October 31, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:53 PM


Happy "Groundhog Day" (PETER LAWLER,  FEBRUARY 3, 2011, Big Think)

We like to think people are screwed up because they're going to die.  Free them from the misery of their mortality, and they'd be fine, unalienated.  The Bill character probably would have bought into that "transhumanist" insight (see, for example, the more explicit whining of various Woody Allen characters).

But mysteriously freed from time and death or stuck in the eternal return of the same 24 hours, Bill soon becomes suicidal. Life is hell if other people become mere playthings at your disposal and if your life is deprived any w[ei]ght or point or purpose beyond enjoyment.  Hell is being freed from the necessities of birth, love, work, and death.  And the experience of hell is the remedy for self-indulgent, self-denying irony.

Bill doesn't have the option of suicide, and so he has to invent order and necessity for himself to make life endurable.  He begins to practice the virtue of charity for people who can't have any enduring meaning (in the ordinary sense) for him.  He devotes himself to cultivating his untapped talents.  He masters the piano and even finds the joy of life in music.  And of course he discovers personal love through his meticulous attention to the details of the longings of a particular woman.  She becomes more strange and wonderful to him as she continues to elude his complete comprehension and control. And he becomes more strange and wonderful to her as he becomes more virtuous and talented and loving--as he becomes more than a typical BILL MURRAY CHARACTER.

So being mortal isn't the deepest cause of our misery.  And our happiness is found in understanding who we are--our personal longings in relation to our capabilities.  That means, of course, that happiness is found in discovering and performing the responsibilities we've been given.

From his terrific new book, Allergic to Crazy. Contrast with Ernest Becker's insipid Denial of Death.

Posted by orrinj at 7:41 PM


Can America Rule Rugby? (MATTHEW FUTTERMAN, Oct. 31, 2014, WSJ)

A classic barroom debate centers on whether America could dominate sports it doesn't excel in if only we could repurpose some of our many elite athletes. Ordinarily, it's just talk.

But as the U.S. scrambles to field two competitive rugby teams ahead of the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, where seven-on-seven rugby will debut as an Olympic sport, that hypothetical discussion has become a practical exercise here on the parched grass of the U.S. Olympic Training Center, a few miles north of the Mexican border. Each day, men and women who starred in football, soccer, basketball and hockey--some as recently as a few months ago--try to learn the art of rugby, a form of football that is largely foreign to Americans.

Ahman Green, a former Green Bay Packers star running back, tried out last year. Elana Meyers, a U.S. bobsledder who won a silver medal in this year's Sochi Winter Olympics, gave it a whirl in the spring. Neither is in the current player pool, but plenty of others are showing promise.

"If I'm getting a terrific college hockey player who just graduated, she's the right age, she's disciplined and I know I don't have to teach her how to train," said Ric Suggitt, the head coach for the U.S. women, "I just have to teach her how to play rugby."

This grand experiment is happening against the backdrop of rugby's first major push to become part of the U.S. sports landscape. On Saturday in Chicago, the world's most famous rugby team, New Zealand's All Blacks, will take on the USA Eagles--the U.S. national team--at sold-out Soldier Field.

Posted by orrinj at 7:29 PM


The Boring Brilliance of VW's New Electric Golf (Kyle Stock  October 31, 2014, Businessweek)

The E-Golf, meanwhile, doesn't make much of a statement. In fact, part of its charm is that the "e" features are decidedly low key. Perhaps what's true of wearable devices such as fitness trackers and smart glasses is also true of electric cars: They will fully arrive only when they stop announcing themselves to the world and just resemble "normal" products. From this perspective, the electric Golf might be downright futuristic.

The car looks like a regular Golf and has all the German engineering Volkswagen likes to brag about: tidy fit and finish, tight gaps between body panels, and more room than one would expect. It even drives like a regular Golf, particularly between zero and 30 miles per hour, when it's peppy. Ticking up to 65 mph on Manhattan's West Side Highway took a bit of prodding, but the car showed no problem zipping out in front of an pushy taxi cab at a light change.

Bells and whistles are scarce. The control panel doesn't fill up with animated leaves and butterflies when the driver pilots with particular efficiency. The center-stack screen isn't usurped by a flow chart of the car's vitals.

The Volkswagen's take on e-monitoring is Teutonic in its simplicity. A single gauge--the analog kind--with a needle tilts into a green area when the brakes are recharging the battery and ticks the other way when one steps on the accelerator. A tad to the right, the Golf displays a digital number showing how many more miles the car will go before it goes to sleep, just like an overworked iPhone (AAPL). 

Posted by orrinj at 7:25 PM


Why democracy took root in Tunisia and not Egypt (Fareed Zakaria, October 30, 2014, Washington Post)

 I recently asked a secular, liberal Egyptian from Cairo who was involved in the uprising against Hosni Mubarak whether the current regime feels like a return of the old order. "Oh, no," he said. "This one is far more brutal, repressive and cynical than Mubarak's." On Monday, Egypt's president, Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, issued a decree allowing the trial of more civilians in military courts. [...]

[T]arek Masoud , the author of a fascinating new book on Islamists and elections titled "Counting Islam," suggests that Tunisia's success and Egypt's failure have less to do with the qualities of its Islamists than with deep differences in those countries' political environments. In Egypt, Masoud argues, Islamists were able to defeat secular parties in the first elections after Mubarak was deposed because they could piggyback on the country's rich network of mosques and Islamic associations to reach everyday citizens. Secular parties didn't have anything equivalent. And so, after losing election after election, they turned to the army to overturn the results of the ballot box.

Tunisia was a different story, Masoud says. More developed, more urban, more literate and more globalized than Egypt, Tunisia had a more diverse civil society than Egypt's -- stronger labor unions, civic associations, professional groups -- so there was relative parity between Islamists and their opponents. Though Islamists did well in Tunisia's first elections, so did non-Islamists. Ennahda won only a plurality in the country's first freely elected legislature -- far less than the majority won by Islamist parties in Egypt -- and had to govern in coalition with two secular parties. It shared power not because it was nicer than the Muslim Brotherhood but because it had to. And Ennahda's opponents stuck with the democratic game even after losing, instead of calling on the army, because they, unlike the Egyptian secular parties, rightly felt they had a chance of winning in the future -- as they did this week. (Tunisia is fortunate in that its army has always been subordinate to civilian authority.)

That parenthetical is the difference in its entirety.  Egypt's military needs to be deciimated; Tunisia's didn't.

Posted by orrinj at 7:20 PM


Solar Flair : How do you make ray-soaking roof panels a hot investment? By making them a boring one. (Daniel Gross, 10/31/14, Slate)

Back when it was an expensive, unproven technology, solar energy was driven by hippies in sandals rigging up off-the-grid systems. About a decade ago, change-the-world Silicon Valley types hoping to make gazillions of dollars entered the fray, raising venture capital and promoting moonshot projects, like futuristic solar farms in the Southwestern desert.

Now come the financial service professionals. Because when it's structured properly, the business of building solar panels and generating carbon-fee electricity can be a solid investment. Not a killer one that will mint billionaires overnight, and not a do-gooder plunge that will pay socially conscious investors below-market returns. But rather a mainstream vehicle that appeals to middle-aged guys in khakis who are more concerned with creating reliable streams of income and beating benchmarks than they are with saving the planet.

Solar, in other words, has become basic. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:10 PM


Is The Human Species Still Evolving? (Bill Nye, 10.31.2014, Popular Science)

Without geographic isolation, I am not sure we can get a new species of hominid, not ever. But that is not the same thing as saying that humans are no longer evolving, because we surely are.

Are smart people actually producing significantly smarter offspring, who end up making more money and ever so slowly outcompeting other families? Or is intelligence a losing trait, because highly educated couples tend to have smaller families, so when something goes wrong there are fewer siblings left to carry the genes forward? Or since highly educated men and women have babies later in life than those that don't squander their best childbearing years in universities, do the babies of the highly educated enter the world with more trouble in childbirth, and are they prone to more subtle gene troubles that result from later mother and fatherhood? Cue the spooky music.

More likely than a future race of hyper-smart people who outcompete the rest of us is a strain of Homo sapiens that can beat a disease. Probably the most important evolutionary sieve that any future person is going to have to get through is going to have to do with germs and parasites. Recall that in the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918-1919, some 50 million people were killed by something far too small to even see, let alone hunt and destroy. The Black Death of the fourteenth century may have killed up to 200 million. You and I are descendants of people who just happen to have the genes to fight off deadly viruses and bacteria. Those who survive into the future will probably have resistance to certain diseases that none of us have today.

Even its defenders aren't Darwinists any more.

Posted by orrinj at 7:05 PM


China's Missing Babies (Adam Minter, 10/31/14, Bloomberg View)

In one of the signature reform measures of his early presidency, Xi Jinping declared last November that China's notorious "one-child" policy would become a "two-child" policy for couples where either husband or wife was an only child. While the change didn't abolish the often brutally enforced population control measure, it was a start. Chinese officials hoped the announcement would usher in a mini-baby boom, predicting as many as 2 million additional births per year to parents who had long been denied full reproductive rights.

Xi's government, of course, wasn't merely expressing its love of children. The point was to find a quick fix -- let them have more kids! -- to a looming demographic disaster: By 2050, one in four Chinese will be 65 or older, placing intense pressure on families, social services, and the economy. Yet what's fast becoming clear is that there's no easy solution to China's population problems.

The proof is in data released on Wednesday by China's National Health and Family Planning Commission. Of the more than 11 million Chinese couples that became eligible to have a second child, only 700,000 have applied to do so. (Around 620,000 were approved.) No national-level data was provided as to how many children have been born to those couples. But the city of Chongqing, whose population of more than 33 million is sometimes called the world's largest, was disappointed to claim a mere 5,015 births as a result of the reform.

Who would bring children into such a society?

Posted by orrinj at 7:01 PM


Nevada Race Could Set Stage for a Reid Challenge in 2016 (ALEJANDRO LAZO, Oct. 30, 2014, WSJ)

If a Republican wins the lieutenant governor slot, Gov. Brian Sandoval, a popular Republican incumbent expected to easily win re-election, would be free to challenge Mr. Reid in 2016 without turning over his office to a Democrat. If a Democrat wins, the governor likely would feel more tied to his current position, political experts say.

While Mr. Sandoval has said he remains focused on this year's race, political observers say pressure would build for him to mount a Senate bid. A poll this summer by Harper Polling shows Mr. Sandoval could be a legitimate threat, leading Mr. Reid 53% to 43% in a hypothetical 2016 matchup.

Posted by orrinj at 6:54 PM


Scott Brown's U-Turn : The carpetbagger candidate was supposed to be a long shot. So why is he so close to winning? (JAMES PINDELL, October 30, 2014, Politico)

Shaheen is the only woman in the nation's history to serve both as a governor and senator. During 40 years as a campaign operative and a candidate and aided by demographic shifts and national political realignment, Shaheen essentially built New Hampshire's Democratic Party and in so doing, made New Hampshire a swing state.

Heading into Thursday's final debate and just days away from the election, she remains popular with voters, with her approval ratings well over 50 percent. But that likeability hasn't completely translated into the most recent polls, which show Shaheen up a point or two, well within the margin of error. This is explained, in part, because she is seen by many here as too close to Obama, whose 40 percent approval rating locally is dragging Shaheen and other Democrats down.

The bigger problem is Scott Brown. Out in the diners and country stores that serve as informal salons in this most retail of states few ever want to talk about Shaheen. This is what makes her supporters nervous. Her latest ad declares that "Scott Brown is NOT for New Hampshire. Never has been. Never will be." But many of the good people of the Granite State, it seems, are intrigued. They want to know if you've met Scott Brown, they want to know what he's like in person, they want to talk about his positions on national security and the economy and Obamacare and guns and abortion. And, oh yeah: What about that truck?

The best part of her campaign is all the signs that read "New Hampshire First"

Posted by orrinj at 6:49 PM


What if Leo Strauss was right? : A new book by Arthur Melzer convincingly defends Strauss' theory of esotericism, which could have major repercussions on Western thought (Damon Linker, 10/31/14, The Week)

Philosophy originally arose as a way of life singularly devoted to determining whether a particular society's customs are good and whether its origin stories are true. This placed philosophy in a fundamentally antagonistic position to society, which understandably viewed radical philosophical questioning as a grave threat. Theory and practice, contemplation and social-communal-moral life, were presumed to stand in ineradicable tension with one another. It was because of this seemingly permanent tension that philosophers chose to practice protective esotericism.

Today, in societies that allow and even encourage the criticism that virtually all other forms of political life have sought to control or stamp out, philosophers are perfectly free to pose any subversive question they wish. Yet Melzer wants his readers to see that even our own open societies typically refrain from questioning certain foundational customs and opinions -- and that the pursuit of philosophic wisdom requires that we subject even these most cherished convictions to relentless examination and scrutiny.

Take the account of the "noble lie" in Plato's Republic. In this passage of the classic dialogue, Socrates tells his conversation partners that the perfectly just political community they are constructing in speech will require a four-part foundational lie or salutary myth: that all of its citizens are born from the ground on which the community makes its home; that all citizens are brothers; that each citizen is born as one of three races (gold, silver, or iron/bronze); and that each comes into the world along with certain tools that indicate the job he was meant to do in life.

On Melzer's reading (which closely follows the interpretation of Strauss' student Allan Bloom), each element in this myth is meant to expose a lie that can be found at work in every human society, even our own.

Every society denies the fact that the land it occupies was taken by force from some group of human beings who was there first. (Hence the need to teach the lie that citizens are literally children of the land the society occupies.) Every society arbitrarily grants the rights and benefits of citizenship to some people and denies them to others. (Hence the need to teach the lie that all citizens are members of a natural family.) Every society allows some people to rule over others -- in a democracy, the majority rules over everyone else -- and attempts to justify this arrangement as founded in the natural order of things. (Hence the need to teach the myth of the metals.) Finally, every society requires that certain undesirable jobs be done, even when they are harmful to the individuals who do them -- coal mining, for example, or soldiering. (Hence the need to teach the myth of the tools.)

In sum, every society makes use of myths and lies to cover over injustices that are coeval with political life as such. This isn't to deny that liberal democracies strive to lessen these injustices in some areas. In comparison to most societies in history, for example, the U.S. permits a relatively large number of immigrants to become citizens. The upward mobility fostered by capitalistic exchange likewise alleviates the worst economic injustices.

Yet we still exclude people from citizenship, and we still need some people to do dangerous or otherwise harmful jobs. There is no complete solution to the problem of political injustice. Even though every society uses a variation on the noble lie to convince itself that it has somehow achieved exactly that.

Strauss didn't teach his students to tell lies. He taught them how to liberate themselves from the lies we tell ourselves.

...that we don't actually lie about them, they just aren't injustices.  

Posted by orrinj at 6:41 PM


An Iranian who could balance Tehran's factions? (David Ignatius Opinion writer October 30, 2014, Washington Post)

"He is a person in the middle," with close links to both President Hassan Rouhani and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, says Hossein Mousavian, a former Iranian official who teaches at Princeton University and knows the leadership well. "Shamkhani can play an influential role in managing the crisis in the Arab world," he argues, in part because he is from an Arabic-speaking region of southern Iran. [...]

Shamkhani's rise is noteworthy because he appears to bridge the radical and moderate camps at a time when opinion in Iran is divided about a nuclear deal. Khamenei will have to bless any agreement made by Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

"In contrast to Iranian foreign ministry officials, Shamkhani is a former Revolutionary Guard [IRGC] commander who has the clout to challenge his former comrades," says Karim Sadjadpour, a leading Iran expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. A European intelligence official agrees that Shamkhani may be "an honest broker" between Rouhani and Khamenei.

"Since this summer, Shamkhani has taken on a more prominent role in Iranian regional policy, especially in Iraq, which previously was the exclusive purview of the IRGC Quds Force commander, Qassem Suleimani ," explains a U.S. official who follows Iranian events closely.

Posted by orrinj at 6:14 PM


What's wrong with mindfulness? More than you might think : Separating meditation from faith is a dubious business, morally and sometimes in its effects (Melanie McDonagh, 1 November 2014, The Spectator)

I would suggest also that if mindfulness helps with mental health, then let's not forget that so does organised religion. This 'active ingredient' isn't some new miracle cure: it's the same grounding effect that Christianity has, or Judaism, or any prayerful religion. We've all, over the years, seen studies show that religious people are happier, and that both meditation and prayer are beneficial to the brain. Mindfulness can join the queue. Seldon's 21st-century boys may find it beneficial to meditate, but their 20th-century counterparts may have found it just as calming to sit in the chapel for morning prayers and just as bonding to sing hymns together. Mind you, at Wellington, they do both.

One of the difficulties mindfulness will face as it sweeps across the globe is that it quite clearly in fact is a religion, however much it might shy away from the word. It's remarkable the number of classes advertised with the caveat 'No religious content', which of course makes it palatable to the growing number who shy away from religion. It's ritual for those who don't pray; communal practice for the individualist. It's non-doctrinal, non-prescriptive, non-demanding in terms of conduct apart from an insistence on not being judgmental. It seems to be the perfect religion for a Britain which is in full flight from its state church. Most other religion substitutes -- the Sunday Assembly gatherings for atheists, for example, which Andrew Watts wrote about in this magazine back in February -- are self-consciously modelled on Christian services. But mindfulness is squarely based on Buddhism. In fact, from the focus on breathing to the insistence on compassion, it really is Buddhism. At one interesting class I attended in a Buddhist temple -- gold images galore -- the teacher declared cheerfully that this mindfulness session was going to be a cut above the rest because it got you to the fons et origo of the thing, viz. Buddhist teaching.

Taking an established religion -- Buddhism in this case -- and picking bits from it piecemeal can be a more dangerous business than it might seem. However much people may dislike the idea, the major world religions have developed incrementally over time to be a comfort and support for humans in their quest for meaning. Even the seemingly eccentric bits can serve a vital purpose, hidden from non-believers. One rejects 'the boring bits' of an established religion at one's peril. Mindfulness, based as it is on meditation, is not simply a path that leads nowhere in particular. It can lead you to that dangerous place, the heart of yourself. And there you may find a great, scary emptiness, or worse, your own personal demons.

Not everyone is strong enough to confront their inner self: in that case, meditation can be an affliction, not a therapy. That phenomenon is being studied at the so-called 'Dark Night Project' at Brown University Medical School, where Dr Willoughby Britton deals with the psychic disturbance that meditation can sometimes cause. And that's of a piece with Buddhist as well as Christian understanding of contemplation; that you can undergo what St John of the Cross called the Dark Night of the Soul. The contemplative life, in Christianity, isn't for everyone. It is understood that only a few, those with a vocation for it, have the strength to take it on.

There are other aspects of mindfulness which strike me as problematic, not to say unchristian. An important element of the practice is to eschew judgmentalism; to observe and accept ourselves and our surroundings with compassion. Which sounds dandy, except that there are some things about ourselves and our situation which we jolly well shouldn't be non-judgmental about, which we should be trying to change. One of the best things about the collective culture is that we have a strong moral sense; we consider selfish behaviour unacceptable and hold others to account. Where Buddhism causes us to go within ourselves, to meditate inwardly, Christianity takes you out of yourself -- to God and from there to others. Would a 'mindful' Britain have the same emphasis on helping others?

...is that many of us have minds worth looking into.

Posted by Glenn Dryfoos at 6:56 AM


Dizzy Gillespie/Sonny Stitt/Sonny Rollins: Sonny Side Up

"On the Sunny Side of the Street" (from the CD) - 

"Wheatleigh Hall" (Dizzy and Sonny together in 1987, 30 years after this album) -  

I've made it all the way to week 7 of ATJ without featuring a Sonny Rollins album because I couldn't decide which one to write about.  But after the "Body and Soul" post in ATJ#5, OJ commented that he really liked a version by Sonny Stitt that he had found on YouTube.  Well, that solved my problem.

Norman Granz was a jazz promoter and label owner (Norgran, Verve and Pablo) who was known for bringing together groups of jazz all-stars for live and recorded jam sessions, including his famous "Jazz at the Philharmonic" concerts.  In December 1957, he brought into the studio one of his most inspired groupings of musicians, the great trumpeter and co-creator of bebop, Dizzy Gillespie, along with Sonny Rollins and Sonny Stitt, two of the titans of the tenor sax.  Although both Sonnys were disciples of Charlie Parker, there were significant differences in their playing.  Stitt, who first gained fame on alto and moved to tenor in part because he was perceived as sounding too much like Parker, was a player of astounding technique and improvisational skill.  But, he rarely moved outside the template for improvisation laid down by Bird...his playing was fiery, but he blazed no new paths.  Rollins was also an absolute virtuoso, but he was a searcher who stretched the boundaries of bop and reinvented himself multiple times over the course of a career that still continues into his mid-80's.  Among Rollins' contributions was an emphasis on thematic development within his improvisations; his solos weren't just a string of notes (no matter how fast or beautiful)...they told a story, and that story was often infused with a romance, humor, yearning or swagger that seemed almost tangible.

Sonny Side Up starts with the pop tune "On the Sunny Side of the Street."  Besides being a pun on the name of two of the participants, this track provides a jaunty, moderately paced warm up.   Stitt leads off the soloing, followed by Dizzy and Rollins before Dizzy offers a lighthearted hipster vocal.  (Although bop is often described as a protest against some of the pop/entertainment elements of earlier forms of jazz, when it came to clowning, mugging and generally having fun while making great music, Dizzy had a lot of Louis Armstrong in him. When listening to the YouTube version of "Sunny Side," try to hear the differences in the tone, attack and phrasing of the two Sonnys.

Legend has it that a few days before this session Dizzy called Rollins and Stitt and told each that the other planned to "cut" him in the studio (meaning that he would outplay him...jam sessions were often somewhat less bloody forms of Old West shootouts).  Whether this is true or not, both tenors came to the next song, "The Eternal Triangle" well armed and well prepared. The level of playing throughout this 14-minute romp over the chord changes of "I've Got Rhythm" (a favorite harmonic framework for beboppers) is simply astounding.  Played at a rapid tempo, first Rollins and then Stitt fly over the changes without a misstep.  After they each solo (if you're testing your ability to tell them apart, Rollins ends and Stitt begins at around the 2:55 mark), they "trade 4's" (that is, alternate 4-bar phrases) before Dizzy comes in and reminds everyone that he invented this bebop stuff.

"After Hours" is a slow blues that starts with a wonderful and soulful statement from pianist Ray Bryant (whose brother, Tommy is the bass player) and again has great solos from the three horns.  The set closes with "I Know That You Know," the kind of old pop standard that Rollins loved to resurrect and modernize.  The highlight is Rollins leading off with a stop-time solo, meaning the rhythm section only hits on the first beat of each measure, leaving the rest of the bar open for Sonny to explore without the usual rhythmic and harmonic guideposts provided by the piano, bass and drums.  (Within a few years, Rollins would take this to its logical extreme and perform completely alone, as in the version of "Body & Soul" covered a few weeks back.)  

I'm sure there will be more Dizzy, Rollins and Stitt in future ATJ posts.  But this is a "desert island"-worthy introduction to three of the true giants of jazz

October 30, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 6:51 PM


Journalists need a point of view if they want to stay relevant (Jay Rosen, 10/24/14, The Conversation)

Instead of trying to stay in the middle between polarized extremes and avoid criticism, political journalists and their bosses could recognize that there is no escape from charges of bias because these charges are just a further aspect of polarization. If you're going to be attacked anyway, might as well let it rip.

That's what the Washington Post did when earlier this month it hired Chris Mooney to cover the environment in blog form. Mooney is the author of two books -- The Republican War on Science and The Republican Brain (subtitle: The Science of Why They Deny Science - and Reality) -- that leave no doubt about where he stands. In announcing his appointment, the Post described Mooney as a writer with a distinctive voice and a consistent argument: "that people's preconceptions - political, religious, cultural - color the way they view science."

Newsrooms are better off with reporters who know their beats, nail their arguments, make clear where they're coming from and meet high standards of verification, always. Intellectual honesty is a more reliable basis for trust than a ritualized objectivity. A clear voice is more valuable than a nonpartisan veneer.

Posted by orrinj at 6:48 PM


Jail cells 'made from modern art' (BBC, 3/28/03)

A Spanish art historian has found evidence that suggests some Civil War jail cells were built like 3-D modern art paintings in order to torture prisoners.

The cells were built in 1938 for the republican forces fighting General Franco's Fascist Nationalist army, who eventually won power, historian Jose Milicua told the Spanish newspaper El Pais.
Milicua told the paper he had found court papers from the 1939 trial of French anarchist Alphonse Laurencic, a republican, by a Franco-ist military court.

During the trial Laurencic revealed he was inspired by modern artists, such as surrealist Salvador Dali and Bauhaus artist Wassily Kandinsky, to create the torture cells, said Milicua.

Posted by orrinj at 6:40 PM


Dems Rush to Save Suddenly Vulnerable Incumbents (Donna Cassata, October 30, 2014, AP) 

Desperate Democrats are rushing to save suddenly vulnerable House incumbents, even in states where President Barack Obama cruised to double-digit victories, amid fresh signs of Republican momentum less than a week before the midterm elections.

The once friendly terrain of New York, California, Obama's native state of Hawaii and adopted state of Illinois all now pose stiff challenges to Democrats who are determined to limit their losses next Tuesday. [...]

"We're in trench warfare. I'm not going to sugarcoat it," Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said in an interview.

In one sign of Democratic concern, Vice President Joe Biden was heading to Massachusetts on Wednesday for a rally with Seth Moulton, who is trying to hold onto a Democratic seat against Republican Richard Tisei. Then Biden was traveling to California on Saturday to campaign in an open-seat contest east of Los Angeles that surprisingly looks closer than a sure-fire Democratic gain.

"Heck, it's been so long since a Republican was elected to the Congress in Massachusetts, most Republicans don't know how to spell Massachusetts," joked Rep. Greg Walden of Oregon, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee. He said the GOP is spending 78 percent of its independent money in districts that Obama won.

Winning these types of unexpected seats is the easy part.  The hard part is governing well enough to deserve re-election.
Posted by orrinj at 6:34 PM


Why you should worry less about Ebola and more about measles (William Moss, 10/30/14, The Conversation)

The fact is, in the United States the risk of infection with measles virus or death from influenza virus is far greater.

Although the outbreak in West Africa is increasing exponentially, Ebola is not as contagious as many other infectious diseases. Transmission requires direct contact with infected body fluids. Measles, influenza and pertussis (whooping cough) on the other hand, are spread by respiratory secretions. They are much more explosive because transmission does not require direct contact with an infected person.

The speed with which an outbreak grows depends on how many additional people are infected by each infectious case and the time interval between infections. To put the current Ebola numbers in context, one person with Ebola will on average infect only 1.5 to 2.2 additional people. The relatively low number of people infected by a single case should make it easier to interrupt transmission. Further facilitating control is the fact that a person with Ebola is most infectious after the onset of signs and symptoms.

By contrast, a person with measles is infectious for several days before they become sick. And a person with measles will on average infect 12 to 18 additional people. This year 594 measles cases have been reported in the United States through September 29th, the most in two decades. These cases represent 18 measles outbreaks in 22 states.

An estimated 122,000 people - mostly children - worldwide died of measles in 2012, about 330 measles deaths every day. In the US the increasing number of measles cases is mostly due to people visiting countries with measles outbreaks and carrying the virus back home and into communities in which large numbers of people are not vaccinated.

Posted by orrinj at 6:30 PM


Feed your garden with fall leaves : Shredded leaves layered into a bed makes for rich spring soil. (Jane Shellenberger,  OCTOBER 29, 2014, CS Monitor)

Leaves are one of the best ingredients for healthy vegetable garden soil. They contain all three major plant nutrients (nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus), plus mineral micronutrients that plants need. These nutrients and micronutrients become available to plants through decomposition by soil microbes. Earthworms pull leaf pieces down from the surface, eating them as they tunnel through soil. The worms aerate and fertilize the soil with their castings (poop), making nutrients available to smaller soil critters and microbes, including the beneficial bacteria and fungi that play a major role in the decomposition and growth processes. 

If you start building healthy soil now, using leaves to feed the worms and microbes, they will do the heavy lifting for you. By the time spring arrives, you'll be ready to plant without backbreaking digging or rototilling, which rips up the tapestry of soil life.

Posted by orrinj at 6:26 PM


TFSAs Spur Canada Savings Revolution (CHRIS EDWARDS, 10/24/14, Cato)

There are 27.7 million Canadian adults, so about 47 percent of them own a TFSA, according to the data from Investor Economics. A 2013 survey by a bank found a similar figure of 48 percent. In just five years, TFSAs have become the most popular savings vehicle in Canada, outstripping the Canadian version of 401(k)s. TFSA growth is expected to continue, and the accounts may soon play a central role in virtually every family's financial planning.

The American vehicle most similar to the TFSA is the Roth Individual Retirement Account (IRA). But Roths are far inferior, and thus just 16 percent of U.S. households own them. Indeed, just 38 percent of U.S. households hold any type of IRA, even though these accounts have been around a lot longer than TFSAs.

TFSAs are like supercharged Roth IRAs. Here are some of the key features: 

*Individuals can deposit up to $5,500 after-tax each year. Annual contribution limits accumulate if you do not use them. So if you contribute $2,000 this year, you will be able to put away $9,000 next year ($3,500+$5,500).

*All account earnings and withdrawals are tax-free.

*Withdrawals can be made at any time for any reason with no penalties or taxes. That greatly simplifies the accounts and increases liquidity, both of which encourage added savings.

*There are no income limits and no withdrawal requirements. All Canadian adults can contribute and withdraw at any time during their lives.

*TFSAs can be opened at any bank branch or online. They can hold bank deposits, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and other types of assets.

*TFSAs are great for all types of saving, including saving to buy a home, a car, or to start a business, and saving for health expenses, unemployment, or retirement.    

Why are we letting Canadians have all the fun?

Posted by orrinj at 6:18 PM


Can Democrats hold the Senate by running away from Obama -- and their own records? (Karen Tumulty, October 28, 2014, Washington Post)

Another senior Democrat who advises the White House, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, said the current feeling among Obama and his aides is "exasperation."

"He doesn't think they have any reason to run away from him," the adviser said. "He thinks there is a strong message there."

The president has hinted at the tension in recent remarks. "Make no mistake, these policies are on the ballot, every single one of them," Obama said earlier this month. He restated the obvious a few weeks later in a radio interview when he said of the Democratic senators who are struggling this year: "The bottom line is . . . these are all folks who vote with me; they have supported my agenda in Congress."

Posted by orrinj at 6:15 PM


The U.S.-Iran non-alliance alliance against Islamic State (Aki Peritz and Faris Alikhan, October 29, 2014, Reuters)

The Iraqi Army is largely a wreck, unable to retake northern Iraq from Islamic State and its allies. The army is in such a sorry state that it allied over the summer with murderous Shi'ite militias -- many trained by Iran and Hezbollah outside of the country -- to make limited gains.

In addition, Iranian handlers, led by the omnipresent Quds Force chief Qasem Soleimani (who has appeared in a lot of photos lately), backed Shi'ite militias, Iraqi troops and Kurdish peshmerga and repulsed Islamic State from the Iraqi town of Amerli, all aided by U.S. warplanes. Those involved strenuously denied that Washington and Tehran coordinated any military action -- but U.S. airstrikes helped turn the tide against the militants.

Presumably military planners on all sides view this as a model -- if a terribly flawed one -- for future battles against Islamic State. The United States provides airpower, the key piece of modern warfare that Iran and its proxies cannot replicate, and one that Islamic State militants now do not seem to have effective countermeasures against.

Iran has also appeared willing to deploy its elite and regular ground forces to achieve specific goals in the Iraqi battle zone. Both countries are also concerned with "mission creep," so each seems willing to stay out of each other's way.

Posted by orrinj at 6:13 PM


Senate Democrats' Last Bastion: Single, College-Educated Women (RONALD BROWNSTEIN, October 29, 2014, National Journal)

Socially liberal white-collar and single white women look like the fragile last line of defense for Democrats hoping to avoid a Republican sweep in next week's election, according to detailed results from a broad array of new polls.

For the third consecutive election, congressional Democrats are facing the prospect of a decisive rejection by most white voters, including not only white men but also white women who are either married or lack a college degree. But in surveys of both individual Senate races and national preferences on the generic congressional ballot, Democrats are showing stubborn strength with college-educated and single white women.

That performance--combined with preponderant leads among minority voters in almost all surveys--represents the Democrats' best chance of overcoming gaping deficits with the remainder of the white electorate in the key contests. Yet in a measure of the party's vulnerability, even that advantage rests on an unsteady foundation: National Pew Research Center and ABC/Washington Post polls conducted in October found that college-educated white women, though strongly preferring Democrats on issues relating to women's health, actually trust Republicans more on both managing the economy and safeguarding the nation's security.

Posted by orrinj at 6:03 PM


The real lesson of the looming Martha Coakley disaster  (W. James Antle III, 10/30/14, The Week)

Yes, Martha Coakley is that bad.

The Massachusetts attorney general is most famous for blowing a huge lead in 2010 to lose the commonwealth's special Senate election for the late Ted Kennedy's seat to Scott Brown -- then a no-name Tea Partier best known for driving a truck. And while next Tuesday's gubernatorial contest is much closer, she seems poised to follow up her 2010 debacle with a loss to Republican Charlie Baker in this year's governor's race.

While only one major survey has Baker ahead by anything like a comfortable margin, Coakley has trailed in six of the last eight polls. A seventh had the race tied. Even the down-the-line liberal Boston Globe endorsed Baker over Coakley, concluding the Republican would provide the "best counterpoint to the instincts of an overwhelmingly Democratic legislature."

Coakley doesn't inspire anyone, not even her fellow Democrats. She seems oddly detached from Boston culture, as if a UFO dropped her in the middle of Yawkey Way from an alien planet. [...]

Overall, the Massachusetts political climate has a feel similar to 1990, when Bill Weld -- Baker's former boss -- kicked off 16 straight years of Republicans in the governor's mansion.

Posted by orrinj at 5:49 PM


Time to Start Thinking about Land-Based Anti-Ship Missiles (Jan K. Gleiman and Harry White, 10/16/14, ASPI Strategist)

The three strongest arguments for land-based systems can be categorised as lower escalation risk, strategic flexibility, and mitigation of platform vulnerability.

Land-based systems, especially if they are mobile, deployable and of limited range, (like Japan's type 88s) will provide leaders with a denial option that is less threatening and so less prone to escalation. That point is made effectively by naval strategists Toshi Yoshihara and James R. Holmes. Simply put, deploying a carrier group or air assets in response to actions involving territorial disputes may threaten the sovereign territory and vital interests of an adversary. Using anti-ship missiles to impose only sea-denial in a disputed area of operations is inherently defensive and less threatening, which gives leaders the option to demonstrate resolve in protecting economic exclusion zones and littoral regions without directly threatening undisputed sovereign territory. Choosing land-based anti-ship systems as a flexible deterrent option increases opportunities for peaceful resolution.

Deployable and non-deployable (fixed) land-based systems also would allow the US and Australia to maximise the power of their existing sea-control assets in a conflict by providing strategic and operational flexibility. By using deployable land-based systems in littoral regions and fixed systems at key choke points along sea lines of communication, allied leaders could then surge air and sea power to more critical and decisive regions.

Perhaps the most compelling argument is that it's becoming harder to ensure the survivability of platforms (with the relative exception of submarines) against a capable adversary. Air-Sea Battle, with all the risks that it entails, appears in part intended to provide an environment where US carriers can survive in a conflict in the Western Pacific. The high cost per unit of fifth-generation aircraft (the F-22 and to a lesser extent the F-35) is also a result of the great challenge of keeping them flying till they can successfully launch their weapons, and hopefully return home. By contrast, hardening fixed missile sites is likely to provide inexpensive survivability for a land-based systems.

Posted by orrinj at 5:35 PM


Saving the GOP From Modern Know-Nothingism : Republican pro-immigration policies have a long and successful history. (ALEX NOWRASTEH, Oct. 29, 2014, WSJ)

When George W. Bush was governor of Texas from 1995-2000, he consistently reached out to the Hispanic community and supported immigration reform. Mr. Bush won his first gubernatorial election in 1994 with 25% of the Hispanic vote and was re-elected in 1998 with almost 40% Hispanic support. He left behind a solidly Republican Texas and a state party with a much friendlier reputation among Hispanics, along with the extra political support that entails. Two years later he won the presidential election with 34% of the national Hispanic vote and was re-elected with 40% in 2004.

California's Gov. Pete Wilson took another path. Facing a tough re-election campaign in 1994, the Republican decided to blame illegal immigrants for all of the state's troubles. The result was that he and the rest of the state GOP were perceived as blaming all immigrants for California's woes. Mr. Wilson won re-election but doomed the GOP for decades in that state.

The GOP's decline in California was dramatic. According to the Field Poll, the GOP gubernatorial candidates in 1986 and 1990 received 46% and 47% of the Hispanic vote, respectively. In 1994 Mr. Wilson received 25% of the Hispanic vote. In 1998, Republican gubernatorial candidate Dan Lungren received 17% of the Hispanic vote, giving Democratic candidate Gray Davis an 8.5-point lead in the general election.

Democrat Bill Press ran a voter drive in heavily Hispanic East Los Angeles in the early 1990s. At that time, he recently explained in the Hill newspaper, "residents distrusted government so much, it was hard convincing them to register, let alone vote. At the same time, Democrats feared that, if Latinos ever did register, they'd sign up as Republicans, because most of them were Catholic, pro-family and pro-small business."

Posted by orrinj at 5:32 PM


It Looks Like $80 Oil Is Here to Stay (Matthew Philips, October 30, 2014, Businessweek)

A "structural transition has been reached," analysts at Goldman Sachs (GS) wrote this week, and the ability to determine oil prices has shifted from OPEC to the U.S. The report, entitled "The New Oil Order," argues that it's time for American oil producers to slow down in the face of weak demand growth around the world and the quick pace of change. Goldman predicts that U.S. West Texas Intermediate oil will hit $75 a barrel during the first half of 2015 and that Brent will settle around $85 a barrel, about where it is now.

The shale boom in the U.S. isn't likely to pull back until oil gets so cheap that people can't make money drilling for it. There are a lot of estimates of the break-even price for U.S. shale producers. Some think it's around $80 a barrel, others think it's closer to $60, and it's obviously not going to be the same for everyone. 

These countries are getting killed by cheap oil (Jesse Solomon,  October 30, 2014, CNNMoney)

Oil is selling for roughly $83 a barrel on the global market. That's bad news for Iran, Nigeria, Venezuela, Russia, and Saudi Arabia, among others. They need the black stuff to trade at far loftier levels in order to balance their budgets.

Iran's budget, for example, is built on oil at $135 dollars per barrel, according to data from Deutsche Bank and Thomson Reuters compiled by DoubleLine Capital.
Russia has oil budgeted at $100, while Saudi Arabia will break even at $95 per barrel.

"All the oil producers are feeling it. Now the question is who can withstand it the most," said Phil Flynn, an energy analyst at the Price Futures Group.

Flynn claims that energy producing nations will continue to pump up production because they don't want to risk losing market share.

"It's like a staring contest of who can last the longest selling oil below their budget point. Whoever can hold out longest is going to win," he said. "They're eating at each other."

Posted by orrinj at 5:28 PM


U.S. economy grows at solid 3.5% rate in third quarter : Gross Domestic product 3rd quarter 2014 (DON LEE, 10/30/14, LA Times)

The nation's gross domestic product, the total value of the goods and services produced, increased at a 3.5% annual rate in the July-to-September period, the Commerce Department said Thursday. That is the change from the second quarter, when real GDP bounced up to an annual pace of 4.6% after a brutal winter brought a 2.1% contraction in output at the start of the year.

All in all, the latest report confirms that the U.S. economy is on more solid footing and is far outperforming the economies of other major advanced nations such as Japan, Germany and France.

...before folks realize how good the economy is. But the Republican Congress needs to pass some phoney-baloney deal with the UR so it gets to share the credit.

Posted by orrinj at 5:23 PM


Fear no robot overlords. They can become our best friends. (Edward Hadas October 30, 2014, Reuters)

Increases in the efficiency of production, from Jethro Tull's 1701 seed drill to the robots coming in 2015, do not only create more things for less effort. They also free up the time that was once needed for labour. The greater use of robots will add a lot more time, much of it in the hands of skilled and educated displaced workers.

What will they do with this freedom? Most likely, some of them will find new jobs in industries which strive for efficiency. However, there should also be enough time to dedicate to activities economists typically disdain as inefficient but that people actually covet. Running fancy bakeries and providing more personal care fit in. So do travel, study, friendship, courtship, home baking and leisurely cake-eating. Think of it as the strudel benefit.

Ideally, governments and economists would be able to explain what is going on sufficiently well for people to relax about finding more things to manufacture with more efficiency.

...you know we're just looking for stuff to whine about.  The reality that we have the easiest lives in human history can not be faced. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:15 PM


Teachers Favor Common Core Standards, Not the Testing (Linda Lyons, Gallup)

The large majority of U.S. public school teachers, 76%, react positively to the primary goal of the Common Core -- to have all states use the same set of academic standards for reading, writing and math in grades K-12. However, this positivity fades when the topic turns to using computerized tests to measure student performance (27%) and linking those test scores to teacher evaluations (9%).

A Michigan high school teacher who took part in Gallup's August and September 2014 survey of 854 K-12 public school teachers summarized these broadly held attitudes: "The standards were positive until standardized testing was involved."

October 29, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:27 PM


Tunisia Needs an Economic Revolution (The Editors, 10/29/14, Bloomberg View)

Tunisia's economy has barely changed since the days of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, according to a recent 330-page World Bank report. Ben Ali was ousted in 2011, after a provincial vegetable seller set himself on fire to protest the government's confiscating his wares. The uprising that followed had complex causes, but high on the list were the economy, corruption and a lack of jobs for the growing numbers of educated young Tunisians.

So it's alarming that unemployment still exceeds 30 percent in some neglected regions. And it's no coincidence that an estimated 3,000 Tunisians have gone to fight in Syria, more than from any other country. Tunisians now value a strong economy over democracy by three to one.

Bad loans to the Ben Ali family still on bank balance sheets, ineffectual investment incentives for export manufacturers, poor bankruptcy laws and misguided agricultural supports are costing Tunisia 13 percent of gross domestic product, if you add together World Bank estimates. Last year, energy subsidies and other transfers cost another 7.3 percent. Add in the effects of rigid labor laws and lasting corruption and cronyism, and it's a wonder the economy grows at all.

Yet if Tunisia were to break these chains, it would have greater potential than perhaps any other North African country. It has been exporting heavily to the European Union for decades and can do much more. And the country's strong labor unions, though they sometimes resist reform, are evidence that Tunisia has a civil society strong enough to support economic growth.

Tunisia's departing government has made a start by reducing energy subsidies, something the International Monetary Fund demanded before extending a $1.75 billion standby loan. Yet this barely scratches the surface of what's needed to build a dynamic, job-creating economy. Europe and the U.S. could help soften the blow of greater reforms by offering some of the aid promised in the flush of the Arab Spring but not delivered -- it would be easily affordable, given Tunisia's small size.

Cut off Egypt.  Fund Tunisia.

Posted by orrinj at 7:22 PM


A Nerve-Wracking Finish for Democrats (Stuart Rothenberg, Oct. 28,. 2014, Roll Call)

While two races are likely to go to a runoff (Louisiana in December and Georgia in early January), Republicans now appear well-positioned to take over six Democratic seats: Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia.

Colorado and Iowa continue to be more difficult to call.

Republican Rep. Cory Gardner seems to have a slight edge in Colorado, and Republican Joni Ernst is no worse than even money in Iowa. If both win, a Republican takeover of the Senate is virtually guaranteed. Even if only one wins, GOP control will be likely.

Democrats now seem to have only two opportunities: Kansas and Georgia.

Republican Sen. Pat Roberts is drawing a very dangerous 45 percent in hypothetical ballot tests in Kansas and running even with independent Greg Orman. But Republicans have a strong advantage in TV advertising in the final week, and the state's GOP bent presents a challenge for Orman.

In Georgia, Republican David Perdue has only himself to blame for the fact that he is running about even against Democrat Michelle Nunn. But the race is complicated for Democrats, since the oddly timed early January runoff presents considerable challenges for Nunn.

If control of the Senate rests on the Georgia runoff, Nunn and national Democrats will find it difficult to make the election about anything other than Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Posted by orrinj at 7:14 PM


Why the Exorcist Endures (MARK JUDGE, Fall 2014, University Bookman)

Exorcist author William Peter Blatty based his 1971 book on a real case of demonic possession that occurred in Maryland in the 1940s. Yet the most important part of the novel was left out of the film. This section was so important to the story that it caused a rift between Blatty and director William Friedkin. Near the end of the book version, Father Lankester Merrin, an older priest, is explaining evil to Father Damien Karras, a young Georgetown Jesuit. The demon's target, Fr. Merrin says, is not the innocent girl he takes over. The target "is us." He continues: "I think the point is to make us despair, to reject our own humanity, Damien, to see ourselves as ultimately bestial; as ultimately vile and putrescent; without dignity; unworthy." Fr. Merrin then explains that the devil is not so much in wars or on great geopolitical dramas, but in the small, quotidian cruelties: "in the senseless, petty snipes; the misunderstandings; the cruel and cutting word that leaps unbidden to the tongue between friends, between lovers." Enough of these, he says, and "we don't need Satan to manage our wars."

In The Exorcist, the demon refers to Regan's mother, a famous actress named Chris, as "Pig," and to Regan as "Piglet." Part of this is carried over to the film, where the demon calls Regan "the sow." This is part of the dehumanization that Fr. Merrin talks about--the way evil attempts to make us despair and consider ourselves animals unworthy of God's love. This theme is effective in the story because Fr. Karras is having a crisis of faith--he both doubts the existence of God and feels his sins have made him unworthy of love. The demon, as Fr. Merrin notes, "knows where to strike."

No one who was alive when The Exorcist was released the day after Christmas in 1973 will forget what the cultural atmosphere in America was like, and how the film detonated like a neutron bomb. The United States was in the middle of a cultural revolution. The country was trying to extract itself from Vietnam, the Watergate story was blowing open, and the sexual revolution was at hurricane force. In January 1973, Roe v. Wade was handed down by the Supreme Court. It wasn't long before abortionists and their allies were comparing young humans to lower life forms, including, yes, pigs.

The Exorcist was part of this milieu, yet it was also quite traditional--indeed, it argued for the unchanging age-old reality of good and evil.

Posted by orrinj at 6:24 PM


Why GOP could win four gubernatorial races in 'liberal' New England (Mark Trumbull, OCTOBER 29, 2014, CS Monitor)

Some of the states where Republicans have the best hope of capturing new governorships this election are in New England, a region long known for its liberal politics.

Four of the six states in the region have very tight gubernatorial races, with Republicans leading narrowly in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Maine and trailing only slightly in Rhode Island. [...]

In Massachusetts, Baker is a former health insurance executive with a 58 percent "favorable" rating from state residents. His Democratic opponent, Attorney General Martha Coakley, notched a 41 percent favorable score. In 2010, she lost a US Senate race to another moderate Republican, Scott Brown, who won the seat vacated by the death of Sen. Edward Kennedy.

In Connecticut, GOP challenger Tom Foley also ranks better on favorability than Democratic incumbent Dannel Malloy. His campaign has been hammering Governor Malloy for tax hikes and weak job creation.

Rhode Island, even more than Connecticut, is struggling with above-average unemployment. Republican candidate Allan Fung, as mayor of Cranston, has wrestled with the challenges of public-pension underfunding - a wider challenge for the state.

Posted by orrinj at 6:16 PM


Organised Hypocrisy on a Monumental Scale (Robert Wade, 10/24/14, London Review of Books)

The souk in Hebron's old city was eerily empty, with almost no people or goods to be seen. Walking through it I noticed netting strung over the street, and looking up towards the bright blue sky was puzzled to see rubbish strewn on the netting. My hosts explained that Israeli settlers had occupied the apartments of departed Palestinians above the souk, or built new apartments on top of the Palestinians'; and from this vantage point had taken to tossing their rubbish onto the heads of passing Palestinians below. Hence the netting. I was told that a minister in the Palestinian Authority recently had a chamber pot emptied on top of her.

The souk was like a ghost town, my hosts explained, because the Israeli government had closed off most access points to Palestinians, in order to ensure that the Israeli settlers could enter and leave the city by dedicated routes, avoiding all contact with Palestinians. The main way in to the souk had a revolving steel gate guarded by an Israeli soldier. As we passed through, two men on one side had a stack of cartons of canned goods on a trolley; they lifted the cartons one by one high up over the top of the barrier, into the hands of two men on the other side, who lowered them onto their trolley, ready to move elsewhere. Think of the transaction costs of shifting those canned goods a couple of metres through the checkpoint.

The next day, on a dusty dirt road outside Nablus, with the Israeli security fence on one side and an olive grove on the other, I met two brothers walking towards the town some three kilometres away, where they lived. They had been working on their (ancestral) land on the Israeli side of the fence. The Israelis manned a gate closer to the town, they said, but opened it for only one hour in the early morning, one hour at midday and one hour in the late afternoon. If they wanted to come or go at other times they walked, or sometimes drove a tractor, several kilometres to the next gate, which had more extended opening hours. They also each needed a permit to cross the fence. The permits didn't last long. The period varied but was commonly about two months. When it expired the men had to apply for another permit, which could take weeks. Last year they applied for a permit to cover the period for harvesting their greenhouse tomatoes, their main source of income. But it took 40 days to arrive, by which time the crop had rotted. They had two more brothers who were not allowed to cross the fence under any circumstances, because years before they had been jailed for protesting against Israeli rule.

On to a nearby herder community, where fifty households tend several thousand head of sheep and goats on barren land. Electricity lines run overhead, water and sewage pipes run below, but the herders have no access to them. They buy water from an Israeli-owned water depot some distance away. They can pay for an Israeli-owned tanker to bring water to their cistern; but it was cheaper for them to tow their own water container to the depot behind a tractor, fill it, and pull it back home. In 2008 the Israeli authorities confiscated their water container, saying it did not meet standards. Now they pay the extra for the Israeli-owned tanker delivery.

The Palestinian Hydrology Group, an NGO, has been working for more than twenty years to improve water and sanitation facilities throughout the West Bank. The Nablus office has provided toilets to fifty poor communities, including this settlement of herders. In Israeli eyes the toilets are illegal, because built without a permit. The PHG knows from experience that the chances of getting a permit are practically zero. So, backed by Spanish aid, it built quickly collapsible toilet cabins. With just a few minutes' notice the components can be spirited out of sight and reassembled when the soldiers are gone. In Area C of the West Bank (more than 60 per cent of the territory) it is illegal even to mend a failing water cistern without a permit - which is rarely given. Solar panels would require a permit, too.

The same restrictions mean that areas A and B of the West Bank (40 per cent of the territory), where Palestinians have greater scope for self-government, cannot be connected to scale-efficient infrastructure networks for electricity and water. The areas are fragmented (ghettoised) into small enclaves surrounded by area C land, where infrastructure projects require Israeli permits, which are rarely given. This greatly increases the cost of infrastructure services and restricts their supply to most of the West Bank population.

At the other end of the socio-economic ladder, I spoke to a senior Palestinian telecommunications executive. He told me that the Oslo Accords explicitly stated that the West Bank administration had the right to establish 'separate and independent telecommunication networks'. But the fine print said that Israel would allocate frequencies for the Palestinians (or not). Unsurprisingly, given the enveloping structure of rule, the Israeli government has not allocated anything like enough frequencies to the Palestinians, with the result that the costs of building networks in Palestine are three times higher than they otherwise would be. Palestinians are unable to access the internet or email on their phones, because Israel has not allocated the frequencies needed for 3G (for 'security reasons'). Israel has however allocated 3G frequencies to Israeli companies serving West Bank settlers and to provide seamless telecom access to Israeli citizens moving about the West Bank.

Posted by orrinj at 6:12 PM


"Murphy Brown" Was Wrong, New Research Suggests : Intact families and marriage help girls and women, too. (MARK STRICHERZ, 10/28/14, Aleteia)
Marriage scholars do emphasize the economic and educational gains married men enjoy. At a press luncheon last Tuesday, Robert I. Lerman and W. Bradford Wilcox discussed the findings from their new report, "For Richer, For Poorer: How Family Structures Economic Success in America." They found that married men earn at least $15,900 more per year in individual income compared their single peers, while black married men earn $12,000 more and married men with a high school degree or less earn $17,000 more.
The gap between married and single men drives rather than reflects economic inequality, they said. "One of the most important elements in increasing inequality in the United States is family structure, not only in employment but the slow increase in median incomes," Lerman told a half dozen reporters seated around a white table cloth at the American Enterprise Institute. Lerman said 25 percent to 30 percent of the inequality in the United States is the result of the "retreat from marriage."
"Stable, two-parent families limit poverty, increase mobility, and are associated with a variety of positive social and health outcomes for adults and children alike. Two barriers to the formation of stable, two-parent families are having children outside marriage and becoming a noncustodial father," they wrote in the 55-page report.
Yet the two scholars' research showed not only that adults and children benefit from marriage in general but women and girls specifically. For example, they found that coming from an intact, two-parent family "was almost as important as race and educational attainment" in succeeding in school. Among their findings:
Girls raised in homes with their biological mother and father are nine percent less likely to flunk out of high school. Girls raised in step-parent families fare only slightly better than girls raised in single-parent homes, they found.
Girls raised in two-parent homes were 12 percent less likely to be single parents. 
Girls raised in two-parents homes work 179 more hours a year compared to their counterparts who grew up in single-parent homes, according to a study of 1997 data. 
Women from intact families have more than $4,375 in personal and $12,198 in family income than their counterparts raised in single-parent or step-parent situations. 
Married women have more family income: Young mothers have $33,000 more and middle-aged mothers have $52,000 more.

That wouldprobably be God who was right, more than Dan Quayle.
Posted by orrinj at 6:02 PM


Bart Ehrman, Errant: a review of Can We Still Believe the Bible?: An Evangelical Engagement with Contemporary Questions By Craig L. Blomberg (Louis Markos, First Things)

I feel great pity for Bart Ehrman. It appears that the kind of fundamentalism in which the Christian believer turned biblical debunker was raised did not prepare him for the challenges he would face in college. He was taught, rightly, that there are no contradictions in the Bible, but he was trained, quite falsely, to interpret the non-contradictory nature of the Bible in modern, scientific, post-Enlightenment terms. That is to say, he was encouraged to test the truth of the Bible against a verification system that has only existed for some 250 years.

Craig Blomberg, professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary, has devoted much of his scholarly life to assuring evangelical students raised in fundamentalist homes that the authority--and inerrancy--of the Bible does not depend on its living up to logical positivist standards that would have meant nothing to Moses, David, Luke, or Paul. In Can We Still Believe the Bible?: An Evangelical Engagement with Contemporary Questions, he does his fellow evangelicals a vital service by identifying and discussing six areas where critics like Ehrman have sown deep seeds of doubt in the minds of believers and seekers as to the reliability of the Bible.

In chapter one, Blomberg puts Ehrman's claim (from Misquoting Jesus) that "there are four hundred thousand textual variants among the ancient New Testament manuscripts" (13) in the proper context. As he demonstrates, there are only two lengthy passages in the entire New Testament (the extended ending to Mark's Gospel; the woman caught in adultery in John 8) that are sharply contested, and that do not appear in the oldest and best manuscripts. Neither of these passages contains vital theological or historical points that do not appear elsewhere in the Bible, and in all modern translations they are clearly marked as being questionable.

As for Ehrman's 400,000 variants, Blomberg explains, they are "spread across more than 25,000 manuscripts in Greek or other ancient languages. . . . This is an average of only 16 variants per manuscript" (17). And of those variants, only "about a tenth of 1 percent . . . are interesting enough to make their way into footnotes in most English translations" (27). And the ones that do make it there offer no challenge to the authority of scripture on matters of faith and practice. "It cannot be emphasized strongly enough," Blomberg concludes, "that no orthodox doctrine or ethical practice of Christianity depends solely on any disputed wording. There are always undisputed passages one can consult that teach the same truths"

As mentioned the other day, the problem with judging anything by Scientific terms is that Science itself fails when they are applied.  We know for a fact that the proper standard of judgment can not be Rationalism.  Other standards are at least still debatable.

Posted by orrinj at 5:57 PM


Why Jeb Bush should run for president (Ruth Marcus, October 28, 2014, Washington Post)

My argument for a Jeb Bush candidacy is also twofold: It would be good for Bush's party and good for the country.

Good for Republicans not just because it would give them a better shot at the White House but because the GOP has veered off the ideological rails.

Even the notion that Bush is seriously considering running -- his son told ABC's Jonathan Karl that it is "more than likely" -- is a comforting sign. Jeb Bush is not naive about the GOP's loony tendencies and the distorted ideological landscape of its nominating process. For him to be weighing the race indicates that he believes those extremist instincts can be tamed.

A Bush candidacy would deviate from party orthodoxy on numerous issues, most notably immigration and education reform; a Bush nomination would usefully yank the party toward the center.

On immigration, Bush favors granting undocumented immigrants the opportunity for legalized status, although not necessarily a path to full citizenship. "Yes, they broke the law, but it's not a felony," he said in April. "It's an act of love, it's an act of commitment to your family."

He has also been a champion of education reform efforts, including the new GOP heresy of backing national education standards known as Common Core.

And speaking of heresy: In 2012, when none of the party's presidential contenders would back a hypothetical budget deal of $1 in tax increases for $10 in spending cuts, Bush told the House Budget Committee he'd snap it up. "Put me in, coach," he said, adding, "This will prove I'm not running for anything."

Make no mistake: Bush is a conservative. But he is a conservative who believes in the role and capacity of government and in the imperative of bipartisan cooperation.

"Back to my dad's time and Ronald Reagan's time -- they got a lot of stuff done with a lot of bipartisan support," Bush told Bloomberg View in 2012. Contrast that with Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz: "I don't think what Washington needs is more compromise."

And this is why a Bush candidacy would be good for the country as well. A saner Republican Party would produce saner, more productive politics.

Posted by orrinj at 5:49 PM


Shaheen Popular in N.H., But Struggles With D.C. Albatross (Scott Conroy, October 29, 2014, RCP)

According to the latest RealClearPolitics polling average, Shaheen still leads Scott Brown -- the former Republican senator from Massachusetts -- by 2.2 percentage points.

But her dwindling edge in the polls, combined with a palpable energy shift on the ground, has left little doubt that the momentum has swung in Brown's favor over the last couple of weeks.

Shaheen's surprisingly precarious position is not due to the charisma deficit she faces against her garrulous and telegenic opponent.  Voters here know and like Shaheen, who is the first woman in the country ever to be elected both senator and governor -- a position she held in Concord from 1997 to 2003.

In a CNN poll released last week, 52 percent of likely voters had a favorable opinion of her, while only 45 percent had an unfavorable one.

And it's not that Shaheen's message has failed to hit home. Even in a state where about two-thirds of adults were born elsewhere, according to the Boston Globe, Shaheen's characterization of Brown as a carpetbagging political opportunist appears to have resonated, at least somewhat. 

The same CNN poll showed that only 48 percent of voters had a favorable opinion of Brown, while 50 percent had an unfavorable view of the Massachusetts transplant, who established residency here less than a year ago.  

And yet, even with the advantages of incumbency, voters' familiarity with her, and the political trend in a state that has tilted Democratic in recent years, the race has become something close to a tossup -- a trend that could portend doom for the Democrats' hopes of retaining their Senate majority.

NH has been blessed with an unusually competent string of governors--of both parties--going all the way back to John Sununu.  I confess  to not even knowing who the GOP candidates were on Election Day, because it seemed likely that Maggie Hassan would win in a walk.  But even her lead is down to 4 points and she's not going to survive if both House seats and the Senate seat change hands.  Hassan and Shaheen are as good a top of the ticket as the Democrats could possibly hope for and they may be going down the drain.

NEC poll: Havenstein moves to dead heat with Hassan (John DiStaso, Oct 27, 2014, NH Journal)

The latest New England College poll, released this evening, shows that suddenly Republican candidate for governor Walt Havenstein has turned an 8 percentage point deficit into a virtual tie.
The NEC poll, completed for NH1 News, shows Hassan ahead of Havenstein, but only by 47.2 to 46.9 percent, well within the 2.9 percent margin of error. Last week's poll had Hassan at 50.7 percent and Havenstein at 42.5 percent.

Posted by orrinj at 5:46 PM


The Continuing Story of a Strongly Divided Electorate (Alan J. Borsuk, 10/29/14,  Marquette Law School)

The main new story out of the event, of course, was how Republican Gov. Scott Walker was leading Democratic challenger Mary Burke by 50 percent to 43 percent among likely voters. That was an attention-grabbing shift from the Law School Poll results of two weeks ago, when the race was a straight-up tie. Franklin said the difference, in large part, had to do with supporters of Walker showing substantially increased commitment to voting, while supporters of Burke were showing slightly increased commitment. It's all about turn-out, he said. In fact, among all registered voters in the poll - and that sample included 1,409 people - Walker held only a one point advantage over Burke, 46 percent to 45 percent. But not all registered voters are going to turn out, of course.

Scott Walker limps toward 2016 (Alexander Burns, October 29, 2014, Politico)

The politician who confidently lectured Mitt Romney in 2012 ("He has to say that I'm a reformer like Scott Walker," Walker told The Weekly Standard) has tumbled into yet another fight for his political life. Far from a conservative Clark Kent, Walker is visibly straining in the closing days of his race against Mary Burke, a wealthy former Trek Bicycle executive and member of the Madison School Board.

If Walker survives once more on Tuesday, it will represent another win for the divide-and-conquer strategy he has used since 2010 to become the dominant political figure in this traditionally Democratic state. It will also mark a downward revision of Walker's own aspirations: Instead of realigning Wisconsin behind a new vision for conservative reform -- and perhaps vaulting himself into the White House in the process -- Walker is struggling to assemble a bare majority that will keep him in the job he has.

At campaign stops this week, the 46-year-old Walker shouted himself hoarse defending his record on job creation, an unexpectedly contentious point in his record. Coughing into his left hand while greeting voters with the right, Walker wore a bandage on one thumb -- from a hunting accident, he said -- and shocked his allies in Washington by complaining openly that the national GOP hasn't done enough to help his campaign.

October 28, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:13 PM


GOP gleeful over Democrats' midterm woes in Ohio (JULIE CARR SMYTH, 10/28/14, AP) 

Democrats appear poised to lose every statewide election in battleground Ohio this fall -- most of them badly. The prospect is fueling Republican arguments headed into the next presidential election that voter support in a key bellwether state telegraphs national approval for GOP policies.

The Republican Presidential Contender Everyone's Overlooking : Ohio Gov. John Kasich is serious about running for president, and he'd be a formidable candidate. (JOSH KRAUSHAAR, 1/29/14, National Journal)

[T]here's one candidate who isn't generating much buzz and whose résumé compares favorably with any of the top-tier candidates. He's a battleground-state governor who's looking in strong position to win a second term. He defeated one of the more popular Democratic governors in the country, who happened to be a major Clinton ally. He's from the Midwest, likely to be the critical region in the 2016 presidential election. He entered office as a prominent fiscal conservative but compromised on Medicaid expansion. And most important, Republican officials familiar with his thinking say he's seriously considering a presidential campaign.

Enter Ohio Gov. John Kasich, the swing-state executive who's currently polling at microscopic levels nationally but who could have an outsized impact on the 2016 race.

"The presidential nominee is likely to be a governor, and, frankly, Kasich is as well situated as anybody. This is a guy who can connect with a crowd, he can emote, he's got blue-collar roots, and he identifies with average folks. He's certainly no Romney," said former NRCC Chairman Tom Davis, who served with Kasich in Congress. "In my opinion, he's the total package. And I think he's interested."

By all accounts, Kasich shouldn't be considered a sleeper. As governor, he's presided over a Rust Belt renaissance, with the state's unemployment rate dropping from one of the highest in the country in 2009 (10.6 percent) to around the national average (7.2 percent) last month. In 2013, Kasich signed a sizable tax cut thanks to the state's newfound budget surplus. Kasich was among the first Republicans to tout the party's need to reach out to the disadvantaged, and he lived up to his rhetoric by passing prison-sentencing reform with support from African-American legislators.

He ran for president before in 2000, parlaying his role passing four balanced budgets with Bill Clinton as a main selling point of the campaign. In effect, he was Paul Ryan before Ryan was elected to Congress. But he barely made a dent in a year when George W. Bush secured early support from party leaders.

"Mitt Romney's biggest problem was the perception he didn't care--that's a Republican Achilles' heel almost built into the party," said former Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer. "It would be constructive to have a candidate who could diminish that gap because they're cut from a different cloth, they have a proven track record of helping the poor and middle-class, and their policies show it. For people like John Kasich, he feels it as a social calling. That has the potential to be attractive so long as it's matched with conservative ideology."

Indeed, Kasich's governing message in Ohio sounds awfully similar to the "compassionate conservative" brand that Bush himself employed so successfully in 2000. Last August, Kasich told The Wall Street Journal: "I have a chance to show what it means to be successful economically, but also to have a compassionate side, a caring side, to help lift people up."

Posted by orrinj at 6:04 PM


WH has hindered, not helped, say Dems (Amie Parnes - 10/28/14, The Hill)

Democrats are casting blame on the White House as their sense of foreboding rises with the midterm elections just a week away.

The core of the detractors' argument is simple: President Obama could be doing more to keep the Senate in his party's hands. [...]

Still, the chorus of complaint is growing. Some Democrats assert that the administration's flubs on healthcare and Ebola have been electorally costly. Others allege a failure to excite the base. Still others say that at times the White House just hasn't seemed unduly bothered whether or not control of the Senate flips to the GOP. 

The UR has been hindered politically by the Democratic Senate, like Bill Clinton he'll welcome a Republican Congress.

Posted by orrinj at 6:00 PM


FBI created fake Seattle Times Web page to nab bomb-threat suspect  (Mike Carter, 10/28/14, Seattle Times)

The FBI in Seattle created a fake news story on a bogus Seattle Times web page to plant software in the computer of a suspect in a series of bomb threats to Lacey's Timberline High School in 2007, according to documents obtained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) in San Francisco.

The deception was publicized Monday when Christopher Soghoian, the principal technologist for the American Civil Liberties Union in Washington, D.C., revealed it on Twitter.

In an interview, Soghoian called the incident "outrageous" and said the practice could result in "significant collateral damage to the public trust" if law enforcement begins co-opting the media for its purposes. [...]

"We are outraged that the FBI, with the apparent assistance of the U.S. Attorney's Office, misappropriated the name of The Seattle Times to secretly install spyware on the computer of a crime suspect," said Seattle Times Editor Kathy Best.

If they don't want to serve the public we can always adjust accordingly.

Posted by orrinj at 4:16 PM


Are Online Courses Democratizing Education or Killing Colleges? (SHIRA OVIDE, 10/28/14, WSJ)

Posted by orrinj at 3:47 PM


Media Herald 'Heartwarming,' 'Powerful' Letter from Mom to Baby She Will Abort (Katie Yoder, 10/24/14, MRC Culture)

An anonymous Reddit user, scaredthrowingaway, posted to the online news platform a letter to her unborn baby whom she plans to abort. In the note entitled "I am getting an abortion next Friday. An open letter to the little life I won't get to meet," the young mom wrote, "I am sorry that this is goodbye. I'm sad that I'll never get to meet you." The media, in typical fashion, celebrated the letter as "heartwarming," "powerful" and "brave."

The Reddit letter read:

Little Thing:

I can feel you in there. I've got twice the appetite and half the energy. It breaks my heart that I don't feel the enchantment that I'm supposed to feel. I am both sorry and not sorry.

I am sorry that this is goodbye. I'm sad that I'll never get to meet you. You could have your father's eyes and my nose and we could make our own traditions, be a family. But, Little Thing, we will meet again. I promise that the next time I see that little blue plus, the next time you are in the same reality as me, I will be ready for you."

Former Abortion Clinic Worker: "I Can Still Hear the Sounds of Babies' Skulls Being Crushed" (Sarah Terzo, 10/28/14, LifeNews) 

On Wednesday, former Planned Parenthood director and pro-life activist Abby Johnson sent out a letter describing the retreat that her organization, And Then There Were None, recently held. Her letter is an eloquent plea to pro-lifers to support workers who are fleeing the abortion industry and suffering emotionally because of what they experienced.

She included some testimonies from the workers, including:

I can still hear the sound of babies' skulls being crushed.

Posted by orrinj at 3:42 PM


Lowe's replacing (some) humans with robots (Nicole Duignan, 10/28.14, Yahoo Finance)
If you plan to shop at Lowe's (LOW) Orchard Supply Hardware store in San Jose California next month, you might find your sales associate replaced by a five-foot tall, taking robot.

These robotic shopping assistants, or OSHbots, will be the first of their kind in the country. They will greet customers, ask them if they need help and show them through the store to the customers' desired products. The robot will also feature screens on its front and back which will display ads for products as well as allow customers the option to videoconference with an in-store sales associate.

Yahoo Finance Editor-in-Chief Aaron Task said it is "amazing" technology, but also points out the implications of adding OSHbots to stores. "The downside is you don't need a human begin on the floor of your store now if you can do this..." and while there will still be a person in the store assisting via video conference, this means "one human being with a job but there are a lot of human beings who used to be on the floor and now don't have jobs."

Mr. Task apparently hasn't needed help from a salesman lately.

Posted by orrinj at 3:40 PM


To Improve a Memory, Consider Chocolate (PAM BELLUCK, OCT. 26, 2014, NY Times)

Science edged closer on Sunday to showing that an antioxidant in chocolate appears to improve some memory skills that people lose with age.

In a small study in the journal Nature Neuroscience, healthy people, ages 50 to 69, who drank a mixture high in antioxidants called cocoa flavanols for three months performed better on a memory test than people who drank a low-flavanol mixture.

On average, the improvement of high-flavanol drinkers meant they performed like people two to three decades younger on the study's memory task, said Dr. Scott A. Small, a neurologist at Columbia University Medical Center and the study's senior author. They performed about 25 percent better than the low-flavanol group.

Posted by orrinj at 3:36 PM


$16 million in ads later, not much has changed in Walker-Burke race (Craig Gilbert, 10/27/14, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

Roughly $16 million has been spent in the Wisconsin governor's race on broadcast TV ads, most of them attacking the other side's candidate. 

But if those ads are changing minds, it's awfully hard to tell.

Wisconsin voters have remained almost perfectly divided over Gov. Scott Walker and Mary Burke for months, no matter what has happened in the race, no matter what has happened in the state, no matter what has happened in the world, no matter what the campaigns have said or done. [...]

Burke and her allies have spent $8.2 million on broadcast TV, Walker and his allies $7.4 million, according to the Center for Public Integrity. That has produced a far more level playing field than the 2012 recall fight when Walker dramatically outspent his opposition.

"It's evidence the campaigns have been pretty balanced, with neither one putting through an argument that has really penetrated outside their base and beyond a majority," says Charles Franklin, who conducts the Marquette University Law School Poll.

Of those $16 million in ads, about three-quarters have contained attacks on the other side's candidate.

Yet Walker's "negatives" -- the share of voters who view him unfavorably -- have scarcely budged all year. That number has been firmly stuck at 47% or 48% in six of the seven polls Marquette has taken since March.

An incumbent not being able to walk over a Democratic opponent this year is embarrassing.

Posted by orrinj at 3:18 PM


GM's new Volt to be faster, more efficient (Peter Valdes-Dapena, October 28, 2014, CNNMoney)

General Motors' second-generation Volt will have more electric range, better performance and, GM promises, it will be even more enjoyable to drive.

"When we talk to our [Volt] customers, fuel savings isn't the first thing that comes out of their mouth," Larry Nitz, General Motors' executive vice president for vehicle electrification, told CNNMoney. "What comes out of their mouth is 'fun to drive.'"

Posted by orrinj at 3:16 PM


GOP challenger gaining in the Senate race everyone is ignoring (Teresa Mull, 10/28/14, The Week)

A new poll by Republican pollster Vox Populi shows Democratic incumbent Senator Tom Udall (Colorado Senator Mark Udall's cousin) leading Republican challenger Allen Weh by just four points (47-43), making the New Mexico Senate race, which was expected to be an easy win for Udall, suddenly relevant.

Posted by orrinj at 1:14 PM


Lots of Americans don't trust either party to do much of anything. They are voting for Republicans. (Philip Bump, October 28, 2014, Washington Post)
If you ask American adults which party they trust more to handle the country's problems, Democrats do better by a two-point margin. (Which is within the margin of error.) Narrow that down to registered voters, and it's even, 39 percent to 39 percent, with 3 percent saying "both" and 13 percent saying "neither." Narrow that down again to people likely to vote next Tuesday, and RNC Chairman Reince Priebus starts doing a little jig: 42 percent of likely voters trust the Republicans more, while 37 percent trust the Democrats.

Go another level deeper, and that jig turns into the Macarena, or whatever dance comes naturally to older dudes at wedding receptions. (Editor's note: As an "older dude," I am a big fan of the Electric Slide.) Of the 13 percent of likely voters who don't trust either political party, more than half plan to vote Republican.

The Shocking Number in ABC/WaPo Final Survey (Ed Kilgore, 10/28/14, Washington Monthly)

So today's buzzkill for progressives was the (presumably) final ABC/WaPo national survey prior to next Tuesday's elections, which shows "the fundamentals" driving a big Republican advantage: [...]

[T]he most shocking finding is this one:

When asked whether they will vote for the Democrat or the Republican for the House in their districts, 50 percent of likely voters say Republican and 44 percent say Democrat. Among the larger universe of registered voters, Democrats have an edge -- 47 percent to 44 percent. That swing of nine points between registered and likely voters is identical to the difference recorded at this point in 2010.

Posted by orrinj at 1:08 PM


Large rise in Palestinian support for armed struggle against Israel (AVI ISSACHAROFF, October 28, 2014, Times of Israel)

Some 57 percent of those polled claimed that Hamas was victorious -- a strong majority, albeit far short of the 70% who thought Hamas had won after 2012's Operation Pillar of Defense in Gaza. Only 8% thought that Israel had won.

Some 53% claimed the recent war achieved the interests of the Palestinian people, while a little more than 21% said that the war damaged those interests.

At the same time Fatah, Hamas's rival, has weakened while Hamas is getting stronger. Before the conflict began, 41.7% of Palestinians said they trusted Fatah but by the end of the fighting that percentage had slipped to 35.1. On the eve of the war nearly 17% said Hamas was the organization they believed in most, while in the current survey 26% said they believed in Hamas.

Support for the military struggle against Israel rose dramatically -- from 31.5% on the eve of Israel's Operation Protective Edge, launched in early July, to 42.7% in the new survey.

Posted by orrinj at 1:00 PM


Return of P: Is Texas Really Ready for Another George Bush? (Tim Murphy, Oct. 28, 2014, Mother Jones)

[B]ush accepts that Earth is warming, has called for Texas to take action against Gulf Coast erosion, and has even spoken of wanting to reduce CO2 emissions (though he's punted on whether CO2 has any impact on climate change). He has also said the United States should move away from coal, while worrying that it would hurt "the Adirondacks."

But he's been cautious about the blowback that would come from the base if he fully accepted scientific fact. In August, when a quote published by the Texas Tribune appeared to some to capture Bush as having said that climate change "keeps me up at night," his campaign pushed back furiously, explaining that climate change doesn't keep him up at night--hurricanes do. (And, so apparently, does being perceived as a moderate.)

Bush does believe Texas should have a plan for rising sea levels, but he hasn't said why they're rising. "There has been changes over the course of time," he explained in an hourlong public conversation with the Tribune's Evan Smith in September, where Bush offered up the fullest available probing of what he actually stands for. "There's debate over whether or not it's anthropogenic," he told Smith. "It's not my place as an aspiring public servant because I am by no means a scientist or an engineer."

And on immigration, Bush, who went to Mexico during the 2004 campaign to rally expatriate American voters, has gone out on a limb that Republican candidates rarely return from. He's called for his party to "return to George W." and embrace giving legal status to certain undocumented residents while providing in-state college tuition for undocumented alumni of Texas high schools.

Yes, Texas Could Turn Blue (John B. JudisSuccess in mobil, 10/28/14, New Republic)

Success in mobilizing the Hispanic vote also depends on nominating candidates in Texas (and also nationally) who can appeal to these voters. According to several Democrats I talked to, Davis hasn't "connected" to these voters. In the primaries, she even lost several small counties to a token Hispanic opponent. She is principally known in the state for her stand on behalf of abortion rights--whereas many of Texas's Hispanics oppose abortion. Democrats urged San Antonio's former mayor Julian Castro, now the secretary of Housing and Urban Development, to run, but he declined, probably one San Antonio political leader speculated, because he feared certain defeat.

Finally, success in increasing Hispanic support for Democrats will depend on what Republicans in Texas and nationally do. In Texas, Republican governors have steered clear of the harsh rhetoric about "illegal aliens" that proliferates among many other Republicans. Abbott boasts a Latina wife. As a result, Texas Republican candidates for state office have gotten about 40 percent of the Hispanic vote, which has virtually assured their victory. This year, the Hispanic Bush, George P. Bush, is currently running for Land Commissioner, and if he becomes a leader of party, could keep many Hispanics voting for Republicans in state races.

Posted by orrinj at 12:56 PM


Sweden's key interest rate drops to zero (The Local, 28 Oct 2014)

Sweden's Riksbank has announced that it is dropping its benchmark interest rate from 0.25 percent to zero, a record low for the country.

The Riksbank said on Tuesday that while the Swedish economy is "relatively strong" and economic activity is continuing to improve, inflation is currently too low. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:54 PM

THE KIDS HAVE A SAYING (self-reference alert)...

Summer-Haters Get Happy as Days Get Shorter (SUE SHELLENBARGER,  Oct. 27, 2014, WSJ)

Many people get the blues as winter sets in. They experience rolling back the clock to end daylight-saving time and commuting home in the dark as a downer.

Not so for Travis Hare. "I prefer colder temps and shorter days," says Mr. Hare, co-principal of a Washington, D.C., marketing and public-relations firm. The 34-year-old hikes in the snow, vacations in Iceland and regards a day at the beach as a hot, sweaty bore. "The only time I like things hot is when I'm having coffee--preferably when it's cold outside," he says. "People complain about snow, while I hope every potential flake turns into a blizzard."

A small, quiet minority of people actually cheer up and draw energy from the long, dark days of winter. 

...it's over 60, Daddy's cranky.

Posted by orrinj at 12:51 PM


The Endgame for Iran Nuclear Talks (Laura Rozen, 10/28/14, US News)

"In terms of completing the comprehensive deal by Nov. 24, I would say the probability is very near zero," Robert Einhorn, a nuclear expert who previously served on the US-Iran nuclear negotiating team, told an Arms Control Association conference on Oct. 20.

But Einhorn said he thought one option would be that there could be agreement reached on a "cluster" of key issues (such as enrichment capacity, modifications to the unfinished Arak research reactor, etc.) reached by the Nov. 24 deadline that would justify a few more months to finalize the remaining technical details.

If the parties "reached agreement on a cluster of these issues, they would have a strong case to justify taking several more months," Einhorn said. "That may or may not be possible."

Other experts said US officials had suggested that they believe they genuinely have a shot at getting the whole thing done by Nov. 24.

"They are definitely in a new phase," one expert, speaking not for attribution, told Al-Monitor, referring to the US negotiating team. "The new phase is preparing the ground for the deal."

"Can they get a comprehensive agreement with the technical appendices" by the deadline? the expert said. "Yes, they can."

Posted by orrinj at 12:48 PM


Poll: Obamacare Is Not a Big Issue With Midterm Voters (DREW ALTMAN, 10/18/14, WSJ)

Last fall, with the HealthCare.gov rollout making headlines, it was reasonable to think the Affordable Care Act might be a big issue in the midterms. But a year later, with implementation moving much more smoothly, the health-care law does not appear to be much of a vote-mover. When asked to choose the most important issue to their vote in the upcoming midterm election, just 8% of registered voters picked the health-care law in October Kaiser Family Foundation polling. That put the ACA behind the economy (16%) and dissatisfaction with government (12%); as an issue it ranked on par with education (10%), the situation in Iraq and Syria (9%), and immigration (6%). 

October 27, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:45 PM


Upper Valley Is Realistic on Ebola Scare (Rob Wolfe, 10/27/14, Valley News)

Upper Valley residents on Sunday took a stoic outlook on preparations from local health authorities for fighting Ebola, which in the last week has spread to New York City and spurred national debate on how best to balance health safety measures with aid to disease-stricken West Africa.

"Panic is not a response," said Brian Tompkins, a stonemason from Norwich, of ideas like banning travel from West African countries to the United States. "It's unreasonable."

This was the story above the fold this morning.

Posted by orrinj at 6:56 PM


Your Retirement May Include a Robot Helper : As industrial robots become more capable, they could start helping out around the home. (Will Knight, October 27, 2014, MIT Technology Review)

As robots become safer, smarter, and more capable, robotics companies are eyeing elder care as a huge potential market. A rapidly expanding elderly population could also necessitate other new forms of home-assistance technology.

"God help us if we don't figure it out," Colin Angle, CEO of Roomba maker iRobot, said during RoboBusiness, a robotics conference held in Boston this month. "Because over the next 20 years the ratio of people over the age of 65 to the number of people under 65 is going to change rather dramatically."

Estimates from the United Nations suggest the population over 65 worldwide will increase 181 percent between 2010 and 2050, compared to a 33 percent increase in people aged 15 to 65. That shift will create a large incentive to automate at least some assistive work.

Some robots are already lending a mechanical hand. As part of an E.U.-funded research project, senior citizens in Italy, Spain, and Sweden have had their homes equipped with sensors to track their activity and health. Mobile telepresence robots--a wheeled videoconferencing system that can be piloted remotely--let relatives and doctors check in with them. Some nursing homes in Japan, Europe, and the U.S. give lonely residents a robotic seal called Paro as a companion. It responds to petting by cooing and purring and will cry if dropped or ignored.

As such machines become more sophisticated, robot helpers could assist people with everyday household chores and with dressing and bathing. Eventually robots may interact far more intelligently as entertainment or company.

In the terrific Swedish series, Akta Manniskor (Real Humans), the grandfather's best friend is his robot helper.  But, in one of the delicious twists that characterizes the series, it is the hubot that, essentially, gets Alzheimer's.
Posted by orrinj at 6:52 PM


The Celebration of Reformation Sunday (Rev Robert Lyon, 10/25/14, The Fountain Pen)

Many Protestant churches will be observing 26 October as Reformation Sunday. Almost 600 years ago, on the eve of All Saints (that's Hallowe'en) 31 October 1517, tradition says the Reverend Dr Martin Luther posted on the door of All Saints' Church in Wittenburg, Germany a list of 95 "Theses" (points for debate) in which he objected to the fact that Pope Leo X was promoting a vastly expanded sale of indulgences. An indulgence was a pardon by which you were supposed to be able to buy someone's soul out of purgatory. Those indulgences were not just bad theology; they were also a fraud, because their real purpose was to raise money for the construction of St Peter's Basilica in Rome.

Luther posted his 95 Theses because it was not only unfair to have German peasants paying for Italian luxury, but it was also giving those German peasants a wrong-headed notion of salvation. Within months, Luther's Theses had been translated and circulated throughout Europe, and within a decade Luther found himself organizing a protesting or "protestant" Church. A "reformed" Church.

When a movement "goes viral" like that, you can be sure there's some compelling idea driving it. The compelling idea in this case was Luther's rediscovery of the Biblical concept of "Justification by Faith". That concept says we are justified before God because of our faith in Jesus, not because of any good we have done or any merit we have achieved. [...]

As a monk, Luther could never shake a sense of spiritual despair. The abbot of the monastery decided that Luther was too introspective and needed an academic challenge. So Luther earned a doctorate in theology and became professor of Bible at the University of Wittenburg. It was while teaching a course on Paul's letter to the Romans that Luther came to understand Paul's concept of Justification by Faith.

Luther already knew the bad news: "By the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified in [God's] sight, for by the law [comes] the knowledge of sin" (Romans 3:20). The law is an effective teacher. It teaches us what we ought to do, but it also reminds us that we don't do it. "I have," writes Paul, "a desire to do what is right, but I cannot fulfill it" (Romans 7:18). That's a recipe for spiritual despair. Despair at seeing a goal that you want to achieve, that you think you ought to be able to achieve, and coming to realize that you can't achieve it.

If you've ever had misgivings about your own score at doing right, you can imagine how Luther must have felt when he finally understood the good news: "But now ... apart from the law ... the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe ... they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,whom God put forward as an expiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he has passed over former sins" (Romans 3:21-25).

Luther saw that what he had to do was not to "be good enough" but to trust that Jesus (who really was "good enough") had made a "full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice" for Luther's sins and everyone else's. And Luther saw that that if he so believed, God would credit him with nothing less than the goodness of Christ. That is the doctrine of Justification by Faith, whose rediscovery we celebrate on Reformation Sunday.

Posted by orrinj at 6:36 PM


Roy Hargrove On Piano Jazz (marian mcpartland's piano jazz, Winter 1998, NPR)

Grammy-winning trumpeter Roy Hargrove has played with jazz greats such as Dizzy Gillespie, Mulgrew Miller and Bobby Watson. His blazing sound, depth of feeling and joy in playing was evident even from a young age, when he was discovered by Wynton Marsalis at a high-school jazz clinic.On this episode of Piano Jazz from 1998, Hargrove joins host Marian McPartland for "I Wish I Knew," and McPartland performs her original "Threnody."Originally broadcast in the winter of 1998.


"There'll Never Be Another You" (Warren, Gordon)
"Chameleon" (Hancock, Jackson)
"I Remember Clifford" (Johnson, DePaul, Raye)
"I Remember April" (Ellington, Mills, Irving)
"Threnody" (McPartland)
"Never Let Me Go" (Livingston, Evans)
"Portrait Of Roy Hargrove" (McPartland)
"End Of A Love Affair" (Redding)
"I Wish I Knew" (Warren, Mack)
"Free Piece" (McPartland, Hargrove)
"Ballad For The Children" (Hargrove)
"You And The Night And The Music" (Dietz, Schwartz)

Posted by orrinj at 6:34 PM


I, Robot - you, an unsuspecting patient (Norman Swan, 10/27/14, Cosmos)

Take the surgical robots which, using minimally invasive techniques, remove prostates, fix damaged heart valves, operate on the brain and remove bowel cancers. This list grows by the week. The robot is manipulated by a surgeon who is not even scrubbed up and could be across the world from the operating theatre. 

It sounds great, and there's high demand from patients who believe robot surgery must be safer and more effective. True, there is evidence that these patients bleed less, have smaller incisions and go home sooner. But...

Posted by orrinj at 6:29 PM


Why the GOP must pass a real ObamaCare replacement after it wins the Senate (Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, 10/27/14, The Week)

[I]t's now time for real conservatives inside the GOP to take a stand not just against something, but for something.

Conservative health-care scholar Jim Capretta actually has such a proposal, and it's the best one that can pass Congress. It increases coverage while moving the U.S. closer to a free market in health care and helping to reduce costs. Here are the basics:

[Capretta] calls for an ObamaCare replacement that would rely on a decentralized, market-oriented approach to the health-care system; offer tax credits for people outside the employer system achieved with minimal disruption of employer coverage; guarantee continuous coverage protection for all Americans; and grant states significant flexibility to meet the needs of their most vulnerable citizens... [It] would expand coverage by as much as ObamaCare while spending far less. [YG Network]

You can't just be against something. You have to be for something, too. And to set the groundwork for the next administration, it's now time for conservatives take a stand not just against ObamaCare, but for a sound conservative alternative.

...just default everyone into a catastrophic/HSA plan, but allow them to use a credit for as much as that would cost towards any alternative plan they, or their employers, choose to pay the difference on.

Posted by orrinj at 6:22 PM


The Defense of Marriage Isn't Over (RYAN T. ANDERSON, 10/27/14, Crisis)

Good laws that reflect the truth about marriage, frequently passed with overwhelming democratic support, have been struck down by judges without any compelling argument that they are unconstitutional.

We should recognize this for what it is: Dozens of minor acts of judicial activism, rather than one major one.

If this is the case, where do we go from here? What should we do to continue defending marriage?

Marriage is too important to allow unelected judges to redefine it without a fight. Even if the umpires are colluding with the other team, that's no reason to allow them an unopposed victory. Even if many of the courts of law are biased, we can still win in some of them--indeed, many who favor redefining marriage think the Sixth Circuit Court will uphold Ohio and Michigan's marriage laws, and the battle continues in other circuits, including the Fifth Circuit, which will review Texas and Louisiana's laws (a federal judge recently upheld Louisiana's law). And the composition of the Supreme Court might well change for the better before the Court ends up actually deciding the marriage question.

We should use these legal battles as opportunities to make the case in the court of public opinion. Each legal proceeding presents an opportunity to educate our fellow citizens on how constitutional self-government works, and to explain what marriage is.

Nothing in these legal opinions changes the actual reality of what marriage is or why it matters--it simply codifies a faulty vision of marriage in law and thus makes it harder for future generations to understand and live out the truth about marriage.

Yes, laws that distort the nature of marriage will have an effect on people's lives, but conservatives have never thought that law or government is the primary vehicle for social and cultural transformation. Even with bad laws about marriage, we still have a duty to speak the truth and encourage our neighbors to live out the truth.

Reading Rick Perlstein's account of the hellish 1970's--The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan--offers a reminder that most of public and all of elite opinion thought that acquiescence in the abortion fight was the new norm and that arguing against it, nearly by itself, was enough to preclude Ronald Reagan ever being elected president.

Posted by orrinj at 6:19 PM


Who Owns Stocks? It's Not Just the Rich (JOSH ZUMBRUN, 10/27/14, WSJ)

Among the middle 20% of families, which earn an average of $49,600, almost half own some stocks, according to the Federal Reserve's Survey of Consumer Finances, one of the best available sources of wealth data. Among those earning in the 60th-80th percentile, or an average of about $80,000, almost 70% own stocks.

One of the key reasons that investors favor stocks is that, over the long run, the asset has historically performed very well. Thus it's no surprise that stock wealth grows with age. Even middle-income families who sock away some savings into the market over the course of their careers can have a substantial amount of stock wealth by the time they're near retirement.

Posted by orrinj at 6:14 PM


Placebo Treatment May Quiet Kids' Cough (Tara Haelle, Oct. 27, 2014, HealthDay News) 

Giving young children agave nectar or a placebo treatment of flavored, colored water both appear to help reduce cough symptoms at night more than not giving any treatment, according to a new study.

"Many pediatricians suggest doing nothing for cough and cold symptoms other than maintaining hydration and perhaps giving acetaminophen or ibuprofen," said lead researcher Dr. Ian Paul, chief of the Division of Academic General Pediatrics at Penn State College of Medicine in Hershey, Pa.

"It is possible that giving a sweet liquid 'placebo' is preferred for families and children than doing nothing or, even worse, taking an unnecessary antibiotic," he said, adding that this is a discussion families should have with their providers.

...cure lactose and gluten intolerance.

Posted by orrinj at 5:45 PM


Scott Walker says he's being outspent. That's not entirely true. (Reid Wilson, October 27, 2014, Washington Post)

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) is not happy with the Republican Governors Association, or with its chairman, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R). In recent weeks, Walker has repeatedly complained that the outside group is leaving him vulnerable to an influx of Democratic attacks in one of the closest elections in the country.

The trouble is, Walker isn't being outspent at all.

This is not a guy who can run for president.

Posted by orrinj at 4:43 PM


Poll shows LePage has a new lead (STEVE MISTLER, 10/27/14, pressherald.com)

Republican Gov. Paul LePage has opened a lead over Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud in the closing weeks of the gubernatorial campaign, according to a Maine Sunday Telegram/Portland Press Herald poll. The findings mark a significant shift from previous polls showing both candidates running in a virtual dead heat.

LePage leads Michaud 45 percent to 35 percent, with independent Eliot Cutler at 16 percent and 4 percent undecided, according to the poll of 639 likely voters conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center. 

...and the Michaud ones spend thirty seconds trying to explain that the only way to beat the Governor is to forake Cutler and vote Michaud.  They don't have time to explain either why you should vote against the Governor nor why you should vote for Mr. Michaud.  They're ads made by insiders, not for voters.

Posted by orrinj at 4:41 PM


Paying thousands before health insurance even kicks in (Tami Luhby, October 27, 2014, CNNMoney)

Got health insurance at work? You may still have to shell out thousands of dollars before it kicks in.

That's because more employers are offering consumer-directed health plans, which usually come with high deductibles. In 2015, 81% of large employers will offer at least one of these plans, up from 63% five years earlier.

Consumer-directed plans typically carry deductibles of $1,500 for individual coverage, more than three times higher than traditional policies, according to the National Business Group on Health.
And these plans will be the only choice for a growing number of workers.

If you don't pay for your own medicine you don't care what you pay for medicine.

Posted by orrinj at 4:37 PM


Ready for Jeb? (Tom Bevan, October 27, 2014, RCP)

It is shaping up to be the most open nomination race either party has seen in modern political history -- and perhaps ever for the Republicans. Looking at the latest polls, five potential candidates currently leading the pack are separated by less than two percentage points: Rand Paul (11.8 percent), Jeb Bush (11.6 percent), Mike Huckabee (11.3 percent), Chris Christie (10.6 percent), and Paul Ryan (10.0 percent). Another six candidates are currently being polled, with a couple of others, such as John Kasich and Mike Pence, who are not yet being included in the horse race polls but who could easily be legitimate contenders.

The GOP field in 2016 will not only have quantity but quality. This will not be another case, as the 2012 race was occasionally described, of Mitt Romney and the seven dwarves. The GOP will likely include a number of candidates, Jeb Bush among them, with significant executive experience and records of accomplishment.

Even if we weren't hierarchical and religious, we do nominate governors when we want to win and he's the most qualified. Game...Set...Match.

Posted by orrinj at 4:35 PM


Tunisian Islamists concede election defeat to secular party (TAREK AMARA AND PATRICK MARKEY, Oct 27, 2014, Reuters)

Tunisia's Ennahda party, the first Islamist movement to secure power after the 2011 "Arab Spring" revolts, conceded defeat on Monday in elections that are set to make its main secular rival the strongest force in parliament. [...]

"We have accepted this result, and congratulate the winner Nidaa Tounes," the official, Lotfi Zitoun, told Reuters. [...]

Ennahda, which espouses a pragmatic form of political Islam, won Tunisia's first free election in 2011 after Ben Ali fled protests against corruption and repression, and went into exile in Saudi Arabia.

The party formed a coalition government with two secular partners but had to stand aside in the crisis that erupted over the murder of two opposition leaders by Islamist militants.

During campaigning Ennahda cast itself as a party that learned from its mistakes, but Nidaa Tounes appeared to have capitalized on criticism that it had mismanaged the economy and had been lax in tackling hardline Islamists.

Posted by orrinj at 4:32 PM


Charlie Baker for governor (The Boston Globe, OCTOBER 26, 2014)

Effective activist government isn't built on good intentions. To provide consistently good results, especially for the state's most vulnerable and troubled residents, agencies need to focus on outcomes, learn from their errors, and preserve and replicate approaches that succeed. Baker, a former health care executive, has made a career of doing just that. During this campaign, he has focused principally on making state government work better. The emphasis is warranted. And in that spirit, the Globe endorses Charlie Baker for governor.

October 26, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 PM


On Campaign Road, Uneasy Democrats Show Obama Their Tail Lights (JONATHAN MARTIN and JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, OCT. 25, 2014, NY Times)

"If he gets blamed for some of the losses, I hope he also gets credit for developing some of the get-out-the-vote apparatus that could help save some of these seats," said David Axelrod, a political adviser to Mr. Obama.

The rift represents a larger dispute about the party's future going into the 2016 presidential race. It pits strategists who believe Democrats must carve out an identity independent from Mr. Obama to win over centrist voters against those who say turning out the president's coalition is the new formula for success.

For now, though, the pre-emptive recriminations have begun. Tensions are growing between the White House and the party's congressional leaders. Both sides are reluctant to air the dispute publicly, especially a week before the balloting, but some are acknowledging it exists.

"We have disagreements with the White House, but we also have a lot of things we agree on," said David Krone, chief of staff for the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada.

Democrats were angered when Mr. Obama said in an Oct. 2 speech in Illinois that his economic policies were on the ballot, and they were stunned last week when he said on Al Sharpton's radio show that Democratic candidates who have done so much to distance themselves from him "are all folks who vote with me."

Paul Begala, a Democratic strategist, said he was puzzled over how a president who so appreciates the power of words could have been so careless.

...but there are still people who think he's articulate and good at politics?

Posted by orrinj at 6:17 PM


New Office Flashpoint: Who Gets the Conference Room? (SUE SHELLENBARGER, Oct. 15, 2014, WSJ)

A mundane fixture of office life--the conference room--has become a flash point for tension and conflict.

Meetings are multiplying while private office space shrinks. Booking systems break down under dueling meetings. Employees reserve conference rooms far in advance--just in case they need them. Colleagues fume when a previous meeting drags on, leaving them standing in the hallway.

David Lewis sees the problem firsthand at employers he visits as a human-resources consultant. He and a client meeting to discuss sensitive personnel issues several months ago were exiled to Starbucks, after a conference room booked by his client was taken over by senior executives. Mr. Lewis and the client had to move again, to another coffee shop, when some of her co-workers arrived at Starbucks to hold a meeting of their own, says Mr. Lewis, president and chief executive of OperationsInc, Norwalk, Conn. "I had enough coffee to last a week just from that one meeting."

He was irritated again recently when a meeting at another client's offices went long, leaving his client and him "standing out in the hall like second-class citizens" for 15 minutes. 

...they'd have fewer and end them all in 15 minutes.  Meetings are alternatives to work.

Posted by orrinj at 6:03 PM


George P. Bush says father Jeb Bush is 'seriously considering' 2016 run (Hunter Schwarz October 26, 2014, Washington Post)

"I think it's more than likely that he's giving this serious thought in moving forward ... that he'll run," he said.

Bush also said the family "would be behind [Jeb Bush] 100 percent if he decides to" run.

If a GOP White House and Hill get the benefits of the Peace Dividend politics will return to the pre-Depression norm.

Posted by orrinj at 5:59 PM

60 in '14:

Senate poll finds dismal news for Democratic candidates (Jon Terbush, 10/26/14, The Week)

In Colorado, Sen. Mark Udall (D) trails Republican challenger Cory Gardner 46 percent to 45 percent among likely voters. That's a huge swing from one month ago when Udall led 48 percent to 42 percent. Similarly, in North Carolina, Sen. Kay Hagan's (D) four-point lead from earlier this month is gone, and she's now tied with GOP challenger Thom Tillis.

Meanwhile, Democrats Bruce Braley and Sen. Mark Pryor (Ark.) trail their Republican opponents in Iowa and Arkansas, respectively. And in Kansas, independent Greg Orman, whom Democrats are hoping will pick off Sen. Pat Roberts (R) and then caucus with them, has just a one-point lead despite posting a double-digit edge earlier this month.

Meanwhile, Jeanne Shaheen is behaving so erratically here, it's hard to believe her internal polling doesn't show she could lose to Scott Brown.

Posted by orrinj at 5:52 PM


Pro-Europe parties secure big election win in Ukraine: exit poll (RICHARD BALMFORTH AND NATALIA ZINETS, Oct 26, 2014, Reuters) 

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko hailed a sweeping victory for pro-Europe parties in an election on Sunday, saying the vote showed people backed his plan to end a separatist conflict, his pro-Western course and democratic reforms. [...]

The result, confirmed by other exit polls, opened up the possibility of Poroshenko, a 49-year-old confectionery magnate, continuing to work in tandem with Yatseniuk, with the latter staying as prime minister to handle sensitive talks with the West on aid for the war-shattered economy.

The People's Front of Yatseniuk, a hawk in dealings with Russia who is liked in the West for his commitment to deep reforms and stewardship of the economy, took just over 21 percent of the vote, according to the exit poll, with a third pro-Europe party from western Ukraine in third place.

Posted by orrinj at 4:30 PM


For the first time in 35 years Boeing sells aircraft parts to Iran (AsiaNews, 10/26/14) 

For the first time in 35 years, Boeing has sold aircraft components to Iran. Breaking the news, the industry itself stated that it has sold  "aircraft manuals, drawings, and navigation charts and data" to Iran Air.

Posted by orrinj at 8:39 AM


Conservative Postmodernism, Postmodern Conservatism (Peter Augustine Lawler, Fall 2002, Intercollegiate Review)

Astute thinkers from Hegel onward have claimed that we live at the end of the modern world. That does not mean the modern world is about to disappear: the world, in truth, is more modern than ever. So we must contest Hegel's assertion that the modern world is the end, the fulfillment, of history. The longings of human beings have neither been satisfied nor have they disappeared. Modern strivings continue to be fueled by a progressively more restless and anxious human discontent. But if the modern world were to be succeeded by another--as it eventually will be--human beings would continue to be human, beings with souls or capabilities and longings not shared by, and higher, than those of other animals.

What has distinguished the modern world, above all, is a particular definition of what a human being is. That definition does not describe a real or complete human being. It was not even meant to be completely true, but mainly to be useful as a fiction in the pursuit of unprecedented freedom, justice, and prosperity. Modern thought has held that a human being is an individual, and the modern individual is an abstraction, an invention of the human mind. That individual is made more free from social and political constraints, and less directed toward duty and goodness by God and nature, than a real human being ever could be. The modern individual is distinguished from the political animals--the citizens, statesmen, and philosophers--described by the Greek and Roman philosophers, and from the social, familial creatures described by Christian theologians. The modern individual is liberated from the philosopher's duty to know the truth about nature, from the citizen's selfless devotion to his country, from the creature's love and fear of God, and even from the loving responsibilities that are inseparable from family life. Conservatives today oppose liberal individualism both because its understanding of the human being is untrue and because that definition erodes all that is good about distinctively human existence.

The modern world has now ended only in the sense that we have now seen enough of it to judge it. Although we have reason to be grateful for the wealth, health, freedom, and power that modern achievements have given us, we know that the individual's pursuits of security and happiness will remain always pursuits--and not possessions. So even as the modern world continues to develop, we can be free of its characteristic delusion, its utopianism. We can speak of its strengths and its limitations from a perspective "outside" modernity, and that perspective is the foundation of conservatism today. Conservatives can be (perhaps the only) genuinely postmodern thinkers. The reason we can see beyond the modern world is that its intention to transform human nature has failed. Its project of transforming the human person into the autonomous individual was and remains unrealistic; we can now see the limits of being an individual because we remain more than individuals. The world created by modern individuals to make themselves fully at home turns out to have made human beings less at home than ever.

Conservative thought today is authentic postmodernism, but it is, obviously, not postmodernism as it is usually understood. Most allegedly postmodern thought emphasizes the arbitrary character of all human authority, the freedom of each human being from all standards but his own will or creativity, and the death not only of God but of nature. These allegedly postmodern characteristics are really hypermodern; they aim to "deconstruct" as incoherent and so incredible any residual modern faith in reason or nature. They shout that everything modern--in fact, everything human--is nothing but a construction.

Postmodernists in the usual sense often do well in exposing liberal hypocrisy, but they can only do so in the name of completing the modern project of liberating the individual's subjective or willful and whimsical perspective from all external constraints. Conservative postmodernism, by acknowledging and affirming as good what we can really know about our natural possibilities and limitations, is radically opposed to liberated postmodernism--and to the modern premises it radicalizes.

I'm currently reading Mr. Lawler's newest collection, Allergic to Crazy: Quick Thoughts on Politics, Education, and Culture, Rightly Understood, which is, typically, terrific. We've said before that you could take away all the other regular essayists going and if you left us him, Mark Steyn, Spengler, Andrew Ferguson, Terry Teachout and Joseph Epstein that would be sufficient.   Indeed, we've linked to several of the pieces contained herein and read nearly all before.

But one frustration has been the entire discussion of "Postmodern Conservatism," the main idea he's organized his writing around and the title of the blog he's carried from First Things on to National Review.   The definition above covers the bases, but lacks a certain eloquence and brevity.  The definition that accompanies the webite is a bit elliptical:

Postmodern conservatism is nothing but 21st century realism. As Walker Percy and Alexandre Solzhenitsyn explained, the genuinely postmodern challenge is to integrate what's true about premodern, or classical, and Christian thought with what's true about modern thought, including the modern view of freedom and the achievements of modern technology. It's also, as Percy put it, to put back together what's true about Anglo-American empiricism and European existentialism with the Christian discovery that logos is irreducibly personal in mind.

One would like to have a working definition and I think I've found the basis for one in, of all places, a review of True Grit:

Postmodernists...say that people have narratives by which they make sense of the world, but there's no objective way of privileging one narrative over another.  

Postmodern Conservatism then is simply the assertion that, while it is accurate to say that we make sense of the world by narratives, one narrative is objectively worthy of privilege over the others. 

Of course, I've repeatedly argued that this is actually the basis of "Premodern" philosophy in the Anglosphere and that the reason we of the English-speaking world so easily avoided the ideological excesses of the Age of Reason, which tore apart continental Europe and thence the Third World, is that we never fell into the trap of caring much that the one story could not be proven true rationally.  In the words of David Hume, after he has demonstrated logically that there is no basis for believing anything to be true:

But what have I here said, that reflections very refin'd and metaphysical have little or no influence upon us? This opinion I can scarce forbear retracting, and condemning from my present feeling and experience. The intense view of these manifold contradictions and imperfections in human reason has so wrought upon me, and heated my brain, that I am ready to reject all belief and reasoning, and can look upon no opinion even as more probable or likely than another. Where am I, or what? From what causes do I derive my existence, and to what condition shall I return? Whose favour shall I court, and whose anger must I dread? What beings surround me? and on whom have I any influence, or who have any influence on me? I am confounded with all these questions, and begin to fancy myself in the most deplorable condition imaginable, inviron'd with the deepest darkness, and utterly depriv'd of the use of every member and faculty.

Most fortunately it happens, that since reason is incapable of dispelling these clouds, nature herself suffices to that purpose, and cures me of this philosophical melancholy and delirium, either by relaxing this bent of mind, or by some avocation, and lively impression of my senses, which obliterate all these chimeras. I dine, I play a game of backgammon, I converse, and am merry with my friends; and when after three or four hours' amusement, I wou'd return to these speculations, they appear so cold, and strain'd, and ridiculous, that I cannot find in my heart to enter into them any farther.

We, uniquely, accept that while the application of pure Reason does not justify our Judeo-Christian understanding of the world, neither can it justify a Rational understanding of the world.  And this recognition that Reason refutes itself liberates us from applying it to our belief system, our narrative (the One Story).  And if no narrative is supported by Reason then we are free to choose a different standard to choose among the narratives and have chosen to retain our faith in the one that is the most aesthetically pleasing.  Given a range of stories Man could tell himself about himself and about existence, we adhere to the most beautiful narrative : that we are Created, that each individual matters to that Creator, that the Creator has set forth standards of behavior for enjoying His Creation that we are expected to follow, and that even though we have proved ourselves incapable of meeting those standards, He loves us still.  

Postmodern Conservatism is then Premodern Conservatism is then Conservatism. Or, as phrased by Russell Kirk, conservative thought is premised in the "[b]elief that a divine intent rules society as well as conscience, forging an eternal chain of right and duty which links great and obscure, living and dead."  It is the privileging of the Narrative.

The Power of Narrative (Jonah Goldberg, October 25, 2014, RCP)

There is an enormous amount of whining these days about our ideological debates. This gets the problem wrong. Ideological debates are fought over ideas, but politics is more often about competing stories, or, as the eggheads call them, "narratives."

Much has been written about the power of ideas. "The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood," John Maynard Keynes famously wrote. "Indeed, the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually slaves of some defunct economist." 

Victor Hugo even more famously declared, "There is one thing stronger than all the armies in the world, and that is an idea whose time has come."

Maybe so, but the only reason an idea's time ever arrives is that some story gives birth to it.

Of course, the two overlap. You may boil down your beliefs to a series of ideas, but odds are that every lesson you ever learned came at the end of a story, either one you lived or one you watched unfold. All great religions are taught to us as stories. Every great journalistic exposé came in the form of a story. We evolved to learn through stories. We may as well be called homo relator, or storytelling man.

Catholic Author Peter Kreeft: To Save Your Soul, You Must Opt Out of the "Culture of Death" : Boston College professor warns of eternal consequences of "going with the flow." (THOMAS KEENAN, 10/22/14, Aleteia)

"Non-Christians almost always have a different problem [than Protestants] with the Church," he said. "Its morality, especially its sexual morality. It is thought to be repressive, Puritanical, and impossibly idealistic. Here, too, the concept of the sacredness of something material is not understood. I think a serious study of the Theology of the Body by Pope John Paul II would be a powerful antidote to both misunderstandings."

Kreeft does not align himself with others of his profession.

"I try to build bridges between ordinary people and scholars and philosophers," he said. "Academia has always been a sort of scholarly ivory tower, but more so in modern times, with increasing specialization. In my own field, philosophy, I find that most 'great books' in philosophy were written for ordinary intelligent people, until the 20th century, when philosophers started to write for other philosophers. This is why they are ignored ... I think God must love ordinary people best--that's why He made so many of them."

Kreeft positions himself opposite most intellectuals on the general direction of American morality.

"Let's be very clear and candid," he said. "It's not an option to opt out of the culture of death, it's a necessity for survival of your soul. The simplest way to lose your soul is to go with the flow because the flow is naturally down. Only live fish can swim against the current. Dead ones just conform to it."

Kreeft identified abortion as the gravest moral evil that the "culture of death" promotes.

Secular society is no alternative to faith for Kreeft, either.

"I find it very significant that just about all the robustly Catholic students and teachers I know at BC are very happy and all the anti-Catholics are very unhappy and angry," he said. "Deep happiness is a winsome and unanswerable argument."

Posted by orrinj at 8:27 AM


Houthis enter main al Qaeda stronghold in central Yemen: tribal sources (Reuters, Oct 26, 2014)

The Houthis moved into al-Manasseh area in al-Bayda province under cover from Katyusha rocket fire from the Yemeni army and presidential guard. [...]

The Yemeni army had so far avoided clashing with the Houthis or to support them in their advance on al Qaeda strongholds. But President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi considers Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) as the main threat facing the country.

One tribal leader said the Houthis exploited old rivalries between two wings of one of the main tribes in the area, the Al al-Dhahab tribe, and managed to enter the area, which had long been the main stronghold of Ansar al-Sharia, the local wing of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

Houthi officials made no comment but group's television station said Houthi fighters and their allies have "reached the home of the leader of the criminal gangs" in al-Manasseh, referring to Ansar al-Sharia.

A U.S. drone on Friday struck al Qaeda targets in al-Manasseh killing at least three people, tribal sources said.

Posted by orrinj at 8:12 AM


Carmakers prepare to shift to hydrogen fuel cells (CHARLES FLEMING, 10/26/14, LA Times)

Concerned about slow sales of electric cars and plug-in hybrids, automakers are increasingly betting the future of green cars on hydrogen fuel cell technology.

Even Toyota Motor Corp., maker of the popular Prius gas-electric hybrid, will use hydrogen instead of batteries to power its next generation of green vehicles.

"Today, Toyota actually favors fuel cells over other zero-emission vehicles, like pure battery electric vehicles," said Craig Scott, the company's national manager of advanced technologies. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:08 AM


The post-Obama era has begun (Michael Cohen, 25 October 2014, The Observer)

[M]embers of his party are abandoning him. In the last several weeks, his former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, has obliquely criticised his foreign policy, while his former defence secretary, Leon Panetta, has been more direct in his ingratitude: he accused the president of demonstrating weakness because of his new-found reluctance to use American military force around the world.

On the campaign trail, it has become a game of political obfuscation for Democratic candidates when they are asked about Obama. In Kentucky, Senate challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes refuses to say whether she voted for the president and can barely find it in herself to say a good word about him. Kay Hagan, senator for North Carolina, could come up with only a single example of the president's strong leadership (the cleanup of the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico, of all things), and in Alaska, when asked if he'd voted for the titular head of his party, senator Mark Begich said that he had - but that it didn't matter since the president was "not relevant". And these are Obama's political allies.

But the distancing goes beyond politics. Democrats are walking away from Obama's accomplishments - and none more so than his signature achievement, Obamacare. Grimes blasts the incoherent position of her opponent, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, who wants to repeal the policy "root and branch" while keeping the popular healthcare exchange in Kentucky that is a result of, and sustained by, Obamacare. But that doesn't mean she is vigorously defending the law. While other Democrats have spoken positively about some aspects of Obamacare, few are running on the issue, or trumpeting the good that it is already doing.

In a year in which the biggest challenge facing Democrats is getting their voters to the polls, this is a strategy that seems perversely oriented to alienate core Democratic voters - particularly African-Americans, who are Obama's strongest backers and the most reliable Democratic constituency. By refusing to back the policies that define the party, they send an implicit message to voters that the unceasing criticism of Democrats from Republicans is in some way legitimate and accurate. 

Note that there aren't policies, just a policy, and that one a product of the Heritage Foundation.  Mr. Begich is right--and the Left and Right are wrong--this president is inconsequential.

Posted by orrinj at 7:47 AM


The world's biggest economic problem : Deflation in the euro zone is all too close and extremely dangerous (The Economist, Oct 25th 2014)

[T]he biggest economic threat, by far, comes from continental Europe.

Now that German growth has stumbled, the euro area is on the verge of tipping into its third recession in six years. Its leaders have squandered two years of respite, granted by the pledge of Mario Draghi, the European Central Bank's president, to do "whatever it takes" to save the single currency. The French and the Italians have dodged structural reforms, while the Germans have insisted on too much austerity. Prices are falling in eight European countries. The zone's overall inflation rate has slipped to 0.3% and may well go into outright decline next year. A region that makes up almost a fifth of world output is marching towards stagnation and deflation.

Optimists, both inside and outside Europe, often cite the example of Japan. It fell into deflation in the late-1990s, with unpleasant but not apocalyptic consequences for both itself and the world economy. But the euro zone poses far greater risks. Unlike Japan, the euro zone is not an isolated case: from China to America inflation is worryingly low, and slipping. And, unlike Japan, which has a homogenous, stoic society, the euro area cannot hang together through years of economic sclerosis and falling prices. As debt burdens soar from Italy to Greece, investors will take fright, populist politicians will gain ground, and--sooner rather than later--the euro will collapse.

If we set aside the benign causes of deflation for a moment--productivity and markets--we are left with the malignant cause : demographics.  Greece has a fertility rate of 1.34 births per woman, Italy 1.40.  You can't save Europe by inflating the currency, you'd have to inflate the population, an impossibility in Continental Europe.

Posted by orrinj at 6:32 AM

TRYIN' THAT STUFF (profanity alert):

When Jimi Hendrix came to London, he changed the sound of music for ever : Ed Vulliamy, who was born on the street where Jimi Hendrix died, reports on the rock legend's time in the capital in the 60s - the focus of a new biopic - and talks to some of those who knew him well (Ed Vulliamy, 25 October 2014, The Observer)

Reared on Muddy Waters and Albert King, music was Hendrix's love and after teaming up with army colleague Billy Cox on bass, he played for Little Richard and the Isley Brothers before venturing out on his own.

Hendrix collected a small coterie of dazzled admirers in New York, among them John Cale of the Velvet Underground who, after playing a concert with Patti Smith in Paris last week, recalled going down into a dive bar in Sullivan Street to see Hendrix play during the mid-60s. "There was this fella heckling him all the way through, giving him gyp until Hendrix said, 'I see we've got Polly Parrot in the house tonight'. He got no trouble after that."

Hendrix also amazed Chandler at the Cafe Wha? in Greenwich Village one night, enough to fly him to London where the hunger for blues was inexplicably greater than in America. "Black American music got nowhere near white AM radio," says the man who met Hendrix at Heathrow, Tony Garland, who would manage Hendrix's British company, Anim. "And Jimi was too white for black radio. Here, there were a lot of white guys listening to blues from America and wanting to sound like their heroes."

One of them was Eric Clapton of Cream, who invited Hendrix to sit in on a performance of Howlin' Wolf's Killing Floor at Regent Street Polytechnic, but who afterwards told Chandler irritably: "You never told me he was that f[***]ing good."

In London, Hendrix with his band Experience forged a new soundscape, stretching the blues to some outer limit of expression, ethereal but fearsome, lyrical but dangerous, sublime but ruthless. And yet, he wrote: "I don't want anyone to stick a psychedelic label round my neck. Sooner Bach or Beethoven."

This was not serendipitous, nor was it as effortlessly "natural", as Hendrix himself often suggested, or even pure genius: Hendrix had found an alchemist with sound in the unlikely form of a sonic wave engineer in the service of the Ministry of Defence, Roger Mayer.

Mayer was an inventor of electronic musical devices, including the Octavia guitar effect which created a "doubling" echo. "I'd shown it to Jimmy Page," Mayer recalls at his home in Surrey, "but he said it was too far out. Jimi said, the moment we met: 'Yeah, I'd like to try that stuff'."

Posted by orrinj at 6:27 AM


West Bank directive would keep Arabs off Jewish buses (SPENCER HO October 26, 2014, Times of Israel)

Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon has reportedly decided to implement a policy that will effectively prevent West Bank Palestinian workers from riding in buses with Israeli settlers to reach their jobs in Israeli cities.

Ya'alon told settlement leaders that under a new policy, Palestinians will only be able to return to the West Bank through the Eyal checkpoint near Qalqilya, out of the way of most major settlements, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported Sunday.

October 25, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 5:44 PM


The $500 Billion Medicare Slowdown: A Story About Part D (Loren Adler and Adam Rosenberg, 10/21/14, HealthAffairs.org)

A great deal of analysis has been published on the causes of the health care spending slowdown system-wide -- including in the pages of Health Affairs. Much attention in particular has focused on the remarkable slowdown in Medicare spending over the past few years, and rightfully so: Spending per beneficiary actually shrank (!) by one percent this year (or grew only one percent if one removes the effects of temporary policy changes).

Yet the disproportionate role played by prescription drug spending (or Part D) has seemingly escaped notice. Despite constituting barely more than 10 percent of Medicare spending, our analysis shows that Part D has accounted for over 60 percent of the slowdown in Medicare benefits since 2011 (beyond the sequestration contained in the 2011 Budget Control Act).

Through April of this year, the last time the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released detailed estimates of Medicare spending, CBO has lowered its projections of total spending on Medicare benefits from 2012 through 2021 by $370 billion, excluding sequestration savings. The $225 billion of that decline accounted for by Part D represents an astounding 24 percent of Part D spending. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:41 AM


No, Americans Are Not All To Blame for the Financial Crisis : Exposing the big lie of the post-crash economy (Dean Starkman, 10/23/14, New Republic)

To say that borrowers don't deserve equal blame for the crisis doesn't mean that every individual borrower was innocent. There is no question that "mortgage fraud"--which the FBI defines as misrepresentations relied upon by underwriters, i.e. banks--did account for a percentage of the losses. It's just that the amount of borrower behavior fitting that definition is vanishingly small. Before it collapsed, for instance, New Century reported that borrowers had failed to make even the first payment on 2.5 percent of its loans. That doesn't speak well of borrowers, at all. It's also only 2.5 percent. Zooming out, the Treasury Department reported that so-called "suspicious activity" reported by banks peaked at 137,000 incidents in 2006. But even if every single one of those reports represents actual borrower fraud (spoiler: they don't), that's still only about 1 percent of the 14 million mortgages made that year.

One way a borrower can defraud a lender is to pretend to plan on living in the home--because mortgages on primary residences are easier to obtain and carry lower rates--when in fact you're buying it as an investment or vacation property. We know from lawsuits brought by the conservator for Fannie Mae that the number of owner-occupied houses in the mortgage pool was off by as much as 15 percentage points. Some portion of those houses belonged to people who said they lived in them, but didn't. That's definitely something buyers fib about. On the other hand, it often requires a wink from the bank, since residency is easy to check. But most important: Even if the number is the full 15 percent, that's still well south of EITB.

In 2010, an FBI report drawing on figures from the consultancy Corelogic put total fraudulent mortgages during the peak boom year of 2006 at more than $25 billion. Twenty-five billion dollars is obviously not nothing. But here again, teasing those mortgages out of that year's crisis-related write-downs of $2.7 trillion from U.S.-originated assets leaves our infamous "cagey" borrowers to blame for only a tiny share of the damage, especially since not all of the fraudulent mortgages were their fault. The ratio looks roughly something like this: 

Yes, some of our cab drivers, shoeshine boys, and other fellow citizens tricked a lender into helping them take a flyer on the housing market. But the combined share of the blame for bad mortgages that can be placed on the public sits--and I'm really rounding up here--in the high single digits, and not the much larger, fuzzier numbers in our heads.

The fact is that defrauding a bank that actually cares about the quality of a loan is actually rather difficult, no matter how aggressive or deceitful the borrower. Lenders, on the other hand, can lie with relative ease about all sorts of things, and mountains of evidence show they did so on a widespread basis. For starters, it's lenders who establish the loan-to-value ratio for a property: how much money the buyer is borrowing versus the house's estimated worth. Banks didn't used to let you take out a mortgage too close to the home's total cost. But play with those numbers and, voilà, a rejected loan application turns into an accepted one. Leading up to the crash, some banks' representations about loan-to-value ratios were off by as much as 40 percentage points.

Then there was the apparent rampant corruption of appraisals, which also have nothing whatsoever to do with borrowers. Before the bubble popped, appraisers' groups collected 11,000 signatures on a petition decrying pressure by banks to arrive at "dishonest" or inflated valuations.

And that's to say nothing of lenders misleading borrowers directly--a practice that the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, the Levin-Coburn report, and lawsuits by attorneys general around the country have all found was very much systemic. Mortgage brokers forged borrowers' signatures and altered documents; Ameriquest (those guys again!) had its own "art department," as it was known internally, for precisely that function. Oh, and remember those 137,000 instances of "suspicious activity" about possible borrower misdeeds? For the sake of perspective, Citigroup settled a Federal Trade Commission case alleging sales deception that involved two million clients in a single year. That's what we call wholesale, and it was happening before the mortgage era even really got started.

Today, there's a big and growing body of documentation about what happened as the financial system became incentivized to sell as many loans as possible on the most burdensome possible terms: Millions--and millions--of borrowers were sold subprime despite qualifying for better.

Perhaps the most astonishing and unappreciated finding comes from The Wall Street Journal, which back in December 2007 published a study of more than $2.5 trillion in subprime loans dating to 2000 (that is to say, most of the subprime loans of the era). The story, by my former colleagues Rick Brooks and Ruth Simon, painted the picture of a world gone upside-down: During the worst years of the frenzy, more than half the subprime loans issued went to borrowers who had credit scores "high enough to often qualify for conventional loans with far better terms." In 2006, the figure hit 61 percent.

The fact is that credit wasn't too easy, but too hard.  And given the deflationary climate mortgage rates should have been much lower, making payments easier for even the highest risk borrowers.  The crisis occured because the people selling mortgages on were lying about how much risk they entailed.

Posted by orrinj at 8:25 AM


The Optimistic Republican Story Everyone Is Missing (Larry Kudlow, October 25, 2014, RCP)

"We all see this coming," House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan told me in a recent interview. "Energy and tax reform are going to be at the top of the list." And House Financial Services chairman Jeb Hensarling told me, "It's time to put up or shut up for tax reform. Fairer, flatter, simpler, so the American people will at last know what the GOP would do for economic growth to rescue the country from the worst recovery since World War II."

Hensarling also emphasized the need to expand the energy revolution and to stop the massive overregulation that has stunted growth. "The regulatory red-tape burden, which violates the Founding Fathers' Federalist paper 47 by diminishing the rule of law and increasing bureaucratic power in the executive branch at the expense of the constitutionally mandated legislative branch, has got to be stopped."

Let me weigh in on the first two bills that the GOP should put on Obama's desk.

The Republicans should start with energy by legislating a Keystone Pipeline Authorization Act (this is how the Alaska pipeline was approved in 1979), and include energy reforms that would open federal lands to development and drilling and remove all restrictions to energy exports.

More energy supply means lower energy prices and more overall economic growth. Everybody benefits. Who loses? Our enemy Vladimir Putin and his client state Iran. And if Obama kowtows again to the left-wing enviros, so be it. It's a 2016 GOP agenda item.

Second would be a business tax-reform plan that would slash the corporate tax rate to 20 percent, stop the double taxation of foreign profits and allow small business S-corps (including unborn start-ups, which are America's real job creators) to take advantage of the new lower corporate tax rate. This tax cut should also be scored with a reality-based economic-feedback model.

But the key here is that the GOP regains its footing as the party of optimism and growth. 

...and get rid of taxes on profits, replacing them with gas taxes. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:13 AM


Shaheen's message being drowned out by Obama, Ebola, ISIS (John DiStaso, Oct 25, 2014, NH Journal)
The Democratic incumbent tried at every turn during two separate hour-long debates to bring the conversations back to her strong point - her many years serving the state as governor and, now as a U.S. senator, and even in the past as a state senator.
She brought up her work for the Berlin Prison, her work to secure funding for the I-93 expansion, her work for the Jobs Corps Center in Manchester, her work for individual constituents.
She tried and tried to emphasize her deep roots in the Granite State. She tried at every opportunity to cast Scott Brown as an outsider, an opportunist, a guy who, unable to win in Massachusetts, conveniently moved into his summer home in New Hampshire to use the state as a stepping stone - perhaps even higher office.
But as much as she tried, her arguments were drowned out by the broader issues facing the nation. And that of course brought the conversations back to one Barack Obama.

There's a really interesting poll out this week:

Among the likely voters, Shaheen led, 49 to 46 percent, with 3 percent undecided, and a margin of error of 4.5 percent. [...]
Yet, by a margin of 59 to 30 percent, likely voters believe Shaheen will win the Senate race, the poll shows.

One suspects this is a matter of voters saying, "I've decided to vote for him, but I get why my neighbors would vote for her."  The question is : are enough neighbors saying the same thing?

Posted by orrinj at 8:07 AM


No, undecided voters don't break for the challenger (Aaron Blake May 9, 2014, Washington Post)

According to a Fix study of 25 competitive U.S. Senate races held over the last four elections, undecideds actually appear to break more for the incumbent than for the challenger. The below chart compares the final Real Clear Politics polling averages for all 25 races to the final results of those same races. Incumbents are in red, and challengers are in green. [...]

A few takeaways:

1) The average incumbent saw his or her share of the vote rise 2.5 points between the late polls and Election Day. For challengers, their share rose just 1.6 points.

2) Even in states that matched the challenger's political lean (Democratic challengers in blue states and Republican challengers in red states), undecided voters weren't any friendlier. Incumbents beat their polling numbers by 2.6 points in these states, while challengers added only 1.5 points.

2) Only nine out of 25 challengers (36 percent) took more undecided voters than the incumbents they faced.

3) Nearly as many -- eight out of 25 -- actually took less of the overall vote than the late polls suggested.

4) Only three out of the 25 incumbents underperformed late polls when it came to their share of the vote. A strong majority (16 out of 25) saw their share of the vote exceed late polls by at least two full points.

And finally...

5) Not one challenger who was trailing heading into Election Day was able to pull off the victory -- even as six of them faced an incumbent who was below 50 percent in the polls. Two incumbents who trailed, meanwhile, were able to pull off the upset.

That makes sense if we assume that for anyone who genuinely hasn't made up their mind that late, name recognition might trump everything else. Of course, in races lower down the ticket no one recognizes either candidate's name...

Posted by orrinj at 7:48 AM


So here's the email I got Monday with my marching orders for the week:

Avery needs to be picked up from school and brought to dance (she said she spoke with you).  I can get her from dance.
Archer has soccer practice at Sachem at 4:30 today
Griffin is going to RVC after school and I will pick him up
Avery has some Trumbull hall thing at the Haven after school - I'm not sure how she's getting there.  I'll check with her.  She has a trombone lesson at our house later in the afternoon.
Archer may be doing model UN or homework club after school on Tuesday - it's impossible to get info from him so I'll try and get that figured out today.
Griffin is working
Archer has hockey at 5:50
Avery has voice Wed 2:30-3
Archer has tennis Wed and has a soccer game in Canaan at 5:15.  Will is supposed to be with Archer and you take them to the game.  He may need to leave tennis a bit early.  I will ask your mother to bring him to tennis (I'm at CVH). 
I believe Avery is working on Wed
Archer may or may not have a music lesson - I have to double check on that one
Friday and Saturday are problems for Archer - he has soccer games both days at the same time he has hockey.  Friday hockey is a practice.  Saturday is their first hockey game, but it's against Woodstock (so no points and Woodstock usually wins).  I guess it's up to Archer which he would rather do....

So blessed Thursday was going to be the one day I didn't have to squire rugrats around the Upper Valley.  Then this text:

DAUGHTER : Library at 3 please?


D: Because I have dance

F: That's not on the list Mom gave me

D: ....

D: Can you please give me a ride anyway

F: You're not on the schedule

F: If I make an exception for you i have to make them for everyone

F: Soon we have anarchy 

F: Cats and dogs sleeping together


F: Is that what you want? The zombie apocalypse?


F: So you'll take responsibility

D: You're so funny--Thea (on daughter's phone)

D: I hate you-Daughter

F: So, no ride?


F: From someone you hate?

F: BTW, I can do this all afternoon, I'm waiting for E to clean the house and I'm wicked bored

D: Well I have class in twenty minutes

D: BTW ny friends find you incredibly amusing

F: I'll give them rides

D: Oh my God


D: If I go home can you bring me to rehearsal at 3:45

F: Normally I would since you're on the schedule, but yesterday's unscheduled ride cancels today's out....

{sure, c'mon home}

D: It's a good thing you ended with that because I'm about to stab you

F: See, it's anarchy....

D: It's going to be a felony if you don't stop....

F: There are no felonies anymore, all law and order has disappeared... Happy now?

Posted by orrinj at 7:36 AM

MY HERO (self-reference alert)

This Marriage Thing Is (Beautiful) Hard as Hell (Maria Grizzetti, 10/22/14, Incarnation and Modernity)

 It seems clear that the daily business of married life is difficult before it is delightful. We are talking here of married life that is consecrated. We are talking of holy matrimony.

Ordinary human friendship has its many joys. The companionship that elicits delight, and slowly turns to love, and finally to consecrated spousal union, is a joy given to the human race from the time when God told Adam that it was not good for man to be alone.

But as it is not good to be alone, it is also not easy to be together.

Which begs the question: what keeps marriages alive? What is the glue that binds?

You look at these couples married fifty years. You see one dancing around a hospital room to cheer a spouse who is bedridden and dying. They smile as if they were youngsters on a park bench, or newlyweds walking down aisle at twenty-three. Unthinkable these days, but now half a century of love later they live out a witness to the possibility of faithful life together. Theirs are joys that will not die even in the night of sorrowful partings.

Surely they know something of what it takes. Yes, the answer is love. A love they treasure and believe possible -- unconditional love. Fine. We will listen. Watch them. We shall learn.

And then you see the young ones, married two years and on the brink of separation. Or divorced with two kids and about to turn thirty-four. And they still believe that matrimony is holy, and yes permanent, although theirs is broken. They know something of love too. That it is beautiful. And so difficult.

And then there is the rest of the culture that says we should simply fall and always try to feel in love -- a standard so low, it is good simply as a point of contrast.

If it is to last, love will be tested. It will be hard. No model exists for easy love. If marital love is the fullest expression of human generosity that can make of two one flesh, then it comes at the standard of lifelong sacrifice and perseverance. Generosity entails an offering -- one possible even in weakness because it is supplanted by grace. And this is the tipping point between any marriage, and the sacramental reality of holy matrimony.

We must be capable and ready to make a defense for the choice we have made -- the choice to walk up an aisle and ask to be given another in trust before God.

Because the time will undoubtedly come when doubts prevail over early joy, and sorrows rend the bond thought unshakable.

Because it is so easy to break union, and fragile unions break.

Because it is always hard to truly love.

Because all the encouragement one gets these days, is the encouragement for the failure we superficially call liberation -- the deluding encouragement to feel good about failing, which comes from the prior despair that heroic love is ever possible.

Mind you, I'm making no claims to heroism, but had an instructive experience this week.  I was summoned to a meeting over something--entirely truthful, but uncomfortable--that I said at work.  when I got home I told The Wife that I wasn't much worried about the meeting, only about having to tell her if I lost my job.

She said that as long as I was doing the right thing it would be okay and we'd figure things out.

The next day, I was telling someone that's why I love her so much and the other person broke down crying.  I asked what the heck she was doing and she said : "That gives me so much hope."  

The Wife later reminded me that you can take the support of a loving spouse for granted, if you have it, and how lonely people can feel who don't have one.  

Marriage seems like an institution worth defending and saving and we've been doing a crap job of that for quite some time now.

Posted by orrinj at 7:28 AM


Number One With a Bullet : JERRY LEE LEWIS: HIS OWN STORY By Rick Bragg  (DAVID KIRBY, Oct. 24, 2014 WSJ)

Speaking of Mr. Lewis's aversion to introspection, he writes, "remembering, if you are him, is like playing catch with broken glass." Later, Mr. Bragg says that "tragedy in [Mr. Lewis's] private life seemed to rattle and clank behind it all, the way tin cans do when tied to the bumper of a car," a fair assessment when you count up the damage and reckon that he buried two sons, saw six marriages, including one to a 13-year-old cousin, go down in flames, and got in more bar fights and car wrecks than any man has a right to survive. By his own account, he did everything he could to keep the Corvettes rolling off the assembly lines ("wrecked a dozen of 'em," he says).

Born in Ferriday, La., in 1935, Mr. Lewis was lucky in having a mother who adored him and a father who did a couple of stretches in prison but recognized his son's musical precocity. The boy was playing in the yard one day when he saw his father's old truck come up the road with an upright piano in the back; he found out later that he had mortgaged the farm to pay for the instrument. At the age of 9, young Jerry was playing before audiences. Largely self-taught, he didn't merely keep time with his left hand, like most piano players, but used it as deftly as his right, so that it almost seemed as though he was playing two melodies at once.

Still, he needed more. He had been steeped in gospel and country music within the family circle. Those are sturdy tools, but he knew there were depths to be plumbed, so he looked for a way to dig deeper into the human heart and soul. He found what he wanted at Will Haney's Big House, a temple to the blues where men routinely carried pistols and women slapped the wigs off each other. In segregated Ferriday, Mr. Lewis couldn't walk through the front door, though he could and did sneak in.

Everybody knew everybody in the little town, which meant that Will Haney had to pull him out from whatever table he was hiding under and tell him to crawl back through his bedroom window before his parents raised a fuss. He underestimated the Lewis orneriness, though, and it became a common occurrence for Haney's customers to call him over and say, "They's a white boy under my table."

Rock 'n' roll hadn't been invented or at least labeled yet, but by the time he was a teenager and touring the South, Mr. Lewis knew how to please a crowd. "We'd take an old country song . . . ," he says, "and we'd watch the crowd, and if you hit some jagged notes they liked and they stomped the floor, you knew to just keep goin'. We didn't know that was rock and roll." By the time the new music had a name, it was already spreading like fire leaping from tree to tree in a forest of dry pines, but only because the early rockers knew how to sell it. Mr. Bragg says of "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" (1957), Mr. Lewis's first big hit, that black music had sounded that way for years, but "it took a little touch of hillbilly to make it slide down easy for most white audiences, like a chunk of busted-up peppermint in a glass of home brew."

Posted by orrinj at 7:21 AM


For Want of a King : Many of the Founders, including John Adams, believed that the colonies belonged to the crown. They settled for a president. (ANDREW O'SHAUGHNESSY, Oct. 23, 2014, WSJ)

This twist in the imperial struggle is traditionally dismissed as a tactical maneuver in the fight for independence or as a desperate bid to save the imperial union by colonists who were reluctant to become revolutionaries. It is generally believed that they adopted this position because they had no other means of redress against an uncompromising Parliament, which claimed to have absolute authority in America. But Eric Nelson, a professor of government at Harvard University, believes that most commentators on the subject have imposed their own ideas about what the colonists must have been thinking rather than accepting at face value what they said and wrote. He sees not a shift in strategy in the 1770s but a profound ideological realignment in which the colonists embraced the royalism of the Stuart kings, who had been deposed during Britain's own revolution in 1688.

Following the repeal of the Stamp Act in 1766, colonial authorities, in Mr. Nelson's telling, began to contemplate the idea of a more powerful and independent monarch at the helm of a re-configured imperial government. The doctor and future spy Edward Bancroft was at the forefront of this movement with a 1769 pamphlet arguing that "Though the King's Prerogative extends, indiscriminately, to all States owing him Allegiance, yet the Legislative Power of each State, if the People have any Share therein, is necessarily confined within the State itself." Alexander Hamilton wrote a more expansive version, "The Farmer Refuted," in 1775, and other important proponents of this royalist ideology included John Adams and two future Supreme Court justices, James Wilson and James Iredell.

Mr. Nelson acknowledges that such ideas about prerogative were for a time overshadowed by Tom Paine 's assault on the mythology of monarchy in "Common Sense" (1776). But they were revived in the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780 (drafted by Adams), and a broad resurgence of monarchial enthusiasm thereafter culminated in 1787 with the creation of the strong presidency in the "recognizably Royalist constitution for the new United States." Mr. Nelson concedes that the presidency could never possess all the pomp and trappings of kingship but notes that the Constitution assigned "its rechristened chief magistrate far more power than any English monarch had wielded since William of Orange landed at Torbay in 1688." He quotes the historian Mercy Otis Warren complaining in 1788 that the new constitution created a "Republican form of government, founded on the principles of monarchy."

The American presidency has succeeded to precisely the extent it replicates monarchy. The rest is a muddle.

Posted by orrinj at 7:16 AM


Tunisia is showing the Arab world how to nurture democracy (Soumaya Ghannoushi, 25 October 2014, The Guardian)

Tunisia's strongest asset may be its cohesive society. With no sectarian, ethnic, religious or tribal divides, political and ideological differences do not turn into societal divisions, as they do in Iraq, Syria or Lebanon. And with a modernisation process that dates back to the 19th century, the country's population is largely urbanised and relatively well educated, with a broad middle class and a vibrant civil society.

If the armies of Egypt and Tunisia were widely celebrated as "guardians of the revolution" after the toppling of Hosni Mubarak and Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, the roles each has played since could not have been more different. While the former proceeded to seize power and rule with an iron fist, the latter has quietly retreated to its barracks. This was not merely accidental, but stems from the radically divergent functions the two military institutions have exercised through their countries' recent history.

Habib Bourguiba, Tunisia's post-independence president, was highly suspicious of the army and anxious to prevent a repetition of the coups staged by Gamal Abdel Nasser in Egypt and the Ba'ath party in Syria and Iraq. Kept to its barracks, the Tunisian army's role was, therefore, confined to protecting the country's rather quiet borders, as far away from politics as possible. Bourguiba's authoritarian rule rested on a mixture of national liberation legitimacy, personal charisma, and doses of police repression. The last of these was to deepen with Ben Ali's rule, which turned Tunisia into a virtual police state.

Government in Tunisia was thus left to the politicians, free from the overbearing presence of military men. Without their omnipresent shadow, politics has been able to evolve spontaneously amid the post-revolution uncertainty.

Break Iraq, Syria and the Lebanon up into their constituent parts and get rid of their militaries--you only need to do the latter for Egypt--and the rest follows its natural Darwinian path.

Posted by orrinj at 7:13 AM


The Rise of the Disrupters (IRWIN M. STELZER, 10/25/14, Weekly Standard)

So what is the disrupters' next target? They need an industry with a lot of investment sunk in the ground, dominated by a few companies made lethargic by years of monopoly power, able to use bundle-pricing to protect their shoddiest and least popular products by tying them to popular ones, and a long history of abusing customers with "For English, dial 1; for billing information, dial 2; for anything else dial 3, and hold on for an hour or so of awful canned music until a person located where English is rarely spoken comes to the telephone."

The cable industry fits that description. According to David Carr, writing in the New York Times, last week  "television staged a jailbreak....Netflix pointed a way forward by not only establishing that programming could be reliably delivered over the web, but showing that customers were more than ready to make the leap." No longer does your friendly cable company provide virtually the only path by which what is called "content" can enter your home. Netflix has changed the game in two ways. First, Mark Cuban, an investor in sports (the Dallas Mavericks among others) and other entertainment ventures points out, "Very little content is created in the U.S. without first talking to Netflix," which is now producing feature films and ending the day when old-line film studios could set the dates when their content would be released ("clearances" in the jargon of the trade) to the likes of Netflix only after being exhibited in first-run theaters.

Second, Netflix and similar disrupters have so emboldened thousands of so-called cord-cutters that cable and satellite providers have decided they would rather give in than follow the path to oblivion taken by other disrupted industries. Last week HBO ($15) and CBS ($6) -- Disney's ESPN will soon follow by offering basketball games on a choose-one basis -- announced plans to sell stand-alone streaming services. No cable subscription (circa $80 per month) required. Cable companies' ability to force consumers to pay for hundreds of unwanted channels in order to get the far fewer shows that interest them is on the wane. A la carte is the new plat du jour. It is a bit early to announce the end of the cable industry as we have known it, but as Carr points out, "Change comes very slowly, but then happens all at once. This is the all-at-once-part." One thing is certain. The closer we get to full à la carte service, the closer we come to the day when sports fans will have to bear the full cost of the cable companies' frantic bidding for rights to broadcast sporting events. My guess is that many sports fans will find the price of that television ticket too high, that the consequences will be lower bids for rights, lower salaries for players, cheaper tickets for fans attending live events.

Posted by orrinj at 7:07 AM


For The Midterm Elections, A Book On 'What It Takes' To Win (MICHAEL SCHAUB, October 24, 2014, NPR)

Even in its best moments, running for office is a roller coaster. Who are these people who are willing to put themselves and their families through constant scrutiny by the press, blistering attacks from their opponents, and hateful comments from Internet trolls?

There's no easy answer to that question, but in his book What It Takes, the late Richard Ben Cramer came closer to finding out than just about anybody before or since. Cramer followed the Republican and Democratic candidates for the presidency in 1988, and chronicled what it was like for politicians to run the cruel and unforgiving gauntlet that is the American election system. Cramer writes, "I wanted to know enough about these people to see ... once they decided to run, and marched (or slid, or flung themselves headlong) into this semi-rational, all-consuming quest ... what happened to those lives ... to the lives they shared? What happened to their idea of themselves?"

Calling What It Takes exhaustive would be a massive understatement. The book is over 1,000 pages long, and Cramer takes a hard look at what made these presidential hopefuls tick. Although the election was 26 years ago, there are, of course, familiar faces. There's George H. W. Bush, whose grandson George P. Bush is in the running for Texas Land Commissioner this November. And there's Joe Biden, just as passionate and glad-handing in 1988 as he is today.

Cramer, who died last year, was more of a gonzo reporter than a Beltway pundit, and his writing style had echoes of Tom Wolfe and Hunter S. Thompson. That's part of what makes What It Takes so illuminating -- he focused on the people behind the public personas.

At the moment when the campaign season is reaching its lowest ebb (can I just watch sports on tv without hearing how awful everyone running for office is at every commercial break?), it's worth reminding ourselves what a glorious process it is and how much these candidates go through just to get an opportunity to serve us.

Posted by orrinj at 7:04 AM


Obama and the Kurds: A Frigid Marriage (Jonathan Dworkin, 10/23/14, Washington Monthly)

In no area is this confusion more evident than our relations with the Kurds. Obama has gone through enormous trouble to create a coalition that targets ISIS in Syria, but until last week he failed to include the one group in that country that has withstood ISIS on the battlefield. That would be the YPG, a Kurdish militia that took over significant territory in three northern cantons of Syria after Bashar Assad's authority crumbled. It wasn't just the YPG. It was also the YPJ, a militia of Kurdish women who fight alongside the men. The Syrian Kurds, much like their counterparts in Iraq, have built a secular system in their area. They empower women, and they shelter thousands of Syria's minorities. It was the Syrian Kurds who crossed the Iraqi frontier and rescued the Yezidi minority on Mount Sinjar.

Given all the unsavory actors in Obama's Syria coalition, why the long delay in including the relatively tolerant Kurds? The answer takes us back to Obama's confused priorities. The Kurdish militias are loosely affiliated with the PKK, a group of Kurds in Turkey who have been placed on the US terrorism list. There's no evidence that Syrian Kurds have targeted civilians (just the opposite in fact), and the PKK itself is on the list because the Turkish government finds it convenient to lump separatists with terrorists. But that nuance is lost on everyone. The PKK are paper terrorists, therefore the Syrian Kurds were off limits.

Putting aside the problematic nature of using the terrorism list as a political cudgel, it's worth noting that even the Turks were not this fanatical - they invited the Syrian Kurdish leader to Ankara for talks. This put Obama in the absurd position of being more Turkish than the Turks. The result is that even as Obama launched a new American air war in the Middle East, he ruled out in advance dealing with the one liberal faction in the country he was bombing.

You're not a terrorist if we agree with you.

Posted by orrinj at 6:59 AM


The 'Colorado Model' Goes Thud (KIMBERLEY A. STRASSEL, Oct. 23, 2014, WSJ)

The party's biggest mistake was thinking its recent electoral victories--based largely on a superior campaign game--translated into a mandate for liberal governance. Colorado long has been, and remains, a pragmatic state. It's a place that for decades gave Republicans the state legislature and Democrats the governor's mansion. It loves its political independents, folks like former Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, who it elected in 1992 as a Democrat and re-elected in 1998 by an even bigger margin as a Republican.

No surprise, the state hasn't appreciated Mr. Obama's ideological agenda. Some 22,000 residents just found out they're losing health insurance; some 200,000 more face cancellations next year. Residents are worried about Ebola and the terror threat, frustrated by falling incomes, disturbed by Washington scandals. The president's approval rating--in supposedly liberal-ascendant Colorado--is 40%.

Mr. Udall ran as an independent yet says he'd vote for ObamaCare again. He claims to be a "best of the above" energy guy, but he refused to endorse the popular Keystone XL pipeline and only belatedly came out against anti-fracking ballot initiatives that have crippled a new mainstay of the Colorado economy. Asked at a recent debate to name a single Obama policy he opposes, he couldn't muster a one. His approval rating, 37%, is even lower than Mr. Obama's.

Mr. Hickenlooper has magnified the liberal-governance theme. The so-called moderate signed strict gun-control measures in 2013, controversial enough to result in the recall of two Democratic state senators. The governor's decision to ignore Colorado's death penalty law and grant a "reprieve" to a quadruple-murderer has similarly annoyed voters.

Democrats here have also underestimated the degree to which past Republican incompetence played into their victories. The Colorado GOP in recent years has been riven by divisions and fielded mediocre candidates. That changed this year with Mr. Gardner.

Posted by orrinj at 6:51 AM


GOP Gains in Key Senate Races as Gender Gap Narrows (JANET HOOK, Oct. 23, 2014, WSJ)

In a warning flag for Democrats, recent polls suggest the party is failing to draw enough support from women in three key Senate races--in Iowa, Arkansas and Colorado--to offset the strong backing that men are giving to Republicans.

Surveys this week in Arkansas and Colorado for the first time also showed the GOP candidates pulling even or ahead of Democrats among women voters, threatening to close the gender gap that has been a cornerstone of Democratic electoral strategy for decades.

Posted by orrinj at 6:41 AM


A blue light that might save the world (Cosmos, 10/25/14, Cathal O'Connell)

The blue LED light was finally created in the early 1990s by the three Nobel-winning Japanese physicists who took the painstaking route of growing gallium nitride crystals to do the job.

Since then LEDs have been associated with state-of-the art devices like Blu-ray DVDs, smart-phone screens and TV screens. The intensity of tiny red, green and blue LED pixels can be adjusted to produce sharp images of any colour.  But the real revolution is still to come, from the simple lighting of households, offices and streets.

According to the International Energy Agency 19% of all global electricity is used for lighting. The incandescent bulbs developed by Edison in 1879 run hot, wasting most of the electricity pumped into them. The fluorescent tubes that criss-cross the ceilings of today's offices are about five times more efficient than incandescents. Today's commercially available white LEDs have the same efficiency as fluorescents, but, while fluorescent technology has plateaued, LEDs just keep getting better and better. They're expected to both double in efficiency and halve in price over the next 15 years. Added to this they have a useful lifetime of over 50,000 hours, meaning they need to be changed less than once a decade.

Posted by orrinj at 6:33 AM


GOP changes tune on cutting Social Security with elections on the line (Lori Montgomery October 23, 2014, Washington Post)

Older voters typically dominate the electorate in non-presidential years, so the resort to Social Security as an issue in the Nov. 4 midterms is hardly surprising. But what has drawn attention - and charges of hypocrisy - is the decision by Republican groups to attack Democrats for supporting conservative ideas in a proposed "grand bargain" on the budget drafted by Democrat Erskine Bowles and former Republican senator Alan K. Simpson of Wyoming.

Once venerated in both parties as a good-faith proposal, the Bowles-Simpson plan calls for political compromise to rein in the $17.9 trillion national debt, which was dangerously elevated by the recent recession. Republicans would raise taxes, the theory goes, in exchange for Democrats cutting health and retirement spending. Among its proposals: trim Social Security benefits for well-off seniors, raise the retirement age to 69 by 2075 and adopt the new inflation measure, known as the chained Consumer Price Index, or chained CPI.

Both Crossroads GPS and NRCC, the party's campaign arm for House races, have cited Democrats' support for Bowles-Simpson as the basis of their charges on Social Security, though many Republicans -- including Rove -- have criticized President Obama for failing to support the Bowles-Simpson package.

A spokesman for Crossroads GPS declined to comment. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:28 AM


Tobacco Farmers Lose Longtime Safety Net (EMILY MCCORD, October 24, 2014, NPR)

Tobacco growers are about to face a completely free market. This month, they'll receive their last checks from a government program meant to ease them out of a Depression-era tobacco-price-fixing system. [...]

The safety net is the Transitional Tobacco Payment Program, also known as the buyout. Since the 1930s, the government regulated the tobacco market with a quota system. It limited how much a farmer could grow to control supply and demand, and farmers profited. That ended in 2004 with the $9.6 billion buyout program that paid growers yearly sums to help them adapt to the free market.

October 24, 2014

Posted by Glenn Dryfoos at 9:45 AM

All That Jazz #6

Jimmy Smith

The Sermon and House Party

Jimmy Smith Quartet 1957 ~ 'S Wonderful - 

Jimmy Smith - The Sermon (1964) -

As with many art forms, different styles of jazz have been given different labels (Dixieland/traditional, swing, bop, fusion, etc.).  While arguments about exactly what constitutes a given category or whether a certain recording or musician qualifies for that label are fairly useless in my view, these names do provide a useful shorthand for discussing the music.  So, with that, today we consider some of the masters of the style known as "hard bop."  Hard bop grew out of the bebop movement of the 1940's, which expanded the harmonic and rhythmic boundaries of jazz beyond its standing as pop/dance music and into the territory of being an art/concert music (while still retaining many elements of its popular appeal).  Speaking very generally, hard bop retained the rhythms, harmonies and technical virtuosity of bop, but leavened it by moderating tempos (bop tunes were often played extremely fast or extremely slow...to discourage dancing and encourage listening) and adding an obvious blues/funk/gospel feel.  Hard bop is most closely associated with the recordings of the Blue Note label in the 50's and 60's, and its leading voices included pianist/composer Horace Silver, trumpeter Clifford Brown and some of the musicians on today's featured CD's.

I originally intended to write about a CD I bought many years ago entitled "The Sermon" which features recordings made over 2 sessions (with some differences in personnel) in August 1957 and February 1958.  But, in looking for an amazon.com or iTunes link to that CD, I found that these tunes have now been repackaged in numerous combinations, but all of the songs I will write about can now be found by purchasing the CD's linked above (called "The Sermon" and "House Party").  (For this piece, I will refer to the tracks as they appear on my version of the CD, which is essentially the order in which they were recorded). 

Although Count Basie and others had dabbled with the organ as a jazz voice, Jimmy Smith, the leader on these sessions, was the first master soloist on the instrument and the influence for all who followed (Jack McDuff, Lonnie Smith, Charles Earland, Joey DeFrancesco, etc.).

Rather than a typical blowing session where all the horns play the head (melody) and take turns soloing, the album starts with features for each horn.  Lee Morgan (one of the avatars of hard bop, who later had a surprising Top 40 hit with The Sidewinder kicks things off with a wonderfully swinging and soulful take on the Gershwins' "S'Wonderful."  For me, his pure tone and relaxed-yet-buoyant fluency is jazz at its best.   Showcases for two other hard bop stars follow, trombonist Curtis Fuller on "Blue Room" and alto sax Lou Donaldson on the ballad "Lover Man." 

The first two tunes from the February 1958 date, Charlie Parker's "Confirmation" and "Au Privave," have more of a jam session feel, as the horns (with Tina Brooks, tenor sax, replacing Fuller) join together on the head before the soloing starts.  Two other hard bop greats join here, guitarist Kenny Burrell and legendary drummer Art Blakey (whose Jazz Messenger groups were the most famous training ground/finishing school in jazz).   Blakey's distinctive power and crackle are most evident on "Confirmation" which also features a beautiful solo from Burrell that renders meaningless any line between bop and hard bop.   (Or between bop and swing for that matter...Burrell plays with such melodic grace and balance that, like Benny Carter or Milt Jackson, he transcends genre and seems to fit within any setting.)  Morgan then takes another star turn on "Flamingo" before the session ends with a laid back blues, "The Sermon," about as perfect an example of the hard bop genre as you will find with great solos from all. 

Throughout all of these cuts, Jimmy Smith provides colorful and rhythmic support with his comping (the chords that a keyboardist plays under a solo), plays spectacular solos (using the stops of the Hammond B-3 to provide a variety of tonal color, from purrs to growls) and lays down solid bass lines (with his feet!).

October 23, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 6:53 PM


RGA puts additional $1 million into Wisconsin ad buys as Walker frets (Robert Costa, October 23, 2014, Washington Post)

The Republican Governors Association has purchased more than $1 million in additional television advertising time in Wisconsin to boost embattled Gov. Scott Walker, who is locked in a close race against Democrat Mary Burke.

Posted by orrinj at 6:42 PM


Obama's White House Can't Take a Joke (Stephen L. Carter, 10/23/14, Bloomberg View)

According to news articles, Obama gave the crowd this report on his visit to his pre-White House home: "Because Michelle and I and the kids, we left so quickly that there's still junk on my desk, including some unpaid bills. I think eventually they got paid -- but they're sort of stacked up. And messages, newspapers and all kinds of stuff."

The official transcript, issued by the White House press office, read this way: "We left so quickly that there's still junk on my desk, including some -- newspapers and all kinds of stuff." A later "corrected" transcript described the remark about unpaid bills -- heard clearly by more than one reporter present -- as inaudible.

To which one wants to say: seriously?

The president was obviously telling a joke, and the joke works pretty well. The administration has struggled to find a way to demonstrate Obama's sympathy with the struggles of the middle class, and the joke does at least a little to soften the president's edges at a time when many Americans report significant financial stress.

So why the deletion? The claim that the tape is inaudible barely passes the giggle test. My suspicion -- impossible to prove -- is that the decision was made by a panicky White House political team so worried about nasty ads from their opponents that they wound up brushing away the very warmth they desperately wanted their boss to convey.

Posted by orrinj at 6:40 PM


Parliament to 'accept and embrace' wearing of kirpan, sergeant-at-arms explains (JANE TABER, 6/02/11, The Globe and Mail)

Mr. Vickers, 54, is the sergeant-at-arms in the Commons - perhaps familiar to some Canadians as the tall man in black carrying the mace into the House. Appointed in 2006, he oversees the security of the parliamentary precinct and sits quietly in his seat in the chamber when the Commons is in session. [...]

Last winter, while the Quebec National Assembly banned the kirpan, Mr. Vickers moved to ensure that the ceremonial dagger be allowed in the Commons despite a Bloc Québécois motion calling for it to be prohibited.

For that, the World Sikh Organization of Canada paid tribute to him at a dinner in Ottawa. And there, Mr. Vickers, who had served for 29 years as an RCMP officer, explained in a moving speech his view of the country and what led to his decision.

He noted that as a young boy growing up in Miramichi, N.B., he saw his father invite home students from developing countries, who were studying about co-operatives at the Coady Institute at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, N.S.

Sitting around the dining room table and listening to their stories, he said, he learned to respect the culture and dignity of others.

"I see your wearing of the kirpan, especially in our Parliamentary buildings, as exactly that, respecting your dignity," he told the WSO members. "But just as the kirpan issue came before us last winter, we are reminded how vigilant we must be to not only defend but promote the practices, cultures and religions of all peoples."

Mr. Vickers said that he doesn't like the word "tolerance" or the phrase "a tolerant society." "I am going to tolerate you wearing the kirpan within the Parliamentary Precinct. No. As head of security, I am going to accept and embrace your symbol of faith within the Parliamentary Precinct," he said.

Posted by orrinj at 6:29 PM


How Foodies Were Duped Into Thinking McDonald's Was High-End Food (MARIA GODOY, October 23, 2014, NPR)

In the video, two Dutch pranksters sneak into a large food-industry expo in Houten, The Netherlands. (The video doesn't name the event.) There, the duo ask exhibitors and attendees to sample their "new, organic alternative to fast food" from their "high-end restaurant." In reality, they are serving up cut-up pieces of what appears to be McDonald's fare including muffins, burgers and nuggets.

Presented with bite-size samples attractively arranged on a platter with serving toothpicks, the patsies in this little experiment react with effusive praise. (While the pranksters are clearly gleeful about duping people whom they describe as culinary or organic "experts," we don't really know who they are.)

"The taste is very rich," one person tells the fake restaurateurs, who go by Sacha and Cedrique and work for Lifehunters.TV, an outfit that specializes in creating viral content.

"It's definitely a lot tastier than McDonald's. You can just tell this is a lot more pure," offers another taste-tester.

"It rolls around the tongue nicely; if it were wine, I'd say it's fine," says a third.

Posted by orrinj at 6:10 PM


The case for Northern devolution (PAUL SALVESON, 22 October 2014, OpenDemocracy)

It's widely recognised that England is a highly centralised nation with power and resources increasingly concentrated on London and the south-east. The historic 'north-south' divide is getting bigger and virtually every index of deprivation shows the North (Yorkshire and the Humber; North-West and North-East) becoming poorer in comparison to the South-East. The Scottish referendum campaign has forced the political establishment to accept further devolution for Scotland and the 'English Question' - how to re-balance England itself so London and the South-east becomes less dominant - has shot up the agenda. The response from the political establishment has been to avoid creating any new directly-elected bodies but instead to devolve some powers and resources to 'combined authorities' in Northern city regions. Some of these already exist, for example in Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire. They bring together the local authorities in their respective areas, with the council leaders forming a leadership group. They have growing budgets covering a range of sectors, including transport and economic development. While it could be argued these are a pragmatic response to existing needs, their big problem is the lack of accountability. Indirectly-elected bodies such as these give greater powers to officers and effectively remove any semblance of popular participation. Further, almost by definition, 'city regions' have an excessive focus on the main city conurbations and less emphasis on the more peripheral urban centres and rural areas.

The alternative is 'democratic devolution' to the regions, with elected assemblies having similar powers to Wales and Scotland. They should be elected by PR to allow a better balance between town, city and rural hinterland. It has been suggested that this merely creates 'another tier of bureaucracy' but surely regionalisation should be an opportunity to radically reduce the size of the central civil service, with fewer MPs at Westminster. Further, it should involve a fundamental re-organisation of the dogs' dinner that is English local government, with smaller and more accountable local authorities which reflect people's local identities.

Posted by orrinj at 5:22 PM


Landslide Landrieu (John Dickerson, 10/23/14, Slate)

Landrieu has jokingly referred to herself as "Landslide Landrieu," because she has faced so many close races. She recounted that history to the audience to remind them that every vote counts. "I stepped up to run for the Senate, and we beat--all of us in this room--we beat Woody Jenkins by 5,778 votes out of 1.7 million votes cast," she said, referring to her conservative Republican opponent. "Ladies, that is 1.2 votes per precinct. You sent me there, and let me tell you what happened just a few years late: Katrina and Rita slammed in to South Louisiana and sent a million people homeless, including half of my family and families in here, who never thought they'd experience homelessness in their life. And you know who was in that seat when that happened? Think about the difference between Mary Landrieu--and I know I have my flaws and my weaknesses--but think about having to go to Woody Jenkins to ask Woody Jenkins to help New Orleans. Baton Rouge, do you have any concept the difference it made? And I made the difference because I was there, but you made the difference by putting me there."
Landrieu's platform of seniority, Social Security, and sandbags is the strongest bulwark of any being erected by Democratic incumbents.

At the next event, as local politicians and labor leaders praised Landrieu to a crowd gathered to hear Bill Clinton, Hurricane Katrina came up again and again. "When the hurricane hit and she had to battle everybody, she stood up and showed up and fought and she delivered," said her younger brother, Mitch Landrieu, the popular mayor of New Orleans. "New Orleans, the whole southern part of Louisiana, would not be where it is today if she had not fought."

...than the Landrieu family?

Posted by orrinj at 5:19 PM


Low Inflation, Flatter COLA: Social Security Benefits to Get 1.7% Bump (Eric Morath, Josh Mitchell, October 22, 2014, Dow Jones Newswires)

Tens of millions of elderly and disabled Americans will see a small bump in their government payments next year, another reflection of a sluggish economic recovery that has kept inflation low.

The Social Security Administration on Wednesday announced a 1.7% annual cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA, for the nearly 64 million Americans who receive federal retirement or disability benefits. The increase would result in about a $22-a-month increase for the average retiree. Increases have been between 1.5% and 1.7% for three straight years.

Posted by orrinj at 5:17 PM


The future is Filipino (Philip Jenkins, 10/22/14, Christian Century)

When Pope Francis visits the Philip­pines in January, we will undoubtedly hear a great deal about that country's importance on the global religious scene. Partly that's a matter of raw numbers. Al­ready one of the world's three largest Catholic nations, it may by some measures lead the pack within a quarter century or so. By 2050, there could be 100 million Catholic Filipinos.

The church also has a charismatic leader in Luis Antonio Tagle, archbishop of Manila. Only 57, he features prominently in speculation about the next papal election, whenever that might occur. If Tagle is not chosen, it is likely that some Filipino will be­come the first nonwhite pope since the early Middle Ages.

John Allen, the superbly informed expert on all things Catholic, rightly stresses the central role of the Philippines in the Catholic future. He also warns that the Philippine experience belies any West­ern hopes that culture wars and church-state conflicts might fade in consequence of rapid social change. The Philippine church is powerful and politically influential, priding itself on its heroic role against the Marcos dictatorship of the 1980s. In recent years, the Philippine hierarchy has been consistently at war with the national government over official attempts to expand access to contraception and over sex education in the schools. Threats of excommunication have been flying. Contraception is still a primary battlefield of cultural politics; same-sex marriage is barely even discussed.

Posted by orrinj at 5:08 PM


Our Neanderthal Complex : What if our ancient relatives did "human" better? (LYDIA PYNE, OCTOBER 16, 2014, Nautilus)

Just this year, researchers offered a series of tantalizingly detailed new insights about Neanderthal culture and Pleistocene lifestyles. Paleo-geneticists have lit up the public imagination with descriptions of the genetic overlap between modern humans and Neanderthals.7 Excavations at Gorham's Cave in Gibraltar have suggested that Neanderthals exploited rock pigeon populations8 for food and produced etched cave art9 around 39,000 years ago. Clive Finlayson, the director of the Heritage Division of the Gibraltar Museum and Gorham Cave researcher, noted in an interview in Nature, "What is clear is that it [the etched cave art] is abstract, it's deliberate, and it speaks to their cognition in a way that brings Neanderthals, once again, closer to us."

The new findings have ushered a transformation of the Neanderthal from a knuckle-dragging savage rightfully defeated in an evolutionary constant, to a distant cousin that holds clues to our identity. Where museums used to emphasize their primitive and brutal nature, modern exhibits evoke a feeling of belonging. "For Neanderthals, especially in museum exhibits, there's a sense of wanting to connect to them since they are so close to us," says Linda Kim, an art historian specializing in museum exhibits. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:03 PM


Minimum Wage Backfire (WSJ, Oct. 22, 2014)

The McDonald's earnings report on Tuesday gave a hint at how the fast-food chain really plans to respond to its wage and profit pressure--automate. As many contributors to these pages have warned, forcing businesses to pay people out of proportion to the profits they generate will provide those businesses with a greater incentive to replace employees with machines.

By the third quarter of next year, McDonald's plans to introduce new technology in some markets "to make it easier for customers to order and pay for food digitally and to give people the ability to customize their orders," reports the Journal. Mr. Thompson, the CEO, said Tuesday that customers "want to personalize their meals" and "to enjoy eating in a contemporary, inviting atmosphere. And they want choices in how they order, choices in what they order and how they're served."

We're always told that minmum wage earners particularly deserve our help because their jobs suck so bad.  So replacing those employees with machines is an act of human liberation, not a cause for concern.

Posted by orrinj at 12:15 PM


Ancient Human Skulls Reveal When Europeans Could Drink Milk (Charles Q. Choi, 10/21/14, Live Science)

The DNA from ancient human bones is shedding new light on the prehistory of Europe, such as when changes in skin color and lactose tolerance occurred, researchers say.

This research unexpectedly revealed that ancient Europeans started dairying thousands of years before they evolved genes to make the most of milk in adulthood, investigators added.

Posted by orrinj at 12:12 PM


The most sensible GOP alternative to ObamaCare comes from a Senate candidate who is almost sure to lose (Michael Brendan Dougherty, 10/23/14, The Week)

The reform is based on the 2017 project, and is relatively simple. The ACA's individual mandate and the health-care exchanges go away. Instead, the government gives a tax credit (that grows depending on age) to anyone who does not receive health benefits from an employer. Young adults would get a smaller tax credit, and it would increase every decade and with every dependent child. A tax credit has the benefit of being progressive in effect, since for those with little income the credit would constitute a larger share of their overall income. It would make relatively little difference to those making bank. [...]

But the centerpiece of the plan is the creation of a 50-state health-insurance market, long the dream of conservative health-care reformers. Private insurance companies are still required to make their product work in 50 different regulatory environments, and this does not make for a healthy, diverse market.

One of the side effects of a Gillespiecare-style health reform would be a much more robust market for catastrophic insurance plans, which allow people to manage their health care in the same way most people manage insurance costs in other areas of life. Regular care could be purchased on a per item basis, and the really dangerous stuff -- hospital stays, emergency-room visits (for actual emergencies), and other health disasters -- could be covered by insurance.

Because health insurance is now a regulatory game of creating the illusion of "free" health-care items to some constituents, while allowing all the opacity and third-party chicanery that enables profiteering from medical businesses, America pays the most for its health care while receiving the least in return per dollar. It also has the most mind-numbing, ulcer-producing paperwork related to it. The Affordable Care Act actually did little to alter the incentives of the system, but tried to address it by plugging up a few holes.

What the Republicans really need is a health-care reform plan that untangles health care from employment for good. Employment-based health care may scare a few people into getting or keeping jobs that they are suited for, but it's overall effect is job lock, an insane-pricing scheme, and a net drag on innovation. Gillespiecare is a modest and (if pursued soon) achievable step in the right direction. It evens the playing field between employer-provided and individually purchased health insurance.

Posted by orrinj at 12:06 PM


Long Wake : "The Death of Klinghoffer," at the Met. (ALEX ROSS, 11/03/14, The New Yorker)

The protest failed because it relied on falsehoods: the opera is not anti-Semitic, nor does it glorify terrorism. Granted, Adams and his librettist, Alice Goodman, do not advertise their intentions in neon. The story of the Achille Lauro hijacking is told in oblique, circuitous monologues, delivered by a variety of self-involved narrators, with interpolated choruses in rich, dense poetic language. The terrorists are allowed ecstatic flights, private musings, self-justifications. But none of this should surprise a public accustomed to dark, ambiguous TV shows like "Homeland." The most specious arguments against "Klinghoffer" elide the terrorists' bigotry with the attitudes of the creators. By the same logic, one could call Steven Spielberg an anti-Semite because the commandant in "Schindler's List" compares Jewish women to a virus.

In the opera, the opposed groups follow divergent trajectories. The terrorists tend to lapse from poetry into brutality, whereas Leon Klinghoffer and his wife, Marilyn, remain robustly earthbound, caught up in the pleasures and pains of daily life, hopeful even as death hovers. Those trajectories are already implicit in the paired opening numbers, the Chorus of Exiled Palestinians and the Chorus of Exiled Jews. The former splinters into polyrhythmic violence, ending on the words "break his teeth"; the latter keeps shifting from plaintive minor to sumptuous major, ending on the words "stories of our love." The scholar Robert Fink, in a 2005 essay, convincingly argues that the opera "attempts to counterpoise to terror's deadly glamour the life-affirming virtues of the ordinary, of the decent man, of small things." Moreover, subtle references to the Holocaust suggest that a familiar horror is recurring. "At least we are not Jews," an old Swiss woman says. "I kept my distance," an Austrian frigidly intones. The mellifluous, ineffectual Captain indulges in fantasies of appeasement, conversing under the stars with a silver-tongued terrorist named Mamoud.

Posted by orrinj at 12:01 PM


Oil will tumble to $70 says new 'bond king' (Matt Egan, October 23, 20, CNNMoney)

While Gundlach acknowledged China's economic slowdown is hurting oil prices, he mostly pointed to geopolitical drivers to support his bearish energy call.

"I'm convinced that Saudi Arabia wants the price of oil at $70," said Gundlach, CEO and Chief Investment Officer of Los-Angeles-based DoubleLine.

That's because the Arab country's budget can withstand lower oil prices than some other oil-producing countries, including arch rival Iran. Saudi Arabia raised eyebrows recently by ramping up production in the face of plummeting 

"They don't care if they run a short-term deficit because they love turning the screws on the people that mean them harm in the Middle East," said Gundlach, hinting at Iran.

Another leg down in oil prices would also be bad news for Russia, which relies heavily on oil revenue to balance its budget. Last week, Moody's cited plunging oil prices in its decision to downgrade Russia's credit rating two notches to just above "junk" status.

Posted by orrinj at 11:53 AM


Evidence supports officer's account of shooting in Ferguson (Kimberly Kindy and Sari Horwitz October 23, 2014, Washington Post)

Ferguson, Mo., police officer Darren Wilson and Michael Brown fought for control of the officer's gun, and Wilson fatally shot the unarmed teenager after he moved toward the officer as they faced off in the street, according to interviews, news accounts and the full report of the St. Louis County autopsy of Brown's body.

Because Wilson is white and Brown was black, the case has ignited intense debate over how police interact with African American men. But more than a half-dozen unnamed black witnesses have provided testimony to a St. Louis County grand jury that largely supports Wilson's account of events of Aug. 9, according to several people familiar with the investigation who spoke with The Washington Post.

Some of the physical evidence -- including blood spatter analysis, shell casings and ballistics tests -- also supports Wilson's account of the shooting, The Post's sources said, which casts Brown as an aggressor who threatened the officer's life. The sources spoke on the condition of anonymity because they are prohibited from publicly discussing the case.

October 22, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:22 PM


In The Near Future, Solar Will Be Spray Painted On Everything (Ben Schiller, 10/22/14, Co.Exist)

Up to now, solar power has largely been generated on rooftops and in open areas like deserts. But the day is coming when the technology will be much more ubiquitous. We'll build solar cells into windows, cell-phone screens, and perhaps even into throwaway household items.

Lucelo Technologies, in Texas provides a glimpse of that future. Though at an early stage, it's developing a solar paint that can be spread on more or less anything--including plastic bags and shopping labels.

"We can basically build a solar cell on any material because we don't need high temperature processing and we don't need vacuum techniques," explains chief scientist Taylor Harvey. "It could open up new markets for solar where having a flexible, lightweight solar cell is needed."

Posted by orrinj at 7:17 PM


The Idea That Disruption Is Dead Is a Myth (Mike EdelhartOCTOBER 22, 2014, Entrepenuer)

This is my third tech revolution and in each, richly endowed pundits have declared the emerging technologies deficient, delusional, defunct. And, in each revolution, those pundits have been wrong. These current downbeat predictions about the social/mobile revolution are wrong, too.

Here's why: This tendency to declare the game over while we are still warming up for it stems from some fundamental misunderstandings of how tech revolutions and change actually work.

First, as much as we might expect and want it to, technological change doesn't occur arithmetically. If only each little change led to another change and to another in a neat, consistent, straight-line chain. In reality, though, tech change is epochal, following a course more like evolution. In evolution, everything appears to stay the same in an environment until the sum total of challenges to species in it passes a critical threshold and then change happens dramatically, deeply and suddenly. So, too, with tech revolutions. Everything in business and society seems pretty much normal on the surface, and stays the same, and stays the same. And then, boom, everything seems dramatically different. PCs are a trinket until suddenly they are everywhere and touch everything. The Internet is a weird backwater full of flaming nerds and tap dancing cats until, suddenly, it is the lifeblood of culture.

In the Darwinian world of tech revolution, traditional businesses don't disappear, they become extinct. New businesses, business models and economics don't merely win, in the sense of a war, they conquer with the totality and finality of evolution. They rise rapidly and inexorably in response to radically altered circumstances, wiping out those who cannot adapt utterly off the map. It's the death of the dinosaurs in business and cultural terms.

Posted by orrinj at 7:02 PM


When things go wrong, Obama increasingly relies on his inner circle, not his Cabinet (Juliet Eilperin and David Nakamura, October 22, 2014, Washington Post)

As the White House grappled with the unpredictable nature of Ebola on U.S. soil, one aspect of the government's response was relatively easy to forecast: Sooner or later President Obama would turn to a fixer to help solve the problem.

In a second term in which the administration has moved from one crisis to the next, Obama has repeatedly resorted to using outside operators to right the government's course, rather than simply deploying his Cabinet members.

Weak men choose weak cabinets.

October 21, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 6:37 PM


Adam Smith: Guide to a Happy Life : a review of HOW ADAM SMITH CAN CHANGE YOUR LIFE By Russ Roberts (DANIEL AKST, Oct. 20, 2014, WSJ)

Mr. Roberts offers newcomers a nice taste of the banquet Smith has to offer. Open "The Theory of Moral Sentiments" almost anywhere and you will gain insight into some aspect of the human condition: why poets but not mathematicians tend to form cabals (the former rely on public approval), for example, or what makes romantic comedies so much fun (other people's amours are ridiculous and yet produce interesting complications). Smith saw that we rate pain more potent than the equivalent amount of pleasure and that imagination is crucial to morality--so we can see how our actions will look to others and what the future will be like depending on what we do now. In not quite as many words, Smith observes that form follows function, that crowds can have wisdom, and that what social scientists now call "hedonic adaptation" (our tendency to adjust quickly to good and bad news alike) will soon wash away the pleasure that we gain from material good fortune. His advice to mourners of all kinds--"return, as soon as possible, to the daylight of the world"--remains sound.

All this comes as part of Smith's effort to derive a basis for virtue, the key feature of which is self-command. His premise is that our desire for the love and regard of others makes us behave in accord with their preferences and expectations, enabling us to rise above our baser selves. Society doesn't enslave us, as Rousseau and others have suggested; rather, according to Smith, it liberates us from the worst part of ourselves and allows us to thrive in concert. All of us, Smith says, judge our behavior against the standard of an impartial spectator within who develops as we mature, a kind of embodied conscience who can hold us to the straight and narrow even if our fellow humans are reprobates or monsters. Not that this spectator can't be fooled. Smith warns of the rationalizing to which our species is prone and, in doing so, places a modern-sounding emphasis on the problem of self-deception.

Posted by orrinj at 6:33 PM


The Gaudí Few People Knew : A conversation with José Manuel Almuzara, president for the Association for the Beatification of Antoni Gaudí (Aleteia, 10/20/14)

Is Antoni Gaudí a local architect, or a creator who can be promoted world-wide?

I can summarize it with a phrase from Pope Benedict XVI: "Creative architect and practicing Christian." Just exploring this title would be enough. The creativity of an architect is of interest to the whole world.  And what can I say about there being a practicing Catholic among the 1.2 billion people in the world? The more of us who practice our faith, the better...

From a professional point of view, we can offer him as a model for architects--as a man and as a Christian, a universal man.  From an architectural perspective, his architecture is original, and is based on nature.  He is also a pioneer from a human perspective, in the way he treated his workers, how he cared for his family, and in the coherence of his character and personality.

Gaudí said that work is the fruit of collaboration: and this collaboration should be based on love. An architect has to know the qualities of each of his collaborators. In this way, what matters is to discover what each person is good at, as no one is useless.

And so, if Joseph was taller than Jack, he would be better at certain things.  That particular worker would be happier using his personal resources, his way of being, apt for that specific kind of work, and the final result will be better.

As a consequence of this way of thinking, Gaudí pays homage to the workers in the Holy Family, in a place where it will go unnoticed, between the cloister and the lateral naves of the church. There, some patios are formed and in the keystones of the arches, Gaudí installs a sort of upside-down isosceles trapezoid. In the lower part, he places the tools used by each of his workers.

With this detail, he tells us that without them he could not have carried out the work. Thus, he unites the human with the divine. Exemplary, isn't it? And it is an indicator of who he was, just like his [habit of] carrying a Rosary in one pocket and hazelnuts in the other.

Hazelnuts? What were the hazelnuts for?

To feed the body, and the Rosary was for feeding the soul.

Posted by orrinj at 6:29 PM


19th Century Paris: Terrorism's Training Ground (Robert Zaretsky, October 21st, 2014, LA REview of Books)

[B]etween 1892 and 1894, Paris was rocked by the activity of anarchists who, dissatisfied with words, plumped for "Propaganda by Deed." During these two years, 11 bombs burst in Paris, most of them heaved at institutions and individuals that anarchists believed stood between oppression and liberation. Explosions erupted in chic restaurants and law offices, military barracks and the Chamber of Deputies: every element of civil and political society became targets for anarchists. Though fewer than a dozen people died in these terrorist attacks, fear gripped bourgeois Paris -- a sense of insecurity that was, predictably, heightened by the popular press. No less predictably, when an Italian immigrant assassinated French President Sadi Carnot during a visit to Lyon, shouting "Vive l'anarchie!" as he flashed his knife, the government instituted a series of laws, the infamous "lois scélérates," or scoundrel laws, that undermined many legal and civil liberties.

Yet the most dramatic act of terrorism, if only because it now appears as a rehearsal for the blood-dimmed wave of terrorism in the Middle East, was aimed not at political or judicial figures, but instead at innocent bystanders. On February 12, 1894, a young and impoverished intellectual, Émile Henry, entered the Café Terminus. A popular café at the Gare Saint-Lazare, the Terminus was bustling with white-collar workers, whose modest careers as shopkeepers and clerks hardly qualified them as the traditional targets of anarchist terrorists. Lighting with his cigar the fuse of a homemade bomb filled with bullets and explosives, Henry tossed it into the main room; the explosion, which shattered mirrors and chandeliers, killed one bystander and wounded 20 more.

This, for Merriman, explains the bombing's true significance: "What makes Henry's attack qualify as the origins of modern terrorism," he told me in an email exchange, "was the fact that he did not go after someone identified with the state, but ordinary bourgeois having a beer." Tellingly, neither the death nor injuries drew expressions of remorse from Henry -- to the contrary. Caught, convicted, and condemned to die, Henry declared there were no innocents. These "petty bourgeois with a steady salary in their pockets," he railed, were no less guilty than generals and presidents. [...]Like ISIS, anarchist terrorism had global pretentions: President William McKinley, shot dead by an anarchist in 1901, was just one of several Western political leaders at the turn of the century whose lives were taken, or nearly so, by anarchists. Just like anarchist artists who excelled at presenting their cause, ISIS has cultivated its own brand of propaganda by word and image, moving quickly from videos of beheadings to videos of anti-Western lectures given by some of its other captives. Both then and now, jobless and aimless young men, banished to the margins of society, turn against the values of that same society with a murderous passion. Both then and now, politicians and popular media have done a better job at scaring their audiences than at informing them, just as both then and now, governments roll back legal and human rights while attempting to roll back the terrorists.

The wave of anarchist terrorism in Paris subsided after 1894. Not only had France begun to emerge from a deep recession, but civil society also proved more resilient and more rewarding than the bleak vision offered by the anarchists. This may again prove the case. Over the past several weeks, a growing number of open letters and manifestos, written and signed by Muslim clerics and intellectuals in France, have loudly denounced the acts of ISIS. Whatever the future does hold, however, the past reminds us that terrorism has been the refuge not just of religious fanatics, but also secular fanatics, and that profane ideology no less than holy scripture can lead to utter disregard for human life.

Posted by orrinj at 6:14 PM


Let People Shop for Health Care (Peter R. Orszag, 10/21/14, Bloomberg View)

A team of researchers led by Christopher Whaley of the University of California at Berkeley and Castlight Health examined what happens when hundreds of thousands of people are given access to a website that provides prices for various medical procedures.

Historically, consumers have had difficulty finding out the price they will be charged for a specific procedure or visit. But it's reasonable to expect that if prices were provided, and if the patients had "skin in the game" in the form of cost-sharing, they would seek out lower-priced options.

That is exactly what the researchers found. Use of the price-transparency tool was associated with a 14 percent decline in payments for laboratory tests, a 13 percent decline in payments for advanced imaging tests, and a 1 percent decline in payments for clinician office visits. Giving more information to consumers about the prices of their care, in other words, led them to choose less expensive options.

Posted by orrinj at 6:07 PM


Obama Is a Republican : He's the heir to Richard Nixon, not Saul Alinsky. (BRUCE BARTLETT • October 21, 2014, American Conservative)

Contrary to rants that Obama's 2010 health reform, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), is the most socialistic legislation in American history, the reality is that it is virtually textbook Republican health policy, with a pedigree from the Heritage Foundation and Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, among others.

It's important to remember that historically the left-Democratic approach to healthcare reform was always based on a fully government-run system such as Medicare or Medicaid. During debate on health reform in 2009, this approach was called "single payer," with the government being the single payer. One benefit of this approach is cost control: the government could use its monopsony buying power to force down prices just as Walmart does with its suppliers.

Conservatives wanted to avoid too much government control and were adamantly opposed to single-payer. But they recognized that certain problems required more than a pure free-market solution. One problem in particular is covering people with pre-existing conditions, one of the most popular provisions in ACA. The difficulty is that people may wait until they get sick before buying insurance and then expect full coverage for their conditions. Obviously, this free-rider problem would bankrupt the health-insurance system unless there was a fix.

The conservative solution was the individual mandate--forcing people to buy private health insurance, with subsidies for the poor. This approach was first put forward by Heritage Foundation economist Stuart Butler in a 1989 paper, "A Framework for Reform," published in a Heritage Foundation book, A National Health System for America. In it, Butler said the number one element of a conservative health system was this: "Every resident of the U.S. must, by law, be enrolled in an adequate health care plan to cover major health costs." He went on to say:

Under this arrangement, all households would be required to protect themselves from major medical costs by purchasing health insurance or enrolling in a prepaid health plan. The degree of financial protection can be debated, but the principle of mandatory family protection is central to a universal health care system in America.

In 1991, prominent conservative health economist Mark V. Pauley also endorsed the individual mandate as central to healthcare reform. In an article in the journal Health Affairs, Pauley said:

All citizens should be required to obtain a basic level of health insurance. Not having health insurance imposes a risk of delaying medical care; it also may impose costs on others, because we as a society provide care to the uninsured. ... Permitting individuals to remain uninsured results in inefficient use of medical care, inequity in the incidence of costs of uncompensated care, and tax-related distortions.

In 2004, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) endorsed an individual mandate in a speech to the National Press Club. "I believe higher-income Americans today do have a societal and personal responsibility to cover in some way themselves and their children," he said. Even libertarian Ron Bailey, writing in Reason, conceded the necessity of a mandate in a November 2004 article titled, "Mandatory Health Insurance Now!" Said Bailey: "Why shouldn't we require people who now get health care at the expense of the rest of us pay for their coverage themselves? ... Mandatory health insurance would not be unlike the laws that require drivers to purchase auto insurance or pay into state-run risk pools."

Posted by orrinj at 6:04 PM


Somaliland inspired by Scotland and Catalonia independence campaigns (Mark Anderson, 10/21/14, theguardian.com)

Somaliland is viewed by the international community as a territory within Somalia - a nation that is struggling to emerge from more than two decades of civil war. However, the former British protectorate boasts more than 20 years of relative peace and security as well as untapped oil reserves and mineral deposits.

Its president, Ahmed Mohamed Mohamoud Silanyo, said he was encouraged by other independence movements and hoped that boosting investment in Somaliland's energy and agricultural sectors would spark an economic rebirth that could help it towards independence.

"Other countries' search for recognition, like Catalonia and Scotland, is something we find [inspiring]," he said. "We are, in our own way, also seeking our independence."

Posted by orrinj at 5:31 PM


Solar power is casting a bigger shadow (BRUCE KENNEDY,October 14, 2014, MONEYWATCH)

During 2014's second quarter, photovoltaic (PV) installations in the U.S. went over the gigawatt mark for the third consecutive quarter, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). A gigawatt is equivalent to the amount of power needed for around 750,000 homes.

And while commercial solar power is still in its infancy (the Institute for Energy Research says solar makes up just 0.2 percent of the net energy produced in the U.S.), homes and businesses with solar panels are no longer considered an oddity. The SEIA says more than a half-million homes and businesses now have solar installations, and during the first half of 2014, 53 percent of all new electric capacity was from solar power.

Solar energy costs are also dropping. A report by the Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory says the cost of energy sold to utilities from large-scale solar power operations has fallen by more than 70 percent since 2008.

October 20, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:11 PM


Survey: Wage increases grow scarcer even as US hiring remains strong; sales also slow (CHRISTOPHER S. RUGABER, 10/20/14, AP)

U.S. businesses were much less likely to boost pay in the third quarter than in previous months, even as hiring remained healthy, a sign that wage gains may remain weak in the coming months.

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 PM


Iran Acts to Comply With Interim Nuclear Deal With Powers: IAEA (REUTERS, OCT. 20, 2014)

Iran is taking further action to comply with an interim nuclear agreement with six world powers, a monthly U.N. atomic agency report showed, a finding the West may see as positive ahead of a November deadline for clinching a long-term deal.

The report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), seen by Reuters, made clear that Iran is meeting its commitments under the temporary deal, as it and major powers seek to negotiate a final settlement of a decade-old nuclear dispute.

It said Iran had diluted more than 4,100 kg of uranium enriched to a fissile concentration of up to 2 percent down to the level of natural uranium. This was one of the additional steps Iran agreed to undertake when the six-month accord that took effect early this year was extended by four months in July.

Posted by orrinj at 6:09 PM


Open source the CBO! (Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, 10/20/14, The Week)

[H]ow did the CBO know the fiscal impact of ObamaCare 10 years from now? Well, to forecast that with any certainty, the CBO would have to know the GDP 10 years from now, and the tax policy 10 years from now, and other critical factors. Of course, it's literally impossible to do these things. Which is why the CBO builds mathematical models with all sorts of assumptions into them that spit out a "score." Like pretty much all predictors of future things, the CBO has to do some (educated) guesswork. And indeed, in the case of ObamaCare, the task is so difficult that the CBO basically gave up earlier this year.

This is not to criticize the CBO or its work. While the efficacy of mathematical modeling in economics is overrated, it is also necessary. It is impossible to do this kind of forecasting without building certain assumptions into it.

It's good that we have the CBO, and it's good that it does the work it does. But there is an easy way to make it better.

Right now, the CBO's work is essentially a black box. The CBO spits out the "score," but nobody knows anything about the model that score is based on.

Like any model, the CBO's is built on questionable assumptions. As I said, that is a necessary part of the work. But it would also be helpful to the public to have the ability for other people to use different, equally legitimate assumptions and to put them into the CBO's model to get a different score.

It's just common sense. We should open source the CBO so that as many people as possible can look into the innards of its scores and arrive at their own conclusions, and perhaps debate other scores. The CBO's model isn't intrinsically better than anybody else's -- it's just the CBO's.

Don't stop with the CBO.  All government information should be publicly available.

Posted by orrinj at 2:10 PM


Big Box Retail's Latest Bright Idea: Solar Power (Caroline Winter  October 20, 2014, Businessweek)

Big companies are finally beginning to see the light. Over the past two years, the top 25 corporate solar users in America have more than doubled their capacity, according to a new report by the Solar Energy Industries Association. Cumulatively, these companies produced enough electricity last year to power more than 115,000 homes. [...]

The expansion comes down to basic business logic, not just high-minded attempts to demonstrate noble ecological thinking. The average price of completing a commercial photovoltaic project has dropped more than 45 percent since 2012, according to the study, while average electricity rates have gone up more than 20 percent in the past 10 years.

Posted by orrinj at 2:05 PM


America, the Balanced (Jeffrey Frankel, OCT 20, 2014, Project Syndicate)

[T]he world's investors declared loud and clear in 2008 that they were not concerned about the sustainability of US deficits. When the global financial crisis erupted, they flooded into dollar assets, even though the crisis originated in the United States.

Moreover, a substantial amount of US adjustment has taken place since 1982 - for example, the dollar depreciations of 1985-1987 and 2002-2007 and the fiscal retrenchments of 1992-2000 and 2009-2014. The big increase in domestic output of shale oil and gas has also helped the trade balance recently.

As a result, the US current-account deficit in 2013 had narrowed by half in dollar terms from its 2006 peak, and from 5.8% of GDP to 2.4%. This is a decline of two-thirds when expressed as a share of global output.

A symmetric adjustment has also occurred in China, via real appreciation of its currency and higher prices for labor and land. China's current-account surplus peaked in 2008 at more than 10% of GDP and has since narrowed dramatically, to 1.9% last year. China's trade adjustment in some respects followed that of Japan, the original focus of American trade anxieties in the 1980s.

I propose a third, more speculative reason why it may be time to stop worrying about the US current-account deficit. It is possible that, properly measured, the true deficits were smaller than has been reported, and even that, in some years, they were not there at all.

The global economy can not withstand American balance.

October 19, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 8:53 PM


Dueling Visions : a review of Freedom and Virtue: The Conservative/Libertarian Debate,  edited by George W Carey.  (MORGAN N. KNULL, University Bookman)

Regarding man as an imperfect creature, the division between conservatives and libertarians occurs because the former see an imperative for the state to shepherd errant persons toward greater virtue, whereas the latter are leery about entrusting too much power to the state when its guardians always will be fallible men. Conservatives embrace a paternalistic structure whereas libertarians favor a minimalist one. Ironically, but insurmountably, fusionism can never be a lasting paradigm precisely because defining the state's proper aims and scope is intrinsic to politics, since issues of the day must be analyzed within some theoretic framework. Murray Rothbard puts it most explicitly: "Intellectually, the concept must be judged a failure."

Since the specifics of conservative and libertarian statecraft are more exhaustively articulated in other works, the richness of the present book is found in the colorful arguments and unexpected concessions which often emerge. "My instincts are libertarian, and I am sure that I would never have joined effort with the conservatives if I had not been convinced that they are the defenders of freedom today," Richard M. Weaver confesses. Advancing Hobbes as the creator of a liberal state that permits the "greatest range of human liberty consistent with peace," Walter Berns complains that he's a conservative because libertarians' view of nature is wrong: "I do not believe that without government there can be any order." Machan contends that "man is perfectible" and conservatives are anti‑rationalistic, but Meyer observes that it is the "pure" libertarians like Machan who cannot satisfactorily account for concepts like Providence and honor. And so it goes for 225 pages.

One recurrent criticism voiced most forcefully by Bozell and Wilhelmsen is that the logic of libertarianism implies a belief in the Ubermensch. What they find particularly objectionable is the view expressed by Meyer that virtuous actions are not ethically meaningful unless men perform them "free from the constraint of the physical coercion of an unlimited state." Drawing from Thomistic philosophy and employing withering rhetoric, Bozell denounces as a "burlesque of reason" the "inner logic of the dictum that virtue-not-freely-chosen is not virtue at all." The genius of his essay alone justifies the purchase of Freedom and Virtue. "In short, libertarianism's first command--maximize freedom--applies with equal vigor to all of society's activities; and the meaning of the command, in effect, is this: virtue must be made as difficult as possible," Bozell sarcastically concludes [italics original]. "While only a few men, if any, can be expected to meet the challenge successfully, the proliferation of unvirtuous acts in the objective order is one of the prices that must be paid for the fulfillment of heroic man."

Robert Nisbet offers a caveat of his own, observing, "I believe a state of mind is developing among libertarians in which the coercions of family, church, local community, and school will seem almost as inimical to freedom as those of the political government." Later in the volume, Nisbet's fear appears to be realized in Paul Kurtz's assertion that: "It is not evident that religious societies are any more moral than non-religious ones. Religious societies may be insensitive to other forms of injustice. They may seek to impose order, hierarchy, and the status quo on those who resist it." In a tightly reasoned reply, Edward B. McLean challenges the adequacy of Kurtz's secularized political assumptions. "All constructive notions of liberty are infused with the predicates of Christian faith and cannot be sustained without their explicit or implicit guidance," McLean notes.

The notion of the perfectability of men is the great evil against which conservatism is the bulwark.
Posted by orrinj at 8:48 PM


Obama Could Reaffirm a Bush-Era Reading of a Treaty on Torture (CHARLIE SAVAGE, OCT. 18, 2014, NY Times)

When the Bush administration revealed in 2005 that it was secretly interpreting a treaty ban on "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment" as not applying to C.I.A. and military prisons overseas, Barack Obama, then a newly elected Democratic senator from Illinois, joined in a bipartisan protest.

Mr. Obama supported legislation to make it clear that American officials were legally barred from using cruelty anywhere in the world. And in a Senate speech, he said enacting such a statute "acknowledges and confirms existing obligations" under the treaty, the United Nations Convention Against Torture.

But the Obama administration has never officially declared its position on the treaty, and now, President Obama's legal team is debating whether to back away from his earlier view. It is considering reaffirming the Bush administration's position that the treaty imposes no legal obligation on the United States to bar cruelty outside its borders, according to officials who discussed the deliberations on the condition of anonymity.

Posted by orrinj at 8:38 PM


In Ferguson, activists in search of a revolution (Amanda Sakuma, 10/19/14, MSNBC)

It took seven University of Pennsylvania students piled into a rental van nearly 16 hours to drive to St. Louis. They had raised $600 in three days from a Go Fund Me account that was supposed to last them through the weekend. They slept wherever they could crash for free -- the basement of a St. Louis couple's home, or packed on the floor of a church at night.

But once in Ferguson, it was nothing like the war zone they had seen splashed on their television screens exactly two months earlier. 

Instead of armored vehicles blocking suburban intersections and stoking chaos in the streets, police squad cars were escorting peaceful marches that were careful organized and tailored during the day. Instead of training assault rifles on the faces of protesters, officers were standing idly by, at times even joking around with anyone within earshot.

"It was awesome to go and be there in solidarity -- we went to the events, we went to the protests -- but it still feels a little like it was not ours." [...]

Krasovitzky and her crew of classmates were there to join the "Weekend of Resistance" -- what they saw as their generation's own civil rights revolution over the death of Michael Brown, who was unarmed when he was shot by a Ferguson police officer. That officer, Darren Wilson, remains free while a St. Louis grand jury investigates whether he should be charged with a crime. 

National groups had stepped in to plan the four-day event, organizing rallies and marches to keep the movement alive. They set up a website offering a forum for local residents to offer couches or beds for visitors, and connected people from across the country who needed a ride to the Midwest. 

Hundreds of people poured into the city - far short of the thousands organizers had projected - representing a diverse coalition of trade unions, student associations, religious groups and concerned citizens. Still, the disconnect between the die-hard protesters who had camped out for nearly 60 days and the activists who were now joining months later was difficult to overcome.

That divide between the local activists and those joining events just for the weekend was on full display last Sunday night when audience members at an interfaith event heckled black leaders who came to St. Louis to urge for peaceful demonstrations in the face of police crackdowns.

"The brother with the suit and tie on isn't the guy who's protecting me," local rapper Tef Poe said to the crowd after he had been called onstage to speak. "It's the dude with tattoos on his face that look like Chief Keef."

That same division was on display during the protests last weekend. By the time the group of University of Pennsylvania students arrived in Clayton, where the first organized march was to take place, police officers had already blocked off the streets with barricades to neatly contain the protests. Volunteers wearing neon vests walked along the center of the street, acting as a human boundary between the oncoming traffic and the crowd of barely a few hundred participants who marched the predetermined eight-block route. Though pockets of protesters continued to brave the brutal rain while chanting at the phalanx of police guarding the county prosecutor's office, the demonstration wrapped up in less than two hours.

Posted by orrinj at 5:13 PM


Paul Krugman's sloppy, wet kiss (Thomas Frank, 10/19/14, Salon)

As Salon readers know, Krugman has for years been willing to criticize the Obama administration. However, in a much-discussed essay the economist published in Rolling Stone last week, he reverses himself and declares that Obama has won him over; that the president is "one of the most consequential and, yes, successful presidents in American history."

What makes Krugman's article peculiar is that he now derides as irresponsible "Obama-bashing" some of the very criticisms of the administration that he himself has made over the years. In 2010, for example, he strongly hinted that bankers had been engaged in "white-collar looting"; in Rolling Stone he laughs at people who complain that "Wall Street hasn't been punished." The Krugman of today also, amazingly, distances himself from certain misguided souls who are upset because "income inequality remains so high"; amazing because this is a subject on which Krugman has written for decades--indeed, just a few months ago he penned a scorcher against people who deny the mushrooming problem of inequality.

Sure, the UR's a pale imitation of W and Bill Clinton, but this is the most liberal presidency Mr. Krugman will get to see for the remainder of his life.  He may as well embrace it.

Posted by orrinj at 5:07 PM


Jeanne Shaheen attacks Scott Brown in new TV ad (Joshua Miller, AUGUST 27, 2014, Boston Globe)

In a shift in strategy, US Senator Jeanne Shaheen Wednesday launched her first attack television advertisement against Scott Brown, painting the Republican as a pawn of "big oil" and a candidate looking out for himself rather than New Hampshire.

It might make sense to run these ads when folks are angry at big oil, but as prices plummet they just seem odd.

Posted by orrinj at 4:11 PM


The Dead Hand of Socialism: State Ownership in the Arab World (Dalibor Rohac, August 25, 2014, Cato)

Extensive government ownership in the economy is a source of inefficiency and a barrier to economic development. Although precise measures of government ownership across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) are hard to come by, the governments of Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Syria, and Yemen all operate sizeable segments of their economies--in some cases accounting for more than two-thirds of the GDP.

International experience suggests that private ownership tends to outperform public ownership. Yet MENA countries have made only modest progress toward reducing the share of government ownership in their economies and are seen as unlikely candidates for wholesale privatization in the near future.

MENA countries need to implement privatization in order to sustain their transitions toward more representative political systems and inclusive economic institutions. Three main lessons emerge from the experience of countries that have undergone large privatization programs in the past. First, the form of privatization matters for its economic outcomes and for popular acceptance of the reform. Transparent privatization, using open and competitive bidding, produces significantly better results than privatization by insiders, without public scrutiny. Second, private ownership and governance of the financial sector is crucial to the success of restructuring. Third, privatization needs to be a part of a broader reform package that would liberalize and open MENA economies to competition.

Posted by orrinj at 3:51 PM


Eurozone stagnation is a greater threat than debt (Wolfgang Munchau, 10/19/14, Financial Times)

Financial markets have woken up to the possibility of a eurozone-wide economic depression with very low inflation over the next 10 to 20 years. This is what the fall in various measures of inflation expectations tells us. Investors are not worried about the solvency of a member state. That was clearly different two years ago.

But the present scenario is no less disturbing. The implications for those who live in such an economic snake pit are already visible: high unemployment; rising poverty; real and nominal wage stagnation; a debt burden that will not come down in real terms; a decline in public sector services, and in public investment. A shocking example is the decrepit state of German military hardware. Of the Luftwaffe's 254 fighter planes, 150 cannot fly.

The eurozone's stagnation will affect the rest of the world to different degrees. The UK might manage to escape the same fate, but the eurozone economy is big enough to pull Britain down with it. Hardest hit will be the parts of central and eastern Europe that do not use the euro. They are caught between an imploding Russia and a stagnating Europe. It is hard to see how the oil price can recover in an environment of permanently low growth. And it is even harder to see how Russia can live with a permanently depressed oil price.

Posted by orrinj at 3:45 PM


Poland leads opposition to EU energy deal (Henry Foy in Warsaw, Christian Oliver in Brussels and Pilita Clark in London, 10/19/14, Financial Times)

The opponents to the deal, led by Poland and the Czech Republic, but also including Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria, are ready to walk away from the summit if they are not offered improved terms.

"This may fail," Rafal Trzaskowski, Poland's European affairs minister, told the Financial Times. "We have our well-entrenched red lines . . . If they are not ready to take into consideration our apprehensions, then we will decide later this week or early next week not to deal with the issue at the summit."
Brussels wants to compensate eastern European nations for the potential costs by allocating them allowances from the EU's carbon market but officials in Warsaw argue that the current plan on the table cannot guarantee enough cash that the huge overhaul of its coal industry requires to meet the EU's targets. [...]

The central Europeans think that their best chance of a sweetened deal is to postpone a decision on the emission reduction targets into the next commission, rather than accept a rushed compromise this month. Brussels is proposing that, by 2030, countries should reduce their emissions by 40 per cent from 1990 levels.

Poland fears that this target would hit its economy disproportionately because 90 per cent of its electricity comes from coal and Warsaw argues that the EU deal will drive up consumer prices 120 per cent between 2021 and 2030. Likewise, an unusually high percentage of Czech industry is dependent on energy-intensive manufacturing.

"What we are trying to do is work with the assumption that we want a compromise," said Mr Trzaskowski, describing a "common position" between the five countries. "The most important thing is that we do not take additional burdens that will increase the cost of energy."

Posted by orrinj at 11:41 AM


What a menu tells you about a restaurant: The language of food (CLINT WITCHALLS, 30 September 2014, Independent)

Writers are often given the advice: "Don't use a $5 word when a 50-cent word will do." But the advice should come with the disclaimer: "Unless you write menus for a living." As Dan Jurafsky, a professor of linguistics at Stanford University discovered, using long words to describe a dish is a sign of an expensive restaurant.

In his hugely entertaining book, The Language of Food, out today, Jurafsky explains that every increase of one letter in the average length of words describing a dish is associated with an increase of 69 cents (42p) in the price of that dish. In a study of 6,500 menus, Jurafsky found that the words "exotic" and "spices" also raise the price of a dish. But "linguistic fillers" like "mouth-watering", "sublime" and "crispy", tend to feature more often on cheap menus.

"At the expensive restaurant, you're supposed to assume that the crispy food will be crispy," Jurafsky said in a telephone interview. "The cheaper restaurants are a little worried that you might not know. It's a kind of status anxiety."

Eat at home and call it breakfast, lunch & dinner.

Posted by orrinj at 10:38 AM


Poll: Likely Voters Favor GOP-Led Congress (REID J. EPSTEIN, 10/18/14, WSJ)
Voters likely to cast ballots in the midterm elections favor a Republican-led Congress over a Democratic one, 49% to 44%, a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News/Annenberg survey finds.

Posted by orrinj at 10:25 AM


Hamas reconstructing damaged Gaza attack tunnel (ELHANAN MILLER, October 19, 2014, Times of Israel)

Hamas's armed wing is reconstructing an attack tunnel damaged by Israel during Operation Protective Edge, the movement's newspaper reported on Sunday, admitting that renovation work was carried out on the tunnel under the protection of a humanitarian ceasefire during the operation

It's more like polishing their victory trophy.

Posted by orrinj at 8:00 AM


Author Katha Pollitt Claims "Abortion is Part of Being a Mother" (THERESA BONOPARTIS, 10/19/14, Aleteia)

Ms. Pollitt tells us," We need to talk about ending a pregnancy as a common, even normal, event in the reproductive lives of women." But it is not "normal," regardless of its frequency, and no amount of writing or talking will ever make it so. That is why abortion continues to be such a controversial issue. She tries to justify her position by stating abortions occur worldwide and throughout history. So have rape and murder, but simply because an action is widespread does not make it normal or acceptable. [...]

Her rationalizations are extremist: she tells us abortion is "part of being a mother and of caring for children, because caring for children is knowing when it's not a good idea to bring them into the world." If a woman is pregnant, she is already a mother and her child is already in the world. Does she even hear what she's saying? Part of being a mother is to NOT be a mother by doing the most unmaternal act of having one's child eliminated? Caring for children consists in killing them? And if it's not a good idea for them to be in the world and this decision is solely the mothers', why stop at birth?

...and ask why a caring mother would not then kill her children whenever she feels its a bad idea for them to be in the world?  It's not an argument about caring for others, but about aggrandizing power to the self. 
Posted by orrinj at 7:53 AM


Marriage Is Not a Water Fountain (ANTHONY ESOLEN, 10/18/14, Crisis)

Consider the segregationist in Alabama, who wanted to keep one water fountain (the nice one in the middle of the hall) for whites, and another (the rusty one out back) for colored people. What can we say about that?

What the southern slaveholders themselves said about it, for one: it is a peculiar institution. It is not part of the universal human experience, this uncharitable preoccupation with race. Ancient Rome knew nothing of it. Does anyone know the color of Saint Augustine's skin? He was born in Africa to a father with a Roman name and a mother with a Punic name. Was his blood Caucasian, Semitic, Berber, Ethiopian, or some combination thereof? No one knows, because no one thought it worth mentioning. After the first century, none of the emperors are specifically Roman, and very few are even Italian. No one cared. [...]

Third: the separation violated the natural law. The water fountain is designed to meet the natural bodily needs of a human being. Everyone needs to drink. Thirst is far more distressing than hunger. Every traveler or stranger needs a place to sleep. Every sick person needs a bed and a doctor. The black man needs water, or food, or a bed, or medicine no more and no less than does the white man, and for the same reasons. The right to these things, without any encumbrance based upon the fantasy of race, flows from our common human nature. I was thirsty, and you gave me to drink. [...]

Now, none of these conditions characterizes our efforts to restore and protect the institution of marriage. If anything, they characterize some of our opponents in the debate. Let us see why. [...]

First, the idea that marriage requires a man and a woman is not peculiar to us. It is universal in human culture. Its universality is based upon the obvious functions of the reproductive organs, and the obvious need to propagate the species. We may add, too, that in a multitude of manifestations, wide in variety but recognizably of the same kind, what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman are also universal in human culture. That too is observed and accepted as natural and good, most nobly embodied in the complementarity of marriage, man and woman.

What is peculiar? The idea that there are no such things as manhood and womanhood; that the sexes are empty of significance, except in the sole case of what must then be considered a mere irrational and inexplicable desire: that this particular male must have another male, and this particular female must have another female. We can pretend that a man can possibly marry another man, because we have shut our eyes to what marriage is, and what men and women are.

That means that we have to shore up a lie. Suppose I say, "A marriage by our bodily nature requires a man and a woman. If we think about it for a moment, it also requires a vow of permanence and exclusivity, because marriage involves the time-transcending act that brings a new generation into being." What about that is not true? When a man and a woman unite in the congress of the sexes, that is exactly what they are doing, even if they try to thwart its natural result. Nothing in human reality is comparable to that act.

So clear it is that sodomy and sexual congress are different kinds of things, biologically and ontologically, that it takes tremendous pressure to pretend otherwise. We must engage in bad science (social "research" on the children of gay parents, with self-selected participants and no check on their veracity). We must engage in linguistic subterfuge (saying that it shouldn't matter whom you "love," finessing the meaning of "love" and diverting attention away from the issue, which is the nature of marriage and its current health). We must indoctrinate children, vilify ordinary people ("breeders"), put hesitant parents under suspicion, and concentrate the massive might of the State against normal and unremarkable cultural expression (trying to compel Irishmen in Boston to celebrate sodomy on Saint Patrick's Day).

And what is this for? It is not for a universal need. Human beings do need friendships, but we do not register friendships with the State. Human beings do need a mother and a father; but the movement for homosexual pseudogamy, like the sexual revolution generally, cruelly denies that need. The person at the water fountain needs a drink. But no one needs sodomy, in part because no one, as an individual, needs any sexual activity at all. If you keep your clothes on, you are not going to shrivel up and die. You may want the activity. You may want it very much. But it is not a necessity. In fact, most of our noblest thinkers have cautioned against putting too much stock in the nether regions, arguing that what we really need in that regard is self-control, lest our lives become dissipated and debauched.

Posted by orrinj at 7:48 AM


A Jewel in the Buckle of the Bible Belt: Bob Jones University Museum and Gallery (Dwight Longenecker, 10/19/14, Imaginative Conservative)

Because Baroque art was unpopular in the 1950s, "Dr Bob" got started with twenty-five paintings including works by Botticelli, Botticini, Ghirlandaio, Tintoretto, Veronese, and Ribera. By 1954 his collection had grown to 40 paintings, then within ten years the owned 211 old masters, and by 1991 the Bob Jones Gallery had over four hundred works on permanent display including works by Rubens, Dore, Rembrandt, Murillo and van Honthorst. They added seven large Benjamin West paintings and also began acquiring valuable antiques, vestments and a glittering collection of Russian icons.

On entering the Bob Jones gallery one is entranced by the austere beauty of altarpieces from the early Sienese school, then as one progresses through the galleries the history of European sacred art opens up through the late medieval Flemish and Italian masters through the Renaissance and Baroque to the nineteenth century. The paintings in the Bob Jones collection are arranged chronologically and by geographical regions in galleries that are lavishly decorated and professionally lit. The artwork is displayed with salvaged architectural features, complementary wall hangings, tapestries, sculpture, church fittings and period furniture.

The visitor to Bob Jones University campus who knows only of the school's unfortunate reputation will be bemused and bewildered. "How is it that a school once known for being racist, rabidly fundamentalist and virulently anti-Catholic could have acquired such an outstanding collection of Catholic art?" The questions continue: "What do the fundamentalist students make of the art collection? How do the anti-Catholic supporters of Bob Jones University feel about the overtly Catholic artwork?

The answers remain with the eccentric and unique flair of Bob Jones Jr. who died in 1997. On the event of the museum's opening in 1951 he explained to the students, "Bob Jones University believes that nothing is too good for God, and here on these walls we see great talent employed in His service. We want you to enjoy these pictures as well as be blessed by them. Come back again and again to look at the pictures. After you have formed a general acquaintance with them all, concentrate on them one by one. Your appreciation and understanding of art will grow, your life will be enriched, and your culture increased as great masters, long gone to dust, speak to you of their faith and their dreams--reveal to you something of their own personalities. You will realize more and more how universal is the message of the Word of God in its appeal to human hearts in every generation."

Posted by orrinj at 7:38 AM


Low oil price means high anxiety for Opec as US flexes its muscles (Terry Macalister, 10/18/14, The Observer)

The US, the world's biggest oil consumer, has relied in the past on Saudi to keep Opec price rises relatively low. But now it has the complicating factor of protecting its own huge shale industry.

Even US oil producers see the political benefits of abundant shale resources and the resultant downward pressure on prices. Rex Tillerson, chief executive of Exxon Mobil, the biggest US oil company, said recently that his country had now entered a "new era of energy abundance" - meaning it is no longer dependent on the politically unstable Middle East.

So there will be understandable tension next month when the ruling Opec body meets in Vienna and its member states fight over what to do. The cartel would like to reassert its authority over oil prices but some producing countries, such as Saudi, can withstand lower crude values for much longer than others, and the relative costs of production vary wildly between nations.

Since the Arab spring, many countries in the Middle East have hugely increased their public spending in response to growing dissent over unemployment and high prices. A lower oil price endangers this.

The best strategy for the free world to use against the authoritarian petro states is to keep the prices low while reducing consumption, which is done with gas taxes.

Posted by orrinj at 7:28 AM


Deus Ex Musica : Beethoven transformed music--but has veneration of him stifled his successors? (ALEX ROSS, 10/20/14, The New Yorker)

Beethoven is a singularity in the history of art--a phenomenon of dazzling and disconcerting force. He not only left his mark on all subsequent composers but also molded entire institutions. The professional orchestra arose, in large measure, as a vehicle for the incessant performance of Beethoven's symphonies. The art of conducting emerged in his wake. The modern piano bears the imprint of his demand for a more resonant and flexible instrument. Recording technology evolved with Beethoven in mind: the first commercial 33⅓ r.p.m. LP, in 1931, contained the Fifth Symphony, and the duration of first-generation compact disks was fixed at seventy-five minutes so that the Ninth Symphony could unfurl without interruption. After Beethoven, the concert hall came to be seen not as a venue for diverse, meandering entertainments but as an austere memorial to artistic majesty. Listening underwent a fundamental change. To follow Beethoven's dense, driving narratives, one had to lean forward and pay close attention. The musicians' platform became the stage of an invisible drama, the temple of a sonic revelation.

Above all, Beethoven shaped the identity of what came to be known as classical music. In the course of the nineteenth century, dead composers began to crowd out the living on concert programs, and a canon of masterpieces materialized, with Beethoven front and center. As the scholar William Weber has established, this fetishizing of the past can be tracked with mathematical precision, as a rising line on a graph: in Leipzig, the percentage of works by deceased composers went from eleven per cent in 1782 to seventy-six per cent in 1870. Weber sees an 1807 Leipzig performance of Beethoven's Third Symphony, the titanic, turbulent "Eroica," as a turning point: the work was brought back a week later, "by demand," taking a place of honor at the end of the program. Likewise, a critic wrote of the Second Symphony, "It demands to be played again, and yet again, by even the most accomplished orchestra." More than anything, it was the mesmerizing intricacy of Beethoven's constructions--his way of building large structures from the obsessive development of curt motifs--that made the repertory culture of classical music possible. This is not to say that Beethoven's predecessors, giants on the order of Bach, Haydn, and Mozart, fail to reward repeated listening with their cerebral games of variation. In the case of Beethoven, though, the process becomes addictive, irresistible. No composer labors so hard to stave off boredom, to occupy the mind of one who might be hearing or playing a particular piece for the tenth or the hundredth time. [...]

How did Beethoven become "BEETHOVEN"? What prompted the "great transformation of musical taste," to take a phrase from William Weber--the shift on the concert stage from a living culture to a necrophiliac one? The simplest answer might be that Beethoven was so crushingly sublime that posterity capitulated. But no one is well served by history in the style of superhero comics. This composer, too, was shaped by circumstances, and he happened to reach his maturity just as listeners of an intellectual bent, such as E. T. A. Hoffmann, were primed for an oversized figure, an emperor of an expanding musical realm. The scholar Mark Evan Bonds, in his new book "Absolute Music," describes the "growing conviction at the turn of the nineteenth century that music had the capacity to disclose the 'wonders' of the universe in ways that words could not, and that the greatest composers were in effect oracles, intermediaries between the divine and the human." As Bonds observes, people had spoken of Mozart's genius but had not referred to him "as a genius." With Beethoven, genius became a distinct identity, fashioned by the self rather than furnished by God.

That, in a nutshell, is the damage he did, turning artists inwards on themselves, where they had looked outward to Creation.  He was sufficiently a genius that he could still produce art.  Very few of his fellow modernists ever have or will.

Posted by orrinj at 7:17 AM


How (Some) Economists Are Like Doomsday Cult Members (JAY LIVINGSTON • October 16, 2014, Pacific Standard)

The 1954 sociology classic When Prophecy Fails describes groups built around a prediction that the world would soon be destroyed and that they, the believers, would be saved by flying saucers from outer space. When it didn't happen, they too faced the problem of cognitive dissonance--dissonance between belief and fact. But because they had been very specific about what would happen and when it would happen, they could not very well use the  denial and equivocation favored by the economists. Instead, they first claimed that what had averted the disaster was their own faith. By meeting and planning and believing so strongly in their extraterrestrial rescuers, they had literally saved the world. The economists, by contrast, could not claim that their warnings saved us from inflation, for their warning--their predictions and prescriptions--had been ignored by the Fed. So instead they argue that there actually is, or will be, serious inflation.

The other tactic that the millenarian group seized on was to start proselytizing--trying to convert others and to bring new members into the fold. For the conservative economists, this tactic is practically a given, but it is not necessarily a change. They had already been spreading their faith, as professors and as advisors (to policymakers, political candidates, wealthy investors, et al.). They haven't necessarily redoubled their efforts, but the evidence has not given them pause. They continue to publish their unreconstructed views to as wide an audience as possible.

That's the curious thing about cognitive dissonance. The goal is to reduce the dissonance, and it really doesn't matter how. Of course, you could change your ideas, but letting go of long and deeply held ideas when the facts no longer cooperate is difficult. Apparently it's easier to change the facts (by denial, equivocation, etc.). Or, equally effective in reducing the dissonance, you can convince others that you are right. That validation is just as effective as a friendly set of facts, especially if it comes from powerful and important people ,and comes with rewards both social and financial.

It is possible to forgive Alan Greenspan for tanking the economy twice by raising rates into the teeth of deflation, after all, he'd been in positions of power during the great inflation of the 70s.  It is understandable if some such people remain terrified of the phenomenon.

But the problem now is not just that these guys are obsessed with a problem that no longer exists, but that they can not even begin to face the potential issue that does exist : deflation.

October 18, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 11:32 PM


The Last Founding Father : Richard Brookhiser's new biography of Lincoln is splendid : a review of Founders' Son: A Life of Abraham Lincoln, by Richard Brookhiser  (MYRON MAGNET, 17 October 2014, City Journal)

Though what we call the Lincoln-Douglas debates occurred in their Illinois senatorial contest of 1858, the "six years from 1854 to 1860 were one long Lincoln-Douglas debate," writes Brookhiser, as Douglas went around the state defending the act and an indignant Lincoln pursued him, rebutting his emollient arguments in a string of immortal speeches. In Peoria in October 1854, Lincoln condemned Douglas for reopening an already scabbed-over wound. "Every inch of territory we owned already had a definite settlement of the slavery question," he observed; but thanks to Douglas, "here we are in the midst of a new slavery agitation." Douglas wants the people of the territories to decide? Fine. But who the people are "depends on whether a Negro is not or is a man." If he is, then isn't it "a total destruction of self-government, to say that he too shall not govern himself?" When a white man "governs himself, and also governs another man, that is more than self-government--that is despotism." [...]

Brookhiser properly devotes an entire chapter to Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address, which he rightly judges the greatest of his speeches--and (in my view) is perhaps the greatest speech ever made. In it, Brookhiser believes, Lincoln completed his lifelong search for a surrogate father, moving from the Founding Fathers to God the Father. To be sure, this speech, delivered on March 4, 1865, like the Gettysburg Address given some 15 months earlier, resounds with the poetry of the King James Bible, which a childhood friend of Lincoln's sons' remembered the president would often read after lunch in the White House, while the children played, "sometimes in his stocking feet with one long leg crossed over the other, the unshod foot slowly waving back and forth" as he kept time to the rhythm of the Elizabethan language's stupendous music.

But if I have one disagreement with Brookhiser's splendid book, I would think of Lincoln not as the Founders' son but rather as the last Founding Father, shoulder to shoulder with them in greatness as he completed their work, giving the nation a "new birth of freedom" and ensuring that the government of the people, by the people, for the people, that they had instituted but could not perfect, would not perish from the earth. And in the Second Inaugural, he sounds like an Old Testament prophet, questioning God's purposes, even quarreling with them, as he felt himself to be the instrument of accomplishing them. Yes, the war was just and necessary, but why was it lasting so long? Why did so many have to die in the flower of their youth? "Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come;" Lincoln quoted, "but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!" Why would God decree that offenses must come and then punish those who act according to His decree? Why would He decree slavery, then decree its removal, and decree punishment to everyone who had benefited from it, not just Southern slaveowners but every Northern broker and shipper who had profited from it, down to his children and his children's children? We can only carry on "with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right," said Lincoln--however dimly that may be.

After the Confederate capital of Richmond fell a month later, Lincoln wanted to see it with his own eyes, and he walked the silent streets on April 3, 1865, with a bodyguard of only ten sailors, six days before Lee surrendered. But suddenly crowds of blacks surrounded him, shouting, "Glory to God! The great Messiah! Come to free his children from bondage." Several touched the president, as James McPherson recounts in Battle Cry of Freedom; and one old woman cried, "I know I am free, for I have seen Father Abraham and felt him." She was right: he was one of those world-historical figures we can never account for but can only marvel at with gratitude.

Six days after the victory, Lincoln was dead. "The Almighty has His own purposes," he had said in the Second Inaugural. But who can tell what they are?

Posted by orrinj at 11:28 PM


U.S. Debt Held by Foreigners Hits Record $6.07 Trillion (IAN TALLEY, 10/17/14, WSJ)

Foreign holdings of U.S. Treasury securities hit a record high $6.07 trillion in August, up nearly $70 billion from July, as the dollar began its climb to five-year highs and the U.S. recovery showed signs of gaining steam.

...insufficient US debt.

Posted by orrinj at 11:13 PM


Wind Power Blows Away Coal and Gas in Nordic Countries (Nerijus Adomaitis, 10/17/14, Reuters) 

Wind power is blowing gas and coal-fired turbines out of business in the Nordic countries, and the effects will be felt across the Baltic region as the renewable glut erodes utility margins for thermal power stations.

Fossil power plants in Finland and Denmark act as swing-producers, helping to meet demand when hydropower production in Norway and Sweden falls due to dry weather.

The arrival of wind power on a large scale has made this role less relevant and has pushed electricity prices down, eroding profitability of fossil power stations.

Posted by orrinj at 8:20 PM


How to be a conservative: a conversation with Roger Scruton (Jonathan Derbyshire,  September 12, 2014, Prospect)

JD: In the preface to the book, you say that there are two kinds of conservatism, "one metaphysical, the other empirical." The metaphysical variety, you write, "resides in the belief in sacred things and the desire to defend them against desecration." The empirical version, meanwhile, is a "reaction to the vast changes unleashed by the Reformation and the Enlightenment." You say you're mostly preoccupied in this book with "down-to-earth matters." I wonder, though, just how hard-and-fast that distinction is. It struck me that the empirical side of your conservatism is also underpinned by what might be call a metaphysics of personhood, a conception of the nature of the human person.

RS: That's absolutely true. I think it's what conservatism--my kind of conservatism, at least--shares with liberalism: an attempt to found things ultimately on a vision of what the human person is. Of course, it is the case that conservatism as I envisage it distances itself always from abstract conceptions and tries to find the concrete reality... the good in the present.

Related to this is the emphasis you place on what you call the "first-person plural," a phrase that occurs several times in the book.

Yes. Ultimately, political order does not generate itself. For that reason, social contract theories are suspended in mid-air, so to speak. All political order presupposes a pre-political order, a sense that people belong together. And then, of course, they might seek a contract that embodies their togetherness. But the togetherness has to be there. [...]

You have a very distinctive account of what the principal evil of communism was. People often talk in very general terms about totalitarianism and the sclerosis of the planned economy. But for you the real evil was the assault on the institutions of "civil association"--the closing down of choirs, theatre groups, reading societies, walking clubs, church institutions, charities and so on.

Absolutely. I think I'm speaking the same language as Burke there. He was so prescient about what he saw as evil in the French Revolution. It was not just the executions and so on--it was the confiscation of civil society from its members. That's what I felt most strongly [in Czechoslovakia], because I was trying to revive it in my own way.

Posted by orrinj at 2:51 PM


The incredible shrinking Keystone (ELANA SCHOR | 10/14/14 , Politico)

Environmental groups are happily endorsing pro-Keystone candidates, as long as they support President Barack Obama's broader agenda of slashing greenhouse gases. Climate activist billionaire Tom Steyer, who's spending up to $100 million to influence seven Senate and gubernatorial races, has yet to air a Keystone-focused ad in any of them. And oil companies have found plenty of other ways to get Canadian crude into the U.S., even as Keystone enters its sixth year of awaiting a permit from the State Department.

Keystone isn't even North America's biggest oil-sands pipeline project anymore. That title now belongs to a project most Americans have never heard of called Energy East, which would bypass the need for U.S. approval by piping Alberta's heavy crude oil to Canada's Atlantic provinces.

Essentially, both sides have already won: Keystone is stalled, yet oil is booming.

October 17, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 3:12 PM


Anthropocene: Welcome to the 'Age of Humans' (Associated Press Oct. 17, 2014)

People are changing Earth so much, warming and polluting it, that many scientists are turning to a new way to describe the time we live in. They're calling it the Anthropocene -- the age of humans.

Though most non-experts don't realize it, science calls the past 12,000 years the Holocene, Greek for "entirely recent." But the way humans and their industries are altering the planet, especially its climate, has caused an increasing number of scientists to use the word Anthropocene to better describe when and where we are.

Posted by orrinj at 3:08 PM


Obama's Ebola challenge (CARRIE BUDOFF BROWN and JENNIFER EPSTEIN, 10/17/14, Politico)

The crisis is escalating just as people begin early voting in key states and the campaign for control of the Senate enters the final weeks, returning attention to an unpopular president right when Democrats least want that.

So Obama has been forced to claim ownership of the problem, balancing the tension between his own reluctance to play into the frenzy and the growing public demands that he take dramatic action to protect Americans from further exposure.

He took the unusual step of suspending his travel schedule for the past two days to stay at the White House, where he has consulted with congressional leaders, called foreign leaders and held lengthy meetings with his top advisers. He also authorized the Pentagon to send National Guard troops into West Africa. By Thursday night, in an acknowledgement of the pressure to step up his response, Obama suggested he might need to appoint an "Ebola czar."

"We are taking this seriously," Obama said in the Oval Office. "This is going to be something that is contained here."

But none of that has been enough for Republicans and even some Democrats, particularly those in close election fights, who say that he should take tougher steps ranging from firing the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to banning flights from some affected countries.

How about being the adult in the room and telling people to calm down?

Posted by orrinj at 3:04 PM


Big Banks Start Charging Clients for Euro Deposits (JULIET CHUNG and VIPAL MONGA, Oct. 17, 201, WSJ)

A number of global banks have begun charging large customers to deposit their money in euros, a rare move that could have costly implications for investors and companies that do business on the Continent. [...]

Now, instead of paying customers interest on their euro accounts as they have done traditionally, Bank of New York Mellon Corp. BK +0.33%  , Goldman Sachs Group Inc. GS +1.74%  and J.P. Morgan Chase JPM +1.65%  & Co. have started charging them, according to people familiar with the matter.

Posted by orrinj at 2:56 PM


How liberal/conservative is your name? (Crowdpac)
Posted by orrinj at 2:54 PM


John Grisham apologizes for controversial comments about sex offenders (Husna Haq,  OCTOBER 17, 2014, CS Monitor)

An evildoer may be entitled to a legal defense; he is not entitled to a moral defense.

Posted by orrinj at 2:41 PM

AEROBICS? (self-reference alert):

Recline, don't 'Lean In' (Why I hate Sheryl Sandberg) (Rosa Brooks February 25, 2014, Washington Post)

 I'm sure Sheryl Sandberg is a delightful person, and I'd love her, too, if I knew her and she bought me lunch at a fancy restaurant. In fact, she and I probably have some friends in common; we were college classmates, though I don't remember if we ever met.

"Did we know Sheryl Sandberg?" I asked my friend Suzanne, who was also in my college class.

She gave me a funny look. "Well, I knew her. Don't you know if you knew her?"

"I can't remember."

"If you knew her, you would remember," said Suzanne. "She was one of those people you would definitely remember. I used to go to an aerobics class she taught."

That explained it. Some college students, like my friend Suzanne, take aerobics classes. Some college students, like Sheryl Sandberg, teach aerobics classes. Other college students, like myself, lie around the dorm reading novels. Sheryl Sandberg was already busy leaning in. I was busy leaning back on my sofa, with a good book and a nice cup of cocoa.

My Senior Spring at Colgate, someone in the dean's office realized I only had 2 of my 8 required gym credits (marching band Freshman and Sophomore fall).  I got a fraternity brother who ran the squash club to add me to his class list--never held a squash racket to this day.   They sent me to CPR and the instructor just passed me after I broke two Resusci-Annies by pressing too hard on the sternum--do not have a medical emergency in my vicinity.  And they put me in a Stress Management class.... 

The first couple classes the instructor taught us various techniques--breathing, yoga, etc.--then at the start of the next class she had us do whichever one we'd liked best for the first fifteen minutes.  I lay down on the mat and went to sleep. She woke me when she was ready to start.  Same thing the next week.  So she asked: "Orrin, what are you doiung here, you have less stress than anyone I've ever met?"  "I need the gym credit."  "If I let you pull the mat out in the hall and sleep for an hour and still give you the credit would that work."   "You got it, sister." Bingo!  A phys ed credit for sleeping.

Posted by Glenn Dryfoos at 7:00 AM

All That Jazz #5

Coleman Hawkins - "Body and Soul"

After ATJ#4 was posted last Friday, The Other Brother sent the following comment:  "In the past I've tried to develop my appreciation for jazz - maybe it was your influence or I thought I should.  However, I haven't really gotten to the point where I seek it out to listen.  That may be largely due to my general lack of musicality.  I appreciate these posts you are doing, since they're giving me some insight into what's going on in the music.  Maybe a future post could be the three standards a neophyte should listen to in order to get a taste of what makes jazz compelling - that may be a tall order!"
Before I could formulate a reply, I received an email from Brother Orrin reminding me that Saturday (October 11) was the 75th anniversary of perhaps the greatest recording in the history of jazz (and, if not the greatest, certainly near the top of anyone's short list): Coleman Hawkins's majestic "Body and Soul."  And with that, I had my example for Stephen...not 3 standards, but a few versions of one great standard tune that should give him a taste (indeed, a veritable feast) of what makes jazz compelling.
Before jumping into Hawkins and the other examples, I want to note that any art form can and should be "compelling" to (enjoyed by) those with little knowledge of its practitioners, styles, history, technical aspects, etc.  This is particularly true of jazz, which started as a popular music.  Something about a performance should grab you: the beat and rhythm, the melody, the sound of the instruments, or the emotions it triggers.  Despite everything I've learned and heard over more than 40 years of listening to jazz, I'm still drawn first and foremost to the elements that grabbed me as a kid, the infectious bounce of the shuffle beat and the sound of the tenor sax.  As you learn more about jazz and can make connections between styles and musicians, the more you may enjoy it, but even without that knowledge, a good tune should make you smile or tap your foot or remember a romantic evening or an unrequited love.
So, on to Hawkins and "Body and Soul."  Before the late 1920's, the clarinet was the main reed instrument in jazz ensembles, and the saxophone was a novelty instrument, often relegated to marching bands, vaudeville and the circus.  With the evolution of early jazz into the swing era, the sax rose to prominence, led by Coleman Hawkins.  Everything we think of the sax today, its power, its swagger, its sensuality and sex appeal, traces back to Hawk.  In his 1939 recording of the ballad "Body and Soul" Hawkins goes on a 3-minute excursion that is by turn tender, swinging and yearning.  A remarkable piece of improvisation, his solo barely hints at the actual melody of the tune in the first notes before riding off into an amazingly coherent and emotional musical statement.  Orrin sent me this very good article about Hawkins and this record that was a popular hit in its time and has become an enduring classic.
To help put Hawkins's recording of "Body and Soul" in context...and to help newbies like Stephen get a better sense of how much individual interpretation and improvisation there is in jazz...here are a few other versions of "Body and Soul," one that pre-dates Hawk's 1939 masterpiece and the others showing the state of jazz at different points over the ensuing 75 years.
Benny Goodman was already the "King of Swing" when he recording B&S with his trio (Teddy Wilson, piano; Gene Krupa drums) in 1935:

I selected this version because Goodman plays the melody fairly straight, with only minor embellishments, while Wilson is a bit more adventurous in his improvisation.  Listening to this will allow you to get familiar with the tune and its harmonic underpinnings (chords).
Serge Chaloff was one of the great baritone sax players of the post-War era.  Drugs and cancer took him at age 33 in 1957, but in 1955 he gave us this poignant and charming version:

In 1958, Hawk's spiritual heir, Sonny Rollins, took on the challenge of B&S with a modernist wrinkle: he recorded it without a rhythm section...no piano or bass to provide the harmonic framework or drummer to provide a steady beat.  Just a man (well, for some of us, The Man) and his horn:

And, finally, something from this century, tenor man Chris Potter's performance of B&S on PBS's Jazz Legends with Ramsey Lewis television series.  Although thoroughly modern in approach (folks danced to Hawk's version in 1939, this version is strictly concert music) Potter plays B&S with a big sound, range of dynamics and tone qualities, melodic continuity, harmonic ingenuity and aching tenderness that would make Hawkins proud:

Stephen - if none of these grab you, I've got nothing else...

October 16, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:25 PM


Late Surge of Money Buoys Republicans in Races That Will Decide Control of Senate (NICHOLAS CONFESSORE, OCT. 15, 2014, NY Times)

Republican candidates for the Senate have overcome the sizable fund-raising edge held by their Democratic opponents for most of the 2014 election cycle, according to new disclosures filed with the Federal Election Commission, outraising or matching Democrats in races that will decide control of the Senate and entering the final weeks of the campaign with ample cash.

Republican candidates and "super PACs" are now splurging on expensive last-minute advertising, at a time when polling shows Republicans increasingly more likely to win control of the Senate.

Republicans lost a chance to beat Bernie Sanders in 1994, because the race seemed a reach from the Beltway, so no one would commit resources.  In the end, he couldn't reach 50% despite that.  

Now would be a good time for the GOP to throw some long balls and see if we can't pick off one or two extra seats in the "leans Democrat"/"likely Democrat" columns.  Races where the Democrat is at or below 50% and a Republican has won statewide this century seem worth the gamble. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:19 PM


How the 'Fundamental Right' to Abortion Faded Away : Under the standard set by Roe v. Wade, there would be no question that a controversial Texas abortion law was invalid. What happened? (GARRETT EPPS, OCT 16 2014, The Atlantic)

Flash forward to 2011, as newly elected Republican legislatures convened in red states. After 40 decades of mobilization by anti-abortion activists, the political climate and much of the federal judiciary had turned toxic for abortion rights. A study by the Guttmacher Institute finds that state legislatures enacted 205 restrictions between 2011 and 2013--more than had been passed nationwide in the 10 previous years. The two at issue in Texas are called "TRAPs" ("targeted regulation of abortion providers")--supposedly health-related rules that apply only to abortion providers and clinics.

First is an "admitting privileges" requirement--any doctor performing abortions must have a formal seal of approval from a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic--approval which may be withheld for economic or competitive reasons, or simply because the hospital disapproves of abortion. There is no real medical benefit. In the rare case of a complication requiring emergency treatment, local hospitals will treat any patient from a clinic. Second is a requirement that abortion clinics meet the physical standards for "ambulatory surgical centers," which perform invasive outpatient surgery. Abortion clinics aren't ASCs, but the legislatures now required them to have the same level of facilities, including things such as the width of hallways. Many existing clinics don't meet those standards, and would have to close.

So did these laws impose an "undue burden"? No, the Fifth Circuit found, because they wouldn't stop a "large fraction" of women from getting an abortion.

If the laws went into effect, 90 percent of women would only have to drive 150 miles to get to a clinic--and "an increase of travel of less than 150 miles for some women is not an undue burden," the Fifth Circuit said. The remaining 10 percent would be out of luck--but 10 percent is not a "large fraction."

The Casey plurality had said an undue burden was any measure that had "the purpose or effect of placing a substantial obstacle" in a woman's path. As Cornell Law Professor Sherry Colb has pointed out, "Had the Fifth Circuit ... taken the purpose prong of this test seriously, it would not have had to closely examine the impact of such laws." The Texas law clearly had the purpose of stopping as many abortions as the legislature thought it could get away with. The emerging rule is: Some bullying, even a lot of bullying, is okay. As long as we pretend there's a health purpose, as long as some women somewhere can get still abortions, as long as nobody anywhere admits what's really going on, the "right" has not been violated.

The right to choose, then, isn't what The New York Times's Linda Greenhouse calls "a right like any other." It's more like a role on a reality-TV show--the chance to stumble through a growing, onerous, and senseless set of demands designed to exhaust and bully any woman who tries to exercise it. It would be nice to imagine that the Supreme Court might set this topsy-turvy doctrine straight. But looking at the five members of this Court's majority--the five who voted in Hobby Lobby to ignore female employees' reproductive-health needs--I remember some words of Justice Harry Blackmun as he watched the tide on the Court turn against abortion rights in 1989. "The signs are evident and ominous," he wrote, "and a chill wind blows."

Gay marriage is likely just the new abortion, an issue the Left believes to have been settled in its favor by courts which will not withstand the pressures of democratic government.

Posted by orrinj at 7:11 PM


America's revival defies Washington's sclerosis (Roger Altman, 10/16/14, Financial Times)

 Stunningly positive social and economic changes, unthinkable even a decade ago, are taking place, driven by traditional American strengths of local leadership, private enterprise and individualism, which always dwarf Washington's impact.

Look at crime. Twenty-five years ago, this was the top public concern. But better local policing and lower hard drug usage have halved America's crime rate. Violent crime fell 32 per cent during the past 25 years, and a remarkable 64 per cent in big cities. Property crimes have fallen 75 per cent in New York City.

Second, years of grassroots efforts at school reform are paying off. High- school graduation rates have reached a record 80 per cent level and could hit 90 per cent by 2020. This progress is all local - including improved teacher recruitment and training, stronger curriculum materials and better use of data in evaluating students. Parental groups, non-profits, businesses and educators have led the way.

Third, we are seeing healthier practices regarding sex education and contraception. As a result, teenage pregnancy and abortion rates have fallen to the lowest recorded levels, down 51 and 70 per cent respectively over 25 years.

Fourth, private enterprise has produced a momentous turnround in energy production. Only six years ago, oil output was half its 1970 peak, but technology breakthroughs reversed that. Now, the US is again the world's largest producer of oil and natural gas, and we have decades of low-cost supply. This surge is boosting output and manufacturing competitiveness, creating millions of jobs and reducing our reliance on the Gulf.

Yet a huge swath of American society is not participating in this progress. These are families that own no financial assets, and so have not benefited from the Federal Reserve's monetary largesse. Indeed, almost 40 per cent of Americans face falling annual incomes of $40,000 or less. The great challenge is to improve their economic security as a matter of fairness and improved purchasing power. Fortunately, the same combination of enterprise and local initiative can make progress.

One of the great political disasters of recent times occurred when factions of the right turned on GHWB and needlessly handed Democrats the major portion of credit for the effects of the Cold War peace dividend.  

This midterm means the GOP will at least get substantial credit for the post-WoT boom.  But we meed to elect a president two years from now to finally achieve the transition back to Republican dominance.

Posted by orrinj at 7:04 PM


EU Inflation Falls to Five-Year Low in September (PAUL HANNON, October 16, 2014, WSJ)

The figures showed that eight of the EU's members recorded a decline in consumer prices over the 12 months, with five of those being members of the eurozone: Greece, Spain, Italy, Slovenia and Slovakia. The three EU members that don't use the euro and which suffered the same fate were Bulgaria, Hungary and Poland.

Weak pricing power has been roiling some of Europe's biggest companies. On Thursday, food giant Nestlé SA NESN.VX -2.99%  said sales fell 3.1% in the first nine months of the year, partly because weak consumer spending capped its ability to raise prices. The company cited Europe as particularly difficult.

Chief Executive Paul Bulcke said Nestlé had almost no pricing power in Western Europe, which represents nearly 20% of its sales. Some retailers are pushing back on prices amid escalating competition between supermarkets, the company said.

Posted by orrinj at 6:58 PM


Women Prefer Male Bosses Even More Than Men Do (Venessa Wong and Natalie Kitroeff, October 16, 2014, Businessweek)

Women fighting for a broader presence in the upper levels of management face at least one very personal obstacle: Most workers don't want them there. Only one-fifth of people surveyed by Gallup this week said they preferred a female boss over a man. One-third preferred a male boss, and the rest had no preference.

The survey, which collected responses from 1,032 adults living in the U.S., found women were more likely than men to want a male boss: 39 percent of women wanted to be led by a man, compared with 26 percent of men.

Posted by orrinj at 6:56 PM


Perpetual Peace : Are democracies less warlike? (Michael Shermer, 10/14/14, Scientific American)

In their 2001 book Triangulating Peace, political scientists Bruce Russett and John Oneal employed a multiple logistic regression model on data from the Correlates of War Project that recorded 2,300 militarized interstate disputes between 1816 and 2001. They assigned each country a democracy score between 1 and 10, based on the Polity Project, which measures how competitive its political process is, as well as the fairness of its elections, checks and balances of power, transparency, and so on. The researchers found that when two countries scored high on the Polity scale, disputes between them decreased by 50 percent, but when one country was either a low-scoring democracy or an autocracy, it doubled the chance of a quarrel between them.

Kant also suggested that international trade (economic interdependency) and membership in international communities (transparency and accountability) reduce the likelihood of conflict. So in their model Russett and Oneal included data on the amount of trade between nations and found that countries that depended more on trade in a given year were less likely to have a militarized dispute in the subsequent year. They also counted the number of intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) that every pair of nations jointly belonged to and ran a regression analysis with democracy and trade scores. Overall, democracy, trade and membership in IGOs (the "triangle" of their title) all favor peace, and if a pair of countries are in the top 10th of the scale on all three variables, they are 81 percent less likely than an average pair of countries to have a militarized dispute in a given year.

How has the democratic peace theory held up since 2001? With all the conflict around the world, it seems like peace is on the rocks. But anecdotes are not data. In a 2014 special issue of the Journal of Peace Research, Uppsala University political scientist Håvard Hegre reassessed all the evidence on "Democracy and Armed Conflict." He stated that "the empirical finding that pairs of democratic states have a lower risk of interstate conflict than other pairs holds up, as does the conclusion that consolidated democracies have less conflict than semi-democracies."

Posted by orrinj at 6:08 PM


How the Common Core Went Wrong (FREDERICK M. HESS, Fall 2014, National Affairs)

The call for "higher" standards has been a central tenet of school reform for three decades. In 1983, the blue-ribbon commission report "A Nation at Risk" urged that "schools, colleges, and universities adopt more rigorous and measurable standards." In 1989, President George H. W. Bush hosted a national governors' summit in Charlottesville, Virginia, in which the governors embraced a series of dramatic goals, including national standards. In 1994, the National Endowment for the Humanities and UCLA drafted voluntary National History Standards. Such efforts were stymied by resistance to extending Washington's reach. (Famously, in 1995 the National History Standards were rejected 99 to 1 by the United States Senate.)

In 1996, the National Governors Association and several prominent CEOs founded Achieve, Inc., a nonprofit devoted to promoting higher state standards. The National Alliance of Business, Business Roundtable, and U.S. Chamber of Commerce all joined the effort to "set tough academic standards that apply to every student in every school." Each of these efforts, however, failed amidst opposition to the expansion of Washington's role in education.

In 2001, the No Child Left Behind Act marked a dramatic win for standards-based reform -- but at the price of abandoning the push for "national" standards. NCLB required states to adopt standards in reading and math, administer annual tests geared to those standards, use tests to determine which students were proficient, and analyze the outcomes to determine which schools and systems were making "adequate yearly progress" -- including the absurd requirement that 100% of students be proficient by 2014. Schools and systems that didn't perform adequately were subject to federally mandated sanctions. The crucial compromise was that states could set their own standards and tests. In fact, NCLB specifically prohibited national testing or a federally controlled curriculum.

What followed was not difficult to anticipate. The possibility of sanctions gave more than a few state leaders reason to adopt easy tests and lower the scores required for proficiency. A "race to the bottom" was soon underway, prompting an effort to combat the gamesmanship.

In December 2008, Achieve, Inc., the Council of Chief State School Officers, and the National Governors Association issued "Benchmarking for Success," a report that urged states to develop and adopt common standards; called for federal incentives to promote that effort; and advocated aligning textbooks, curricula, and tests to those standards. If all states played by the same rules, there would be no race to the bottom. Encouraged by bipartisan interest in the initiative, the CCSSO and NGA launched the Common Core effort.

Like the standards some states have had for decades and all states have had since NCLB, the Common Core is a checklist for what K-12 students should know in English Language Arts and math. The mantra of the Common Core effort was "fewer, clearer, higher" -- meaning that the standards would include less minutiae, be more explicit about what students should learn, and set more demanding expectations. The authors of the Common Core took care to spell out the functional skills that students were expected to learn in each grade. For instance, the Common Core ELA standards require that third graders be able to "[r]ead grade-level prose and poetry orally with accuracy, appropriate rate, and expression on successive readings." Eighth graders are expected to "[c]ompare and contrast the structure of two or more texts and analyze how the differing structure of each text contributes to its meaning and style." The math standards require first graders to be able to "[o]rganize, represent, and interpret data with up to three categories; ask and answer questions about the total number of data points, how many in each category, and how many more or less are in one category than in another." Students in high-school algebra are expected to "[s]olve simple rational and radical equations in one variable, and give examples showing how extraneous solutions may arise."

Common Core advocates billed the standards as "internationally benchmarked," "evidence-based," "college- and career-ready," and "rigorous." The truth was something less than advertised. The claims were not so much false as grossly overstated. For instance, "internationally benchmarked" actually meant no more than that the committees that wrote the Common Core standards looked at the standards in countries that score well on international tests. Advocates don't even claim that the Common Core mimicked these standards, just that they consulted them. Marina Ratner of the University of California, Berkeley, has argued, "The Common Core fails any comparison with the standards of high-achieving countries."

The "evidence-based" claim implies that decisions about why students must learn this and not that in a given grade are backed by scientific research. In fact, what advocates mean is that the authors of the standards looked at research and surveys asking professors and hiring managers what they thought high-school graduates should know and which courses college-bound students usually take. But the impact of this research is hard to discern. Vanderbilt education professor Lynn Fuchs has put it well, noting there is no "empirical basis" for the Common Core: "We don't know yet whether it makes sense to have this particular set of standards."

When advocates claim the Common Core ensures that students are "college- and career-ready," it is again worth reading the fine print. Achieve, Inc., one of the progenitors of the standards, explains that they are designed to make sure that students can pass "entry-level, credit-bearing postsecondary coursework" in "community college, university, technical/vocational program[s], apprenticeship[s], or significant on-the-job training." This is something less than the recipe for excellence that advocates tend to suggest. And while advocates declare that the Common Core is more rigorous than previous state standards, this is a difficult claim to referee. More often than not, the case rests on the subjective judgment of four evaluators hired by the pro-Common Core Thomas B. Fordham Institute in 2010, who opined that the new standards were better than about three-quarters of existing state standards. Not an unreasonable judgment, but hardly compelling proof of rigor. The standards appeared perfectly passable, but claims about their remarkable virtue were gross exaggerations.

In any event, the standards were not adopted by states after deliberate evaluation or public consideration of their merits. Rather, incentives from the Obama administration encouraged states to hurriedly embrace the Common Core. In 2009, with funding from the nearly $800 billion federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the Obama administration created a $4.35 billion "Race to the Top" program in which states could compete for federal funding by promising to fulfill certain requirements. As legislated by Congress, the funds that fueled Race to the Top were intended to help states "enhance the quality of [their] academic assessments" and "take steps to improve [their] academic content standards." In the hands of the Obama Department of Education, that became a requirement that states competing for Race to the Top dollars pledge to adopt "college- and career-ready" standards. The Education Department made it clear that the surest way to meet that requirement was to adopt the Common Core and to promise to use one of the federally funded, Common Core-aligned tests.

The Obama administration went on to propose pressing states to use the Common Core in its blueprint for reauthorizing No Child Left Behind and to do so when it decided to issue waivers from NCLB's fast-approaching (if ludicrous) 100% proficiency requirement. By the end of 2010, 39 states had adopted the Common Core, and by the end of 2011, 44 states had. Advocates cheered the administration's push for the Common Core, insisting there was no time to worry about the niceties of federalism. As school-reform firebrand Michelle Rhee put it, "I've heard some recent rumblings from folks who say we don't like it when the federal government is telling us what to do....You know what you should not like? The fact that China is kicking our butts right now."

Despite this track record, the administration and its allies dismissed fears of federal encroachment as unfounded. Speaking about the standards, Education Secretary Duncan told the American Society of News Editors in 2013, "The federal government didn't write them, didn't approve them and doesn't mandate them. And we never will. Anyone who says otherwise is either misinformed or willfully misleading." Advocates have echoed the administration line, lamenting that critics have "politicized" an apolitical enterprise. This complaint would be more convincing if Democrats hadn't already eagerly taken credit for the standards, with the 2012 Democratic National Platform applauding Obama for the widespread adoption of the Common Core and the president crediting himself in his 2011 and 2013 State of the Union remarks for the same thing. The studied disingenuousness of devotees would fuel backlash among skeptics who saw steady federal encroachment and believed the Common Core was sold under false pretenses.

The ambiguities surrounding the Common Core helped the standards gain momentum, and the resulting hurried adoption left little time to sort things out. No one quite understood what Common Core was or what its impact would be, allowing it to be all things to all people. This meant supporters could credit it with diverse and sometimes contradictory virtues. For instance, proponents of "21st-century skills" were pleased that the Common Core valued having students explain their math work even when they couldn't determine the right answer, while others lauded the standards' heightened focus on arithmetic. Union leaders hailed the Common Core as a welcome opportunity for teachers nationwide to throw off the "stifling" strictures of old state standards and focus on more "authentic" learning, while reformers cheered the promise of more difficult tests that would push teachers to ensure student mastery of tested skills.

Despite the Common Core's rapid, widespread adoption, it received surprisingly little attention in the mainstream media. A LexisNexis search shows that, between 2009 and 2011, as more than 40 states with more than 40 million students signed on, all American news outlets combined featured fewer than 4,500 mentions of the Common Core. In 2011 alone, by comparison, school vouchers -- which affected fewer than 200,000 students -- received more than 5,500 mentions. That media silence was due in large part to a calculated strategy among Common Core supporters: Advocates took pains to stay under the radar, avoid public debate, tightly coordinate their messaging, ridicule skeptics rather than respond to them, and ride the wave of support provided by the Obama administration in those years.

The ease of the Common Core's early success was at once astonishing and unsurprising. It was astonishing because previous efforts to promote national educational standards had ended terribly, and after those experiences, any talk of national standards was generally dismissed as a pipe dream. But it was also unsurprising because the Common Core standards didn't seem to offer much cause for opposition. The standards were simply a list of recommendations for what K-12 students should learn in reading and math. Earlier setbacks had taught proponents to stay away from history or social studies, to avoid identifying which books or authors students should read, and to cling to the safe ground of "skill-based" standards. Amidst a housing crash, a bitter recession, and ferocious fights over health care and the proper size of government, quiet changes to reading and math standards were easy to overlook.

But the wins produced by a stealth strategy that bypassed a distracted public turned out to be unsustainable. Once the public started to pay attention, and the advocates' carefully crafted talking points were exposed to the harsh reality of implementation, support for the Common Core began to unravel.

Posted by orrinj at 6:04 PM


Why Are Americans So Fascinated With Extreme Fitness? (HEATHER HAVRILESKY, OCT. 14, 2014, NY Times Magazine)

CrossFitters represent just one wave of a fitness sea change, in which well-to-do Americans abandon easy, convenient forms of exercise in favor of workouts grueling enough to resemble a kind of physical atonement. For the most privileged among us, freedom seems to feel oppressive, and oppression feels like freedom. There's also a very American fixation on extremes at play: More is always better. If you're running just four miles a day and doing a few pull-ups, you're a wimp compared with the buff dude who's ready for an appearance on "American Ninja Warrior." It's hard not to feel awe when you watch a middle-aged woman in a Never Quit T-shirt clean-and-jerk huge weights. And it's hardly a stretch to go from lifting a 35-pound kettlebell to wondering why you can't run half a mile with it, especially when a CrossFit coach is right there, urging you to "crush it." Common wisdom seems to dictate that it's not enough to look good and feel good if you're not prepared to lift a Mini Cooper off an injured stranger.

The whole notion of pushing your physical limits -- popularized by early Nike ads, Navy SEAL mythos and Lance Armstrong's cult of personality -- has attained a religiosity that's as passionate as it is pervasive. The "extreme" version of anything is now widely assumed to be an improvement on the original rather than a perverse amplification of it. And as with most of sports culture, there is no gray area. You win or you lose. You leave it all on the floor or you shamefully skulk off the floor with extra gas in your tank.

But our new religion has more than a little in common with the religions that brought our ancestors to America in the first place. Like the idealists and extremists who founded this country, the modern zealots of exercise turn their backs on the indulgences of our culture, seeking solace in self-abnegation and suffering. "This is the route to a better life," they tell us, gesturing at their sledgehammers and their kettlebells, their military drills and their dramatic re-enactments of hard labor. And in these uncertain times, it doesn't sound so bad to be prepared for some coming disaster -- or even for an actual job doing hard labor, if our empire ever falls.

It makes sense that for those segments of humanity who aren't fighting for survival every day of their lives, the new definition of fulfillment is feeling as if you're about to die. Maybe that's the point. If we aren't lugging five gallons of water back from a well 10 miles away or slamming a hammer into a mountainside, something feels as if it's missing. Who wants to sit alone at a desk all day, then work out alone on a machine? Why can't we suffer and sweat together, as a group, in a way that feels meaningful? Why can't someone yell at us while we do it? For the privileged, maybe the most grueling path seems the most likely to lead to divinity.

Or you could leave the office and do work instead?

Posted by orrinj at 6:01 PM


Poll of Wisconsin governor's race gets an exact tie (Eric Kleefeld, 10/16/14, The Week)

In the latest poll of the Wisconsin gubernatorial race, Republican Gov. Scott Walker and Democratic businesswoman Mary Burke are tied among likely voters -- really, really tied. [...]

The latest result, it was explained, required no rounding to make the race a tie: Walker and Burke had exactly the same number of respondents supporting them, at 380 likely voters for each out of 803 total.

It's a year where it takes some heavy lifting to keep your Democrat opponent in the race.

Posted by orrinj at 5:55 PM


Joining Islamic State is about 'sex and aggression,' not religion (Arie W. Kruglanski, OCTOBER 16, 2014, Reuters)

Militant Islamist fighter waving a flag, cheers as he takes part in a military parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province

It is easy to look to religion for an explanation of why young men -- and some women -- become radicalized. But it is psychology, not theology, that offers the best tools for understanding radicalization -- and how best to undo it.

The appeal of Islamic State rests on individuals' quest for what psychologists call "personal significance," which the militant group's extremist propaganda cleverly exploits. The quest for significance is the desire to matter, to be respected, to be somebody in one's own eyes and in the eyes of others.

Or, as Eric Hoffer put it : "The less justified a man is in claiming excellence for his own self, the more ready he is to claim all excellence for his nation, his religion, his race or his holy cause."

Posted by orrinj at 5:40 PM


THE RIFT IN AMERICAN SOCCER (Cy Brown, 10/16/14, Sports on Earth)

He was honest again in the lead up to the USA's 1-1 friendly with Honduras, this time about the problem with so many USMNT stars returning to Major League Soccer.

"There's nothing I can do about it," Klinsmann said. "I made it clear with Clint [Dempsey]'s move back and Michael [Bradley]'s move back that it's going to be very difficult to keep the same level that they experienced at the places where they were. It's just reality. It's just being honest."

That upset MLS commissioner Don Garber. How upset was he? Upset enough to rush out a press conference and attack Klinsmann for his comments. The presser was full of Garber blustering about how U.S. Soccer and MLS must come together for a common goal, which sounds well and good. But the most important quote comes when Garber talks about the future of American soccer in general.

"I want Jurgen to embrace the vision, and I believe we all need to sit down and talk about his alignment with that vision," he said.

And that's where things break down. He wants Klinsmann to conform with how MLS thinks soccer should grow in America, or rather, how the success of soccer should grow MLS as a business. His vision is of American soccer growing the most through the success of its domestic league. That vision doesn't conform to Klinsmann's goal as manager. His goal is to field the best players for the U.S. men's team and win games by making sure the very best American players become great at their jobs. It just so happens that almost every great player in the world is fostered in Europe.

The irony is that our rivals in CONCACAF love MLS, where their players have achieved world class status and made them significant global powers.  For instance, two of the best players on the field that night were MLS products Boniek Garcia and Andy Najar.  

It's the speed and physicality of the league that sets it apart and it has to be better for Americans to play every week here than to sit on the bench--often undeservingly--over there.  Jozy Altidore would be better playing striker on Jermaine Jones's New England Revolution than riding the pine in Sunderland.

If Jurgen wants Bradley to play better maybe he should play him at his natural position instead of one he isn't capable of filling. If he wants Dempsey to play better, maybe he should make him five years younger.  He should have been retired along with Donovan. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:31 PM


Canada Shows Minimum Wage Has Minimal Effect (Christopher Flavelle, 10/16/14, Bloomberg View)

Start with the scary stuff: Does raising the minimum wage kill jobs? It's hard to see any evidence of that in the Canadian unemployment rate, which peaked with the recession in 2009 and has crept downward since, though has yet to reach its pre-crash levels.

Even British Columbia, which raised its minimum wage from C$8.75 to C$10.25 from 2011 to 2012 -- the biggest increase of any province -- saw its unemployment rate fall by almost a full point over the same period, to 6.7 percent.

What about the upside -- did the increase in the minimum wage reduce the share of Canadians living in poverty? Sure enough, the percentage of people living in what Statistics Canada calls "low-income families" fell from 2008 to 2012, the latest year for which numbers are available.

But take a close look at the y-axis: Over four years, the share of people with low incomes fell just 0.4 percentage point, even as the minimum wage increased 16 percent in real terms during the same period. Moreover, some of that modest decrease was almost certainly due to the pickup in growth after the recession.

Of course, unemployment and poverty levels are blunt instruments for detecting the effects of raising the minimum wage, and they don't tell you how much of that was due to other factors. So I put the question to two economists who study this field.

"The link with poverty and the minimum wage is almost zero," said Stephen Gordon, an economics professor at the University of Laval in Quebec City. "Lots of people who earn the minimum wage are not in poverty, and a lot in poverty don't earn the minimum wage -- the problem is they're not working, or the number of hours they get."

Posted by orrinj at 5:22 PM


Lockheed says makes breakthrough on fusion energy project (ANDREA SHALAL, Oct 15, 2014, Reuters) 

Lockheed Martin Corp said on Wednesday it had made a technological breakthrough in developing a power source based on nuclear fusion, and the first reactors, small enough to fit on the back of a truck, could be ready for use in a decade.

Tom McGuire, who heads the project, said he and a small team had been working on fusion energy at Lockheed's secretive Skunk Works for about four years, but were now going public to find potential partners in industry and government for their work.

Initial work demonstrated the feasibility of building a 100-megawatt reactor measuring seven feet by 10 feet, which could fit on the back of a large truck, and is about 10 times smaller than current reactors, McGuire told reporters.

In a statement, the company, the Pentagon's largest supplier, said it would build and test a compact fusion reactor in less than a year, and build a prototype in five years.

Posted by orrinj at 5:17 PM


Obama, Not Bush, Is the Master of Unilateral War : The president must force Congress to vote on his military powers (Jack Goldsmith and Matthew Waxman, 10/14/14, New Republic)

[O]ne of Obama's legal positions can be viewed as radical against the historical backdrop of steady unilateral presidential expansion of the war powers. Many presidents, and all modern ones, have asserted broad powers to use military force. Obama's legacy of expanding unilateral war powers is nonetheless significant.

War from a Distance. One of Obama's signature policies has been to eschew the heavy footprint wars of his predecessor, and to switch instead to light-footprint war characterized by small forces acting with stealth and a heavy reliance on air power, especially drones. Obama's war powers legacy tracks this policy change.

It is always hard to identify precise limits on presidential war powers because they are so fluid and contextual. But if we take seriously the past precedents and the Obama administration's legal theories, the position of the executive branch now appears to be that the president has the constitutional authority to use force from the air for long periods, possibly supported by special operations forces on the ground, to halt instability and uphold security or human rights treaties, sometimes in the absence even of a self-defense rationale or United Nations or regional security organization support. The executive branch also appears to believe that these things can be done to a great extent without implicating the War Powers Resolution. The president's objectives in crafting these legal doctrines may be worthy, but he has arrogated to himself and future presidents new powers to pursue them militarily.

Ad Hoc Legal Decisionmaking. For all of Obama's lofty rhetoric about the principles of American democracy, his practice on war powers reflects a relentlessly short-term pragmatism. The administration's process for legally justifying unilateral uses of force has been events-driven and disorderly. 

The administration published a legal opinion on the use of force in Libya. Yet as the 60-day deadline in the War Powers Resolution loomed, it scrambled to explain how the use of force could continue. As the New York Times reported, the normally decisive Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), backed by the top Defense Department lawyer, advised the president that the WPR required a cessation of hostilities in Libya; but in a rare move, Obama overrode OLC and relied on advice of his White House counsel and State Department legal advisor to embrace the controversial "no hostilities" theory and skirt the WPR.

In addition, the administration offered imprecise and seemingly changing public legal justifications for the threatened military campaign against Syria and the campaign against the Islamic State. In neither case did it publish legal opinions. Instead, information about legal authorization dripped out in terse statements by the White House Counsel and in anonymous background discussions with journalists.

Failure of Executive Leadership. Another legacy will be Obama's surprising failure to engage Congress and get its clear support for his military campaigns. This happened in Libya in 2011, it almost happened in Syria in 2013, and it happened again when he declined to ask for congressional authorization for the use of force against IS. Obama often talks about working with Congress to obtain its approval, but on his major war powers initiatives, he has not done so.

The president's team has often pled the excuse that Congress will not work with him. It is certainly true that the feckless Congress has been complicit in the president's war powers agenda by its failure to engage in meaningful oversight. But many other presidents have asked for and (after a significant political push) received congressional authorization from an apathetic or skeptical Congress, including ones dominated by the opposite party. For example, President Dwight D. Eisenhower obtained authorizations for force in Formosa (Taiwan) and the Middle East from a Congress controlled by Democrats. President George H.W. Bush did the same for Iraq in 1991.

A difficult Congress is no excuse for a lack of presidential engagement with Congress. "The Constitution is a permanent challenge to presidential leadership," wrote Arthur Schlesinger Jr., the great presidential scholar.

October 15, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 9:17 PM


House Democrats Shift Funds to Defend Incumbents (KRISTINA PETERSON, 10/15/14, WSJ)
President Barack Obama greets Rep. Steve Israel (D., N.Y.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee alongside California State Sen. Ted Lieu (L), who is running for U.S. Congress, in Venice, Calif., on Oct. 9, 2014. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images) Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
The House Democrats' campaign arm is narrowing its focus to protect incumbent lawmakers in the final stretch leading up to next month's midterm elections, Chairman Steve Israel (D., N.Y.) told reporters Wednesday.

Mr. Israel, who heads the  Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said Democrats' recent reallocation of funds away from some GOP-held districts to shore up incumbent lawmakers underscores the group's commitment to maintaining seats currently held by Democrats. There are currently 233 Republicans, 199 Democrats and three vacancies in the House.

"It's always painful when you have to make a strategic decision based on your imperative to fortify and protect incumbents -- to have to reallocate spending away from districts that are in play," Mr. Israel said. "Our first obligation has always been incumbent protection."

Posted by orrinj at 4:07 PM


Ouch: Plummeting Oil Prices Sting Russia, 'Petro States' (Alan Neuhauser, Oct. 15, 2014, US News)

Bummer, Vlad:  the lowest crude oil prices in four years are hammering petro-states from Putin's Russia to Venezuela, starving them of their largest source of cash. [...]

 "It takes revenue out of their pockets," says Julie Carey, energy economist at Navigant, an industry consulting firm.

Last week, Venezuela, which heavily relies on oil exports, began seeking a rare emergency meeting of OPEC, the cartel of 12 oil-producing states in Latin American, Africa and the Mideast.

"Venezuela is panicking," Carey says.

And with good reason. Short of cash, Venezuelan bonds have fallen to a three-year low, Bloomberg reported Wednesday, and a pair of Harvard economists have predicted that the country will default on its foreign debt.

Posted by orrinj at 4:03 PM


China's Next Export: Deflation (William Pesek, 10/15/14, Bloomberg View)

Inflation hawks might want to take a closer look at China's latest data, which just go to show how warped their worldview is becoming.

Anyone bracing for Federal Reserve rate hikes or a Japanese bond-market crash clearly isn't considering the deflationary currents coursing through the world's second-biggest economy. I'm not referring only to today's news that producer prices in China fell for a record-tying 31st month in September. Evidence is mounting that consumer prices are on a similar trajectory as exports wane, the nation's property slump deepens and consumers and businesses grow cautious.

Posted by orrinj at 4:03 PM


Posted by orrinj at 4:01 PM


Trouble Looms for Obama, Democrats with Election Day 2014 Approaching (Gary Langer, Oct 15, 2014, ABC News)

The president's 40 percent job approval rating in a new ABC News/Washington Post poll is the lowest of his career - and the Democratic Party's popularity is its weakest in polling back 30 years, with more than half of Americans seeing the party unfavorably for the first time.

The Republican Party is even more unpopular. But benefitting from their supporters' greater likelihood of voting, GOP candidates nonetheless hold a 50-43 percent lead among likely voters for U.S. House seats in the Nov. 4 election.

Posted by orrinj at 3:58 PM


Government reports 2014 budget deficit drops to $483 billion (ANDREW TAYLOR, 10/15/14, Associated Press)

The deficit for the just completed 2014 budget year was $483 billion, the lowest of President Barack Obama's six years in office, the government reported Wednesday.

It's the lowest since 2008 and, when measured against the size of the economy, is below the average deficits of the past 40 years. [...]

Much of the slower growth in spending is due to lower-than-expected health care costs as well as a 2011 budget pact with Republicans that sharply curbed agencies' operating budgets.

Posted by orrinj at 3:55 PM



It was August 2008 near Taji, Iraq. They had just exploded a stack of old Iraqi artillery shells buried beside a murky lake. The blast, part of an effort to destroy munitions that could be used in makeshift bombs, uncovered more shells.

Two technicians assigned to dispose of munitions stepped into the hole. Lake water seeped in. One of them, Specialist Andrew T. Goldman, noticed a pungent odor, something, he said, he had never smelled before.

He lifted a shell. Oily paste oozed from a crack. "That doesn't look like pond water," said his team leader, Staff Sgt. Eric J. Duling.

The specialist swabbed the shell with chemical detection paper. It turned red -- indicating sulfur mustard, the chemical warfare agent designed to burn a victim's airway, skin and eyes.

All three men recall an awkward pause. Then Sergeant Duling gave an order: "Get the hell out."

Five years after President George W. Bush sent troops into Iraq, these soldiers had entered an expansive but largely secret chapter of America's long and bitter involvement in Iraq.

From 2004 to 2011, American and American-trained Iraqi troops repeatedly encountered, and on at least six occasions were wounded by, chemical weapons remaining from years earlier in Saddam Hussein's rule.

In all, American troops secretly reported finding roughly 5,000 chemical warheads, shells or aviation bombs, according to interviews with dozens of participants, Iraqi and American officials, and heavily redacted intelligence documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

October 14, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:26 PM


Red Dawn: The GOP's Growing Monopoly on State Government (Patrick Caldwell, Oct. 14, 2014, Mother Jones)

There's never been a worse time to be a Democrat in a red state. Republicans now hold all the reins of power--the governorship and both houses of the state legislature--in 23 states. That's up from just nine before the 2010 elections. There are now more states under single-party control than at any time since 1944. And without even token Democratic opposition, Republicans have busted unions in Michigan and Wisconsin, passed draconian tax cuts in Kansas, and enacted sweeping new abortion restrictions across the nation.

This November, more Americans could find themselves living under single-party GOP rule. There won't be nearly as many states flipping to single-party rule as in 2010's GOP romp, but Republicans are hoping to add Arkansas and Iowa to the list of states where they can implement their agenda free of Democratic resistance. In Arkansas, Republicans won the state House and Senate in 2012 and hope to add the governorship this year. And in Iowa, a razor-thin two-seat Democratic Senate majority is all that has held back a wave of conservative legislation.

"We are on offense this year," says Jill Bader, communications director for the Republican State Leadership Conference (RSLC), which works to elect Republican state legislators. "We're building these new majorities in some states that have been traditionally Democratic."

Posted by orrinj at 7:05 PM


This Year's Most Outrageous Anti-Abortion Strategy (Dahlia Lithwick, 10/14/14, Slate)

You really don't want to take your eyes off the fight over reproductive freedom for even a minute. Because while you were watching abortion clinics closing across Texas and Louisiana, or the so-called personhood amendments coming back from the dead in Colorado and on the ballot in North Dakota, you were missing some of the really crazy stuff. It's true. All of that almost pales beside the truly imaginative new effort playing out in Tennessee. Starting Wednesday, and unbeknownst to many of us, state voters there will be asked to amend their constitution to provide that:

Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion. The people retain the right through their elected state representatives and state senators to enact, amend, or repeal statutes regarding abortion, including, but not limited to, circumstances of pregnancy resulting from rape or incest or when necessary to save the life of the mother.

That's right. Tennessee is trying to amend its constitution to never protect abortion, ever, under any circumstance. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:02 PM


LED Lights Are A 'Transformative Technology' In The Developing World (CHRISTOPHER SHEA, October 13, 2014, NPR)

Blue LED lighting -- the Nobelists' invention -- was the missing ingredient that allowed the creation of LED lamps.)

Less familiar is the illumination revolution LED bulbs have helped set off in the developing world. For a growing proportion of the more than a billion people who live without reliable sources of electricity, LED lights, in tandem with solar panels, have been a godsend.

Nearly 5 percent of Africans without access to electricity, or some 28.5 million people, now use solar-powered LED lights. That's up from 1 percent five years ago, according to figures released this month by Lighting Africa, a project of the International Finance Corp., the private-sector investment arm of the World Bank. There's a growing market in South Asia, too.

Worldwide, in the past six months, 2.1 million LED-solar products have been sold to people who are unable to plug in to electrical grids, the IFC says. Sales have been growing at a rate of 150 percent annually for several years -- a function of both the demand for lighting and the improved quality of LED lamps.

Posted by orrinj at 6:58 PM


Can Robots Offer Amazon Moral Redemption? (PAUL WALDMAN, OCTOBER 14, 2014, American Prospect)

What I'm wondering today is, can Amazon be morally redeemed by robots?

As far as I can tell, here are the major problems people associate with the company:

*The poor working conditions and pay at fulfilment centers

*The competition with small retailers who cannot compete with Amazon on price

*The long fight it waged to avoid charging sales tax, which gave it an unfair advantage over brick-and-mortar retailers (Amazon now charges sales taxes for purchases in 23 states)

*The squeeze it has put on the publishing industry, most vividly represented in its current conflict with Hachette.

While you may be particularly concerned about one or more of these problems, it does seem to me that the one with the most serious moral weight is the first, how Amazon treats its least-skilled employees (I'm sure the programmers in Seattle are doing just fine, and if they aren't they can probably get good jobs elsewhere). And this is where the robots come in.

There are lots of occupations that may be threatened in coming years by automation. But the task of getting items in vast warehouses from shelves into boxes for shipping is one that is almost guaranteed to be automated. Those fulfilment center jobs may not be gone in five years, but if they're still around in large numbers in ten years, I'd be surprised. That's why in 2012 Amazon bought Kiva Systems, a manufacturer of warehouse robots. At the moment, the capabilities of those robots are limited -- they're very good at moving pallets from one place to another, but not as good at picking the right pair of nose-hair clippers out of a bin.

But eventually, they will be; or more precisely, the warehouses will be built around the robots' capabilities and limitations. Right now it's cheaper for Amazon to hire (often through temporary employment agencies so they aren't technically employed by Amazon, which is its own story) an army of people to run around warehouses picking items, but within a few years it'll be cheaper to have most of that work done by automated systems, with a much smaller number of human employees there to do quality control and service the machines.

Posted by orrinj at 6:55 PM


Tunisian Jews may vote for Islamists in elections (JTA, October 14, 2014)

Rene Trabelsi, a businessman and son of a leader of Tunisia's Jewish community of 2,500, made the assertion in an interview published this week by the Anadolu news agency ahead of the October 26 parliamentary vote and the presidential race next month.

"There are no objections to selecting a political party with an Islamic background, such as Ennahda," Trabelsi said in reference to Tunisia's former ruling party, which stepped down last year as a temporary government proceeded to draft a new constitution ahead of the vote. "Regardless of ideological or religious considerations, we will support the party that presents a suitable economic program."

Trabelsi noted that many Tunisian Jews had voted for Ennahda in the 2011 elections, which followed the ouster of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in a revolution that triggered several other upheavals throughout the Arab-speaking world.

Posted by orrinj at 6:53 PM


Poll: Many insured struggle with medical bills (Associated Press October 13, 2014)

The survey found the biggest financial worries among people with so-called high-deductible plans that require patients to pay a big chunk of their medical bills each year before insurance kicks in.

Such plans already represented a growing share of employer-sponsored coverage. Now, they're also the mainstay of the new health insurance exchanges created by Obama's law. [...]

The poll found that people respond to the hit on their wallets in ways that may not help their health:

-- Nineteen percent of all privately insured adults said they did not go to the doctor when they were sick or injured, because of costs. Among those with high-deductible plans, the figure was 29 percent.

-- Seventeen percent skipped a recommended test or treatment; it was 23 percent among those with high-deductible plans.

-- Eighteen percent of all adults went without a physical exam or other preventive care, 24 percent among those with high-deductible plans.

Just the way Heritage drew it up.

Posted by orrinj at 6:50 PM


Obama shuns UN peacekeeping forces (Brian Cloughley, 10/14/14, Asia Times)

In his September 2009 address to the UN General Assembly, President Barack Obama candidly admitted that much international distrust of his country had been created because, among other things, "on certain critical issues, America has acted unilaterally, without regard for the interests of others." 

He promised to rectify this and declared that "we will strengthen our support for effective peacekeeping, while energizing our efforts to prevent conflicts before they take hold." It was apparent that emphasis was going to be given to international peacekeeping in accordance with the UN Charter. [...]

And when Obama gave his belligerent anti-Russia speech at the General Assembly on September 24, do you know how many times he mentioned 'peacekeeping'? 

Not once. 

He deplored terrorist violence, which is understandable, and told the Assembly that he condemned the firing of rockets "at innocent Israelis" - without uttering one word of criticism about the 50-day Israeli blitz on Gaza that killed 1,462 civilians, including 253 women and 495 children. (He made reference to "the lives of so many Palestinian children taken from us in Gaza" - as if the butchery had been caused by some sort of ghostly tsunami of rockets and bombs from an anonymous aerial Zeus, the god of sky and thunder.) 

Then he went on to chair a meeting of the Security Council at which he didn't mention UN peacekeeping or Israel's continuing flagrant disobedience of Security Council Resolutions, although he did declare that "In the face of this [terrorist] threat, many of our nations - working together and through the United Nations - have increased our cooperation." 

But such cooperation depends entirely, from the US point of view, on every other nation following the Washington line.

Posted by orrinj at 6:48 PM


'British Oskar Schindler' Sir Nicholas Winton to travel to Czech Republic to receive honour (Don Mackay, 10/14/14, Daily Mirror)

A man aged 105 known as "the British Oskar Schindler" is to receive the Czech Republic's highest honour.

Sir Nicholas Winton saved 669 Czech Jewish children from the Nazi Holocaust.

He used his powers as a diplomat to organise their transport to the UK before the Second World War. [...]

Before the start of WWII the diplomat used his visa powers to organise the transport of 669 Czechoslovakian Jewish children from Bohemia and Moravia to Great Britain where he found homes for them.

The transportation of the children was known as Czech Kindertransport.

His activities had not been known for many years until holocaust historian Elisabeth Maxwell revealed them.

In 1998 Czech president Vaclav Havel gave him Order of Tomas Garrigue Masaryk.

Posted by orrinj at 6:44 PM


Liberals Get Illiberal on Campus Rape (Jonathan Chait, 10/14/14, New York)

Americans tend to cherish liberal values, at least until we face frightening and morally outrageous threats, at which point they often give way. Liberals can be acutely aware of this dynamic when the threat involves, say, terrorism, but only sporadically so when the threat involves something like rape. Judith Shulevitz has a powerful story describing the kangaroo court methods of justice used to prosecute sexual assault on college campuses. For instance, "at Harvard, the Title IX enforcement office acts as cop, prosecutor, judge, and jury -- and also hears the appeals." Harvard Law School professor Janet Halley tells Shulevitz that these procedures are "fundamentally not due process."

Obviously, universities aren't trampling due process because they hate due process. They're doing it because they hate campus rape, of which there is (unlike terrorism, it should be said) an awful lot. For various reasons, including the long stalemate in Washington, the movement to confront campus rape has shot up the list of liberal priorities. One can detect in this movement an impatience with balancing risk against liberty that, in other contexts, would be readily recognizable as a tone of creeping illiberalism.

Posted by orrinj at 4:47 AM


A Symbolic Vote in Britain Recognizes a Palestinian State (STEPHEN CASTLE and JODI RUDOREN, OCT. 13, 2014, NY Times)

Against a backdrop of growing impatience across Europe with Israeli policy, Britain's Parliament overwhelmingly passed a nonbinding resolution Monday night to give diplomatic recognition to a Palestinian state. The vote was a symbolic but potent indication of how public opinion has shifted since the breakdown of American-sponsored peace negotiations and the conflict in Gaza this summer.

Though the outcome of the 274-to-12 parliamentary vote was not binding on the British government, the debate was the latest evidence of how support for Israeli policies, even among staunch allies of Israel, is giving way to more calibrated positions and in some cases frustrated expressions of opposition to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's stance toward the Palestinians. [...]

Richard Ottaway, a Conservative lawmaker and chairman of the House of Commons foreign affairs committee, said that he had "stood by Israel through thick and thin, through the good years and the bad," but now realized "in truth, looking back over the past 20 years, that Israel has been slowly drifting away from world public opinion."

"Under normal circumstances," he said, "I would oppose the motion tonight; but such is my anger over Israel's behavior in recent months that I will not oppose the motion. I have to say to the government of Israel that if they are losing people like me, they will be losing a lot of people."

Posted by orrinj at 4:43 AM


Iran's president says nuclear deal with West 'certain' (Reuters, 10/13/14)

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Monday a nuclear deal with the West was bound to happen and he believed it could be achieved by a November 24 deadline.

"We have reached consensus on generalities and there are only the fine details to be worked out: whether we would reach an agreement within the next 40 days, if the time will be extended, etc.," the president told his people in a late evening address broadcast live on television.

"Of course details are important too, but what's important is that the nuclear issue is irreversible.

October 13, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 5:50 PM


The Big Mystery: What's Big Data Really Worth? : A Lack of Standards for Valuing Information Confounds Accountants, Economists (VIPAL MONGA, Oct. 12, 2014, WSJ)

As more companies traffic in information and use big-data analytic tools to find ways to generate revenue, the lack of standards for valuing data leaves a widening gap in our understanding of the modern business world.

These intangibles are becoming an evermore important part of the global economy. The value of patents, for example, has become a major driver of both mergers and lawsuits for technology giants like Google Inc.,  Apple Inc.  and Samsung Electronics Co.  But those assets don't appear on company financial statements.

"We want some kind of accounting information about it, so you have a better idea of how companies are investing for growth," said Mr. Nakamura.

The issue isn't confined to the tech industry. Supermarket operator Kroger Co.  records what customers buy at its more than 2,600 stores and also tracks the purchasing history of its roughly 55 million loyalty-card members. It sifts this data for trends and then, through a joint venture, sells the information to the vendors who stock its shelves with goods ranging from cereals to sodas.

Consumer-products makers like Procter & Gamble Co. PG -1.56%  and Nestlé SA are willing to pay for those insights because it allows them to tailor their products and marketing to consumer preferences.

Mr. Laney and others estimate that Kroger rakes in $100 million a year from data sales. But Kroger executives are mum on the subject.

Kroger does say that it follows generally accepted accounting principles, which prohibit companies from treating data as an asset or counting money spent collecting and analyzing the data as investments instead of costs.

Posted by orrinj at 5:38 PM


Scientists build a battery that charges 70 percent in two minutes and lasts for 20 years (Mike Barry, 10/13/14, The Week)

Get ready: In the near future, you may be able to charge your dead smartphone to mostly full during a single commercial break; your Tesla's range will go from zero to hundreds of miles in the parking lot while you make a quick grocery run; and -- best of all -- your devices won't need replacement batteries for two decades. [...]

Because the prototype uses so much existing technology, it may be possible to deliver the super-charged lithium-ion battery to market in just a couple of years.

Posted by orrinj at 5:32 PM


It's Alive! And It Grows Into a Jack-o'-Lantern (JENNIFER MEDINA, OCT. 12, 2014, NY Times)

Like Victor Frankenstein, Tony Dighera was determined to bring a new creature to life. Though he was fairly new to farming, Mr. Dighera saw profit to be made in strangely shaped pumpkins.

So he created a "pumpkinstein."

Grown in a plastic mold, the pumpkins bear the distinctive face of the Frankenstein monster, and Mr. Dighera has harvested roughly 5,500 of them this year. With a slight smile, a wide button nose, a slightly furrowed brow and ears sticking out just slightly, the pumpkins are easy to mistake for something carved from wax.

Posted by orrinj at 4:11 PM


Elizabeth Warren: Obama 'protected Wall Street. Not families who were losing their homes' (Bonnie Kristian, 10/13/14, The Week)

SALON: You might say, "always." Just about every time they had to compromise, they compromised in the direction of Wall Street.

WARREN: That's right. They protected Wall Street. Not families who were losing their homes. Not people who lost their jobs. Not young people who were struggling to get an education. And it happened over and over and over. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:06 PM


Republicans Stand to Make Gains in State Legislatures (SETH MASKET • October 13, 2014, Pacific Standard)

[P]utting all these variables together into a regression equation yields a prediction that Republicans will pick up roughly 13 state legislatures this year. Now, to be sure, that's a pretty antiseptic forecast, ignoring some important state-by-state details. And it doesn't really tell us just which chambers are most likely to flip, although any list would have to include chambers like the senates of Colorado, Nevada, Iowa, and Oregon, where Democrats only hold the majority by one or two seats.

But what we know about state legislative elections suggests that they turn strongly on the national political environment, and the political fates of thousands of state legislators next month turns on voters' perceptions of Barack Obama and the national economy. If history is any judge, Republicans will emerge from the election with a greater ability to mold state-level policy and affect the lives and livelihoods of state residents, even if those residents aren't thinking about this when they cast their votes.

Posted by orrinj at 4:03 PM


The Man Who Killed Marxism (Mark Michalski, 10/13/14, Real Clear Religion)

Kolakowski began writing Main Currents of Marxism in the late sixties during the so-called revisionist period in Poland, still believing in "Marxist humanism." He had been one of the pioneers of Polish Marxist humanism from the early days of the post-war social order. But after some time, he became disillusioned with Marxist dogma after the short-lived revolution of 1956, when his progressive journal Po Prostu (Straightforward) was discontinued.

After the first widespread social uprisings occurred, Kolakowski, then a young philosopher and still an idealist, in one of his essays entitled "What is Socialism?" summarized the real nature of the system. Using Rabelaisian negations to express "what socialism is not," Kolakowski unveiled its real face describing it as a state

in which a person who has not committed any crime sits at home waiting for the police, in which there are more spies than nurses and more people in prisons than in hospitals, in which one is forced to resort to lies...in which a person who does not think at all lives better -- and which wants all citizens to have the same opinions in philosophy, economics, literature, and ethics, in which the philosopher and writers always say the same thing as the generals and ministers, but always after them, in which one must each day refute what one affirmed the day before and always believe it to be the same.

Kolakowski concluded his essay by sardonically stating that this was "the first point. But now listen attentively, we will tell you what socialism is -- well then, socialism is a good thing."

Kolakowski's support of the student movement in the Spring of 1968 cost him the chair of philosophy at Warsaw University. Ultimately he was expelled from the university and the Party. Stripped of livelihood, he was compelled to leave the country. He became a visiting professor at various universities: Montreal, Yale, Chicago, California at Berkeley, and Oxford.

In Main Currents of Marxism, Kolakowski wrote that "Marxism has been the greatest fantasy of our century." According to him, socialism signifies giving the solution which can never exist. "At present," the author pointed out, "Marxism neither interprets the world nor changes it; it is merely a repetition of slogans." And this is because the ruling elite does not represent the society's needs, but places empty ideology above anything else. Clearly the most important premise of the socialist rule is that it can be exercised by those who possess power. The system which exacts stern order and blind obedience may only triumph through violence, fear, and military coercion. At the same time this system generates only alienation, and stagnation. The sad story of our times is that the system which claims to embody the rights, privileges and welfare of the working class is the same system whose biggest enemy is its very citizens. Kolakowski jokes that socialism would be a splendid idea if only there were no people.

...and then Man comes along and mucks them all up.

Posted by orrinj at 3:46 PM


The Soul of a Gibbon (DONALD S. PRUDLO, 10/13/14, Crisis)

Two hundred and fifty years ago, on the 15th of October 1764, a young traveller from the north mounted the aggressively vertical steps of the ancient Franciscan Church. As many had done before him, he reclined on the top after his severe climb. This wanderer had received the classical education that used to be the crowning glory of the West. He had been steeped in the Greek and Latin classics, and was a denizen of the empire that was poised to inherit the mantle of Rome. Saturated in such a world, Edward Gibbon sat upon the steps of Ara Coeli. He could just look over the crest of the hill where there spread out the expanse of the Roman forum, the domain of Cato, Cicero, and Caesar. He would not have had to face the brooding monstrosity of the Victor Emmanuel monument, a towering oversized expanse of white marble, charitably called by Romans "the dentures." Its absence made for a clear view to the Basilica of San Marco and the Cancelleria, next to the tenements of the contemporary Piazza Venezia. To his left was the marvelous Campidoglio of Michelangelo, echoing for Gibbon the attempt to rescue the city from its medieval torpor, and bring pagan Rome back to life.

Just at that moment the Franciscan friars began one of the hours of the Divine Office. Their chants echoed out to Gibbon. Here were these Catholic religious in sole possession of this monument of Western humanity. Why had the magnificent civilization fallen, which Gibbon prized so highly? The concatenation of chant and ruin bore powerfully on the young man. Gibbon was an archetype for his own generation. His outlook was that of the Enlightenment, at one with men like Voltaire, straining against the forces of tradition which they considered to retard social development. Chief among these was the Catholic Church. Though the young man had a yearlong dalliance with Catholicism a decade before, it ended with a desultory reconversion to Protestantism, perhaps a factor in his later writing.

Gibbon began to turn over the matter in his mind. These chanting friars behind him were the cause of the fall of Roman dominion, for they had exchanged the spirited pagan search for glory for an otherworldly promise of salvation. In short, the Roman Empire had died of Christianity. It was a febrile religion, which had unmanned the ancient world. Rome became terminally ill when it converted to the Church because, to use his famous term, it suffered a "loss of nerve."

For ten years Gibbon prepared his masterwork, stunning in its breadth and concept: The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. He had many purposes in this study besides a wholesale attack on Christianity. For example it can be read as a meditation on the growing power of the British Empire. One of the causes for Rome's failure was a restriction of liberty, and the failure to generate statesmen due to the autocracy of imperial government. In one sense Decline and Fall is an admonition to Gibbon's home country that "empire without end" was contingent upon the quality of rule. One thing is clear though. This work is a literary masterpiece. Gibbon was one of the finest stylists in the English language, and this has given his work an unnaturally long life. It is a pleasure to read, a fact admitted by its strongest critics. But it is precisely in its achievement as a literary work, that makes its history particularly problematic. Hilaire Belloc published a little-known series critiquing Gibbon in the Irish journal Studies in the late teens and early twenties. In between his careful dismantling of many of Gibbon's premises, he remarked, "Now Gibbon was a great artist. That is what lends such charm to his immortal work, and that is what makes its bad history so dangerous to the student."

I've been listening to Thomas F. Madden's course on Empires of Trust and watching Father Robert Barron's Catholicism.  Mr. Madden draws some interesting parallels between America and Rome while contrasting the two with all other empires.  Father Barron has a great scene where Cardinal George is pictured at the installation of the new pope wearing an enigmatic smile as he looks out across Rome. Upon returning home he was asked what he was thinking about and responded to the effect of "Where now are our persecutors, while we here influence the whole world."

One wonders if the difference between Rome and America is not this : while Rome consciously set out to extend its power (Prof Madden argues it really just wanted to gain security), its greatness lay in the way it accidentally extended a system of government, commerce, laws, a universal language and Christianity; whereas, America consciously set out to extend capitalism, democracy and Christianity, and such power as it has gained has only been accidental.  

Posted by orrinj at 3:41 PM


When Textbooks Upheld the Ideals of Our Ancestors (ANTHONY ESOLEN, 10/13/14, Crisis)

Why am I discussing this eloquent old book? It is because of the particular audience to which this wise and amiable man was writing. They must have been open to mature judgment, to read, apropos of a satire by Joseph Addison, that "each man can bear his own burden better than he could that of his neighbors; that imagination is at the bottom of many of our troubles; and that we are more anxious to be rid of physical deformities than of deformities of the mind and heart." Who were they?

I picked up this book at a junk shop. There's a note folded in it. It is a handwritten invitation: "Dear Mrs. Montgomery: You are cordially invited to attend an exhibit given by the 8a class of 1926 June 18, from 10:30 to 12:00 o'clock, Room 8 of the Ynez School." It's no accident, that note. On the inside of the front cover, two girls, evidently sisters, have written their names: Virginia Montgomery, Ynez School, Grade 8B, and Marjorie M. Montgomery, Ynez School, 8th grade, 13 years. There's also the mark of an inked stamp:

Department of Public Education
County of Los Angeles
State of California
Alhambra City School District

Did a pious schoolbook somehow sneak its way past the constitutional censors? Hardly.

It's why I call this a Message from Another World. This book is the Eighth Year Literature Reader. It is eighth, that is, in the California State Series. Its frontispiece reads, in capital letters, "Approved by the State Board of Education." Indeed, Mr. Armstrong was the editor of several other literature books in the same series. The copyright date is 1917. The holder of the copyright? "The People of the State of California."

That was then.

Posted by orrinj at 2:14 PM


U.S. Voters Give GOP Edge vs. Dems on Handling Top Issues : Prefer GOP on seven of 13 election issues; Democrats, on just four (Andrew Dugan, 10/13/14, Gallup)

The Republicans in Congress hold significant leads over the Democrats on four of the six issues that U.S. registered voters say are most important in determining how they will vote in November: the economy, the way the federal government is working, the situation with Islamic militants in Iraq and Syria, and the federal budget deficit. Democrats, by contrast, top their Republican rivals on just one of the six: "equal pay for women."

2014 Midterm Issues: Importance and Party Advantage

October 12, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:06 PM


Gaudí, an inspiration to architects--and a famous chef : A conference on the designer, alternately called a madman and a genius, is taking place in Barcelona (Alessandro Allemandi and María Marin, 08 October 2014, The Art Newspaper)

Every one of Gaudí's project respects the natural scale of its surroundings: the Colònia Güell church in the middle of a forrest has tree-shaped columns, while the height of the Sagrada Familia approaches, but does not overtop, that of Montjuic, the highest hill in Barcelona. 

The rediscovered documents also reveal his extraordinary capacity as a manager. Gaudí was convinced of the value of the human capital at his disposal and collaborated closely with his builders. The large number of commissions he received and their complexity forced him to develop unconventional ways of working. He would direct numerous projects simultaneously, sometimes with shared, sometimes with individual teams. 

When he was asked why the Sagrada Familia was progressing so slowly, he said: "Every artist and every age has its own spirit. God is not in a hurry because He does not need anything, unlike the offspring of the builders." In fact, before tackling the church, he constructed the school of the Sagrada Familia, a building that so astonished Le Corbusier that it inspired him to create a new form of architecture based on Gaudi's light structures and parabolic forms that spread all over Europe and the US, right down to the recently built congress hall by Arata Isozaki in Doha.

Gaudí was also a master of recycling: with the waste from textile and steel factories, he made light, thermic walls; with wooden crates used to import cotton, he made the pews for the church of the Colonia Güell. 

Although he shared in the ideas of the Arts & Crafts movement of Ruskin and Morris, and shared elements of the Art Nouveau style, Gaudí is in a class of his own in his use of new materials--cement, steel and glass--and of trencadís, a mosaic-like technique he invented to cover curved surfaces with reject ceramic and glass fragments. In a way he was applying Pointillism to architecture, allowing abstract forms to be created by "breaking" and "reconstructing" the shape of the architecture.

His most experimental work is the Colonia Güell at Santa Coloma, an industrial town outside Barcelona, where his patron, Count Güell, also gave him a free hand to build the church. What he learned there was to be applied to the construction of the Sagrada Familia, the work that Gaudí said, "they will come to see from all over the world". 

He was right: visitors do come in their millions, and no less than seven of his buildings--more than any other architect--have been declared World Heritage Sites by Unesco. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:59 PM


A Musical Fix for American Schools : Research shows that music training boosts IQ, focus and persistence (JOANNE LIPMAN, Oct. 10, 2014, WSJ)

Music is no cure-all, nor is it likely to turn your child into a Nobel Prize winner. But there is compelling evidence that it can boost children's academic performance and help fix some of our schools' most intractable problems.

*Music raises your IQ.

E. Glenn Schellenberg, a University of Toronto psychology professor, was skeptical about claims that music makes you smarter when he devised a 2004 study to assess its impact on IQ scores. He randomly assigned 132 first-graders to keyboard, singing or drama lessons, or no lessons at all. He figured that at the end of the school year, both music and drama students would show bumps in IQ scores, just because of "that experience of getting them out of the house." But something unexpected happened. The IQ scores of the music students increased more than those of the other groups.

Another Canadian study, this one of 48 preschoolers and published in 2011, found that verbal IQ increased after only 20 days of music training. In fact, the increase was five times that of a control group of preschoolers, who were given visual art lessons, says lead researcher Sylvain Moreno, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Toronto. He found that music training enhanced the children's "executive function"--that is, their brains' ability to plan, organize, strategize and solve problems. And he found the effect in 90% of the children, an unusually high rate.

*Music training can reduce the academic gap between rich and poor districts.

The Harmony Project in Los Angeles gives free instrument lessons to children in impoverished neighborhoods. Margaret Martin, who founded the program in 2001, noticed that the program's students not only did better in school but also were more likely to graduate and to attend college.

To understand why, Northwestern University neurobiologist Nina Kraus spent two years tracking 44 6-to-9-year-olds in the program and then measured their brain activity. She found a significant increase in the music students' ability to process sounds, which is key to language, reading and focus in the classroom. Academic results bore that out: While the music students' reading scores held steady, scores for a control group that didn't receive lessons declined.

Prof. Kraus found similar results in a 2013 study published in Frontiers in Educational Psychology of 43 high-school students from impoverished neighborhoods in Chicago. Students randomly assigned to band or choir lessons showed significant increases in their ability to process sounds, while those in a control group, who were enrolled in a junior ROTC program, didn't. "A musician has to make sense of a complicated soundscape," Prof. Kraus says, which translates into an ability to understand language and to focus, for example, on what a teacher is saying in a noisy classroom.

Posted by orrinj at 6:49 PM


Propping Up Pretensions : a review of Susan Sontag: A Biography  by Daniel Schreiber,  translated by David Dollenmayer. (CARL ROLLYSON, University Bookman)

"Susan Sontag, as F. R. Leavis said of the Sitwells, belongs less to the history of literature than to that of publicity." This salvo from Joseph Epstein would undoubtedly be termed neoconservative by Daniel Schreiber, Susan Sontag's latest biographer. Schreiber never quite explains what he means by "neoconservative" in his intellectually incoherent narrative. But it seems that virtually anyone who has qualms about treating Sontag as a major writer and the public intellectual of her time invites Schreiber to label them reactionary. In this biographer's world a neoconservative is ipso facto a bad hat. The truly odd thing, though, is that the criticisms of Sontag by so-called neoconservatives are the same postmortem criticisms her own friends supplied to Schreiber. In other words, only those inside the Sontag tent are allowed to affix their charges to the indictment because, as these accusers are quick to add, Sontag must be forgiven her transgressions. Why will become apparent anon.

Doubts about Sontag's stature fester in Schreiber's narrative like an open wound that he constantly tries to close with tributes to her influence, her magnetism, her beauty (Schreiber, like a gushing biographer of a Hollywood star, marvels at how well-preserved Sontag remained as she aged), her good deeds, her courage, her assistance to young writers, and on and on and on.

...about self-loathing.

Posted by orrinj at 12:10 PM


When Violins Meet Leaf Analysis (NATHAN COLLINS • October 10, 2014, Pacific Standard)

Violins are kind of like leaves. They've changed over time, driven in part by their designers' tastes. Violins fall into distinct lineages, recognizable by their shapes, just as leaves from one or another plant would be. And they show signs of a sort of natural selection: Violins look more and more like the ones first created by Antonio Stradivari.

This is according to Dan Chitwood, a biologist who normally studies leaves. Specifically, he studies how leaf shapes have evolved over time and the genetic basis of that evolution. Doing that research means quantifying and tracking shape changes over time, something just as easily applied to Chitwood's other avocation, the viola.

Posted by orrinj at 10:39 AM


The Evolution of Devolution (Barry Eichengreen, 10/10/14, Project Syndicate)

The logic of devolution is clear. Scotland, for example, may not want a bigger or smaller government than it has now, but it wants a different mix of taxes and spending. It wants more local control. The Scotland Act of 2012, scheduled to come into effect in 2016, provides a down payment on this desired autonomy. Prime Minister David Cameron, knowing which way the wind is blowing, has promised more.

But if devolution is good for Scotland, then why not for Wales and Northern Ireland? Why not also for England, for that matter? An equilibrium in which Scots vote on English laws but the English have no vote on Scottish laws will not remain an equilibrium for long.

And why stop there? Why not devolution for Yorkshire, a region with a population equal to Scotland's and an active separatist movement, and for other English regions?

A not-so-United Kingdom of regions need not be a disaster. The United States is able to function, after a fashion, as a union of 50 states of very different economic size and political complexion. Other federal states like Canada and Australia may be even better role models.

The Left is worried about rising nationalism, the Right about transnationalism, when the global trend is towards denationalization.

Posted by orrinj at 10:37 AM


Believe It or Not, Corporate Tax Reform Is Doable in 2015 (GENE SPERLING, Oct. 8, 2014, WSJ)

Contrary to perception, there is not that wide of a gap between the Obama White House and key Republicans in Congress. The president has called for lowering tax rates from 35% to 28% for corporations and 25% for manufacturers. Republicans have called for a straight 25% tax rate.

But the choice between 28% and 25% is less of an ideological issue than a question of how deeply Congress is willing to cut tax expenditures. 

...why does either party oppose profits?

Posted by orrinj at 10:32 AM


The TSA's PreCheck Conundrum (SCOTT MCCARTNEY, Oct. 8, 2014, WSJ)

There's a tool savvy road warriors love to use, even though it has its persistent problems and glitches. And unlike most travel secrets, it's in their best interest for more people to know.

The Transportation Security Administration's PreCheck program is desperate for customers after three years of operation. TSA is hiring private contractors to launch a massive sign-up effort. It said recently it will use them to recruit and screen millions of people into trusted-traveler status.

For many frequent travelers, PreCheck has been a godsend, enabling them to routinely breeze through security with little hassle--their shoes stay on and their laptops stay packed.

On our recent trip we were plucked out of line in Orlando Airport and sent through the precheck process.  It was so much easier it improved the godawful travel experience immeasurably.

Posted by orrinj at 10:19 AM


64 Days to a Tax Increase (WSJ, Oct. 9, 2014)

Taxes on Internet access services could top $14 billion a year if Congress allows the Internet Tax Freedom Act to expire at midnight on Dec. 11. That's according to a new study from economist Douglas Holtz-Eakin's American Action Forum.

...but as we shift to taxing consumption it is the tax on internet purchases that will render big bucks.

Posted by orrinj at 10:15 AM


Tesla reveals the D: Two motors and all-wheel-drive (Peter Valdes-Dapena and Rachel Crane, October 10, 2014, CNNMoney)

Model S sedans equipped with Tesla's 85 kWh battery pack and the dual-motor all-wheel-drive system will be able to go from zero to 60 miles an hour in just 3.2 seconds. That puts it in the same league as high-performance cars including the Porsche 911 Turbo and the Mercedes-Benz E63. [...]

Tesla is also adding semi-automomous driving features to its cars that will allow owners to leave some of the driving to the car's on-board computers. The features will come standard, and the automaker has been building them into cars on the assembly line for the past two weeks.

These systems use sensors and cameras to help keep the car in its lane on highways while maintaining a safe following distance behind cars ahead.

The car will be able to automatically change lanes while avoiding other vehicles when the driver uses the turn signal. It will also change the car's speed automatically to adjust to different speed limits as determined by cameras that read speed limit signs.

While using these "autopilot" features, drivers will not be required to keep their hands on the steering wheel.

The car will be able to park itself and, when on private property, an owner will be able to summon the car. The car will also be able to connect with the owner's calendar so that it can be ready when needed.

Posted by orrinj at 10:11 AM


The Mark and Measure of the Man : Remembering Uncle Elmer from Queens (Brian Doyle, OCTOBER 10, 2014, American Scholar)

For reasons I never knew and have remained murky ever since in my family, it was my silent calm dignified utterly-uninterested-in-sports Uncle Elmer who took me to my first professional baseball game, the New York Mets v. the Houston Astros, in October of 1966. Perhaps he was given free tickets, and the sudden impulse to coddle a nephew came upon him. Or maybe he had received free tickets and could not find anyone to give them to, and being a man who disliked wasting money, decided that he might as well turn them into a pleasant afternoon in the roomy confines of William Shea Stadium, where the Mets were finishing an awful season, and there might have been 5,000 fans total if you counted everyone twice, and we could sit wherever we wanted, so we did.

I remember clutching my ticket, memorizing the section and row and seat number as I started climbing to the rafters, when my uncle, the soul of equable grace, murmured something to the usher, who laughed and waved his arm grandly over the sea of empty seats, and said, Be my guest, sir, and my uncle and I made our way down to the box seats near the glowing field.

I was nine years old and knew little of baseball, and less about the Mets and their already tumultuous history, but I knew that this was the Major Leagues, and these men before us were professionals, and the stadium was vast and imposing, and I could have a hot dog, though I could not have peanuts, since, as Uncle Elmer said, "the way people eat peanuts here and just drop the detritus on the floor is poor manners." 

It was Shea Stadium, the debris looked better than the building.
Posted by orrinj at 10:08 AM


Why Are Women Far Less Happy Today than They Were in the 70s? : Surprisingly, the answers may be found in "Allure" and "Glamour" (CATHERINE RUTH, 

 In 2009, economists Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers published an intriguing article called The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness in which they document a pervasive, downward shift in female self-reports of happiness since the early 1970s. This shift has occurred "absolutely" - meaning, women report being less happy today than they did in the early 70s. It has also occurred "relative" to men - as in, women today report being less happy than men do, whereas in the early 70s men reported being relatively unhappier than women. These are major population-based findings - results that summarize statistics from large random samples of people. Further, these findings appear to be consistent across all of the available survey data that can measure changes over time in how people report that they are doing. Which means these aren't accidental findings. They are probably measuring something real.

Women really are - or at least they really feel that they are - doing worse today than they were in the early 70s. 

Viewed objectively, women's liberation was the war on women.

Posted by orrinj at 10:05 AM


Faith and Doubt (Peter Wehner, 10.10.2014, Commentary)

The New York Times recently published an op-ed by Julia Baird praising Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury, for telling an audience at Bristol Cathedral that there are moments in which he asks, "Is there a God? Where is God?"

When pressed if he harbored doubt, Welby answered, "It is a really good question.... The other day I was praying over something as I was running, and I ended up saying to God, 'Look, this is all very well, but isn't it about time you did something, if you're there?' Which is probably not what the archbishop of Canterbury should say."

I'm not so sure. Many people I know, including some very gifted ministers, have struggled with such doubts. So did C.S. Lewis, the greatest apologist for the Christian faith in the 20th century. (The doubts came in the immediate aftermath of the death of his wife Joy Davidman.) And one of the formative figures in my own Christian pilgrimage, Malcolm Muggeridge, told William F. Buckley, Jr., "I rather believe in doubt. It's sometimes thought that it's the antithesis of faith, but I think it's connected with faith - something that actually St. Augustine said - like, you know, reinforced concrete and you have those strips of metal in the concrete which make it stronger."

"The only people I've met in this world who never doubt are materialists and atheists," Muggeridge added. "But for me, at any rate, doubt has been an integral part of coming to faith." That is certainly the case for me, which might explain, in part, my early affinity for Muggeridge. The journey to faith was not a neat and tidy affair for me.

The author Philip Yancey points out that the Bible includes many examples of doubt. In some cases, like Job, God honors doubt. And for Christians, of course, there are the words uttered by Jesus on the Cross: "My God, My God, why hast though forsaken me?"

"Evidently God has more tolerance of doubt than most churches," Yancey writes. 

To not doubt requires not thinking. It is the province of the ideologues, not the faithful.

Posted by orrinj at 10:01 AM


Neo-Victorianism on Campus : Is this the end of the collegiate bacchanal? (HEATHER MAC DONALD, 10/20/14, Weekly Standard)

Sexual liberation is having a nervous breakdown on college campuses. Conservatives should be cheering on its collapse; instead they sometimes sound as if they want to administer the victim smelling salts. 

It is impossible to overstate the growing weirdness of the college sex scene. Campus feminists are reimporting selective portions of a traditional sexual code that they have long scorned, in the name of ending what they preposterously call an epidemic of campus rape. They are once again making males the guardians of female safety and are portraying females as fainting, helpless victims of the untrammeled male libido. They are demanding that college administrators write highly technical rules for sex and aggressively enforce them, 50 years after the proponents of sexual liberation insisted that college adults stop policing student sexual behavior. While the campus feminists are not yet calling for an assistant dean to be present at their drunken couplings, they have created the next best thing: the opportunity to replay every grope and caress before a tribunal of voyeuristic administrators.

The ultimate result of the feminists' crusade may be the same as if they were explicitly calling for a return to sexual modesty: a sharp decrease in casual, drunken sex. There is no downside to this development. 

We can't stand winning. It takes away stuff to whinge about.

Posted by orrinj at 9:59 AM


Sweden close to being cashless society: report (The Local, 12 Oct 2014)

Four out of five purchases in Sweden are paid electronically or by debit card and with the development of cheaper technology the trend is moving towards a fully cash free society, according to a new report.

"Sweden and the rest of Scandinavia leads the world in terms of cashless trading," said Bengt Nilervall at the Swedish Federation of Trade (Svensk Handel). 

Posted by orrinj at 9:56 AM


This New Way To Do Multiplication Is Simpler Than What You Learned In School (PETER JACOBS , OCT. 7, 2014,Business Insider)

The latest controversy over the Common Core education standards involves a new approach to subtraction that conservatives say is unfairly replacing tried and true methods of basic math.

A new way to teach elementary school students multiplication is causing also some controversy -- but it may be easier than the method you probably learned in school.

You probably learned multiplication through the longform method that involves "carrying" over different digits. These days, many elementary school students learn to multiply using the "box method."

NPR demonstrated the "box method" by having a fourth grader explain how to multiply 7 by 23. We first saw this video in a Daily Caller story that criticized it.

Posted by orrinj at 9:34 AM


The Invisible Name on Midterm Ballots (Carl M. Cannon, October 12, 2014, RCP)

The meaning of the 2014 midterms can be summarized in single word, too. That word is "Obama."

Elections in a democracy with 300 million souls aren't ever about one thing. But dominant themes emerge and determine the outcome in any close campaign. And this one is close, at least for control of the U.S. Senate. Thirty-six states are holding Senate contests, 21 of them are currently held by Democrats. Three races--West Virginia, Montana, and South Dakota--already seem likely to change from Democrat to Republican. That means Republicans need a net three-seat gain in the nine states rated as tossups in the RealClearPolitics polling averages.

Those nine are Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, and North Carolina. In all of them, local issues, geographical differences, and the candidates' personalities will help determine the outcome, and with it control of Congress. And in them resides the fun--not to mention the poetry, art, and absurdity--of the campaign trail.

In Arkansas, Sen. Mark Pryor runs an ad accusing Republican Rep. Tom Cotton of voting against funding to fight Ebola. It's not true, but when Pryor is asked whether he supports the administration's handling of the crisis, he mumbles comically, and pronounces himself stumped.

For reasons known only to himself, Iowa Democrat Bruce Braley thought it prudent to deride popular Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley--whom he's not running against--as "a farmer from Iowa who never went to law school."

In response, Braley's actual opponent ran an ad beginning, "I'm Jodi Ernst. I grew up castrating hogs on an Iowa farm, so when I get to Washington I'll know how to cut pork."

Kentucky Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes doesn't just cut an ad saying she disagrees with Obama on "guns, coal, and the EPA"--she does so while skeet shooting.

And so it goes in the tossup states.

Posted by orrinj at 9:30 AM


Turnout fears mount for Dems (Cristina Marcos, 10/11/14, The Hill)
The Democratic Party's worst fears about the midterm election look to be coming true. 

Polling in recent weeks suggests turnout on Election Day could be very low, even by the standards of recent midterms. That's bad news for Democrats because core groups in the liberal base are more likely to stay home than are people in the demographic segments that lean Republican.

A Gallup poll last week found that voters are less engaged in this year's midterms than they were in 2010 and 2006. Only 33 percent of respondents said they were giving at least "some" thought to the upcoming midterms, compared to 46 percent in 2010 and 42 percent in 2006. Even more troubling for Democrats, Republicans held a 12-point advantage  when those paying "some" attention were broken down by party.

Historically, the core Democratic constituencies of young people, minorities and single women are more likely to skip voting in midterm elections. The current projections suggest that months of effort by the Democratic Party to engage those groups on issues such as the minimum wage and women's pay may have been in vain.

Posted by orrinj at 9:04 AM


Dems want White House shakeup (Justin Sink,10/12/14, The Hill)

President Obama needs to shake up his White House staff to give new life to his presidency, top Democratic strategists and former White House veterans say.

They argue Obama needs an infusion of talent if he hopes to recover over his final two years in office.

One prominent party strategist said Obama "should take a flamethrower to his office."

"He needs dramatic change -- it's not even a debatable point," the strategist said. "The general consensus that the president is surrounded by people who do him more harm than good because they are more focused on pleasing him than they are challenging him or proposing a different course."

Posted by orrinj at 8:59 AM


What We Really Need Is a Nobel War Prize (PJ O'Rourke, 10/12/14, Daily Beast)

There are, after all, worthy and decent wars. What was America supposed to do after Pearl Harbor, put the keys to the Golden Gate in an airmail envelope and send them to Tojo?

Peace creeps to the contrary, you can usually tell who's right and who's wrong in a war. Which is more than can be said during peace, witness peacetime politics.

There are always lots of wars going on so the Nobel Committee would never have to skip a year the way it did with its Peace Prize in 1914, 1915, 1916, 1918, 1923, 1924, 1928, 1932, 1939, 1940, 1941, 1942, 1943, 1948, 1955, 1956, 1966, 1967, and 1972.

Wars produce heroes widely recognized by the public. Nobel War Prizes could have been given to Marshal Foch for the Battle of the Marne, Spanish Civil War combatant George Orwell, Winston Churchill, the French Resistance, the U.S. Marine Corps, the Tuskegee Airmen, Charles de Gaulle, FDR, Ike. This is an improvement on the Permanent International Peace Bureau, Charles Albert Gobat, and Ludwig Quidde. The Nobel Foundation's P.R. profile would be considerably raised.

Then there's what often comes after a war, which is usually less silly than what comes after a Nobel Peace Prize. Look at the U.S. and Great Britain. Once we got past that 1776 thing we've been--with a brief time-out for the War of 1812--road dawgs.

The Southern States and the Northern States after the Civil War? We're so close that we date-swapped the political parties that had been screwing us.

The Europeans were at daggers drawn for more than 30 years. But look at them after 1945, brothers from other mothers, living in each other's pockets, Germany lending to France to pay Greece to repay Germany, friends with benefits.

And ever since we started passing notes on the deck of the battleship Missouri in Tokyo Bay, America and Japan have been Batman and Robin.

If you want peace, have a war. Just make sure to have a good, prize-winning one.

...that America would have all four of those and no one else would have any.
Posted by orrinj at 8:43 AM


THE SHALLOW NIHILISM OF JOHN GRAY : The Silence of Animals is anti-humanist posing dressed up as profundity. (ANTHONY MCCARTHY, 10 OCTOBER 2014, Spiked Review of Books)

[W]hat use is a thinker who now says (albeit in an interview) 'I try to avoid beliefs' and that we should have as few as possible? Such statements are not just hopeless; they are mindless. GK Chesterton, a thinker about as different from Gray as it is possible to imagine, tells us that 'if there is such a thing as mental growth, it must mean the growth into more and more definite convictions... The human brain is a machine for coming to conclusions.'

Chesterton contrasts such growth with the position of someone who has 'outgrown definitions', saying that such a man 'when he says that he disbelieves in finality... is by that very process sinking slowly backwards into the vagueness of the vagrant animals and unconsciousness of the grass. Trees have no dogmas. Turnips are singularly broad-minded.'

Indeed, Gray's book could equally well have been called The Silence of Turnips - though it would then probably not have been lauded (by Philip Hensher in the Spectator as 'original and memorable, rich and suggestive'. [...]

A major problem for Gray, in his reduction of humanity, is the fact of human language. It is undeniably 'real' - something Gray does not in any way deny - and saturated in the application of the intellect. One has to insist, through the use of language, that the reality of language is an intellectual tie with the outside and ordered world, a world in which we act purposively and meaningfully. Significantly, Gray, having gradually cast off everything of value, finally recommends that we imitate the 'silence of animals', seeing the world without cognition. Cognition is something that needs to be cast off (though Gray himself hasn't got round to it yet!) and, having abandoned language, reason, being, we learn that we should live in moments.

There is really nothing more to say about this. Gray - who incidentally is a keen exponent of population control, along with the euthanasia and abortion that might help it along - has somehow arrived at a position far worse than those of the Panglossian progressives he attempts to challenge.

Coincidentally, I just read both The World Without Us by Alan Weisman and Make Room! Make Room by Harry Harrison (the basis for Soylent Green), two masterworks of anti-humanism.  What such "thinkers" remind us of is the danger inherent in Judeo-Christianity, the central tenet of which is that God biffed Creation, so while we have the capacity for good, we are not naturally good.

Even God nearly succumbed to the temptation to get rid of us and start over, so it's hardly surprising that some humans would despair even further.  

But the good life consists in trying to overcome nature and be as good as we possibly can be, while celebrating the striving of our fellow men to do likewise.  Therein lies the heroism of the human creature, a thing to be marvelled at and honored  (as even God realized once He'd despaired Himself on the Cross).    To give up on the species and dwell only on our shortcomings is indeed shallow and ultimately always descends into monstrousness.


Posted by orrinj at 8:40 AM


The Capitalist Cure for Terrorism : Military might alone won't defeat Islamic State and its ilk. The U.S. needs to promote economic empowerment (HERNANDO DE SOTO, Oct. 10, 2014, WSJ)

Between 1980 and 1993, Peru won the only victory against a terrorist movement since the fall of communism without the intervention of foreign troops or significant outside financial support for its military. Over the next two decades, Peru's gross national product per capita grew twice as fast as the average in the rest of Latin America, with its middle class growing four times faster.

Today we hear the same economic and cultural pessimism about the Arab world that we did about Peru in the 1980s. But we know better. Just as Shining Path was beaten in Peru, so can terrorists be defeated by reforms that create an unstoppable constituency for rising living standards in the Middle East and North Africa.

To make this agenda a reality, the only requirements are a little imagination, a hefty dose of capital (injected from the bottom up) and government leadership to build, streamline and fortify the laws and structures that let capitalism flourish. As anyone who's walked the streets of Lima, Tunis and Cairo knows, capital isn't the problem--it is the solution.

Here's the Peru story in brief: Shining Path, led by a former professor named Abimael Guzmán, attempted to overthrow the Peruvian government in the 1980s. The group initially appealed to some desperately poor farmers in the countryside, who shared their profound distrust of Peru's elites. Mr. Guzmán cast himself as the savior of proletarians who had languished for too long under Peru's abusive capitalists.

What changed the debate, and ultimately the government's response, was proof that the poor in Peru weren't unemployed or underemployed laborers or farmers, as the conventional wisdom held at the time. Instead, most of them were small entrepreneurs, operating off the books in Peru's "informal" economy. They accounted for 62% of Peru's population and generated 34% of its gross domestic product--and they had accumulated some $70 billion worth of real-estate assets.

This new way of seeing economic reality led to major constitutional and legal reforms. Peru reduced by 75% the red tape blocking access to economic activity, provided ombudsmen and mechanisms for filing complaints against government agencies and recognized the property rights of the majority. One legislative package alone gave official recognition to 380,000 informal businesses, thus bringing above board, from 1990 to 1994, some 500,000 jobs and $8 billion in tax revenue.

These steps left Peru's terrorists without a solid constituency in the cities. In the countryside, however, they were relentless: By 1990, they had killed 30,000 farmers who had resisted being herded into mass communes. According to a Rand Corp. report, Shining Path controlled 60% of Peru and was poised to take over the country within two years.

Peru's army knew that the farmers could help them to identify and defeat the enemy. But the government resisted making an alliance with the informal defense organizations that the farmers set up to fight back. We got a lucky break in 1991 when then-U.S. Vice President Dan Quayle, who had been following our efforts, arranged a meeting with President George H.W. Bush at the White House. "What you're telling me," the president said, "is that these little guys are really on our side." He got it.

This led to a treaty with the U.S. that encouraged Peru to mount a popular armed defense against Shining Path while also committing the U.S. to support economic reform as an alternative to the terrorist group's agenda. Peru rapidly fielded a much larger, mixed-class volunteer army--four times the army's previous size--and won the war in short order. As Mr. Guzmán wrote at the time in a document published by Peru's Communist Party, "We have been displaced by a plan designed and implemented by de Soto and Yankee imperialism."

Posted by orrinj at 8:37 AM


Gaza rebuilding needs Israel's consent, Liberman says (AFP October 12, 2014)

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said Gaza reconstruction efforts would need the consent of Israel, which was not invited to an international conference Sunday in Cairo on rebuilding the coastal enclave.

October 11, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 8:07 PM


A Pro-Life "Doctor Who"?  (GREG DALY, 10/11/14, Aleteia)

"I can't believe what I just saw," wrote historian Tim Stanley in the Telegraph on Thursday: "a Doctor Who episode with an anti-abortion message. Seriously.  On the BBC."

He wasn't the only one so stunned. Peter Williams, executive officer of London-based charity Right to Life, says that despite having serious reservations about much of the philosophy and politics that to his mind have marked the classic BBC series since its 2005 relaunch, he was "taken aback by how pro-life the last episode was."

Posted by orrinj at 8:04 PM


What I Saw as an N.F.L. Ball Boy (ERIC KESTER, OCT. 10, 2014, NY Times)

I lay awake at night wondering how many lives were irreparably damaged by my most handy ball boy tool: smelling salts. On game days my pockets were always full of these tiny ammonia stimulants that, when sniffed, can trick a brain into a state of alertness. After almost every crowd-pleasing hit, a player would stagger off the field, steady himself the best he could, sometimes vomit a little, and tilt his head to the sky. Then, with eyes squeezed shut in pain, he'd scream "Eric!" and I'd dash over and say, "It's O.K., I'm right here, got just what you need."

A sniff of my salts would revive the player in alertness only, and he would run back onto the field to once again collide with opponents with the force of a high-speed car crash. As fans high-fived and hell-yeahed and checked the progress of their fantasy teams, and as I eagerly scrambled onto the field to pick up shattered fragments from exploded helmets, researchers were discovering the rotting black splotches of brain tissue that indicate chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Known as C.T.E., this degenerative disease is the result of players' enduring head trauma again and again. Symptoms include dementia and extreme aggression, and C.T.E. is considered at least partly responsible for the string of recent suicides of former and current N.F.L. players, whose anger, sadness and violence eventually collapsed inward.

Cameramen know not to show players sniffing salts, and I participated in similar acts of cover-up. One of my jobs was sorting through postgame laundry. Cleaner uniforms would be set aside for football card companies to purchase for their line of "game-used inserts." Dirty uniforms, meanwhile, like all the girdles filled with blood and feces because some hits are savage enough to overpower the central nervous system, I'd put in a special bin for disposal.

At one morning practice a player asked me, the smell of liquor on his breath, to run to the locker room and get him some mint gum. For weeks there had been reports that he was going to be released. When I brought the gum to him, he asked me to unwrap it because his fingers were too mangled for fine motor skills. I was later surprised to learn how many players had been arrested on suspicion of drunken driving and public intoxication (according to a USA Today database, since 2000 there have been 237 alcohol-related arrests, nearly three times more than the next most frequent charge, assault and battery).

It seems extremely likely to go the way of boxing.
Posted by orrinj at 8:01 PM


The Denver Post picks Cory Gardner -- and has a record of picking winners (Philip Bump October 10, 2014, Washington Post)

Cory Gardner (R) won the endorsement of the Denver Post in Colorado's contentious Senate race on Friday. The endorsement of the largest newspaper would be a boost for a candidate in any state, but given the Post's recent track record, it's a particularly good sign.

Of the last 11 Senate and presidential races, the Post-endorsed candidate has won nine times.

October 10, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 8:36 PM


U.S. Import Prices Fall 0.5% in September (Jonathan House, Oct. 10, 2014, WSJ)

U.S. import prices fell 0.5% from the prior month, the Labor Department said Friday. Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal had expected import prices to fall 0.7%.

Compared with a year ago, import prices were down 0.9%, their largest annual drop since February.

Posted by orrinj at 7:20 PM


Wendy Davis Wins the Prize for Most Ill-Advised Political Ad of 2014 (Maya Rhodan, 10/10/14, TIME)

The 2014 campaign season reached its nastiest point yet Friday, with a campaign ad by Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis that plays off the disability of her opponent Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, while calling him a hypocrite in the same breath.

Abbott was struck by a limb falling from an oak tree in 1984, and has used a wheelchair ever since. In the ad titled "Justice", a narrator shares that after the Republican's accident--which isn't directly mentioned, though the ad opens with a shot of an empty wheelchair--he "sued and got millions"

...that she should have a right to kill a child who might be disabled; why would we expect her not to be mean to a man who is?

Posted by orrinj at 7:17 PM


This Alabama Judge Has Figured Out How to Dismantle Roe v. Wade : Tom Parker's writings fuel the biggest threat to abortion rights in a generation (Nina Martin, 10/10/14, New Republic)

In the nine years Parker has now served on the court, he has made the most of his opportunities. Child custody disputes, for instance, have made good occasions to expound on the role of religion in parental rights. ("Because God, not the state, has granted parents the authority and responsibility to govern their children, parents should be able to do so unfettered by state interference," he wrote in one case.) But Parker has been the most creative in his relentless campaign to undermine legal abortion. Again and again, he has taken cases that do not directly concern reproductive rights, or even reproductive issues, and found ways to use them to argue for full legal status for the unborn.

Those efforts have made Parker a pivotal figure in the so-called personhood movement, which has its roots in a loophole in Roe v. Wade. While that 1973 ruling was creating a broad new right to abortion grounded in a constitutionally protected right to privacy, an often-overlooked passage left an opening for those who would seek its undoing. During oral arguments, the justices had asked Roe's lawyer what would happen if a fetus were held to be a person under the Constitution. "I would have a very difficult case," she had replied. In his majority opinion, Justice Harry Blackmun noted that the Supreme Court could find no basis for such status, before adding, "If this suggestion of personhood is established, [Roe's] case, of course, collapses, for the fetus' right to life would then be guaranteed."

Roe's fiercest critics immediately took up the challenge, launching a push for a constitutional amendment affirming that life begins at conception. [...]

The basic holding of Roe obviously remains in place, and more than one million legal abortions are performed in the United States every year. Yet the personhood movement has made significant inroads. Today, 38 states have fetal-homicide statutes that make it a crime to cause the death of an unborn child during an act of domestic violence, for example, or while driving drunk. At least 15 have laws that make the pregnancy of a homicide victim an aggravating factor that can lead to the death penalty. And more and more jurisdictions have begun policing pregnant women themselves. In almost every state, women have been arrested or detained for exposing their fetuses to illegal drugs; in more than half of them, mothers can lose some or even all of their custody rights if they or their newborn tests positive for controlled substances. In some places, legislators have written laws expressly authorizing such steps. (Tennessee's new statute goes the furthest, allowing pregnant drug-users to be charged with criminal assault.) More commonly, it's constables and prosecutors who've taken the initiative, reinterpreting existing laws to detain and arrest mothers. "One clever thing about using drug cases this way," said Sara Zeigler, a feminist scholar and dean at Eastern Kentucky University, "is that the average person is not going to be at all sympathetic" to a pregnant woman who gets high. Thanks to moves such as these, the idea that a fetus has rights separate from its mother's has taken root in the law and flourished, even when the more controversial subject of fetal personhood is not directly invoked.

A big reason that these piecemeal personhood triumphs haven't translated into something more sweeping is because courts haven't been willing to explicitly take up the issue. "If you are a careful, strict constructionist kind of judge, you don't necessarily connect the dots," Halva-Neubauer said. Parker not only connects the dots, "he uses a rocket launcher to go after these cases and say, Hey, this is a case that could be used to overrule Roe, and I'm going to show you how." In 2011, for example, Parker and his fellow justices heard a case involving a wrongful death lawsuit brought by a woman who blamed her miscarriage on the negligence of her doctors. Under Alabama precedent, such suits weren't allowed unless the fetus had developed to the point where it could survive outside the womb. But in Hamilton v. Scott, the court voted to strike down that limit. Parker wrote the majority opinion. 

Then he wrote some more. As a judge, Parker has developed the decidedly unusual habit of authoring concurring opinions to his own majority rulings in cases that hold particular interest for him. In his concurrence to Hamilton, he cited advances in medical and scientific technology as part of a larger, painstaking argument asserting that a centerpiece of Roe--that states cannot ban abortion before the point of viability--was "arbitrary," "incoherent," and "mostly unsupported by legal precedent."

Zeigler marvels at how Parker has used the concurrence to strategic effect. "It's like he's writing a law-review article without having to go through that process, plus he gets a much wider audience," she said. And unlike a dissent, a concurrence conveys a certain legitimacy--the idea that the author is on the winning side. "It is much likelier to be noticed and captured and repeated in future cases."

"If you are a careful, strict constructionist kind of judge, you don't connect the dots," says one anti-abortion expert. Parker not only connects the dots, "he uses a rocket launcher to go after these cases."
In 2013, a case even better suited to Parker's cause landed on the Alabama Supreme Court docket. One of the plaintiffs, Hope Ankrom, from Coffee County south of Montgomery, had pleaded guilty after her son tested positive for cocaine and marijuana at birth. The other, Amanda Kimbrough, from rural northwestern Alabama, had used methamphetamine while pregnant, giving birth 15 weeks prematurely to a boy who soon died. Facing the possibility of life in prison, she opted for a plea deal and a ten-year sentence in the notorious Tutwiler state penitentiary for women. But no Alabama laws specifically authorized the women's arrests and convictions. Instead, prosecutors had charged them under a felony "chemical-endangerment" statute enacted in 2006 to protect children from the noxious fumes and explosive chemicals that make home-based meth labs so dangerous.

Lawyers for Ankrom and Kimbrough argued that the state had grossly overreached, pointing out that legislators had debated--and rejected--expanding the meth-lab law to cover pregnant women. Parker, along with five other justices, didn't buy it. He declared that the chemical-endangerment law did indeed apply to fetuses exposed to drugs in the womb. But again, Parker didn't leave it at that. His main opinion in Ex Parte Ankron and Kimbrough ran 55 pages. His concurrence ran another 20.

This time, Parker's goal was to establish the many ways that existing statutes recognize fetuses as persons with legally enforceable rights. The document is a kind of masterpiece of pro-life reasoning. "He's someone who really takes time to read history and the development of jurisprudence," said Mat Staver, the head of Liberty Counsel and a leading Christian legal theorist. "He's not a surface thinker." Step by step, Parker lays out his evidence: laws that give inheritance rights to unborn children, laws that ban pregnant inmates from being executed, laws that give fetuses legal guardians for the purposes of protecting their interests, laws that allow parents to sue for damages if fetuses are injured or killed as the result of negligence or some other wrongful act. Several pages of the concurrence consist almost entirely of lists of statutes from around the country conferring fetal rights. "Today, the only major area in which unborn children are denied legal protection is abortion," he concluded, "and that denial is only because of the dictates of Roe."

This past spring, as if to punctuate its reasoning, the Alabama Supreme Court confronted a virtually identical case, and, with Parker again writing the majority opinion, reached a virtually identical conclusion. In this concurrence, Parker called on the U.S. Supreme Court to resolve the matter of full fetal rights once and for all.

Posted by orrinj at 7:11 PM



Posted by orrinj at 5:12 PM


Confessions of an Aesthete (Terry Teachout, 10/01/14, Commentary)

Not long ago I was introduced to an audience as an "intellectual." This was a well-meaning choice of word, and a flattering one, but it was slightly off. An intellectual is a person who is mainly interested in ideas. I am an aesthete--a person who is mainly interested in beauty. Nowadays the word aesthete carries with it the musty reek of high Victoriana. Still, there remains no better word to describe the way certain people--people like me--view the world.

It's not that aesthetes are hostile to ideas. But it's part of aesthetic wisdom that there is great danger in allowing ideas alone to take the reins and ride mankind, since too often they end up riding individual men and women into mass graves. Far too many intellectuals have been what Jacob Burckhardt called "terrible simplifiers," the power-hungry idea-mongers whose utopian visions have inspired the world's most murderous tyrants. That is reason enough to decline to be counted among their number.

And yet it is also true that many aesthetes are too impatient or uninterested to learn the details of how things actually work and end up taking a comically simple-minded view of the way they should work. If there were an Artists' Party, its platform would look much like the one summed up in James Gould Cozzens's novel The Just and the Unjust: "Any kid can work out a program of more ice cream and less school and free movies and him telling other people what to do instead of people always telling him."

Still, as I say, aesthetes have it over intellectuals in one important respect: You'll rarely catch them hustling anyone off to the nearest guillotine. For all their frequent foolishness, their hands are stained with ink and paint, not blood.

Anglo-American anti-Intellectualism insulated us from all of the isms, in both art and politics. One is reminded of Stravinsky in exile in America, seeking to honor his host country, and determing that in order to do so he'd have to write a classical symphony.

Posted by orrinj at 5:06 PM


Study suggests George W. Bush was a better speaker than President Obama ()

Vocativ analyzed more than 600 presidential speeches, from George Washington to President Obama. The researchers used the Flesch-Kincaid readability test, an algorithm that calculates reading comprehension by measuring syllables as well as word and sentence counts. The algorithm assigned each speech a numerical grade from one to 21, based on these three criteria. A grade of four, for example, would mean that the speech could be understood by a fourth-grader, a grade of 12 would make a speech appropriate for high school graduates, and a 21-level speech would be suitable for someone with a PhD.

Notable findings from the study included the fact that George W. Bush's speeches were one grade level above President Obama's. George Bush's State of the Union address on February 2, 2005, for example, earned a grade of 11.6, while a recent State of the Union address from President Obama earned just a 7.5.

W was one of our most effective public speakers; the UR among the least.  It's largely a function of the former believing things and the latter not.

Posted by orrinj at 4:57 PM


Red states give more to charity. It's because of religion. (Philip Bump, October 7, 2014, Washington Post)  

Of the states that gave the most to charity in 2012, the top 17 all voted for Mitt Romney that year. The bottom seven states in giving all voted for Obama. [...]

[T]hat almost certainly correlates with another tendency that The Chronicle reported on last year: Religious people give more to charity. And in its annual assessment of the nation's religiosity, Gallup reveals that the states at the top of the giving list -- Utah, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee -- are also at the top in terms of religious devotion.

Posted by orrinj at 4:54 PM


Once the hamburgers are gone, can a government hold on? (John Lloyd, October 10, 2014, Reuters)

It's often said that Russia's Vladimir Putin, along with the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party, owe their popularity and the relative stability of their nations to their success in giving their people not so much bread and circuses but McDonald's hamburgers and satellite TV. [...]

In April, Putin gave one of his semi-philosophical interviews, in which he spoke of the Russian capacity for personal sacrifice for the sake of national defense, or national victory. He referred to a Russian saying - "for peace, death is fine" - and went on - "What does 'for peace' mean? It means death for the sake of others of your own people, for the fatherland. These are the deep roots of our patriotism. From that comes our massive heroism." By contrast, he said, for people in the West, the measure is only private, individual success, money, status.

Consciously or unconsciously, the president was preparing his listeners for a time when they would no longer be able -- as they have been for most of the 14 years he has dominated politics -- to measure their success by "Western" criteria. He was reminding them that they were Russians, and Russians have  a higher calling, a spiritual fusion with their nation, a transcendent mission to cherish and protect their fatherland.

Xi Jinping, the increasingly powerful ruler of China, doesn't have the economic problems his friend Putin has, but he does face a slowing of growth. In addition, in the student pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong, he may have glimpsed a ghost of Tiananmen Square past and the fear that the youthful idealism, with its serene faith in democracy, might spark protests across the mainland. Already, even without the help of the Hong Kong youth, mainland Chinese are increasingly angered by political corruption, by a polluted environment and by arrogant Communist cadres.

Xi has made the goal of the first years of his rule the development of  "the Chinese Dream." His dream is not a route to personal advancement open to all (like the American Dream) but a "great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation."

It's a collective, unifying, patriotic dream.

They dream of our reality.  Technology means they see it every day.

Posted by orrinj at 4:51 PM


An 'atomic bomb' is hovering over France's economy (Anatole Kaletsky OCTOBER 10, 2014, Reuters)

An "atomic bomb" is about to blow up in "the confrontation between Paris and Brussels."

It was in these terms that Le Figaro, perhaps the most influential French newspaper, reported the European Commission's near-certain rejection of President Francois Hollande's 2015 budget on Oct. 29.  That is the date the commission must issue a judgment on the French budget, which proposes a two-year delay in reducing the  budget deficit to the EU-mandated maximum of 3 percent of gross domestic product.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has insisted that she will not tolerate any such relaxation of the European Union's new, toughened budget rules. Meanwhile, Hollande has stated repeatedly that France will refuse any demands from Brussels for more cuts.

A full-scale budget war between Paris and Berlin/Brussels looks inevitable, with catastrophic effects on the European economy and markets. 

...it were Fat Man...

Posted by orrinj at 4:48 PM


Original Ghostbusters star Ernie Hudson bashes reboot starring women: 'If they're not funny at least hopefully it'll be sexy' (Sarah Eberspacher, 10/10/14, The Week)

"All-female I think would be a bad idea," Hudson told The Telegraph. "I don't think the fans want to see that."

Lest you get the wrong idea, Hudson promises he loves females and thinks they should be included -- just probably not, you know, in starring roles: "I hope that if they go that way at least they'll be funny, and if they're not funny at least hopefully it'll be sexy," he said.

Posted by orrinj at 4:42 PM


Carlos Slim: The 3-day work week will happen (Matt Egan, October 9, 2014, CNNMoney)

Carlos Slim, the Mexican telecom tycoon worth over $80 billion, believes life would be better with a three-day work week.

"You should have more time for you during all of your life -- not when you're 65 and retired," Slim told CNNMoney's Christine Romans on Tuesday.

But if Slim had his way, people would also work longer days and much later in life. He suggested 11-hour shifts and pushing the retirement age to 75.

Posted by orrinj at 4:35 PM


Jason Riley: The RealClearReligion Interview (Nicholas G. Hahn III, 10/06/14, Real Clear Religion)

"Uncle Jason, why do you talk so white?"

The Wall Street Journal's Jason Riley says this question posed by niece is indicative of the collapse of black culture. In his latest book, Please Stop Helping Us: How Liberals Make It Harder for Blacks to Succeed, Riley argues that bad public policies have contributed to the breakdown of the black family. Late last month, I spoke to Riley about his faith, black culture, and why blacks don't need another Martin Luther King, Jr. [...]

RCR: Why aren't black pastors doing more to keep the nuclear family together?

JR: I think they're doing what they can. I think if you visit some of these churches, you're going to find more women than men. I think they're up against a culture that is pulling these young black men in a completely different direction probably more so now than ever. In addition, we have public policies that aren't helping, and in many cases, are harming the situation. When you have a policy like open-ended welfare benefits, it does not encourage a group to develop a work ethic. When you oppose school choice for kids, keeping them stuck in failing schools instead of providing better options for them, you're not helping the situation in the ghetto.

RCR: Why is there an abundance of black religious leaders on the left?

JR: There is a long tradition of black leaders coming out of the church. Martin Luther King, Jr. predates your Jesse Jacksons and Al Sharptons. Traditionally, the ministers were the better-educated people in the black community, and they were natural leaders. I don't have a problem with it per se; I don't care where the leaders come from. I'm not sure that blacks today need another Martin Luther King, Jr. to play the role that someone like King played. I think we're beyond that. I think the problems facing the black community today are going to be addressed at a more local level, community by community. I'm not sure that a premiere black leader has got to step up and take charge in the way that it's happened in the past.

There are a lot of blacks who don't self-identify as conservatives, but when it comes to attitudes towards education, criminality, and culture, I think you'd find little daylight between them and Clarence Thomas. This is an audience that the black leadership largely ignores because that's not where black leaders today want the emphasis. They don't want the emphasis on black responsibility, or black culture, as the main barrier to black progress in America. Their agenda is to keep the focus on whites and white behavior. It's very lucrative for them and it keeps them relevant in the debate.

One of the messages in this book is that blacks ultimately have to help themselves. There may be some residual racism out there, but that is not what is producing the unemployment rates. That is not what is producing the achievement gap in schools. That is not what is producing the black arrest and incarceration rates. Obama and Holder are pretending that "Bull" Connor runs the Ferguson, Missouri police department. You have liberal elites out there pretending as if nothing has changed since the 1950s with regard to race relations. That's simply not the case and I think in a lot of these black congregations, they would agree with me. Blacks have to get their own act together. This is not about pretending that the main barrier blacks face today is white racism.

It's not Thomas Sowell, but not a bad book.  What's disappoiunting is the lack of any alternative conservative program.
Posted by orrinj at 4:31 PM


Experts: drivers can expect gas prices to keep falling (KUSA, October 9, 2014)

AAA said the price of gas is falling across the country by an average drop of 40-cents a gallon since July 4. Experts said it could go even lower by the time the holiday season comes around.

"The economy is certainly going to get a nice boost from lower gas prices," AAA spokesperson Michael Green said.

Posted by orrinj at 4:24 PM


The Global Warming Statistical Meltdown : Mounting evidence suggests that basic assumptions about climate change are mistaken: The numbers don't add up. (JUDITH CURRY, Oct. 9, 2014, WSJ)

Human-caused warming depends not only on increases in greenhouse gases but also on how "sensitive" the climate is to these increases. Climate sensitivity is defined as the global surface warming that occurs when the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere doubles. If climate sensitivity is high, then we can expect substantial warming in the coming century as emissions continue to increase. If climate sensitivity is low, then future warming will be substantially lower, and it may be several generations before we reach what the U.N. considers a dangerous level, even with high emissions. [...]

Nicholas Lewis and I have just published a study in Climate Dynamics that shows the best estimate for transient climate response is 1.33 degrees Celsius with a likely range of 1.05-1.80 degrees Celsius. Using an observation-based energy-balance approach, our calculations used the same data for the effects on the Earth's energy balance of changes in greenhouse gases, aerosols and other drivers of climate change given by the IPCC's latest report.

We also estimated what the long-term warming from a doubling of carbon-dioxide concentrations would be, once the deep ocean had warmed up. Our estimates of sensitivity, both over a 70-year time-frame and long term, are far lower than the average values of sensitivity determined from global climate models that are used for warming projections. Also our ranges are narrower, with far lower upper limits than reported by the IPCC's latest report. Even our upper limits lie below the average values of climate models.

Our paper is not an outlier. More than a dozen other observation-based studies have found climate sensitivity values lower than those determined using global climate models, including recent papers published in Environmentrics (2012),Nature Geoscience (2013) and Earth Systems Dynamics (2014). These new climate sensitivity estimates add to the growing evidence that climate models are running "too hot." Moreover, the estimates in these empirical studies are being borne out by the much-discussed "pause" or "hiatus" in global warming--the period since 1998 during which global average surface temperatures have not significantly increased.

This pause in warming is at odds with the 2007 IPCC report, which expected warming to increase at a rate of 0.2 degrees Celsius per decade in the early 21st century. The warming hiatus, combined with assessments that the climate-model sensitivities are too high, raises serious questions as to whether the climate-model projections of 21st-century temperatures are fit for making public-policy decisions.

Darwinists have likewise been reduced to contending that we're in an evolutionary pause.  

Posted by orrinj at 5:21 AM


Ted Nash and Odeon "Sidewalk Meeting
(Note - the music in this video is from Odeon's equally-terrific second album, La Espada de la Noche"

Straight-ahead jazz is a fusion music in many respects.   The shuffle beat - that irresistible momentum that causes the music to swing - derives from the combination of African rhythms and the beat of American marching bands.  Harmonic structures from European concert music provide the underpinning for improvisations...except where Eastern-influenced modes are the base.  Melodic statements, even when based on Tin Pan Alley pop, are tinged with a soulfulness that comes straight from the blues and church hymns.   But when "jazz fusion" or "fusion" music is spoken of, the reference is not usually to plain old jazz, but to some form of "jazz and...."  In the 1950's, Third Stream music combined jazz and classical orchestral elements, such as in the Miles Davis and Gil Evans classic "Sketches of Spain."  In the 60's and 70's, fusion came to mean the mix of jazz and rock, again with Miles in the forefront, but with a lot of painful examples as well.  Since then, fusion has mostly meant various forms of World Music, where jazz (well, at least some jazz instrumentation or some level of improvisation) is melded with a particular style of music from South America, Europe or Asia.   
Ted Nash, one of the great reed players in jazz and a long-time stalwart member of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, and his band Odeon take the concept of fusion to another level because their music cannot be sufficiently defined by the simple description "jazz and..."   Odeon consists of a non-standard lineup of reeds (Nash on tenor sax, clarinet and bass clarinet), accordion (William Schimmel), violin (Miri Ben Ari), trombone and tuba (Wycliffe Gordon), and drums (Jeff Ballard and Matt Wilson).  The amazing number of musical styles and influences that can be identified in the performances of this small ensemble expands proportionally with the depth and breadth of the listener's frame of reference.   Jazz critic Gary Giddins put it better than I can when he described Odeon's music as a "Rorscach: tango, klezmer, second-line rhythms, impressionism, Ellington voicings, marches, the Near East, the Middle East, the Far East, and representing the West, country music and jazz itself."  What this description doesn't tell you, however, is that in any given piece, many of these styles and influences can come flying/wafting/marching/strolling/dancing/laughing past you at a dizzying and audacious variety of speeds and angles.
There are so many wonderful moments throughout this CD...and I'm already over my self-imposed 2 paragraph limit...that I will only mention a few of the high(est)lights.  "Premiere Rhapsodie" is a brilliant deconstruction/reconstruction of a DeBussy competition piece for clarinet, here cramming into less than 9 minutes mysterious bass clarinet lines, a soulful muted trombone, a rollicking tenor solo over a tuba backbeat, a gypsy violin/accordion episode, some conservatory-worthy clarinet playing, and a circus-like theme that makes you think the elephants and clowns are just around the corner.  The title cut, "Sidewalk Meeting" starts with a virtuoso trombone cadenza with Gordon unleashing a rambunctious display of shouts, growls, belly laughs and romantic asides before being greeted by the counterpoint of Ted's bass clarinet as they slip into the gospel-ish main theme.  The violin and accordion then join and the piece moves like a choir through a peaceful conclusion that reminded me a bit of Thelonious Monk's "Crepescule with Nellie."   And, of course, what klezmer-gypsy-tango album wouldn't be complete without a real Monk tune, in this case "Bemsha Swing."   Here Nash stretches out on tenor, with wonderful support from Gordon (on tuba) and Ballard on the closest thing you'll find to straight-ahead jazz on this inspired and fascinating CD.

October 9, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 8:59 PM


GOP voters in NH like Jeb best; Dems love Hillary (John DiStaso, Oct 9, 2014, NH Journal)
Former Florida Sen. Jeb Bush receives 15 percent in the latest WMUR Granite State poll conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center.
That puts him in the lead in the first-primary state at a time when there are indications that is preparing for a run, although there has been no movement along those lines in New Hampshire, yet.

Posted by orrinj at 8:54 PM


Has Rising Inequality Brought Us Back to the 1920s? It Depends on How We Measure Income (Gary Burtless, 5/20/14, Brookings)

A notable problem with both the IRS income series and the Census Bureau's money income statistics is the omission of personal tax payments and noncash income items from the income measure. For example, neither income series includes food stamps, housing assistance to low-income families, or the free health benefits provided by companies to their employees and by the government to people enrolled in Medicare or Medicaid. The IRS income tabulation published by Piketty and Saez excludes all government transfer benefits, including cash as well as in-kind transfers.

An unfortunate side effect of these omissions is that an increasing percentage of the gross incomes received by Americans is excluded from the most commonly cited income measures.  At the same time, the two income series miss the effect of shifting tax policy on family tax burdens. The Congressional Budget Office has tried to remedy these deficiencies by including most of the missing income items in a more comprehensive income definition. In addition, it has adjusted the income statistics to reflect size differences among households. It seems plausible to think a single-person household can live more comfortably on $40,000 a year than a four-person family.  Household size has shrunk over time, so even if median household income has remained unchanged, the income available to support each household member has gone up.  Finally, the CBO has made adjustments in households' income to reflect the federal taxes they are expected to pay through social insurance contributions, personal and corporate income taxes, and excise taxes. (Unfortunately, the adjustments do not include the effects of state and local taxes.)

The CBO income measure is far from perfect, but it comes closer than the older income series to reflecting the spendable incomes of American families. If we define income to mean the annual resource flow available to a family to pay for its consumption, including health care, then the CBO income measure does a far better job than either the cash market income reported on families' income tax returns or the Census money income measure. Instead of showing that the incomes of low- and middle-income families barely budged after the late 1970s, the CBO tabulations suggest that Americans in the bottom one-fifth of the distribution saw their real net incomes climb by almost 50%.  Those in the middle fifth of the distribution saw their incomes grow 36%.  Their after-tax income gains are nowhere near as large as those enjoyed by the top 1%, who saw their after-tax incomes triple, but they reflect a sizeable improvement in household net incomes. The estimated gains are also more consistent with our aggregate statistics on the overall trend in disposable income.

It's almost as if the rising tide lifted all the boats....

October 8, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 6:15 PM


Why you haven't gotten a pay raise (Catherine Rampell, 10/06/14, Washington Post)

Why haven't you gotten a raise?

In the past few years, corporate profits have climbed ever higher. Legions of unemployed people are now finding gainful employment, with joblessness finally falling below 6 percent. Meanwhile, if you're anything like the average American worker, your pay has been flat, just barely keeping pace with inflation. If you're in the very middle of America's income distribution, in fact, your overall household income is lower today than it was when the recession officially ended more than five years ago.

This is all a bit of a puzzle.

...(1) in a deflationary epoch you're making more if you earn the same; and (2) your labor isn't worth more money; indeed, it's worth less, so staying the same is a win.

Posted by orrinj at 6:12 PM


The State-by-State Revival of the Right (Thomas B. Edsall, 10/07/14, Washington Post)

Twenty-three state governments are now under the complete control - governor, house and state senate -- of the Republican Party, more than at any time since Dwight D. Eisenhower won the presidency in 1952. Democrats control 14 states. The rest are divided.

Not only are Republicans today in charge of more states, they are exercising their power to gain partisan advantage far more aggressively than their Democratic counterparts.

The state-based revival of the right has the strong backing of conservative groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council, Americans for Tax Reform, Karl Rove's American Crossroads/Crossroads GPS and the network of tax-exempt organizations tied to the Koch brothers.

There are some common themes to the current Republican state-based agenda.

The most visible effort is the drive to gut public sector unions, a key source of votes and financial support for Democrats. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:07 PM


'The Giving Tree' celebrates 50th anniversary (Stephan Lee, Oct 7, 2014, Entertainment Weekly)

Whether you loved The Giving Tree or found it profoundly disturbing, odds are you still remember the surprisingly complex story by Shel Silverstein of a boy who asks a tree to give him everything. Even on its 50th anniversary today, parents, religious scholars, environmentalists, and feminists are still puzzling and debating over its meaning. Silverstein initially had trouble finding a publisher for The Giving Tree because it was either too sad, too short, or too adult. Fifty years later, it has sold over 10 million copies and was recently released as an e-book -- the first of Silverstein's books to be published in a non-hardcover format.

It's a tragedy.

Posted by orrinj at 5:59 PM


The Federal Deficit is Now Smaller than the Average Since the 1980s (JOSH ZUMBRUN, 10/08/14, WSJ)

The federal government's deficit in fiscal year 2014 was $195 billion smaller than last year -- clocking in at a shortfall of $486 billion, according to an estimate from the Congressional Budget Office. The deficit was $20 billion smaller than the CBO had estimated as recently as August.

The rapid plunge in the deficit has reaped few political dividends for either party just weeks before the November midterm elections. The deficit remains large in absolute levels, and the headline number of $486 billion still draws ample attention from Republicans. At the same time, many Democrats are unhappy with cutting budgets in a weak economy and reducing borrowing when interest rates are low.

But measuring the raw deficit only tells part of the story. The U.S. population and economy are much larger today than they were in the 1980s. In fact, adjusted for the size of the economy, today's deficit is now smaller than the average deficit going back to the 1980s. The 2014 deficit came in at 2.8% according to the CBO estimate, compared to the 3.2% average since 1980. By that measure, President Barack Obama's deficit this year is one that would have been acceptable to President Ronald Reagan. During Mr. Reagan's presidency, the deficit averaged 4% of GDP.

Posted by orrinj at 5:55 PM


To Defeat Islamic State, Remove Assad (JOHN MCCAIN And  LINDSEY GRAHAM, Oct. 6, 2014, WSJ)

After Islamic State stormed into Iraq in June, Mr. Obama argued that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki 's alienation of Sunnis had strengthened the terrorist group. Destroying Islamic State in Iraq, the administration suggested, required Mr. Maliki's removal and an inclusive new government. Why not the same urgency about Syria?

Mr. Assad all but created Islamic State through his slaughter of nearly 200,000 Syrians, and he has knowingly allowed the group to grow and operate with impunity inside the country when it suits his purposes. Until we confront this reality, we can continue to degrade Islamic State in Syria, but Mr. Assad's barbarism will continue to empower it.

This points to another contradiction: How can we arm and train 5,000 Syrians and expect them to succeed against Islamic State without protecting them (and their families) from Assad's airstrikes and barrel bombs? Or expect moderate groups in Syria fighting Islamic State to take advantage of U.S. airstrikes if we do not coordinate or communicate our operations with them? This is reportedly not happening. Instead, Mr. Assad is exploiting U.S. airstrikes to kill the very people we want as our partners. This is not just a recipe for failure; it is immoral.

Posted by orrinj at 5:50 PM


How Latinos Are Saving Iowa : Iowa's Latino population has doubled in the last decade and continues to grow. But despite establishing businesses and putting down roots, some still fear deportation. (MATT VASILOGAMBROS, October 2, 2014 National Journal)

"People who came to work in construction now want to open a business, and they need more information," [Juan Rodriguez] says in his insurance office on East Grand Avenue, a few blocks from the State Capitol. "I use my resources to invest in the community."

The community has revitalized many of the neighborhoods in the east and south parts of Des Moines through purchasing and rehabilitating homes, and launching small businesses along Southeast 14th Street, East Grand Avenue, Indianola Avenue, and Army Post Road. Many Latino newcomers moved into areas already abandoned by white residents. They took over empty commercial shops and buildings, spared bankers who were trying to sell those buildings, and opened supermarkets, restaurants, and clothing stores where Latinos could go and speak their native tongue. It's not too different from what's happening in the rest of the state.

In many ways, Latinos saved Iowa. For years, young people left small towns to find education and employment opportunities in bigger cities. As the remaining residents of those small towns aged, tax bases deteriorated and infrastructures crumbled. Add the farm crisis of the 1980s, and the death of Small Town Iowa seemed imminent. That is, until the Latino revolution hit the state. Latinos moved to these small towns for jobs in manufacturing or meatpacking plants. They stayed to raise families, open small businesses, and become part of the community. Now there are places like West Liberty (pop. 3,730) that are majority Latino, and other small towns like Columbus Junction, Denison, and Storm Lake that are approaching that 50-percent mark.

Over the past decade, the Latino population in Iowa grew by 104 percent. It is projected to triple by 2040, from 169,000 to about 421,000. The median age of Iowa's Latinos is around 22, compared with 38 for the rest of the state, which only adds to their population growth. And in Des Moines, Latinos make up 23 percent of students in public schools.

Joe Henry, the Iowa state director of the League of United Latin American Citizens, sees a Latino population with a strong sense of community, whose labor and tax dollars will build a new Iowa. His family has seen Des Moines' transformation; Henry's grandfather was part of the first wave of Latinos to come to Des Moines in 1917 after the Mexican Revolution.

"We're here to stay," Henry says. "We are the only growing population. The baby boomers are retiring. The majority community is not increasing at the same rate as us. You need to embrace us, because we are going to be here and take care of you down the road."

Posted by orrinj at 5:46 PM


Remarks by the President at DNC Event -- New York (President Barrack Obama, White Street Restaurant, New York, New York, 10/07/14)

I was here in New York just a couple weeks ago -- you noticed the traffic was even worse then -- during the United Nations General Assembly annual gathering of world leaders.  And it's appropriate to talk a little bit on the front end about why this particular General Assembly was so indicative of America's position in the world.  There are times where I think in this country we doubt ourselves, and there are times when we're uncertain of all the changes that are taking place all across the globe.  And understandably, when you see the headlines every single day and you read about ISIS and Ebola and the Russian incursions into Ukraine, there's a sense possibly that the world is spinning so fast and nobody is able to control it.

And yet if you look at what happened at the General Assembly on the terrorist group ISIS and the need to mobilize an international community to push back against their radical violence, it was the United States that mobilized that coalition both in the Middle East and around the world.

When you look at Ebola, a humanitarian crisis in West Africa, but also a public health crisis that has the possibility of affecting people around the world, it was the United States that is committed to building the infrastructure that allows health workers to get in and start saving lives and making sure that children aren't dying on the streets.

When it came to blunting Russian aggression, it was the United States that mobilized NATO countries and the world community to stand up for the principle that people are independent and have the ability to make their own decisions about their own lives and to seek freedom and prosperity on their own terms.

On climate change, it was the United States that led the way in continuing to mobilize the world community to reduce carbon emissions that are going to affect our kids and our grandchildren.

On every single issue of importance, when there are challenges and there are opportunities around the world, it's not Moscow they call; it's not Beijing.  They call us.  Because they understand that for all the challenges we sometimes face and the mistakes that we occasionally make, that America continues to be the one indispensable nation -- (applause) -- and that what we stand for --- liberty and democracy and conservation and fairness and justice -- those are the things that people around the world aspire to and seek, and they expect the United States to be on their side.

Posted by orrinj at 5:41 PM


Here's Who's Getting Hammered By Russia's Falling Ruble (Carol Matlack  October 07, 2014, Businessweek)

President Vladimir Putin may control the levers of power in Russia, but there's one thing he hasn't been able to control: the relentless slide of the ruble.

The currency is down about 20 percent against the dollar since January and is now at its lowest level since Russia's 1998 debt default. Its performance this year is the worst of any major currency except Argentina's peso.

It could fall farther, despite interventions by Russia's central bank, which over the past few days has spent $1.75 billion to prop it up. The ruble remains under "permanent pressure" as investors flee the country and sanctions choke off access to foreign capital markets, Vladimir Evstifeev of Moscow's Bank Zenit tells Bloomberg News.

The central bank runs the risk of depleting its reserves if it keeps spending to prop up the ruble. That's why many analysts are betting its next move will be to hike interest rates as early as this month, pushing its key lending rate to 8.5 percent. That would put the brakes on economic growth that's already sputtering.

In the meantime, the falling ruble claims more and more victims. They include:

• Russian consumers. As the currency sinks, inflation has risento 8 percent, including an 11.4 percent year-on-year rise in food prices during September, according to the state statistics service. Sales of imported consumer goods such as laptop computers have collapsed, and Russians are holding off on buying cars and other big-ticket items.

...is that we couldn't inflate our own currency but can theirs. They just aren't a serious state.

Posted by orrinj at 5:20 PM


30 for 30 Shorts: The Great Trade Robbery : Our latest film, from Stuart Zicherman, tells the story of how the trade of one player built a dynasty ... for the other team. (GRANTLAND, OCTOBER 8, 2014)

In 1989, the storied Dallas Cowboys were a team stuck in mediocrity. They had a brand-new owner in Jerry Jones. They had a brand-new coach (just two years removed a national championship with Miami) in Jimmy Johnson. What they didn't have was talent. But Dallas did have one asset that stood out: running back Herschel Walker. So Johnson went out to see what he could get for no. 34. Enter the Minnesota Vikings -- a team that appeared to be on the cusp of many long playoff runs. All they needed was someone like Walker to put them over the top. They got Walker, but what did they give up? 

Posted by orrinj at 5:11 PM


Somalia's first cash machine opens in Mogadishu (BBC, 10/07/14)

Somalia's first-ever cash withdrawal machine has been installed in the capital, Mogadishu.

Posted by orrinj at 5:06 PM


Life Expectancy in the United States Reaches All-Time High (ABC NEWS via GOOD MORNING AMERICA, 10/08/14)

Life expectancy in the United States is at an all-time high of 78 years and 9 ½ months, according to a report released today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Life expectancy for a child born in 2012 increased about six weeks from the life expectancy in 2010 and 2011, according to the CDC report, "Mortality in the United States, 2012."

Women born in 2012 were expected to live more than 81 years and men nearly 76 ½ years, the CDC says.

October 7, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:15 PM


The rise of Kurdistan (Jed Lea-Henry, 8 October 2014, Online Opinion)

[T]he Kurds of Iraq have survived the last two decades only due to, though belated in its application, western intervention and sustained protection. Despite the relative security this has provided, for the Kurds this has been two decades of perpetual fear concerning the continuing longevity of that protection. Their very existence balanced upon the collective conscience of international actors - a collective conscience that historically has proven capricious and short-lived.

Considering this, following the 2003 invasion and subsequent fall of Saddam and the Ba'athist party, one would have forgiven the Kurds for immediately abandoning the then crippled Iraqi state. Rather, the Kurdish nation bought into the formation of a new democratic Iraq. Operating from within an implicit framework protecting the Iraqi Presidency for ethnic Kurds, Fouad Massoum recently replaced Jalal Talabani, both members of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan party, in the first democratic and peaceful transition of executive power in Iraqi history.

This regional attachment to the greater Iraqi state was, at least in part, due to economic considerations. Colloquially known as the 'Kurdish Jerusalem', the town of Kirkuk and its two oil fields have long been seen as part the Kurdish nation. However, after it was seized during Saddam's era, its status in the new Iraq has been open to debate. With ownership status of this asset left intentionally 'undecided', Kurdistan reintegrated within the new Iraqi state due to economic necessity.

It is here that the recent rise of the terrorist organisation 'Islamic State' and the subsequent collapse of the Iraqi army, has offered Kurdistan an unlikely opportunity for national realisation.

The failure of the Iraqi state to maintain its borders, and provide human security within them, legitimised the humanitarian seizure of Kirkuk by Kurdish forces. By exposing the institutional failures of the new Iraqi state, and by setting the Kurds up as the prime recipients of foreign military armaments, Islamic State has provided the conditions for the reincorporation of Kirkuk into Kurdistan, and as such have supplied the impetus for Kurdish independence.

Now economically independent, the President of the Kurdistan Regional Government, Massoud Barzani, declared the overcoming of the last remaining hurdle to Kurdish statehood, "We waited for 10 years for Baghdad to solve Article 140 [referring to Kirkuk]...."now it's accomplished because the Iraqi army pulled out and our Peshmerga forces had to step in. So now the problem is solved. There will be more no more conversation about it".

Importantly, Turkey who had long opposed Kurdish independence in Iraq, (previously threatening invasion if referendums on independence were to be held, for fear of its impact upon its own Kurdish population), indicated a change of policy in a message delivered through a government spokesman, "The Kurds of Iraq can decide for themselves the name and type of the entity they are living in,"... "The Kurds, like any other nation, will have the right to decide their fate".

Kurdistan was the one aspect of the Gulf War he got right.

Posted by orrinj at 6:51 PM


Companies Aren't Filling Open Jobs, the BLS Says (Peter Coy  October 07, 2014, Business Week)

There's good news and bad news for job seekers in a report today from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The good news is that companies have lots of job openings--the most, in fact, since January 2001. The bad news is that they aren't hiring to fill them.

There were 4.8 million jobs open at the end of August, up by 200,000 from a month earlier. But that's not because companies were generating lots of new jobs. It's because the hiring rate slowed down. The number of hires that occurred in August was 4.6 million, down from 4.9 million in July, the BLS reported. The rate of hires as a share of total employment also fell, as the chart below shows. "Job openings keep climbing while hiring takes a spill," read the headline on a report by economist Daniel Silver of JPMorgan Chase (JPM).

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 PM


How Telemedicine Is Changing Health Care (Angela Haupt Oct. 7, 2014, US News)

More than half of U.S. hospitals use telemedicine to engage with patients remotely - from monitoring vital signs to full-fledged consultations at a distance. Just the flash of a webcam, for example, allows critically ill patients, perhaps in an eICU, access to a world-class team of physicians who could be anywhere from miles to states away.

Patients' doctor visits of the future will, in many cases, involve facing a screen - and "in some emergency rooms in San Francisco, you can walk into a kiosk, answer a set of questions and your course of care will be decided by an algorithm in a computer," said moderator Steven Sternberg, U.S. News' deputy health rankings editor. "There's a lot of ferment in the field," and real obstacles along with benefits. Among the highlights of the discussion, which explored both:

Linkous said telemedicine has been around 20 to 30 years "depending how you define it." Perhaps the greatest example: radiologists, who don't need to be in the same hospital or even city as a patient to examine digital images. Telemedicine is in place in 100 to 200 networks around the country, and close to 1 million patients will receive consultations online via webcam this year. "And that's just the small tip of the iceberg," Linkous said. He added that remote monitoring - for stroke patients, for example - has "huge potential" and can lead to a lower cost of care, coupled with higher quality. "It's somewhat controversial, but the truth is, consumers want it," Linkous said. There's evidence in studies, he added, which suggest that patients overwhelmingly accept telemedicine, and recognize that it's a step to receiving better care.

Posted by orrinj at 6:21 PM


PARTY OF ONE : In a country clamoring for independent-spirited politicians who disdain politics as usual, John Hickenlooper seems to fit the bill perfectly. So why is his political life in peril? (NORA CAPLAN-BRICKER, 10/04/14, National Journal)

The morning sun slanted through the windows of the Limelight Hotel, high in the mountains in Aspen, as Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper stood before the state's sheriffs at a conference in June. The Democrat was fielding questions about controversial gun-control legislation he'd signed the year before--legislation that this group had fiercely opposed.

"You made a comment about, sometimes to get somebody who disagrees with you to come over to your side, you just have to sit there and listen more, and you find that's a way to get them to turn to your side," said Sheriff John Cooke of conservative Weld County, referring to one of the governor's favorite talking points. "My question is, though, when these gun laws came up, why wouldn't you listen to the sheriffs? Why wouldn't, when a couple of sheriffs wanted to meet with you, you wouldn't listen to them and hear our side of the story?"

Your average politician would have had a well-rehearsed answer to that question; after all, signing the gun-control legislation 15 months earlier had been the most politically unpopular move of Hickenlooper's career. But Hickenlooper's stock-in-trade has always been that he's not your average politician--nothing of the kind--and so, characteristically, he winged it. "You know, I would say in, in the gun stuff that we, uh, certainly could've done a better job," he began, one hand jammed deep into his pocket as he gesticulated limply with the other. "And this is--I'm not defending this--there's no--I didn't find out that the sheriffs were trying to talk to me until a week afterwards--10 days afterwards. By that time, all the--whatever was gonna hit the fan had hit it." He scratched the back of his head. "I think we screwed that up completely, and I think we did a disservice to you and a disservice to ourselves."

When Hickenlooper's stammering apology went viral, it only hastened the slide his approval ratings have taken as he runs for reelection in November. The very qualities that allowed him to waltz into office four years ago, that made him America's best-loved swing-state governor in 2011 polling, have turned into liabilities. His self-deprecating style once helped defuse conflict; now his candid apologies open him up to fresh criticism. He once won voters' trust by refusing to talk like a "professional politician"; now his casual style is often considered amateurish, unserious--or worse. As he fumbled around for a way to connect with the sheriffs (dropping a jokey f-bomb that some found insulting), he made a most un-politician-like admission: He'd only agreed to sign a law barring high-capacity magazines because a staffer had promised legislators he would. "If we'd known it was going to divide the state so intensely," he said, "I think we probably would've thought about it twice."

Posted by orrinj at 6:14 PM


Two cheers for the Tory war on human rights : UK human-rights law doesn't need to be reformed - it needs to be abolished. (Jon Holbrook, 6 OCTOBER 2014, Spiked)

The key point to grasp about human-rights laws is that they are gateways for judges to play a political role. Under existing human-rights law - as established in the Human Rights Act, which incorporates the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law - members of the public can take public bodies to court for failing to respect or uphold their human rights. Once a person's grievance against a public body gets through the gateway, it becomes a judicial function to determine whether the body is or isn't in breach of human rights. This decision will be made by judges exercising an extraordinary degree of latitude. The political gateway function explains why views on human rights tend to be polarised. The human-rights lobby is wary of democracy, lest the majority should oppress a minority, so it sees the judiciary as a necessary means of fettering majoritarianism and of safeguarding civilised society. On the other hand, vesting judges with a political role is something that many people find wrong in principle.

Even if the point of principle is ignored, the recent history of judicial political interventions has caused many to question whether judges should have been given such formidable powers under the Human Rights Act. The human-rights lobby has cheered each time another issue has passed through a human-rights gateway to be overseen by judges. Assisted suicide, extradition, care-home admissions, local-authority domiciliary care, prisoners voting, suing the Ministry of Defence, suing the police and welfare benefit reforms are just some of the many issues that the judiciary is now empowered to rule on under the rubric of human-rights law.

A number of recent policies that were, effectively, created by these judges have been received as absurd. The best known absurdity being the recent ruling that UK law on prisoner enfranchisement is unlawful and, say the courts in Strasbourg and the UK, should be changed. But there have been many other examples of problematic human-rights judgements, such as: when the courts have claimed that dementia sufferers receiving good care are living in 'gilded cages'; when the courts allowed the police and the Ministry of Defence to be sued for negligence; and the attempts by some judges to nudge parliament to legalise assisted suicide.
It was clearly time for a backlash.

Posted by orrinj at 5:34 PM


Cary Elwes' book recounts the wacky antics of Billy Crystal, Rob Reiner and others behind 'The Princess Bride' (GERSH KUNTZMAN, 10/06/14,  NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

Remember that scene in "The Princess Bride" when the "mostly dead" hero Westley is trying to be revived by a joke-telling wizard played by Billy Crystal?

It's not Cary Elwes lying there. It's a plastic dummy.

The prosthetic quasi-corpse was necessary because Crystal kept cracking everyone up -- including Elwes, whose character is supposed to be completely motionless.

"Billy was doing medieval standup comedy," says Elwes, sharing a story from "As You Wish," his new memoir of the making of the 1987 classic film. "Some of it got blue. I was laughing so hard, I was banished from the set."

So they replaced Elwes with a rubber dummy. Co-star Mandy Patinkin, who plays Inigo Montoya, was less lucky.

"Rob (Reiner, the director) had told Billy to just ad-lib, and he was hilarious. Mandy bruised a rib."

Some of Crystal's lines can't be reprinted here -- especially the one about his nephew and the sheep -- but they're in Elwes' delightful remembrance of the three months he spent making the unsung movie that went on to become a family classic. [...]

On working with Wallace Shawn, who played Vizzini, the Sicilian trying to start a war.

"Wally was afraid of heights, but he didn't tell anyone because he was convinced the producers wanted Danny DeVito instead of him -- though that was inconceivable, given how great Wally was," Elwes says. "They used a dummy in the long shots of Andre pulling everyone up the Cliffs of Insanity, but even for the closeups, Wally had to be pulled up a 30-foot wall. He was terrified. Andre offered him a sip from his omnipresent hip flask, but Wally declined. He said he didn't want to be drunk and petrified. But that's when Andre said in that deep voice, 'Don't worry, Wally, I got you.' That's what got him through it."

Posted by orrinj at 5:30 PM


Wealth without workers, workers without wealth : The digital revolution is bringing sweeping change to labour markets in both rich and poor worlds (The Economist, Oct 4th 2014)

In the coming years the disruption will be felt by more people in more places, for three reasons. First, the rise of machine intelligence means more workers will see their jobs threatened. The effects will be felt further up the skill ladder, as auditors, radiologists and researchers of all sorts begin competing with machines. Technology will enable some doctors or professors to be much more productive, leaving others redundant.

Second, wealth creation in the digital era has so far generated little employment. Entrepreneurs can turn their ideas into firms with huge valuations and hardly any staff. Oculus VR, a maker of virtual-reality headsets with 75 employees, was bought by Facebook earlier this year for $2 billion. With fewer than 50,000 workers each, the giants of the modern tech economy such as Google and Facebook are a small fraction of the size of the 20th century's industrial behemoths.

Third, these shifts are now evident in emerging economies. Foxconn, long the symbol of China's manufacturing economy, at one point employed 1.5m workers to assemble electronics for Western markets. Now, as the costs of labour rise and those of automated manufacturing fall, Foxconn is swapping workers for robots. China's future is more Alibaba than assembly line: the e-commerce company that recently made a spectacular debut on the New York Stock Exchange employs only 20,000 people.

The digital transformation seems to be undermining poor countries' traditional route to catch-up growth. Moving the barely literate masses from fields to factories has become harder. If India, for instance, were to follow China's development path, it would need skilled engineers and managers to build factories to employ millions of manufacturing workers. But, thanks to technological change, its educated elite is now earning high salaries selling IT services to foreigners. The digital revolution has made an industrial one uneconomic.

None of this means that the digital revolution is bad for humanity. Far from it. This newspaper believes firmly that technology is, by and large, an engine of progress. IT has transformed the lives of billions for the better, often in ways that standard income measures do not capture. Communication, knowledge and entertainment have become all but free. Few workers would want to go back to a world without the internet, the smartphone or Facebook, even for a pay increase. 

It's a wealth redistribution question, not a jobs problem.

Posted by orrinj at 3:28 PM


Role reversal: Greg Orman's wealth gives GOP fodder (MANU RAJU, 10/6/14, Politico)

Greg Orman wanted to turn the capital of shrimp cocktails into a shrimp-producing powerhouse.

A few years ago, the businessman-turned-independent Kansas Senate candidate had become a director of Ganix Biotechnologies. With the help of $2.5 million in federal loan guarantees and $128,000 in state tax breaks, he and fellow investors pledged to build a $5 million-$6 million organic shrimp farm smack dab in the Nevada desert.

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"We consume more shrimp per capita in Las Vegas than anywhere else in the world -- 22 million pounds of it annually," Orman told Las Vegas' KLAS-TV in 2011.

The venture collapsed within a year. Ganix defaulted on a $725,000 bank loan, and a Kansas bank foreclosed on the shrimp farm property, according to public documents. [...]

The outcome of the race may well turn on which portrayal of Orman's background prevails: the non-ideological entrepreneur or the shady investor who won't level with voters about where he stands on issues.

In such races it's vital to never allow yourself to be defined at all.  He was better off as a dark horse, before the press started covering him.

Posted by orrinj at 3:22 PM


Technology Takes the Wheel (AARON M. KESSLER, OCT. 5, 2014, NY Times)

By the end of the decade, a growing number of automakers aim to offer some form of hands-off-the-wheel, feet-off-the-pedals highway driving where a driver can sit back and let the car take control.

The very nature of driving, experts say, will be radically reshaped -- and the biggest players in the auto industry are now vying to capture a slice of the revolutionary market they see coming within a matter of years.

"This is the year we'll look back on as the turning point," said Scott Belcher, president of the nonprofit Intelligent Transportation Society of America, who has helped organize a global connected car expo for seven years. "We're at the cusp now of this completely new generation of transportation, and it's going to change things on a scale not seen since Eisenhower and the Interstate Highway System."

October 6, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:28 PM


Most Expensive Cost in Health Care? The Doctor (Kaveh Safavi Oct. 6, 2014, US News)

 Various efforts are trying to lower costs by influencing medical choices, such as treatments and tests ordered, but are insufficient without better leveraging its most expensive resource: the doctor. Unless we deliver effective care with less-costly expert resources, when warranted, the U.S. health care system will fail to bend the cost curve over the long term.

The root challenge is not unlike those seen in other personal service businesses: One doctor must see one patient to achieve a desired outcome. Professional labor, which accounts for up to two-thirds of total cost, is the single most expensive component of health care.

Posted by orrinj at 7:25 PM


Jeb Bush makes Spanish-language ads for Republican candidates in Colorado, California, Arizona (Associated Press Oct. 6, 2014) 

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush hasn't said whether he's going to run for president in 2016, but he's going on the air in three races this year -- in Spanish.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Monday released Spanish-language ads Bush filmed for three Republican candidates: Rep. Cory Gardner in Colorado, who is running for U.S. Senate; embattled Rep. David Valadao in California; and Martha McSally, who is trying to oust Democratic Rep. Ron Barber in Arizona.

Bush is President George W. Bush's older brother and many Republican power brokers' favored 2016 candidate.

By older they mean younger.

Posted by orrinj at 3:58 PM


California's Neo-Victorian Feminism (Robert Tracinski, 10/03/14, The Federalist)

A funny thing happened on the way to sexual liberation: we took a wrong turn back to a new, bizarre, secularized Puritanism. And the leading edge of this Puritanism--not by coincidence--is in the very same dens of louche materialism produced by the Sexual Revolution: the universities.

This turn backward is heralded by a new law passed in California defining what counts as "sexual assault" and can therefore result in expulsion from the California State University system. This has been dubbed the "yes means yes" law, meaning that for a male student to be accused of sexual assault (and it is almost always a man), the young lady does not need to have said "no" to him. Rather, all sexual contact is presumed to be an assault unless the woman gives "affirmative consent"--and such affirmations "must be ongoing throughout a sexual activity," which presumably means that she has to sign off on every move her lover makes.

Now, part of the purpose of this law was to make it clear that a woman who is incapacitated--by alcohol, of course, since binge drinking is endemic on campus--cannot give consent. Or that a woman who initiates a sexual encounter retains the right to break it off if she changes her mind. But it's not clear whether such a law would be necessary, given existing statutes and policies, nor does the law restrict itself to those provisions. Instead, it creates a very broad and vague presumption against all physical contact.

If they aren't married why should they have such contact?

Posted by orrinj at 3:55 PM


Is Your Dentist Ripping You Off? (Kiera Butler, Oct. 6, 2014, Mother Jones)

[I] came across an op-ed in ADA News, the official publication of the American Dental Association. The article, by longtime pediatric dentist Jeffrey Camm, described a disturbing trend he called "creative diagnosis"--the peddling of unnecessary treatments. William van Dyk, a Northern California dentist of 41 years, saw Camm's op-ed and wrote in: "I especially love the patients that come in for second opinions after the previous dentist found multiple thousands of dollars in necessary treatment where nothing had been found six months earlier. And, when we look, there is nothing to diagnose."

"In recent years, I have been seeing more and more creative diagnosis," Camm told me when I called him at his practice in Washington state. A dentist, he said, might think, "'Well, the insurance covers this crown, so I'm not hurting this patient, so why don't I just do it?' That's the absolutely wrong approach." [...]

Some corporate dentists appear to have crossed the line into fraud. In 2010, Small Smiles, a venture-capital-owned chain with offices in 20 states, was ordered to refund $24 million to the government after an investigation found that its dentists had been performing unnecessary extractions, fillings, and root canals on children covered by Medicaid. A new lawsuit alleges that some toddlers it treated underwent as many as 14 procedures--often under restraint and without anesthesia. (The group was banned from Medicaid this year.) Several other pediatric dentistry chains have been sued over similar allegations.

Posted by orrinj at 3:47 PM


Fed Critics Say '10 Letter Warning Inflation Still Right (Caleb Melby, Laura Marcinek and Danielle Burger  2014-10-02, Bloomberg)

Signatories of a letter sent to then-Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke in 2010 warning of the risks associated with the bank's policy of quantitative easing are standing by their claims -- even as the biggest U.S. companies are flourishing, inflation is muted and holding Treasuries has been one of the best trades out there.

The Nov. 15, 2010, letter signed by academics, economists and money managers warned that the Federal Reserve's strategy of buying bonds and other securities to reduce interest rates risked "currency debasement and inflation" and could "distort financial markets." They also said it wouldn't achieve the Fed's objective of promoting employment.

Four years later, members of the group, which includes Seth Klarman of Baupost Group LLC and billionaire Paul Singer of Elliott Management Corp., are facing a different economy. U.S. companies now boast low debt, big cash piles and record profits. They're creating jobs at the fastest average pace since 2005 and unemployment has dropped to 6.1 percent from 9.8 percent when they wrote the letter. The recovery has underpinned an almost 200 percent gain in the Standard & Poor's 500 Index since March 9, 2009.

Bloomberg News interviewed nine of the 23 signatories, and all of those who commented stood by the letter's contents. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:40 PM


The Truth About Jeb Bush's Presidential Ambitions (Mark Halperin, 10/05/14, Bloomberg)

There is no doubt that Bush is significantly closer to running for President than he was four years ago. He isn't showing some leg to sell books or raise his speaking fees. He isn't worried about the mechanics of the race, such as who might be his New Hampshire campaign manager, or how best to deal with straw polls. His decision-making process is less about consultation than, as is typical for the former Florida governor, about introspection. Jeb Bush is grappling with the hardest of questions: Is he the right person to bring the Republican Party toward the center and govern a country that has proven stubbornly difficult to lead? In other words, is this, finally, his time?

Since the Reagan years, nearly every Republican Party presidential nominee has been the establishment favorite, raised the most money in the year before the election, and has been viewed by the Gang of 500 as the most formidable general election candidate. (The one exception: In 1996, Phil Gramm took in slightly more cash than Bob Dole, and Bill Clinton's team worried more about competing head-to-head with Lamar Alexander than they did the Bobster.)

There is uncharacteristic chaos right now in the Republican Party, which, for the first time in the modern era, is lacking a clear frontrunner at this stage of the presidential cycle. Given Hillary Clinton's strength and the GOP's complete failure since 2012 to improve its standing with the key elements of the Obama coalition of the ascendant--Hispanics, young voters, single women--the establishment is on the verge of a post-midterm panic about the unfilled vacuum.  Not one GOP sharpie I've talked to in the past six months has said with any confidence who their nominee will be, and most are either stumped or limp-throated when asked to venture a guess at the top tier. Pressed, they'll typically cough up Chris Christie, Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, and Mitt Romney. A portion of that bunch would likely not get in the race if Bush decides to run. None of them combines Bush's fundraising capacity and his compelling case for general-election strength.

Until and unless grandmotherhood and other personal factors keep the Democratic frontrunner out of the contest, Republicans have to assume they are looking for a nominee who can take on a supremely daunting, uber-iconic Clinton.

While supporters of flashy candidates such as Paul and Rubio talk a good game about nomination muscle, national appeal, and anti-Clinton clout, Bush has walked the walk as the popular governor of electorally indispensable Florida and as a member of the most politically successful family in American history. Jeb (along with Romney) is likely the only contestant who could keep pace with the expected Clinton haul in excess of $1.5 billion. "The Republican donor base will fall in line" behind Bush, says one of the party's best and most experienced fundraisers. "There is no competition."

Nevermind that he's already successfully run a state with the GDP of The Netherlands, he's the candidate the religious can rally around and that's who the party is.

Posted by orrinj at 3:37 PM


Are teachers really ready for the Common Core? (Alexandria Neason, OCTOBER 01, 2014, Boston Globe)

Despite research that says one-time workshops and short-term training sessions have poor track records for changing teacher practices, they continue to be the most common form of professional development -- even now that the Common Core is supposed to be upending the old way of doing things, says Gulamhussein. While 90 percent of teachers participated in short-term training, just 22 percent observed classrooms in other schools, according to a 2009 study published by Learning Forward (formerly the National Staff Development Council), an international organization focused on increasing effective teacher training. Furthermore, the same study found that fewer than half of teachers who participated in training considered it useful. Still, districts shell out money on professional development, as much as 5 percent of the total budget in some places before the recession. Districts also get financial help for this purpose from the federal government and spent more than $1 billion in federal funds on such training in the 2012-2013 school year. Boston's education department spent about $5.5 million on professional development in fiscal 2014, up nearly $500,000 from the previous year, according to documents the district publishes online. Officials say additional money is allocated for teacher training from other areas of the budget.

Experts argue that this much is clear: If the Common Core is going to live up to expectations, teacher training needs to change, and fast.

THE COMMON CORE State Standards, created in response to American students' poor standing on international academic tests and applicable to public schools only, are a set of rigorous math and English Language Arts benchmarks that spell out what skills students should be able to perform every year from kindergarten through 12th grade. The goals do not tell teachers what materials to teach, but seek to make sure that kids leave every grade able to perform the same skills across district and state lines.

More than 40 states, Washington, D.C., and four territories voluntarily adopted the standards, which were created by education experts with assistance from teachers. Massachusetts already had high standards after major bipartisan school reforms in 1993. Nearly half of the state's fourth-graders are proficient on National Assessment of Educational Progress reading tests, and 55 percent of eighth-graders earn proficient scores on math tests -- the highest rates in the country. But because teachers here are still no closer to closing the achievement gap between wealthy and poor students than educators elsewhere, the state adopted the Common Core standards in 2010.

While the Obama administration did not have a hand in creating the Common Core standards, it has endorsed them and linked federal Race to the Top aid to "college- and career-ready" standards, which most states have interpreted as Common Core. To keep receiving aid, Common Core states must test students on the new standards beginning this school year. States were allowed to choose between two exams, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) and Smarter Balanced, or they could alter their own tests to meet college and career readiness standards. In Massachusetts, districts can choose between PARCC's test and the old Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS), which has been aligned with the Common Core.

Posted by orrinj at 3:32 PM


Democrats start to point fingers (Alexander Bolton, 10/06/14, The Hill)

Democrats are starting to play the blame game as they face the possibility of losing the Senate in November.

Tempers are running high a month out from Election Day, with polls showing Democratic candidates trailing in the crucial battleground states that will decide whether control of Congress flips to Republicans.

The behind-the-scenes tension broke into the open last week when former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) questioned Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's (D-Nev.) decision not to endorse Democrat Rick Weiland in South Dakota's Senate race.  

Pro-immigrant advocacy groups, meanwhile, are saying Democrats should not blame them if Latino voters don't turn up to the polls on Election Day. They say President Obama made a tactical blunder by postponing an executive order easing deportations. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:25 PM


Israel planning $4 billion privatization effort (AFP, October 6, 2014)

Israel plans to fully or partly privatize a number of state-owned companies in a move aimed at boosting efficiency, reducing the national debt and fighting corruption.

The decision, approved by the ministerial socioeconomic cabinet, was expected to add NIS 15 billion ($4.07 billion) to state coffers over the next three years, the Finance Ministry said Sunday.

Minority stocks will be issued for firms "in which the state has an interest in retaining long-term governmental control" such as Israel's electricity corporation, aviation, trains, water, mail and natural gas industries, a ministry statement read.

It will also sell companies in which it has "no long-term interest", such as the ports at Ashdod and Haifa, a modified and declassified military industry (with the state retaining the right to determine the ownership), the Dead Sea Works and others.

Bibi is almost as good on economics as he is bad on security. He actually believes in his positions on the former.

October 5, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:58 PM


This Chaotic New Cloud Could Be The Coolest Thing Since Cumulus (Rafi Letzter, 10.01.2014, Popular Science)

Gavin Pretor-Pinney hopes a wild, turbulent cloud he calls "undulatus asperatus" (literally: volatile waves) will emerge as a rare addition to the first new edition of The International Cloud Atlas in four decades. Its strange features are visible as the formation rolls over Lincoln, Nebraska in the time-lapse above.

Pretor-Pinney founded The Cloud Appreciation Society, whose online manifesto asserts that "clouds are unjustly maligned" and pledges to "fight 'blue-sky thinking' wherever we find it." His organization collects images of clouds from amateur photographers who contribute from all over the world, and maintains an impressive online collection. He tells The Verge that he began to notice that the clouds in one small group of photos did not match any known formation. He decided to push for recognition of these clouds as a new type.

Posted by orrinj at 7:48 PM


More Americans Killed By Police Than By Terrorists: With Crime Down, Why Is Police Aggression Up? (Dave Lindorff, AlterNet)

You might not know it from watching TV news, but FBI statistics show that crime in the U.S.--including violent crime--has been trending steadily downward for years, falling 19% between 1987 and 2011. The job of being a police officer has become safer too, as the number of police killed by gunfire plunged to 33 last year, down 50% from 2012, to its lowest level since, wait for it, 1887, a time when the population was 75% lower than it is today.

So why are we seeing an ever increasing militarization of policing across the country?

Given the good news on crime, what are we to make of a report by the Justice Policy Institute, a not-for-profit justice reform group, showing that state and local spending on police has soared from $40 billion in 1982 to more than $100 billion in 2012.

The hilarity of this story ought not preclude our considering the degree to which crime ceased to be a factor in our lives and politics over the past thirty years. 
Posted by orrinj at 7:26 PM


CNBC Exclusive Interview Transcript: CNBC Meets... President Jimmy Carter (CNBC, 1 Oct 2014

TB: Sir, do you feel there were any choices you would have made differently?

PJC: ...I think I would have been re-elected easily if I had been able to rescue our hostages from the Iranians. And everybody asks me what would do more, I would say I would send one more helicopter because if I had one more helicopter we could have brought out not only the 52 hostages, but also brought out the rescue team, and when that failed, then I think that was the main factor that brought about my failure to be re-elected. So that's one thing I would change.

Mrs Carter: I would say 'do something, anything' and he said and then have them take a hostage out one at a time one day and execute them in front of the world? Y'know he was firm, but it was tough. ...We knew he would probably not, probably not, be re-elected, he didn't give in. I was proud of him...Peace is very difficult war is popular in our country.

TB: Even your wife Rosalyn was encouraging you to take action, was it hard to not take everyone's advice around you, even your wife's?

PJC: Yes. Um, well I could've been re-elected if I'd taken military action against Iran, shown that I was strong and resolute and, um, manly and so forth.

Posted by orrinj at 6:54 PM


Hercule Poirot and Us (Kaya Genç, October 5th, 2014, Los Angeles Review of Books)

Once Suchet agreed to consider playing the role of Poirot, the first thing he did was to telephone his brother, who had apparently devoted some of his adult life to reading novels by Christie. When asked his opinion about playing Poirot, the older brother (who worked at ITV) replied: "I wouldn't touch it with a barge pole. I mean, Poirot's a bit of a joke, a buffoon. It's not you at all." This is ironic, given that the silly people in Poirot novels are always misjudging Poirot as a "joke and a buffoon." Instinctively, Suchet took the side of the detective and decided to accept the challenge -- after all, it is an actor's job to impersonate others, even if they are jokes and buffoons. In Scilly Isles, where he traveled to act in a British film adaptation of Michael Morpurgo's Why the Whales Came, Suchet had ample time to dip his nose into the canon. The actor had his pencil and notebook ready while he made a list of Poirot's character traits. Those went on to form his "dossier of characteristics," which consists of 93 entries on carefully observed specifics of the detective, from his family history to his favorite beverages.

The first thing one needs to know about Poirot is, of course, his nationality. No, he is not French, but Belgian; poor Poirot had tried hard to correct this, as well as the pronunciation of his surname (not puay-raw, but pwah-roh). Both efforts seem to have failed.

An obsessive drinker of tisane, Poirot wears "pointed, tight, very shiny patent leather shoes" and "bows a great deal -- even when shaking hands." Suchet treats those self-written notes as holy commandments, and stays religiously true to them when he plays the character. As he gets to know this possessor of "the finest brain in Europe" better, he becomes a defender of his legacy and an enemy of those who dare misrepresent him.

The first, and most serious problem, Suchet had to solve before going to the set was to find an appropriate voice for Poirot. "I started experimenting by talking to myself in a whole range of voices, some of them coming from my head -- all nasal and clipped -- others coming from my chest, lower and a little slower, even a little gruff," he recalls. "Nothing sounded quite like the man I had been reading about in bed every night. They all sounded a little false, and that was the very last thing that I wanted."

To get the voice right Suchet listened to Belgian Walloon and French radio recordings. Christie's novels provided details of Poirot's biography: the sleuth was born in Spa, a city located in Belgum's Walloon Region and Province of Liège, and this fact had to be reflected in his speech. After mastering Belgian French, Suchet managed to move the voice from his chest to his head, and ended up sounding "a little more high-pitched and yes, a little more fastidious." Those who have seen any one of the 70 episodes of Agatha Christie's Poirot will know that Suchet's voice is perfect; simultaneously gentlemanly, foreign, and cunning.

Having transformed his usual self into Poirot, Suchet extended his perfectionism to the lives of others, and interfered with how crew members did their jobs. However gently and reluctantly, he demanded that they take into consideration his views about Poirot's representation. He objected, for example, to the proposed costume ("a distinctly dull, ordinary grey suit") and asked to be dressed exactly as Christie had dictated, in "a three-piece suit, a wing collar, shiny patent leather shoes and spats." Whenever his stage directions rubbed him the wrong way, convincing him that Poirot would never act that way, he voiced his disagreement. He pointed to passages from the canon to prove his case and during the shoot of the first episodes made clear that unless the desired costumes were provided, he would not play him. He became an expert close reader of Poirot, a kind of New Critic who asked the crew members, professorially, to stop drawing inferences about the sleuth, unless they were based on specific passages in the canon.

In a sense this perfectionism fitted Poirot's, who once asked a waiter to change the two eggs he had ordered because they were not the same size. Both Suchet and Poirot felt like foreigners in England. (Suchet's father's parents were Russian Jews who had to flee the country after the pogroms.) They were both rational men going bald, much to their chagrin. ("I lost a great deal of my hair when I was just twenty-three, after a love affair collapsed," Suchet remembers: "I was heartbroken, and so was my hair. Perhaps the same thing happened to Poirot [...].")

Suchet's search for the perfect voice and costume was followed, naturally, by the search for the perfect moustache.

Posted by orrinj at 6:46 PM


Thunderbirds are go - again (NZ Herald, Oct 6, 2014)

New images from the New Zealand-made animated revival of the classic 1960s sci-fi show Thunderbirds have been revealed.

The cult show is set to appeal to a new generation, with a 21st-century version making a return to the small screen in time for the show's 50th anniversary next September.

The remake is a co-production between ITV Studios and Pukeko Pictures in association with Weta Workshop, which did the design work on rocket Thunderbird 1 and the other Thunderbirds.

Pukeko is a children's television company set up by Weta Workshop boss Sir Richard Taylor, his partner Tania Rodger and writer Martin Baynton. Its previous productions have included The WotWots and Jane and the Dragon.

Unlike the original Thunderbirds, which featured puppet characters using Gerry and Sylvia Anderson's "Supermarionation" techniques, the new Thunderbirds series will use CGI animation and live-action model sets.

Posted by orrinj at 6:39 PM


Supreme Leader's health raises questions about Iranian succession (Babak Dehghanpisheh, 10/05/14, Reuters) 

Images of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei appearing frail and in bed have raised questions about the seriousness of his condition, and who might eventually succeed him.

In early September, Khamenei made a surprise announcement that he was having surgery and asked people to pray for his health. What followed was unprecedented in the 35-year history of the Islamic Republic.

Top officials including President Hassan Rouhani, the head of the judiciary and the speaker of parliament went to the 75-year-old Supreme Leader's bedside, with each visit reported with photos on Iranian news sites. Even former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has had a tense relationship with Khamenei in recent years, came for a visit. [...]

Whoever replaces Khamenei is unlikely to wield as much power in the same position. "The clergy are looking for somebody to guarantee the interests of the clergy. The Revolutionary Guards are looking for someone to guarantee the interests of the Revolutionary Guards," said Khalaji. "Neither of them wants somebody who can come in and control them."

Posted by orrinj at 10:31 AM


Watch rare footage of the Senators beating the Giants in the 1924 World Series (Dan Steinberg, October 2, 2014, Washington Post)

[W]hen archivists from the Library's Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation watched the reel, they found nearly four minutes of footage from that 1924 World Series, footage that somehow had remained in nearly perfect condition for 90 years. Bucky Harris hitting a home run, Walter Johnson pitching four innings of scoreless relief, Muddy Ruel scoring the winning run, fans storming Griffith Stadium's field: It was all there, and it was all glorious.

"You've got to understand: Nitrate film, sometimes it looks great, sometimes it doesn't. We never know what we're going to get," said Mike Mashon, the head of the Library's moving image section. "The fact that it looks so great is a miracle. It's just a miracle."

The back story is just as miraculous. The mother of one of Mashon's Packard Campus colleagues was recently named the executor of an estate left behind by an older neighbor outside of Worcester, Mass. While preparing the house for sale, her family found these eight reels of film -- "in the rafters of the detached and not climate-controlled garage, a space we archivists would not normally recommend for long term storage of motion picture film." Mashon wrote in an e-mail.

That it was nitrate film made the process even more fraught with peril: Such film is flammable and degrades quickly, so archivists had faint hopes for the find. A friend at the Harvard Film Archive retrieved the reels and used a hazmat shipper to send the film to the Packard Campus in Culpeper; "they were in astonishingly good shape," Mashon wrote.

Sure, the atheletes are bigger and fitter, but the game's very much the same.

October 4, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 8:08 AM


The Closed Mind of Richard Dawkins : His atheism is its own kind of narrow religion : a review of An Appetite for Wonder: The Makings of a Scientist  by Richard Dawkins (John Gray, October 2014, New Republic)

If an autobiography can ever contain a true reflection of the author, it is nearly always found in a throwaway sentence. When the world's most celebrated atheist writes of the discovery of evolution, Richard Dawkins unwittingly reveals his sense of his mission in the world. Toward the end of An Appetite for Wonder, the first installment in what is meant to be a two-volume memoir, Dawkins cites the opening lines of the first chapter of the book that made him famous, The Selfish Gene, published in 1976:

Intelligent life on a planet comes of an age when it first works out the reason for its own existence. If superior creatures from space ever visit earth, the first question they will ask, in order to assess the level of our civilisation, is: "Have they discovered evolution yet?" Living organisms had existed on earth, without ever knowing why, for over three thousand million years before the truth finally dawned on one of them. His name was Charles Darwin.

Several of the traits that Dawkins displays in his campaign against religion are on show here. There is his equation of superiority with cleverness: the visiting aliens are more advanced creatures than humans because they are smarter and know more than humans do. The theory of evolution by natural selection is treated not as a fallible theory--the best account we have so far of how life emerged and developed--but as an unalterable truth, which has been revealed to a single individual of transcendent genius. There cannot be much doubt that Dawkins sees himself as a Darwin-like figure, propagating the revelation that came to the Victorian naturalist. 

It would be funny enough if Dawkins's Darwinism was merely teleological, but that the end of that teleology is belief in Darwin is just sublime.

Posted by orrinj at 8:03 AM


Thanks to ObamaCare, you can now see how much money your doctor gets from drugmakers (Peter Weber, 10/03/14, The Week)

The Open Payments database -- a requirement of the 2010 Affordable Care Act, or ObamaCare -- is incomplete, with data from only the last five months of 2013 so far. But the numbers aren't small: From August to December, 546,000 Doctors, dentists, podiatrists, optometrists, and chiropractors plus 1,360 teaching hospitals received more than $3.48 billion in cash, gifts and in-kind services, stock options, and research grants from drugmakers and device makers. HHS is still verifying 300,000 records it didn't include in the database, so the total amount will rise. The biggest spenders so far are Genetech, Pfizer, and DePuy Synthes.

The idea is that, once the database is fully functional, patients and other interested parties will be able to see a doctor's financial ties to companies, so they can evaluate a doctor's treatments and -- more importantly -- to discourage conflicts of interest. The American Medical Association opposes the database, arguing that the numbers are out of context and potentially misleading, but this part of ObamaCare has bipartisan support.

October 3, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 11:48 PM


Sweden to recognise state of Palestine (Reuters, 10/03/14) 

Sweden's new center-left government will recognise the state of Palestine in a move that will make it the first major European country to take the step, Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said on Friday.

The U.N. General Assembly approved the de facto recognition of the sovereign state of Palestine in 2012 but the European Union and most EU countries, have yet to give official recognition.

"The conflict between Israel and Palestine can only be solved with a two-state solution, negotiated in accordance with international law," Lofven said during his inaugural address in parliament.

Posted by orrinj at 6:12 PM


It Looks Like a GOP Wave; the Question is How Far it Goes (Michael Barone, October 3, 2014, RCP)

[R]epublicans retain big leads to pick up three open seats in states carried by Mitt Romney --West Virginia, Montana and South Dakota. Republican nominees have moved ahead of three Democratic incumbents in Romney states (Alaska, Arkansas and Louisiana) and in two target states carried by President Obama (Colorado and Iowa).

Only in North Carolina, which Romney narrowly carried, has the Republican not yet overtaken the incumbent Democrat Sen. Kay Hagan -- and her edge is narrowing in the most recent polls.

Psephologists used to have a rule that incumbents running below 50 percent against lesser-known challengers would inevitably lose. Everyone knows them, the logic went, and half aren't voting for them.

That rule doesn't seem to apply anymore, but perhaps another one does. The RealClearPolitics average of recent polls puts Democratic incumbents in these five states at 41 to 44 percent of the vote.

In seriously contested races in the last six Senate cycles, starting with 2002, only two incumbents polling at that level in September ended up winning. One was appointed to an open seat and thus probably not widely known.

Both ended up with less than 50 percent and won by plurality.

Psephological rules are made to be broken, sooner or later.

Posted by orrinj at 5:39 PM


The $18 Trillion Energy-Efficiency Opportunity (Ben Schiller, 10/03/14, Co.Exist)

According to a new report from the International Energy Agency, investments could reap total returns of $18 trillion worldwide--or the equivalent of all of North America's economies combined.

The IEA reaches such a high number by reconceptualizing what energy efficiency means. Instead of treating it simply as energy not used, it calls energy efficiency a "first fuel" with many social and environmental benefits.

"This publication demonstrates how often overlooked, and even intangible, outcomes can be captured, offering the possibility to send better socio-economic signals to complement market signals," the report says.

These include the impact on employment and energy prices, on public budgets (jobs in energy efficiency could reduce the need for government benefits, for example), health and wellbeing (weatherization improves conditions for building occupants and cuts health care costs), and industrial productivity. Research shows that every dollar invested in efficiency can bring 2.5 times as much in productivity gains.

Posted by Glenn Dryfoos at 9:03 AM


Tadd Dameron

"Magic Touch

The first 2 installments of All That Jazz featured recordings that have been favorites of mine since I first bought them on vinyl over 30 years ago.  Today's edition features an album that was released in 1962, but just discovered and downloaded into my iPhone last weekend.

Bebop, the modern jazz movement that followed the Swing Era, began sprouting in the early 1940's and reached full flower post-War.  While the names, if not the music, of the leading bop musicians...Charlie "Bird" Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk...are known to many, the names of many of their colleagues are known only to the most serious jazz fans.  Among this group of musical pioneers was Tadd Dameron, a pianist who was also one of the top composers, and maybe the greatest arranger, in the bop idiom.   Although bebop was primarily played by small groups (most typically a "front line" consisting of one or two saxes and a trumpet and a rhythm section of piano, bass and drums), there were also bop big bands, most notably the band led by Gillespie.  Dameron's arrangements for Gillespie and others gave full voicing to the inventive harmonies of the new music, creating a richer tonal palette than had been heard from the great swing bands and earning him the designation (by Dexter Gordon) as the "romanticist" of bebop.  Dameron played in or led groups featuring some of the very best who followed immediately in the footsteps of Dizzy and Bird: Clifford Brown, Fats Navarro, Dexter Gordon, Wardell Gray, Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane.

"Magic Touch" was recorded well after hard bop, west coast/cool, third stream and the early avant-garde had come onto the scene, and some elements of these later styles is heard here (such as the inclusion of a French horn and the extensive use of flutes, which weren't heard in bop's late 40's heyday).   The band gathered for the session is truly an all-star line-up, including trumpeters Clark Terry, Joe Wilder and Charlie Shavers; Jerry Dodgion, Johnny Griffin and Jerome Richardson on saxes; and the jaw-dropping rhythm section of Bill Evans (piano), Ron Carter and George Duvivier (bass) and Philly Joe Jones (drums).  The best known Dameron tunes on the album, "On a Misty Night," "Fontainebleau," "Our Delight" and "If You Could See Me Now" are also the best arrangements and performances here.  "On a Misty Night" (featuring Johnny Griffin on tenor) and "If You Could See Me Now" (with a vocal by Barbara Winfield, who has a slight, but pleasing lisp) are particular favorites.  Also interesting is to compare this relatively smoother version of "Our Delight" with the edgier 1940's Gillespie version.  Frankly, the other tunes aren't as memorable, but the quality of the arrangements and of the playing makes them worth checking out.

October 2, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:09 PM


Netanyahu finds himself increasingly alone on Iran (Dimi Reider OCTOBER 2, 2014, Reuters)

During a diatribe against Iran in his United Nations speech on Monday, Netanyahu asked: "Would you let ISIS enrich uranium? Would you let ISIS build a heavy water reactor? Would you let ISIS develop intercontinental ballistic missiles? Of course you wouldn't."

It was almost as if Netanyahu views Iran and ISIS as interchangeable. But the rest of the world doesn't see it that way -- least of all the United States, which is making a crucial last push for a comprehensive agreement with Iran on its nuclear program, even as it musters an international coalition to fight the Islamic State.

In insisting that Iran and ISIS are essentially the same enemy, Netanyahu broadcast his isolation among world leaders and underscored the jadedness of the idea that he has championed for most of his political career: the imminence of an Iranian nuclear bomb and the apocalyptic threat it would pose to the free world.

October 1, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 11:41 PM


Democrats to Obama: Shut Up (Albert R. Hunt, 10/01/14, Bloomberg View)

Democrats, especially members of Congress in competitive elections this fall, have a simple ask of President Barack Obama: cool it.

Specifically, they would like the president to keep as low a profile as possible for the next five weeks, to foil Republican efforts to make him the centerpiece of the midterm elections. They are particularly concerned about news-making interviews. The latest flap flowed from the president's weekend sit-down with "60 Minutes," in which he suggested that the swift rise of Islamic State was due in part to faulty U.S. intelligence.

Predictably, the intelligence community struck back, with articles in the New York Times and the Daily Beast in which unnamed sources said it was the White House that didn't respond to warnings about the growing threat. The front-page Times piece said high intelligence officials were "bristling about being made into scapegoats" by Obama. The White House press secretary yesterday insisted that was not the president's intent.

Whatever the merits, say these Democrats, it was a no-win situation for the White House and them. When an Obama controversy dominates the political conversation, they worry it plays into Republican hands.

This is one of a number of so-called unforced errors by the Obama White House. 

Posted by orrinj at 11:21 PM


"Everything Must Change in Italy" : An interview with Italian Prime Minster Matteo Renzi. (Lally Weymouth, 9/30/14, Slate)

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi: We can change, and we must change. After years of stagnation, I think that this is the moment in which Italy can realize the things we've waited for years. How many years has Italy spoken about labor reforms? How many years has Italy waited for constitutional reform and waited to cut through the red tape of bureaucracy? ... Paradoxically, the crisis is the reason we must change. Without change, it is impossible to believe in the future.

Posted by orrinj at 5:46 PM


Supply Side Health Care Reform (Peter Suderman, September 30, 2014, Reason)

Could the Netflix model work in health care? A doctor's office in Rochester, New York is aiming to find out. Good MD, a primary care office set up this year, charges patients a single, flat monthly fee for unlimited visits. Monthly charges are based on age, and extra services--whether stitches or strep throat tests--are provided for an additional fee, posted online and in the office. The practice doesn't accept private insurance at all. The result is a system that benefits not third-party payers, but doctors and patients, Good MD founder Dr. Thuc Huynh, told local TV station WROC. "Insurance isn't who reimburses me or dictates what we do together in terms of our treatment. So, it's a direct financial relationship."

This is what the future of health care reform could look like: It's provider-driven. It's consumer-focused, with an emphasis on both price and service. And while Good MD isn't the only doctor's office to try variations on this model, it's happening at the margins--at individual practices across the country. 

As Obamacare's has settled into place, the Republican party's promises to repeal and replace the law have stagnated. The law is still unpopular, but the coverage expansion has made the already difficult prospect of repeal harder than ever, and despite years of promises, no obvious replacement plan has emerged. Obamacare's critics in Congress are still opposed to the law, but increasingly seem unsure about what to do instead.

Provider-driven experiments like what's happening at Good MD could help point to a different way of thinking about the problem.

"[Obamacare] repeal is at least not immediately practical," says Robert Graboyes, a Senior Research Fellow with the Mercatus Center focused on health policy. [...]

Last year, Graboyes published a short paper outlining his principles for reform. Those principles include rewards for innovators, autonomy for providers, choices for consumers, and meaningful, transparent prices throughout the system. The essential idea though, is this: Find ways to transform the health system into a market, and then let the real reforms happen from the outside in.