September 30, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 2:13 PM


The Third Way's Second Chance (Andrés Velasco, 9/30/14, Project Syndicate)

Remember Tony Blair and Bill Clinton's Third Way? It is back. The faces and names have changed, but the idea that governments can - and should - combine social-democratic values and modern liberal economics has returned to center stage.

At a June 2000 gathering of leaders in Berlin, hosted by Germany's then-Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, the Third Way seemed like the way of the future. The gathering was Blair's brainchild (though he did not attend because his wife had just had a child). But Clinton held forth eloquently on how new technologies could help to solve age-old social ills. Leaders from Sweden and New Zealand argued that you could make the state both leaner and more effective. And the Third Way could travel well to what was once called the Third World, claimed South Africa's Thabo Mbeki, Brazil's Fernando Henrique Cardoso, and Chile's Ricardo Lagos (I was present as part of Lagos's delegation.)

Sadly, it was not to last. The sound bites about progressive governance did not grow easily into a lasting political philosophy. Al Gore traded Clintonomics for traditional populism and was defeated by George W. Bush. 

From prescription drugs to HSAs to housing vouchers to the attempt at personal SS accounts, W represented the high water mark of the Third Way outside of Chile.  

Posted by orrinj at 2:10 PM


Global Inflation Eased Again in August (PAUL HANNON, Sept. 30, 2014, WSJ)

Inflation rates across the world's largest economies eased for the third straight month in August, reflecting disappointing economic growth and indicating that central banks are unlikely to rush to tighten policy.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said on Tuesday that the annual rate of inflation in its 34 members fell to 1.8% in August from 1.9% in July, the second straight month of decline. Among the Group of 20 leading developed and developing economies it fell to 2.7% from 2.8%. The G-20 accounts for 90% of global economic activity. [...]

But only in Europe are there a growing number of countries where consumer prices are lower than they were a year earlier. According to the OECD, nine of its members experienced a decline in prices over the 12 months to August, all of those being in Europe: Estonia, Greece, Italy, Poland, Portugal, the Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden. That was up from six countries in July.

September 29, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:50 PM


New poll shows Charlie Baker, Martha Coakley deadlocked (David Scharfenberg, SEPTEMBER 29, 2014, Boston Globe)

Democrat Martha Coakley and Republican Charlie Baker are deadlocked in the governor's race and a ballot measure that would repeal the state's casino law is struggling to get traction, according to a new Suffolk University/Boston Herald poll.

The survey of 500 likely voters found 44 percent supporting Coakley and 43 percent backing Baker.

Posted by orrinj at 7:47 PM


Watch what happens when these non-Jews try Jewish food (Raffi Wineburg, September 29, 2014, JTA)

BuzzFeed served up some Ashkenazi staples -- matzoh ball soup, noodle kugel and chopped liver among others -- to a handful of first-time Jewish food tasters and answered the pressing question: What happens when you give a goy gefilte fish? 

"It's like a cold sausage with sour paste on top," said one unimpressed taster. Another was more plainly confused: "I'm not quite sure what meat it is," he said, befuddled. [...]

Chopped liver was held in near universal contempt, with at least three participants commenting on the mushy foods' likeness to a human waste product.

Matzoh ball soup? One taster called it "the gateway drug to Jewish food," but another described it as a "giant sponge in a bowl."

It was the noodle kugel, however, that was most controversial. The gentiles panned it, with one saying he would only make it if he were expecting guests and had nothing but cinnamon and noodles in the house.

Posted by orrinj at 7:45 PM


Mysterious 'ball' on Mars: Where did it come from? (Elizabeth Howell, SEPTEMBER 29, 2014, CS Monitor)

It seems too round to be true -- the Curiosity rover has found a ball-shaped object among the craggy rocks in its picture. This image was taken on Sol 746 of the rover's mission on Mars, which so far has extended over two Earth years.

Posted by orrinj at 7:32 PM


Eric Holder blew it as attorney general. His replacement will, too (Ryan Cooper, 9/29/14, The Week)

Holder, who yesterday announced his resignation as attorney general, isn't a bad synecdoche for the Obama administration. The first black attorney general, by all accounts a committed liberal with a special concern for civil rights, was also the guy who rubber-stamped the NSA's dragnet surveillance program and the CIA's assassination of American citizens. He prosecuted neither Bush-era torturers nor any of the thousands of high-level Wall Street fraudsters from the financial crisis (save one).

So, despite his genuinely admirable action on sentencing reform, police discrimination, and other racial justice issues, he will ultimately be remembered as complicit in turning the American state away from the rule of law when it comes to the rich and powerful. Sad to say, but John Ashcroft stood up to security apparatus goons more than Holder did. 

John Ashcroft was a chief executive, Mr. Holder's nickname should be Place.
Posted by orrinj at 7:21 PM


Swiss Voters Reject Shift To State-Run Health Insurance (JONATHAN FOWLER, SEP. 28, 2014, AFP) 

Swiss voters on Sunday rejected a plan to ditch the country's all-private health insurance system and create a state-run scheme, exit polls showed.

Some 64 percent of the electorate shot down a plan pushed by left-leaning parties who say the current system is busting the budgets of ordinary residents, figures from polling agency gfs.bern showed. [...]

The rejection of the plan by nearly two-thirds of voters is a major blow for pro-reform campaigners, given that recent polls had shown the No vote was likely to be 54 percent.

In a 2007 referendum, 71 percent rejected similar reforms.

The current system, which was used as a model for US President Barack Obama's controversial healthcare reform, requires that every resident in the wealthy nation of eight million hold basic health insurance and offers freedom of choice among the 61 companies competing for customers.

Posted by orrinj at 7:14 PM


In N.H. Race, A Rematch Of A Rematch (AILSA CHANG, September 29, 2014, NPR)

Think of it as a rematch of a rematch.

In New Hampshire, Democratic Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter is battling Republican Frank Guinta for the third time in a row. Each has beaten the other before - Guinta defeated Shea-Porter during the 2010 Tea Party wave, and Shea-Porter won her seat back in 2012.

You wonder if it starts to get boring when you're hitting the same rival over and over again.

"Well, I know what he's going to say, that's for sure," says Shea-Porter.

Guinta admits the same: "I mean, it is kind of old hat."

September 28, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 9:40 AM


Indian Leader Narendra Modi, Once Unwelcome in U.S., Gets Rock Star Reception (SHREEYA SINHASEPT. 27, 2014, NY Times)

"Prime Minister Modi's message will be refreshing -- what role Indian-Americans can play promoting a relationship between two great stories," said Dr. Bharat Barai, a longtime friend of Mr. Modi's who helped arrange his visit.

Many Indians in the United States see Mr. Modi as India's savior: a strong leader who has pledged to cut through red tape, stamp out corruption, revive India's economy and restore pride.

Of the more than 1,700 Indians living in the United States who responded to a New York Times questionnaire, a majority expressed excitement and hope about Mr. Modi's visit, saying they expected him to resurrect the narrative of India as a rising global power and strengthen relations between the two countries.

"Modi's trip will jump-start the process of restoring respect and admiration for Indian civilization," wrote one respondent, Sant Gupta, 66, of Virginia.

Tapping into a level of interest they never expected, Dr. Barai and the group organizing the $1.5 million event, the Indian American Community Foundation, have mobilized more than 400 organizations and individuals. Bollywood stars offered their talents, but organizers wanted to keep the focus on Indian-Americans. The hosts will be last year's Miss America winner, Nina Davuluri, and a PBS anchor, Hari Sreenivasan. Anjali Ranadivé, the daughter of Vivek Ranadivé, owner of the Sacramento Kings basketball team, will sing the American national anthem, while L. Subramaniam, a violinist, and Kavita Krishnamurthy, a classical singer, will perform the Indian anthem.

Posted by orrinj at 9:33 AM

KNOCK ON WOOD (profanity alert):

The Body Electric : Every year, more than 500 Americans will be struck by lightning--and roughly 90 percent of them will survive. Though they remain among the living, their minds and bodies will be instantly, fundamentally altered in ways that still leave scientists scratching their heads. (FERRIS JABR, October 2014, Outside)

In popular culture, to be hit by a bolt of lightning is to suffer extremely bad luck. Rain, snow, and hail are largely indiscriminate: within a certain radius, everything is drenched, blanketed, or pelted. A cloud-to-ground lightning bolt is different. It blazes a discrete path through the sky. It appears to have choice. When lightning hits a human being, a survivor must reconcile not only what happened but why it happened. Why me? For most victims, it is not the unforgettable horror of an agonizing ordeal that haunts them--many can't even recall the incident itself; it's the mysterious physical and psychological symptoms that emerge, often long after their immediate wounds have healed and doctors have cleared them to return to their normal routines. But nothing is normal anymore. Chronic pain, memory trouble, personality changes, and mood swings can all follow an encounter with lightning, leaving friends and family members confused, while survivors, grappling with a fundamental shift in identity, feel increasingly alienated by the incomprehensible nature of their condition. Something happened in a single moment--something strange and rare, something unbelievable--and after that moment, everything has changed.

Even more confounding is that almost no one in the mainstream medical community can explain what's happening to them. Although many scientists have spent their careers examining the physics of lightning, only a handful of doctors and researchers have devoted themselves to the study of how lightning damages the human body. The incident rates are simply not high enough to warrant an entire subfield of science. Nearly everything we now know about treating lightning victims concerns the immediate wounds, many of which don't even require special medical knowledge.

Paramedics, often needing to treat victims who aren't entirely sure what has happened to them, receive brief training on how to recognize the common signs of a lightning strike. True entry and exit wounds are uncommon, but lightning typically leaves some kind of mark on the skin. One afternoon in 2009, a hiker named Becky Garriss awoke on the Appalachian Trail in Vermont, sitting on a bed of pine needles, her back against a tree, as though she'd fallen asleep in its shade. Her right arm was paralyzed, pinned against her chest in a pledge of allegiance. Here and there, her pants were charred. Although she was disoriented and scared, she managed to hike more than ten muddy miles down Glastenbury Mountain to call for help. When she got to a hospital, doctors recognized lightning's smoldering touch on Garriss's right arm and leg. A bolt probably hit her directly, they told her.

Other survivors awaken into temporary blindness or deafness; sometimes the concussive force of the strike--or the electricity itself--ruptures eardrums. Some victims report the taste of metal on their tongues. Now and then, survivors develop strangely beautiful pink and brown bruises known as Lichtenburg figures, which look like intricate henna tattoos of branching fronds. These bruises likely trace the path of electricity that forced blood cells out of capillaries into more superficial layers of skin.

In rare instances, the surge of electricity is enough to stop a victim's heart and lungs. That's what happened to Michael Utley. But cardiac arrest is something any paramedic knows how to handle. Twenty minutes after Utley was struck, EMTs had arrived on the scene, strapped him to a gurney, and loaded him into an ambulance. They used a defibrillator to keep his heart going. Doctors at Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital then spent more than five weeks caring for Utley before they determined that he was ready for rehabilitation.

After leaving the hospital, Utley spent months relearning to swallow, move his fingers, and walk. Rehab was just the first chapter of his ordeal, however. In his previous life, Utley was a successful stockbroker who often went skiing and windsurfing. Today, at 62, he lives on disability insurance in Cape Cod. "I don't work," he says. "I can't work. My memory's fried, and I don't have energy like I used to. I aged 30 years in a second. I walk and talk and play golf--but I still fall down. I'm in pain most of the time. I can't walk 100 yards without stopping. I look like a drunk."

Lightning also dramatically altered his personality. "It made me a mean, ornery son of a bitch. I'm short-tempered. Nothing is fun anymore. I am just not the same person my wife married," says Utley, who is now divorced. Like many survivors, Utley sees his fateful union with lightning as more than just a close call he was lucky to survive. It marks a moment in which he was split from himself.

Posted by orrinj at 8:55 AM


US official talks up potential for cooperation with Iran (REBECCA SHIMONI STOIL September 28, 2014, Times of Israel)

Speaking on the one-year anniversary of US President Barack Obama's historic phone call to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Special Assistant to the President and White House Coordinator for the Middle East, North Africa, and the Gulf Region Philip Gordon noted that there had been significant progress in US-Iranian relations in the ensuing year.

Gordon said Saturday evening that the US and Iran "have the potential to do important business with each other," gesturing toward the possibility of increased regional coordination between the two states.

Posted by orrinj at 8:45 AM


With His Words and Deeds, Derek Jeter Never Entered Foul Territory (DAN BARRY and KEN SCHWENCKE, SEPT. 27, 2014, NY Times)

In 20 years of living onstage in New York City, the so-called media capital of the world, Derek Jeter has never played ball. He has never been caught in a compromising position. He has never embarrassed himself. After a long shift at the ballpark, he has never been known to ooze into one of those establishments that tabloids call jiggle joints, or to stumble out of some meatpacking-district hot spot after too much Veuve Clicquot.

This isn't to say that Jeter hasn't gone out at night, or that he hasn't been photographed holding a beer, or that he didn't glower once at Rodriguez after a botched infield pop-up. But he will retire with his honor and privacy intact, leaving the world to know only that he was raised right by his parents, has dated models and movie stars, and, most revealingly, kept telling himself not to cry as he played his final game at Yankee Stadium on Thursday night.

Jeter's ability to maintain a posture of sustained inscrutability -- or, if you must, dignified comportment -- has extended especially to the spoken word. That he is no Ozzie Smith at shortstop is well established; statistically speaking, he's not even a Gene Michael.

But aside from a few notable exceptions (throwing out Jeremy Giambi at home with that mind-boggling flip in the 2001 playoffs), he has played his best defense in front of his locker: catching every controversial question thrown to him and tossing it aside as if it were a scuffed ball unsuitable for play.

In a major league career that dates to the Clinton administration's first term -- he is the only Yankees shortstop a generation of fans has known -- inquiring reporters have gathered around Jeter in the clubhouse thousands of times. He has maintained eye contact, answered nearly every question posed to him -- and said nothing.

This is not a complaint, but rather an expression of awe; of admiration, even. His batting average and fielding percentage aside, this kid from Kalamazoo, Mich., entered the New York meat grinder two decades ago and came out the other end looking as sharp as Joe DiMaggio's suit.

Diverting resources that might have been dedicated to crises greater than a ballplayer's retirement, The New York Times recently conducted an analysis of thousands of Jeter quotations it had recorded since his first major league game. That was on May 29, 1995, when a reporter observed that he had handled an 0-for-5 performance with a veteran's aplomb.

"Veteran?" Jeter said. "I've got to get a hit first."

He was all of 20 but was already locked in -- focused on saying nothing that might be contorted into a next-day story line: "Rookie Remains Cocky Despite His Zip of a Day."

There have been plenty of detestable characters in the mix and more than a few who annoyed the other side just because of how they did what they did, but the recent Red Sox/Yankee rivalry has featured an unusual number of outstanding cornerstone players who neither fan base hated : Rivera, Pettite, Posada and Jeter for the Yanks and Pedro, Varitek, Papi & Pedroia for the Sox.
Posted by orrinj at 8:39 AM


Why Is The Middle East Failing? Because There Are Too Many Young Men, And No Women (Roger Scruton, 9/28/14, Forbes)

The Middle East is, as we are discovering, not one thing: on the contrary, it is a patchwork of communities whose peaceful coexistence depended on conditions that no longer exist. And many of those communities are in the habit of producing the two greatest scourges of the human race: young men without women, and puritanical rage. These same scourges have visited Afghanistan and North Africa, and they lie dormant throughout the Islamic world.

It is true that in Turkey and large parts of the Levant women have obtained a kind of social equality with men: but it is a precarious equality. Thanks to Atatürk polygamy was abolished in Turkey and women were encouraged to enter public life. Their status as the unspeakable 'secret' was removed, their faces were revealed, their soothing presence was everywhere perceivable. Thanks also to Atatürk the other great solvent of social tension - alcohol - was permitted and, while drunkenness is rightly viewed with anger all across the Middle East, the example of Turkey has helped many of those ancient communities to let their hair down and relax together over a bottle.

Remove wine and women, however, and the tension quickly escalates. This is especially so in societies where the women, although hidden away, are encouraged to have children, and where the quantity rather than the quality of children is the most important sign of status. Just to consider one of the many flashpoints, the median age in Gaza is 18, compared with a world-wide figure of 28 and a European average of 40. We see the result on our televisions. When conflict erupts in an Islamic country and people come out into the streets we witness vast crowds of young men. In Turkey there are women too among them. But Turkey is the exception that proves the rule. The norm is young men without women, their anger fuelled by the anger of those around them, gesturing towards something that as often as not they are unable to describe except in vast, vague and metaphysical terms - the reign of God, the death of the infidel, the destruction of the Other who stands in their way.

Gender imbalance is nothing a good war won't fix.

Posted by orrinj at 8:36 AM


Tear Gas Flies As Pro-Democracy Protests Swell In Hong Kong (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, 9/28/14)

Hong Kong police used tear gas on Sunday and warned of further measures as they tried to clear thousands of pro-democracy protesters gathered outside government headquarters in a challenge to Beijing over its decision to restrict democratic reforms for the city.

After spending hours holding the protesters at bay, police lobbed canisters of tear gas into the crowd on Sunday evening. The searing fumes sent protesters fleeing down the road, but many came right back to continue their demonstration.

Students and activists have been camped out on the streets outside the government complex all weekend. Students started the rally, but by early Sunday leaders of the broader Occupy Central civil disobedience movement said they were joining them to kick-start a long-threatened mass sit-in to demand an election for Hong Kong's leader be held without Beijing's interference.

Police used the tear gas after the protest spiraled into an extraordinary scene of chaos, with the protesters jamming a busy road and clashing with officers wielding pepper spray.

Posted by orrinj at 8:28 AM


Iowa Poll: Joni Ernst now leads Bruce Braley for Senate (Jennifer Jacobs, September 28, 2014, Des Moines Register)

The ground under Bruce Braley has shifted.

The Democratic U.S. Senate candidate is 6 points behind his GOP rival, Joni Ernst, according to The Des Moines Register's new Iowa Poll of likely voters.

Ernst leads 44 percent to 38 percent in a race that has for months been considered deadlocked. She leads nearly 4-1 with rural voters, and is up double digits with independents.

"Very interesting, and good news not just for Ernst but also for the GOP's chances of taking the U.S. Senate," said national political prognosticator Larry Sabato of "Sabato's Crystal Ball."

Posted by orrinj at 7:46 AM


Why commuting by public transport makes you happy (Lauren Laverne, 9/28/14, The Observer)

The University of East Anglia study surveyed 18,000 passengers and found that even when other factors that may affect wellbeing were taken out of the equation commuters who travelled to work on public transport were happier (that is, scored lower on feelings of worthlessness, unhappiness and sleeplessness) than those who drove. Key to it all is what public health experts call "active travel". Drivers are choosing a "non-passive travel mode" requiring constant concentration. This can be boring, isolating and stressful. Active travellers, on the other hand, have time to relax. The simple walk to and from the station appears to have intrinsic value. As the UEA economist who led the study put it: "It appears to cheer people up."

While we're putting things simply, apparently the people who chose to take public transport were around half a stone lighter, too - the bodyweight benefits were found to be on a par with cycling. 

September 27, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 6:18 AM


Houthi rebels attack Yemen security chief's home (Reuters, Sep 27, 2014)

The stability of Yemen is a priority for the United States and its Gulf Arab allies because of its position next to Saudi Arabia and shipping lanes which run through the Gulf of Aden.

The power-sharing deal signed on Sunday makes Houthis a part of the government, but it is not clear if that will satisfy their demands, or if it will instead embolden them to seek further powers.

Against the backdrop of the fragmented political, tribal and sectarian scene, any escalation of the fighting could also allow an array of other factions, including southern separatists, former leader Ali Abdullah Saleh and even al Qaeda to take advantage.

President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi has said Yemen may be heading for civil war.

It's not a civil war; the Shi'a aren't Yemeni.

Posted by orrinj at 6:06 AM


The Khorosan Group Does Not Exist : It's a fictitious name the Obama administration invented to deceive us. (Andrew C. McCarthy, 9/27/14, National Review)

We're being had. Again.

For six years, President Obama has endeavored to will the country into accepting two pillars of his alternative national-security reality. First, he claims to have dealt decisively with the terrorist threat, rendering it a disparate series of ragtag jayvees. Second, he asserts that the threat is unrelated to Islam, which is innately peaceful, moderate, and opposed to the wanton "violent extremists" who purport to act in its name.

Now, the president has been compelled to act against a jihad that has neither ended nor been "decimated." The jihad, in fact, has inevitably intensified under his counterfactual worldview, which holds that empowering Islamic supremacists is the path to security and stability. Yet even as war intensifies in Iraq and Syria -- even as jihadists continue advancing, continue killing and capturing hapless opposition forces on the ground despite Obama's futile air raids -- the president won't let go of the charade.

Hence, Obama gives us the Khorosan Group.

The Right is the Left.
Posted by orrinj at 6:03 AM


Catalonia defies Spain by formally calling secession referendum (Associated Press, Sept. 27, 2014)

The president of Spain's powerful northeastern region of Catalonia has formally called an independence referendum in the latest secession push in Europe and one of the most serious challenges to the Spanish state of recent years.

The conservative Spanish government insists the referendum, planned for Nov. 9, is illegal and won't take place.

Catalan leader Artur Mas called the referendum Saturday, flanked by most of the region's political leaders who support the vote.

Posted by orrinj at 5:57 AM


Frat Boys, Drunken Girls and Paternalism  (Virginia Postrel, 9/26/14, Forbes)

Judging, or even acknowledging, the risky behavior of female college students has become a cultural taboo.

Hence the fate of contributor Bill Frezza, who briefly published a column -- under the deliberately provocative headline "Drunk Female Guests Are The Gravest Threat To Fraternities" -- warning fraternities to watch out for female party guests who show up intoxicated. "I don't care how pretty or flirtatious a young lady is; if she's visibly intoxicated, don't let her in," he wrote. The consequences, he warned, could be grave:

The column was almost immediately jerked from the site, and Frezza, who has written for Forbes since 2011, was summarily fired. (Forbes columns are essentially blog posts, put up by their contributors without editing. Contributors are paid based on traffic, which may account for the headline and equally designed-to-outrage stock photo.)

Commentators were outraged that Frezza -- a man! -- appealed to the self-interest of fraternity members, and addressed the subject from their perspective rather than tackling broader issues of morality or condemning the decadence of Greek life. "Blaming the problem on other people and taking zero time for self-reflection is exactly how fraternities arrived at their punchline status in the first place," wrote Jezebel's Erin Gloria Ryan. Jezebel represents the same lack of introspection -- with the same punchline results -- among well-educated young women.

Read coolly, Frezza's rhetorical strategy is clear. Although provocative, the column wasn't just link bait. An adviser to his old Massachusetts Institute of Technology fraternity, which Frezza has described as "the central institution of my life," he was trying to scare young men into monitoring the behavior of wildly intoxicated young women, despite the immediate temptations they present.1 "It is precisely those irresponsible women that the brothers must be trained to identify and protect against, because all it takes is one to bring an entire fraternity system down," he warned.

It would be helpful if these educational institutions taught them that part of manhood is accepting that you have a duty towards women.
Posted by orrinj at 5:19 AM


US considers new, softened nuclear offer to Iran (AP AND TIMES OF ISRAEL, 9/26/14)

The US is considering softening present demands that Iran gut its uranium enrichment program in favor of a new proposal that would allow Tehran to keep nearly half of the project intact while placing other constraints on its possible use as a path to nuclear weapons, diplomats told The Associated Press.

The initiative, revealed late Thursday, comes after months of nuclear negotiations between Iran and six world powers that have failed to substantially narrow differences over the future size and capacity of Tehran's uranium enrichment program. Iran insists it does not want atomic arms but the West is only willing to lift nuclear-related sanctions if Tehran agrees to substantially shrink enrichment and other activities that Iran could turn toward making such weapons.

Posted by orrinj at 5:12 AM


The Secret Goldman Sachs Tapes (Michael Lewis, 9/26/14, Bloomberg View)

Any Fed manager who read the Beim report, and who wanted to fix his institution, or merely cover his ass, would instantly have set out to hire strong-willed, independent-minded people who were willing to speak their minds, and set them loose on our financial sector. The Fed does not appear to have done this, at least not intentionally. But in late 2011, as those managers staffed up to take on the greater bank regulatory role given to them by the Dodd-Frank legislation, they hired a bunch of new people and one of them was a strong-willed, independent-minded woman named Carmen Segarra.

I've never met Segarra, but she comes across on the broadcast as a likable combination of good-humored and principled. "This American Life" also interviewed people who had worked with her, before she arrived at the Fed, who describe her as smart and occasionally blunt, but never unprofessional. She is obviously bright and inquisitive: speaks four languages, holds degrees from Harvard, Cornell and Columbia. She is also obviously knowledgeable: Before going to work at the Fed, she worked directly, and successfully, for the legal and compliance departments of big banks. She went to work for the Fed after the financial crisis, she says, only because she thought she had the ability to help the Fed to fix the system.

In early 2012, Segarra was assigned to regulate Goldman Sachs, and so was installed inside Goldman. (The people who regulate banks for the Fed are physically stationed inside the banks.)

The job right from the start seems to have been different from what she had imagined: In meetings, Fed employees would defer to the Goldman people; if one of the Goldman people said something revealing or even alarming, the other Fed employees in the meeting would either ignore or downplay it. For instance, in one meeting a Goldman employee expressed the view that "once clients are wealthy enough certain consumer laws don't apply to them." After that meeting, Segarra turned to a fellow Fed regulator and said how surprised she was by that statement -- to which the regulator replied, "You didn't hear that."

This sort of thing occurred often enough -- Fed regulators denying what had been said in meetings, Fed managers asking her to alter minutes of meetings after the fact -- that Segarra decided she needed to record what actually had been said. So she went to the Spy Store and bought a tiny tape recorder, then began to record her meetings at Goldman Sachs, until she was fired.

(How Segarra got herself fired by the Fed is interesting. In 2012, Goldman was rebuked by a Delaware judge for its behavior during a corporate acquisition. Goldman had advised one energy company, El Paso Corp., as it sold itself to another energy company, Kinder Morgan, in which Goldman actually owned a $4 billion stake, and a Goldman banker had a big personal investment. The incident forced the Fed to ask Goldman to see its conflict of interest policy. It turned out that Goldman had no conflict of interest policy -- but when Segarra insisted on saying as much in her report, her bosses tried to get her to change her report. Under pressure, she finally agreed to change the language in her report, but she couldn't resist telling her boss that she wouldn't be changing her mind. Shortly after that encounter, she was fired.)

Posted by orrinj at 5:02 AM


Ruble's headlong plunge shows Russia hurting (Mark Thompson, September 26, 2014, CNNMoney)

If you want a measure of the price Russia is paying for the Ukraine crisis, look no further than its free-falling currency.

The ruble fell another 1.6% against the U.S. dollar Friday, extending a slump that has wiped nearly 16% off its value since the start of the year.

...having had his keister handed to him by the gay socialist muslim in the White House.
Posted by orrinj at 4:51 AM


Eric Holder's Legacy (THE EDITORIAL BOARD, SEPT. 25, 2014, NY Times)

Under Mr. Holder, the Justice Department approved the targeted killing of civilians, including Americans, without judicial review, and the Obama administration fought for years to keep the justifications for such efforts secret. In the zeal to stop leaks of government information, Mr. Holder brought more prosecutions under the Espionage Act than during all previous presidencies combined. In tracking the sources of leaks, prosecutors seized phone and email records of journalists who were doing their jobs.

Even as the Justice Department devoted so much misguided energy to preventing leaks, it neglected to prosecute some of the most glaring cases of wrongdoing. Driven by Mr. Obama's desire to "look forward," Mr. Holder used claims of government secrecy and immunity to toss out lawsuits seeking accountability for torture and other criminal abuses committed in the war on terror.

September 26, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 8:21 PM


Democracy Requires a Patriotic Education : The Athenians knew it. Jefferson knew it. Somehow we have forgotten: Civic devotion, instilled at school, is essential to a good society. (DONALD KAGAN, Sept. 26, 2014, WSJ)

 Like the ancient philosophers, Jefferson regarded education as essential to the establishment and maintenance of a good polity-- Plato, in "The Republic," spends many pages on the nature of the citizens' education, as does Aristotle in "Politics." Jefferson regarded a proper educational system as so important that in the epitaph he wrote for himself, he did not mention that he had twice been elected president of the United States but proudly recorded that he was the "Father of the University of Virginia."

Jefferson was convinced that there needed to be an education for all citizens if they and their new kind of popular government were to flourish. He understood that schools must provide "to every citizen the information he needs for the transaction of his own business; to enable him to calculate for himself, and to express and preserve his ideas, his contracts, and accounts, in writing."

For Jefferson, though, the most important goals of education were civic and moral. In his "Preamble to the 1779 Virginia Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge" he addresses the need for all students to have a political education through the study of the "forms of government," political history and foreign affairs. This was not meant to be a "value free" exercise; on the contrary, its purpose was to communicate the special virtues of republican representative democracy, the dangers that threatened it, and the responsibility of its citizens to esteem and protect it. This education was to be a common experience for all citizens, rich and poor, for every one of them had natural rights and powers, and every one had to understand and esteem the institutions, laws and traditions of his country if it was to succeed.

It is striking to notice the similarity between Jefferson's ideas and those of a leader of the last great democracy prior to Jefferson's fledgling democracy. In 431 B.C., Pericles of Athens described the character of the great democratic society he wished for his community: A city "governed by the many, not the few," where in the "matter of public honors each man is preferred not on the basis of his class but of his good reputation and merit. No one, moreover, if he has it in him to do some good for the city, is barred because of poverty or humble origins."

Especially with the decline of jobs, this should return to being the focus of schooling.

Posted by Glenn Dryfoos at 5:36 AM


Benny Carter - Montreux 77

Concert video

Welcome back for the second installment of All That Jazz.  No musician will test my resolve to keep these reviews short than today's artist, Benny Carter...but as I wrote last week, Benny is my hero, so please indulge me.  Born in 1907, Carter was a multi-instrumentalist (to this day he is considered one of the greatest alto sax players ever); pioneering composer, bandleader and arranger (both for big bands and for films and TV); quiet-but-effective civil rights leader; and one of the most admired and respected musicians of the 20th century.  Wynton Marsalis summed it up best: It's been said that a man should not be forced to live up to his art.  Benny Carter is one of the rare instances when we wonder whether the great art that a man has created can live up to him.

>After reaching the heights of fame as a jazz musician from the late 1920's through the mid-50's, in the US and Europe, Carter spent most of the next 20 years writing for the studios, playing very little in public and recording even less.  In the mid-70's (when he was close to 70) he returned to work as a full-time jazz musician and travelled the world, playing at a remarkably high level, for the next 20 years.  This album was recorded early in his "comeback." "On Green Dolphin Street" and "Three Little Words" are wonderfully representative of his playing throughout his career: improvisations that are so melodic that they seem pre-configured (until you hear him play the same tune again and realize that each chorus is wholly original and spontaneous); incredible virtuosity that is never flashy; long, flowing lines interspersed with open spaces that allow his statements to breath and flow; and a unique sense of swing that is subtle and engaging.  Benny was one of the rare musicians who played reeds and brass instruments, and here also shows off his supple and lyrical trumpet style on the first chorus of "Body and Soul" before returning later to take a turn on alto.  Ray Bryant (piano), Niels Pedersen (bass) and Jimmie Smith (drums) provide the perfect accompaniment and help make this a great example of straight-ahead jazz at the highest level.

September 25, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 8:46 PM


How 'Imminent' Was the Khorasan Group Threat? (Paul D. Shinkman, Sept. 25, 2014, US News)

President Barack Obama has frequently referred to Khorasan as an "imminent threat," a description which seems to have come out of nowhere. He also has yet to explain why he chose to strike this group the same day he ordered warplanes to drop bombs on separate targets in Syria. [...]

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said last week that the Khorasan Group could present a threat, but the term has never shown up in any of the "Worldwide Threat Assessment" reports his office annually provides to Congress.

Yet President Barack Obama and his staff have relied heavily on the explanation that Khorasan was a danger that needed to be addressed immediately. [...]

A day later, Sen. Carl Levin, outgoing chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, offered a few more details.

"The briefings we had indicated that there was a growing ability to...put together explosive devices that could get through the security of airports," the Michigan Democrat told a small group of reporters on Wednesday.

Like WMD, if some folks feel better about fighting a war they should fight for moral reasons only if you offer them physical reasons, then such lies are a small price to pay.

Posted by orrinj at 7:57 PM


Cameron's devolution move opens up 'Pandora's Box' on tax and spending (Stephen King, 9/22/14, Financial Times)

The terms of Scottish "Devo-Max" are unclear. If Gordon Brown's 12-Point Plan proves a reasonably accurate blueprint, Scotland will be able to both borrow more to fund infrastructure projects and set its own income tax. How much of this is genuinely new is unclear. The 2012 Scotland Act granted Holyrood income tax-setting powers - effective 2016 - and allowed the Scottish government to borrow up to £2bn a year via bond issuance to fund infrastructure.

What is more revolutionary for the UK's public finances is the possibility - alluded to by David Cameron, prime minister - that England, Wales and Northern Ireland would be given similar powers. George Osborne will be feeling a little uneasy: the idea fiscal decisions could be scattered to the four corners of the kingdom may make sense in Number 10 but Number 11 is unlikely to be so enthusiastic.

Putting aside the nature and characteristics of an "English parliament", devolution for all nations in the kingdom would presumably mean we'd soon be living in a world of local income taxes and local bond issuance: in other words, a fundamentally different world from the one UK citizens have inhabited.

Posted by orrinj at 7:52 PM


US and Iran: 'More cooperation than meets the eye' (Deutsche Welle, 9/24/14)

Bitter adversaries for a generation, the US and Iran now face a common enemy: the "Islamic State." But Dr. Roham Alvandi tells DW that politics prevent Tehran and Washington from cooperating publicly. [...]

Ayatollah Khamenei said that he rejected an offer from the US to cooperate against the Islamic State. Why would Iran oppose cooperating with Washington against a common enemy?

Iran assisted the United States in Afghanistan back in 2001. They helped defeat the Taliban; they helped create the Bonn process [to rebuild Afghanistan's political institutions]; they helped create the Karzai government. And what they got in exchange for that was "axis of evil" and more sanctions. Nothing came out of it and that was quite a gamble for President Khatami who had convinced the leadership that this was the right thing to do. So you can't really blame them for being skeptical as to whether the US will really come through on any sort of quid pro quo as far as Iraq is concerned.

So the Iranian government doesn't see anything to gain from publicly supporting the US or publicly joining a US-led coalition?

President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif would like to make a case that the US should give some kind of concessions to Iran on the nuclear issue because of the help Iran can offer in Iraq. The problem is that any kind of cooperation in Iraq has to be weighed against the domestic political costs of doing so, both in Tehran and Washington. And I think the calculation is that it's better to cooperate quietly and secretly than to try and to invest any political capital in doing anything openly.

Posted by orrinj at 6:03 PM

LONG LIVE NORWEGIA! (self-reference alert):

Disney World set to replace EPCOT's Maelstrom ride, chaos ensues (Catherine Garcia, 9/25/14, The Week)

If your favorite attraction at Disney World's EPCOT Center is the Norwegian-themed boat ride Maelstrom, you have until Oct. 5 to ride it as many times as possible before it shuts down forever.

Not even an army of Vikings can save the Maelstrom now, as Disney plans on replacing it with a Frozen-themed attraction, set to debut in 2016. Maelstrom opened in the World Showcase in 1988, and is filled with polar bears, waterfalls, and trolls. Fans enjoyed it because it didn't feature made-up characters and actually showcased the culture of Norway. Many of them are turning to Twitter to voice their anger about the closure (rallying around the hashtag #savemaelstrom). [...]

Robert Niles, editor of, told that their passion just isn't enough. "It had some nice elements but it was never an attraction in terms of actually 'attracting' people," he said. "No one ever booked a trip to Disney World just to ride Maelstrom."

It's at least top three, along with the train and the Carousel of Progress at Fantasyland, but we never could remember the name--we just call it Norwegia--and it does impose a fair amount of guilt when you skip the movie to go get on board again.  

Posted by orrinj at 5:46 PM


Zoo in coverup after groundhog dropped by de Blasio dies (Joe Tacopino, Carl Campanile and Natalie O'Neill, September 25, 2014, NY Post)

A week after Hizzoner dropped Staten Island Chuck in front of a crowd of spectators on Feb. 2, the winter-weather prognosticator died of internal injuries -- and then the coverup began, The Post has learned.

Staten Island Zoo officials went to great lengths to hide the death from the public -- and keep secret the fact that "Chuck" was actually "Charlotte," a female impostor, sources said Wednesday.

The zoo told a few Staten Island Zoo supporters, but claimed the groundhog died of natural causes.

The stand-in was found dead in her enclosure at the Staten Island Zoo on Feb. 9 -- and a necropsy determined she died from "acute internal injuries," sources said.

Gravity is natural.

Posted by orrinj at 5:43 PM


Garcia rips Kuster for delinquent property taxes in new digital ad (John DiStaso, Sep 24, 2014, NH Journal)

In a new digital ad today, Republican 2nd District congressional hopeful Marilinda Garcia will bring up an uncomfortable topic for Democratic U.S. Rep. Anne Kuster - her admitted failure to pay about $40,000 in property taxes on time over a three-year period.
When the issue arose in 2013, Kuster quickly paid what at that point was about $11,000 in past due bills and apologized.
She later said that while she came from an affluent family, "Life is expensive, and it caught up to us. So look, I apologize. I can't change what happened. I regret that it happened."

Posted by orrinj at 5:38 PM


Triumph of the Will (PAUL JOHNSON, October 2014, Standpoint)

At the end of this volume Professor Kotkin asks the question: What if Stalin had died in 1928 before he launched the collectivisation of Soviet agriculture? What difference would it have made? The scale of this gigantic act of social engineering, 1928-1933, unique in world history, affected more than 100 million people living in villages and on the nomadic steppes. About five million of them, many of them highly productive, were forcibly "dekulakised", enclosed in cattle trucks and exiled in far-off regions of Siberia and elsewhere in the remote Russian countryside. Millions of others, to escape removal, sold or abandoned their properties. In many cases, those forced into collective farms burned their crops, slaughtered their flocks and did their best to kill the officials and troops who dragooned them.

The losses were quite unprecedented. In the hunger that followed -- the longest, by far, man-made famine in history -- between five and seven million died, and 40 million more came close to starvation. The number of sheep fell from nearly 22 million to under two million, cattle from 70 million to 28 million, horses from 35 million to 17 million and pigs from 26 million to 12 million.

The whole colossal exercise was without any rational justification. Tsarist Russia was an inefficient country but, under the impact of rapidly expanding capitalism, was becoming less so with impressive speed. Agriculture was modernising itself without undue suffering. All this was taking place without any interference from the state. Collectivisation halted and reversed the process of improvement, and the losses were not made good for half a century, indeed in some cases never. To collectivise was a specifically political decision, without any economic, demographic, cultural or humanitarian reasoning. It was an absolutist piece of theorising, undertaken without preparation or practical planning, in the arrogant belief that this form of socialism was right.

To take such a decision, and to carry it through, year after year, against all the evidence that it did not work, and was wasting life and property in vast quantities, required a sustained act of will of an unusual kind -- one is tempted to say a unique kind. Stalin was capable of such an extraordinary act of will and, in Professor Kotkin's opinion, that set him apart from others at the summit of Soviet power at the time. [...]

What made Stalin different -- in this he was unlike any other Bolshevik leader except Lenin -- was the overwhelming strength of his will. Hence the transformation of Russia from the confused muddle of capitalism and authoritarian government created by the NEP into the centralised state monolith and tyranny of the Soviet Union, held together by the GPU and the gulag archipelago, was the work of one man. And if Stalin had died in 1928 it would never have come into existence, with all of its enormous consequences to this day.

The only man with a will, at this time, comparable to Stalin's was not a Russian but a German-Adolf Hitler. 

All Stalin did was what Lenin would have done.  

Posted by orrinj at 5:30 PM


With 2016 aspirations pending, Jeb Bush visits North Carolina to help US Senate candidate (GARY D. ROBERTSON, 9/25/14, Associated Press) 

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is on the campaign trail, boosting Republican candidates in this year's midterm elections while reinforcing his relationships in critical 2016 presidential primary states. [...]

The stops allowed Bush to offer his own prescription for the nation's ills. He told a Greensboro crowd that a few big things need to be fixed to help the nation take off again, and most of them originate in Washington, D.C.

Posted by orrinj at 5:10 PM


Obama's U.N. Hypocrisy (Matthew Rotschild, 9/25/14, The Progressive)
He said the nations of the world must "renew the purpose of the UN's founding" and "observe and enforce international norms"--all this just two days after he violated those norms and undermined the purpose of the U.N.'s founding by waging war in Syria without the U.N. Security Council's authorization.

Then he had the gall to say that Russia believes "might makes right," while the United States believes in "right makes right." But what is this new war in Syria but an exercise in might makes right? [...]

This was a speech that could have been delivered by George W. Bush.

W would have been more eloquent, because he believes it.

Posted by orrinj at 4:58 PM


How Bill Simmons' unjust suspension exposes America's toxic Football Industrial Complex (Jon Terbush, 9/25/14, TheWeek)

On Wednesday, ESPN suspended Bill Simmons for saying out loud what ESPN's own reporting had already confirmed.

The Grantland editor -- who is probably ESPN's most valuable commentator -- called NFL commissioner Roger Goodell a "liar" in an expletive-filled tirade on his popular podcast Monday. Simmons was blasting increasingly implausible NFL claims that Goodell had not seen or been aware of horrifying video of star running back Ray Rice punching his wife in the face before giving the former Baltimore Raven a meager two-game suspension. Indeed, Simmons' broadside against Goodell came mere days after a bombshell report from ESPN's Outside the Lines "found a pattern of misinformation and misdirection employed by the Ravens and the NFL" in their handling of Rice's abuse case. Specifically, ESPN's reporters wrote that Goodell was dishonest with the public in claiming he didn't know that Rice had punched his wife until September, when TMZ released a now-infamous videotape of the incident.

Last week, Goodell told CBS News that, during the disciplinary meeting, Rice provided an "ambiguous" account of what had happened inside the elevator. And in its Sept. 12 letter justifying the indefinite suspension, the league said Rice's account was "starkly different" from what was seen on the inside-elevator video. Four sources, however, told Outside the Lines that Rice gave Goodell a truthful account that he struck his fiancée. [Outside the Lines]

Bolstering ESPN's reporting, other well-connected journalists wrote months ago that the league knew a security camera caught Rice punching out his then-fiancée. And this month, The Associated Press obtained an audio recording of someone in the league office receiving a copy of the tape way back in April.

Nonetheless, Simmons has been suspended for three weeks, barred even from using his own Twitter account. The offending podcast is gone, too, wiped from the archives.

...just a marketing tool.  He's judged by how effectively he markets the brand. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:36 PM


Lower crude oil prices, sliding autumn demand could send gas below $3 a gallon in many states (JONATHAN FAHEY, 9/25/14, AP)

The price of a gallon of gasoline may soon start with a "2'' across much the country.

Gasoline prices typically decline in autumn, and this year they are being pulled even lower by falling global oil prices. By the end of the year, up to 30 states could have an average gasoline price of less than $3 a gallon.

The average in Springfield, Missouri, is already below $3, according to Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst at the Oil Price Information Service and Several other cities are on the brink.

Getting gas down into the low $2's could be exactly the sort of reverse 9-11 we've needed for years now to snap us out of what are purely psychological doldrums.  

September 24, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 6:18 PM


Why the Chinese military is only a paper dragon (Kyle Mizokami, 9/24/14, War is Boring)

China's military budget has grown by double-digits year after year, but inflation has eaten away at the increases. China's army, navy, air force, and missile command are wracked by corruption -- and their weapons are, by and large, still greatly inferior to Western equivalents.

Yes, the People's Liberation Army is slowly becoming more technologically advanced. But that doesn't mean Beijing can mobilize its armed forces for global missions. Unlike the world's main expeditionary powers -- the United States and the U.K., to name two -- China is surrounded by potential enemies.

Russia, Japan, and India are all neighbors ... and historic adversaries. China's aggressive foreign policy targeting smaller states isn't encouraging submission but resistance, as countries such as The Philippines and Vietnam ally with the United States, Japan, and India.

China's other neighbors are weak or failed states, such as Pakistan and North Korea. Their instability -- or their outright collapse -- could have serious security repercussions for China, and help explain why Beijing lavishes funds on its armed forces.

Posted by orrinj at 6:10 PM


Muslim scholars tell Islamic State: You don't understand Islam (Lauren Markoe | September 24, 2014, RNS)

[Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council of American-Islamic Relations,] said its aim is to offer a comprehensive Islamic refutation, "point-by-point," to the philosophy of the Islamic State and the violence it has perpetrated. The letter's authors include well-known religious and scholarly figures in the Muslim world, including Sheikh Shawqi Allam, the grand mufti of Egypt, and Sheikh Muhammad Ahmad Hussein, the mufti of Jerusalem and All Palestine.

A translated 24-point summary of the letter includes the following: "It is forbidden in Islam to torture"; "It is forbidden in Islam to attribute evil acts to God"; and "It is forbidden in Islam to declare people non-Muslims until he (or she) openly declares disbelief."

This is not the first time Muslim leaders have joined to condemn the Islamic State. The chairman of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, Aiman Mazyek, for example, last week told the nation's Muslims that they should speak out against the "terrorist and murderers" who fight for the Islamic State and who have dragged Islam "through the mud."

But the Muslim leaders who endorsed Wednesday's letter called it an unprecedented refutation of the Islamic State ideology from a collaboration of religious scholars. It is addressed to the group's self-anointed leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, and "the fighters and followers of the self-declared 'Islamic State.'"

But the words "Islamic State" are in quotes, and the Muslim leaders who released the letter asked people to stop using the term, arguing that it plays into the group's unfounded logic that it is protecting Muslim lands from non-Muslims and is resurrecting the caliphate -- a state governed by a Muslim leader that once controlled vast swaths of the Middle East.

"Please stop calling them the 'Islamic State,' because they are not a state and they are not a religion," said Ahmed Bedier, a Muslim and the president of United Voices of America, a nonprofit that encourages minority groups to engage in civic life.

September 23, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:16 PM


The Impact Of The US Shale Revolution Is Summed Up Nicely In This Simple Chart (SAM RO, 9/23/14, Business Insider)

natural gas prices

Posted by orrinj at 5:25 PM


Heard at Syria's border: Life in the Islamic State is orderly, but brutal (Dominique Soguel,  SEPTEMBER 21, 2014, CS Monitor)

Syrian residents of Raqqa tend to view with distrust the foreign jihadists that the Islamic State ushered in, although few dare speak up out of fear of reprisal. While Raqqa long adhered to conservative Muslim values, most find the group's harsh interpretation of Islam alienating rather than inspiring. None would condone the killing of fellow Muslims. Many feel that slicing and dicing between unbelievers and apostates is something best left to God, rather than new converts or ex-drug addicts, who they say populate the IS ranks.

"We got rid of [Syrian President Bashar] Assad in Raqqa but now we have 20,000 Assads," complains Aisha, who crossed into Turkey with the help of a smuggler and now lives in the dusty town of Akcakale. The CIA estimates that the Islamic State, which has battled both the Syrian regime and more moderate anti-Assad groups in its rise to prominence, boasts between 20,000 and 30,000 men in its ranks.

"The worst is their women - they walk about carrying guns, grenades, and suicide belts. You are always worried that one of them will go off by accident," says Aisha. She now feels safe enough to chuckle at the memory of a jihadist's wife who scolded her at the gynecologist's office for lifting her face veil for a quick breather. The woman was so adamant that Aisha deemed it best to cover up, despite the suffocating heat and absence of men.

Other Raqqa residents, however, credit IS with running an effective Islamic court, settling local disputes fairly and introducing mechanisms to right their own wrongdoings. There is a complaints office for those who have been treated unfairly, maktab al-madhalim.

"This sort of thing was unheard off under Assad," says Rabia, a teenager living in Raqqa who was wrongly accused by rivals of pocketing oil revenue, a main source of income for the Islamic State. He was released after a few hours of questioning and the man responsible for the false charges was later detained.

But those who pay for their alleged crimes in blood don't have the luxury of appeal. [...]

Mahmoud, a young man who left Raqqa this month to join his friends in Istanbul, sums up the situation: "Killings have become normal. Everyday you leave your house in Raqqa and you see death. Everyone has lost someone.

"Assad bombs and kills civilians," he says. "Daash [IS] executes regime troops and rebels, but they brought security. Few people join IS out of religious belief. Most are in it for power, money, and recognition, or simply to have their backs covered if they have problems in the community. The tragedy is that the youth and children are easily brainwashed, so this will be a long-term problem."

Posted by orrinj at 5:15 PM


Without means, there are no real rights : Socialism--even social democracy--is in retreat as capitalism reigns triumphant. But if we care about political freedom, we have to care about economic freedom too: without means, civil and political rights are empty. (STUART WILSON, 23 September 2014, OpenDemocracy)

The promise of rights is that they reclaim neoliberalism's central insight--that human freedom is perhaps the most important political value. The best account of rights then takes that to its logical conclusion. Freedom from state interference with thought and political action is of course important. But what about other freedoms--freedoms from disease, ignorance and poverty? Freedoms to realise one's self, and to pursue a healthy, well-informed, comfortable life?

The political left's greatest contribution to the theory of rights is this: if political rights are to be worth anything, they entail recognition of the means necessary to exercise them. Civil and political rights are indivisible from economic and social ones. Of course, adequate education, healthcare, housing and employment are good things in themselves, but it cannot be taken for granted that everybody thinks that everyone else is entitled to them. The beauty of indivisibility is its strong central challenge: if you really care about political freedom, then you have to care about economic freedom.

But economic freedom in this sense is not just autonomy. It is self-realisation. Economic freedom, understood as a necessary precondition for the exercise of political rights, does not entail the absolute protection of property rights. It instead requires the redistribution of economic goods to the extent necessary to ensure that everyone has more or less equal access to the means of self-realisation. For without those means, civil and political rights are empty.

An account of human rights which emphasises this indivisibility is perhaps the only way the left currently has of persuading liberals and conservatives--or at least those who genuinely care about freedom--that redistribution matters. Economic goods must be extended as of right to those who do not currently possess them. the imagination of the Left, are precisely those--Pinochet, Thatcher, Blair, Clinton, W--who have sought to redistribute wealth more equally, but in capitalist instead of socialist fashion..

Posted by orrinj at 5:11 PM


Obama Can Bomb Pretty Much Anything He Wants To (Eric Posner, 9/23/14, Slate)

[T]his legalistic wrangling is beside the point. Back in 2011, President Obama used military force against Libya. Unable to rely on the 2001 AUMF or the 2003 AUMF against a government that had nothing to do with al-Qaida or Iraq, Obama relied on his constitutional authority. The administration claimed that the War Powers Resolution did not apply because sending planes to drop bombs and fire missiles at enemy troops did not amount to "hostilities" governed by the war powers act. This was a ludicrous interpretation of the law. It is plain that the president will cite statutes if they exist, but if none do, that won't stop him.

Many commentators just can't get this into their heads. In 2013, President Obama briefly considered using military force against Syria, but when he couldn't obtain international support, he sought an AUMF from Congress.* Even though he explicitly said that he didn't legally need that support, commentators leapt to conclusions. To quote David Rothkopf, just one of many:

Whatever happens with regard to Syria, the larger consequence of the president's action will resonate for years. The president has made it highly unlikely that at any time during the remainder of his term he will be able to initiate military action without seeking congressional approval.
So much for the majesty of the law. As I argued at the time, because the president announced that he could act alone, and that he regarded resort to Congress as optional, "President Obama has reaffirmed the primacy of the executive in matters of war and peace." He went to Congress for political cover, not for legal authority.

Ackerman is right that the Obama administration's reliance on the 2001 AUMF is phony, but he's wrong to say that Obama has broken with American constitutional traditions. That tradition dictates that the president must give a nod to Congress if he can, but otherwise he is legally free to go to war, subject to vague limits that have never been worked out. That's not to say that Congress is helpless. It can refuse to fund a war if it objects to it. But the real constraint on the president's war-making powers is not law, but politics.

Posted by orrinj at 5:04 PM


WHY SUBURBIA IRKS SOME CONSERVATIVES (Joel Kotkin, 09/22/2014, New Geography)

Less well-noticed is that opposition to suburbs - usually characterized as "sprawl" - has been spreading to the conservative movement. Old-style Tories like author-philosopher Roger Scruton do not conceal their detestation of suburbia and favor, instead, European-style planning laws that force people to live "side by side." Densely packed Paris and London, he points out, are clearly better places to visit for well-heeled tourists than Atlanta, Houston or Dallas.

There may be more than a bit of class prejudice at work here. British Tories long havedisliked suburbs and their denizens. In a 1905 book, "The Suburbans," the poet T.W.H. Crossland launched a vitriolic attack on the "low and inferior species," the "soulless" class of "clerks" who were spreading into the new, comfortable houses in the suburbs, mucking up the aesthetics of the British countryside.

Not surprisingly, many British conservatives, like Scruton, and his American counterparts frequently live in bucolic settings, and understandably want these crass suburbanites and their homes as far away as possible. Yet, there is precious little concern that - in their zeal to protect their property - they have also embraced policies that have engendered huge housing inflation, in places like greater London or the San Francisco Bay Area, that is among the most extreme in the high-income world.

Of course, the conservative critique of suburbia does not rest only on aesthetic disdain for suburbs, but is usually linked to stated social and environmental concerns. "There's no telling how many marriages were broken up over the stress of suburb-to-city commutes," opines conservative author Matt Lewis in a recent article in The Week. In his mind, suburbs are not only aesthetically displeasing but also anti-family.

What seems clear is that Lewis, and other new retro-urbanist conservatives, are simply parroting the basic urban legends of the smart-growth crowd and planners. If he actually researched the issue, he would learn that the average commutes of suburbanites tend to be shorter, according to an analysis of census data by demographer Wendell Cox, than those in denser, transit-oriented cities. The worst commuting times in America, it turns out, to be in places such as Queens and Staten Island, both located in New York City.

Other conservatives also point to the alleged antisocial aspect of conservatism, a favored theme of new urbanists everywhere. A report co-written by the late conservative activist Paul Weyrich supported forcing "traditional designs for the places we live, work and shop," which "will encourage traditional culture and morals," such as community and family.

Once again, however, a serious examination of research - as opposed to recitation of planners' cant - shows that suburbanites, as University of California researchers found, tend to be more engaged with their neighbors than are people closer to the urban core. Similarly, a 2009 Pew study recently found that, among the various geographies in America, residents in suburbia were more "satisfied" than were either rural or urban residents.

In working against suburbia, these conservatives are waging a war on middle-class America, not necessarily a smart political gambit. 

Besides the eventual immigration amnesty, which will fuel Latino home purchases in suburbia, conserrvatives should be working to completely voucherize public housing policy, which would depopulate the cities in favor of suburbia.

Posted by orrinj at 4:49 PM


Resigned to Freedom : The California Teachers Association prepares for life as a voluntary association. (Larry Sand, 21 September 2014, City Journal)

Gary Casteel, a veteran union organizer recently named secretary-treasurer of the United Auto Workers, has come out in favor of right-to-work laws. In February, he said, "This is something I've never understood, that people think right-to-work hurts unions. To me, it helps them. You don't have to belong if you don't want to. So if I go to an organizing drive, I can tell these workers, 'If you don't like this arrangement, you don't have to belong.' Versus, 'If we get 50 percent of you, then all of you have to belong, whether you like to or not.' I don't even like the way that sounds, because it's a voluntary system, and if you don't think the system's earning its keep, then you don't have to pay."

Former Florida teacher and teacher-union president Doug Tuthill also seems comfortable with the right-to-work trend. "The two most effective unions in the United States are the National Rifle Association and the AARP," Tuthill wrote on redefinEd, an education reform website. "They're not industrial unions, but they are unions, and they are far more effective politically and financially than today's teachers unions. Teachers should adopt this model. . . . Unlike today's teachers unions, the NRA and AARP do not require their members to be part of a centralized bureaucracy. Their members are united by common values and interests."

As unions come to terms with the right-to-work movement, they fall into line with broader public sentiment. A poll conducted earlier this year by Google Consumer Surveys found that nearly 83 percent of the American public believes that workers should have the right to choose whether to join a union. Additionally, nearly 29 percent of union members nationwide responded they would be interested in leaving their union if given the opportunity. And in its annual Labor Day poll, Gallup found 82 percent of Americans agree that "no American should be required to join any private organization, like a labor union, against his will." Perhaps unions are on the verge of conforming to what Alexis de Tocqueville called the characteristic institutions of American life--voluntary associations. It's about time.

Posted by orrinj at 4:39 PM


Obama Versus the Islamic State (Anne-Marie Slaughter, 9/23/14, Project Syndicate)

Where Obama's strategy is weakest is in reaching ordinary people: the networked web of human relationships that transmits rage, hatred, and despair or hope, trust, and loyalty. His doctrine that the US will use force to defend its "core interests," but will mobilize others "to address broader challenges to international order," is sound logic and good politics in a war-weary US. But, as a Syrian tweeted to me, what the world hears Obama saying is that the US will use force to avenge the deaths of two American journalists, but will stand by while 200,000 Syrians are slaughtered.

Unless US military action is seen as actually protecting the lives and property of the Iraqi and Syrian people, the US will quickly lose the propaganda war to the Islamic state. 
As many experts warn, the first time a drone strike kills a woman or child, a video of the scene and the funeral will be posted for the Muslim world to see.

Even if that video does not actually increase support for the Islamic State, it will convince millions of Muslims that the US is up to its old military tricks: bombing for oil, or for Israel, or simply to crush all Muslims. Those anti-American attitudes, newly hardened once again, will make it much more difficult to get the necessary intelligence against the Islamic State on the ground and to deprive them of the support of other Sunni militias.

That will not just hurt the US in Syria and Iraq. It will shape popular views in other Arab states, limiting their governments' ability to work with the US. Most damaging of all, a purely strategic justification for military action - in defense of core US interests - leaves no room to do what actually needs to be done in Syria.

The only way to bring Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to the negotiating table is to weaken him and the Islamic State simultaneously. And the only legal or moral justification for striking his air force, ammunition dumps, or heavy weaponry is the international responsibility to protect his people from him - just as the US helped to protect the Yezidis from the Islamic State.

For, contrary to Obama's claim, the brutality of the Islamic State is not "unique." Assad has killed more than 200,000 people, mostly civilians, in a conflict that started with his government's torture of children.

When W said we were there to liberate the Iraqi people you knew he meant it. No one believes that the UR cares about anything but himself.

Posted by orrinj at 3:08 PM


Golda and Ben-Gurion, the toys (JESSICA STEINBERG, September 23, 2014, Times of Israel)

Need a new tchotchka?

Asaf Harari has one for you.

The 29-year-old graphic designer makes plastic figurines of famous Israeli historical figures. Think Golda Meir, David Ben-Gurion and Theodor Herzl.

Asaf Harari's main objective is to 'revolutionize' the Jewish/Israeli memorabilia market (Courtesy Piece of History)

They're going to have to join the collection:

Posted by orrinj at 3:04 PM


The U.S. snuck an al Qaeda raid into its Syria anti-ISIS airstrikes (Peter Weber, 9/23/14, The Week)

But along with the U.S.-Arab mission, centered around the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa, U.S. aircraft conducted eight separate strikes west of Aleppo against an al Qaeda offshoot, "sometimes referred to as the Khorasan Group," that the U.S. says has been "imminent attack plotting against the United States and Western interests." 

Posted by orrinj at 1:34 PM



JEB'S DRY RUN: As Jeb Bush plunges into a frenzy of fall travel for Senate candidates, his allies insist a presidential campaign is becoming more of a possibility than even they thought a few months ago. He's doing a lot of under-the-radar prep, including foreign policy tutoring and meetings with tech gurus. And several of his friends think he is leaning more yes than no. The more opaque his plans, the greater the clamor - a "Greta Garbo strategy" that has amped up demand for the former Florida governor.

Jeb Bush is headed to the hot Senate races in North Carolina and Kansas, and made numerous summer trips to raise money for the RNC, and Senate and gubernatorial candidates - with stops in Ohio, Iowa, Michigan, South Carolina, Kentucky and elsewhere. Friends say he does this every cycle - it's just getting more attention now.

A twist in how the former govenor is raising money that has gotten a ton a buzz among campaign insiders: Besides traveling to key midterm states, Jeb has headlined several fundraisers where the candidate COMES TO FLORIDA, where Jeb knows everyone. That means that the proceeds are all NEW MONEY for the guest, and the candidate gets to meet new supporters and build his or her own network.

Posted by orrinj at 1:26 PM


Stop whining, and grow up (Tom Ehrich | September 23, 2014, RNS) 

Whining is a form of narcissism. Whining makes me the center of everything. I hear this constantly in the religious world. Worshippers whine about the length of a sermon without appreciating the effort put into it and the possibility that someone else is benefiting. Older constituents whine about children, conveniently forgetting that their children once made noise in church. Message: It's all about me.

What's the answer to whining? Maturity, for one thing. It's time for a lot of people to grow up and stop behaving like children. Also, a perspective leading to gratitude. Many people don't see how good they have it and, therefore, feel no gratitude, just deprivation. 

September 22, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:53 PM


Houthis tighten grip on Yemen capital after swift capture, power-sharing deal (Mohammed Ghobari, 9/22/14, Reuters) 

Yemen's Shi'ite Houthi fighters tightened their grip on the capital Sanaa on Monday after seizing much of the city in a lightning advance and signing an overnight deal to win a share of power, capping a decade-long guerrilla uprising.

The Zaydi Shi'ites, who make up 30 percent of Yemen's population of 25 million and ruled a kingdom there for 1,000 years, have complained of being marginalized since their last king in Sanaa was overthrown in a 1962 revolution. [...]

The Houthis have long been shunned by Yemen's political elite. They complained they were left out of a Gulf-brokered power transfer deal after "Arab Spring" protests forced veteran leader Ali Abdullah Saleh to quit in 2012 in favor of his then vice president, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

In addition to the insurgency by Houthis, Yemen has also been plagued by war against Sunni al Qaeda militants who are targeted by U.S. drone strikes, and by separatism in the formerly independent south.

Although a National Dialogue process which ended this year agreed to devolve more power to Yemen's regions, the Houthis disagreed with the geographic boundaries that were proposed.

Over the past few months, they successfully fought a series of battles in their northern stronghold against rival Sunni Muslim militias and allied troops loyal to the Sunni Islamist Islah Party, bringing them to the outskirts of Sanaa.

A people who think themselves a kingdomn are one.

Posted by orrinj at 7:48 PM


John Hickenlooper could lose his job in November. Here's why (Reid Wilson September 22, 2014, Washington Post)

How did a governor who strove to maintain good relationships across the aisle while presiding over a rebounding economy get in so much trouble?

Colorado political experts, including several close to the governor himself, say the issue has been Hickenlooper's difficulty showing decisive leadership, especially on a few high-profile issues.

Republicans have been most critical of Hickenlooper's handling of Nathan Dunlap, a murderer convicted of the shooting deaths of four people at a Chuck E. Cheese restaurant in suburban Denver in 1993. Dunlap's execution has been put on hold several times, both by Hickenlooper and his predecessor, Bill Ritter (D). In 2013, Hickenlooper granted what his office called a "temporary reprieve."

Hickenlooper initially said he was unlikely to revisit Dunlap's case before he left office, and that voters ought to decide whether Colorado should still use the death penalty. But in an interview on CNN in August, Hickenlooper hinted he might grant clemency if he loses his re-election bid this fall.

Democrats have fretted that the case presents Republicans with a huge opportunity to portray Hickenlooper as indecisive and weak. Republicans are well aware of the chance before them.

"Beauprez will be able to correctly hit the governor on the fact that he couldn't make a decision," said state Rep. Frank McNulty (R), the former speaker of the Colorado state House.

And he has. Beauprez has promised Dunlap would be executed if he is elected. The Republican Governors Association ran an advertisement critical of Hickenlooper's statements in the CNN interview. "I think that's the coward's way out," the husband of one of Dunlap's victim tells a reporter in the ad.

Hickenlooper has also refused to make clear his position on the Keystone XL pipeline. Though governors have little say over the project, Republicans have used the issue to drive a wedge between the Denver Democrat and constituents around the state who rely on the booming energy industry. And during a heated debate over gun control legislation, Hickenlooper told a group of sheriffs he had not spoken to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg about new gun measures he would eventually sign, then admitted a few days later that they had.

Hickenlooper has even drawn scorn for the title he chose for his economic plan: TBD.

Posted by orrinj at 7:43 PM


The slow, tentative return of women's lost sense of sexual honour : Something in our nature craves the constraints that produce the rewards an honour code confers. (Barbara Kay | 16 September 2014, MercatorNet)

One of the most intellectually influential books I have ever read was cultural critic James Bowman's 2006 Honor: A History. As fellow cultural critic Charles Murray wrote in its praise: "Ranging across psychology, popular culture, military history, the arts, and politics, Honor: a History is a tapestry of the twentieth century that uses a neglected thread - the evolution of the complicated bundle of values that goes into the concept of honour - to explain how out culture got where it is today."

Relevant in this particular context is Bowman's elegantly simple definition of honour as "the good opinion of those who are important to you." Honour is not the same thing as morality (both bad people and good people act in honour's name). Although its hold on western life today is fragile, a sense of honour is not entirely moribund in our culture. Honour codes still flourish in the military, for example. We are not always able to articulate what honourable behaviour consists in, but we usually have an instinctive grasp of what constitutes "dishonourable" behaviour.

Honour, Bowman says, is sex-specific. Male honour is rooted in physical courage; women's honour is rooted in sexual modesty. Men are ashamed to be called out for being cowards; women are ashamed to be called out for being sluts. Morality is usually a private affair. But, as Alexis de Toqueville wrote, "Honour acts solely for the public eye." Before the personal became the political, we made a firm distinction between public and private behavior, and as a collective, we only judged public actions. Today that line is almost utterly obliterated.

The jettisoning of honour as a criterion for judging the behaviour of others has been the assiduously pursued task of "progressives" throughout the 20th century. Conversely, the application of honour as the only criterion in judging the behaviour of others - notably the sexual behaviour of girls and women - has been the assiduously pursued task of Islamists in their own lands, and in the last several decades in the western lands to which they have migrated in large numbers.

Both of these ideologically-rooted drives represent poles of honour-related extremism. Both are socially destructive of healthy relations between the sexes. And both tend to obscure the fact that in reasonable doses, honour is a force for good in society. In the West, tribalist honour joined forces with Christianity to produce a distinctly western strain of honour, which we call chivalry. Nobody is pretending that men and women today should aspire to replicate the relationship of Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, written in 1813, but there is a reason this honourable couple continues to attract fascinated and even envious attention from every new generation of women who discover them. Something in our nature craves the constraints that produce the rewards an honour code confers.

...would be for young women to stop getting drunk in the presence of young men and for young men to stop taking advantage of that drunkeness.

Posted by orrinj at 7:23 PM


David Cameron to meet Iran leader over Isis campaign (Patrick Wintour, 9/22/14,  The Guardian)

The meeting, a significant thaw in diplomatic relations between the countries, is designed to explore the support the Iranians can give to the fight against Islamic State (Isis) in Iraq and Syria. [...]

Cameron is expected to make clear that Isis is a common and extremely serious threat that can only be tackled in Iraq and that Iran must drop its support for President Assad, who, in the words of Downing Street, has "created the conditions that have allowed terrorism to flourish".

Cameron will also send a tough message to the Iranians on the long-running nuclear negotiations on behalf of the E3 + 3 group that: "Iran has a rare opportunity to embolden its prosperity through a deal but this is only possible if Iran is willing to show flexibility and be realistic about the future scope of its nuclear programme, in particular the issue of enrichment."

Posted by orrinj at 6:36 PM


Hispanics Were the Only Major Group to See Poverty Drop Last Year (NEIL SHAH, 9/22/14, WSJ)

Poverty among Hispanics--who comprise about 17% of the U.S. population--fell from 25.6% in 2012 to 23.5% in 2013 as this group's median income rose an inflation-adjusted 3.5%. That allowed the overall U.S. poverty rate to decline.

While poverty reduction among Hispanics is good news, it's notable that no other major racial or ethnic group saw a statistically significant drop.

They're the only ones with the Puritan work ethic.

Posted by orrinj at 1:05 PM


Though Adversaries on the Surface, U.S. and Hezbollah Share a Goal (ANNE BARNARD, SEPT. 21, 2014, NY Times)

They are sworn enemies who insist they will never work together, but in practice, Hezbollah and the United States are already working -- separately -- on a common goal: to stop the extremist Islamic State from moving into Lebanon, where Hezbollah is the most powerful military and political player and currently shares with Washington an interest in stability.

Weeks after Hezbollah, the Shiite militant group and political party, helped repel an Islamic State attack on the town of Arsal on the Syrian border, new American weapons are flowing to help the Lebanese Army -- which coordinates with Hezbollah -- to secure the frontier. American intelligence shared with the army, according to Lebanese experts on Hezbollah, has helped the organization stop suicide attacks on its domain in southern Beirut.

September 21, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 5:31 PM


This time around Scott Walker less dominant in rural Wisconsin (Craig Gilbert, 9/20/14, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

One big reason this race for governor is closer than the last one is that Walker has lost ground in the Green Bay, Wausau and La Crosse media markets, according to an analysis of 2014 polling data.

For example, the governor won the Green Bay media market by 23 points in the 2012 recall election. But this year he is leading the region by 14 points in the combined polling that Marquette University Law School has done from May through September of this year.

In 2012, Walker won the Wausau/Rhinelander market by 18 points. But he is leading by only 1 point in the 2014 polling.

And two years ago, Walker won the La Crosse/Eau Claire markets by 9 points. But he is trailing Democrat Mary Burke by 3 points in the 2014 polling.

Why the drop-off?

Much of the answer lies in the fact that the governor over-performed in these areas in 2012 compared to how Republicans typically do in big statewide races, and even compared to his earlier 2010 victory.

That performance was always going to be hard to duplicate. Strategists on both sides believe it was boosted by at least two factors that aren't present today.

One was running against the mayor of Milwaukee, Tom Barrett. Walker highlighted Milwaukee's crime and joblessness in his campaign ads, and that message may have resonated in many rural and suburban areas far from the state's biggest city. Republicans also attacked Barrett over his support for gun control.

But perhaps a bigger factor involved voter attitudes about the recall itself. Many voters throughout the state had reservations about the recall process. Those concerns were especially strong among rural voters, the 2012 exit poll shows. Walker ended up winning the rural and small-town vote by 28 points -- the biggest margin in any race for governor or president in Wisconsin since the 1990s.

Reservations about the recall were especially sharp in northeastern Wisconsin, home to a mix of mostly suburban and rural voters from the Fox Valley north. In the 2012 exit poll, 76% of voters in northeastern Wisconsin said recalls should only be used for "misconduct" or "never" -- the highest number of any region in the state.

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 PM


Hezbollah drones wreak havoc on Syrian rebel bases (ADIV STERMAN September 21, 2014, Times of Israel)

For the first time in its history, Shiite terror group Hezbollah carried out a successful unmanned aircraft strike, targeting al-Qaeda-linked Syrian rebel bases near the northeastern Lebanese town of Arsal early Sunday, according to the Iranian Fars News Agency. [...]

The group's unprecedented drone attack was reported to have killed at least 23 fighters from the extremist al-Nusra Front.

Hezbollah ground troops continued the offensive on the rebel bases, and several al-Nusra operatives were held captive by the Lebanese militia, the semi-official Iranian news agency reported. Abu Leith al-Shami, a Lebanese national, and a high ranking al-Nusra official, was also said to have been killed in battle with Hezbollah.

Hezbollah's push-back against the al-Nusra Front comes a day after a suicide bomber killed a number of people at a checkpoint near Lebanon's border with Syria, only hours after the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda had reportedly executed a Lebanese soldier.

Posted by orrinj at 8:53 AM


Innovators: a lightbulb moment for Dyson and son : Innovation runs in the Dyson family, with Jake refining a last-a-lifetime LED light that can illuminate a whole kitchen (Shane Hickey, 21 September 2014 , The Guardian)

The younger Dyson, one of three children of the inventor, has recently unveiled the latest addition to his high-end lighting units designed to save energy by slimming the number of lights required in the home and the office.

It has taken him 10 years to get this far. He set up his design studio in London in 2004 and produced a halogen light, before switching his focus to light-emitting diodes (LEDs), which are lauded for their long life.

But while other manufacturers were claiming their lights could last for 30,000 hours, Dyson wanted to make one for life. The problem was that the semiconductor chips that produce the light also generate intense heat which damages the chip, reducing the brightness and changing the light's colour.

A cooling system was needed to stop the chips overheating and thus lengthen their life span, Dyson said. The system he developed works much like technology in laptop computers and satellites, extracting the heat from the chip to "calm" it.

The key is heat pipe technology that can move the high heat created by the LED away from the chip. Keeping the temperature of the chip low in turn allows more powerful LEDs to be used, and their brightness, colour and energy efficiency maintained Dyson said.

Each copper pipe in the cooling system contains a drop of water - which heats up inside the pipe, turns to steam and disperses the heat as it moves down the pipe and away from the chip. It allows the LED chip to be kept at about 45C, well below previous temperatures.

Posted by orrinj at 8:39 AM


What will make stocks go even higher? (Jesse Solomon, September 21, 2014, CNN Money)

Here's what needs to happen for stocks to climb even higher:

1. A 'not too hot, not too cold' economy: For stocks to keep going up, the Fed has to cooperate and not hike interest rates before investors expect it to, which right now is the summer of 2015.

The Fed is likely to play along if the economy continues moving at a "not too hot, not too cold" rate, according to Jim Russell, Senior Equities Strategist for U.S. Bank Wealth Management.. [...]

2. Real earnings growth: In addition to the Fed, earnings have been the mother's milk of the bull market. Companies are growing their bottom lines, but most of the healthy profits of the past few years have come largely through cost-cutting.

As the overall economic picture gets better, stocks could see a real boost if companies can show that they're actually growing revenue because people are buying more things.

"If the economy continues to improve, I want to see organic top line growth from corporate America," said Robert Landry, a money manager with USAA investments in San Antonio, Texas.

3. Geopolitical stability: Geopolitical risk has been responsible for various market shocks this year, but they have all been short-lived. That trend should continue as long as the these situations don't spin out of control.

4. Immigration amnesty, which would put upward pressure on real estate values

5. Pacific and European trade agreements, which would open new markets and further reduce the cost of imports.

6. Tax reform, reducing the complexity of the current income tax system and getting rid of corporate taxes in particular

7. Corresponding hikes in gas taxes, which would put further downward pressure on gas prices and spur adoption of alternative energy sources

8. Gutting defense spending and returning the money to investment instead of consumption

9. Reforming Obamacare to push more Americans into HSAs, which would increase investment and savings

Posted by orrinj at 8:35 AM


Inequality and the narrowing tax base : Taxes are best raised on a broad base, but in many countries it is worryingly narrow (The Economist, Sep 20th 2014)

"I LIKE to pay taxes," said Oliver Wendell Holmes. "With them I buy civilisation." Most people recognise that taxes pay for public services, but few are as keen to stump up for them as Justice Holmes was. High income taxes tend to discourage effort and entrepreneurship, while encouraging all manner of activity to avoid them. That is why a basic principle of good tax policy has long been to charge a low rate over a broad base.

It is a target which many countries miss, and the gap is growing. Income taxes--one of the main sources of tax revenue across the rich world--are increasingly paid by a small minority of the most affluent. In Britain, employment has risen by 1.3m in the past five years, but the number of taxpayers has fallen by 2.2m. More than 40% of American households pay no income tax. In contrast, the most highly paid 1% of workers in Britain pay 28% of all income tax, while in America it is 46%. In 1979 those shares were 11% and 18% respectively. Corporate income taxes show the same concentration. In Britain just 830 firms pay almost half of all corporation tax. Five American industries account for 81% of the country's corporate tax revenue, but just a third of its companies.

Consumption taxes are universal but allow the consumer to decide how much he'll pay in taxes (once some level of food, clothing and housing are exempted).

Posted by orrinj at 8:32 AM


Catalonia's referendum : Getting to "si" (Charlemagne, Sep 19th 2014, The Economist)

[W]hile the Scottish referendum was jointly proposed by the British and Scottish governments, Mr Mas is treading a more dangerous path. Madrid has refused to hold a referendum, so he is going it alone. On Friday Catalonia's parliament passed a so-called "law of consultations", with a view to allowing Mr Mas to call a referendum on November 9. Spain's conservative prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, will try to block the referendum by sending the law to the constitutional court for study. They will almost certainly suspend it for several months, and may strike it down. 

Mr Mas may try to call the referendum over the weekend, before the court has a chance to suspend it. But the court could then ban the referendum. If Mr Mas obeys and cancels the referendum, his minority nationalist government, propped up by the separatist Catalan Republican Left (ERC), may fall. The ERC has called for civil disobedience if the referendum does not take place.

In the mildest scenario, Mr Mas may go through the motions of rebelling for several weeks before finally bowing to the law. In the most extreme one, Mr Mas could stage an illegal referendum, with police moving in to remove urns and Madrid suspending the Catalan regional government's right to rule. That is unlikely, but not impossible. Much depends on the attitude of ERC.

A final option might be for Mr Mas to call early Catalan elections, turning them into a clear demand for an independence referendum, as Scottish leader Alex Salmond did. A large "yes" vote would be hard to ignore. If national elections next year weaken Mr Rajoy or produce a Socialist victory, Madrid might become more malleable. But Mr Mas's own Democratic Catalan Convergence party (CDC) is likely to do badly in those elections; the likely winner would be the separatist ERC.

Posted by orrinj at 8:12 AM


Why the world is getting safer (Simon Kuper, 9/19/14, Financial Times)

Deaths in warfare have been falling for decades and probably centuries, as the Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker has charted. The global rate of war deaths, Pinker writes, slid "from almost 300 per 100,000 world population during world war two, to almost 30 during the Korean war, to the low teens during the era of the Vietnam war, to single-digits in the 1970s and 1980s, to less than 1 [this] century".

True, deaths in conflict rebounded after 2005. Nearly 200,000 people were killed in Syria alone from 2011 through April this year, estimates the UN. Yet Pinker says we're still at "a tiny bit over one" war death per 100,000 humans per year. Homicides, far more common than war deaths, are falling across the west.

And deaths from violence in recent years are vastly outnumbered by lives saved from infectious disease. Three great killers of poor people, Aids, tuberculosis and malaria, are in retreat.

Moreover, the worldwide death rate of children under five "roughly halved" between 1990 and 2012, says Unicef. The average human now lives to nearly 70. That's 20 years more life than in the early 1950s. Liberians have gained those 20 years since just 1992. On average, they now live to about 60.

In fact, a study published by the World Bank showed that from 1970 through 2008, death rates tended to fall even in war zones. The reason: gains from better healthcare trumped deaths from fighting.

At the End of History, there's nothing left to fight about and you're too wealthy to care even if there was.
Posted by orrinj at 7:54 AM


The time is ripe for English devolution (John Redwood, 9/17/14, Financial Times)

The UK constitution was left unbalanced by the last Labour government. They expelled most of the hereditary peers from the Lords but otherwise left the unelected House largely unreformed. They gave substantial devolution to Scotland, less devolution to Northern Ireland and Wales, and nothing to England. They decided not to answer the so-called West Lothian question: why should Scottish MPs vote on English matters such as health and education, which they cannot determine for their own constituencies?

England decided to put up with the injustice in the interests of the union. Today there is a new mood abroad. While the majority of us would like Scotland to stay in the UK, a large majority of us in England now want devolution for our country too.

The easiest way to rebalance the UK would be to grant an English parliament identical powers to those granted to Scotland. We could either have an English parliament at Westminster, formed from the MPs elected from English constituencies, or work towards an entirely new parliament with additional politicians.

This way of sorting out the issue does not appeal to some in the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties, who rely on non-English MPs to give them more weight in parliament. They have come up with other proposals. But all now agree that there is an English problem.

It's a winning argument for the Tories to insist that the English get as good a deal as the Scots.
Posted by orrinj at 7:48 AM


Does Abenomics Work? - The Doubts Grow (Edward Hugh, 9/19/14, Fistful of Euros)

What makes people like me nervous is the thought that if the central bank can't deliver on its promise to deliver inflation and revive the economy, or if the Japanese voters decide they have had enough of the experiment, then a loss of confidence might ensue, and all those dubious risky asset positions might unwind suddenly, just like an earlier set did in 2008.

And there are plenty of people in Japan who have been pointing this out all along. Seki Obata, a Keio University business school professor for example, who in 2013 published a book "Reflation is Dangerous," argues exactly this, that "Abenomics" is exposing Japan to considerable risk without any clear sense of what it can accomplish. Obata also makes the extremely valid point that there is simply no way incomes can rise across the entire economy because the baby boomers are now retiring to be replaced by fewer young workers with post labour reform entry-level wages. Japan's overall consumer spending power will therefore fall, rather than rise as Abe hopes. "Individual companies may offer wage increases, but because of demographics it is simply impossible to increase the total amount that is paid out in wages," says Obata. "On the contrary, that amount will shrink."

And as these countries die and take their economies down with them, the only safe place top put their money is in the US.

Posted by orrinj at 7:39 AM


Ken Kesey's Exhausted Heroes : Randle Patrick McMurphy of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Hank Stamper of Sometimes a Great Notion: two men of incredible strength whom Kesey brings to their knees. Why? (J. FRANCIS WOLFE, 9/17/14, Airship)

For all of their bluster and egotism, both characters find themselves exhausted beyond comprehension -- so much so that they nearly go against their very nature and consider doing something completely unfathomable by giving up. But why was Kesey, a man who battled the social mores of his time as much as anyone, so fond of building up characters so strong and indefatigable only to allow them to be torn down by the very things they were fighting against?

The rationale is simple: Until we, as readers, see these characters as flawed and sometimes weak, we have a very difficult time relating to them. McMurphy is especially reminiscent of a comic book hero or TV cowboy, though this could also be said of Hank. It is only after we see these characters in their moments of weakness that we can really believe that they could be real people.

There is another reason as well, one founded in the Christian symbolism that Kesey so often imbues his novels with. Both characters, though more clearly McMurphy, are Christ-like figures that must sacrifice themselves -- or at least some part of themselves -- in order to save those around them. McMurphy allows himself to be lobotomized by Nurse Ratched, but only after he demonstrates to the other patients how to permanently regain their manhood. 

The Messiah's sacrifice would be meaningless if He weren't broken first and fully cognizant of what it is to be us.

Posted by orrinj at 7:34 AM


Stuck on Inflation (Jeff Madrick, 9/16/14, NY Review of Books)

It is far too early to start tightening policy, but to these three Fed presidents, who help set Fed policy, it is never soon enough. The three bankers do not always sit on the Fed's Open Market Committee, where Fed policy decisions are made, but they are vocal about their hawkish views, and their comments have had wide reverberations in public debate.

It's instructive, therefore, to examine what they were saying back in 2008, the year the economy slid into the worst recession since the Great Depression. The Fed did not cut interest rates that summer and failed to help save Lehman Brothers that September, in part due to over-optimism about the economy. By the fourth quarter of 2008, the nation's Gross Domestic Product was falling at an annual rate of more than six percent. Consumer inflation was negative.

At the time, rising inflation should have been the last thing on anyone's mind. But what were the inflation hawks saying during those calamitous months? Along with the seven governors of the Fed and a few other bank presidents, Fisher, Lacker, and Bullard participated in many of the Fed's Open Market Committee meetings that year--the meetings at which decisions about interest rates and other policies, such as quantitative easing, are made. The complete minutes of the committee's 2008 meetings were released earlier this year.

Let's begin with Fisher, who this July said, "I believe we are at risk of doing what the Fed has too often done: overstaying our welcome by staying too loose too long"--in other words, apparently, we should raise interest rates as soon as possible.

Here are a few comments Fisher made at an Open Market Committee meeting in the summer of 2008 as the economy was collapsing:

The real bad news is that our patient appears to be acquiring a staph infection in this hospital that we have created, and that staph infection is inflation. I believe inflation is upon us. I believe expectations are discounting more inflation. Very importantly --and this is tough to get from the models--I believe that behavioral changes are beginning to manifest themselves. Now, some would argue that this infection is temporary and may well go away. Others will argue that it will be stayed by strong rhetoric. Still others say that it will require --I don't know if it's an antibiotic or an antidote--further tightening, lest the infection spread and counteract the good that we have done.

Fisher voted to raise interest rates in the summer of 2008, as the economy was plunging. He said at a meeting, "I think it is important to take a shot across the bow" to halt inflation. "I think we have to put some substance behind our words."

Many economists have noted that employment is too weak these days to suggest there are inflation pressures. Wages in particular have not risen. To the contrary, they're down several percentage points after inflation from mid-2009, when the recession technically ended. In a recovery, they should rise sharply.

But in the summer of 2008, Lacker criticized just such thinking as a failure to see signs of inflation ahead.

It is popular, as many have noted around the table, to cite the stability of compensation gains as evidence that we are not seeing a wage-price spiral. I have done it myself recently. But I share the concerns expressed [by some others] around the table about that being a lagging indicator. I am concerned that, if we wait until we see rising inflation expectations showing up as wage pressures, we will have waited too long. I noted in just a casual glance at the data from the 1970s that, although wage acceleration was a prominent component of the acceleration of inflation in the late 1960s, it was largely absent in the accelerations that occurred in '74 and '79.

Lacker doesn't believe that the failure of wages to rise suggests inflation is not a threat. Wrong then, and probably wrong now.

As for James Bullard, he calls himself the "North Pole of inflation hawks," according to an interview in Bloomberg News. In July of this year he too warned that inflation is coming back. Any unemployment rate below 6 percent will stimulate it, he believes. For him 6 percent is simply full employment. This is despite the fact that the unemployment rate fell below 4 percent in the late 1990s and inflation stayed low.

The liberation of productivity from labor is not reversible.
Posted by orrinj at 7:31 AM


THE JERUSALEM APPROACH : After a summer of war, we need a different way to think about Israeli-Palestinian peace. It starts with the holy city. (GERSHOM GORENBERG, 9/13/14, National Journal)

On a midsummer afternoon, at the King George Street station in the center of downtown Jewish Jerusalem, I boarded one of the silver four-car trams of Jerusalem's only light-rail line. The electric train swooshed east along Jaffa Road to the City Hall stop, just before the narrow, now-unmarked no-man's-land that divided the city before 1967. The next stop was the Damascus Gate station, serving downtown Arab Jerusalem. From there the train headed north toward outlying Palestinian and Jewish neighborhoods.

It was a normal rush-hour trip--except that there were no Palestinians on the train. No father spoke Arabic to the son sitting next to him; no teenage girls chattered in Arabic about their purchases on Jaffa Road. The women who wore head scarves had them tied behind their necks, Orthodox Jewish style, not wrapped under their chins, Muslim style. No one got on or off at Damascus Gate. In the Palestinian neighborhood of Shuafat, a mourning banner with a huge picture of murdered Arab teenager Muhammad Abu Khdeir hung from an apartment building facing the tracks. A sign on the ticket machine on the platform said it was out of order--as it has been since angry young residents smashed it during the violent protests that followed the murder of Abu Khdeir at the beginning of July. No one got off there or at Beit Hanina, the northernmost Palestinian neighborhood on the line.

The missing passengers weren't participating in an organized boycott. They were simply afraid. The kidnap-murder of Abu Khdeir by Jewish terrorists was part of the wave of anti-Arab harassment and violence that erupted in Jerusalem at the end of June, after the bodies of three Jewish teens who'd been kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists in the West Bank were discovered. Bands of young Jewish toughs harassed and assaulted Arabs on Jaffa Road and on the light rail. The revenge attacks have now become infrequent--in part because time has passed, but in part because there are fewer Arabs in what was once shared space. "You feel you're closed up in the train," a Palestinian pharmacist who works at a hospital on the Jewish side of town told me. If you're attacked, she said, you've got nowhere to run. A Palestinian friend who lives in Beit Hanina told me that his son used to take the train home from school in the Old City. This year, he said, he told his son to come home the slow way, on a bus line run by an Arab company. The train had become too dangerous.

When construction of the rapid-transit line began in 2002, the choice of the route fit an established trend: Major planning decisions in Jerusalem have as much to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as they do with mere urban needs. The light rail would not only cross the invisible border; it would also string together Arab neighborhoods that Israel annexed in 1967 and the Jewish neighborhoods that it has built between them. The tracks were an implied declaration in steel by the municipal and national governments that the city would never be divided. More specifically, they were a rejection of the parameters for a peace agreement that President Clinton laid out at the end of 2000, stating that Jewish-populated areas of the city should be under Israeli sovereignty and Arab-populated areas should be under Palestinian rule. The route could be read as an inscription on the tombstone of the Oslo process.

Yet the light rail had other, perhaps unintended, consequences. Arab Jerusalem can seem like a distant country for most Jewish Jerusalemites. Without the train, fewer of them would ever have seen the main street of Shuafat, much less the huge picture of Abu Khdeir now hanging there. The transit line made more visible the fact that Jerusalem straddles a cultural, religious, and ethnic border, even if the political border has been erased from Israeli maps.

Palestinians wave a national flag as they celebrate in the streets of East Jerusalem the long-term truce reached between Israel and the Palestinians on August 26. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty Images)Let me stress the word "straddles": There are two Jerusalems, yet they are connected; or they are one city, riven. The city defies Israeli and Palestinian slogans--not to mention American politicians' declarations of support for "undivided Jerusalem." Despite the official Israeli stance that it has "unified" Jerusalem, the Arab city has never become part of Israel. To call what happens in Jerusalem coexistence would be a mistake. As one astute Israeli advocate of coexistence told me, it can't be created "when one side rules and one is ruled over."

Yet East Jerusalem is less separate than the standard Palestinian story claims. There are human ties across the line. There are many people--particularly Palestinians--whose lives bridge the divide. Jerusalem is fragmented, roiling, more multicultural than any other place between the Mediterranean and the Jordan. And while it is constantly described in terms of its history, its future matters more: The stunning, unrealized, possibly wasted potential of Jerusalem is to be a bridge between two societies.

Since the Oslo process began, the expectation of many, perhaps most, Israeli proponents of a two-state agreement has been that it would lead to separation of Israelis and Palestinians. That attitude is easy to take in what Israelis call the "center" of the country: Tel Aviv and its environs, the unofficial economic and cultural capital. Here in Jerusalem, however, that view never made sense. And when the peace process someday resumes--after this cruel summer, it seems very far away, but eventually it must begin again--I believe it will have to be based not on separation but on more openness, on more cross-fertilization, on more shared seminar rooms, concert halls, laboratories, and parks. These are things that can only be fairly and responsibly achieved through political division into two states--but they must be two states that are intertwined rather than coldly standing apart.

Posted by orrinj at 7:27 AM


U.S., Iraqi Militias Join In Uneasy Alliance (ALICE FORDHAM, September 21, 2014, NPR)

A decade ago in Sadr City, a sprawling Shiite suburb of Baghdad, the Mehdi Army, led by Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, began to fight bitterly against American forces, calling them occupiers.

Now the Mehdi army has been re-branded the Peace Brigades, and it's fighting alongside Iraqi security forces against the Sunni extremists known as the Islamic State. American warplanes support their operations.

But even in Sadr City, not everyone's sure about militias playing such a big role. In a shop selling doves, canaries and birdseed, Abbas Naim expresses some doubts. He volunteered for the Peace Brigades after swaths of Iraq fell to the Islamic State earlier this year; right now he's on leave from duties in Samarra, north of Baghdad.

"Not everyone is as disciplined as the Peace Brigades," he says.

September 20, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 4:54 PM


Iran open to new US proposals on Tehran's uranium programme (Associated Press, 20 September 2014)

With Iran refusing US demands that it gut its uranium enrichment programme, the two sides are discussing a new proposal that would leave much of Tehran's enriching machines in place but disconnected from feeds of uranium, diplomats told the Associated Press Saturday. [...]

While only a proposal, the plan would allow the Iranians to claim that they did not compromise on vows that they would never emasculate their enrichment capabilities, while keeping intact American demands that the programme be downgraded to a point where it could not be quickly turned to making bombs.

Posted by orrinj at 2:28 PM


Is Obama really going back to war with a worse legal rationale than Bush? (Trevor Timm, 9/20/14,

It was equal parts ironic and tragic watching US Secretary of State John Kerry testify before the Senate Foreign Relations committee this week, as he shamelessly made the case for a war without end against Isis. It was the same place he sat 43 years ago, as a young soldier, bravely and eloquently calling for an end to American fighting in Vietnam, his generation's endless war - the same war that led to Congress passing the War Powers Resolution, the law the Obama administration has now decided it can completely disregard.

As with much of the White House's secret and possibly illegal march back to Iraq and beyond, almost every aspect of Kerry's testimony on Wednesday was riddled with holes. The Obama administration's case for intervention begins and ends with the fantastical idea that it thinks it can use a law passed 13 years ago - before Isis even existed, and meant for the perpetrators of 9/11 - to start a war that White House officials freely admit will last for years, yet is aimed at a group that virtually all intelligence analysts agree is not an imminent threat to the United States.

Exactly how the administration thinks it can manage to go to war without getting Congress to vote on it is so perplexing, apparently they can't even figure it out. Last week, "a senior administration official" floated the idea to the New York Times that the White House was claiming authority to wage war on Isis based on the Iraq War Resolution from 2002 - the very statute the Obama administration wanted to repeal just a year ago. But this week, with the Pentagon and Congress knocking, it seems Team Obama has abandoned that premise for going to war and returned to one of its initial justifications: the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) that declared war on "those nations, organizations, or persons responsible for 9/11".

Posted by Glenn Dryfoos at 8:46 AM


Welcome to "All That Jazz," a weekly (I hope) feature on where I will provide short reviews of some of my favorite jazz recordings. My goals are to introduce you to musicians and music you may not be familiar with, entice you to listen to some great music and, perhaps, spark your own quest to learn about this great and uniquely American art form.   (I know that the "uniquely American" thing is overused...but in this case, it really is true.)  I will try to make these pieces accessible to both jazz fans and casual listeners.

A few things before we get to our first installment:

·      When I say these will be "short" reviews, I mean short...ranging from a few sentences to maybe 2 paragraphs.  This will be a test for me, as I could go on and on about any of these recordings, spinning off into background on each of the players, comments about the songs and their composers and all sort of tangents and anecdotes.   But I have a real job and family, and despite OJ's predictions about the imminent demise of labor, I'm guessing most of you have jobs or other obligations, too.  So the quicker you get through my notes and start listening to the music, the better for all of us.  (This intro will be far longer than anything I write about a given recording.)

·      I will alternatively refer to the subject of my pieces as "recordings," "CD's," "albums" and, G-d help me, I may even slip sometimes and call them "records."   I do most of my listening on via iTunes over my laptop, iPad or may still have a vinyl fetish...but whatever I call them, you'll know what I mean.

·      My taste in jazz runs the gamut of the music from Louis Armstrong's Hot Five and Hot Seven recordings in the 1920's through whatever was debuted by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra last night.  But the focus of most of what you see here will be "straight ahead" jazz...the mostly acoustic, mostly swing-standards-and-blues-based music that arose in the 1930's and continues to be the primary form of jazz performed today.  This music encompasses genres such as swing, bebop, hard bop, cool, West Coast and others.  I may sometimes write about earlier forms of the music, more "out" or avant garde styles, or jazz "fusion", but it won't be too often.

·      I will usually comment on albums...that is, compilations of individual songs...although sometimes I will focus on one particular recording of a song that blows me away or, perhaps, various recordings of the same composition by different players.  (For those of you who are new to this, there is a canon of standard songs familiar to all jazz musicians and most fans...many written by the great early- and mid-century pop and Broadway composers such as the Gershwin brothers, Cole Porter and Rogers & Hart and many by jazz musicians such as Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk.  In jazz these written "standards" are used as springboards for improvised solos based on the melodies and harmonies of the songs.)

·      The CD's chosen will not always be the greatest (whatever that means) or most famous examples of the music...although sometimes they will be.  What they will be are personal favorites of mine or the music I'm listening to at the time. 

·      For every recording, I will provide a link to or other online seller and, if available, a link to a YouTube post of a tune from the album or at least a representative video of the same artist.

·      I enjoy all instruments that jazz is commonly played on...heck, the subject of my first review below is a harmonica player... but my real love is the saxophone.  So expect to see sax players over-represented here.  My all-time favorites and personal heroes are Benny Carter and Sonny Rollins.  I won't bury you with the music of these titans, but if you were to only study their output (Benny's recording career spanned from 1927 - 1990 and Sonny's started in 1949 and continues to this day), you'd have a have a deep understanding of the beauty, intelligence, humor, elegance and exuberance that can be found in great jazz performances.

·      I'm calling this feature "All That Jazz" after the Benny Carter tune of the same name (and not in honor of the lame and non-jazzy Kander & Ebb song from the musical "Chicago").  I couldn't think of anything better...although given the time of day I will write most of these, "Round Midnight" was also in the running.  If you have a better suggestion, I'm open.

·      I welcome comments, feedback, debate, opinions or whatever.  I'm not sure whether the best way to do this will be through the "comments" section or some other system the Brothers Judd will set up.  But if you write a comment, I will read it and respond (if appropriate), and if requested, will recommend other albums by the same artist or other worthwhile recordings in the same genre.

That's it.  I hope you enjoy reading these as much as I'm looking forward to writing them.
Jean "Toots" Thielemans, Man Bites Harmonica (1958)

YouTube: East of the Sun

Even if you've never listened to jazz, I promise you that you have heard Toots Thielemans.  It was his harmonica playing the theme songs to the TV shows Sesame Street and Sanford and Son and the film Midnight Cowboy, and his whistling (!) in commercials for Old Spice, Pinesol and other products.  But foremost, Toots is a first rate jazzman on harmonica and guitar.   Born in Brussels, he recently retired from active touring and recording at the age of 92.  

My favorite Toots' album is Man Bites Harmonica, a 1958 release featuring Toots on a front line with the great baritone sax player Pepper Adams and supported by a top-notch rhythm section of Kenny Drew (piano), Wilbur Ware (bass) and Art Taylor (drums).   The band plays a nice mix of lightly swinging standards (kicked off by my favorite tune, "East of the Sun"), ballads and blues.  Toots shows off his sax-inspired bebop-ish chops on the harmonica and a fluid technique and ringing tone (reminiscent of Herb Ellis or Kenny Burrell) on guitar, Pepper is at his gruff, discursive best, and the rhythm section cooks at just the right temperature throughout.  The YouTube clip above is the opening tune, "East of the Sun," and will give you the flavor of this album.  Another favorite of mine is their rendition of "Struttin' With Some Barbecue," a song recorded by Louis Armstrong's Hot Five in the late 20's, and not a tune usually played in more modern settings.

Posted by orrinj at 7:45 AM


John Kerry Fronts for Illegal War (Matthew Rothschild, 9/18/14, The Progressive)

At his testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee on Wednesday, Secretary of State John Kerry used two weak arguments to justify President Obama's war-making in Iraq and potentially in Syria.

First, he said the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), which Congress approved right after 9/11, gives the President the right to go after ISIS, even though ISIS had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks and wasn't even around then.

What's more, Kerry's boss, Barack Obama, just last year warned of the dangers of misusing this authorization.

In a speech at the National Defense University, Obama called for an "eventual repeal" of that law.

"The AUMF is now nearly twelve years old," he said. "Unless we discipline our thinking, our definitions, our actions, we may be drawn into more wars we don't need to fight, or continue to grant Presidents unbound powers more suited for traditional armed conflicts between nation states."

Kerry's second justification was equally disturbing. He said, "The President has the right under Article Two to defend this nation." Article Two of the Constitution states that "the President shall be commander in chief of the Army and Navy of the United States." But Article One says that Congress has the sole power to declare war.

Kerry's invocation of Article Two is eerily reminiscent of the rationales offered by George W. Bush and Dick Cheney and their Justice Department lawyers, who claimed that the President in time of war could do anything he wanted abroad and even at home. (John Yoo, the White House is on the line...)

For liberals, it was an embarrassing day. 

No one is a liberal once they're responsible for national security.
Posted by orrinj at 7:28 AM


New Zealand election: John Key leads National to overwhelming victory (Toby Manhire,  20 September 2014, The Guardian)

The John Key led National party will return to power in New Zealand for a third consecutive term, having survived waves of scandal during a volatile and antagonistic election campaign to secure an overwhelming victory.

With almost all of the vote counted, National is on the brink of securing the first single-party parliamentary majority since New Zealand moved to its Mixed Member Proportional electoral system in 1996.

The result is a disaster for the main opposition Labour party, while the Mana-Internet party experiment, backed by German entrepreneur Kim Dotcom, has spectacularly backfired, and may fail to win so much as a single seat.

Posted by orrinj at 6:53 AM


The Looming Death of Homo Economicus  (Dennis J. Snower, 9/18/14, Project Syndicate)

This is a transformation on the scale of the shift, more than 8,000 years ago, from nomadic hunter-gatherer societies to settled agricultural ones, which eventually led to the rise of cities. A similar transformation occurred in Europe in the tenth century, with the emergence of guilds - associations of skilled workers who controlled the practice of their craft in a particular town - which paved the way for the Industrial Revolution. [...]

Mainstream economics offers a straightforward analysis of and policy response to such a transformation. Whenever technological or other changes allow for people to be compensated for the benefits that they confer on one another (minus the costs), the price-based market system can adjust. When the changes create externalities, economic restructuring is required - say, adjustments in taxes and subsidies, regulatory shifts, or property-rights upgrading - to offset the costs and benefits for which the market cannot compensate. And when the changes give rise to particularly high levels of inequality, redistributive measures are needed.

This approach is based on the assumption that, if everyone is fully compensated for the net benefits that they confer on others, individuals pursuing their own self-interest will, as Adam Smith put it, be led, "as if by an invisible hand," to serve the public interest as well. According to this view, everyone is Homo economicus: a self-interested, fully rational individualist.

But, as past "great transformations" demonstrate, this approach is inadequate, because it neglects the social underpinnings of market economies. In such economies, contracts tend to be honored voluntarily, not through coercive enforcement. What makes these economies function is not a policeman protecting every shop window, but rather people's trust, fairness, and fellow-feeling to honor promises and obey the prevailing rules. Where this social glue is lacking - such as between Israelis and Palestinians - people cannot exploit all of the available economic opportunities.

This link is apparent in the deep social significance of most of an individual's economic transactions. When people acquire expensive cars, designer clothing, and opulent houses, they generally seek social recognition. When couples or friends give gifts to one another or take vacations together, they perform economic transactions inspired by affiliation and care.

In short, mainstream economics - and the concept of homo economicus - recognizes only half of what makes us human. We are undoubtedly motivated by self-interest. But we are also fundamentally social creatures.

This oversight is particularly crippling in view of the impending transformation, which will upend the underpinnings of contemporary society. Indeed, at present, despite unprecedented economic integration and new opportunities for cooperation, our social interactions remain atomized.

No one--beyond the libertarian fringe--has believed in homo economicus for a while now.  The notion that economic decisions are rational never bore much scrutiny.

But what's really interesting, and disconcerting, is that the transformation that is occurring has the potential to render us even more atomized, unless we maintain a culture as powerful as our economics.  That's because the Third Way reforms being undertaken throughout the Anglosphere and Scandinavia (Protestant Northern Europe) borrow so much from the classical economics of Adam Smith.  Essentially, they are premised on a personalized welfare net, wherein individuals use their own savings accounts to fund education, housing, unemployment, health care and retirement, although the funding of said accounts may come from the broader society.  They exploit the miracle of compound interest to make virtually every member of society affluent.  But, given the extent to which human relationships have been built around the interdependence required to get us through difficult times and difficult lives, liberating everyone from such cares is a two-edged sword.

Built into the emerging new system is one massively helpful reality, ownership of accounts that are dependent on economic performance gives everyone a literally vested interest in same.  This is a tremendous force for stabilization, giving everyone some skin in the game.  But it will need to be accompanied by socially conservative politics--restoration of marriage; defense of life; depopulation of cities and integration of suburbs; devolution of political power to more local polities; support for civic organizations; maintenance of public education as a vehicle for civics lessons; non-interference with religion; etc.--if we are to maintain and refurbish familial, religious and civil social networks.

This is one of the main reasons why the Third Way is not utopian. There are inherent dangers in even so promising an economic transformation. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:49 AM


American performers receive standing ovation at Iranian puppet festival (NASSER KARIMI, 9/19/14, Associated Press)

Hundreds of Iranian art lovers gave a troupe of Chicago-based puppeteers flowers and a lengthy standing ovation at the Tehran City Theater at the end of their historic performance this week during a rare visit by American performers to the Islamic Republic.

The artists from the Manual Cinema group presented Ada/Ava, a live cinematic shadow puppet show at the Tehran Mobarak Puppet Festival, in the first such performance by an American troupe at the Tehran event in nearly 17 years.

"You are the best audience we have ever had and met. We have been so impressed by all the artists and puppeteers here," Drew Dir, the co-director of the 10-member group, told the audience after the performance. [...]

Sarah Fornace, one of the troupe's members, said she was surprised by the standing ovation.

"It is a real honor and it does not happen all the time. So I felt really lucky to get one here," she said.

The presence of the group in at the festival led to another rare event -- an American flag was hoisted over the entrance gate of the City Theater building in downtown Tehran.

Saeed Leilaz, a Tehran-based political analyst believed the American attendance at the puppet show was an indication of improving relations after decades of mistrust.

"People on both side have no particular problem with each other," he said. "Iranians in general and the middle class in particular seek better ties with the United States."

Posted by orrinj at 6:39 AM


David Suchet: 'Part of Me Died With Him' (Interview by HOPE REEVES, 9/19/14, NY Times Magazine)

After 25 years on the air, "Agatha Christie's Poirot" recently broadcast the final five episodes in the United States on Acorn TV. I read that you filmed the final episode first. 

To have him die at the same moment I finished the role would have been a very negative thing for me to go through. So I asked the producers if I could film him dying first. Then I would leave him as I want to remember him, alive and kicking.

Did you mourn for him? 

Filming his actual death was the hardest day of the whole 25 years. Part of me died with him.

If you get a chance to see his BBC series, In the Footsteps of St. Paul, the similarities to Poirot are amusing, but the differences make the man.
Posted by orrinj at 6:36 AM


Prominent jihadi ideologue urges Islamic State group to release British hostage Alan Henning (MAAMOUN YOUSSEF, 9/19/14, Associated Press)

A renowned jihadi ideologue on Saturday urged the Islamic State group to release British aid worker Alan Henning, saying Islam forbids harming non-Muslims who work with relief agencies.

Abu Mohammed al-Maqdisi, who was released by Jordan in June after serving a five-year sentence on terror charges, said in a statement posted on his website that non-Muslims who aid needy Muslims should be protected. [...]

Also known as Essam al-Barqawi, al-Maqdisi was the mentor of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, who was killed in a U.S. airstrike in 2006.

Al-Maqdisi said Henning worked with a charitable organization led by Muslims which sent several aid convoys to help the Syrian people. "Is it reasonable that his reward is being kidnapped and slaughtered?"

It's like SuperMax inmates doing a Monty Python skit.

Posted by orrinj at 6:15 AM


This glorious failure could yet be Scotland's finest hour : Forget Bannockburn or the Scottish Enlightenment, the Scots have reinvented and re-established the idea of true democracy (Irvine Welsh, 9/19/14, The Guardian)

At the start of the campaign, a narrow win for the political-class-led no would have been a nightmare result for the establishment. They originally expected a rout - the rationale behind Cameron leaving devo max off the ballot paper, before he had a humiliating rush north, in realisation that his abiding political legacy might be the end of the union.

The vibrant and euphoric yes movement, which, during the debate, evolved from a small base to come within a whisker of a sensational victory, will be massively disappointed that they didn't manage to get it done.

They will have to cool their ardour a while longer, although anybody believing they'll stop now is indulging in wishful thinking. Why would they? The process and the subsequent debate, which they won handsomely, took support for independence from around 30% to 45% and heading north. It's now established as the compelling narrative of the post-devolution generation, while no dominates only in a declining constituency of elderly voters. Yes may have lost this battle, but the war is being won.

There was much talk of how ineffective the no campaign was. In some ways this is unfair: you can only go with what you've got and they simply weren't packing much heat. The union they strove to protect was based on industry and empire and the esprit de corps from both world wars, and you can't maintain a political relationship on declining historical sentiment alone. With the big, inclusive postwar building blocks of the welfare state and the NHS being ripped apart by both major parties there's zero currency in campaigning on that, especially as they're only being preserved in Scotland by the devolved parliament. The boast of using oil revenues to fund privatisation projects and bail out bankers for their avarice and incompetence is never going to be a vote winner. Going negative was the only option. [...]

Though defeated in the poll, the independence movement emerged far stronger - from the narrow concern of a bourgeois civic nationalist party, to a righteous, vibrant, big-tent, pro-democracy movement. The referendum galvanised and excited Scots in a way that no UK-wide election has done. Like it or not, unless they come up with a winning devo max settlement, every general election in Scotland will now be dominated by the independence issue.

Scotland's post-devolution generation is a different breed to their predecessors; they've been building a new state in their imagination, from the basis of a limited but tangible parliament in Edinburgh. They see the possibilities in full statehood, and came from nowhere to deal a body blow to Britain's tired and out-of-touch elites. The smartest of them have always seen independence as a process, not an event, and having come so unexpectedly close, they won't be going into a depressive hungover funk. They'll be keen for a rematch, and they'll get it soon.

September 19, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 6:05 PM


Modern Attitudes Toward Marriage Lead to Loneliness (RACHEL LU, 9/19/14, Crisis)

Two stories last week (one amusing and one sobering) provided material for (gloomy) reflection on love and marriage in the modern world.

The first came from Auckland, Australia, where heterosexual best friends Travis McIntosh and Matt McCormick celebrated their nuptials this last Friday. A radio station competition provided the motivation for their decision to wed. By tying the knot in an official ceremony, the two heterosexual men became eligible to win a trip to the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England. Many happy returns?

Unsurprisingly, LGBT activist groups were angered by a festivity that, to their minds, trivialized a hard-earned "right," and mocked the homosexual community. This, however, did not appear to be the two friends' intention. "We are not here to insult anyone," said McIntosh to the New Zealand Herald. "We are here to do our own thing and travel our own path.It's just seeing how far two good mates would go to win a trip to the Rugby World Cup."

The second story, from here in the US, was a report that, as of last month, more than 50 percent of American adults (over age 16) are now single. What percentage of American adults want to be married? Considerably more than 50 percent. But wishes, it turns out, are not weddings. We live in a world that claims to embrace romantic love as a good and even a "right," and yet, ironically, less and less people are actually finding their way to love and happiness.

It is not good for man to be alone. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:59 PM


Scotland Teaches a Lesson in Democracy (Marc Champion, 9/16/14, Bloomberg View)

A question that was often put to me and other reporters by Serbs during the early stages of the wars in Yugoslavia asked what would happen if Scotland were to secede from the U.K. It was impossible to convince them that, no, unlike the Serbs and now Russia, England would not respond by rolling tanks into Dundee, but would allow a free vote. Now we have proof.

The vote in Scotland is important not just for the U.K., but also for the signal it sends to the Balkans and other secession-minded regions and their governments around the world at a particularly fragile time. First, it tells Catalans and others that it is possible for a nation that has existed since 834 to decide that resuming full independence isn't inevitably in their best interests. To the governments, it says that granting the right of self-determination can produce the best of all results: A nation that actually votes to remain united with yours.

All that's required is the choice.
Posted by orrinj at 5:55 PM


Biden Praises Former GOP Senator Infamous for Sexual Harassment at Women's Forum (RUSSELL BERMAN, 9/19/14, The Wire)

Gaffe-loving Vice President Joe Biden picked the wrong former Republican senator to praise at a Democratic women's luncheon on Friday.

Bemoaning the demise of reasonable GOP dealmakers in Congress, Biden cited former Sen. Bob Packwood (Ore.), who resigned in 1995 after  19 women accused him of making unwanted sexual advances toward them. It didn't help that he made the reference at the Democratic National Committee's Women's Leadership Forum. that he thought this man a peer.

Posted by orrinj at 5:52 PM


Carbon Taxes Really Do Work (TOM JACOBS, September 19, 2014, Pacific Standard)

A research team led by Ralf Martin of Imperial College London examined energy usage at U.K. plants over the first three years of the plan, and found far greater reductions in electricity use and carbon dioxide emissions among those that were taxed at the higher rate. What's more, the reduced emissions had no significant impact on employment, revenue, or overall productivity.

When it comes to cutting greenhouse gases, this study strongly suggests taxes are more effective than targets.

Posted by orrinj at 5:48 PM


When to Say No to Your Doctor (JOSEPH HOOPER, Oct 2014, Men's Journal)

It's been a couple of years, so you decide to see your primary-care physician for a physical.

You feel fine, but it's the responsible thing to do. You get your blood pressure measured and your blood drawn. Within a few days you'll get the lab report that will give you the readout on the amount of cholesterol and sugar in your blood. (This drill is so routine that you and your doctor don't even discuss the implications of a possible bad test result.) If you've entered your middle years, he'll probably ask if you want the lab to test your blood for PSA, a screening test that can tell you if you're at an elevated risk for prostate cancer.

You figure it's probably good to get out in front of these things, so you nod yes. Insurance covers it anyway.

Congratulations - you've just stepped onto a conveyor belt pulling you into a broken system that delivers disappointing results at ever-increasing cost. To wit: The United States spends roughly twice as much per capita as most of the nations of Western Europe, whose citizens on average outlive us by a couple of years. Our own national Institute of Medicine says we waste $210 billion annually on treatments of no or marginal benefit. In a study last year, researchers from the Mayo Clinic went through 10 years of the New England Journal of Medicine, from 2001 through 2010. Of the established tests and procedures reevaluated in studies in the journal, 40 percent were found to be worthless.

Posted by orrinj at 5:43 PM


Yes, it's official, men are from Mars and women from Venus, and here's the science to prove it (Lewis Wolpert, 14 Sep 2014, The Telegraph)

The first big surprise happens before birth. All men in the world today are essentially biologically modified women, because we all start our embryonic lives as females (that is why, for example, men still have breasts, even though they serve no function). The biological differences that can be found between the bodies and brains of males and females are largely due to the way these embryos develop in the womb.

We all come from a single cell, the egg, from the female. The early development of the human embryo is similar in males and females, and is essentially female, with male features appearing only at later stages. Whether we develop as a female or male depends on whether the sperm brings in an X or Y chromosome. The genes on the Y chromosome cause testes to develop, which secrete the hormone testosterone and suppress female development.

There are also fundamental differences in brain development between men and women, which are clear from the early behaviour of children. A few hours after birth, girls are more sensitive than boys to touch, and 40 hours after birth girls look longer at a face than boys, while boys look longer at a suspended mechanical mobile. At four months old, if babies are frightened in a strange room, twice as many girls as boys cry. Children's play provides further evidence for genetic differences. At 12, 18 or 24 months, girls look at dolls much more than boys, while boys look at cars much more than girls. It is hard to attribute these basic differences at such young ages to purely social influences.

The development of the brain leads to many other differences and it has been claimed that clear sex differences exist in every brain lobe. There are some visible structural differences, such as a cluster of cells in the hypothalamus that is believed to relate to sexual behaviour and which is twice as big in men as in women.

Posted by orrinj at 5:38 PM


Hitler's food taster reveals horrors (, 9/19/14)

Every meal could have been her last. And when she had finished eating the bland vegetarian dishes put before her, 25-year-old Margot Wölk and her young female colleagues would burst into tears and "cry like dogs" because they were grateful still to be alive.

Margot Wölk was no Nazi, but she was one of 15 young women who were employed at Adolf Hitler's heavily guarded Prussian "Wolf's Lair" headquarters during the Second World War. Her job was to taste the Nazi leader's food before it reached his lips, to make sure it wasn't poisoned.

She was the only one to survive. All her colleagues were rounded up and shot by the advancing Red Army in January 1945. Now a frail 96-year-old widow, Margot Wölk has overcome feelings of shame and broken decades of silence about her time as Hitler's food taster to tell her story to German television.

"The food was always vegetarian," she told Berlin's RBB television channel, for a programme about her harrowing and sometimes horrific experiences, which was aired on Tuesday. "There were constant rumours that the British were out to poison Hitler. He never ate meat. We were given rice, noodles, peppers, peas and cauliflower," she recalled.

But she added: "Some of the girls started to shed tears as they began eating because they were so afraid. We had to eat it all up. Then we had to wait an hour, and every time we were frightened that we were going to be ill. We used to cry like dogs because we were so glad to have survived."

Posted by orrinj at 11:38 AM


Some On Staten Island Opt For Buyout Of 'Houses That Don't Belong' (MATTHEW SCHUERMAN, September 19, 2014, NPR)

Staten Island's Fox Beach neighborhood used to be a working-class area with about 180 homes, mostly small bungalows. Fox Beach is -- or rather was -- a few hundred feet from the Atlantic Ocean, and after Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012, homeowners decided their neighborhood was dangerous in terms of natural disasters and too expensive because of the rising cost of flood insurance.

So the state has been tearing down the homes. [...]

It's not just because of Sandy. This is wetlands. It floods in heavy rains and is barely above sea level. In hot weather, wildfires break out.

"If you look at what we are in the midst of right here, you realize houses don't belong here, period" says Joe Tirone, who has convinced New York state to buy out whoever wanted to sell. "It's insane to think this is what it looked like 30 or 40 years ago and someone said, 'I can build some homes here.' "

Posted by orrinj at 11:28 AM


The Union is saved - but at what cost? : The Nos have it, but Britain has been left a divided country. How did our politicians get the referendum battle so wrong? (Fraser Nelson and James Forsyth 20 September 2014, Spectator)

The worst has not happened; Scotland has not seceded from the United Kingdom. But David Cameron will have known some time ago that, whichever side won in the referendum, there would be no victory. This morning, the United Kingdom wakes up to one of the biggest constitutional messes in its history.

Given that the unionists had the best product to sell -- Britain -- it is alarming that they were supported by only 55 per cent of Scots. For months, the opinion polls had suggested far bigger support. The unionists may have won the election, but the separatists emphatically won the campaign. The Prime Minister had to turn to Gordon Brown, and seemingly give him the authority to redraft the constitution at will. He must now accept the consequences.

Ever since the YouGov poll that put Yes ahead, the British government has -- one cabinet minister admits -- operated by one principle: to live another day. 'Nothing less than a modern form of Scottish home rule' was offered, and a vow to keep the Barnett formula was made in a desperate bid to persuade the Scots to stay. Having acted in haste, the Prime Minister will have to repent at leisure -- starting now.

This referendum was meant to settle the question of Scottish independence for good. But few believe it has done that. 'We have heard the settled will of the Scottish people,' said the Prime Minister. Alistair Darling, leader of the Better Together campaign, said, 'The people of Scotland have spoken -- we have chosen unity over division.' Both will have known this to be untrue. There is no such thing as the settled will of the Scottish people, and almost half of them chose division. As one Labour insider admits, 'There's no way this is over.' But this referendum -- and more specifically the scramble to win it in the last fortnight -- has created another question which now threatens to dominate politics.

The English Question is unavoidable, for as soon as parliament returns, the parties will move on the timetable dictated by Gordon Brown. He promised that a motion would be moved in parliament, on the day of a 'no' vote, to agree extra powers for Scotland (he meant powers to the Edinburgh parliament, which is a rather different thing). They will discuss which powers to devolve, focusing on income tax, housing benefit and welfare assessments. According to Brown, there will be agreement by St Andrew's Day (30 November), and a Bill will then be presented to parliament in the New Year and agreed by Burns Night (25 January). The Union is to be rewired at breakneck speed.

It's the best of both worlds, independence in all but name and Great Britain in name only.

September 18, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:56 PM


The Disappearing "Undue Burden" Standard for Abortion Rights (JEFFREY TOOBIN, 9/17/14, The New Yorker)

Those words--"undue burden"--represent Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's most important triumph during her long and consequential tenure on the U.S. Supreme Court. Almost single-handedly, O'Connor rewrote abortion law. She had been a politician in Arizona, and her views, not coincidentally, roughly mirrored those of most Americans: abortion should be legal, but states should be allowed to impose some reasonable restrictions on the practice. When she joined the Court, in 1981, O'Connor was still basically alone among the Justices in how she saw the issue, but by 1992 her position commanded a majority. That year, she wrote the decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which said that, while states did have the right to regulate some aspects of abortion--by, say, imposing twenty-four-hour waiting periods and requiring parental consent for minors--such power to constrain a woman's choice had limits. As O'Connor put it, "Only where state regulation imposes an undue burden on a woman's ability to make this decision does the power of the State reach into the heart of the liberty protected by the Due Process Clause." When O'Connor wrote her last opinion for the Court, in 2006, in another case involving Planned Parenthood, the remaining eight Justices joined her in embracing the "undue burden" standard. (I tell the story of O'Connor's control of the Court's abortion jurisprudence in my book "The Nine.")

Yet the key phrase did not have a fixed, self-evident definition. And as the Court moved to the right, following O'Connor's resignation, the scope of the constraints on state power began shrinking. In 2007, the year after Samuel Alito replaced O'Connor on the Court, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote, for a 5-4 majority, the decision in Gonzales v. Carhart, which upheld Congress's ban on so-called partial-birth abortion. Kennedy quoted O'Connor's language from Casey, in which she defined an "undue burden" as existing when the "purpose or effect [of the regulation] is to place a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion before the fetus attains viability." But then Kennedy went on, essentially, to ignore that definition, since he was approving a law that disallowed what was then the most common form of second-trimester abortion. [...]

But now the Texas cases are being heard by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which is renowned for its conservatism and its particular hostility toward abortion rights. In the first in a series of appeals relating to the Texas law, a three-judge panel showed a great deal of sympathy for the regulations--and a very narrow conception of the meaning of O'Connor's standard. The judges suggested that a decrease in the number of abortion providers did not impose an undue burden, because of the existence of providers elsewhere in Texas or in neighboring states, and that the emergency efforts of private parties to comply with the new requirements also did not constitute an undue burden. (Irin Carmon, on MSNBC, chronicled one effort to keep a clinic open.)

In other words, the members of the Fifth Circuit panel seem to believe that anything short of a nationwide ban on abortion does not amount to an undue burden on women's rights. This is the argument that will soon be heading to the Supreme Court. 

Can any burden be undue to prevent the taking of innocent life?
Posted by orrinj at 7:31 PM


Why Americans--and the West--Should Care About Scottish Secession (JONATHAN FOREMAN, 9/18/14, Weekly Standard)

Even if a post-referendum secession process were to go as smoothly as that of Czechoslovakia (1918-1992), you can be sure Scotland's separation from the rest of the U.K. would radically transform and weaken America's most important military and political ally, perhaps to the point that it might give up its nuclear weapons, its key role in organizations like NATO, and its traditional advocacy of free trade. Such a diminished, demoralized U.K. would not be able, and perhaps not be willing to provide the essential diplomatic or military back-up that Washingon has long taken for granted.

The most revealing moment in the recent history of the special relationship came when Tony Blair was worried that he couldn't get Parliament to sanction British participation in the Iraq War.  Besides allowing Blair (and Colin Powell) to us the specter of WMD to try to sell their case, W told the prime minister--to the horror of him and his aides--that he shouldn't worry about losing the vote, we'd be happy to go it alone and it wouldn't harm the relationship.  We bring England along for old time sake, not because they're necessary.  And we should take away their nukes regardless,

Posted by orrinj at 7:24 PM


Scotland, Be Brave and Go It Alone (Clive Crook, 9/17/14, Bloomberg View)

It comes down to this: Scots are bound more tightly to each other -- by history, culture and ethnicity -- than they are to the rest of the U.K. In this sense, Scotland is, and for centuries has been, another country. Its desire for full nationhood has waxed and waned, but it certainly isn't new. The union is hundreds of years old, but the things that make Scotland different haven't been smoothed away, which tells you something.

What has changed in recent decades is that the U.K. has become both less hospitable to the Scots and less necessary.

The U.K. is centralized to an unusual degree, and ever more so. London and its surroundings continue to increase their cultural and economic dominance, and the Scots are right to feel marginalized. Seeming to push against this was the devolution of government, notably through the Scotland Act of 1998, which set up a Scottish parliament with limited powers. This was a mostly sincere effort to meet the Scottish demand for self-rule, but in a subtle way, it served to underline the disparity in status.

Devolution grafted special arrangements for Scotland onto an essentially unchanged settlement in England -- even at the cost of glaring constitutional anomalies (Scottish members of the Westminster parliament continued to vote on English matters; English members of Parliament don't vote in Scotland). You might think this was a nice deal for Scotland -- and it was generous enough, at any rate, to cause resentment in England. But there's another way of reading it (you have to imagine it in an English accent): "You can have more self-rule, but only if it has no implications for us. That's how little you matter."

More devolution of this kind is again on offer if Scotland votes against independence. Depending on the details, it would go some way toward meeting the Scottish desire for self-government, but it won't meet the Scottish demand to be respected as a nation. Moreover, to the extent that Scotland makes a success of its devolved political powers, it would demonstrate that it can, in fact, rule itself. Devolution was supposed to satisfy the appetite for self-determination; in fact, it made Scotland hungry for more.

The world has changed, too. Scots made a conspicuously disproportionate contribution to the running of the British empire. In the wars of the 20th century, they were full partners with the rest of the U.K. in fighting for Britain and celebrated as such. That unifying sense of grand British purpose, defined by colonial prerogatives and obligations, as well as by existential threats (first Germany, then Germany again, then the Soviet Union), has gone.

The world is by no means a safe place, but -- Russian President Vladimir Putin and Islamic State notwithstanding -- it's safer than before. Today the European Union offers small nations equal standing in a peaceful new regional order, with guaranteed access to each other's markets and a promise of mutual support. Small EU countries, even those on Russia's borders, feel no need to be absorbed by a condescending protector. If Ireland can succeed as a modern European nation and never regret its independence, why not Scotland?

Posted by orrinj at 7:21 PM


New Anthem Blue Cross plan takes on Kaiser (CHAD TERHUNE, 9/17/14, LA Times)

Taking aim at HMO giant Kaiser Permanente, insurer Anthem Blue Cross is joining forces with several big-name hospitals and their doctors to create an unusual health plan option for employers in Southern California.

The joint venture being announced Wednesday brings together seven rival hospital groups in Los Angeles and Orange counties, including well-known institutions Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and the UCLA Health System. The deal reflects the pressure insurers and hospitals alike are facing to hold down healthcare costs for employers and their workers.

Posted by orrinj at 6:54 PM


Apples and Hurricanes (Frank Bruni, 9/16/14, NY Times)

The I.R.S. scandal was not as bad as Watergate. (Nothing's ever as bad as Watergate, which serves a nifty historical function as the gold standard of executive malfeasance and mendacity.)

The bungled rollout of Obamacare was not as bad as the botched response to Katrina.

It's apples and hurricanes, but they're put in the same basket, in a manner that recalls a child trying to evade punishment by ratting out a sibling for something worse. Don't be mad, Mommy, about Operation Fast and Furious and all those guns that ended up with Mexican drug cartels. Ronnie traded arms for hostages as part of this whole Iran-contra affair!

I sometimes like to imagine presidential campaigns waged along these lines and what the candidates' not-as-bad-as bumper stickers might say.

"Fewer Lies Than Nixon." "Fewer Sweaters Than Carter." "Fewer Interns Than Clinton." "Better Speller Than Quayle."

Posted by orrinj at 6:48 PM


Fewer U.S. Teens Using Illegal Drugs and Alcohol, Report Finds (Mary Elizabeth Dallas, Sept. 16, 2014, HealthDay News) 

Illegal drug use among teens in the United States is on the decline, according to a new federal report.

Encouragingly, the new study also found that alcohol use, binge drinking and the use of tobacco products among young people between the ages of 12 and 17 also dropped between 2002 and 2013.

The annual survey of 70,000 people aged 12 and older across the United States revealed that between 2002 and 2013, substance dependence or abuse problems among this age group also dropped from 8.9 percent to 5.2 percent.

Posted by orrinj at 6:44 PM


Almost Every Way Of Getting To Work Besides Driving Is Better For Your Mental Health (Sydney Brownstone, 9/18/14, Co.Exist)

Three researchers who tracked more than 17,000 British commuters in surveys over a period of 18 years found that those with active modes of transportation fared better on a scale of well-being. Where an extra 10 minutes of commute time actually increased well-being levels in walkers, an extra 10 minutes of commute time decreased psychological wellness for drivers. When drivers switched to walking or biking, their psychology improved. Riding on public transit was also associated with higher levels of wellness.

The latest study is pretty consistent with other findings that show walking or biking to work is better for your physical health. But it reminds us that commuting has mental health consequences, too. Earlier this year, researchers published a study showing that drivers tend to perceive their environments more negatively than cyclists or pedestrians.

Some of the effects of switching from driving to active travel were so significant, in fact, that they mirrored the effects of other life changes like switching jobs, getting married, or having a baby. Instead of answering "no" to a question like, "Do you enjoy living in your neighborhood?" those who had made the switch started answering "yes."

Posted by orrinj at 6:39 PM


Ukraine parliament ratifies landmark EU deal, allows greater autonomy for rebellious east (LAURA MILLS, 9/16/14, Associated Press

Ukraine's parliament ratified a landmark association agreement with the European Union on Tuesday, firmly pivoting the country toward the West and drawing a line under the issue that last year sparked massive protests and led to the ex-president's ouster. [...]

After the ratification vote in Kiev, synchronized with the European parliament by video chat, members of parliament leapt to their feet to sing the Ukrainian national anthem.

The agreement will lower trade tariffs between Europe and Ukraine, require Ukrainian goods to meet European regulatory standards, and force the Kiev government to undertake major political and economic reforms. In a speech to legislators, President Petro Poroshenko called the vote a "first but very decisive step" toward bringing Ukraine fully into the European Union.

Poroshenko also said that those who died during protests against the ex-president and during fighting in the east "gave up their lives so that we could take a dignified place among the European family."

"Since World War II, not a single nation has paid such a high price for their right to be European," he said.

In Brussels, EU lawmakers overwhelmingly ratified the agreement.

Posted by orrinj at 6:37 PM


Interpreting the Scottish referendum (Prof Ijaz Khan, September 18, 2014, The International News)

The Scotland referendum, if it results in an independent Scotland, will mark a new phase in nationalist movements. This independence will be achieved peacefully and democratically. It is yet to be seen how future relations between the remaining UK and the independent state of Scotland will be, but one can make some predictions. 

Over the years the physical infrastructure of Scotland as well as its economy has developed as an integral and interdependent part of one whole - the UK. Both states have come to work on their separation or maybe even continued joint management. Then, Scotland will in all probability be a part of the European Union. If both manage their separation more like friends than enemies the European Union will be strengthened as well. Their bilateral relations may become a basis for new international interdependent management, redefining sovereignty, and security.

A people who think themselves a nation are one.

Posted by orrinj at 6:33 PM


The U.S. dollar has been strengthening for 3 straight years! (That's not good news.) (John Aziz | September 16, 2014, The Week)

After listening to naysayers and inflation hawks intone for years that the Federal Reserve's monetary policy would weaken the dollar and spike inflation, it's perversely gratifying to see that -- even after all that money printing -- the dollar has strengthened over the last three years: [see chart]

The dollar has been on a particular tear in the last few weeks. This is the ninth straight week where the dollar index has increased on the back of various geopolitical turmoils -- from the ongoing crisis in the Ukraine and the expansion of ISIS in the Middle East to the continuing Eurozone depression and the upcoming referendum on Scottish independence from Britain. As Catherine Evans of Reuters notes, that's the longest streak of weekly gains since 1997.

Compared to all that geopolitical turmoil, the United States -- with its moderately growing economy and relatively lower unemployment -- looks like an oasis of calm and prosperity. Money from around the world is flowing into U.S. dollars and dollar-denominated investments.

As the sole safe harbor on the planet, this is only going to accelerate.  It's also why we ought not try to balance the budget.

Posted by orrinj at 6:24 PM


A happy marriage depends on a happy wife, study shows (AFP,16 September 2014)

A husband's happiness is significantly related to how his wife feels about the union, according to researchers at Rutgers University and the University of Michigan, who say the happier the wife is with the marriage, the more content her husband will be with life in general.

Men are moral beings, so the happiness of others matters.

September 17, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 5:00 PM


Robots Work Their Way Into Small Factories : For as Little $20,000, Machines Handle the Tedious--With No Lunch Breaks; 'Fred, Hand Me That Wrench' (TIMOTHY AEPPEL, Sept. 17, 2014, WSJ)

A new breed of so-called collaborative machines--designed to work alongside people in close settings--is changing the way some of America's smaller manufacturers do their jobs.

The machines, priced as low as $20,000, provide such companies--small jewelry makers and toy makers among them--with new incentives to automate to increase overall productivity and lower labor costs.

At Panek Precision Inc., a Northbrook, Ill., machine shop, 21 shiny new robots hum as they place metal parts into cutting machines and remove the parts after they are done. It's a tedious and oily task once handled by machine operators who earn about $16.50 an hour.

One new robot doubled the output from a machine that was previously operated by a worker "because robots work overnight and don't take lunch breaks and they just keep going," says Gregg Panek, the company's president. In some cases, the robots, which are single articulated arms, can even hold a part while it's getting cut since there is no danger of injury.

Posted by orrinj at 4:56 PM


Following negotiations, KAF to stay  (MARINA SHKURATOV, The Dartmouth)

Students used to a daily fix of brie and apple sandwiches, handmade marshmallows and skim milk mochas won't have to adjust their eating habits after all, as King Arthur Flour's Baker-Berry Library cafe will remain open, following negotiations with the College. [...]

The College has no oversight over the cafe's menu, so it can offer as many sandwich varieties as its managers deem appropriate, Tunnicliffe said. Offerings will remain essentially the same, he said. 

Both Tunnicliffe and Hogarty said that King Arthur Flour's greatest concern at the beginning of negotiations in June was the limited space in Baker-Berry library and how it compared to the cafe's volume of business. 

Calling King Arthur Flour's previous library operating space "incredibly small," Hogarty said the College has allotted them about 250 additional square feet, including expanded refrigeration space for milk and ice in the library's basement and a closet on the library's mezzanine where they can store dry goods and employees' personal items. The change involved no major renovations, and King Arthur Flour's rent has not increased. 

The additional storage also allows King Arthur Flour to make fewer deliveries to its Baker-Berry location -- two deliveries a day instead of three or four -- alleviating difficulties associated with traffic and parking, Tunnicliffe said. 

Fewer deliveries, he added, also allows King Arthur Flour to reduce its environmental footprint, which he said was a company priority. 

Tunnicliffe called the discussions a "learning experience" for both parties. 

During a visit to the company's Norwich location, Hogarty said she and executive vice president and chief financial officer Rick Mills sought to understand the King Arthur Flour's "pinch points" and plan for an evolving relationship with Dartmouth. 

One potential change would involve adding more seating to the cafe area, likely in time for the winter term, Hogarty said. 

Both King Arthur Flour and Dartmouth representatives were highly interested in keeping the cafe's library location open, Tunnicliffe said. 

"From an economic development perspective, the better all the businesses do, the better it is for the region," Hogarty said. "Certainly, selfishly, an operation like this is fantastic for the Dartmouth community." 

When the Baker-Berry cafe opened for the term on Monday morning, Tunnicliffe said, students lined up and faculty members applauded. 

"We feel like it's a win for the College and it's a win for us," he said. 

Posted by orrinj at 1:39 PM


Judging by inflation, it's good to be American (Patrick Gillespie, September 17, 2014, CNNMoney)

Here's one thing Americans can cross off their worry list: inflation.

While the prices of some things -- notably beef -- are rising, the situation overall is very tame for Americans. It doesn't cost that much more to buy fruits or vegetables than it did a year ago, and filling up at the pump is actually cheaper.

Inflation in August only increased 1.7% from the same time last year, according to the latest government data released Wednesday. That's below the Federal Reserve's 2% annual target. In fact, the August rate was the first decline in inflation since the spring of 2013.

This slight dip isn't huge cause for concern yet. If anything, it's a reminder of how much better off the U.S. economy is right now than many other places in the world.

Reality can't penetrate the minds of goldbugs.

Posted by orrinj at 1:35 PM


Joe Biden under fire for using anti-Jewish slur (Bonnie Kristian, 9/17/14, The Week)

Vice President Joe Biden drew rebuke this week from the Anti-Defamation League for using an anti-Jewish slur, "Shylocks," while speaking at a conference for the Legal Services Corporation.

September 16, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 5:19 PM


Did Hamas Win? (Mkhaimar Abusada, 9/15/14, Project Syndicate)

Before the latest war erupted, Hamas was politically isolated. It had lost traditional allies in Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah. Most damaging, the ouster of former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood government had deprived Hamas of its lifeline of supplies and armaments.

Egypt's military regime, led by General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, has been unrelentingly hostile toward Hamas, blaming it for the fighting in Sinai between the army and insurgent groups. Egypt even mounted an operation to destroy the tunnels between Gaza and Sinai, isolating Gaza completely.

Hamas faced an intensifying crisis. Unable to pay the salaries of more than 40,000 public employees in Gaza, it was being slowly strangled by the Israeli and Egyptian authorities. And the unity government that it established with the Palestinian Authority in June brought no relief.

With nothing to lose, Hamas decided that another round of fighting with Israel was the only way to shake things up. Despite its modest military capabilities, Hamas managed to hold out for 51 days - and, in the process, place itself at the center of Palestinian and regional politics.

Posted by orrinj at 5:11 PM


Japanese woman is first recipient of next-generation stem cells (David Cyranoski, 12 September 2014, Nature)
A Japanese woman in her 70s is the first person to receive tissue derived from induced pluripotent stem cells, a technology that has created great expectations since it could offer the same regenerative potential as embryo-derived cells but without some of the ethical and safety concerns.

In a two-hour procedure starting at 14:20 local time today, a team of three eye specialists lead by Yasuo Kurimoto of the Kobe City Medical Center General Hospital, implanted a 1.3 by 3.0 millimetre sheet of retinal pigment epithelium cells into an eye of the Hyogo prefecture resident, who suffers from age-related macular degeneration, a common eye condition that can lead to blindness.

The procedure took place at the Institute for Biomedical Research and Innovation, next to the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology (CDB), where ophthalmologist Masayo Takahashi had developed and tested the epithelium sheets. Takahashi had reprogrammed some cells from the patient's skin to produce induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells. ('Pluripotent' means able to differentiate into virtually any type of tissue in the body.) She then coaxed those cells to differentiate into retinal pigment epithelium cells and grow into a sheet for implantation.

How does Michael J. Fox sleep at night?

Posted by orrinj at 5:09 PM


The Poverty Problem is a Marriage Problem (Joe Carter, 9/16/14, Acton)

The poverty rate among married couples is less than half the average (about 6 percent). And for married couples who both have full-time jobs, the rate is almost non-existent (0.001 percent). The rate for single parents, though, is about 4 to 5 times higher than for married couples (25 percent among single dads and 31 percent among single moms).

The effect of the decline in marriage, coupled with a increase in single parenthood, is that many more children live in poverty than they would if marriage was more common. As the Heritage Foundation reports, marriage is the greatest weapon against child poverty:

The collapse of marriage, along with a dramatic rise in births to single women, is the most important cause of childhood poverty--but government policy doesn't reflect that reality, according to a special report released today by The Heritage Foundation.

Nearly three out of four poor families with children in America are headed by single parents. When a child's father is married to his mother, however, the probability of the child's living in poverty drops by 82 percent.

Wherever we look--whether in the streets or the social science research--we find confirmation that the breakdown of the family is correlated with societal ills such as poverty. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:04 PM


Mitch McConnell responds to Alison Lundergan Grimes' gun ad in devastating fashion (Philip Bump September 16, 2014, Washington Post)

You may recall/do recall/should recall that on Monday, his opponent Alison Lundergan Grimes (D) suggested that McConnell wasn't a real Kentuckian because he once held an antique rifle in the air. (See above.) The spot featured Grimes shooting skeet while talking about her campaign platform and how she is different than President Obama.

Then McConnell responded Tuesday.

McConnell's assertions in the ad that Grimes has repeatedly sided with the president on unpopular-in-Kentucky issues doesn't offer any context, but none is really needed. McConnell's point is that Grimes is an Obama clone, and his point is made very effectively -- even making sure the two Democrats' weapons are pointing in the same direction.

Grimes consistently trails in the polling, in part because McConnell has effectively made the race about Obama. Yeah, on the thin veneer surface, this is a race about guns and gun use. But it's really about whether or not Grimes is an Obama clone, thanks to McConnell's very effective framing. Meaning that by releasing her gun ad, Grimes basically walked right into McConnell's strategy.

Adrian Peterson is gentler on his kids....

September 15, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 5:49 PM


The case for open borders (Dylan Matthews, September 13, 2014, Vox)

The economic case that open borders would dramatically improve the well-being of the world is rock solid.

"Imagine that you've got a million people farming in Antarctica. They're eking out this bare subsistence in agriculture in the snow," [George Mason economist Bryan Caplan] says. "Obviously, if you let those farmers leave Antarctica and go someplace else to farm, the farmers are better off. But isn't it also better for the world if you let people stop eking out this existence, contributing nothing to the world, and go someplace where they could actually use their skills and not just feed themselves, but produce something for the world economy?"

Alternately, think about what happened in the 1960s and '70s as more and more women joined the workforce in the United States. Was the result mass unemployment for men, as women took all their jobs? Of course not -- the economy adjusted, and we're all better off for it. "Would we really be a richer society if we kept half the population stuck at home?" Caplan asks. "Isn't it better to take people who have useful skills and let them do something with it, than to just keep them locked up someplace where their skills go to waste?"

That's the basic argument for open borders: that you're "moving productive resources" -- people -- "from places where they're next to useless to places where they can contribute a lot." The size of the numbers involved makes the case even more compelling. "You might think that moving from Haiti to the United States would cause a 20 percent increase in wages, but no. It's more like a 2,000 percent increase in wages," Caplan notes. "The difference between the productivity of labor in poor countries and rich countries is so vast, it's hard to wrap your mind around it."

If you're a real nationalist who cares about all Americans, then you should favor immigration because only like 5 or 10 percent of Americans are losing

With numbers that big, the potential gains are enormous. A doubling of world GDP is a reasonable estimate. "This isn't just trickle-down economics. It's Niagara Falls economics," he says. "If production in the world were to double, almost everyone is going to get enough of that doubling that they're going to, in the end, be better off as a result. You can't double the output of the world and leave a lot of people poor as a result." [...]

Immigration also has a well-documented, positive effect on housing prices. Most Americans own homes at some point in their life, so even if they lose out from immigration in the labor market, they could make up the loss in the housing market. "The Americans who lose from immigration are those who are very low-skilled, who also don't speak very good English to begin with, and also don't own real estate," Caplan concludes. "It's a quite small group. If you're a real nationalist who cares about all Americans, then you should favor immigration, because only like 5 or 10 percent of Americans are losing." And in any case, whatever losses that 5 or 10 percent incurs are swamped by the gains to the rest of the world, and in particular the migrants themselves.

Posted by orrinj at 5:40 PM


Pew report finds that Millennials use libraries as much as their elders, and read more (Julia Fleischaker, 9/15/14, Melville House Press)

A Pew report pulling together years of research found that American millennials (defined as ages 16-29) use libraries as much as their elders (but are less engaged), and are more likely to have read a book in the last year.

Posted by orrinj at 5:37 PM


Hello, Kurdistan : The Kurds have proved to be, roughly speaking, the Swiss of the Muslim Middle East.  (Daniel Pipes, 9/11/12, National Review)

In 1991, after the Gulf War had ended and as Saddam Hussein attacked Iraq's 6 million Kurds, I made three arguments against American intervention on their behalf, arguments still commonly heard today: (1) independence for Iraq's Kurds would spell the end of Iraq as a state, (2) it would embolden Kurds to agitate for independence in Syria, Turkey, and Iran, leading to destabilization and border conflicts, and (3) it would invite the persecution of non-Kurds, causing "large and bloody exchanges of population."

Posted by orrinj at 5:33 PM


Far-right French party sees sharp rise in popularity among Jewish voters, surveys find (JTA, 9/14/14)

The number of Jews who voted for the far-right National Front party soared in the most recent presidential election from the previous two votes, surveys showed.

In the surveys of French Jews, some 13.5 percent of 1,095 respondents who self-identified as Jews said they voted for National Front President Marine Le Pen in the 2012 presidential elections.

Asked about the two previous presidential elections, from 2002 and 2007, respectively only 6.1 percent and 4.3 percent of Jewish voters polled said they chose the National Front candidate -- Le Pen's father and predecessor as party leader, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who has a history of convictions for "inciting racial hatred" and Holocaust denial.

Posted by orrinj at 5:28 PM


Leo vs. science: vanishing evidence for climate change (Tom Harris and Bob Carter, September 14, 2014, NY POst)

Oregon-based physicist Gordon Fulks sums it up well: "CO2 is said to be responsible for global warming that is not occurring, for accelerated sea-level rise that is not occurring, for net glacial and sea ice melt that is not occurring . . . and for increasing extreme weather that is not occurring."


 According to NASA satellites and all ground-based temperature measurements, global warming ceased in the late 1990s. This when CO2 levels have risen almost 10 percent since 1997. The post-1997 CO2 emissions represent an astonishing 30 percent of all human-related emissions since the Industrial Revolution began. That we've seen no warming contradicts all CO2-based climate models upon which global-warming concerns are founded.

Rates of sea-level rise remain small and are even slowing, over recent decades averaging about 1 millimeter per year as measured by tide gauges and 2 to 3 mm/year as inferred from "adjusted" satellite data. Again, this is far less than what the alarmists suggested.

 Satellites also show that a greater area of Antarctic sea ice exists now than any time since space-based measurements began in 1979. In other words, the ice caps aren't melting.

 A 2012 IPCC report concluded that there has been no significant increase in either the frequency or intensity of extreme weather events in the modern era. The NIPCC 2013 report concluded the same. Yes, Hurricane Sandy was devastating -- but it's not part of any new trend.

The climate scare, Fulks sighs, has "become a sort of societal pathogen that virulently spreads misinformation in tiny packages like a virus." He's right -- and DiCaprio's film is just another vector for spreading the virus.

Belief that man is primarily responsible for the climate betrays a lack of humility that is incompatible with conservatism.

Posted by orrinj at 5:17 PM


True American Exceptionalism Today (Peter Augustine Lawler, September 15, 2014, National Review)

Our Jim Ceaser in his signature work on American exceptionalism puts forward the proposition that a large part of the singular mission of our country these days is to protect the practice of Biblical religion -- which, in this case, means Christianity and Judaism -- in the world. That means protecting the truth found in the Bible about the personal Creator and human persons being essentially "transpolitical." True religion is not essentially civil theology, and religious truth isn't essentially a matter of law. Human freedom, if you think about it, can't just be the freedom of autonomous individuals. Just as it can't just be some abstract "intellectual" or philosophic freedom. It has be a moral, relational, and intellectual freedom characteristic of each and every whole person, a freedom for religious communities as organized bodies of thought and action not subservient to the state.

The recognition of that freedom might be the main difference between our Constitution and the constitutions that flow from the French Revolution. And it was the main thing that connected our country in the war against Communism with our European allies that had, to some large extent or another, abandoned and stood against the French revolutionary idea of an omnicompetent state that depends on something like Rousseau's civil religion.

Posted by orrinj at 5:14 PM


Hezbollah vows to destroy Islamic State in Syria (ADIV STERMAN, September 15, 2014, Times of Israel)

"There could never be a war of words between ISIS and us, but there is the field where we will defeat them," Nabil Qaouk maintained, according to the Daily Star, a Lebanese media outlet.

"Day after day, it is becoming clear to Lebanon, the Arab, Muslim and international communities that there is a great need for Hezbollah to remain in Syria. The current situation today imposes on Hezbollah to stay in Syria more than any other time," he added.

Qaouk, speaking during a ceremony in the village of Aita Shaab, claimed that Hezbollah, along with the Shi'ite Amal movement, has played a key roll in containing sectarian tensions in Lebanon in recent weeks, after two Lebanese soldiers were reported to have been brutally beheaded by Islamic State jihadists last week.

"The beheading of soldiers by ISIS was aimed at inciting strife between Sunnis and Shiites but Hezbollah and Amal succeeded in eliminating such strife, not just putting out the blaze," he said, using an alternative abbreviation for the Islamic State group.

Posted by orrinj at 1:04 PM


Obama justifying war on ISIS using the Bush war authorization he tried to repeal (Bonnie Kristian, 9/15/14, The Week)

While running for President in 2007, then-Senator Barack Obama sponsored a resolution to require President George W. Bush to get explicit authorization from Congress before waging war against Iran. Today, the Obama White House says the war on ISIS is legally permissible without explicit authorization from Congress, because it's covered by the 2001 Authorization of Use of Military Force (AUMF) -- which Obama wanted to repeal as recently as last year.

Consistency is the hobgoblin of ideologues.

September 14, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:13 PM


Falling oil price tilts political, economic balance in U.S. favor (DAVID SHEPPARD AND RANIA EL GAMAL, Sep 12, 2014, (Reuters) 

[A]s rising supplies of North American crude and tepid demand have pushed prices LCOc1 below $100 a barrel, the move underlies how the shale oil revolution is creating a political and economic advantage for Washington and its Western allies.

Russia and Iran are heavily reliant on oil sales and face budget shortages at current price levels, analysts say, weakening their position when negotiating over Ukrainian sovereignty or the Iranian nuclear deal.

And higher oil production from the United States as well as Canada is providing a buffer against the threat of retaliatory supply curbs from Russia or further disruptions to supplies from the Middle East.

Obama May Have Just Dealt A Crushing Blow To Russia's Oil Exploration (BRETT LOGIURATO , SEP. 12, 2014, Business Insider)

New U.S. sanctions handed down on Friday are designed to effectively "shut off" Russian oil conglomerates from oil exploration projects, U.S. officials said, in a move aimed squarely at Russia's $425 billion-a-year petroleum industry.

The measures are "designed to effectively shut down this type of oil exploration and production activity by depriving these Russian companies of the goods, technology, and services that they need to do this work," a senior Obama administration official said Friday. 

The official added the intention of the new sanctions was to ensure that "we have effectively shut off the capacity" of Russian oil companies to draw on U.S. expertise for deepwater, Arctic offshore, and/or shale oil exploration projects. The official stressed this was an important step because Russia's companies did not possess the kind of technology needed to undertake the operations.

Posted by orrinj at 8:13 AM


The Rabbi Who Knew Too Much (Adam Rosen, September 4th, 2014, Los Angeles Review of Books)

Friday was an immediate success. It earned Kemelman -- who was 55 when it was published -- an Edgar Award, the most prestigious prize in mystery fiction. A 1975 interview in Publishers Weekly revealed that five million Rabbi Small mysteries had been printed, and the series had been "translated into almost every language except Russian, Chinese, and, naturally, the various Arabic languages." Modern estimates put the number of Rabbi Small books in print at seven million copies at their peak. By the time of his death in 1996, Kemelman had published 12 titles in the series.

Most Rabbi Small fans weren't actually Jewish. In a 1995 interview with The Jewish Exponent, Kemelman guessed that non-Jews made up 90 percent of his readership. There were a few explanations for this, according to Charles Ardai, founder of the hard-boiled publishing house Hard Case Crime. For one, mystery fans tend to be particularly receptive to new and exotic protagonists. Also, Kemelman could write a good play-fair mystery, the term for the classic thriller in which "the reader follows around the sleuth and tries to figure out the solution before the detective does," Ardai explains. Perhaps most importantly, Rabbi Small appeared during a spike in national interest in Jewish culture nurtured by Woody Allen and Philip Roth, among other identifiably Jewish entertainment heavyweights. The series "was fresh and new, and at the same time Jewish subjects were for the time being, in vogue," Ardai concludes.

Rabbi Small had all sorts of intriguing things to reveal to his audience. Consider the following exchange in Thursday the Rabbi Walked Out (1978). At this point, our Talmud-wielding protagonist is looking into the death of Ellsworth Jordon, an aristocratic and outspokenly anti-Semitic Barnard's Crossing resident. The rabbi's investigation brings him into contact with two of Jordon's yacht club friends, a selectman named Albert Megrim and a retired Episcopalian rector named Dr. Springhurst. In typical expository fashion, Rabbi Small explains the mindset of his people:

A thought crossed [Megrim's] mind, and he looked curiously at Rabbi Small. "I suppose from your point of view Jordon's death was punishment from on high for his attitude toward your kind."

"Oh no," said the rabbi quickly. "I'd hate to think so."

Megrim opened his eyes wide. "You would?"

"Naturally," said the rabbi. "Because the corollary would be that either any wicked person who was alive and prosperous was not really wicked or that God was unaware of his actions."

Dr. Springhurst chuckled. "Ah, then you believe as we do that the wicked are punished after death."

"No-o, we don't believe that either," said the rabbi. "That would mean depriving men of free will. We feel that virtue is its own reward, and evil carries its own punishment."

Kemelman's instructional approach was not accidental. He was deeply influenced by G. K. Chesterton's Father Brown series, and in multiple interviews throughout his life he praised Chesterton for educating readers about Catholic doctrine through his plucky, crime-solving priest. "I got more insight into Catholicism from reading Father Brown than I got in most of my studies in comparative religion," he told People magazine in a 1976 feature, which, in addition to exploring his "sneaky way of teaching Judaism," confirms the height of his contemporary pop culture relevance.

Additionally, because Kemelman was working within the domain of genre fiction, he had a unique window of opportunity. His readers, not expecting or wanting a dry academic tome, had no need to brace themselves for a "serious" work of comparative religion. Effectively disarmed, they allowed Rabbi Small -- Talmud teachings and all -- to enter their minds and occupy their nightstands.

Posted by orrinj at 7:53 AM


Ten novels to make you passionate about history : Our suggestions for the best in historical fiction. (Carolyn Moynihan , Francis Phillips and Michael Cook, 3 September 2014, MercatorNet)

Here is a big handful of books which will make you want to rush to the library to read about the era in which the novel is set. We'd like to follow this list up with others. Send us your suggestions. We'd love to hear from you.

Here are a few we'd add:

A Mapmaker's Dream: The Meditations of Fra Mauro, Cartographer to the Court of Venice (James Cowan)

Barabbas (Par Lagerkvist)

The Golden Warrior: the Story of Harold and William (Hope Muntz)

The Aubrey/Maturin Series (Patrick O'Brian)

Falls the Shadow (Sharon Kay Penman) 

The Killer Angels (Michael Shaara)

With Fire and Sword (Henryk Sienkiewicz) 

Posted by orrinj at 7:48 AM


Johnny Cash in the Holy Land : The country singer--and a founding father of American Christian Zionism--died 11 years ago this week (Shalom Goldman, September 11, 2014, Tablet)

Brought up in a devout Baptist home, Johnny Cash was introduced to music through the local church choir in which his mother sang. She taught Johnny scores of hymns and songs, and it was at age 10, in order to accompany his mother, that he learned to play the guitar. Many decades later, Cash told an interviewer that, of the over 200 albums that he had recorded, his favorite was "My Mother's Hymn Book," in which he plays songs that his mother sang in church.

Among those moving songs is "I'm Bound for the Promised Land," which opens with an evocation of the singer standing on "Jordan's stormy banks." For Cash's mother and the other members of her rural Baptist church in Tennessee, the view from "Jordan's stormy banks" to "the tranquility of the Promised Land" to which they were bound was a metaphor for the heavenly reward that awaits the righteous when they cross the threshold of death and enter paradise.

"Promised Land" and many other songs that refer to "Canaan," Jordan, Gilead, and Zion would have all been understood in the 1930s and '40s as rich metaphors that evoke biblical places in the service of spiritual ideas, a tradition that has deep roots in both the white and black churches. And the promised-land idea informed the thinking of the early American colonists and the Founding Fathers, who spoke of the American experiment as providing a promised land for refugees from the tyranny of the "English Pharaoh," George III.

But for generations of American, among them the Cash ancestors, Zion, the Promised Land was much more that a metaphor: It was "Jesus' Land." In the period after the Civil War many among the American Christian elites flocked there. Steamship travel made it possible to sail from New York, Boston, or Charleston and reach the port of Jaffa in three weeks. Among some American Christians "Zeal for Zion" ran so high that they attempted to create colonies in Palestine. In the second half of the 19th century, before the major era of Zionist settlement, at least four such colonies were founded. Most of them failed, but the American Colony of Jerusalem, co-founded by Swedish Christians, left its mark on Jerusalem.

Many writers on the subject of Christians and Zionism tend to emphasize the "End Time" theology of supporters of Israel. But the long view of American religious and social history reveals that American Christianity, in its many persuasions and denominations, has a very long history of engagement with the idea and reality of Zion. Eleven years after their deaths, Johnny and June Carter Cash stand as exemplars of the complexity and depth of the American connection to both the idea and reality of the promised land.

Posted by orrinj at 7:45 AM


In Employer Health Insurance Costs, Stability Is the New Normal (DREW ALTMAN, 9/12/14, WSJ)

Employers have complained for years about their rising health-care costs. But over the past decade, as the chart above shows, premium increases for employer health insurance have moderated sharply and stabilized. Premiums for family policies in the group market grew 72% between 1999 and 2004; 34% between 2004 and 2009; and 26% between 2009 and 2014. Even as premium growth moderated, health insurance costs still outpaced inflation and wage growth. But this year premiums grew 3%, about the same rate as wages and inflation. Despite fears that premiums would rise in the group market because of the Affordable Care Act, they have remained stable.

Posted by orrinj at 7:43 AM


More Pilots in Crashes Are on Drugs, Report Says (Denver Nicks , Sept. 9, 2014, TIME)

Toxicology reports over the last two decades show sharp increase drug use among pilots and in drug mixing as well

More pilots involved in airplane crashes are testing positive for drugs, according to an analysis of toxicology reports going back 20 years by the National Transportation Safety Board.

According to the draft report released Tuesday, in 1990 just 9.6% of pilots involved in crashes tested positive for one drug, compared to 39% in 2012. Drug mixing--which can be an especially dangerous and unpredictable way to consume drugs--has been on the rise as well.

You can't get humans out of the cockpit fast enough.

Posted by orrinj at 7:37 AM


Charles Lloyd's Spiritual Journey (Mark Judge, 9/09/14, RCP)

In the 1960s, Lloyd's story got even more interesting. In 1966 his quartet played the Monterey Jazz Festival. The resulting live album, Forest Flower, became a hit, selling over a million copies. Lloyd became popular in the counterculture, playing with the Grateful Dead and at the Fillmore in San Francisco. He was, in the words of Herbie Hancock, "the first jazz-rock star." The record company wanted more from Lloyd, and he got into drugs. His group was the first jazz combo to play in the Soviet Union at the invitation not of the government, but the people.

Then in the early 1970s, Lloyd abruptly left the business. He didn't like the dictates of the record companies, but perhaps more importantly, drugs had taken their toll. He "lost his focus" according to drummer Jack DeJohnette. Lloyd, feeling "off his spiritual compass," traveled to India, studied Eastern spirituality, and then retired to Big Sur in California where he farmed and meditated. It is this period of withdrawal and reflection that gives Arrows Into Infinity its title. Lloyd has always perused the spiritual and transcendent in his music, but he observes that to do so its essential that time is taken for reflection and contemplation: "You can't shoot an arrow into infinity if you're always in motion," he says, "you first have to draw the bow back."

Lloyd was lured out of retirement in 1986, after a near-fatal illness. He was told by an old jazz friend that the music did not belong to him -- that he was "a conduit" for something higher, and that it was selfish of him to withhold that from the world. Lloyd signed with the wonderful German jazz label ECM. From then until today he has produced a series of gorgeous records: Water is Wide, Rabo du Nube, Mirror, and Hagar's Song. Lloyd even reunited with his original drummer from the 1950s, Billy Higgins. When Higgins was dying of liver failure in 2001, he told Lloyd, "We have to keep doing this music." Lloyd replied that he didn't expect Higgins to get out of his hospital bed, Higgins relied, "I may not be with you in body, but we're going to keep doing this music."

It would be false to say that Charles Lloyd is a conservative, but one of the interesting things about Arrows Into Infinity is that it reveals not just a deeply spiritual soul, but a supremely articulate and clear-headed thinker, a man who has both compassion and a steel work ethic. There's a funny scene where Lloyd recalls his exasperation with how excessive and crazy some of the fashion got in the 1970s, and how this could often reflect a laziness in political thinking.

This rendition of Go Down Moses is lovely.

September 13, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 6:40 AM


Why TV Hit 'Longmire' Got Canceled: Fans Too Old (JOE FLINT, Sept. 11, 2014, WSJ)

Based on author Craig Johnson's mystery books about Walt Longmire, a Wyoming county sheriff whose laconic personality belies his razor-sharp detective skills, "Longmire" was A&E's second-most popular show behind the reality hit "Duck Dynasty," averaging 5.6 million viewers this season, according to Nielsen. That is better than critical darlings "Mad Men" on AMC AMCX -0.56%  and "Justified" on FX.

Unfortunately for "Longmire," it has the wrong audience and the wrong owner. A&E said it pulled the plug on "Longmire" because it appeals primarily to older viewers--the median age of the show's viewers is 60 versus 48 for the network as a whole--and it doesn't have an ownership stake in the show. A&E is a unit of A+E Networks, a joint-venture between Walt Disney Co. DIS -0.33%  and Hearst Corp.

"Longmire's" fate is reflective of two growing trends in the television industry--the obsession of advertisers with younger viewers and the desire of TV networks to own as much of their content as possible.

Posted by orrinj at 6:26 AM


What if Scotland Were a U.S. State? (Mark Glassman, September 12, 2014, The Atlantic)

To put into perspective what the loss of Scotland might feel like to the U.K., let's think about the country as if it were a U.S. state. Scotland's gross domestic product was about $211 billion in 2013. That puts it right in the middle of the pack among the 50 states.
However, Scotland means a great deal more to the U.K. than most states do to the broader U.S. The Scottish economy accounted for about 8.4 percent of the U.K.'s GDP last year. Only Texas (8.9 percent) and California (13.2 percent) accounted for a larger share of the U.S. economy.

On a per capita basis, Scotland is far poorer than most states in the union. In 2013, the country had a GDP per capita of about $39,100. That's about on par with Arkansas.
On the other hand, Scotland is growing--and much faster than Arkansas. The country's GDP grew 3.3 percent last year. Only eight U.S. states reported faster growth.

Posted by orrinj at 6:23 AM


The computer will see you now : A virtual shrink may sometimes be better than the real thing (The Economist, Aug 16th 2014)

During their time with Ellie, all participants had their faces scanned for signs of sadness, and were given a score ranging from zero (indicating none) to one (indicating a great degree of sadness). Also, three real, human psychologists, who were ignorant of the purpose of the study, analysed transcripts of the sessions, to rate how willingly the participants disclosed personal information.

These observers were asked to look at responses to sensitive and intimate questions, such as, "How close are you to your family?" and, "Tell me about the last time you felt really happy." They rated the responses to these on a seven-point scale ranging from -3 (indicating a complete unwillingness to disclose information) to +3 (indicating a complete willingness). All participants were also asked to fill out questionnaires intended to probe how they felt about the interview.

Dr Gratch and his colleagues report in Computers in Human Behaviour that, though everyone interacted with the same avatar, their experiences differed markedly based on what they believed they were dealing with. Those who thought Ellie was under the control of a human operator reported greater fear of disclosing personal information, and said they managed more carefully what they expressed during the session, than did those who believed they were simply interacting with a computer.

Crucially, the psychologists observing the subjects found that those who thought they were dealing with a human were indeed less forthcoming, averaging 0.56 compared with the other group's average score of 1.11. The first group also betrayed fewer signs of sadness, averaging 0.08 compared with the other group's 0.12 sadness score.

This quality of encouraging openness and honesty, Dr Gratch believes, will be of particular value in assessing the psychological problems of soldiers--a view shared by America's Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency, which is helping to pay for the project.

Posted by orrinj at 6:20 AM


The closing of the Christian womb (Spengler, 8/11/09, Asia Times Online)

The French designed Lebanon's constitution on the strength of a 1932 census showing a Christian majority, guaranteeing a slight Christian advantage in political representation. With the Christian population at barely 30% of the total and 23% of the population under 20 - Lebanon's government refuses to take a census - Lebanon long since has lost its viability. The closing of the Christian womb has ensured eventual Muslim dominance.

Precise data are unobtainable, for demographics is politics in Lebanon, but Lebanon's Christians became as infertile as their European counterparts. Muslims, particularly the impoverished and marginalized Shi'ites, had more babies. In 1971, the Shi'ite fertility rate was 3.8 babies per female, against only 2 for Maronite Christians, or just below replacement. Precise data are not available, but Christian fertility is well below replacement today.

Posted by orrinj at 6:15 AM


If ISIS Is Not Islamic, then the Inquisition Was Not Catholic (Jerry A. Coyne, 9/13/14, New Republic)

As ISIS slaughters its way though Syria and Iraq, it became inevitable that we'd hear from apologists who claim that ISIS is not in fact "true Islam," and that its depredations are due to something other than religious motivation. Those motivations, say the apologists, are political (usually Western colonialism that engenders resentment), cultural (societal tradition), or anything other than religion. [...]

Well, if ISIS is not Islamic, then the Inquisition was not Catholic. 

Which is precisely what B. Netanyau demonstrates in his magisterial, The Origins of the Inquisition in Fifteenth Century Spain

Posted by orrinj at 6:05 AM


Totally Transparent Solar Cells Could Turn Our Windows Into Solar Panels (Ben Schiller, 9/12/14, Co.Exist)

In the future, you'll be able to charge your phone just by placing it in the sun, and you'll generate electricity through your windows, not just from the panels on the roof. How? By covering glass in a material that captures energy from the invisible parts of the light spectrum, but still lets in visible light. In other words: translucent solar cells.

"When you look at tall buildings, there is a tremendous amount of surface area. They can act as efficient collectors throughout the day," says Richard Lunt, an assistant professor of chemical engineering at Michigan State University. "In many buildings, we are already installing films to reject infrared light to reduce [heating and cooling] costs. We aim to do something similar while also generating power."

Molecules in the film absorb energy and "glow." The glowing infrared light is then pushed to the sides, where it's converted to electricity using edge-mounted strips of solar cells.

Posted by orrinj at 6:00 AM


It's not just Scotland. Catalonia and Kurdistan are both fighting for autonomy too. (Lev Taylor, 9/13/14, openDemocracy)

"I don't know what the situation is like there, but I know that the Irish, the Scottish, the Catalans, they're the same as us," a Kurdish farmer tells me, as we sit on his watermelon farm, just outside Urfa.

Admittedly, his knowledge of the politics in Ireland are slightly out-of-date, as he pledges his unwavering support for the IRA. The situations in Catalonia, Scotland and Kurdistan are all very unique, and none can quite be seen as the same as the others.

But he does have a very good point. Perhaps many people outside Scotland don't realise that same political demands for independence, albeit in very different ways, are being made by nations across the world. There is a great deal that Scotland can learn if it looks much further south of the border, towards the Mediterranean.

I spent the last year eight months living in Turkey, and have just moved to Catalonia. What has struck me most is how much the same arguments are being made, and many of the same processes are taking place across these different countries. 

September 12, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 6:32 PM


What Obama didn't say: How Iran fits into Islamic State fight (Brian Murphy September 11 , 2014, Washington Post)

[I]ran - with deep interests in both Iraq and Syria - has many reasons to also seek the Islamic State's demise. In another of the Middle East's strange-bedfellow outcomes, Iran is likely to be drawn into any Western-led scenarios against the Islamic State militants and their networks.

Here are five reasons why:

SHIITE MUSCLE: Iran has important sway over powerful Shiite militias in Iraq. Some had turned their guns against American troops in the past. Now, units of Shiite fighters have joined the battles against the Sunni-led Islamic State in northern Iraq. The reason is balance of power. Iraq's Shiite factions - and, by extension, Iran - are deeply unsettled by the idea of rising Sunni extremists who condemn Shiite Muslims with the same fervor they denounce the West. [...]

ROOM TO TALK: There are more chances than ever for direct U.S.-Iran dialogue. Channels have been open through the negotiations over Tehran's nuclear program. Tehran and Washington also have taken part previously in three-way talks hosted by Iraq.

The WoT has been all about empowering the Shi'a, the region's only natural democrats..

Posted by orrinj at 11:38 AM


Scottish example emboldens Catalans : The Catalan independence movement is flying high at the moment, says Spain expert Klaus-Jürgen Nagel. (Deutsche Welle, 9/12/14)

[T]he majority of the population supports it. And the Catalan government has decided to hold a referendum on November 9 despite Madrid's resistance. That would only be a non-binding referendum from a legal point of view, though. The question is whether the Spanish government will prohibit this poll as it has threatened.

If a majority votes for independence, would the referendum have any consequences despite being non-binding?

Certainly. In a democracy when a majority makes its voice heard in a legitimate, consistent manner, then it's hard not to take such a view of the people into account. In the case of Scotland, even a close decision against independence would lead to an expansion of Scottish autonomy.

Posted by orrinj at 11:35 AM


Obama's Unauthorized War (David Cole, 9/11/14, NY Review of Books)

This time, Obama has given no indication that he intends to seek Congress's authorization for airstrikes. There has been some talk of obtaining approval to send troops to train Iraqi forces, but Obama apparently thinks he doesn't need any authorization to drop bombs from the sky with the aim of killing human beings--even in a country, Syria, where he plainly will have no permission from the sovereign to do so.

Meanwhile, by definition, there is no sovereign in those portions of Syria.

Posted by orrinj at 11:27 AM


What politicians can learn today from Reagan's unexpected rise to power (Harold Pollack, September 9, 2014, Washington Post)

I caught up with Perlstein last Friday. We discussed Reagan's improbable success. We also discussed many other things: The OPEC oil embargo, the Patty Hearst kidnapping, whether President Obama underestimated the implacability of his political opponents. Finally, we discussed what Perlstein himself has learned from critical essays written about his book. [...]

The story in my book began in 1973. Richard Nixon declared "peace with honor" in Vietnam when there was nothing honorable about it at all. We lost a war. We wasted 58,000 lives, billions of dollars. The government that we'd expended all this blood and treasure to prop up was not only corrupt, but its Army collapsed like a house of cards, much like the Iraq armies today.

While this was happening, Americans were getting the first inkling of something called the "energy shortage." This was a remarkable blow to America's self-image, because people didn't really think of energy as something that you could even have a shortage of. The idea that we could be held hostage by these Arab sheikhs was just completely traumatizing. We were straddling the world like a colossus. We defeated Hitler. We created the first mass middle class. Doubled real incomes.

So you've got Watergate, you've got the Energy Crisis, and then you have Vietnam... For the first time, Americans begin to confront the notion we are not God's chosen nation, the last best hope on Earth. My argument is that this was a time of extraordinary political engagement, which marked America's coming of age as a nation. I quote Kant's definition of enlightenment, which is, "Mankind's emergence from its self-imposed adolescence." In other words, the country was growing up.

The story I tell is that there was always a counter-force pushing against this: this longing for innocence, this longing for the easy answer, that America couldn't possibly fall from this pinnacle of greatness.

That was the force represented by Reagan. It was the wave that he rode. By the time of the bicentennial, there was a remarkable movement in which people were saying, "America doesn't deserve to have a big birthday party. Terrorists are probably going to blow up the celebrations anyway." There were 82 terrorist bombings in the United States in 1975. Suddenly this moment passes and people are realizing this uncritical joyous celebration of patriotism was not that hard to do, after all.

HP: There seems to be an anger underneath your writing, in which you believe that what we needed to do as a nation was to have this reckoning, to come out of our self-imposed adolescence. And then Reagan and others short-circuited that, and we took the easy way out.

Reagan's one unforgivable crime is apparently that he prevented the rest of us from hating America as much as the Left does.  But, of course, that is part of Friend Perlstein's unintended hagiography of  The Gipper. As many fanboys as Reagan has among conservatives, none inflate him to quite that level of greatness.

Posted by orrinj at 11:21 AM


Putin is under Satan's influence: leader of Kiev Orthodox Church (GARETH JONES, Sep 6, 2014, Reuters) 

President Vladimir Putin has fallen under the spell of Satan and faces eternal damnation unless he repents, a top Ukrainian clergyman said on Saturday in an unusually blunt statement that squarely blamed the Russian leader for the war in Ukraine.

Wny would the Devil waste his time?

Posted by orrinj at 11:18 AM


In the GOP primary, Brown, Havenstein, Guinta, Garcia win easily (John DiStaso, Sep 9, 2014, NH Journal)

 In the end, the Republican voters of New Hampshire were in no mood for upsets.
Scott Brown, Walt Havenstein, Frank Guinta and Marilinda Garcia will top the New Hampshire Republican ticket on Nov. 4, after winning their respective primaries on Tuesday. And all won easily. [...]
Marilinda Garcia swept to victory over Gary Lambert and Jim Lawrence, following the harshest of the top contests.
With nearly 80 percent of votes counted, Garcia led Lambert, 50 to 26 percent, with 19 percent for Lawrence.

When the eldest asked, I told him I voted for the hunk and the hottie.

Posted by orrinj at 11:16 AM


Japanese Now World's Least Optimistic: Pew Survey (JACOB M. SCHLESINGER, 9/10/14, WSJ)

"Optimism about the economy over the next 12 months has nosedived in Japan, where just 15% foresee their economy improving, down from 40% who were hopeful a year ago," the report says.

That makes the Japanese the least optimistic of the 44 countries surveyed by Pew, a particularly noteworthy nugget in a document titled "Global Public Downbeat about Economy: Many Wary of the Future." 

The 15% must be robots.

Posted by orrinj at 10:53 AM


Gina Raimondo's primary win in R.I. could transform debate on progressivism (Matt Miller  September 11, 2014, Washington Post)

It seems preposterous to argue that an obscure primary in a state with a million people could alter the debate inside the Democratic Party -- much less to claim that the race could transform the broader national conversation about how to achieve progressive goals in an aging America. But that's exactly what's in store after Tuesday's election in Rhode Island, when state treasurer Gina Raimondo won the Democratic gubernatorial nomination over her union-backed foes. [...]

Usually those out to trim future pension costs are cast as evil conservatives bent on decimating a dignified retirement (and sometimes they are). Raimondo reframed the debate from the left. She told Rhode Islanders that if they didn't come together to tackle these unfunded promises, not only would public employees counting on secure pensions be left high and dry, but before long there also would be no public money available for schools, transportation, job training and other critical investments on which future prosperity depends. [...]

She built a coalition that tweaked benefits not only for future retirees, but for current workers and retirees as well. The retirement age has been lifted from 62 to 67. Cost-of-living adjustments for current pension recipients have been put on hold until the pension funds are judged 80 percent solvent. In the end, these measures passed with overwhelming support. Hundreds of millions of dollars are already being freed up for other public purposes. Polls on the eve of the election showed that, despite union court challenges, Raimondo's fix retains broad support.

We all know where we're headed...
Posted by orrinj at 4:41 AM


Reservists from top intel unit refuse to 'operate against Palestinians (ADIV STERMAN, September 12, 2014, Times of Israel)

"The Palestinian population, which is under military rule, is completely exposed to the espionage and surveillance efforts of Israeli intelligence," the letter read.

"The intelligence [that was] gathered, hurts innocent people, and was used in order to politically persecute [Palestinians], and as a means to create division in Palestinian society by mobilizing collaborators and directing the Palestinian society against itself.

"We are unable, morally, to serve in such a system," the letter concluded.

The signatories, however, stressed that they would continue to take part in operations to gather information regarding enemy states.

"We understand the need to defend ourselves, and intelligence is by definition something dirty, and compared to other countries it really is self-defense. But with the Palestinians, the main objective is to maintain the military rule in the West Bank," one of the reservists told Siha Mekomit magazine.

September 11, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 3:42 PM


Bank of Japan Buys Government Debt at Negative Yield (ELEANOR WARNOCK, 9/10/14, WSJ)

Tuesday marked another milestone in the topsy-turvy world of monetary easing in Japan: The Bank of Japan bought short-term Japanese government debt at a negative yield for the first time, according to market participants.

The BOJ scooped up some of the three-month No. 477 Treasury bill, which has traded at a negative yield for the past two trading days amid strong demand, the market participants said.

Normally, people who buy debt expect to get their money back plus some interest. Negative yield means the buyer gets back less than he or she puts in.

Not when you're deflating.

Posted by orrinj at 3:38 PM


Amid Kale and Quinoa, Pop-Tarts Keep Hanging On (SARAH NASSAUER,  Sept. 9, 2014, WSJ)

Sales of soda, cereal and frozen food are down. Sales of Pop-Tarts have gone up each year for the past 32.

The super sweet, slightly cardboard-tasting rectangles defy most eating trends big food companies are chasing. They're not gluten-free, all-natural, protein-packed or made with simple ingredients. Many similar breakfast foods by rival companies have ended up in the product graveyard.

You can almost always find them at the $1 store.

Posted by orrinj at 3:33 PM


The Conservative Case for Common Core (WILLIAM J. BENNETT, Sept. 10, 2014, WSJ)

First, we can all agree that there is a need for common standards of assessment in K-12 education. And we can all agree that there are common and shared truths in English, literature and math. Think of "We hold these truths to be self evident" as emblematic.

Nearly all Americans agree that to prepare a child for civic responsibility and competition in the modern economy, he or she must be able to read and distill complex sentences, and must be equipped with basic mathematical skills.

When I was chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities in the 1980s, I asked 250 people across the political spectrum what 10 books every student should be familiar with by the time they finish high school. Almost every person agreed on five vital sources: the Bible, Shakespeare, America's founding documents, the great American novel "Huckleberry Finn " and classical works of mythology and poetry, like the Iliad and the Odyssey.

The same goes for math. Certain abilities--the grasp of fractions, decimals, percentages, ratios and the like--should be the common knowledge of all.

That's the fundamental idea behind a core curriculum: preserving and emphasizing what's essential, in fields like literature and math, to a worthwhile education. It is also, by the way, a conservative idea. [...]

Call it Common Core or call it something else, as Arizona has done by renaming its standards "Arizona's College and Career Ready Standards," but public schools should have high standards based on a core curriculum that is aligned with tests that are comparable across state lines. 

September 10, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 4:40 PM


New rear-facing car seat requirements introduced (Estey Silva, SEPTEMBER 10, 2014, CS Monitor)

Parents and safety experts who are focused on increasing safety standards in car seats will be pleased with new guidelines announced recently by a US car seat manufacturer. 

Cosco announced last week at the Kidz in Motion National Child Passenger Safety Technician Conference that it plans on increasing the rear-facing age requirements for its car seats, not allowing kids to face forward until age 2.

Posted by orrinj at 4:34 PM


Study: Employers Pushing More Health Costs on Workers Despite Slow Premium Growth (Casey Leins Sept. 10, 2014, US News)

Despite relatively slow average growth in annual employer-based family premiums, employees are shouldering more and more of the burden of health insurance costs, according to a survey released Wednesday.

Though employer-based premium growth increased by 3 percent over the past year, remaining consistent with minor increases over recent years, employers have steepened deductibles over the same period, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation/Health Research and Education Trust 2014 Employer Health Benefits Survey.

The more folks have to pay out of pocket the less they'll consume and the more wisely.

September 9, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:50 PM


Obama Should Play Nixon and Go to Iran (Noah Smith, 9/09/14, Bloomberg View)

Iran is already fighting ISIS on the ground. This summer, when it looked like ISIS was about to take Baghdad, Iran sent its best military commander, Qasem Soleimani, to bolster the Iraqi defenses. He apparently succeeded, because there has been little subsequent talk of ISIS taking Baghdad. It is also possible that recent Iraqi Army successes are due to the helping hand of Iranian troops and training. Iran is also, of course, helping Basher Assad to fight ISIS in Syria.

U.S. aerial firepower and Iranian troops could defeat ISIS, but more crucially, Iran is also in a position to stabilize the region. Assad is a monster, but if the U.S. and Iran were allied, he might be pressured into sharing power with the anti-ISIS rebels after ISIS goes down; as it is, our unrelenting commitment to get rid of Assad is assuring that Syria will remain in a state of anarchy, a vacuum that only an ISIS-type entity will ever fill. If anyone can pressure both Assad and the Iraqi Shiites into sharing power with local Sunnis, it's an American-Iranian duo.

But there is another big, important reason for us to join with Iran: oil. The Iranian oil industry is currently restricted by U.S.-led sanctions that deprive it of Western technology and investment. With those sanctions removed, Iranian oil would begin to flow; if Iran helps stabilize Iraq, the effect will be multiplied.

A flood of Iranian oil would give the U.S. the ability to level much heavier sanctions against Russia, and would ensure global oil supplies in the event that a broader conflict in Eastern Europe disrupts Russian oil supplies. In other words, becoming friendlier with Iran would strengthen our hand against the suddenly aggressive Russians.

Beyond the short-term threats of ISIS and Russia, Iran and the U.S. are, if not natural allies, then at least not natural enemies. Despite still being a theocracy at the top, Iran is more democratic and modernized than any country in the region except Israel. Iran's public is less anti-American than most of our Arab allies, and Iran sends many students to study at American universities.

W should have gone in '03 when they first asked to be allowed in from the cold.  It's Reagan to Moscow, not Nixon to China.

Posted by orrinj at 5:55 PM


China's Military Gets More Bang for the Buck (Noah Smith, 9/08/14, Bloomberg View)

Whenever anyone brings up the rising military power of China, Russia and other U.S. rivals, some pundit usually pops up to remind us that America is still overwhelmingly dominant both in terms of military capability and spending. The pundit will generally offer you a chart like this one, which shows American military spending dwarfing everyone else's. The message, of course, is that the U.S. outspends all its rivals, ensuring its continued military dominance.

But there are several problems with this perennial talking point. The first is that these dollar numbers aren't adjusted for the cost of anything that any of these militaries buy. The lowest-paid U.S. soldiers earn about $18,000 a year. In comparison, in 2009, an equivalent Chinese soldier was paid about a ninth as much. In other words, in 2009, you could hire about nine Chinese soldiers for the cost of one U.S. soldier.

Even that figure doesn't account for health care and veterans' benefits. These are much higher in the U.S. than in China, though precise figures are hard to obtain. This is due to higher U.S. prices for health care, to higher prices in general, and because the U.S. is more generous than China in terms of what it pays its soldiers. Salaries and benefits, combined, account for a significant percentage of military expenditure.

Soldiers are antiquated.
Posted by orrinj at 5:48 PM


Couples retiring now have 'more income and wealth than necessary' (Patrick Collinson, 9/09/14,

Britain's retiring workers have never had it so good, according to an analysis by the Institute of Fiscal Studies which shows that the vast majority of couples born in the 1940s are maintaining their former living standards into retirement - and nearly a half enjoy a greater income in retirement than average real earnings.

The IFS research looked at the income and wealth of couples at retirement compared with their average earnings when they were 20- to 50-years-old. It found that 80% of couples born in the 1940s had an income at age 65 from both state and private pensions that was equal to two-thirds of their average working-life earnings, and that 40% enjoyed incomes higher than their average real working-life earnings.

Posted by orrinj at 5:43 PM


The United States should be nervous about the Scottish independence referendum (Nile Gardiner, September 9th, 2014, The Telegraph)

2. Britain's nuclear deterrent will have to be moved

The UK's entire nuclear deterrent is based in Scotland, and all Britain's nuclear bases and warheads will have to be moved out of the country, a huge headache not only for London, but also for Washington.  Any threat to Britain's status as a nuclear power is a matter of great concern for the United States. The Nato alliance was originally conceived as a nuclear alliance, one that has been underpinned since its founding by the American, British and (at times) French nuclear deterrents. Anything that undermines Britain's position as an independent nuclear power and weakens Nato is a matter of significant concern to the United States. 

The first step in limiting nuclear weapons should be forcing our allies to surrender them. Only one state should have nukes.

Posted by orrinj at 5:33 PM


America is running out of jobs. It's time for a universal basic income. (Ryan Cooper, 9/09/14, The Week)

The idea that work is a bedrock of society, that absolutely everyone who is not too old, too young, or disabled must have a job, was not handed down on tablets from Mount Sinai. It is the result of a historical development, one which may not continue forever. On the contrary, based on current trends, it is already breaking down.

The history of nearly universal labor participation is only about a century and a half old. Back in the early days of capitalism, demand for labor was so strong that all the ancient arrangements of society and family were shredded to accommodate it. Marx's Capital famously described how women and very young children were press-ganged into the textile mills and coal mines, how the nighttime was colonized for additional shifts, and how capitalists fought to extend the working day to the very limits of human endurance (and often beyond).

The resulting misery, abuse, and wretchedness were so staggering, and the resulting class conflicts so intense, that various hard-won reforms were instituted: the eight-hour day, the weekend, the abolition of child labor, and so forth.

But this process of drawing more people into the labor force peaked in the late 1990s, when women finally finished joining the labor force (after having been forced out to make room for returning veterans after World War II). The valorization of work as the source of all that is good in life is to a great degree the result of the need to legitimate capital's voracious demand for labor.

These days, capital's demand for labor is looking very, very soft.

The integration of women and minorities into the work force was a function of social policy, not of labor demand.  Now that the demand forces are being allowed to fuction freely the makework jobs are disappearing.  Technology will only accelerate that trend.

September 8, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:12 PM


Don't Take Your Vitamins (EMILY OSTER, 9/08/14, 538)

[A]s striking as these results on both vitamin D and vitamin E are, they fall short of the standard for causality. These studies were not randomized controlled trials, which means other factors could have influenced their outcomes. The authors did try to adjust for some variables -- age and whether the subjects smoke, for example -- but these may not be sufficient. Yet people believe the results: 25 percent of adults reported taking vitamin E in 1989, and the share rose to almost 40 percent by 2003.

As is often the case, striking observational results like these were followed by large randomized controlled trials -- many of them. A study run through the National Institutes of Health called the Women's Health Initiative analyzed the impact of vitamin D and calcium supplementation in 36,000 post-menopausal women. Another large trial out of Harvard -- the Physician's Health Study -- looked into vitamin E supplementation among 14,000 male physicians.

In these trials, participants were randomly assigned to take supplements. Because the assignment was random -- and the trials were big -- the demographic and health characteristics of the supplement group and the non-supplement group were similar before the study started. When researchers looked at participants' health over the long term, they could therefore be confident that any differences they saw across groups were due to the supplements, and not some other factor.

When the results of these studies came out, they largely refuted the idea that these supplements offered benefits. Vitamin E appears to have no impact on cancer or heart disease. Results from the Women's Health Study, released in 2005, showed no relationship between vitamin E supplementation and overall mortality. Later results from the men in the Physicians' Health Study showed the same: no relationship.

For vitamin D, the randomized trials (nicely summarized here) refuted virtually all of the purported benefits to diabetes, weight loss and cancer. For elderly women, there is some evidence of a small reduction in mortality with supplementation, but well below what was seen in observational data and only marginally statistically significant.

The bottom line is that there is simply very little evidence that these supplements matter. The best-case scenario is if you are an elderly woman who is deficient in vitamin D -- then a supplement might help a little. Still, in the 2009-2010 NHANES, about 30 percent of the non-elderly-female population took supplements.

And it's not just vitamins D and E. The Physicians' Health Study also looked into vitamin C and a one-a-day multivitamin and found the same results: no impacts on cancer or cardiovascular disease. Of course there are exceptions -- folic acid is generally a good idea for pregnant women -- but the data increasingly suggests that most people simply do not benefit from supplements.

To be clear: Serious vitamin deficiencies can cause serious problems (scurvy in the case of vitamin C, rickets in the case of vitamin D, beriberi for vitamin B).1 But if you live in the developed world and eat a normal diet -- even a pretty unhealthy one -- you will be nowhere near this kind of deficiency.

Posted by orrinj at 7:08 PM


Senate GOP Gains At Least 7 Seats (Stuart Rothenberg, 9/08/14, Roll Call)

While the current Rothenberg Political Report ratings don't show it, I am now expecting a substantial Republican Senate wave in November, with a net gain of at least seven seats.

But I wouldn't be shocked by a larger gain.

Rothenberg Political Report ratings reflect both where a race stands and, more importantly, where it is likely headed on Election Day. Since early polls rarely reflect the eventual November environment, either in terms of the candidates' name recognition and resources or of the election's dynamic, there is often a gap between how I categorize each race (my ratings) and what I privately assume will happen in November. [...]

Of the seven Romney Democratic seats up this cycle, Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia are gone, and Arkansas and Louisiana look difficult to hold. Alaska and North Carolina, on the other hand, remain very competitive, and Democrats rightly point out that they have a chance to hold both seats.

But I've witnessed 17 general elections from my perch in D.C., including eight midterms, and I sometimes develop a sense of where the cycle is going before survey data lead me there. Since my expectations constitute little more than an informed guess, I generally keep them to myself.

This year is different. I am sharing them with you.

Posted by orrinj at 6:57 PM


Americans are sitting on lots of cash. (John Aziz, 9/08/14, The Week)

A new paper by Yi Wen and Maria A. Arias published by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis correctly fingers cash hoarding as one of the major culprits, a phenomenon that I've discussed in the past. The U.S. has a savings glut, which means that consumers, business, and banks are sitting on their money instead of spending it.

The paper notes that banks have put away close to $2.8 trillion in reserves, and that households are sitting on $2.15 trillion in savings, which is nearly a 50 percent increase over the past five years. That's in addition to the $2 trillion that corporations are hoarding.

Which is one of the main indicators that this is a deflationary epoch.
Posted by orrinj at 6:53 PM


Is this the greatest, most American celebration of all time? (Lee Thomas-Mason, 9/08/14, Daily Mirror)

Posted by orrinj at 5:05 PM


'Primordial Soup' Computer Model Tracks The Beginning Of Life At The Atomic Level (Francie Diep, 09.08.2014, Popular Science)

Two researchers from France used a computer model to track the fates of just a few dozen early-Earth molecules as they're exposed to electric fields of increasing strength. The model was kind of a simplified Miller experiment, reimagined for the modern age. (The kind of computing power the model required wasn't yet available in the 1950s.)

Among other things, the model tracked the formation of intermediate molecules that eventually turned into glycine, a simple amino acid that often shows up in Miller-type experiments. Before the gases made glycine, they first made organic chemicals including formic acid and formamide, the model found. In their paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the scientists suggest that astronomers could look for these molecules on other planets and solar systems. They could be signs of the kinds of reactions that led to life on Earth.


September 7, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 8:22 AM

A HANDY RULE OF THUMB (self-reference alert)

4 Signs You Need to Take a Mental Health Day (JESSICA STILLMAN, 8/26/14, INC)
Here's the good news about mental health and the workplace: It's starting to get more of the attention it deserves. Thanks to pioneering journalism and stigma-busting public discussion of mental health issues by members of the entrepreneurship community, the toll starting a business can take on your mental health and the seemingly high prevalence of struggles with depression among founders are starting to come out in the open.

But while more and more people are willing to talk about and prioritize their mental health, many remain unwilling to actually even take the smallest steps to safeguard their sanity, reports Drake Baer on Business Insider recently.

"Lots of folks get cold feet when it comes to taking that needed three-day weekend," Baer writes before offering common excuses we give ourselves for not taking the time we need to maintain our mental balance--such as fears it will hold back our careers or misguided notions that those with a bit of scheduling flexibility (aka freelancers and entrepreneurs) don't need to take time to themselves in the same way regular employees do.

But the simple truth is almost all of us need to schedule special time to unwind and de-stress every once in awhile, according to a recent pieces on Fox News from health writer Laurie Tarkan. The article is a sort of guide to taking a mental health day, including suggestions on exactly how best to spend your hours off and how to update colleagues and clients on what you're up to.

Among her practical advice is a helpful list of warning signs that you're dangerously close to running on empty and it might be time for you to consider adding a mental health day to your calendar, gathered from workplace health expert Brandon M. Smith.

Given that one of the effects of overwork is impaired judgment, I like to have a neutral signal to myself that it's time to take some time off.  So I try not to ever have 60 hours more in earned time saved up than I can roll over for the year.  Of course, this year the company raised the number of hours we can roll over to 80--we're Puritans, no one takes time until they have to--so you really have to burn some before you get to 140 banked or you're a liability in the workplace. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:53 AM


UK promises Scots more powers if they reject independence (Kylie MacLellan, 9/07/14, Reuters) 

The British government is scrambling to respond to a lurch in the opinion polls toward a vote for Scottish independence this month by promising a range of new powers for Scotland if it chooses to stay within the United Kingdom.

British finance minister George Osborne said on Sunday that plans would be set out in the coming days to give Scotland more autonomy on tax, spending and welfare if Scots vote against independence in a historic referendum on Sept. 18.

Osborne's comments came after a YouGov poll for the Sunday Times showed supporters of independence had taken their first opinion poll lead since the referendum campaign began.

If they'd offered the colonies the same deal a lot of damage would have been avoided--not least four world wars and a couple civil.

Posted by orrinj at 7:43 AM


Issues (Wilfred M. McClay,  Summer 2014, The Hedgehog Review)

[N]ow, when I hear the word "issues" substituted for a more informative, descriptive, or precise term, I think of the psychiatric phrase "not otherwise specified," which is used often in the supposedly authoritative (but constantly being revised) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. In other words, the person of whom we say that he "has issues" is likely to be someone of whom we strongly disapprove, but for reasons "not otherwise specified," perhaps because we lack the knowledge, the energy, or the time to render the specifics--and perhaps because we just want a patina of pseudo-expertise to conceal the raw fact that we viscerally dislike him, or that he stands in the way of something we want. 

Not every usage of "issues" is this loaded, but the possibility of such loading is always there in the background. To "have issues with" someone or "about" something is to be found guilty of an irrational, even pathological, aversion, to have what used to be called a "hang-up" about that thing or person--as, for example, when it is said that today's young men "have issues with commitment." This doesn't mean that they wish to get into a serious discussion of the subject with Howard K. Smith. It means something closer to the opposite. It means--although it doesn't say directly--that they are not capable of such a discussion. It means that they are too immature to be willing to assume the responsibilities of grown men, and are too immature to have this fact explained to them. 

So pervasive is this usage that one can find it employed reflexively, as when the hip-hop artist Kool Keith recently pronounced the following upon his artistic rival, the performance artist Eminem: "It seems like he has a lot of issues with himself." Whatever else can be said of such an enigmatic statement, it was clearly not a compliment, and certainly not a ringing affirmation of Eminem's mental health. But then maybe it was a tribute to the roiled inner life of the authentic artist who operates outside the guardrails of life, the poète maudit. Maybe. Maybe not. 

But with "issues," we usually have to guess at the precise nature of the difficulty. Of course, any person using the term "issues" in this way is also showing that he or she cannot be bothered to state with openness and precision the real source of the trouble. To do so would not only require a real effort of understanding, but it would also mean risking the appearance of a moral judgment, a sin that has to be avoided at all costs. Even the similarly used word "problem," for all its faults--chief among them being the false implication that every conflict in life can be "solved"--is less evasive than the non-directive "issues," since it at least implies that one could analyze the situation and clarify the lines of responsibility. 

How much lazier and easier and safer to declare that "He has issues with his mother," than to state what those issues might be, what is to be done about them, and to venture to guess whether he or his mother might be the more culpable party. The word "issues" becomes a fog over the proceedings, enveloping them in a deliberately impenetrable pea soup of moral indeterminacy. It is the perfect word for our postmodern times. Like the language of diplomacy, it is meant to say what it does not say, and not to say what it says, and to preserve the possibility of deniability and retreat at all times. 

Too many people fear using normative language lest they be judged politically-incorrect.
Posted by orrinj at 7:27 AM


Why they still hate us, 13 years later (Fareed Zakaria, 9/04/14, Washington Post)

It's not an Islam problem but an Arab problem. In the early 2000s, Indonesia was our biggest concern because of a series of terrorist attacks there after 9/11. But over the past decade, jihad and even Islamic fundamentalism have not done well in Indonesia -- the largest Muslim country in the world, larger in that sense than Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Libya and the Gulf states put together. Or look at India, which is right next door to Ayman al-Zawahiri's headquarters in Pakistan, but very few of its 165 million Muslims are members of al-Qaeda. Zawahiri has announced a bold effort to recruit Indian Muslims, but I suspect it will fail.

Arab political decay. The central point of the essay was that the reason the Arab world produces fanaticism and jihad is political stagnation. By 2001, almost every part of the world had seen significant political progress -- Eastern Europe, Asia, Latin America, even Africa had held many free and fair elections. But the Arab world remained a desert. In 2001, most Arabs had fewer freedoms than they did in 1951.

The one aspect of life that Arab dictators could not ban was religion, so Islam had become the language of political opposition. 

This is the key point that W failed to recognize and the refusal to embrace Hamas's victory in Palestine's national elections--followed by the refusal to embrace the victorious Brotherhood in Egypt--has been disastrous. On the one hand, we're trying to liberalize the Arab world, while, on the other, we're telling them we prefer the secular-totalitarians in their midst to the religious democrats. 

But we'll figure it out, once we get over our own angst.  

Posted by orrinj at 7:23 AM


Bowa and Franco in an alpha-omega moment (Frank Fitzpatrick, September 7, 2014, Philadelphia Inquirer)

Debuting Phillies rookie Maikel Franco had just collected his first big-league RBI. Bowa was among those awaiting his return to the Phillies' Turner Field dugout.

As he congratulated the 22-year-old September call-up, something like a pensive smile fleetingly pushed aside the wizened bench coach's perpetual smirk.

Bowa's hair is gray now, his face lined and liver-spotted, his legendary energy calmed by time. He's 68, and his career with the Phillies has spanned five decades, four roles, three ballparks, and now two super-prospects named Franco.

There was a perfect baseball equilibrium in that brief but touching instant, a meeting of young and old, of wide-eyed and wistful, of dreams both fresh and faded.

Once - can it really be 44 years ago? - Bowa was the eager rookie bounding down a dugout's steps. Now he was an end-of-the-line baseball lifer. But unable to run, catch or hit, he could still watch, imagine, and remember.

I'd like to think that in those brief seconds when the start of one career intersected with the twilight of another, he saw himself in Franco.

Posted by orrinj at 7:18 AM


Hamas Rides High, for Now (Rami G. Khouri, 9/05/14, Bloomberg View)

 If new Palestinian elections were held today, Hamas would win easily.

The poll was conducted by the respected Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip during the last day of the war and the first four days of the cease-fire. Its results indicate that the Hamas leader in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, would trounce Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the polls by 61 percent to 32 percent. Residents of the West Bank, which is controlled by Abbas's Fatah faction, were even more enthusiastic than their counterparts in the Gaza Strip; almost two-thirds of them favored Haniyeh, compared with 53 percent of Gazans. By more than 3-to-1, Palestinians approved of the performance of Hamas during the war, double the approval for Abbas and the Palestinian Authority.

No doubt the boost in support for Hamas reflects the perception that it is forcing Israel to ease, and ultimately to lift, the siege on Gaza. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:14 AM


Republicans Look for House Gains in New Hampshire : Candidates Offer a Diverse Slate in State's Upcoming Primary (JANET HOOK, Sept. 5, 2014, WSJ)

The primary has been especially bitter for the nomination in state's western district, which includes Concord and is now represented by Ms. Kuster. The front runners are former state Sen. Gary Lambert and state Rep. Marilinda Garcia. Also running is Jim Lawrence, an African-American former state legislator.

Mr. Lambert has raised more money than Ms. Garcia, but she has drawn support from the conservative Club for Growth and other groups from outside the state. She also has won endorsements from national figures such as Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas), who is set to appear with her at a rally Sunday.

Mr. Lambert has attacked her position on immigration, with ads accusing her of supporting "amnesty" for people in the U.S. illegally, linking her in his ads with President Barack Obama. She denies that her support for a path to citizenship amounts to amnesty, and her campaign manager calls the attacks a "smear campaign."

The hostility has been intense. After a televised debate this past week, Ms. Garcia refused to shake Mr. Lambert's hand. He responded to criticism of his campaign after the debate, saying, "She may consider it negative. I consider it showing folks where she stands on the issues that are important to people."

In the state's eastern district, Ms. Shea-Porter has personified the political waves that have washed through the nation and the state. She was elected in 2006 in the Democratic wave, defeated in the 2010 GOP landslide and returned to Congress on Mr. Obama's coattails in 2012.

She may face a rematch with the Republican she defeated in 2012 and who beat her in 2010--Frank Guinta, a former mayor of Manchester, the state's largest city, as well as a former congressman. He is considered the favorite in the primary running against Dan Innis, a former business school dean and an openly gay, small-business owner.

The primaries are so bitter because these seats are almost always determined by national trends these days, not local.

Posted by orrinj at 7:09 AM



In a lot of ways, we're worse off today than we were under George W. Bush.

Back then, Bush's extremist assault on civil liberties, human rights and other core American values in the name of fighting terror felt like an aberration.

The expectation was that those policies would be quickly reversed, discredited -- and explicitly outlawed -- once he was no longer in power.

Instead, under President Barack Obama, they've become institutionalized.

There will be no snapping back to a pre-Bush-era respect for basic human dignity and civil rights. Thanks to Obama, it's going to be a hard, long fight.

Posted by orrinj at 7:02 AM


Lunch with the FT : Yuval Noah Harari (John Reed, 9/05/14, Financial Times)

What allowed humans to become history's most successful species, he argues, was our ability to construct and unify small groups behind certain "fictions" - everything from national legends and organised religion to modern value systems like human rights, and the modern limited liability company with thousands of employees and vast credit lines at its command.

Any band of Neanderthals, Harari suggests, can raise a few dozen people for a hunt but humans can tell the stories needed to ensure co-operation in groups of 150 or more - numbers large enough to organise mass hunting using prepared traps, raise modern armies, or subdue the natural world.

Also woven into this theory of humankind are his own convictions about eating meat. Sapiens devotes large sections to unsparing accounts of the domestication and factory farming of cows, pigs and chickens. This, he contends, has made them some of the most genetically "successful" creatures in history but the most miserable too. [...]

I tell Harari I like the idea of fiction as the supreme human construct. When reading a novel, I am happy to suspend disbelief and believe the characters are real people; does the same principle apply in other areas? "Yes, it really is the main thing," he says. "We can suspend disbelief about Harry Potter, and we do the same thing with God, and we do the same thing with human rights, and we do the same thing with money."

Limited liability companies, he writes, are among humanity's most ingenious inventions but "exist as a figment of our collective imagination", even if we have grown so used to them that we have forgotten this. Whereas an early human business lived or died on the fortunes of its owner-founder, the modern corporation (from "corpus" for body, Harari reminds us) has a life of its own thanks to our collective faith in the "fiction" of the legal code.

"Everybody since the '60s has been saying the nation is a fiction, the nation is an imaginary unity, but people didn't connect the dots and say all human endeavours sprang from the same principle," he says.

Harari's achievement in Sapiens is applying the same postmodern theories to history, anthropology, capitalism, and other areas and arguing that the whole power of humankind arises from that. "If you take 10,000 chimpanzees and cram them together into Wembley Stadium or the Houses of Parliament, you will get chaos," he says. "But if you take 10,000 people who have never met before, they can co-operate and create amazing things."

His thesis is vivid, provocative and enlightening. But in places I did feel Harari was stretching his universal theory to reflect personal hunches or biases. He regards the hunter-gatherer period, for example, as a golden age when people had balanced diets and a meaningful, healthy and active life, and suggests that history took a wrong turn somewhere around the agricultural revolution, which tied man to settlements and their oppressive institutions.

"Nothing in the comfortable lives of the urban middle class can approach the wild excitement and sheer joy experienced by a forager band on a successful mammoth hunt," he writes. I point out that we are two middle-aged men about to eat a vegan meal, and that I for one would not make a very good hunter-gatherer.

This is one of our oldest stories: Abel was craven, which is why we killed him.

Posted by orrinj at 6:51 AM


A Bold and Optimistic GOP Can Create a Wave Election (Larry Kudlow, September 6, 2014, Real Clear Politics)

Ohio Sen. Rob Portman is calling for common-sense health care solutions, including health savings accounts. He wants an energy program that approves the Keystone XL pipeline and opens up federal lands and the Outer Continental Shelf. He urges tax reform, both individual and corporate, to spur economic growth. He'd stop the EPA from over-regulating greenhouse gases and destroying the coal industry. And he calls for education choice that allows parents to use federal dollars to send their kids to the schools they want.

Sens. Mike Lee and Marco Rubio have put serious policy papers on the table. And Rep. Paul Ryan has a new anti-poverty agenda that would provide a real Republican makeover, and he's keeping up the fight against corporate welfare and crony capitalism.

The venerable George Schulz published a plan to get America moving again. It talks about tax reform, regulatory rollbacks, a Federal Reserve monetary rule and much stronger defense. And former Sen. Phil Gramm echoes a plan set forth by fiscal expert Avik Roy, in which the Obamacare exchanges are turned into free-market platforms without any federal mandates.

And numerous Republicans in both houses favor immigration reform, as long as it emphasizes border security, and then moves to work permits, increased visas and conditional legalization.

These are all good ideas, and there are plenty more. But so far the Republican leadership is playing small ball.

Yes, they talk about the Keystone pipeline. And they want accelerated rules for overseas trade, faster federal reviews of natural-gas exports and repeal of Obamacare's medical-device tax. Fine. But they need visionary priorities and a true national agenda.

It doesn't have to be a 75-page policy-wonk booklet. But there needs to be something concrete.

Sen. Ron Johnson frets that the permanent political consulting class is using this as a "rejection election." In other words: "We're not Obama." 

It doesn't matter as much in state races, but it does for 2016.  Candidates who run on the Third Way win.  Candidates stuck running against the Second lose.  

Posted by orrinj at 6:33 AM


The Good Listener: Where Are All The Great Songs About Football? (STEPHEN THOMPSON, September 07, 2014, NPR)

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside a stuffed Picachu the size of an ottoman is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives -- and, this week, thoughts on music to accompany the new football season.

Joe writes via email: "While drafting our fantasy football teams last week, my friends and I were trying to brainstorm great songs about football -- and mostly coming up empty. 'The Super Bowl Shuffle' is a classic, but not because it's some kind of masterpiece. The Hank Williams Jr. song they used to put before Monday Night Football is OK, or at least catchy, but the original tune ["All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight"] isn't even about football. I can think of good, or at least decent, songs about basketball and baseball. Why not football?" all its "best" songs are just advertising jingles.

When your music peaks with Dropkick Me Jesus and Blind Man in the Bleachers, you know your game is unlovely.

Posted by orrinj at 6:24 AM


The Lion's Den : a review of Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin, and Sadat at Camp David By Lawrence Wright (Steve Donoghue, Open Letters)

"The actors by now were playing out their roles in a trance," he tells us, a "spell of enchantment that had taken over the Middle East, in which violence could only be answered by greater violence."

That spell was abruptly broken in November 1977 when Anwar Sadat, Egypt's charismatic and autocratic ruler (and, as Wright aptly puts it, "a master of the unexpected"), decided to risk everything - his nation, his standing in the Arab world, even his life - in order to travel to Israel, meet Prime Minister Begin, and address the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, and to try the inimitable one-two trick of both admonishing Israel for its land-greed in Gaza and the Sinai and extending to Israel the hand of Arab friendship. Wright is stirring on the psychological earthquake this represented:

Few Israelis had ever met an Egyptian, except for the Jews who had emigrated from there, so the shock of having Sadat himself in their midst was compounded by curiosity and wonder. The same was true for the Egyptians watching the event on television. To see Sadat staring into the faces of the enemy - until now, figures of legend - suddenly and unsettlingly humanized the Israelis in the Egyptian mind.

Sadat's sunny impression of his success in Israel was sharply at odds with the dark reactions of the Israelis themselves, especially Begin himself, who's portrayed in Wright's book as a kind of mirror-opposite of Sadat, the one suave and composed, the other moody and disheveled, the one bold and confident, the other cryptic and suspicious (as Wright reports, Israel's revered first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, compared Begin to Hitler: "He is a racist who is willing to kill all the Arabs in order to gain control of the entire land of Israel"). The best part of Thirteen Days in September - edging out even its breakneck pace and utterly confident narrative style - is Wright's almost Plutarchian skill at character sketches, and he returns to Begin often, telling us, "In his autobiographies, Begin comes off as intransigent, supremely sure of his great intelligence, passionate, riven with guilt, and full of rage ... His eloquence was always poised on the edge of sophistry and bombast, frequently slipping over the edge."

But the best and shrewdest character study in this book is the aforementioned honest broker in the center seat: President Carter, the Georgia peanut farmer and former nuclear submarine officer who rose from rural obscurity to become governor of his state, then Democratic national candidate, then president - but one of the strangest of all presidents, a jarring blend of Huey Long's Louisiana and Calvin's Geneva. Carter was a born-again Christian evangelical who carried his own bags even as President, installed solar heating panels on the roof of the White House, and knew his Bible backwards and forwards, and Wright is always at his most evocative when describing the man:

He was intelligent but impersonal, with a kind of mechanical affect that made it difficult for people to like him. He frequently displayed a huge toothy smile - the subject of countless caricatures - but rather than warmth or humor the effect was often goofy, or insincere, or even menacing to people who saw the wrath behind it. Carter was by nature cool and reticent, but he turned icy when he was angry. His voice would go quiet, his eyes hardened into bullets, and he would smile inappropriately in what looked like a rictus. People who encountered him in this state rarely forgot it.

loomingtowerIt was these three men who came together in September of 1978 at Camp David to build on the unprecedented moment of Sadat before the Knesset, and as its title implies, Thirteen Days in September is a day-by-day and at times hour-by-hour account of that summit, which most of the three staffs involved (to say nothing of the entire political establishments in all three countries) considered a waste of time. Wright has read all the memoirs and private accounts of those staff members and key players (his end notes are very pleasingly weighted toward these kinds of primary sources, although it's possible Hillary Clinton would be dismayed by how many of these books are titled some close variation of "Hard Choices"), and he brings these men and women to life again for the members of his audience who know Carter and his people only from the history books...

If it's half as good as Looming Tower it'll be must-reading.

September 5, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 1:46 PM


Pentagon Confirms Somali Terrorist Group Leader Was Killed By U.S. Airstrikes (ARIT JOHN, 9/05/14, The Wire)

The Department of Defense confirmed Friday that Ahmed Abdi Godane, the leader of the al Qaeda-aligned Somali militant group, was killed during a U.S. airstrike on September 1. In separate statements, both White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest and the Department of Defense called the death of the al-Shabaab co-founder "a major symbolic and operational loss" to the organization, the largest al Qaeda affiliate in Africa.  

Posted by orrinj at 1:42 PM


Jeb Bush Sends Signals About 2016 Presidential Run (BRODY MULLINS and BETH REINHARD, Sept. 4, 2014, WSJ)

Jim Nicholson, a Bush supporter who served in President George W. Bush's cabinet, said: "I think the chances are better than 50-50 that he runs, and that is based on some conversations I've had with members of the Bush family."

Mr. Bush's aides aren't actively making calls but responding to supporters who are fielding inquiries from other potential candidates, according to those involved in the conversations.

Mr. Bush is a top choice of the establishment wing of the Republican Party. His entry would help define the policy fights of the primary process, as his support for overhauling immigration law and for the Common Core national educational standards has drawn strong opposition from many conservatives.

It's a race crying out for a grown-up.

Posted by orrinj at 1:39 PM


Iran's supreme leader said to approve military cooperation with US (Scott Peterson, SEPTEMBER 5, 2014, CS Monitor)

 Iran's top commander has been authorized to coordinate military operations with US, Iraqi, and Kurdish forces battling Islamic State (IS) militants in northern Iraq, according to a report today by BBC Persian, citing sources in Tehran.

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is said to have approved military cooperation with the US, a longstanding adversary, in the fight against what Tehran and Washington view as a common and growing threat.

September 4, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:26 PM


Exclusive: American Crossroads poll shows Brown trailing Shaheen by 3 percent (John DiStaso, Sep 4, 2014, NH Journal)
Shaheen leads Brown 44 to 41 percent with Libertarian Gardner Goldsmith supported by 9 percent, while 6 percent are undecided, according to the GOP polling firm. Goldsmith was included in the poll despite not having gathered enough signatures to make the ballot.

Posted by orrinj at 4:38 PM


McMansions not only survive, they're getting bigger (Catherine Rampell September 3, 2014, Washington Post)

During the bubble years, American houses got bigger and bigger (especially relative to their counterparts in other rich countries). But guess what? Builders increased the size of new homes built after the bubble burst, too. In 1973, the median newly-completed single-family house was 1,525 square feet; forty years later, in 2013, it was 2,384 square feet. That is a record high.

Source: Census Bureau.

That's just the median, of course. But the share of newly built homes that are at least 4,000 square feet is now at 10 percent, equaling the series's peak in 2008, after having dipped slightly immediately after the crash. The share of homes that have at least four bedrooms is also at a historical high, at 44 percent. That's almost twice the share in 1973.

Posted by orrinj at 4:35 PM


Revealed: the Kremlin files which prove that Nato never betrayed Russia (Pavel Stroilov 6 September 2014, Spectator)

Nato is taken more seriously in Russia than in the West. Here, Nato is largely seen as yet another international bureaucracy, as useless as the rest of them. But to a former KGB officer like Vladimir Putin, the Cold War has never really ended, and Nato is an exceptionally dangerous and perfidious enemy.

Fear of NATO is a function of weakness.
Posted by orrinj at 4:27 PM


Why so many Christians won't back down on gay marriage :  A traditional view of marriage is about much more than today's politics. It's deeply woven into the 2,000-year-old ethic at the heart of our faith. (Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry | September 3, 2014, The Week)

[T]he history of Christian ethics actually shows that the faith has been surprisingly consistent on the topic of sexuality. Christian opposition to homosexual acts is of a piece with a much broader vision of what it means to be a human being that Christianity will never part with. 

The story Christians have been telling for 2,000 years goes something like this: The God who made the Universe is also, by his very nature, Love, and he made human beings with a very lofty vocation. Humans are meant to reflect His glory in the world; to be like God, that is to say, to be lovers and creators. Everything in the Universe has been put here to be used by God's children to reflect his loving glory -- and to teach them about God's love. This is particularly true, or so the story goes, of the unique sexual complementarity between men and women. The sexual act is meant to reflect God's love by fostering a union at once bodily and spiritual -- and creates new life. The complementarity of the persons in a marriage reflects the complementarity of the Persons of the Trinity, and the bliss of marital union is an inkling of the bliss of the union of the Persons of the Trinity. The fruitfulness of the marriage act reflects that God is a creator and has charged man to be an agent of his ongoing work of creation. And, finally, if God's love means total self-giving unto death on a Cross, then man and wife must give themselves to each other totally -- no pettiness, no adultery, no polygamy, no divorce, and no nonmarital sexual acts. According to the story that Christianity has been telling for 2,000 years, Christianity's view of sexuality isn't some encrusted holdover from a socially conditioned patriarchal era on its way out, but is instead deeply connected to its understanding of who God is and what human beings exist for.

Christianity's opposition to homosexuality is not the product of some dusty medieval exegete poring over obscure Old Testament verses. From the beginning, what set apart the new and strange sect called Christians from the rest of their culture was their strange sexual ethic. They refused polygamy. They refused the sexual exploitation of slaves by their owners. They refused prostitution, premarital sex, divorce, abortion, the exposure of infants, contraception -- and homosexual acts.

As the British philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe noted, in this Christianity was a great equalizing force: Because of the fact of pregnancy, most premodern cultures enforce sexual restraint on women. Where Christianity's bizarreness lay is that it insisted on the same restraint on the part of men -- whether gay or straight. Christians held a bizarrely exalted view of (lifelong, monogamous, fertile, heterosexual) marriage as reflecting the image of God himself, but, even more bizarrely, held up lifelong celibacy as an even more exalted state of life. From the start, alongside the refusal to worship the Roman emperor as a god and Christians' supererogatory care for the poor, this was what set Christians apart, and goes a long way toward explaining why Pagan writers could scorn Christianity as a religion of "slaves and women."

Of course, like all ideals, this was very often observed in the breach, but such is the lot of human nature. Human beings, societies, cultures, and religions have a worldview that includes moral "oughts," and that they only partially live up to, as anyone who has tried to stick to a diet knows. 

But the point is clear: From the start, Christians embodied a different way of life. From the start, they understood a particular sexual ethic to be a keystone of this way of life. And they understood the logic of this ethic as prohibiting (among other things) homosexual acts. 

Over its 2,000 years of existence, Christianity has been surprisingly consistent in holding the line on what our faith views as fundamental precepts of Christian ethics, some of which make same-sex marriage an impossibility. 

Christianity is incompatible with endorsing an activity that destroys both participants morally and physically.  The absence of love in the act decides the matter.

Posted by orrinj at 4:14 PM


Health Dept (and Angry Fans) Investigate Clinic That Treated Joan Rivers (DAVID LUDWIG, 9/03/14, The Wire)

The New York Department of Health is investigating the circumstances that led to Joan Rivers' cardiac arrest and eventual death, the Associated Press reported on Thursday. The health department's office of public affairs confirmed to The Wire that they are investigating the matter. 

The 81-year-old comedienne stopped breathing last Thursday while she was undergoing a minor throat procedure at Yorkville Endoscopy in New York City. According to ABC, the clinic was established last year and there have been no complaints to date.

...if there'd been complications arising from an abortion.
Posted by orrinj at 4:11 PM


Rise of Islamic State tests GOP anti-interventionists (Sebastian Payne and Robert Costa, September 3, 2014, Washington Post)

A roiling national debate over how to deal with the radical Islamic State and other global hot spots has prompted a sudden shift in Republican politics, putting a halt to the anti-interventionist mood that had been gaining credence in the party.

The change is evident on the campaign trail ahead of the November midterm elections and in recent appearances by the GOP's prospective 2016 presidential candidates, with a near-universal embrace of stronger military actions against the group that has beheaded two American journalists.

A hawkish tone has become integral to several key Republican Senate campaigns, with a group of candidates running in battleground states calling attention to their ties to veterans and their support for the U.S. military at every turn.

September 3, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:27 PM


Illegal immigrants more likely to have lived in the U.S. for over a decade (David Nakamura, September 3, 2014, Washington Post)
Half of the nation's 11 million illegal immigrants have lived in the United States for at least 13 years, and as many as 4 million have U.S.-born children, according to a new study Wednesday that provides the most detailed portrait yet of the undocumented population.

Posted by orrinj at 7:24 PM


We underestimated Hamas tenacity, top IDF source admits (AFP, September 3, 2014)

A senior army intelligence official has admitted that Israel underestimated the tenacity of Gaza terrorists and did not expect the July-August 50-day conflict to last so long -- insisting, however, they were soundly beaten. [...]

"If you'd asked me two months ago, I wouldn't assess that it's going to take us 50 days," the official told journalists in English at a briefing in Tel Aviv late Tuesday.

"We thought it's going to take them a shorter time to understand what happened, and we are mistaken here. It's a tactical assessment mistake, but it's a mistake," said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Posted by orrinj at 7:17 PM


A Western Strategy for a Declining Russia (Joseph S. Nye, 9/03/14, Project Syndicate)

The evidence of Russia's decline is pervasive. The rise in oil prices at the beginning of the century gave the economy an artificial boost, leading Goldman Sachs to include it among the world's major emerging markets (one of the "BRICs," along with Brazil, India, and China). Today, however, that growth has vanished. Russia's GDP is about one-seventh the size of America's, and its per capita income (in purchasing-power-parity terms) of $18,000 is roughly one-third that of the US.

Oil and gas account for two-thirds of Russian exports, half of state revenues, and 20% of GDP, whereas high-tech exports represent only 7% of its manufactured exports (compared to 28% for the US). Resources are allocated inefficiently across the economy, with a corrupt institutional and legal structure that impedes private investment. Despite the attractiveness of traditional Russian culture and Putin's calls to boost Russian soft power, his bullying behavior has sown mistrust. Few foreigners watch Russian films, and no Russian university was ranked in the global top 100 last year.

The likelihood of ethnic fragmentation is lower than in Soviet days, but it still remains a problem in the Caucuses. Non-Russians comprised half of the Soviet population; they now make up 20% of the Russian Federation and occupy 30% of its territory.

The public health system is in disarray. The birth rate is declining, mortality rates have increased, and the average Russian male dies in his early sixties. Mid-range estimates by United Nations demographers suggest that Russia's population may decline from 145 million today to 121 million by mid-century.

Posted by orrinj at 1:20 PM


Facebook's autoplay video feature is destroying cell phone bills (James O'Toole, September 3, 2014, CNNMoney)

Want to save money on your phone bill? Make sure you turn off the "autoplay" setting on Facebook videos.

Smartphone users are at risk of maxing out their data plans if they don't change this default setting in the Facebook (FB, Tech30) app, which otherwise will automatically start streaming videos in the News Feed window.

The issue was flagged by consumer finance site, which said it had "seen many complaints from people who have been stung with data bills after exceeding their monthly allowance and who believe it to be because of Facebook autoplaying videos."

We just got a message from Verizon that we'd used 75% of our data plan after two weeks.  We seldom use 75% in a month.  The Daughter had consumed 800mb herself (compared to 300 the prior three billing cycles) because of the Autoplay setting.

Posted by orrinj at 12:50 PM


U.S. climbs to third in ranking of world's most competitive economies (JIM PUZZANGHERA, 9/03/14, LA Times)

The United States climbed to third in a leading ranking of the world's most competitive economies, rising for the second straight year because of more positive views of the nation's business climate, innovation capacity and strength of public and private institutions. [...]

"U.S. companies are highly sophisticated and innovative, and they are supported by an excellent university system that collaborates admirably with the business sector"  on research and development, the latest report said.

"Combined with flexible labor markets and the scale opportunities afforded by the sheer size of its domestic economy -- the largest in the world by far -- these qualities make the United States very competitive," the report concluded.

Posted by orrinj at 12:45 PM


Per Capita Medicare Spending Is Actually Falling (Margot Sanger-Katz, 9/03/14, NY Times)

This year, Medicare, which covers those 65 and older and people with disabilities, will spend about $ 11,200 on average for every person enrolled in the program. By comparison, it spent $12,000 three years ago, in inflation-adjusted dollars. The Congressional Budget Office forecasts that the number will fall below $11,000 by 2017 and stay below this year's number until 2020. [...]

The recent pattern reflects two main factors. One is that the baby boom generation is entering the program. In the long term, that's a problem for Medicare's finances because the number of people it must care for is going to surge. But in the short term, it skews the group enrolled in Medicare toward a younger, healthier population.

The second factor is more surprising and consequential. Over the last few years, Medicare patients have been using fewer expensive medical services, particularly hospital care and prescription drugs. The budget office is increasingly persuaded that such a pattern is going to last for a while.

September 2, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:11 PM


The Dying Russians (Masha Gessen, 9/02/14, NY Review of Books)

Sometime in 1993, after several trips to Russia, I noticed something bizarre and disturbing: people kept dying. I was used to losing friends to AIDS in the United States, but this was different. People in Russia were dying suddenly and violently, and their own friends and colleagues did not find these deaths shocking. Upon arriving in Moscow I called a friend with whom I had become close over the course of a year. "Vadim is no more," said his father, who picked up the phone. "He drowned." I showed up for a meeting with a newspaper reporter to have the receptionist say, "But he is dead, don't you know?" I didn't. I'd seen the man a week earlier; he was thirty and apparently healthy. The receptionist seemed to think I was being dense. "A helicopter accident," she finally said, in a tone that seemed to indicate I had no business being surprised.

The deaths kept piling up. People--men and women--were falling, or perhaps jumping, off trains and out of windows; asphyxiating in country houses with faulty wood stoves or in apartments with jammed front-door locks; getting hit by cars that sped through quiet courtyards or plowed down groups of people on a sidewalk; drowning as a result of diving drunk into a lake or ignoring sea-storm warnings or for no apparent reason; poisoning themselves with too much alcohol, counterfeit alcohol, alcohol substitutes, or drugs; and, finally, dropping dead at absurdly early ages from heart attacks and strokes.

Back in the United States after a trip to Russia, I cried on a friend's shoulder. I was finding all this death not simply painful but impossible to process. "It's not like there is a war on," I said.

"But there is," said my friend, a somewhat older and much wiser reporter than I. "This is what civil war actually looks like. "It's not when everybody starts running around with guns. It's when everybody starts dying."

My friend's framing stood me in good stead for years. I realized the magazine stories I was writing then were the stories of destruction, casualties, survival, restoration, and the longing for peace. But useful as that way of thinking might be for a journalist, it cannot be employed by social scientists, who are still struggling to answer the question, Why are Russians dying in numbers, and at ages, and of causes never seen in any other country that is not, by any standard definition, at war?

In the seventeen years between 1992 and 2009, the Russian population declined by almost seven million people, or nearly 5 percent--a rate of loss unheard of in Europe since World War II. Moreover, much of this appears to be caused by rising mortality. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:09 PM


What Makes The Patriots Offense So Difficult For Wide Receivers? (Erik Frenz, SEPTEMBER 2, 2014, Boston Globe)

"First things first, you've got to learn formations," said LaFell. "Man, we've got a million formations, and we've got a million personnel groups. I was just trying to get all that down pat, because at least if I know where I'm lined up, I can kind of figure out what everybody else is doing based on the concept of the play. And second, learning the terms of the plays that we use and different code words we use, because one play I can be the X receiver and if we go to a hurry-up offense, depending on where the ball is spotted, I can be the Z receiver the next play. I have to know the whole play, but first, learning the formations, personnel groups, second, learning the plays and the concepts and just go from there with it."

It's not enough to simply know one or two assignments. Receivers can be asked to carry out multiple assignments based on alignment, coverage, personnel groupings, where the ball is spotted, and myriad other factors.

With so much to learn, it can be difficult to get it all right in one offseason -- as we learned last year.

Then-rookies Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins, and Josh Boyce were thrown into the spotlight, with the tall task of learning the offense and getting in synch with Brady just a few months after entering the league.

"It was tough," Dobson said of the learning curve in the Patriots offense. "Just coming in, it's definitely a hard offense to learn. Very demanding. Tom Brady expects a lot from you, so just coming in, and not knowing anything, just trying to learn it all, and learn the different positions, it was tough. I think me and a couple of guys I came in with -- Kenbrell and Josh -- I feel like we kind of grouped together and just helped each other study and just kind of depended on each other and leaned on each other, and I think that helped us out a lot."

Those tribulations have not been limited to rookies and young players. Talented veterans like Joey Galloway, Chad Johnson, and Brandon Lloyd have struggled, and ultimately crawled to their demise.

It's a difficult offense to learn, but it's not enough to simply study the offense. One of the defining characteristics of the Erhardt-Perkins offense -- the system the Patriots run -- is that receivers and quarterbacks must see the defense through the same set of eyes. The receivers run their routes using sight adjustments, in which they are responding to what the defense is doing.

"You have to be smart to play in this offense," said wide receiver Brian Tyms. "You can't be -- I don't want to say a dumb football player -- but if you don't know coverages, you might as well go somewhere else. The quarterbacks expect you to be in a certain spot. It's kind of like basketball: set a pick, got a roll, got a motion here, it's the same thing."

The basketball analogy works perfectly to describe the receiver's job in the offense, because the receivers will usually run their routes to open spaces in the field. The spacing concepts, and how they affect the receiver's job, are sometimes determined by whether the middle of the field is open ("MOFO") or closed ("MOFC").

But it goes even deeper than that.

Posted by orrinj at 4:45 PM


The U.S. dollar is super strong now (Paul R. La Monica, September 2, 2014, CNNMoney)

The dollar is faring particularly well against the euro. It's gained 5% versus the euro since the start of the year, and it's climbed recently against the Japanese yen and British pound as well.

Posted by orrinj at 4:36 PM


Double mastectomy for breast cancer 'does not boost survival chances' (Denis Campbell, 9/02/14, The Guardian)

"We can now say that the average breast cancer patient who has bilateral mastectomy will have no better survival than the average patient who has lumpectomy plus radiation," said Dr Allison Kurian from Stanford University, the lead scientist for the project.

Ten years after having both breasts removed, 18.8% of women had died, compared with 16.8% of those who had a lumpectomy, then radiation. The paper was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The double mastectomy has been the subject of discussion in recent years after celebrities including Hollywood star Angelina Jolie, former X Factor judge Sharon Osbourne and singer Michelle Heaton underwent the procedure as a preventive measure against breast cancer.

Kurian warned women against losing both their breasts unnecessarily. "A mastectomy is a major procedure that can require significant recovery time and may entail breast reconstruction, whereas a lumpectomy is much less invasive, with a shorter recovery period," she added.

September 1, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 4:03 PM


Iran Negotiations Are Bearing Fruit (for Iran) (Michael Rubin, 09.01.2014, Commentary)

When it comes to the Iranian economy, however, the negotiations have been nothing but positive. According to Iran's Central Bank, the Iranian economy contracted by 5.4 percent in the Iranian calendar year ending on March 20, 2013. Obama's team promised Iran perhaps $7 billion in sanctions relief just to come to the table to negotiate. [...]

Consider the latest headlines:

*Iran has announced that in the first five months of the Iranian year (March 21-August 21, 2014), trade volume has increased 136 percent.

*The deputy finance minister announced yesterday that foreigners' willingness to invest in Iran has increased 500 percent. In addition, Iran has announced that they have received more than 300 European and Arab trade delegations.

*Iranian officials singled out Qatar, the tiny, gas-wealthy Persian Gulf emirate that increasingly finances terrorist groups and encourages the growth of radical Islamism abroad, for its willingness to invest in Iran.

Posted by orrinj at 1:27 PM


Happy Labor Day. Are Unions Dead? : An interview with Rich Yeselson, labor strategist and expert (Jonathan Cohn, 9/01/14, New Republic)

The decline of private-sector unions in America--how much is because of weak labor laws, and how much is because of the way the economy is changing?

A lot of people don't realize that  the decline has occurred all over the advanced capitalist world, even in countries with laws that protect and promote unions far more than in the U.S. Essentially, we have seen a great shrinking in the advanced world of what was the core union demographic: manufacturing and mining workers. Production in those sectors is high, but companies need fewer workers to do it--and they've transferred much of the work to developing countries like China, where they can get away with much lower wages.

But, yes, the United States is a special case. The peak of union density in the US following the Second World War was lower than in other wealthy democracies, and its trough is now lower, too (France actually has smaller percentage of union members than the US, but union contracts cover almost the entire workforce.). In no other advanced country is the entire political economy as relentlessly opposed to unionization as it is here. The U.S. has the most hostile anti-union management/ownership class, and corresponding conservative politicians and media to assist it, in the advanced world.  The legal framework assumes that companies--the people who sign workers check--have a right to interfere with their right to choose a collective bargaining agent. Workers do not get a corresponding right in the United States to participate with management in investment decisions. Anti-union activity is flourishing billion dollar consulting business. Laws to fight it are toothless. Today, decades after the National Labor Relations Act became law, Republicans don't accept its basic legitimacy--and do everything they can to undermine the NLRB.

And it's not like that elsewhere?

Pretty much in every other country in Western Europe, Canada, even Australia and the U.K. (which share some labor-management features with the U.S.), the assumption is that unions are basic ingredient of liberal capitalism. Among conservatives and business owners in those countries, you'll hear a lot about how they are inefficient, too powerful, or just pains in the ass. But pretty much everybody accepts them as a normal part of the political/economic/legal landscape. That's simply not the case here.

What's ironic about that is that unions are inherently conservative institutions, which historically developed parallel with the development of capitalism itself. They are as much a part of capitalism as Henry Ford or Apple. Unions use contracts--and there's nothing more intrinsic to capitalism than the right of contract--to link their members to the fortunes of the companies they contract with. They are capable of having huge fights with capital (as in the thirties)--which raise the hopes of leftists--but, usually, over the attainment of very incremental ends---which disappoint leftists. Marx had nothing but contempt for British trade unionists, and Trotsky saw no value in unions at all.  Yet conservatives and most libertarians hate them. Weird.

The better, more American/capitalist/conservative, model is to make the employees part of the owner class by giving them stock in the company.  At that point they become owners too.  Owning capital is obviously even more intrinsic to capitalism than the right of contract.

Posted by orrinj at 8:26 AM


Steyn's Song of the Week : Over The Rainbow by Harold Arlen and E Y Harburg (Mark Steyn, September 1, 2014)

Ah, but who wouldn't love that song?

Well, let's see: for starters, the studio executives, the film's producer and director, the music publisher, and the lyricist.

It was the first number in the movie, and the last to be written. Harold Arlen and E Y Harburg had written what Arlen called the "lemon drop" songs - "Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead" and the other Munchkin novelties so well suited to Harburg's particular brand of lyric whimsy. But Arlen knew little Dorothy needed a big tune, an emotion-wringing ballad, and the awesome weight of it seemed to paralyze him. "I can't tell you the misery that a composer goes through," his lyric writer, Yip Harburg, said years later, "when the whole score is written but he hasn't got that big theme song that Louis B Mayer is waiting for." Arlen and Harburg had a 14-week contract with MGM. It was Week 14 - at the end of which Mr Mayer would cease paying them. And yet Arlen couldn't get the tune. "I was getting anxious," he recalled. "My feeling was that picture songs need to be lush, and picture songs are hard to write."

One day he and the missus decided to catch a movie at the famous Grauman's Chinese Theater. His wife Anya drove; Harold was a bag of nerves over his ballad block. They were tootling along Sunset Boulevard, round about where the original Schwab's drugstore was, when the tune more or less fell out of the sky and into his lap - a "broad long-lined melody" that he scribbled down on the jotting paper he kept in the car precisely for such moments. "It was as if the Lord said, 'Well, here it is, now stop worrying about it!'"

He got home at midnight and called Yip Harburg: "Come right over. I've got the tune!"

There was one slight problem: To the composer's dismay, the lyricist didn't care for it. That big octave leap on the first two notes sounded all wrong to Harburg. "Oh, no, not for little Dorothy," he said. "That's for Nelson Eddy." He thought Arlen's grandiloquent formal theme stuck out like a sore thumb among all the playful "lemon drop" stuff like "If I Only Had A Brain".

Sometimes when a lyric writer doesn't warm to a tune, the composer withdraws it and writes another. But Arlen determined to defend his corner. So they went round to Ira Gershwin's house.

Arlen, Gershwin and Harburg were good friends. The latter two had been in high school together, and written a column for the school newspaper called "Much Ado by Yip and Gersh". In the Thirties, the grown-up Yip and Gersh wrote songs with Harold, when George Gershwin's obsession with Porgy And Bess was getting to brother Ira and and he was in the mood to moonlight with Harburg and Arlen on some revue numbers. So both men were happy to have their chum pronounce one way or the other. Arlen played the tune, very grandly, symphonically, like a fellow who knows he's written something important. And Gershwin couldn't really hear it. So he asked him to pick it out on the piano with one finger. "See?" said Ira. "There's nothing wrong with that."

"You're right," conceded Harburg. "That's fine."

He had a lot riding on the song. For a jobbing lyricist on a movie assignment, he was as emotionally invested in The Wizard Of Oz as Ira's brother was in Porgy And Bess. The rainbow was Harburg's principal contribution to the project. Or as his son Ernie put it, in the title of his fascinating book about his father, Who Put The Rainbow In The Wizard Of Oz? Answer: Yip Harburg. There's no such meteorological phenomenon in L Frank Baum's original book, but, as Yip conceived it, for little Dorothy in dirt-poor hardscrabble Depression-era Kansas the rainbow was the only colorful thing she'd seen in her life. It's what gave the studio the idea of shooting the Kansas scenes in monochrome, and reserving full blazing color for when Dorothy gets to Oz. that we all prefer drab gray home.
Posted by orrinj at 8:22 AM


U.S. and Iran Unlikely Allies in Iraq Battle (TIM ARANGO and AZAM AHMEDAUG. 31, 2014, NY Times)

With American bombs raining down from the sky, Shiite militia fighters aligned with Iran battled Sunni extremists over the weekend, punching through their defenses to break the weekslong siege of Amerli, a cluster of farming villages whose Shiite residents faced possible slaughter.

The fight in northern Iraq appeared to be the first time American warplanes and militias backed by Iran had worked with a common purpose on a battlefield against militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, even though the Obama administration said there was no direct coordination with the militias.

Should such military actions continue, they could signal a dramatic shift for the United States and Iran, which have long vied for control in Iraq. They could also align the interests of the Americans with their longtime sworn enemies in the Shiite militias, whose fighters killed many United States soldiers during the long occupation of Iraq.

Few stories of the 21st Century have been more predictable than the eventual alliance of the Middle East's two main democratic forces.

Posted by orrinj at 8:07 AM


How the World Is Becoming More Equal : Globally, lifespans have never been so long and evenly distributed. Education has had an equalizing effect too. (NICHOLAS EBERSTADT, Aug. 26, 2014, WSJ)

[I]ncome is not the only important measure of human well-being and life chances. Consider two global revolutions that are improving the human condition and making it more equal.

The first is how long people live. In 1751, according to the Human Mortality Database, Sweden's overall life expectancy at birth was barely 38 years. But this was an arithmetic average for a population within which survival prospects were wildly, brutally disparate. Roughly a fifth of all Swedes died in their first year of life; by age 5 only 70 Swedes were still alive of every 100 born. But about half of those who made it to age 5 lived to 60 and beyond.

This dispersion of lifespans means that the distribution of survival was correspondingly unequal. When measuring disparities in income distribution, economists conventionally use the "Gini coefficient." This index runs from 0 (perfect equality) to 1.0 (representing perfect inequality when a single person possesses everything). If we use this metric to assess inequality in Sweden's lifespans in 1751, we get a Gini index of 0.46.

By comparison, the World Bank says the Gini index for income in Mexico in 2010 was 0.47. Lifespans in 18th-century Sweden, in short, were distributed about as unequally as incomes are in Mexico today.

Flash forward to 2011. Sweden's life expectancy at birth was nearly 82 years. The risk of dying in infancy in Sweden today is about 100 times lower than in 1751--and the risk of dying in early childhood is more than 100-fold lower. Today 90% of Swedes can expect to survive to age 65, and more contemporary Swedes live to 86 than to any other particular age. The estimated Gini index for Sweden's inequality in age at death has plummeted to 0.08. Lifespans have never been so long--or so equally distributed--as they are now.

The trend in Sweden holds for the rest of the world. In the early 1870s Italy's life expectancy was under 30 years and the odds of death before age 5 nearly 45%. The estimated Gini index for age at death was 0.56. Today (2009) Italy's life expectancy at birth is about 82 years, and the Gini index for the distribution of national lifespans is as low as Sweden's.

And the U.S.? Life expectancy rose from about 61 years in 1933 to about 79 in 2010. Over those same decades the Gini index for lifespan inequality was cut in half--from 0.22 to 0.11. Despite the ethnic, income and other differences that characterize our society, Americans of all backgrounds have never enjoyed such equality in length of life as we know today.

Detailed, reliable, long-term mortality for most of the world is unavailable. However, the broad pattern for every national population is essentially the same: the higher the life expectancy at birth, the lower the inequality in age at death.

Demographers suggest that life expectancy at birth for the world in 1900 was about 30 years. Today, according to the World Health Organization, the U.N. Population Division and the U.S. Census Bureau, it is about 70.

Given the close correspondence between life expectancy and the Gini index for age at death, we can be confident that the world-wide explosion in life expectancy over the past century has been accompanied by a monumental narrowing of world-wide differences in length of life. When a population's life expectancy rises from 30 to 70, the Gini index drops by almost two-thirds--from well over 0.5 to well under 0.2.

This survival revolution--and the narrowing of inequalities in humanity's life chances--is an epochal advance in the human condition. 

Which is why it's always amusing when folks whinge about the West destroying indigenous ways of life.  They would better be called ways of early death. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:56 AM


Jeremiah Healy, Who Created Boston Private Eye, Dies at 66 (WILLIAM YARDLEY, AUG. 28, 2014, NY Times)

Mr. Healy, a Harvard Law School graduate who began writing his books while teaching law, introduced Cuddy with the publication of his first novel, "Blunt Darts," in 1984. He went on to write a dozen more and two short-story collections about the jaded but earnest sleuth who typically plied the waterfront and back streets of Boston. Many of the books were finalists for the Shamus Award, given by the Private Eye Writers of America, and one, "The Staked Goat" (1986), won it.

John Cuddy was a former military police officer and widower who read deep into newspapers and took long, thoughtful jogs across his historic city. He killed when he needed to kill, but readers were as likely to remember his vivid observations of the people and places he knew as they were the violence.

"The morgue was built back in the '30s," Mr. Healy, in Cuddy's voice, wrote in "Rescue" (1995). "It was almost new in November 1942, when the bodies from the Coconut Grove fire were taken there by the hundreds, at least as many people standing in line outside the mortuary that next Sunday morning, waiting to identify friends and loved ones. Now, though, the morgue was literally falling down on the pathologists and technicians who work inside it, gaps in the hung ceiling where the rectangles of Styrofoam have crumbled onto the examining tables and slabs.

"They've been talking for years about moving the place out to Framingham on state-owned land that would be a cheaper site than building or renovating in Boston. Until then, the medical examiner struggles with an inadequate budget and a pared-down staff and conditions more appropriate to the end of the 19th century than the predawn hours of the 21st."

Mr. Healy explored topical issues, including assisted suicide in "Right to Die" and urban-rural divisions in "Foursome." He wrote about date rape, racism, AIDS and homelessness.

Reviewing "Shallow Graves" in The New York Times in 1992, Marilyn Stasio called the Cuddy books a "superior series" and cited Mr. Healy's "mousetrap timing and tight plotting."

"Using fine brush strokes when he likes his subject and sharp pointillist jabs when he doesn't," Ms. Stasio wrote, "the author executes one of his better studies on Primo T. Zuppone, a mob enforcer whose aesthetic sensibility belies his skill at smashing kneecaps. 'Cuddy,' he advises the detective, 'you got to look for the art in life.' If Cuddy doesn't quite get the message, we do." [...]

Like some mystery writers and so-called midlist authors, he began struggling to find publishers when the industry began contracting in the late 1990s. The last Cuddy book, "Spiral," was published in 1999 and took place mostly in Florida.

Posted by orrinj at 7:46 AM


State fair scandal: Winning pie may have store-bought crust (Jere Downs, 8/29/14, The (Louisville, Ky.) Courier-Journal)

A blue ribbon is at stake as Kentucky State Fair officials investigate whether a store-bought crust was used to create this year's prize-winning buttermilk pie.

Linda Horton, a 67-year-old retired factory worker who sweetly shared her recipe with Courier-Journal readers this week, did not return phone calls immediately Friday morning seeking comment.

Her winning entry, described as tasting like a chess pie that got crossed with a cheesecake, took top prize in the category for the second consecutive time at this year's fair.

On Monday, she told the newspaper, "This year, I used a Pillsbury pie crust," adding her experience with prior homemade pie crusts was that they "didn't crumble a whole lot."

Horton said she uses Pillsbury brand rolled pastry crust to hold the mixture of butter, flour, buttermilk, sugar, eggs and vanilla.

A Pillsbury-brand pie crust "is so buttery," she said.