November 30, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:04 PM


Taiwanese Electoral Rebuke (ASSOCIATED PRESS, Nov. 30, 2014)

All politics is local, and Saturday's midterm elections in Taiwan mostly turned on local issues such as food safety, stagnant wages, education and infrastructure. But one factor behind the landslide victory of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party is rising fear that Taiwan's de facto independence is threatened by the island's increasing economic ties to China. As Taiwan moves toward presidential elections in January 2016, expect tensions to rise across the Taiwan Strait.

Saturday's results give the DPP control of some two-thirds of Taiwan's 22 cities and counties, including four of its six special municipalities. Taipei's mayor-elect is a DPP-backed independent, so for the first time in 16 years the Nationalist Party, or Kuomintang (KMT), won't govern the island's capital and largest city. Taiwan's last three presidents previously served as mayor of Taipei.

The KMT was quick to admit defeat. "I have heard [voters'] voices and I will not evade my responsibility to start reform," said President Ma Ying-jeou, who may resign as KMT chairman at a party meeting Wednesday.

Posted by orrinj at 6:41 PM


In a Fragmented Age, Spotlighting the Core of What Unites Us (Peter Berkowitz, November 30, 2014, RCP)

A better understanding of how we are united by the conviction that human beings are by nature free and equal would encourage greater respect for the divisions that are bound to continue to animate our politics.

One achievement of Larry Siedentop's "Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism" is to bring into focus an unexpected but decisive source of our core principles. An emeritus fellow of Keble College, Oxford, Siedentop is a distinguished student of the history of European political thought. He brings to his new book special expertise in the great 19th century French thinker Alexis de Tocqueville, who argued that "equality of conditions" was the defining feature of the modern era and that the vibrancy and stability of democracy in America owe much to the vitality of religion in America. 

At once scholarly and readable, "Inventing the Individual," in effect, takes these Tocquevillian arguments as its point of departure. Siedentop will find little opposition to his assertion that Western civilization is marked by liberalism -- that is, the politics of individual freedom and human equality.

But in sharp opposition to conventional wisdom, Siedentop denies that Western liberalism arose in the 15th century with the Renaissance's throwing off of the shackles of the Middle Ages and its recovery of classical Greek and Roman thought. Nor does he think that the 17th century social contract theories of Hobbes and Locke ushered in the era of the individual. Nor, despite the Enlightenment's pretensions to have finally and fully liberated the human mind, does he credit 18th century European thought with establishing that political life must respect the equal worth of every person.

Although each of these represented watershed moments, Siedentop maintains that organized religion -- the very force from which the Renaissance, social contract theory, and especially the Enlightenment presumed to liberate humanity -- placed the individual front and center and made him the fundamental unit of political life. It was Christianity, according to Siedentop, that introduced of the idea of the moral equality of individuals. And it was this faith that revolutionized social and political life in the West and continues to provide the foundation of liberal democracy in America and around the world.

Posted by orrinj at 4:22 PM


G.O.P. Gains by Tapping Democrats' Base for State Candidates (SHAILA DEWANNOV. 29, 2014, NY Times)

 As Republicans took control of an unprecedented 69 of 99 statehouse chambers in the midterm elections, they did not rely solely on a bench of older white men. Key races hinged on the strategic recruitment of women and minorities, many of them first-time candidates who are now learning the ropes and joining the pool of prospects for higher office.

They include Jill Upson, the first black Republican woman elected to the West Virginia House; Victoria Seaman, the first Latina Republican elected to the Nevada Assembly; Beth Martinez Humenik, whose win gave Republicans a one-seat edge in the Colorado Senate; and Young Kim, a Korean-American woman who was elected to the California Assembly, helping to break the Democratic supermajority in the State Legislature.

In Pennsylvania, Harry Lewis Jr., a retired black educator, won in a new House district that was expected to be a Democratic stronghold; he printed his campaign materials in English and Spanish. Of the 12 Latinos who will serve in statewide offices across the nation in 2015, eight are Republican.

"This is not just rhetoric -- we spent over $6 million to identify new women and new candidates of diversity and bring them in," said Matt Walter, the executive director of the Republican State Leadership Committee. "Most of these chambers were flipped because there was a woman or a person of diverse ethnicity in a key targeted seat."

The wins, by candidates carefully chosen to challenge the traditional notion of the Democratic base, bode well for Republicans in future elections. They had a net gain of 59 women in state legislatures; Democrats lost 63 women. Republicans added 10 Latinos; Democrats lost five. Republicans reported 17 newly elected blacks; a comparable figure for Democrats was not available. In 2008, only about 31 percent of women in state legislatures were Republicans; in 2015, that figure will rise by eight percentage points.

Posted by orrinj at 2:38 PM


Israel's next army chief 'would only strike Iran as last resort' (TIMES OF ISRAEL, November 28, 2014)

Maj. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, named Friday night as the next IDF chief of the General Staff, firmly opposes Israeli military intervention to thwart Iran's nuclear program unless Iran poses an immediate existential threat to Israel, an Israeli television report said.

Posted by orrinj at 2:30 PM


St. Louis Rams raise arms in solidarity with Ferguson protesters before game (the Week, 11/30/14)

Several St. Louis Rams players showed their support for protesters in Ferguson, Missouri, on Sunday by coming on to the field with their arms raised in the iconic "Hands up, don't shoot" pose.

View image on Twitter

...and in jail, of course.

Posted by orrinj at 2:26 PM


Report: Voters in Switzerland reject plans to hoard massive amounts of gold, limit immigration (Associated Press Nov. 30, 2014)

Projections show voters in Switzerland have rejected plans to protect the country's wealth by investing in gold and drastically limit immigration.

Posted by orrinj at 10:40 AM


Russia 'two years from meltdown' as economic distress grows (BEN HOYLE, NOVEMBER 29, 2014, The Australian)

Inflation is running at more than 8 per cent, but food inflation is even higher, and there has been panic buying of buckwheat, a Russian staple that is served as a side dish or cooked into soups, pancakes or porridge. Prices have risen by up to 80 per cent in some regions. Rice is more than 25 per cent more expensive than it was last month, and the retail price of pasta is expected to climb by a similar degree.

Sergei Guriev, a former ­adviser to Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and a former board member of Russia's largest state bank, said: "If nothing changes, if sanctions aren't removed and the price of oil does not go up, then in two years the Russian government will have a major problem -- it will lack cash and it will not be able to borrow it."

Speaking from Paris, where he fled after state harassment left him fearing for his freedom last year, Dr Guriev said that rising ­inflation, the depressed oil price, the falling rouble, isolation from Western capital markets and plummeting investor confidence meant that, for the first time, "there is a risk to the existence of the regime".

Posted by orrinj at 10:34 AM


How Immigrants Will Save Social Security (Eleanor Clift,m 11/29/14, Daily Beast)

Contrary to the myth advanced by opponents of reform that illegal immigrants don't contribute their fair share in taxes, and drain government benefits, the reality is that undocumented workers are helping to keep the social security trust fund in the black. They do this because they are paying into the system typically with false social security numbers, which means they will never collect benefits. Their money, often collected for many years, helps keep the system afloat and benefits flowing to aging baby boomers. [...]

Here's how the math works. Five percent of the U.S. work force is undocumented, which is some 8.1 million people. Thirty-eight percent of the 8.1 million pay social security taxes, which comes to roughly $12 billion a year, according to CAP estimates. That's a pretty nice cushion for a graying America.

Stephen Goss, chief actuary for the Social Security Administration, told the Daily Beast, "Even as it stands under current policy, unauthorized immigrants contribute positively to the financing of social security not only in terms of their own contributions, but in the succeeding generations when they have children on our soil that are citizens from day one."

November 29, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 6:22 AM


6 Reasons Why Long Distance Train Travel Is Worth It (Ethan Klapper, 11/27/14, Huffington Post)

2. The Passengers

The Pacific Parlour Car of Amtrak's Coast Starlight.

Most people on long distance trains are not in a hurry. For some passengers, they'd fly if they were. For others who live in more rural communities, the train might be one of the only options for them to get around, so they generally know what to expect.

This leads to a great environment on board. Most people are friendly and chatty, and you meet tons of interesting people on board, ranging from college professors to North Dakota oil workers. People tend to be focused on the present -- their fellow passengers, the onboard environment and the scenery -- as opposed to their destinations.

3. The Staff

A sleeping car attendant greets passengers boarding Amtrak's California Zephyr in Fraser/Winter Park, Colorado.

Most of the staff of Amtrak's long distance trains treat you like family. On Western trains that are 3-day, 2-night trips, you end up spending a lot of time with your train attendant (whether you're in the sleeping car or coach) as well as the staff of the dining car. You learn about them, their families, their job and the railroad. Most of these crewmembers are individuals who exemplify good customer service. Don't forget to tip them!

The car is atomizing.

Posted by orrinj at 6:06 AM


Why cratering oil may not crush shale producers (WILLIAM WATTS, 10/14/14, Market Watch)

According to the IEA analysis, just slightly more than 4% of this year's U.S. LTO production carried a breakeven price of $80 a barrel or more. That's less than 200,000 barrels a day. Overall, around 8% of high-cost production worldwide requires Brent crude above $80 a barrel to breakeven, equal to 1.05 million barrels a day or 1.1% of global liquids production, the IEA estimates.

The IEA notes there is a smattering of other more conventional projects around the world that also carry high breakeven costs, sometimes due to big government takes. "All told, roughly 2.6 million barrels a day of world crude oil production comes from projects with a breakeven price in excess of $80 a barrel," the report said. [...]

At the same time, analysts have also noted that for many shale producers, a large chunk of production costs -- acquiring acreage, contracting wells, etc. -- have already been spent. As a result, the more important figure might be "half-cycle" production costs. which analysts at Citi last week pegged at between $37 to $45 a barrel. 

November 28, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 8:50 PM


'I'm Lost Now': Can Ferguson's Businesses Ever Rise From Rubble? (BILL BRIGGS, 11/27/14, NBC News)

Some retailers, like Mohamad Yaacoub, have been slammed twice by violence. His store, Sam's Meat Market, was looted in August after unarmed, 18-year-old Michael Brown was fatally shot by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson. On Monday night, arsonists nearly burned that market to the ground.

"To be honest with you, I'm lost now," Yaacoub told NBC News after touring the charred shell that once was Sam's. The exterior brick walls are the only salvageable chunks. The roof is gone. "I'm not sure money-wise. Money-wise, it's just too hard.

"I had to borrow $700 to buy some wood, just to put the boards together to close up where (the rioters) came in from, to close the building. It's just too much, you know," added Yaacoub, who carries insurance coverage for fire damage but isn't certain when or how much he might be paid to begin a rebuild. A friend launched a fund to help pay for the market's restoration.

At a strip mall two doors down from the remnants of Sam's, looters smashed the glass at the Clip Appeal salon then hurled a Molotov cocktail inside. Two local men grabbed plastic water bottles and dashed inside the shop to try to douse the flames, said Leeanna Moore, a 22-year employee.

While Moore cheered those heroics, she admitted she hasn't decided if she will ever return to work at the salon, which also carries insurance.

"The fear bothers me right now, just the fact that we have to go back down in the area. We never felt that way before," Moore said. "That's why I think a lot of businesses won't return. They'll have the fear of: What if something else happens? The same thing could happen.

"There may be a bunch of store closings after this because, I mean, with the community being so disrupted as it as right now, what really do we have left?" Moore said. "Are they going to rebuild? No, we don't think so."

Which is what you get when violent youths are met with inadequate law enforcement....

Posted by orrinj at 8:11 PM


Here Comes $60 Oil  (Rupert Rowling  Nov 28, 2014, Bloomberg)

OPEC's decision not to try and eliminate an oil-supply glut means the biggest crash in six years won't stop until prices reach $60 a barrel, according to firms including Nomura Holdings Inc. and Deutsche Bank AG.

Posted by orrinj at 8:00 PM


Europe's Plea to Be Forgotten (HOLMAN W. JENKINS, JR., Nov. 28, 2014, WSJ)

That so many of the Web companies that "dominate the everyday lives of Europeans," as Ms. Gebhardt frets, originate in the U.S. owes exactly nothing to the U.S. government identifying and fostering the potential of startups.

Google rightly says competition is only a click away: In its short life, Google has seen much of its potential market clicked away by companies whose arrival was unpredictable, such as Yelp, Twitter , Facebook, WhatsApp and an amazingly reinvented Apple.

Contributing next to nothing to this explosion of wealth has been the European Union. Germany and France are the core powers of the EU, the world's No. 4 and 5 economies. Name a single major Web-era success that emerged from either.

Let's amend that: These countries do produce cutting-edge entrepreneurs, engineers and creative talents, who can be found by the thousands in the U.S.

Speaking of sad and pathetic, even as Europe takes aim at Silicon Valley, apparently dropped from the agenda is what was supposed to be its well-developed antitrust case against Russia's Gazprom .

Gazprom is a monopoly of the malign textbook definition, using its pricing power and energy-starvation threats to prevent client countries from developing alternate suppliers. Gazprom's monopoly is detrimental to European consumers in every way, driving up energy prices and driving manufacturing jobs to the U.S. to benefit from cheap shale gas.

Not only is Gazprom an untrustworthy supplier, it's an instrument of Vladimir Putin 's retrograde and militaristic foreign policy. So the European Parliament declares war on Google.

Posted by orrinj at 7:57 PM


The Trick to Being More Virtuous (Arthur C. Brooks, 11/27/14, NY Times)

SEVERAL years ago, I visited Provo, Utah -- in the heart of what its residents call "Happy Valley" -- to deliver a lecture at Brigham Young University. My gracious hosts sent me home with a prodigious amount of branded souvenirs: T-shirts, mugs -- you name it. The Mormons are serious about product placement.

One particularly nice gift was a briefcase, with the university's name emblazoned across the front. I needed a new briefcase, but the logo gave me pause because it felt a little like false advertising for a non-Mormon to carry it. Reassured by my wife that this was ridiculous, I loaded it up, and took it out on the road. In airports, I quickly noticed that people would look at my briefcase, and then look up at me. I could only assume that they were thinking, "I've never seen an aging hipster Mormon before."

That gave me minor amusement; but it soon had a major effect on my behavior. I found that I was acting more cheerfully and courteously than I ordinarily would -- helping people more with luggage, giving up my place in line, that sort of thing. I was unconsciously trying to live up to the high standards of Mormon kindness, or at least not besmirch that well-earned reputation. I even found myself reluctant to carry my customary venti dark roast, given the well-known Mormon prohibition against coffee.

Almost like magic, the briefcase made me a happier, more helpful person -- at least temporarily.

But it wasn't magic. Psychologists study a phenomenon called "moral elevation," an emotional state that leads us to act virtuously when exposed to the virtue of others. In experiments, participants who are brought face to face with others' gratitude or giving behavior are more likely to display those virtues themselves.

In one study published in 2010, psychologists assigned subjects to three groups: A third watched an episode of the comedy program "Fawlty Towers"; another third watched a nature documentary; the final group watched an uplifting clip of the Oprah Winfrey show in which artists expressed gratitude to their mentors. The subjects who watched Oprah reported feeling more optimism about humanity and more desire to help others than the other groups. And, importantly, these morally elevated subjects were more likely to help the researchers by completing optional tasks. Apparently, my briefcase produced a similar sensation by reminding me of my Mormon friends' admirable qualities.

Posted by orrinj at 7:54 PM


Conflicting Policies on Syria and Islamic State Erode U.S. Standing in Mideast (ANNE BARNARD, NOV. 27, 2014, NY Times)

More than two months after the campaign against the Islamic State plunged the United States into direct military involvement in Syria, something Mr. Obama had long avoided, the group has held its strongholds there and even expanded its reach. That has called into question basic assumptions of American strategy.

One is that the United States can defeat the Islamic State without taking sides in Syria's civil war. Another is that it can drive the group out of Iraq while merely diminishing and containing it in Syria, pursuing different approaches on each side of a porous border that the Islamic State seeks to erase.

"The fundamental disconnects in U.S. strategy have been exposed and amplified" as Islamic State militants have advanced in central Syria in recent weeks, said Emile Hokayem, a Syria analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. Like Mr. Assad's opponents, he contends that extremists cannot be defeated without ending decades of harsh Assad family rule and empowering the disenfranchised Sunni Muslims who drive the insurgency.

Mr. Obama has sought to treat Syria as a separate problem and concentrate on Iraq, where he sees more compelling United States interests -- if only the political need to salvage the legacy of American deaths there. But most analysts say the two conflicts are inextricable.

In Iraq, the group, also known as ISIS or ISIL, seems to have reached the limits of its expansion as it bumps up against areas without a Sunni Arab majority and Iraqi and Kurdish forces make some gains. But driving it out entirely is another matter, particularly if it can rely on a rear base in Syria, where Mr. Hokayem said it could still expand in majority-Sunni areas.

It just doesn't seem that difficult; we remove any regime that isn't democratic.
Posted by orrinj at 7:50 PM


Will Taiwan shift from 'blue' to 'green'? Taichung mayor is bellwether race (Julian Baum, NOVEMBER 28, 2014, CS Monitor)

 [Lin Chia-lung] represents a new generation of opposition leaders seeking to occupy key local government posts and to displace the China-friendly Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), which is struggling to retain its local power base. A win by Lin in a KMT stronghold would be a significant morale boost ahead of the 2016 presidential elections, and in the latest polls he is ahead by more than 10 percent.  [...]

"It's time to let the young people take over," [former Taiwan president Lee Teng-hui] told farmers gathered for tea. "Once or twice is enough," he added in a casual swipe at Taichung's Mayor Jason Hu, who is running for a fourth term under the KMT banner.

Taichung is a city of 2.7 million located midway between Taiwan's main political divides. North from here is politically "blue," where the ruling China-friendly KMT is strongest. South from here is "green," where the Taiwan-first, nativist Democratic Progressive Party, or DPP, dominates. 

The city is situated at the closest point to mainland China across the Taiwan Strait, and for years has been dominated by the Nationalists. So a fall of Taichung to the "green" camp on Nov. 29 would consolidate opposition power in the geographic center of the country.

Posted by orrinj at 7:36 PM


A Collision With 'White-Van Man' (Kenan Malik, 11/28/14, NY Times)

Rarely can such an unremarkable photo have such heavy political repercussions. Last Thursday, a senior Labour Party member of Parliament, Emily Thornberry, tweeted a photo of a rowhouse in Rochester, Kent. It showed three flags of England draped across the facade and a white van parked outside. Her caption said: "Image from #Rochester."

This seemingly innocuous message was freighted with political meaning. By the end of the day, the tweet had become headline news, and Ms. Thornberry had lost her job as the opposition's chief spokeswoman on legal affairs.

Why such a rumpus?

The flag of England (the Cross of St. George) and the white van have both become symbols of working-class identity. They are, for many, markers of racism, philistinism and social conservatism. The flag is as closely associated with far-right groups and with football fans as with England as a nation. "White-van man" has become an archetype of the self-employed tradesman, assumed to be xenophobic, hostile to immigration and dismissive of liberal values.

The phrase has the same kind of resonance as the term redneck in American culture. And like redneck, this cultural shorthand implies a snobbish contempt for the masses.

As it happens, Ms. Thornberry is a member of Parliament for the North London borough of Islington. In British political iconography, it stands for the liberal metropolitan elite -- the polar opposite of white-van man.

Posted by orrinj at 5:45 PM


Why the right keeps winning and the left keeps losing (MICHAEL LERNER 28 November 2014, OpenDemocracy)

Why does the right keep winning in US politics?

Sometimes it's through electoral victories, sometimes by having the Democrats and others on the left adopt what were traditionally right-wing policies and perspectives. Of course, the right has support from billionaires and many major corporations. And I know that the median household income has continued to drop, that while jobs are increasing the pay for middle income and working people has been falling, and that two thirds of Americans live from paycheck to paycheck, with great economic insecurity.

But these are all reasons why we would reasonably be motivated to go to vote to ensure that the right, with its program of further cutting the social support network, making it harder for people to get basic governmental services and threatening to close the government down, doesn't win. Yet the opposite keeps happening. Why do so many people end up voting to elect politicians who stand for policies that hurt the economic well-being of a significant section of the people who voted for them?

It is, of course, not just an American phenomenon, but an Anglospheric one, that the conservative party has come to dominate politics to the point that when the liberal party experiences success it is by aping conservative positions.  So we must consider one of two policies : either electorates throughout the English-speaking world (and Scandinavia) have determined that their lives are rather comfortable, conservatism works and advocates of conservatism deserve their vote; or, these voters have all been fooled, have not  noticed that their consistent conservatism has yielded lives of misery, and vote against their own self-interests in election after election from country to country.

Posted by orrinj at 5:39 PM


Israel Can't Be an Unequal Democracy (Noah Feldman, 11/28/14, Bloomberg View)

The draft law as endorsed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government is titled "Israel as the Nation State of the Jewish People." The problem with the proposed law isn't that it calls Israel a Jewish state. Tunisia's democratic constitution makes Islam the official religion, and refers to the "Arab-Islamic identity" of the Tunisian people. It might not be very liberal or cosmopolitan, but a genuine democracy can permissibly enshrine its particular religious or ethnic identity in its constitutional framework -- provided that it remains committed to equal rights and equal status for all citizens.   

Insisting on equality of treatment and participation is what keeps democracy from devolving into the dictatorship of the majority. Guarantees of equality, alongside guarantees of liberty and the rule of law, are what make constitutional democracy special. Without them, democracy would mean nothing more than majority rule -- and could include any regime where the government came to power by a vote.

In the past, Israel's basic laws, like its declaration of independence, have reconciled the Jewish nature of the state with fundamental equality values by referring to Israel as a "Jewish and democratic" state. Although the exact meaning has always been contested, Israel's courts as well as its legal scholars -- and frequently, its politicians -- have generally agreed that Jewishness and democracy were being placed upon an equal footing. Palestinian citizens of Israel have therefore always been legally entitled to equality despite not being Jewish.

The state's holidays and symbols are and have been since statehood distinctively Jewish. "Hatikva," the national anthem, expresses "the hope" of Jewish return to Israel from 2,000 years of exile -- hardly the hope of Palestinians. And in practice, aspects of Israeli law and social custom have fallen short of treating Palestinian Israelis with complete equality, much as ethnic and religious minorities in other democracies face discrimination.

Yet the constitution-level commitment to democracy has been broadly taken to include a fundamental right of all Israelis to equal dignity and equal treatment before the law, regardless of religion or ethnicity. That commitment is absolutely fundamental to Israel's credibility when it describes itself as a democracy and refutes allegations that it is guilty of discrimination or even apartheid.

The draft basic law breaks the equation of "Jewish and democratic" by putting Israel's Jewish identity at the forefront and relegating democracy to a secondary description of the form of government.

Posted by orrinj at 5:36 PM


Thanksgiving and Puritan geopolitics in the New World : Puritan settlements in New England were part of a grand strategy for controlling the wealth of the Americas. (Stratfor | 27 November 2014)

Throughout the first half of the 17th century, England was wracked by internal divisions that would lead to civil war in 1642. Religion was a huge part of this. The dispute was over the direction of the Church of England. Some factions favored "high" church practices that involved elaborate ritual. The Puritans, by contrast, wanted to clear the national religion of what they considered Catholic traces. This religious crisis compounded a political crisis at the highest levels of government, pitting Parliament against the monarchy.

By the beginning of the 17th century, England had undergone centralizing reforms that gave the king and his Parliament unrestricted power to make laws. Balance was needed. The king had the power to call Parliament into session and dismiss it. Parliament had the power to grant him vital funds needed for war or to pay down debt. However, Parliament had powerful Puritan factions that sought not only to advance their sectarian cause but also to advance the power of Parliament beyond its constraints. Kings James I and his son Charles I, for their part, sought to gain an unrestrained hold on power that would enable them to make decisive strategic choices abroad. They relied, internally and externally, on Catholics, crypto-Catholics and high church advocates -- exacerbating the displeasure of Parliament.

In 1618, the Thirty Years' War broke out in the German states -- a war that, in part, pitted Protestants against Catholics and spread throughout Central Europe. James did not wish to become involved in the war. In 1620, the Catholic Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II, a relative of Spain's King Philip III, pushed Frederick V, the Protestant son-in-law of England's King James, out of his lands in Bohemia, and Spain attacked Frederick in his other lands in the Rhineland. The English monarchy called for a defense of Frederick but was unwilling to commit to significant military action to aid him.

Puritan factions in Parliament, however, wanted England to strike at Spain directly by attacking Spanish shipments from the Americas, which could have paid for itself in captured goods. To make matters worse, from 1614 to 1623, James I pursued an unpopular plan to marry his son Charles to the Catholic daughter of Philip III of Spain -- a plan called the "Spanish Match." Instead, Charles I ended up marrying the Catholic daughter of the king of France in 1625. This contributed to the impression that James and Charles were too friendly with Spain and Catholicism, or even were secret Catholics. Many Puritans and other zealous promoters of the Protestant cause began to feel that they had to look outside of the English government to further their cause.

Amid this complex constellation of Continental powers and England's own internal incoherence, a group of Puritan leaders in Parliament, who would later play a pivotal role in the English Civil War, focused on the geopolitical factors that were troubling England. Issues of finance and Spanish power were at the core. A group of them struck on the idea of establishing a set of Puritan colonial ventures in the Americas that would simultaneously serve to unseat Spain from her colonial empire and enrich England, tipping the geopolitical balance.

In this they were continuing Elizabeth I's strategy of 1585, when she started a privateer war in the Atlantic and Caribbean to capture Spanish treasure ships bound from the Americas. Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay were part of this early vision, but they were both far too remote to challenge the Spanish, and the group believed that the area's climate precluded it from being a source of vast wealth from cash crops. New England, however, was safe from Spanish aggression and could serve as a suitable starting point for a colonial push into the heart of Spanish territory.

Posted by orrinj at 5:33 PM


17 old proverbs we should use more often (Arika Okrent, November 25, 2014, The Week)


This is a way to qualify someone else's good luck. Also good for the situation where someone is gloating over escaping a near disaster. [...]


Here, last means a metal or wooden model on which shoes are shaped by the shoemaker, or cobbler. In other words, stick to what you know. [...]


A postern door is a back door. If there's an opportunity to steal, someone is bound to take advantage of it.

Posted by orrinj at 5:29 PM


Our giant welfare state (Robert J. Samuelson  November 25, 2014, Washington Post)

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) -- a group of wealthy nations -- has recently published new figures on government social spending. Covered is unemployment insurance, disability payments, old-age assistance, government-provided health care, family allowances and the like. By this measure alone, the United States is hardly a leader. It ranks 23rd in the world with social spending of roughly 19 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). This is slightly below the OECD average of 22 percent. France is the champ at nearly 32 percent. (The data are generally the latest available, including some estimates for 2014.)

But wait. Direct government spending isn't the only way that societies provide social services. They also channel payments through private companies, encouraged, regulated and subsidized by government. This is what the United States does, notably with employer-provided health insurance (which is subsidized by government by not counting employer contributions as taxable income) and tax-favored retirement savings accounts.

When these are added to government's direct payments, rankings shift. France remains at the top, but the United States vaults into second position with roughly 30 percent of its GDP spent on social services, including health care. We have a hybrid welfare state, partly run by the government and partly outsourced to private markets.

...just transfer more of it to personal savings accounts.

Posted by orrinj at 5:24 PM


TAKING MACHIAVELLI AT HIS WORD : A REVIEW OF REDEEMING "THE PRINCE" by Maurizio Viroli (Kate Havard, 11 . 25 . 14, Fist Things)

In Redeeming the Prince, Maurizio Viroli, professor emeritus of politics at Princeton University and now at the University of Texas, adopts a bold strategy: He dares to take Machiavelli at his word.

Viroli says that the most important chapter in The Prince is the last, "Exhortation to Seize Italy and to Free Her From the Barbarians." Here, Machiavelli calls for a leader to rise up against foreign oppressors to create an Italy whole and free. This is the project of the Prince, Viroli argues, and it is a project so beautiful that any means are appropriate to secure it.

This is an audacious claim because the Exhortation is usually regarded as the worst and least interesting chapter in the book. For those who love Machiavelli for his cynicism, the fervor, patriotism, and piety in the Exhortation is puzzling. Was Machiavelli forced to include it? Was he merely shilling for a job? Is this some kind of trick? Is somebody being esoteric?

Viroli says no. When a book is as spare and carefully constructed as The Prince, it is unwise to dismiss any of it as superfluous. It's especially unwise to dismiss its final chapter as meaningless, because, of course, this is the book where Machiavelli advises all men to "look to the end" for ultimate guidance.

"Looking to the end" is the literal translation of what has become the bumper-sticker version of Machiavelli, the assertion that "the ends justify the means." Looking to the end is not permission to do anything: It demands consideration of the worthiness of the goal. The worthiness of Machiavelli's goal--Italian liberation--is what redeems the prince, in Viroli's view, and so he argues that The Prince is not a guidebook for evildoers.

Posted by orrinj at 5:20 PM


DON'T JUST TRUST "THE SYSTEM" (Ross Tucker, 11/26/14, Sports on Earth)

What the Patriots "do" is come up with a truly unique game plan specifically designed to counteract what their opponent's strengths and weaknesses are each and every week. Sounds like a pretty simple concept, yet you'd be surprised how many teams don't seem to understand this.

I played for five teams in seven years. Several coaches would preach how their system was great as long as we "executed' or had "good fundamentals." They'd boast about the fact that we were going to "run our stuff" and "not change what we were doing based on one opponent."

I understand what they were trying to accomplish and there is certainly something to be said for consistency in approach and mastering particular concepts, but what made the most sense to me was what Belichick would preach in his team meetings in New England. The first thing he would talk about at the start of each week was the opponent and what they did best. He was very specific. This wasn't, "We can't turn the ball over" coach-speak. It was, "If we take away Jimmy Smith on third downs they can't beat us" prior to a playoff game against the Jags in the 2005 season. He would harp on it all week and the game plan would be designed to accomplish that exact objective.

It worked that night. Still does, most of the time.

Just look at what the Patriots did in the last two weeks offensively. In Week 11 on Sunday Night Football, they went to their heavy package up front and ran the ball down the Colts throat to the tune of 200 yards and four touchdowns for running back Jonas Gray. A player who had been on the practice squad a month earlier was now the featured back in a big road win over a division leader.

Then this past Sunday against Detroit, the Patriots barely even tried to run the ball. Instead, Brady operated out of the gun and picked apart the Lions for almost 350 while mixing in five different receivers (who all received at least five passes each). It was total domination in a much different way than the week prior.

That's the Patriots. You never really know what they are going to do from week to week. That's their trademark. That's their "system." That's what they do.

Posted by Glenn Dryfoos at 12:14 PM


Joe Wilder :  Wilder 'n' Wilder  

As with last week's review, this week's All That Jazz is inspired by a biography, this time Ed Berger's thoroughly-researched and warmly-told Softly, with Feeling, about the life of trumpeter Joe Wilder.  The book was published in April of this year, just a few weeks before Wilder died at the age of 92.

Wilder was a classically trained musician who gravitated towards jazz and pop music due to the racial realities of his time.  After serving as a valued section man in the big bands of Lionel Hampton, Dizzy Gillespie and Count Basie (among others), he settled in New York in the mid-1950's.  Through his tremendous musicianship and quiet persistence, this dignified and much-admired man became one of the first African Americans to play in Broadway pit orchestras and television studio bands, and later, after earning his degree from the New York School of Music, he also achieved his goal of playing in classical settings, including occasional performances with the New York Philharmonic.  Berger sketches a quick, yet illuminating, portrait of Wilder in the preface: He, along with such friends and colleagues as Milt Hinton, Benny Carter, Hank Jones and George Duvivier, spent much of their careers defying commonly held stereotypes of both African American musicians and jazz players.  In talking to Joe's musical peers, friends, employers, and students, I can honestly say that the most critical remark I could elicit was {pianist} Dick Hyman's comment, "He always dressed a bit more formally than he needed to."

Wilder 'n' Wilder, Joe's first date as a "leader," features a quartet with at least 2 musicians who were far better known, Hank Jones, on piano, and Kenny Clarke, on drums.  (As Berger points out, Wilder wasn't told he would be the nominal leader until after the album was recorded.).  The album provides a wonderful example of his playing throughout his breakneck tempos, no high note fireworks, no rapid-fire machine-gunning of notes just because he can.  Instead, Wilder plays with a gorgeous, burnished, syrupy tone, mostly staying in the lower and middle registers of the horn, at medium swing or ballad tempos.  His classical chops are evident (check out the wide interval skips in "Cherokee" and the concerto-like descending run at the beginning of "Mad About the Boy"), as is his mastery of that old jazz favorite, the plunger mute (when he comes back for a second chorus in "Six Bit Blues").  The most notable cut is "Cherokee," which Charlie Parker (in a version called "Ko-Ko"), and later Clifford Brown, established as a showcase tune for high-speed virtuosity.  Wilder goes a different route, settling in at a medium shuffle, providing a perfect setting for his pure tone and melodic intelligence.  Berger reports that although Wilder was never particularly famous, this solo was well known and much-studied by later generations of trumpet players. 

November 27, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 12:55 PM


...and we come across 8 of the fattest, happiest wild turkeys you've ever seen.  We're at the Cape, mere miles from Plymouth. It's well and truly Thanksgiving time. [Although, whoever decided to only get a half pecan pie this year is clearly trying to harsh the spirit.]

 It's been a good year even by American standards, with the recovered economy poised for a long stretch of healthy growth, a divided Capitol Hill poised to balance the budget and reform taxes, health care and immigration, and the Revs, Red Sox, Bruins and Pats on the verge of championships.  We have much to be Thankful for.

And, as always, we thank you all for your patronage and the lively comments section of Brothers Judd. 

Travel safely, enjoy your time with family and friends and count your Blessings.

Posted by orrinj at 11:23 AM



The formal study of gratitude's benefits is relatively young, but researchers have found that gratitude can enhance well-being and improve romantic relationships, among other benefits. A 2011 study published in the journal Heart International, found that acute cardiac patients who had positive psychological interventions actually had better outcomes than those who didn't.

"The people for whom gratitude is more of a trait than a state, we see that those people tend to be healthier. They tend to be happier. They have stronger social connections and stronger relationships. There's some evidence that people who are more optimistic or have a grateful attitude have higher immune functioning," says clinical psychologist and Columbia University assistant clinical professor of Medical Psychology, Erin Olivo. Olivo is the author of Wise Mind Living: Master Your Emotions, Transform Your Life.

With those wide-ranging benefits, who wouldn't want to be more grateful? Experts say it's possible to train yourself to become more grateful so it's not just an occasional state, but a regular habit.

Posted by orrinj at 11:20 AM


WTO clinches first global trade deal in its history (Reuters, 11/27/14) 

The World Trade Organization adopted the first worldwide trade reform in its history on Thursday, after years of stalemate, months of deadlock and a final day's delay following an eleventh-hour objection.

The agreement means the WTO will introduce new standards for customs checks and border procedures. Proponents say that will streamline the flow of trade around the world, adding as much as $1 trillion and 21 million jobs to the world economy.

Posted by orrinj at 11:06 AM


Gold is 'effectively shiny Bitcoin': Citigroup's Buiter (Barbara Kollmeyer, 11/27/14, MarketWatch)

A six-thousand year old bubble, "shiny Bitcoin," and something that no self-respecting central bank should hold in reserves ever.

That was Citigroup analysts, laying into gold in a note that came out a day ahead of Thanksgiving, as the investment bank opened the debate on gold's value ahead of a crucial decision by Switzerland on whether the central bank should more than double its gold holdings.

The "Save Our Swiss Gold" campaign aims to force the Swiss National Bank to hold a fifth of its assets in gold within five years and prohibit the bank from selling gold in the future, as well as repatriate any gold overseas. Organizers accuse the bank of mismanaging the nation's wealth property.

While gold bugs are hoping for a "yes" vote, most analysts don't see that happening.

There's no point trying to explain economics to Malthusians.

Posted by orrinj at 10:57 AM


Foreigners no burden on German welfare system (Deutsche-Welle, 11/27/14)

A survey released by the Mannheim-based Center for European Economic Research (ZEW) Thursday says foreigners living in Germany contribute a net profit to the country's welfare system.

The study - compiled on behalf of the Bertelsmann Foundation - adds that Germany's 6.6 million foreigners, defined as people not holding a German passport, account for a social welfare fund surplus of 22 billion euros ($27.4 billion) yearly, with every individual in that group contributing an average 3,000 euros more in taxes and premiums than they get in terms of state support.

The findings are in stark contrast to popular belief, with roughly two two-thirds of native Germans insisting that migration poses a huge burden on the welfare state.

Posted by orrinj at 10:53 AM


Iran's top leader says he does not oppose an extension of nuclear talks with Western powers (Associated Press Nov. 27, 2014)

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei spoke on Iranian state television, saying "I am not opposed to the extension of the talks, for the same reason that I wasn't opposed to the talks per se."

Khamenei said Washington frequently changes its stances toward Iran in the talks because of its domestic problems, a reference to differences between President Obama and Republicans who now control the U.S. Congress.

"They raise a word today. The other they withdraw from it, because of domestic problems," said Khamenei.

He said Iran would accept a fair and sensible outcome of the talks, but would not be intimidated.

Posted by orrinj at 10:49 AM


Fairlife's new milk adverts are unoriginal and tediously sexist (Laura Bates, 27 November 2014, The Guardian)

You know something's up when images of the type associated with the sexism of past decades resurface in a thoroughly modern advertising campaign. So it was with a sigh that I read the news about Fairlife, Coca-Cola's new "premium milk brand" (nope, me neither), illustrated with images of naked women covered in flowing milk. The pictures - from period-styled hair to looks of arousal and "naughty surprise" - are clearly designed to evoke retro "pin-up girl" images. One loosely mimics the infamous Marilyn Monroe up-skirt moment. As if the implications of the slender, long-legged images weren't clear enough, another features a woman perched atop a set of scales (in high heels, obviously - isn't that how everybody weighs themselves?)

The ads, seemingly based on an existing set of photographs by London-based photographer Jaroslav Wieczorkiewicz, raise more questions than they answer. Is this milk for drinking, or are you just expected to pour it lavishly over your head as you sit at the breakfast table, pouting sexily at your dry cereal? Why don't men seem to be invited to partake in this new gastronomic experience?

Imagine butterscotch pudding made with this stuff and take it from there....

NB : By next Thanksgiving it will be within 5-10% of the price of regular milk.

Posted by orrinj at 9:44 AM


Selfie catches Clinton with an eyeful (STUART WINER, November 27, 2014, Times of Israel)

Former US president Bill Clinton has been making headlines recently over a photograph in which he appears to be ogling a young woman's chest as she takes a picture of herself alongside the statesman.

Just 'cause there's snow on the roof....

Posted by orrinj at 9:38 AM


PD James, queen of detective fiction, dies aged 94 : Creator of much-loved detective Adam Dalgliesh was one of the most successful British authors of crime fiction (Richard Lea, 27 November 2014, The Guardian)

It had always been her "intention" to become a writer, and she began writing about a detective partly as an apprenticeship for writing "serious" novels, as she explained to the Paris Review in 1994. James had always loved crime novels, was unwilling to explore the "traumatic experiences" of her own life in fiction and was well aware it would be easier to find a publisher for a detective story. But the genre also appealed to her taste for order.

"I like structured fiction, with a beginning, a middle, and an end," she said. "I like a novel to have narrative drive, pace, resolution, which a detective novel has."

Published in 1962, Cover Her Face opens "exactly three months before the killing", with a country-house dinner party which becomes, "in retrospect, a ritual gathering under one roof of victim and suspects, a staged preliminary to murder". The new parlourmaid announces her engagement to the manor house's eldest son at the village fete and is strangled the following night, a mystery resolved by the refined poet-detective Inspector Dalgliesh. "I gave him the qualities I admire," James explained in 2001, "because I hoped he might be an enduring character and that being so, I must actually like him."

The author's hunch proved accurate, Dalgliesh trading his Bristol Cooper for a Jaguar as he took on cases in hospitals, nursing homes and laboratories over the course of 14 novels.

The erudition of James's detective and the focus of her murder mysteries on the middle classes brought accusations of elitism, coming to the boil in 1995 after a radio interview in which the author suggested "you don't get moral choice" in what she called "the pits of the inner-city area, where crime is the norm and murder is commonplace". But the writer made no apologies, arguing "the contrast between respectability and planned brutality is of the essence" in a detective story.

"If you have appalling and violent events happening in a civilised place, it's a great deal more horrific," she explained. [...]

Writing outside the crime genre, her 1992 novel The Children of Men - set in a dystopian future - was adapted to critical acclaim for the cinema in 2006.

James's apprenticeship in crime fiction became a lifelong commitment, as she came to believe "it is perfectly possible to remain within the constraints and conventions of the genre and be a serious writer, saying something true about men and women and their relationships and the society in which they live". To suggest that the formal constraints of crime fiction prevent its practitioners from producing good novels "is as foolish as to say that no sonnet can be great poetry since a sonnet is restricted to 14 lines" she argued.

Had she never written a Dalgleish novel--try Death in Holy Orders if you've never read one--she'd be remembered for Children of Men, which is for the current European moment what 1984 was in 1948.

Posted by orrinj at 8:50 AM


Thanksgiving to Whom . . . (SETH LIPSKY, 11/27/14, New York Post)

Because America is crackling with constitutional cases over religious freedom, let us begin Thanksgiving morning with a reflection on the object of all this gratitude: Whom do we thank? Is it the Indians? The Pilgrims? Nature? Fortune?

It turns out that the record is long, clear, and official. It goes back to George Washington's first Thanksgiving proclamation, issued on Oct. 3, 1789, here at New York. He called for a day of public prayer and thanksgiving -- to God.

Congress, Washington noted, had requested that he recommend to the people that the day "be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God." He set aside Thursday, Nov. 26, 1789.

Posted by orrinj at 8:30 AM


This Legal Immigrant Agrees: Let Illegals Come Out of the Shadows (Cathy Young, November 27, 2014, RCP)

Amidst predictably partisan reactions to President Obama's recent executive order offering five million illegal immigrants a reprieve from deportation, some critics have denounced it as a special affront to immigrants who played by the rules to come to this country. So, as one of those legal immigrants--my family came to America from the Soviet Union in 1980--let me say that illegal immigrants do not offend me. Like some two-thirds of Americans, I believe that if they have committed no crimes while living in the United States, they should be granted the option to stay here legally and, in the President's word, "come out of the shadows."

Yes, they broke the law by coming here. But as federal judge Alex Kozinski and attorney Misha Tseytlin--both of whom, incidentally, are legal immigrants, from Romania and the Soviet Union--point out in a 2009 essay with the self-explanatory title, "You're (Probably) a Federal Criminal," federal law today is so vast in reach that most of us have probably broken it at some point. And a few have done so to accolades from some of the same folks who are greatly exercised about law-breaking border-crossers. See, for instance, Nevada lawbreaker Cliven Bundy, the rancher who insisted on letting his cattle graze on federal land without paying the legally required fees, and whose defenders (before he started spouting racist tirades) included Fox News talk show host and illegal immigration hardliner Sean Hannity.

In many ways, immigration law is especially arbitrary and capricious--and hardly sacrosanct given its history. For a century after the American founding, we had open borders; a 1798 law allowed the President to order the deportation of resident aliens from a country at war with the United States, but that's about it. The first laws limiting immigration were strongly tainted with overt racism; the Page Act of 1875, which forbade entry to "undesirable" aliens, specifically targeted Asian laborers, and its 1882 sequel was actually called the Chinese Exclusion Act.

Posted by orrinj at 8:13 AM


Pilgrims and the Roots of the American Thanksgiving (MALCOLM GASKILL, Nov. 26, 2014, WSJ)

But then why had anyone come in the first place? Their reasons were manifold. The Pilgrims wanted to worship freely outside the Church of England. Others wanted to reform English religion. Most Virginians simply wanted to find land where they could make a living.

All of the colonists were trying to recreate a better version of the Old World rather than inventing something new. In society and economy, politics and religion, England was changing, many felt for the worse, and nostalgia for a golden age of faith--based on scripture, healthy social relations and charity among neighbors--was a powerful incentive to emigrate.

Winthrop's "city upon a hill" speech, beloved of modern presidential speechwriters, was more of a reactionary manifesto than a radical one. It spoke of values that had decayed in English life to be resurrected across the Atlantic. This was revolution 17th-century style: a return to the status quo ante.

So the colonists set about building English houses, mixing arable farmland with pasture, approximating English meals and wearing their warm woolens, regardless of the weather. They behaved, so far as possible, as if nothing had changed. They imposed familiar hierarchies, enforced English laws and appointed magistrates and constables.

Wherever they went, they anglicized Indian place-names. Dozens of English towns and villages--Dorchester, Ipswich, Springfield--were reborn in America: Boston had been, and still is, a small Lincolnshire port. Long Island became "Yorkshire," split into three parts or "ridings," just like the English county.

America was the child, conceived and raised in the image of the parent--an extension of England, not its replacement. Writing in 1697, John Higginson, a minister at Salem, Mass., desired only "that the Little Daughter of New England in America may bow down herself to her Mother England."

In the end, however, pretending to be in England, like turning expectantly to a lost golden age, was futile. Many succumbed to homesickness. One woman faked an inheritance that, she said, had to be collected in person, just so that her husband would let her go home. Some returned for good--one in five New Englanders by 1640.

Nor were the English alone in America. The varied character of their colonies was due not just to the pressures of landscape and ecology but to tense relations with Native Americans and European neighbors.

Failing to retain a recognizably English identity caused anxiety and disappointment. But from failure emerged something truly striking, a spirit that resonates in America across the centuries. Colonial character was driven by a creative tension between lofty ideals and mundane desires. Trying to remain the same, it turned out, demanded a constant effort of industry and reinvention.

The liberties that many migrants felt were being abused at home, by royal contempt for the rights of freeborn Englishmen, ended up being defended in America through the bondage of others--both indentured servants and slaves--and the disinheritance and dispersal of Native Americans. And for all their inward-looking community spirit, the fortunes of many New England communities depended on their expansion. The Puritan idea of a "sufficiency"--having just enough land to be comfortable--was compromised by commercial greed and voracious land grabs.

American religion also evolved in a surprising way. In Philadelphia--"the city of brotherly love"--and other economic centers, Christian virtues were extolled in an expanding world of litigiousness and competition. The secularism in civil government propagated in Rhode Island has its legacy today in the constitutional separation of church and state, but this coexists with an intense religiosity in politics that the Pilgrim fathers would have recognized and admired.

Still, for all their diversity and contradictions, English migrants to America tended to conform to a single recognizable type: the intrepid, resilient, undaunted pioneer. In every colony, similar challenges were met with the same determination and optimism.

Posted by orrinj at 7:34 AM


Pilgrims & Baptists: the little known connection (David Roach, November 26, 2014, Baptist Press)

John Smyth, who often is credited with being the first Baptist, pastored a church where many of the Christians who later came to be known as Pilgrims were members. But when Smyth began to argue with the future Pilgrims over church government, they formed another church under the leadership of John Robinson. In 1620, a portion of Robinson's congregation sailed to Plymouth, Mass., aboard the Mayflower.

Following the split, Smyth became convinced that the Bible teaches believer's baptism and launched the Baptist movement.

"Most people don't realize how closely the Pilgrims and the first Baptists were related. John Smyth and [Plymouth Colony governor] William Bradford knew each other, and in fact Smyth pastored the church where many of the Pilgrims were members before they left England for Holland and then sailed to America," Jason Duesing, provost at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, told Baptist Press in written comments. "The world of English Separatism was very intertwined. Those that became Baptists were a formative part of the story that led to the first Thanksgiving."

Smyth and the Pilgrims both emerged from a movement in England known as Separatism.

In the late 1500s and early 1600s, the Church of England, which was controlled by the British monarch, was Protestant in its doctrine but largely followed Catholic worship practice. A group of Christians known as Puritans objected to Catholic rituals and thought worship should only include elements taught in the Bible.

Posted by orrinj at 5:31 AM


Thanksgiving and the Constitution (Carson Holloway, November 26th, 2013, The Public Discourse)

If we seek evidence of the broadly shared public view of the meaning of the Establishment Clause at the time of the Founding, we find not an insistence on strict separation of church and state but instead a largely uncontroversial willingness to see the government act in a non-coercive and non-discriminatory manner to encourage religious belief and practice.

This brings us to Thanksgiving and the country's tradition of presidential proclamations of thanksgiving. As Rehnquist observes in his Wallace dissent, the First Congress--the same Congress that Madison led in drafting the Establishment Clause--passed a resolution asking President George Washington to proclaim a day of thanksgiving for the nation. Washington complied, and his proclamation of October 3, 1789, is as clear an example as one could wish of government encouragement of religion.

Washington began by claiming that it is "the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor." He then proceeded to "recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be." To believe that the original understanding of the Establishment Clause requires strict separation of church and state, or utter government neutrality between religion and irreligion, we would have to believe that the first Congress and the first president pursued a line of conduct that was inconsistent with the Constitution they were then in the process of implementing.

In response, defenders of strict separation have argued that Washington's 1789 Thanksgiving Proclamation does not necessarily shed any light on the founding generation's understanding of the Establishment Clause. After all, they point out, although the First Amendment was being crafted at the same time as Congress requested the Thanksgiving Proclamation, it was not ratified for another two years. Washington's Proclamation, then, was not a violation of the Constitution because the Constitution at that time did not include the Establishment Clause. Therefore, the fact that these founding statesmen did not seem to be conscious of anything unconstitutional in their actions does not necessarily shed light on the meaning of the yet-to-be formalized Establishment Clause.

This argument is clever but unpersuasive. Clearly, the first Congress passed the Establishment Clause--adding it to the nation's fundamental law--because they thought it would be deeply improper for Congress to make any law respecting an establishment of religion. If strict separationism is a correct interpretation of the founders' understanding, then we must believe that they thought, in addition, that any government promotion of religious belief--no matter how non-discriminatory and non-coercive--was also deeply improper.

If that was in fact their belief, it is not credible that they would have sought the Thanksgiving Proclamation as they did, even if the Amendment formally prohibiting what they thought deeply improper had not yet been ratified. It is hardly reasonable to think of the leading statesmen of the founding period as the kind of men to eagerly seize the chance to get away with something they disapproved of and were in the process of forbidding. They would no more have done so than they would have tried to use unreasonable searches and seizures or deprive citizens of the right to confront their accusers while the rest of the Bill of Rights was still pending before the states.

In any case, this argument is also undercut by the fact that Washington issued a very similar proclamation in 1795, after the First Amendment had been ratified and was an operative part of the Constitution. In this pronouncement, Washington once again reminded Americans of their "duty as a people, with devout reverence and affectionate gratitude, to acknowledge our many and great obligations to Almighty God and to implore him to continue and confirm the blessings we experience." Once again, Washington went on to recommend "to all persons whomsoever" in the United States to set aside a specified day "as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer."

Similar proclamations of days of thanksgiving were issued by Washington's successor in the presidency, John Adams. And while Jefferson declined to issue any during his presidency, even James Madison, Jefferson's partner in disapproval of governmental support for religion, issued them during his tenure as president. It may well be that Madison did so against his better judgment to placate the public's expectations. Those expectations, however, once again confirm that the dominant sense of the founding generation was that there was nothing constitutionally improper in a governmental exhortation to religious activity.

[originally posted : 11/27/13]
Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:00 AM


Mayflower Compact : 1620

Agreement Between the Settlers at New Plymouth : 1620

IN THE NAME OF GOD, AMEN. We, whose names are underwritten, the Loyal Subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord King James, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, &c. Having undertaken for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith, and the Honour of our King and Country, a Voyage to plant the first Colony in the northern Parts of Virginia; Do by these Presents, solemnly and mutually, in the Presence of God and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil Body Politick, for our better Ordering and Preservation, and Furtherance of the Ends aforesaid: And by Virtue hereof do enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions, and Officers, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general Good of the Colony; unto which we promise all due Submission and Obedience. IN WITNESS whereof we have hereunto subscribed our names at Cape-Cod the eleventh of November, in the Reign of our Sovereign Lord King James, of England, France, and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth, Anno Domini; 1620.

Mr. John Carver,
Mr. William Bradford,
Mr Edward Winslow,
Mr. William Brewster.
Isaac Allerton,
Myles Standish,
John Alden,
John Turner,
Francis Eaton,
James Chilton,
John Craxton,
John Billington,
Joses Fletcher,
John Goodman,
Mr. Samuel Fuller,
Mr. Christopher Martin,
Mr. William Mullins,
Mr. William White,
Mr. Richard Warren,
John Howland,
Mr. Steven Hopkins,
Digery Priest,
Thomas Williams,
Gilbert Winslow,
Edmund Margesson,
Peter Brown,
Richard Britteridge
George Soule,
Edward Tilly,
John Tilly,
Francis Cooke,
Thomas Rogers,
Thomas Tinker,
John Ridgdale
Edward Fuller,
Richard Clark,
Richard Gardiner,
Mr. John Allerton,
Thomas English,
Edward Doten,
Edward Liester.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:47 AM


Thanking the Puritans on Thanksgiving (With, of Course, the Help of Tocqueville) (Peter Lawler, 11/24/10, First Things)

There's little less fashionable today than praising the Puritans, especially for their egalitarian political idealism, their promotion of genuinely humane and liberating learning, and their capacity for enjoyment and human happiness. Praising the Puritans is especially difficult for us because even most of our Protestants have abandoned them. When a European calls us Puritanical we don't say, "yes, thanks a lot, you're right." Instead, we either deny it, saying we're way beyond those days. Or we admit it, saying that, "yes, we should be less capitalistic, less repressed, and more free thinking, just like you." But the truth is that the Puritans remain the chief source of the American difference-our ability to live freely and prosperously without unduly slighting the longings of our souls. It's the Puritans' idealism that made and even makes Americans civilized.

Tocqueville's Democracy in America almost begins by showing us how much our democracy owes the Puritans. [...]

[T]he Puritans established colonies without lords or masters --without, in fact, economic classes. They weren't out to get rich or even improve their economic condition; they were in no way driven by material necessity. They "belonged to the well-to-do-classes of the mother country" and would have been better off in the most obvious ways staying home. Their lives were structured by resources and by morality; they came to America as family men, bringing their wives and children. They were models of social virtue. They were also extremely educated men--on the cutting edge, in many ways, of European enlightenment. They were, Tocqueville observes, animated by "a purely intellectual need." They aimed "to make an idea triumph" in this world.

The Puritans were, in fact, singularly distinguished by the nobility of their idealistic, intellectual goal. They willingly imposed themselves to "the inevitable miseries of exile" to live and pray freely as they believed God intended. Those called "the pilgrims," Tocqueville observes, were that way because their "austere principles" caused them to be called Puritans. Their pure standards-their excessive claims for freedom from the alleged corruption of bodily need and pleasure-caused them to be insufferable to all the governments and societies now in existence. The Puritans always seem to others to be "enemies of pleasures" (DA,2,3,19).

Puritan principles could become real only in a new world carved out of the wilderness, where they are the founders of "a great people" of God. They had no choice, they thought, but to be "pious adventurers," combining the spirits of religion, morality, family, and education with something like the restlessness that drove other "small troop[s] of adventurers going to seek fortune beyond the seas." Unlike the Americans Tocqueville observed himself, their restlessness led them to their true home and didn't leave them isolated or disoriented.

The first Americans of the North chose exile in America not for prosperity or physical liberty, but to satisfy an intellectual need that has nothing to do with their bodies. The Virginians, by contrast, were extremely moved by singularly materialistic-really, criminal-pursuits. (Most colonies, Tocqueville notices, originate in the lawless greed characteristic of pirates.) But that's not to say the men of New England thought of themselves as too good or too pure for this world.

All those democratic political freedoms that we Americans often trace to the social contract theory of the philosopher Locke the Puritans adopted "without discussion and in fact." Being clearly derived from Biblical principle, they didn't depend on or exist merely in the speculative dialogue of the philosophers. Even the Americans Tocqueville saw for himself in his visit understood that accepting some religious dogma "without discussion" turns out to be an indispensable foundation of the effective exercise of political freedom.

Because the Puritan conception of political freedom wasn't based on the apolitical, selfish, rights-obsessed, and duty negligent Lockean individual, it both not only demanded virtuous civic participation but also connected political freedom with the creature's charitable duty to the unfortunate. It set a high or virtuous standard for political competence and incorruptibility, and it didn't seem to need to rely on institutions with teeth in them to restrain the spirit of faction and boundless ambition of leaders.

Peace, Love and Puritanism (DAVID D. HALL, 11/23/10, NY Times)
[I]n Hawthorne's day, some people realized that he had things wrong. Notably, Alexis de Tocqueville, the French writer who visited the United States in 1831. Tocqueville may not have realized that the colonists had installed participatory governance in the towns they were founding by the dozens. Yet he did credit them for the political system he admired in 19th-century America.

After all, it was the Puritans who had introduced similar practices in colony governments -- mandating annual elections, insisting that legislatures could meet even if a governor refused to summon a new session and declaring that no law was valid unless the people or their representatives had consented to it. Well aware of how English kings abused their powers of office, the colonists wanted to keep their new leaders on a short leash.

Tocqueville did not cite the churches that the colonists had organized, but he should have. Like most of their fellow Puritans in England, the colonists turned away from all forms of hierarchy. Out went bishops, out went any centralized governance; in came Congregationalism, which gave lay church members the power to elect and dismiss ministers and decide other major matters of policy. As many observed at the time, the Congregational system did much to transfer authority from the clergy to the people.

Contrary to Hawthorne's assertions of self-righteousness, the colonists hungered to recreate the ethics of love and mutual obligation spelled out in the New Testament. Church members pledged to respect the common good and to care for one another. Celebrating the liberty they had gained by coming to the New World, they echoed St. Paul's assertion that true liberty was inseparable from the obligation to serve others.

For this reason, no Puritan would have agreed with the ethic of "self-reliance" advanced by Hawthorne's contemporary, Ralph Waldo Emerson. Instead, people should agree on what was right, and make it happen.

Albert J. Nock

Burke touches [the] matter of patriotism with a searching phrase. 'For us to love our country,' he said, 'our country ought to be lovely.' I have sometimes thought that here may be the rock on which Western civilization will finally shatter itself. Economism can build a society which is rich, prosperous, powerful, even one which has a reasonably wide diffusion of material well-being. It can not build one which is lovely, one which has savour and depth, and which exercises the irresistible attraction that loveliness wields. Perhaps by the time economism has run its course the society it has built may be tired of itself, bored by its own hideousness, and may despairingly consent to annihilation, aware that it is too ugly to be let live any longer.

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[originally posted: 11/24/10]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:16 AM


On Liberty (John Winthrop, 1645)

For the other point concerning liberty, I observe a great mistake in the country about that. There is a twofold liberty, natural (I mean as our nature is now corrupt) and civil or federal. The first is common to man with beasts and other creatures. By this, man, as he stands in relation to man simply, hath liberty to do what he lists; it is a liberty to evil as well as to good. This liberty is incompatible and inconsistent with authority and cannot endure the least restraint of the most just authority. The exercise and maintaining of this liberty makes men grow more evil and in time to be worse than brute beasts: omnes sumus licentia deteriores. This is that great enemy of truth and peace, that wild beast, which all of the ordinances of God are bent against, to restrain and subdue it. The other kind of liberty I call civil or federal; it may also be termed moral, in reference to the covenant between God and man, in the moral law, and the politic covenants and constitutions amongst men themselves. This liberty is the proper end and object of authority and cannot subsist without it; and it is a liberty to that only which is good, just, and honest. This liberty you are to stand for, with the hazard (not only of your goods, but) of your lives, if need be. Whatsoever crosseth this is not authority but a distemper thereof. This liberty is maintained and exercised in a way of subjection to authority; it is of the same kind of liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free. The women's own choice makes such a man her husband; yet, being so chosen, he is her lord, and she is to be subject to him, yet in a way of liberty, not of bondage; and a true wife accounts her subjection her honor and freedom and would not think her condition safe and free but in her subjection to her husband's authority. Such is the liberty of the church under the authority of Christ, her king and husband; his yoke is so easy and sweet to her as a bride's ornaments; and if through forwardness or wantonness, etc., she shake it off, at any time, she is at no rest in her spirit, until she take it up again; and whether her lord smiles upon her and embraceth her in his arms, or whether he frowns, or rebukes, or smites her, she apprehends the sweetness of his love in all, and is refreshed, supported, and instructed by every such dispensation of his authority over her. On the other side, ye know who they are that complain of this yoke and say, Let us break their bands, etc.; we will not have this man to rule over us. Even so, brethren, it will be between you and your magistrates. If you want to stand for your natural corrupt liberties, and will do what is good in your own eyes, you will not endure the least weight of authority, but will murmur, and oppose, and be always striving to shake off that yoke; but if you will be satisfied to enjoy such civil and lawful liberties, such as Christ allows you, then will you quietly and cheerfully submit unto that authority which is set over you, in all the administrations of it, for your good. Wherein, if we fail at any time, we hope we shall be willing (by God's assistance) to hearken to good advice from any of you, or in any other way of God; so shall your liberties be preserved in upholding the honor and power of authority amongst you.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:09 AM


Plymouth Oration (Daniel Webster, December 22, 1820)

Standing in relation tour ancestors and our posterity, we are assembled on this memorable spot, to perform the duties which that relation and the present occasion impose upon us. We have come to this Rock, to record here our homage for our Pilgrim Fathers; our sympathy in their sufferings; our gratitude for their labors; our admiration of their virtues; our veneration for their piety; and our attachment to those principles of civil and religious liberty, which they encountered the dangers of the ocean, the storms of heaven, the violence of savages, disease, exile, and famine, to enjoy and to establish. And we would leave here, also, for the generations which are rising up rapidly to fill our places, some proof that we have endeavored to transmit the great inheritance unimpaired; that in our estimate of public principles and private virtue, in our veneration of religion and piety, in our devotion to civil and religions liberty, in our regard for whatever advances human knowledge or improves human happiness, we are not altogether unworthy of our origin.

There is a local feeling connected with this occasion, too strong to be resisted; a sort of genius of the place, which inspires and awes us. We feel that we are on the spot where the first scene of our history was laid; where the hearths and altars of New England were first places; where Christianity, and civilization, and letters made their first lodgement, in a vast extent of country, covered with a wilderness, and peopled by roving barbarians. We are here, at the season of the year at which the event took place. The imagination irresistibly and rapidly draws around us the principal features and the leading characters in the original scene. We cast our eyes abroad on the ocean, and we see where the little bark, with the interesting group upon its deck, made its slow progress to the shore. We look around us, and behold the hills and promontories where the anxious eyes of our fathers first saw the places of habitation and of rest. We feel the cold which benumbed, and listen to the winds which pierced them. Beneath us is the Rock, on which New England received the feet of the Pilgrrims. We seem even to behold them, as they struggle with the elements, and, with toilsome efforts, gain the shore. We listen to the chiefs in council; we see the unexampled exhibition of female fortitude and resignation; we hear the whisperings of youthful impatience, and we see, what a painter of our own has also represented by his pencil, chilled anbd shivering childhood, houseless, but for a mother's arms, couchless, but for a mother's breast, till our own blood almost freezes. The mild dignity of CARVER and of BRADFORD; the decisive and soldierlike air and manner of STANDISH; the devout BREWSTER; the enterprising ALLERTON; the general firmness and thoughtfulness of the whole band; their conscious joy for dangers escaped; their deep solicitude about danger to come; their trust in Heaven; their high religious faith, full of confidence and anticipation; all of these seem to belong to this place, and to be present upon this occasion, to fill us with reverence and admiration...

The nature and constitution of society and government in this country are interesting topics, to which I would devote what remains of the time allowed to this occasion. Of our system of government the first thing to be said is, that it is really and practically a free system. It originates entirely with the people and rests on no other foundation than their assent. To judge of its actual operation, it is not enough to look merely at the form of its construction. The practical character of government depends often on a variety of considerations, besides the abstract frame of its constitutional organization. Among these are the condition and tenure of property; the laws regulating its alienation and descent; the presence or absence of a military power; an armed or unarmed yeomanry; the spirit of the age, and the degree of general intelligence. In these respects it cannot be denied that the circumstances of this country are most favorable to the hope of maintaining a government of a great nation on principles entirely popular. In the absence of military power, the nature of government must essentially depend on the manner in which property is holden and distributed. There is a natural influence belonging to property, whether it exists in many hands or few; and it is on the rights of property that both despotism and unrestrained poppular violence ordinarily commence their attacks. Our ancestors began their system of government here under a condition of comparative equality in regard to wealth, and their early laws were of a nature to favor and continue this equality.

A republicon form of government rests not more on political constitutions, than on those laws which regulate the descent and transmission of property. Governments like ours could not have been maintained, where property was holden according to the principles of the feudal system; nor, on the other hand, could the feudal constitution possibly exist with us. Our New England ancestors brought hither no great capitals from Europe; and if they had, there was nothing productive in which they could have been invested. They left behind them the whole feudal policy of the other continent. They broke away at once from the system of military service established in the Dark Ages, and which continues, down even to the present time, more or less to affect the condition of property all over Europe. They came to a new country. There were, as yet, no lands yielding rent, and no tenants rendering service. The whole soil was unreclaimed from barbarism. They were themselves, either from their original condition, or from the necessity of their common interest, nearly on a general level in respect to property. Their situation demanded a parcelling out and division of hte lands, and it may be fairly siad, that this necessary ace fixed the future frame and form of their government. The character of their political institutions was determined by the fundamental laws respecting property. The laws rendered estates divisible among sons and daughters. The right of primogeniture, at first limited and curtailed, was afterwards abolished. The property was all freehold. The entailment of estates, long trustss, and the other processes for fettering and tying up inheritances, were not applicable to the condition of society, and seldom made use of.

The true principle of a free and popular government would seem to be, so to construct it as to give to all, or at least to a very great majority, an interest in its preservation; to round it, as other things are rounded, on men's interest. The stability of government demands that those who desire its continuance should be more powerful than those who desire its dissolution. This power, of course, is not always to be measured by mere numbers. Education, wealth, talents, are all parts and elements of the general aggregate of power; but numbers, nevertheless, constitute ordinarily the most important consideration, unless, indeed, there be a military force in the hands of the few, by which they can control the many. In this country we have actually existing systems of government, in the maintenance of which, it should seem, a great majority, both in numbers and in other means of power and influence must see their interest. But this state of things is not brought about solely by written political constitutions, or the mere manner of organizing government; but also by the laws which regulate the descent and transmission of property. The freest government, if it could exist, would not be long acceptable, if the tendency of the laws were to create a rapid accumulation of property in few hands, and to render the great mass of the population dependent and penniless. In such a case, the popular power would be likely to break limit and control the exercise of popular power. Universal suffrage, for example, could not long exist in a community where there was great inequality of property. The holders of estates would be obliged, in such case, in some way to restrain the right of suffrage, or else such right of suffrage would, before, long, divide the property. In the nature of things, those who have not property, and see their neighbors possess much more than they think them need, cannot be favorable to laws made for the protection of property. WHen this class becomes numerous, it glows clamorous. It looks on property as its prey and plunder, and is naturally ready, at all times, for violence and revolution.

It would seem, then, to be the part of political wisdom to found government on property; and to establish such distribution of property, by the laws which regulate its transmission and alienation, as to interest the great majority of society in the support of the government. This is, I imagine, the true theory and the actual practice of our republican institutions...

I deem it my duty on this occasion to suggest, that the land is not yet wholly free from the contamination of a traffic, at which every feeling of humanity must for ever revolt, - I mean the African slave-trade. Neither public sentiment, nor the law, has hitherto been able entirely to put an end tohis odious and abominable trade. At the moment when God in his mercy has blessed the Christian world with a universal peace, there is reason to fear, that, to the disgrace of the Christian name and character, new efforts are making for the extension of this trade by subjects and citizens of Christian states, in whose hearts there dwell no sentiments of humanity or of justice, and over whom neither the fear of God nor the fear of man exercises a control. In the sight of our law, the African slave-trader is a pirate and a felon; and in the sight of Heaven, an offender beyond the ordinary depth of human guilt. There is no brighter page of our history, than that which records the measures which have been adopted by the government at an early day, and at different times since, for the suppression of this traffic; and I would call on all the true sons of New England to cooperate with the laws of man, and the justice of Heaven. If there be, within the extent of our knowledge or influence, any participation in this traffic, let us pledge ourselves here, upon the rock of Plymouth, to extirpate and destroy it. It is not fit that the land of the Pilgrims should bear the shame longer. I hear the sound of the hammer, I see the smoke of the furnaces where manacles and fetters are still forged for human limbs. I see the visages of those who by stealth and at midnight labor in this work of hell, foul and dark, as may become the artificers of such instruments of misery and torture. Let that spot be purified, or let it cease to be of New England. Let it be purified, or let it be set aside from the Christian world; let it be put out of the circle of human sympathies and human regards, and let civilized man henceforth have no communion with it...

The hours of this day are rapidly flying, and this occasion will soon be passed. Neither we nor our children can be expected to behold its return. They are in the distant regions of futurity, they exist only in the all-creating power of God, who shall stand here a hundred years hence, to trace, through us, their descent from the Pilgrims and to survey, as we have now surveyed, the progress of their country, during the lapse of a century. We would anticipate their concurrence with us in our sentiments of deep regard for our common ancestors. We would anticipate and partake the pleasure with which they will then recount the steps of New England's advancement. On the morning of that day, although it will not disturb us in our repose, the voice of acclamation and gratitude, commencing on the Rock of Plymouth, shall be transmitted through millions of the sons of the Pilgrims, till it lose itself in the murmurs of the Pacific seas.

We would leave for consideration of those who shall then occupy our places, some proof that we hold the blessings transmitted from our fathers in just estimation; some proof of our attachment to the cause of good government, and of civil and religious liberty; some proof of a sincere and ardent desire to promote every thing which may enlarge the understandings and improve the hearts of men. And when, from the long distance of a hundred years, they shall look back uopn us, they shall know, at least, that we possessed affections, which, running backward and warming with gratitude for what our ancestors have done for our happiness, run forward also to our posterity, and meet them with cordial salutation, ere yet they have arrived on the shore of being.

Advance, then, ye future generations! We would hail you, as you rise in your long succession, to fill the places which we now fill, and to taste the blessings of existence where we are passing, and soon shall have passed, our own human duration. We bid you welcome to this pleasant land of the fathers. We bid you welcome to the healthful skies and the verdant fields of New England. We greet your accession to the great inheritence which we have enjoyed. We welcome you to the blessings of good government and religious liberty. We welcome you to me treasures of science and the delights of learning. We welcome you to the transcendent sweets of domestic life, to the happiness of kindred, and parents, and children. We welcome you to the immeasurable blessings of rational existence, the immortal hope of Christianity, and the light of everlasting truth!!

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:08 AM


(via ef brown):
On Hating the Jews: The inextricable link between anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism. (NATAN SHARANSKY, November 17, 2003, Wall Street Journal)

[I]srael and the Jewish people share something essential with the United States. The Jews, after all, have long held that they were chosen to play a special role in history, to be what their prophets called "a light unto the nations." What precisely is meant by that phrase has always been a matter of debate, and I would be the last to deny the mischief that has sometimes been done, including to the best interests of the Jews, by some who have raised it as their banner. Nevertheless, over four millennia, the universal vision and moral precepts of the Jews have not only worked to secure the survival of the Jewish people themselves but have constituted a powerful force for good in the world, inspiring myriads to fight for the right even as in others they have aroused rivalry, enmity and unappeasable resentment.

It is similar with the United States--a nation that has long regarded itself as entrusted with a mission to be what John Winthrop in the 17th century called a "city on a hill" and Ronald Reagan in the 20th parsed as a "shining city on a hill." What precisely is meant by that phrase is likewise a matter of debate, but Americans who see their country in such terms certainly regard the advance of American values as central to American purpose. And, though the United States is still a very young nation, there can be no disputing that those values have likewise constituted an immense force for good in the world--even as they have earned America the enmity and resentment of many.

In resolving to face down enmity and hatred, an important source of strength is the lesson to be gained from contemplating the example of others. From Socrates to Churchill to Sakharov, there have been individuals whose voices and whose personal heroism have reinforced in others the resolve to stand firm for the good. But history has also been generous enough to offer, in the Jews, the example of an ancient people fired by the message of human freedom under God and, in the Americans, the example of a modern people who over the past century alone, acting in fidelity with their inmost beliefs, have confronted and defeated the greatest tyrannies ever known to man.

Fortunately for America, and fortunately for the world, the United States has been blessed by providence with the power to match its ideals. The Jewish state, by contrast, is a tiny island in an exceedingly dangerous sea, and its citizens will need every particle of strength they can muster for the trials ahead. It is their own people's astounding perseverance, despite centuries of suffering at the hands of faiths, ideologies, peoples, and individuals who have hated them and set out to do them in, that inspires one with confidence that the Jews will once again outlast their enemies.

Due to the problems of demographics and assimilation, we're less sanguine than Mr. Sharansky about the future of Judaism, but Judaism is so central to the West and to Christianity that so long as America remains Western/Christian, Judaism's legacy will endure.

[originally posted: 11/17/03]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:16 AM


America The Valiant: Giving thanks for our prosperous, resilient and free nation. (Claudia Rosett, 11.26.09, Forbes)

[F]or America to choose decline would be to break faith with what this country is. America did not set out to become a great power and engineer a system to achieve it. Rather, America is built on principles of freedom that allow its citizens to make the most of their individual talents, energies and dreams. That is what earned America its place as No. 1.

There is nothing in that to apologize for, and everything to be proud of. How to translate that basic truth into action is a matter of individual choice. But here's one place to begin: It's time to luxuriate in patriotism and not be ashamed to spin legends again--not about our current politicians, who are already involved in quite enough spinning, but about American heroes, adventurers, the out-sized figures who years ago, imagined or real, populated American lore. [...]

I did some foraging on the bookshelves this week (though the Internet will also serve) and came away much refreshed by such classics as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem about the midnight ride of Paul Revere. The verses might not meet the brooding standards of the psychoanalytically inclined critics of our day. But they can still thrill and inspire, as the rider sets out to raise the alarm that the British are coming:

...a spark
Struck out by the steed flying fearless and fleet:
That was all! And yet through the gleam and the light,
The fate of a nation was riding that night,

Longfellow had a marvelous confidence that this spirit would endure. He ended that poem with the lines:

... Borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere.

The days of legend and valor need not be over. To be American is to be part of an extraordinary and noble adventure on the frontiers of freedom. From that arises the immense bounty for which Americans, over turkey and pie, give thanks. If that seems too proud and simple a message for complex times, it is anything but. It is the real bottom line and rallying point for a better world.

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[originally posted: 11/26/09]

Posted by orrinj at 1:51 AM


The Greatness of Thanksgiving (PETER LAWLER, NOVEMBER 27, 2013, Big Think)

13. The homelessness that Thanksgiving is supposed to counter is not the existential homelessness described by Pascal or Sartre. It's not the homelessness that causes us to long for regression into the womb. Or, for that matter, for a personal savior. It's the homelessness of a person separated from or otherwise deprived of family and friends. And so it's about gratitude for being with--knowing and loving with--those emotionally closest to us. It can also be gratitude for having found a new friend and being taken into a new home. My favorite Thanksgiving movie right at the moment is Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, in which the Steve Martin character experiences the first kind of gratitude, enhanced by his gift to the John Candy character of the second kind.  It's the loneliness often captured by John Candy in film--and by Roy Orbison in song--that's the enemy of Thanksgiving.

14. The greatness of Thanksgiving is that it doesn't aspire to greatness, but only to the shared experiences that make living worth living for each one of us.

[originally posted : 11/28/13]
Posted by orrinj at 1:39 AM


Thanksgiving, 1789 (Melanie Kirkpatrick, 11/22/12, Wall Street Journal)

Rep. Thomas Tudor Tucker, also of South Carolina, raised two further objections. "Why should the President direct the people to do what, perhaps, they have no mind to do?" he asked. "If a day of thanksgiving must take place," he said, "let it be done by the authority of the several States."

Tucker's second reservation had to do with separation of church and state. Proclaiming a day of Thanksgiving "is a religious matter," he said, "and, as such, proscribed to us." The Bill of Rights would not be ratified until 1791--but Congress had just approved the wording of First Amendment, and that debate was fresh in everyone's mind.

It fell to a New Englander to stand up in support of Thanksgiving. Connecticut's Roger Sherman praised Boudinot's resolution as "a laudable one in itself." It also was "warranted by a number of precedents" in the Bible, he said, "for instance the solemn thanksgivings and rejoicings which took place in the time of Solomon, after the building of the temple."

In the end, the Thanksgiving resolution passed--the precise vote is not recorded--and the House appointed a committee. The resolution moved to the Senate, which passed it and added its own members to the committee.

The committee took the resolution to the president, and on Oct. 3 George Washington issued his now-famous Thanksgiving Proclamation. In it, he designated Thursday, Nov. 26, 1789 as "a day of public thanksgiving and prayer." He asked Americans to render their "sincere and humble thanks" to God for "his kind care and protection of the People of this Country."

It was his first presidential proclamation, and it was well heeded.

(originally posted : 11/22/12)
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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:46 AM


An English Thanksgiving, 1942: American soldiers followed in the footsteps of 17th-century Pilgrims and sat in the pew of Miles Standish. (THOMAS FLEMING, 11/24/11, WSJ)

Helping to win them over was an extraordinary act of generosity very much in keeping with the spirit of the holiday. Merchant ships had carried tons of frozen turkey across the submarine-infested Atlantic for the big day. Then the Yanks announced they would donate all of it to the thousands of British war wounded in hospitals. Instead they would dine on roast pork and eat plum pudding for desert, alas without the standard rum sauce. "The quartermaster failed to deliver the rum," a newsman reported.

Americans also took advantage of their holiday abroad to walk in the footsteps of the Pilgrims who created the first Thanksgiving in the New England wilderness in 1621. One officer sat in the pew once occupied by the legendary Miles Standish, the Pilgrim's military leader, in the small parish church at Chorley, in the county of Lancashire. The Chorley town hall flew an American flag on Thanksgiving Day--the first time in their long history that the citizens had ever honored the flag of another nation.

The Lord Mayor of Boston, in Lincolnshire, invited 100 American servicemen to be his guests for a modest wartime dinner. Afterward, a senior officer laid a wreath on a memorial to five pre-Revolutionary War royal governors who had been born in the historic city. An American private laid another wreath in the cold dark cells where some Pilgrims were confined in 1607 while trying to escape to religious freedom in Holland.

Even more thrilling to those with a sense of history was a visit to Southhampton, where a U.S. Army detachment stood at attention before the pier where the old freighter, Mayflower, was fitted out for her trans-Atlantic voyage. At Plymouth they visited the quay from which the Pilgrims boarded. Not far away, the Archbishop of Canterbury conducted a service in the ruins of St. Andrew's Church, where some of the Mayflower's passengers prayed before they began their 3,000-mile voyage. Virginia-born Lady Astor was on hand for these ceremonies, calling Americans "my compatriots" and joking with a Southerner from Georgia, Private Billy Harrison, about their superiority to "damn Yankees" from New York.

The most dramatic ceremony was in London's Westminster Abbey, where English kings and queens have been crowned for centuries. No British government had ever permitted any ritual on its altar except the prescribed devotions of the Church of England. But on Nov. 26, 1942, they made an exception for their American cousins.

[Originally posted: 11/24/11]
Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:43 AM


Eat, Drink, and Relax: Think the Pilgrims would frown on today's football-tossing, turkey-gobbling Thanksgiving festivities? Maybe not. (Elesha Coffman, November 2001, Christianity Today)

I'm sure Thanksgiving Day church services are lovely, but I have to admit that I've never been to one. In my family, Thanksgiving means watching parades and football games, cooking, eating, and maybe playing a few games of pinochle. Aside from the pre-dinner prayer, it's not an overtly religious celebration.

Neither was the so-called "First Thanksgiving" in 1621. [...]

In the Separatist worldview, shared in almost all particulars by the wider Puritan community, nothing fell outside the experience of faith. As Leland Ryken wrote in Worldly Saints: The Puritans As They Really Were (Zondervan, 1986):

"Puritanism was impelled by the insight that all of life is God's. The Puritans lived simultaneously in two worlds-the invisible spiritual world and the physical world of earthly existence. For the Puritans, both worlds were equally real, and there was no cleavage of life into sacred and secular. All of life was sacred."

In other words, whether you go to church on Thanksgiving or not, the day can be seasoned with what Puritan divine Richard Baxter called "a drop of glory." As Paul and David said, "The earth is the Lord's, and everything in it" (Psalm 24:1, 1 Cor. 10:26).

(originally posted: November 25, 2004)

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:38 AM


Thanksgiving and American Exceptionalism (Mark Tooley, 11.24.10, American Spectator)

The left-of-center Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) and Brookings Institution have released a post-election survey showing nearly 60 percent of Americans believe God has assigned America a "special role" in human history. Over 80 percent of white evangelicals believe in this special role for America, as do two thirds of minority Christians. Majorities of white Mainline Protestants and Catholics also agree. Two thirds of the religiously unaffiliated disbelieve in any special role for America.

Probably the surveyors were discomfited by the results, especially that the devotees of American exceptionalism were not confined to white evangelicals but were nearly as numerous among minority Christians, which presumably mostly means blacks and Hispanics. American exceptionalism essentially originated with the ancestors of Mainline Protestantism, who were America's earliest European settlers and America's primary religious pillars for most of our history. A half century of leftward drift by Mainline church elites unsurprisingly has dampened their confidence in exceptionalism, but most still adhere. Likewise for most Catholics. The survey frustratingly does not provide a detailed break-down, but almost certainly most religiously active Mainline Protestants and Catholics are more prone to American exceptionalism than the nominally affiliated.

Much and perhaps most of American exceptionalism originated with the Calvinist English religious dissenters who settled New England, the first wave of whom landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620. With Thanksgiving, America celebrates those dissenters' founding holiday. Later waves of Puritan immigrants conceived of their American adventure as an "errand in the wilderness." And some metaphorically likened their new civilization to the Chosen People of the Old Testament, with special blessings but also special obligations, always under both God's gracious care and sometimes severe judgment. Subsequent immigrants were not always as religiously devout. But the Puritan conception of America on a special mission from God that would benefit not just Americans but all peoples was reinforced by the heroic and spiritually animated struggle for American independence. Later immigrants, though far removed from the British Protestant tradition, still often comfortably embraced the notion of America as a sort of Promised Land, especially when compared to the travails of the old country. The Calvinist conception of American exceptionalism expanded to include other Protestants, Catholics and Jews.

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[originally posted: 11/24/10]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:35 AM


Religious Freedom and Pluralism (Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J., Spring 2002, Markets & Morality)
Although no given religion is established in the United States, our national traditions are heavily imbued with religion. Abraham Kuyper, lecturing in 1874, maintained that the people of the United States "bear a clear-cut Christian stamp more than any other nation on earth." The separation between Church and State, he said, had a very different meaning for Americans than it did for Cavour. It stemmed "not from the desire to be liberated from the Church but from the realization that the well-being of the Church and the progress of Christianity demand it."

We have had in the United States a kind of "civil," "political," or "public" religion that neither affirms the particular beliefs of any denomination nor seeks to compete with any Church or synagogue. It does not deify the State but inculcates reverence to a God by whom all States are judged. This common patrimony has some affinities with the "natural religion" of the deists but goes beyond deism in professing various biblical beliefs: for example, that God is to be worshiped and obeyed, that he hears our prayers, rewards virtue, punishes vice, has mercy on the repentant, and governs the world with his providential care.

This "civil religion," as I call it, is not legally imposed but is officially encouraged. It makes regular appearances at the time of Presidential inaugurations, Thanksgiving Day proclamations, and State funerals. Incumbents of public office are regularly sworn in with their hand on the Bible. They are expected to profess the articles of civil religion and are, at the same time, limited by it insofar as, in their public pronouncements, they are cautioned against asserting a more specific faith. Not all citizens are required to share the civil religion, but it has hitherto enjoyed solid public support. It provides a kind of protective umbrella under which, more specific religious faiths can flourish. Another feature of the American system, which distinguishes it from the laicism of nineteenth-century Europe, is the limited scope of the national government. The First Amendment originally applied only to the Federal government; it did not prevent individual States from having established churches. Even when the First Amendment was applied to individual States through the Supreme Court's interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment, allowance was made for schools, hospitals, and welfare agencies to maintain their specific religious identities.

The government, while not professing any particular form of theism, favored a situation in which religious groups had an effective cultural presence. Religious groups could take advantage of the institutions of free speech and a free press to disseminate their convictions. Many immigrant groups coming from Europe brought their denominational identity with them and settled in religiously homogeneous neighborhoods, whether Jewish or Christian. Thus, the environment in which Americans grew up was permeated with religious influences. Practically speaking, Americans reaped the benefits without the deficits of an established religion. [?]

The current retreat from engagement with truth exacts a heavy price. The American proposition, as Richard John Neuhaus reminds us, is no longer proposed. People do not know why they ought to be doing what the laws say that they should be doing. "The popularly accessible and vibrant belief systems and worldviews of our society are largely excluded from the public arena in which the decisions are made about how the society should be ordered."

Society, in the classical sense, presupposed a common purpose. The citizens of the State (or the vast majority of them) were expected to share a common vision concerning the good life. As diversity deepens, this consensus breaks down. Cognitive minorities go off in their own directions and cease to be concerned about the values dear to others. In the absence of a shared vision, shared meanings, and a common vocabulary, civil discourse collapses. Many Americans no longer adhere to the consensus enshrined in their founding documents. This alienation contributes to a weakening of patriotism and to what some refer to as an "eclipse of citizenship."

According to Michael Sandel, in his well-known Democracy's Discontent, the dominant tendency in political theory today is to exclude moral and religious arguments from the public realm for the sake of political harmony. The assumption is that reasonable people will always disagree about the nature of truth and justice; there are no criteria for deciding which of two contradictory opinions is true. This pragmatic relativism is manifest, Sandel reports, in the works of John Rawls, Ronald Dworkin, Robert Nozick, and Bruce Ackerman. The minimalist liberalism of these theorists, in Sandel's view, reduces all rights to the merely procedural rather than the substantive; it engenders what he calls "the procedural republic," in which toleration, freedom, and fairness are the supreme values. This procedural republic, he points out, leads to a moral void in which the citizens are deprived of the moral and intellectual vision needed to sustain a sense of national purpose and even to safeguard freedom itself.

To illustrate how minimalist liberalism fails to protect the most elemental human rights, issues such as slavery and abortion come to mind. Unless one acknowledges the inviolable value of the individual person-a postulate that defies justification on pragmatist grounds-it cannot be shown why slavery should not be legitimized by the will of the majority. The recent trend to sanction abortion when the mother chooses to do away with an unborn child violates the principle of the right to life-a principle that the Founding Fathers regarded as grounded in the eternal law of God. The sanctity of human life is further jeopardized by campaigns for infanticide, euthanasia, and assisted suicide. The American experiment started with a national consensus that offered, in the name of liberty, a common ground allowing for a good measure of religious diversity. The constitutional right to freedom, by allowing different positions to be held and propagated without external interference, protected and enhanced pluralism, but we now face the danger that extreme and unreconciled pluralism may turn against the principles that undergird religious freedom itself.

In the absence of any standard of truth by which right and wrong can be measured, decisions have no objective point of reference. Rights cease to have a firm foundation in the inviolable dignity of the person. Decisions about matters of right become, in the end, matters of self-interest or mere arbitrary whim. Nobody is secure, because everyone's rights become negotiable. As John Paul II puts it, "Freedom negates itself and destroys itself, and becomes a factor leading to the destruction of others, when it no longer recognizes and respects its essential link with truth."

In the world of agnostic relativism, religion loses its true character as a way of relating the human family to God. God himself is treated as a mere projection of human fantasy, to be exploited insofar as the idea proves interesting and socially useful. Religion becomes a psychological exercise-perhaps a form of therapy or entertainment. In the absence of a realist epistemology, in which God can be apprehended as a power beyond and above us, religion itself becomes as insecure as freedom. Religious freedom lacks any firm grounding because religion has lost its roots in transcendent reality.

Popes of the past century have often been criticized for their expressed reservations about religious freedom. They were referring to the militant secularism of their own day, but much of their criticism is applicable to the agnostic pragmatism that prevails in American society today. It is hard to refute the logic of the following words from Leo XIII:

The nature of human liberty, however it be considered, whether in individuals or in society, whether in those who command or in those who obey, supposes the necessity of obedience to some supreme and eternal law, which is no other than the authority of God, commanding good and forbidding evil. And, so far from this most just authority of God over men diminishing, or even destroying their liberty, it protects and perfects it; for the real perfection of all creatures is found in the prosecution and attainment of their respective ends. But the supreme end to which liberty must aspire is God.

If pluralism is taken to mean that the human mind will never be able to encompass the mystery of the divine, it is inevitable and justified. There will always be different points of view, different perspectives, limited insights, but where pluralism is cultivated for its own sake, as if all points of view were equally legitimate, the line must be drawn. We must agree with Murray that religious pluralism implies error and is "against the will of God." Pluralism, if it is not to become destructive, must be accompanied by fundamental agreements such as those embodied in what I have described as the American civil religion. Unless a solid majority of the citizens accept some such basic core of agreement, the prognosis for religion in the American republic is poor.

Those of us who have come to believe in the God of the Bible and of Judeo-Christian tradition, even without fully agreeing among ourselves about other points of doctrine, have an urgent, common task. We must join forces to give common testimony to the basic truths of natural and biblical religion. We must confess together the importance of declaring that God exists, that his goodness can be known, and that we have certain specifiable duties toward him. We must also insist on our right to bear witness to the further truths that we believe on the basis of Jewish and Christian revelation, as understood within our respective traditions. If many Americans fail to believe, it is partly because believers have failed to present their faith as something credible and important. If the question of religious truth is bracketed for the sake of a consensus that excludes no one, or is short-circuited by a lazy agnosticism, our pluralism may fall into suicidal excesses. Both freedom and religion are jeopardized by the skeptical relativism that threatens to become the dominant ideology of the nation.

This maintenance of fundamental truths seems the one project that any conservatism worthy of the name has to entail or we'll not be able to conserve anything. This does not mean that we need a less tolerant society but one that is based on a more traditional understanding of toleration, that practices toleration as a means to achieving a decent society without elevating the idea of tolerance to a purpose of the society. It is the difference between accepting that people believe things we must disagree with and pretending that their beliefs are as valid as ours. (originally posted: 5/03/03)
Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:31 AM


A Pilgrim in Provincetown--Four Centuries Later: Immigration waters the dry garden of the Pilgrim story, keeping it from fossilizing into mere historical relic. (BORIS FISHMAN , 11/27/10, WSJ)

From JFK 22 years ago, we were ferried to the home of friends in south Brooklyn. It was somebody's birthday. So much about the table was reassuringly familiar: herring, salad Olivier, beet vinaigrette. But why was there a giant bird in the middle of it all? That was when we learned about Thanksgiving.

Our first week, we visited friends who shared their tables, casually showed off their English, and bragged a little about what they'd achieved in America. We felt crushingly inept by comparison.

Alone at last in our cramped, peeling apartment, my mother and grandmother burst into tears. We had left relative material comfort, familiar streets, a known tongue, and for what? These low-slung, characterless Brooklyn blocks? But we stayed. Grandmother went to wash floors for three dollars an hour, my father to paint room after room in freshly built high-rises, and I to school to learn how to speak English.

It may seem frivolous and disrespectful to compare the relative ease of our assimilation to what the Pilgrims experienced, but the difference is in degree rather than kind. Like the Pilgrims, my parents immigrated to escape harassment for their religious beliefs. On account of the Soviet information freeze, my parents also knew almost nothing about what awaited them in America. And like the Pilgrims, they knew they could never return.

Watching that video, I saw myself and my family. Immigration waters the dry garden of the Pilgrim story, keeping it from fossilizing into mere historical relic or branding fodder. In turn, the Pilgrim experience redeems immigration as that most American of rites.

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[originally posted: 11/27/10]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:26 AM


The Pilgrims' Financial Crisis (Peter Ferrara, 11.26.08, American Spectator)

By 1623, four additional ships of settlers had arrived. The colony had initially prospered just collecting wild growing food, and securing plentiful game such as turkeys and deer providing venison, supplemented by their own agriculture. Given their religious devotion, their concern for personal wealth was not a top issue for them, and even in that time idealistic notions of communal property and sharing communal resources as offering an ideal society of happiness had a strong appeal for those striking out to start a new civilization from scratch.

But as the colony grew, this initial quasi-socialist community of share and share alike was not working to produce enough for essential basic needs, let alone the prosperity that was expected in the new world. Available wild supplies of food, in particular, were no longer enough. Bradford again wrote in his dairy,

All this while no supply [of wild corn] was heard of, neither knew they when they might expect any. So they began to think how they might raise as much corn as they could, and obtain a better crop than they had done, that they might not thus languish in misery. At length, after much debate of things, the Governor (with the advice of the chiefist amongst them) gave way that they should set corn every man for his own particular, and in that regard trust to themselves; in all other things go on in the general way as before. And so assigned to every family a parcel of land, according to the proportion of their number, for that end....This had very good success, for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been by any means the Governor or any other could use, and saved him a great deal of trouble, and gave far better content. The women now went willingly into the field, and took their little ones with them to set corn; which before would allege weakness and inability, whom to have compelled would have been thought great tyranny and oppression.

As indicated, this experiment in private agriculture was hugely successful, with the colony's agricultural output soaring. But the settlers still increasingly complained that the colony's remaining communal practices and lack of complete private property were constraining and unfair. Bradford wrote further in his diary in 1623,

The experience that was had in this common course and condition, tried sundry years and that amongst godly and sober men, may well evince the vanity of that conceit of Plato's and other ancients applauded of by some of later times; that the taking away of property and bringing in community into a commonwealth would make them happy and flourishing, as if they were wiser than God. For this community...was found to breed much confusion and discontent and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort. For the young men, that were most able and fit for labor and service, did repine that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men's wives and children without any recompense. The strong, or man of parts, had no more in division of victuals and clothes than he that was weak and not able to do a quarter the other could; this was thought injustice....And for men's wives to be commanded to do service for other men, as dressing their meat, washing their clothes, etc., they deemed it a kind of slavery....Let none object this is men's corruption, and nothing to the course [meaning communal policy] itself. I answer, seeing all men have this corruption in them, God in his wisdom saw another course fitter for them.

Thus was capitalism born in America, sentimental notions of socialism having been tried and failed, not only as a matter of economics, but also because it was seen as a regime of unjust restrictions on personal liberty. The colony adopted private property and free trade, ending its own critical financial crisis, and creating the trademark bountiful American prosperity, which drew waves of new settlers seeking the American dream that had already been born.

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{originally posted: 11/26/08]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:24 AM


THANKSGIVING (Mark Steyn, November 18th 2007, The Orange County Register)

A lot has changed since I wrote these words, but I'll stand by them. Enjoy the turkey, and count your blessings: [...]

Even in a supposedly 50/50 nation, you're struck by the assumed stability underpinning even fundamental disputes. If you go into a bookstore, the display shelves offer a smorgasbord of leftist anti-Bush tracts claiming that he and Cheney have trashed, mangled, gutted, raped and tortured, sliced'n'diced the Constitution, put it in a cement overcoat and lowered it into the East River. Yet even this argument presupposes a shared veneration for tradition unknown to most Western political cultures: When Tony Blair wanted to abolish in effect the upper house of the national legislature, he just got on and did it. I don't believe the U.S. Constitution includes a right to abortion or gay marriage or a zillion other things the Left claims to detect emanating from the penumbra, but I find it sweetly touching that in America even political radicalism has to be framed as an appeal to constitutional tradition from the powdered-wig era. In Europe, by contrast, one reason why there's no politically significant pro-life movement is because, in a world where constitutions have the life expectancy of an Oldsmobile, great questions are just seen as part of the general tide, the way things are going, no sense trying to fight it. And, by the time you realize you have to, the tide's usually up to your neck.

So Americans should be thankful they have one of the last functioning nation states. Because they've been so inept at exercising it, Europeans no longer believe in national sovereignty, whereas it would never occur to Americans not to. This profoundly different attitude to the nation state underpins in turn Euro-American attitudes to transnational institutions such as the U.N. But on this Thanksgiving the rest of the world ought to give thanks to American national sovereignty, too. When something terrible and destructive happens -- a tsunami hits Indonesia, an earthquake devastates Pakistan -- the U.S. can project itself anywhere on the planet within hours and start saving lives, setting up hospitals and restoring the water supply. Aside from Britain and France, the Europeans cannot project power in any meaningful way anywhere. When they sign on to an enterprise they claim to believe in -- shoring up Afghanistan's fledgling post-Taliban democracy -- most of them send token forces under constrained rules of engagement that prevent them doing anything more than manning the photocopier back at the base. If America were to follow the Europeans and maintain only shriveled attenuated residual military capacity, the world would very quickly be nastier and bloodier, and far more unstable. It's not just Americans and Iraqis and Afghans who owe a debt of thanks to the U.S. soldier but all the Europeans grown plump and prosperous in a globalized economy guaranteed by the most benign hegemon in history.

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[originally posted: 11/26/09]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:24 AM


Oration at Plymouth (Delivered at Plymouth Mass. December 22, 1802
in Commemoration of the Landing of the Pilgrims by John Quincy Adams)

Among the sentiments of most powerful operation upon the human heart, and most highly honorable to the human character, are those of veneration for our forefathers, and of love for our posterity.
They form the connecting links between the selfish and the social passions. By the fundamental principle of Christianity, the happiness of the individual is interwoven, by innumerable and imperceptible ties, with that of his contemporaries.
By power of filial reverence and parental affection, individual existence is extended beyond the limits of individual life, and the happiness of every age is chained in mutual dependence upon that of every other. Respect for his ancestors excites, in the breast of man, interest in their history, attachment to their characters, concern for their errors, involuntary pride in their virtues.
Love for his posterity spurs him to exertion for their support, stimulates him to virtue for their example, and fills him with the tenderest solicitude for their welfare. Man, therefore, was not made for himself alone.
No, he was made for his country, by the obligations of the social compact; he was made for his species, by the Christian duties of universal charity; he was made for all ages past, by the sentiment of reverence for his forefathers; and he was made for all future times, by the impulse of affection for his progeny.
Under the influence of these principles, "Existence sees him spurn her bounded reign." They redeem his nature from the subjection of time and space; he is no longer a "puny insect shivering at a breeze"; he is the glory of creation, formed to occupy all time and all extent; bounded, during his residence upon earth, only to the boundaries of the world, and destined to life and immortality in brighter regions, when the fabric of nature itself shall dissolve and perish.
The voice of history has not, in all its compass, a note but answers in unison with these sentiments. The barbarian chieftain, who defended his country against the Roman invasion, driven to the remotest extremity of Britain, and stimulating his followers to battle by all that has power of persuasion upon the human heart, concluded his persuasion by an appeal to these irresistible feelings: "Think of your forefathers and of your posterity."
The Romans themselves, at the pinnacle of civilization, were actuated by the same impressions, and celebrated, in anniversary festivals, every great event which had signalized the annals of their forefathers.
To multiply instances where it were impossible to adduce an exception would be to waste your time and abuse your patience; but in the sacred volume, which contains the substances of our firmest faith and of our most precious hopes, these passions not only maintain their highest efficacy, but are sanctioned by the express injunctions of the Divine Legislator to his chosen people.
The revolutions of time furnish no previous example of a nation shooting up to maturity and expanding into greatness with the rapidity which has characterized the growth of the American people.
In the luxuriance of youth, and in the vigor of manhood, it is pleasing and instructive to look backward upon the helpless days of infancy; but in the continual and essential changes of a growing subject, the transactions of that early period would be soon obliterated from the memory but for some periodical call of attention to aid the silent records of the historian.
Such celebrations arouse and gratify the kindliest emotions of the bosom. They are faithful pledges of the respect we bear to the memory of our ancestors and of the tenderness with which we cherish the rising generation. They introduce the sages and heroes of ages past to the notice and emulation of succeeding times; they are at once testimonials of our gratitude, and schools of virtue to our children.
These sentiments are wise; they are honorable; they are virtuous; their cultivation is not merely innocent pleasure, it is incumbent duty. Obedient to their dictates, you, my fellow-citizens, have instituted and paid frequent observance to this annual solemnity. and what event of weightier intrinsic importance, or of more extensive consequences, was ever selected for this honorary distinction?
In reverting to the period of our origin, other nations have generally been compelled to plunge into the chaos of impenetrable antiquity, or to trace a lawless ancestry into the caverns of ravishers and robbers.
It is your peculiar privilege to commemorate, in this birthday of your nation, an event ascertained in its minutest details; an event of which the principal actors are known to you familiarly, as if belonging to your own age; an event of a magnitude before which imagination shrinks at the imperfection of her powers.
It is your further happiness to behold, in those eminent characters, who were most conspicuous in accomplishing the settlement of your country, men upon whose virtue you can dwell with honest exultation.
The founders of your race are not handed down to you, like the fathers of the Roman people, as the sucklings of a wolf. You are not descended from a nauseous compound of fanaticism and sensuality, whose only argument was the sword, and whose only paradise was a brothel.
No Gothic scourge of God, no Vandal pest of nations, no fabled fugitive from the flames of Troy, no bastard Norman tyrant, appears among the list of worthies who first landed on the rock, which your veneration has preserved as a lasting monument of their achievement.
The great actors of the day we now solemnize were illustrious by their intrepid valor no less than by their Christian graces, but the clarion of conquest has not blazoned forth their names to all the winds of heaven.
Their glory has not been wafted over oceans of blood to the remotest regions of the earth. They have not erected to themselves colossal statues upon pedestals of human bones, to provoke and insult the tardy hand of heavenly retribution.
But theirs was "the better fortitude of patience and heroic martyrdom." Theirs was the gentle temper of Christian kindness; the rigorous observance of reciprocal justice; the unconquerable soul of conscious integrity.
Worldly fame has been parsimonious of her favor to the memory of those generous companions. Their numbers were small; their stations in life obscure; the object of their enterprise unostentatious; the theatre of their exploits remote; how could they possibly be favorites of worldly Fame--that common crier, whose existence is only known by the assemblage of multitudes; that pander of wealth and greatness, so eager to haunt the palaces of fortune, and so fastidious to the houseless dignity of virtue; that parasite of pride, ever scornful to meekness, and ever obsequious to insolent power; that heedless trumpeter, whose ears are deaf to modest merit, and whose eyes are blind to bloodless, distant excellence?
When the persecuted companions of Robinson, exiles from their native land, anxiously sued for the privilege of removing a thousand leagues more distant to an untried soil, a rigorous climate, and a savage wilderness, for the sake of reconciling their sense of religious duty with their affections for their country, few, perhaps none of them, formed a conception of what would be, within two centuries, the result of their undertaking.
When the jealous and niggardly policy of their British sovereign denied them even that humblest of requests, and instead of liberty would barely consent to promise connivance, neither he nor they might be aware that they were laying the foundations of a power, and that he was sowing the seeds of a spirit, which, in less than two hundred years, would stagger the throne of his descendants, and shake his united kingdoms to the centre.
So far is it from the ordinary habits of mankind to calculate the import of events in their elementary principles, that had the first colonists of our country ever intimated as a part of their designs the project of founding a great and mighty nation, the finger of scorn would have pointed them to the cells of Bedlam as an abode more suitable for hatching vain empires than the solitude of a transatlantic desert.
These consequences, then so little foreseen, have unfolded themselves, in all their grandeur, to the eyes of the present age. It is a common amusement of speculative minds to contrast the magnitude of the most important events with the minuteness of their primeval causes, and the records of mankind are full of examples for such contemplations.
It is, however, a more profitable employment to trace the constituent principles of future greatness in their kernel; to detect in the acorn at our feet the germ of that majestic oak, whose roots shoot down to the centre, and whose branches aspire to the skies.
Let it be, then, our present occupation to inquire and endeavor to ascertain the causes first put in operation at the period of our commemoration, and already productive of such magnificent effects; to examine with reiterated care and minute attention the characters of those men who gave the first impulse to a new series of events in the history of the world; to applaud and emulate those qualities of their minds which we shall find deserving of our admiration; to recognize with candor those features which forbid approbation or even require censure, and, finally, to lay alike their frailties and their perfections to our own hearts, either as warning or as example.
Of the various European settlements upon this continent, which have finally merged in one independent nation, the first establishments were made at various times, by several nations, and under the influence of different motives. In many instances, the conviction of religious obligation formed one and a powerful inducement of the adventures; but in none, excepting the settlement at Plymouth, did they constitute the sole and exclusive actuating cause.
Worldly interest and commercial speculation entered largely into the views of other settlers, but the commands of conscience were the only stimulus to the emigrants from Leyden. Previous to their expedition hither, they had endured a long banishment from their native country.
Under every species of discouragement, they undertook the voyage; they performed it in spite of numerous and almost insuperable obstacles; they arrived upon a wilderness bound with frost and hoary with snow, without the boundaries of their charter, outcasts from all human society, and coasted five weeks together, in the dead of winter, on this tempestuous shore, exposed at once to the fury of the elements, to the arrows of the native savage, and to the impending horrors of famine.
Courage and perseverance have a magical talisman, before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish into air. These qualities have ever been displayed in their mightiest perfection, as attendants in the retinue of strong passions.
From the first discovery of the Western Hemisphere by Columbus until the settlement of Virginia which immediately preceded that of Plymouth, the various adventurers from the ancient world had exhibited upon innumerable occasions that ardor of enterprise and that stubbornness of pursuit which set all danger at defiance, and chained the violence of nature at their feet. But they were all instigated by personal interests.
Avarice and ambition had tuned their souls to that pitch of exaltation. Selfish passions were the parents of their heroism. It was reserved for the first settlers of new England to perform achievements equally arduous, to trample down obstructions equally formidable, to dispel dangers equally terrific, under the single inspiration of conscience.
To them even liberty herself was but a subordinate and secondary consideration. They claimed exemption from the mandates of human authority, as militating with their subjection to a superior power. Before the voice of Heaven they silenced even the calls of their country.
Yet, while so deeply impressed with the sense of religious obligation, they felt, in all its energy, the force of that tender tie which binds the heart of every virtuous man to his native land.
It was to renew that connection with their country which had been severed by their compulsory expatriation, that they resolved to face all the hazards of a perilous navigation and all the labors of a toilsome distant settlement.
Under the mild protection of the Batavian Government, they enjoyed already that freedom of religious worship, for which they had resigned so many comforts and enjoyments at home; but their hearts panted for a restoration to the bosom of their country.
Invited and urged by the open-hearted and truly benevolent people who had given them an asylum from the persecution of their own kindred to form their settlement within the territories then under their jurisdiction, the love of their country predominated over every influence save that of conscience alone, and they preferred the precarious chance of relaxation from the bigoted rigor of the English Government to the certain liberality and alluring offers of the Hollanders.
Observe, my countrymen, the generous patriotism, the cordial union of soul, the conscious yet unaffected vigor which beam in their application to the British monarch: "They were well weaned from the delicate milk of their mother country, and inured to the difficulties of a strange land.
They were knit together in a strict and sacred bond, to take care of the good of each other and of the whole. It was not with them as with other men, whom small things could discourage, or small discontents cause to wish themselves again at home."
Children of these exalted Pilgrims! Is there one among you ho can hear the simple and pathetic energy of these expressions without tenderness and admiration?
Venerated shades of our forefathers! No, ye were, indeed, not ordinary men! That country which had ejected you so cruelly from her bosom you still delighted to contemplate in the character of an affectionate and beloved mother. The sacred bond which knit you together was indissoluble while you lived; and oh, may it be to your descendants the example and the pledge of harmony to the latest period of time!
The difficulties and dangers, which so often had defeated attempts of similar establishments, were unable to subdue souls tempered like yours. You heard the rigid interdictions; you saw the menacing forms of toil and danger, forbidding your access to this land of promise; but you heard without dismay; you saw and disdained retreat.
Firm and undaunted in the confidence of that sacred bond; conscious of the purity, and convinced of the importance of your motives, you put your trust in the protecting shield of Providence, and smiled defiance at the combining terrors of human malice and of elemental strife.
These, in the accomplishment of your undertaking, you were summoned to encounter in their most hideous forms; these you met with that fortitude, and combated with that perseverance, which you had promised in their anticipation; these you completely vanquished in establishing the foundations of New England, and the day which we now commemorate is the perpetual memorial of your triumph.
It were an occupation peculiarly pleasing to cull from our early historians, and exhibit before you every detail of this transaction; to carry you in imagination on board their bark at the first moment of her arrival in the bay; to accompany Carver, Winslow, Bradford, and Standish, in all their excursions upon the desolate coast; to follow them into every rivulet and creek where they endeavored to find a firm footing, and to fix, with a pause of delight and exultation, the instant when the first of these heroic adventurers alighted on the spot where you, their descendants, now enjoy the glorious and happy reward of their labors.
But in this grateful task, your former orators, on this anniversary, have anticipated all that the most ardent industry could collect, and gratified all that the most inquisitive curiosity could desire.
To you, my friends, every occurrence of that momentous period is already familiar. A transient allusion to a few characteristic instances, which mark the peculiar history of the Plymouth settlers, may properly supply the place of a narrative, which, to this auditory, must be superfluous.
One of these remarkable incidents is the execution of that instrument of government by which they formed themselves into a body politic, the day after their arrival upon the coast, and previous to their first landing.
That is, perhaps, the only instance in human history of that positive, original social compact, which speculative philosophers have imagined as the only legitimate source of government.
Here was a unanimous and personal assent, by all the individuals of the community, to the association by which they became a nation. It was the result of circumstances and discussions which had occurred during their passage from Europe, and is a full demonstration that the nature of civil government, abstracted from the political institutions of their native country, had been an object of their serious meditation.
The settlers of all the former European colonies had contented themselves with the powers conferred upon them by their respective charters, without looking beyond the seal of the royal parchment for the measure of their rights and the rule of their duties.
The founders of Plymouth had been impelled by the peculiarities of their situation to examine the subject with deeper and more comprehensive research. After twelve years of banishment from the land of their first allegiance, during which they had been under an adoptive and temporary subjection to another sovereign, they must naturally have been led to reflect upon the relative rights and duties of allegiance and subjection.
They had resided in a city, the seat of a university, where the polemical and political controversies of the time were pursued with uncommon fervor. In this period they had witnessed the deadly struggle between the two parties, into which the people of the United Provinces, after their separation from the crown of Spain, had divided themselves.
The contest embraced within its compass not only theological doctrines, but political principles, and Maurice and Barnevelt were the temporal leaders of the same rival factions, of which Episcopius and Polyander were the ecclesiastical champions.
That the investigation of the fundamental principles of government was deeply implicated in these dissensions is evident from the immortal work of Grotius, upon the rights of war and peace, which undoubtedly originated from them.
Grotius himself had been a most distinguished actor and sufferer in those important scenes of internal convulsion, and his work was first published very shortly after the departure of our forefathers from Leyden.
It is well known that in the course of the contest Mr. Robinson more than once appeared, with credit to himself, as a public disputant against Episcopius; and from the manner in which the fact is related by Governor Bradford, it is apparent that the whole English Church at Leyden took a zealous interest in the religious part of the controversy.
As strangers in the land, it is presumable that they wisely and honorably avoided entangling themselves in the political contentions involved with it.
Yet the theoretic principles, as they were drawn into discussion, could not fail to arrest their attention, and must have assisted them to form accurate ideas concerning the origin and extent of authority among men, independent of positive institutions.
The importance of these circumstances will not be duly weighed without taking into consideration the state of opinion then prevalent in England. The general principles of government were there little understood and less examined. The whole substance of human authority was centred in the simple doctrine of royal prerogative, the origin of which was always traced in theory to divine institution.
Twenty years later, the subject was more industriously sifted, and for half a century became one of the principal topics of controversy between the ablest and most enlightened men in the nation. The instrument of voluntary association executed on board the "Mayflower" testifies that the parties to it had anticipated the improvement of their nation.
Another incident, from which we may derive occasion for important reflections, was the attempt of these original settlers to establish among them that community of goods and of labor, which fanciful politicians, from the days of Plato to those of Rousseau, have recommended as the fundamental law of a perfect republic.
This theory results, it must be acknowledged, from principles of reasoning most flattering to the human character. If industry, frugality, and disinterested integrity were alike the virtues of all, there would, apparently, be more of the social spirit, in making all property a common stock, and giving to each individual a proportional title to the wealth of the whole. Such is the basis upon which Plato forbids, in his Republic, the division of property.
Such is the system upon which Rousseau pronounces the first man who inclosed a field with a fence, and said, "This is mine," a traitor to the human species. A wiser and more useful philosophy, however, directs us to consider man according to the nature in which he was formed; subject to infirmities, which no wisdom can remedy; to weaknesses, which no institution can strengthen; to vices, which no legislation can correct.
Hence, it becomes obvious that separate property is the natural and indisputable right of separate exertion; that community of goods without community of toil is oppressive and unjust; that it counteracts the laws of nature, which prescribe that he only who sows the seed shall reap the harvest; that it discourages all energy, by destroying its rewards; and makes the most virtuous and active members of society the slaves and drudges of the worst.
Such was the issue of this experiment among our forefathers, and the same event demonstrated the error of the system in the elder settlement of Virginia. Let us cherish that spirit of harmony which prompted our forefathers to make the attempt, under circumstances more favorable to its success than, perhaps, ever occurred upon earth.
Let us no less admire the candor with which they relinquished it, upon discovering its irremediable inefficacy. To found principles of government upon too advantageous an estimate of the human character is an error of inexperience, the source of which is so amiable that it is impossible to censure it with severity.
We have seen the same mistake committed in our own age, and upon a larger theatre. Happily for our ancestors, their situation allowed them to repair it before its effects had proved destructive. They had no pride of vain philosophy to support, no perfidious rage of faction to glut, by persevering in their mistakes until they should be extinguished in torrents of blood.
As the attempt to establish among themselves the community of goods was a seal of that sacred bond which knit them so closely together, so the conduct they observed toward the natives of the country displays their steadfast adherence to the rules of justice and their faithful attachment to those of benevolence and charity.
No European settlement ever formed upon this continent has been more distinguished for undeviating kindness and equity toward the savages. There are, indeed, moralists who have questioned the right of the Europeans to intrude upon the possessions of the aboriginals in any case, and under any limitations whatsoever.
But have they maturely considered the whole subject? The Indian right of possession itself stands, with regard to the greater part of the country, upon a questionable foundation.
Their cultivated fields; their constructed habitations; a space of ample sufficiency for their subsistence, and whatever they had annexed to themselves by personal labor, was undoubtedly, by the laws of nature, theirs.
But what is the right of a huntsman to the forest of a thousand miles over which he has accidentally ranged in quest of prey?
Shall the liberal bounties of Providence to the race of man be monopolized by one of ten thousand for whom they were created?
Shall the exuberant bosom of the common mother, amply adequate to the nourishment of millions, be claimed exclusively by a few hundreds of her offspring?
Shall the lordly savage not only disdain the virtues and enjoyments of civilization himself, but shall he control the civilization of a world?
Shall he forbid the wilderness to blossom like a rose?
Shall he forbid the oaks of the forest to fall before the axe of industry, and to rise again, transformed into the habitations of ease and elegance?
Shall he doom an immense region of the globe to perpetual desolation, and to hear the howlings of the tiger and the wolf silence forever the voice of human gladness?
Shall the fields and the valleys, which a beneficent God has formed to teem with the life of innumerable multitudes, be condemned to everlasting barrenness?
Shall the mighty rivers, poured out by the hand of nature, as channels of communication between numerous nations, roll their waters in sullen silence and eternal solitude of the deep?
Have hundreds of commodious harbors, a thousand leagues of coast, and a boundless ocean, been spread in the front of this land, and shall every purpose of utility to which they could apply be prohibited by the tenant of the woods?
No, generous philanthropists!
Heaven has not been thus inconsistent in the works of its hands. Heaven has not thus placed at irreconcilable strife its moral laws with its physical creation.
The Pilgrims of Plymouth obtained their right of possession to the territory on which they settled, by titles as fair and unequivocal as any human property can be held.
By their voluntary association they recognized their allegiance to the government of Britain, and in process of time received whatever powers and authorities could be conferred upon them by a charter from their sovereign.
The spot on which they fixed had belonged to an Indian tribe, totally extirpated by that devouring pestilence which had swept the country shortly before their arrival. The territory, thus free from all exclusive possession, they might have taken by the natural right of occupancy.
Desirous, however, of giving amply satisfaction to every pretence of prior right, by formal and solemn conventions with the chiefs of the neighboring tribes, they acquired the further security of a purchase. At their hands the children of the desert had no cause of complaint.
On the great day of retribution, what thousands, what millions of the American race will appear at the bar of judgment to arraign their European invading conquerors! Let us humbly hope that the fathers of the Plymouth Colony will then appear in the whiteness of innocence.
Let us indulge in the belief that they will not only be free from all accusation of injustice to these unfortunate sons of nature, but that the testimonials of their acts of kindness and benevolence toward them will plead the cause of their virtues, as they are now authenticated by the record of history upon earth.
Religious discord has lost her sting; the cumbrous weapons of theological warfare are antiquated; the field of politics supplies the alchemists of our times with materials of more fatal explosion, and the butchers of mankind no longer travel to another world for instruments of cruelty and destruction.
Our age is too enlightened to contend upon topics which concern only the interests of eternity; the men who hold in proper contempt all controversies about trifles, except such as inflame their own passions, have made it a commonplace censure against your ancestors, that their zeal was enkindled by subjects of trivial importance; and that however aggrieved by the intolerance of others, they were alike intolerant themselves.
Against these objections, your candid judgment will not require an unqualified justification; but your respect and gratitude for the founders of the State may boldly claim an ample apology.
The original grounds of their separation from the Church of England were not objects of a magnitude to dissolve the bonds of communion, much less those of charity, between Christian brethren of the same essential principles. Some of them, however, were not inconsiderable, and numerous inducements concurred to give them an extraordinary interest in their eyes.
When that portentous system of abuses, the Papal dominion, was overturned, a great variety of religious sects arose in its stead in the several countries, which for many centuries before had been screwed beneath its subjection.
The fabric of the Reformation, first undertaken in England upon a contracted basis, by a capricious and sanguinary tyrant, had been successively overthrown and restored, renewed and altered, according to the varying humors and principles of four successive monarchs.
To ascertain the precise point of division between the genuine institutions of Christianity and the corruptions accumulated upon them in the progress of fifteen centuries, was found a task of extreme difficulty throughout the Christian world.
Men of the profoundest learning, of the sublimest genius, and of the purest integrity, after devoting their lives to the research, finally differed in their ideas upon many great points, both of doctrine and discipline.
The main question, it was admitted on all hands, most intimately concerned the highest interests of man, both temporal and eternal.
Can we wonder that men who felt their happiness here and their hopes of hereafter, their worldly welfare and the kingdom of heaven at stake, should sometimes attach an importance beyond their intrinsic weight to collateral points of controversy, connected with the all- involving object of the Reformation?
The changes in the forms and principles of religious worship were introduced and regulated in England by the hand of public authority. But that hand had not been uniform or steady in its operations.
During the persecutions inflicted in the interval of Popish restoration under the reign of Mary, upon all who favored the Reformation, many of the most zealous reformers had been compelled to fly their country. While residing on the continent of Europe, they had adopted the principles of the most complete and rigorous reformation, as taught and established by Calvin.
On returning afterward to their native country, they were dissatisfied with the partial reformation, at which, as they conceived, the English establishment had rested; and claiming the privilege of private conscience, upon which alone any departure from the Church of Rome could be justified, they insisted upon the right of adhering to the system of their own preference, and, of course, upon that of non-conformity to the establishment prescribed by the royal authority. The only means used to convince them of error and reclaim them from dissent was force, and force served but to confirm the opposition it was meant to suppress.
By driving the founders of the Plymouth Colony into exile, it constrained them to absolute separation irreconcilable. Viewing their religious liberties here, as held only by sufferance, yet bound to them by all the ties of conviction, and by all their sufferings for them, could they forbear to look upon every dissenter among themselves with a jealous eye?
Within two years after their landing, they beheld a rival settlement attempted in their immediate neighborhood; and not long after, the laws of self- preservation compelled them to break up a nest of revellers, who boasted of protection from the mother country, and who had recurred to the easy but pernicious resource of feeding their wanton idleness, by furnishing the savages with the means, the skill, and the instruments of European destruction. Toleration, in that instance, would have been self-murder, and many other examples might be alleged, in which their necessary measures of self-defence have been exaggerated into cruelty, and their most indispensable precautions distorted into persecution. Yet shall we not pretend that they were exempt from the common laws of mortality, or entirely free from all the errors of their age. Their zeal might sometimes be too ardent, but it was always sincere. At this day, religious indulgence is one of our clearest duties, because it is one of our undisputed rights. While we rejoice that the principles of genuine Christianity have so far triumphed over the prejudices of a former generation, let us fervently hope for the day when it will prove equally victorious over the malignant passions of our own.
In thus calling your attention to some of the peculiar features in the principles, the character, and the history of our forefathers, it is as wide from my design, as I know it would be from your approbation, to adorn their memory with a chaplet plucked from the domain of others.
The occasion and the day are more peculiarly devoted to them, and let it never be dishonored with a contracted and exclusive spirit. Our affections as citizens embrace the whole extent of the Union, and the names of Raleigh, Smith, Winthrop, Calvert, Penn and Oglethorpe excite in our minds recollections equally pleasing and gratitude equally fervent with those of Carver and Bradford.
Two centuries have not yet elapsed since the first European foot touched the soil which now constitutes the American Union. Two centuries more and our numbers must exceed those of Europe itself.
The destinies of their empire, as they appear in prospect before us, disdain the powers of human calculation. Yet, as the original founder of the Roman State is said once to have lifted upon his shoulders the fame and fortunes of all his posterity, so let us never forget that the glory and greatness of all our descendants is in our hands.
Preserve in all their purity, refine, if possible, from all their alloy, those virtues which we this day commemorate as the ornament of our forefathers. Adhere to them with inflexible resolution, as to the horns of the altar; instil them with unwearied perseverance into the minds of your children; bind your souls and theirs to the national Union as the chords of life are centred in the heart, and you shall soar with rapid and steady wing to the summit of human glory.
Nearly a century ago, one of those rare minds to whom it is given to discern future greatness in its seminal principles, upon contemplating the situation of this continent, pronounced, in a vein of poetic inspiration, "Westward the star of empire takes its way." Let us unite in ardent supplication to the Founder of nations and the Builder of worlds, that what then was prophecy may continue unfolding into history--that the dearest hopes of the human race may not be extinguished in disappointment, and that the last may prove the noblest empire of time.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:19 AM


The Impossibility of Thanksgiving: Why gratefulness is more gift than duty. (Mark Galli, 11/25/2009, Christianity Today)

Several biblical passages talk about thanksgiving, but few get to the heart of the matter better than Ephesians 5:20, where the apostle Paul says we should be " ... giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ."

The idea of giving thanks is central to Paul's entire ministry. We see it not only here, but in many of his letters.

For example, to the Colossians he writes, "May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father ... " (1:11-12) To the Thessalonians he says, "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you" (1 Thess. 5:16-18). Many other examples abound.

And he practices what he preaches. To the Romans, he says, "I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you" (1:8). In his first letter to Corinth, he writes, "I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus" (1:4). To the Ephesians he explains, "I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers" (1:16). And on it goes.

Paul is a thanksgiving junkie. And he is so because he understands that thankfulness is not one of many virtues that characterize the Christian life, but the characteristic of faith.

To look at it from the other side: It is not pride nor greed nor lust but ungratefulness that he says has caused so much confusion and despair on the planet: "For although they knew God," Paul writes of humanity, "they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened" (Rom. 1:21). From there, he describes how things just got worse and worse and worse, so that in the end, he can only describe humankind as "foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless" (1:31). And it all begins with ungratefulness.

So, when Paul summarizes the nature of the Christian life, and thus the fundamental activity of the church, he frames it in terms of gratefulness. "Therefore," he tells the Colossians, "as you received Christ Jesus the Lord" [how the Christian life gets started], so walk in him [how the Christian life is made manifest--how exactly?], rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving." (2:6-7).

He is very much in sync with the entire biblical witness. Gratefulness is the most characteristic act of the people of God, as witnessed by the Psalms, the Old Testament's hymnal: "Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving; make melody to our God on the lyre!" (Ps. 147:7). It's practically a cliché.

[originally posted: 11/26/09]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:16 AM


Private Enterprise Regained (Henry Hazlitt, The Freeman: Ideas on Liberty)

Governor Bradford�s own history of the Plymouth Bay Colony over which he presided is a story that deserves to be far better known�particularly in an age that has acquired a mania for socialism and communism, regards them as peculiarly "progressive" and entirely new, and is sure that they represent "the wave of the future."

Most of us have forgotten that when the Pilgrim Fathers landed on the shores of Massachusetts they established a communist system. Out of their common product and storehouse they set up a system of rationing, though it came to "but a quarter of a pound of bread a day to each person." Even when harvest came, "it arose to but a little." A vicious circle seemed to set in. The people complained that they were too weak from want of food to tend the crops as they should. Deeply religious though they were, they took to stealing from each other. "So as it well appeared," writes Governor Bradford, "that famine must still ensue the next year also, if not some way prevented."

So the colonists, he continues, "began to think how they might raise as much corn as they could, and obtain a better crop than they had done, that they might not still thus languish in misery. At length [in 1623] after much debate of things, the Gov. (with the advice of the chiefest among them) gave way that they should set corn every man for his own particular, and in that regard trust to themselves. . . .

"And so assigned to every family a parcel of land. . . .

A Great Success

"This had very good success; for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been by any means the Gov. or any other could use, and saved him a great deal of trouble, and gave far better content.

"The women now went willingly into the field, and took their little ones with them to set corn, which before would allege weakness, and inability; whom to have compelled would have been thought great tyranny and oppression.

"The experience that was had in this common course and condition, tried sundry years, and that among godly and sober men, may well evince the vanity of that conceit of Plato�s and other ancients, applauded by some of later times;�that the taking away of property, and bringing in community into a commonwealth, would make them happy and flourishing; as if they were wiser than God. For this community (so far as it was) was found to breed much confusion and discontent, and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort."

How different might the bloody history of the Enlightenment have been were rationalists as open-minded?

(originally posted: 11/25/04)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:14 AM


The faith of our fathers (Jay Tolson, Jun 19, 2004, US News)

Some say the mystery of American religiosity is contained in a paradox: America is a godly nation because it has kept church and state separate, at least in the sense set forth by the Constitution. "Congress," the First Amendment famously begins, "shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . . . " Perhaps the greater mystery, though, is that those two clauses did not produce conflicts during most of our history, even though religious sentiments and symbols liberally suffused the public square and much of civic life. But if most Americans have long approved of their civil religion, why have some in recent years found it so objectionable?

Much confusion and litigation have arisen from the perception that America's founders intended religion to be strictly a matter of private choice that should never impinge upon public life. That may be as much a misunderstanding of the founders' intent as the view that the founders intended to create an explicitly Christian nation. According to Purdue University historian Frank Lambert, in his book The Founding Fathers and the Place of Religion in America, both extremes fail to acknowledge that America had two different sets of spiritual fathers. The "Planting Fathers," particularly the Puritans of New England, sought both to practice their own brand of Christianity and to found a Christian state. Establishing Congregationalism, they supported it with taxes and compelled their chief magistrates to govern "according to the rule of the word of God." The southern colonies, meanwhile, generally enforced Anglicanism, while the middle colonies worked out more pluralistic arrangements. But some 150 years after the Puritans signed their charters, a different group of national leaders, the Founding Fathers, hammered out a new national compact, this one guaranteeing that the state would have no voice in determining matters of conscience.

Clearly, much had happened in the years separating the Planting Fathers from the Founding Fathers. While many of the colonial elite had been touched by the skeptical scientific rationalism of the Enlightenment, even greater numbers of common folk were transformed by a powerful religious revival that swept through the colonies in the 1740s. Called the First Great Awakening, it emphasized individual religious experience and subtly challenged the authority of the established sects. By the time the Founding Fathers gathered in Philadelphia, most of them knew that the people of the new United States were too diverse to be forced into conformity with a national church.

Yet the founders never sought to drive religion from the public realm. The words they spoke, the symbols they embraced, and the rituals they established--from state-declared days of thanksgiving to prayers at the start of Congress to military chaplaincies--all made clear that even semiofficial acknowledgment of divine providence was not only acceptable but good. This public piety was distinctly nonsectarian and centered upon what might be called a benevolent theism. But as James Hutson, chief of the manuscript division of the Library of Congress, argues in his Religion and the Founding of the American Republic, whether they were old-line Calvinists or liberal deists, the Founders believed divine will legitimized their institutions and laws and made citizens more willing to respect them. Even Thomas Jefferson, who thought most Americans would become rationalist Unitarians within a generation or two, considered the acknowledgment of providential authority essential to public virtue.

Contrary to Jefferson's rationalist prediction, Americans became even more enthusiastically religious. [...]

Secularists often ignore the fact that civil religion has long served as a prod to civic conscience and as a check on national hubris. As McClay points out, "Expressions like 'under God' in the pledge suggest that the nation is under judgment and subject to higher moral principles. Even people deeply suspicious of civil religion ought to appreciate some sort of higher restraint."

In his classic, Democracy and Leadership, the great Irving Babbitt put the point well:
Not the least singular feature of the singular epoch in which we are living is that the very persons who are least willing to hear about the veto power are likewise the persons who are most certain that they stand for the virtues that depend upon its exercise--for example, peace and brotherhood. As against the expansionists of every kind, I do not hesitate to affirm that what is specifically human in man and ultimately divine is a certain quality of will, a will that is felt in its relation to his ordinary self as a will to refrain. The affirmation of this quality of will is nothing new: it is implied in the Pauline opposition between a law of the spirit and a law of the members. In general, the primacy accorded to will over intellect in Oriental. The idea of humility, the idea that man needs to defer to a higher will, came into Europe with an Oriental religion, Christianity. This idea has been losing ground in almost exact ratio to the decline of Christianity. Inasmuch as the recognition of the supremacy of will seems to me imperative in any wise view of life, I side in important respects with the Christian against those who have in the Occident, whether in ancient or in modern times, inclined to give first place either to the intellect or to the emotions.
Suffice it to say, Mr. Babbitt would have understood this phenomenon perfectly.

-LECTURE: Irving Babbitt and Cultural Renewal (James Seaton, April 13, 2002, The Philadelphia Society)
-REVIEW: of Democracy and Leadership by Irving Babbitt (John Attarian, The Freeman: Ideas on Liberty)

(originally posted: 6/23/04)

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:10 AM


Footnote on Reagan�s �City on a Hill� phrase (L. John VanTil, 06/19/2004, Z Wire)

In recent days many Americans were deeply moved by the week-long farewell ceremony in honor of President Ronald Reagan. Among the many tributes were frequent references to his vision for America. Numerous speakers, including Vice President Cheney and Supreme Court Justice O�Connor, specifically referred to, and even quoted, John Winthrop�s lay-sermon on board the Arbella in 1630 as the prime example of President Reagan�s vision for America. Winthrop challenged his fellow settlers to work hard, to do the right thing and to carry out the purpose of their mission as they settled in New England. And why? Because, he said, �we shall be as a city upon a hill,� continuing with the observation that all the world would be watching to see how they did in their little experiment in America, ready to mock them if they failed. The networks replayed President Reagan�s delivery of this quotation many times during the week and numerous pundits cited the line as well. Every one of the dozens who quoted or commented on Winthrop�s phrase during the memorial events referred to him as a �Pilgrim� leader.

In the interest of historical accuracy it must be pointed out that John Winthrop was not a Pilgrim and that stating so on any decent history test would result in points being lost. Well, then, who was Winthrop if not a Pilgrim? It is no small point to state that he was, in fact, a Puritan and that Pilgrims and Puritans were not the same settlers at all. And, it must be said that Pilgrims are admired by Americans, even admired in some history texts, while queries about Puritans generally result in a frown and a negative opinion. [...]

If Winthrop was not a Pilgrim, how did it happen that he came to be called one by President Reagan and then by dozens who quoted him or quoted Winthrop from their own experience during the memorial ceremonies? The likely answer to this question involves a long-standing erroneous reputation of the Puritans.

During the first half of the twentieth century, history textbooks that commented on Puritans and Puritanism had a decidedly negative tone in their interpretation. This negative tone probably arose from the writer�s personal dislike for the strict Christian views held by the Puritans, but that is a topic beyond the scope of this piece. Puritanism has been rehabilitated by an outstanding group of Harvard and Yale historians beginning with the work of Samuel E. Morison in the 1930s (�The Builders of the Bay Colony�), continuing with major works by Perry Miller (�The New England Mind�) and Yale historian Edmond S. Morgan (The Puritan Dilemma: The Story of John Winthrop). Their students and their students� students have carried on this restoration of Puritanism, therein creating an accurate picture of it. Indeed, I would count my own �Liberty of Conscience: The History of a Puritan Idea� as a chapter in this reconstruction of Puritanism. In brief, it is clear that Puritans were generally witty, educated, hard working, and devout Christians. They certainly were not prudes as Edmond Morgan has pointed out.

�Cultural lag� and simple obstinacy, not to mention a continuing revisionism of American history, have prevented the more accurate picture of John Winthrop�s Boston from becoming the prevailing view of Puritanism. Hence, it is likely that whoever first gave President Reagan this quotation did not know the difference between Pilgrims and Puritans. Or, more likely, this person thought that using the name Puritan would undermine whatever positive message the �city on a hill� phrase had.

Heck, there are still folks who haven't figured out that Jonathan Edwards was one of our most important Founders.

Interesting to note though that when Ronald Reagan first famously used the "city on a hill" phrase, back when he was writing all his own material, he didn't make the Pilgrim mistake, We Will Be A City Upon A Hill (Ronald Reagan, January 25, 1974, First Conservative Political Action Conference):

Standing on the tiny deck of the Arabella in 1630 off the Massachusetts coast, John Winthrop said, �We will be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us, so that if we deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a byword throughout the world.� Well, we have not dealt falsely with our God, even if He is temporarily suspended from the classroom.

He did though err when he had speechwriters, Farewell Address (Ronald Reagan, January 11, 1989):
The past few days when I've been at that window upstairs, I've thought a bit of the 'shining city upon a hill.' The phrase comes from John Winthrop, who wrote it to describe the America he imagined. What he imagined was important because he was an early Pilgrim, an early freedom man. He journeyed here on what today we'd call a little wooden boat; and like the other Pilgrims, he was looking for a home that would be free. I've spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don't know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That's how I saw it, and see it still.

And how stands the city on this winter night? More prosperous, more secure, and happier than it was 8 years ago. But more than that: After 200 years, two centuries, she still stands strong and true on the granite ridge, and her glow has held steady no matter what storm. And she's still a beacon, still a magnet for all who must have freedom, for all the pilgrims from all the lost places who are hurtling through the darkness, toward home.

(originally posted: 6/25/04)

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:07 AM


The way of the Pilgrims (H.D.S. Greenway, 11/29/2002
IT WAS SCARCELY more than a couple of hundred words, written, signed, and sworn to in the cabin of a battered ship heaving in a cold November sea, at anchor in what is now Provincetown Harbor; Nov. 11, 1620. The Mayflower Compact, as it was called, was a revolutionary document for its time.

The signers promised to ''combine ourselves together into a civil body politic, for our better ordering and preservation.'' They promised to ''enact, constitute, and frame such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the Colony, unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.''

Thus did the Mayflower Pilgrims create the continent's first government by social contract - a precedent for the founding of our nation in 1776.

Of course, the Pilgrims were not founding a new nation. They were ''loyal subjects of our dread sovereign Lord, King James, by the grace of God, of Great Britain, France and Ireland, king and defender of the faith.'' ''The greatest question ... ever debated in America,'' as John Adams would later write - whether to be free from Britain - was far in the future. But the Pilgrims would not accept the established faith that King James was defending. And the equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions and offices that would follow laid the groundwork for the great republic that was to come. The civil body politic that they swore to on that cold, November day is one that Americans now take for granted.

They were not a tolerant crowd. The equality that Abraham Lincoln would later speak of did not apply then to all races and creeds - an omission that haunts us even now. But the act of submission and obedience to just and equal laws, the determination to live self-governing lives, was a new concept then, and all too rare in the world even today. ''We must never forget this,'' the historian Samuel Eliot Morison wrote, ''for in the colonies of other European nations the will of the prince, or his representative, was supreme.''

You read a lot of vile nonsense about the Pilgrims these days, from people who seem not to comprehend the direct relationship between the ideas they carried and the system of government we enjoy. Here�s a nice corrective. (originally posted: 11/29/02)
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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:05 AM


What Were The Pilgrims And Their Thanksgiving Like? (Edward M. Eveld, 21 November, 2007, The Kansas City Star)

Nathaniel Philbrick had these two fuzzy, competing and faulty impressions of the Pilgrims and the first Thanksgiving.

There was the sweet, childhood image, a bountiful table in a bucolic setting with feasting Englishmen in the foreground and American Indians looking on.

And there was the grown-up, cynical perspective: the Pilgrims as 17th-century English conquerors, and the Plymouth feast little more than a myth.

Philbrick, author of 'Mayflower', spent three years researching the Pilgrims' voyage and what came after, including the complex and evolving relationships between settlers and American Indians. He found not the caricatures of his fuzzy impressions but real humans capable of kindness and murder, of lasting conciliation and sudden treachery, of charity and the ugliest of greed.

Philbrick, 51, will be in Kansas City on Thursday to discuss his book, which was a finalist for the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in history. He lives on Nantucket Island, Massachusetts. [...]

Q. But then came King Philip's War, when things fell apart. What went wrong?

What I saw in doing this book was how much the personal commitment of the leaders matters. Diplomacy is hard work, especially when there are such cultural differences. The tragedy of the story is that with the second generation, they lose that appreciation so quickly.

King Philip's War is the war that American history has forgotten. We start with the Pilgrims and in most histories leapfrog to the American Revolution. New England had changed radically in 55 years. As more and more English survived, land became a big part of this. Land had gone into English hands in a huge way. From the native perspective, they said, "What good was this alliance? We've lost our birthright." And with the leaders not liking each other much, it leads to war.

This was an extraordinarily brutal conflict when you look at the percentage of the populations killed, more than twice as bloody as the Civil War.

You can say the English won, but one-third of the towns in New England were burned and abandoned, and they would pay for the war for decades. Until then, they had remarkable independence from the mother country, but afterward they had to throw themselves on the mercy of England. You could say this created the tensions that would erupt 100 years later in the American Revolution.

For Indians who were not killed or forced to leave the region, many were captured and crowded on ships, sent to the West Indies and sold as slaves.

And for me, this is how the story of the Pilgrims becomes ultimately relevant to us as Americans. We think of the Indian wars as 19th century, the winning of the West. But it all happened in the Plymouth colony.

That "could say" is awfully precious. Consider that had the Indians won they'd still be muddling along at subsistence level with a life expectancy in the early 30s and no culture.

[originally posted 11/22/07]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:04 AM


Ronald Reagan's Alzheimer's Letter
My fellow Americans, I have recently been told that I am one of the millions of Americans who will be afflicted with Alzheimer's disease.

Upon learning this news, Nancy and I had to decide whether as private citizens we would keep this a private matter or whether we would make this news known in a public way.

In the past, Nancy suffered from breast cancer and I had cancer surgeries. We found through our open disclosures we were able to raise public awareness. We were happy that as a result many more people underwent testing. They were treated in early stages and able to return to normal, healthy lives.

So now we feel it is important to share it with you. In opening our hearts, we hope this might promote greater awareness of this condition. Perhaps it will encourage a clear understanding of the individuals and families who are affected by it.

At the moment, I feel just fine. I intend to live the remainder of the years God gives me on this earth doing the things I have always done. I will continue to share life's journey with my beloved Nancy and my family. I plan to enjoy the great outdoors and stay in touch with my friends and supporters.

Unfortunately, as Alzheimer's disease progresses, the family often bears a heavy burden. I only wish there was some way I could spare Nancy from this painful experience. When the time comes, I am confident that with your help she will face it with faith and courage.

In closing, let me thank you, the American people, for giving me the great honor of allowing me to serve as your president. When the Lord calls me home, whenever that may be, I will leave the greatest love for this country of ours and eternal optimism for its future.

I now begin the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life. I know that for America there will always be a bright dawn ahead.

Thank you, my friends.

Ronald Reagan

In one of those inordinately gracious moments that marked his grace-filled life, Ronald Reagan turned the announcement that he had Alzheimer's into a "Thank You" letter. He spoke, as he had so often, of an America infused with light, an America with a "bright dawn ahead". Perhaps his most famous such evocation came in his 1974 speech at the First Conservative Political Action Conference, when he summoned John Winthrop's image of America as a "City upon a Hill", an image Mr. Reagan returned to often and used finally in his 1989 Farewell Address:
I've spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don't know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That's how I saw it, and see it still.

And how stands the city on this winter night? More prosperous, more secure, and happier than it was 8 years ago. But more than that: After 200 years, two centuries, she still stands strong and true on the granite ridge, and her glow has held steady no matter what storm. And she's still a beacon, still a magnet for all who must have freedom, for all the pilgrims from all the lost places who are hurtling through the darkness, toward home.

After family and friends, I think that's what I'm most thankful for, that we are blessed to live in the land that does remain Man's beacon of freedom, that does remain, for all its problems, the City upon a Hill. And so, on this Thanksgiving, as we thank all of you for your patronage, your comments, your e-mails, and your consideration, we offer the words of John Winthrop himself, his vision and his warning, City upon a Hill (John Winthrop, 1630):
Now the onely way to avoyde this shipwracke and to provide for our posterity is to followe the Counsell of Micah, to doe Justly, to love mercy, to walke humbly with our God, for this end, wee must be knitt together in this worke as one man, wee must entertaine each other in brotherly Affeccion, wee must be willing to abridge our selves of our superfluities, for the supply of others necessities, wee must uphold a familiar Commerce together in all meekenes, gentlenes, patience and liberallity, wee must delight in eache other, make others Condicions our owne rejoyce together, mourne together, labour, and suffer together, allwayes haveing before our eyes our Commission and Community in the worke, our Community as members of the same body, soe shall wee keepe the unitie of the spirit in the bond of peace, the Lord will be our God and delight to dwell among us,
as his owne people and will commaund a blessing upon us in all our wayes, soe that wee shall see much more of his wisdome power goodnes and truthe then formerly wee have beene acquainted with, wee shall finde that the God of Israell is among us, when tenn of us shall be able to resist a thousand of our enemies, when hee shall make us a prayse and glory, that men shall say of succeeding plantacions: the lord make it like that of New England: for wee must Consider that wee shall be as a Citty upon a Hill, the eies of all people are uppon us; soe that if wee shall deale falsely with our god in this worke wee have undertaken and soe cause him to withdrawe his present help from us, wee shall be made a story and a byword through the world, wee shall open the mouthes of enemies to speake evill of the wayes of god and all professours for Gods sake; wee shall shame the faces ofmany of gods worthy servants, and cause theire prayers to be turned into Cursses upon us till wee be consumed out of the good land whether wee are going: And to shutt upp this discourse with that exhortacion of Moses that faithfull servant of the Lord in his last farewell to Israell: Beloved there is now sett before us life, and good, deathe and evill in that wee are Commaunded this day to love the Lord our God, and to love one another to walke in his wayes and to keepe his Commaundements and his Ordinance, and his lawes, and the Articles of our Covenant with him that wee may live and be multiplyed, and that the Lord our God may blesse us in the land whether wee goe to possesse it: But if our heartes shall turne away soe that wee will not obey, but shall be seduced and worshipp other Gods our pleasures, and proffitts, and serve them, it is propounded unto us this day, wee shall surely perishe out of the good Land whether wee passe over this vast Sea to possesse it;

Therefore lett us choose life,

that wee, and our Seede,

may live; by obeyeing his

voyce, and cleaveing to him,

for hee is our life, and

our prosperity.

(originally posted: November 28, 2002)
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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:03 AM


-EXCERPT: An American in Africa from Out of America : A Black Man Confronts Africa (1997) (Keith B. Richburg)

I WATCHED THE DEAD float down a river in Tanzania. It's one of those apocryphal stories you always hear coming out of Africa, meant to demonstrate the savagery of "the natives." Babies being pulled off their mothers' backs and tossed onto spears. Pregnant women being disemboweled. Bodies being tossed into the river and floating downstream. You heard them all, but never really believed.

And yet there I was, drenched with sweat under the blistering sun, standing at the Rusumo Falls bridge, watching the bodies float past me. Sometimes they came one by one. Sometimes two or three together. They were bloated now, horribly discolored. Most were naked, or stripped down to their underpants. Sometimes the hands and feet were bound together. Some were missing limbs. And as they went over the falls, a few got stuck together on a little crag, and stayed there flapping against the current, as though they were trying to break free. I couldn't take my eyes off of the body of a baby.

We timed them: a body or two every minute. The Tanzanian border guards told us it had been like that for a couple of days now. These were the victims of the ethnic genocide going on across the border in Rwanda.

For the three long years that I spent covering Africa as a reporter for the Washington Post I had to live with images--countless images--like this one. Three years of watching pretty much the worst that human beings can do to one another. Revulsion. Sorrow. Pity at the monumental waste of human life. These sentiments began nagging me soon after I first set foot in Africa in late 1991. It's a gnawing feeling that I was really unable to express out loud until the end, as I was packing my bags to leave, a feeling I felt pained to admit, a sentiment that, when uttered aloud, might come across as callous, even racist.

And yet I know exactly this feeling that haunts me; I've just been too embarrassed to say it. So let me drop the charade and put it as simply as I know how: There but for the grace of God go I.

You see, I was seeing all of this horror a bit differently because of the color of my skin. I am an American, but a black man, a descendant of slaves brought from Africa. When I see these nameless, faceless, anonymous bodies washing over a waterfall or piled up on the back of trucks, what I see most is that they look like me.

Maybe 400 or so years ago, one of my ancestors was taken from his village, probably by a local chieftain. He was shackled in leg irons, kept in a holding pen or a dark pit, possibly at Goree Island off the coast of Senegal. And then he was put in the crowded, filthy cargo hold of a ship for the long and treacherous voyage across the Atlantic to the New World.

Many of the slaves died on that voyage. But not my ancestor. Maybe it was because he was strong, maybe just stubborn, or maybe he had an irrepressible will to live. But he survived, and ended up in slavery working on plantations in the Caribbean. Generations on down the line, one of his descendants was taken to South Carolina. Finally, a more recent descendant, my father, moved to Detroit to find a job in an auto plant during the Second World War.

And so it was that I came to be born in Detroit and that 35 years later, a black man born in white America, I was in Africa, birthplace of my ancestors, standing at the edge of a river not as an African but as an American journalist--a mere spectator watching the bloated bodies of black Africans cascading over a waterfall. And that's when I thought about how, if things had been different, I might have been one of them--or might have met some similar fate in one of the countless ongoing civil wars or tribal clashes on this brutal continent.

We are told by some supposedly enlightened black leaders that white America owes us something because they brought our ancestors over as slaves. And Africa--Mother Africa--is often held up as a black Valhalla, where the descendants of slaves would be welcomed back and where black men and women can walk in true dignity.

Sorry, but I've been there. I've had an AK-47 rammed up my nose. I've seen a cholera epidemic in Zaire, a famine in Somalia, a civil war in Liberia. I've seen cities bombed to near rubble, and other cities reduced to rubble because their leaders let them rot and decay while they spirited away billions of dollars--yes, billions--into overseas bank accounts.

I've also seen heroism, honor, and dignity in Africa, particularly in the stories of ordinary people--brave Africans battling insurmountable odds to publish an independent newspaper, to organize a political party, to teach kids in some rural bush school, and usually just to survive. But even with all the good, my perceptions have been hopelessly skewed by the bad. My tour in Africa coincided with two of the world's worst tragedies--Somalia and Rwanda. I've had friends and colleagues shot, stabbed, beaten to death by mobs, left to bleed to death on a Mogadishu street--one of them beaten so badly in the face that his friends could recognize him only by his hair and his clothes.

So excuse me if I sound cynical, jaded. I'm beaten down, and I'll admit it. And it's Africa that has made me this way. I feel for her suffering, I empathize with her pain, and now, from afar, I still recoil in horror whenever I see yet another television picture of another tribal slaughter, another refugee crisis. But most of all I think: Thank God my ancestor got out, because, now, I am not one of them.

In short, thank God that I am an American.

Mr. Richburg's book is marvelous

(originally posted: 7/10/04)

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:03 AM


How Private Property Saved the Pilgrims: When the Pilgrims landed in 1620, they established a system of communal property. Within three years they had scrapped it, instituting private property instead. (Tom Bethell, Winter 1999, Hoover Digest)
Having tried what Bradford called the "common course and condition"-the communal stewardship of the land demanded of them by their investors-Bradford reports that the community was afflicted by an unwillingness to work, by confusion and discontent, by a loss of mutual respect, and by a prevailing sense of slavery and injustice. And this among "godly and sober men." In short, the experiment was a failure that was endangering the health of the colony.

Historian George Langdon argues that the condition of early Plymouth was not "communism" but "an extreme form of exploitative capitalism in which all the fruits of men's labor were shipped across the seas." In this he echoes Samuel Eliot Morison, who claims that "it was not communism . . . but a very degrading and onerous slavery to the English capitalists that was somewhat softened." Notice that this does not agree with the dissension that Bradford reports, however. It was between the colonists themselves that the conflicts arose, not between the colonists and the investors in London. Morison and Langdon conflate two separate problems. On the one hand, it is true that the colonists did feel "exploited" by the investors because they were eventually expected to surrender to them an undue portion of the wealth they were trying to create. It is as though they felt that they were being "taxed" too highly by their investors-at a 50 percent rate, in fact.

But there was another problem, separate from the ?tax? burden. Bradford?s comments make it clear that common ownership demoralized the community far more than the tax. It was not Pilgrims laboring for investors that caused so much distress but Pilgrims laboring for other Pilgrims. Common property gave rise to internecine conflicts that were much more serious than the transatlantic ones. The industrious (in Plymouth) were forced to subsidize the slackers (in Plymouth). The strong "had no more in division of victuals and clothes" than the weak. The older men felt it disrespectful to be "equalized in labours" with the younger men.

This suggests that a form of communism was practiced at Plymouth in 1621 and 1622. No doubt this equalization of tasks was thought (at first) the only fair way to solve the problem of who should do what work in a community where there was to be no individual property: If everyone were to end up with an equal share of the property at the end of seven years, everyone should presumably do the same work throughout those seven years. The problem that inevitably arose was the formidable one of policing this division of labor: How to deal with those who did not pull their weight?

The Pilgrims had encountered the free-rider problem. Under the arrangement of communal property one might reasonably suspect that any additional effort might merely substitute for the lack of industry of others. And these "others" might well be able-bodied, too, but content to take advantage of the communal ownership by contributing less than their fair share. As we shall see, it is difficult to solve this problem without dividing property into individual or family-sized units. And this was the course of action that William Bradford wisely took.

It's damned annoying that Thomas Jefferson substituted that pabulumistic phrase, "pursuit of happiness", for "property". (originally posted: 8/26/03)
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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:01 AM


Abraham Lincoln's Thanksgiving: Of Puritans, prayer, and the Capitol dome. (David Gelernter, 11/28/2005, Weekly Standard)

FOUR THEMES FLOW TOGETHER AT one of the most remarkable points in American history--the evening when Abraham Lincoln for the last time proclaimed a national day of thanksgiving. It was April 11, 1865: two days after the Civil War ended with Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox; four days before the president was murdered. Our national Thanksgiving Day is a good time to remember the president who had more to do with the institution of Thanksgiving and the actual practice of thanking God than any other, and to recall his last public speech.

On that misty April evening, the world had a rare glimpse of the symbolism of a powerful prophecy literally fulfilled, if only for a few moments. The brilliant "city on a hill" that the 17th-century Puritan settlers spoke of seemed embodied in Washington, as the capital sprang to life in a blaze of gaslight. The president spoke of the nation's long-sought victory in terms not of triumph but of reconciliation, and of the nation's debt to God.

Some of Lincoln's friends and admirers, recalling that night, remembered the president as if he were Moses looking "into the Promised Land of Peace from the Pisgah summit," as one of them, the journalist Noah Brooks, wrote. Lincoln like Moses stood at the very brink of the promised land he would never enter. (It's hard not to see Lincoln as the greatest religious figure this country has ever produced.)

Thanksgiving itself is theme number one.

Except that Lincoln was no Jonathan Edwards.

(originally posted: 11/23/05)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Thanksgiving's Simple Meaning (Ken Masugi, November 24, 2004, Precepts)

We are all familiar with the Thanksgiving holiday as a time for family, feasting, and football. All of these are great American institutions, but we forget too easily the meaning of this national holiday as it was first established by George Washington on October 3, 1789 and reaffirmed as we know it today by Abraham Lincoln on October 3, 1863, exactly 74 years later. A mere glance at their Thanksgiving proclamations reminds us of the noblest purposes of government, including its greatest ends�fighting war and educating its citizens�which fulfill all the objects of peace.

Moreover, the simplest meaning of Thanksgiving reminds us�contrary to secularist courts and professors�that these presidents were proclaiming a holy day, a day for prayer and recognition of Almighty God's authority over man. We are most human when we honor our duties, to our country and to our Creator, and the wisdom that unifies these duties. No understanding of the First Amendment, however crabbed, can possibly gainsay this official government acknowledgement of the power of the sacred in our lives.

A close reading of these two messages reveals a careful and subtle teaching about the higher purposes of government and of human life.

(originally posted: November 24, 2004)

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


The Truth About Squire Romolee (LAUREL THATCHER ULRICH, November 28, 2002, NY Times)
As I unbag a free-range turkey bought at my local grocery store, I think of the description of a Thanksgiving dinner in a now-forgotten
novel. "Northwood, A Tale of New England," published in Boston in 1827, launched Sarah Josepha Hale's literary career. More than three decades later, as the influential editor of Godey's Lady's Book, she helped persuade Abraham Lincoln to declare Thanksgiving a national holiday.

The Thanksgiving dinner in "Northwood" takes place in the home of a prosperous New Hampshire farmer whom Hale calls Squire Romolee. On two tables pushed together in the parlor a roasted turkey keeps company with a succulent goose, a pair of ducklings, a sirloin of beef, a leg of pork, a joint of mutton and an immense chicken pie.

Surrounding this culinary menagerie is a colorful array of vegetables, pickles and preserves. A slice of wheat bread sits on the glass tumbler at the head of each plate. A separate table displays cake, plum pudding, custards, pies of every description, sweetmeats, currant wine, cider and ginger beer.

When a visiting Englishman asks Squire Romolee how he can claim the virtue of temperance in the face of such a feast, the happy farmer exclaims, "Well, well, I may at least recommend industry, for all this variety you have seen before you on the table, excepting the spices and salt, has been furnished from my own farm and procured by our own labor and care."

Hale's Yankee farmer, more than Pilgrims in stiff white collars, epitomizes the American Thanksgiving. It is our most authentic national holiday. Each November, Americans push tables together, gathering friends and families around them to acknowledge, among other gifts, the essential American blessings--material abundance and the ability to enjoy the product of "our own labor and care." We still watch fireworks on the Fourth of July, but the oratory and civic parades that once marked the nation's birthday have largely faded. The Thanksgiving feast endures.

Ms Hale also wrote a lovely hymn, suitable to the day:

Our Father in heaven, we hallow Thy Name;
May Thy kingdom holy on earth be the same;
O give to us daily our portion of bread;
It is from Thy bounty that all must be fed.

Forgive our transgressions, and teach us to know
That humble compassion which pardons each foe;
Keep us from temptation, from evil and sin,
And Thine be the glory, forever! Amen!

(originally posted: November 28, 2002)
Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Thanksgiving for immigrants (Marvin Olasky, November 19, 2002, Townhall)
Let's look at the four major types of anti-immigration arguments.

Type one criticizes not the immigrants themselves but a culture no longer committed to helping them assimilate. [...]

Type two arguments emphasize homeland security. [...]

Type three arguments that favor restricting immigration to limit population growth are not as strong. [...]

Type four anti-immigration arguments are really anti-immigrant arguments. We don't want those people, some conservatives say or suggest: They're not our kind. Among the murmurs: They're not used to democratic government, so they'll be easy prey for potential dictators. They're used to big government, so they'll vote for Democrats. They'll undermine America's Christian traditions. [...]

Conservatives should pay more attention to surveys showing that three-fourths of Latinos, compared to 60 percent of Americans overall, say that religion (almost always Christianity) provides considerable guidance in their lives. Korean-Americans are 10 times more likely to be Christian than Buddhist, and other immigrants from Asia also often have Christian backgrounds.

We need to tend carefully to the concerns that underlie "type one" but then let them come. (originally posted: November 19, 2002)

November 26, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 9:00 PM


Underrated: Václav Havel (DANIEL JOHNSON, December 2014, Standpoint)

There are plenty of pseudo-revolutionaries in history. Václav Havel was the real thing.

According to the magnificent new biography (Havel: A Life; Atlantic Books, £25) by Michael Zantovsky, who was for many years Havel's spokesman and is now the Czech Ambassador in London, there was nothing accidental about the apotheosis of the dissident playwright who became the hero of the Velvet Revolution and the first President of a free Czechoslovakia exactly 25 years ago this month. It happened because Havel understood that those who overthrow a system have a responsibility to prove that they are morally superior to those they have ousted. He was magnanimous in victory: "Those who have for many years engaged in a violent and bloody vengefulness against their opponents are now afraid of us. They should rest easy. We are not like them."  [...]

There was no secret agreement between Havel and the Communists -- Zantovsky quashes the rumours to this effect that have circulated ever since. "What had always distinguished Havel from many of his fellow dissidents was his sense of the possible," writes Zantovsky. He became President by popular acclaim because he had earned it: by spending five years in jail, by keeping alight the Charter 77 movement, by fearlessly satirising the regime in his plays. (Havel was perhaps the only man ever to have deserved both the Nobel Prize for Peace and for Literature. He received neither.) Havel earned his 13 years as head of state by proving that a revolutionary can make the transition to statesman.

Posted by orrinj at 8:54 PM


Hezbollah arrives in Iraq (Ali Hashem, 11/26/14, Al Monitor)

"It's very similar to what happened in Bosnia," the official source told Al-Monitor, "Iran supported the Muslims against Yugoslavia's Slobodan Milosevic, while the United States showed verbal support. It's the same in Iraq. We are the ones fighting on the ground and that's why the Iraqi forces, with the help of the volunteers and the peshmerga, were able to recapture several towns, while the airstrikes by the United States and its allies materialized nothing on the ground." According to the official, Iran's participation in the battle with IS in Iraq is still within the framework of military experts and few hundred well trained officers on the ground, "but Iran is ready to enhance its presence if the Iraqi government requested, if the battle field needs such addition."

Al-Monitor learned from an Iraqi military source on the ground that dozens of highly trained Lebanese Hezbollah military experts arrived in Iraq to help in the military management of the battle. "They aren't fighting, but they are helping with the tactics, as they are well experienced in such battles. They understand the mentality of the IS fighters more than anyone on the ground," the source said. Yet, he ruled out the possibility, at least for now, that Hezbollah's fighters would get involved directly in the war. "Iraqi fighters, the army and the volunteers are capable of ending this war by themselves," he said.

Posted by orrinj at 8:46 PM


Harry Reid Wants to Talk About the Vatican (Jason Horowitz, 11/26/14, NY Times)

After a brief discussion about the pope's opponents in the Catholic hierarchy, Mr. Reid, a Mormon from Searchlight, Nev., brought up the name of perhaps the pontiff's most vocal critic, the American cardinal Raymond L. Burke, a once enormously powerful prelate who has lost key Vatican positions under Francis. [...]

"Now Claire McCaskill and others just hate the man," said Mr. Reid, referring to the current Missouri senator, who had declined to vote for him for Democratic leader earlier in the day. Then Mr. Reid added that he had had a good conversation with Cardinal Burke and enjoyed it.

"I said, 'What do you do with all your time?'" Mr. Reid said. "'I pray a lot.' That's what I remember about the conversation."

Then Mr. Reid slid farther back into his chair, smiled slightly, and said of Mr. Burke, "He's basically ambassador to Searchlight now."

Posted by orrinj at 6:03 PM


The Geopolitical Impact of Cheap Oil (Martin Feldstein, 11/26/14, Project Syndicate)

The big losers from falling oil prices include several countries that are not friends of the US and its allies, such as Venezuela, Iran, and Russia. These countries are heavily dependent on their oil revenue to support their governments' spending - especially massive transfer programs. Even at $75 or $80 a barrel, these governments will have a difficult time financing the populist programs that they need to maintain public support.

Although Saudi Arabia and several of the Gulf states are also major oil exporters, they differ from other producers in two important ways. First, their cost of extracting oil is extremely low, which means that they will be able to produce profitably at the current price - or even at a much lower price. Second, their enormous financial reserves allow them to finance their domestic and international activities for an extended period of time, as they seek to transform their economies to reduce their dependence on oil revenue.

A further decline in the price of oil could have major geopolitical repercussions. A price of $60 a barrel would create severe problems for Russia in particular. President Vladimir Putin would no longer be able to maintain the transfer programs that currently sustain his popular support. There would be similar consequences in Iran and Venezuela.

It is not clear whether these countries' current regimes could survive a substantial and sustained future decline in oil prices. By contrast, it is obvious that oil-importing countries would benefit greatly - as they already are.

Posted by orrinj at 5:49 PM


First, Halloween - now Thanksgiving has arrived on our shores (HARRIET ARKELL, 11/24/14, THE DAILY MAIL)

Tesco American buyer Haris Deane says: 'It's now an important holiday in both the U.S. and the UK, so we've ensured our range includes all the Thanksgiving essentials, from marshmallows with candied yams to Libby's Pumpkin Pie mix.'

Meanwhile, Waitrose turkey buyer Frances Westerman says: 'We've seen huge increases in turkey sales -- 95 per cent up on November five years ago -- which we believe is solely down to Thanksgiving celebrations.'

Posted by orrinj at 5:35 PM


The Problem With Prostate Screening (RICHARD J. ABLIN, NOV. 25, 2014, NY Times)

In 1970 I discovered the prostate-specific antigen, or PSA, which is now the most widely used tool in prostate screenings. But there has been a growing concern about whether the use of the PSA test has led to overdiagnosis and overtreatment, with millions of unnecessary surgeries, complications and deaths. [...]

The European Randomized Study reported results from seven countries, while Goteborg was a single-site study in Sweden. In both, men were divided into two groups: One underwent regular PSA tests, while the other was not screened. The results were published in The New England Journal of Medicine and the journal Lancet Oncology, respectively.

As the Australian researchers, Ian E. Haines and George L. Gabor Miklos, noticed, there was something strange about the data sets: A large amount of the data in the European Randomized Study came from a separately reported Finnish study, which showed no significant lifesaving benefits of PSA screening.

They found further red flags in terms of biased patient treatment. Many of the men who developed prostate cancer received excessive amounts of a treatment called hormonal monotherapy, which some research now indicates can actually accelerate cancer. Depending on which groups -- screened and not screened -- those men were in, the results of the study could be significantly compromised. And yet that information was missing from the published reports. When Drs. Haines and Miklos requested the European data to undertake independent analyses, researchers in both studies were unwilling to release it.

Even more troubling was that the European Randomized Study investigators transferred an astounding 60 percent of the data from the Swedish Goteborg study into their own data pool. Since the Goteborg study was alone among country-specific studies in showing an almost 50 percent reduction in prostate cancer deaths for screening recipients, such an overweighting of the data obviously tipped the balance in favor of lives saved. This is a bright-line ethical breach: Without this biased transfer, the lifesaving claims of PSA screening vanish.

Posted by orrinj at 5:23 PM


Afghans Are Surprisingly Optimistic (Carol Giacomo, November 26, 2014, NY Times)

A newly released poll by the Asia Foundation, found that the June presidential election has Afghans feeling optimistic. Two-thirds of respondents said the election was free and fair and would make their lives better. Some 75.3 percent said the national government was doing a good job. [...]

While the number of Afghans who believe the country is moving in the right direction is down slightly from last year - 54.7 percent versus 57.2 percent - the long-term trend since 2006 "shows an increase in the perception of Afghans that the country is moving in the right direction," according to Abdullah Ahmadza, the foundation's acting representative in Afghanistan. Overall, 78.6 percent of Afghans say they are somewhat or very happy.

One other bright spot is that attitudes about women are changing. Some 67.8 percent of the respondents said women should be able to work outside the home; 69.7 percent of the women surveyed said they voted in the 2014 election compared to 43.4 percent in 2009. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:18 PM


REVIEW of How The World Was Won: The Americanization of Everywhere by Peter Conrad : A chronicle of our obsession with the US (CHRIS BLACKHURST, 02 October 2014, Independent)

He quotes Lars von Trier, the Danish movie director. Von Trier made films set in the US, in Washington State, Colorado and Alabama, but he resolutely refused to enter the US. In 2005, though, he admitted his protest was a waste of time. "Sixty per cent of the things I have experienced in my life are American," which led this determined anti-American to conclude regretfully: "I am American."

In another tale, in a work sparkling with arresting vignettes - a testament to forensic research - Conrad relates how, towards the end of his life, Steve Jobs took his family to Turkey on holiday. The Apple founder hired a guide in Istanbul who explained to him the rites of the Turkish bath and extolled the virtues of Turkish coffee. Jobs snapped. "So fucking what?" he said under his breath. He commented that kids in Turkey drank what every kid in the world drinks, wore clothes that could have been bought at the Gap, and used cell phones. "They were like kids everywhere," Jobs concluded. What he meant, of course, was they were like his children, raised in California. This prompts Conrad to pose the question: "Is globalism actually the universalisation of the US?"

One of the most noticable things with the increased access to foreign tv series is that everywhere in at least the Anglosphere and Northern Europe is exactly like here.

Posted by orrinj at 4:54 PM


How Far Down Do You Define Deviancy in Ferguson? (Spengler, November 26th, 2014, PJ Media)

The late Daniel Patrick Moynihan's celebrated phrase "defining deviancy down" first appeared in a 1993 essay in The American Scholar. "I proffer the thesis," wrote Moynihan, "that, over the past generation...the amount of deviant behavior in American society has increased beyond the levels the community can 'afford to recognize' and that, accordingly, we have been re-defining deviancy so as to exempt much conduct previously stigmatized."

What used to be a civil rights movement has drawn a bright line behind the late Michael Brown, whose guilt in two violent felonies (robbing a convenience store while assaulting a store clerk, and assaulting a police officer) is not in dispute. It is sad, to be sure, that Brown died in a confrontation with a police officer, but no legal case can be made that the police officer rather than Brown chose to make the confrontation deadly.

Two generations ago the NAACP chose Rosa Parks as the subject of its anti-segregation lawsuit in Montgomery, AL, because she was a woman of unexceptionable character and reputation. Today the NAACP and its allies have chosen Michael Brown as their poster-boy, precisely because he was a violent criminal. The argument of what now might be termed a "criminals' rights movement" is that the police should not have the right to use force against felons whose crimes do not reach a certain threshold.

I'm reading Rick Perlstein's new book, with its argument that in the late '60s/early '70s liberalism had won--chiefly the battle for Civil Rights and against American imperialism in Vietnam--and a unique opportunity existed for us to recognize the evils of our culture, but that Ronald Reagan snatched victory for traditional values from the jaws of this defeat.  But Friend Perlstein is to honest for his own good and his own portrayal of the era is so dark and disturbing that it makes it impossible too see why Americans would have ever been willing to accept this liberal apogee as the new normal.  

Consider, the newly civil-righted proceeded to riot and burn down their own neighborhoods a few years later and the newly "liberated" Vietnamese piled into boats by their hundreds of thousands to escape to America.  

How are you going to convince white middle America that we're the biggest problem black people face when you destroy your ownneighborhood in a show of solidarity with a hoodlum?

Posted by orrinj at 4:31 PM


Is Boris a Churchill or a Lloyd George? (PAUL JOHNSON, December 2014, Standpoint)

The truth is that Churchill, in private conclave such as Cabinet meetings, dominated by monologue. But if this was denied him, and Lloyd George always did deny it, then he could not do dialogue. Lloyd George could. Indeed, he was at his best in dialogue or any intimate discussion between razor-sharp minds. Lloyd George won most of his key battles, political and military, in dialogue, and this is an important point which links him to Boris, who comes across most impressively when talking to a few chums as equals. 

More generally, though, I think I would much prefer to be compared with Lloyd George than with Churchill. The latter was an incorrigible egoist, and his egoism sometimes got in the way of his genius, and even of his common sense. This was a point made to me by Bob Boothby, when he insisted that Lloyd George was, on the whole, a better war leader than Churchill. It was corroborated, interestingly enough, by the evidence of Clem Attlee, who told me that Churchill's egoism and monologues often made Cabinet meetings useless when they were most needed to take well-argued decisions on urgent matters. That was why some of the shrewder Cabinet ministers, and staff chiefs like Alanbrooke, Cunningham and top foreign military men like Eisenhower and Marshall, preferred Attlee to be in charge when Churchill was absent. He had a sense of business.

Yes -- that is the point. Churchill lacked a business sense. Lloyd George had it. And I think Boris has it too. He has got things done in London by using business criteria, and I believe he can bring the same quality to bear at Number Ten. That is what we shall find out in the course of the year to come. Or will we? One of the biggest objections to a Labour victory next May is that it may make impossible a Boris Johnson premiership, and thus prevent us for the foreseeable future from experiencing another dose of Churchill, or of Lloyd George, or of something entirely different and, perhaps in its own way, just as exhilarating.

Posted by orrinj at 4:24 PM


How Khamenei got Iranians to read from same page (Scott Peterson, NOVEMBER 26, 2014, CS Monitor)

Throughout the process, Mr. Khamenei has authorized every negotiating step, and in recent months - as the talks closed in on the Nov. 24 deadline - increasingly engaged in laying down Iran's "red line" positions and gave personal support to Iran's diplomats.

In the past week there have been further signs of Khamenei lining up support for a deal: an orchestrated nationwide push from Friday prayer leaders and even senior military officers - voices that have often been critical of negotiations - to support the talks and a possible compromise with foreign powers led by a long-standing arch-enemy, the United States.

Posted by orrinj at 4:20 PM


We should cash-bomb the people - not the banks (Simon Jenkins,  26 November 2014, The Guardian)

Abandon helicopters. Use bombers. Bomb Germany, France, Italy, Greece, the entire eurozone. Bomb them with banknotes, cash, anything to boost demand. The money must go straight to households, not to banks.

Imagine if all that bailout/stimulus money had just been used to pay down mortgages and educational debt?

Posted by orrinj at 10:04 AM


The Met's Mole (DOUGLAS MURRAY, December 2014, Standpoint)

On a brief speaking visit to Florida I spot one remaining copy of Mark Steyn's new book, The Undocumented Mark Steyn (Regnery, £19.99), in a shop. I am reminded of his story of a reader being told in a Canadian bookshop that there was "no call" for one of his books while someone at the end of the very same counter was being told the same thing about the same book.  Accordingly I buy the last copy and check with the nice lady at the till that she'll be reordering. "Sure!" she replies. A bookshop seeking profits and not trying to push Noam Chomsky onto me? Truly America remains the land of the free.

Posted by orrinj at 9:30 AM


An Immigrant Thanksgiving (IRA STOLL, November 24, 2014, NY Sun)

An elderly relative of mine recently let me in on what she described as a family secret: her housepainter father, she said, could never get a steady indoor job here in America because he didn't have proper working papers.

I knew about my grandfather on one side of the family who had arrived at Ellis Island in the 1920s and served in the navy in World War II. But the possibility that one of my great-grandparents on the other side was an illegal immigrant brought a smile to the face of this columnist, an Eagle Scout Harvard graduate and the author of biographies of Samuel Adams and John F. Kennedy.

For if those ancestors of mine hadn't made it here, legally or illegally, the odds are they'd have been killed either by the Nazis or the Soviet Communists, and I wouldn't even exist, let alone be writing books on American history or opining on American immigration policy. My reaction to the disclosure wasn't shame or embarrassment, but relief: thank God they got in before it was too late.

So much of the reaction to President Obama's immigration announcement has centered on the timing in relation to elections. Six years since he was elected, he finally acted. After the mid-term election, he acted. To me, though, the more relevant timing is the proximity to Thanksgiving, the holiday on which we remember an earlier group of immigrants to America who were fleeing religious persecution, and a day on which we take special care to give thanks for this land and its freedom.

We're lucky, all of our ancestors got here early enough that they were all undocumented.

Posted by orrinj at 9:21 AM


U.S. (Mostly) Wins With Strong Dollar (A. Gary Shilling, 11/25/14, Bloomberg View)

[T]he rising greenback attracts foreign investment, which promotes domestic economic growth and a stronger currency. The appreciating dollar and stability of the U.S. continue to attract wealthy foreigners to real-estate markets in New York City and elsewhere, even with the prospect of very low returns.  

A climbing dollar encourages investment by foreigners in U.S. assets because of the currency gains on top of U.S. domestic appreciation and income. Also, the foreign money flowing into Treasuries, with their safe-haven appeal rivaling that of the dollar, helps keep interest rates low, to the advantage of the U.S. economy.  

To be sure, all of this assumes that U.S. real-estate and portfolio investments are otherwise attractive. A rising currency in the midst of a major bear market isn't likely to attract many foreign equity buyers. 

Of course, the climbing greenback opens the possibility of profits in currency trading. Portfolios I manage are long the dollar against the deliberately devalued euro and yen, as well as British sterling and the commodity currencies in Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

The dollar has been the primary trading and reserve currency since World War II and is likely to remain so for decades. Rapid growth in the economy and per-capita output weigh in the dollar's favor. American financial markets are broad, deep and transparent, as is the economy. Despite the dollar's decline since 1985, its credibility is substantial.  And there is no real substitute for the dollar as a global currency. 

Hard as it is for folks to wrap their heads around, we're only now entering the period of American global economic dominance.
Posted by orrinj at 9:15 AM


Marriage and the Black Family (Jacqueline C. Rivers, November 25th, 2014, Winthrop Institute)

Despite the determined pursuit of marital unions by freed people, enduring patterns of non-normative male-female relationships had been created by the devastating experience of slavery. These bore bitter fruit in the 25-percent out-of-wedlock birthrate that prompted the Moynihan Report in 1965. The Moynihan Report was an examination of the pathologies created by the explosion of father-absent households among the black poor in the United States. Though the report recommended the creation of programs that would promote healthy families among impoverished blacks, it elicited an outpouring of outrage at the assertion that stable marriages were necessary for the flourishing of the black community. As a result, little action was taken to rectify these problems. Fifty years later, the out-of-wedlock birthrate among blacks in the United States has soared to over 70 percent, a level at which it has stood for roughly a decade. The material, moral, and spiritual consequences are precisely what Moynihan predicted they would be: devastating for the community.

Black children have suffered the most as a result of the decline of marriage in the black community. The deleterious effects of being raised in single-headed households have been well-documented. Children growing up in female-headed households experience higher rates of poverty. These children underperform in school: they earn lower scores on verbal and math achievement tests and lower grades in their courses. They have more behavioral problems, and higher rates of chronic health and psychiatric disorders. Adolescents and young adults raised without stable families experience elevated risks of teenage childbearing, dropping out of high school, being incarcerated, and being idle (being neither employed nor in school). Yet, even in the midst of this disarray, men and women still long for marriage. Research shows that though marriage has declined among poor women from different racial backgrounds, they, no less than affluent women, desire to be married even as they bear children out of wedlock.

Today, marriage faces new threats as the divinely established order of marriage between one man and one woman is challenged. Across the United States and Europe, sexual partnerships between persons of the same sex are being legally recognized as "marriages," thus abolishing in law the principle of marriage as a conjugal union and reducing it to nothing other than sexual or romantic companionship or domestic partnership. The unavoidable message is a profoundly false and damaging one: that children do not need a mother and a father in a permanent complementary bond.

To insist on the truth that neither mothers nor fathers are expendable is not to dishonor anyone.  Every human being is beloved and precious in God's sight. The mere issue of an individual's sexual inclinations cannot alter this. This is clearly so, since God loves all of us even though we each struggle with sin. Furthermore, as Christians and people of faith, we are commanded to love each of our neighbors as ourselves. Therefore, we embrace all people, though every one of us must wrestle against sin. However, though all people are equal in God's sight, all sexual practices are not.

Posted by orrinj at 8:56 AM


U.S. GDP grows at better-than-expected 3.9% pace in third quarter (JIM PUZZANGHERA, 11/25/14, LA Times)

While economic growth in much of the world slowed, the U.S. recovery hummed through the summer at an unexpectedly robust pace and posted its best six-month performance in 11 years.

The nation's gross domestic product, the broadest measure of economic activity, grew at a 3.9% annual rate in the third quarter of the year, the Commerce Department said Tuesday.

The figure was unexpectedly better than the 3.5% annual rate the government reported in its first estimate last month. Economists had forecast the growth rate would be revised down to 3.3%

The GOP needs to pass a few phoney-baloney bills right quick, to make sure we share credit for the long boom.

Posted by orrinj at 8:53 AM


A funny thing happened on the way to gender equality in Norway : A comedian found there was no science to support it. (Carolyn Moynihan, 25 November 2014, MercatorNet)

To which part of the world would you look first for hard evidence that the roles men and women perform are a social construct? To Scandinavia, of course, where governments have worked for decades to ensure equality between men and women. Norway, for example, must by now be a gender equity paradise of male nurses and female engineers. Isn't it?

Nope. A documentary first screened by Norwegian State Television three years ago blew that myth apart and at the same time raised questions about the scientific basis for even having that kind of equality as a policy goal.

The Gender Equality Paradox, the first of a series of 40-minute films exploring hot button social issues, is both hilarious and serious - hilarious because it was created by comedian Harald Eia, and serious enough to cause the Norwegian government to drastically cut its funding for gender studies.

Posted by orrinj at 8:42 AM


Obama's Treasury Nominee Is a Wall Street Shill (ROBERT KUTTNER, NOVEMBER 26, 2014, American Prospect)

If you want to understand what makes Elizabeth Warren so special in American politics, consider her nervy leadership of the campaign to block President Barack Obama's foolish nomination of one Antonio Weiss to be the top Treasury official in charge of the domestic financial system, including enforcement of the Dodd-Frank Act.

For most of his Wall Street career, Weiss has epitomized everything that reeks about financial abuses. As chief of international mergers and acquisitions for Lazard, Weiss orchestrated what are delicately known as "corporate inversions," in which a domestic corporation moves its nominal headquarters offshore, to avoid its U.S. taxes.

Posted by orrinj at 8:33 AM


The Other Ferguson Tragedy (JASON L. RILEY, Nov. 25, 2014, WSJ)

The black teen in Ferguson, Mo., robbed a store, attacked a white police officer and was shot dead while resisting arrest. That was the conclusion of a St. Louis County grand jury that brought no charges against the officer after considering all the physical evidence, along with eyewitness accounts from blacks in the vicinity of the confrontation.

Not that any amount of evidence would have stopped the hooligans in Ferguson Monday night who were determined use Brown's death as a pretext for more bad behavior. Nor will evidence thwart liberals who are bent on making excuses for black criminality and pretending that police shootings are responsible for America's high black body count.

According to the FBI, homicide is the leading cause of death among young black men, who are 10 times more likely than their white counterparts to be murdered. And while you'd never know it watching MSNBC, the police are not to blame. Blacks are just 13% of the population but responsible for a majority of all murders in the U.S., and more than 90% of black murder victims are killed by other blacks. Liberals like to point out that most whites are killed by other whites, too. That's true but beside the point given that the white crime rate is so much lower than the black rate.

Blacks commit violent crimes at 7 to 10 times the rate that whites do. The fact that their victims tend to be of the same race suggests that young black men in the ghetto live in danger of being shot by each other, not cops. Nor is this a function of "over-policing" certain neighborhoods to juice black arrest rates. Research has long shown that the rate at which blacks are arrested is nearly identical to the rate at which crime victims identify blacks as their assailants. The police are in these communities because that's where the emergency calls originate, and they spend much of their time trying to stop residents of the same race from harming one another.

The whole Rodney King thing happened when I was in law school and several people got very upset when I pointed out : "If Rodney King went racing through your parents' neighborhood high on crack, you'd be out on the lawn cheering the cops on."
Posted by orrinj at 8:20 AM


Impassioned crowds take to the streets in Boston (Nestor Ramos and Travis Andersen, NOVEMBER 26, 2014, Boston Globe)

Hundreds of protesters flooded the city's streets Tuesday night, marching from Roxbury to Back Bay and beyond, raising their voices and their hands in grief and frustration over a grand jury's decision to not charge a Missouri police officer in the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager.

An estimated 1,400 protesters marched from Dudley Square to the South Bay House of Correction, then onto the Massachusetts Avenue Connector near Interstate 93 before being blocked by a police line. [...]

Shortly after midnight, Superintendent in Chief William Gross of the Boston Police said there had been more than 15 arrests during the night's protest, including two at Dewey Square. He said the protesters had not been violent.

"I'm very proud of the young people here," Gross said. "Do you see any cars burning? Do you see any broken windows? No."

The crowd was dispersing by about 12:30 a.m. Gross said he had no plans to break up the protest during the night if it continued.

"I'm the chief of police. I wholeheartedly support their right to protest, their First Amendment rights," he said, adding later: "Imagine, from South Bay to here, and there are no cars burning, no businesses looted. This is great."

We drove from central NH to the Cape last night and starting in Southern NH cop cars went flying by headed South and even as we got to the Cape they were flying by going North.  Before we got to Boston we were afraid there must have been a terrible accident.  Finally, we'd seen so many police cars we were afraid it might have been another terrorist incident. Good to know it was a harmless kerfuffle.

November 25, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 6:14 PM


How many K-12 students are illegal immigrants? (Valerie Strauss November 21, 2014, Washington Post)

According to the Pew Research Center's Hispanic Trends Project, 6.9 percent of K-12 students had parents of illegal immigrants in 2012, while far less -- 1.4 percent -- of all students were illegal immigrants themselves. (Anybody born in the United States automatically becomes a U.S. citizen, despite the legal status of their parents.) Nevada had the biggest percentage of students with parents who were  illegal immigrants, followed by California, at 13.2 percent; Texas, at 13.1 percent; and Arizona, at 11 percent.

Posted by orrinj at 5:54 PM


Interpreter of Maladies : a review of In This Arab Time by Fouad Ajami (DEXTER FILKINS, Nov. 24, 2014, WSJ)

What set Ajami apart from his peers, I think, was not just his command of the subject, which was unparalleled, but his frankness. Born in a southern Lebanese village to a Shiite family, Ajami left home for the U.S. as a young man and never returned. His origins set him up to know the region as only a native could; his self-imposed exile gave him the distance to see the place as a local could not. He did not apologize for pointing out the pathologies that bedevil the Arab world or for the role of the United States, whose influence over the course of Arab life he thought was exaggerated. Unlike so many other commentators on the Middle East, Ajami went right to the thing itself.

For Ajami, the recent history of the Middle East is about the demise of Arab nationalism and secular politics, which dominated the region in the 1950s, and the rise of authoritarian governments and fundamentalist Islam. None of these projects was able to provide better lives for the vast majority of the people they purported to serve. Schools produced graduates who were literate but disinclined to critical inquiry. Governments so stifled personal initiative and creativity that, by 1995, the Arab world's quarter-billion people exported less than Finland's five million. Meanwhile, the dictators plundered their countries with boundless depravity: Ajami estimates that Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the former ruler of Tunisia, and his wife, controlled a third of the country's economy.

The result, on the eve of the uprisings that spread across the Arab world, was a failed civilization, which no amount of anti-Zionism or anti-Americanism, pumped up by cynical despots, could obscure. "The solitude of the Arabs in the contemporary order of nations, their exceptionalism if you will, had become a moral embarrassment to the Arabs themselves. It was as though they had left history and become spectators to their own destiny,'' Ajami writes in "The Arab Awakening, 2011," the book's first, and strongest, essay. "It was a bleak landscape: terrible rulers, sullen populations, and a terrorist fringe that hurled itself in frustration at an order bereft of any legitimacy."

Ajami regards the anti-Americanism that animates so much of the Arab world's political discourse as a diversion from its real problems. Even when he writes about the invasion of Iraq, a war so fraught with error and disaster, he essentially gives the Americans a pass. "The terrible errors of this war can never smother its honor,'' he says. While this might be difficult for some readers to swallow, Ajami reminds us that, for Iraqis, the war was about more than just the strategies and miscalculations of the United States. It was a chance to shape their own futures. "It is not nightfall that has descended on Iraq,'' he writes, "but a savage and uncertain dawn." 

Posted by orrinj at 5:45 PM


THE CONSERVATIVE PRINCIPLE IN OBAMA'S REFUSAL TO ACT (James R. Rogers, 11 . 25 . 14, First Things)

While one might disapprove the outcome in this particular case, the principle on which the president acts would seem to tend toward conservative ends: the executive's failure to act leaves private activity alone that would otherwise be governmentally disturbed. Given the increasing penchant for government to meddle in people's lives, I'd guess that a recognized prerogative, under conditions similar to the current dispute, of the executive to refuse to take action where authorized could more often serve conservative ends than the contrary principle.

I frankly do not see the threat to the separation of powers decried by so many conservative commentators. There is a difference between an executive refusing to prosecute when prosecution is authorized by the legislature versus an executive seeking to prosecute when that prosecution is not legislatively authorized. The former is a recognizably executive action, not a legislative action; the latter would indeed be an executive exercise of legislative power. That one does not approve of President Obama's use of executive discretion in refusing to prosecute certain categories of individuals does not perforce make his actions unconstitutionally legislative.

I don't think President Obama's action threatens the separation of powers; the ability of the executive to act independently of the legislature is a consequence of a separation-of-power system not a threat to it.

Posted by orrinj at 5:43 PM


Rudy got it right: Cops save minority lives (Bob McManus, November 24, 2014, NY Post)

Giuliani was over on "Meet the Press" -- opening up on Michael Dyson, a Georgetown University professor and frequent critic of policing practices in Ferguson, Mo., and elsewhere in America:

"Ninety-three percent of blacks are killed by other blacks," Rudy barked. "I would like to see the [same] attention paid to that, that you are paying to [Ferguson]."

"What about the poor black child who was killed by another black child?" Giuliani asked. "Why aren't you protesting that? White police officers wouldn't be there if you weren't killing each other."

Naturally, polite people everywhere fell into a swoon.

Well, too bad about them. Dr. Giuliani may not have much of a bedside manner, but he's a first-rate diagnostician when it comes to criminal justice and his anti-crime prescriptions for New York City saved thousands of innocent lives -- most of them black and Hispanic.

Those would be the folks who weren't murdered when crime took its precipitous tumble starting in the Giuliani years.

Posted by orrinj at 5:17 PM


Iran and the world continue to agree to disagree. Again. (Daniel W. Drezner, November 24, 2014, Washington Post)

The one thing both sides do appear to agree on is that they do not want to return to the Era Before Negotiations. All of the P5+1 countries have economic or geopolitical incentives for Iran to rejoin the Semi-Respectable Nations Club. Similarly, even Khamenei seems to prefer that Iran not be completely isolated -- and they do appear to like the $700 million in sanctions relief they get every month.

All that's being negotiated is what hoops the Iranians have to jump through before we lift all the sanctions.

Posted by orrinj at 1:38 PM


Russia puts losses from sanctions, cheaper oil at up to $140 billion per year (Reuters, 11/24/14) 

Lower oil prices and Western financial sanctions imposed over the Ukraine crisis will cost Russia around $130-140 billion a year - equivalent to around 7 percent of its economy - Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said on Monday.

His comments are the latest acknowledgement by Russian policymakers that sanctions restricting borrowing abroad by major Russian companies are imposing heavy economic costs. But in Siluanov's view, the fall in oil prices is the bigger worry.

"We're losing around $40 billion a year because of geopolitical sanctions, and about $90 billion to $100 billion from oil prices falling by 30 percent," he told a news conference.

November 24, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 6:49 PM


School kids are blaming Michelle Obama for their "gross" school lunches (Roberto A. Ferdman, November 24, 2014, Washington Post)

School kids around the country are tweeting rather unfortunate pictures of the meals they're being served at lunchtime, and thanking first lady and healthy school food advocate Michelle Obama for their bowls of mush and mystery proteins. 

The tweets, which have carried the not-so-subtle #ThanksMichelleObama hashtag, were being sent out at a rate of 40 per minute late last week, but started to gain momentum some 10 days back and are still continuing to be posted as of this morning.

Posted by orrinj at 6:45 PM


Robot discovers that Antarctic ice is thicker than we thought (Becky Oskin, NOVEMBER 24, 2014, Live Science)

Antarctica's ice paradox has yet another puzzling layer. Not only is the amount of sea ice increasing each year, but an underwater robot now shows the ice is also much thicker than was previously thought, a new study reports.

The discovery adds to the ongoing mystery of Antarctica's expanding sea ice. According to climate models, the region's sea ice should be shrinking each year because of global warming. Instead, satellite observations show the ice is expanding, and the continent's sea ice has set new records for the past three winters.

Ice to close upper Mississippi from November 20, earliest on record (MICHAEL HIRTZER, Nov 19, 2014, Reuters) 

The shipping season on the upper Mississippi River will end on Thursday as ice surrounding locks and dams near Minnesota's Twin Cities forced the earliest winter closure on records that date back to 1969, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said.

Posted by orrinj at 1:27 PM


Printing the future : 3D printing may be the way mass manufacture is going, but it is also bringing out the artisan in all of us. (Tim Dean, 11/24/14, Cosmos)

3D printing can make big objects too. In early 2014 WinSun Decoration Design Engineering Co. in China built several houses outside Shanghai using an enormous 3D printer.... This changed the building method - these houses did not rise from the ground in the conventional manner. Rather, the basic structural elements were printed using an automated gantry arm to extrude a mixture of high grade concrete and glass fibre. The parts were then assembled. The company's aim is to build up to 10 houses a day at a cost of around $5,000 each.

A similar demonstration is slowly taking shape in Amsterdam at the 3D Print Canal House, led by DUS architects. Instead of concrete, DUS is using a custom granular plastic made from 80% vegetable oil that melts at 170°C. An oversized 3D printer called KamerMaker (or "room builder") melts the plastic and extrudes it layer by layer to form the structural elements, which can also have cosmetic elements built in.

The lessons learnt from the project will inform 3D-printed house designs around the world.

Posted by orrinj at 1:22 PM


Why Won't Iran Take a Favorable Deal? (Max Boot, 11.24.2014, Commentary)

It would surely be in Iran's interests to sign such a deal in which the mullahs would pledge to stop operating some of their 19,000 centrifuges (10,000 of them are currently operational) and in return they would receive billions of dollars in sanctions relief that would save the Iranian economy from ruin-and save Iran's theocratic dictators from being overthrown by their increasingly disgruntled people. And then, having signed the accord, Iran could proceed quietly and secretly to cheat, perhaps by building a plutonium-based bomb enabled by their new heavy water facility at Arak. [...]

Iran has had a full year to conclude such a favorable deal and yet it refuses to close the deal. Why not? And what will change in the next seven months?

My theory-and I admit it's only a theory-is that Ayatollah Khamenei simply can't swallow doing any deal with the Great Satan, no matter how favorable, because to do so would undercut the revolutionary legitimacy of his regime. Ever since the Iran Hostage Crisis of 1979, Iran's theocratic regime has defined itself in opposition to the United States. Thanks in no small measure to Obama's lack of response, Tehran is closer than ever to realizing its ambitions to dominate the entire region stretching to the Mediterranean-including Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. Oh, and Iran is also advancing in Yemen. Perhaps Khamenei simply can't stomach the thought of reaching any kind of accommodation with the United States because it would hobble Iran's offensive abroad and undermine his own claim to rule at home.

It's even simpler than that : they don't want to abase themselves by explaining the nuclear program in the fashion thatr is being demanded and they don't trust us to lift the sanctions speedily.

Posted by orrinj at 1:10 PM


Morning Train (Nine To Five) (Mark Steyn, November 24, 2014, SteynOnline)

I love the Great American Train Song. It's a genre that has the sweep and size of the nation [...]

But while there are plenty of cross-country train songs and even a few city ones - from "Take The 'A' Train" to "Downtown Train" - it's thin pickings when it comes to suburban mass transit. There are two commuter songs I happen to be fond of. One is "The Enchanted Train", a sweetly goofy tribute to the Long Island Rail Road written for a flop show in 1924 by Jerome Kern and P G Wodehouse.

Tom Waits deserves credit not only for Downtown Train but for Down There By The Train and Train Song.

Posted by orrinj at 1:02 PM


Muslim clerics meet in Iran to counter extremists (ALI AKBAR DAREINI,  November 24, 2014, AP) 

Shiite and Sunni clerics from about 80 countries gathered in Iran's holy city of Qom on Sunday to develop a strategy to combat extremists, including the Islamic State group that has captured large parts of Iraq and Syria.

Shiite-majority Iran has been helping Iraqi, Syrian and Kurdish forces battle the Sunni extremist group on the ground while the US-led coalition has been bombing it from the air. The Islamic State group views Shiites as apostates deserving of death and has massacred hundreds of captured Syrian and Iraqi soldiers, as well as Sunni rivals.

Grand Ayatollah Nasser Makarem Shirazi, the chief organizer of the conference, appealed for consensus among Islam's two main branches, urging all Muslim clerics to work to discredit groups espousing extremism.

Posted by orrinj at 12:56 PM


Chuck Hagel was a huge mistake  (Ryu Spaeth, 11/24/14, The Week)

That one sentence from an anonymous White House official is the final verdict on Chuck Hagel, who by all appearances is being shoved out of his post as secretary of Defense. It was perhaps his sad destiny all along to leave the administration in the most humiliating way possible, since he joined it in similar fashion, winning confirmation only after he was bludgeoned to near-death by his former Republican colleagues in the Senate.

It's no coincidence that W's ex-governor/chief-of-staff filled cabinet was the best since Washington's and fortuitously well-prepared to handle 9-11 when it came.  Nor that the UR's cabinet, which is intentionally devoid of anyone who might show up how unqualified he is to be president, is one of the most forgettable of all time.  

November 23, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:45 PM


Report: Kerry Offers Iran an Extension of Talks (Ben Ariel, 11/24/2014, INN)

The Islamic Republic hotly denies its nuclear program is meant to build a nuclear weapon, even though the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has revealed Iran is not abiding by the interim conditions in refusing to answer questions on the military aspects of its program.

Iran has been toughening its stance in recent weeks. Iran's chief negotiator, Abbas Araqchi, recently said he sees no prospect for a deal unless the other side abandons its "illogical excessive demands".

A senior Iranian official followed those comments by declaring that Iran will demand that all Western sanctions be lifted as part of a final deal, rejecting an American proposal of a gradual lifting of sanctions.

The deal is easy enough, based on those blockages : the US and Britain offer a concurrent apology for all our interference in Iranian affairs as the Iranians read their statement about the history of their nuclear program, since the point is just to humiliate; and, Iran complies with the nuclear provisions at exactly the pace that sanctions are removed.

Posted by orrinj at 7:35 PM


Something to be thankful for: (Mark J. Perry, 11/21/14, AEI Ideas)

2. Adjusted for inflation, the cost of a classic Thanksgiving dinner for ten this year is 1.3% cheaper than last year, 3.6% cheaper than two years ago and 5% cheaper than 2011 (see blue line in chart).

3. Compared to the cost of a Thanksgiving dinner of $62.30 in 1986 (in 2014 dollars), today's classic turkey dinner for ten is almost 21% cheaper at $49.41.

4. Measured in time worked at the average hourly wage for all private production workers of $20.70 in October 2014, the "time cost" of this year's classic turkey dinner for ten is only 2.39 hours, down by 1.2% from 2.42 hours last year and down by 4.7% from 2.50 hours in 2012 (see bottom chart). Compared to 1986 when the average American would have worked 3.22 hours to earn the income necessary to purchase the turkey dinner for ten, the "time cost" for a worker today (2.39 hours) is almost 26% lower.

5. Cost conscious shoppers can buy the same classic Thanksgiving meal at Walmart for only $32.64 (see top chart above), a savings of 34% compared to the AFBF national average, according to this press release from Walmart. In hours of time worked at the average hourly wage for private production workers, that would be a "time cost "of only 1.58 hours for one worker to purchase a holiday feast for ten people at Walmart, a truly amazing bargain.

Cheap as food is, it's no wonder obesity is the biggest problem confonting the lower classes.

Posted by orrinj at 7:33 PM


Man who ambushed cops had anti-government beliefs (GARY FINEOUT, Nov. 23, 2014, AP) 

A man who set his house on fire and ambushed responding police officers held "anti-government, anti-establishment" views and had previously threatened law enforcement, authorities said Sunday.

Posted by orrinj at 6:43 PM


Farmers Urge Congress to Legalize Agriculture Workers (MIRIAM JORDAN, Nov. 23, 201, WSJ)

For four years, Fred Leitz has seen vegetables and fruits on his 600-acre family farm go unpicked. For even longer, he has been urging Congress to pass an immigration overhaul that solves the labor shortage.

"We've gotten nowhere," said the fourth-generation Michigan grower, who visits Washington four or five times a year.

President Barack Obama took executive action Friday to temporarily legalize millions of immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally, though the program doesn't specifically address agriculture. Under the plan, an estimated 250,000 farm workers likely would be eligible for relief from deportation and for work permits, the United Farmworkers Union said. That is a fraction of total number of undocumented workers toiling in U.S. fields, say farmers, who hope that Mr. Obama's decision to take unilateral action will propel Congress to achieve a legislative solution that addresses agriculture workforce needs.

"Our concern is they are so busy pointing fingers at each other they won't get down to business," said Ed Schoen, a New York dairy farmer and board member of the Dairy Farmers of America, which represents a third of U.S. dairy farmers.

Posted by orrinj at 6:10 PM


The President Is Right on Immigration : Obama's legal authority is clear, as it was for Reagan, Clinton and both Bushes. (STEPHEN LEGOMSKY, Nov. 23, 2014, WSJ)

The president's legal authority is clear. First, the prosecutorial discretion that the president has exercised is a well-established, vital law-enforcement tool. When resources don't permit 100% enforcement, agencies are forced to set priorities. Year after year, Congress has knowingly given the administration only enough resources to take legal action against some 400,000 of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S.--less than 4% of that population. Sensibly, the administration believes that removing those who threaten public safety and those who entered recently is a higher priority than breaking up families and upending the lives of productive long-term residents--especially those brought here as children.

OK, some say, I get prosecutorial discretion. But where is the legal authority to grant deferred action--the program that provides temporary reprieves--and work permits? The answer is simple. The immigration statute expressly recognizes deferred action by name, expressly authorizes the administration to grant work permits, and places no limitations on either. The formal agency regulations, in place since 1987, specifically authorize the grant of work permits to recipients of deferred action. And a long line of court decisions expressly recognize deferred action, again without limitation.

Posted by orrinj at 6:06 PM


How Much Time Do Your Employees Spend Doing Real Work? The Answer May Surprise You. (CATHERINE CLIFFORD, NOVEMBER 23, 2014,Entrepeneur)

Employees say that they only spend 45 percent of their time at work actually completing their primary job duties, according to a survey of 2,000 office workers conducted by management software developer AtTask and market research firm Harris Interactive. That means more than half of their hours at the office are spent doing other things. Have a look at your latest payroll statement: that's expensive lost productivity.

Safe to assume we're overstating how much work we do by a half.

Posted by orrinj at 12:04 PM


The writer who foresaw the rise of the totalitarian state (John Gray, 11/21/14, BBC)

He was particularly scornful of the ideas he found in St Petersburg when he returned from his decade of Siberian exile. The new generation of Russian intellectuals was gripped by European theories and philosophies. French materialism, German humanism and English utilitarianism were melded together into a peculiarly Russian combination that came to be called "nihilism".

We tend to think of a nihilist as someone who believes in nothing, but the Russian nihilists of the 1860s were very different. They were fervent believers in science, who wanted to destroy the religious and moral traditions that had guided humankind in the past in order that a new and better world could come into being. There are plenty of people who believe something similar today.

Dostoyevsky's indictment of nihilism is presented in his great novel Demons. Published in 1872, the book has been criticised for being didactic in tone, and there can be no doubt that he wanted to show that the dominant ideas of his generation were harmful. But the story Dostoyevsky tells is also a dark comedy, cruelly funny in its depiction of high-minded intellectuals toying with revolutionary notions without understanding anything of what revolution means in practice. [...]

Dostoyevsky suggests that the result of abandoning morality for the sake of an idea of freedom will be a type of tyranny more extreme than any in the past. As one of the characters in Demons confesses: "I got entangled in my own data, and my conclusion directly contradicts the original idea from which I start. From unlimited freedom, I conclude with unlimited despotism."

Posted by orrinj at 11:48 AM


How to Fix America's Foreign Policy  (Anne-Marie Slaughter, 11/22/14, New Republic)

Henry Kissinger's new book should be read as a salvo in the ongoing foreign policy struggle for Barack Obama's soul. It is a book of many parts, but the final third portrays the United States since the cold war as an "ambivalent superpower" oscillating between the "realism" of Theodore Roosevelt and the "idealism" of Woodrow Wilson--a deft and deceptive manipulation of history. In a book in which Kissinger repeatedly praises the craft and subtle strategies of statesmen through the ages, from Richelieu to Metternich, it is impossible to believe that the master statesman himself does not have a more immediate goal in mind than another disquisition on how the world is to order itself. 

Kissinger begins World Order with an apparent conversion. After a lifetime steeped in the theory and practice of power politics, he begins by making an argument about justice and legitimacy. He defines world order as "the concept held by a region or civilization about the nature of just arrangements and the distribution of power thought to be applicable to the entire world." Any successful world order rests on a "balance between legitimacy and power," the legitimacy of "a set of commonly accepted rules that defines the limits of permissible action," and a "balance of power that enforces restraint where rules break down." Power is necessary, but it is not sufficient. 

This dual concept of world order provides the framework for the most interesting and original parts of the book. The twin pillars of power and legitimacy allow Kissinger to examine multiple civilizations and to distill their distinct concepts of world order. Europe before the European Union is the easy one, as it is the source of the Westphalian world order that Kissinger reveres, which "remains the scaffolding of international order such as it now exists." The various treaties that ultimately ended the Thirty Years War and became known as the Peace of Westphalia established "the concept of state sovereignty" and the equality of all states capable of participating in a "pluralistic international order," regardless of the nature of their domestic arrangements.

...but you can't then argue that nations are all legitimate regardless of their internal arrangements. Legitimacy means, at a minimum, democracy.

Posted by orrinj at 10:17 AM


Like the Emancipation Proclamation, Obama's order forces democracy (BRUCE ACKERMAN, 11/22/14, LA Times)

Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation provides the foundational precedent for President Obama's executive order on immigrants in the country illegally.

Before Lincoln issued his pronouncement in September 1862, congressional majorities had expressly affirmed that the war effort only aimed "to preserve the Union" without "overthrowing ... established institutions" in the rebel states. The proclamation was an act of executive unilateralism, and as Obama has done in his order, Lincoln limited its scope in recognition of this fact. As a result, both proclamations serve only to initiate, rather than preempt, further democratic debate and decision.

Lincoln did not try to free any blacks in the four slave states that remained loyal to the Union. Nor did he even liberate slaves in the Southern areas under federal control. Instead, the proclamation only affected those areas that remained in active rebellion on New Year's Day 1863.

Even where it applied, it did not commit the country to unconditional emancipation. Lincoln acted only in the name of "military necessity," leaving it unclear whether Southern states could constitutionally reinstate slavery once the fighting came to an end. As the war wound down, many wanted to defer this issue for at least five years. But the proclamation prevented this evasion, forcing the question to the center of public attention.

They're both rather simple questions about what kind of people we want to be.
Posted by orrinj at 8:07 AM


What makes Wisconsin's Republican Governor Scott Walker a good choice for 2016 (Grover G. Norquist and Patrick Gleason November 20, 2014, Reuters)

Walker has adopted the Coolidge tax model, chipping away at his state income-tax rates. He talks about eliminating Wisconsin's income tax during his second term. He has asked his lieutenant governor, Rebecca Kleefisch, to hold tax-reform roundtables across the state. Given that tax reform is usually the most politically difficult undertaking for lawmakers, Walker is astute in getting constituent buy-in ahead of time.

...which is what the authors appear to wish for, but if Governor Walker were to replace income taxes with consumption taxes and propose to do the same at the national level he'd become a serious candidate.  And given increased Republican majorities in the legislature, major tax reform is the least that should be expected of him next year.

Posted by orrinj at 7:59 AM


Obama, Our Modern John C. Calhoun (J. Christian Adams, November 20th, 2014, PJ Media)

One of the ideas that plunged America into the bloody Civil War was the belief that federal laws could be nullified by those who disagree with them. Senator John C. Calhoun of South Carolina was a chief proponent of the doctrine that Southern states could nullify federal laws if states disagreed with them. In announcing a lawless amnesty edict tonight, President Obama is our modern John C. Calhoun.

Elementary school civics class has taught the same thing for two hundred years: Congress makes the laws, the president enforces the laws, the judiciary interprets the laws. The reason this is so is because individual liberty thrives when government is hobbled by division of power. People live better lives when federal power is stymied.

When President Obama announces that he will be suspending laws to bless the illegal presence of millions of foreigners in the United States, he will have adopted the most basic philosophy of John C. Calhoun: some laws can be tossed aside because his ends justify the lawlessness.

Why Conservatives Still Share a Tent With Calhoun (SCOTT GALUPO • February 14, 2013, American Conservative)

Sam Tanenhaus has an important article in the New Republic on movement conservatism's entanglement with the ideological underpinnings of slavery. This is hardly a secret. Liberals have read coded racism into "states' rights" rhetoric for decades. But Tanenhaus is making a subtler point. Conservatives are not closet racists; rather, as evidenced by their talk of nullification and their flirtation with electoral college rigging, they have internalized the sectionalist dogma of Sen. John Calhoun in such a way that seals their demographic fate. Conservative Republicans risk becoming a "lost cause" party that's designed to "resist, ignore, or even overturn the will of the electoral majority," Tanenhaus writes.

Like I said, I think it's an important article. Conservatives should read, and grapple with, it. Still, it seems to me that Tanhenhaus's characterization of Calhoun as a "crank" (if a brilliant one) is reductive. Postwar conservative popularizers like Russell Kirk included him in their pantheon with appropriate reflection.

If your ends don't justify the means the issue is unimportant or you're wrong, as Calhoun was.

Posted by orrinj at 7:39 AM


Cabinet holds shouting match ahead of vote on nationality bill (SPENCER HO AND TIMES OF ISRAEL STAFF November 23, 2014, Times of Israel)

[D]uring the meeting, ministers made themselves heard over the controversial proposal.

"The nationality law being presented to the government is a bad law that was only drafted for the needs of Likud primaries. This is a law that [David] Ben-Gurion, [Ze'ev] Jabotinsky and [Menachem] Begin would oppose."

Netanyahu lashed out at Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, blaming her "flaccid" management for necessitating the cabinet vote.

"We wouldn't have gotten here if Livni acted differently," he said, according to Ynet.

Science Minister Yaakov Peri spoke out against the timing of the bill.

"I don't understand the rush for the bill now in this sensitive time," the former Shin Bet head said.

Netanyahu reportedly responded by yelling that "they [Arabs] are creating a state within a state."

N.J. Rabbi: Arabs in Israel 'must be vanquished' (Ben Sales, November 23, 2014, JTA)

The rabbi of a major modern Orthodox synagogue in New Jersey has written a blog post that calls for Israel to collectively punish Arab Israelis and Palestinians until they realize "they have no future in the land of Israel."

In the post, written Friday and titled "Dealing with Savages," Rabbi Steven Pruzansky, of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun in Teaneck, offers suggestions that range from destroying whole Palestinian towns to uprooting the Dome of the Rock.

Posted by orrinj at 7:37 AM


Tehran open to year talks extension, Iranian source says (AFP, November 23, 2014)

An Iranian source told AFP Sunday that Iran was open to having the nuclear negotiations extended by six months or a year if no real progress toward an agreement is achieved later Sunday.

Such an extension would be under the terms of the Geneva accord that traded a temporary freeze on some aspects of Iran's nuclear activities for limited sanctions relief, the source said.

"We are still focused on agreeing to a kind of political agreement" which would not be written but which would allow for negotiators to fine-tune technical aspects of the agreement later, the source said.

November 22, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 8:00 PM


U.S. and Turkey discuss transition away from Assad in Syria (Reuters, 11/22/14)

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said he and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan he had discussed a transition of power in Syria away from President Bashar al-Assad during a four-hour meeting in Istanbul on Saturday.

Turkey has been a reluctant partner in the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State (IS) insurgents in Syria and Iraq, pushing for a more comprehensive strategy that includes Assad's removal from power.

In fairness to the Administration, W should have put Syria not Iran in the Axis of Evil and removed Assad right after Saddam, instead of occupying an ally.

Posted by orrinj at 7:53 PM


How Obamacare Lowers Your Property Taxes (Bruce Japsen, 11/22/14, Forbes)

The Affordable Care Act, which is reducing the number of unpaid hospital bills, is also mitigating the property tax burden for counties and cities that subsidize care for the uninsured at publicly-owned health facilities.

A snapshot of this trend can be seen in Cook County, Illinois, where the public hospital system has seen a decrease in patients who cannot pay their bills thanks to the law's expanded Medicaid health insurance for poor Americans. It means no need for increases in either property taxes or fees for 2015 in Cook County.

"For the first time in the history of our health care system, we have more insured patients than uninsured," Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said in her annual budget address last month. "Health care system (executives have)  balanced their budget and reduced the county allocation by $11 million."

A large portion of Cook County's budget is for John H. Stroger, Jr. Hospital, which has in the past been a reason for county boards to raise taxes given mounting bad debt and uncompensated care costs.

The health law has also enabled Cook County to create a health plan known as CountyCare to enroll residents and bring higher quality primary care to the poor. Thanks to better coordinated primary care with the help of a third party administrator, Centene Corp. (CNC), it has helped reduce costs.

Posted by orrinj at 5:55 PM


IRS inspector general finds up to 30,000 of Lois Lerner's e-mails (Josh Hicks, November 21, 2014, Washington Post)
An inspector general's office has retrieved tens of thousands of ex-IRS official Lois Lerner's e-mails from a disaster recovery drive . (Pete Marovich/Bloomberg)
Many of Lois Lerner's missing e-mails may no longer be missing.

The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration told several congressional committees on Friday that it has recovered as many as 30,000 of the ex-Internal Revenue Service official's messages from disaster recovery tapes, according to congressional aides who participated in a briefing on the matter.

Posted by orrinj at 5:41 PM


Government set to approve controversial 'Jewish state' bill (ADIV STERMAN AND MARISSA NEWMAN November 22, 2014, Times of Israel)

The government is expected to approve on Sunday two controversial - and democratically questionable -- bills which seek to enshrine Israel's definition as a Jewish state in the country's Basic Law. [...]

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein has repeatedly expressed his opposition to the bills and asserted that the government should not give its support to the two pieces of legislation, Israel Radio reported.

"It's very problematic to me that the government supports [private members' bill] proposals which raise serious problems," Weinstein wrote in a legal opinion published by the Walla news site. He said that in the proposed bills that have been drafted thus far, including one to be put forward by Netanyahu, there are "significant changes in the founding principles of constitutional law as anchored in the Declaration of Independence and in the basic laws of the Knesset, which can flatten the democratic character of the state."

Former justice minister trashes 'Jewish state bill' (TIMES OF ISRAEL, November 23, 2014)

Dan Meridor, a former high-ranking Likud party lawmaker who also served as justice minister, warned Saturday against bills that would enshrine Israel's status as a Jewish state among the country's Basic Laws. [...]

In his criticism Saturday, Meridor said, "You can't have a law that sets down the state's obligation to promote the heritage and culture of the majority and not the minority. Doesn't the minority have a right, like Jews anywhere else in the world have the right?"

Meridor, a supporter of the two-state solution who is considered a moderate in comparison to current Knesset members from Likud, served as a minister in several cabinets since 1988, including between 2001 and 2013. He chose to stay out of the race for a Knesset seat in the 2013 elections.

He accused the ministers of promoting "bills that have no purpose other than short-term political gain and create unnecessary complications both on the international and the internal level. You can't mess around with the constitution for political ends," he added, before appealing to the bill's proponents: "Therefore, if it isn't too late to invoke reason - let it go, set it aside, it's pointless."

Posted by orrinj at 12:07 PM


Bigger, Cleaner, and More Efficient: A Carbon-Corporate Tax Swap (Donald Marron, November 21, 2014, TaxVox)

The United States could reduce its contribution to global climate change and increase domestic prosperity by taxing emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases and using the resulting revenue to reduce corporate income taxes. Such a carbon-corporate tax swap would give us a bigger, cleaner economy and avoid any need for more costly efforts to reduce emissions.

This recommendation reflects four recurring lessons from tax and environmental policy.

First, taxing bads is better than taxing goods. When the government levies a tax, people and businesses are less likely to do the taxed activity. Income taxes, for example, reduce the returns to investing so some people and businesses invest less than they otherwise would. Those forgone activities have a real economic cost, and each dollar of revenue imposes more than a dollar of costs on taxpayers. By contrast, when government taxes activities that impose costs on all of society, it can both raise revenue and reduce social harm.

Second, putting a price on carbon is the most efficient way to reduce carbon emissions.

Tax what you don't want, not what you do.
Posted by orrinj at 12:01 PM


John Kerry stays in Vienna in bid to hammer out Iran nuclear deal (Julian Borger, 21 November 2014, The Guardian)

Earlier, [British foreign secretary, Philip] Hammond had told reporters: "It's clear that both sides want to get a deal done. But none of us want to do a bad deal and we're very clear we have to get more flexibility from the Iranians. In return, we're prepared to show some flexibility on our side. But time is short."

Hammond added: "There is clearly an interest on the Iranian side to get a deal done. The prize for Iran is huge. Access to very large amounts of frozen assets, the ability to trade freely with the world again, and the ability to reset relationships with the international community, so there is a huge prize on the table for Iran."

The reality is that there's no rush. It's just a matter of how both sides get to the prize that was already decided on when they sat down : normal relations with the West for a non-nuclear Iran.

Posted by orrinj at 8:42 AM


Noted atheist stands by remarks on sexism, pedophilia, Down syndrome (KIMBERLY WINSTON, 11/22/14,  Religion News Service)

Remarks he made on Twitter and elsewhere on subjects ranging from sexual harassment ("stop whining") to Down syndrome fetuses ("abort and try again") have sparked suggestions from some fellow nonbelievers that he would serve atheism better by keeping quiet.

When Religion News Service reported on his controversial tweets in July on pedophilia -- Dawkins opined that some attacks on children are "worse" than others -- Dawkins, 73, a British evolutionary biologist and best-selling New York Times author, declined to be interviewed.

But on a speaking tour through the San Francisco Bay Area in support of his new memoir, "An Appetite for Wonder," he invited a reporter to sit down with him and explore the thinking behind his remarks.

Bottom line: He stands by everything he has said -- including comments that one form of rape or pedophilia is "worse" than another, and that a drunken woman who is raped might be responsible for her fate.

"I don't take back anything that I've said," Dawkins said from a shady spot in the leafy backyard of one of his Bay Area supporters. "I would not say it again, however, because I am now accustomed to being misunderstood and so I will ... "

He trailed off momentarily, gazing at his hands resting on a patio table.

"I feel muzzled, and a lot of other people do as well," he said. "There is a climate of bullying, a climate of intransigent thought police which is highly influential in the sense that it suppresses people like me."

Why are folks always surprised when those who refuse God accept evil?

Posted by orrinj at 8:39 AM


What About the Brainiacs? (Larry Kudlow, November 22, 2014, RCP)

The free movement of trade, capital and labor is strongly pro-growth. History shows that legal immigration is good for America, economic growth, entrepreneurship, job creation and hard-working families. America must remain a city on a hill, attracting the best and brightest from around the world -- a beacon of freedom.

The trouble is, Obama's executive actions not only usurp powers that are not his, they don't really solve key immigration problems.

Mainly, not even Obama is attempting to increase visas (that are the purview of Congress). Therefore there's no clear legal immigration process for the most important group: the high-tech brainiacs who are likely to be the entrepreneurial engines of new business start-ups and overall job-creating growth.

Tight limits on high-skilled worker visas and the whole whacky system of green-card, permanent-resident status are not being fixed. This can only happen through legislative change. In other words, Congress has to act (in this and a dozen other places).

Posted by orrinj at 8:36 AM


The End of China's Economic Miracle? (BOB DAVIS, Nov. 21, 2014, WSJ)

 When I arrived, China's GDP was growing at nearly 10% a year, as it had been for almost 30 years--a feat unmatched in modern economic history. But growth is now decelerating toward 7%. Western business people and international economists in China warn that the government's GDP statistics are accurate only as an indication of direction, and the direction of the Chinese economy is plainly downward. The big questions are how far and how fast.

My own reporting suggests that we are witnessing the end of the Chinese economic miracle. We are seeing just how much of China's success depended on a debt-powered housing bubble and corruption-laced spending. The construction crane isn't necessarily a symbol of economic vitality; it can also be a symbol of an economy run amok.

Most of the Chinese cities I visited are ringed by vast, empty apartment complexes whose outlines are visible at night only by the blinking lights on their top floors. I was particularly aware of this on trips to the so-called third- and fourth-tier cities--the 200 or so cities with populations ranging from 500,000 to several million, which Westerners rarely visit but which account for 70% of China's residential property sales.

From my hotel window in the northeastern Chinese city of Yingkou, for example, I could see empty apartment buildings stretching for miles, with just a handful of cars driving by. It made me think of the aftermath of a neutron-bomb detonation--the structures left standing but no people in sight.

The situation has become so bad in Handan, a steel center about 300 miles south of Beijing, that a middle-aged investor, fearing that a local developer wouldn't be able to make his promised interest payments, threatened to commit suicide in dramatic fashion last summer. After hearing similar stories of desperation, city officials reminded residents that it is illegal to jump off the tops of buildings, local investors said. Handan officials didn't respond to requests for comment.

For the past 20 years, real estate has been a major driver of Chinese economic growth. In the late 1990s, the party finally allowed urban Chinese to own their own homes, and the economy soared. People poured their life savings into real estate. Related industries like steel, glass and home electronics grew until real estate accounted for one-fourth of China's GDP, maybe more.'s when you have too much housing, unlike America, which has too little.  And they lack a president and a people who favor immigration.

Posted by orrinj at 8:26 AM


The geostrategic consequences of the Arab Spring (ZAKI SAMY ELAKAWI 22 November 2014, openDemocracy)

The Arab uprisings have unleashed internal dynamics of protest and political change in most of the states of the region, its impact transcending national systems, and affecting the political order in the Arab world. The region is at a crossroads, facing various security challenges from both neighbouring countries such as Israel, Turkey and Iran, and in their socioeconomic dynamics and national policies. Depending on the answers to these challenges, the result will range between everything from stability and regional cooperation, to disintegrative conflict in the Middle East.

The Arab Spring explodes amid a deep structural transformation in the Middle East, with its three non-Arab centres of power: Israel, Iran and Turkey. [2] At first, the Arab awakening looked to break the old false authoritarian paradigm, built by Arab leaders out of 'raison d'état', and restoring a new system based on social justice. Soon, these first impressions clashes with the geopolitical realities of the Arab regional system as enshrined over the time. [3] The main demands of the Arab revolts have focused on domestic freedoms, good governance and social justice, foreign policy being kept on the back-burner. The revolts have led to a change of status for Arab populations as effective and active agencies in the political landscape, where formely they were considered the missing equation in power relations, with a legitimacy usurped by Arab dictators and authoritarian regimes all set to maintain dependency relations. The shift of power to the people is manifest in the fact that they are now conscious of their ability to mobilize, rebel, and - finally - vote, and that they have supposed that this will lead to change and bring improvement in the power and capacity of Arab societies. [4]

These transitions in the Arab countries have political, socioeconomic and geostrategic implications. They pose profound challenges. Within this new logic, the challenges that these states face can introduce several alternative versions of a new regional order, or the promotion of division by individual states may continue. In short, the common interest would be best served by developing an architecture of cooperative security to manage the latent threats and tensions in the region in this tumultuous transition, but to do so in a way very open to different evolutionary strategies. However, the behaviours of the current Arab states demonstrate their inability to offer such a unique common framework or paradigm in the situation in which the Middle East finds itself.[5]

The configuration of power has shifted in the Middle East over the past three years, through three main strategic trends:

-  The power of the people and internal discontent against authoritarian regimes (Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen);

 -  The proliferation of civil wars caused by weak states (Libya and Syria);

-  Rivalry between Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey spiralling downwards into a zero sum ​​game.

The sum of these three trends will shape the geostrategic vision for the region in the years ahead. 

The End of History is in part a function of the recognition that there's nothing special about your nation that prohibits democracy, capitalism and protestantism.  
Posted by orrinj at 8:23 AM


Behind the scenes of a 'shocking' new study on human altruism (Molly Crockett, 22 November 2014, The Guardian)

A lack of concern for others' suffering lies at the heart of many psychiatric disorders such as psychopathy, so developing precise laboratory measures of empathy and altruism will be important for probing the brain processes that underlie antisocial behavior.

We brought 80 pairs of volunteers in to the lab and led them to different rooms so they couldn't see or talk to each other. They drew lots to determine which would be the "decider", and which the "receiver". The decider then made a series of decisions between different amounts of money and different amounts of moderately painful electric shocks. The decider always received the money, but sometimes the shocks were for the decider, and sometimes the shocks were for the receiver. By observing the deciders' choices we were able to calculate how much money they were willing to sacrifice to prevent shocks to either themselves or to the receiver.

We found that on average, people were willing to sacrifice about twice as much money to prevent another person from being shocked, than to prevent themselves from being shocked. So for example, they would give up £8 to prevent 20 shocks to another person but would only give up £4 to prevent 20 shocks to themselves. These results are surprising because most previous studies of altruism in the lab suggested that people care about themselves far more than others.

November 21, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 9:53 PM


Rauner says Obama immigration move 'great start' (Michelle Manchir, 11/21/14, Chicago Tribune)

Republican Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner on Friday called President Barack Obama's executive action on immigration a "great start" to "get the dialogue going" on immigration policy changes.

The comments came as Rauner addressed more than 900 advocates for the Latino community in Rosemont. Rauner told the crowd he supports "comprehensive immigration reform," which he acknowledged will take more work.

The GOP can redeem itself by amnestying the rest.

Posted by orrinj at 9:44 PM


Growing a Second Green Revolution : The 'golden rice' champion on the bewildering campaign to stop a miracle food that could save millions of children from blindness and death. (HUGO RESTALL, Nov. 21, 2014, WSJ)

Robert Zeigler is an environmentalist, but he is also a plant scientist. And that has led him to question the motives of an environmental movement that opposes genetically modified crops despite overwhelming evidence that they are safe.

As director general of the International Rice Research Institute, Mr. Zeigler is pushing the development of "golden rice," a genetically modified variety that began in the lab about two decades ago. Geneticists inserted a gene into the rice plant that allows it to produce beta carotene, which makes its grains yellow.

Because the human body converts beta carotene to vitamin A, golden rice has the potential to dramatically improve the lives of millions of people around the world, particularly in Africa and Southeast Asia, where vitamin A deficiency is an especially common malady that can cause blindness and increases the risk of death from disease. Children are particularly vulnerable: "An estimated 250,000 to 500,000 vitamin A-deficient children become blind every year, half of them dying within 12 months of losing their sight," according to the U.N. World Health Organization.

Golden rice thus sounds like a godsend--but don't tell that to activists opposed to anything that falls in the category of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. [...]

More than just golden rice is at stake. Total rice production is stagnant but populations are growing. Asia badly needs a second "green revolution" of increased yields--Mr. Zeigler estimates that the harvest must increase to 550,000 tons of milled rice a year by 2035 from 450,000 tons today.

One important way to achieve that is through genetic modifications that will produce higher-yielding varieties, and the International Rice Research Institute will be central to that effort. Founded in 1960 with funding from governments and the Ford and Rockefeller foundations, the IRRI was one of the leading institutions in the original green revolution of the '60s and '70s. Transgenic technology is becoming an important part of its research arsenal.

Posted by orrinj at 9:14 PM


The New F-150 Will Change Your Life--Even If You Never Buy a Pickup (MICHAEL FRANK, 11/21/14, Outside)

You're not buying a pickup. Ever. But Ford's new 2015 F-150 is going to change your life for the better. Why?

Because it's going to be roughly 700 pounds lighter than its predecessor, thanks to a brand-new, breakthrough aluminum body and frame. And that's big news, because a lighter F-150 is predicted to get up to 20 percent better fuel economy.

Yeah, and...? And each year about one in every 20 vehicles sold in the U.S. is an F-150--one of these trucks for every Prius sold. Over the past decade, the average is about 700,000 Ford trucks sold per year. And if each one gets 20 percent better fuel economy, we're talking millions of gallons of gas not burnt up and shot into the atmosphere. But that's just the start.

Posted by orrinj at 8:41 PM


Jerusalem mayor likens Ashkelon's anti-Arab move to 1930s Germany (TIMES OF ISRAEL, November 22, 2014)

Barkat called Shimoni's move "the wrong decision" and "irresponsible," telling Army Radio that "You can't outlaw an entire public, as was done in Nazi Germany 70 years ago."

"I can't but think of where we were 70 years ago in Europe," Barkat said. "We mustn't generalize like the generalization against Jews then. Here in Jerusalem we have tens of thousands of Arab workers."

Posted by orrinj at 5:53 PM


No stand down order or military missteps in Benghazi attack, GOP-controlled intel panel finds (KEN DILANIAN, 7/21/14, AP)

A two-year investigation by the Republican-controlled House Intelligence Committee has found that the CIA and the military acted properly in responding to the 2012 attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, and asserted no wrongdoing by Obama administration appointees.

Debunking a series of persistent allegations hinting at dark conspiracies, the investigation of the politically charged incident determined that there was no intelligence failure, no delay in sending a CIA rescue team, no missed opportunity for a military rescue, and no evidence the CIA was covertly shipping arms from Libya to Syria. 

A classic Friday news dump, upon realizing you've been wasting everyones' time.

Posted by orrinj at 1:46 PM


'Bright Side of Life' is UK's funeral favorite (TIMES OF ISRAEL, November 21, 2014)

Monty Python's "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life," the cheery crucifixion hit that brings the 1979 movie "Life of Brian" to its whistle-along conclusion, has become the most popular song played at funerals in Britain.

Written by Eric Idle, and since ubiquitous at soccer stadiums, other sporting events and even among troops at war, the song has replaced Frank Sinatra's "My Way" as the tune most played at funerals for the first time in a decade, a survey found Friday.

Posted by orrinj at 1:43 PM


These Engineered Monsters Teach Us About How Evolution Works--And Where It Fails (Laurel C. Allen, 11/21/14, Co.Exist)

Welcome to the world of Hox genes, a roughly 600-million-year-old "toolkit" that controls how body plans--the head-to-tail layout of our symmetrical, physical selves--develop. Once thought to exist only in flies, Hox genes rocked biology in the mid-'80s when it was discovered that they were in every single animal on Earth. And while the number of Hox genes tends to vary according to how complex you are (insects have 8; humans have 39), the genes themselves have changed so little in millions of years that they're what's called "highly conserved" across species.

In labs, that means flies function surprisingly well when one of their Hox genes is swapped for the corresponding chicken Hox gene. From an evolutionary perspective, it means earthworms, humpback whales, butterflies, and humans are all just variations on a theme. "Despite the fact that we don't think of ourselves as looking anything like a fly," says Patel, "our development basically uses the same genes."

Hox genes are "master instructors"--each oversees development in a different region of the body (head, thorax, abdomen), turning other genes on and off to ensure you grow the right form for your species. "In the field in general," says Patel, "I think we've increasingly convinced people that single genes can have big roles in evolution," but his team hunts proof, examples of how small tweaks to the Hox toolkit may have given rise to Earth's massive species diversity.

Based on the scientific evidence, this is exactly how evolution proceeds.

Posted by orrinj at 1:40 PM


Dumbing it away : Why We Lost: A General's Inside Account of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, by Daniel P Bolger  (Spengler, 11/20/14, Asia Times)

Bolger's book should be rushed into Russian and Chinese editions. A substantial current of opinion in those countries, supported by some respected foreign-policy specialists, holds that the US has chosen to destabilize the region intentionally. Now that America is nearly self-sufficient in oil, it wants to interrupt oil supplies to China and others in order to assert global hegemony. 

That is paranoid nonsense, but it reflects the incredulity of Russian and Chinese observers at the seeming self-destruction of America's world role. How could the Americans be so stupid? We could, and were. Bolger's insider explanation of the chain of blunders that led to the present situation in the region is convincing and should be circulated as an antidote to the paranoia. 

Proof that America has set out to destabilize the Persian Gulf region, a well-regarded Chinese specialist argued recently before a Beijing foreign-policy seminar, is that the Islamic State is led by Sunni officers armed and funded by General David Petraeus, the US commander during the 2007-2008 "surge".

America's mission in the world for over two centuries has been to destabilize regions where people do not enjoy self-government.  We aren't about hegemony, just democracy.

Posted by orrinj at 1:36 PM


'I can't think of a time when it was worse': US abortion doctors speak out (Karen McVeigh, 21 November 2014, The Guardian)

Texas state law HB2, passed last year, banned abortions after 20 weeks post-fertilisation. It also ushered in a number of requirements: that physicians follow outdated regimes regarding medicated abortion, requiring up to four visits to the same doctor; that they secure admitting privileges in local hospitals (an agreement that they can admit patients if necessary); that they operate as "ambulatory surgical centres", requiring expensive refits; and that they introduce 24-hour waiting periods. The requirements, most of which have no medical advantage, according to clinics, are opposed by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Curtis believes that some of the restrictions, for instance the 24-hour waiting period, send a clear message to women. It is there in order for her to "go away and think", he says. "As if she hasn't thought about it before. It is clearly a message that she must not do this bad thing."

If, as the clinics claim, the regulations are simply a ruse designed to put them out of business, they have certainly worked. The number of abortion providers in Texas has halved, from 41 in 2013 to about 20 today. This number would be even lower had the supreme court not stepped into the legal fray in October this year, placing a hold on the requirement for ambulatory surgical centre refits, which would have closed all but seven facilities in the state, while legal challenges continue. [...]

[S]upport for abortion, even among those who are pro-choice, drops off sharply later in pregnancy, when the procedure also carries more medical risks.

The Boyds are reluctant to talk in detail about this aspect of their work, because they are concerned anything they say will be seized upon by anti-abortion campaigners. "It distorts the issue," Curtis says. He took on later-term abortion in 2010 because he wanted it to be available, but says that it amounts to a "tiny proportion" of his work. In the US, 89% of all abortions are done before 12 weeks, with only 1.2% occurring after 21 weeks, according to the Guttmacher Institute for reproductive health.

"If I do one in a million, that's what they want to talk about," Curtis says.

I suspect a fair number would want to talk about the million other victims too.

Posted by orrinj at 1:31 PM


People who wanted market-driven health care now have it in the Affordable Care Act (Alice M. Rivlin November 20 , 2014, Washington Post)

In general, Republicans argued that relying on market forces would give people what they wanted while also putting pressure on the health system to offer more effective care for less money. They argued for subsidizing Health Savings Accounts combined with high-deductible (catastrophic) insurance. Their theory was that, if consumers were spending their own money for normal medical expenses, they would demand information on providers' prices and success rates. Providers would respond by offering better care for less. Some Republicans advocated turning Medicare, with its fixed benefits and prices, into a premium support plan in which the government would pay a fixed subsidy (sometimes called a voucher) and consumers would choose among private health plans, shopping for the best deal. They believed competition would raise the quality of care and hold down costs.

In general, Democrats argued that government should set benefits and the prices it would pay, as in a "Medicare for all" program. They feared competition among profit-seeking entities as much as Republicans feared government control. They pointed out that markets didn't work well in health care because consumers didn't know enough to choose what was best for them, putting them at the mercy of providers and insurers. They pointed out that competition in health insurance drove insurers to compete for healthy patients, dumping people who got sick or cost too much and refusing coverage to those with preexisting conditions.

The compromise was to combine markets with regulation, sometimes called "managed competition," now called "the Affordable Care Act." Health plans would compete on electronic exchanges, but there would be rules. Plans would have to offer a minimum set of benefits. People who had very cheap plans that didn't meet the standards would have to buy adequate plans at a higher price. Plans would have to accept all comers, not cherry-pick the healthy. Individuals would be required to buy coverage, not freeload by waiting until they got sick to purchase insurance or by just showing up at an emergency room. There would be subsidies based on income to make the mandated insurance affordable. The theories of the market enthusiasts would be tested within the limits set by the government rules.

Markets, especially new ones, involve continuous exploration. Prices and offerings shift as buyers explore what is available at various prices and sellers explore what they can afford to offer at those prices. If the market works well, the process should lead to greater consumer satisfaction and more efficiency; in this case, better care at lower cost. The proponents of the Affordable Care Act don't claim the law is perfect. The act's markets are in their infancy. Both buyers and sellers need more information. The rules will have to be adjusted as experience accumulates.

But millions of people do have health coverage who didn't have it two years ago. The markets are working pretty well and exploration is happening, consumers are learning and more insurers are testing the market. Should believers in market forces try to gut the Affordable Care Act? Heavens, no. They should seize this huge opportunity to prove their case by helping to make the law's markets work effectively.

Posted by orrinj at 1:29 PM


Congresswoman-Elect Mia Love: Personification of GOP Hypocrisy on Immigration (NATHALIE BAPTISTE, NOVEMBER 21, 2014, American Prospect)

Her parents, Marie and Jean Maxime Bourdeau, fled Haiti in the 1970s after Jean Maxime had been threatened by the Tonton Macoutes, the brutal police force of Francois Duvalier, the late dictator. According to Mother Jones, the immigration law in place at the time offered the possibility of her parents gaining citizenship if they had a child born in the United States. The law was set to expire in January 1976. On December 6, 1975, Love was born in a Brooklyn hospital.  

"My parents have always told me I was a miracle and our family's ticket to America," Love told the Deseret News in a 2011 interview.

Mia Love grew up to be a staunch conservative. The congresswoman-elect is not shy about telling people the story of how her immigrant parents pulled themselves up by their bootstraps (a popular talking point among her party) but she fails to mention the part that angers Republicans to their core--the undocumented part.

Although Love claims that her parents came here legally, there are several discrepancies that arise in her story. Her parents entered on tourist visas, which are typically granted for up to six months at the discretion of the immigration officer. This implies that Love's parents overstayed their visas, became undocumented, and when Love was born, they were able to apply for legal status. If that were the case, then Mia Love is what Republicans pejoratively refer to as an "anchor baby."

What Love's parents did to escape Haiti was common in the 1970s and 1980s, and her success can be contributed to her parents immigrating to the United States. One would think that with a story like that, Mia Love would be aggressively campaigning for better immigration laws so that other children of immigrants could be as successful as she.

That second generation is always the most nativist--they got theirs.  
Posted by orrinj at 1:22 PM


The Early Line On The GOP 2016 Presidential Field (Karl Rove, 11/20/14,

A successful former governor, Jeb Bush is a big thinker and effective communicator with a giant fundraising network. But can another Bush win? [...]

Next year is Bobby Jindal 's eighth and final year as Louisiana's governor, where he has focused on jobs and education. His previous Washington service makes him one of the party's experts on health care. He may not run if other governors--especially Rick Perry --do. [...]

Two Buckeyes are eyeing the contest. Ohio Gov. John Kasich was impressively re-elected with an economic message that appealed to working-class voters and won 25% among blacks. Hyperkinetic, can he be a disciplined candidate? 

Posted by orrinj at 1:19 PM


Iran nuclear deal could spur rapid growth (John Defterios, November 21, 2014, CNN/Money)

When he was at Goldman Sachs, emerging market strategist and author Jim O'Neill had Iran on his list of "Next 11" countries -- those offering the best opportunities for sustainable growth.

Iran's energy sector has been starved of technological know how. A return to the fold could change all that, and the potential is enormous. "The Iranian gas production can explode," said Fereidun Fesharaki, chairman of FACTS Global Energy. "It can supply huge amounts of gas and that gas has not been developed."

Iran sits on 33 trillion cubic meters of natural gas, or 18% of global reserves, according to the 2014 BP (BP) World Energy Report. With its giant South Pars field, Iran ranks number one in the world ahead of Russia and Qatar.

There's plenty of oil too. Iran has the second largest proven reserves in the Middle East, behind only Saudi Arabia. At 157 billion barrels, those reserves account for more than 9% of the global total.

Sanctions have done major damage. Iran's gross domestic product has shrunk by a quarter over the past three years. But at $1.2 trillion, it's still the world's 18th largest economy.

Investment strategists say allowing Iran's banks to trade in dollars again would give the economy a huge shot in the arm.

"The growth potential is enormous because you have had an economy which, to a great extent for the past 35 years, has been cut off from the world," said Eddie Kerman, board member at Turquoise Partners, an investment firm based in Tehran.

"That's been particularly the case for the past seven years [in banking]," he said.

Posted by orrinj at 1:13 PM


Can immigration save a struggling, disappearing Japan? (Chris Matthews,  NOVEMBER 20, 2014, Fortune)

Carl Weinberg, chief economist at High Frequency Economics...argues that Japan is in a depression, driven primarily by its quickly shrinking population. [...]

 Despite the fact that demographers estimate that Japan's population will shrink by 19 million people by 2050 and the ratio of the working to nonworking population will fall to 1:1 by 2055, it doesn't allow any permanent, legal immigration whatsoever. The result of this policy is that just 1.63% of the Japanese population is foreign-born, one of the lowest percentages in the world. (In the U.S., 14.3% of the population is made up of immigrants.).

Japanese policy makers have made moves to relax immigration restrictions, at least slightly, in recent years, by allowing a few thousands healthcare workers from select countries, like Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam, to enter the country and work towards long-term residency status. But the restrictions placed on these workers are strict: Their previous healthcare training is not recognized in Japan and the workers must learn Japanese within three or four years or they are sent back home. Not once has this program brought in the maximum allowed number of workers.

Following the financial crisis, Japan has only become less inclined to welcome foreign workers, despite the obvious need. Just as in the U.S., some Japanese people believe that allowing in immigrant workers is bad for those already in Japan. As Nobuyuki Yumi of Japan's Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare told the Asian News Network in 2012:

I consider the fields of nursing and health care to be important ones that generate jobs in Japan. Now the Japanese, especially the younger generation, are struggling to find jobs.... Former nurses who have quit can be encouraged to return to work instead.

And this attitude is a reflection of broader public opinion in Japan. According to the Japan Times:

Opinion polls show the Japanese public to be increasingly worried about the effects of the declining population. However, when asked what should be done to secure the labor supply, the top two answers in an April Yomiuri poll were to increase the rate of working women and encourage more elderly to work. Only 37 percent said more foreign workers should be accepted, and only 10 percent of those said manual workers should be brought in. The bottom line is that the no-immigration principle continues to be broadly supported by the Japanese public.

Unemployment is always an issue in capitalist countries. Even during boom times, we all wish there were more jobs. But macroeconomists are in near-unanimous agreement that a growing population is an essential ingredient for a growing economy, especially in developed countries where social insurance programs need for there to be enough young workers to take care of the old.

Posted by Glenn Dryfoos at 12:34 AM


Hampton Hawes: For Real! 

A year or two ago, a friend sent me a book I had never heard of, "Raise Up Off Me" the autobiography of the great bop pianist, Hampton Hawes.  Before that, I had heard of Hawes but was not very familiar with his music other than his playing on one Sonny Rollins album.  Well, his life story is fascinating, so I'll summarize it here before getting on to the music: born in Los Angeles in 1928 to a minister father and church pianist mother, he began picking out tunes on the piano at age 3.  Largely self-taught, he was gigging around while still in high school, and before the age of 20 he had played with the greats of the Central Avenue scene (including Dexter Gordon, Wardell Gray and Art Pepper) and had a life-changing (for good and bad) stint as the pianist with trumpeter Howard McGhee's Quintet which featured Charlie Parker during Bird's longest West Coast stay.  Hawes said that Parker was his primary musical influence, but like many who fell under Parker's spell, Hawes also became a heroine addict, and his book is filled with tragicomic misadventures of trying to score drugs in a variety of settings, including while stationed in Japan with the US Army during the Korean War.  Returning to the States in the mid-50's, Hawes had his greatest success as a recording and touring musician over the next 4 or 5 years, despite missing more than a few dates because he was strung out or in search of a fix.  In 1958 he was arrested on drug charges and sentenced to 10 years in prison.  Three years into his sentence, Hawes watched JFK's inauguration on TV in prison and decided to write to the new President seeking a pardon.  Amazingly, he was granted executive clemency in 1963, and returned to his musical career before dying suddenly of a brain hemorrhage at the age of 48 in 1977. 
Although Hawes recorded a number of terrific albums, mostly in trio settings, For Real! (recorded a few months before his incarceration) is my favorite because his playing is so wonderfully complemented by his band mates, Harold Land (tenor), Scott La Faro (bass) and regular collaborator Frank Butler (drums). Hawes's playing is a unique blend of bebop rhythm, harmony and technique - learned at the feet of the master, Parker - and a bluesy/funky/gospel feel...sort of a mix of Bud Powell and Horace Silver (although if I had to pick one player he most reminds me of it would probably be Wynton Kelly).  The opening tune of the album, "Hip," is a Hawes composition and an odd one in that the theme is an 11-bar blues...12 measures being the standard blues form and the basis for the great solos that follow.  The album has 2 classic bebop performances that show Parker's influence, "Crazeolgy," played moderately fast, and the Cole Porter standard "I Love You," played insanely fast.  But even at those speeds Hawes and Land, never fall into playing clichés or just running scales to keep up with the bass and drums.  "For Real" shows off Hawes's gospel/down home style on a tune reminiscent of Sonny Rollins's "Doxy." 

A few comments on the sidemen:  Scott La Faro had already established himself as one of the great bassists in jazz by the time he died in a car accident at 25 in 1961.  In his short career he played with such great, and diverse, musicians as Benny Goodman, Stan Kenton, Stan Getz, Ornette Coleman, and perhaps most memorably, as a member of the Bill Evans Trio.  La Faro's rich sound, technical agility, steadfast time keeping and melodic solos are heard throughout this album.  Although I was very familiar with Harold Land from his recordings with the Clifford Brown-Max Roach Quintet (where he had the unenviable job of replacing Rollins), his playing, while first rate, had never really jumped out at me.  But his work on this album was a consistently outstanding that I can't imagine any other great bop or hard bop tenor player of the time (Rollins, Gordon, Sonny Stitt, Hank Mobley) doing any better.  I especially like the story he tells in his gorgeous, soulful, self-assured solo on "Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams" (the YouTube clip linked at the top).

November 20, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 4:07 PM


'Sovereignty' no defence against ICC action in Sudan (KAMAL ELGIZOULI, 20 November 2014, openDemocracy)

Arguably, the traditional concept of a sacrosanct and impervious sovereignty no longer exists, and this allows more space for international scrutiny and action to protect human rights. The state is responsible for protecting the rights of its people, and upon failing to do so, the international community is entitled to act, including in extreme circumstances through intervention. As Dr. Boutros Ghali, former Secretary General of the United Nations, said: "The time of absolute sovereignty and exclusive sovereignty has passed." The international system requires a balance between the necessities of good governance and the requirements of an interdependent world, as well as a balance between the rights of the state and rights of its people.

Posted by orrinj at 3:48 PM


Obama's Immigration Plan Could Shield Five Million (MICHAEL D. SHEAR and ROBERT PEAR, NOV. 19, 2014, NY Times)

Up to four million undocumented immigrants who have lived in the United States for at least five years can apply for a program that protects them from deportation and allows those with no criminal record to work legally in the country, President Obama is to announce on Thursday, according to people briefed on his plans.

An additional one million people will get protection from deportation through other parts of the president's plan to overhaul the nation's immigration enforcement system, including the expansion of an existing program for "Dreamers," young immigrants who came to the United States as children. There will no longer be a limit on the age of the people who qualify. 

But farm workers will not receive specific protection from deportation, nor will the Dreamers' parents. And none of the five million immigrants over all who will be given new legal protections will get government subsidies for health care under the Affordable Care Act.

Just this once he ought to act like a leader and use his pardon power to grant a blanket amnesty for all immigration violations, the way Jimmy Carter did for draft dogdgers.

November 19, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 5:37 PM


The Tie That Binds : How Ronald Reagan, the sunniest president in recent memory, cemented the Republican Party to the dark vision of Richard Nixon. (Ed Kilgore, Nov/Dec 2014, Washington Monthly)

The Invisible Bridge, like its predecessor Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America, addresses a great puzzle of political history. How was it, the earlier book asks, that the apparent liberal consensus reflected in Lyndon B. Johnson's 1964 landslide victory ended so very quickly? The Invisible Bridge similarly explores why Richard Nixon's forced resignation, followed by the "Watergate Election" of 1974, gave way to an era dominated by Nixon's most obdurate defender, Ronald Reagan. And even as Nixonland suggested that the 1964 "consensus" disguised powerful fault lines in the New Deal/Great Society coalition that Nixon so skillfully exploited, this latest volume suggests that Reagan, even more skillfully, encouraged Americans to deny the evidence of their own eyes and ears and reimagine their country as the "shining city on the hill"--a vision threatened only by self-doubt and excessive domestic government. [...]

Reagan's political genius was to convert Nixon's saturnine and ultimately self-defeating vision of an America divided into a compelling (if no less divisive) narrative. It was a narrative that inspired reactionaries who were unwilling to accept Nixon's or America's sins, and seduced a bored mainstream media looking for a new story line. Though Perlstein never quite puts it this way, it seems that Reagan accomplished the "positive polarization" that Spiro Agnew had announced as his goal shortly before he was caught taking cash payoffs from Maryland highway contractors in brown paper bags in the White House. That Agnew and then Nixon had turned out, after all, to be crooks left millions of political orphans, and at nearly the perfect time along came Ronald Reagan to adopt them.

The hilarious thing about the Left's view of Reagan is that they're so convinced that America is evil and that the rest of us are brainwashed that they elevate Reagan into this almighty wizard who has permanently blinded us to reality.  If Republican hagiographries of the Gipper tend to be a tad silly, these are buffoonery. Ultimately, they aren't even talking about Ronald Reagan, but about their own estrangement from the American people.

Posted by orrinj at 5:29 PM


A Bernie Sanders candidacy could help Hillary Clinton (Doyle McManus, 11/19/14, LOS ANGELES TIMES)

This year, there could be three candidates running to the left of Clinton. In addition to Sanders, there might be Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (who says he's running, but hasn't succeeded in defining much of a theme yet) and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who spent most of the summer saying she wouldn't run, but recently modified that to "I don't think so."

Meanwhile, former Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) has been talking about running as a moderate to Clinton's right.

Challenges like these would be a good thing for Clinton.

For one thing, they would give voters a reason to tune in to Democratic primary debates; otherwise, the brawling Republican field would get hours of television time all to itself.

For another, if she has challengers on both the left and right, Clinton could conveniently cast herself as the woman in the middle, the champion of her party's broad center.

Of course, Bradley drahged Al Gore so far Left that he lost an unlosable election.  Hillary could shoot the gap between a leftwing nut and a rightwing nut, but that requires both.

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 PM


An Encounter Along Sherman's March (MARK H. DUNKELMAN,  NOVEMBER 18, 2014, NY Times)

My great-grandfather John Langhans enlisted in September 1864, joined the 154th New York Volunteer Infantry in Atlanta, and made the subsequent marches through Georgia and the Carolinas under Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman. He went on to live another 60 years, but when he died, the headline of his obituary identified marching with Sherman as the central event of his life.

My father and aunt imbibed their grandfather's war stories during his waning years. Decades later they passed the tales on to me, piquing my interest in the Civil War. In our family legend, Sherman's march was a sort of rowdy picnic, in which Union soldiers feasted on pigs and chickens taken from protesting farm and plantation owners along their path. Sherman's army, like Napoleon's, marched on its stomach.

Another aspect of our family legend described a great freedom crusade, with the army mobbed by joyous, newly freed African-Americans. Here was our ancestor as liberator, obviously on the right side of history. But his abolitionism went only so far. According to our legend, a former slave attached himself to John, intending to accompany him all the way to a job on the family farm in Cattaraugus County, N.Y., but John left the fellow behind on the journey north.

Our family legend also whitewashed history. Not a word was said about the extensive destruction of Sherman's marches, or the suffering of the beleaguered Southerners, white and black (excepting John's forlorn companion).

Slavery being evil, their suffering is not worth consideration.
Posted by orrinj at 5:21 PM


The Limits of a Secular Age (Randall Smith, 19 NOVEMBER 2014, The Catholic Thing)

Rémi Brague, French Catholic philosopher and winner of the prestigious Ratzinger Prize was at my university last week. Prof. Brague is one of those lecturers who loves to make interesting little side comments, something I am particularly fond of. In one of these little "asides," he suggested that the "secular" are those whose lives are defined by a horizon of a hundred years. "That is simply what the word 'secular' means," he declared.

I hadn't thought about the word "secular" or its Latin predecessor saeculum in this way before, since the Latin root cent- (from centum, "one hundred") didn't appear in it. So I looked it up.

What I found is that, in the ancient Roman world, a saeculum was considered the length of time roughly equal to the potential lifetime of a person or the equivalent of the complete renewal of a human population. How long would that be?

Opinions differed on this point, but during the time of Caesar Augustus, the Romans decided that a saeculum was 110 years. Later generations settled on an even 100, and as a result, in Romance languages, words derived from saeculum have come to mean "a century," as is true for example of siglo in Spanish, secolo in Italian, and siècle in French. Thus Prof. Brague was quite right that the word "secular" is related to "a hundred years," although the relationship is much clearer in French than in English.

Consider, then, the difference between a "secular" view of the world as opposed to one whose vantage point is "eternity" (in saecula saeculorum).

The inability to consider anything beyond yourself borders on pathology.

Posted by orrinj at 5:15 PM


Thank Germany for Falling Prices of Solar Panels and Wind Turbines (Harold L. Sirkin, November 18, 2014, Businessweek)

As the late Julian Simon wrote in 1996 in The Ultimate Resource, need and inventiveness, or innovation, typically go hand in hand. That's why he argued against the doomsayers of the time, who were predicting resource, energy, and food shortages. That won't happen, Simon said; we'll just find new and better ways to get what we need.

Germany's embrace of wind and solar power is a good example. All the world will benefit.

As the Times put it: "By creating huge demand for wind turbines and especially for solar panels, it has helped lure big Chinese manufacturers into the market, and that combination is driving down costs faster than almost anyone thought possible just a few years ago."

Posted by orrinj at 5:06 PM


2 GOP presidents acted unilaterally on immigration (ANDREW TAYLOR, Nov. 17, 2014, AP) 

Two presidents have acted unilaterally on immigration -- and both were Republican. Ronald Reagan and his successor George H.W. Bush extended amnesty to family members who were not covered by the last major overhaul of immigration law in 1986.

Neither faced the political uproar widely anticipated if and when President Barack Obama uses his executive authority to protect millions of immigrants from deportation.

Inherent powers don't go away just because the other party holds the Oval.

Obama Has the Law--and Reagan--on His Side on Immigration (Erwin Chemerinsky and Samuel Kleiner, 11/19/14, New Republic)

President Obama is soon expected to take a step toward fixing our broken immigration system by issuing an executive order to halt deportations of undocumented immigrants whose children are U.S. citizens. Republicans, including Speaker of the House John Boehner and new Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have threatened reprisals against such an order. But one thing is clear: The president has the constitutional authority to decide to not proceed with deportations. It has always been within the president's discretion to decide whether to have the Department of Justice enforce a particular law. As the Supreme Court declared in United States v. Nixon, "the Executive Branch has exclusive authority and absolute discretion to decide whether to prosecute a case."

A president may choose to not enforce particular laws when deciding how to allocate scarce resources or based on his view of the best public policy. Few object, for example, when the Department of Justice does not prosecute those who possess small amounts of marijuana, even though they violated the federal Controlled Substance Act. There are countless federal laws that go unenforced. In 1800, then congressman and later Chief Justice John Marshall stated, the president may "direct that the criminal be prosecuted no further" because it is "the exercise of an indubitable and constitutional power."

The president's broad prosecutorial discretion has been repeatedly recognized by the courts. In 2013, Judge Brett Kavanaugh of the D.C. Circuit, appointed by George W. Bush, offered a strong defense: "The president may decline to prosecute certain violators of federal law just as the president may pardon certain violators of federal law," Judge Kavanaugh wrote. "The president may decline to prosecute or may pardon because of the president's own constitutional concerns about a law or because of policy objections to the law, among other reasons."

This prosecutorial discretion is even greater in immigration because the treatment of foreign citizens is inextricably intertwined with the nation's foreign affairs, an area especially under the president's control. For example, the Supreme Court's decision in 2010 to overturn large parts of Arizona's restrictive immigration law, SB1070, was premised on the executive branch's need for discretion in the immigration context. "A principal feature of the removal system is the broad discretion exercised by immigration officials," the Court wrote, adding that "[t]he dynamic nature of relations with other countries requires the Exec­utive Branch to ensure that enforcement policies are con­sistent with this Nation's foreign policy with respect to these and other realities." In a similar 1941 case, Hines v. Davidowitz, the Supreme Court voided a Pennsylvania system of alien registration because "experience has shown that international controversies of the gravest moment, sometimes even leading to war, may arise from real or imagined wrongs to another's subjects inflicted, or permitted, by a government." 

A slippery slope on immigration (Ruth Marcus, November 18, 2014, Washington Post)

Every Democrat should be nervous about President Obama's plan for unilateral action on immigration reform.

Not because of the impact on an already gridlocked Congress, or because it risks inflaming an increasingly hostile public. Democrats should be nervous about the implications for presidential power, and the ability of a future Republican president to act on his or her own.

November 18, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 6:10 PM


German town tricks neo-Nazis into raising thousands of euros for anti-extremist charity (Elena Cresci,  18 November 2014, The Guardian)

Neo-Nazis gathered in a small German town found themselves the target of an anti-fascist prank this week when they inadvertently raised €10,000 for an anti-extremist organisation.

For decades, far-right extremists have marched through Wunsiedel in Bavaria every year, to the despair of those who live there. This year, the organisers of Rechts gegen Rechts (Right against Right) took a different approach.

Without the marchers' knowledge, local residents and businesses sponsored the 250 participants of the march on 15 November in what was dubbed Germany's "most involuntary walkathon". For every metre they walked, €10 went to a programme called EXIT Deutschland, which helps people escape extremist groups.

Posted by orrinj at 5:55 PM


United States of Brrr! Freezing or below temperatures hit all 50 states (Associated Press, Nov. 18, 2014)

Temperatures fell to freezing or below at recording stations in all 50 states on Tuesday morning, from the highest elevations in the mountains of Hawaii to the snow-paralyzed Buffalo area in New York.

Jeff Masters is meteorology director at the online site Weather Underground. He says the low temperatures are January-like instead of what's normal for November.

Posted by orrinj at 1:47 PM


Alcohol Taxes May Give Boost to Public Health, Economy (Robert Preidt, Nov. 18, 2014, HealthDay News)

"Money not spent on alcohol, coupled with the newly raised tax revenues, will be spent on other goods and services which will create jobs in non-alcohol sectors, offsetting any losses experienced in alcohol sectors," study author Frank Chaloupka, professor of economics at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said in an association news release.

According to Chaloupka's team, excessive drinking causes about 88,000 deaths a year in the United States and cost the nation $223.5 billion in 2006, or $1.90 per drink. In contrast, total federal and state taxes on alcohol in 2006 totaled only about 12 cents per drink.

Heavy drinkers pay more alcohol taxes -- for example, 82 percent of the total in Louisiana, 80 percent in Texas and 77 percent in California -- than light drinkers. Chaloupka reasoned that any increase in alcohol taxes might help reduce heavy drinkers' alcohol consumption.

And while critics of higher alcohol taxes say such a move would cause job losses, the new study suggests that the opposite is true.

"This new research suggests this argument is not only false, but that alcohol taxes can actually lead to more jobs," Chaloupka said.

Posted by orrinj at 1:32 PM


A Journeyman Pitcher Got There Before Jeter : The ex-Yankee's website gives us players' unfiltered views--like Jim Brosnan started doing in 1958. (BOB GREENE, Nov. 17, 2014, WSJ)

[I]n the summer of 1958, something unexpected in the sports world happened. Sports Illustrated readers opened a new issue and found a long article about the life of a journeyman relief pitcher who had recently been traded from the Chicago Cubs to the St. Louis Cardinals. The author was Jim Brosnan.

This was unheard of: unfiltered thoughts from a professional athlete, free of polishing from ghostwriters, straight from the clubhouse to the reader. It wasn't that the revelations were salacious or scandalous--they weren't. It was the human-to-a-fault dailiness of a ballplayer's world that was so startling. It was as if, for the first time, you understood what it was like to play a sport for a living. I recall, as a boy, opening that issue of Sports Illustrated and feeling as if Brosnan were talking to me, telling me things no sportswriter ever quite had.

If the article was met with wariness in the major leagues, it was embraced by readers, and Brosnan followed it with one of the best sports books ever written: "The Long Season," a diary of life on the road in 1959. After losing a game for the Cardinals against the San Francisco Giants: "Four hours later I sat at a table in Thompson's cafeteria, stabbing ham and eggs, drowning my burned-up pride with cold milk, and salting, slightly, the lower lids of my angry eyes. How in hell can you get into such a sad position? How can you fall so far so fast? . . . I can't stand to be booed. Some people say I'm being childish; most ballplayers say you get used to it. . . . I manage only to turn up the sound, and it rings and reverberates for hours after I'm gone, the crowd's gone, the game's gone."

Brosnan wasn't telling secrets, at least not the hurtful kind. (A decade later, in a suddenly more freewheeling American social era, another major-league pitcher, Jim Bouton, would write the best-selling and considerably less circumspect "Ball Four.") Jim Brosnan, though, was letting readers in on a quieter, simpler secret: what it's like inside a big-league uniform. Sometimes literally, as in this passage after he was traded midseason to the Reds: "Life in the Cincinnati clubhouse in midsummer is lived in the raw. Pregame uniform is jock strap and shower clogs. The thought of putting on a flannel uniform over woolen socks and undershirt starts the sweat rolling. 'How many electric fans you got in here, Chesty?' I asked the clubhouse man. 'Not enough,' he said."

November 17, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 6:36 PM


Why The Best Supreme Court Predictor In The World Is Some Random Guy In Queens (OLIVER ROEDER, 11/17/14, 538)

Blackman also launched the website FantasySCOTUS in 2009 -- as a joke. Like fantasy sports, human players log on, pick justices to vote this way or that, and score points once the decisions come down. To Blackman's surprise, it took off, and thousands of people now participate.

The real promise of FantasySCOTUS isn't entertainment, but prediction. Like the Iowa Electronic Markets, or the sadly defunct Intrade, FantasySCOTUS can harness the wisdom of the crowd -- incentivizing its participants to make accurate predictions, and then observing those decisions in the aggregate. This year there is a $10,000 first prize put up by the media firm Thomson Reuters.

"I had no idea whether it'd be accurate or not -- I did this entirely on a whim. And then by the end of the year I found out that this is actually pretty good," Blackman said. The serious FantasySCOTUS players generate predictions cracking 70 percent accuracy.

Blackman is excited to find out what sort of cases the humans are good at predicting, and what sort the machines are good at. With that information, he can begin to craft an "ensemble" prediction, using the best of both worlds.

So there are the scholars and the machines and the crowd. Composing the crowd are the hobbyists -- the intrepid, rugged individualists of the predicting world.

Jacob Berlove, 30, of Queens, is the best human Supreme Court predictor in the world. Actually, forget the qualifier. He's the best Supreme Court predictor in the world. He won FantasySCOTUS three years running. He correctly predicts cases more than 80 percent of the time. He plays under the name "Melech" -- "king" in Hebrew.

Berlove has no formal legal training. Nor does he use statistical analyses to aid his predictions. He got interested in the Supreme Court in elementary school, reading his local paper, the Cincinnati Enquirer. In high school, he stumbled upon a constitutional law textbook.

"I read through huge chunks of it and I had a great time," he told me. "I learned a lot over that weekend."

Berlove has a prodigious memory for justices' past decisions and opinions, and relies heavily on their colloquies in oral arguments. When we spoke, he had strong feelings about certain justices' oratorical styles and how they affected his predictions.

Some justices are easy to predict. "I really appreciate Justice Scalia's candor," he said. "In oral arguments, 90 percent of the time he makes it very clear what he is thinking."

Some are not. "To some extent, Justice Thomas might be the hardest, because he never speaks in oral arguments, ever."1 That fact is mitigated, though, by Thomas's rather predictable ideology. Justices Kennedy and Breyer can be tricky, too. Kennedy doesn't tip his hand too much in oral arguments. And Breyer, Berlove says, plays coy.

"He expresses this deep-seated, what I would argue is a phony humility at oral arguments. 'No, I really don't know. This is a difficult question. I have to think about it. It's very close.' And then all of sudden he writes the opinion and he makes it seem like it was never a question in the first place. I find that to be very annoying."

I told Ruger about Berlove. He said it made a certain amount of sense that the best Supreme Court predictor in the world should be some random guy in Queens.

"It's possible that too much thinking or knowledge about the law could hurt you. If you make your career writing law review articles, like we do, you come up with your own normative baggage and your own preconceptions," Ruger said. "We can't be as dispassionate as this guy."

Posted by orrinj at 5:09 PM


Better Economic Policy Won't Save Japan (Megan McArdle, 11/17/14, Bloomberg View)

[T]here may simply be limits on what good economic policy can achieve.  This is not a very useful thing for an economics columnist to write, because then what are we supposed to suggest week after week?  But there it is: Japan's economic problems, particularly its long demographic shift, may simply not be very amenable to better policy.  Japan's exports have a lot more competition than they used to, and the country is heading for the demographics of an Assisted Living facility.  Better monetary policy won't change either of those facts.

...nor is there any reason for it to. The salient fact about the dying of Japan is that the Japanese don't care.

Posted by orrinj at 5:07 PM


The Emerging India-Australia Maritime Relationship : Narendra Modi is making a triumphant tour of Australia at an interesting time in bilateral relations. (Abhijit Singh, November 17, 2014, The Diplomat)

Engaging with the Indian expatriate community is, indeed, fast becoming Modi's signature move on his tours abroad. There is nothing quite as effective as mass fervor in conveying political strength and India's charismatic premier realizes its inherent potential. From a foreign policy and regional security perspective, however, it is Modi's meeting with his Australian counterpart Tony Abbott that promises a more interesting outcome.

There are a number of issues for discussion, but one that is likely to top strategic agenda is "maritime security." Ever since Canberra officially declared its interests in the Indian Ocean last year, there has been speculation in the strategic community about an evolving maritime coalition in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). Indeed, Australia has in recent years sought to strengthen its nautical posture in the Indian Ocean, reviving its ties with regional states. It is, however, the vigorous pursuit of its relationship with India that has provided evidence of Canberra's desire to play a larger security role in the IOR.

Maritime watchers point out that Australia's consistent efforts for a deeper, more purposeful maritime association with India have begun to bear fruit.

Posted by orrinj at 5:01 PM


Ice Visible on Lake Superior Weeks Ahead of Schedule (DAN PECK, 11/15/14, ABC News)

Cold temperatures and snow across the Great Lakes in November is certainly nothing out of the ordinary, but this morning, a layer of ice was visible on parts of Lake Superior in Ashland, Wis.

While this may not seem unusual given the current stretch of unseasonably cold temperatures, it is actually several weeks earlier than normal.

The first sightings of ice on Lake Superior and the Great Lakes overall usually occur during the beginning to middle of December. However, a perfect combination of last season's record ice coverage, cooler summer temperatures, and an early blast of arctic air this fall has allowed for areas of ice to form earlier than normal for the second year in a row.

Posted by orrinj at 4:56 PM


Leslie Feinberg, Stone Butch Blues author and transgender campaigner, dies at 65 (Martin Pengelly, 17 November 2014, The Guardian)

An obituary written by Feinberg's wife, Minnie Bruce Pratt, said Feinberg was "an anti-racist white, working class, secular Jewish, transgender, lesbian, female, revolutionary communist".

Apparently not intentional parody.

Posted by orrinj at 4:54 PM


Less Food Policy, Not More (Richard Williams Nov. 17, 2014, US News)

The United States has created supermarkets full of the widest variety of food that has ever been available to any country. But for some, this achievement is seen as creating more problems than it solves. One suggestion, the subject of a recent Washington Post piece, suggests that we need a national food policy. Those that suggest that we need additional government programs and initiatives focused on healthy eating should consider the programs the government already has in place and the results - or lack of results - they've produced. [...]

One of the big problems in our current system is that we both subsidize and tax specific foods, sometimes taxing and subsidizing the same food, like sugar and corn used to create high fructose corn syrup. Inevitably, much of this is misguided, as are most of our policies that target individual foods or macronutrients.

As the research grows, the government's recommendations change. In the past, we have warned people about nuts, and then said they were miracle foods. We pronounced animal fats bad, and that got us trans fatty acids. Eggs were dangerous, but now they're good for you. Dietary cholesterol needed to be avoided, and then it didn't. Too much total fat was bad for you, but then some fats were good.

We could avoid all of these nutrition missteps if, for one thing, we stop subsidizing, taxing or targeting individual foods. The science will change, or we will come to understand that whatever is substituted will be just as bad or worse for you. We are either subsidizing farmers or we are taxing foods, which is one of the most regressive taxes on the poor that we have. Macronutrients seem to have something of the same problem.

Posted by orrinj at 4:51 PM


Let Them Play Assassin's Creed? : With sympathetic noblemen and bloodthirsty common folk, the French Revolution-set Unity is re-igniting an historic debate over the period's heroes and villains. (KABIR CHIBBERNOV 17 2014, The Atlantic)

The former leftist French presidential candidate, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, called it "propaganda against the people, the people who are [portrayed as] barbarians, bloodthirsty savages," while the "cretin" that is Marie-Antoinette and the "treacherous" Louis XVI are portrayed as noble victims. "The denigration of the great Revolution is a dirty job to instill more self-loathing and déclinisme in the French," he told Le Figaro (link in French). The secretary general of the Left Front, Alexis Corbière, said on his blog (link in French):

To all those who will buy Assassin's Creed: Unity, I wish them a good time, but I also tell them that the pleasure of playing does not stop you from thinking. Play, yes, but do not let yourself be manipulated by those who make propaganda.

Ubisoft, the maker of the Assassin's Creed series of video games, which has been going since 2007 and has sold more than 70 million copies, is in fact French. One of the makers of the game replied (link in French) that Assassin's Creed: Unity is a "consumer video game, not a history lesson" but did say that his team hired a historian and specialists on the Terror and other aspects of the Revolution. Le Monde lays out seven errors in the game here (in French).

The debate over who are the heroes and villains of the Revolution goes back to the 1790s.
In fact, the debate over who are the heroes and villains of the Revolution goes back to the 1790s. British counter-revolutionary thought often focused on the suffering of the monarchy in their stories, such as the King's tearful goodbye to his family before his execution on Jan. 21st, 1793 or Marie-Antoinette's perhaps apocryphal last words to her executioner after stepping on his foot just before her head was cut off: "Pardon me sir. I did not mean to do it."

Like the video game, many scholars also focus on the revolutionaries' violence. "Bloodshed was not the unfortunate by-product of revolution, it was the source of its energy," the historian Simon Schama wrote in his book Citizens (paywall), published in 1989 to mark the bicentennial of the French Revolution, which he said depended "on organized killing to accomplish political ends."

Posted by orrinj at 4:47 PM


Let's bring on the brave new world : The dominant concern about robots is that they will make us obsolete, but past changes suggest we should take off the blinkers of fear (Laurie Zoloth, 11/17/14, Cosmos)

I can get a robot to clean my house. I have a typing machine that fixes my wretched spelling. There are websites that know my tastes in philosophy and literature, and I have a cell phone that tells me where I am. My machines give me, a random humanities professor, the equivalent of a retinue of servants. Outside my home, robotic DNA sequencers and computers in labs are picking out signatures of cancer in patients' DNA (a task that not so long ago took an army of researchers more than a decade). In hospitals, tiny robotic arms perform microsurgery, allowing operations in remote locations. Out in space, satellites circle and warn me of weather hazards. We have already incorporated thousands of robotic achievements into our lives, and it is only sensible to hope for more, such as a robot car that may save tens of thousands of lives, a robot that can fight fires in rough terrain, or robot diagnosticians that can scan a patient and make a treatment plan. 

Of course not all the world lives like I do. Too many women and men dig, and fetch and carry burdens that are too heavy to bear, or do meaningless clerical work. For these people, who are too often invisible and who are treated like robots, the robot revolution cannot come too soon. And, I daresay, those who oppose it have never worked in a factory or a field. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:45 PM


Iran's emerging institutional power and its effect on negotiations with the United States (AHMED E. SOUAIAIA 17 November 2014, openDemocracy)

In the past, the US has argued that hardline figures in the Iranian government are the cause of failed attempts to reach a negotiated agreement. With both Iran's new "moderate" president and the same "hardline" supreme leader committed to negotiations, it is now the US shift in institutional power that is threatening the process and undermining the President's efforts. In other words, the new Congress may render what used to be reassuring American institutional power a thing of the past if President Obama fails to reach a deal within the allotted time--before November 23, which is fast approaching.

Since Iran and the P5+1 inked the interim agreement nearly a year ago, Iran has received some of its frozen assets, continued nuclear research and development without expanding uranium enrichment, and struck a number of trade and economic agreements with a many foreign companies, including European ones. Most of these agreements were structured in a way that would mitigate current or future western sanctions. In other words, with or without agreement, Iran is in a better position than before it signed the interim agreement. If the US keeps its current sanctions or imposes new ones, it would be like someone cutting the branch of a tree they are sitting on. In other words, it would deprive American companies and individuals of opportunities made available to everyone else thanks to the interim agreement.

US policy makers have been accustomed to dealing with Middle Eastern countries that lack established institutional power. It was often the case that when a US administration wanted a particular Middle Eastern country to do something, it simply asked the king, emir, or sheikh of that country to issue a decree. Iran's emerging institutional power requires a new strategy in the Middle East for US foreign policy to be relevant.

Posted by orrinj at 4:42 PM


Obama Looks to Jump-Start Export Push (WILLIAM MAULDIN, Nov. 16, 2014, WSJ)

Mr. Obama met with heads of the Group of 20 leading economies over the weekend in Australia to discuss ways to juice growth, which has again disappointed in Europe and Japan. For the U.S., one goal of increasing exports is to lift the lackluster manufacturing sector and relieve the pressure on consumers to deliver economic growth.

The U.S. and European Union announced trade negotiations early last year as a way to kick-start sluggish growth without changing tax or spending policies. Japan sees a separate Asian-Pacific trade deal as part of its efforts to bring efficiency and growth to stagnant sectors of its economy.

At home, the Obama administration is dangling the prospect of export gains--and associated manufacturing jobs--to attract support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership talks that include Japan and other Pacific Rim countries, as well as for the EU deal. Trade deals are widely seen as one economic area where the president and congressional Republicans, which swept to gains in this month's midterm elections, are in general agreement.

"To ensure that TPP is a success, we also have to make sure that all of our people back home understand the benefits for them--that it means more trade, more good jobs, and higher incomes for people throughout the region," Mr. Obama said last week in China.

Posted by orrinj at 4:38 PM


Russia May Want to Upend Dollar 'Diktat,' But Greenback's Still King (IAN TALLEY, 11/17/14, WSJ)

Beijing wants to internationalize the yuan in part for economic reasons. It helps the economy adjust to integration with the global economy.  It's also a political goal: China wants the yuan to be one of the core currencies held by central banks around the world as part of their emergency reserves. The yuan as a "reserve currency" would be a symbol of the country's international power.

There's no doubt the dollar is still king, however.

International investors are buying record amounts of U.S. debt, pushing the dollar to a five-year high earlier this month. Foreign holdings of U.S. treasury securities topped a record $6 trillion in August as Europe flirts with another recession, emerging markets slow down and Japan faces a tough battle to revive long-stagnant growth.

The greenback's share of global currency reserves has held fairly steady over the last two decades. In 1995, the dollar represented 59% of total global currency reserves reported to the International Monetary Fund. It rose to a high of 72% before the tech bubble burst in the early 2000s, but has hovered around 61% for four years.

Posted by orrinj at 4:12 PM


THE PROGRESSIVES' WAR ON SUBURBIA (Joel Kotkin, 11/17/2014, New Geography)

You are a political party, and you want to secure the electoral majority. But what happens, as is occurring to the Democrats, when the damned electorate that just won't live the way--in dense cities and apartments--that  you have deemed is best for them?   

This gap between party ideology and demographic reality has led to a disconnect that not only devastated the Democrats this year, but could hurt them in the decades to come. University of Washington demographer Richard Morrill notes that the vast majority of the 153 million Americans who live in  metropolitan areas with populations of more than 500,000  live in the lower-density suburban places Democrats think they should not. Only 60 million live in core cities.      

Despite these realities, the Democratic Party under Barack Obama has increasingly allied itself with its relatively small core urban base. Simply put, the party cannot win--certainly not in off-year elections--if it doesn't score well with suburbanites. Indeed, Democrats, as they retreat to their coastal redoubts, have become ever more aggressively anti-suburban, particularly in deep blue states such as California.  "To minimize sprawl" has become a bedrock catchphrase of the core political ideology.   

As will become even more obvious in the lame duck years, the political obsessions of the Obama Democrats largely mirror those of the cities: climate change, gay marriage, feminism, amnesty for the undocumented, and racial redress. These may sometimes be worthy causes, but they don't address basic issues that effect suburbanites, such as stagnant middle class wages, poor roads, high housing prices, or underperforming schools. None of these concerns elicit much passion among the party's true believers.

The miscalculation is deep-rooted, and has already cost the Democrats numerous House and Senate seats and at least two governorships. Nationwide, in areas as disparate as east Texas and Maine or Colorado and Maryland, suburban voters deserted the Democrats in droves. The Democrats held on mostly to those peripheral areas that are very wealthy--such as Marin County, California or some D.C. suburban counties--or have large minority populations, particularly African-American.

...they'd be at war with cities, The Neighborhood Effect: Localities and Upward Mobility (Jonathan Rothwell, November 12, 2014, Brookings)

In a new analysis published in Economic Geography, Douglas Massey of Princeton and I find that another element of parental advantage--the neighborhood in which they raise their children--matters a great deal. The effect of neighborhood income is 50 to 66 percent of the parental income effect, so that growing up in a poor neighborhood would wipe out much of the advantage of growing up in a wealthy household. Lifetime earnings are $900,000 (or $730,000 in net present value terms) higher for those raised in top quintile neighborhoods than for individuals from bottom quintile neighborhoods. That is slightly larger than the difference between the average college and high school graduate.

Posted by orrinj at 4:09 PM


In This Place: In Praise of the Music of Frank La Rocca : The sacred music of the American composer is remarkable and unaffected, breathing the atmosphere of mystical devotion (R.J. Stove, 11/02/14, Catholic World Report)

All this serves as a prelude to noting several facts: first, that there flourishes in America a composer named Frank La Rocca; second, that his creative talent for religious music is remarkable; third, that one can have been a professional musician--indeed a professional church musician--for decades without having encountered his name, let alone his output; and fourth, that those in that ignoramus category had included myself, until his CD In This Place, was recently brought to my attention--and by a non-musician! According to the Myth of Artistic Inevitability, such neglect could never have happened. I would, for certain, have discovered La Rocca's work in the quotidian course of events; every decent-sized musical reference book would have alerted me to that work; it would be needless to accord him wider fame by writing the present article; and pigs would fly.

A good case can be mounted for listening to all unfamiliar music, as it were, "blindfolded". In other words, for judging it entirely upon what the ear apprehends, with no biographical or other data to affect one's pleasure or distaste. Accordingly, before seeking any information about La Rocca's career, I began playing the CD, and I concentrated exclusively on what I heard.

What I heard managed to reveal, within the first 60 seconds of the initial track--O Magnum Mysterium, to words best known through Tomas Luis de Victoria's version--that something uncommonly interesting had unfolded. Stylistically the music (most of it choral, though it included a piano solo called Meditation) bore traces of Arvo Pärt, yet was conspicuously not by Pärt himself. Likewise, it bore traces of the late Sir John Tavener, yet just as conspicuously did not emanate from Tavener's pen. It showed a composer comfortable not only with the setting of Latin words but with large musical structures, a fact that in itself separated him from most of the minimalists whom his writing might otherwise have suggested. 

Equally unmistakably, it breathed the atmosphere of mystical devotion, Messiaen being occasionally implied in the piled-up vocal harmonies and the suggestion that "the still point of the turning world" had been intuitively (rather than logically) arrived at. But it could not be classified as fake-Messiaen either. One thing was sure: it defied switching off, whether literally through pressing the stereo's relevant button, or metaphorically through letting the attention drift elsewhere.

At this point, and not before, I called the Internet to my didactic aid. From various websites, including La Rocca's own site, I learned that La Rocca, born in New Jersey 63 years ago, had acquired his bachelor's degree in music from Yale (1973) and his doctorate in music from Berkeley (1981). Among his teachers he numbered Andrew Imbrie and John Mauceri, neither of whom would have the slightest inclination to waste time and effort on a mere cashed-up dilettante. A former Calvinist, La Rocca converted somewhere along the line to Catholicism, and since then has devoted a remarkable amount of his energy to the production of choral music, most of it in Latin. This music has been heard not solely in the United States, but also in Brazil, Portugal, Britain, France, Germany, and the Czech Republic.

It is among the most difficult of all pedagogical tasks to depict, through mere words, musical originality. This musical originality La Rocca has somehow acquired, without the smallest detectable straining after it. Especially notable in this connection is this album's Credo, a text that often gives second-rate composers trouble, because of its sheer length and its limited number of opportunities for word-painting. No such problems perturb La Rocca, who has treated it with a master craftsman's hand. His other Latin settings on this disc--they include Miserere, Expectavi Dominum, and O Sacrum Convivium--are equally free from either dullness or archeologism (which is really no more than dullness's arrogant elder brother).

November 16, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 6:03 PM


Egypt's New Police State (SARA KHORSHIDNOV. 16, 2014, NY Times)

Egypt seems to be headed back toward the 1960s, when Gamal Abdel Nasser set a precedent for the whole Arab world by creating a police state that brutally suppressed dissidents and instilled fear among its citizens.

Last week, on what seemed a calm Tuesday afternoon, I witnessed firsthand what it means to live in a hypernationalist atmosphere where ordinary citizens, encouraged by the state and allied media, snitch on fellow Egyptians. [...]

This is worse than the situation under Mr. Mubarak, when only state-owned media adopted an unwaveringly pro-government editorial policy whereas privately owned media were more open to diverse views. Now the ruling elite seems less confident of its ability to withstand criticism.

The space for freedom of expression that used to exist is narrowing. At first, shortly after Mr. Morsi's ouster, pro-Muslim Brotherhood TV stations were suspended and Islamists were essentially banned from appearing on state-run and private Egyptian channels.

Posted by orrinj at 9:55 AM


Toil as Curse and Grace (Dylan Pahman, 11/12/14, Acton Commentary)

In the midst of the now-common Christian affirmation of all forms of work as God-given vocations, the image of Sisyphus, vainly pushing his boulder up a hill in Hades, only to watch it roll back down again, might serve to remind us of the reality of toil, the other side of the coin. While human labor does have a divine calling, we do not labor apart from "thorns and thistles" and "in the sweat of [our] face" (Genesis 3:18-19). Contrary to common assumptions, this toilsome aspect of our labor has a higher calling of its own, acting as the means by which labor prunes our hearts to bear fruit to God.

Given this aspect of human labor, some might impute to Christians who laud the virtues of vocation that error which the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) charged to "the flatterers of work" in his day. "In the glorification of 'work' and the never-ceasing talk about the 'blessing of labour,'" he writes in The Dawn of Day,

I see the same secret arrière-pensée as I do in the praise bestowed on impersonal acts of a general interest, viz. a fear of everything individual. For at the sight of work--that is to say, severe toil from morning till night--we have the feeling that it is the best police, viz. that it holds every one in check and effectively hinders the development of reason, of greed, and of desire for independence. For work uses up an extraordinary proportion of nervous force, withdrawing it from reflection, meditation, dreams, cares, love, and hatred; it dangles unimportant aims before the eyes of the worker and affords easy and regular gratification. Thus it happens that a society where work is continually being performed will enjoy greater security, and it is security which is now venerated as the supreme deity.

For Nietzsche, work ultimately serves as a tool of manipulation. Those who praise work really just want to hold down the masses and suppress their intellectual development, aspirations, and individuality. The true god of those who laud labor is their own security. They hold out to workers the "easy and regular gratification" of daily work only in order to distract them from the truly oppressive reality.

Nietzsche's conspiratorial leanings might be overblown, but his general criticism that our daily work might be no better than the fate of Sisyphus, if only we could see it, should be taken seriously. For many people, the words of Ecclesiastes would more readily resonate with their jobs than any exhortation to view them as vocations:

Then I looked on all the works that my hands had done
And on the labor in which I had toiled;
And indeed all was vanity and grasping for the wind.
There was no profit under the sun. (2:11)

On the worst of days (and for some even on the average day), working customer service in a retail store or the assembly line at a factory or cleanup at Chuck-E-Cheese's feels far more like "grasping after the wind" than fulfilling one's God-given station in life. Would we call out to Sisyphus, "Take heart; your work is divinely ordained!"? It was divinely ordained, but only as an instrument of retribution.

Even God favored the slacker Abel.

Posted by orrinj at 9:42 AM


Genome Reveals How Cats Evolved to Tolerate Humans (Tia Ghose, LiveScience)

In domestic cats, genes linked to motivation and fear faced strong evolutionary pressure over history, leading the cats to be less shy and more driven by rewards, Warren said. [...]

"The study is great, especially in defining changes in the genome that have led to domestication or, more correctly, to the adaptation of the ancestors of domestic cats that allowed them to associate with humans and thus gain both protection from their predators and an ample food supply (rodents)," Niels Pedersen, a veterinary researcher at the University of California at Davisy, said in an email.

And yet, they're all still just cats.

Posted by orrinj at 9:39 AM


Netanyahu backs 'Jewish state' bill, with revisions (MARISSA NEWMAN, November 16, 2014, Times of Israel)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday gave his support to a contentious bill that would enshrine Israel as a Jewish state, though he said revisions would need to be made before the bill fulfilled its goal of lending "balance" to the judicial system.

Posted by orrinj at 9:33 AM


The great wage slowdown (Sergio Hernandez, 11/16/14, The Week)

The labor market may finally be hitting its stride, said Eric Morath at The Wall Street Journal. October marked the 49th straight month of U.S. job growth, the "longest stretch of job creation since at least World War II." Employers added 214,000 new jobs to their payrolls, and August and September's jobs numbers were revised up, pushing the unemployment rate down to 5.8 percent, "closer to a level many economists consider healthy." The size of the labor force grew as well, said Matt O'Brien at The Washington Post, "which means that unemployment fell for the good reason that people were finding work, and not the bad one that they were giving up." Five years on, the recovery appears to be "ever-so-slightly speeding up."

Too bad most Americans can't feel it, said The New York Times in an editorial. Since 2009, "the economy has grown by 12 percent, corporate profits by 46 percent, and the broad stock market by 92 percent." But median household income has actually contracted 3 percent. Job gains simply haven't translated into higher pay; 65 percent of the private-sector jobs created in the last five years have paid hourly wages of $20 or less. Last month was no different, with job growth concentrated in low-wage sectors like restaurants, retail, and temporary work. Americans might take home a little more dough now and then by working more hours or saving money on falling gas prices, "but they are not getting ahead in any real sense." The economy is doing better on paper, but it's still "not working for those who rely on paychecks to make a living."

Bosses don't feel the need to offer raises because they aren't struggling to find workers to fill available jobs, said Allison Schrager at Bloomberg ­Businessweek. 

There's nothing perplexing about the fact that paying people what their work is worth has made the economy more productive.  What does remain to be determined is how we return the profits from this arrangement to the people who've accepted it.

Posted by orrinj at 8:32 AM


The Classical Roots of 'The Hunger Games' (BARRY STRAUSS, Nov. 13, 2014, WSJ)

At the heart of the story are three beautiful, heroic young people: Katniss Everdeen and her male romantic interests, Peeta Mellark and Gale Hawthorne. They form a love triangle, but they also represent, from the point of view of the ancients, an aroused citizenry banding together and fighting for freedom against an evil empire.

Katniss, played by Ms. Lawrence, is "an updated Theseus," according to the books' author, Suzanne Collins. In Greek myth, Theseus and other young people from Athens were sent as tribute--human sacrificial offerings--to King Minos in Crete. The king turned them over to the Minotaur, a murderous beast who was half-man and half-bull and lived in a maze or labyrinth. The intrepid Theseus killed the Minotaur and saved his countrymen.

Like that ancient Greek hero, Katniss defies an oppressive empire and sparks a revolution. But it's an update with a twist. Today's Theseus is female, which calls to mind not only modern girl power but also ancient lore. Her character is inspired by the famous Amazon warriors and Atalanta, the great female runner of Greek myth. Katniss also recalls Artemis, goddess of the hunt--Diana to the Romans--because her preferred weapon is the bow and arrow.

Like imperial Rome, the country of "The Hunger Games" is a once-free society now dominated by a corrupt and rapacious capital city. A president exercises, in effect, the power of an emperor. He lives in a grand city called the Capitol, and his government feeds off its provinces, much as ancient Rome did. The people of the Capitol radiate a baroque and overripe luxuriousness, like the lords and ladies of imperial Rome, while the provincials are poor and virtuous.

This pattern goes back to the great Roman historian Tacitus (ca. 56-117), who drew a contrast between the primitive but free Germans and Britons and the decadent Romans who had lost their republican virtue under the Caesars. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:25 AM


Does Mary Landrieu have a prayer? (JAMES HOHMANN 11/15/14, Politico)

One by one, Mary Landrieu's paths to victory in her Louisiana Senate runoff are closing off.

Rely on the old Democratic coalition? She got a paltry 18 percent of the white vote in the first round.

Stress her importance to the home-state energy industry? The Republican takeover of the Senate strips away her Senate Energy Committee chairmanship.

Hope for Barack Obama to help her by postponing any unpopular actions? The White House now seems likely to announce its immigration overhaul before the December 6 runoff.

On Friday, as Landrieu furiously corralled Democratic colleagues to support her bill approving the Keystone XL pipeline, some political observers warned against counting out one of the party's true survivors - a moderate Democrat who three times eked out victories in one of the nation's most conservative states. But with just three weeks until the election, Democratic operatives in both Louisiana and Washington say privately that so much would have to go right for Landrieu - and so much wrong for her Republican opponent - that it's almost impossible to imagine yet another Houdini-like survival.

Posted by orrinj at 8:18 AM


REVIEW: of The Sacred Project of American Society by Christian Smith (Cole Carnesecca, 11/10/14, Fare Forward)

In The Sacred Project of American Sociology, Smith in turn describes what a sacred project is, the content of American sociology's particular version of it, the evidence for the existence of that project. Here is Smith's extensive definition of what that project is:

American sociology as a collective enterprise is at heart committed to the visionary project of realizing the emancipation, equality, and moral affirmation of all human beings as autonomous, self-directing, individual agents (who should be) out to live their lives as they personally so desire, by constructing their own favored identities, entering and exiting relationships as they choose, and equally enjoying the gratification of experimental, material, and bodily pleasures. 

This visionary project, as Smith calls it, is a "secular salvation story"  that constrains the possibilities of sociological research by limiting, through means both subtle and overt, what should and should not be researched and what can and cannot be said. Smith does not reject this project, exactly--in fact he claims sympathy with large portions of it. But he believes that the discipline is largely blind to the existence of its own project. As a result of this blindness, Smith fears, is that "most of American sociology has becoming [sic] disciplinarily isolated and parochial, sectarian, internally fragmented, boringly homogenous, reticently conflict-averse, philosophically ignorant, and intellectually torpid. Sociology lacks the kinds of sustained, fruitful, and intellectually meaningful clashes, struggles, and clarifications needed for a discipline such as itself to generate important scholarship and education."  [...]

[S]mith's point is not merely to expose; he wants the discipline to become the best version if itself. He concludes that, "In my view, social science's greatest contribution to the societies that sustain it with resources is simply reporting back to those societies what really is going on in and among them, why and how so, and with what apparent consequences."  His fear is that sociology's blindness to its own sacred project cripples the discipline's ability to perform this task by conflating the "is" with a predetermined "ought-to-be." If sociologists acknowledged the underlying commitments of their discipline and dealt with them honestly, they would do a better job promoting meaningful research, exchange, and debate.

One way the failure to acknowledge that project impedes research is by excluding or alienating important communities from the work sociologists do. A Christian sociologist can often only avoid being a persona non grata only by downplaying his or religious commitments, while the gap academic between disciplines like sociology and conservative communities widens. Professors have occasionally asked me why "they" (here, Evangelicals) don't listen to sociological findings. The answer is easy. Attentive listeners know when they aren't equal partners in a dialogue.

Posted by orrinj at 7:18 AM


Making cars safer: have the driver do less (Reuters, November 12, 2014)

As millions of cars are under recall for potentially lethal air bags, designers are trying to reduce the need for the device -- using sensors, radar, cameras and lasers to prevent collisions in the first place.

With driver error blamed for over 90% of road accidents, the thinking is it would be better to have them do less of the driving. The US-based Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that forward-collision warning systems cut vehicle-to-vehicle crashes by 7% -- not a quantum leap, but a potential life saver. Nearly 31,000 people died in car accidents in 2012 in the United States alone.

"Passive safety features will stay important, and we need them. The next level is now visible. Autonomous driving for us is clearly a strategy to realise our vision for accident-free driving," said Thomas Weber, global R&D head at Mercedes-Benz .

While giving a computer full control of a car is some way off, there's a lot it can do in the meantime.

For now, in some cars you can take your foot off the pedal and hands off the wheel in slow-moving traffic, and the car will keep pace with the vehicle in front; it can jolt you awake if it senses you're nodding off; alert you if you're crossing into another lane; and brake automatically if you don't react to warnings of a hazard ahead.

How close this all comes to leaving the driver out of the equation was illustrated by an experiment at Daimler last year: adding just a few off-the-shelf components to an S-class Mercedes, a team went on a 100 km ride in Germany without human intervention. "The project was about showing how far you can go, not just with fancy lasers, but with stuff you can buy off the shelf," said David Pfeiffer, one of the team.

Posted by orrinj at 7:08 AM


Extreme Wealth Is Bad for Everyone--Especially the Wealthy : a review of Billionaires: Reflections on the Upper Crust by Darrell M. West  (Michael Lewis, New Republic)

What is clear about rich people and their money--and becoming ever clearer--is how it changes them. A body of quirky but persuasive research has sought to understand the effects of wealth and privilege on human behavior--and any future book about the nature of billionaires would do well to consult it. One especially fertile source is the University of California, Berkeley, psychology department lab overseen by a professor named Dacher Keltner. In one study, Keltner and his colleague Paul Piff installed note-takers and cameras at city street intersections with four-way stop signs. The people driving expensive cars were four times more likely to cut in front of other drivers than drivers of cheap cars. The researchers then followed the drivers to the city's cross walks and positioned themselves as pedestrians, waiting to cross the street. The drivers in the cheap cars all respected the pedestrians' right of way. The drivers in the expensive cars ignored the pedestrians 46.2 percent of the time--a finding that was replicated in spirit by another team of researchers in Manhattan, who found drivers of expensive cars were far more likely to double park. In yet another study, the Berkeley researchers invited a cross section of the population into their lab and marched them through a series of tasks. Upon leaving the laboratory testing room the subjects passed a big jar of candy. The richer the person, the more likely he was to reach in and take candy from the jar--and ignore the big sign on the jar that said the candy was for the children who passed through the department.

Maybe my favorite study done by the Berkeley team rigged a game with cash prizes in favor of one of the players, and then showed how that person, as he grows richer, becomes more likely to cheat. In his forthcoming book on power, Keltner contemplates his findings: 

If I have $100,000 in my bank account, winning $50 alters my personal wealth in trivial fashion. It just isn't that big of a deal. If I have $84 in my bank account, winning $50 not only changes my personal wealth significantly, it matters in terms of the quality of my life--the extra $50 changes what bill I might be able to pay, what I might put in my refrigerator at the end of the month, the kind of date I would go out on, or whether or not I could buy a beer for a friend. The value of winning $50 is greater for the poor, and, by implication, the incentive for lying in our study greater. Yet it was our wealthy participants who were far more likely to lie for the chance of winning fifty bucks.
There is plenty more like this to be found, if you look for it. A team of researchers at the New York State Psychiatric Institute surveyed 43,000 Americans and found that, by some wide margin, the rich were more likely to shoplift than the poor. Another study, by a coalition of nonprofits called the Independent Sector, revealed that people with incomes below twenty-five grand give away, on average, 4.2 percent of their income, while those earning more than 150 grand a year give away only 2.7 percent. A UCLA neuroscientist named Keely Muscatell has published an interesting paper showing that wealth quiets the nerves in the brain associated with empathy: if you show rich people and poor people pictures of kids with cancer, the poor people's brains exhibit a great deal more activity than the rich people's. (An inability to empathize with others has just got to be a disadvantage for any rich person seeking political office, at least outside of New York City.) "As you move up the class ladder," says Keltner, "you are more likely to violate the rules of the road, to lie, to cheat, to take candy from kids, to shoplift, and to be tightfisted in giving to others. Straightforward economic analyses have trouble making sense of this pattern of results." 

There is an obvious chicken-and-egg question to ask here. But it is beginning to seem that the problem isn't that the kind of people who wind up on the pleasant side of inequality suffer from some moral disability that gives them a market edge. The problem is caused by the inequality itself: it triggers a chemical reaction in the privileged few. It tilts their brains. It causes them to be less likely to care about anyone but themselves or to experience the moral sentiments needed to be a decent citizen. 

Or even a happy one. Not long ago an enterprising professor at the Harvard Business School named Mike Norton persuaded a big investment bank to let him survey the bank's rich clients. (The poor people in the survey were millionaires.) In a forthcoming paper, Norton and his colleagues track the effects of getting money on the happiness of people who already have a lot of it: a rich person getting even richer experiences zero gain in happiness. That's not all that surprising; it's what Norton asked next that led to an interesting insight. He asked these rich people how happy they were at any given moment. Then he asked them how much money they would need to be even happier. "All of them said they needed two to three times more than they had to feel happier," says Norton. The evidence overwhelmingly suggests that money, above a certain modest sum, does not have the power to buy happiness, and yet even very rich people continue to believe that it does: the happiness will come from the money they don't yet have. To the general rule that money, above a certain low level, cannot buy happiness there is one exception. "While spending money upon oneself does nothing for one's happiness," says Norton, "spending it on others increases happiness." 

If the Harvard Business School is now making a home for research exposing the folly of a life devoted to endless material ambition, something in the world has changed--or is changing. And I think it is: there is a growing awareness that the yawning gap between rich and poor is no longer a matter of simple justice but also the enemy of economic success and human happiness. It's not just bad for the poor. It's also bad for the rich.

Posted by orrinj at 6:15 AM


The End Game (GEOFFREY NORMAN, 11/10/14, Weekly Standard)

On September 2, 1864, President Abraham Lincoln received a telegram from General William Tecumseh Sherman that read, "Atlanta is ours, and fairly won." [...]

A week after sending his message to the president, Sherman ordered that "the city of Atlanta, being exclusively required for warlike purposes, will at once be vacated by all except the armies of the United States."

In a wire to his superior in the War Department, General Halleck, Sherman went on record. "If the people raise a howl against my barbarity or cruelty, I will answer that war is war and not popularity-seeking."

And to the mayor of Atlanta, who did, indeed, protest an action that would make civilians homeless refugees with winter approaching, he said, in effect, that he agreed. That it was a hard and heartless thing, but, he added, "You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it."

He would do what he must, then, and Mayor Calhoun should do the same. Which meant he must leave Atlanta "and take with you your old and feeble, feed and nurse them .  .  . until the mad passions of men cool down and allow the Union and peace once more to settle over your old homes at Atlanta."

And this was just the beginning.

...when we're the ones doing it.

Posted by orrinj at 6:06 AM


Clearing the Air : a review of A Climate of Crisis by Patrick Allitt  (STEVEN F. HAYWARD, 11/17/14, Weekly Standard)

Environmentalism is often traced to 19th-century Romanticism or Theodore Roosevelt-era conservationism. But Allitt chooses to start his timeline with the arrival of the atomic bomb at the end of World War II. The Bomb represented something new: Previous apocalyptic specters were thought to be the work of God, or chance; but with the Bomb, the prospect of a purely man-made apocalypse had come of age. Environmentalism, Allitt suggests, became a free rider to this new anthro-apocalyptic mood, as media sensationalism combined with the desire of environmental scientists to get a piece of the action. Add to this mix the "crisis entrepreneurs" (my term) of environmental activism, and the subsequent bureaucracy created around it, and you have all the pieces in place for the bitterly polarized world of today.  

Allitt decries the extreme polarization over the environment while affirming the importance of environmental problems. He gives good summary accounts of the main episodes and figures of early modern environmentalism, from the deadly 1948 smog siege of Donora, Pennsylvania, to the Cuyahoga River fires of the 1950s and '60s--along with sketches of Rachel Carson, Paul Ehrlich, Garrett Hardin, and Barry Commoner, among others. But early on, he lays out the ground for discounting the central outlook of environmentalists without directly calling them to task for their intellectual errors. 

For example, Allitt writes: "History also demonstrates that there is a vital link between industrialization, wealth, and environmentalism. Only wealthy societies practice environmental protection on a significant scale." Moreover, the developing world has not the luxury of adhering to the whims of wealthy Western environmentalists precisely because environmentalism is a luxury good: "In the early stages, however, it is much better to have 'dirty' industrialization than none at all. Industrialization is the only way for societies to overcome mass poverty." 

He pours subtle scorn on Paul Ehrlich and the population bomb crowd, recalling some embarrassing statements of regret that malaria had been conquered and shocking indifference to the human rights violations that China's one-child policy requires. He also notes the "authoritarian overtones" that accompany many environmental enthusiasms.

These and other hard-won truths have gained grudging acceptance among many environmentalists, and one of Allitt's stronger points is his tribute to the many figures who contested the simple-minded Malthusianism of environmentalism but who also tend to be ignored or slighted in most histories. It is long past time for the more complete recognition Allitt gives to the trenchant criticisms and revisions of environmental thought from Julian Simon, Petr Beckmann, Wilfred Beckerman, Aaron Wildavsky, and Ben Wattenberg. Allitt also offers some subtle treatments of the nonconforming thoughts of figures inside the environmental establishment, such as Daniel Botkin and William Cronin.

Posted by orrinj at 5:20 AM


Robots to Steal 10 Million Low Paid UK Jobs by 2034 (Lianna Brinded, November 10, 2014, IB Times)

Britons earning less than £30,000 a year are likely to have their jobs taken by robots over the next two decades as 10 million UK positions are said to be eliminated in favour of automation.

According to a joint report by big four accountancy firm Deloitte and the University of Oxford, the lower paid are five times more likely to have their jobs taken over by robots, compared with those earning around £100,000 (€127,245, $159,032).

According to Office for National Statistics data, 30.76 million people are employed in the UK, meaning that the jobs being potentially lost to robots account for 35% of the British workforce.

Nothing reflects our current confusion more than viewing our liberation from menial labor as a crisis.

November 15, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 11:44 AM



Contemporary conservatism is home to an odd mix of pundits and personalities, from Bible-thumping social conservatives to blue-blooded economic elites, to assorted others who pledge to serve both God and mammon with equal fervor. For many progressives, the tensions and contradictions at work within movement conservatism make its practitioners difficult to understand, or even hypocritical. According to a new book by Michael J. Lee those tensions and contradictions have been frustrating for conservatives too.

In Creating Conservatism, the Associate Professor in the Department of Communication at the College of Charleston, traces the evolution of American conservatism across the middle of the 20th century, analyzing the notable books and authors that ushered the movement to national prominence and political power.

RD's Eric C. Miller spoke with Lee about his project.

Your book tells the story of movement conservatism as an internal struggle between two opposed factions--traditionalists and libertarians. The first faction values religious belief and social order, while the second is primarily concerned with individual freedom. Over a few decades of antagonism, the two became fused. How do you evaluate the state of the movement currently? Is the struggle ongoing?

In my judgment, the history of the American conservative movement suggests its adaptability and flexibility. It is certainly possible that one faction or the other could take hold of conservatism and drive out the rest, but, in the main, conservatives, both historically and in our present political circumstances, have accepted a fusion of Christian morality and free market economics as their bedrock beliefs.

There is a great deal of room to maneuver between these poles, which allows conservative campaigners to emphasize a more socially conservative platform or a more libertarian conservative platform depending on the circumstances. I don't mean to suggest that conservatives' adaptability sets them up to win in 2014 or even 2016, but I do take issue with those pundits, and there are many, who have argued that conservatism is a "dead" ideology.

You identify "fusionism" as a concerted strategy to unite the factions into a viable coalition. It seems to me that, lately, conservative arguments themselves have become fused. The prevalence of "religious liberty" complaints, for instance, seems to cast traditionalist commitment in libertarian language. Do you buy that interpretation?

That's an astute point. "Religious liberty" is a perfect example of fusionist rhetoric and fusionist ideology. After Reagan succeeded so dramatically with a fusionist "God and markets" message, there have only been a few non-fusionist conservatives to gain much national traction. Pat Buchanan's 90s-era culture warriors are one example; although, by my reading, it remains to be seen whether Rand Paul's ideological adjustments will bring him closer to standard fusionism. His father's more stridently libertarian message, which rankled the feathers of social conservatives, is another. There are certainly more, but these are exceptions to the fusionist rule.

"Religious liberty" is an illustrative phrase for another reason as well: the threat of fracture. Hardline libertarians of Ludwig von Mises' or Ayn Rand's ilk found phrases like religious liberty revolting because they urged the freedom to practice a religion that itself denies individual freedom. In fact, I've been consistently amazed at how well fusionists have done in managing what I see is the inherent tension between a morality chiefly based on individual freedom and market processes, and one grounded in Judeo-Christian values.

Fusionists like Frank Meyer insisted that people who saw these as contradictory were wrong, that market-based values and religion-based values actually required one another for legitimacy. That is, freedom required religion's ethical guidance, and religion required a defense of freedom to avoid theocracy.

Fusionism's success was, however, more due to its ability to fashion resonant appeals to lots of constituencies than to its uncomplicated synthesis of mutually dependent ideologies. After all, I have never seen an effective answer to the question hardline traditionalist Brent Bozell posed to early fusionists in the 1960s: freedom or virtue? Is it more important to exercise freedom of choice regardless of the moral outcome, or is it more important that an individual's choices align with traditional moral dictates?

Ultimately, a politically viable libertarianism has no other optioin but than to try and fuse itself to conservatism, like the lamprey to its host.

Posted by orrinj at 11:40 AM


Putin to leave G20 summit early: Russian delegate (Anna Smolchenko, 11/14/14, AFP)

Vladimir Putin intends to cut short his attendance at the Group of 20 summit in Brisbane on Sunday, a Russian source said as the strongman faces intense pressure from the West over Ukraine.

You've gotta give the guy this, he never tires of being humiliated.

Posted by orrinj at 10:42 AM


Interstellar: Good Space Film, Bad Climate-Change Parable : A story about looking for a new world is more exciting than a movie about saving an ailing one. (NOAH GITTELLNOV 15 2014, The Atlantic)

Climate change is never mentioned by name in the film, but writer/director Christopher Nolan uses its imagery to define the terms of his story. Interstellar is set in a near-future Earth on the verge of total ecological collapse, with drastic changes in weather patterns and devastating food shortages driving human beings to the brink of extinction. We never learn exactly what caused this devastation (there is a vague reference to a crop disease called "a blight"), but Cooper, the tough and tender protagonist played by Matthew McConaughey, pins it on a failure of the human spirit: "We used to look up at the sky and wonder at our place in the stars. Now we just look down and worry about our place in the dirt," he says early on. When he is asked to lead a secret NASA expedition to look for another planet to colonize, he gets a chance to live by those words.

Those words also serve as Nolan's plea to the Western world to invest more in research and technological invention--which means that after TV's Cosmos and this year's terrific documentary Particle Fever, Interstellar is the latest attempt to arouse interest in the sciences through pop culture. But by placing his plea in the context of our climate change crisis, Nolan has set up a false choice: In the world of Interstellar, mankind can either leave the planet behind, or it can stay here and die. The choices that humans--here in the real world--actually have to make regarding climate change and the future of the earth are much more complicated, and are nowhere to be found onscreen.

One of the nice things about reading Peter Augustine Lawler is how much of the nonsense you read on-line he's already answered for you.  So, shortly after reading the above I found the following in his terrific new collection, Allergic to Crazy:

[Tom W]olfe says NASA did have a philosopher--Wernher von Braun, whose word didn't catch on, he speculates, because he was a German with a Nazi background. But Americans are pretty open to listening to Germans (like Leo Strauss) and even Germans with Nazi backgrounds (like Martin Heidegger). So I can't help but add that von Braun's word just didn't get out.

3. Wolfe heard that word in a dinner speech and can't point us to any text. Here's my version of it: Only human beings are open to the truth about all things. Only human beings live meaningful lives. With their disappearance, the truth about Being would have no one to know it, and the universe would become meaningless matter and nothing more. So far, we're stuck in a very vulnerable position on this planet. It might be pulverized by an asteroid at any time; we might accidentally blow it up or trash it beyond repair. The sun will stop shining some day, no matter what we do. We have a duty--in the name of meaning and Being--to spread ourselves out around the cosmos, giving philosophy, as Strauss would say, the longest possible future--not to mention virtue, dignity, poetry, and (some would impiously say) God.

4. That duty seems deeper, from an anthropocentric view, than merely our duty to "the environment." No matter how well we treat our planet, eventually it will turn on us. We're getting increasingly paranoid about "climate change," forgetting that we have no "natural right" to a stable climate, one that will support lives such our ours. Surely our duty to preserve "man" is more profound than our duty to do what we can to preserve earthly nature. (The two duties are obviously not incompatible.)

God imposed a pretty hefty obligation on us when He granted us dominion over Creation, but our higher duty is obviously to Man, on particular.

N.B. The referenced Tom Wolfe essay utilizes a pluperfect David and Goliath analogy:

INTUITIVELY, not consciously, Kennedy had chosen another form of military contest, an oddly ancient and archaic one. It was called "single combat."

The best known of all single combats was David versus Goliath. Before opposing armies clashed in all-out combat, each would send forth its "champion," and the two would fight to the death, usually with swords. The victor would cut off the head of the loser and brandish it aloft by its hair.

The deadly duel didn't take the place of the all-out battle. It was regarded as a sign of which way the gods were leaning. The two armies then had it out on the battlefield ... unless one army fled in terror upon seeing its champion slaughtered. There you have the Philistines when Little David killed their giant, Goliath ... and cut his head off and brandished it aloft by its hair (1 Samuel 17:1-58). They were overcome by a mad desire to be somewhere else. (The Israelites pursued and destroyed them.)

More than two millenniums later, the mental atmosphere of the space race was precisely that. The details of single combat were different. Cosmonauts and astronauts didn't fight hand to hand and behead one another. Instead, each side's brave champions, including one woman (Valentina Tereshkova), risked their lives by sitting on top of rockets and having their comrades on the ground light the fuse and fire them into space like the human cannonballs of yore.

The Soviets rocketed off to an early lead. They were the first to put an object into orbit around the Earth (Sputnik), the first to put an animal into orbit (a dog), the first to put a man in orbit (Yuri Gagarin). No sooner had NASA put two astronauts (Gus Grissom and Alan Shepard) into 15-minute suborbital flights to the Bahamas -- the Bahamas! -- 15 minutes! -- two miserable little mortar lobs! -- then the Soviets put a second cosmonaut (Gherman Titov) into orbit. He stayed up there for 25 hours and went around the globe 17 times. Three times he flew directly over the United States. The gods had shown which way they were leaning, all right!

God, as always, chose the technologically advanced overdog as against the necessarily weak philistines.

Posted by orrinj at 10:33 AM


Iran general said to mastermind Iraq ground war (QASSIM ABDUL-ZAHRA AND VIVIAN SALAMA November 5, 2014, Times of Israel)

Shiite militias have played a key role in driving the Islamic State group out of the so-called Baghdad Belt of Sunni villages ringing the capital. But the sectarian militias have long been implicated in brutality against the country's Sunnis, and while they have benefited from US-led airstrikes, their advance could undermine efforts to knit the troubled country together.

Militia commanders told The Associated Press that dozens of advisers from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and the Lebanese Hezbollah were on the front lines in Jurf al-Sakher, providing weapons training to some 7,000 troops and militia fighters, and coordinating with military commanders ahead of the operation.

One commander, who agreed only to be identified by his nickname, Abu Zeinab, said Soleimani began planning the Jurf al-Sakher operation three months ago. The cleared town, 50 kilometers (30 miles) south of the capital, lies on a road often used by Shite pilgrims, who will be heading in droves to the holy city of Karbala this week to commemorate the death of the Prophet Muhammad's grandson, Imam Hussein, in a 7th century battle that marked the beginning of the Sunni-Shiite divide.

The war against salafism is a joint Iranian-American operation.

Posted by orrinj at 8:29 AM


GOP's impeachment dilemma: 'Have you met Joe Biden?' (Peter Sullivan, 11/14/14, The Hill)

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) has a succinct response when asked about impeaching President Obama: "Have you met Joe Biden?"

Posted by orrinj at 8:17 AM


Harper tells Putin to 'get out of Ukraine' at G20 in Australia (Lee-Anne Goodman, 11/15/14, The Canadian Press)

Harper's spokesman, Jason MacDonald, said the prime minister was speaking to a group of G20 leaders at a private leaders' retreat on Saturday morning when Putin approached and extended his hand.

MacDonald said Harper told Putin: "I guess I'll shake your hand but I have only one thing to say to you: You need to get out of Ukraine."

Posted by orrinj at 7:52 AM



Nearly a century ago, Margaret Sanger promoted birth control as a way to put an end to poverty. That meant educating the poor in its methods. But she knew that this would be successful only to a certain degree. There's a significant portion of society, made up of "irresponsible and reckless ones having little regard for the consequences of their acts, or whose religious scruples prevent their exercising control over their numbers. Many of this group are diseased, feeble-minded, and are of the pauper element dependent upon the normal and fit members of society for their support. There is no doubt in the minds of all thinking people that the procreation of this group should be stopped."

"Should be stopped" was code for sterilization, and now we're seeing its return in a new form. Nicholas Kristof's column today in the New York Times is right out of the old progressive songbook. 

Kristof argues for sterilization, albeit reversible sterilization, which is what long acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs) amount to. We need to put lots of new money behind promoting them, he argues, because teenagers are "drifting" into pregnancy rather than "planning."

Now we need to be clear here. It's poor teenagers we're talking about, not upper-middle-class ones. They're from the "pauper element," as Sanger put it. The allure of LARCs for someone like Kristof is that it provides a technological solution to the problem of reckless behavior and lack of adequate "planning." It promises to break the cycle of poverty.

Kristof doesn't suggest forced use of LARCs. Nor does he use Sanger's unvarnished language that's so distasteful to our contemporary egalitarian sensibilities.

Darwinism and the American Eugenics Movement (Steven E. Woodworth, Science and Apologetics)

The arrival and acceptance of Charles Darwin's theory changed the intellectual landscape of America. Darwinism removed the basis for racial equality. Reasoning from Darwinist assumptions, it was impossible to come to the conclusion that all humans are equally human. If humans had evolved from lower forms of life and were gradually still evolving toward some higher form of life, then it stood to reason that some humans were more evolved--in effect, more human--than others. Some were closer to the superman that Darwinists promised in the future, and others were closer to the ape-like ancestor from whom Darwinists claimed all humans were descended. It did not take long, as we shall see, for advocates of Darwin's teaching to decide which humans belonged in the first group and which in the second.

It is important to recognize that Darwinism did not invent racism, nor did it introduce racism into the United States. Obviously, race-based chattel slavery began in America in the seventeenth century, long before Darwin, and it continued until the mid-nineteenth century without any help from the sage of Down House. But Darwinism effectively destroyed the philosophical foundation for objections to racism.

Darwinism also removed the basis for asserting any essential difference between humans and animals. Indeed, leading Darwinists emphatically proclaimed, "Man is an animal."[1] By this they meant not simply the uncontroversial and long-recognized fact that man's physical body functions in ways similar to those of animals, but that man is nothing more than an animal. This too was an inescapable outcome of reasoning from Darwinist premises. If man had gradually evolved from lower life forms, then there could be no qualitative difference between man and his supposedly less evolved ancestors. Man might be a very clever and highly developed animal, but he was an animal nonetheless. And since it was impossible to conceive how a human soul--as distinct from the physiological function of the brain--could evolve, most Darwinists soon came to posit that man had no soul. The human, like the animal, was the sum total of his physiological functions.

By the same token, Darwinist assumptions led directly to the conclusion that man did not have free will. "Science seeks to explain phenomena in terms of mechanism," wrote prominent Darwinist and eugenicist Charles Davenport, as he argued that human behavior should be understood as being "under a mechanical law instead of being conceived of as controlled by demons or by a 'free' will."[2]

The impact of these changes in the thought of many prominent individuals in the American intellectual elite is illustrated by the rise of the eugenics movement and so-called "scientific racism" in the United States in the early twentieth century.

The central idea of eugenics was that man should now take control of his own evolution, and this should occur by means of the state deciding who should procreate and who should not. In some cases it also meant the state deciding who should live and who should die. It was an extremely exciting idea to those who embraced it. "The discovery that man is able to guide his own evolution by means of eugenics," proclaimed the American Eugenics Society, was the "most momentous" human discovery of all time, and a prominent eugenicist announced breathlessly, "Today we are beginning to thrill with the feeling that we stand on the brink of an evolutionary epoch whose limits no man can possibly foretell."[3]

The origin of the eugenics movement can be traced directly to Darwinism. Francis Galton, a cousin of Charles Darwin, is credited with being the father of eugenics, but Darwin himself hinted broadly at the idea and gave it his strong support, especially later in his life. In The Descent of Man he wrote,

With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated; and those that survive commonly exhibit a vigorous state of health. We civilized men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination; we build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed and the sick; we institute poor-laws and our medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of every one to the last moment. There is reason to believe that vaccination has preserved thousands, who from a weak constitution would formerly have succumbed to small-pox. Thus the weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly any one is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.[4]

Darwin continued to give the newborn eugenics movement his earnest support. On one occasion he cut off all contact with a colleague who had dared to publish views critical of an article Darwin's son George had written in favor of eugenics.[5]

Galton picked up Darwin's eugenic ideas and advanced them vigorously. He believed that natural selection could be replaced by human selection so as to insure that those he defined as being more fit would be the ones who left most offspring. It was Galton who in 1883 coined the term "eugenics," from Greek root words meaning "good" and "birth." Galton argued that talent was hereditary, and that society should take steps to insure that its most talented members left numerous offspring and that its weak and foolish members left fewer or none. He expressed the hope that eugenics would become the religion of the twentieth century.

Posted by orrinj at 7:16 AM


Who's Afraid of a Little Deflation? (JOHN H. COCHRANE, Nov. 13, 2014, WSJ)

The worry today is a slow slide toward falling prices, maybe 1% to 2% annually, with perpetually near-zero short-term interest rates. This scenario would unfold alongside positive, if sluggish, growth, ample money and low credit spreads, with financial panic long passed. And slight deflation has advantages. Milton Friedman long ago recognized slight deflation as the "optimal" monetary policy, since people and businesses can hold lots of cash without worrying about it losing value. 

The thing is, we know why this is a deflationary epoch : technology, free trade, the breaking of the unions, out-sourcing, America's role as the global economy's sole safe harbor, a vigilant Fed and a more mature monetary system have made it one. All of these are healthy as merely considering the ways to reverse them demonstrates.  What's most remarkable about our current situation is that even as competition forces business to pass on its savings to us consumers, profits remain strong.  And, of course, unlike in prior ages, thanks to 401k's and IRA's and the like, we all own those businesses; they are not held just by the few.  Falling prices and rising savings, what's to be afraid of?

Well, there is another deflationary pressure acting globally that is malignant, unlike the benign ones above, and that is the population inversion/implosion which is not only leaving countries with a dearth of young people but even sending them into population decline.  

This last is the danger that we should be, not afraid of, but cautious about. There are a myriad of ways we can protect against it, from open immigration to strengthening marriage and families to recriminalizing abortion, etc.  But these are primarily cultural issues and only secondarily economic ones. 

Christians and the Loss of Cultural Influence (Peter Wehner, 11.11.2014, Commentary)

In my experience, the people who see their lives as part of a great drama tend to be the most liberated of all. That doesn't mean individual chapters aren't difficult and painful and confounding. But if you believe that your story has an Author and direction, that there is purpose even in suffering and that brokenness in our lives is ultimately repaired, it allows us to live less out of fear and more out of trust. That is true of us as individuals, and it's true of us as citizens.

"We used to be the home team," one person of the Christian faith said to me. "Now we're the away team." The challenge facing Christians in America is to remain deeply engaged in public matters even as they hold more lightly to the things of this world; to rest in our faith without becoming passive because of it; to react to the loss of influence not with a clenched fist but with equanimity and calm confidence; and to show how a life of faith can transform lives in ways that are characterized by joy and grace. How all this plays out in individual cases isn't always clear and certainly isn't easy. Some circumstances are more challenging than others. But it is something worth aiming for.

Engaging the culture in a very different manner than Christians have-persuading others rather than stridently condemning them-may eventually lead to greater influence. But whether it does or not isn't really what is most important. Being faithful is. And part of being faithful is knowing that God is present in our midst even now; that anxiety and hysteria are inappropriate for people who are children of the King, as a pastor friend of mine recently told me; and that hope casts out fear.

Posted by orrinj at 7:02 AM


Source: Obama to announce 10-point immigration plan via exec action as early as next week (Lucas Tomlinson, November 13, 2014,

The draft plan, though, contains 10 initiatives that span everything from boosting border security to improving pay for immigration officers. 

But the most controversial pertain to the millions who could get a deportation reprieve under what is known as "deferred action." 

The plan calls for expanding deferred action for illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children -- but also for the parents of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents. 

The latter could allow upwards of 4.5 million illegal immigrant adults with U.S.-born children to stay, according to estimates. 

Critics in the Senate say those who receive deferred action, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, receive work authorization in the United States, Social Security numbers and government-issued IDs.

Another portion that is sure to cause consternation among anti-"amnesty" lawmakers is a plan to expand deferred action for young people. In June 2012, Obama created such a program for illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children, entered before June 2007 and were under 31 as of June 2012. The change would expand that to cover anyone who entered before they were 16, and change the cut-off from June 2007 to Jan. 1, 2010. This is estimated to make nearly 300,000 illegal immigrants eligible. 

Simple decency requires permanent amnesty, not temporary deferral.

November 14, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 5:08 PM


Newly Insured Americans <3 Obamacare (Lindsey Cook, Nov. 14, 2014, US News)

Nearly three-fourths of Americans who bought health insurance through the health exchanges mandated under the Affordable Care Act rated the coverage "good" or "excellent," according to a new poll from Gallup. The ratings were similar to those of other health insurance plans. 

The national health insurance marketplace opens again on Nov. 15, when more Americans can buy coverage. Following the last round of sign-ups, the percentage of uninsured Americans was the lowest on record. We'll likely see those numbers go down more, although officials recently lowered projections about how many Americans would buy coverage this year through the exchanges. 

For those buying new health insurance plans, they are satisfied with the cost of health care, more satisfied than Americans with other health insurance plans. 

Which is why Republicans won't repeal, only reform.

Posted by orrinj at 5:05 PM


Oil prices expected to fall further in 2015 (Deutsche-Welle, 11/13/14)

Oil prices may slump further in 2015 despite falling to their lowest levels since 2010, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said on Friday.

"Our supply and demand forecasts indicate that barring any new supply disruption, downward price pressure could build further in the first half of 2015," the IEA said.

Prices are not expected to pick up any time soon due to "deep structural changes" affecting the industry, such as weaker demand from China and rising US shale output.

Thankfully, the GOP stands to reap much of the benefit for an economic boom that has nothing to do with either party.

Posted by orrinj at 4:58 PM


Is the U.S. really against torture? It can be hard to tell (Elisa Massimino November 14, 2014, Reuters)

Yet Obama's stated desire to "look forward, not back" has been central to denying the public reckoning that the nation needs. In the absence of such a reckoning, polls shows support for torture has increased. The public has come to see torture as a viable policy option -- one that Bush was for and Obama is against. Many Americans don't regard torture as the immoral and illegal act it is.

The Bush administration's embrace of torture after Sept. 11 broke the national consensus against it. And it remains broken. Unless it is repaired, it's entirely possible that a future president could reauthorize torture -- and undo Obama's executive order with the stroke of a pen.

Obama's decision not to prosecute the perpetrators or authors of the previous administration's torture policy, coupled with the apparent ambiguity in the Obama administration's legal interpretations of the treaty, make it even more critical that the White House seize the opportunity presented by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence's landmark report on the CIA's "enhanced interrogation" program to rebuild the national consensus against torture. A bipartisan majority of the committee voted to adopt the report, declassify it and release it. Leading Republicans, including Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) supported this.

But the president was slow to back the report's release and instead allowed the CIA to decide on all redactions -- despite the agency's conflict of interest and possible illegal monitoring of the intelligence committee staff.

Of course we're pro-"torture," we're a democracy.

Posted by orrinj at 4:53 PM


Obama's Unexpectedly Good Week (JOHN CASSIDY, 11/13/14, The New Yorker)

Before election week was out, he had nominated a replacement for the outgoing Attorney General, Eric Holder. In Loretta Lynch, the mob-busting, terrorist-trying U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York (Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, and Long Island), the White House found a prosecutor who seems likely to pursue much of Holder's agenda, but also to avoid some of the partisan bickering that characterized his tenure. Lynch has already been confirmed by the Senate twice, and even Fox News personalities find it hard to fault her. "Lynch is both highly qualified and abundantly experienced to become the nation's top law enforcement officer," Fox's Gregg Jarrett, a former defense attorney, wrote at Jarrett went on, "Unlike her predecessor, she has no close ties to Obama. ...There is no history or evidence to suggest she will use her high office to act like a carnival barker in abetting the political manifesto of President Obama. If confirmed, Lynch has the potential to breathe new life and a principled stewardship into a vital department that has lost sight of its own name."

Before departing on a trip to Asia and Australia, Obama followed up his nomination of Lynch by issuing a forceful statement in favor of net neutrality. In an earlier post, I said that the President could have accompanied this clarion call to preserve the open, non-discriminatory spirit of the Web with a commitment to protecting the interests of ordinary Internet users, many of whom are being ripped off by quasi-monopolistic Internet-service providers. On its own terms, though, Obama's declaration was a powerful and welcome one. In addition to reaffirming a policy stance he campaigned on in 2008, the President showed that he is willing to stand up, where necessary, to the new Republican majority on Capitol Hill. In calling on the Federal Communications Commission to regulate I.S.P.s as public utilities, he surely knew that he would spark outrage among conservatives, as well as Congressional hearings, and, quite likely, a lengthy legal battle that will end up before the Supreme Court. But he went ahead anyway.

And then, after he arrived in Beijing for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, the President unveiled a much bigger surprise: an agreement with the Chinese government on confronting climate change, which garnered the praise of environmental organizations the world over. 

Law and order, net neutrality, trade....he's catering to Republicans.

Posted by Glenn Dryfoos at 7:55 AM


Thelonious Monk: Genius of Modern Music, volume 1

Video: Monk playing solo: 

and, if you have about an hour and a half, here's the documentary about Monk's life and influence, "Straight, No Chaser": 

Thelonious Sphere Monk is one of the greatest innovators, composers, piano players and characters in the history of music (jazz, American or otherwise).  As the prime architect of bebop (he was often referred to in the press as the "high priest of bop"), he developed and shared his harmonic and rhythmic innovations with like-minded musicians such as Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell and Kenny Clarke when he served as the house piano player for jam sessions at Minton's Playhouse in Harlem.  As you'll see in the videos, his personal mannerisms can most charitably described as odd, but his music (both his playing and compositions) is at once exuberant, jaunty, swinging, disciplined, and delightfully witty.

Genius of Modern Music, volume 1, is a collection of Monk's first dates as a leader for the Blue Note label in 1947.  The 14 sides (with about a half dozen alternate takes thrown in on the CD) feature a mix both of instrumentation...quintets featuring sax and trumpet and piano trios...and of tunes...2 standards interspersed among Monk compositions.  In the jazz world, only the songs of Duke Ellington are played and recorded more than Monk's, and this album features some of his very best: "Well You Needn't," "Ruby My Dear," "Monk's Mood," "In Walked Bud," "Off Minor," and Monk's best known work, the haunting "'Round Midnight."

To the uninitiated, Monk's percussive playing style and use of minor seconds (on a piano, think of hitting a white key and the black key right next to it) may sound unsophisticated or even child-like, but his music is actually remarkably difficult.  Careful listening (or trying to sing back some of his passages) will reveal just how complex his melodies, rhythms and improvisations are.  His music is calculated and organized, and reveals his knowledge of and affection for the history of the music.  A great example of this combination of simplicity and sophistication is "Thelonious", a melody built primarily on one repeated note, but which then goes off on a romp through the history of the piano from the early stride masters James P. Johnson and Willie "the Lion" Smith to the swing of Basie up to a reference to "Salt Peanuts," a favorite tune of Monk's bop contemporaries.  Another example of his sly virtuosity at the piano is the opening long glissando on "In Walked Bud": a seemingly out of control slide down the keyboard lands perfectly on the downbeat of a swinging a man falling out of a 4th floor window but landing on his feet and strolling away.  Besides Monk, the one constant throughout the entire album is drummer Art Blakey, whose muscular style provides perfect accompaniment. 

From this beginning, which was considered startling and daring in its time, Monk would continue writing scores of songs which remain essential to the jazz canon and to record dozens of amazing albums, featuring many of the other greats of modern jazz (Hawkins, Dizzy, Miles, Milt Jackson, Rollins, Coltrane to name just a very few) and, for many years, with his own regular working band of tenor saxophonist Charlie Rouse, bassist Larry Gales and drummer Ben Riley (in concert: 

November 13, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:04 PM


China's Questionable Economic Power (Joseph S. Nye, NOV 6, 2014 19, Project Syndicate)

But, even if China's overall GDP surpasses that of the US (by whatever measure), the two economies will maintain very different structures and levels of sophistication. And China's per capita income - a more accurate measure of economic sophistication - amounts to only 20% of America's, and will take decades, at least, to catch up (if it ever does).

Moreover, as Chinese officials and researchers have acknowledged, though China surpassed Germany in 2009 as the world's largest exporter by volume, it has yet to develop into a truly "strong" trading country, owing to lackluster trade in services and low value-added production. And China lacks the kind of strong international brands that trade powerhouses like the US and Germany boast; indeed, 17 of the top 25 global brands are American.

China's lagging economic sophistication is also reflected in its financial markets, which are only one-eighth the size of America's, with foreigners permitted to own only a tiny portion of Chinese debt. Though China has tried to increase its financial clout by encouraging the international use of its currency, renminbi-denominated trade still represents just 9% of the global total, compared to the dollar's 81% share.

Posted by orrinj at 7:01 PM


Is this the political map of the future? (MICHAEL BARONE, NOVEMBER 13, 2014, Washington Examiner)

If you're a political junkie -- or at least if you're a conservative political junkie -- you've probably seen the map. It's a map of the United States showing the congressional districts won by Republicans in red and those won by Democrats in blue.

It looks almost entirely red, except for some pinpoints of blue in major metropolitan areas and a few blue blotches here and there -- in Minnesota, northern New Mexico and Arizona, western New England, along the Pacific Coast.

Of course it's misleading. Congressional districts are of basically equal population, and Democrats tend to roll up big margins in densely populated areas. So while voters have elected at least 244 Republican congressmen and probably will end up with at least 247 -- more than in any election since 1928 -- the map overstates their dominance.

But it does tell us something about the geographic and cultural isolation of the core groups of the Democratic Party: gentry liberals and blacks.

Posted by orrinj at 6:59 PM


All eyes on Jeb Bush (A.B. Stoddard, 11/12/14, The Hill)

The decision will be based on how he feels, Jeb Bush admitted in February. "I'm deferring that decision to the right time, which is later this year, and the decision will be based on, can I do it joyfully, because I think we need to have candidates lift our spirits," he said. Asked about timing, he said, "There's a time to make a decision. You shouldn't make it too early, and you shouldn't make it too late. There's a time. There's a window."

The window is now open and a decision is forthcoming, according to intimates, and even family members have stunned the political world by speaking out about a possible Jeb Bush run, like his son, George P. Bush, who told NBC News last month it was more likely than not.

And of course, it's not at all subtle that George W. Bush has published a book about his beloved father, former President George H.W. Bush, immediately following the 2014 midterm elections.

Posted by orrinj at 6:56 PM


Employees pay more out of pocket for health care (Ben Rooney, November 13, 2014, CNNMoney)

In 2015, employees will pay 55% more for health insurance premiums and out-of-pocket medical bills than they did in 2010, according to a report Thursday from human resources company Aon Hewitt.

The average worker with employer-sponsored health insurance will pay about $2,664, or nearly 24% of the total cost of their plan next year. Five years ago, employees paid $1,835, which worked out to 22.3% of the total premium payment.

We need to get that number much higher, which is what HSAs do.

Posted by orrinj at 6:50 PM


Things are getting better all the time: A snapshot of Australian living standards in the long run (Mikayla Novak and Dom Talimanidis, October 2014, Insitute of Public Affairs)

Australians have come a long way over these past two centuries, as evidenced by the numerous
improvements in our health, education, and material living standards.

As diseases are increasingly being conquered thanks to medical technologies, nutritional
improvements and cleaner living environments, we are surmounting the perilous hurdle of
infant mortality to live, on average, to an older age with each passing generation.

Successive generations of Australians are even growing taller, thanks to our generally improving
health status.

This country has also enjoyed remarkable economic progress in the long run, with average
Australians today benefiting from the fruits of rising national incomes, wages and household
wealth which are unprecedented in a historical context.

There are more people employed by the private sector now than in any other period in
Australian history, and more women than ever are making an active contribution to the

Our land is yielding even more food to feed ourselves and a hungry world, and our capacity to
deliver mineral resources for domestic and global advanced production has never been as great
as today.

The vast improvement in Australian material living standards are arguably no better evidenced
than by the historically high extent of motor vehicle usage, and the electrical appliances and
electronic devices which fill up our larger homes.

The present generation of Australians are the most educated in history, with more people
enrolling in universities and other higher education institutions than ever before.

Life has been getting better for most Australians, and it could be even better today if it were not
for intrusive government regulations and wasteful spending which makes housing less
affordable and contributes to cost of living pressures.

Reducing the size and scope of government will be instrumental to securing rising living
standards in the future, as this will harness opportunities for enterprising Australians to discover
new ways of improving the economic and social circumstances of others.

Posted by orrinj at 6:46 PM


House, Senate to vote on Keystone XL pipeline (Ed O'Keefe November 12, 2014, Washington Post)

For the first time in the six-year fight over the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, both houses of Congress will hold a vote on the proposed project, giving each side in a Louisiana Senate election a chance to boost its candidate.

The two lawmakers locked in the runoff contest, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) and Rep. Bill Cassidy (R), seized control of the congressional agenda Wednesday, extracting assurances from House and Senate leaders that votes will be held to bypass President Obama's authority and authorize construction of the pipeline.

Posted by orrinj at 5:35 PM


Émigré Matters : Re-Examining France's Brain Drain (Kunal Mehta, 11/12/14, Columbia Political Review)

Recent statistics calculated by the Maison des Français de l'Etranger, the government branch of the Ministry of External Affairs tasked with maintaining relations with expatriates, have shed some light on the issue of expatriation as a whole. According to these figures, the French diaspora, currently estimated at 2 million people, has been growing at a rate between 3 and 4 percent each year during the past decade, and currently adds 80,000 members to its ranks every year. By comparison, growth in the domestic population over the same period reached only about 0.6 percent per year. Additionally, the data not only indicates that the emigrant community is growing impressively, but also that, for the most part, it has overwhelmingly been composed of highly trained and technically proficient individuals. In contrast with the 12.5 percent of the domestic population holding advanced educational degrees, around half of expatriates possess a master's or doctoral degree and are primarily employed in fields such as research, technology, or entrepreneurship. Those numbers have pointed to France's most eligible graduates leaving home, sparking alarm in the country.

emigrepic2.jpgThe periodic release of figures such as those from the Maison des Français de l'Etranger are accompanied by a splash of articles and reactions across major publications and media outlets such as Le Monde and Le Nouvel Economiste, contemplating the loss of French talent, the emergence of a French "brain drain," and even the existence of a country of emigrants. To add to the media clamor around the subject, a growing number of think tanks, consultancies, and research organizations have also started weighing in on the issue, and offering their own estimates of the problem. This past year, consulting firm Deloitte produced a report claiming that close to 27 percent of recently graduated French students envisioned their futures overseas, while PricewaterhouseCoopers stated that the French emigrant population will most likely swell to double its present size by 2020. Meanwhile, the not-for-profit Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Paris published its own report estimating that 38 percent of new graduates hope to spend more than ten years of their life outside France.

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 PM


Eurozone deflationary pressures to worsen (Deutsche-Welle, 11/13/14)

The ECB's inflation target is below, but close to 2 percent over the medium term, and the bank is scheduled to update its own staff predictions for price stability next month.

Citing falling oil prices and political tensions, the forecasters polled also predicted eurozone growth to slow to 1.2 percent in 2015, down from the 1.5 percent predicted previously.
"The balance of risks has become more clearly tilted to the downside," the survey said. "Respondents identify geopolitical tensions, mainly in Ukraine and Russia, but also in the Middle East, as by far the main risk."

Posted by orrinj at 5:22 PM


Natural bedfellows : An exit from the EU could bring Britain and Australia closer than ever before (David Alexander 15 November 2014, The Spectator)

Up until now the policy-making elite in Britain haven't given much thought to the actuality of a 'Brexit' because to prepare for that eventuality might be seen as encouraging it; but here is where it starts to get interesting for Australia.

'Who will be our friends if we leave the EU?' is a question which has found eurosceptics scrambling to give a satisfactory answer, but some serious thinking is starting to go into what a post-Brexit landscape might look like. Some, like Daniel Hannan, would like to build greater institutional linkages amongst the Anglosphere - but with countries such as the US and India included in his definition this quickly becomes complex. Many mention re-energising the Commonwealth, but the breadth and diversity of 53 countries quickly adds difficulties. Practically all suggestions include upgraded relations with Old Commonwealth countries like Australia, Canada and New Zealand. The point is every one of these discussions envisages a greater degree of engagement with Australia, often featuring us as Exhibit A.

Who will be their friends, other than the antire English-speaking world....

Posted by orrinj at 5:17 PM


In squabble over Gaza war intel, echoes of 1973's failure (MITCH GINSBURG, November 13, 2014, Times of Israel)

Hatra'a lemilhama - advance warning of a war - are words that reek of the intelligence failure of the Yom Kippur War; words that end careers, and sometimes lives, in Israel. Hence the extraordinary letter from IDF Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, published in Thursday's Yedioth Ahronoth.

"I hereby firmly declare that the Shin Bet did not pass on an advance warning, and did not warn, about Hamas intentions for war in July," Gantz wrote. The Shin Bet security service, he added, violated "every moral and ethical norm" by indicating otherwise in a TV documentary aired Monday.

...but the signal they missed was Israel starting a war in July.

Posted by orrinj at 5:13 PM


India and US reach WTO breakthrough over food (BBC, 11/13/14)

India and the US have resolved their disagreements on food security issues, paving the way for the implementation of a global trade pact. [...]

The breakthrough stems from a bilateral summit in September when Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the US.

It clears the way for the WTO to press ahead with the Trade Facilitation Agreement that was done in Bali.

Analysts have estimated that that trade deal could add $1tn (£630bn) to the world economy, by reducing the costs of conducting trade by for example simplifying customs procedures.

Now he's just burnishing his legacy...

November 12, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 6:11 PM


Some Alawites are beginning to question their support for Syria's Assad (Hugh Naylor, November 12, 2014, Washington Post)

The Alawite backbone of President Bashar al-Assad's regime shows signs of wobbling under the strain of Syria's civil war.

Members of the minority group have become more critical of the regime's handling of the conflict on social media and during rare protests, according to activists and analysts. They also say Alawites, who form the core of Assad's security forces, increasingly have avoided compulsory military service in a nearly four-year war where their community has sustained huge casualties relative to Syria's Sunnis, who lead the rebellion.

Security forces have sharpened the friction by responding with arrests and intimidation. But while few think this immediately threatens the rule of Assad, who also is Alawite, the rising tension signals exhaustion in a community that is crucial for his regime's ability to confront a revolt that shows little sign of ending.

"The Alawites are growing more and more impatient with the regime because it hasn't been able to demonstrate much progress in ending the war," said Louay Hussein, 54, a Damascus-based Alawite activist who is critical of the Assad regime.

Posted by orrinj at 6:07 PM


Warren Clarke obituary (Anthony Hayward, 12 November 2014, The Guardian)

He exploded on to the screen in Stanley Kubrick's futuristic drama A Clockwork Orange (1971), the film based on Anthony Burgess's 1962 novella set in a Britain facing mass juvenile delinquency. Clarke played Dim, one of the "droogs" in the gang led by a charismatic sociopath (Malcolm McDowell) whom the state tries to rehabilitate through brainwashing. [...]

It was another two decades before the actor became a star in his own right - portraying a character firmly on the right side of the law. He played the hard-drinking Detective Superintendent Andy Dalziel in all 12 series of the BBC crime drama Dalziel and Pascoe (1996-2007), based on the books by Reginald Hill. "The man's a chauvinist pig whose idea of a good night out is swilling back 10 pints in the pub, with his supper waiting for him and the little woman tucked up in bed with a welcoming smile," Clarke told the Daily Mirror in 1997. "Blokes like Dalziel just see women as sex objects."

Posted by orrinj at 6:03 PM


US-China pacts: a leap for universal values (Editorial Board  NOVEMBER 12, 2014, CS Monitor)

Who will shape global values in the 21st century?

One answer may lie in a set of extraordinary pacts signed by China and the United States at a summit this week in Beijing. These two giant nations, so often at odds over clashing interests, were able to find a common vision for curbing climate emissions, improving military conduct in the air and sky, opening more trade, and granting generous visas that would be valid for 10 years.

Each pact by itself marks specific progress, notably on the environment, peace, prosperity, and people exchanges. Taken together, however, they are based on common principles applicable to all.

They also put to the test China's claim that there are no "universal values" but rather only the overlapping interests of countries based on their own culture and politics. Relations between nations, in China's view, are determined by power distribution and order, not shared values. [...]

The concept of universal values rests on a notion of a common affinity between peoples, an inclusiveness that crosses borders, a shared understanding of what is good and true. So when the world's most populous nation (China) and its wealthiest and most powerful (the US) join hands on four agreements of universal benefit, that concept takes a big leap forward.

That great "leap forward" is an unfortunate usage.
Posted by orrinj at 5:58 PM


Inroads in Some Very Blue States : The governors' surprise (Michael Warren, 11/12/14, Weekly Standard)

In Illinois, Republican businessman Bruce Rauner defeated incumbent Democrat Pat Quinn by nearly 5 points, winning every county but Cook (which includes Chicago). "Pat Quinn was a pretty open target," says Tim Schneider, the state Republican chairman. Quinn succeeded impeached Democrat Rod Blagojevich in 2009 and barely won election in his own right the next year. As governor, he temporarily raised income tax rates 67 percent while unemployment in the state climbed--it dropped off in the last year only because the labor force shrank. Polls showed Illinois residents overwhelmingly opposed the tax hike, and Rauner ran hard against it, suggesting Quinn would likely make the increase permanent if reelected. Voters seem to have made the same calculation.

In addition, Rauner made the unprecedented (for a Republican) decision to campaign actively for black votes in the Windy City. Starting in July, Rauner visited between three and seven Chicago churches every Sunday, focusing on his message of improving the city's failing public schools. The effect wasn't a huge shift in support away from Quinn, but turnout in Chicago was lower than it was in 2010. Rauner earned 21 percent of the Chicago vote, more than the previous Republican candidate's 18 percent four years earlier.

Republican Larry Hogan did nearly as well in Maryland as Rauner did in Illinois. A successful commercial real estate broker, Hogan faced off against Democratic lieutenant governor Anthony Brown to succeed the term-limited Martin O'Malley. A Democrat from Baltimore, O'Malley has presided over an eight-year decline in Maryland's standard of living as well as higher taxes--"a tax on rain" went the refrain from the Hogan campaign.

Brown represented a third O'Malley term, and as Maryland voters began to balk at that prospect, Hogan slowly rose in the polls. Democrats resorted to negative ads attacking Hogan on issues like gun control. One featured a frightening (and ludicrous) scenario of Maryland under the NRA-endorsed Hogan, with machine guns leaning casually against trees in leafy suburban neighborhoods. The attacks didn't work; nor did eleventh-hour appearances on Brown's behalf by Barack Obama and Hillary and Bill Clinton. Hogan won by nearly 5 points and in all but three counties and the city of Baltimore. It was, says Phil Cox of the RGA, the most surprising race of the year.

Posted by orrinj at 5:53 PM


GOP win in Alaska adds to party's US Senate sweep (BECKY BOHRER, 11/12/14, ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Republican Dan Sullivan won Alaska's U.S. Senate seat in a hotly contested race, beating a first-term incumbent as voter disapproval of President Barack Obama swept Democrats out of office and allowed the GOP to seize control of the Senate.

Sullivan, a Marine Corps reservist and assistant secretary of State under President George W. Bush, defeated U.S. Sen. Mark Begich as part of a wave of victories by Republicans, who picked up eight Senate seats. Another race is yet to be decided in Louisiana.

Posted by orrinj at 5:16 PM


Rise of the Republican Pragmatists (JOSH KRAUSHAAR, 11/11/14, National Journal)

This year's congressional majorities were built on the victories of center-right candidates, not the bomb-throwers who disrupted their party's leadership over the past two years. Of the 16 House Republicans who picked up seats for the party, 11 of them represent districts President Obama carried in 2012. And the freshman Senate class may be filled with conservatives, but ones who have expressed willingness to work across party lines. 

The next generation's pragmatism is no accident. Republicans, led by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and aided by outside groups, worked assiduously to intervene in primaries, ensuring that far-right candidates like Chris McDaniel and Milton Wolf didn't win nominations.

The biggest bellwethers in determining how unified the new Republican-controlled Senate will be are four newly elected conservative stalwarts: Sens.-elect Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Joni Ernst of Iowa, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, and Dan Sullivan of Alaska. Three were endorsed by the antitax Club for Growth, while a fourth was a Sarah Palin favorite. But all of them had strong support from the establishment, too, and Republican leaders expect they will be team players in the new Senate.

Add North Carolina's Thom Tillis--a former legislative leader who has expressed interest in chairing the National Republican Senatorial Committee--and Colorado's Cory Gardner, who called on the GOP to govern with "maturity" in a Sunday show appearance last week, to the mix of incoming senators who are eager to govern, not obstruct. In sum, most are unlikely to become Ted Cruz acolytes and cause problems for McConnell.

"All of them ran because they want the Senate to be a functioning institution. They're not looking for crisis moments as leverage points," said Billy Piper, a former chief of staff to McConnell. "This is a pretty unified bunch."

That's not to say the new wave isn't conservative, but there's a huge distinction between being conservative and being uncompromising. All of these GOP senators-elect have an interest in policy, and already showcased governing aptitude. Cotton, Sullivan, and Ernst (all military veterans) could join the party's group of foreign policy hawks, led by Sens. McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Kelly Ayotte. Sasse, a policy wonk, could team up with Sen. Mike Lee on proposing Obamacare alternatives.

Gardner, who made inroads with Hispanics in his election, could be a point person on immigration reform if the Senate tackles the issue. Shelley Moore Capito, the first Republican elected to the Senate from West Virginia since 1956, is likely to take up energy issues as part of her portfolio. These aren't Republican nihilists at all.

Posted by orrinj at 5:12 PM


It's time to abolish the Interstate Highway System (Evan Jenkins, 11/12/14, The Week)

The Congressional Budget Office estimates the fund's budget shortfall will be about $15 billion every year. You can pretty easily chalk this up to the fact that the fund's coffers are sustained almost exclusively through the federal gas tax. Even as fuel efficiency has improved and Americans have cut back on driving, the tax itself hasn't been increased since 1993.

To solve the issue, Democrats want to raise the tax. Many Republicans want to slowly phase out the federal funding altogether and turn it over to the states. I think Republicans could actually attract Democrats to their position, provided a few crucial policy choices are made.

The most important thing that abolishing the Interstate Highway System will allow is for states to fund their highway infrastructure through tolls, which is strongly discouraged by the federal government. States would even have the option of taking the further step of privatizing their highways, as former Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels did very successfully with one road in 2006.

Eliminating federal funding would also force states to abandon needlessly wasteful projects. One consequence of the DOT's need-based funding is that it encourages states to compete for dollars by wildly overstating how much infrastructure they actually need, even as the actual need continues to decline. Tolling would further reduce infrastructure demand by encouraging carpooling, shorter commutes, and alternative modes of transportation. With the big federal dollars unavailable, states will discover surprisingly quickly how many of their crucial infrastructure projects are not actually so crucial after all.

Not only would driving be increasingly subjected to user fees, but the gas tax could be devoted to reducing taxes on things we want, like profits and incomes.

Posted by orrinj at 5:10 PM


Blasting Zombies Can Expand Your Mind, Researcher Says Seriously (Michelle Fay Cortez  Nov 11, 2014, Bloomberg0

Blowing away enemy soldiers and aliens may be good for the brain, as researchers have found that fast-paced action video games improve a player's learning ability.

People who play video games such as Activision Blizzard Inc. (ATVI)'s "Call of Duty" are better able to multitask, perform cognitive tasks such as rotating objects in their minds and focus and retain information better than non-players, said Daphne Bavelier, a research professor in brain and cognitive sciences at the University of Rochester in New York. They also have better vision. The reason is the games help people learn, even those who aren't regular players.

Posted by orrinj at 5:04 PM


Mary Landrieu Tries to Beat the GOP by Joining Them (RUSSELL BERMAN, NOV 12 2014, The Atlantic)

Senator Mary Landrieu sure is moving fast to embrace her new Republican overlords. She just might not have the chance work with them.

Facing a run-off election in three weeks to hold onto her seat in Louisiana, the woman who is now the most endangered Democrat in America raced to the Senate floor on Wednesday--shortly after it reopened following last week's election--to call for an immediate vote on a top GOP priority: approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline. "I want to say yes to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell," Landrieu said. "The time to start is now. The public has clearly spoken."

November 11, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 2:15 PM


The Quiet End to the U.S. Ebola Panic (RUSSELL BERMANNOV, 11 2014, The Atlantic)

Dr. Craig Spencer, the health worker who brought Ebola from West Africa into the nation's biggest metropolis, is going home on Tuesday, healthy and virus-free. You wouldn't know it from glancing at the cover of either of the two major New York City tabloids, which blared his diagnosis two weeks ago but buried (at least initially) the news of his recovery. And chances are, you may not have heard that Dallas--the epicenter of the Ebola "outbreak" in the U.S.--was cleared of the disease last week, or that Kaci Hickox, the healthy nurse who rose to fame by fighting her state-mandated quarantine, crossed the 21-day monitoring threshold on Monday night without further incident.

The news out of New York brings the grand total of Ebola cases currently in the U.S. back down to zero. For now, the borderline hysteria that began with the arrival, diagnosis, and subsequent death, of Thomas Eric Duncan in Dallas is resembling so many other crises of the moment, in with a bang and out with a whimper. 

Posted by orrinj at 2:10 PM


Falling Oil Prices Strengthen Obama's Hand Globally (GERALD F. SEIB, 11/11/14, WSJ)

[M]r. Obama will be having talks with fellow world leaders about the problems that doubtless do the most to keep him up at night: Iranian behavior, Russian misbehavior, the threat from Islamic State militants and the overall sluggishness of the economy.

On each front, low oil prices--they have dropped to about $82 a barrel from about $110 in midsummer-strengthen the president's hand. Better yet for Mr. Obama, the perception, and to some extent the reality, is that the oil-shale boom in the U.S. has helped create the global surge in oil supplies that is driving down prices, creating a sense that the U.S. is for once in control of the energy dynamic.

To see the consequences, start with Islamic State militants. As they have gobbled up land in Syria and Iraq, Islamic State leaders increasingly have been financing their operations by smuggling out and selling crude oil stolen from Syrian refineries.

But the value of that asset is plunging, and that fact, combined with Turkey's growing willingness to clamp down on the flow of black-market Islamic State oil across its border, appears to be pinching the Islamic State's wartime budget. Reports form the region indicate that the pay the group is offering foreign fighters has fallen accordingly, which should help lessen the appeal to adventurers looking to join the fighting.

The biggest loser may be Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose recent expansionist tendencies--and his willingness to shrug off international economic sanctions imposed over his interference in Ukraine--are fueled by sales of oil and gas. The price slump figures to make much more dramatic the economic strains already created by those sanctions.

The case for gas taxes is compelling.

Posted by orrinj at 2:02 PM


Nearly half of Americans will now live in states under total GOP control (Aaron Blake, November 11, 2014, Washington Post)

While the GOP is likely to control 54 percent of all Senate seats and 56 percent (or so) of the House come January, it also will now control more than two-thirds of state legislative chambers across the country -- as in nearly seven in 10. And given Republicans also won at least 31 governorships, they are basically in control of the state government in 24 states. That could soon hit 25 if they win the still-undetermined governor's race in Alaska. [...]

No, state legislatures aren't the sexiest things in the world. But as a means for demonstrating a national wave, they're about as pure an indicator as you get. That's because they're the lowest-profile office (i.e. people vote the party more than anything) that is pretty uniform across the country. And as of today, the GOP is dominating in an unprecedented way.

To put this in a little more perspective, I added up the number of Americans who will now be in GOP-controlled states, versus those states under complete Democratic control.

According to my numbers, across all 50 states, 47.8 percent of Americans will now be led by GOP-controlled governments with little/no ability for Democrats to thwart them. If Gov. Sean Parnell (R) pulls off his reelection run in Alaska, it will be more than 48 percent.

Posted by orrinj at 1:57 PM


Billionaire Michael Bloomberg's advice: become a plumber (Jesse Solomon, November 11, 2014, CNNMoney)

Former New York City Mayor and billionaire Michael Bloomberg has some advice for high school seniors: forget college, become a plumber instead.

"Today if your kid wants to go to college or become a plumber, you've got to think long and hard," said Bloomberg Monday at the annual meeting of Wall Street trade group SIFMA.

"If he's not going to go to a great school and he's not super smart academically, but is smart in terms of dealing with people and that sort of thing, being a plumber is a great job because you have pricing power, you have an enormous skill set," he said.

The founder of financial data and news services company Bloomberg L.P. even went as far as to say that students considering Harvard should do the math.

You could pay $50,000 to $60,000 a year to Harvard or you could make that much as an apprentice plumber, he explained.

Bloomberg -- who attended Johns Hopkins University and Harvard Business School -- knows what it takes to build a business, and he sees a lot of opportunity for middle class Americans entering the service trades.

Posted by orrinj at 1:51 PM


The One-State Reality : Israel's conservative President speaks up for civility, and pays a price. (DAVID REMNICK, 11/11/14, The New Yorker)

Reuven (Ruvi) Rivlin, the new President of Israel, is ardently opposed to the establishment of a Palestinian state. He is instead a proponent of Greater Israel, one Jewish state from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. He professes to be mystified that anyone should object to the continued construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank: "It can't be 'occupied territory' if the land is your own."

Rivlin does not have the starched personality of an ideologue, however. He resembles a cheerfully overbearing Borscht Belt comedian who knows too many bad jokes to tell in a single set but is determined to try. Sitting in an office decorated with mementos of his right-wing Zionist lineage, he unleashes a cataract of anecdotes, asides, humble bromides, corny one-liners, and historical footnotes. At seventy-five, he has the florid, bulbous mug of a cartoon flatfoot, if that flatfoot were descended from Lithuanian Talmudists and six generations of Jerusalemites. Rivlin's father, Yosef, was a scholar of Arabic literature. (He translated the Koran and "The Thousand and One Nights.") Ruvi Rivlin's temperament is other than scholarly. He is, in fact, given to categorical provocations. After a visit some years ago to a Reform synagogue in Westfield, New Jersey, he declared that the service was "idol worship and not Judaism."

And yet, since Rivlin was elected President, in June, he has become Israel's most unlikely moralist. Rivlin--not a left-wing writer from Tel Aviv, not an idealistic justice of the Supreme Court--has emerged as the most prominent critic of racist rhetoric, jingoism, fundamentalism, and sectarian violence, the highest-ranking advocate among Jewish Israelis for the civil rights of the Palestinians both in Israel and in the occupied territories. Last month, he told an academic conference in Jerusalem, "It is time to honestly admit that Israel is sick, and it is our duty to treat this illness."

Around Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, Rivlin made a video in which he sat next to an eleven-year-old Palestinian Israeli boy from Jaffa who had been bullied: the two held up cards to the camera calling for empathy, decency, and harmony. "We are exactly the same," one pair read. A couple of weeks ago, Rivlin visited the Arab town of Kafr Qasim to apologize for the massacre, in 1956, of forty-eight Palestinian workers and children by Israeli border guards. No small part of the Palestinian claim is that Israel must take responsibility for the Arab suffering it has caused. Rivlin said, "I hereby swear, in my name and that of all our descendants, that we will never act against the principle of equal rights, and we will never try and force someone from our land."

Every Israeli and Palestinian understands the context of these remarks. In recent years, anti-Arab harassment and vitriol have reached miserable levels. The Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who treasures his fragile ruling coalition above all else, is more apt to manipulate the darkling mood to his political advantage than to ease it.

"I've been called a 'lying little Jew' by my critics," Rivlin told the Knesset recently. " 'Damn your name, Arab agent,' 'Go be President in Gaza,' 'disgusting sycophant,' 'rotten filth,' 'lowest of the low,' 'traitor,' 'President of Hezbollah.' These are just a few of the things that have been said to me in the wake of events I've attended and speeches I've made. I must say that I've been horrified by this thuggishness that has permeated the national dialogue."

Posted by orrinj at 1:36 PM


US and China reach breakthrough in tech trade talks (The Guardian, 11 November 2014)

China and the United States have reached a breakthrough in talks on eliminating duties on information technology products, a deal that could pave the way for the first major tariff-cutting agreement at the World Trade Organisation in 17 years.

The breakthrough would allow the "swift conclusion" on talks to expand the Information Technology Agreement (ITA) at the WTO in Geneva later this year, United States Trade Representative Michael Froman told reporters on Tuesday. It would reduce global tariffs on such products as medical equipment, GPS devices, video games consoles and next-generation semiconductors.

And he's got a Congress that will move his agenda quickly.
Posted by orrinj at 1:32 PM


Why mobile will be even more revolutionary than you think  (Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, 11/10/14, The Week)

[B]en Evans, an analyst at Andreessen's imaginatively named firm Andreessen Horowitz, has produced a presentation specifically on mobile. Its title? "Mobile is eating the world."

Mobile devices are a transformative force, Evans argues. It's not just that there are more devices now than there ever were. It's also that these devices are fundamentally personal, and that means that the technology industry is involved in every aspect of our lives. And these devices have more capabilities than previous devices: GPS, cameras (plural), accelerometer, health sensor, integrated payments, and so on -- your PC doesn't have that. Each of these new capacities, multiplied by four billion devices, represents a massive business opportunity just by itself. For example, many think wearable devices that can sense your body and monitor your health will change the health-care industry -- which makes up nearly one-fifth of the U.S. economy.

Of course, everyone knows that mobile is a big deal and that everyone has smartphones, or will have smartphones soon. But this conventional wisdom, Evans argues, understates the magnitude of the opportunity. These factors -- quantity, ubiquity, increased capability -- don't add up, they multiply.

Implicitly, Evans is drawing on the work of Carlota Perez, an innovation scholar, who points out that when there is a technology paradigm shift, the first phase of the shift is rolling out the technology itself, but the next phase is when the technology changes the other sectors of the economy.

Posted by orrinj at 1:29 PM


From Ohio, a different sort of Republicanism (Michael Gerson, 11/10/14, Washington Post)

[K]asich won a majority of union voters, three-fifths of female voters, a majority of voters younger than 30, two-thirds of independents and a quarter of African American voters.

Politicians are supposed to pretend that a favorable verdict was perfectly natural and inevitable. When I raised the African American vote with Kasich, he responded, "I'm flabbergasted by it." Disarming candor is Kasich's stock in trade. And a decisive electoral victory has liberated someone who already had few inhibitions. [...]

Kasich is an exuberantly orthodox free marketeer who has balanced budgets, reduced business regulations, privatized government services and placed a relentless emphasis on job creation. "Let me be clear," he told me. "Unless you build a strong economy, nothing else works."

This, however, is not a destination but a foundation. "Then," he said, "you reach out to help people. On mental illness. On drug addiction. On autism. Now you are tapping into the real problems of real people, regardless of their philosophy. All are made in the image of God and deserve a chance to be what we are meant to be. Our purpose is not to dwell on infirmity but to recognize infirmity and address it as best we can." Kasich increased state spending on various social issues, as well as accepting the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

But Kasich is most interesting when he is attempting to reframe the values debate, by avoiding culture war controversies and emphasizing broadly shared moral commitments. "I believe it all comes down to fundamental values: responsibility, resilience, caring about your neighbor." He cited an "erosion" of those commitments in sports, business and politics. "Why do politicians keep using the division card? Self-interest."

Posted by orrinj at 1:24 PM


The Burning of Atlanta (MEGAN KATE NELSON,  NOVEMBER 10, 2014, NY Times)

Morse's assessment of siege warfare and his feelings of regret were common in Union camps in 1864. On the one hand, cities played a central role in both Union and Confederate military strategies. It was not enough to have the strongest or largest army in the field; one must take the enemy's centers of production and politics as well. And under the established laws of warfare, cities were legitimate military targets.

On the other hand, the presence of noncombatants within them complicated the moral calculus of bombardment. In the discussions about "civilized warfare" that circulated during the Civil War, engaging in acts of destruction hurtful to "women, children, sick, wounded, and aged" was disreputable at best and the work of what Southerners called "the Vandal horde" at worst. Morse vacillated on this issue but ultimately embraced the most common defense of siege and hard war tactics: military necessity.

Morse agreed with Sherman - whom he judged "the most original character and greatest genius there is in this country" - that the citizens of Atlanta had brought destruction upon themselves. Even though the shelling of the city seemed "almost inhuman," Morse concluded that it was simply "one of the horrors of war."

November 10, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 8:35 PM


GOP waves knocks out bench of future Democratic candidates (MICHELLE RINDELS and NICHOLAS RICCARDI, 11/10/14, Associated Press)

As Democrats lost more than 300 statehouse seats last week, they watched some of their most promising political up-and-comers go down in defeat. Republicans, meanwhile, stocked their bench with a roster of rising stars who could someday run for higher office.

"We knocked out some really golden people for the Democrats, and provided a strong platform for our candidates to cut their teeth," said Jill Bader, spokeswoman for the Republican State Leadership Committee. "Our candidates who won are going to be in an unbelievably stronger position and have two-to-four years of statewide media exposure, build strong teams and staff."

Flores left a safe assembly seat to seek the part-time lieutenant governor's post, which could lead to the governorship if popular GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval challenges Senate Democratic Leader Sen. Harry Reid in 2016. But she was up against Sandoval's chosen successor, state Sen. Mark Hutchison, who rode the coattails of the governor's blowout win for re-election, and drew from his vast cash reserves.

To see how important it is to build a bench, just look at the Republicans' class of 2010. That wave election knocked out possible national Democratic figures like Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland and stocked the GOP's cabinet with possible 2016 contenders and other rising stars like Florida Sen Marco Rubio, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, New Mexico Gov. Susanna Martinez and Sandoval himself.

Republicans this year are celebrating a number of diverse new office-holders that they hope belie the image of their party as the preserve of white men -- Illinois Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti, Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, Janet Nguyen and Young Kim, who won state senate seats in Southern California. Democrats can boast of some potential rising stars too, like New Mexico's new Attorney General Hector Balderas or Rhode Island's next Gov., Gina Raimondo. But there are far fewer Democrats to tout.

Posted by orrinj at 3:39 PM


GOP gains traction among Hispanic voters with aggressive outreach campaigns (Rosalind S. Helderman and Peyton Craighill, November 5, 2014, Washington Post)

Tuesday's results were especially notable in Texas, a conservative state that Democrats have maintained could shift left in coming years because of its dramatically growing Latino population.

But exit polling showed Abbott significantly improved Republican performance among Hispanic voters over Gov. Rick Perry (R), who has boasted that he captured 40­ percent of the Hispanic vote. Abbott defeated state Sen. Wendy Davis by 10 points.

Abbott's strong performance came in the face of a concerted Democratic effort to use social media and advanced voter-targeting techniques to boost minority voting through a political action committee called Battleground Texas. Founded by Obama veteran Jeremy Bird, the group is dedicated to turning Texas into a durable swing state.

Abbott's campaign said his efforts included 17 visits to the Rio Grande Valley along the Mexican border, including the Friday before Election Day. The campaign stationed 14 field staffers in south Texas, including four devoted to the Valley, more than any previous Republican. And Abbott spent more than $3 million to air thousands of radio and television ads in Spanish.

Ross Hunt, a consultant for Abbott's campaign, said the results showed Democratic claims that demographics are destined to turn the state blue are "complete nonsense."

"They failed to move the needle at all," he said.

Posted by orrinj at 3:35 PM


CO2 notes (Bob Day, 8 November 2014, The Spectator)

This year the world will enjoy its greatest grain crop on record. Let me say that again. This year the world will enjoy its greatest grain crop on record. After the world food security crisis of 2007, which saw civil unrest in some countries, it is fantastic to see that in just 7 years we are producing record amounts of food for a growing world population. The US Department of Agriculture recently raised global crop predictions for corn, soy and wheat. Yet the World Bank indicates that over the last 10 reporting years, the percentage of agricultural land worldwide has not changed.

So what is driving this world food production boom?

Carbon dioxide. Plants are thriving on the extra CO2 in the atmosphere. A recent study showed that climate modelers over-estimated the amount of carbon dioxide that would remain in the atmosphere. Lo and behold, they have now discovered that plants are soaking up the additional carbon dioxide and growing more vigorously. Plants and trees and crops will absorb 130 billion tonnes more carbon dioxide this century than expected. It's called the 'carbon dioxide fertilisation effect'. This is not just a benefit to food crops - it is a boon to native vegetation, from the ancient forests to desert scrub that environmental activists have been trying to preserve for decades. Then there is the latest science on how the oceans are absorbing carbon dioxide with plankton growing faster than previously thought.

Posted by orrinj at 3:29 PM


Obama's Legacy Will Be With Iran : Peace with Tehran could do for Obama what war with Germany did for FDR. (SCOTT MCCONNELL,  November 6, 2014, American Conservative)

On Election Day, the Washington Post published a useful effort to explain the decline in Obama's popularity from his re-election in 2012 to the midterms. To those who aren't political junkies, the collapse is a bit of a mystery, as the president is pretty much the same man as the one who defeated a quite capable Mitt Romney two years ago. By then he had long been stripped any magical "hope and change" properties voters might have ascribed to him in 2008. Instead he campaigned with his limitations known: a good orator, not especially deft at managing the power levers of the presidency, reluctant to pick fights, insular in his choice of advisors, moderate, and prone to compromise. A liberal Republican perhaps, in a multicultural, third-worldist packaging?

Posted by orrinj at 3:19 PM


A Strategy for Rich Countries: Absorb More Immigrants (TYLER COWEN, 11/08/14, NY Times)

Unfortunately, regions with rapidly growing populations, like Africa and South Asia, often have lower living standards. In our likely global future, these regions will have more people than they can comfortably support, while many countries in the West and in East Asia will have too few young people for prosperous economies.

As an economist, I see an obvious solution: Relatively underpopulated and highly developed countries could profitably take in young Africans and South Asians -- and both sides would gain. Yet it's far from clear that all nations that could benefit from this policy would entertain it, partly because of persistent racial and cultural bias. There is also the legitimate question of how quickly immigrants can adjust to new environments, especially if they are arriving with weak educational backgrounds as the job market demands ever-stronger skills.

Developed countries that can absorb new immigrants at a modest cost should have relatively bright futures. They will help enable a rebalancing of population that will help the entire planet. In contrast, developed countries with relatively inflexible notions of national identity, and thus with strict immigration policies, may shrink in population and lose influence.

Posted by orrinj at 2:37 PM


What Senate Republicans can learn from the GOP-led states (Marc A. Thiessen,  November 10, 2014, Washington Post)

While President Obama has downplayed Tuesday's Senate results, arguing that Democrats were fighting on GOP ground, Republicans also picked up governorships from Democrats in liberal strongholds like Massachusetts, Maryland and Illinois, as well as in Arkansas. Result? The number of GOP governors has risen from 21 to 31 since Obama took office (32 if Gov. Sean Parnell holds on in Alaska) -- just short of the all-time high of 34 Republican governors in the 1920s.

Voters have also given those governors Republican legislatures to enact their agendas. When Obama first took office, Republicans held just 3,220 state legislative seats. After Tuesday's vote, the number stands at 4,111 -- a net gain of nearly 900 seats on Obama's watch. Thanks to the 291 state legislative seats Republicans added in 61 chambers across the country last week, there are now more Republican state legislators than at any time since 1920.

Put another way: In 2008, the GOP controlled just 36 state legislative chambers. It soon will control 69 -- and voters have given the GOP total control of state government in nearly half the country. In 2008, Republicans held both the legislature and governors' mansion in just eight states. Today, the number is 24. By contrast, Democrats now control both the legislature and governor's office in just seven states, down from 15 before the 2014 election. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, that is the lowest number of states Democrats have controlled since 1860.

This is more than an anti-Obama swing of the political pendulum. A conservative revolution has been taking place in the American heartland. 

November 9, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:57 PM


Rebuking Madrid, Catalans vote to secede from Spain (Deutsche-welle, 11/09/14)

In Sunday's independence referendum, Catalans chose overwhelmingly to secede, a symbolic move that supporters hope will propel the issue further despite opposition from Spain's central government.

The "consultation of citizens" in the wealthy northeastern region follows a legal block by the central government against the more formal, albeit still nonbinding, ballot that regional leaders had originally pushed for in announcing the referendum in September.

Even before the announcement of the early results, with nearly 81 percent of voters favoring his cause, regional government head Artur Mas (pictured) said that he considered the vote itself the victory.

Posted by orrinj at 7:53 PM


Double Spacing After a Period Could Reveal Your Age (Dave Greenbaum, 11/09/14, Lifehacker)

Depending on your age and where you went to school, you may have learned keyboard skills on a typewriter rather than a computer. Those of us who learned on a typewriter were usually told to double space after a period. Try single spacing on your resume and emails if you want to avoid some unintended age discrimination.

Posted by orrinj at 6:10 PM


Left struggled to move voters with Koch attacks and other big-money messages (Matea Gold November 9, 2014, Washington Post)

One clear lesson emerged from last week's midterms: running against big money in politics is hard to do.

Democrats and their allies made the topic one of their central lines of attack this year, featuring the billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch in nearly 100 different political spots that ran in states from Alaska to Florida. In most cases, Democrats lost.

The difficulty they encountered in transforming the public's disgust with rich donors into political action speaks to how difficult it is move voters who view both parties as captives of wealthy patrons.

Any voter with even a mild clue who these guys are isn't up for grabs in your ad campaign.  

Posted by orrinj at 7:26 AM


Preliminary Thoughts about Stephen Meyer's Signature in the Cell (Jeffery Jay Lowder, 6/03/13, Patheos: The Secular Outpost)

I've been reading Stephen C. Meyer's massive book, Signature in the Cell. For those who are unfamiliar with the book, it is a sophisticated defense of the intelligent design (ID) hypothesis. Meyer argues that intelligent design is the best explanation for the origin of biological, functionally specified information. In other words, Meyers is not arguing against biological evolution (including common ancestry). Rather, he argues that intelligent design is the best explanation for the origin of life itself.

I find the topic interesting and I'm enjoying the book, including Meyer's ancedotes of his interactions with various ID theorists. So far I've read chapters 1-12 and then skipped ahead to read chapter 17, where Meyer responds to three philosophical objections against intelligent design as an explanation.

We are fortunate that Meyer explicitly provides the logical form of his argument.

Premise One: Despite a thorough search, no material causes have been discovered that demonstrate the power to produce large amounts of specified information.

Premise Two: Intelligent causes have demonstrated the power to produce large amounts of specified information.

Conclusion: Intelligent design constitutes the best, most causally adequate, explanation for the information in the cell.

Meyer defends his first premise by considering various alternatives to design. These alternatives may be summarized as chance, necessity, or some combination of chance and necessity. Regarding chance, Meyer considers two chance hypotheses, which I will call the "single-universe chance hypothesis" and, you guessed it, the "multiverse chance hypothesis." Turning to necessity, Meyers considers at least four hypotheses about physical-chemical necessity, including what I will call "Kenyon's and Steinman's biochemical predestination hypothesis," "Prigogine's and Nicolis's energy hypothesis," "Kauffman's 1993 metabolism-first hypothesis,"and "Kauffman's 1995 self-organizational model." Finally, Meyer considers 6 hybrid or combination theories: the "Classic Oparin Model," the "Revised Oparin Model," Quastler's DNA-first hypothesis, Eigen's Hypercycles Model, various genetic algorithms, and the RNA World Hypothesis. Meyer concludes that all of these alternatives to design fail.

Since I am a philosopher, not a scientist, I am going to assume (but only for the sake of argument) that the scientific facts are exactly as he claims and that all of these alternative hypotheses are indeed failures. What I want to do is to see what he does with the evidence. Specifically, I want to ask the following question.

Is ID the best explanation for the specified information in the cell?

At the outset, I want to state three areas of agreement with Meyer. First, I agree with Meyer that it would be a mistake to dismiss his argument as an argument from ignorance. Despite the appearance given by Meyer's formulation of his argument, I believe that his argument can be modified to avoid the appearance of an argument from igonrance. We should consider the possibility that the origin of life is a source of potential evidence for intelligent design (and for theism). Second, I tentatively agree with his response to the objection about analogies between humans and non-human intelligent agents. That isn't an objection I've made or (I think) would make. Third, I'm not impressed by Dawkins' "who designed the designer" objection.  In fact, I publicly criticized that argument on my blog a couple of years ago. So I'm inclined to agree with the general sort of "you don't have to an explanation for the explanation" response which Meyer provides.

But there is another objection to ID as an explanation which is independent of those three. I was hoping to find a discussion of this objection in Signature, but, so far at least, I have not found it. The objection I have in mind is this: the design hypothesis is not an explanation because, well, it doesn't explain. Regarding the origin of biological information, it still isn't clear to me what Meyers believes the design explanation is. I don't find in the book a description of how an intelligent designer created / designed / programmed -- not sure what the right verb is -- the first biological information. In order to explain biological information, it's not enough to posit the existence of an intelligent designer as a potential cause of biological information. In addition, it seems to me that a design explanation must also include a description of the mechanism used by the designer to design and build the thing. In other words, in order for design to explain something, we have to know how the designer designed it. If we don't know or even have a clue about how the designer did it, then we don't have a design explanation.

...just an equally plausible alternative, at which point, choosing amongst Darwinisn, Design and Creation can be recognized as nothing more (nor less) than an act of faith..

Posted by orrinj at 7:18 AM


The GOP got way better at campaigning -- and Democrats should be very afraid : The Republican Party got a lot right in the 2014 midterms, lessons that might come handy in 2016 (Michael Brendan Dougherty, November 6, 2014, The Week)

[R]epublicans have not been given credit where it is due. And they have plenty to learn from their victories. 

The first is candidate selection. The calming of the Tea Party populist squall may have played a role in attracting a better kind of candidate in 2014. But "recruit stars" is easy advice to give and hard to follow. In Cory Gardner, who defeated Mark Udall in a very purple Colorado, the GOP seems to have found such a star. Although he has a very conservative record by national standards, his handling of Udall's culture-war fear-mongering was deft. He easily turned questions about social issues into answers about economic issues or Obama's record.

Some commentators are crowing that demographics still doom the GOP. But this year Republicans were determined to expand their support beyond the base, and they were rewarded for their efforts. Look no further than Gregg Abbott, the gubernatorial candidate in Texas, who reversed the GOP's decline among Latino voters in the Lone Star State. He made many campaign stops in the Rio Grande, and he didn't shy away from using identity politics, noting that his own family looked a bit like Texas: a mix of Latino and Anglo. "My multicultural family has played a role in our ability to connect with the Rio Grande Valley," he told the local press in the run-up to Election day.

Overall, Republicans did much better among minority voters. Two years ago, Republicans got 6 percent of the black vote, 27 percent of the Latino vote, and 25 percent of the Asian vote. In 2014 they carried 10 percent of black vote, 36 percent of the Latino vote, and 50 percent of the Asian vote.

In the long run, no, the Republicans cannot "make it up in volume" as the share of minority voters grows. But the rehabilitation of the party's image with minority voters may happen sooner than expected. The GOP did better in 2014 than in 2010, and this year's electorate was less white and less ideologically conservative than the one four years earlier.

Finally, the party at an intuitive level seems to have learned that tantrums are not enough to defeat Democrats. It is typical for parties to grow hungrier for power, and more willing to reach out to the center when their opponent has won two White House terms. Recall the way George W. Bush crafted the non-Gingrichian identity of a "compassionate conservative" in 2000. With some notable exceptions, Republicans showed signs of doing that in this election.

You can run as if you want to govern well for your fellow citizens or as if you want to massage your own psychic wounds.  One works.

In the past the GOP has suffered because it has ignored "unwinnable races" where waves carried in virtual lunatics.  This time, the party got out front and nominated folks as if we expected them to win.  It means the new majority doesn't just have the spotlight but won't meltdown in it.

All they have to do now is actually govern well.

Posted by orrinj at 7:12 AM


George P. Bush wins first election. Too soon to talk about White House 2024? (Peter Grier,  NOVEMBER 5, 2014, CS Monitor)

His father, his uncle George W. Bush, and grandfather George H. W. Bush all lost their initial forays into electoral politics. So did great-grandfather and former Sen. Prescott Bush. So P. (can we call him that?) already has bragging rights in his family. [...]

Land commissioner is a substantial position in the Lone Star State. The Texas General Land Office manages state-controlled lands and mineral rights. It also controls the Alamo, which is state-owned, so there's symbolism too. If P plays by the rules, shores up his right wing with continued shrewd moves - he was an early endorser of Ted Cruz for Senate - then he's got a chance of rising fast in state politics.

Posted by orrinj at 7:09 AM


Matter Over Mind : Philosophy just doesn't have the same sense of urgency as physiology. (Katy Waldman, 11/08/14, Slate)

How much control do you have over how much control you think you have? The researchers Michael R. Ent and Roy F. Baumeister have been studying what makes a person more or less likely to believe in free will. Is it a deep connection to the philosophy of David Hume? An abiding faith in divine omnipotence?

Try a really, really full bladder. In an online survey, 81 adults ages 18 to 70 reported the extent to which they felt hungry, tired, desirous of sex, and desirous of a toilet. They then rated the extent to which they considered themselves in command of their destinies. People experiencing intense physical needs were less likely to say they believed in free will. People who were not inexplicably taking an online survey while desperately holding in their pee (or starving, or wanting sex, or trying to stay awake) mostly claimed that the universe had handed them the keys to their lives. 

...ends at precisely the point where a punch hits you in the nose.

Of course, all you need do is point out to these folks that they waited for a toilet.... 

Posted by orrinj at 7:03 AM


Get Ready For A Ton Of Crappy European Economic Data (MIKE PEACOCK, 11/09/14, REUTERS)

This week sees a raft of third quarter GDP reports from the euro zone, which are unlikely to make comfortable reading. Spain has already reported reasonable 0.5 percent growth on the quarter and few if any of its peers are likely to better that.

The currency bloc as a whole grew just 0.1 percent in the second quarter of the year and Germany contracted by 0.2 percent.

Hopes of a rebound have fizzled out with Europe's largest economy struggling to eke out any growth to the point that it could be in recession, on the technical measure of two successive quarters of decline, come Friday.

Reuters polling has a consensus forecast of 0.1 percent growth in the euro zone as a whole and for Germany. France may just outdo them, growing by 0.2 percent, while Italy is predicted to contract slightly again.

"It looks as if the euro zone and Germany have avoided a technical recession. But let's be clear, the mere fact that something has not got worse is no reason to cheer," economists at ING wrote in a note.

Push the trade deal as a way to increase economic velocity and don't be too uptight about the stupid stuff they want to protect.

November 8, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:56 PM


S. Donald Stookey, Scientist, Dies at 99; Among His Inventions Was CorningWare (WILLIAM YARDLEY, NOV. 6, 2014, NY Times)

Dr. Stookey invented synthetic glass ceramics, the highly versatile range of materials that continue to be refined for new uses, including glass stovetops. He also developed photosensitive glass and glass used in eyeglasses that darken in response to light.

He was credited with creating thousands of jobs, limiting squinting and averting countless broken dishes. In 1986, he received the National Medal of Technology.

In May 1957, Corning announced that it had trademarked Pyroceram, a ceramic made from glass that could withstand temperatures up to 1,300 degrees. The company displayed a cone it had developed for a guided missile, saying the material was harder than carbon steel and would allow radar signals to pass through it. But missiles were only part of its plan for Pyroceram.

A 1957 article in The New York Times reported that the material was "expected to be used in combustion-type electric turbines, guided missiles, jet engines of airplanes that fly at supersonic speeds, oil refining, chemical processing and home cookware."

Dr. Stookey, then the head of what Corning called its fundamental research department, was present for the announcement. Not long afterward, marketing teams from Corning tested prototypes of CorningWare with consumers, particularly women.

They fried pork chops in one of the new dishes on a stovetop, then put the dish into the oven. Then they put an ice cube on the heated dish to show how it could handle extreme changes in temperature. By 1958, CorningWare was being sold in stores.

Dr. Stookey had not planned to invent it.

Posted by orrinj at 8:03 AM


Is the Middle East becoming less Arab? (Hisham Melhem, 11/08/1, Al Arabiya4)

President Obama's letter to Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in which he laid out the foundation of a new relationship emanating from a nuclear compromise, and stressed shared U.S.-Iranian interests in combatting the extremist Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), is emblematic of a gradual and subtle shift in Washington's attitudes towards the region in general and its Arab actors in particular. In this rapidly changing Middle East, the U.S. sees a diminishing Arab influence brought about by the erosion of the state system, lack of political legitimacy, decades of autocracy, and the rise of identity politics that is fueling an unprecedented sectarian bloodletting on a wide front stretching from the Gulf to the Mediterranean.

In this new, not necessarily brave or promising Middle East, where non-state actors like ISIS and Hezbollah are challenging century-old state boundaries, the U.S. finds itself compelled to cooperate and rely more on non-Arab actors, like Iran, the Kurds and to a lesser extent Turkey, to solve what seems to be the intractable problems that the Arabs themselves have created over the years, and yes, made worse with a little help from the U.S. and some in the neighborhood.

The Sunni Arabs, like the Chinese, are surrounded.
Posted by orrinj at 6:48 AM


No, the U.S. doesn't have plans to nuke North Korea  (Jeffrey Lewis, 10/27/14, The Week)

Here is what Panetta actually said:

If North Korea moved across the border, our war plans called for the senior American general on the peninsula to take command of all U.S. and South Korean forces and defend South Korea -- including by the use of nuclear weapons, if necessary.

Nuking Pyongyang would be a two-fer, rendering regime change and demonstrating that we're serious about non-proliferation.

Posted by orrinj at 6:27 AM


Can an Atheist Make a Really Great Film about Faith? : Film won't brook the "tender mercies" of propagandists (RANDALL B. SMITH, 11/04/14, Aleteia)

"Tender Mercies," for those who haven't seen it, is a truly wonderful film, impossible to recommend too highly. Along with being one of the five best movies ever made about Texas (yes, there was an official vote on this), it is also considered one of the best movies ever made dealing with the fundamental questions about providence, the meaning of life, suffering, and faith. I won't get into the story too much other than to say it deals with a washed up, down-and-out, former country singer, portrayed perfectly by Duvall in an Academy Award winning performance, who slowly finds his way back to sobriety, sanity, faith, hope, and love. The screenplay, which also won an Academy Award, was written by Horton Foote, who is perhaps best known, along with being one of Walker Percy's best friends from childhood, the writer of the screenplay for the 1962 film "To Kill a Mockingbird" and the 1985 film "The Trip to Bountiful" -- both, along with "Tender Mercies," beautiful films dealing with important questions about the nature of life in all its fullness and complexity.

Beresford tolerated, but didn't seem to have a great deal of patience with, the sort of long, drawn-out questions the academics in the crowd tended to ask. Several times he simply looked out at the questioner from his chair on the stage and said very plainly: "What's the question? I don't know what the question is." Poor man. Not being accustomed to academic conferences, he didn't realize that the "question" period is often not about asking questions. It's about giving members of the audience a chance to deliver mini-speeches of their own disguised as a question.  

There was, however, a very interesting and somewhat revealing exchange that occurred when the formidable and fearless Fr. Bill Miscamble of Notre Dame, a fellow Aussie, asked Beresford to comment a bit on "religious" dimensions of "Tender Mercies." "Religious?" asked Beresford, seemingly taken aback somewhat by the question. "They're not really religious questions, are they?" he said. "They're just questions these characters ask. A lot of people ask these sorts of questions. But they're not really religious, are they? I mean, there aren't really any answers." He couldn't really see "Tender Mercies" as having any sort of "religious" meaning or implications at all.

It's strange that the director of one of the best films dealing with the struggles of faith could be so blind to the implications of his own film. Did he really not see any of the religious dimensions of the film, even though several of the most important scenes take place in a Baptist church and even though the lead character's baptism is one of the most touching and moving in the whole movie? He just didn't care to see any of these things as "religious," as it turned out. For him, these were just the sorts of things these characters -- the ones crafted by Horton Foote -- did. 

Tender Mercies and Grace at Christmas: Movie List (Peter A. Lawler, Imaginative Conservative) 

Posted by orrinj at 5:42 AM


Yes, war can be just And just war reasoning is as sound as ever (Nigel Biggar, March 28, 2014, The Week)

Now, it is true that, in my view, many British and American wars are indeed justified -- including the First World War, the Second World War, Kosovo, and Iraq in both 1991 and 2003.

But that doesn't mean that Anglo-Saxons always find themselves on the side of the angels. According to my reading of just war criteria, the British were quite unjustified in bombarding Canton in 1841 to avenge their humiliation by imperial officials and to hoist the benefits of free trade (in opium) on the Chinese. They were also wrong to invade Zululand in 1879, since, notwithstanding humanitarian motives and intentions, the invasion lacked last resort.

If just war analysis can say no to some British wars, there is no reason in principle why it cannot do the same for American ones. I myself have doubts about the American War of Independence. It is not obvious to me that the lack of direct representation in the imperial parliament was an injustice so grave and intractable as to warrant bloodshed.

I also have doubts about the federal prosecution of the American Civil War. Had it aimed first and foremost at the abolition of slavery, it would have been just. But it did not: Lincoln's primary concern was to preserve the integrity and power of the United States.

Beyond what he perceives as just war reasoning's general toothlessness, Linker complains that it is too morally idealistic, seducing nations like the U.S. into assuming the role of global policeman and judge to the detriment of its own national interests. "Our government's highest duty is to us," he writes. "It can have no duty to the citizens of another nation."

Just War theory is, of course, a function of Christianity and one can't be Christian and believe we have no duty to our fellow men.

Posted by orrinj at 4:31 AM


Salesforce to make big push into healthcare industry (CHRISTINA FARR AND BILL RIGBY, Oct 26, 2014, Reuters)

    Salesforce now wants to help customers pull data into one place and determine how it can be used to serve and talk to patients. This sales push has already begun.

    The University of California at San Francisco, for instance, rolled out CareWeb Messenger, built on top of Salesforce's technology, through which doctors, nurses and patients talk  online and on mobile devices. UCSF and Salesforce have close ties: in April, CEO Marc Benioff donated $100 million to its children's hospital.

    Salesforce will reveal more about its plans in November, Pierce said.

    He  told Reuters the company sees a growth opportunity developing tools for professionals to care for patients once they leave the doctor's office. The company is also developing analytics to crunch data about patients.

    The healthcare industry has been resistant in the past to approaches from Silicon Valley. But federal legislation such as the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health - which sets aside billions of dollars in incentives to spur the adoption of electronic health systems - may turn the tide.

    "Salesforce could really have some success in this area," said Missy Krasner, managing director of healthcare and life sciences at online storage provider Box, which is exploring similar opportunities. Krasner said health systems are realizing that current systems are "ridiculously bad."

Posted by orrinj at 3:45 AM


The truth behind America's most famous gay-hate murder (Julie Bindel, 10/25/14, The Observer)

[T]he Matthew Shepard story is not yet finished. A new twist came last year with the publication of another book, this one by investigative journalist Stephen Jimenez, who has spent 13 years interviewing more than 100 people with a connection to the case. His conclusion, outlined in The Book of Matt: Hidden Truths about the Murder of Matthew Shepard, is that the grotesque murder was not a hate crime, but could instead be blamed on crystal meth, a drug that was flooding Denver and the surrounding area at the time of Matthew's death. This new theory has, understandably, caused a lot of anger.

Jimenez has faced a barrage of criticism since the publication of his book and has had readings to promote the book boycotted. Jimenez claims, however, that many of his critics have not actually read it. The Advocate, America's leading LGBT magazine, published a piece last year entitled: "Why I'm Not Reading the 'Trutherism' About Matt Shepard". Jimenez has been accused of being a revisionist, a criticism usually reserved for extreme rightwing ideologues that deny the Holocaust, and labelled a homophobe.

"People object to the idea of the book, rather than what is in the book," says Jimenez. "The anger directed at me has been pretty extreme."

Jimenez had no intention of causing such controversy. He's an award-winning writer and TV producer, and visited Laramie shortly after the murder to gather material for a screenplay about the case. When he started he was convinced that Matthew died at the hands of homophobes, but he soon discovered that Matthew's tragedy began long before the night he was killed.

Jimenez found that Matthew was addicted to and dealing crystal meth and had dabbled in heroin. He also took significant sexual risks and was being pimped alongside Aaron McKinney, one of his killers, with whom he'd had occasional sexual encounters. He was HIV positive at the time of his death.

"This does not make the perfect poster boy for the gay-rights movement," says Jimenez. "Which is a big part of the reason my book has been so trashed."

...because it does.

Posted by orrinj at 1:27 AM


Japan is on a U.S. stock buying spree (Aaron Smith, November 7, 2014, CNNMoney)

Japan has one of the largest pension funds in the world -- a massive $1.1 trillion -- and it's starting to deploy more of that money in markets outside its homeland, including the United States.

Tim Anderson, managing director of TJM Investments in New York, said this is already making an impact on Wall Street.

He believes the Government Pension Investment Fund of Japan was gobbling up U.S. stocks on Wednesday and Thursday, helping drive the Dow up 170 points over the two days.

Posted by orrinj at 1:21 AM


The Federal Government Now Employs the Fewest People Since 1966 (JOSH ZUMBRUN, 11/07/14, WSJ)

Given the grinding budget battles of recent years, it's almost hard to believe the federal government now employs the fewest people since the mid-1960s. Yet according to Friday's jobs report, the federal government now employs 2,711,000 people (excluding non-civilian military). Among the economy's largest job sectors, it was the only one to shrink over the past year.

November 7, 2014

Posted by Glenn Dryfoos at 8:18 AM

All That Jazz #8

Dave Frishberg - Can't Take You Nowhere

Dave Frishberg is a terrific bop-influenced pianist who came on the scene in the 1950's as a sideman for musicians such as Carmen McRae, Al Cohn and Zoot Sims.  Since the early 1980's, however, he has been best known as a composer and singer of songs, some of which provide wry (but rarely mean) commentary on modern life ("Blizzard of Lies," "Quality Time"), some of which are sweetly nostalgic (his tributes to Marilyn Monroe and Christy Matthewson; his ode to the guys in the band, "I Want to be a Sideman"; and "Van Lingle Mungo," a recitation of the names of baseball players from the 30's,40's and 50's set to a lilting melody) and others that are simply funny ("I Was Ready"; "Slappin' the Cakes on Me").  His melodies are inventive, and his lyrics are carefully constructed, with complex, yet pleasing, rhyming patterns and wordplay.

While perhaps the best overview of Frishberg's compositions is his Classics album, my favorite Frishberg album is Can't Take You Nowhere because it features him in a concert setting (rather than in studio) and playing not only his own tunes, but others' music as well.   Among the best of the "other's" is a medley of tunes by Frank Loesser, who Frishberg refers to as his hero.  The medley includes perfect miniature versions...that leave you wishing for more...of "I Believe in You" (from How to Succeed in Business), "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve" and "Guys and Dolls."  On "Zoot Walks In" Frishberg pays tribute to his former band mate, the great tenor sax player Zoot Sims, by adding words to a Zoot/Gerry Mulligan tune (which they called "Red Door").  The lyric shows off Frishberg's ability to mix vernacular, internal and end rhymes and jazz phrasing and references to create real poetry:

            Got a tone all his own, a happy kind of sadness,
            With just a touch of tenor madness,
            And when Zoot walks in
            All the tenormen in the joint start cheering.

Frishberg's two best known songs are here as well, the satirical "My Attorney Bernie," which tells of a slick and resourceful L.A. lawyer, with his "Dodger season boxes and office full of foxes" (I hope he didn't have someone like me in mind when he wrote it) and "I'm Hip," written with Bob Dorough, which gently pokes fun at the over-enthusiastic jazz fan (ditto).

Finally, because this is a jazz column, and because his singing and humor often overshadow his playing, Frishberg's skill at the piano is definitely worth mentioning.  Like other players of generation, his solos tend to feature boppish single note lines played in the right hand that sound as though they could be played on a sax or trumpet.  But rather than supporting those lines with chords comped in the left hand, as would be typical, Frishberg's left hand bangs out walking bass lines which create rollicking boogie-woogie feel.  And, as with Nat Cole, his comping and fills provide perfect support behind his singing. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:06 AM


Immigration Will Be Obama's Wedge  (Francis Wilkinson, 11/06/14, Bloomberg View)

Republicans have no obvious answer for this problem. The existence of some 11 million humans without documentation inside the U.S. is not like other issues. If Republicans refuse to pass an infrastructure bill, it's bad for the U.S. economy. But there isn't a vast population or underground economy of illegal infrastructure. Either the bridge gets repaired in broad daylight or it doesn't.

However, if 11 million people cannot have their existence legally sanctioned, what happens? There are only two real options: They can be ignored, or they can be deported. Mass deportation of settled families is too cruelly stupid even for the majority of House Republicans, in addition to being logistically impossible. Republicans simply won't go that far, especially in advance of a presidential election in which -- did I mention Hispanic voters? That leaves the status quo: ignoring undocumented immigrants as they go about their noncitizen, nonlegal lives.

Obama has been a remarkably poor political communicator for someone with an obvious gift for narrative. But even he will be able to point out that the Republican plan comes down to maintaining a status quo that they themselves claim is broken. Before the game gets to that point, however, various Republican loudmouths will have had a grand time making the party sound bigoted, backward and mean. And they will demand another vote -- this one with higher stakes -- to shut the door for good on "amnesty."

Of course, it's always possible that McConnell and Boehner could see Obama and raise him -- rallying their party to pass comprehensive legislation that addresses core issues while rationalizing the most illogical elements of immigration law.

Pass amnesty but call it a "path to citizenship" and include some make believe border security. And do it in the lame duck session.

November 6, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 8:42 PM


Microsoft Makes Office Free for Mobile (Joshua Brustein, November 06, 2014, Business Week)

In March, Microsoft (MSFT) required anyone who wanted to create or edit documents on their iPads to buy a $99-a-year subscription to Office 365. People without subscriptions could use the apps to read documents but not to create or edit them. Now people will have full use of the programs for free; Microsoft will still charge for advanced features such as unlimited storage and Dropbox integration.

The model for many new software companies, especially on mobile, is to draw huge numbers of people with basic services, then rely on a group of core users to pay for features that are needed only for heavy use. Microsoft's traditional software strategy has been the opposite: It makes software, and everyone pays to use it. But the company apparently decided that the only way to compete against free was to be free itself.

Posted by orrinj at 8:32 PM


Technocracy Versus The Great Books : One of the great prejudices of our time is that direct information is king. But the great books offer another, more satisfying way to realize truth. (Peter Lawler, 11/06/14, The Federalist)

Everyone knows that any life consumed by the enjoyments of the screen is marked by emotionally crippling abstraction and distraction, and that true teachers of philosophy, literature, and theology do what they can to get students to leave those screens alone enough to know what it's like to take pleasure in being alone with yourself with others or in love in the present with another person with a body. Everyone also knows that, contrary to what the politically correct think, being shaped by one's relational biological imperatives is, far from being the slavery of suckers, our only way to reliably free ourselves from the slavery of being locked up in one's self. Thinking through both these modes of "experiential knowledge," however, take us far beyond the angry reductionism of political correctness and the post-biological hopes of the technological promise of the Singularity or at least indefinite longevity.

The strangest and most wonderful being in the cosmos--each of us--is too elusive and mysterious to be known through information transfer.
The Catholic philosopher and novelist Walker Percy wrote on occasion about, in effect, writing esoterically or hiding his true or evangelical message in the forms of modern science and the existentialist novel. We also know, of course, that Flannery O'Connor deployed her violent and jarring stories as a kind of shock therapy to arouse us from our death-in-life techno-diversions as a preparation for wondering anew about the goodness and gratuitousness of created being.

The main reason we should cherish liberal education as "great books" is that they almost all are--whether written in the form of prose, poetry, plays, or novels--poetic in this sense: They are all about showing, rather than telling. One of the great prejudices of our time is that the truth can be reduced to theory and information expressed directly through "critical thinking" that can, in principle, be displayed through logically ordered PowerPoint slides. But the strangest and most wonderful being in the cosmos--each of us--is too elusive and mysterious to be known through that mode. This means the poetic, indirect, or slow and circuitous mode of knowing could be even more rigorous and rational in its own way. The reason Socrates didn't write at all, and the reason Plato wrote "dialogues" or really wordy plays, is that books themselves can so readily get in the way of wondrous love and "the joy of discovery" if they are viewed as one-dimensional prose. The difference here is the one between the "great book" or even a "real book" and the "textbook."

The one true progress has little to do with political institutions or technical devices: It's the progress that occurs in the directions of wisdom and virtue over a particular unique and irreplaceable human life, and our struggle today is to remember to focus at least some of our higher education on encouraging that personal progress. that we'll stop treating education like job training and stop making folk who are ineducable further their "educations."

Posted by orrinj at 11:51 AM


First-Time Jobless Claims in U.S. Fell More Than Forecast (Lorraine Woellert and Shobhana Chandra  Nov 6, 2014, Bloomberg)

Fewer Americans are being fired and productivity is showing signs of life, pointing to an improving job market that is helping boost consumer confidence.

The number of claims for jobless benefits dropped by 10,000 to 278,000 in the week ended Nov. 1, the Labor Department reported today in Washington. Other figures showed workers were more efficient in the third quarter than economists projected and household sentiment firmed last week as family finances improved.

Increasing productivity is keeping a lid on labor costs, making it possible for companies to limit price increases and take on staff as sales strengthen. Contained inflation gives Federal Reserve policy makers more room and more reason to keep interest rates near zero to further invigorate the job market and economy.

It's like a reverse 1992.

Posted by orrinj at 11:45 AM


What did Tom Steyer get for his $70 million? (Tom Hamburger, November 5, 2014, Washington Post)

Tom Steyer, the billionaire climate activist, spent heavily to back environmentally friendly candidates for Congress in 2014.

But Tuesday's election results produced a stunning disappointment, and a low return on his $70 million investment.

Many of the environmentally friendly candidates he backed most heavily­, such as Sen. Mark Udall in Colorado  and Rep. Bruce Braley in Iowa,­  were defeated -- earning him a low "return on investment" score from the Sunlight Foundation, which ranks the major independent spending  groups that now dominate federal campaigns.

Steyer, who spent his own money launching NextGen Climate Action, had "little to show for his efforts," the foundation's staff concluded in the report  released Wednesday.

Posted by orrinj at 11:43 AM


G.O.P.'s Inroads With Latinos Hint at a Path for 2016 (JULIA PRESTON, NOV. 5, 2014, NY Times)

"We had better candidates this year, who were talking about the issues that people care about and doing it in a way that did not alienate any group," said Luis G. Fortuño, the former governor of Puerto Rico who is a member of the Republican National Committee.

Republicans said the glide to re-election of two Hispanic Republican governors in states with large Hispanic populations -- Susana Martinez in New Mexico and Brian Sandoval in Nevada -- also showed the party's ability to succeed with those voters when it runs strong candidates.

In Texas, the state with the second-largest Hispanic population -- 17 percent of the electorate -- Greg Abbott, the Republican who defeated an underdog campaign for governor by Wendy Davis, a Democrat, won 44 percent of the Hispanic vote, while Ms. Davis took 55 percent. In 2010, Gov. Rick Perry, also a Republican, won his race with 38 percent of Latinos.

In Georgia, where a small but rapidly growing population of Hispanic citizens now represents 4 percent of voters, Gov. Nathan Deal, a Republican, was re-elected, winning 47 percent of Hispanic voters while his Democratic challenger received 53 percent. In the hard-fought Senate race in Georgia, David Perdue, a conservative Republican businessman, received 42 percent of the Latino votes while his Democratic opponent, Michelle Nunn, got 57 percent.

In Kansas, Gov. Sam Brownback, a conservative Republican who had been under fire even from some in his own party for sharp tax cuts, received 47 percent of the Latino vote, while his Democratic challenger, Paul Davis, won 46 percent. The exit polls were conducted by Edison Research for the television networks and The Associated Press.

In the presidential race in 2012, Mitt Romney won only 27 percent of the Hispanic vote, while President Obama was re-elected with 71 percent.

Posted by orrinj at 11:41 AM


The Fight for Abortion Rights Just Got a Whole Lot Harder : Activists thought they had a chance to expand reproductive rights. The Red Wave put an end to that. (Molly Redden,  Nov. 6, 2014, Mother Jones)

The GOP wave didn't just crash into the US Senate. It flooded state legislatures, as well. By Wednesday evening, Republicans were in control of 67 of the nation's 99 state legislative chambers--up from 57 before the election. It's still unclear which party will control two other chambers.

Already, anti-abortion advocates are calling it a big win. Hundreds of the country's most extreme anti-abortion bills pop up in these statehouses every year, and Tuesday's results won't do anything to put a stop to that. But reproductive rights advocates also suffered big setbacks Tuesday in places where they had actually been playing offense. Now, Democratic losses in states like Colorado, Nevada, New York, and Washington could torpedo their efforts to expand reproductive rights. [...]

"We were really hopeful," says Christina Chang, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood NYC Votes. "But a lot of the folks who won seats have not expressed support for the Women's Equality Act...After last night's elections, we have a harder road ahead of us."

Posted by orrinj at 11:38 AM


Party switch gives Republicans control of West Virginia Senate (Reid Wilson November 5, 2014, Washington Post)

A day after Republicans won back control of the West Virginia House of Delegates for the first time in eight decades, a Democratic state senator has changed party affiliation to give the GOP control of the state Senate as well.

State Sen. Daniel Hall switched his party affiliation this afternoon at the Secretary of State's office in Charleston, the Charleston Daily Mail reported. The paper said a formal announcement is expected on Thursday.

Posted by orrinj at 11:36 AM


First Impressions: Historic GOP House Majority (David Wasserman, November 5, 2014, Cook Political Report)

It's hard to overstate House Democrats' bad night. By all measures, Republicans enjoyed an historic night, exceeding pre-election expectations across the country. There are fewer than ten races where the outcome is in some doubt, but Republicans appear headed for a 250-seat majority, give or take three seats, for a gain of between 13 and 19. A net gain of 13 would give them their largest majority since Herbert Hoover won the presidency in 1928.

As of 4am Wednesday morning, races that appeared too close to call were Democratic Reps. Ron Barber (AZ-02), Jim Costa (CA-16), Julia Brownley (CA-26), Scott Peters (CA-52), Louise Slaughter (NY-25), and GOP Rep. Lee Terry (NE-02).

Plain and simple, the story in House races was an epic turnout collapse and motivational deficit. Democrats' surprisingly large losses are attributable to "orphan states" where there was little enthusiasm for top-of-the-ticket Democrats. For example, in New York, the lack of a competitive statewide race caused Democratic turnout to plummet, and Reps. Tim Bishop (NY-01) and Dan Maffei (NY-24) suffered surprisingly wide defeats.

Even Rep. Louise Slaughter's normally safe Rochester seat (NY-25), which neither party had on their radar screen appears headed for a recount. In Maryland, where Republican Larry Hogan pulled off an upset in the gubernatorial race, Democratic Rep. John Delaney (MD-06) appears to have barely hung on. And in Iowa, the final insult to Democrats was the loss of failed Democratic Senate nominee Bruce Braley's 1st CD.

It's all but official: This will be the most dominant Republican Congress since 1929 (Philip Bump November 5, 2014, Washington Post)

Now that we can see how the Republicans did at a minimum and, with a few seats still to be determined, how well they could wind up doing, we can erase the uncertainty from our first post. This will be the most dominant Republican Congress since 1929, with an almost-certain 8 percent majority in the Senate and an 11.7 to 17.7 percent majority in the House. That trumps the party's 6.3/13.3 percent majorities in the 80th Congress that began in 1947. (Even if the party loses the Senate races in Louisiana or Alaska, it only needs two of the contested House races that remain to go its way to beat 1947.)

November 5, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:45 PM


Study Points to Overdiagnosis of Thyroid Cancer (GINA KOLATA, NOV. 5, 2014, NY Times)

The soaring increase in thyroid cancers in South Korea is documented in a paper published on Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine. The authors report not only that the number of diagnoses escalated as screening became popular, but also that the newly detected cancers were almost all very tiny ones. These tiny cancers, called papillary thyroid cancers, are the most common kind and are the sort typically found with screening. They are known to be the least aggressive.

The epidemic was not caused by an environmental toxin or infectious agent, said Dr. H. Gilbert Welch of Dartmouth, an author of the paper. "An epidemic of real disease would be expected to produce a dramatic rise in the number of deaths from disease," he said. "Instead we see an epidemic of diagnosis, a dramatic rise in diagnosis and no change in death."

Posted by orrinj at 5:20 PM


A Growth Pact for America (Glenn Hubbard, 11/05/14, Project Syndicate)

The list of potential policy actions that could benefit the United States - trade liberalization, comprehensive regulatory reform, and immigration and education reform, among others - is long. But only two policies are particularly promising for such a "Pact for America": federal infrastructure spending and corporate-tax reform. Enactment of these reforms would generate a win for each side - and for both. [...]

Corporate-tax reform also offers a good opportunity for bipartisan agreement, especially given that Obama and congressional leaders of both parties have expressed interest. While gains from fundamental tax reform - say, replacing the current tax system with a broad-based consumption tax - are large, on the order of 0.5-1 percentage point per year of economic growth for a decade, corporate-tax reform would also boost growth.

Reducing the tax rate for companies substantially, while eliminating targeted business-tax preferences and broadening the corporate-tax base, would increase both investment and workers' wages. Allowing multinational companies to repatriate overseas profits without paying additional US tax would also bolster investment and job creation at home.

Given that recent research shows that much of the burden of corporate taxation is borne by workers in the form of lower wages, Democrats should embrace tax reform as a way to support income growth. One could add to such a reform further support for low-income Americans by increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit for single workers.

Posted by orrinj at 5:16 PM


The 2014 electorate wasn't just older and whiter than 2012. It also voted more Republican. (Philip Bump, November 5, 2014, Washington Post)

Note the big swing in the Asian voting bloc, too. In 2012, strong support for the president among Asian-American voters was a surprise. Asian voters preferred the president by 47 points. In 2014, the (low turnout) group split about evenly. It was a 46-point swing.

Posted by orrinj at 5:14 PM


In Night of Surprises, Shumlin Suffers Stunning Rebuke (PAUL HEINTZ, ALICIA FREESE AND MARK DAVIS,  11/05/14, 7 Days)

Vermonters issued a stunning rebuke to Gov. Peter Shumlin Tuesday, leaving the two-term Democrat within inches of his political life. 

By the end of the night, Shumlin was narrowly leading Republican Scott Milne, but neither candidate came close to winning a majority of the vote. That means no matter who prevails, the race will be decided by the legislature. 

Vermont Democrats appeared likely to lose two seats in the 30-member Senate and at least eight in the 150-member House, though their majorities in both bodies were not imperiled. The most prominent Democrat to lose his seat was Rep. Mike Fisher (D-Lincoln), who chaired the House Committee on Health Care. 

The GOP blew VT in '94 too, when we could have defeated Bernie Sanders off of his gun control vote.

Posted by orrinj at 5:11 PM


Republicans Just Broke Democrats' Blue Wall  (JOSH KRAUSHAAR, November 5, 2014, National Journal)

The biggest story from the 2014 midterms was not just how Republicans reclaimed red states they lost in 2008--it's how they won seats in states that Democrats thought they had for their own. The GOP won most of the purple-state Senate battlegrounds, nearly sweeping the lineup of competitive blue-state governors' races, and picking up House seats in districts that seemed like Democratic locks.

Before the election began, the White House was preparing to spin away a solid Republican night by claiming that most of their victories came in conservative states. After all, the GOP needed only a red-state sweep to retake control of the Senate. But it soon became apparent that Republicans gains were much bigger and more widespread than even the most pessimistic Democrats expected. Even former Obama campaign manager David Axelrod, who dismissed the possibility of a GOP landslide early in the evening, had to tweet his contrition: "Said on @NBCNews earlier that this was not a wave. But the returns since then say otherwise."

The results weren't pretty for Democrats: They got swept in Iowa and Colorado, lost a North Carolina race they thought they would win, and are barely hanging on in Virginia--a race they didn't even think was competitive. Republicans held on to all their contested seats, with incoming Majority Leader Mitch McConnell winning by double digits in Kentucky. In sum, Democrats are staring at the likelihood of losing a net of nine Senate seats, a higher number than their worst-case projections.

And Republicans could pick up as many as five governorships, when most analysts expected them to lose several. Gov. Rick Scott, one of the least popular governors in the country, nonetheless prevails in Florida. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, the Democrats' biggest gubernatorial target, comfortably wins his third election in four years. Republicans clinch close governor's races in deep-blue Illinois, Massachusetts, and Maryland while running neck-and-neck in Colorado. Even Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, who looked like a goner before the election, hung on in a close race.

Meanwhile, House Republicans are positioned to add more than a dozen members to their already sizable caucus, which would give them the largest majority in generations.

Posted by orrinj at 5:08 PM


Sandra Fluke, Feminist Made Famous by Rush Limbaugh, Loses Badly in Bid for State Senate (Gene Maddaus, Nov 5, 2014, LA Weekly)

It was a rough night for Democrats, and here in L.A., there's one more disappointment for national Democratic activists. Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown law student who rose to fame when Rush Limbaugh called her a slut, was trounced in her bid for California state senate.

Ben Allen, a Democrat who serves on the Santa Monica-Malibu school board, beat Fluke 60.8 precent to 39.2 percent in semi-official results. As of 1 a.m., Allen still had not officially claimed victory, though the county Democratic Party had congratulated him on the win.

Posted by orrinj at 4:45 PM


How the Tea Party lost the 2014 midterms (Jon Terbush, 11/05/14, The Week)

In March, as the Republican Party salivated over a favorable midterm map that showed control of the Senate was within their reach, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) issued a warning to the Tea Party.

"I think we are going to crush them everywhere," he said. "I don't think they are going to have a single nominee anywhere in the country."

McConnell's remark would prove prophetic. Despite furious threats to boot "turncoat" bums from office, the Tea Party failed to pick off any incumbent Senate Republicans in the primaries this year. Attempts to unseat sitting GOP senators in Texas, Mississippi, Wyoming, Kansas, South Carolina, and Kentucky all fizzled. Bids to nominate fringe candidates in states with Democratic incumbents went nowhere, too.

In that respect, the 2014 midterms stand in stark contrast to the two preceding elections, when the GOP's embrace of the Tea Party as a potent distillation of anti-Obama angst backfired.

Though the 2010 midterms were a "shellacking" for Democrats, with the party shedding 63 seats in the House and six in the Senate, the losses could have been far more catastrophic had the Tea Party not helped nominate Ken Buck in Colorado, Sharron Angle in Nevada, and Christine "I'm not a witch" O'Donnell in Delaware. More moderate candidates could have easily won all three races, which would have knotted the Senate.

Nice having grown-ups in control.

Posted by orrinj at 4:43 PM


As Tech Jobs Go Unfilled, Israel Looks to Hire More Arabs (Gwen Ackerman and Alisa Odenheimer,  Nov 4, 2014, Bloomberg)

Joseph Karkaby, a 24-year-old Israeli Arab, was chosen for a government-subsidized internship while still in college because his grades were so good.

Yet he received no replies to the hundreds of resumes he sent out after graduation -- until he removed references to his background, including changing his hometown from the Arab village of Shfaram to the mostly Jewish city of Haifa.

"In three weeks I had three contracts to choose from," said Karkaby, whose Arab origins soon became clear in face-to-face interviews.

Posted by orrinj at 4:34 PM


Conservative Christians packed an electoral punch, but can they do it again in 2016? (Lauren Markoe | November 5, 2014, RNS) 

Conservative Christians are taking credit for the Republican sweep of the U.S. Senate and GOP victories farther down the ticket in Tuesday's midterm elections, and they predict they will prevail again in 2016.

"This is not only the largest single constituency in the electorate, but it is larger than the African-American vote, the Hispanic vote, the union vote and the gay vote combined," Ralph Reed, one of the most recognized figures in conservative Christian politics, said Wednesday (Nov. 5) in a celebratory post-election press conference.

Posted by orrinj at 5:49 AM


GOP Wins Big in Governor's Races, Too (MICHAEL WARREN, 11/05/14, Weekly Standard)

After making big gains in 2010, the GOP was playing defense in governor's races across the country. Democrats were itching to take back seats in supposedly friendly states in the northeast and Midwest: Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio, for starters. Republican governors looked weak even in states where they ought to have been strong, like Georgia and Kansas. National Democrats even talked early on about "turning Texas blue."

And Republicans actually winning governor's races in deep blue states like Illinois, Maryland, and Massachusetts? Forget about it.

But that's exactly what happened, and more. Republican Bruce Rauner toppled Democratic incumbent Pat Quinn in Illinois. GOP Businessman Larry Hogan defeated the sitting Democratic lieutenant governor of Maryland, Anthony Brown, in a campaign that railed against the two-term incumbent Democrat Martin O'Malley. Democratic attorney general Martha Coakley of Massachusetts lost another race (after her failed Senate special election bid in 2010), this time to Republican Charlie Baker. In Arkansas, Democrat Mike Ross began trailing badly early in the race to succeed his fellow Democrat, Mike Beebe, and Republican Asa Hutchison cruised to victory. Bob Beauprez, Republican, currently has a small advantage over sitting Colorado Democratic governor John Hickenlooper, and Republican Tom Foley in Connecticut has a razor-thin lead on incumbent Democrat Dannel Malloy.

November 4, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 10:56 PM


Exit Poll: Where Voters Stand on National Issues (NY Times, 11/04/14)

• Nearly six in 10 say most illegal immigrants working in this country should be offered a chance to apply for legal status.

• Voters are closely split over whether their state should legally recognize same-sex marriage.

Posted by orrinj at 8:46 PM


The second richest man of all time was poorer than us (John Kay, 11/04/14, Financial Times)

Nathan Rothschild was the richest man in the world when he died in 1836. A list compiled by Forbes magazine, ranks him as the second richest man who ever lived - ahead of John D Rockefeller, and way ahead of Mexican telecoms mogul Carlos Slim and Bill Gates of Microsoft. (The richest was a Roman general who was the power behind Julius Caesar's throne.) The figures used by Forbes are, of course, adjusted for inflation.

But what does "adjusted for inflation" mean? Rothschild died of septicaemia following an abscess, and in spite of buying the best medical attention available in Europe at the time. He had never been in a car, a train or an aircraft, nor visited the Taj Mahal, heard recorded music, seen a film, made a phone call or used electric light. Nor (despite the legends about the killing he made from inside information) could he have heard about the outcome of Waterloo until many hours after the battle was won. And he was dead at the age of 58 from an illness that could today be cured by an antibiotic costing a few pence.

Was Rothschild really the second richest man in history? Was he, in fact, richer than me? True, he could hire a fleet of carriages and eat off gold plate; but I would happily trade both for still being alive , and I suspect that Rothschild would have felt the same.

Posted by Stephen Judd at 8:00 PM

BrothersJudd Election Night Coverage

Join us Tuesday, 11/4, starting at 8PM Eastern for commentary (ours and yours) on Election Night! Click through ahead of time to get a reminder from CoverItLive, or join in the discussion on Tuesday.

Live Blog BrothersJudd Election Night

Posted by orrinj at 7:31 PM


The Future of the Tradition of Liberty (Peter Lawler, 11/04/14, Intellectual Conservative)

 I'm going to limit myself to some stuff I learned (or remembered) about liberty over the week.

1. The singular (classic) Greek contribution to liberty is freedom of the mind. That means, more or less, the freedom of Socrates.

2. Well, there's also the freedom of the citizen. The freedom to participate in ruling and so be more than a merely material or economic or tribal or familial being.

3. There's also the freedom connected with moral virtue. That's a proud and rational freedom from necessity that's more particular than being philosophic (which requires completely getting over or dying to yourself) and merely being a citizen. This freedom is elevated by the Stoics, and it's displayed by the virtues of courage, generosity, and magnanimity. This virtue found its place in America in Southern Stoicism, in George Washington, Robert E. Lee, and (the fictional) Atticus Finch. But it was also displayed by Lincoln.

4. The Greek view of liberty, from our view, was never personal enough. The tendency of the Greeks is to see particular persons as merely parts, as parts of nature or parts of the city.

5. Christian liberty is found in the being made in the image of the free, loving, and relational logos of the personal Creator. The creature retains his personal identity even in his loving relationship with God; he neither dies to himself (as does the philosopher) nor discovers he is merely part of some divine or natural cosmos. It's from the Christians that we learn that all men and women are equal under God, and that each person has a unique and irreplaceable dignity. It's owing to the Christians that government becomes limited because we are all more than citizens. And this religious freedom is "relational freedom," and so it's displayed in the organized body of thought and action called the church. The Christians criticize the natural and civil theologies of the Greeks and Romans for understanding us as less than who each of us is as a free person. It's also from the Christians that we get the idea of the irreducible personal inwardness called freedom of conscience.

For the reasons we discuss here, I think that gives the Greeks and Romans too little credit and Christians too much. The great contribution of Christianity is to remove the questions of equality and freedom from the political realm and make them moral imperatives. Our republican liberty is simply grounded more firmly than theirs was.  

Posted by orrinj at 7:26 PM


Tim Scott becomes first African American elected to Senate from SC (Cameron Joseph, 11/04/14, The Hill)

Posted by orrinj at 6:49 PM


Man can conquer all -- 'Interstellar' breaks with leftist pessimism (Kyle Smith, November 2, 2014, NY Post)

Nolan, whose previous films included a robust defense of the Bush-Cheney War on Terror ("The Dark Knight") and a rejoinder to Marxist-Occupy Wall Street dogma about redistributionist 
mob rule ("The Dark Knight Rises"), even drops into "Interstellar" an overt Christian allegory of a wise father figure sacrificing his offspring to save humanity.

But mostly, "Interstellar" is a vision of American guts and greatness and ingenuity that would have made John Wayne smile.

Using technology, Nolan asserts, man can and should bend the environment to his will, not serve it. No matter what challenges we may face, Cooper states, in a stirring line that serves as the film's epigraph, "We'll find a way. We always have."

What Cooper means is entrepreneurship, invention, exploration -- not regulation, restriction and abnegation.

Viewers might think of a contemporary parallel: Climate-change masochists who beg for the hairshirt of American carbon restrictions -- though these would make almost no difference in global temperatures -- react with fury at the notion that technological solutions (such as removing carbon from the atmosphere) could be a better approach.

Such solutions might allow us to escape punishment. That, to liberals, would be an unspeakable horror.

"Human beings," Ridley once said, "are solution machines as well as problems; the ingenuity of human beings is what drives the world."

In today's upside-down Hollywood, it takes a sci-fi movie to remind us of this invigorating, yet obvious, truth.

Posted by orrinj at 6:43 PM


A WORD FOR DISCRETION (Matthew Schmitz, 11 . 4 . 14, First Things)

Intimacy demands spaces of silence, and Dunham has built a career by violating those silences. She has attacked discretion and in the process attacked intimacy itself. This is a serious charge, but it is likely to seem a little weak at this moment, when others are accusing her of the much more serious offense of child molestation because of what she describes in her memoir[.] [...]

Whatever one makes of what Dunham did to her sister when she was a small child (and some are making far too much of it), it is impossible to understand why as a twenty-eight-year-old woman she would find it necessary to describe this scene. For all her accomplishments, the voice of a generation has yet to learn that there are some things about which it is better to say nothing at all. 

...which is why the autobiographical natrure of her work precludes watching any of it.

Posted by orrinj at 6:41 PM


Study: Shorter NBA Refs Call More Fouls (BEN COHEN, Nov. 4, 2014, WSJ)

NBA referees have been scrutinized over the years for every imaginable bias. Now, though, new research has whistled another trait that may shape how refs call games: their height.

As it turns out, the league's shorter referee crews call more fouls than its taller officiating teams, according to a Journal of Sports Economics study by Paul Gift and Ryan Rodenberg that examined more than 4,000 regular-season games over four recent NBA seasons.

Posted by orrinj at 4:17 PM


With Ernst and Gardner, Republicans Think They've Found the Formula (Eleanor Clift, 11/04/4, Daily Beast)

Republicans think they have found the secret sauce to insure victory with candidates Cory Gardner in Colorado and Joni Ernst in Iowa, who go into Election Day with slightly better than even odds they will return two Democratic Senate seats to the Republican fold. Both are energetic and engaging campaigners, and their winning style has received more media attention than their conservative positions, which each has successfully downplayed, to the consternation of Democrats.

"If they win, it will be a victory of style over substance," says Democratic pollster Celinda Lake, who calls them "model candidates" for the GOP. "They leaned into the public, they talked a broader women's agenda, they had women in their ads, and of course Ernst is a woman," says Lake, noting that Ernst has the added advantage of doing well among men, which is not surprising, since "all Republicans have double-digit advantages among men."

What makes Ernst and Gardner potential game changers for the GOP is the way they've navigated the divide within the party between the hard right and more traditional conservatives, holding onto their hard-core base while straying into moderate territory, ground where the GOP's civil war is fought.

Conservatism is an easy sell.  Conservative candidates on the other hand....

The Republican Party's Remarkable Non-Transformation (Molly Messick, 11/04/14, NPR)

Sometime after the polls close Tuesday night, we'll find out if Republicans managed a spectacular feat.

The party that lost the last two presidential elections is seeking a comeback, adding control of the Senate to control of the House. Republicans aim to dominate Congress with a fresh presidential election looming in 2016. It would be, in one of the hackneyed phrases of journalism, "a remarkable transformation."

It's better described as a "non-transformation." The GOP has waged this campaign without altering a single one of the major political positions that supposedly doom the party to demographic oblivion.

Posted by orrinj at 4:15 PM


Relax, Your Sexual Fantasies Aren't All That Strange (TOM JACOBS, November 04, 2014, Pacific Standard)

Do you ever wonder about your sexual fantasies, and what they say about you? If so, one of two worries likely comes to mind: "Am I really this conventional and boring?" or "Does the fact I'm having these thoughts mean I'm abnormal?"

Newly published research suggests you can relax. It finds humans indulge in a wide range of erotic fantasies, only a handful of which fall on either extreme (that is, almost everyone has experienced them, or almost no one has).

"There are very few statistically unusual sexual fantasies," reports a research team led by Canadian psychologist Christian Joyal. Its paper is published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine.

Posted by orrinj at 4:13 PM


Role for Russia Gives Iran Talks a Possible Boost (DAVID E. SANGER, NOV. 3, 2014, NY Times)

 Iran has tentatively agreed to ship much of its huge stockpile of uranium to Russia if it reaches a broader nuclear deal with the West, according to officials and diplomats involved in the negotiations, potentially a major breakthrough in talks that have until now been deadlocked.

Under the proposed agreement, the Russians would convert the uranium into specialized fuel rods for the Bushehr nuclear power plant, Iran's only commercial reactor. Once the uranium is converted into fuel rods, it is extremely difficult to use them to make a nuclear weapon. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:08 PM

FIT FOR THE PIGS (self-reference alert):

King Arthur Flour Baking Education Center : King Arthur Flour is here to help you make your very own pies for the holidays (SUSAN LAUGHLIN , November 2014, NH Magazine)

There is no excuse to not bake your own pies. Not when help is just across the border in Norwich, Vt., at King Arthur Flour. The company headquarters is the site for a well-stocked Baker's Store, café and fully equipped classrooms. Help is also close at hand through their baking hotline (855) 371-2253. It's a free service where you talk directly to baking experts with any issues with recipes or ingredients. They'll even troubleshoot problems after the fact. 

The King Arthur Flour website is a rich tool for learning too. There are a variety of blogs and online video demonstrations for everything from pie crusts to no-knead bread. The website also is a fount of recipes for everything flour, from pizza and pretzels to breads and pies to cookies and cupcakes.

The Baker's Store in Norwich and the online site offers all the tools a baker might lust for, including brotforms for bread, pantry essentials, and baking and decorating tools.

 Of course, the easiest way to learn the proper techniques in baking is to take a hands-on class at the Baking Education Center in Norwich. 

We're required to take some baking classes and the first loaf of bread I made was so gnarly they wouldn't even feed it to the pigs that eat our slops. But by the time we got to apple pie, the family thought it was the best one they'd ever tasted.  If I can do it....

[N.B.--while you're visiting you can plug in your Volt at our free charging station...]

Posted by orrinj at 4:04 PM


Patients' fears often guided by irrational thoughts (Jane E. Brody, 11/04/14, New York Times)

In an ideal world, people would base medical decisions on an unbiased evaluation of available evidence. But people are often irrational, and many, perhaps most, of their actions are driven more by emotion than facts. [...]

"A child's risk of getting cancer from asbestos insulation in a school building is about one-third the chance of being struck by lightning," Dr. Lisa Rosenbaum wrote last month in the New England Journal of Medicine. "Nevertheless, in 1993, frightened New York City parents agitated for asbestos removal from schools."

Although many experts endorsed containment, not removal, as a saner and safer solution, fear prevailed. Billions of dollars were spent on asbestos removal that should have been spent on education. And removal probably increased -- not decreased -- children's exposure to airborne asbestos. [...]

Sometimes, in fact, more information can heighten people's concerns and prompt them to act in ways unsupported by evidence.

For example, one study used solid data and graphic images to reassure parents that vaccinating children against measles can be lifesaving and is not linked to autism. The effort "not only failed to increase vaccination intent but also cemented some parents' conviction that there is a link between vaccines and autism," Rosenbaum wrote.

"People did not respond as expected," Rosenbaum said in an interview. "Many got even more freaked out."

As shown with Ebola, people are more fearful of things they can't control, however remote the risk may be.

Posted by orrinj at 3:58 PM


Which cheap ingredients are just as good as gourmet in your cooking? (Tony Naylor, 11/04/14, The Guardian)

Dried pasta is not only far cheaper but far superior; which is a point worth stressing. Spending less need not always mean accepting a lower quality product. Does anybody out there still buy fresh peas? For years now, chefs have been banging-on about how, because the sugars in peas start breaking down into starch immediately after harvesting, the frozen varieties are sweeter and, ironically, taste fresher. You cannot make the same claim for frozen fruit. Defrosted raspberries always look a bit "deflated". But their flavour can certainly match the best fresh berries out there, for less than half price. In desserts, where the look of the berries is less important than how they taste, they are perfect - with the added advantage that, certainly in Waitrose, you can buy British berries all year round, rather than those imported out of season from Spain and North Africa.

Posted by orrinj at 3:56 PM


Scott Walker's Ugly Re-Election (Ramesh Ponnuru, 11/03/14, Bloomberg View)

Wisconsin is an outlier in another respect, too: It's the only place in the country this year where a potential Republican presidential candidate is in a close race. Walker's narrow re-election campaign this year could end up shaping a 2016 bid for the White House.

For one thing, Walker's struggle raises the question of whether a politician can make a credible run for the presidency after barely winning over his own state's voters. The last two presidents each won their states convincingly before they ran. George W. Bush won 68 percent of the vote to be re-elected governor of Texas in 1998, and Barack Obama won 70 percent of the vote in Illinois to become a senator in 2004. [...]

There's another way Walker is different from Bush and Obama. Bush said he would be a "uniter, not a divider," and Obama said he'd "change the tone" in Washington for the better. A candidate as demonstrably polarizing as Walker -- his anti-union reforms sparked huge protests and an occupation of the Wisconsin State Capitol -- won't be able to run that kind of campaign.

Posted by orrinj at 3:52 PM


The Price of American Eugenics (TED SCHEINMAN, November 04, 2014, Pacific Standard)

From the early decades of the 20th century until 1974, 32 states in the union mandated the sterilization of more than 65,000 citizens. At the behest of government eugenics boards, girls and women had their tubes tied or uteri removed, and boys and men their vasa deferentia snipped because they had been deemed unfit to reproduce. Still others came under the scalpel of private doctors, and this second group makes the calculations difficult--65,000 represents only the number of sterilizations where there was municipal paperwork. [...]

By the late '60s--after the Civil Rights Act--eugenics boards became yet more aggressive in trying to engineer blacks out of the voting pool. Gregory Michael Dorr, contributing a chapter to A Century of Eugenics in America, characterizes the period:

Support for implicitly and explicitly eugenic population controls emerged from the concern that the nation faced a demographic explosion among the underclass, a "population bomb" that threatened to destroy civilization in either a hail of welfare claims or violent social revolution. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:41 PM


What happened to Wendy Davis? Texas' once-rising star set to fall. (Bryan Kay,  NOVEMBER 3, 2014, CS Monitor)

 For Tina Shuey, Wendy Davis represented the hope of a new dawn for Texas.

Ms. Shuey, whose partner is a woman, supports same-sex marriage. Though describing herself as pro-life, Shuey supports a woman's right to choose whether or not to have an abortion. And, echoing a Davis talking point, she opposes the so-called "good old boys network" in Texas politics, what she derisively describes as "old money."

"Wendy Davis' campaign has connected with the issues that Texas sweeps under the rug, issues that are being addressed in other states," says the marketing professional from McKinney, a feeder city north of Dallas.

But the day before Texans go to the polls to vote for their next governor, the star that shone so brightly during a marathon filibuster in the Texas Senate last year over a tough new abortion law has faded.


As a season of campaigning enters its intense final weekend, a new Associated Press-GfK poll illustrates the challenge ahead for candidates and their allies trying to rally voters around traditional wedge issues such as abortion and gay marriage. This fall, voters just have other matters on their minds.

Social issues are eclipsed by concerns about the economy, health care, the Islamic State group and Ebola, the poll finds. And hovering over each of these individual issues is a broad dissatisfaction with President Barack Obama and Republican leaders in Congress.

Only 32 percent of likely voters called gay marriage an important issue, compared with 91 percent ranking the economy important, 78 percent with similar concerns about health care and 74 percent naming Ebola important. The issue that some Democrats have emphasized most of all - abortion rights - also has been a relatively low priority, with only 43 percent of likely voters in a September poll ranking it important.

Not that any Democrat was going to do better in this race this year, but if you're going to be a one note Sally, abortion probably wasn't the note to sound.

Posted by orrinj at 3:19 PM


Just went and voted, which I always (almost) find thrilling. 

Turnout seems lower in Hanover than usual--which (napkin analysis warning) suggests Dartmouth students aren't turning out in the number they would in a presidential or if Democrats were otherwise energized.  

One cool thing is that this is the first election in a long time where the whole top of the ticket in NH is unpredictable.  Governor Maggie Hassan and Senator Jeanne Shaheen aren't just incumbents, they're as good a candidates, and as popular, as anyone the Democrats are running anywhere this year.  If the GOP carries the gubernatorial race in particular, it's going to be a bloodbath for Democrats tonight.  Meanwhile, Marilinda Garcia is an archetype of the sort of candidate the GOP will grow its base with, but she had such an ugly primary race that her oppponents may have cost the party an easy seat (since '94 this district has changed hands pretty much according to which party had a better election night nationally.   

Sure, it's nice having all your candidates win, but one does sense a heightened value to one's vote when they may not.

At any rate, I hope everyone gets out and votes and has fun doing it. See you back here tonight, if you get a chance, to chat about what's going on.

God Bless the Republic.

November 3, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:20 PM


Game 6: The all-but-forgotten movie that blazed the trail for Birdman (Alan Zilberman, 11/03/14, The Week)

Stop me if you've heard about this movie: Michael Keaton plays a playwright who can't catch a break. His play is about to begin its Broadway run, and his star actor is pathologically unreliable. A theater critic threatens to make or break the show. The playwright's rebellious daughter seethes with resentment. His ex-wife thinks he's a loser. His charms are lost on his mistress.

Believe it or not, I'm not talking about Birdman, the new Michael Keaton-starring film drawing rave reviews, Oscar buzz, and breathless hyperbole about the resurrection of Keaton's career. I'm talking about Game 6, an unjustly overlooked collaboration between Keaton, screenwriter Don DeLillo, and director Michael Hoffman that was released almost 10 years ago. Birdman isn't just a retread of Game 6; it's a flashier but inferior version of a story that had more weight the first time around.

Which we gave a somewhat cautious recommendation.
Posted by orrinj at 6:39 PM


Jim Crow at the Polling Place (JOEL BLEIFUSS, 11/03/14, In These Times)

 A war is being waged on democracy in America.

Brazenly, with a smiling face, the Right is working to shore up the accumulated wealth and power of the 1% against any incursion by the voting hordes.

Sort of odd to believe that half the American electorate not only votes against self-interest but isn't even part of the "voting horde".

But the real classic today is this one, Former pig castrator Joni Ernst poised to win Iowa Senate seat for Republicans (Rory Carroll, 11/03/14, The Guardian)

You probably can't even explain to these folks that it's exactly this sort of common background, that they're so dismissive of, that polls show appeals to Iowa voters.

Posted by orrinj at 6:33 PM


Wall Street donors dump Democrats (Jesse Solomon, November 3, 2014, CNNMoney)

A record 63% of the political contributions from employees and corporations in the banking and investment sectors went to Republicans this election cycle, according to data from the Center for Responsive politics. It's the largest dollar figure ($78 million) and percent for the GOP in any midterm election.

Posted by orrinj at 6:30 PM


Congress makes history: This is a big deal ... Congress has cut spending two consecutive years (Paul G. Kengor, 11/03/14, Center for Vision and Values)

I recently attended a political event where a Republican congressman was making a re-election pitch. It was the usual stump speech. But one thing he said especially struck me. "This Congress has cut spending--yes, actually cut spending--each of the last two years," he asserted. "And how rare is that?"

Well, it would be extremely rare. So rare, in fact, that I frankly didn't believe the man. I made a mental note to check the data when I got home.

I delayed doing that. My incredulity got the best of me. Surely, the congressman was exaggerating. It's the political season, after all. I moved on. [...] I finally checked on his claims. I was shocked. He was correct: Congress cut spending from 2011-13. It was reduced from $3.60 trillion in 2011 to $3.53 trillion in 2012 to $3.45 trillion in 2013. The reductions are far from earthshattering, but, for the federal government, this is pretty much an earthquake.

This is the first time since 1953-55 that spending was cut in consecutive years--in literally over a half century.

Wow. I honestly didn't think I'd ever live to see it. I'm 47 years old, and this is the first time in my lifetime that a Congress has consecutively cut spending. For years, I've lectured, commented, and written about how Washington literally does not cut spending. I need to amend that. History has been made.

Posted by orrinj at 6:27 PM


How the U.S., Not Iran, Is Making Concessions (MICHAEL SINGH, 11/03/14, WSJ)

In short, what has changed is not Iran's strategy but the American response. We are choosing to overlook, rather than counter, long-standing Iranian policies. This-combined with the concessions we have made in the nuclear talks, the ambiguity of U.S. policy toward the Assad regime and rising tensions with once-stalwart allies in the region-reinforce the impression that the United States, not Iran, is undergoing a strategic shift.

The rapproachment is driven by two simple recognitions : Iran's that it needs our help to grow its economy; ours that the WoT has been about empowering the Shi'a and fighting the Salafists.

Posted by orrinj at 5:42 PM


Solar power prices are dropping fast, NREL says (Cathy Proctor, 10/20/14, Denver Business Journal)

The price of solar power panels dropped as much as 19 percent nationwide in 2013 and are expected to drop by as much as 12 percent in 2014, according to a new report from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden.

The price of solar power panels for utility-scale projects fell below $2 per watt in 2013 and have continued to drop in 2014 to about $1.80 per watt -- 59 percent below 2010 prices, according to the report.

Posted by orrinj at 5:38 PM


The Run on the Ruble (WSJ, Nov. 2, 2014)

Moscow may have a currency crisis on its hands. The Bank of Russia raised its benchmark interest rate to 9.5% from 8% on Friday in an attempt to stop a run on the ruble and stem inflation, but the ruble kept falling even after the rate hike.

The ruble has fallen sharply since September, hit new lows against the dollar almost every day in October, and is down 22% for the year. That puts it second only to Argentina as the biggest emerging-market currency loser.

Not that trouncing the Russians really ought to count. They're the Oakland Raiders of global politics.

Posted by orrinj at 5:37 PM


The Ultimate Global Antipoverty Program (DOUGLAS A. IRWIN, Nov. 2, 2014, WSJ)

The World Bank reported on Oct. 9 that the share of the world population living in extreme poverty had fallen to 15% in 2011 from 36% in 1990. Earlier this year, the International Labor Office reported that the number of workers in the world earning less than $1.25 a day has fallen to 375 million 2013 from 811 million in 1991.

Such stunning news seems to have escaped public notice, but it means something extraordinary: The past 25 years have witnessed the greatest reduction in global poverty in the history of the world.

To what should this be attributed? Official organizations noting the trend have tended to waffle, but let's be blunt: The credit goes to the spread of capitalism. Over the past few decades, developing countries have embraced economic-policy reforms that have cleared the way for private enterprise.

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 PM


Polls show 3 top races narrowing to toss-ups as campaign draws to a close (John DiStaso, Nov 3, 2014, NH Journal)

As the candidates raced toward the finish line in this intense mid-term election campaign Monday, last-minute polling is doing nothing to give any clear indication of the winners in the U.S. Senate race between Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and Republican challenger Scott Brown.
And even the governor's race and one of the two congressional races are toss-ups as well, polling shows.
Only in the 2nd Congressional District is there a favorite heading into Election Day, as polls have consistently shown Democratic Rep. Ann Kuster with a lead over Republican Marilinda Garcia. But one poll shows even this race has narrowed considerably in the past eight days. would be astonishing if that degree of ticket-splitting occurred.  Lately one party or the other has just swept the table.

Posted by orrinj at 1:34 PM


Floating train could whisk you from D.C. to N.Y. in an hour (Steve Hargreaves,  November 3, 2014, CNNMoney)

Rush hour traffic and working within 50 miles of your home could soon be so passé. In the commute of tomorrow, you may be able to float from one major city to another in one hour or less.

That's because a group of private investors is seeking to do what the federal government has been trying to pull off for years: bring super fast trains to the United States.

One working plan calls for 300-mile-per-hour train that floats on magnets to run from downtown Washington, D.C., to Manhattan. The train, faster than anything currently in operation, would make the trip in about an hour -- or nearly three times as fast as Amtrak's Acela service.

"You could live in Baltimore and commute to New York City faster than you could from Connecticut," said Wayne Rogers, head of Northeast Maglev, the group championing the project. "It changes real estate prices, how people live, where they work. It really changes the world."

Posted by orrinj at 1:26 PM


The Science Is In -- Why Gluten Sensitivity Is Probably Fake (Business Insider, 11/01/14)

November 2, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 9:41 AM


Obama can learn from George W Bush : It is possible to retrieve a failing presidency its final quarter and leave office with high ratings (Edward Luce, 11/02/14, Financial Times)

The day after Democrats regained control of Capitol Hill, Mr Bush fired Donald Rumsfeld, his pugnacious Pentagon chief, and brought in Robert Gates. This proved a big improvement. Mr Gates handled a successful US troop surge in Iraq and restored relations with "old Europe". A few months before the midterm disaster, Mr Bush had replaced John Snow, the beleaguered Treasury secretary, with Hank Paulson, who became the president's most pivotal cabinet member. Mr Paulson helped to launch the Group of 20 leading industrial nations, declared global warming to be real and was central to the disaster management after Lehman Brothers collapsed in September 2008.

Perhaps the most critical change had been to elevate Joshua Bolten, an effective political manager, as White House chief of staff a few months before. Mr Bolten helped restore lines of authority to the Oval Office after Dick Cheney, the vice-president, had spent years circumventing normal channels. Karl Rove, who was Mr Bush's controversial chief strategist - "Turd Blossom", as he was sometimes nicknamed - was also sidelined. Mr Bush's administration finally began to function properly.

Mr Obama might also study Ronald Reagan's final two years after his midterm setback in 1986. Most people thought Reagan was a dead duck. Like Mr Bush, Reagan's renaissance hinged on finding a new chief of staff, Howard Baker, who had the authority to shake up a besieged White House - and did so effectively. Against the odds, Reagan emerged largely unscathed from the Iran-Contra scandal, passed an immigration reform bill, hit it off with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and left office with high ratings.

Could Mr Obama do the same? Not unless he radically changes the way his White House is run.

Posted by orrinj at 8:11 AM


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

The fight for the House doesn't involve control, but it still looks increasingly dangerous for Democrats.

Only about one-quarter of competitive contests (races rated as tossups, tilts or leans) are in districts currently held by the GOP, and any move toward the party in the final week could threaten a dozen Democratic seats that now appear at only limited risk.

One Republican open seat, in California, is all but certain to flip to the Democrats, and a couple of others, in Iowa and Arkansas, are tossups. In addition, three districts with vulnerable Republican incumbents -- in Florida, Nebraska and New York -- are at considerable risk. Some or all of them could remain in GOP hands, however.

Not only are there more Republican opportunities, but new ones are popping up in unexpected places.

Three Democratic open seats -- in Utah, North Carolina and upstate New York -- are sure to flip, and another seat in Illinois looks ready to fall. But that's just the tip of the iceberg, and the question is how much of the iceberg isn't yet visible.

Until recently, I was skeptical about former Rep. Nan Hayworth's chances of regaining her New York seat and Republican prospects in Bruce Braley's Iowa open seat. But both districts are very much in play as Election Day approaches.

Democratic Reps. Ann Kirkpatrick of Arizona, Ami Bera of California, Brad Schneider of Illinois, Nick J. Rahall II of West Virginia and Rick Nolan of Minnesota are all in serious trouble.

The big question is whether Republican gains will reach into second- or third-tier races. If that happens, GOP net House gains could grow from the middle- or high-single digits to the double digits, or even into the teens.

Posted by orrinj at 8:00 AM


These Are The States With The Most Students For Every Teacher (Rebecca Klein, 10/31/14, Huffington Post)

New data released this week from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) shows how student-teacher ratio varied by state in the 2012 - 2013 school year. On average, there were 16 teachers per every public school student in the country that year. However, numbers ranged from a high of almost 24 students for every teacher in California, to about 11 students per every teacher in Vermont [...]

It is unclear if these ratios have a strong impact on the quality of education offered in these states. When student-teacher ratios are compared to states' average math scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) for eighth-graders, the two factors do not have an especially strong relationship.

Posted by orrinj at 7:40 AM


Maryland governor's race has turned unexpectedly tight (Jenna Johnson and John Wagner, November 1, 2014, Washington Post)

Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown crushed his Democratic primary competitors and told supporters that the general election would be "a little bit of a molehill" in comparison. In a state with more than twice as many Democrats as Republicans, a poll in the spring showed Brown 18 points ahead among registered voters in a theoretical matchup with Larry Hogan, the eventual Republican nominee.

But Brown has struggled to combat Hogan's relentless criticism of tax increases enacted by his boss, Gov. Martin O'Malley. While Hogan, an Anne Arundel County businessman, promises to boost Maryland's anemic economy and bring new jobs to the state, Brown has been slow to offer a compelling vision of what he would do differently from O'Malley, whose approval rating has plummeted.

Hogan's folksy manner and we-can-do-better message has resonated with some Democrats and independents, especially white men, and is stirring excitement among Republicans. As the polls grew tighter this fall, showing Brown with only a single-digit lead over Hogan, national groups pumped money into the race, and top political figures lent their support. The Cook Political Report on Friday declared the race a "toss up," with Brown retaining a slight advantage, while Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight Web site still shows Brown as the strong favorite.

One party rule obviates the need for ideas...and competence.

Posted by orrinj at 7:36 AM


Murder capitals of the world: how runaway urban growth fuels violence (John Vidal, 1 November 2014, The Guardian)

Now research by security and development groups suggests that the violence plaguing San Pedro Sula - a city of just over a million, and Honduras's second largest - and many other Latin American and African cities may be linked not just to the drug trade, extortion and illegal migration, but to the breakneck speed at which urban areas have grown in the last 20 years.

The faster cities grow, the more likely it is that the civic authorities will lose control and armed gangs will take over urban organisation, says Robert Muggah, research director at the Igarapé Institute in Brazil.

"Like the fragile state, the fragile city has arrived. The speed and acceleration of unregulated urbanisation is now the major factor in urban violence. A rapid influx of people overwhelms the public response," he adds. "Urbanisation has a disorganising effect and creates spaces for violence to flourish," he writes in a new essay in the journal Environment and Urbanization.

Muggah predicts that similar violence will inevitably spread to hundreds of other "fragile" cities now burgeoning in the developing world. Some, he argues, are already experiencing epidemic rates of violence. "Runaway growth makes them suffer levels of civic violence on a par with war-torn [cities such as] Juba, Mogadishu and Damascus," he writes. "Places like Ciudad Juárez, Medellín and Port au Prince ... are becoming synonymous with a new kind of fragility with severe humanitarian implications."

Simon Reid-Henry, of the Peace Research Institute in Oslo, said: "Today's wars are more likely to be civil wars and conflict is increasingly likely to be urban. 

Violence is a function of the population density of young men.

Posted by orrinj at 7:29 AM


Iranians hope for tourism rebirth (SIAVOSH GHAZI, November 2, 2014, Times of Israel)

Although decades of sanctions mean the hotels and infrastructure are not five star, a tentative political thaw with the West is drawing visitors to Iranian attractions steeped in myth and rumor.

Persepolis, a jewel of the first Persian empire whose palace and terraces took more than 100 years to build, starting under Darius the Great in 518 BC, is one of the highlights.

"Before coming to Iran I knew the vision of this country from the outside was very dark," says Piotr Chwalba, from Poland, finally looking at Persepolis after thinking for years of visiting.

"A place like Iran has two sides -- the one created by the media and the other version, the truth, where everyone helps you when you travel and everyone smiles at you. It's great."

Sincere as such testimony is, a rise in visitors has more to do with politics than praise. The prospects for tour operators were bleak until recently.

The election last year of President Hassan Rouhani and his decision to restart negotiations with the United States and other leading nations about Iran's nuclear program has been a catalyst.

Posted by orrinj at 7:25 AM


Kim Jong-un Photobombed by Soft Toys 'Having Sex' in North Korea Propaganda (Dominic Gover, October 31, 2014, IB Times)

Two soft toys apparently engaged in a sex act behind North Korea leader Kim Jong-un in a propaganda photo are giving web users a giggle.

The Supreme leader is apparently oblivious to what is going on behind his back, while one of the toys gives what looks like a knowing wink.

Two soft toys appearing to strike sex pose behind Kim Jong-un have amused the web

Posted by orrinj at 7:21 AM


Goodbye West Virginia : Republicans have been chipping away at this Democratic stronghold. On Election Night, its collapse may be complete. (Betsy Woodruff, 10/31/14, Slate)

West Virginia is a red state, and you can blame George W. Bush. [...]

[B]y 2000, tectonic changes in the state's politics were underway. West Virginians tended to be economically liberal but socially conservative, and as social issues like abortion came to the forefront in national politics, the state started looking better for Republicans. The leftward tilt of the national Democratic Party helped matters, too.

And in 2000, that shift in the state--from blue to purple--caught Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore off guard. Former West Virginia Democratic Party chairman George Carenbauer, who worked on Bill Clinton's West Virginia presidential campaigns, said Gore's team ignored warnings that they needed to fight to win the Mountain State.

"I think they spent $300 there or something," he says with a laugh.

George W. Bush and his strategists saw polling that indicated that the state could be in play, so they outspent the vice president there, and they won it. Bush won the presidential election by 5 Electoral College votes, the same number allotted to West Virginia.

For Democrats, it's been downhill from there. West Virginia has voted for the Republican nominee in every subsequent presidential election. And in the 2012 Democratic presidential primary, President Barack Obama beat prison inmate Keith Judd by just 16 percentage points.

Posted by orrinj at 7:17 AM


France's Economy Has Been Splattered, and Front National is Feasting on the Carcass (Simon Heffer, October 27, 2014 , IB Times)

When François Hollande campaigned to be president of France in 2012 he said, in a now-infamous comment, that his "true enemy" was high finance. It was indicative of an anti-capitalist policy he would choose to inflict on a country already suffering the effects of sclerosis and over-regulation. Now exactly halfway through his five-year term, the effect of Hollande's assault on what his comrades sneeringly termed "Anglo-Saxon economics" is plain for all to see.

In economic terms the damage has hobbled a large section of French society. Unemployment is now 3.43 million, or over 12%. The country's debt is 95.3% of GDP. Growth is non-existent. The government's deficit reduction plans have failed, with the result that the outgoing European Commission has rejected France's new budget.

To recite these facts - and they are facts, not assertions - is to invite the defensive comment by Hollande's supporters that it is "French-bashing". It isn't, because France's neighbours and partners have no interest in bashing the country. All those who discuss the present state of the French economy seek to do is to demonstrate what has gone wrong and, perhaps, to indicate how it might be put right.

But the mistakes made by the Hollande administration are so profound, and were so predictable, that there is a strong element of humiliation in admitting them: it is as if the country had walked out slowly in front of a high-speed juggernaut and is now wondering why it has been splattered all over the road.

The economic damage has, inevitably, brought political difficulties. Hollande's standing in the popularity polls is around 13%, the worst since records began. He is on his third government this year, and this one may not last long. Manuel Valls, his increasingly right-wing prime minister, harangued his party last week and told it to embrace reform or face oblivion. [...]

France is screaming for structural reforms. A country in which the trades unions remain powerful has to embrace the rules of the global economy, or it will sink. It is preposterously over-regulated, with absurdly high barriers harming entry to many trades and professions, and a 35-hour week still in force. Although its productivity is still superior to many of its competitors, it is not high enough.

High taxation has driven hundreds of thousands of the most talented of French out of the country since 2012, as anyone walking down a street in west London will hear. Taking their wealth with them as well as their entrepreneurial flair, they have seriously impoverished a country that did not cherish them.

Posted by orrinj at 7:09 AM


The book in every Iranian home : The works of the 14th Century poet Hafez can be found in almost every Iranian home - more than 600 years after his death, the writer still offers an insight into his country's identity. (Diana Darke, 11/01/14, BBC)

In Iran they say there are two books in every household - the Koran and Hafez. One is read, the other is not.

To understand this joke you need do no more than join the millions who regularly throng the tomb of Hafez, the 14th Century poet of Shiraz and Iran's national hero, as I did one recent afternoon. [...]

More women than men now graduate from university. The birth rate has dropped so dramatically, to one child per family, that the clerics have introduced financial incentives for couples to breed more. Most refuse, saying that it is still too expensive to have more than one child.

While the west remains obsessed with Iran's nuclear enrichment it is an open secret that the well-connected clerics and businessmen enrich themselves through sanction busting.

When I hesitate over buying a Persian rug through lack of cash, knowing Western credit cards are banned from use inside Iran, the carpet dealer disregards my concerns and simply rings a friend in Dubai to seal the transaction.

Unfortunately for the mullahs the mystic poetry of Hafez, besides lauding the joys of love and wine, also targeted religious hypocrisy.

"Preachers who display their piety in prayer and pulpit," he wrote 600 years ago, "behave differently when they're alone. Why do those who demand repentance do so little of it?"

Bans apply to many things in Iran, including the BBC, yet the BBC's Farsi is the most watched TV channel here. Facebook, Twitter, GooglePlus and Instagram are all officially blocked.

Rouhani is calling for internet restrictions to be eased but the last word on such matters rests with the supreme leader, who is so far unrelenting.

Small wonder the people of Iran comfort themselves with the poetry of Hafez. Even the mullahs cannot ban their own national poet.

Posted by orrinj at 7:04 AM


Company Launches 'Solo Weddings' for Single Women (Priya Joshi, October 28, 2014, IB Times)

Do you dream of having a white wedding, but lack any sign of a husband on the horizon?

Fear not - you can have your wedding cake and eat it ... alone.

A new trend for 'solo weddings' is emerging, as more financially independent women find themselves still single later in life and hankering for the wedding of their dreams

A Japanese company is selling the weddings packages, so wannabe brides in waiting can have their big day without the inconvenience of having to find a groom first.

Posted by orrinj at 6:50 AM


Magna Carta 800 years on: recognition at last for 'England's greatest export' (Jamie Doward, 1 November 2014, The Guardian)

Eight hundred years ago next year, on 15 June 1215, on the banks of the Thames in Runnymede, an embattled King John met the English barons, who had backed his failed war against the French and were seeking to limit his powers. The weakened monarch had little choice but to witness the sealing of what some say is the world's most important document, one that, symbolically at least, established a new relationship between the king and his subjects.

Thus the original Magna Carta, 3,500 words in Latin on a calfskin parchment, came into being, its enduring relevance confirmed in the many legal cases in which it is cited today. But while lawyers worship Magna Carta for laying the foundations for modern democracy, the defence of personal liberty and the protection of freedoms around the world, Britain largely ignores it. [...]

Last Thursday a British Asian family, father, mother, grandmother and three daughters, walked across the meadow at Runnymede and stood in front of the American Bar Association's memorial. "What do you mean, 'Is that all there is?'," the mother hissed in response to a mumbled observation from one of her daughters.

For several minutes the family examined the signs and took selfies. Then they made their way back to the nearby car park and its National Trust tearoom. The US-built memorial stood unobserved in the autumn sunshine.

We know how to treat our Founding text.

Posted by orrinj at 6:44 AM


If Republicans take Senate, Asia trade could be rare point of common ground with White House (MATTHEW PENNINGTON, 11/02/14, Associated Press)

Obama needs special authority, known as fast track, to negotiate trade deals that Congress can accept or reject, but cannot change. It would smooth the way for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which is under discussion with 11 nations, and help advance separate negotiations with the 28-member European Union.

Fast-track legislation was introduced in January but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., would not allow a vote. Many Democrats fear that opening markets to countries with lower wages and standards will cost American jobs. Republicans tend to be more supportive, seeing more trade as benefiting the economy.

With Republicans favored to take control of the Senate and expand their House majority, trade could become a rare point of agreement between a Republican Congress and the White House.

Braced for a Shift in Congress, Obama Is Setting a New Agenda (PETER BAKER and MICHAEL D. SHEAR, NOV. 1, 2014, NY Times)

White House officials see potential for legislation on cybersecurity, energy, sentencing guidelines and surveillance. But the three areas most cited are trade, corporate taxes and infrastructure. Democrats like Mr. Reid have resisted giving Mr. Obama trade negotiating authority, so a Republican Senate may be better for the president on this issue.

And yet, there are deep disagreements even in these areas. Mr. Obama, for instance, wants to rewrite the corporate tax code to bring down rates while closing loopholes. Republicans want a broader overhaul, including personal income taxes, since small businesses pay taxes that way.

Still, Representative Charlie Dent, Republican of Pennsylvania, expressed optimism. "I'm sure there are going to be other partisan fights, particularly if the president continues to overreach administratively," he said. "That will create some friction. But those three issues are ripe for bipartisanship."

The combination of Amnesty, XL approval, corporate tax reform, the Iranian rapproachment, and trade deals will goose the economy enough that the two sides will be seen to be responsible for the Peace Dividend. It's 1994 all over again.

Posted by orrinj at 6:43 AM


How Rothko become the mythic superman of mystical abstraction (Fisun Güner 1 November 2014, The Spectator)

Mark Rothko was an abstract artist who didn't see himself as an abstract artist -- or at least not in any 'formalist' sense. If a critic called him a 'colourist', he would bristle; if they admired his sense of composition, he would complain that this was not what he was about at all. His was an art of deep content, his subject an invocation of the religious, the tragic, the mythic. 'The people who weep before my pictures are having the same religious experience I had when I painted them,' he once famously said. 'And if you, as you say, are moved only by their colour relationships, then you miss the point.'

...means that whether or not he was abstract, he wasn't an artist.

Posted by orrinj at 6:39 AM


Feminist T-shirts worn by politicians allegedly made in sweatshop conditions (Press Association,  2 November 2014)

A women's rights charity behind a T-shirt campaign is investigating claims by the Mail on Sunday that the products were made in sweatshop conditions.

The Fawcett Society has said it will have the clothes withdrawn from sale if the reports are proved true. The Mail alleged that the T-shirts, worn by Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and Harriet Harman proclaiming their feminist credentials, are made by female workers being paid just 62p an hour.

The paper said its investigation found the shirts with the slogan "This is what a feminist looks like" were being produced on a factory on the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius where female machinists sleep 16 to a room.


Posted by orrinj at 6:38 AM


Italy's in terminal decline, and no one has the guts to stop it : Everything that's wrong with France is worse here (Nicholas Farrell 25 October 2014, The Spectator)

The Rome Opera House sacked its entire orchestra and chorus the other day. Financed and managed by the state, and therefore crippled by debt, the opera house -- like so much else in Italy -- had been a jobs-for-life trade union fiefdom. Its honorary director, Riccardo Muti, became so fed up after dealing with six years of work-to-rule surrealism that he resigned. It's hard to blame him. The musicians at the opera house -- the 'professori' -- work a 28-hour week (nearly half taken up with 'study') and get paid 16 months' salary a year, plus absurd perks such as double pay for performing in the open air because it is humid and therefore a health risk. Even so, in the summer, Muti was compelled to conduct a performance of La Bohème with only a pianist because the rest of the orchestra had gone on strike.

After Muti's resignation, the opera house board did something unprece-dented: they sacked about 200 members of the orchestra and chorus, in a country where no one with a long-term contract can be fired. It was a revolutionary -- dare one say Thatcherite? -- act. If only somebody would have the guts to do something similar across the whole of the Italian state sector. But nobody will. Italy seems doomed.

The latest panic on global stock markets has reminded the world of the vulnerability of the euro, and this week pundits in the British press have been busy speculating about France's possible collapse. Hardly anyone bothers to fret about Italy any more, even though last week its exchanges took the second biggest hit after Greece. Italy's irreversible demise is a foregone conclusion. The country is just too much of a basket case even to think about.

Its decline dates to its acceptance of Edward Gibbons's advice.
Posted by orrinj at 5:39 AM


Reid plan backfires: How vote scores are hurting vulnerable Senate Democrats (Joshua Huder, NOVEMBER 1, 2014, CS Monitor)

The legislative schedule, affected by gridlock and campaign incentives, artificially boosted many Democrats' voting scores in an election year when that trend is very damaging. The irony here is Harry Reid's attempt to protect his vulnerable colleagues - preventing difficult amendments and scheduling messaging bills - inadvertently pushed them closer to an unpopular president. In hindsight, many may have like an opportunity to illustrate policy differences with Obama. Regardless, today many Democratic candidates in red states are now forced to stringently highlight a mere 5-10% "policy" disagreement between themselves and the president.

November 1, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 6:32 PM


Review George Clinton's funk chronicle, 'Brothas Be, Yo Like George' (MARC WEINGARTEN, 11/01/14, LA Times)

Taking his cue from James Brown's rhythmic innovations but also Jimi Hendrix and British bands like Cream and Led Zeppelin, Clinton forged an entirely new, ecumenical funk. Screaming guitars, intricate horn arrangements, call-and-response vocals and Clinton's savagely witty wordplay all summoned up a utopian Chocolate City, where race is erased, and all are united under the "the one," the emphatic pulse of funk.

"We were too white for black folks and too black for white folks," Clinton writes. "And that's exactly how we wanted it."

It was among the most innovative music of its era, but the P-Funk mythology was more than just a tripped-out lark: Clinton was at heart a prankster-moralist, declaiming the evils of the Corporation, duplicitous politicians, advertising and mindless profiteering using an array of characters across the numerous records produced by his bands, Parliament and Funkadelic. "We were jokesters," Clinton writes, "but there was an undercurrent of philosophy in our music: ideas of self-expression, of rebelling against received norms, that kind of thing."

Accidentally found Finding The Funk the other night--an awesome documentary.

Posted by orrinj at 6:18 PM


Statement about recent street harassment PSA (I Holla Back, 30th October, 2014) 

When the street harassment video was launched earlier this week, we hoped that it would make an impact but never imagined that it would be viewed more than 15,000,000 times in the first three days. The response has been overwhelmingly positive. Many women feel a little less alone and a little more validated in their experiences and we have heard support from our partners, new and old.

Rob Bliss Creative donated time and labor to create this video and support our work. We are grateful for his work and the wide reach that his video has achieved but we feel the need to directly address other responses to the video.

First, we regret the unintended racial bias in the editing of the video that over represents men of color. Although we appreciate Rob's support, we are committed to showing the complete picture. It is our hope and intention that this video will be the start of a series to demonstrate that the type of harassment we're concerned about is directed toward women of all races and ethnicities and conducted by an equally diverse population of men.

Hollaback! understands that harassment is a broad problem perpetuated by a diversity of individuals regardless of race. There is no one profile for a harasser and harassment comes in many different forms. Check out our Harassment Is: Identities and Street Harassment guide on how individuals experience harassment differently.  This video should have done a better job of representing this knowledge.

The video pretty much seemed like a sequel to Birth of a Nation.

Posted by orrinj at 1:50 PM


Cat Scratch Fever : Steyn's Song for the Season (SteynOnline, October 30, 2014)

You know you've been waiting for this: Mark Steyn sings Ted Nugent!

We always like to have a few Halloween horrors around this time of year: our Song of the Week this week is "Witchcraft", and our movie date is Wolf. But for our Halloween audio special Mark thought he'd sing something extra scary.

As you know, his new book is The [Un]documented Mark Steyn. It's published by Regnery. So Mark thought it might be fun to sing something by a fellow Regnery author. He riffled through The Dinesh D'Souza Songbook and the score for Newt Gingrich's unproduced Broadway musical, but came up empty. So he went instead with a song by Ted Nugent, author of the Regnery bestsellers Ted, White And Blue and Kill It And Grill It. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:46 AM


Title Menu: A list of great political books that doesn't include What It Takes by Richard Ben Cramer (Steve Donoghue, 11/01/14, Open Letters)

November marks the midterm Congressional elections in the United States, a tense and ominous bellwether of the presidential election to follow in two years' time. And in addition to shining a spotlight on the illicit joys of the country's true national obsession, election seasons remind us that the subject has inspired as much glorious creativity as it has venal power-mongering. The sordid spectacle has always attracted writers of all stripes, and as a result, political literature is as varied as the political landscape. Here are ten titles to get you through the long national nightmare...

We've given A+ reviews to a couple of the recommendations : The Last Hurrah and All the King's Men, but here are some others we'd recommend (reviews at

A few we'd recommend for this particular moment in time or because they address topics of interest and controversy here at the blog:

America 3.0  (James C. Bennett & Mike Lotus)

The Making and Unmaking of the English Catholic Intellectual Community, 1910-1950 (James R. Lothian)

Deflation: What Happens When Prices Fall (Chris Farrell)

Modern and American Dignity : Who We Are as Persons, and What That Means for Our Future (Peter Augustine Lawler) 

Neoconomy: George Bush's Revolutionary Gamble with America's Future (Daniel Altman)

On Humour (Simon Critchley)

Rebel-in-Chief: How George W. Bush Is Redefining the Conservative Movement and Transforming America (Fred Barnes)

Republicanism (Maurizio Viroli)

Revolutions in Sovereignty: How Ideas Shaped Modern International Relations (Daniel Philpott)

The Shield of Achilles (Philip Bobbitt)

And a mess more:

The Tempting of America: The Political Seduction of the Law (Robert H. Bork)

The Unmaking of a Mayor (William F. Buckley, Jr.)

Witness (Whittaker Chambers)

The Conscience of a Conservative (Barry Goldwater)

Democracy: The Two Majorities (Willmoore Kendall)

Christian Faith and Modern Democracy: God and Politics in the Fallen World (Robert P. Kraynak)

Memoirs of a Superfluous Man (Albert Jay Nock)  

Independent People: An Epic (Halldor Laxness)  

Ideas Have Consequences (Richard M. Weaver) 

The Right Darwin?: Evolution, Religion, And the Future of Democracy (Carson L. Holloway)

The Conservative Mind: from Burke to Eliot (Russell Kirk)

The Revolt of the Masses (Jose Ortega y Gasset) 

Leftism Revisited: From De Sade and Marx to Hitler and Pol Pot (Erik Maria von Kuehnelt-Leddihn)

Ambush at Fort Bragg (Tom Wolfe)

A Man for All Seasons (Robert Bolt)  

The Strange Death of Liberal England (George Dangerfield) 

The Person and the Common Good (Jacques Maritain)

The Pity of War : Explaining World War I (Niall Ferguson)

Triumph Forsaken: The Vietnam War, 1954-1965 (Mark Moyar)

Lenin's Tomb : The Last Days of the Soviet Empire (David Remnick) 

What the Anti-Federalists Were For (Herbert J. Storing)

American Subversive (David Goodwillie)

The Aerodrome : A Love Story (Rex Warner)

And the Band Played On (Randy Shilts)

The Autobiography of Malcolm X (Malcolm X)

Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus (Rick Perlstein)

The Children of Men (P.D. James)

The Devil and Daniel Webster (Stephen Vincent Benet)

Dictatorships and Double Standards : Rationalism and Reason in Politics (Jeane J. Kirkpatrick)

Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan (Edmund Morris)

Emma (Jane Austen)

The End of History and the Last Man (Francis Fukuyama)

Feminist Fantasies (Phyllis Schlafly)

The First Man (Albert Camus)

The Long Truce: How Toleration Made the World Safe for Power and Profit (A. J. Conyers)

Making Patriots (Walter Berns)

Postmodern Pooh (Frederick Crews) 

The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York (Robert A. Caro)

Quantum Enigma: Physics Encounters Consciousness (Fred Kuttner & Bruce Rosenbloom) 

Rationalism in Politics and Other Essays (Michael Oakeshott) 

The True Believer : Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements (Eric Hoffer)

Virtually Normal : An Argument About Homosexuality (Andrew Sullivan)

The World and the West (Arnold J. Toynbee)


Posted by orrinj at 7:28 AM


The 3 things that make the stock market tick (Brett Arends, Oct 31, 2014, MarketWatch)

After studying the movements of the stock market going back to 1952 [economics professors Daniel Greenwald and Sydney Ludvigson from New York University, and Martin Lattau from U.C. Berkeley] found that nearly all of it can be explained empirically -- in other words, by observation, not merely by theory -- by three uncorrelated factors. [...]

The first is the overall productivity of the economy. Short-term variations don't matter, only the long-term trends in total factor productivity -- the degree to which the economy makes use of labor, capital, resources and so on -- make a difference.

The second is the degree to which national output ends up in the pockets of either workers, on one hand, or investors on the other.

And the third, quite simply, is fear -- or "risk aversion" in the technical parlance.

That's it.

Changes in these three factors explain 85% of the stock market's movements over the past 70 or so years -- the modern era. That's quite something.

Posted by orrinj at 7:01 AM


How small changes to federal housing policy could make a big difference for poor kids (Emily Badger October 15, 2014, Washington Post)

Children are shaped in profound ways by the neighborhoods where they grow up. Perhaps this sounds like common sense (why else do we fret over where to raise them?). But it's borne out by research, too. High-poverty neighborhoods can be bad for children's health, school performance and even cognitive development. Low-poverty ones, meanwhile, often mean they have access to better schools and do better academically as a result.

It makes sense, then, that when we subsidize housing for poor families, we should try to help them into homes in the kind of neighborhoods that have lower poverty, less crime and higher-quality schools. Most government rental assistance, however, barely does this at all. [...]

The Department of Housing and Urban Development has three main programs (often run locally) that offer housing assistance to the poor. About a million households live in traditional public housing. Section 8 rental assistance subsidizes housing for another million families in designated but privately owned buildings. Then about 2 million households use Housing Choice Vouchers that they can spend on the private market. [...]

The above chart, from the CBPP report, suggests that Housing Choice Vouchers are much more effective than the other two programs at helping families live in census tracts where many of their neighbors aren't poor, too. This isn't surprising, since vouchers are the most flexible form of assistance. The government can't very well pick up public housing projects and move them to better neighborhoods.

Housing vouchers, by CBPP's count, also make a significant difference in the ability of poor black and Hispanic families to raise their kids in low-poverty neighborhoods (this is less true for whites). Only about 7 percent of poor black children nationwide live in low-poverty neighborhoods. But the same is true of nearly 17 percent of poor black children in families using vouchers:

This data suggests we should be doing a lot more to leverage the power of the one housing program -- also the largest housing program -- that seems to help families get into better neighborhoods.

The vouchers should be universal and generous enough to pay the mortgages on suburban/rural homes.

Posted by orrinj at 6:56 AM


Star Wars Rebels owes as much to Joss Whedon as it does to George Lucas (Graeme Virtue, 29 October 2014, The Guardian)

Every new Star Wars spin-off is guaranteed attention from hardcore fans, but as the first official chunk of Disney-curated content since the regime change, Star Wars Rebels has been scrutinised more than most. Set during the relatively unexplored period between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope, the animated series premiered last month to 6.5m viewers worldwide - unusually high ratings for children's programming. (In the UK, new episodes screen every Thursday afternoon on cable channel Disney XD.)

Star Wars Rebels opens with the classic image of a Star Destroyer filling up the screen, and the universe has the same grimy, lived-in feel of the older movies - all the dings, dents and dust streaks lovingly recreated by state-of-the-art computer animation. Similarly, the familiar soundtrack and iconic sound effects are soothing throwbacks to the original trilogy, while the production and character designs deliberately evoke the 1970s Star Wars concept art by the late, great Ralph McQuarrie. [...]

If the overarching plot is designed to build toward the founding of the Rebel Alliance against the Empire, things starts small. After an Imperial entanglement, orphaned tearaway Ezra falls in with Kanan and his ragtag crew - a gifted pilot, a graffiti artist with a Boba Fett helmet, a gigantic grumpy alien in the Chewbacca mould and a wilful astromech droid. Crammed together on Kanan's Millennium Falcon-esque ship, they operate as outlaws, thieves and smugglers, chipping away at the might of the Empire while also bickering and bonding. A few episodes in - probably around the time Ezra hotwires a TIE fighter during a chaotic escape - you realise that the producers have quietly taken their cue from another sci-fi godhead. Shambolic heists, an emphasis on wisecracks and the unplanned formation of a surrogate family? Star Wars Rebels is the Firefly remake fans have been crying out for ever since Joss Whedon's space western got cancelled.

Of course, Whedon took a lot of inspiration from Star Wars for Firefly. But viewing Rebels as an unofficial continuation of the adventures of Mal and his merry band adds another layer of meta-enjoyment - it even has the equivalent of the ruthless Operative from Firefly's movie spin-off Serenity, in the form of zealous rebel-hunter Agent Kallus (voiced by David Oyelowo). It also helps that Star Wars Rebels is already an entertaining watch, assembled with a cinematic eye and punctuated by decent gags and skilfully assembled action scenes. Even Kanan's goatee can't spoil it.

Posted by orrinj at 6:50 AM


The Case for Witch-Hunts (Jeremy Lott, 10/31/14, Splice Today)

In his wartime radio broadcasts to rally the U.K. behind God and country and decency against the Third Reich, C.S. Lewis briefly addressed the subject of burning witches. The Oxford don told BBC listeners that one fellow had asked him pointedly, "Three hundred years ago people in England were putting witches to death. Was that what you call the Rule of Human Nature or Right Conduct?" He would concede nothing.

The only reason we don't execute witches these days, Lewis explained, "is that we do not believe there are such things." If that were to change, things would be very different. "[I]f we really thought that there were people going about who had sold themselves to the devil and received supernatural powers from him in return and were using these powers to kill their neighbors or drive them mad or bring bad weather, surely we would all agree that if anyone deserved the death penalty, then those filthy quislings did."

The word "quislings" has lost most of its rhetorical punch now but at the time it meant something awful. Norwegian strongman Vidkun Quisling was roundly hated for his Nazi-backed coup. After the war, he was tried and executed by firing squad for his crimes, including sending most of his country's Jews to the ovens. By calling witches quislings, Lewis was saying that if such things existed they were traitors to the human race, collaborators with an occupying power, opportunists of the deadliest sort.

Simply the attempt to manipulate magical forces places one beyond the Pale.

Posted by orrinj at 6:37 AM


The revolution is over : After decades of messianic fervour, Iran is becoming a more mature and modern country (Oliver August, Nov 1st 2014, The Economist)

The regime may remain suspicious of the West, and drone on about seeding revolutions in oppressor countries, but the revolutionary fervour and drab conformism have gone. Iran is desperate to trade with whomever will buy its oil. Globalisation trumps puritanism even here.

Revolution as a political lodestar has a limited shelf life. Adam Michnik, a historian who helped to overthrow the Soviets in Poland, once said: "Revolutions have two phases: first comes a struggle for freedom, then a struggle for power. The first makes the human spirit soar and brings out the best in people. The second unleashes the worst: envy, intrigue, greed, suspicion and the urge for revenge." Iran followed this pattern. First came courageous street protests during the 1979 revolution, then the infighting started. Thousands were executed, properties were seized, bread was short.

Arguably, there is a third phase to a revolution: the struggle for acceptance. Once power is secure, revolutionaries often seek recognition by strong outsiders. In a globalised world, that means engaging with the great trading countries. Children of Iranian revolutionaries have long followed this path. Privilege for them equals access to Western education and Asian consumer markets. Even hardliners allow their children to jet around the world. The offspring of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who led the revolution, have flocked to Instagram and embrace Western mores. Seven of his 15 grandchildren have openly criticised the regime. Many of the students who took American diplomats hostage 35 years ago have become reformists and wish to see closer ties with the West. Ebrahim Asgharzadeh, who was one of their spokesmen and then served on Tehran's city council, now says: "I no longer take radical actions and I believe gradual reforms last longer than radical change." [...]

Hardliners have long railed against "Westoxification" (the title of a book by Jalal Al-e Ahmad, published in 1962), yet in their daily lives they are now surrounded by Western consumer goods, computer games, beauty ideals, gender roles and many other influences. Iranian culture has not disappeared, but the traditional society envisaged by the fathers of the revolution is receding ever further.

The most visible shift is in public infrastructure. Tehran, the capital, is a tangle of new tunnels, bridges, overpasses, elevated roads and pedestrian walkways. Shiny towers rise in large numbers, despite the sanctions. Screens at bus stops display schedules in real time. Jack Straw, a former British foreign minister and a regular visitor, says that "Tehran looks and feels these days more like Madrid and Athens than Mumbai or Cairo."

Smaller Iranian cities have changed even more. Tabriz, Shiraz and Isfahan are working on underground railways. Half the traditional bathhouses in Qazvin, an industrial town west of Tehran, have closed in recent years. In a basement with a domed ceiling built 350 years ago, the forlorn manager sweeps around two kittens and bemoans the loss of a 700-year-old competitor, musing that "people now have bathrooms with hot running water." In Yalayesh, a remote village near the Caspian sea, entertainment remains old-fashioned: a Kurdish strongman, Ismail the Hero, shows off a lion in a cage on the back of his blue truck. Still, two years ago the government finished piping natural gas into every house, making winters with temperatures of -20ºC "tolerable for the first time", says a spectator.

During the eight-year presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, which ended in 2013, prosperity spread rapidly. Loans, handouts and social-housing programmes, however corrupt and ineptly run, showered billions of oil dollars on the poor. Many found white-collar jobs in government agencies. The middle class ballooned. Villagers streamed into Tehran to buy property as GDP per person rose from $4,400 in 1993 to $13,200 last year (at purchasing-power parity). Despite the sanctions, Iran does not look like beleaguered Cuba; people drive new sedans made locally, not 1950s Chevrolets. Life became harder when sanctions were tightened in 2011, but even now Iranians live much better than most of their neighbours.

Prosperity has inspired an obsession with technology that restrictions on internet access cannot dampen. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:34 AM


Scotland would now vote for independence, poll finds (Press Association, 1 November 2014)

Independence now has the backing of 52% of people in Scotland compared with 48% for the union, a YouGov poll for the Times has found.

Posted by orrinj at 6:29 AM


Five Reasons Why Your Financial Outlook Just Got Better (Marilyn Geewax, 11/01/14, NPR)

[E]ven if a major raise isn't on your horizon, five factors will be helping stretch your current paycheck:

Cheap gasoline. In the summer of 2008, gas was $4 a gallon. On Friday, AAA said the national average, as of Saturday, will be below $3 for the first time in four years. The auto club says that downshift will save consumers $250 million a day, compared with earlier this summer when gas was $3.68.

A strong dollar. The U.S. dollar had more global purchasing power back in the early 2000s. Then its value fell compared with other currencies, reaching a bottom in 2011. Today, the dollar is strong again, allowing U.S. consumers to purchase imported goods and foods at lower prices. That change will help keep inflation low for Americans.

Low interest rates. Millions of homeowners have been able to get extraordinarily cheap mortgages. Just before the financial crisis, 30-year fixed mortgages were being offered at 6.5 percent. Today, rates are below 4 percent, allowing homeowners to lower their monthly payments.

Fierce retail competition. For shoppers, this should be a great holiday season because of cutthroat pricing. Wal-Mart told the Wall Street Journal it is testing a plan to match online prices. Best Buy and Target already are doing that, and Target is even offering free shipping on everything through Dec. 20. Analysts expect brutal price competition all around.

Cheaper food (eventually). Corn harvests were enormous this year, sending prices much lower. In 2008, a bushel cost around $8; now it's about half that. It takes a long while for low commodity prices to work their way through the food chain, but the huge corn harvest should help cut animal feed prices, which eventually could tone down the high beef prices that have hurt shoppers.