name all the articles of the Constitution, but they've been taught its ethic for most of their lives. Equality and tolerance are instilled in them. After religious persecution drove me from my native Pakistan, that is why I gratefully call America "home." (Faheem Younus / July 1, 2011 , CS Monitor)

Talk to Muslim Americans and you will hear just how valued, how precious, this tolerance is to them. Some would strongly disagree with the American foreign policy, and some would lament about a personal experience of discrimination. But in my experience, all would agree on one thing: that the United States provides them with more freedom, more security, more opportunity, and more peace than the country from which they emigrated.

Since that day on the Jersey shore, I have made it a habit to make room for my fellow citizens wherever I can. It's only my way to reciprocate to you, America, for you have made room for millions of immigrants like me and provided us the opportunity to live with equality, justice, and freedom.

[originally posted: 7/02/11]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:54 AM


Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness: How did these words become the most important in the Declaration of Independence? The answer starts with a small band of motivated Americans. (Eric Slauter,
July 3, 2011, Boston Globe)

To members of the small antislavery movement of the time, the language of the Declaration must have arrived as a blessing - a national document, signed by some of America's leading citizens, that included a claim that "all Men are created equal." Almost immediately, it seems, antislavery activists such as Lemuel Haynes of Massachusetts incorporated those words into their arguments against slavery. Haynes had a black father and a white mother and called himself a "Mollato." He had experienced life as an indentured servant and as a soldier, but never as a slave, and he embraced the key sentence as an epigraph for a manuscript he had been working on with the characteristically lengthy (and loosely spelled) 18th-century title of "Liberty Further Extended; or Free thoughts on the illegality of Slave-keeping; Wherein those arguments that Are useed in its vindication Are plainly Confuted. Together with an humble Address to such as are Concearned in the practise."

There, in unedited prose on the title page, he cited the words of Congress: "We hold these truths to Be self-Evident, that all men are created Equal, that they are Endowed By their Creator with Ceartain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happyness."

Haynes's essay was not published in his lifetime, but he was part of a bigger social and political movement, and other similar uses of the phrase did see print. In a sermon given in 1778, a white antislavery minister from Hanover, N.J., asked his listeners and later his readers "if 'tis self-evident, i.e. so clear that it needs not proof, how unjust, how inhuman, for Britons, or Americans, not only to attempt, but actually to violate this right?" That same year, a Quaker from Pennsylvania named Anthony Benezet suggested that a nation that made the public declarations of equality and rights present in the Declaration while simultaneously supporting slavery risked divine punishment during wartime. In 1783, David Cooper of New Jersey published an address directed to "the Rulers of America" in the Continental Congress on the inconsistency of slavery in a land of liberty, using the second paragraph of the Declaration to hold them to account. Could Congress, he asked, have truly meant only "the rights of whitemen" and not of "all men"?

Invoking the language of the Declaration became a powerful part of abolitionist rhetoric. Indeed, a search for the phrase "all Men are created equal" in digitized newspapers and nonperiodical publications reveals that a majority of the citations in the 15 years after 1776 were by opponents of the slave trade. Formal abolitionist societies in Pennsylvania in 1788, in Maryland in 1791, and New Jersey in 1793 all worked the sentence into the constitutions of their organizations. Abolitionist sympathizers in Congress invoked the sentence on the floor of the new House of Representatives in 1790, even though the Constitution itself denied Congress the power to prohibit the migration and importation of slaves before 1808.

And long before abolitionism became a potent political force in America, the Declaration's language of rights became a linchpin of the move away from slavery. In writing it, Jefferson and Congress built on intellectual foundations from John Locke and other and had followed the sweeping language of Virginia's Declaration of Rights, a draft of which circulated in June of 1776 and enumerated the natural rights of life and liberty as well as the right to pursue happiness. Vermont's Declaration of Rights of 1777 opened with similar language, but followed these abstractions with a specific prohibition on slavery. In Massachusetts, the constitution adopted in 1780 began with a Declaration of Rights, which held that "All men are born free and equal and have certain natural, essential, and unalienable rights," including life, liberty, "safety and happiness." In 1783, citing that article, the Massachusetts Supreme Court declared slavery unconstitutional, forestalling the necessarily difficult political wrangling and costs that might have ensued with a direct legislative solution for emancipation. As the Revolutionary War ended in 1783, legislators in Rhode Island prefaced an Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery with a direct citation of the claims of rights and equality from the Declaration's second paragraph.

By 1792, when almanac maker Benjamin Banneker, an African-American, quoted the "true and invaluable doctrine . . . 'that all men are created equal' " back to Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson in an exchange of letters reprinted in papers across the new nation, abolitionists had been working for a decade and a half to make Americans identify the Declaration of Independence with the cause of enslaved peoples.

The Declaration itself began to take on its iconic status in the early 19th century, as the nation emerged from a second war with Britain and as revolutions in Latin America led to the creation of new declarations of independence. Early in the 1820s, Congress authorized the production of a facsimile of the engrossed parchment copy, and by the time of the Declaration's jubilee in 1826 it was not just abolitionists who were invoking the self-evident truths of the second paragraph as a founding creed of the nation.

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[originally posted: 7/03/11]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:49 AM


Inventing the Gettsyburg Address (Garry Wills) (Harry V. Jaffa, Fall 1992, First Principles)

Let us consider further how the relation­ship of independence and union was looked back upon in the after-light of the Found­ing. In 1825, Jefferson asked Madison for his recommendation of books or documents that ought to be made authoritative--norma docendi--for instruction by the law faculty of the new University of Virginia. In re­sponse, Madison did recommend--and Jef­ferson incorporated his recommendation into a resolution adopted by the Board of Visitors of the University--some of the "best guides" to "the distinctive principles of the government of our own State, and of that of the United States." The first was the "Decla­ration of Independence, as the fundamental act of Union of these States."

In his earlier book, Wills refers to the Declaration and the Gettysburg Address together as "war propaganda with no legal force" ( 362). But this is to ignore the testimony of Madison and Jefferson, that the Declaration was "the fundamental act of Union.""Act" here means "law." Article VI of the Constitution declares that:

All debts contracted and engagements en­tered into before the adoption of this Consti­tution shall be as valid against the United States under this Constitution as under the Confederation.

Article XII of the Articles of Confederation declares, in like manner, that all debts contracted under the authority of Congress before the Articles went into effect shall be considered charges against the United States, and honored as such. This more than con­firms Lincoln's contention that the legal and moral personality of the United States, as a Union, extends continuously not only to the Declaration of Independence, but before that to the Congress of the Union that declared independence, and which had incurred debts from the beginning of the war in 1775. The Declaration of Indepen­dence is today the first of the four organic laws of the United States, according to the United States Code, as adopted by the United States Congress.3 Article VII of the Consti­tution, as signed by George Washington, and submitted to the states for ratification declares that it was "done in Convention in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty-seven and of the inde­pendence of the United States of America the twelfth." All acts and deeds of the United States are by the Constitution itself dated from the Declaration of Independence. How anyone could write two books on this topic, as Garry Wills has done, and remain igno­rant of these most elementary historical and legal facts, is difficult to understand.

The enduring significance of the Decla­ration of Independence--embodied in the Gettysburg Address--is accordingly less in marking the separation of the colonies from Great Britain, than of marking the union of the states with each other. This enduring significance, however, is constituted less by the legal fact of union, than by the moral fact that--according to Madison and Jeffer­son--the Declaration embodies the prin­ciples of government of the States severally, and of the United States corporately. More­over, the Constitution of 1787 guarantees "to every state of this union a republican form of government," without ever defining that form. Can there be any doubt that, as indicated by the testimony of the aforesaid witnesses, such form is best defined in the Declaration of Independence?


What made the Declaration of Indepen­dence the best of all guides to educating the guardians of republican freedom? In 1978, as we have seen, Wills, following Kendall, thought that the equality mentioned in the Declaration referred to the collective legal equality of the States with each other, not to the moral equality of the human persons who were their "inhabitants." We have seen Wills quote with full approval--in opposi­tion to Lincoln--the assertion that:

. . . the statesmen who founded the govern­ment . . . were men possessing too much self-respect to declare that Negroes were their equals. . . .

That the Declaration of Independence in­cluded Negroes in the proposition of hu­man equality is the heart of hearts of Lin­coln's alleged "new past." Wills also inher­ited this thesis from Kendall, who had charged Lincoln with "a startling new interpretation of . . . 'all men are created equal'" ( 39). The denial that Negroes had been included in the humanity of the Dec­laration had also been the contention of Chief Justice Taney in his opinion for the Court in Dred Scott. By a strange twist of fate, what was an article of faith for the old defenders of slavery has become unques­tionable orthodoxy among "black power" historians and their allies of the radical Left, who take it as proof of the racism of the American Founding.

Where does the truth lie? Are individuals equal, or are only "peoples" collectively equal? Consider the Massachusetts Bill of Rights of 1780--whose author was John Adams, a member of the committee charged by the Congress in 1776 to draft the Declaration:

The body politic is formed by a voluntary association of individuals; it is a social compact by which the whole people covenants with each citizen and each citizen with the whole people, that all shall be governed by certain laws for the common good . . .

And the premise upon which this voluntary association is formed is that:

All men are born free and equal, and have certain natural, essential, and unalienable rights; among which may be reckoned the right of enjoying and defending their lives and liberties; that of acquiring, possessing, and protecting property; in fine, that of seek­ing and obtaining their safety and happiness.

Here is an authoritative gloss upon the doc­trine of the Declaration, prefaced to a Revo­lutionary state constitution.

In 1835, after being engaged in mortal combat against the doctrine of state rights enunciated by Calhoun during the nullifi­cation crisis (1828-33), James Madison drafted an essay on the meaning of sover­eignty in constitutional jurisprudence. He wrote:

To go to the bottom of the subject let us consult the theory which contemplates a cer­tain number of individuals as meeting and agreeing to form one political society, in or­der that the rights, the safety, and the interest of each may be under the safeguard of the whole.
The first supposition is, that each individ­ual being previously independent of the oth­ers, the compact which is to make them one society must result from the free consent of every individual.

Therefore, there can be no doubt that the consent that brings the body politic into existence, the consent upon which majority rule and the "just powers of government" depend, is "the free consent of every indi­vidual." It is true that communities of men founded in this way are themselves equal to other independent communities. But this collective equality is a by-product of the equality that individuals enjoyed, as con­tracting parties, prior to forming them­selves into a people. The equality enjoyed by citizens and persons under the constitu­tional law of a free society is a consequence of the antecedent equality belonging to them under the laws of nature and of nature's God. It is this natural equality that defines the ends, and limits the powers, of all legiti­mate governments. This is the philosoph­ical core of the idea of limited government.

[originally posted: 7/04/08]

Posted by orrinj at 12:45 AM


Was the American Revolution a Just War? (Eric Patterson, July 4, 2013, Washington Post)

One way to get at this is to consider the experience arguments of colonists at the time.  On July 6, 1775 - a year before the Declaration of Independence - the Second Continental Congress issued what has become known as the Declaration on the Causes and Necessities of Taking Up Arms ("the Declaration").  Penned primarily by Pennsylvania's John Dickinson with assistance from Thomas Jefferson, the Declaration was written just weeks after the British attacks at Lexington and Concord.  It lays out a rationale for self-defense that is completely aligned with just war thinking.  Indeed, the colonists beseech London to not provoke "the calamities civil war;" there is no talk of independence.

The Declaration chronicles the context: by 1775 the colonists had seen a steady erosion of their liberties, to the point that a citizen might have British troops (or mercenaries) quartered in his home against his will; he might be shipped off to England or Canada for an alleged crime without facing a trial by jury of his peers; and his business was slowly strangled by nearly a decade's worth of spiraling taxes ("acts").  The colonies were under naval blockade and Boston was effectively under martial law; both Massachusetts and Virginia had seen skirmishes and the British seemed to be stoking barbaric Indian raids on the frontier.

The Declaration begins with a question about legitimate authority: does God grant to government "unbounded authority...never rightfully resistible, however severe and oppressive" or is it "instituted to promote the welfare of mankind"?  This really is the critical question, because it underscores the Christian worldview of most colonists: justice is a cardinal virtue within a divinely-ordained moral order of right and wrong.

The Declaration goes on to argue for a just cause ("in defence of the freedom that is our birthright....for the protection of our property...against violence actually offered, we have taken up arms") and for the colonists' right intent ("We have not raised armies with ambitious designs of separating from Great Britain and establishing independent states.  We fight not for glory or for conquest").

Seizure of property, martial law, a blockade, and now bloodshed: the colonists were convinced that self-defense was a proportionate, last resort alternative to "submission to tyranny" and "voluntary slavery."  They also warned, "Our internal resources are great, and, if necessary, foreign assistance is undoubtedly attainable" (likelihood of success).

In short, this Declaration--written primarily by Quaker-inspired John Dickinson--clearly accords with the Christian just war tradition. 

[originally posted: 7/06/2013]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:44 AM


How the Complete Meaning of July Fourth Is Slipping Away (Gordon S. Wood, July 4, 2011, New Republic)

[F]or Americans the Declaration has a special significance. It infused into our culture most of what we have come to believe and value. Our noblest ideals and highest aspirations--our beliefs in liberty, equality, and individual rights, including the right of every person to pursue happiness--came out of the Declaration of Independence. Consequently, it is not surprising that every reform movement in American history--from the abolitionists of the 1830s, to the feminists at Seneca Falls in 1848, to the civil rights advocates of the 1960s--invoked the words and ideals of the Declaration. It was Abraham Lincoln who made the most of the Declaration, particularly its assertions of human equality and inalienable rights. Thomas Jefferson, the principal drafter of the Declaration, said Lincoln, "had the coolness, forecast, and capacity to introduce into a merely revolutionary document, an abstract truth, applicable to all men and all times, and so to embalm it there, that today, and in all coming days, it shall be a rebuke and stumbling block to the very harbingers of re-appearing tyranny and oppression." A century later, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Martin Luther King, Jr. took inspiration from this abstract truth embodied in the Declaration.

For us Americans, the words of the Declaration have become central to our sense of nationhood. Because the United States is composed of so many immigrants and so many different races and ethnicities, we can never assume our identity as a matter of course. The nation has had to be invented. At the end of the Declaration, the members of the Continental Congress could only "mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor." There was nothing else but themselves that they could dedicate themselves to--no patria, no fatherland, no nation as yet. In comparison with the 235 year-old United States, many states in the world today are new, some of them created within fairly recent past. Yet many of these states, new as they may be, are under-girded by peoples who had a pre-existing sense of their ethnicity, their nationality. In the case of the United States, the process was reversed: We Americans were a state before we were a nation, and much of our history has been an effort to define that nationality.

In fact, even today America is not a nation in any traditional meaning of the term. We Americans have had to rely on ideas and ideals in order to hold ourselves together and think of ourselves as a single people. And more than any other single document in American history, the Declaration has embodied these ideas and ideals. Since it is our most sacred text, the day, July 4, 1776, that gave birth to it ought to be understood with all the significance and solemnity that John Adams gave to it.

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[originally posted: 7/05/11]

Posted by orrinj at 12:44 AM


The American Revolution was a flop (Paul Pirie, July 3, 2013, Washington Post)

The easiest way of assessing whether the United States would have been better off without its revolution is to look at those English-speaking countries that rejected the American Revolution and retained the monarchy, particularly Canada, which experienced an influx of American refugees after the British defeat.  [...]

The new republic started advancing life and liberty by keeping a substantial part of its population enslaved. (This, at least, proves the frequent British put-down that Americans don't have a sense of irony.) By contrast, in British-controlled Canada, the abolition of slavery began almost 20 years before the War of 1812, sometimes called America's "Second Revolution." A good number of free blacks fought with the British against the United States in that conflict, even participating in the burning of Washington. And if, as some scholars argue, the Civil War was the unfinished business of the American Revolution, then Americans -- like the Russians -- paid a very high human cost for their revolutions.

Had we stayed under King George, slavery would have been abolished in 1833.

[originally posted : 7/04/13]
Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:44 AM


Philosophy, faith and the Fourth of July (Jeff Jacoby, July 3, 2011, Boston Globe)

Not only are all persons endowed by nature with the unalienable rights of equality and freedom, it avowed, but "to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.''

No lawful government without consent and self-rule: It was an extraordinary doctrine for its time. It had never been the springboard from which a new nation was launched. Yet to pursue this "theory of democracy,'' as Coolidge called it, "whole congregations with their pastors'' had pulled up stakes in Europe and migrated to America.

Steeped in the imagery of the Hebrew Bible, the colonists believed that God had led them, as he had led ancient Israel, from a land of bondage to a blessed Promised Land. Thomas Jefferson suggested in 1776 that the seal of the United States should depict the "Children of Israel in the Wilderness, led by a Cloud by Day, and a Pillar of Fire by night.'' In that wilderness, Americans knew, God did not simply impose his rule on Israel. First the Hebrews had to give their consent: "And all the people answered together, and said, All that the Lord has spoken we will do.'' Only then was there the revelation at Sinai, the Ten Commandments, and the Law. If God himself would not govern without the consent of the governed, surely King George had no right to do so!

[originally posted: 7/03/12]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:38 AM


Who Are Americans?: What Christians contribute to the search for a national identity. (Chuck Colson with Catherine Larson, 6/21/2010, Christianity Today)

Can a Christian worldview inform us as we wrestle with our national identity?

Any kind of racially or ethnically intolerant society would be incompatible with Christian principles.

Further, we know that the core values of our creeds, which in particular promote the dignity of all people, resonate with Scripture and are worth preserving. American patriotism does not rest on jingoistic nationalism but on a universal creed that says, "All men are ... endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights."

Liberty is one of those unalienable rights. And this core value, also emphasized in Scripture, teaches us that we cannot force beliefs on others. Our founders understood, however, that freedom of religion is not synonymous with expunging religion from public life, a problem that I and others addressed last fall in the Manhattan Declaration. So if Huntington is in fact right that the U.S. needs a reinvigorated religious commitment, it won't come from a nation-mandated religion but rather from a reinvigorated populace.

I believe, then, that for national identity to be salient in the midst of our changing society, we need to promote a recommitment to our creeds, a respect for American history, and a proper role of patriotism, rooted in love of neighbor. Our founders' Judeo-Christian heritage helped produce a culture in which moral responsibility, transcendent ethical principles, and the dignity of all people could flourish--a culture in which our creedal values made sense. This is why our role as leaven within society is so important, and why we must continue to bring a biblical influence to the public square, reinvigorating society.

As we do so, we must guard against the easy tendency to embrace xenophobic notions or fall into the equally perilous trap of promoting subcultural identities over national identity. People will not live with, let alone die for, a nation that has abandoned its religious moorings and adopted a creed that suggests we simply live together in cosmopolitan bliss. Millions of us, however, have been willing to live and die for beliefs rooted in our deepest convictions about God and man--convictions that were expressed so well in the stirring words of our national creed, the Declaration of Independence.

An immigrant's trip to Arizona: The columnist's mother finds much to like -- and much to be concerned about -- on a visit to California's neighbor. (Hector Tobar, July 10, 2010, LA Times)

In Sedona, she was reminded of the growing tension between the two worlds she has lived in since she was 20 -- one English-speaking, the other mostly Spanish-speaking, both filled with people she respects.

She found some English-speaking friends a little glib in their dismissal of people's fears.

"Mercedes, how could you be concerned about the new law?" one asked her. "There's no profiling. You're only going to be stopped if you're breaking the law!"

This same longtime friend, who before had seemed apolitical, was upset at the immigrants rights groups calling for a boycott of the state.

My mother was surprised by the sudden anger.

Being in Arizona made her reflect on her own immigrant experience. She thought about the people who've arrived in the U.S. after she did and was inspired to write down a list of principles all current and future immigrants should follow.

"1. Learn the language. 2. Obey and respect the law. 3. Be careful of the image you project -- without losing your identity. 4. Imitate the good things -- but don't get caught up in [the Americans'] bad habits. 5. Never be embarrassed to say where you are from. 6. Be grateful for the opportunities you are given. 7. And give something back that will enrich your adopted country."

Words of wisdom, of course.

But she kept feeling rankled, despite all her perspective.

"Our governor is only trying to protect our borders because we don't have any federal help," another of her Anglo friends told her.

"Somehow, the word 'protect' bothered me," my mother wrote, because it was said with a "tone of discrimination."

The new Arizona law is meant to "protect" Americans from danger -- and it bothers my mother that so many Americans think of their Latin American neighbors as a source of danger.

Her Mexican-born friends spoke of strange encounters with local police. Some involved traffic stops made with what seemed like the flimsiest of excuses. A son-in-law of a friend, she was told, was pulled over for "leaving a dog on the street corner" -- even though he's never owned a dog.

"All I know is that before I felt free to go anywhere," said Antonia Rodriguez, a native of Agua Prieta, Mexico, and a naturalized U.S. citizen. "And now if I don't have my passport with me, I feel scared."

Those who aren't citizens, her Mexican-born friends told her, fear being deported and separated from their U.S.-born children.

After listening to all these stories, and seeing the fear in her friends' eyes, my mother wrote: "Just the idea of seeing a police car behind you, and knowing they can stop you and ask you for your papers does something to your dignity."

"I've never been a person with a complex," my mother wrote, by which she meant she's never been hung up on the idea that she was the victim of discrimination. "But this new law makes me feel sad."

[originally posted: 7/11/10]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:38 AM


Aaron Copland's American Vision (NPR.org, July 1, 2009)

Occasionally, Aaron Copland's music is criticized for its simplicity. But when it comes his classic ballet score Appalachian Spring, composer and pianist Rob Kapilow says that so-called simplicity happens to hold the key to Copland's American sound.

"Copland's Appalachian Spring has a million things in it," Kapilow says, "but at its heart is one chord, which is not only the essence of Appalachian Spring but in my mind Copland's entire vision of America."

It's the simple chord from the very beginning of the piece, which Kapilow says is built from two of the most common chords stacked on top of each other in just the right way.

"You have the simplest elements in tonal music, but once you put them on top of each other you make this wonderful chord which somehow sounds like all of America. It seems like the purest values, Shaker simplicity, and even though he had no idea that he was writing about Appalachia until afterwards, it seems like the essence of that world."

[originally posted: 7/05/09]

Posted by orrinj at 12:23 AM


Why Britons should celebrate the American Declaration of Independence (Daniel Hannan, July 4th, 2013, The Telegraph)

The men who raised that standard believed that they were fighting for their freedoms as Britons - freedoms which had been trampled by a Hanoverian king and his hirelings. When they called themselves Patriots - a word that had been common currency among Whigs on both sides of the Atlantic long before anyone dreamed of a separation - they meant that they were British patriots, cherishing the peculiar liberties that had come down to them since Magna Carta: jury trials, free contract, property rights, habeas corpus, parliamentary representation, liberty of conscience and the common law.

It was these ideals that, as I blog over at ConservativeHome, were set to paper in a small secular miracle at Philadelphia's old courthouse. As the Virginia-born Lady Astor later put it, the war was fought "by British Americans against a German King for British ideals."

Don't take her word for it: look at the primary sources. The resolutions of the Continental Congress are a protracted complaint about the violations of traditional British liberties. The same is true of the Declaration of Independence itself. As that great Anglo-American, Winston Churchill, put it:

The Declaration was in the main a restatement of the principles which had animated the Whig struggle against the later Stuarts and the English Revolution of 1688.

Indeed it was, often in the most literal way: the right of petition, the prohibition of standing armies, the protection of common law and jury trials, the right to bear arms - all were copied from England's Glorious Revolution. Some of the clauses of England's 1689 Bill of Rights were reproduced without amendment. Here, for example, is the English Bill of Rights on criminal justice:

Excessive bail ought not to be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

And here is the U.S. Constitution:

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

The American Revolution was motivated, not by a rejection but a reaffirmation - indeed, an intensification - of British national identity.

[originally posted: 7/05/13]
Posted by orrinj at 12:23 AM


A Discourse on the Love of Our Country (Richard Price, delivered on Nov. 4, 1789, at the Meeting-House in the Old Jewry, to the Society for Commemorating the Revolution in Britain)

It is very remarkable that the founder of our religion has not once mentioned this duty, or given us any recommendation of it; and this has, by unbelievers, been made an objection to Christianity. What I have said will entirely remove this objection. Certain it is, that, by inculcating on men an attachment to their country, Christianity would, at the time it was propagated, have done unspeakably more harm than good. Among the Jews, it would have been an excitement to war and insurrections; for they were then in eager expectation of becoming soon (as the favourite people of Heaven) the lords and conquerors of the earth, under the triumphant reign of the Messiah. Among the Romans, likewise, this principle had, as I have just observed, exceeded its just bounds, and rendered them enemies to the peace and happiness of mankind. By inculcating it, therefore, Christianity would have confirmed both Jews and Gentiles in one of the most pernicious faults. Our Lord and his Apostles have done better. They have recommended that universal benevolence which is an unspeakably nobler principle than any partial affections. They have laid such stress on loving all men, even our enemies, and made an ardent and extensive charity so essential a part of virtue, that the religion they have preached may, by way of distinction from all other religions, be called the Religion of Benevolence. Nothing can be more friendly to the general rights of mankind; and were it duly regarded and practised, every man would consider every other man as his brother, and all the animosity that now takes place among contending nations would be abolished. If you want any proof of this, think of our Saviour's parable of the good Samaritan. The Jews and Samaritans were two rival nations that entertained a hatred of one another the most inveterate. The design of this parable was to shew to a Jew, that even a Samaritan, and consequently all men of all nations and religions, were included in the precept, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

But I am digressing from what I had chiefly in view; which was, after noticing that love of our country which is false and spurious, to explain the nature and effects of that which is just and reasonable. With this view I must desire you to recollect that we are so constituted that our affections are more drawn to some among mankind than to others, in proportion to their degrees of nearness to us, and our power of being useful to them. It is obvious that this is a circumstance in the constitution of our natures which proves the wisdom and goodness of our Maker; for had our affections been determined alike to all our fellow-creatures, human life would have been a scene of embarrassment and distraction. Our regards, according to the order of nature, begin with ourselves; and every man is charged primarily with the care of himself. Next come our families, and benefactors, and friends; and after them our country. We can do little for the interest of mankind at large. To this interest, however, all other interests are subordinate. The noblest principle in our nature is the regard to general justice, and that good-will which embraces all the world.--I have already observed this; but it cannot be too often repeated. Though our immediate attention must be employed in promoting our own interest and that of our nearest connexions; yet we must remember, that a narrower interest ought always to give way to a more extensive interest. In pursuing particularly the interest of our country, we ought to carry our views beyond it. We should love it ardently, but not exclusively. We ought to seek its good, by all the means that our different circumstances and abilities will allow; but at the same time we ought to consider ourselves as citizens of the world, and take care to maintain a just regard to the rights of other countries.

The enquiry by what means (subject to this limitation) we may best promote the interest of our country is very important; and all that remains of this discourse shall be employed in answering it, and in exhorting you to manifest your love to your country, by the means I shall mention.

The chief blessings of human nature are the three following:--Truth--Virtue--and Liberty.--These are, therefore, the blessings in the possession of which the interest of our country lies, and to the attainment of which our love of it ought to direct our endeavours. By the diffusion of knowledge it must be distinguished from a country of Barbarians: by the practice of religious virtue, it must be distinguished from a country of gamblers, Atheists, and libertines: and by the possession of liberty, it must be distinguished from a country of slaves.--I will dwell for a few moments on each of these heads:

Our first concern, as lovers of our country, must be to enlighten it.--Why are the nations of the world so patient under despotism?--Why do they crouch to tyrants, and submit to be treated as if they were a herd of cattle? Is it not because they are kept in darkness, and want knowledge? Enlighten them and you will elevate them. Shew them they are men, and they will act like men. Give them just ideas of civil government, and let them know that it is an expedient for gaining protection against injury and defending their rights , and it will be impossible for them to submit to governments which, like most of those now in the world, are usurpations on the rights of men, and little better than contrivances for enabling the few to oppress the many. Convince them that the Deity is a righteous and benevolent as well as omnipotent being, who regards with equal eye all his creatures, and connects his favour with nothing but an honest desire to know and do his will; and that zeal for mystical doctrines which has led men to hate and harass one another will be exterminated. Set religion before them as a rational service, consisting not in any rites and ceremonies, but in worshipping God with a pure heart and practising righteousness from the fear of his displeasure and the apprehension of a future righteous judgment, and that gloomy and cruel superstition will be abolished which has hitherto gone under the name of religion, and to the support of which civil government has been perverted.--Ignorance is the parent of bigotry, intolerance, persecution and slavery. Inform and instruct mankind; and these evils will be excluded.--Happy is the person who, himself raised above vulgar errors, is conscious of having aimed at giving mankind this instruction. Happy is the Scholar or Philosopher who at the close of life can reflect that he has made this use of his learning and abilities: but happier far must he be, if at the same time he has reason to believe he has been successful, and actually contributed, by his instructions, to disseminate among his fellow-creatures just notions of themselves, of their rights, of religion, and the nature and end of civil government. Such were Milton, Locke, Sidney, Hoadly, &c. in this country; such were Montesquieu, Fenelon, Turgot, &c. in France. They sowed a seed which has since taken root, and is now growing up to a glorious harvest. To the information they conveyed by their writings we owe those revolutions in which every friend to mankind is now exulting.--What an encouragement is this to us all in our endeavours to enlighten the world? Every degree of illumination which we can communicate must do the greatest good. It helps to prepare the minds of men for the recovery of their rights, and hastens the overthrow of priestcraft and tyranny.--In short, we may, in this instance, learn our duty from the conduct of the oppressors of the world. They know that light is hostile to them, and therefore they labour to keep men in the dark. With this intention they have appointed licensers of the press; and, in Popish countries, prohibited the reading of the Bible. Remove the darkness in which they envelope the world, and their usurpations will be exposed, their power will be subverted, and the world emancipated.

The next great blessing of human nature which I have mentioned is virtue. This ought to follow knowledge, and to be directed by it. Virtue without knowledge makes enthusiasts; and knowledge without virtue makes devils; but both united elevates to the top of human dignity and perfection.--We must, therefore, if we would serve our country, make both these the objects of our zeal. We must discourage vice in all its forms; and our endeavours to enlighten must have ultimately in view a reformation of manners and virtuous practice.

I must add here, that in the practice of virtue I include the discharge of the public duties of religion. By neglecting these we may injure our country essentially. But it is melancholy to observe that it is a common neglect among us; and in a great measure owing to a cause which is not likely to be soon removed: I mean, the defects (may I not say, the absurdities?) in our established codes of faith and worship. In foreign countries, the higher ranks of men, not distinguishing between the religion they see established and the Christian religion, are generally driven to irreligion and infidelity. The like evil is produced by the like cause in this country; and if no reformation of our established formularies can be brought about, it must be expected that religion will go on to lose its credit, and that little of it will be left except among the lower orders of people, many of whom, while their superiors give up all religion, are sinking into a barbarism in religion lately revived by Methodism, and mistaking, as the world has generally done, the service acceptable to God for a system of faith souring the temper, and a service of forms supplanting morality.

I hope you will not mistake what I am now saying, or consider it as the effect of my prejudices as a Dissenter from the established church. The complaint I am making, is the complaint of many of the wisest and best men in the established church itself, who have been long urging the necessity of a revisal of its Liturgy and Articles . These were framed above two centuries ago, when Christendom was just emerging from the ignorance and barbarity of the dark ages. They remain now much the same they were then; and, therefore, cannot be properly adapted to the good sense and liberality of the present times.--This imperfection, however, in our public forms of worship, affords no excuse to any person for neglecting public worship. All communities will have some religion; and it is of infinite consequence that they should be led to that which, by enforcing the obligations of virtue and putting men upon loving instead of damning one another, is most favourable to the interest of society.

If there is a Governor of the world, who directs all events, he ought to be invoked and worshipped; and those who dislike that mode of worship which is prescribed by public authority, ought (if they can find no worship out of the church which they approve) to set up a separate worship for themselves; and by doing this, and giving an example of a rational and manly worship, men of weight, from their rank or literature, may do the greatest service to society and the world. They may bear a testimony against that application of civil power to the support of particular modes of faith, which obstructs human improvement, and perpetuates error; and they may hold out an instruction which will discountenance superstition, and at the same time recommend religion, by making it appear to be (what it certainly is when rightly understood) the strongest incentive to all that is generous and worthy, and consequently the best friend to public order and happiness.

Liberty is the next great blessing which I have mentioned as the object of patriotic zeal. It is inseparable from knowledge and virtue, and together with them completes the glory of a community. An enlightened and virtuous country must be a free country. It cannot suffer invasions of its rights, or bend to tyrants.--I need not, on this occasion, take any pains to shew you how great a blessing liberty is. The smallest attention to the history of past ages, and the present state of mankind, will make you sensible of its importance. Look round the world, and you will find almost every country, respectable or contemptible, happy or miserable, a fruitful field or a frightful waste, according as it possesses or wants this blessing. Think of Greece, formerly the seat of arts and science, and the most distinguished spot under heaven; but now, having lost liberty, a vile and wretched spot, a region of darkness, poverty, and barbarity.--Such reflexions must convince you that, if you love your country, you cannot be zealous enough in promoting the cause of liberty in it. But it will come in my way to say more to this purpose presently.

The observations I have made include our whole duty to our country; for by endeavouring to liberalize and enlighten it, to discourage vice and to promote virtue in it, and to assert and support its liberties, we shall endeavour to do all that is necessary to make it great and happy.--But it is proper that, on this occasion, I should be more explicit, and exemplify our duty to our country by observing farther, that it requires us to obey its laws, and to respect its magistrates.

Civil government (as I have before observed) is an institution of human prudence for guarding our persons, our property, and our good name, against invasion; and for securing to the members of a community that liberty to which all have an equal right, as far as they do not, by any overt act, use it to injure the liberty of others. Civil laws are regulations agreed upon by the community for gaining these ends ; and civil magistrates are officers appointed by the community for executing these laws. Obedience, therefore, to the laws and to magistrates, are necessary expressions of our regard to the community; and without this obedience the ends of government cannot be obtained, or a community avoid falling into a state of anarchy that will destroy those rights and subvert that liberty, which government is instituted to protect.

[originally posted: 07/04/13]
Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:20 AM


Speech on the Occasion of the One Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence (Calvin Coolidge, July 5, 1926, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)

We meet to celebrate the birthday of America. The coming of a new life always excites our interest. Although we know in the case of the individual that it has been an infinite repetition reaching back beyond our vision, that only makes it the more wonderful. But how our interest and wonder increase when we behold the miracle of the birth of a new nation. It is to pay our tribute of reverence and respect to those who participated in such a mighty event that we annually observe the fourth day of July. Whatever may have been the impression created by the news which went out from this city on that summer day in 1776, there can be no doubt as to the estimate which is now placed upon it. At the end of 150 years the four corners of the earth unite in coming to Philadelphia as to a holy shrine in grateful acknowledgement of a service so great, which a few inspired men here rendered to humanity, that it is still the preeminent support of free government throughout the world.

Although a century and a half measured in comparison with the length of human experience is but a short time, yet measured in the life of governments and nations it ranks as a very respectable period. Certainly enough time has elapsed to demonstrate with a great deal of thoroughness the value of our institutions and their dependability as rules for the regulation of human conduct and the advancement of civilization. They have been in existence long enough to become very well seasoned. They have met, and met successfully, the test of experience.

It is not so much then for the purpose of undertaking to proclaim new theories and principles that this annual celebration is maintained, but rather to reaffirm and reestablish those old theories and principles which time and the unerring logic of events have demonstrated to be sound. Amid all the clash of conflicting interests, amid all the welter of partisan politics, every American can turn for solace and consolation to the Declaration of independence and the Constitution of the United States with the assurance and confidence that those two great charters of freedom and justice remain firm and unshaken. Whatever perils appear, whatever dangers threaten, the Nation remains secure in the knowledge that the ultimate application of the law of the land will provide an adequate defense and protection.

It is little wonder that people at home and abroad consider Independence Hall as hallowed ground and revere the Liberty Bell as a sacred relic. That pile of bricks and mortar, that mass of metal, might appear to the uninstructed as only the outgrown meeting place and the shattered bell of a former time, useless now because of more modern conveniences, but to those who know they have become consecrated by the use which men have made of them. They have long been identified with a great cause. They are the framework of a spiritual event. The world looks upon them, because of their associations of one hundred and fifty years ago, as it looks upon the Holy Land because of what took place there nineteen hundred years ago. Through use for a righteous purpose they have become sanctified.

It is not here necessary to examine in detail the causes which led to the American Revolution. In their immediate occasion they were largely economic. The colonists objected to the navigation laws which interfered with their trade, they denied the power of Parliament to impose taxes which they were obliged to pay, and they therefore resisted the royal governors and the royal forces which were sent to secure obedience to these laws. But the conviction is inescapable that a new civilization had come, a new spirit had arisen on this side of the Atlantic more advanced and more developed in its regard for the rights of the individual than that which characterized the Old World. Life in a new and open country had aspirations which could not be realized in any subordinate position. A separate establishment was ultimately inevitable. It had been decreed by the very laws of human nature. Man everywhere has an unconquerable desire to be the master of his own destiny.

We are obliged to conclude that the Declaration of Independence represented the movement of a people. It was not, of course, a movement from the top. Revolutions do not come from that direction. It was not without the support of many of the most respectable people in the Colonies, who were entitled to all the consideration that is given to breeding, education, and possessions. It had the support of another element of great significance and importance to which I shall later refer. But the preponderance of all those who occupied a position which took on the aspect of aristocracy did not approve of the Revolution and held toward it an attitude either of neutrality or open hostility. It was in no sense a rising of the oppressed and downtrodden. It brought no scum to the surface, for the reason that colonial society had developed no scum. The great body of the people were accustomed to privations, but they were free from depravity. If they had poverty, it was not of the hopeless kind that afflicts great cities, but the inspiring kind that marks the spirit of the pioneer. The American Revolution represented the informed and mature convictions of a great mass of independent, liberty-loving, God-fearing people who knew their rights, and possessed the courage to dare to maintain them.

The Continental Congress was not only composed of great men, but it represented a great people. While its members did not fail to exercise a remarkable leadership, they were equally observant of their representative capacity. They were industrious in encouraging their constituents to instruct them to support independence. But until such instructions were given they were inclined to withhold action.

While North Carolina has the honor of first authorizing its delegates to concur with other Colonies in declaring independence, it was quickly followed by South Carolina and Georgia, which also gave general instructions broad enough to include such action. But the first instructions which unconditionally directed its delegates to declare for independence came from the great Commonwealth of Virginia. These were immediately followed by Rhode Island and Massachusetts, while the other Colonies, with the exception of New York, soon adopted a like course.

This obedience of the delegates to the wishes of their constituents, which in some cases caused them to modify their previous positions, is a matter of great significance. It reveals an orderly process of government in the first place; but more than that, it demonstrates that the Declaration of Independence was the result of the seasoned and deliberate thought of the dominant portion of the people of the Colonies. Adopted after long discussion and as the result of the duly authorized expression of the preponderance of public opinion, it did not partake of dark intrigue or hidden conspiracy. It was well advised. It had about it nothing of the lawless and disordered nature of a riotous insurrection. It was maintained on a plane which rises above the ordinary conception of rebellion. It was in no sense a radical movement but took on the dignity of a resistance to illegal usurpations. It was conservative and represented the action of the colonists to maintain their constitutional rights which from time immemorial had been guaranteed to them under the law of the land.

When we come to examine the action of the Continental Congress in adopting the Declaration of Independence in the light of what was set out in that great document and in the light of succeeding events, we can not escape the conclusion that it had a much broader and deeper significance than a mere secession of territory and the establishment of a new nation. Events of that nature have been taking place since the dawn of history. One empire after another has arisen, only to crumble away as its constituent parts separated from each other and set up independent governments of their own. Such actions long ago became commonplace. They have occurred too often to hold the attention of the world and command the admiration and reverence of humanity. There is something beyond the establishment of a new nation, great as that event would be, in the Declaration of Independence which has ever since caused it to be regarded as one of the great charters that not only was to liberate America but was everywhere to ennoble humanity.

It was not because it was proposed to establish a new nation, but because it was proposed to establish a nation on new principles, that July 4, 1776, has come to be regarded as one of the greatest days in history. Great ideas do not burst upon the world unannounced. They are reached by a gradual development over a length of time usually proportionate to their importance. This is especially true of the principles laid down in the Declaration of Independence. Three very definite propositions were set out in its preamble regarding the nature of mankind and therefore of government. These were the doctrine that all men are created equal, that they are endowed with certain inalienable rights, and that therefore the source of the just powers of government must be derived from the consent of the governed.

If no one is to be accounted as born into a superior station, if there is to be no ruling class, and if all possess rights which can neither be bartered away nor taken from them by any earthly power, it follows as a matter of course that the practical authority of the Government has to rest on the consent of the governed. While these principles were not altogether new in political action, and were very far from new in political speculation, they had never been assembled before and declared in such a combination. But remarkable as this may be, it is not the chief distinction of the Declaration of Independence. The importance of political speculation is not to be under-estimated, as I shall presently disclose. Until the idea is developed and the plan made there can be no action.

It was the fact that our Declaration of Independence containing these immortal truths was the political action of a duly authorized and constituted representative public body in its sovereign capacity, supported by the force of general opinion and by the armies of Washington already in the field, which makes it the most important civil document in the world. It was not only the principles declared, but the fact that therewith a new nation was born which was to be founded upon those principles and which from that time forth in its development has actually maintained those principles, that makes this pronouncement an incomparable event in the history of government. It was an assertion that a people had arisen determined to make every necessary sacrifice for the support of these truths and by their practical application bring the War of Independence to a successful conclusion and adopt the Constitution of the United States with all that it has meant to civilization.

The idea that the people have a right to choose their own rulers was not new in political history. It was the foundation of every popular attempt to depose an undesirable king. This right was set out with a good deal of detail by the Dutch when as early as July 26, 1581, they declared their independence of Philip of Spain. In their long struggle with the Stuarts the British people asserted the same principles, which finally culminated in the Bill of Rights deposing the last of that house and placing William and Mary on the throne. In each of these cases sovereignty through divine right was displaced by sovereignty through the consent of the people. Running through the same documents, though expressed in different terms, is the clear inference of inalienable rights. But we should search these charters in vain for an assertion of the doctrine of equality. This principle had not before appeared as an official political declaration of any nation. It was profoundly revolutionary. It is one of the corner stones of American institutions.

But if these truths to which the declaration refers have not before been adopted in their combined entirety by national authority, it is a fact that they had been long pondered and often expressed in political speculation. It is generally assumed that French thought had some effect upon our public mind during Revolutionary days. This may have been true. But the principles of our declaration had been under discussion in the Colonies for nearly two generations before the advent of the French political philosophy that characterized the middle of the eighteenth century. In fact, they come from an earlier date. A very positive echo of what the Dutch had done in 1581, and what the English were preparing to do, appears in the assertion of the Rev. Thomas Hooker of Connecticut as early as 1638, when he said in a sermon before the General Court that--

"The foundation of authority is laid in the free consent of the people"

"The choice of public magistrates belongs unto the people by God's own allowance."

This doctrine found wide acceptance among the nonconformist clergy who later made up the Congregational Church. The great apostle of this movement was the Rev. John Wise, of Massachusetts. He was one of the leaders of the revolt against the royal governor Andros in 1687, for which he suffered imprisonment. He was a liberal in ecclesiastical controversies. He appears to have been familiar with the writings of the political scientist, Samuel Pufendorf, who was born in Saxony in 1632. Wise published a treatise, entitled "The Church's Quarrel Espoused," in 1710, which was amplified in another publication in 1717. In it he dealt with the principles of civil government. His works were reprinted in 1772 and have been declared to have been nothing less than a textbook of liberty for our Revolutionary fathers.

While the written word was the foundation, it is apparent that the spoken word was the vehicle for convincing the people. This came with great force and wide range from the successors of Hooker and Wise, It was carried on with a missionary spirit which did not fail to reach the Scotch-Irish of North Carolina, showing its influence by significantly making that Colony the first to give instructions to its delegates looking to independence. This preaching reached the neighborhood of Thomas Jefferson, who acknowledged that his "best ideas of democracy" had been secured at church meetings.

That these ideas were prevalent in Virginia is further revealed by the Declaration of Rights, which was prepared by George Mason and presented to the general assembly on May 27, 1776. This document asserted popular sovereignty and inherent natural rights, but confined the doctrine of equality to the assertion that "All men are created equally free and independent." It can scarcely be imagined that Jefferson was unacquainted with what had been done in his own Commonwealth of Virginia when he took up the task of drafting the Declaration of Independence. But these thoughts can very largely be traced back to what John Wise was writing in 1710. He said, "Every man must be acknowledged equal to every man." Again, "The end of all good government is to cultivate humanity and promote the happiness of all and the good of every man in all his rights, his life, liberty, estate, honor, and so forth . . . ." And again, "For as they have a power every man in his natural state, so upon combination they can and do bequeath this power to others and settle it according as their united discretion shall determine." And still again, "Democracy is Christ's government in church and state." Here was the doctrine of equality, popular sovereignty, and the substance of the theory of inalienable rights clearly asserted by Wise at the opening of the eighteenth century, just as we have the principle of the consent of the governed stated by Hooker as early as 1638.

When we take all these circumstances into consideration, it is but natural that the first paragraph of the Declaration of Independence should open with a reference to Nature's God and should close in the final paragraphs with an appeal to the Supreme Judge of the world and an assertion of a firm reliance on Divine Providence. Coming from these sources, having as it did this background, it is no wonder that Samuel Adams could say "The people seem to recognize this resolution as though it were a decree promulgated from heaven."

No one can examine this record and escape the conclusion that in the great outline of its principles the Declaration was the result of the religious teachings of the preceding period. The profound philosophy which Jonathan Edwards applied to theology, the popular preaching of George Whitefield, had aroused the thought and stirred the people of the Colonies in preparation for this great event. No doubt the speculations which had been going on in England, and especially on the Continent, lent their influence to the general sentiment of the times. Of course, the world is always influenced by all the experience and all the thought of the past. But when we come to a contemplation of the immediate conception of the principles of human relationship which went into the Declaration of Independence we are not required to extend our search beyond our own shores. They are found in the texts, the sermons, and the writings of the early colonial clergy who were earnestly undertaking to instruct their congregations in the great mystery of how to live. They preached equality because they believed in the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. They justified freedom by the text that we are all created in the divine image, all partakers of the divine spirit.

Placing every man on a plane where he acknowledged no superiors, where no one possessed any right to rule over him, he must inevitably choose his own rulers through a system of self-government. This was their theory of democracy. In those days such doctrines would scarcely have been permitted to flourish and spread in any other country. This was the purpose which the fathers cherished. In order that they might have freedom to express these thoughts and opportunity to put them into action, whole congregations with their pastors had migrated to the colonies. These great truths were in the air that our people breathed. Whatever else we may say of it, the Declaration of Independence was profoundly American.

If this apprehension of the facts be correct, and the documentary evidence would appear to verify it, then certain conclusions are bound to follow. A spring will cease to flow if its source be dried up; a tree will wither if its roots be destroyed. In its main features the Declaration of Independence is a great spiritual document. It is a declaration not of material but of spiritual conceptions. Equality, liberty, popular sovereignty, the rights of man these are not elements which we can see and touch. They are ideals. They have their source and their roots in the religious convictions. They belong to the unseen world. Unless the faith of the American people in these religious convictions is to endure, the principles of our Declaration will perish. We can not continue to enjoy the result if we neglect and abandon the cause.

We are too prone to overlook another conclusion. Governments do not make ideals, but ideals make governments. This is both historically and logically true. Of course the government can help to sustain ideals and can create institutions through which they can be the better observed, but their source by their very nature is in the people. The people have to bear their own responsibilities. There is no method by which that burden can be shifted to the government. It is not the enactment, but the observance of laws, that creates the character of a nation.

About the Declaration there is a finality that is exceedingly restful. It is often asserted that the world has made a great deal of progress since 1776, that we have had new thoughts and new experiences which have given us a great advance over the people of that day, and that we may therefore very well discard their conclusions for something more modern. But that reasoning can not be applied to this great charter. If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final. No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions. If anyone wishes to deny their truth or their soundness, the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not forward, but backward toward the time when there was no equality, no rights of the individual, no rule of the people. Those who wish to proceed in that direction can not lay claim to progress. They are reactionary. Their ideas are not more modern, but more ancient, than those of the Revolutionary fathers.

In the development of its institutions America can fairly claim that it has remained true to the principles which were declared 150 years ago. In all the essentials we have achieved an equality which was never possessed by any other people. Even in the less important matter of material possessions we have secured a wider and wider distribution of wealth. The rights of the individual are held sacred and protected by constitutional guaranties, which even the Government itself is bound not to violate. If there is any one thing among us that is established beyond question, it is self-government--the right of the people to rule. If there is any failure in respect to any of these principles, it is because there is a failure on the part of individuals to observe them. We hold that the duly authorized expression of the will of the people has a divine sanction. But even in that we come back to the theory of John Wise that "Democracy is Christ's government." The ultimate sanction of law rests on the righteous authority of the Almighty.

On an occasion like this a great temptation exists to present evidence of the practical success of our form of democratic republic at home and the ever-broadening acceptance it is securing abroad. Although these things are well known, their frequent consideration is an encouragement and an inspiration. But it is not results and effects so much as sources and causes that I believe it is even more necessary constantly to contemplate. Ours is a government of the people. It represents their will. Its officers may sometimes go astray, but that is not a reason for criticizing the principles of our institutions. The real heart of the American Government depends upon the heart of the people. It is from that source that we must look for all genuine reform. It is to that cause that we must ascribe all our results.

It was in the contemplation of these truths that the fathers made their declaration and adopted their Constitution. It was to establish a free government, which must not be permitted to degenerate into the unrestrained authority of a mere majority or the unbridled weight of a mere influential few. They undertook the balance these interests against each other and provide the three separate independent branches, the executive, the legislative, and the judicial departments of the Government, with checks against each other in order that neither one might encroach upon the other. These are our guaranties of liberty. As a result of these methods enterprise has been duly protected from confiscation, the people have been free from oppression, and there has been an ever-broadening and deepening of the humanities of life.

Under a system of popular government there will always be those who will seek for political preferment by clamoring for reform. While there is very little of this which is not sincere, there is a large portion that is not well informed. In my opinion very little of just criticism can attach to the theories and principles of our institutions. There is far more danger of harm than there is hope of good in any radical changes. We do need a better understanding and comprehension of them and a better knowledge of the foundations of government in general. Our forefathers came to certain conclusions and decided upon certain courses of action which have been a great blessing to the world. Before we can understand their conclusions we must go back and review the course which they followed. We must think the thoughts which they thought. Their intellectual life centered around the meeting-house. They were intent upon religious worship. While there were always among them men of deep learning, and later those who had comparatively large possessions, the mind of the people was not so much engrossed in how much they knew, or how much they had, as in how they were going to live. While scantily provided with other literature, there was a wide acquaintance with the Scriptures. Over a period as great as that which measures the existence of our independence they were subject to this discipline not only in their religious life and educational training, but also in their political thought. They were a people who came under the influence of a great spiritual development and acquired a great moral power.

No other theory is adequate to explain or comprehend the Declaration of Independence. It is the product of the spiritual insight of the people. We live in an age of science and of abounding accumulation of material things. These did not create our Declaration. Our Declaration created them. The things of the spirit come first. Unless we cling to that, all our material prosperity, overwhelming though it may appear, will turn to a barren sceptre in our grasp. If we are to maintain the great heritage which has been bequeathed to us, we must be like-minded as the fathers who created it. We must not sink into a pagan materialism. We must cultivate the reverence which they had for the things that are holy. We must follow the spiritual and moral leadership which they showed. We must keep replenished, that they may glow with a more compelling flame, the altar fires before which they worshiped.

[originally posted: 7/04/06]

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Posted by orrinj at 12:07 AM


Two Cheers for Democracy : Patriotic, modest, and tempered praise for our present form of government (Benjamin Wiker, 7/03/13, Catholic World Report)

The Founders tried to combine all three kinds into one new kind of government, their hope being that they could get the best kind of government by combining the advantages of each kind of government--rule by the one, rule by the few, and rule by the many--while avoiding the defects of each. And so, we've got a king (president), and aristocratic body (Senate), and a democratic body elected directly by the people (House of Representatives).

The Founders wanted us to have the benefits of having a good king, so we have a president, but wanted to avoid the defects of having a tyrant (so, unlike a hereditary monarch, he can be booted out, after four years, or even before, by impeachment, whereas kings can generally only be removed by removing their heads). But the president was not to be elected popularly, i.e., by democratic vote. He was to be elected by a small body of electors (a.k.a., the Electoral College) chosen from each of the states. The president was to be elected--dare I say it?--more like the pope is elected, not directly by the masses of Catholics, but through the College of Cardinals.

The Founders wanted the benefits of aristocratic rule, and so we have a Senate, a small, elite body of legislators, "two Senators from each state, chosen by the legislature thereof, for six years; and each Senator shall have one vote." Note: they are not popularly-elected either. Senators were supposed to be the best men, chosen out of the state legislative bodies. Dare I say it again?--sort of like the Catholic Church's College of Cardinals.

Only the representatives of the House of Representatives were "chosen every second year by the people of the several states," i.e., popularly elected.

If I could say it one sentence, the Founders did not found a democracy because they were deeply afraid that the people, manipulated by demagogues, would vote for their own and the nation's self-destruction. They would vote according to their passions (passions that had been manipulated), they would vote according to extreme short-sightedness, they would vote out of ignorance, they would vote out of fear, they would vote according to self-interest rather than the true common good.

And so they gave two cheers, or again, more like one-and-a-half, for democracy.

[originally posted : 7/05/13]
Posted by orrinj at 12:06 AM


A National Anthem that Begins and Ends With a Question (David P. Goldman, 7/04/12, PJ Media)

There is something inherently fragile about the United States of America. France will be France and Slovakia will be Slovakia so long as French and Slovak are spoken, irrespective of their mode of government. But if Americans cease to govern themselves in a way that no people ever governed itself before, America will not be America. We are the only nation founded on an idea, rather than on blood, territory or culture. We look back at our founders with reverence. Each day we should ask ourselves whether we are good enough to keep the republic which they bequeathed us. We came close to losing it more than once. If we continue to drift into dependency, we might lose it now.

That is why it behooves us to sing  a national anthem that begins and ends with questions. In this respect, "The Star-Spangled Banner" is an unusual poem. To begin a poem with a rhetorical question is a common enough device ("Why! Who makes much of a miracle?," "What is so rare as a day in June?" or "Who rides in the night through wind and wild?"). Key's opening question, though, is not rhetorical, but existential. The hearer from whom the poet demands a response has kept the poet's company in an anxious vigil the dawn. The question itself thus places the hearer alongside the poet in that vigil.

The poet withholds the name of the object we are trying to espy in the first light: It is "what so proudly we hailed", "whose broad stripes and bright stars" streamed valiantly over the rampart as the poet and his interlocutor watched through the perilous night. And this precious thing could be glimpsed intermittently only by the light of the enemy's munitions, through the glare of rockets and the flash of exploding bombs: these, the missiles of the foe, gave proof through the night that the our flag - at last the object is named - was still there.

But now the first light of the dawn has come. The bombardment has ceased. The poet asks that the listener say whether, in the dim sunrise, he still can see the flag above the ramparts. It is an anxious moment; the hearer has watched through the night to see if the US position has held or fallen; in a few moments he will see in the first light of day whether the flag is still there. All the fears of the nightly vigil are bound up in this moments of anticipation. Even more: the hopes and fears of generations hang upon what the hearer will see as day breaks..

And then the poet repeats the injunction "Say!" and changes the question. The opening question -- can you still see our flag? -- is a synecdoche of sorts for a bigger question -- does that flag "yet wave/O'er the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave?" The second question refers not only to the battle at hand, but to the destiny of the country. The question is not only whether the flag of freedom still flies over America but also whether America itself is still brave and free.

When the last Frenchman dies, France will die with him.  America will long outlive Americans.

[originally posted: 7/04/12]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:03 AM


Abraham's promise and American power: a review of Abraham's Promise by Michael Wyschogrod, edited by R Kendall Soulen (Spengler, 2/08/05, Asia Times)

American Christianity is personal rather than political, in contrast to the Protestant Separatism that founded the United States. The evangelicals who now comprise nearly half of the US electorate entered the political arena with reluctance. Except for the institutions it built, nothing remains of the New England Puritanism that brought to a New Promised Land a New Chosen People. Only the words etched into the marble of Abraham Lincoln's memorial remain of the biblical politics that guided the Union side of America's Civil War. For that reason, I have maintained, it is misguided to think of Americanism as a religion.

Not until I read Michael Wyschogrod's new book Abraham's Promise did it occur to me the long-departed spirit of American Puritanism might once again become flesh. US evangelicals might awaken one morning as a New Israel not merely in metaphor, but self-aware as a New Chosen People in a New Promised Land. The most paranoid imagining about the Christian Right pales beside this prospect. We are talking about the real thing, not a Straussian imitation: a politicized Protestantism in the mold of the 17th-century Separatists. A "Judaizing heresy" made the United States of America possible to begin with, I have argued on other occasions, and Professor Wyschogrod argues a strong case for the evangelicals to Judaize yet again. I do not know whether Wyschogrod anticipates the strategic consequences of his theology, and rather doubt that this is the case, but it is no less radical for absence of intent.

On the surface, his innovation is a way for Christians to think of themselves as a special case of Judaism. That is only the conning tower of his submarine, however. The intellectual resources of US evangelicals have not grown in step with their membership, and the movement is ripe for a re-examination. Wyschogrod provides them with a biblical (as opposed to a philosophical) framework to "understand itself ... [by] coming to terms with the Judaism within it". To a movement founded on the premise of Scripture alone, this may constitute an offer the evangelicals cannot refuse.

Wyschogrod has drawn some jeers from co-religionists (including the neo-conservatives at Commentary magazine), but sympathetic interest from Protestant theologians. To one of them, R Kendall Soulen, a professor at Wesleyan University in Washington, DC, we owe the present volume and a helpful introduction.

An uninvited thought crosses my mind that this might be one of the most important books of the 21st century. Not since the 17th century could anyone make such a statement in earnest about a work of theology. But in the presence of a single superpower, the chief strategic issue of the 21st century is whether the West has the will to continue living. Islam will have assimilated childless Western Europe by the end of the century. If America follows Europe into nihilism, the 21st century will go out in fair imitation of the 5th. That is why the evangelical mind will be the great issue of the next decade or two.

Spengler is often wrong but seldom silly. So when he tosses off that "except for the institutions it built, nothing remains" it's quite startling to see a thought so shallow. After all, those institutions include the Declaration, Constitution and the Republic itself all of which were deeply influenced by Puritan theology and can have no other secure basis but Christianity.

-ESSAY: Orthodox Judaism and Jewish-Christian Dialogue (Dr. Michael Wyschogrod)
-REVIEW: of The Lonely Man of Faith by Joseph B. Soloveitchik (Commonweal, Jan 15, 1993, Michael Wyschogrod)
-REVIEW: Reflections on Eva Hoffman's Shtetl: The Life and Death of a Small Town and The World of Polish Jews. (Michael Wyschogrod, Sarmatian Review)
-REVIEW: of Abraham's Promise by Michael Wyschogrod, ed. by R. Kendall Soulen (David Hazony, Commentary)
-REVIEW: of Abraham's Promise by Michael Wyschogrod (Benjamin Balint, Azure)
-ESSAY: In the end shall Christians become Jews and Jews, Christians?: On Franz Rosenzweig's apocalyptic eschatology (Gregory Kaplan, Winter 2004, Cross Currents)
-ESSAY: God's first love: Michael Wyschogrod on Israel's election (Kendall Soulen, July 27, 2004, Christian Century)

I FIRST READ Michael Wyschogrod when I was in graduate school. The experience was electrifying. As I sat in the library finishing his essay "Israel, the Church, and Election," I remember being overcome by an almost physical sense of discovery, as though I had bumped into a hitherto invisible rock. What I had just read was undoubtedly the most unapologetic statement of Jewish faith I had ever encountered. Yet instantly I knew that Wyschogrod had helped me to see something in Paul that his Christian commentators had not. It was the theological relevance of the distinction between gentile and Jew.

Of course, the distinction was not wholly unfamiliar to me; far from it. I was accustomed to writers who treated the distinction as a useful bit of historical, sociological or religious description. Above all, I was familiar with the traditional Christian view that held that since Christ's coming the distinction between Jew and gentile had lost whatever theological significance it may once have had. This, after all, was Paul's own view, at least according to his commentators.

But Wyschogrod treated the difference differently. For Wyschogrod, the distinction was the indelible mark of an irrevocable divine choice: God's choice to enter history as the God of Israel. The distinction therefore mattered not only in the past, but also in the present and future. What is more, Wyschogrod treated the distinction as something that mattered not just to Jews, but also to Christians. He addressed Christians not merely as Christians but quite specifically as gentile Christians. With a shock of discovery, I realized that in this respect Wyschogrod was closer to Paul than were his Christian interpreters.

[originally posted: 2005-02-07

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:01 AM


Fourth Of July (Dave Alvin)
She's waiting for me when I get home from work
But things just ain't the same
She turns out the light and cries in the dark
Won't answer when I call her name


On the stairs I smoke a cigarette alone
The Mexican kids are shooting fireworks below
Hey, baby, it's the Fourth of July
Hey, baby, it's the Fourth of July

She gives me her cheek when I want her lips
And I don't have the strength to go
On the lost side of town in a dark apartment
We gave up trying so long ago

(repeat chorus)

Whatever happened, I apologize
So dry your tears and baby, walk outside
It's the Fourth of July

(repeat chorus)

Not exactly a happy holiday tune, but the reference is timely and it is one of the ten best rock songs ever written. It's on this fine album and there's a sample of it.


July 3, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 5:56 PM


'Rouhani factor' may make difference in nuclear talks : As the 5+1 talks on Iran's nuclear program resume, leaders appear to be more worried about conflict in neighboring Iraq. Iran expert Ellie Geranmayeh tells DW the West must engage Iran and utilize its regional influence. (Deutsche-Welle, 7/03/14)

Ellie Geranmayeh: The determination and political will on both sides is really impressive. There is such a huge drive from all of them to meet on a daily basis from now until the end of July.

I think we don't give enough credit - especially on the Iran-US side - of how unprecedented this whole set of affairs is. After 35 years of animosity, there is now a working relationship between these negotiators on the nuclear issues.

The amount of respect the negotiators are showing each other - when I talk to the Western parties, they really highlight how professional the Iranian negotiators are, how serious they are to engage in the crucial issues. Same when you speak to the Iranians, they highlight the determination of the US, Catherine Ashton's personal commitment to get the talks to the stage they're at now.

Posted by orrinj at 5:50 PM


Hymn to the Fourth of July (A. G. Harmon, 7/03/14, Good Letters)

Meat cooked on a grill, charred just so, the smoke clouding the air and tantalizing the senses with giddy-heighted expectancy, and savory summery sides--steamed, baked, or chilled, then buttered, spiced, or sugared;

Bright primary colors around that most heartwarming of all furnishings, the table--and often on a table outside, under the glory of tall trees in the sweet bath of a canopy's shade (surely someone's written a poem about the atavistic hearth man recreates at the height of the aestival solstice?).

Water, often nearby--either the kind that's clear, sharply-chlorinated, and sparking like a supernova, or the kind that's black, peak-topped, and pungent of soil and fish, or the kind that's vast, undulating, and batter-mad against a talcum of sand and shell--all to be dived in from the recoil of a fiberglass board, plunged in from the arc of a rope swing, or surfed through with the power of the ages washing around your body.

Footballs sailing, Frisbees sweeping, horse shoes clanging, Sousa resounding and resounding and resounding.

And somewhere in the background, among all of this, a baseball game is being played. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:07 PM


July 3, 1863: Longstreet's Misgivings -- and Pickett's Charge (Carl M. Cannon, July 3, 2014, RCP)

"General, shall I advance?" one Southern division officer fatefully asked corps commander James Longstreet.

The man doing the asking was a well-connected 38-year-old Virginian, George Edward Pickett. Gen. Longstreet believed the impending charge to be folly, and had conveyed these misgivings to Robert E. Lee. Instead of a frontal assault, Longstreet urged Lee (whose army occupied an inferior geographic position on that battle) to leave the field and circle around the Yankees, positioning the Confederates between the road to Washington and the bluecoats, thereby forcing the Northern commanders' hand.

But Lee was tired of chasing Yankees, and he ordered the July 3 attack on fortified Union troops on Cemetery Ridge. He should have listened to Longstreet.

"Pickett's Charge" is the name given to Gettysburg's fateful engagement, but that's something of a misnomer. For one thing, Maj. Gen. George Pickett was one of three Confederate leaders ordered to take Cemetery Ridge. The others were Maj. Gen. Isaac R. Trimble and Brig. Gen. J. Johnston Pettigrew. Also, it wasn't really a charge. It was a slow advance, by infantry, across a mile-wide meadow that sloped upward -- into withering rifle fire and artillery bombardment. It was carnage.

In Longstreet's memoir, the tortured corps commander recalled his response when Pickett asked him, "General, shall I advance?" Longstreet's misgivings were so profound that he literally could not find his voice.

"The effort to speak the order failed, and I could only indicate it by an affirmative bow," Longstreet wrote. "He accepted the duty with seeming confidence of success, leaped on his horse, and rode gayly to his command."

The charge was the least of their mistakes.  The greatest was fighting battles.
Posted by orrinj at 3:58 PM


It's not just Hobby Lobby: the pro-life movement is winning (Sarah Kliff, July 2, 2014, Vox)

Monday's Hobby Lobby decision is part of a deeper trend: even as Obamacare worked to expand access to contraceptives, decisions by both the courts and state governments have left American women with less access to reproductive health care than they did four years ago.

Since 2010, states have moved aggressively to restrict access to abortion and taken new steps to defund family planning programs. Advocates on both sides of the issue describe the wave of changes as unprecedented.

"Abortion access has changed dramatically," says Elizabeth Nash, state issues manager at the Guttmacher Institute. "The debate at the federal level affected what happened at the state level, and accessing abortion is much more difficult in 2014 than it was in 2009."

July 2, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 8:20 PM


English explodes in India - and it's not just Hinglish (Craig Jeffrey, 7/02/14, BBC)

Anyone who travels beyond Delhi and Mumbai to India's provincial cities will notice English words cropping up increasingly in Hindi conversation. While some of these terms fell out of use in the UK decades ago, others are familiar, but used in bold new ways.

Posted by orrinj at 8:15 PM


U.S. discloses secret Somalia military presence (Phil Stewart, 7/02/14, Reuters)

U.S. military advisors have secretly operated in Somalia since around 2007 and Washington plans to deepen its security assistance to help the country fend off threats by Islamist militant group al Shabaab, U.S. officials said.

The comments are the first detailed public acknowledgement of a U.S. military presence in Somalia dating back since the U.S. administration of George W. Bush and add to other signs of a deepening U.S. commitment to Somalia's government, which the Obama administration recognized last year.

Posted by orrinj at 8:06 PM


Ankara discovers the Kurdish reality (Deutsche-Welle, 7/01/14)

Erdogan's government has been negotiating with imprisoned PKK leader Ocalan for a peaceful settlement to the Kurdish conflict for the past year and a half. The conflict has claimed the lives of more than 40,000 people since 1984.

For Erdogan it's not only about a chance to enter the history books - ending the bloodshed would secure him votes from both Turks and Kurds. It is no coincidence the legislative discussion regarding the Kurdish question comes in the lead-up to the presidential election in August, when Erdogan is likely to stand as a candidate.

Posted by orrinj at 3:20 PM


Can the G.O.P. Be a Party of Ideas? (SAM TANENHAUS, JULY 2, 2014, NY Times Magazine)

[T]he true stars of the proceedings were the intellectuals whose work was showcased that morning and had seeped into the legislators' rhetoric. Two young men, in particular, were responsible for this change: Yuval Levin, a former policy adviser to George W. Bush and founder of the earnest quarterly journal National Affairs, and Ramesh Ponnuru, a senior editor at National Review and columnist at Bloomberg View. Each is an intellectual prodigy in his 30s, and together they have become the leaders of a small band of reform conservatives, sometimes called reformicons, who believe the health of the G.O.P. hinges on jettisoning its age-old doctrine -- orgiastic tax-cutting, the slashing of government programs, the championing of Wall Street -- and using an altogether different vocabulary, backed by specific proposals, that will reconnect the party to middle-class and low-income voters.

The event was a success by almost every measure. In the following days, praise flowed predictably from the conservative media -- National Review, The Wall Street Journal's op-ed page -- but also Mike Allen's Playbook column on Politico, which quoted snippets from the "conservative manifesto for the middle class," and The New Republic. The magazine published a skeptical profile of Levin in 2013, but now it conceded, "Liberals should take reform conservatives seriously," because they are putting forth "valid conservative ideas like increasing the child tax credit or converting antipoverty programs into a universal credit." [...]

It is hard to make the case that a new age of liberalism even exists to be rolled back. The shadow of Reagan still looms large. Bill Clinton, the Democrat who broke the Republicans' streak of victories in 1992, did so as a centrist New Democrat who repudiated the liberal doctrine of his day on issues like race and welfare and diligently courted the blue-collar, white ethnic vote. His famous "triangulation" consisted of compromises with Republicans, and he made so many that conservatives complained he was stealing their ideas.

Today many on the right, including the reformicons, insistently depict Obama as a radical, but they are well aware he kept all but the top sliver of George W. Bush's giant tax cut. And for all the efforts to discredit Obamacare, it was ratified by the most conservative Supreme Court in modern history. Every reformer I talked to acknowledged that the principle of universal coverage is here to stay, in whatever form, including the operations advanced by Republicans who want to "repeal and replace" Obama's plan, the basis of which was hatched from a conservative policy suggestion that originated in 1989 from the Heritage Foundation.

If conservatism is to be taken seriously it can't be about repealing the Second Way and returning to the First; that's been rejected for good in every developed nation.

It has to be about bringing First Way means to bear on Second Way ends, converting entitlement programs from defined benefit to defined contribution, universalizing them, and means-testing them.

Posted by orrinj at 3:12 PM


Doctors' group says annual pelvic exams unnecessary for healthy women (JESSICA FIRGER, Jul 1, 2014, CBS News)

Each year, millions of women in the U.S. head to their gynecologist for an annual check-up. While it may not be the most pleasant experience in the world, most consider the prodding and mild discomfort of a routine pelvic exam to be an essential part of preventive health care.

But now the American College of Physicians (ACP) is challenging the need for this practice. On Monday the group published a new set of guidelines that recommends against annual pelvic exams for healthy, non-pregnant women.

After a review of studies conducted between 1946 and 2014, the ACP concluded that the risks posed by pelvic exams may outweigh the benefits for most healthy women. The researchers say pelvic exams can result in false positives, leading to unnecessary tests and procedures that may result in physical and psychological harm. They state that the exam "rarely detects important disease and does not reduce mortality."

The systematic review and recommended physician guidelines were published today in Annals of Internal Medicine, a journal of he American College of Physicians.

Health reform is just about reducing consumption.  If you want to see your doctor so he can hold your hand, it ought to come out of your own pocket.

Posted by orrinj at 3:08 PM


Jurgen Klinsmann's Yoda : Menotti's Ideas Have Inspired Coaches All Over--Including the U.S.'s (JONATHAN CLEGG, June 30, 2014, WSJ)

His name is César Luis Menotti, and to soccer fans world-wide, he is known as the charismatic, chain-smoking coach who led Argentina to its first World Cup triumph in 1978. Less known is the role he has played nearly four decades later as tactical guru, inspirational mentor and coaching swami to U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann. (How Jurgen Klinsmann transformed team USA's play.)

As the Americans face Belgium on Tuesday for a spot in the quarterfinals, their progress in Brazil owes an outsize debt to a 75-year-old coach known as El Flaco (the thin one).

For more than 40 years, Menotti has been the standard-bearer for a wide-open brand of attacking soccer. His central belief is that the key to victory isn't defensive organization or keeping hold of the ball, but trying to score as many goals inside 90 minutes as humanly possible.

His ideas have influenced the likes of Jorge Valdano, Marcelo Bielsa and Pep Guardiola, who made a pilgrimage to Argentina to visit Menotti before becoming head coach at FC Barcelona.

But Klinsmann may be his most devoted disciple. Ever since he played under Menotti during a brief spell at the Italian club Sampdoria in 1997, Klinsmann has been a champion of his attack-attack-attack vision of the game.

#FIREJURGEN went to the Dark Side.

July 1, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 5:53 PM


Turkey: Political name taboo broken (BBC, 7/01/14)

A political party in Turkey has been allowed to use the word "Kurdistan" in its name, breaking a decades-long prohibition on the word, it's been reported.

The Supreme Court of Appeals' Prosecutor's Office in Ankara has ruled that Turkey's Kurdish Democratic Party (T-KDP) should be granted a licence to operate, allowing the word to be used in a political party's name for the first time, says Hurriyet Daily News. The move allows other parties representing Turkey's large Kurdish minority to use the word as Ankara moves towards what has been described as a "peaceful political solution to the country's Kurdish issue," according to today's Zaman newspaper.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:38 PM


Soccer's groundswell is already here in the U.S.: U.S. national team's silver-medal finish helps, but it's at the grass-roots level of youth play, boosted and shaped by Latino immigration, that the game continues its steady march. (Kurt Streeter, June 30, 2009, LA Times)

For most American sports fans, come next week it'll be back to the old standbys: fireworks and baseball, NASCAR and apple pie. Those fans I heard at Dodger Stadium on Sunday -- the ones gushing about American goalkeeper Tim Howard as the Dodgers played the Mariners -- will pay scant attention to the world's most popular game until next year's World Cup.

But fans of futbol, have no fear. Your game is going to be just fine on these shores. All the frenzied speculation over whether this latest run will finally vault soccer to big league status? Wasted frenzy.

Big league, I mean consistently big league in performance, hoopla and status? It's not going to happen. Not for a while. And that's absolutely OK. For one thing, at the grass-roots level of youth play, boosted and shaped by Latino immigration, the game continues its steady march.

While this has yet to translate into mammoth increases in TV ratings and gate receipts, or into deep and palpable sizzle, it's a groundswell that eventually will pervade.

The world is a different place than it was even four years back: flat and connected and biting at the status quo. Just as it blindsided political observers in the presidential election, grass-roots momentum will eventually have a big effect on what sports we love and why we love them.

There's more. To pit soccer against football, baseball and basketball is to lack perspective, to starve ourselves of nuance. Does a sport absolutely have to launch itself into the realm of the big three to be a success? Why? Who says? And what are we missing by thinking it does?

Miami Likes Soccer (Steve Goff, 6/29/09, Washington Post)
According to the overnight figures from major TV markets, the USA-Brazil match on ESPN yesterday earned a 2.74 rating. The complete numbers will be available tomorrow, but this game seems certain to join World Cup games against Germany (2002), Ghana (2006) and Colombia (1994) in the top four for all-time viewership for a USA game. So if I understand the system correctly, around 3 million households were tuned into the USA-Brazil match on ESPN. [...]

These figures are for ESPN only and do not include Univision, which usually attracts a big audience for major international matches.

We've explained often enough the structural factors that will prevent soccer from ever becoming anything like as popular in America as it is in other parts of the world, but an interesting thing is happening to the game: it is being Americanized to the point where it can become tolerable here. Properly understood, Globalization is, in the main, the process whereby the pressures to compete with the Anglosphere in economic and geo-political terms forces every country to become more like us. In turn, we import those nations' peoples, products, and cultures and in the process of assimilation make them our own. For example, what's more American than Taco Bell?

The effect America was going to have on Soccer was apparent thirty years ago, when the NY Cosmos brought together an international group of players--Brits, Germans, Italians, Brazilians, Slavs, etc.--and put them together on the same team. This was unheard of at the time but has become the norm for sides throughout Europe. The Cosmos basically served as the Jackie Robinson of the soccer world, laying the groundwork for integration globally. There's a scene in the very funny British tv-film, Eleven Men Against Eleven, where the local yobs start beating a black guy in an attempt to provoke a race war but then realize that it's the serendipitously named Leo Walcott, star of their team. As they help him to Hospital they explain that he isn't really black, he's one of "our blacks." Here is the quandry that Robinson, Larry Doby, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Sandy Koufax, Roberto Clemente, etc., forced on earlier generations of sports fans: how can you love the other on the field and hate him off? Imagine the poor confused Liverpool fan of today who can recall traveling to Spain in the 80s to engage in hooliganism but now roots for Fernando Torres Pepe Reina, Xabi Alonso, Albert Riera, etc. on a team coached by Rafa Benitez. Nevermind Yossi Benayoun. Today, every team is cosmopolitan.

The other American import that has really influenced at least English soccer is the corporatization of the stadiums. No, not the signage all over the place, but the replacement of benches with seats and luxury boxes and the drastic hike in ticket prices. The worst elements among the teams' followers have been priced right out of the parks. The New York Yankees have caught a lot of heat about the cost for tickets at their new stadium, but no one who attended a bat day in the 1970s will be overly sorry that the cheap seats are a thing of the past. And that was random violence, whereas the hooliganism of soccer crowds was systematic (see Bill Buford's phenomenal account in Among the Thugs). Thus, the crowding out has been more significant to saving the sport. When there are instances of violent and/or racist fan behavior now, they just look at the CCTV, check who was in the seat, and then ban them from attending. Other than the dental work, scarfs, singing and chants, EPL games are pretty much indistinguishable from NFL games at least in the stands.

So much for how we're influencing them, there are also numerous ways "they" are influencing us. The most important was captured in the desirability of winning the "Soccer Mom" demographic a few years ago. Youth soccer is massive in America for many of the same reasons the eventual appeal of the game is bound to be limited. The biggest is that the game is very easy to learn and to play. Every parent will tell you a story about how painful it is to watch Little League baseball, especially when the kids start pitching. The skills required to play game even just adequately simply elude most of us for our whole careers and nearly every child. Throw down a soccer ball, on the other hand, and few and far between are the kids so spastic they can't participate without embarrassing themselves. Sure, they tend to all chase the ball at first, but it's a heck of a lot easier to teach them to stay in their positions than to read the path of a batted ball or throw a curve.

And since all you really need is a ball and some cones to mark the goals, the cost of the game is so low that it's attractive to rec departments, camps, and colleges. Add in the Title IX factor, which works against expensive male sports programs like football and baseball, and you can easily see why the future of mens' college soccer is going to be big.

The next ingredient is our massive level of immigration, which has flattened temporarily but will explode again after this next immigration reform (amnesty). We're importing tens of millions of people who care about just two sports: baseball and soccer. We can make them like football once they get here, but we aren't likely to make them forget their first loves. That's why any measure of the soccer audience for tv has to include the Spanish stations. Soccer is just huge on those networks.

Television generally is another factor driving the growth of soccer. Turn on one of the ESPNs at any random hour and the likelihood is that they're televising some crap like Texas Hold-'em or a logging competition. They're desperate for programming to fill their 24 hour/7 day schedules and soccer offers a ready-made product. The tilting point is pretty low at which it will make sense for them to but up rights to and televise every league they can get their hands on. And since broadcast here won't have any impact on attendance there, it makes sense for the leagues to sell.

Finally, all of these trends come together with a synergy that has given us one of the top 10 national teams in a sport that is easily understood, a growing number of our own fellow Americans care about, the rest of the world follows passionately, and broadcasters have abundant reason to promote to us. Ready or not, soccer has arrived in America.

This was all driven home for me late last summer. I've been as dubious about the appeal of the game as anyone and, since Chinaglia killed the Cosmos, had generally only checked in at World Cup time and only if America was playing. But our youngest did a PlaySoccer camp last August and part of the deal is that local families house the young British "coaches" during the week they're in town. The Wife had periodically mentioned the poissibility of getting an exchange student, so when the rec center mentioned that we'd get the week of camp free if we took a coach it seemed like a good test. We got a sweet Polish kid, studying at the University of Southampton, who proceeded to eat everything that wasn't stapled down. One of the other coaches came over frequently and they'd watch any soccer they could find on American television. We even watched the Galaxy play one night. And, of course, after a week of soccer camp the boy wanted to play every night on the front lawn. So we alternate that and throwing a baseball now. Meanwhile, he plays soccer every school day at lunchtime and recess. Like I said, all you need is a ball and everyone can join in.

Then a neighbor asked a couple of us to come over and watch the finals of the European Cup, with Torres's Spain in fine form. Ours is a neighborhood built by Dartmouth College and populated by academics, with no small number of immigrants. One quickly realizes that their taste in sports is not the same as what you grew up with.

Topping it all off, I'd been using the website, The Box, to download British mysteries and the occasional cricket test, so when they started posting Match of the Day the thought occurred that I could try following one season of the English Premiere League and see if we really are missing anything. I watched every episode until baseball started again this Spring, then missed a few. I watched some full matches, both from the Box and the ones they show on our cable system. There are plenty of RSS feeds you can subscribe to--The Guardian, Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph, Times, etc. and they'll bring the news right to you. I bought a few magazines, but they're so expensive and have so little useful analysis I didn't repeat the experiment. I read a number of books, though their quality is very uneven too. Podcasts, on the other hand, turned out to be quite amusing: World Soccer Daily, BBC's 5 Live, Guardian Football Weekly, and the ESPN SoccerNet podcast are all pretty good. Jim in Bingo, the Other Brother, and I even did a fantasy football league, EPL version.

All of these are things the League has going for it. There's a built-in infrastructure that American fans will recognize from the sports they already follow and because the play of game itself is so easy to comprehend it takes only a week or two to get up to speed. As an outsider, you get to come to the sport without emotional attachments and, I believe, you're likely to understand the strengths and weaknesses better than those who've been immersed in it their whole lives.

As with any sport, you have to have some rooting interest and in the EPL the only real rule is that you can't root for Manchester United--it's like rooting for the Yankees. You have to choose one top 4 team, because they're the only ones who win, so I took Liverpool, because they resemble the pre-04 Red Sox right now. Then you pick a good non-contender or two--I pulled for Fulham and Aston Villa because of their American ties. Then you spot a few others to like as the season progresses--Everton (because of their coach); Hull (because they seemed so hopeless before the season, then surprisingly good, then fought just to stay alive); West Ham (because of their coach); and Stoke because they play like an American team.

After a full--or nearly full--season of paying attention, I'd offer the following impressions:

As for this season:

Liverpool was pretty clearly the best team, so long as Torres and Gerrard were healthy, but settled for draws too often to win a league that has no playoff. If the EPL had a Super Bowl, they'd have been favored over Manchester United by three goals. On the other hand, this may have been Sir Alex Ferguson's greatest year as coach of Man U precisely because they won despite an obvious decline. He deserves blame for the side he was fielding, which depended almost entirely on reputation in order to win. An absurd proportion of their offense was generated by free and penalty kicks awarded when their star Christiano Ronaldo fell down and refs automatically blew their whistles. Later in the year, after Rafa's Rant, officials started cracking down and Ronaldo ended up having to flee the league after the season. No fouls, no goals. He just doesn't generate scoring opportunities for himself in the run of play and is an ineffective passer. Their best player is really Wayne Rooney, who needs to play both striker and the modified midfield role that Steven Gerrard and Chelsea's Frank Lampard fill. He's the only one who can pass to a scorer and the best scorer. His work rate even matches Tevez's, making him Gerrard, Torres and Kuyt all rolled into one. But since Ferguson seldom put jhim on the field with players who complemented any one of these styles he was less dominant than he should have been. The "loss" of Ronaldo is a blessing to the club, though tyey should have kept Tevez and dumped Berbatov. Meanwhile, his center backs--Vidic and Ferdinand--were able to foul opponents in the box with impunity, making them appear a good defensive unit when they weren't. Compare their play to that of Onyewu and Demerit for the US side and you see the difference between the way the Detroit Pistons "defended," by hacking, and the way a Michael Jordan did, by superior skill.

Just as disappointing as the results at the top were the failures of the best second tier clubs--Everton, Aston Villa, West Ham, etc.--to sustain stretches of great play over the course of the entire season and break up the top 4. Such clubs just aren't deep enough to remain competitive over the long haul. At one point Everton was put in a position where they had no healthy striker. And while their ability to score goals anyway showed that the position is wildly over-rated, it also showed how thin teams that don't have the money of the big clubs are. It's like when the Yankees and Red Sox just go out and add a Damaso Marte or Eric Gagne for the heck of it while others struggle to find arms. The moves don't necessarily work, but if they don't they can afford to try another. The 5-12 teams in the EPL can't afford mistakes and can't afford deep benches. It has to be frustrating for their fans, but it's also bad for the League that only four teams have any shot at winning every year.

As regards the League overall:

First, they need to change the offsides rule to make it more like hockey. Set a blue line and require the ball to precede the offense over that line, but once it's in everything is fair game. Concurrently you could allow the goalie a crease into which offensive guys can't stray. As is, the calls are too arbitrary and game determining because goal disallowing.

Second, they need to move the penalty spot back. It's nearly impossible not to score so there's no drama and a huge incentive to dive.

Third, penalize diving much more severely. If an offensive player goes down and appeals for a call but isn't given one, he should generally be given a card himself.

Fourth, clarify the tackling rule. If the tackler wins the ball away it shouldn't ever be a card, even if a foul.

Fifth, eliminate ties and play an NHL/NASL style shootout after a sudden-death period.

Sixth, install video review for every goal. Teams spend so much time celebrating it wouldn't even slow the game.

Seventh, impose a salary cap and revenue sharing. The EPL plays a full season to determine only two things: the order of finish among the 4 big teams and which three of the others gets sent down. There is no possibility of the other 16 teams winning the league. Ever. It's too uncompetitive to be compelling.

There were a few things I found interesting, particularly as regards core positions and basic skills.

The goaltending is generally awful, even on the big teams. Though that may be a function of one generation of former standouts all getting old at the same time. But that points out another disturbing thing about the game. Coaches, probably correctly, figure they're better off letting an older former standout hurt them than play a youngster who'll experience some growing pains. Personnel decisions are driven by the attendant press and fan reaction to a degree you never, or rarely, see in major sports here.

[An aside: The reluctance to use younger players and what would appear to be an underestimation of American players--despite the brilliant play of Clint Dempsey all season--means that a talented player like Jozy Altidore can't even get playing time on a second division club in Europe when he could have gotten Everton into the top 4 when they ran out of strikers.]

The central defense is also horrific. There are at most a handful of shutdown fullbacks and the skills required for that aren't terribly complex. It's more a matter of commitment, like rebounding in basketball. Where are the defensive Dennis Rodmans?

One of the things that the former players who do commentary often complain about is that tackling isn't allowed the way it once was. But the quality of the tackles is so bad you can see why the league would cut down on it. Tacklers so rarely get even a part of the ball that they're just creating a needless risk of injury.

Certainly the most shocking thing about the game is the degree to which the quality of play is influenced by the psychological fragility of players and teams. Guys and teams who think they are playing well do. If they think they're going badly they do. It's damn peculiar.

The one thing that made the season tolerable is the off-field stuff. I like how passionate the fans are about their teams, how feisty the punditry is, and how obsessed everyone is generally, though I do think that the coaches often make their decisions out of fear of the fans and media.

I think it would be of benefit to some of the poorer teams in the EPL and/or in the 2nd division to come to working agreements with MSL teams. Suppose, for example, a team like Stoke or Bolton or any of those who have a hard time staying up and competing monetarily sent their youngsters to play with the Revolution or the Red Bulls or whoever and got the right to call up players from those teams to their sides as needed. Sure it would be an acknowledgment on the part of American Soccer that it is minor league, but it would provide a pipeline to top level soccer for American players, improve the quality of the players in MSL games, and build US fan bases for English sides. Eventually, you could have a few EPL games played here every year. If Fulham played at Foxboro they'd have a shot at almost 70,000 fans instead of 25,000. Or put Pompey in Giants Stadium once or twice a year and they can sell 77,000 tickets--a la Pele--instead of 20,000. And you have to think you could make the games sufficient events that American networks would show them. You'd have a significant revenue opportunity for teams that badly need the cash to stay mildly competitive.

And the MSL and ESPN should go to school on the EPL and Match of the Day. Every game should be played on the same day, maybe even at the same time, then the network could choose the most competitive match and show a longer highlight/shorter version, followed by highlights--such as there are--of the rest. If a team can get a local broadcast contract, good for them, but as British commentators, coaches, fans and players openly acknowledge, many games are excruciating and unwatchable, so a broadcast schedule that locks you into showing actual games in their entirety is a greasefire waiting to happen. No, wait, a fire is at least exciting.

Obviously ESPN or ABC or whoever, will want to show entire games in the World Cup, at least those we play in and the final rounds, but for earlier rounds they should likewise adopt an MotD approach and they could start getting ready for it by doing the same with the qualifiers, where there are many games being played on the same night right now.

None of this is going to make soccer competitive with the NFL on television, but none of the other major sports are either and the many minor ones--NHL, NASCAR, golf--occupy corners of the market quite happily and more or less healthily. If we'll watch guys turn left for 500 miles we'll learn to watch guys play a glorified sort of kickball. And if our national team can regularly beat or be competitive against countries where they're psychotic about the game, we'll be lured in just by our patriotism.

[originally posted: 6/30/09]