September 30, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:39 PM



Robotic hands aren't typically known for being delicate or spontaneous. They're more likely to be part of an assembly line, or specifically designed to do one task perfectly, over and over. But those days may be waning. A new robotic hand printed out of silicone by MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) can pick up just about any object, no matter how delicate or strangely sized. The results were released today, and really, it can pick up any small object: [...]

The variety is incredibly important. "If we want robots in human-centered environments, they need to be more adaptive and able to interact with objects whose shape and placement are not precisely known," Daniela Rus, CSAIL's director said in a statement. "Our dream is to develop a robot that, like a human, can approach an unknown object, big or small, determine its approximate shape and size, and figure out how to interface with it in one seamless motion."

Posted by orrinj at 7:35 PM


Why Finnish babies sleep in cardboard boxes (Helena Lee, 6/04/13, BBC News)

For 75 years, Finland's expectant mothers have been given a box by the state. It's like a starter kit of clothes, sheets and toys that can even be used as a bed. And some say it helped Finland achieve one of the world's lowest infant mortality rates.

It's a tradition that dates back to the 1930s and it's designed to give all children in Finland, no matter what background they're from, an equal start in life.

The maternity package - a gift from the government - is available to all expectant mothers.

It contains bodysuits, a sleeping bag, outdoor gear, bathing products for the baby, as well as nappies, bedding and a small mattress.

With the mattress in the bottom, the box becomes a baby's first bed. Many children, from all social backgrounds, have their first naps within the safety of the box's four cardboard walls.

Mothers have a choice between taking the box, or a cash grant, currently set at 140 euros, but 95% opt for the box as it's worth much more.

Posted by orrinj at 7:27 PM


Pacific Trade Talks at Crucial Juncture (WILLIAM MAULDIN, Sept. 29, 2015, WSJ)

Senior officials from the U.S., Japan, Canada, Mexico, Australia and seven other countries hope in Atlanta to iron out the remaining details for a trade bloc that would encompass about two-fifths of the world's economy and a third of global trade. Absent from the trade group is China.

President Barack Obama, backed by most Republicans in Congress but few Democrats, is pushing the TPP to open up trade with countries in Asia-Pacific and impose American-style rules of the road for business at a time when China's economic influence is growing.

Posted by orrinj at 7:17 PM


Rising minimum wages make automation more cost-effective (Jack Karsten and Darrell M. West | September 30, 2015, Brookings)

The federal minimum wage, currently set at $7.25 per hour, is not tied to inflation, so Congress must periodically raise it to maintain its value. At the state level, only 10 states have minimum wages that increase annually with the cost of living; a further five states and the District of Columbia will introduce annual increases in the future. These annual increases forgo the need for large adjustments to the minimum wage at irregular intervals. In addition to benefiting workers, it would allow employers to slowly adjust to wage increases. If the price of labor rises too quickly, businesses have a bigger incentive to replace human labor with automation technology.

Automation involves the substitution of machines for human labor. Historically, automation has reduced or eliminated some job categories while simultaneously creating new ones. During the Industrial Revolution, new farming machines reduced the need for agricultural labor just as factory jobs were opening up in cities. Likewise, the spread of personal computers, the Internet, and smartphones have greatly expanded the number of jobs available in the service sector. As computer functionality improves and computer prices fall, the labor market is bound to undergo further changes.

The food service industry in particular is at the center of both the fight for a higher minimum wage and the introduction of automation technologies. For example, employee scheduling software can match staffing levels with high and low customer demand. Tablet computers placed at tables allow customers to order meals and pay for them without the intervention of a waiter. In the same way, self-service kiosks can replace cashiers at fast food restaurants, and smartphone apps enable customers to order and pay before arriving. Computers are changing food service just as they have for many other industries.

Posted by orrinj at 7:13 PM


The Kurds' Democratic Experiment (CARNE ROSS, SEPT. 30, 2015, NY Times)

Across an empty and arid plain, south of a town in eastern Syria called Tell Brak, there is a long berm marking the front line of the war against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS. A levee of gravel about 20 feet high was raised by excavators operated by men and women who were often killed by distant Islamic State snipers. Every few hundred feet, there is a sentry point or dugout for a platoon of the Kurdish militia known as the People's Protection Units, or Y.P.G., that holds the position.

Along this stark boundary, the Kurds are there not only to fight against the Islamic State, but also to defend a precious experiment in direct democracy. In Rojava, the Kurdish name for this region of eastern Syria, a new form of self-government is being built from the ground up.

After the authority of the regime of President Bashar al-Assad collapsed at the start of the Syrian revolution in 2011, the Kurds took advantage of the vacuum to set up government without a state. [...]

Self-government in Rojava means that, as much as possible, decisions are made at the local, communal level. In one village, women and men sat separately, reflecting local tradition. Like most political meetings, it was lengthy and sometimes boring, with the usual long-winded speeches (but not all from men). But anyone could speak, without distinction, and young and old alike stood up to debate jobs, medical services, even the menace of kids riding their bikes too fast around the village.

For a former diplomat like me, I found it confusing: I kept looking for a hierarchy, the singular leader, or signs of a government line, when, in fact, there was none; there were just groups. There was none of that stifling obedience to the party, or the obsequious deference to the "big man" -- a form of government all too evident just across the borders, in Turkey to the north, and the Kurdish regional government of Iraq to the south. The confident assertiveness of young people was striking.

Posted by orrinj at 7:07 PM


Saudi Arabia is facing a cash crunch (Matt Egan, 9/30/15, CNN Money)

The cash crunch caused the OPEC leader to sell bonds over the summer to raise at least $4 billion. It was the first time Saudi Arabia tapped the bond markets in eight years.

Now there are signs Saudi Arabia is pulling out cash from global asset management firms like BlackRock (BLK).

The Saudi central bank has yanked $50 billion to $70 billion over the past six months, Nigel Sillitoe, CEO of financial services market intelligence firm Insight Discovery, told CNNMoney.

Wait'll they start fighting the Russians in Syria.

Posted by orrinj at 6:39 PM


Why Sweden Is Shifting To A 6-Hour Workday (Adele Peters, 9/30/15, Co.Exist)

In Sweden, the six-hour workday is becoming common.

"I think the eight-hour workday is not as effective as one would think," says Linus Feldt, CEO of Stockholm-based app developer Filimundus. "To stay focused on a specific work task for eight hours is a huge challenge. . . . In order to cope, we mix in things and pauses to make the workday more endurable. At the same time, we are having it hard to manage our private life outside of work. We want to spend more time with our families, we want to learn new things or exercise more. I wanted to see if there could be a way to mix these things."

Filimundus switched to a six-hour day last year, and says that the change hasn't really made a major difference in how people work. The leadership team just asked people to stay off social media and personal distractions, and eliminated some standard weekly meetings.

Posted by orrinj at 6:36 PM


THE SIMON-EHRLICH WAGER 25 YEARS ON : As the famous environmentalist bet showed, Malthusians are always wrong. (PIERRE DESROCHERS, 29 SEPTEMBER 2015, spiked)

Posted by orrinj at 6:11 PM


Why The Nazis Believed They Could Win the Battle of Britain (George Dvorsky, 9/30/15, i09)'

German plans to invade Britain appeared as early as 1939, but it wouldn't be until the collapse of the French Third Republic that the idea took on an added fervor. In early July 1940, Hitler issued Directive No. 16 for "Preparations of a Landing Operation against England," a plan that would evolve into Operation Sea Lion.

The German plan was ambitious--if not completely unrealistic. After reviewing the directive, Grossadmiral Erich Raeder complained to Hitler about Germany's naval inferiority as it stood in contrast to the Royal Navy. He argued that the Kriegsmarine couldn't possibly provide sufficient transports for the 40 divisions which the Wehrmacht planned to land; the German Navy, with only a few weeks to prepare, were suddenly tasked with transporting the first wave of 100,000 men, along with tanks, motor transport, and equipment across the Channel. And it would have to do so against the formidable Royal Navy and Royal Air Force (RAF). Raeder explained to Hitler that an invasion should only be attempted after the German air force, known as the Luftwaffe, achieved air superiority over the Channel and along the English coast.

By comparison, the Normandy landings of 1944 involved 156,000 men from over a dozen countries spread across 10 divisions. But unlike the Allies, the German planners didn't have the benefit of an entire year to prepare, nor the industrial might of the United States.

German forces would have to cross the choppy waters of the 20 mile long (32 km long) English Channel, which was dubbed the "greatest anti-tank ditch in the world." What's more, the German army, which had a long and prestigious history of land warfare, had never attempted an amphibious landing quite like this. Likewise, its navy was of little help. German military planners weren't entirely sure how to proceed, and considered deploying canal barges across the Channel, debated whether or not to invade beaches or seaports, and mulled over the tremendous logistical challenges. 

Hitler himself became lukewarm about the invasion. He wondered about the geopolitical ramifications of a defeated British Empire, and was concerned that its undefended colonies would be gobbled up by Japan, Russia, and the United States. As the weeks went by, and as the unrealistic timelines became increasingly obvious, few in the German high command took Operation Sea Lion very seriously. As noted by historian Antony Beevor in The Second World War, the "invasion of Britain was never treated with urgency at the highest levels."

Posted by orrinj at 6:06 PM


Indonesia slams Saudi Arabia over hajj disaster (AP, September 29, 2015)

Indonesia criticized Saudi Arabia on Tuesday for its slow response to the hajj pilgrimage disaster in Mina, saying its diplomats only received full access to the dead and injured days after the crush.

The criticism from Indonesia, the Muslim world's most populous country, comes as its officials, as well as those in India and Pakistan, say that Saudi officials gave foreign diplomats some 1,100 pictures of those killed in last week's disaster.

Posted by orrinj at 1:42 PM



It almost feels wrong to label The Martian as science fiction. Based on the book that computer programmer Andy Weir researched for three years, the movie feels like it could happen in real life any day now. You'll find no suspended animation, jump drives, or wormholes in this flick--just technologies that NASA is already using or could develop in the near future.

True, in real life we're not headed for Mars anytime soon. America doesn't even have a spacecraft to get us there, let alone a habitat to keep us alive while we're there. But if and when we do go to Mars, it's probably going to look a lot like you'll see in The Martian, according to a panel of NASA scientists and engineers who spoke at Columbia University on Sunday.

"To the level of detail that you see in the film and in the book," Dave Lavery from NASA's Solar System Exploration program told Popular Science after the panel, "it overall is actually pretty closely in line with what we've been thinking."

Posted by orrinj at 1:38 PM


Why is Donald Trump declining in the polls? The media strike again. (John Sides, September 29, 2015, NY Times)

An initial surge in news coverage after Trump announced his candidacy on June 16 creates an initial surge in polling.  Then, further increases in news coverage coincide with increases in Trump's polling numbers -- likely in a self-reinforcing cycle. But right before his apparent decline in the polls, there was a decline in his share of news coverage.

Posted by orrinj at 1:22 PM


How McConnell outfoxed Ted Cruz (BURGESS EVERETT, 09/29/15 , Politico)

Ted Cruz called out Mitch McConnell seven times by name on Monday night. Afterward, the Senate majority leader barely uttered a word about his chief Republican adversary.

Asked about Cruz's diatribe on the Senate floor, during which the Texas Republican suggested McConnell is a puppet for Democratic leaders and a foe of conservatives, McConnell couldn't conceal his smile on Tuesday.

"I have tried very hard to stay out of the presidential race, and I think that's probably a good rule for me," he said with a chuckle. [...]

By moving to quarantine Cruz from the rest of the conference over the past three months, the majority leader demonstrated that he's learned the lessons of the Cruz-backed government shutdown in 2013 and the Texas senator's rogue strategy last winter that helped Democrats confirm a raft of judges in the lame duck session. In doing so, McConnell cemented his position atop the Senate GOP, dashing any hopes among House Republicans, or conservative activists, that his future might be in doubt.

The message is clear: McConnell isn't going anywhere, and everyone in the Senate knows it. Even Cruz won't say he should resign.

One problem with holding the institution in contempt, it returns the favor.

Posted by orrinj at 1:11 PM


Let Czar Putin Overextend Himself : The Russian autocrat's move into Syria is reminiscent of Romanov overreach. He'll come to regret it. (PETER ELTSOV, September 28, 2015, Politico)

Russia's leader has imperial ambitions, but he does not have the economy to support them, especially as a decade of high oil prices recedes into the past. Aside from arms and vodka, Russia sells no competitive products internationally. The ruble now costs about three times less of what it was before the financial crisis of 2008, and it doesn't help that politically Russia is isolated. Even China and India-the two countries that traditionally take the side of Russia's foreign policy and whose economies are in much better shape-are unlikely to make any substantial contributions to Putin's mission in Syria, if they were to jeopardize their relations with the US and EU.

Meanwhile, the Russian people are already paying a very high price for the annexation of Crimea: 19th century-style land-grabs may stimulate nationalism but not the economy. The Northern Caucasus may also explode again, as the relative peace in Chechnya is contingent on massive sums of cash sent from the Kremlin to Grozny and on the personal allegiance of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov to Putin. As Leo Tolstoy persuasively showed in his novel Hadji Murat, this is the kind of allegiance that can change at any moment.

In this political and economic environment, only a madman in Putin's shoes would want to involve his country into another costly war. Even roads are still non-existent in Russia: almost a quarter of a century after the fall of the Soviet Union, there is no good highway connecting two major Russian cities: Moscow and St. Petersburg.

So perhaps it's wise to welcome Putin to the region.

Best of all, the Right's hysteria makes it seem like he's achieving something.

September 29, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 9:06 PM


On the Edge of Automation : Five hundred years from now, says venture capitalist Steve Jurvetson, less than 10 percent of people on the planet will be doing paid work. And next year? (Nanette Byrnes, September 28, 2015, MIT Technology Review)

Many of these new jobs, including those at Uber, are taking shape on what you call the "edge of automation." Do you fear that these jobs might quickly disappear as technology keeps evolving?

Everything about Uber has been automated except for the driver. The billing, the fetching--every part of it is a modern, information-centric company. Interestingly, what that means is as soon as automated vehicles arrive, that driver is easily removed. You don't have to restructure any part of that business.

What you're farming out to humans today are those things that computers just barely can't do. We know from Moore's Law and improvements in computing that in two or three years [much of this] work will be automated.

If a startup or new business venture has created a job that involves human labor, it probably has done so in a way that is pretty marginal. Whether you're a technology enthusiast or a detractor, the rate at which this will shift is probably going to be unprecedented. There will be massive dislocation.

Which jobs will survive?

In the long run, 500 years from now, everyone is going to be involved in some kind of information or entertainment. Nobody on the planet in 500 years will do a physically repetitive thing for a living. There will be no farmers, there will be no people working in manufacturing. To me it is an impossibility that people would do that. People might do it for fun. You might have an organic garden in your backyard because you love it. Five hundred years from now I don't know if even 10 percent of people on the planet have a job in the sense of being paid to do something.

Posted by orrinj at 7:17 PM


A multifaceted analysis of the recent Iranian nuclear deal (Liang Nah, 30 September 2015, Online Opinion)

Casual examination of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) signed by Iran on 14 July, where Tehran agreed to substantial curbs on its nuclear programme in return for the lifting of sanctions targeting the Iranian economy and nuclear programme, can easily be seen as a cause and effect relationship involving the easing of economic pressure in return for a visible demonstration of nuclear restraint. However, this display of Iranian nuclear abnegation aimed at convincing the world that it does not seek a nuclear arsenal is not driven by economics alone, but also supported by national security and nuclear non-proliferation norms imperatives.

Beginning with indirect economic and norms-based motivations, Iran's nuclear programme started in the 1960s under the last Iranian King, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. At that time, Tehran's stated objective was the use of nuclear technology as an alternative source of electrical power. This had economic implications as the electricity from civil nuclear reactors could be supplied to export industries, potentially improving trade competitiveness. Additionally, Iran is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), having signed it in 1968 and has not renounced its adherence to the NPT despite its present government having overthrown the previous government which signed the treaty in 1979. This indicates fundamental acknowledgement of nuclear counter proliferation norms.

Subsequently, Western distrust of Iranian nuclear intentions, which were exacerbated by the lack of transparency of Tehran's uranium enrichment attempts (which can serve as a route to nuclear arms production), lead to the first in December 2006, of several UN Security Council resolutions imposing sanctions on Iranian government entities connected to the latter's nuclear and ballistic missile programmes. This was followed by economic sanctions from the U.S. and European Union (EU), designed to discourage possible Iranian nuclear arms development, which have cost the state $100 billion in lost oil revenue and forgone foreign investment. Hence, regardless of Iranian national pride which resents being dictated to by the West, and insists on being able to enrich Uranium as it pleases, so as long as a nuclear arms programme is not established, Tehran recognised that it's nuclear related intransigence was barring participation in the lucrative world economy, depriving Iranians of much material welfare.

But despite being economically sidelined, Tehran also realises that it not only faces hostility from fellow Muslim nations of Sunni persuasion, but that the U.S. and to a lesser extent, the Western world, do not regard its authoritarian theocratic government favourably, welcoming regime change if such would occur. Accordingly, Tehran fears for Iranian national security, harbouring anxiety over covert and overt attempts to depose the present government. This can be seen in a peace overture made towards Washington after the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, where the Mohammad Khatami government in Tehran purportedly contacted Washington to propose a "grand bargain" in which the former offered to cease support for violent non-state actors like Hezbollah, stop its animosity towards Israel and even bargain away its nuclear programme.

Posted by orrinj at 7:09 PM


The Patriots Can Go Undefeated (Matthew Gideon, 29 September 2015, The Sports Quotient)

It seems completely unbelievable, right? A franchise going 16-0 twice under the same coach at the professional level would be an unprecedented achievement in the spectrum of football. You better start believing in these Patriots because their schedule is favorable enough that we could see an unblemished record from New England come years' end.

..take away Brady and Gostowski--where it doesn't matter--and they're much younger.  They were the second youngest super bowl winners ever last year.  The 2007 team got worse as the season went on.  This team--especially on defense--will be a more typical Belichick squad and get better.

Posted by orrinj at 7:04 PM


At UN, Obama leads charge against the Islamic State (CAROLE LANDRY, September 29, 2015, AFP) 

President Barack Obama sits down with more than 100 leaders at the United Nations on Tuesday to push ahead with the US-led campaign against the Islamic State group despite Russia's rival plan.

Posted by orrinj at 7:01 PM


Russia oil output could fall 5-10 pct if prices low for years: Deputy PM (Olesya Astakhova and Darya Korsunskaya, 9/29/15, reuters)

"We calculate the budget based on a price of $50 a barrel," Dvorkovich said at the summit, held in the Reuters office in Moscow.

"If prices remain at a low level for a very long time, then a reduction in production of 5-10 percent is entirely possible, that is if the prices stay at a low level for several years," he said.

Posted by orrinj at 6:55 PM


Trump's Tax Plan Would Add More Debt Than Obama (JEFFREY H. ANDERSON, 9/29/15, Weekly Standard)

Donald Trump's newly released tax plan would add a staggering $10 trillion to the national debt over a decade, according to scoring by the Tax Foundation, a well-respected (especially in conservative circles) nonpartisan source. 

A rich old white guy who wants to spend lots of money but only on other rich old white guys.

Posted by orrinj at 6:43 PM


The Guardian view on Labour's economic policy: careful words, bold intent (The Guardian, 28 September 2015)

The many enemies of Jeremy Corbyn dismiss his appeal as hopeless nostalgia or futile rage. But the chief emotion behind his extraordinary ascent has been frustration...

...precisely because it is emotion, rather than thought.

Posted by orrinj at 6:39 PM


Ted Cruz Will Get Nowhere (Martin Longman, 9/29/15, Washington Monthly)

It's not even surprising, at this point, that Cruz is being treated with a virtually unprecedented lack of deference and respect by his Senate colleagues, including every member of his own party not named Sen. Mike Lee of Utah.

For the second time, Cruz has been denied a sufficient second to call up a roll call vote. The first time it happened, back in late July, I wrote a piece explaining the procedural significance of this. I refer you to that if you are the kind of geek that needs to understand how the Senate actually operates.

The big picture is that, in July, Cruz's colleagues were angry that he had called Mitch McConnell a liar on the Senate floor which is an actual violation of the Senate rules. This time, however, there was no comparable provocation for retaliation. This time, the Senate Republicans were just tired of his showboating and grandstanding, and they didn't want to give Cruz a vote that he would turn around and use to criticize them.

Last time, senators lined up to tell reporters why they had slapped Cruz down. This time, it seems more like routine business.

So, in his little time in the Senate, Cruz has managed to alienate himself from his colleagues in a way that I've never seen before. There have been similar senators in the past, I guess, but I can't think of any since Joe McCarthy who can even begin to compare to how the Senate feels about Cruz. And I don't think McCarthy suffered the same kind of rebukes from his colleagues until he'd been in the Senate for about seven years and was finally censured.

Posted by orrinj at 6:35 PM


Russia's fight in Syria reflects the Kremlin's fears at home (Paul Stronski, September 29, 2015, Reuters)

Some argue that Putin's Syria gambit is part of a grand scheme to rebuild Russia's global status. The Kremlin's moves, however, are better understood as a desperate, risk-laden attempt to shore up Syrian President Bashar al-Assad because his country is one of the few left in the Middle East over which Russia still holds significant influence and where Moscow has long had a military presence.

In fact, the Kremlin truly believes that Washington organized and financed the entire Arab Spring -- as well as a string of other "colored revolutions" -- that toppled authoritarian leaders along Russia's borders.

If Assad falls, Moscow would likely soon lose its naval base in Syria -- its only one in the Mediterranean. It might also possibly lose whatever other military or intelligence assets it has in the country.

Posted by orrinj at 6:30 PM


Death watch for Rand Paul campaign (SAM YOUNGMAN, September 26, 2015, Herald-Leader)

Campaigning on Friday in New Hampshire, Paul continues to charge ahead with his struggling presidential campaign, but speculation is growing that he might be the next Republican candidate to drop out of the race.

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker have already folded, and Paul is one of the hot names in the parlor game of guessing who will exit next.

On Friday, the Washington Post and Politico devoted space to an early draft of Paul's presidential campaign obituary.

"Walker's departure from the race means that the senator from Kentucky is no longer the front-runner for the most disappointing campaign of 2016," the Post wrote. "So, congrats on that. But Paul appears to have dropped entirely off the radar of most Republican voters."

Politico's weekly poll of political insiders from early-voting states put Paul right behind Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and former New York Gov. George Pataki as the next to drop out, with 22 percent saying Paul would be next.

One unnamed New Hampshire Republican told the Beltway publication that Paul's "campaign (reeks) of the same stench of death that surrounded the Perry and Walker efforts before their demise."

The instructive thing is that this is America at peak Libertarian.  The First Way hasn't been viable for 80 years.

Posted by orrinj at 6:23 PM


Donald Trump Says He's Been 'Childish,' Has Fall Back Plan (JOHN SANTUCCI, Sep 29, 2015, ABC News)

With summer over, so might be the "Summer of Trump" -- and now the man himself appears to be accepting it might not be a kind Fall. [...]

[I]f for some reason I think it's not going to work, I'll go back to my business." [...]

[H]e admitted his attacking other candidates can be "a little childish," 

September 28, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 9:14 PM


Iran May Team Up With U.S., Rouhani's Right Hand Says (Laura Rozen, 9/28/15, Al-Monitor)

Further cooperation between the United States and Iran on fighting terrorism in the region could be possible if the United States fulfills its commitments in the Iran nuclear deal to lift sanctions, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's chief of staff told Al-Monitor.

"This nuclear negotiations and agreement serves not only for the purpose of putting aside this obstacle, but also serves as a test whether this line of negotiations can bring about some level of confidence and trust between two sides," the chief of staff, Mohammad Nahavandian, told Al-Monitor in an interview in New York on Sept. 26. "And it was mentioned by the supreme leader [Ayatollah Ali Khamenei] as well that this nuclear issue is a test for us: to see how the other side is sincere in following up and in the true implementation of what is being agreed." [...]

He said, "And there are some issues of mutual interest, especially in the region. The position of the Islamic Republic of Iran has always been that fighting terrorism should come as the first priority for regional issues. And that can be another platform if the sincerity of all sides can be shown in action."

Posted by orrinj at 9:11 PM


Need Energy? Look to the Sun (Mark Buchanan, 9/28/15, Bloomberg View)

[A] group of scientists from Germany's Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry decided to figure out which energy source has the most potential to satisfy humans' long-term needs.

Their result is striking: Solar can offer about 100 times as much clean energy as any other source.

The total solar energy hitting the Earth at the top of the atmosphere is about 175,000 terawatts, or about 10,000 times what humans currently use. Much of this gets absorbed in the atmosphere, where it fuels winds and storms and helps drive ocean flows. A bit less than half reaches the planet's surface in the form of radiation energy.

Humans collect the sun's energy in two ways. First, we employ solar technology to harvest the light radiation directly. Second, we get it indirectly, by burning organic matter (oil or coal) that the sun helped to grow, or by harnessing the wind and waves that the sun's light stirs up. Each method has its own physical limit -- the amount of sunlight that, according to the laws of thermodynamics, it can convert into usable energy.

The scientists from Max Planck find that the indirect method is by far the most wasteful. For wind energy, the best possible efficiency -- defined as the fraction of initial sunlight captured for human use -- is only about 0.5 percent. Making biofuels from plants operating through photosynthesis turns out to be only slightly better, with a maximum efficiency of 1.5 percent on land, mostly because plants manage to gather light energy only from a small fraction of the spectrum.

The direct approach is much better. The scientists estimate that energy can be harvested with 93 percent efficiency from direct sunlight, and 73 percent from diffuse, ambient light.

Posted by orrinj at 3:24 PM


Manliness: Proving Darwin Wrong (Peter Augustine Lawler, The Imaginative Conservative)

America's two most astute social commentators, the political philosopher Harvey Mansfield and the novelist Tom Wolfe, have weighed in on the debate over the neo-Darwinian view of evolution. They agree that the real controversy in our country is not between rationalists who preach evolutionism and fundamentalists who live in Darwin-denial, but between those who still believe that evolution can account for the whole of human behavior and those who see with their own eyes that it does not. The Darwinians, they observe, cannot properly account for the natural human quality that Mansfield calls "manliness" and that Wolfe, following the sociologists, describes as each individual's concern for his own status or ranking. The Darwinians do not recognize what genuinely distinguishes the human individual from everything else in nature, so they cannot account for such admirable phenomena as Carson Holloway's defense of transcendent human nobility against Darwinian reductionism.

Mansfield's Manliness is an ambitious and profound attempt to account for the human individual in terms of his need for--and his dramatic assertion of--singular, indispensable importance. The individual he describes is not the sovereign or utterly free (but also fearfully miserable) modern individual invented by Hobbes. Nor is he the Christian person whose dignity is graciously guaranteed by the Creator who made and loves him.

The manly individual is not the contemporary individual who understands his freedom as the replacement of social virtue by selfish calculation whom I criticize in Stuck with Virtue. Nor, finally, is he the Freudian individual who distinguishes himself by the uniqueness of his unconscious desires. The manly individual, the real human being, asserts that he is more than--essentially or qualitatively different from--his slavish fears, obsessions, and bodily desires. Wolfe shows in all his essays and novels that the truth of this assertion is still evident everywhere in our country today. In his most recent novel, I Am Charlotte Simmons, he describes life at an elite contemporary university in terms of manly struggles for status. He focuses on a brilliant young woman, Charlotte Simmons, who enters the university convinced that she will distinguish herself through the life of the mind, and a young man, Jojo Johanssen, proud of his physical prowess as one of the country's most talented basketball players. Both Charlotte and Jojo think of themselves, not without reason, as natural aristocrats, distinguished from almost all of humanity by their mental or physical excellence.

Charlotte and Jojo certainly do not think of themselves--as the evolutionists do--merely as members of their species, or of a kin group. And they are right not to do so. Wolfe's and Mansfield's observations on the singular importance of the human individual are nobly supplemented by Carson Holloway's excellent The Right Darwin. Holloway (who writes as a real man, contemptuous of anyone who cannot see how important human beings can be) develops an Aristotelian-Tocquevillian critique of the view that Darwinian materialism could ever provide an adequate account of the goodness or greatness of the virtue alone practiced by human individuals. More insistently than Wolfe or Mansfield, Holloway defends the transcendent heights in which manliness surpasses itself in the direction of genuine human perfection.

Reflecting seriously on the individual defined by manliness can transform our understanding of who we are. And there is a great deal of empirical evidence for the truth of this view: Making the case against Darwin and on behalf of human dignity need not depend on revelation or the distinctive insights of Christian psychology. This is made plain in the fine anti-Darwinian scientific observations found in Tom Wolfe's 2006 Jefferson Lecture on "The Human Beast."

There, Wolfe claims to cover "everything you will need to know about the human beast." The phrase "human beast" he borrows from the title of Emile Zola's famous novel, the first literary presentation of Darwin's alleged discovery that human beasts are not really different from all the others. The sudden and sensational popularization of that "breakthrough" in the nineteenth century divided the intellectual world into two classes. The "God-fearing bourgeoisie" were "appalled by the suggestion that they were not created in the Creator's image." So they have raged against the scientific denial of individual human dignity or importance. The intellectuals-- "whose business it was to look down on the bourgeois from a great height"--embraced the new enlightenment that elevated each of them by reducing everyone else to beasts. In effect, they took pride in knowing that pride had no natural foundation. They incoherently believed that by seeing themselves and everyone else as beasts they had achieved a sort of divine wisdom about all things. Now the persistence of this class struggle over dignity or status--for five generations--is undeniable evidence of the distinctiveness of the human beast.

We went to the DHMC flu clinc and I asked for the mist, instead of the vaccine. The nurse said it was only for unders-18s and to "be a man and take the shot."

Posted by orrinj at 1:08 PM


'It's not like Argo': the trials of a tour guide in Iran : As Iran stands on the brink of a deal over its nuclear programme, a party of tourists tests the limit of the country's new openness (Christopher de Bellaigue, 7 July 2015, The Guardian)

Inside the airport, the members of the group shuffled uneasily forward to show their passports to young, unshaven men in bottle-green uniforms, or to their female counterparts, hooded and pale under the strip lighting. But these immigration officials turned out to be far from hostile, seeking only a virgin page, and some of them even smiled and made little jokes about being tired.

I was along as the tour "expert" - so-called because I have lived in Iran, written about it and speak the language. Before the flight from Istanbul, one of the party had asked me if he should delete photos of a recent trip he had made to Israel. He feared his hard drive might be inspected at customs. I shook my head and said: "That's not the way they operate in Iran." [...]

I began by stating the obvious: we were in Iran at a pivotal moment. Only weeks before, Iran and the world powers had struck a provisional deal limiting the Iranian nuclear programme and setting up further negotiations, with the potential to end one of the most enduring geopolitical enmities of recent decades.

At the same time, I went on, as Iran and the US edged together, Shia, Persian-speaking Iran and its Sunni, Arabic-speaking rival, Saudi Arabia, were engaged in struggles through their regional clients for influence over Yemen, Syria and Iraq. Islamic State had been able to exploit the authority vacuum that had ensued. Although Isis was undoubtedly an anti-western organisation, it was animated above all by hatred of fellow Muslims - the Shia Muslims it regards as heretics. "So," I went on, "the defeat of Isis is probably even more important for Iran than it is for the west."

Finally (as the griffin-capped columns of Persepolis came stupendously into view), I described Iran's current, liberalising president, Hassan Rouhani, and his determination to turn the isolated, resource-squandering oligarchy he had inherited from his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, into a diversified regional producer and trade hub. The president's goal, I said, was not only to increase oil sales after the lifting of sanctions, but also to attract foreign investment on an unprecedented scale. This would affect the culture and even the appearance of the country.

"Who knows?" I concluded, "Next time you're here, there could be a McDonald's on every corner."

Posted by orrinj at 12:57 PM


Why Isis fights (Martin Chulov, 17 September 2015, The Guardian)

This is the story of why men from all over the world have chosen to fight in a brutal and apocalyptic war; of what drew them to the battlefields of Iraq and Syria; and of what has kept many of them there as Europe and the west have scrambled to stem the flow, first of their own nationals fleeing to join Isis and now of millions of refugees fleeing the other way.

It is told largely by five men with whom I have spoken, at some length, over the past four years, inside Syria and Iraq. Their motivations are similar, but in some cases they are diverse and contradictory. All of them draw at least some inspiration from the prophecy of an epochal confrontation in Dabiq; they see themselves as underdogs, fired by a sense of divine mission. Individually, each man painted a distinct portrait of his reasons for joining a movement that is fast causing the collapse of an order that has bound the region together for centuries, and posing a direct challenge to all the Middle East's current forms of governance, threatening autocracies, monarchies and quasi-democracies alike.

All of these men believed that by travelling to fight for the caliphate, they were standard-bearers of their faith. They also felt sure they were acting to restore Islam to its lost glories - and had a sense of privilege and pride that their generation was the one that had been chosen to right the wrongs of the past. These sentiments are shared by many others I have met: two senior Isis members who have been captured by Iraqi forces and are now facing death sentences; a Syria-based Tunisian fighter who believes his duty is to obey the orders of his superiors with unswerving servility; and even one former member of a mainstream rebel militia, who joined the ranks of his jihadi foes when he realised the battle was turning in their favour.

But they also had myriad other reasons for joining the terror group that had little to do with their understanding of Islamic scripture or any sense of holy war. Some saw themselves as victims of oppression, others as sons of dispossessed families. Another thought of himself as a cultural warrior, not a holy warrior: he argued that joining the jihad was an entirely practical obligation, necessary to restore the caliphate and bring on the prophecy of the end times.

Few were untouched by a yearning for the collective memory of the early centuries of Islam, alongside contemporary grievances about a humiliating loss of power at the hands of the west in recent years. By late 2014, they were all fighting under the banner of the most radical and dangerous jihadi group to have formed in the past 30 years. And Dabiq was now ground zero for their struggle. [...]

Abu Ahmed, with whom I remain in regular contact, became more involved with Isis from mid-2013. He remains disaffected with the group, which he believes has strayed well beyond its original remit of fighting the US army and defending Sunnis against their marginalisation in post-Saddam Iraq. But even with his reluctance, he still believes that he too is helping to restore lost glories - of both ancient Islamic civilisation and a more recent era of Sunni power - by fighting against Iran and the Assad regime. "This is just a reality," he said. "The Americans are working with Iran against the Sunnis. This is not a conspiracy theory."

September 27, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:36 PM


Why Labour must become the party of home ownership (Owen Jones, 9/27/15, The Guardian)

Here is a great opportunity for Labour, and the left more broadly. Nearly eight out of 10 Britons aspire to homeownership. Finding strategies to boost home ownership, while improving the quality of people's housing options more broadly, would demonstrate that Labour and the left have policies to satisfy the needs and aspirations of the majority of people in society: to build a coalition of low-income and middle-income people.

It would be part of a triple-pronged strategy. Firstly: an ambitious programme of building council housing, to bring down the 5 million-strong social housing waiting list, reduce the housing benefit bill, create jobs and stimulate the economy. Such council housing should surely be according to the spec of Nye Bevan: of a better quality than private housing, and intended to foster mixed communities, rather than ghettoise the poorest. Secondly: to control private rents (again, reducing housing benefit spending) as well as introducing security for tenants. And thirdly: to extend homeownership without flogging off desperately needed social housing.

Just borrow the entire W playbook and advocate for the Ownership Society.
Posted by orrinj at 7:33 PM


Glowforge 3D laser printer could make mini manufacturers of us all (Jackie Dove, 9/26/15, Next Web)

It finally looks like 3D printing is about to take off in a big way. But not all 3D printers are alike.

One clever new example is Glowforge, a desktop 3D laser printer that allows you to create a large variety of consumer items out of any material -- from a leather handbag or wallet to hard wood jewelry boxes and household items to a child's doll house or even office furnishings.

Designs are derived from popular software such as Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator, Glowforge's own online catalog, or even from drawings from pen and paper. There's no need for complex CAD software.

Posted by orrinj at 7:28 PM


'China's Donald Trump' kicks off communism debate (BBC, 24 September 2015)

 In China he's nicknamed "Cannon" for his outspokenness, which has earned him more than 33 million followers on the Chinese microblogging service Weibo. So when one of his recent posts criticised the youth wing of the ruling Communist Party, it started a huge debate about the past and future of the country's politics.

"We've been deceived by these slogans for years," Ren wrote, responding to a patriotic message posted by the Communist Youth League on Monday which declared: "We are the successors of communism."

Ren described his upbringing in Mao's China and detailed how his parents were forced to become farmers during the Cultural Revolution. The property tycoon didn't go so far as to criticise the idea of communism - in interviews he maintains he's a committed socialist - but he did chide the Youth League for its rhetoric, and for implying that a communist utopia is close at hand.

"The only way to possibly ever achieve the ideal of communism is a long, long road, taking the effort of dozens of generations," Ren wrote. He went on to advocate greater democracy and freedom, income stability, legal reforms and greater international cooperation. His post quickly became a top trend on Weibo and prompted an often frank debate on the future of the Chinese political system.

...given the Donald's support for protectionism, nativism, taxes and National Health.

Posted by orrinj at 6:32 PM


Pro-Secession Parties in Catalonia Win Landmark Vote (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, SEPT. 27, 2015)

Pro-secession parties pushing for Spain's northeastern Catalonia region to break away and form a new Mediterranean nation won a landmark vote Sunday by capturing a majority of seats in the regional parliament, setting up a possible showdown over independence with the central government in Madrid.

Posted by orrinj at 1:16 PM


Corbyn suffers blow as Trident vote is rejected at party conference (Nicholas Watt,  27 September 2015, The Guardian)

Jeremy Corbyn has suffered a major blow to his authority after a bid by the Labour leadership to force a vote on the renewal of the Trident nuclear programme was overwhelmingly rejected at the Labour conference.

Hours after the opening of the conference in Brighton, Britain's largest trade unions and the Labour membership spurned a call by Corbyn to allow the conference to hold a debate and a vote on whether Britain should renew Trident.

In a severe embarrassment to Corbyn, who won the support of the main trade unions in the Labour leadership contest, his call for a debate on Trident was supported by just 0.16% of the trade union vote. The support among constituency Labour parties was little higher at 7.1%.

Shadow cabinet members, who had earlier welcomed a signal by Corbyn that he would allow a free vote on Trident, were scathing about the new leader's conference debut. "Chaos and confusion rule the day," one frontbencher said.

Posted by orrinj at 1:01 PM


French airstrike destroys IS camp in Syria (ANGELA CHARLTON AND ELAINE GANLEY September 27, 2015,AP)

Six French jet fighters targeted and destroyed an Islamic State training camp in eastern Syria, President Francois Hollande said Sunday, making good on a promise to go after the group that the president has said is planning attacks against several countries, including France.

Posted by orrinj at 12:18 PM


May it never end: The uncomfortable truth about the war in Syria (ALON BEN-DAVID, 09/27/2015, Jerusalem Post)

Many air forces are operating in Syria but almost all of them are concentrated in the area of the country controlled by Islamic State. None of the rebel groups, including ISIS is operating planes, so a jet seen in the skies above Damascus or Latakia will either belong to Assad's army or to the Israel Air Force. The Israelis asked Putin to prevent a situation where Russian anti-aircraft guns threaten an Israeli plane which would necessitate either an evasive maneuver or worse an attack.   

The Middle East is returning to the days of the Cold War but with one vital difference: Now there is only one superpower. The US under President Barack Obama is not really trying to be a regional player and has turned it over to the bear from Moscow, Putin, who knows how to recognize opportunities, is fast to establish facts on the ground and will operate now to preserve his holdings: two ports in the Mediterranean and an airbase for it to use. 

What will be the consequences of a regional Sunni-Shi'ite war? The Israeli intelligence community is split on this question. Some believe that the nuclear deal with Iran and the Russian involvement in Syria will stabilize the Shi'ites and will give them an advantage that will allow them to dictate the regional agenda in the next few years. Others believe that Iran and Russia's bolstered alliance with Assad will only draw out the war, and will delay Assad's fall for many years. Thus, these developments are not necessarily bad for Israel.  

Every other alternative seems much worse for Israel: the fall of Damascus to the hands of Islamic State or a contiguous territory linking ISIS in eastern Syria with its supporters in the southern Golan Heights. These scenarios would threaten Israel's borders and would would drag us into an unwanted altercation in Syria.   

If Israel's interest in the war in Syria can be summarized in brief, it would be: That it should never end. No one will say this publicly, but the continuation of the fighting in Syria as long as there is a recognized authority in Damascus, allows Israel to stay out of the swamp and distance itself from the swarms of mosquitoes that are buzzing in it.   

Nevermind that keeping the fighting contained to Western Iraq and Syria keeps all the salafists tied down in a free-fire zone, letting the Alawites, Russians, Shi-ites and Israelis kill as many of them as they can while we provide risk-free air cover is as easy as war gets.
Posted by orrinj at 12:08 PM


Iran earns more from tax than oil for first time in almost 50 years (Saeed Kamali Dehghan, 27 September 2015, The Guardian)

The Iranian government is earning more from tax than oil for the first time in almost half a century as the country shifts its traditional reliance on crude to taxation revenues in the face of plummeting oil prices. 

President Hassan Rouhani's economic strategy is to significantly reduce the government's dependency on oil and instead collect tax more systematically, according to Ali Kardor, the deputy managing director of the national Iranian oil company (NIOC). 

"For the first time in 50 years, the government's share of the oil revenue is less than what it is earning from tax, including VAT," he told the Guardian on the sidelines of the second Europe-Iran forum in Geneva. "Only around 10% of Iran's GDP is currently dependent on oil." Almost 20% of oil income goes into a sovereign wealth fund, which is reserved for development purposes.

Posted by orrinj at 8:29 AM


Tomlin a trendsetter in going for 2-pointers (Ray Fittipaldo, 9/27/15, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

When NFL owners voted in May to change the extra-point rules for this season, everyone had their predictions on which coach would be the trendsetter and embrace the analytics. Would New England's Bill Belichick take the math and run to more points? Or would NFL contrarian Chip Kelly, coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, be the first to kick aside the old-school approach to PATs?

Turns out it is Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, whose offense is 3 for 3 on 2-point conversions through the first two weeks of the season. The Steelers went for 2 after their first touchdown Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers and again midway through the second quarter.

According to Elias Sports Bureau, the Steelers became the first team since 1998 to make a 2-point conversion in the first quarter of a game since October 1998, when the Indianapolis Colts faked an extra point. The previous time a team made a 2-point conversion in the first quarter of a game from a traditional offensive alignment was the Denver Broncos in 1997. [...]

Twenty one of the 32 teams in the league have not attempted a 2-point conversion yet this season. Only the Colts and Buffalo Bills have attempted more than one.

The math suggests going for 2 after every touchdown is the correct call for coaches, at least for those with confidence in their offenses.

The league average on 2-point conversions is around 50 percent. With the extra-point kick being moved back to a 33-yard attempt, where kickers make an average of about 93 percent of their attempts, it makes more sense to go for 2 from a strictly mathematical perspective.

Posted by orrinj at 7:53 AM


Sleep, the eight-hour lullaby for adults (David Hepworth 26 September 2015, The Guardian)

A recurring problem for the live music business is that just as the band onstage are getting into their stride, members of the audience are surreptitiously looking at their watches and worrying about the last tube. The truth is that, no matter how noisily we respond in the affirmative to the question: "Are you having a good time?", the natural state of the concert-going audience is a bit tired. One event in the radio calendar this week recognises this.

The premiere of Max Richter's Sleep (Saturday, 12midnight, Radio 3) comes from the Reading Room of London's Wellcome Collection. Musicians and composer will be performing the full eight hours of the piece for an audience who will be encouraged to nod off, because it's in the arms of Morpheus that Sleep can best be appreciated. Richter's "lullaby for a frenetic world" was composed in collaboration with neuroscientist David Eagleman with this in mind.

Posted by orrinj at 7:37 AM


Travel Agents Turn to Iran -- and Find Plenty of Jewish Interest (Nathan Guttman, September 27, 2015, Forward)

Ask the State Department whether it is any safer now for Americans to travel to Iran, and the answer you'll get will be unequivocally negative. The nuclear deal reached with Tehran, as a State Department travel warning makes clear, "does not alter the United States' assessment of the risks of travel to Iran for U.S. citizens."

But then ask Steve Kutay, a tour organizer to Iran based in Ashville, North Carolina.

"I tell them it's one of the safest countries I've ever visited," said Kutay, 75, a Jewish transplant from Brooklyn now settled deep in the South.

It's not like Kutay hasn't gotten this question before. "This is the first question people ask me," he noted.

But for Kutay, and for others in the business, the events of the past few months represent an opportunity to turn Iran, currently a niche destination that few Americans visit, into a prime vacation site for lovers of history, archaeology and nature.

The recently signed nuclear deal, they hope, will help lift the veil of fear and mystery surrounding Iran, and allay some of the suspicions many Americans harbor toward the country and its treatment of U.S. nationals. If Americans' mindset toward Iran does indeed shift, this select group of travel agents and tour providers stand ready to capitalize on the opening. Indeed, some are already launching new tours. Their promotional pitches promise to help tourists discover the "wonders of Persia." There are even plans for a Jewish heritage tour in the works. [...]

But business isn't the sole motivation for some of those involved in getting Americans to visit Iran; there's also a sense of mission. Some want to use their position as middlemen to help dispel preconceived notions Americans may have about the Islamic Republic.

"I feel in a way that it's a mitzvah to bring people there," Kutay said. "I've been to about 80 countries, and I haven't seen any country that Americans have more misconceptions about than Iran." [...]

"They love Americans," Kutay said of his encounters with Iranians. "When Iranians hear that you're an American, they go berserk; they want to take pictures with you, talk to you, invite you to a picnic. They're wonderful people." The more Americans that go to Iran, he believes, the easier it will become to change the way Americans perceive the country.

Posted by orrinj at 7:28 AM


Khamenei demands Saudi apology for hajj deaths (AFP, September 27, 2015)

Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei demanded Saudi Arabia apologize on Sunday for a stampede that killed 769 pilgrims at the hajj, at least 144 of them Iranians.

"Instead of passing the buck and playing a blame game, the Saudis should accept their responsibility and apologize to the world's Muslims and the bereaved families," Khamenei said in comments reported by the official IRNA news agency.

Iranian leaders have been fiercely critical of Saudi authorities' handling of safety at the hajj and questioned whether Riyadh was fit to continue organizing the annual pilgrimage.

September 26, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 8:31 AM


With restored US-Cuba ties, a long trip home for Miami Cubans (Ariel Zirulnick, SEPTEMBER 26, 2015, CS Monitor)

The mass outcry from the Cuban-American community that many expected when President Obama announced the normalization of relations in December hasn't really materialized. The shift in thinking can be seen in Moas's own family: While his more hard-line family members haven't been unequivocal in their support of his media appearances, they haven't condemned him either. 

The American flag now flies over the US Embassy in Havana, and the US and Cuba are moving toward an opening of relations for the first time in more than 50 years. Watching the events of the past eight months has been head-spinning for a community organized around a conflict that seemed completely calcified.

Posted by orrinj at 8:08 AM


States Push Back Against Cities' Minimum-Wage Boosts (MARK PETERS, Sept. 25, 2015, WSJ)

The nascent push by cities to raise their minimum wage is meeting resistance in a growing number of state capitols, opening a new front in the battle over the pay floor for the nation's lowest-paid workers.

Cities including Los Angeles, St. Louis and Birmingham, Ala., have set local minimum wages, arguing the federal and state floors are too low for many workers in more urban areas. But states are moving to strip cities of the power to establish their own rates, citing businesses' concerns over a patchwork of wage levels and the potential for higher city wages to affect pay statewide.

"It is not an us versus them scenario. It is a state issue," said Alabama state Rep. David Faulkner, a Republican, who introduced a measure to prohibit cities from setting a minimum wage. 

As Republicans, we stand for three things : (1) 100% employment;  (2) the lowest possible wages and minimal government assistance to low income workers; and (3) maximixing the profits of the private sector.  It's not a sustainable formula.

September 25, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 8:19 PM


John Boehner's legacy: gigantic cuts to federal spending (Dylan Matthews, September 25, 2015, Vox)

[B]oehner actually did more to reduce the size of the federal government than any other politician in recent memory.

Last year, analysts Richard Kogan and William Chen at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimated that deficits over 2015-'14 would be $5 trillion lower than had been projected before Boehner became speaker. Most of the savings -- $3.2 trillion -- came in the form of spending cuts enacted through the post-debt ceiling crisis Budget Control Act, spending cuts negotiated in early 2011, the Bush tax cuts deal of late 2012, the Murray-Ryan spending deal of 2013, and last year's farm bill.

Boehner had help enacting that $3.2 trillion spending reduction. But without him using the House to force President Obama and Senate Democrats to accept cutbacks, it's doubtful it would have happened.

Him and the Republican president.

Posted by orrinj at 8:11 PM


Churchill Tutors France's Economic Migrants (Therese Raphael, 9/25/15, Bloomberg View)

While the precise number of French nationals in the U.K. is impossible to pin down since registration is not required, one French official offered an estimate of between 200,000 and 250,000, including 20,000 French university students. Add to that the sizable French populations in Belgium and Switzerland and you have a brain drain that France will want to reverse if it can.

London's two biggest attractions for French expatriates -- jobs and schools -- mirror the two major reform challenges for the French government. French schools abroad like the Winston Churchill lycée are popular with well-heeled French here, but they are far removed from the troubles besetting France's highly centralized education system generally, including declining student test scores, a negative classroom environment and a harsh grading system where failure is common. One in four students fails to complete secondary school in France and more than a quarter have to repeat at least one grade.

Posted by orrinj at 8:07 PM


'Ashokan Farewell': The Story Behind the Tune Ken Burns Made Famous (MEGAN GARBER, 9/25/15, Atlantic)

"Ashokan Farewell" was not, as both its tune and the miniseries that made it famous would seem to suggest, written in the 19th century. It was written instead at the tail end of the 20th. And it wasn't a Southern waltz; it was created in the style of a Scottish lament--and in celebration of a town, and a reservoir, in upstate New York. By a guy from the Bronx.

In the early 1980s, Jay Ungar and his wife and fellow musician, Molly Mason, were running the Ashokan Camp, a summer arts school specializing in fiddle and dancing, at the Ashokan Field Campus of SUNY New Paltz. Ungar composed the tune--Mason would later give it its resonant name--to commemorate the conclusion of the 1982 session of the camp. Ungar had traveled through Scotland earlier in the summer, he told me, and he wanted to compose a tune in the style of a Scottish lament--something that would capture the sense of sadness that the camp, and all the camaraderie and community and joy it represented to him, would be ending.

He wanted something more celebratory, too: "The tune," he says, "was my attempt to get back to a feeling of connectedness."

Posted by orrinj at 8:00 PM


It's time to get rid of the VA (Jonah Goldberg, 9/25/15, AEI)

The real fix is to get rid of the VA entirely.

The United States has an absolute obligation to do right by veterans. It does not have an absolute obligation to run a lousy, wasteful, unaccountable, corrupt, and inefficient bureaucracy out of Washington. Of all those adjectives, the one that gets to the core of the problem is "unaccountable."

Elected officials are supposed to be held responsible for the actions of the government, right? Well, which politician should we fire for the endless stream of outrageous VA scandals of the last few years? The president? Leave aside the fact that he won't be on the ballot in 2016; not a lot of voters put reforming the VA bureaucracy at the top of their list of priorities.

Is there a congressman or senator who might lose an election because of the VA scandals? If there is, I can't figure out who it might be. Every representative and senator has raced to the cameras to express their outrage, and not one is accepting a scintilla of responsibility for the problem. But they are all responsible because they have simply ceded authority to the bureaucrats themselves.

There is a reason the Founding Fathers put most governmental functions at the state and local level. It's because a large nation cannot be run from the center.

Imagine that the federal government simply gave all of the VA hospitals to the states they're in. Instead of the VA budget, Congress just cut checks to states to spend on their veterans. You'd still have problems, of course. But what you would also have are local elected officials -- city councilmen, state legislators, mayors, governors, etc. -- whom voters could hold directly accountable. Moreover, these officials would be more likely to understand the nature of the problems faced by their constituents.

As a result, you would see states handling similar problems in different ways. Some techniques would be better, some would be worse, and some would just be different. Arizona is simply different than Vermont, so it may handle things differently. Still, this process would allow everyone to learn from both mistakes and successes in a way that a centralized bureaucracy cannot or will not.

Personally, I'd rather see the money spent on veterans go straight to the veterans themselves, in the form of cash payments or vouchers to be used for health care in the private sector. But my point really isn't to figure out the best way to provide for veterans; it's to highlight the best way to organize a free society.

It's a fundamentally bizarre notion that in exchange for defending the republic our vets are entitled to anti-republican benefits.  Vets should receive the same universal HSA as the rest of us and receive their health care wherever they then choose to consume it. [Except, of course, for specifically service-related conditions.]

Posted by orrinj at 7:45 PM


Conservatives Hated Boehner Because He Couldn't Get Rid of Obama (Jonathan Chait, 9/25/15, New York)

To understand the pressures that brought about Boehner's demise as an ideological split badly misconstrues the situation. The small band of right-wing noisemakers in the House who made Boehner's existence a living hell could not identify any important substantive disagreements with the object of their wrath. (The one exception to this is Boehner's brief, aborted 2011 attempt to craft a long-term debt deal with the Obama administration, which he abandoned under pressure from Paul Ryan and Eric Cantor.) The source of the disagreement was tactical, not philosophical. Boehner's tormentors refused to accept the limits of his political power.

This was the proximate source of the struggle that appears to have finally sapped Boehner's will (or ability) to cling to his title. The usual band of irreconcilables in the House have recently demanded that Republicans shut down the federal government to force President Obama to agree to zero out funding for Planned Parenthood. Boehner and the party leadership have resisted not because they agree with funding Planned Parenthood, but because this tactic has no chance of success. The irreconcilables have tried to pressure him into yet another futile gesture by openly threatening, once again, to depose him.

Boehner has never supported any important aspect of the Obama agenda. Even at the outset of the Obama administration, with the president soaring in the polls and the economy plunging into the abyss, he rallied his entire party to withhold support from the stimulus and never seriously considered negotiating. He not only voted against Obamacare, but he repeatedly punctuated his speech denouncing it with shouts of "hell no!" The positive "accomplishments" of the Boehner Era were limited to avoiding a series of brinksmanship-induced catastrophes. The limits of conservative power extended to the ability to block all legislative progress or compromise. Boehner successfully delivered that. He even joined in several creative efforts to expand his institution's power by using threats of shutdowns or debt-ceiling crises to coerce Obama into enacting portions of the Republican agenda, giving up only when Obama had beaten him back repeatedly.

It was not enough. Three quarters of Republicans believe, incredibly, that their party leadership has not done enough to oppose Obama. Three fifths feel "betrayed" by their party. "In the last seven years Barack Obama has successfully recruited, or corrupted, or hijacked -- however you want to describe it -- John Roberts of the Supreme Court; John Boehner, speaker of the House; Mitch McConnell, Republican leader in the Senate; and, some might even say, the pope," ranted Rush Limbaugh the other day.

In one of his last gifts to a party he'd already done so much for, W gift-wrapped a bail-out plan that even had the Democratic nominee on board, and set it up so that John McCain could walk out into the Rose Garden as if he'd delivered it.  But the House Republicans deep-sixed it--and the stock market--and with that the presidential election, handing the Oval to a man whose victory they can't reconcile themselves to, even though they caused it.

Posted by orrinj at 12:58 PM


Conservative crowd boos Trump for calling Rubio a 'clown' (SHANE GOLDMACHER, 09/25/15, Politico)

Conservatives booed Donald Trump for calling Republican presidential rival Marco Rubio a "clown" at the Values Voter conference of activists on Friday.

"You have this clown, Marco Rubio," Trump said, as the crowd erupted in boos. "I've been so nice to him."

Trump has turned his rhetorical fire against Rubio in recent days as the Florida senator has risen in the polls. After the booing, Trump tried to attack Rubio for his support of a comprehensive immigration package two years ago, saying there was "nobody weaker" on immigration. The attacks received a damp reception. Trump eventually retreated back to safer ground, attacking Democrats and promoting himself.

Posted by orrinj at 8:56 AM


Unmanned and Unafraid : THE ARMY WANTS TO ENLIST ROBOT MEDICS (Kelsey D. Atherton, 9/24/15, Popular Science)

For troops wounded in combat, they need to get out of battle fast and to medical care. Historically that's been the role of human medics, who bravely risk enemy fire to save their wounded comrades. That's profoundly dangerous work, undertaken by humans because we haven't, historically, had any other options. Earlier this week, Major General Steve Jones, commander of the Army Medical Department Center, said that in the future, we might send robots instead. Jones said:

"We have lost medics throughout the years because they have the courage to go forward and rescue their comrades under fire. With the newer technology, with the robotic vehicles we are using even today to examine and to detonate IEDs [improvised explosive devices], those same vehicles can go forward and retrieve casualties."

The remarks came at a conference sponsored by the Association of the U.S. Army. Jones specifically mentioned the robots currently employed by bomb squads, as well as unmanned vehicles. The Pentagon has expressed interest in unmanned ambulances for years. A recent one is the Black Knight Transformer, an optionally manned craft that can fly like a quadcopter and drive like a truck.

Posted by orrinj at 8:52 AM


How a Piece of Web Fiction Restarted the Space Race : As Hollywood prepares to release its adaptation of 'The Martian,' author Andy Weir talks about what it would take to send a person to Mars, and what he's got cooking for his next novel (Jay Bennett Sep 24, 2015, oUTSIDE)

What challenges do you see in a manned mission to Mars?

I think the main thing they should be working on is centripetal gravity. In other words, just having a spacecraft that spins to provide gravity for the occupants, because human bodies break down so much when they're subjected to long-term weightlessness. Have you ever seen the astronauts returning from ISS [International Space Station]? They have to be lifted out of the capsule and put in lawn chairs on the ground. They can't move after spending six months in zero gravity. So what happens if we have astronauts spend about that long in zero gravity, and then they need to step out of their capsule onto the surface of Mars?

What role do you see private corporations like SpaceX and Virgin Galactic playing in future space exploration? 

I think they're absolutely critical. I think the key to human kind's future in space is reducing the cost of putting stuff into orbit. If you can get that cost down to the point where middle-class people can afford a vacation into space, then you will have effectively infinite demand. That's when the companies will start cropping up, and when demand exceeds supply, we will have a genuine commercial space industry. It'll be like the commercial airline industry--big, wealthy, lots of money to be made, lots of competitors, everybody driving the price down.

And then the vehicles. If you look commercial aircraft, they are masterpieces of technology. Here's a thing that can take a couple hundred people from New York to L.A. It takes about five hours to do that, and then when it's done, you don't need to throw it away and make a new one or anything. You just add more fuel, and then it can do it again. And that's where space vehicles will be eventually.

Posted by orrinj at 8:47 AM


Election Polling: When 'Who Will Win?' Beats 'Who Do You Like?' (NEIL KING JR., 9/25/15, WSJ)

[I]n crowded, pell-mell elections like this, statisticians and political scientists prefer a very different question: "Who do you think will actually win?"

That question is at the heart of parimutuel betting that determines favorites and longshots in horse races and on the increasingly popular sites that allow people to wager on the outcome of events, including Supreme Court decisions and presidential elections.

David Rothschild, an economist at Microsoft Research who has spent years studying the powers of predictive markets, doesn't dismiss typical polls outright. "What they tell us about the moment is meaningful and important," he says.

But asking people who they expect will win, instead of who they prefer, "grabs a much larger slice of people's experience and knowledge, including a whole range of idiosyncratic facts" that are otherwise impossible to quantify, he says. [...]

PredictWise puts very different odds on who will actually win, giving Mr. Bush a 37% chance, followed by Florida Sen. Marco Rubio at 21% and Mr. Trump at 12%. The site has Mrs. Clinton as a much bigger favorite, at 64%, despite her 44% standing in the average of the national polls.

Mr. Rothschild, along with fellow economist Justin Wolfers, made the case in a 2012 paper for why voter expectation is a sounder data point than voter preference. Examining data from dozens of elections, both national and local, the authors found "robust evidence that polls probing voters' expectations yield more accurate predictions of election outcomes than the usual questions asking about who they intend to vote for."

In 2004, polling of voter preference showed a tight and volatile race between President George W. Bush and Sen. John Kerry, while polls of voter expectations consistently reflected the belief that Mr. Bush would win. Similarly, despite roller-coaster poll numbers during the race for the 2012 Republican nominee, Mitt Romney never lagged in the prediction markets.

September 24, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 4:06 PM


'Cadillac Tax' Is Hated, But It Might Be Working (Karl Eisenhower, September 24, 2015, RCP)

The tax is unpopular among large employers, about a third of which expect to have plans subject to the tax, according to a 2014 survey by the consulting firm Mercer. It's also unpopular among trade unions, which in many cases won generous health benefits over years of tough collective bargaining. And when management and labor agree on something, it's safe to assume that their Democratic and Republican allies on Capitol Hill will also agree.

So while congressional Democrats generally stand united in defense of the ACA, a House bill to repeal the Cadillac tax nonetheless has 135 Democratic co-sponsors.

That was the backdrop as the United Auto Workers hashed out details of a new labor agreement with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles this month. Autoworkers had won unusually generous health benefits in previous contracts, perks they won't give up just because workers in other sectors have lost theirs. But with health costs rising and the Cadillac tax looming, union negotiators knew they couldn't let this be management's problem alone.

"For quite some time, the auto unions have recognized a reality in U.S. economics that not all other workers are as keenly aware of," says Ceci Connolly, managing director of PwC's Health Research Institute. "And that is that rising health care costs bite into wages."

So the union has agreed to "find areas of opportunity to reduce cost" if that's needed to stay under the tax threshold, even if that means charging higher deductibles for plans subject to the excise.

More importantly, the union proposed an unusual level of labor-management collaboration to tackle rising health costs. The draft agreement calls for labor and the Big Three domestic automakers to pool resources in a co-op "to explore innovative ways of improving the delivery of negotiated health care benefits in a manner that increases quality, lowers cost, produces less waste and provides better patient care."

If the new contract is ratified by Chrysler workers, the UAW will take the same proposal into contract negotiations with Ford and General Motors. Does that mean the Cadillac tax is working as intended? Perhaps.  It's definitely bringing new urgency to efforts to control costs.

Posted by orrinj at 3:48 PM


U.S. Has 10 Million More Foreign-Born Residents Than Entire European Union (Ali Meyer, September 24, 2015, Daily Beacon)

The United States has 10 million more foreign-born residents than the entire European Union, according to an analysis from the Senate Subcommittee on Immigration and the National Interest.

Although the E.U.'s population of over half a billion is 60 percent larger than the U.S. population of 320 million, the United States has more foreign-born residents. "While the U.S. has almost 200 million fewer persons, it contains over 10 million more individuals born outside its boundaries," says the subcommittee.

Newest Immigrants Assimilating as Fast as Previous Ones, Report Says (JULIA PRESTON, SEPT. 21, 2015, NY Times)

The report looked at 41 million foreign-born people -- including about 11.3 million immigrants here illegally -- and their children born in the United States, about 37 million Americans. Taken together, the two generations include one in four people in this country. English language learning "is happening as rapidly or faster now than it did for earlier waves of mainly European immigrants in the 20th century," the report found.

Many immigrants -- about 85 percent of the foreign-born -- speak a language other than English at home. For 62 percent of them, that language is Spanish. But many of those immigrants speak English proficiently outside the home. Many already knew English when they arrived, the report found; about 50 percent of the foreign-born say they speak English "very well" or "well," while only 10 percent say they do not speak English at all.

By the third generation, most immigrant children speak only English, the report found.

In a finding the scholars called surprising, the report says foreign-born adults and children are healthier in general than Americans. They are less likely to die from cancer or heart disease, and have fewer chronic illnesses and lower rates of obesity.

On education, the researchers found "strong intergenerational progress," with the second generation equaling their peers among native-born Americans. [...]

On crime, the report found that over all, immigrant men 18 to 39 were incarcerated at about one-fourth the rate of American men in that group. "Cities and neighborhoods with greater concentrations of immigrants have much lower rates of crime and violence" than similar places without immigrants, the report said.

September 23, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:51 PM


Labour's Lean to Left Spells Election Disaster (Matt Singh, 9/23/15, Bloomberg View)

[I]t's helpful to have an objective measure of a party's left-right positioning. One such resource is provided by the Manifesto Project Dataset of the Berlin Social Science Research Center (WZB), a comparative study of party platforms since the World War II. It includes a variety of variables, one of which is economic planning, to measure how socialist a party's policies are deemed to be:

From 1979 to 2010 (the most recent election for which the data is available) we can observe a -0.85 correlation between the Labour-Conservative policy gap on this measure, and the Labour-Conservative difference in vote share. In other words, Labour's electoral performance relative to its principal opponent (shown on the Y axis) has been 85 percent negatively correlated with how far it stands to the left of the Tories on economic issues (shown on the X axis), as measured by their respective manifestos at each election.

That history suggests hard-left policies are unlikely to be well-received by the electorate, albeit with important caveats. While a party's manifesto gives a strong indication of its positioning, it may not tell the whole story. In 1997 and 2001, for example, the study rates Labour's manifestos as even less socialist than those of the Conservatives -- likely reflecting a particular emphasis by New Labour on a more market-oriented stance, as it fought to build credibility on its stewardship of the economy. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:25 PM


How Catholic faith changed my life (Jeb Bush,  September 22, 2015, CNN)

The church that Francis leads never tires of proclaiming the dignity of all people -- a truth that is also at the heart of our form of government that pledges liberty and justice for all. It underlies the first freedom in our Constitution, the freedom of religion, a freedom that too many in our government have lost sight of in recent years.

I hope Pope Francis' visit to the United States is a powerful reminder that in a country as great and diverse as ours, we can protect religious freedom and the right of conscience while respecting those with opposing views.

Catholicism has grounded my own life. In Catholic teachings, the family is a "domestic church," and the Catholic faithful are a kind of extended family. The Catholic Church has always bound my own family together.

Even before my own conversion, we attended Mass together, sharing as a family the message of hope and love, praying for peace and grace. My wife was raised in the Catholic faith, we were married in a Catholic student center, and we in turn raised our children as Catholics.

After I lost my first campaign for governor of Florida in 1994, I took stock of my life and my beliefs, and I decided to fully embrace the faith that had been guiding my family and me for many years. I attended Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults classes. I gained a deeper appreciation for the sacraments of the church and the grace they impart. I studied Catholic Church doctrine, and how it is renewed in every age. The more I learned, the more I appreciated the rich history of the church and its teachings, and my heart was changed by God's hand.

In the 20 years since my conversion, the Church has given me the faith and hope to cope with life's many challenges.

Posted by orrinj at 7:19 PM


Jeb Bush Proposes Rollback of Regulations : Targets include emissions limits and consumer-protection laws (BETH REINHARD and  NICK TIMIRAOS, Sept. 22, 2015, WSJ)

Mr. Bush's campaign sees his regulatory and tax-overhaul plans as the path to 4% annual economic growth, a goal the U.S. hasn't hit in a sustained way since the late 1990s. Economic advisers to Mr. Bush said that the cost of his tax plan would total $3.4 trillion in lost revenue over 10 years, but that the economic boost that from the tax cuts--combined with the savings from the regulatory overhaul--would trim the cost to $1.2 trillion over 10 years. [...]

Mr. Bush is also proposing a "regulatory budget" in which the cost of any new regulation must be offset by another's savings. And he endorses a proposal that would require an up-or-down vote by Congress on economic regulations that cost at least $100 million.

Posted by orrinj at 7:10 PM

60-40 NATION:

In England, 58% remain Christian, new report reveals (Ruth Gledhill Sep 23, 2015, The Christians)

Christianity is far from extinct in Britain and nearly six out of ten people still say they are Christian, according to a new report. [...]

According to the study, most non-Christians know a Christian and think well of them. They are most likely to describe them as friendly, caring, good-humoured, generous and helpful. One in five non-Christians is open to finding out more about Jesus after hearing Christians talk to them about their faith.

Posted by orrinj at 6:58 PM


Your Twitter feed says more about your political views than you think, study says (KAREN KAPLAN, 9/17/15, LA Times)

"Language encodes who we are, how we think and what we feel," Karolina Sylwester and Matthew Purver wrote in a study published this week in the journal PLOS ONE. "Even in a noisy Twitter data set, patterns of language use are consistent with findings obtained through classical psychology methods." [...]

Instead of focusing on the words people used most, they examined the most "differentiating" words -- that is, words that were embraced by one group and largely ignored by the other.

For Republicans, the researchers found, these words fell into several broad categories -- religion ("God," "psalm"), national identity (including "America," "American" and "border"), in-group identity (the word stem "conserv" and the acronyms TCOT for "top conservative on Twitter" and RINO for "Republican in name only"), government and law (including "lie," "vote," "impeach" and "defund"), and political opponents ("Obama," "Reid" and "Pelosi").

The differentiating words used by Democrats didn't have these political and patriotic overtones. Instead, they focused on cultural items that were big deals when the tweets were collected in June 2014 (including "World Cup" and "Arsenal") as well as words the study authors described as "more emotionally expressive" (such as "love" and "feel," the word stems "happi" and "amaz," and four-letter words that start with "F" and "S").

The analysis revealed that certain words were more likely to be tweeted by conservatives and others were more likely to be tweeted by liberals. For instance, Republicans were 3.36 times more likely than Democrats to say "Obamacare" and 1.40 more likely to tweet about "God." On the flip side, Democrats were 6.51 times more likely to type "birther" and 3.7 times more likely to tweet about "Bridgegate."

These trends had predictive value. A "one unit increase" in the use of swear words increased the odds that the Twitter user was a Democrat by 20%. The same increase in the use of religious words increased the odds that the user was a Republican by 15%, according to the study.

"These results suggest that language used on Twitter does, indeed, reflect individual differences between liberals and conservatives," the researchers wrote.

Sylwester and Purver also noticed that the presumed Democrats "tend to use first-person singular pronouns more often than Republican followers, which we interpret as their greater desire for emphasizing uniqueness."

...isn't much of a way to go through life.

Posted by orrinj at 6:52 PM


Islam's Tragic Fatalism (Mustafa Akyol, 9/23/15, NY Times)

Accidents, of course, happen everywhere. Yet in the Muslim world, fatalism often serves as a cover for inadequate safety measures or greedy bosses unwilling to pay for them. That is why Turkey's top cleric, Mehmet Gormez, an erudite theologian, felt the need to warn fellow Turks that "Producing excuses about 'divine power' for human guilt and responsibility is wrong," after a Dickensian mine fire killed 301 workers in 2014. "The laws of nature are the laws of God. God has given us the ability to understand these laws and asked from us to act accordingly," Mr. Gormez declared. "What is suitable for God's will is to take the necessary precautions against the physical causes for disasters."

This important statement was unmistakably grounded in certain medieval Islamic schools of thought, such as the Maturidis and the Mutazilites, who believed human beings possessed free will and could be "the creator of their own deeds." They also believed that humans could use reason to interpret scripture and establish moral truths.

But such rationalist Muslim schools had powerful rivals, such as the Asharites and the even more rigid Hanbalis, the precursors of today's Salafis. These dogmatists played down human free will by emphasizing God's predestination, and discredited human reason. They also denied the existence of natural laws, assuming that causality is an infringement on God's omnipotence.

Today most Muslims have little knowledge about these old debates, but they live within cultural codes largely defined by the dogmatists, who gained the upper hand in the war of ideas in early Islam. In these codes, human free will is easily sacrificed to fatalism, science and reason are trivialized, and philosophy is frowned upon.

Consequently, "God's will" becomes an easy cover for intellectual laziness, lack of planning, and irresponsibility. Muslims in positions of power often refer to "fate" to explain away their failures, while never hesitating to take pride in their successes.

Colossal accidents in Mecca and elsewhere must be taken as alarm signals for Muslims to purge our societies of this problematic mentality and seek the great intellectual revival we need.

ISIS the Irrational (Robert R. Reilly, September 2, 2015, Intercollegiate Review)

ISIS and its al-Qaeda predecessor are incomprehensible to most Westerners because they are unaware of a pivotal theological struggle waged within Islam more than a millennium ago. It was a battle over the nature of God and the role of reason--and the side of irrationality won. The resolution of that conflict has had profound consequences for much of Sunni Islam--and the rest of the world--ever since.

Two theological schools emerged within Sunni Islam in the ninth century. The first, the Mu'tazalites, said that God is reason and justice. The Mu'tazalites held that man's first duty is to reason because the existence of God is not self-evident. Once man arrives at the existence of God through his reason, he examines the claims of revelation that God has spoken. If anything in revelation appears to go against his reason, he must either bring the revelation into accord with reason or discard it. Through reason, too, man comes to know the difference between what is right and what is wrong, and he must choose what is right through his free will. God is just insofar as He will reward those who do what is right and punish those who do what is wrong.

The second theological school, the Ash'arite school, opposed all of this. God is not reason and justice, the Ash'arites said. Rather, He is pure will and power--unbound by anything, including His own word. Man must abandon reason and submit to the text of revelation, no matter what it says or how unreasonable it may appear. Man's reason is incapable of knowing the difference between right and wrong. Nothing is right or wrong in and of itself; it is right or wrong only according to what God says.

Does God forbid murder because it is wrong? Or is it wrong because He forbids it? The Mu'tazilite answer was that God forbids it because it is wrong. The Ash'arite answer was that it is wrong only because God forbids it, and God could change his mind and require ritual murder, if He so chose. Also, according to the Ash'arites, God is not required to reward those who obey Him and punish those who disobey. He may reward those who disobey Him and punish those who obey, and no one can gainsay Him. Whatever God does is just--because right is the rule of the stronger, and God is the strongest.

The Mu'tazalites and the Ash'arites also fought over the nature of the Qur'an. The Mu'tazalites said that the Qur'an was created in history and therefore needs to be understood in terms of the linguistic and cultural circumstances in which it was revealed. The Ash'arites claimed that the Qur'an was not created but has existed coeternally with God in heaven. Therefore, the Qur'an is not contingent on the circumstances in which it was revealed, and Arabic is the language of God (which is why all Muslims have Arabic names and must pray in Arabic, though the majority of Muslims in the world do not understand this language). Obviously, the Mu'tazilite understanding of the Qur'an allows for greater breadth of interpretation, while the Ash'arite understanding tends toward literalism (which finds its harshest expression today in Saudi Wahhabism).

The Mu'tazalites had a conception of natural law that allowed man to come to know the difference between right and wrong through his reason's apprehension of the essences of things. Since the Ash'arites asserted that man could not obtain moral knowledge through his reason, they constructed a bizarre atomistic metaphysics to defend their position and to destroy the possibility of natural law. Basically, man cannot know the nature or essence of things because they have no natures or essences. Everything is constituted by time-space atoms that momentarily come into existence directly through the will of God. Whatever exists is an agglomeration of these atoms specifically configured for a brief moment by an act of God. These same atoms are then annihilated almost simultaneously by another direct act of God's will. God then reconstitutes reality with an entirely new set of atoms that may be similar to the previous ones or completely different--that depends only upon Him.

Therefore, a Mu'tazilite could know that a horse would remain a horse because it has the nature of the horse. But the Ash'arite could possess no such knowledge, because God might wish to turn the horse into a giraffe, and there is no reason why He could not. In fact, to say that the horse must remain a horse because it has the nature of the horse would be an act of blasphemy for an Ash'arite. It would place a limit on God's omnipotence.

The atomistic metaphysics of the Ash'arites created a fatal breach between cause and effect in the natural world. Fire does not burn cotton; God does. Gravity does not make the rock fall; God does. To say that a rock falls because of gravity is an act of shirk, blasphemy--assigning a cause to something other than God. In other words, there is no continuous narrative of cause and effect tying these moments together in a comprehensible way. Each thing stands separately as an individual act of God, unrelated to what preceded it or to what follows it. Anything can come of anything, and nothing necessarily follows. Reality becomes unintelligible.

The Mu'tazilite rational theological school was suppressed by force in the second half of the ninth century, and the Ash'arite school became the majority in Sunni Islam. To this day, everything that happens is assigned to the first and only cause, Allah; secondary causes simply do not exist.

Understanding that this teaching became entrenched in the Sunni Muslim world is the key to unlocking such puzzles as why scientific inquiry is nearly dead there; why the Arab world stands near the bottom of every measure of human development; why Spain translates more books in a single year than the entire Arab world has in the past thousand years; why some people in Saudi Arabia still refuse to believe man has been to the moon.

Whether it is an Asian tsunami or American hurricane, Ash'arite Muslims will explain it in terms of God's punishing sinners for their disobedience. Therefore, Allah punished the United States with Hurricane Katrina for its interference in the Muslim world. Also, Allah placed the oil under the sands of the Arabian Peninsula as a reward to Saudi Arabia for following strict sharia law.

Most Westerners find all of this ludicrously improbable, but it is the daily gist of the Arab Muslim press (as anyone can see by going to the website of the Middle East Media Research Institute and reading the translations).

The denial of causality manifests itself in practical ways. Speak with any American soldiers who have served with Iraqi troops, and you will find that the Iraqis resist things as simple as wearing seatbelts or Kevlar vests. The thinking goes something like this: if my time has come as decreed by Allah, the seatbelt or the Kevlar vest is not going to save me. If my assigned time has not come, why do I need to use a seatbelt or wear a Kevlar vest?

Posted by orrinj at 6:08 PM


Trump lashes out at rivals in half-filled South Carolina ballroom (BILL BARROW and JILL COLVIN, 9/23/15, Associated Press)

Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump is lashing out at rivals and complaining about mistreatment by the media. [...]

Trump's appearance was billed as an opportunity for him to address minority business owners. White Trump supporters who bought tickets to the event comprised most of the audience.

Rick Perry and Scott Walker handled the demise of their campaigns with class; Trump won't.

Posted by orrinj at 6:01 PM


Heidi Alexander pamphlet: distrust of Labour on economy is existential threat (Patrick Wintour, 23 September 2015, The Guardian)

Voter distrust of Labour's use of taxpayers' money is an existential threat to the party, and members who deny it by claiming the public are against austerity are flying in the face of evidence, according to a pamphlet co-authored by Heidi Alexander, the new shadow health secretary.

Liam Byrne, appointed a shadow home office minister, and Shabana Mahmood, the former shadow Treasury chief secretary who has refused to serve in Jeremy Corbyn's shadow cabinet, also contributed to the pamphlet. Probably the starkest document yet to emerge from Labour's election rubble, it underlines how hard it will be for Corbyn to send out a cohesive message when MPs, including those in his administration, are fundamentally opposed to his ideology.

It states: "Voters' views are clear. They see Labour as an economically incompetent party, and they don't trust us with their money. It's as simple (and as complicated) as that."

The urge of parties of the left to return to the Second Way, like that of parties of the right to return to the First, is a demonstration of loathing for the electorate, a determination to give it to them with the bark on.

Posted by orrinj at 3:30 PM


After Arson Murders, West Bank Village Waits in Vain for Justice (Shira Rubin, September 22, 2015, Forward)

[O]ne thing the villagers didn't experience was surprise.

As a long line of relatives filed into the mourning tents to mourn Reham Dawabsheh's death, her father, Hussein Dawabsheh, told the Forward that the demise of his daughter, son-in-law and grandson -- the family's other son, 4-year-old Ahmad, remains in critical condition from the same arson -- was preceded by hundreds of lower-level attacks in recent years.

"Price tag" is the name that Israelis and Palestinians alike have given to the organized movement among some West Bank settlers who vow to exact a "price" on Palestinian properties or people for every Israeli government move to curb the growth of their communities, which are viewed widely as illegal under international law. It's a movement that visited Duma several times previously, the villagers say, most recently in 2013, when unknown individuals torched cars in the village and scrawled a Star of David near the site. Police investigated the crime in the days following that attack, but no one was ever apprehended.

Now, no one has been charged more than a month-and-a-half after the arsonists took the three Dawabsheh lives.

In 2013, the same year the Duma cars were burned, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu launched a special task force to combat settler violence. But human rights activists say that Israel often uses kid gloves when it handles Jewish suspects. According to the Israeli group Yesh Din (Hebrew for "the Law Exists"), since 2005, 85% of criminal complaints from Palestinians about settler violence in the West Bank have had their case files closed because of the police's inability to locate suspects or find sufficient evidence for indictments.

"I was sure they would find the evidence for Duma, because it's a high-profile case," said Ziv Stahl, Yesh Din's director of research. "But because there is such a poor intelligence infrastructure, it's not really surprising that they can't."

The conviction among Palestinians and among Israeli critics of the occupation that there is a dual system of justice in the West Bank was reinforced by comments reportedly made September 10 by Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon. Security officials, he told a closed meeting of Likud activists , according to the Israeli daily Haaretz, know exactly who committed the arson killings in Duma. But they will not indict the perpetrators because of the need to "protect" intelligence sources.

Posted by orrinj at 3:24 PM


The Fading Chinese Dream : Xi Jinping arrives in the U.S. carrying baggage--declining fortunes back home. (STEVEN ZHOU • September 22, 2015, American Conservative)

President Xi has long championed the "Chinese Dream," which unlike its American counterpart, connects the fate of national leaders with the average worker's ability to achieve affluence. Since the days of Deng Xiaoping, China's leadership has portrayed itself as the only political entity with enough resolve and steadiness to bring the country into a century of profit and prosperity. And as long as money flowed into the pockets of a good portion of Chinese investors, businessmen, and professionals, the one-party state's claim to rule has been met with little effective or widespread opposition.

With the steep drop in stocks, the government has tried to control and redirect the market. The markets have been pumped up for months by a stimulus package aimed at getting prices back to pre-crash levels. This has included lending billions of dollars to brokerage firms across the country (so they can buy up stocks) and police raids of investment firms, in which fund managers are forced to stop dumping and short selling stocks. The regime has even arrested hundreds of investment firm executives and finance journalists in an effort to blame the crash on media "rumors," rampant insider trading, and outside meddling from Western governments.

The party also attempts to protect some Chinese sectors from direct competition--even inside the country-through a giant web of state-owned enterprises, which flood the market with an avalanche of cheap products. These state interventions essentially force domestic and international prices down. Yet investors anticipate that these programs won't last forever, and they aren't sticking around long enough to permanently lift prices.

Thus none of the regime's heavy-handed measures seem to have eased investor fears. If anything, they have further eroded the party's reputation as a steady force in times of crises, one formerly never prone to overreaction or paranoia.

Meanwhile, the Chinese middle class seems nervous, and for good reason. Credit Suisse, a Swiss financial services company, notes that a whopping 80 percent of China's urban population owns some type of equity--and collectively have about 30 percent of their cash tied up in stocks. The recent crash has put a serious dent in their pockets, and the state-owned media isn't exactly known for giving trustworthy financial advice.

This is why many Chinese are turning to apps like WeChat, a popular platform for self-styled financial gurus to trumpet their own "10 ways survive a bad economy" and the like. WeChat isn't completely immune to state-control and censorship, but it still presents a certain level of information and discussion that doesn't occur in many other places in China.

This trend of seeking alternatives to the state-preferred media represents a long-existing thirst in China for more accurate reports about their own society and the world. As long as the communist party can continue portraying itself as able to generate wealth for average workers, it will continue to dominate Chinese politics.

But cracks in this image mean cracks in the party's credibility and reputation. 

You can't have a clash of civilizations when there's only one.
Posted by orrinj at 3:19 PM


Clinton laughs off Fiorina's surge (GABRIEL DEBENEDETTI, 9/23/15, Politivo)

"It's clear when you talk to Republicans that she's a flash in the pan," said one Washington-based Democratic strategist familiar with the thinking inside Clinton's operation, who also dismissed her as "the flavor of the month." [...]

Plus, they say, the playbook against her -- perfected by Sen. Barbara Boxer, a Clinton ally who beat Fiorina in a 2010 Senate race -- is so obvious that even if she did break to the top of polls, she would be easy to dispatch.

"When people find out she ran her company into the ground and jumped out of the plane with a golden parachute, they'll run," said California Democratic strategist Ace Smith, who worked on Boxer's campaign and played Fiorina in the senator's 2010 debate prep.

Or, in the words of the D.C. Democrat close to the campaign: "The playbook on her is just devastating. It makes the stuff against Mitt Romney look like child's play."

All it would take to beat her would be television spots featuring the workers who were laid off under Fiorina at HP, multiple Democrats said. And it doesn't hurt that Jim Margolis, who made Boxer's 2010 brutal ads against Fiorina, is now Clinton's lead ad-maker.

One particularly effective Boxer ad noted that, "while Californians lost their jobs, Fiorina tripled her salary, bought a million-dollar yacht and five corporate jets." [...]

Nor has Fiorina's post-debate polling pop vaulted her into the category of serious contenders in the Clinton camp's eyes - a tier that, with Scott Walker out of the race, is now down to Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and John Kasich.

Posted by orrinj at 3:01 PM


Average NYC school janitor makes $109K a year (Aaron Short, September 20, 2015, NY Post)

Custodians took home an average pay of $109,467 in the 2013-14 school year -- and 634 of the city's 799 custodians earned more than $100,000 in salary and overtime during that time, city payroll records show.

Posted by orrinj at 2:56 PM


Selfies cause more deaths than shark attacks! ( 24 September 2015)

More people around the world have died while taking selfies than from shark attacks this year, the Press Trust of India (PTI) reported citing media reports.

In 2015 so far, at least 12 people have been killed in selfie-related incidents worldwide compared to eight from shark attacks.

Posted by orrinj at 2:50 PM


I'm a pedophile, but not a monster (TODD NICKERSON, 9/23/15 Salon)

I've been stuck with the most unfortunate of sexual orientations, a preference for a group of people who are legally, morally and psychologically unable to reciprocate my feelings and desires.  It's a curse of the first order, a completely unworkable sexuality, and it's mine.  Who am I?  Nice to meet you.  My name is Todd Nickerson, and I'm a pedophile.  Does that surprise you?  Yeah, not many of us are willing to share our story, for good reason.  To confess a sexual attraction to children is to lay claim to the most reviled status on the planet, one that effectively ends any chance you have of living a normal life.  Yet, I'm not the monster you think me to be.  I've never touched a child sexually in my life and never will, nor do I use child pornography.  

But isn't that the definition of a pedophile, you may ask, someone who molests kids?  Not really.  Although "pedophile" and "child molester" have often been used interchangeably in the media, and there is some overlap, at base, a pedophile is someone who's sexually attracted to children. That's it. There's no inherent reason he must act on those desires with real children. Some pedophiles certainly do, but many of us don't.

This sort of self-control is why we do a disservice by accepting homosexualty.

Posted by orrinj at 2:45 PM


Men and Women Face Cancer Differently (LUCETTE LAGNADO, Sept. 21, 2015, WSJ)

Women and men with certain types of cancer appear to take very different approaches in deciding how to treat their disease, a new study of social media found.

The study, commissioned by Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, analyzed thousands of Internet posts in leading cancer forums and other online communities. Men with prostate cancer were generally found to be analytical, methodical and data-driven in assessing their options. They sought out the latest scientific studies and outcomes research, and tended to obtain several doctors' opinions.

By contrast, women with breast cancer were typically distrustful of scientific data and even of their own physicians. Anxious that their cancer might return--and viewing any risk of recurrence, however small, as too great--many women favored aggressive treatment such as double mastectomy.

Men with prostate cancer typically make decisions "deeply situated in science," the study concluded.

The difference explains Red vs. Blue politics as well. And why the 19th Amendment was a mistake.

Posted by orrinj at 2:37 PM


How an Immigration Downturn Has Contributed to the Construction-Worker Shortage (Kris Hudson, 9/23/15, WSJ)

The U.S. construction industry has lost more than half a million Mexican-born workers since 2007, contributing to a labor shortage that's likely to drive up home prices, according to a new analysis.

Increasingly restrictive immigration policies and better opportunities abroad have resulted in less Mexican immigration to the U.S. for such work, according to a report released Monday by home-building analyst John Burns Real Estate Consulting Inc.

Without taking a position on immigration policy, the analysis firm examined Commerce Department data to determine that there now are 570,000 fewer Mexican-born construction workers in the U.S.--both in the residential and commercial sectors--than at the construction industry's peak in 2007. Mexican-born construction workers in the U.S. numbered 1.32 million last year compared with 1.89 million in 2007, Commerce data show.

Posted by orrinj at 2:26 PM


Yogi Berra, Yankees Hall of Fame Catcher With a One-of-a-Kind Wit, Dies at 90 (BRUCE WEBER, SEPT. 23, 2015, NY Times)

In 1949, early in Berra's Yankee career, his manager assessed him this way in an interview in The Sporting News: "Mr. Berra," Casey Stengel said, "is a very strange fellow of very remarkable abilities." [...]

Whether Berra actually uttered the many things attributed to him, or was the first to say them, or phrased them precisely the way they were reported, has long been a matter of speculation. Berra himself published a book in 1998 called "The Yogi Book: I Really Didn't Say Everything I Said!" But the Yogi-isms testified to a character -- goofy and philosophical, flighty and down to earth -- that came to define the man.

Berra's Yogi-ness was exploited in advertisements for myriad products, among them Puss 'n Boots cat food and Miller Lite beer, but perhaps most famously, Yoo-Hoo chocolate drink. Asked if Yoo-Hoo was hyphenated, he is said to have replied, "No, ma'am, it isn't even carbonated."

If not exactly a Yogi-ism, it was the kind of response that might have come from Berra's ursine namesake, the affable animated character Yogi Bear, who made his debut in 1958.

The character Yogi Berra may even have overshadowed the Hall of Fame ballplayer Yogi Berra, obscuring what a remarkable athlete he was. A notorious "bad ball" hitter -- he swung at a lot of pitches that were not strikes but mashed them anyway -- he was fearsome in the clutch and the most durable and consistently productive Yankee during the period of the team's most relentless success.

In addition, as a catcher he played the most physically grueling and concentration-demanding position on the field. (For a respite from the chores and challenges of crouching behind the plate, Berra, who played before the designated hitter rule took effect in the American League in 1973, occasionally played the outfield.)

Stengel, the Hall of Fame manager whose shrewdness and talent were also often underestimated, recognized Berra's gifts. He referred to Berra, even as a young player, as his assistant manager and compared him favorably to star catchers of previous eras like Mickey Cochrane, Gabby Hartnett and Bill Dickey. "You could look it up" was Stengel's catchphrase, and indeed the record book declares that Berra was among the greatest catchers in the history of the game, some say the greatest of all.

September 22, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 4:36 PM


Jeb Bush's Risky War on Nativist GOP (Francis Wilkinson, 9/22/15, Bloomberg View)

And then there is Jeb Bush. He has consistently opposed Trump's plans for a border wall and mass deportations. In a speech to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce yesterday in Houston, Bush reiterated his support for legal status for undocumented immigrants and embraced the "vitality" of a culturally diverse society. It isn't just talk. 

"We speak more Spanish than English at home," Bush told ABC News in June, in a Spanish-language interview translated by ABC. At a time when his party is flirting openly with Islamophobia, it gets more interesting. "Our grandkids, almost all of them speak Spanish," Bush said. "Two of them also speak a little Arabic." His daughter-in-law, Bush explained, "was born in Canada but she is of Iraqi descent. We of course also have a Texan and a Mexican in our family so it is quite a mixture -- very American."

John Ellis Bush is an unlikely champion of unwinding the ethnic and cultural hegemony that produced him. In an insightful essay in February, David Frum cast Bush as the "Republican Obama," a man of fluid identity who is at home in a century in which sharp boundaries are blurring.

Unlike Republican rivals Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, each of whom is the product of a traditional immigrant narrative of wholesale assimilation and striving, Bush is a complicated outlier. A son of one of the most powerful families in the world's most powerful nation, he married a woman from an obscure family in Mexico at a time when that nation was deemed "third world." The power disparity in their relationship could not have been greater. Yet Bush's wife, Columba, did not surrender to her husband's dominant culture and embrace the enormously valuable trappings of all things Bush.

Instead, Bush, a Latin American studies major in college, converted to his wife's religion, Catholicism, and native tongue. When the couple settled in the U.S., they did so in Miami-Dade, a Florida county that is currently two-thirds "Hispanic or Latino," according to the U.S. Census. "We chose Miami to live because it is a bicultural city," Bush said in a 2013 interview.

This is the context in which to understand Bush mistakenly marking "Hispanic" on a 2009 voter registration application. It is the context in which to understand his politically risky support for high levels of immigration and even riskier tolerance of illegal immigration (which he unforgettably called an "act of love").

It's also central to the challenge Bush faces in his presidential campaign. It's not just a matter of "Bush fatigue." He is an agent of the polyglot America that infuriates many Republicans.

If the future of the GOP were old white men it would have none.

Posted by orrinj at 4:28 PM


Joe Biden: Human Life Begins at 'Moment of Conception' (Morgan Chalfant, 9/22/15, Free Beacon)

"I'm prepared to accept as a matter of faith, my wife and I, my family, the issue of abortion, but what I'm not prepared to do is to impose a rigid view, a precise view, rigid sounds pejorative, a precise view that is born out of my faith, on other people who are equally God­fearing, equally as committed to life, equally as committed to the sanctity of life," Biden told Malone.

"I'm prepared to accept that at the moment of conception there's human life and being, but I'm not prepared to say that to other God­fearing, non­God­fearing people that have a different view."

While Biden said he thinks that "abortion is always wrong," he insisted that he is "not prepared to impose" his views on others.

"I'm prepared to accept as a matter of faith, my wife and I, my family, the issue of [slavery], but what I'm not prepared to do is to impose a rigid view, a precise view, rigid sounds pejorative, a precise view that is born out of my faith, on other people who are equally God­fearing, equally as committed," said Biden. "[Chattel slavery] is always wrong, but I am not prepared to impose my views on others."

Posted by orrinj at 4:25 PM


9 things I learned about Scott Walker on the campaign trail -- and why they mattered (Jenna Johnson September 22, 2015, Washington Post)

1) It was unclear exactly why Walker wanted to be president.

Walker has only been the governor of Wisconsin for 4½ years, following more than eight years as the Milwaukee County executive. Yet unlike many young governors, he had a strong national profile -- along with the admiration of many wealthy Republican donors -- because of the dramatic, highly publicized battle he waged against his state's public-sector unions in 2011, soon after becoming governor. In severely weakening those unions and then winning a recall election, Walker earned the support of fiscal conservatives and the tea party, and angered liberals around the country.

So with a seemingly wide-open presidential primary, it made sense for Walker to run, pitching himself as a Republican loathed by Democrats who has had success in beating them.

...such a tangental one was always doomed.

Posted by orrinj at 4:19 PM


Hopes for shopping revolution as malls sprout in Iran (AFP,  21 September 2015)

Developers have broken ground on an estimated 400 modern shopping malls across Iran in recent years - 65 of them in Tehran alone.

They have transformed the shopping habits of many Iranians, but now an even bigger change seems on the way after the country's nuclear deal with world powers.

Experts say the expected lifting of sanctions imposed over Iran's disputed nuclear programme will open the door to a potential retail bonanza, especially for imported Western goods.

"Iran has a well-educated population with an unquenched thirst for foreign-branded consumer goods," PricewaterhouseCoopers said in a report earlier this year, highlighting the buying potential of the country's youthful population.

"People are looking for variety and want more choices," said Mohammad Gholi Yousefi, an economics professor at Allameh Tabatabai University in Tehran.

"When the sanctions are lifted and more investors enter the market, Iran is expected to become the commercial centre of the region," he said.

Even before the lifting of sanctions, Iranians have been embracing shopping centres like the Palladium Mall in Zaferanieh, one of Tehran's most upmarket neighbourhoods.

Posted by orrinj at 4:13 PM


In Vermont, A Forward-Thinking Utility Is Helping Customers Share Solar Power (Ben Schiller, 9/21/15, Co.Exist)

[T]here's now a growing range of alternatives to having your own solar situation. One, you can take part in a wide range of community solar projects, where developers put up arrays that local people can people can participate in. Even more interesting, there are now options to share in someone else's home solar panel, even if that person is a long way away. Solar electrons, in other words, are being decoupled from their physical source, opening up all sorts of possible marketplace opportunities.

Yeloha, which we covered previously, is one of the first companies to make power sharing a reality. Like an Airbnb or for energy, it links up people with more capacity on their roofs than they need with people who want to get solar, but either can't or don't want the responsibility. Based in Boston, Yeloha is in the process of installing solar on 100 homes. The buildings in Massachusetts that will act as hosts in the network.

Yeloha also plans to gather in hosts with existing equipment as well. Today it launches in Vermont under a partnership with Green Mountain Power (GMP), a utility that covers about 75% of the state's electricity needs. Green Mountain Power solar customers will be able to sign up for Yeloha, subscribing in increments of one or more panels, and contracts lasting between one year and five years.

Posted by orrinj at 4:09 PM


Next Health-Care Fight? Out-of-Pocket Costs (Christopher Flavelle, 9/22/15, Bloomberg View)

 In 2006, a $1,000 deductible was rare, except for people at small companies. Today, almost half of insured workers face a deductible of $1,000 or more, and for 36 percent of people at small employers the number is twice that high. Moreover, the burden of high deductibles isn't evenly distributed: Companies where more than one-third of workers earn $23,000 or less have deductibles that are 29 percent higher, on average, than companies where fewer workers are paid at that low level.   

The appeal of high deductibles is straightforward: Up-front costs deter people from using health-care services, reducing costs. That's not necessarily nefarious; by lowering health-care spending, a company can keep premiums lower, too, and maybe even direct some savings toward other compensation.

The fight has to be about raising them for the rest or taxing plans that don't at a higher rate.

Posted by orrinj at 4:05 PM


Amazon Prime set to go on sale for $67 (Ahiza Garcia, 9/22/15, CNN Money)

Amazon announced Tuesday that its Prime membership would be available for $67 in honor of the 5 Emmys it took home Sunday at the 67th annual Emmy Awards. [...]

The deal will be available beginning September 25 at midnight and will last for 24 hours.

Posted by orrinj at 4:02 PM


DID SANDY KOUFAX LAY TEFILLIN DURING THE 1965 WORLD SERIES? : Unraveling Jewish baseball's urban legend about the southpaw and the Rebbe (Aaron R. Katz, April 4, 2014, Tablet)

On Yom Kippur, October 6, 1965, despite having future Hall-of-Famer Don Drysdale on the mound as their starting pitcher, the Dodgers lost Game 1 of the World Series against the Minnesota Twins. The brash Drysdale, known as much for his fun-loving personality as his threatening fastball, reportedly said "I bet you wish I was Jewish too" when manager Walter Alston decided to yank him from the game. Koufax was notably absent from the ballpark that day out of respect for his religion. Koufax thus continued his practice of not pitching on the highest holy day--only this was the first time that his decision had such major ramifications.

While the rabbi of the Temple of Aaron Synagogue in St. Paul, Minnesota always maintained that he saw Koufax in shul on that Yom Kippur, Jane Leavy's noted biography of Koufax quotes friends who maintain that he spent the day in his hotel room. Be that as it may, little did Koufax know that he would be in for quite an interesting visit in that same hotel room the next day. After missing Game 1, Koufax was, of course, the scheduled pitcher for Game 2 on October 7. That morning, a young Lubavitch rabbi, the proud bearer of a famous baseball surname, Moshe Feller, made his way over to the Saint Paul Hotel with a special delivery for Koufax in appreciation of his respectful stand: a pair of tefillin.

I recently called Feller to discuss the events of that day. He graciously retold the story from nearly 50 years ago in impressive detail. Feller was born and raised in Minneapolis, and despite growing up in a non-Hasidic household and attending the non-Lubavitch Yeshiva Torah Vodaath in Brooklyn, N.Y., he became a student of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. In the early 1960s, the Rebbe sent Feller back to his hometown and appointed him as the regional director of the Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch, the educational arm of the Lubavitch movement, a position that Feller holds to this day.

Feller knew that the Rebbe always wanted to associate famous people with the performance of positive Jewish commandments, and what better way of accomplishing this goal than recognizing the golden left arm of Sandy Koufax? Feller arrived at the hotel's front desk and briskly said, "I am Rabbi Feller and I want to see Mr. Koufax." The clerks all knew that Koufax had sat out the previous day's game because he was Jewish and likely figured that Feller was Koufax's rabbi. They decided to let Koufax decide whether Feller should be allowed to go up to the room. They gave Feller the phone number. When Koufax picked up, Feller said that he represented the Lubavitcher Rebbe. He told Koufax that the Rebbe was very pleased with Koufax's decision not to pitch the day before because countless Jews had decided not to work or attend school on Yom Kippur after learning that Koufax would not pitch. Feller then said that he would like to give Koufax a pair of tefillin. Koufax invited Feller up to his room and respectfully accepted the gift.

Interestingly, because tefillin are worn on a person's weaker arm (a righty wears them on his left, and a lefty on his right) Feller had specially prepared the tefillin to be worn on Koufax's right arm. Feller wanted to help place the tefillin on that arm, but Koufax declined, saying that he knew how to do it.

Feller immediately penned a letter to the Lubavitcher Rebbe describing the meeting. Less than two weeks later, on the night of Simchat Torah, the Rebbe described to his adherent Hasidim the events of the meeting between Koufax and Feller, although he referred to Koufax as "the pitcher" and Feller as the "avrech," or young rabbi. The Rebbe concluded the story by noting that Feller departed from Koufax leaving the tefillin on the table. The Rebbe went on to say that ultimately Koufax will merit to put the tefillin on, and so it shall be that another Jew performs the holy ritual of wearing tefillin.

When I asked Feller if he believes that Koufax ever put the tefillin on, he noted that Koufax lost his start on the day he did not put the tefillin on in Feller's presence.

Posted by orrinj at 12:38 PM


The emergency meeting that led Walker to quit : The governor left his closest supporters in the dark, even his biggest financial backers. (SHANE GOLDMACHER and ALEX ISENSTADT 09/22/15, Politico)

It's almost always bad news when a candidate's spouse calls an emergency meeting.

But that's what happened late last week when Scott Walker's wife, Tonette, and his campaign chairman, Mike Grebe, reached out to a small number of longtime Walker aides and summoned them to the governor's mansion on Monday morning. [...]

"The donors are angry. They want improvements," said one Walker contributor in an interview after the debate and before Walker dropped out. "There's a complete lack of confidence. He's got to fire Wiley. He's got to bring in someone new immediately."

Among many Walker allies, there was grave concern about the size of the campaign's staff -- which simply couldn't be sustained once Walker's momentum slowed and fundraising began to taper. Walker, eager to prove to the news media and donor class early on that he was a serious contender, had hired a massive staff, even bringing on a full-time photographer, a public relations firm and a consultant to help with evangelical outreach.

The Thursday call for donors came too late to keep billionaire Stanley Hubbard, who had contributed $50,000 to Walker's super PAC, fully in the fold. Hubbard decided that while he wasn't quite ditching Walker, he would begin hedging his bets by donating to multiple candidates.

The next day, Hubbard would leave Walker a voice mail. He wanted to offer some tips. "What I was going to tell him is that he should get some training, some TV training. I know where to get it," Hubbard said in an interview. He had hoped to recommend Morton Blackwell's Leadership Institute but his message went unreturned.

"It's the first time," Hubbard said of Walker, "he hasn't called me back."

Saturday would bring new problems. Walker was supposed to speak at the Michigan Republican Leadership Conference on Mackinac Island before 2,000 GOP activists. Walker had cancelled this trip earlier in the week, as part of his plan to downsize his campaign's ambitions in order to focus on Iowa and South Carolina but had rebooked when he was offered to speak on Saturday.

Then the Walker campaign cancelled again. His campaign cited a charter company that said it couldn't fly into the island due to the weather. It was drizzling; people were doubting: Every other scheduled candidate had successfully made the trek.

The back-and-forth felt reminiscent of a candidate and campaign that had zigged-and-zagged on nearly every issue, from immigration to gay marriage to abortion to a wall on the Canadian border, over the past nine months.

"The perception of Scott Walker was that he was this candidate who stood on principle and took the slings and arrows to prove it," said Craig Robinson, a former political director for the Iowa Republican Party. "Yet his campaign was one of a candidate who was constantly capitulating on issues. Those things undermined his campaign."

September 21, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:56 PM


Deposing Jeremy Corbyn won't save Labour : Britain's progressive forces are weaker than at any time for almost half a century (Peter Kellner,  September 21, 2015, Prospect)

YouGov's latest voting intention figures, for the Sunday Times, make grim reading for anyone who backs any of the Britain-wide left-of-centre parties. Labour, on 31 per cent, is stuck where it was four months ago; the Lib Dems (6 per cent) and Greens (3 per cent) are both down. Their combined support of 40 per cent is three points down on May's general election.

In contrast, the Conservatives (39 per cent) and Ukip (16 per cent) have both gained ground. Together the two right-of-centre parties enjoy a 15 point lead (55-40 per cent), almost double their combined eight-point lead in May (51-43 per cent). [...]

In the past, the fortunes of Labour and the Lib Dems have tended to head in opposite directions. When Labour has been weak, the Lib Dems have usually done well; when Labour has been strong, the Lib Dems have often struggled. Occasionally (as in 1997 and 2001) both have done well together. What is unprecedented in modern times is for both to fail together. It happened in May when both parties lost significant numbers of seats; and despite both parties electing new leaders, their plight has got worse.

I suspect that something fundamental is happening--something that can't be stopped by institutional responses alone, such as splitting the Labour Party or tempting Labour MPs to convert to the Lib Dems. Britain's centre-left has an identity crisis. It no longer really knows what it stands for. Jeremy Corbyn's election is a symptom of this confusion. Today's centre-left lacks a shared doctrine that can persuade and inspire Britain's voters. As a result, men and women with no strong tribal loyalties are shifting to the Right in unprecedented numbers. The centre-left needs to develop an agreed prospectus for progressive politics in the 21st century. Deposing Jeremy Corbyn is a necessary but very far from sufficient condition.

The most important thing happening to parties of the Left is that they becoming regressive.  They are ceding the very idea of progress to conservatives.

Posted by orrinj at 7:47 PM


Carbon capture that could turn a profit : A catalyst that turns CO2 into carbon monoxide could curb greenhouse emissions while also providing a useful commercial gas. (Viviane Richter, Cosmos)

Carbon dioxide is a climate supervillain - hard to capture and even harder to lock away. But instead of trying to banish the greenhouse gas to an underground prison, why not reform it?

Chemists at the University of California in Berkeley have developed a catalyst that turns carbon dioxide from a costly waste product into a valuable resource. Their catalyst converts CO2 into carbon monoxide. While that's not a gas you'd want to breathe in, it is a useful raw material industry already uses to manufacture plastics and fuels.

Posted by orrinj at 7:32 PM

IVORY TOWER, 99 44/100ths % PURE:

It's finally out-The big review paper on the lack of political diversity in social psychology (Jonathan Haidt | Sep 14, 2015, Heterodox Academy)

HeterodoxAcademy has its origins in a collaborative effort by five social psychologists (Jose Duarte, Jarret Crawford, Lee Jussim, Phil Tetlock and me) and a sociologist (Charlotta Stern) to study a problem that has long been noted in psychology: nearly everyone in the field is on the left, politically. We have been working together since 2011 to write a paper explaining how this situation came about, how it reduces the quality of science published in social psychology, and what can be done to improve the science. (Note that none of us self-identifies as conservative.)  In the process we discovered the work of the other scholars in other fields who joined with us to create this site.
Our paper is finally published this week! A preprint of the manuscript was posted last year, but now we have the final typeset version, plus the 33 commentaries. 


Psychologists have demonstrated the value of diversity - particularly diversity of viewpoints - for enhancing creativity, discovery, and problem solving. But one key type of viewpoint diversity is lacking in academic psychology in general and social psychology in particular: political diversity. This article reviews the available evidence and finds support for four claims: (1) Academic psychology once had considerable political diversity, but has lost nearly all of it in the last 50 years. (2) This lack of political diversity can undermine the validity of social psychological science via mechanisms such as the embedding of liberal values into research questions and methods, steering researchers away from important but politically unpalatable research topics, and producing conclusions that mischaracterize liberals and conservatives alike. (3) Increased political diversity would improve social psychological science by reducing the impact of bias mechanisms such as confirmation bias, and by empowering dissenting minorities to improve the quality of the majority's thinking. (4) The underrepresentation of non-liberals in social psychology is most likely due to a combination of self-selection, hostile climate, and discrimination.

Posted by orrinj at 7:27 PM


Why Syrian refugees don't flee to Islamic State caliphate (The Monitor's Editorial Board, SEPTEMBER 21, 2015, CS Monitor)

 Instead, hundreds of thousands of Syrian Muslims are now choosing to flee to Western countries.

IS has lost one of its strongest recruitment lines - that the West is no place to live or emulate. This is only the latest sign that IS contains the seeds of its own demise. Many of the group's internal woes have come to light in recent months, mainly from disenchanted fighters or residents able to escape its control.

A new report, based on the testimony of 58 defectors, reveals tales of brutality toward fellow Muslims and iron-fisted rule over daily life. The stories "shatter the image of unity and determination that IS seeks to convey," states the report from a London-based research group, the International Center for the Study of Radicalization and Political Violence. The narratives of defectors "highlight the group's contradictions and hypocrisies, and expose many of their promises as lies."

Posted by orrinj at 7:14 PM


Governor Hassan's war on the New Hampshire commuter (Derek Dufresne, Sep 21, 2015, NH Journal)

In 2013, the US Census Bureau estimated that over 674,000 Granite Staters used a car, truck, or van to drive to work. Countless retired and younger New Hampshire residents also use cars and trucks daily to get to school, run errands, or visit friends and family. All of the data clearly shows that Granite State families rely heavily on their vehicles. [...]

[O]n May 20, 2014, Governor Maggie Hassan signed a 23% increase in the state's gas tax into law.

The governor then shockingly signaled she might also be open to supporting efforts that would force Granite Staters to pay even more at the pump. Shortly after signing her own gas tax hike into law, a reporter from the Valley News caught up with Governor Hassan. When asked whether she thought lawmakers should raise the federal gas tax to stabilize highway funding, the governor refused to oppose additional gas tax increases from Washington. She then artfully dodged the reporter. To this day, we still do not know where Governor Hassan stands on raising in the federal gas tax, but she has not publicly opposed it.

Now that she had her state gas tax hike, was our governor finally finished with her assault on Granite State drivers? Had she proposed enough policies that would negatively target New Hampshire commuters? Regrettably, the answer was "no."

In February of this year, Governor Hassan released her budget proposal for the 2016 - 2017 fiscal year. While it included multiple new tax increases, true to her anti-commuter record, a hike in the state's vehicle registration fee was among them. This time, despite reports of Granite Staters paying some of the highest registration fees in the nation, she proposed an outlandish 35% increase. 

The whole premise of NH's minimalist government is that consumers should pay for what they consume.  User fees and taxes are the vehicles by which we accomplish that.  Granite Staters who wish to avoid the fees and taxes need only reduce their acknowledged reliance.

Posted by orrinj at 7:02 PM


Scott Walker's own limitations did him in (BYRON YORK, 9/21/15, Washington Examiner)

There had always been talk that Walker, as a Midwestern governor, wasn't well versed, or even very versed at all, in foreign policy. That turned out to be true, and obvious to all when he cited his command of the Wisconsin National Guard as national security experience and argued that Ronald Reagan's 1981 firing of the air traffic controllers was "the most significant foreign policy decision of my lifetime."

Some supporters saw Walker's lack of foreign policy chops as a fixable problem. Indeed, he tried to fix it, gathering a group of experts to school him in international affairs. But for Walker, an even bigger problem was domestic policy. He just wasn't very up on some of the key policy and political issues that a president has to confront.

About a month after his Iowa breakthrough, Walker traveled to Palm Beach, Florida to address a donor-heavy crowd at a gathering sponsored by the conservative Club for Growth. He was asked his thoughts about the Export-Import Bank -- not a huge issue, but an important one to many fiscal conservatives -- and he didn't seem to have any. Walker was also asked about the standoff then going on in Congress over funding the Department of Homeland Security. His answer was long, meandering, and entirely unclear. He was asked about President Obama's executive action on immigration. Same story.

Walker was not a candidate prepared to deal with national policy in the context of a presidential campaign. In an interview, I asked him whether things had moved too quickly, whether the ground had shifted under his feet after the Iowa speech. His answer was instant: "Totally." that he's eager to fight public employee unions.  That's an insufficient basis for a campaign, nevermind a presidency.

Posted by orrinj at 3:24 PM


Fiorina's 'Pretentious,' Clinton's 'Controlled,' and Trump's a 'Big Hunk of Man' : A handwriting expert analyzes the 2016 candidates. (MICHELLE DRESBOLD, September 19, 2015, Politico)

Jeb Bush

Jeb Bush makes the upper loop of the "J" in "Jeb" big and full. This shows that he is willing to take on a lot of responsibility. Interestingly, the "Jeb" is larger than the unreadable "Bush." This shows that Jeb wants to stand on his own two feet and would like to distance himself from the "Bush" name. He signs his name large and slightly uphill which shows that he has confidence in himself and is willing to push upwards and onwards. [...]

Marco Rubio

It is difficult to decipher Marco Rubio's signature. Signatures that are unreadable show a writer who doesn't want others to read him. The ultra-high capitals indicate Rubio's drive to reach the top. Rubio's signature appears to read "Ma Ma." Could this be because Rubio's driving force is his mom and his family history?  [...]

Donald Trump

Donald Trump's signature has absolutely no curves, only angles. Curves in handwriting show softness, nurturing and a maternal nature. Angles show a writer who is feeling angry, determined, fearful, competitive or challenged. When a script is completely devoid of curves, the writer lacks empathy and craves power, prestige and admiration. Besides the bigheadedness that shows in this script there is something else that is rather over-sized--the "p" in "Trump." This large phallic symbol shouts, "Me ... big hunk of man."

Posted by orrinj at 3:20 PM


U.S. Soldiers Told to Ignore Sexual Abuse of Boys by Afghan Allies (JOSEPH GOLDSTEIN, SEPT. 20, 2015, NY Times)

In his last phone call home, Lance Cpl. Gregory Buckley Jr. told his father what was troubling him: From his bunk in southern Afghanistan, he could hear Afghan police officers sexually abusing boys they had brought to the base.

"At night we can hear them screaming, but we're not allowed to do anything about it," the Marine's father, Gregory Buckley Sr., recalled his son telling him before he was shot to death at the base in 2012. He urged his son to tell his superiors. "My son said that his officers told him to look the other way because it's their culture."

Rampant sexual abuse of children has long been a problem in Afghanistan, particularly among armed commanders who dominate much of the rural landscape and can bully the population. The practice is called bacha bazi, literally "boy play," and American soldiers and Marines have been instructed not to intervene -- in some cases, not even when their Afghan allies have abused boys on military bases, according to interviews and court records.

Our own churches are withstanding exposure of this sort of pathology, Muslims can too.

Posted by orrinj at 1:18 PM


Iowa Bets Don't Pay Off : Fading 2016 contender Scott Walker is making his last stand in Iowa. It's not likely to save him. (Robert Schlesinger Sept. 21, 2015, US News)

Here have been the winners in non-incumbent cycles, starting in 1980: George H. W. Bush won in '80 and lost the nomination; Kansas Sen. Bob Dole won in '88 and lost the nomination; Dole won again in '96 and actually was the GOP standard-bearer that year, losing to Clinton in the general; Texas Gov. George W. Bush won in 2000 and went on to the White House; former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee won in 2008, but lost the nomination; ditto former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum in 2012. [...]

Look at it another way: The candidates who won both Iowa and the nomination were strong establishment favorites already. But Iowa provided insufficient mojo for candidates who hoped to - a la Jimmy Carter - use a Hawkeye State victory as a springboard to the nomination. Huckabee and Santorum were both able to make strong showings but they were ultimately unable to overcome the advantages that Arizona Sen. John McCain and Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney had. In the end, the two underdogs had to settle for consolation prizes: Huckabee got a Fox News Channel talk show while Santorum is now remembered for something other than losing his last senate race by 17 points.

Posted by orrinj at 1:14 PM


Did Bills Violate NFL Rules With Pre-Play Stadium Noise Vs. Patriots? (Ricky Doyle, Sep 21, 2015, NESN)

The Buffalo Bills might have gone overboard in their quest to distract the New England Patriots.

The crowd at Ralph Wilson Stadium was rocking Sunday as the Bills hosted the defending Super Bowl champions. But, as ProFootballTalk's Mike Florio pointed out after the Patriots' 40-32 win, it's possible the Bills actually violated NFL rules with their in-stadium sounds while New England was on offense.

The one thing we know with virtual certainty about deflategate is that the Colts balls were overinflated, as Andrew Luck prefers.

Posted by orrinj at 1:07 PM


Jeremy Corbyn's fetish for economic growth will not sway Green voters (Jenny Jones, 9/21/15,  International Business Times)

[W]e Greens are now going to have to make a strong case for sticking with us, rather than defecting to Corbyn-led Labour. We can't just appeal to "anti-austerity" voters, or talk of combining social and environmental justice, or of pursuing the common good, because Corbyn does all that too. So what is our positive case, in response to the Corbyn challenge? It is to raise a series of our own challenges for Corbyn.

And we start with this simple point: Corbyn isn't green. Like us, you may like the fact that he is Old (rather than New) Labour. It's brilliant to see him triumphing over those who have sold out Labour's heritage. The problem, though, is the same: he's still Labour.

He still proudly believes in labour-ism. This, in an era of precarious employment and of a reducing need for labour to be done (because of automation), an era when the security that citizens need should come simply from their being citizens, not from their jobs.

The Green Party doesn't believe in work for the sake of it. That is why by contrast the Green Party ultimately favours the fundamentally egalitarian measure of introducing an unconditional Citizens Income, which we would set at a level sufficient to ensure the poorest benefited.

Which is, of course, New Labour/Blairism--it's Milton Friedman and the Chicago School, those tutors of Pinochet and Thatcher.

Posted by orrinj at 6:37 AM


Be a paid ambassador of good health & boost user engagement (


HealthTap is a Palo Alto, CA based start-up in the Virtual Medicine space and we are looking for partners like you at who are passionate about improving the convenience, efficiency and cost effectiveness of healthcare. As a thought leader in the industry, we would like to extend an invitation to you to become a HealthTap Ambassador. 

You will be rewarded for helping to introduce your site's visitors to the world's largest virtual network of US-doctors (over 70,000 board-certified physicians and counting). Your readers will be delighted to receive personalized doctor answers for their health questions. Also, they will be grateful for the convenience, and cost-effectiveness of live video virtual visits with doctors who give treatment advice, prescribe medications, order lab tests, and make specialty referrals. [...]

HealthTap has created a global healthcare practice that is revolutionizing the way we access information and healthcare from the highest quality doctors, and the media have noticed: The New York Times, Forbes, Fortune, Wired magazine, and the Wall Street Journal (to name just a few) have all acclaimed our service, we appeared on ABC/Good Morning America, MSNBC, FOX, and CNN, we won the Webby award this year, and we were just named a Technology Pioneer by the World Economic Forum. 

As you can imagine, we get bushelsfull of solicitations from folks wanting stuff reviewed, wanting to write guest posts, wanting to exchange or suggest links, wanting to advertise, etc....

We generally discard them all, but this app looks like it ties in to one of our recurrent themes here, about the future of health care.  

The business is reputable and the app gets good reviews.  We (meaning the Other Brother) set up a link on the side of the page where you can go to download the app.  Neither of us are big consumers of health care, and I married a DoctorTell app, but we'd be interested to hear about peoples experiences with it.

HealthTap teams with Quest Diagnostics to let its virtual doctors order lab tests (Kia Kokalitcheva, JUNE 30, 2015, Forbes)

HealthTap, a startup enabling patients and doctors to connect via the Internet for consultations and care, is adding a significant weapon to the arsenal it already provides its physicians: lab tests.

The Palo Alto, Calif.-based startup is partnering with Quest Diagnostics  DGX -1.85% , one of the largest networks of medical lab test providers in the U.S. Through the partnership, announced Tuesday, HealthTap�s physicians will be able to directly prescribe any lab test offered by Quest to patients. The patients can then schedule at the location and time that best fits their needs. The test results will also be automatically sent to the doctor for review, as well as to the patient. Quest will invoice the patient�s health insurance provider.

Founded in 2010, HealthTap now works with more than 71,000 licensed physicians in the U.S., and lets patients connect with doctors via desktop computers or mobile devices 24 hours a day. HealthTap offers both a community and network of doctors patients can turn to to ask questions about symptoms or concerns for a monthly fee, and a service that lets them remotely connect with their own doctors for a pay-per-visit fee.

HealthTap�s Video Chatting Doctors Want to End Your WebMD Meltdowns (ISSIE LAPOWSKY, 07.30.14, Wired)

�ON THE INTERNET,� says Ron Gutman, �every headache becomes a brain tumor in four clicks or less.�

For Gutman and his colleagues in the world of health tech, this has become a running joke, a cheeky nod to just how far the human imagination can wander after a quick search of benign symptoms. But there�s more than a little truth to it. The fact is: the sheer abundance of health information online makes consulting Dr. Google an altogether flawed�and at times terrifying�first step toward getting better.

So, in 2010, Gutman launched HealthTap, an online service that makes it just as easy to get answers to your health questions from a real, trusted doctor. The company started as a kind of beefed-up question-and-answer site, where users can get free responses to their medical queries from thousands of peer-reviewed doctors, and it grew exponentially, serving over 100 million people with some 1.9 billion doctor answers after just a few years.

Now, Gutman is taking things one step further. On Wednesday, his company announced the launch of HealthTap Prime, a new service that gives subscribers unlimited access to live videoconferences with actual doctors for $99 a month, plus $10 for every additional family member.

With Prime, HealthTap is feeding the rapidly growing demand for telemedicine services. According to the research firm IHS, revenue from companies entering this space is expected to grow to $1.9 billion in 2018, a huge leap from the $240 million the industry made in 2013. That�s driven in part by the Affordable Care Act, which champions the use of telehealth technologies in an effort to drive down Medicare and Medicaid costs and improve patient outcomes.

Why Go To The Doctor When You Can Talk To A Doctor In Your Phone? (Ariel Schwartz, 10/09/13, Co.Exist)

HealthTap, the popular service that gives people a platform to ask doctors every hypochondriac question that they can come up with, now has an app to make it even easier. Talk to Docs, a voice-controlled app, lets patients share their fears directly with doctors (almost) without lifting a finger.

If you want an answer to a very simple medical question, there is little reason to go to a doctor's office these days. You can just use Google. If that doesn't yield the expected answers, many doctors let patients email them with questions. And then there is HealthTap, the company that has persuaded more than 50,000 physicians to answer medical questions for free, mostly by creating a rating system to help doctors boost their online reputation as well as their brick-and-mortar practice.

On HealthTap's front page right now are answers from doctors to questions like "What will I do to obtain a flat tummy and big breast?" and "Have a constant headache, low grade fever & swollen feet for 3 weeks. Ct scan of head and CBC normal. No relief with prednisone or pain meds. Help?" The service is free, unless you want to ask a question longer than 150 characters (that's 99 cents) or have a private online chat with a doctor (that's $9.99).

HealthTap has an active and engaged user base. But after conducting focus groups, the company discovered a significant portion of its users�including busy moms�wanted a user interface that didn't require two hands to operate.

World Economic Forum Selects HealthTap as Technology Pioneer : HealthTap honored with prestigious award for its groundbreaking end-to-end virtual health hub (HealthTap, August 05, 2015, BusinessWire)

HealthTap today announced that it has been selected as a 2016 Technology Pioneer by the World Economic Forum for its significant global potential to make virtual healthcare accessible to everyone. This prestigious distinction honors the world�s most innovative technology companies developing and implementing proven technologies that hold true promise to change the world. To be selected as a Technology Pioneer, a company must demonstrate the ability to design and deliver transformative, cutting-edge innovations. Prior WEF Technology Pioneers include Google, Twitter, Airbnb, Dropbox, and Nest Labs.

"this year, the pool of candidates was exceptionally strong and diverse, making the process all the more difficult and challenging. Candidates were judged on the selection criteria: innovation, growth and sustainability, proof of concept, potential impact, and leadership."

The World Economic Forum handpicks Technology Pioneers from hundreds of worldwide applicants. According to the world WEF announcement, "this year, the pool of candidates was exceptionally strong and diverse, making the process all the more difficult and challenging. Candidates were judged on the selection criteria: innovation, growth and sustainability, proof of concept, potential impact, and leadership.� The 82-member selection committee (comprised of distinguished technology and innovation experts, academics, and venture capitalists) recommends companies demonstrating extraordinary vision and strong signs of long-term market impact. HealthTap has been selected for setting a new benchmark for the way that consumers access medical care, pioneering a deeply transformative structure in healthcare that will both improve and save the lives of many millions everywhere and lower medical costs. Advances in mobile computing, ubiquitous connectivity, patient and doctor adoption, and the mass global adoption of mobile devices and wearables have set the stage for the next generation of digital healthcare�and HealthTap is leading the charge.

"I founded HealthTap with the conviction that healthcare is a fundamental human right," says Ron Gutman, HealthTap Founder and CEO. "Being recognized by the World Economic Forum for the technology we've built, which has already improved the lives of hundreds of millions of people all over the world by making health information and medical care accessible to everyone, is humbling. Since the beginning of this year, the world has seen a real, powerful tipping point in widespread adoption of Virtual Care. With a huge surge in individual users from all over the globe, coupled with rapid adoption of our large enterprise solutions by hospital systems, providers, payers, and large self-insured employers; we�re transforming how people manage their health and making affordable and high-quality care available to people everywhere. While our work will never truly be over, the progress we've made to date empowers us to continue pushing the boundaries in the care we deliver via the HealthTap platform. More than any past accomplishment, I�m excited and inspired by our future, as we create, for the first time ever, an entirely new experience in health, moving from reactive to proactive health and from fragmented to fully integrated data-driven care.�

With data-driven healthcare guidance and anytime, anywhere access to more than 71,000 doctors covering 137+ specialties, HealthTap is already changing the way that people manage their health and well-being by providing them with the convenience and comfort of receiving care immediately and without even leaving their home. HealthTap's Medical Expert platform is also changing how doctors provide care to their own patients via Virtual Practices that are easily available via any mobile device or personal computer.

By offering instant, round-the-clock, live Virtual Consults with top U.S. doctors via seamless HD video, text chat, and voice from any mobile device or computer, patients can get medical advice, prescriptions, and even lab test interpretations along with customized checklists and reminders to help them stay on top of their health goals every day.

To help further improve access to trusted medical information and reduce healthcare costs, HealthTap also provides free access to its ever-growing knowledge base of doctor-created, peer-reviewed health content. As the world's largest, most trusted digital health hub, HealthTap provides 24/7 immediate, personalized, high-quality information and virtual medical care and has served users around the world with more than 3.3 billion personalized doctor answers, doctor-curated news stories, and valuable doctor-created health tips.

Ron Gutman, HealthTap's Founder and CEO, was invited to tell the HealthTap story at the World Economic Forum�s 2016 Technology Pioneers Annual Meeting of the New Champions in Dalian, China this coming September, the foremost gathering in Asia on science, technology, innovation, and entrepreneurship. He was also interviewed by the World Economic Forum on mobile health and strategic shifts in healthcare for the World Economic Forum Academy�s video series.

Posted by orrinj at 6:23 AM


Marines give Google's latest robot a tryout as "working dog" (Sean Gallagher, Sep 20, 2015, Ars Technica)
In a series of drills this week, the Marine Corps tested whether a new four-legged companion had what it takes to work with infantrymen in a variety of situations. The subject of the tests was Boston Dynamics' Spot robot, a 160-pound, hydraulicly actuated quadruped robot first revealed by the Google (soon to be Alpahbet) subsidiary in February.

Spot was brought to the Marine Corps Base in Quantico, Virginia, home of the Marine Corps Combat Development Command, by a team from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. DARPA has tested a number of previous robots from Boston Dynamics, including the BigDog quadruped robot, with the Marine Corps. Ben Swilling, a roboticist with DARPA who accompanied Spot for the tests, said "I think a robot like Spot has tons of opportunities we could use it for, like scouting or load carriage."

The Corps has also tested autonomous vehicles, such as the GUSS from TORC Robotics, and other robotic systems for support of infantry in the field.

Posted by orrinj at 6:14 AM


An Extraordinary Scholar Redefined Islam (Noah Feldman, 9/20/15, Bloomberg View)

My friend Shahab Ahmed, who died Thursday night at 48, was the most brilliant and creative scholar of Islam in his generation. Master of perhaps 15 languages -- he was too modest to name a number -- Ahmed led a remarkable, fascinating life that took him from Kuala Lumpur to Cambridge and seemingly everywhere in between. He was as comfortable chatting with mujahedeen in Afghanistan (where he was pretty sure he played soccer with pre-terrorist Osama bin Laden) and madrassa teachers in rural Pakistan as he was in the seminar rooms of Princeton and Harvard. And he left behind a 600-page magnum opus, called "What Is Islam?" that is scheduled to be published in December.

In it, he offers an original, challenging definition of Islam completely at odds with what Salafis and other radicals, not to mention many Westerners, believe. [...]

Ahmed's path to his field-changing reconceptualization of Islam came through profound study of how orthodoxy was formed in early Islam. He discovered and proved that in the first two centuries of Islam, almost all Muslims believed the story according to which the Prophet Muhammad was briefly deceived by Satan into reciting the so-called Satanic verses, which described three Arabian goddesses as intercessors between man and Allah. Today, in contrast, essentially all believing Muslims reject the story as false. Ahmed charted and began to theorize the process of change.

From this study of orthodoxy, Ahmed began to consider Islamic non-orthodoxy. Specifically, more than other great world religions, Islam, as understood and practiced by Muslims great and small throughout history, seems to embody deep contradictions. Outside the Arabic-speaking world, especially in the swath of territory stretching from the Balkans to Bengal, Islam was not lived or experienced primarily as a body of laws or religious rules. Yes, there were rituals, and, yes, there were courts. But in practice Islam focused as much or more on texts such as the poetry of Rumi and on the rituals of mystical Sufi brotherhoods.

Among elites, poetry, philosophy and mysticism came together in the practice of wine drinking at parties specially designed to generate close unions that were mystical, philosophical -- and physical. Considering that the Quran prohibits the drinking of wine, not to mention some of the forms of love that go with it, Ahmed began to think that Islam must be much more than the rules in the law books.

Ultimately, Ahmed concluded that Islam is not a religion in the usual Western sense, or primarily a system of religious law or a set of orthodox beliefs, as many contemporary Muslims have come to believe. Islam is rather a welter of contradictions -- including at the same time the tradition of orthodoxy and law and the contrasting, sometimes heterodox traditions of philosophy, poetry and mystical thought.

Today's Salafis miss the contradiction and complexity because they see Islam as only rule and creed. In fact it's that and much, much more. It's capacious enough to include both the prohibition on wine and the elevated practice of drinking it to achieve higher truth.

Islam is thus in some ways a kind of culture or a civilization -- but more than that, this contradictory Islam is a way for those who call themselves Muslims to make meaning in the world. Islam is made, Ahmed argued, through three things: the text of the Quran; the context of lived ideas and culture produced by actual Muslims; and the nature of the universe itself against which the Quran is revealed, which Ahmed called the "pre-Text."

...precisely because they believe so little.

At its core, Islam is nothing more than Monotheism for the Arabs.

Posted by orrinj at 6:11 AM


America's Stonehenge pits believers in mysterious history vs. academics who say it's hooey (RIK STEVENS, 9/20/15, Associated Press)

On Wednesday's autumnal equinox, people will flock to the woods near the Massachusetts state line, watch the sun rise or fall over the massive chunks of granite and decide for themselves whether they're standing amid relics of ancient history or pure hooey.

This is "America's Stonehenge," a weird, one-acre grouping of rock configurations named for the mysterious formation on England's Salisbury Plain. It has drawn believers who say it's a thousand or more years old and skeptics who say the evidence suggests it was the work of a 19th century shoemaker.

For $12 visitors get to meander along well-trod footpaths through walls of stacked granite, some overtopped with slabs that weigh several tons to form cave-like enclosures like the "Sundeck" chamber and "V-hut." The spooky centerpiece is the "Oracle" chamber, complete with what is billed as a secret bed and a speaking tube where words spoken from inside the chamber could be heard outside at the equally eerie "Sacrificial Table."

September 20, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 5:54 PM


Wheat's Worst Plunge Since 1986 Isn't Steep Enough for Bears (Megan Durisin and Linly Lin, September 20, 2015, Bloomberg)

Hedge funds are so down on wheat that even the worst price plunge in 29 years isn't leaving them satisfied.

Instead, a global glut has money managers ready for more losses and sticking with a net-bearish outlook for seven straight weeks. World inventories before the start of next year's harvest are expected to climb to an all-time high as farmers reap bigger crops in the U.S., Russia and Ukraine.

Wheat futures have tumbled 21 percent since the end of June, heading for the worst quarterly loss since 1986. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:49 PM


Putin Tightens Reins on Ukraine Rebels, Putting Conflict on Ice (Ilya Arkhipov Stepan Kravchenko, September 18, 2015, Bloomberg)

Ukrainian separatist leaders say their hopes of full integration with Russia or greater independence are fading as the Kremlin tightens the reins on their rebellion.

Russian President Vladimir Putin appears unwilling to risk broadening his conflict with the U.S. and European Union over Ukraine, senior separatist officials said in interviews this month, meaning the rebel regions' future is more likely to resemble Transnistria, the Russian-backed breakaway area of Moldova, whose fate is still unresolved more than two decades after fighting subsided.

Posted by orrinj at 10:30 AM


"We're better off without each other" - an open letter to Blairite MPs (JEREMY GILBERT, 16 September 2015, OpenDemocracy)

Dear Blairite MP,

I'm writing on behalf of hundreds of thousands of Labour party members; some new, and some, like me, who have been loyal party members throughout our adult lives. I'm not writing to any one of you in particular. The ones I'm addressing will know who they are.

It's time to talk about us.

Come on now. We all know this was never much of a relationship. We never really liked you, and you certainly never liked us.

The whole New Labour project was based on effectively creating a new party, which as far as possible just ignored the old structures of branch meetings and conference resolutions. The leadership spoke to the membership of this new partly directly, via a sympathetic media, while minimising opportunities for members to talk to each other. Key decisions like the revision of Clause 4 and the election of a leader were made via postal ballots, with almost no deliberative discussion or campaigning. A plebiscitary model replaced the old, complex party democracy.

This is the temptation that, up to now, all major Anglospheric parties have managed to avoid--the rejection of the Third Way in favor of ideological purity of either the First or Second Way type.  For parties of the left it is the rejection of capitalism; for parties of the right the rejection of the social safety net.  

Because every electorate in the English-speaking world (and Northern Europe) favors both, the major parties of left and right have contested this ground, however reluctantly.  The pattern of our politics has been universal and invariant : 

(1) a party wins by running on the Third Way under a leader of right or left (Thatcher, Blair, Clinton, W, Key, etc.);

(2) given a grace period by virtue of the party's excitement at winning, there is a period of successful reform of welfare programs, seeking to fund them via free market capitalism rather than merely via the state;

(3) eventually the true believers of the party become so disgusted by the way they have successfully co-opted the other side's Way that they turn on the leadership and demand a return to purity;

(4) meanwhile, the opponents are so chastened by their electoral failure that they accede to leadership byThird Way reformers, eschewing ideology in favor of electability;

(5) see (1); repeat cycle

The Labour party in Britain is the first to fail to follow this model, running to the Tory left rather than right in the last election, with predictably disastrous results.  Now, rather than learning anything from their period in the wilderness, they have doubled-down and moved to the left of even where they had been since defenstrating Blair/Brown.

This leaves them at a unique point in the Anglosphere where--the author above is correct--the moderates (Blairites/neoliberals) of the party should move to the Tory party, which alone is the Third Way party of England.  The Liberal Democrats should have done so awhile ago. And UKIP is obviously superfluous to an anti-EU Tory party. The politics of England stand to be truly unbalanced for the first time in quite some time, with an anti-capitalism Labour resembling nothing so much as Depression-era Republicans.

The fright of both party establishments in America right now is understandable in this context.  A Democratic Party that nominated the anti-capialism Bernie Sanders or a Republican Party that nominated someone who opposes the safety net, like Ted Cruz (even if only rhetorically) would do so much damage to the party at the national level that it could have trouble recovering.  The danger would be particularly acute if the opposing party nominated someone associated with the Third Way, another Clinton or Bush. And, while Democrats have virtually no shot at flipping the House, a Bush v. Sanders race could get Jeb enough Senators to enact significant further reforms, including several that eluded his brother, like personal accounts in SS.  Since this, along with the Democrats having just run a national campaign against such reforms, would leave the GOP in exclusive possession of the Third Way in the same manner that Democrats were once exclusively identified with the Second, which granted them control of the federal government for seven decades.  

A Great (and Impossible) Plan to Fix Retirement (Christopher Flavelle, 9/15/15, Bloomberg View)

A lot of policy dilemmas could be fixed easily enough, if only you got past the politics. Talking to Teresa Ghilarducci, an economist and adviser to Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, you get the impression that the retirement crisis isn't one of them.

The rapid decline of traditional, defined-benefit pensions has left many Americans unprepared to stop working. Median retirement savings for people age 55 to 64 were $14,500 in 2013, despite the odds that they'll live to 85; as many as half of those households have no retirement savings at all. Social Security alone isn't enough: The average monthly payment is just $1,328. Unless something changes, a big chunk of the population is sliding toward not-so-golden years.

Ghilarducci, a professor at the New School who studies retirement, has for years pushed an eminently reasonably plan for tackling the problem: Figure out what's needed, and work backward from there. By her estimate, the average worker has to save 17 percent to 20 percent of their salary each year to maintain their standard of living in retirement. Subtract the 12.4 percent saved through Social Security, and you're left with a hole of at least 5 percent.

To fill it, Ghilarducci would require people to save an extra 5 percent of their income in government-run Guaranteed Retirement Accounts. Half the money would come out of workers' paychecks (offset by a refundable $600 tax credit), and the other half from employers, just like Social Security. Volume would keep investment-management costs low; the target return would be at least 3 percent a year.

The idea deserves attention, and not just because Ghilarducci's role with the campaign suggests Clinton could push something along the same lines if she becomes president. Just as important, what she's advocating illustrates the depressing difficulty of fixing retirement policy: For all the obstacles her plan presents, it's hard to think of anything better.

While that's a decent step, there are obvious far better plans.  For one thing, why would we wait until someone is in the age bracket where they are employed to start saving for their retirement, when we now that the mniracle of compound interest means earlier investment pays massive dividends?  And since smaller investment earlier saves us so much compared to paying out when they reach retirement age, why wouldn't we invest for them?

Posted by orrinj at 10:11 AM


The Jewish Terrorists (Assaf Sharon, SEPTEMBER 24, 2015, NY Review of Books)

While I was in Jerusalem I heard nine bomb explosions not far from my hotel. The immigration offices of the Palestine Mandate at Haifa and Tel Aviv were blown up, and two Palestine policemen were murdered. There are three extremist groups, all illegal military organisations. They have Fascist manners and Fascist uniforms, and are storm troopers.

This is how a Reader's Digest reporter, Frederick Painton, described his encounter with Jewish terrorism early in 1944.1 The bombings Painton heard were the opening shot of the revolt against the British Mandate announced on February 1 by the underground Irgun Zvai Leumi (National Military Organization, also known by its Hebrew acronym, Etzel). Eleven days later members of the Irgun, under the direction of their recently appointed leader, Menachem Begin, bombed British immigration offices in Palestine's main cities.

Begin, who had emigrated from Poland in 1942, belonged to the Revisionist faction of the Zionist movement, formed by Vladimir Jabotinsky. Its aim was to revise the Zionist Labor movement's "practical Zionism," which was primarily concerned with building national institutions and cultivating a Jewish society in Palestine. "Jabotinsky's grand 'Revisionist' Zionism put the Jewish state first," Avishai Margalit recently wrote in these pages, "and worried about the society later. The Jewish state was to be achieved by aggressive diplomacy and military might."2 On one fundamental issue, Jabotinsky agreed with his Labor Zionist rivals: Zionism's goals were to be achieved through alliance with the British Empire. Correctly predicting that the Ottomans would be defeated in World War I, Jabotinsky organized five battalions of Jewish volunteers to fight with the British. He hoped this would bolster the Zionist case after the war and create the foundation for a Jewish defense force.

Both hopes would be frustrated. The diplomatic achievement was not to be Jabotinsky's, but Chaim Weizmann's, Jabotinsky's rival and Zionism's greatest statesman, whose personal diplomacy led to the Balfour Declaration of 1917 that expressed the British government's commitment to facilitate the establishment of "a national home for the Jewish people" in Palestine. The Jewish Legion was disbanded shortly after the war. Jabotinsky then organized Betar, a Revisionist youth movement in which a new martial force was to be formed. The "storm troopers" Painton saw were the brown-uniformed members of Betar. The Irgun, which planted the bombs he heard, was the armed underground of the Revisionist movement.

Jabotinsky had hoped for something different: a legion legalized by the British to fend off inevitable Arab opposition, not a clandestine organization fighting the British. The disparity between the teacher's views and his disciple's strategies first surfaced at Betar's third world conference in 1938, when Begin challenged Jabotinsky's diplomatic strategy of appealing to the world's conscience; Begin called for a shift to "militant Zionism." As Bruce Hoffman puts it in his new book, Anonymous Soldiers:

A stunned Jabotinsky repeatedly interrupted his disciple's speech, disputing his historical analogies and sarcastically questioning the practical implications of Begin's call to embrace a new phase of Zionism--predicated on armed struggle.

Minutes of the conference further reveal that Jabotinsky ridiculed Begin, comparing his speech to the "senseless and useless" noise of a squeaky door. By some accounts, Begin left the hall in tears. Exploring the ideological roots of this divide is indispensable for understanding Jewish terrorism, which has marred Zionist history from the 1930s to the present. [...]

Zionist historiography and Israeli politics were largely shaped by the debate over the justification and efficacy of Zionist terrorism before the state was established in 1948. Some historians and ideologues credit it with having driven out the British, while others dismiss it as futile and even damaging. Hoffman's account is more nuanced. He recognizes the futility of Stern and his followers, who were viewed by the British as "dangerous fanatics but militarily inconsequential," but finds the Irgun's terrorist campaign from 1944 until the termination of the Mandate in 1948 to have been effective. He concludes that "terrorism can, in the right conditions and with the appropriate strategy and tactics, succeed in attaining at least some of its practitioners' fundamental aims."

Posted by orrinj at 9:48 AM


The Real GOP Race Has Barely Started (Karl Rove, 9/17/15, WSJ)

On this day in 2011, Texas Gov. Rick Perry led the presidential field with 29.9% in the Real Clear Politics average of polls. Still in the future were the periods during which Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum were each the front-runner. Mitt Romney, the eventual nominee, didn't grab the lead in the polls for good until Feb. 28, 2012. Several people on stage last night probably moved their numbers--for good or ill--with their debate performances. [...]

The danger for Mr. Trump is that his campaign is built around his poll numbers. He obsesses about them in his speeches and gets testy when journalists point out negative ones, like recent Marist/MSNBC/Telemundo poll showing that 70% of Latinos view him negatively. What happens if he loses the lead?

There is also likely to be more volatility as voters become increasingly interested in whether candidates have credible plans to achieve their goals. After the glitter of campaign announcements fades, the time for substance arrives.

If the past is any guide, voters will be increasingly preoccupied with the deeply personal and complex question of whether a candidate is qualified to be president. Especially in the early states, party activists are becoming serious about determining which candidates have the temperament, character and vision to provide effective leadership in the Oval Office.

Posted by orrinj at 9:40 AM



Thanks to Universal Sports you'll be able to catch all four of Team USA's group-stage matches--if you still have cable and get the channel--and they should at the very least be competitive. While Group B, as mentioned, will likely be won by South Africa, the Eagles could give any of the remaining teams a run for their money. Scotland (10th in the world), Samoa (12th), and Japan (13th) are all at a level USA Rugby might realistically reach in the run-up to next year's Olympics, which will feature the debut of Rugby 7's, a derivative sport in which there are seven instead of fifteen players on the field. A successful performance for the US would mean a win and/or draw against Samoa and/or Japan and not getting the doors blown off against South Africa and Scotland. There is hope for American rugby, in other words, but the most realistic thing to hope for right now is not getting blown out by more established sides.

Since it's highly unlikely the Eagles will advance past the group stages and you'll be wanting to stay involved through the final on October 31, here are some suggestions, assuming you aren't planning on rooting for that country where you spent three months as an exchange student.

After winning the World Cup they hosted in 2011 and nearly two decades of dominance, the New Zealand All-Blacks are looking to prove their place as one of the best national teams of all-time. Winning a second-straight Webb Ellis would not only cement their place in the annals of the sport but it would serve as a bit of redemption for star Dan Carter who missed the previous final due to injury. If you're looking for glory, it's wearing all black everything.

A less pragmatic and more sentimental choice would be France, who have reached three finals but never won. There are no easy routes to Halloween night at Twickenham, the home of England rugby, but if Les Bleus can top their group--which includes their Six Nations rival Ireland--they should be able to reach the semis. Their likely opponent there would be a talented Australian team. There are sweeter rewards on earth than getting roughed up by a bunch of Aussies, but if the French make the semis things could get fun. France also still has some goodwill from the 2011 final, which they narrowly lost 8-7 to host-favorite New Zealand after an unexpectedly heroic performance.

As for the rest, hosts England and semi-hosts Wales (there are a few matches in Cardiff) will obviously be crowd favorites, and whoever makes it out of the Group of Death could make a run on spirit alone. If you're looking for outright revenge, Australia lost the 2003 final to England on home soil in heartbreaking fashion and will be hoping to return the favor. As for me, I have a soft spot for Ireland, which has never hoisted the Webb Ellis Cup but has won the European Six Nations competition the past two years, including a nail-biting victory this past April.

Posted by orrinj at 9:34 AM


Jeb Bush says Obama is 'American,' calls for return to civility (THOMAS BEAUMONT AND JILL COLVIN September 19, 2015, AP)

Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush reacted Friday to the latest controversy roiling the GOP race by identifying President Barack Obama as "an American" and "Christian," and calling for a return to civility in national politics. [...]

Bush told roughly 2,000 Michigan Republican activists, "I will commit to you that I will never violate my conservative principles. But I will assume that someone that doesn't agree with me isn't a bad person.

"We need to begin to get back to that degree of civility before it's too late in this country," Bush said.

Posted by orrinj at 8:11 AM


Where microaggressions really come from: A sociological account (Jonathan Haidt, 9/09/15, Righteous Mind)

I just read the most extraordinary paper by two sociologists -- Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning -- explaining why concerns about microaggressions have erupted on many American college campuses in just the past few years. In brief: We're beginning a second transition of moral cultures. The first major transition happened in the 18th and 19th centuries when most Western societies moved away from cultures of honor (where people must earn honor and must therefore avenge insults on their own) to cultures of dignity in which people are assumed to have dignity and don't need to earn it. They foreswear violence, turn to courts or administrative bodies to respond to major transgressions, and for minor transgressions they either ignore them or attempt to resolve them by social means. There's no more dueling.

Campbell and Manning describe how this culture of dignity is now giving way to a new culture of victimhood in which people are encouraged to respond to even the slightest unintentional offense, as in an honor culture. But they must not obtain redress on their own; they must appeal for help to powerful others or administrative bodies, to whom they must make the case that they have been victimized. It is the very presence of such administrative bodies, within a culture that is highly egalitarian and diverse (i.e., many college campuses) that gives rise to intense efforts to identify oneself as a fragile and aggrieved victim. This is why we have seen the recent explosion of concerns about microaggressions, combined with demands for trigger warnings and safe spaces, that Greg Lukianoff and I wrote about in The Coddling of the American Mind. [...]

The key idea is that the new moral culture of victimhood fosters "moral dependence" and an atrophying of the ability to handle small interpersonal matters on one's own. At the same time that it weakens individuals, it creates a society of constant and intense moral conflict as people compete for status as victims or as defenders of victims.

September 19, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 5:11 PM

THE ANGLOSPHERIC TRADITION (rather funny profanity alert):

There Is No Theory of Everything (SIMON CRITCHLEY, SEPTEMBER 12, 2015, NY Times)

Frank (which is how he was always referred to) has recently become the subject of an interesting book by David Ellis, "Frank Cioffi: The Philosopher in Shirt Sleeves." It gives a very good sense of what it felt like to be in a room with Frank. Truth to tell, Ellis's title is deceptive, as I never recall Frank in shirtsleeves. He wore a sweater, usually inside out. He never had laces in the work boots he always wore, and strangest of all, because of an acute sensitivity to fabrics, he wore pajamas underneath his clothes at all times. The word "disheveled" doesn't begin to describe the visual effect that Frank had on the senses. He was a physically large, strong-looking man, about 6-foot-4. The pajamas were clearly visible at the edges of his sweater, his fly was often undone (some years later, his only word of teaching advice to me was "always check your fly") and he sometimes seemed to hold his pants up with a piece of string. In his pockets would be scraps of paper with typewritten quotations from favorite writers like George Eliot, Tolstoy or Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, whom he revered.

He walked the few miles to the brutal architectural dystopia that was the University of Essex from his home in Colchester wearing an early version of a Sony Walkman. I always assumed he was listening to music, only to discover years later that he was listening to recordings of himself reading out passages from books. I remember him saying during a lecture that he was "not a publishing philosopher." This is not quite true, but although his books, like "Wittgenstein on Freud and Frazer" (1998), are fascinating, his rather tangled prose gives no sense of what it was like to listen to one of his lectures. They were amazing, unscripted and hugely funny performances, where he would move about over a vast range of quotations and reflections, his considerable bulk straining to control the passion of his thinking. Occasionally he would suddenly perch himself on the edge of a student's desk, smoking a small, Indian cigarette (yes, it was that long ago). We were at once terrified and enthralled. [...]

In the preface to "Varieties of Religious Experience," William James said that it was his belief that "a large acquaintance with particulars makes us wiser than the possession of abstract formulas, however deep." This was Frank's pedagogical credo and his teaching moved from particular to particular, often working from the quotations written on small slips of paper and stuck into his pockets, to be pulled out with great dramatic effect. He hated big theories and any kind of metaphysical pretention and he would use little quotations to pick away relentlessly at grand explanations. He used the particular to scratch away at the general, like picking at a scab.

Frank's special loathing was reserved for Freud, whom he thought a writer of great perceptiveness and expressive power but completely deluded about the theoretical consequences of his views. "Imagine a world in which, like ours," Frank wrote in "Wittgenstein on Freud and Frazer," "people laughed at jokes, but unlike ours did not know what they were laughing at until they discovered the unconscious energic processes hypothesized by Freud." For Frank, such was the world that Freud beguiled himself and us into believing he was living in. He compared the 20th-century fascination with psychoanalysis to the 19th-century fascination with phrenology, the "science" of bumps on the head. I think he would have come to very similar conclusions about the early 21st-century fad for neuroscience and our insatiable obsession with the brain.

Despite the astonishing breadth of his interests, Frank's core obsession in teaching turned on the relation between science and the humanities. More particularly, his concern was with the relation between the causal explanations offered by science and the kinds of humanistic description we find, say, in the novels of Dickens or Dostoevsky, or in the sociological writings of Erving Goffman and David Riesman. His quest was to try and clarify the occasions when a scientific explanation was appropriate and when it was not, and we need instead a humanistic remark. His conviction was that our confusions about science and the humanities had wide-ranging and malign societal consequences.

Let me give an example. Imagine that you are depressed, because of the death of a loved one, heartbreak or just too much hard and seemingly pointless work. You go to see a doctor. After trying to explain what ails you, with the doctor fidgeting and looking at his watch, he exclaims: "Ah, I see the problem. Take this blue pill and you will be cured." However efficacious the blue pill might be, in this instance the doctor's causal diagnosis is the wrong one. What is required is for you to be able to talk, to feel that someone understands your problems and perhaps can offer some insight or even suggestions on how you might move forward in your life. This, one imagines, is why people go into therapy.

But let's flip it around. Let's imagine that you are on a ferry crossing the English Channel during a terrible winter storm. Your nausea is uncontrollable and you run out onto the deck to vomit the contents of your lunch, breakfast and the remains of the previous evening's dinner. You feel so wretched that you no longer fear death -- you wish you were dead. Suddenly, on the storm-tossed deck, appears R.D. Laing, the most skilled, charismatic and rhetorically gifted existential psychiatrist of his generation, in a blue velvet suit. He proceeds to give you an intense phenomenological description of how your guts feel, the sense of disorientation, the corpselike coldness of your flesh, the sudden loss of the will to live. This is also an error. On a ferry you want a blue pill that is going to alleviate the symptoms of seasickness and make you feel better.

Frank's point is that our society is deeply confused by the occasions when a blue pill is required and not required, or when we need a causal explanation and when we need a further description, clarification or elucidation. We tend to get muddled and imagine that one kind of explanation (usually the causal one) is appropriate in all occasions when it is not.

What is in play here is the classical distinction made by Max Weber between explanation and clarification, between causal or causal-sounding hypotheses and interpretation. Weber's idea is that natural phenomena require causal explanation, of the kind given by physics, say, whereas social phenomena require elucidation -- richer, more expressive descriptions. In Frank's view, one major task of philosophy is help us get clear on this distinction and to provide the right response at the right time. This, of course, requires judgment, which is no easy thing to teach.

Let me push this a little further. At the end of his book on Wittgenstein, Frank tells a story about a philosophical paper (imagined or real, it is not clear) with the title "Qualia and Materialism --Closing the Explanatory Gap." The premise of the paper is twofold: first, there is a gap between how we experience the world -- our subjective, conscious experiences (qualia) -- and the scientific explanation of the material forces that constitute nature; and, second, that such a gap can potentially be closed through one, overarching theoretical explanation. Frank goes on to point out that if we can imagine such a paper, then we can also imagine papers called "The Big Bang and Me -- Closing the Explanatory Gap" or "Natural Selection and Me -- Closing the Explanatory Gap."

This is the risk of what some call "scientism" -- the belief that natural science can explain everything, right down to the detail of our subjective and social lives. All we need is a better form of science, a more complete theory, a theory of everything. Lord knows, there are even Oscar-winning Hollywood movies made about this topic. Frank's point, which is still hugely important, is that there is no theory of everything, nor should there be. There is a gap between nature and society. The mistake, for which scientism is the name, is the belief that this gap can or should be filled.

One huge problem with scientism is that it invites, as an almost allergic reaction, the total rejection of science. As we know to our cost, we witness this every day with climate change deniers, flat-earthers and religious fundamentalists.

Except, of course, that while scientism does reject faith; faith does not reject science, just bad science.

Posted by orrinj at 5:07 PM


Israelis dissatisfied with religious policy, survey finds (BEN SALES September 14, 2015, Times of Israel)

The survey found that 95 percent of secular respondents are dissatisfied with the government's handling of religious issues, with large majorities favoring civil marriage or civil unions and official recognition of non-Orthodox conversions.

But the survey also reported dissatisfaction with religious policy among 81 percent of Haredi Israelis, despite the fact that ultra-Orthodox parties regained control over the Religious Affairs Ministry and the powerful Knesset Finance Committee following the March elections. Since then, the parties have set about rolling back several reforms adopted by the previous government by removing the teeth from a law drafting Haredi men into the military and repealing a conversion reform passed last year.

Posted by orrinj at 5:01 PM


Why are children smarter than their parents? (Karl Kruszelnicki, 9/18/15, Cosmos)

[A]veraged around the world, the typical IQ is not fixed. IQ seems to be creeping upwards, at about three IQ points every decade. 

This story begins back in 1948 when R. D. Tuddenham, a psychologist, examined the IQ scores of American conscripts between the years 1917 and 1943. He showed that their IQ scores increased by about 4.4 points every decade. 

Today it's known as the Flynn effect, named after moral philosopher James R Flynn who rediscovered the effect in 1984 (and is now Emeritus Professor of Political Studies at the University of Otago in New Zealand). [...]

And here's the essence of the Flynn effect. If you give a child of today one of the WISC IQ tests of the past, on average, that child will score more than 100. [...]
So what's causing the Flynn effect? We don't know for sure, but many explanations are offered. 

Compared to a century ago, our brains have to work within an environment that is more abstract. Today's world is loaded with synthetic visual imagery - televisions, computers and video games. So results on an abstract category such as "similarities" could be improved more than "arithmetic".

Another set of changes over time involves the home and physical health. Children now get better nutrition during their formative years when the brain is growing. Smaller families mean that parents can theoretically spend more time with and money on the fewer kids. A higher standard of living can mean fewer infections, so children's potential growth is not hindered. A 2010 study showed a strong link between early childhood vaccinations and the average IQ of a nation. 

The Flynn effect also seems to kick in strongly when countries achieve a certain level of health, education and welfare. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:54 PM


Home Energy Storage Enters a New Era (Richard Martin, September 17, 2015, MIT Technology Review)

Driven by the explosion of residential solar power, the market for home energy storage--which attracted little interest until earlier this year, when Tesla announced its Powerwall battery--is suddenly looking crowded.

This week at the Solar Power International show, in Anaheim, a company called SimpliPhi Power is unveiling a lightweight battery system for homes and small businesses that offers a longer life span than other lithium-ion batteries and doesn't require expensive cooling and ventilation systems.

SimpliPhi's bid comes a few weeks after another energy storage provider, Orison, released its design for a small plug-and-play battery system that, unlike the SimpliPhi and Powerwall options, does not require elaborate installation or permits for a home or small commercial setting.

Orison is not actually selling its products yet; the company plans to launch a Kickstarter campaign to take pre-orders and expects to begin selling in early 2016. Its innovations center on the batteries' controls and communication systems: simply plugged into a wall socket, the battery enables a bidirectional flow of electricity, charging itself when power is flowing and sending power into the home circuits when it is not.

The growing popularity of residential solar panels is increasing interest in batteries that could store electricity from those installations. In the future, such storage systems could benefit homeowners, by giving them more control over how and when they obtain the power they need, while helping utilities by shifting demand to off-peak hours and smoothing out the load on the system.

Posted by orrinj at 9:37 AM


Israel must free Marwan Barghouti (Nicholas Saidel, 9/16/15, Times of Israel)

First, releasing Barghouti would strengthen the Palestinian Authority to the detriment of Hamas. The PA is suffering from an erosion of legitimacy due to its failure to deliver on the promises it made to the Palestinian people. Barghouti's high profile release, if carried out in conjunction with the PA, would restore faith in this governmental entity and help prevent its collapse. It would also contain Hamas, which tried and failed to secure Barghouti's release in the 2011 Gilad Shalit prisoner swap. The release of political prisoners is a core concern for Palestinians and Barghouti's imprisonment embodies this issue. Polls indicate Hamas is more popular than the PA in the West Bank, where Hamas wishes to establish a second terrorist enclave from which it can attack Israel. The release of Barghouti would mitigate the risk of a Hamas takeover of the West Bank by reinforcing the PA.

Second, Barghouti is the only potential candidate that can bridge the ever-widening gap between Fatah and Hamas. In this capacity, his release and presumed election will serve two purposes that will enhance Israeli security. It will both hasten the reconstruction of Gaza and likely begin the process of restoring a PA presence there. Israel's national security interests dictate that it must do all it can to rehabilitate Gaza, which will present an increasing security threat as development remains stalled and its economy withers. Gaza may be uninhabitable within five years and there is a growing Salafist (read: Islamic State) presence in the coastal strip, a portent of the extremism to come if progress is not made soon.

Much of the foreign aid slated to rebuild Gaza is contingent upon the return of the PA to Gaza to administer the process and resume control of border crossings. Hamas's demand for Barghouti's release reflects it is not deaf to public opinion and that Barghouti is viewed as less of a threat than Abbas. A government under Barghouti's leadership will probably be allowed into Gaza, which will hasten the redevelopment of the Strip and simultaneously reestablish a PA foothold there. This will diminish Hamas' current absolute power in Gaza and, by necessary implication, Iran's influence as well.

Third, the release of Barghouti would reenergize the currently stagnated peace process and improve the chances of a peace deal based on the two-state solution. As many within the Israeli political and military establishment agree, the greatest national security threat to Israel is not Iran or Hezbollah, but rather the occupation and the consequences thereof. If released and elected, Barghouti's credentials as the symbol and hero of Palestine will make a proposed deal with Israel far more palatable to the Palestinian public than if presented by another Palestinian leader.

Posted by orrinj at 9:24 AM


Why black teachers are leaving urban schools (Olivia Lowenberg, SEPTEMBER 19, 2015, CS Monitor)

The Shanker Institute's study found that over a ten-year period, from 2002 to 2012 (a period marked by an explosion in the development of charter schools, and an accompanying dialogue about education reform), the population of black teachers declined by as much as 62 percent in the cities studied (although in the case of New Orleans, many black teachers were fired).  

"Minority teachers quit because of working conditions in their schools," Richard Ingersoll, an expert who teaches at the University of Pennsylvania, also told the Washington Post. "In surveys, those teachers cite lack of autonomy and input into school decisions [in large urban schools]."

Posted by orrinj at 9:09 AM


The Fed Needn't Rush to 'Normalize' : Unemployment is 5.1%, inflation is low, and near-zero interest rates have proved innocuous. (JOHN H. COCHRANE, Sept. 16, 2015, WSJ)

The outcomes we desire from monetary policy are about as good as one could hope. Inflation is low and steady. Interest rates are lower than Americans have seen in generations. Unemployment, at 5.1%, has recovered to near normal. And banks and businesses sitting on huge piles of cash don't go bust, a boon to financial stability. [...]

Ever since the Fed implemented its near-zero interest rate policy in 2008, traditional Keynesians have been predicting a deflationary spiral. It hasn't happened.

The Fed went on to buy bonds and mortgage-backed securities through its "quantitative easing" programs, in return expanding bank reserves from less than $50 billion to nearly $3 trillion. Traditional monetarists predicted hyperinflation. It hasn't happened either.

The experiment was huge, and the lessons are clear. The economy is stable, not subject to Keynesian "spirals" requiring constant Fed intervention. And when reserves pay the same rate as bonds, banks do not care which one they hold. So even massive bond purchases do not cause inflation. Quantitative easing is like trading a $20 bill for $10 and $5 bills. How would that make anyone spend more money?

As then Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke said in January 2014: "The problem with QE is that it works in practice, but it doesn't work in theory." That's a big problem. If we have no theory why something works, then maybe it doesn't really work.

...lowering rates, not raising them.

Posted by orrinj at 9:04 AM


What a British jihadist's anti-Arab rant tells us about life in the so-called Islamic State (BBC Trending, 17 September 2015)

A British fighter for so-called Islamic State has penned what seems to be a racially charged rant against Arabs - providing a surprising glimpse into tensions inside IS-held areas of Syria.
Omar Hussain is one of at least 700 Britons thought to have travelled to Syria and Iraq to join militant groups. He's become an active voice in social media propaganda for the group, has called for terror attacks, has threatened Britain in interviews with the BBC, and defended beheadings and other Islamic State atrocities.

But he recently posted a rant critical of Arabs and his Syrian hosts on a Tumblr page under his pseudonym, Abu Saeed al Britani.

In the post, he gives a laundry list of complaints, broad stereotypes and misinformation. Syrians are "childish" and are known for "stealing shoes", nicking food and using other people's phone chargers, he says, and also accuses them of being messy and lazy.

The blog is also peppered with odd or just plain incorrect statements. "Syrians love to stare at foreigners, maybe because no tourist has ever visited Syria," Hussain writes (Syria had a significant tourism industry before the war).

Hussain insists that he doesn't mean to "ridicule" Syrian culture, but concludes by advising would-be jihadis to join "European battalions" and calling the habits of Syrians and Arabs "bothersome."

Charlie Winter, senior researcher at the anti-extremism Quilliam Foundation think tank, says the post exposes the divide between the foreign fighters who have travelled to Syria and the local population.

...the video would be flooding Arab websites.

Posted by orrinj at 9:00 AM


'Perhaps we needed to tip the whole thing over': Jon Cruddas on Jeremy Corbyn's Labour (Isabel Hardman , 9/19/15, Spectator)

Shortly before the last election a group of Labour MPs approached Ed Miliband to ask him what he would do if he lost. They suggested he could provide stability by staying on as leader for a while, as Michael Howard had done, and that his last duty should be to oversee an inquiry into what went wrong at the general election. Miliband, still convinced he would win, did not entertain the idea, to the dismay of his policy chief, Jon Cruddas. After the election, Cruddas decided to go ahead and do an inquiry anyway.

The results will infuriate the Labour left. The inquiry found that Labour's anti-austerity message put voters off. The inquiry divided Labour's supporters into three groups: Jeremy Corbyn's tribe of affluent, socially liberal, metropolitan 'pioneers'; the less starry-eyed pragmatic 'prospectors'; and socially conservative 'settlers' concerned with home, family and national security. As recently as last November, it found, Labour's support covered all three. By the election only the diehard 'pioneers' still had warm feelings. [...]

Cruddas says Labour's new leader has a vision: that the party has been 'austerity-lite' and failed to confront 'neoliberalism'. 'There is a coherence to that argument,' he says, 'but I don't see how that is reconciled with the data. We find -- however uncomfortable this is to swallow -- the evidence suggests that actually we weren't supported because we were seen as anti-austerity.'

What about Corbyn's argument that the public is concerned about the deficit because no one has bothered to persuade them about the dangers of austerity? 'That might be right,' Cruddas says, slowly. 'I don't know.' But he worries the party is talking too much to itself and not enough to voters, and that emotion may be supplanting reason.

Posted by orrinj at 8:55 AM


The Jewish don of Latin American TV says 'adios' after 53 years (JULIAN VOLOG September 17, 2015, Times of Israel)

"Among Spanish speakers in the United States he is an icon," said Ilan Stavans, a professor of Latin American and Latino culture at Amherst College who has been a guest on "Sábado Gigante." "In my view, he couldn't really come to that type of persona were he not Jewish."

Kreutzberger, 74, was born in Chile, the "only option" his refugee parents had when they left Germany, he told CBS News. In his 2001 Spanish autobiography "Don Francisco: Entre la Espada y la TV" ("Between a Rock and the TV"), he describes a Jewish upbringing in Chile filled with bar mitzvahs, Hanukkah celebrations -- and anti-Semitism.

His world was the world of immigrants. At home with his family, German was the language of communication, not Spanish.

"German is my first language," he wrote. "I only learned Spanish when I started to go to school."

This immigrant experience -- facing linguistic challenges and prejudices -- was what eventually allowed the TV host to connect with his pan-Latino audience, who faced similar challenges in the United States.

In fact, it was at Club Israelita Maccabi, the Jewish community center in the Chilean capital of Santiago, that the prototype of Don Francisco was born.

"Every Friday night, we had a soiree that I presented in the character of 'Don Francisco Ziziguen González,' a German-Jew who had arrived some 15 years earlier to Chile," he wrote in the autobiography. "He spoke some faulty Spanish the way Germans pronounced it. The character wasn't a mere invention, but based on my parents and their German friends who came to our house on the weekends."

Kreutzberger's father, a tailor, wanted him to join the family business and sent him in the late 1950s to New York to learn the trade. In the Big Apple, however, the young Chilean discovered a different passion: television. Inspired by what he saw on the screen, he returned to Chile with the goal of becoming the country's Johnny Carson. He pitched his idea of an American-style variety show to Channel 13. The executives were enthusiastic but there was one problem: His name was "too difficult to pronounce and not easy to remember," he recalled in his autobiography.

In search for a more universal Spanish name, "I decided to resurrect my old character from my times at Club Maccabi," he wrote -- and Don Francisco was born.

Kreutzberger's show -- then called "Show Dominical" ("Sunday Show") -- premiered in 1962 on Channel 13. (The same year, Carson started his 30-year tenure as host of "The Tonight Show.") In 1963, the broadcast was moved to Saturday and the name consequently changed.

Posted by orrinj at 8:44 AM


Here's the real problem with Jeremy Corbyn's wacky money-printing scheme (Ryan Cooper, September 16, 2015, The Week)

Traditionally, central banks stimulate the economy by lowering short-term interest rates. But they can't go past zero percent (or at least, not very far below it), so if they go all the way to the bottom and the economy is still depressed, as happened across most of the industrialized world in 2008-9, central bankers have to come up with new tools. QE is one of those. Basically, the central bank prints up some money and buys financial assets like long-term treasury bonds, with the idea of pushing down longer-term interest rates and thus sparking more lending and economic activity.

This has been better than nothing, but not very much better. In America, the Federal Reserve has created over $3 trillion in new money since the crisis, but by and large, it has not made it out into the broader economy. Instead it piled up in bank vaults as excess reserves. [...]

That brings me to a real people's QE, also known as helicopter money. Under such a program, the central bank would be empowered to send out equal checks to all individual citizens according to their estimation of how strong or weak the economy is. During boom times, the checks would be tiny, but during recessions, they would be fairly large. The idea is to juice the economy with money until a bit of inflation is seen -- thus signaling that capacity had been reached -- and back off the payments, with traditional interest rate tools available to control price increases if necessary.

People's QE has the advantage of being even more likely to be spent than infrastructure dollars, and able to be scaled up almost instantaneously. It's also much fairer -- recessions are a systemic problem, and a per-capita distribution of equal payments spreads money through throughout the entire population.

Posted by orrinj at 8:24 AM


The end of smoking? (The Week, September 19, 2015)

Fewer teens are starting to smoke in the first place, which helps. But a wave of state and city smoking bans for indoor spaces, including offices, restaurants, and bars, have also made it increasingly inconvenient for existing smokers to light up outside the home. In the aftermath of those bans, a 2012 study showed, hospitalizations for heart attacks and strokes fell at least 15 percent. The public-smoking bans did not merely force smokers to light up at home, as many health officials first feared, but have actually encouraged large numbers to kick the habit entirely. The percentage of smoke-free homes in Minnesota, following bans on restaurant, bar, and workplace smoking, for example, grew from 64.5 percent in 1999 to 87.2 percent in 2010. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:10 AM


A Proposal for the Age of Automation--Turn Workers Into Investors (JERRY KAPLAN  SEP 16, 2015, Pacific Standard)

While there are many causes, one of the least appreciated is the privatization of long-term infrastructure investment. When the government invests, the benefits should properly flow to society in general. When private parties foot the bill, the return, rightfully, should flow mainly to the investors. For example, the U.S. government has invested more than $300 billion (in today's dollars) in the interstate highway system--possibly the best public investment in U.S. history, with broadly distributed benefits. By contrast, most of the cost of broadband access has been borne by private parties, over $1 trillion to date.

So it's not surprising to see a generation of hyper-wealthy Internet moguls protecting their turf: The 1998 federal Internet Tax Freedom Act prohibits taxation on Internet use.

There's a good argument that this is as it should be, a "new normal"--but that's little comfort to those left behind. Let's face it, workers aren't responsible for their own increased productivity. As a general matter, they aren't working faster, harder, or more than they did 50 years ago, and people aren't smarter (though they may be better trained mainly as a result of public investment in education). In fact, the average full-time employee is working fewer hours than ever before. What's made the bulk of the difference in productivity is technological advances, infrastructure improvements, more efficient organization, and better information put to more effective use. People are still people, but today's cars are way more efficient than your grandfather's Oldsmobile, not to mention that computers outperform his hand-cranked adding machine by factors measured in billions. Why does it follow that drivers or bookkeepers should be paid more? They weren't responsible for either of these improvements. [...]

The good news is that the U.S. GDP has doubled fairly reliably about every 40 years, and there's no reason to expect it to falter. This means that by about 2055, we will have created new assets roughly equal in value to all of today's assets. If we can find ways to distribute even part of this new wealth more widely as it is created without interfering with its formation, there's plenty of room for everyone to get on the economic escalator without raiding the piggybanks of today's affluent. By analogy, this is as if the acreage available for homesteading doubled every four decades--we could give away nearly two percent "new" land each year without taking any away from anyone. This is great news. It means that, carefully managed, there's at least a shot at making wealth a sustainable, renewable resource.

As the coming wave of automation washes over our economy, we're about to discover that Karl Marx was right: In the struggle of labor against capital, capital has the upper hand. Instead of fighting the inevitable, we need to go with the flow, and stop thinking that labor is the only virtuous path to personal comfort. Perhaps the road to a more equitable future is to raise a generation of capitalists, not workers. When we wanted more food, we gave away land to individuals willing to work it, not to increase the holdings of those who already had farms. When we want more money, perhaps we should make capital available to individuals willing to put it to work, not to backstop increased leverage for today's financiers. Micro investors just might deliver macro benefits.

The First Way : maximizing the efficiency of the economy + the Second Way : distributing wealth more efficiently = the Third Way : funding the social welfare state via personal ownership of equities

The main reason that W's reputation will continue to grow is that he will be seen to have laid the economic, moral and philosophical foundations of the Ownership Society.

Posted by orrinj at 8:02 AM


Who Pulls John Gray's Strings? : a review of The Soul of the Marionette: A Short Inquiry into Human Freedom, John Gray (GENE CALLAHAN • September 16, 2015, American Conservative)

John Gray, emeritus professor of European Thought at the London School of Economics, is an enigma. He began his intellectual life on the left but moved right in the late 1970s, becoming a fan of Nobel Prize-winning free-market economist F.A. Hayek. Gray's libertarianism was tempered, however, by studying British philosopher Michael Oakeshott's critique of "rationalism in politics." During the 1990s, Gray was associated with New Labour--the center-left ideology that brought Tony Blair to power in Westminster--and he became a prominent critic of global capitalism with his 1998 book False Dawn.

Recently he appears to have embraced something of a nihilistic stoicism, whose spirit suffuses The Soul of the Marionette. In these pages he undertakes a sort of jazz improvisation on the theme of human freedom, surveying an omnium-gatherum of earlier writers' and cultures' thoughts on the topic from the point of view of a "freedom-skeptic." 

Gray sees the modern, supposedly secular belief in human freedom as a creed that will not admit its character: "Throughout much of the world ... the Gnostic faith that knowledge can give humans a freedom that no other creature can possess has become the predominant religion." Gray finds the Gnostic frame of mind even among "hard-headed" scientists [...]

Yet there is a problem with the coherence of Gray's outlook. He urges us to adopt a stoical attitude towards our predicament as marionettes. But if we are free to choose our attitude, why are we not also free to make other choices about our lives? Then again, perhaps Gray isn't really to blame for this incoherence: it could be that some unknown puppeteer, pulling on Gray's strings, made him write this book.

The distinctive contribution of Anglospheric is that it recognizes that Rationalism fails on its own terms. The distinctive nature of the Amnglosphere is to feel perfectly comfortable with this fact and with living life according to Faith instead.

Posted by orrinj at 7:54 AM


Health insurers eye higher costs for the 'lazy' (The Local,  07 Sep 2015)

Swiss health insurers could demand higher premiums from customers who live sedentary lifestyles under plans to monitor people's health through wearable digital fitness devices.

CSS, one of Switzerland's biggest health insurers, said on Saturday it had received a "very positive" response so far to its pilot project, launched in July, which is monitoring its customers' daily movements.

The MyStep project, developed in conjunction with the University of St Gallen and the Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) Zurich, is using digital pedometers to track the number of steps taken by 2,000 volunteers until the end of the year, synchronizing that data with an online portal on the CSS website.

The project, the first of its kind in Europe by an insurer, "should reveal whether and how insurance companies can introduce an appropriate offer tailored to customers' needs," Volker Schmidt, head of technology at CSS, said in a statement.

...we can just increase our contribution to yours for being active.

Posted by orrinj at 7:49 AM


Democratized secession in Scotland and Catalonia : Democracy does not end secessionism, it transforms it by providing a socio-political foundation, the ability to endure politically, and the modern tools to circumvent the state to engage in nation-building. (RYAN GRIFFITHS 16 September 2015, OpenDemocracy)

Secessionist movements are numerous and they come in all shapes and sizes. In my research I have identified 55 active secessionist movements around the world as recently as 2011. These aspiring nations exist in a variety of countries running the spectrum from repressive authoritarian regimes to advanced democracies. Many of these movements have been violent, responsible for roughly half the civil wars since 1945.

One might think that democracy should reduce secessionism by providing minority groups with greater political voice and presenting them with non-violent political options. This is partly true. The data show that violent secessionism is less likely in advanced democracies, but we do not know exactly why this is the case. Secessionists are simply less inclined to take up arms - and, indeed, to even take this option seriously - in wealthy democratic societies.

However, democracy is hardly a panacea for secessionism. There is some evidence that secessionism is most likely in transition regimes that are moving toward democracy. The introduction of democratic institutions opens up a socio-political environment where minority leaders can play the nationalist card, campaign on identity-based issues, and seek to exit the state via secession. It is thought that mature democracies can overcome this problem by co-opting elites, in effect showing them that political voice is a better option than political exit. This view comes close to conventional wisdom in academic circles, and some have concluded that secessionism should disappear as a society makes the transition to advanced democracy.

But democracy does not reduce secessionism, it transforms it. To be sure, violent conflict is less common, and that is a good thing. However, as the recent experiences in Scotland and Catalonia show, secessionism in modern democracies is remarkably durable. In fact, it is different from other forms of secessionism in important ways, and there are consequences to this form of "democratized secession."

One of the most important aspects of democratized secession is its grassroots, bottom-up character.

Self-determination means that there are many more secessions to come, not least here in America (which is simply too large to be an efficiently functioning state).

Posted by orrinj at 7:41 AM


After Congress Fails to Disapprove, Administration Starts Moving on Iran Deal (FELICIA SCHWARTZ, Sept. 18, 2015, WSJ)

The Treasury Department estimates that it will take until 2020 for Iran's GDP to return to where it would have been today had sanctions not been aggressively ramped up in 2012, the first senior administration official said.

"On implementation day, essentially, the sanctions that prevent Iran from doing a lot of this sort of business will be lifted, will be suspended...but it's going to take their economy some time to dig out of the hole that it's been in as a result of these sanctions," the official said.

Nonetheless, once the deal is fully implemented, months from now, many transactions will be permissible. "If a country wants to start buying Iranian oil they'll be able to buy that oil right way," the official said, adding that Iran might not be able to meet international demand right away.

Posted by orrinj at 7:37 AM


Bowe Bergdahl Doesn't Deserve Jail, Army Investigator Testifies (DAN FROSCH, Sept. 18, 2015, WSJ)

Gen. Dahl described Sgt. Bergdahl as deeply idealistic, influenced by the author Ayn Rand and Samurai culture, and a loner of sorts who was also an exemplary soldier.

Questioned during a preliminary hearing to determine if Sgt. Bergdahl will be court-martialed, on Friday, at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. PHOTO: BRIGITTE WOOSLEY/ASSOCIATED PRESS
But Sgt. Bergdahl craved combat and was frustrated that his platoon wasn't being more aggressive, and he wanted it to spend more time capturing and killing Taliban, Gen. Dahl said.

He said Sgt. Bergdahl eventually grew so upset that he hatched a bizarre plan to leave his unit in a remote outpost in Afghanistan and run some 19 miles through the night to a base in the hopes that the ensuing rescue mission would draw the attention of a general.

"He would present himself and say 'I'm the guy you're looking for, and I'm not saying anything until I talk to the general,' " Gen. Dahl said.

Sometime between June 29 and June 30, he walked away from his unit and into the darkness, leaving his guns behind and taking with him only water, Afghan currency and traditional Afghan clothing. Eight to ten hours later, however, Sgt. Bergdahl was captured by the Taliban.

"I got the impression they didn't know what the heck to do with him," Gen. Dahl said.

Throughout the two-day hearing, prosecutors sought to portray Sgt. Bergdahl as motivated by selfishness. 

For a Randian, that's a compliment.

Posted by orrinj at 7:31 AM


Wal-Mart test truck aims to slash fuel consumption on big rigs (RONALD D. WHITE, 9/19/15, LA Times)

Wal-Mart estimates that its WAVE concept truck will reduce fuel consumption by 55% over long routes and by 241% over shorter routes, when its microturbine and electric motor can be put to best use.

Microturbines can be thought of as miniature windmills in the way that they operate and generate power. The blades, the only moving parts of these machines, spin at 96,000 revolutions per minute. The turbine sucks in air and heats it to temperatures in excess of 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit. The heated air rapidly expands, spinning the turbine's blades. Some of that mechanical energy is used to power the turbine itself; the rest can be used to run a generator.

Capstone's technology, which is protected by 112 patents, presents several advantages. First, it can be run on many kinds of fuel, including diesel, natural gas and propane. Second, the technology uses so-called air bearings, eliminating the need for metal ball bearings, which require lubrication and replacement. The microturbines are also air-cooled, eliminating the need for a large radiator and antifreeze.

The truck's cab is more aerodynamic, Peterbilt's Hankins said, "in part because there was no need for a large radiator. The driver's position has been moved to the center of the cabin, rather than on the left side, to help make it more streamlined."

Capstone's Jamison said it operates "like a Chevy Volt," which uses battery power exclusively for about 30 miles until the charge runs out. That's when the microturbine kicks in to recharge the battery and extend the truck's range.

Posted by orrinj at 7:26 AM


Let's Talk About the Racial Disparity in Abortions (JASON L. RILEY, Sept. 15, 2015, WSJ)

[I]f we are destined for an autumn abortion row, Republicans might use the opportunity to educate voters on the fallout from Roe v. Wade and press Democrats on their commitment to President Bill Clinton's notion that abortion should to be "safe, legal and rare." Terminating an unwanted pregnancy has been lawful for decades and, statistically, is one of the safest surgical procedures for women in the U.S. But "rare"? Well, the U.S. abortion rate has declined somewhat steadily since the late 1980s, yet the rate for black women is nearly five times higher than the white rate and well above the national average.

The political left obsesses over racial disparities in bank loans or college admissions or police shootings, but "largely missing from the debate," wrote Zoe Dutton in the Atlantic magazine last year, "is discussion of abortion's racial disparity."

In New York City, home to the largest black population of any U.S. urban area, more black babies are aborted than born. New York's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene reported in 2014 that black babies constitute 42% of all abortions in a city where blacks are 25% of the population. In Georgia, where whites outnumber blacks 2 to 1, more than 53% of abortions involve black babies, and black women terminate their pregnancies at nearly 2.5 times the rate that white women do.

"Large racial differences have been consistently observed for a number of years in pregnancy rates, average lifetime pregnancies and induced abortion rates," wrote James Studnicki, a professor of public-health sciences at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte who, along with Sharon J. MacKinnon and John W. Fisher, analyzed pregnancy outcomes between 1990 and 2008. The study, published in the Open Journal of Preventive Medicine in 2014, concluded that abortion's prevalence and the racial disparity "suggest that it is a major influence on the demographic, socioeconomic and cultural composition of the United States population."

...that was the whole point of legalizing abortion.

Posted by orrinj at 7:13 AM


'Immigration an opportunity for Germany' (Deutsche-Welle, 9/16/15)

Bundesbank chief Jens Weidmann has called the current influx of refugees an opportunity for the German economy. He warned, though, that the integration process would not be easy in the years ahead. [...]

Weidmann emphasized that given the demographic change in Europe's powerhouse with a rapidly ageing society as a result, Germany needed additional workers in order to maintain its prosperity.

Estimates put the number of qualified workers that Germany will lack by 2020 at 1.8 million.

September 18, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 4:56 PM


Flow dynamics : Lots of money is escaping China's porous capital controls (The Economist, Sep 19th 2015)

Macau's role as an illicit way station to move cash out of China, away from the government's prying eyes, is nothing new. In recent months, though, things have been busier than normal. Capital outflows were already on the rise because of worries about the economy. During the summer, after the stockmarket crashed and the government let the yuan weaken, they soared. Official data indicate that more than $150 billion of capital left China in August--a record.

On to the next low cost assemblers...

Africa Starts to Emerge (Noah Smith, 9/18/15, Bloomberg View)

In two generations, literacy rates have soared, doubling in many countries. Of course, education may be only part of the story -- technologies such as mobile phones have become ubiquitous, requiring Africans to read in order to conduct business and communicate. 

Along with the improvement in education has come dramatic growth in African economies. Gross domestic product has soared and poverty has plunged on the continent since the mid-1990s. As a result, child mortality has fallen substantially throughout the continent. And the horrific African famines you used to see on TV are becoming a thing of the past: despite population growth, per capita food supply has increased drastically.
Even the continent's famously dysfunctional politics are improving, with democracy slowly replacing autocracy as the standard form of government. 

It's important to realize that all these trends support and sustain each other. Good government keeps economic growth going. Growth makes it easier and more rewarding to educate kids. Educated people provide a productive labor force to spur investment, and educated people sustain democratic, inclusive institutions. 

Many of Africa's economies are based on natural resources. This saddles the continent with the "resource curse," in which governments focus on extracting raw materials from the land instead of cultivating a productive populace. It also keeps Africa out of the global manufacturing chains that typically propel developing countries into the ranks of the rich. Africa's commodity dependence also means that it will suffer from China's slowdown, which has already forced down the prices of many staples. 

But we shouldn't conclude that Africa's sensational improvement is purely a product of the 2000s commodities boom. Improving literacy and education might in some cases be paid for with money from raw materials exports, but the human capital improvements that they represent give Africa the opportunity to branch out into more productive industries. 

Already, African manufacturing is expanding. Fifteen percent of China's direct investment in Africa goes to factories. Yes, that's right -- China, workshop of the world, is building industrial plants in low-cost Africa. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:51 PM


The Radicalism of Woodrow Wilson's Racism (Bruce Frohnen, 9/17/15, Imaginative Conservative)

I choose the term "radical" with care, here, because it makes clear an important distinction between Wilson and earlier figures like Jefferson and Jackson. The earlier Presidents had been men of their times, engaging in practices (principally slave-ownership) we now recognize as morally objectionable. But neither of them, certainly not the rhetorically anti-slavery Jefferson, but also not Jackson, who stated that slavery was on a natural road to extinction, innovated in significant fashion in favor of slavery. Whatever one makes of the practical results of various political compromises made during this era between states in which slavery was and was not legal, their purpose was not, on either side, innovation, but rather maintenance of the union in a manner politically advantageous for one or the other interested parties. Such may not be the stuff of grand morality plays. It may be morally ambiguous, or worse. But it was a matter of practical politics taking place across an economic and cultural divide of growing extent with the goal of preventing catastrophe.

Such was not the case with Wilson and the civil service. Wilson took power at a time when racial issues had a low place on the national agenda. Black Americans continued to struggle for advancement, but in a climate that lent their concerns scant urgency in the minds of the broader public. Debates among black Americans over how best to seek betterment within American society went largely unheeded among white Americans. Still, there was at least one realm in which race relations had developed in a positive manner, namely the federal civil service.

By the time Wilson took office, the federal civil service had been racially integrated for decades, with a merit system for hiring and promotion inaugurated under Chester Arthur. Wilson did not seek "Progress" in this area. Nor did he take the "stand pat," superficially conservative attitude of leaving well enough alone. Instead, Wilson chose to innovate in favor of overt, de jure racial discrimination by de-integrating a powerful institution with great influence.

The federal civil service was significant in terms of the numbers and status of those affected by it. Though much smaller than today, this institution provided upward mobility and the kind of day-to-day interaction from which racial mixing might breed toleration and, eventually, respect. Certainly it had afforded a number of black Americans the opportunity to secure employment and promotions to positions of responsibility and even some visibility. Wilson actively and intentionally put a stop to and indeed reversed this ongoing practice.

Posted by orrinj at 4:46 PM


The 'lone-wolf intifada' that isn't (Noga Tarnopolsky September 16, 2015, Reuters)

A recent survey of Palestinians' political leanings has left many observers flummoxed: The Palestinian citizenry appears nuanced and sophisticated, weary of its old leadership and completely disinclined toward upheaval or extremism.

In other words, bracingly normal.

The poll, released two weeks ago by the Palestinian Jerusalem Media and Communications Centre, shows something many longtime observers already know:  Palestinians are a normal people living under abnormal political strictures. [...]

Despite recent media reports on the end of the two-state solution and the inevitability of the Palestinian Authority's collapse, 71.7 percent of Palestinians surveyed said the current form of government should be preserved, in contrast to 23.7 percent who would do away with it.

Here again, like many Westerners, Palestinians seem fed up with their leaders but not prepared to undermine the institutions of their state.

Only 3.8 percent of Palestinians claim any sympathy for extremist Islamic movements. Notably, 71.8 percent of the respondents in Gaza said the Islamist movements that threaten Hamas -- various jihadist groups and clusters of Egypt-based Islamic State sympathizers -have limited or little presence.

Posted by orrinj at 4:40 PM


The Night They Drove the Price of Electricity Down : Wind power was so plentiful in Texas that producers sold it at a negative price. What (Daniel Gross, 9/18/15, Slate)

In the wee hours of the morning on Sunday, the mighty state of Texas was asleep. The honky-tonks in Austin were shuttered, the air-conditioned office towers of Houston were powered down, and the wind whistled through the dogwood trees and live oaks on the gracious lawns of Preston Hollow. Out in the desolate flats of West Texas, the same wind was turning hundreds of wind turbines, producing tons of electricity at a time when comparatively little supply was needed.

And then a very strange thing happened: The so-called spot price of electricity in Texas fell toward zero, hit zero, and then went negative for several hours. As the Lone Star State slumbered, power producers were paying the state's electricity system to take electricity off their hands. At one point, the negative price was $8.52 per megawatt hour.

Posted by orrinj at 3:55 PM


Scott Walker On The Media "Narrative": They'd Say Carly Had "A Big Night No Matter What" (Andrew Kaczynski, 9/17/15, Buzzfeed)

Walker said the media no matter what was determined to stick to "the narrative" that former HP CEO Carly Fiorina had a good debate and that CNN ultimately just want to turn he candidates against each other for ratings.

"I think going in, we knew the narrative no matter what was gonna happen was they were gonna say that Carly had a big night, no matter what, and obviously, they said that," Walker told radio host Glenn Beck on Thursday. 

Sometimes you just have to man up and say, "I got pwned by a girl."

Posted by orrinj at 3:50 PM


PowerPoint Presentationsource

Posted by orrinj at 3:43 PM


South Park: bursting the PC bubble (Rob Harries, 18 SEPTEMBER 2015, spiked)

The new episode summed up South Park as we know and love it. It used offensive humour to highlight the hypocrisies and absurdities of modern life, yet ended with a truly tolerant message. With a self-awareness and satirical eye that is still ahead of its time, South Park looks set to go from strength-to-strength this season, with PC Principal and his bros to be regular fixtures. If you missed it, watch the episode. It's a shining example of how offensive material can make us laugh, think and reconsider the absurdities that surround us.

Posted by orrinj at 3:35 PM


New: 87 Deceased NFL Players Test Positive for Brain Disease (Jason M. Breslow, 9/18/15, PBS : Frontline)

A total of 87 out of 91 former NFL players have tested positive for the brain disease at the center of the debate over concussions in football, according to new figures from the nation's largest brain bank focused on the study of traumatic head injury.

Researchers with the Department of Veterans Affairs and Boston University have now identified the degenerative disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, in 96 percent of NFL players that they've examined and in 79 percent of all football players. The disease is widely believed to stem from repetitive trauma to the head, and can lead to conditions such as memory loss, depression and dementia.

At least you'll be able to tell them you saw the best team ever, The Best NFL Teams Of All Time, According To Elo (NEIL PAINE, 9/18/15, 538)

When the New England Patriots strode onto the Bermuda grass of University of Phoenix Stadium on Feb. 3, 2008, the spectre of history was waiting for them. The Patriots had, to that point, won all 18 of their games during the 2007 season and were a Super Bowl victory away from the NFL's first undefeated season since 1972.

Although we didn't exactly know it at the time, New England carried one additional bit of history into that evening: the single highest Elo rating achieved by any professional football team, ever.

Posted by orrinj at 3:26 PM


Why Income Inequality Isn't Going Anywhere : Rich elites--even rich liberal elites--don't believe in redistributing wealth. (Ray Fisman and Daniel Markovits, 9/17/15, Slate)

[O]ur results suggest that, at least when it comes to attitudes toward inequality, Fitzgerald is right: Elite Americans are not just middle-class people with more money. They display distinctive attitudes on basic moral and political questions concerning economic justice. Simply put, the rich place a much lower value on equality than the rest. What's more, this lack of concern about inequality among the elite is not a partisan matter. Even when they self-identify as progressive Democrats, elite Americans value equality less highly than their middle-class compatriots. [...]

We invited three very different classes of subjects to play our game and thus reveal their distribution preferences. The first came from the American Life Panel, or ALP, an Internet-based pool constructed by the RAND Corp. to resemble, as accurately as possible, the American public at large: It's composed of Americans from across the economic and social spectrum. The second class constituted an intermediate elite. It was made up of undergraduates at the University of California-Berkeley, one of the most selective colleges in America and indeed the world, and a subset from the American Life Panel filtered to hold post-B.A. degrees and enjoy household annual incomes of more than $100,000. The third and final class constituted an extreme elite, constructed from the student body at Yale Law School. The median annual income of recent Yale Law graduates exceeds $160,000; among its alumni are former President Clinton and Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, as well as Supreme Court Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, and Sotomayor. Yale Law students constitute an extreme elite if ever there was one. (By comparing the behavior of Yale Law and Berkeley students, as well as the ALP elite, with that of the general population, we can have greater confidence that the differences we are noticing relate to eliteness rather than some idiosyncratic attribute of future lawyers or students at Yale.)

The experimental behaviors of these three subject classes--once again, making real allocations with real money--revealed stark differences between attitudes toward economic justice among ordinary Americans and among the elite. To begin with, the Berkeley and Yale subjects were twice as likely to be selfish as their compatriots in general. In this respect, intermediate and extreme elites stand together with each other, and stand apart from the rest of the country.

What's more, elite Americans show a far greater commitment to efficiency over equality than ordinary Americans. And this time, the bias toward efficiency increases with each increment of eliteness. The ALP subjects split roughly evenly between focusing on efficiency and focusing on equality; the Berkeley students favored efficiency over equality by a factor of roughly 3-to-2; and the Yale Law students favored efficiency by a factor of 4-to-1.

Yale Law students' overwhelming, indeed almost eccentric, commitment to efficiency over equality is all the more astonishing given that the students self-identified as Democrats rather than Republicans--and thus sided with the party that claims to represent economic equality in partisan politics--by a factor of more than 10-to-1. An elite constituted by highly partisan Democrats thus showed an immensely greater commitment to efficiency over equality than the bipartisan population at large.

Of course, the key to our future is that it is more efficxent to exploit technology to do away with jobs and to redistribute wealth at birth, rather than near death.

Posted by orrinj at 2:43 PM


Controversial Rally Continues Bad Week for Trump (Mike Stone, 9/18/15, Reuters)

It may seem to believe, given his meteoric rise to the top of the polls and his ability to fend off controversies that would ordinarily sink the candidacy of any other White House hopeful, but Donald Trump is not having a good week.

The GOP frontrunner and real estate magnate is under fire for not correcting a claim made Thursday night by supporters that President Obama is a Muslim who was born overseas.

Related: Trump Walks Into an Ambush in Second GOP Presidential Debate

"We have a problem in this country, it's called Muslims. We know our current president is one -- you know he's not even an American. But anyway, we have training camps growing where they want to kill us. That's my question, when can we get rid of them?" one man asked during a Trump campaign rally in New Hampshire.

He was followed by another man who made the same claim.

"I applaud the gentleman who stood and said Obama is a Muslim born abroad and about the military camps, everyone knows that," he said.

"Right," Trump replied before moving on.

...that our candidates will be patriots.

Posted by orrinj at 9:03 AM


New data shows Trump fever breaking : The front-runner is being mentioned less and scoring a shrinking share of media attention. (BEN SCHRECKINGER, 09/17/15, Politico)

Donald Trump looked tired after a grueling Republican debate. He might not be alone.

After a summer of spectacle and saturation coverage, signs are accumulating that, for the public and the media, the onset of Trump fatigue has begun.

Mentions of Trump on both television and radio have been trending downward for a month from their post-Fox debate high. His share of Twitter conversation relative to other candidates has declined in recent weeks, and his odds in political prediction markets have dipped in the hours since Wednesday night's debate.

Radio and television conversation about Trump peaked on Aug. 7, the day after the first Republican debate, with close to 11,000 mentions of his name on each medium that day, according to data through Monday provided by media monitoring firm Critical Mention. The last time Trump reached even half as many mentions on either medium was on Aug. 26, the day after he clashed dramatically with Univision anchor Jorge Ramos at a news conference in Iowa.

He was never a contender for the nomination, just tv programming to fill empty Summer hours.
Posted by orrinj at 8:59 AM


Japan's 'profound' new American military ties are all about China: Q&A  (Robert Marquand, SEPTEMBER 18, 2015, CS Monitor)

Prof. Curtis is the former director of Columbia's Weatherhead East Asian Institute and the author of numerous books on Japan and Japanese politics. The Monitor caught up with him at Harvard University's Belfer Center, where he spoke last week, to discuss the meaning and purpose of the new laws. 

QUESTION: You say Japan's new security laws are the most significant in 50-plus years. That's quite a statement.

ANSWER: The legislation introduces an element of reciprocity, of mutual obligation, in the US-Japan alliance that has not existed before. A decision to engage in collective defense, coming to the assistance of the US in war in a situation where Japan is not attacked, is something new and profound and changes the nature of the alliance. The guidelines were signed in April when Prime Minister Abe visited the United States and they replace guidelines in place for two decades.

Q: What is at the heart of this change?

A: Abe and other leaders in Tokyo recognize that Japan cannot expect the US to put its young men in harm's way, and help protect Japan, while Japan only says "thank you," and doesn't make a contribution of its own.

More broadly, the old US­-Japan security treaty has been based on a grand bargain by which Japan agreed to provide bases for the US to project its power into the rest of Asia, and beyond, in return for an American guarantee of Japan's security. The new security legislation and defense guidelines recognize that this postwar grand bargain no longer suffices, and Japan must do more.

It's the Americaner Century.

Posted by orrinj at 8:47 AM


The Future of Work: Manufacturing Is Now for the Robots; the Middle Class Needs More (RYAN HARPER, 9/18/15, Pacific Standard)

[T]he future of manufacturing may be more productive, but it won't create many more jobs. Manufacturing, so long at the heart of the American dream, is now increasingly an industry run with automation. Since the peak in 1979, manufacturing jobs in the United States have declined by 37 percent. While manufacturing has come back a bit since 2009, manufacturing employment still lags behind pre-crisis levels, and, as Obama's "car czar,'' Steven Rattner, explained in the New York Times last year, many of the manufacturing jobs created in the wake of the crisis are paying $13 to $14 an hour, little more than the minimum wage. We should applaud G.M.'s success, but at the same time we need to recognize that it will not allow blue-collar workers in Detroit or Ohio to get their old economy back.

Despite these harsh realities, many insist on believing that manufacturing, the industry that helped provide the previous generation a middle-class life, can do the same for the next generation. Take much of the debate over the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Congressional leaders warned that the agreement would give Asian countries new opportunities to decimate American manufacturing. Labor leaders say its passage would herald the likely closure of tens of thousands of factories.

Rather than acknowledge the difficult truth that these factories are or soon will mostly be run by robots, labor leaders are busy treating the trade partnership as the be-all and end-all of the American worker. Perhaps it's because the Trans-Pacific Partnership is an easier political football to kick, but the question remains: Why are labor leaders and progressives grandstanding about its impact while failing to put forth a more ambitious, longer-term jobs agenda?

The agenda of labor leaders should be re-directed to pushing government to create an environment capable of producing nothing less than a new Industrial Revolution. In a paper, Charles Hirschman and Elizabeth Mogford note that, in 1880, workers in agriculture outnumbered industrial workers three to one, but by 1920 the two industries employed equal numbers. Employment in manufacturing expanded from 2.5 million to 10 million workers from 1880 to 1920. This period of rapid innovation helped lift millions into the middle class and transformed the American economy. Now that we've taken that Industrial Revolution to its conclusion by creating machines to do much of this work, we need a new revolution to create industries that will employ those sitting on the sidelines.

Consider what he's saying here : we need to invent work that the technology we invent can't do for us.  Note that implicit in this is that the work need not even be necessary, just technology proof.  

There is, of course, no economic argument for doing this; it would make business less productive and efficient.

There is a moral argument for it; many, especially on the right, believe that a job, in and of itself, conveys dignity, no matter the job.

But there is an obvious argument against Mr. Harper's proposal in that we already have much work that machines can't do and aren't ever likely to : creating families; raising children; developing social institutions; knitting communities; building up churches; governing towns, states and the country; etc..

We know what it is we should be paying each other to do.  We're just getting ourselves to the point where we can accept doing it. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:42 AM


How Do America's Poor Really Live? Examining the Census Poverty Report (Robert Rector, September 16, 2015, Daily Signal)

[W]hat does it mean to be poor in America? To the average American, the word "poverty" suggests significant material deprivation. But the actual living conditions of those the government defines as poor differ greatly from this perception.

According to the government's own reports, the typical American defined as poor by the Census Bureau has a car, air conditioning, and cable or satellite TV. Half of the poor have computers, 43 percent have Internet, and 40 percent have a wide-screen plasma or LCD TV.

Far from being overcrowded, poor Americans have more living space in their home than the average non-poor person in Western Europe. Some 42 percent of all poor households actually own their own homes; on average, this is a well-maintained three-bedroom house with one and a half baths, a garage, and a porch or patio.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, only 4 percent of poor children were hungry for even a single day in the prior year because the family could not afford food. By its own report, the average poor person had sufficient funds to meet all essential needs and was able to obtain medical care for his family throughout the year whenever needed.

Posted by orrinj at 8:27 AM


Book review: analysing Don Quixote, the dynamo at the heart of Spanish culture : In the four centuries since it was published, Cervantes' novel has become a timeless classic of world literature, speaking afresh to each new generation (Jim Higgins, 9/18/15, South China Morning Post)

Don Quixote's stature as the first modern novel comes from its consuming interest in fantasy (or idealism, or madness) versus reality, its bookishness (too much reading, after all, launched the knight-errant on his errant career), and its playful self-referentiality (such as the scene in which the barber and the priest, deciding which books from Alonso Quijano's library to burn, consider the merits of an author named Cervantes).

Of course, the knight and his squire have influenced or inspired countless odd-couple and mismatched-buddy stories.

"No same-sex literary pair has ever been as famous, as emulated, or as quoted as Don Quixote and Sancho Panza," Stavans declares.

His list of descendant couples includes Watson and Holmes, Abbott and Costello, Laurel and Hardy, Frodo and Sam Gamgee, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, Didi and Gogo (of Waiting for Godot), even Batman and Robin. You may not see eye to eye with Stavans on some of these, but there's no arguing with the notion that Cervantes laid down a template that still yields fruitful variations today. (If Professor Stavans were an alt-rock guy, he might also have mentioned another dynamic duo - the band They Might Be Giants, who draw their name from the novel.)

"Cervantes' most lasting contribution is the depth and complexity of his language," he writes.

Actually, Cervantes most lasting contribution was the character who got away from him and who he never understood.

Posted by orrinj at 8:20 AM


What Italy Can Teach America About Donald Trump (Beppe Severgnini, 9/18/15, NY Times)

[A]s an Italian citizen who has experienced a demagogue in chief and survived, I feel I should help the American people come to grips with Candidate Trump, in order to prevent him from becoming President Trump.

First, for the skeptical, don't underestimate the man. Why is a regular guy attracted to a billionaire candidate? It's simple. Because he can "play to people's fantasies," as Mr. Trump puts it. The man knows his television, loves money, hates rules, tells jokes, uses bad language and is convivial to a fault. He may not be like us, but he makes sure there's something about him that different people can relate to, personally.

As both Mr. Trump and Mr. Berlusconi know, once you have the people on the hook, you can sell them anything, and they'll forgive you for everything. His appalling remarks about women and foreign countries? A sign of authenticity, say his admirers.

To dismiss Mr. Trump as a joke, as many Italians did with Mr. Berlusconi early on, and many Americans continue to do with Mr. Trump, would be a mistake. To take him seriously is also wrong. So use your sense of humor. Don't take umbrage at his every offensive comment; his supporters don't care, and the added chatter only helps him.

Next, don't obsess over him. The American news and social media seem hypnotized by Mr. Trump. That's not surprising. He is unusual, and heaven knows Western countries need some spice in the democratic process.

But to obsess over him is exactly what the man wants. "You see?" he can say. "They all gang up on me, those establishment types!" Ross Perot took advantage of the media's love for the odd and novel in 1992; today, thanks to the Internet, it's easier to spread the word.

Soon Mr. Trump's act will become repetitive, so just speed up the process. Make him boring. Force him to be specific. 

Imagine what a laughingstock Reagan would have made of him?   Rather than trying to be tough to respond to him, just make him a joke. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:05 AM


Jeb's Defense of His Brother Deflates Trump's Balloon (Lou Cannon, September 18, 2015, RCP)

If the Donald Trump balloon ever falls to earth, history may record that it was a pinprick by Jeb Bush at this week's Republican debate that began deflating it.

It happened during a testy exchange in which Trump dismissively blamed former President George W. Bush for the current mess in which Republicans now find the United States. 

"Your brother's administration gave us Barack Obama, because it was such a disaster," Trump snapped at Bush, stirring a passionate response that had been previously lacking.

"You know what?" Bush said. "As it relates to my brother, there's one thing I know for sure: he kept us safe."

Trump's remark had produced a gasp. Bush's reply was greeted with loud applause from an audience of mostly establishment Republicans that included California's last two GOP governors, Pete Wilson and Arnold Schwarzenegger. This audience, in which I was in the ninth row, was not a Trump crowd, as could be ascertained by its appreciation of Carly Fiorina's effective put-downs of The Donald. But it was the attack on the former president that most stirred the crowd's juices.

Unnoticed by Trump and many Democrats, George W. Bush is now more popular than when he retired in 2009 in the midst of a sagging economy and the Iraq War. Recent polls gave Bush higher favorability ratings than Obama or Hillary Clinton. Among Republicans, according to a Gallup survey, 84 percent approve of Bush.

The simple political calculus is that the next president will be the candidate whose policies are the closest to those of Thatcher/Clinton/Blair/W/Cameron.

Posted by orrinj at 8:01 AM


Big Drop in the Number of Uninsured Americans in 2014 (Beth Braverman, September 16, 2015, Fiscal Times)

Four years after Obamacare became law, the number of Americans without health insurance fell precipitously in 2014.

Last year, the percentage of Americans without insurance for the entire year fell to 10.4 percent, from 13.3 percent in 2013, according to new figures from the U.S. Census. The number of people without insurance fell from 41.8 million to 33 million.

In addition to changes in federal law, the increase in health insurance coverage reflects an improving economy and a falling unemployment rate. Today's uninsured rate is about 40 percent lower than it was in 2008, prior to the recession or the passage of the Affordable Care Act.

Posted by orrinj at 7:44 AM


Halperin: Clinton World Engaged in 'McCarthyite Tactics' on Sanders And It Backfired (David Rutz, September 18, 2015, Free Beacon)

"McCarthyite tactics" by David Brock's pro-Hillary Clinton Super PAC Correct The Record on Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) turned out to be the "worst of both worlds" for the Clinton campaign, Morning Joe panelist Mark Halperin said Friday.

The Huffington Post reported Correct the Record circulated an email trying to tie Sanders with far-left Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn of the United Kingdom, who has praised the late Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez and called the killing of 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden a "tragedy." 

...when he calls himself a socialist?

And isn't he the one who tied himself to Corbyn?

Bernie Sanders: 'I Am Delighted' By Jeremy Corbyn's Victory (Daniel Marans, 9/12/15,The Huffington Post)

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said he is "delighted" that the Labour Party elected Jeremy Corbyn its leader.
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) hailed the election of Jeremy Corbyn to the leadership of the United Kingdom's Labour Party as a promising development in the global fight against inequality. 

"At a time of mass income and wealth inequality throughout the world, I am delighted to see that the British Labour Party has elected Jeremy Corbyn as its new leader," Sanders, a Democratic presidential candidate, said in a statement emailed to The Huffington Post Saturday. "We need leadership in every country in the world which tells the billionaire class that they cannot have it all. We need economies that work for working families, not just the people on top."

Sanders' appreciation of Corbyn is mutual.

It's all well and good not to be associated with your own politics, but it's a tough act to pull off.

September 17, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 8:02 PM


A name change for Common Core in NY? (Jon Campbell, September 15, 2015, Rochester Democrat & Chronicle)

Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said Tuesday that the state is "toying with" a possible name change for a revamped Common Core, the set of more-stringent education standards that has sparked often-contentious debate in school districts across New York. [...]

"There is so much politicization about those words - 'Common Core,'" Tisch said. "So we can call them the Empire State Standards, or New York's Higher Standards."

Posted by orrinj at 7:59 PM


Walker to focus on Iowa as he tries to reassure wary donors (SCOTT BAUER and JULIE BYKOWICZ, Sep. 17, 2015, AP) 

Scott Walker has downshifted his initially ambitious campaign for president to focus on first-to-vote Iowa, scrambling Thursday to reassure jittery donors and supporters after a quiet performance in the second Republican debate.

Walker spoke less than anyone else during a three-hour marathon in which he was asked only two direct questions. 

A problem compounded by being a one issue candidate.

Posted by orrinj at 7:54 PM


ROBOTS ARE COMING FOR THE GARBAGEMAN'S JOB (Kelsey D. Atherton, 9/17/15, Popular Science)

As long as there are humans, there will be garbage. And, for a long time, it seemed inevitable that there would always be garbagemen, too, to collect that refuse. A new project by carmaker Volvo, recycling company Renova, Sweden's Chalmers University of Technology and Mälardalen University, and Penn State University wants to create robot assistants for garbage trucks. With automation, a human driver can stick to the road, and a robot can do the literal heavy lifting.

Dubbed Robot-based Autonomous Refuse handling, or ROAR, the project will feature a robot designed by Mälardalen University, control system designed by Chalmers University, and a control panel designed by Penn State. Combined, these efforts will hopefully yield a robot that can grab trash and toss it on board a Renova waste truck by June 2016.

The truck will be self-driving shortly after.

Posted by orrinj at 7:48 PM


Brandon Lewis: there aren't enough houses--or builders : The housing minister tells Prospect that Britain nearly ran out of bricks (Jay Elwes, September 17, 2015, Prospect)

"It doesn't matter how many houses we need to build, we need people physically to build them," said Brandon Lewis, the Minister of State for Housing and Planning. "There is still a really big issue around human resources and we are working with BIS [the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills] and the industry to get more people to come into construction generally. There's a real challenge," he said.

Lewis, 44, was made Housing Minister in 2014, at the end of the Coalition government, having held a more junior role in the same department. The Coalition's two main achievements in housing policy were the devolution of greater planning control to local authorities and the introduction of Help to Buy, a scheme under which the government paid part of the deposits made by first-time buyers. Although the first was welcomed, reaction to the second was clouded by suggestions that the net effect was to inflate house prices further.

Britain's housing problem is  increasingly acute. Successive governments have failed to build enough new homes, and Lewis's suggestion that builders are failing to find enough workers is a new contribution to a debate that was noisy in the General Election campaign and now in the contest for London mayor--and in the public debate about immigration.

Nice thing about importing builders--they buy homes too.

Posted by orrinj at 7:43 PM



One of the most significant results of the 2010 census was the continuing shift of the African-American population from the core cities to the suburbs of major metropolitan areas (Note). In 2010, 55 percent of the African-American population was in the suburbs, up from 48 percent in 2000 (Figure 1). In 2000, 26 percent of African-Americans aged five to 14 lived in the core cities of the major metropolitan areas. By 2010, only 21 percent lived in the core cities (Figure 2).

Posted by orrinj at 7:38 PM


Efficiency up, turnover down: Sweden experiments with six-hour working day (David Crouch, 17 September 2015, The Guardian)

In February the nurses switched from an eight-hour to a six-hour working day for the same wage - the first controlled trial of shorter hours since a rightward political shift in Sweden a decade ago snuffed out earlier efforts to explore alternatives to the traditional working week.

"I used to be exhausted all the time, I would come home from work and pass out on the sofa," says Lise-Lotte Pettersson, 41, an assistant nurse at Svartedalens care home in Gothenburg. "But not now. I am much more alert: I have much more energy for my work, and also for family life."

The Svartedalens experiment is inspiring others around Sweden: at Gothenburg's Sahlgrenska University hospital, orthopaedic surgery has moved to a six-hour day, as have doctors and nurses in two hospital departments in Umeå to the north. And the trend is not confined to the public sector: small businesses claim that a shorter day can increase productivity while reducing staff turnover.

A four hour day is plenty.

September 16, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:53 PM

60-40 NATION:

CNN Poll: America Becoming More Pro-Life, 58% Oppose All or Almost All Abortions (DAVE ANDRUSKO, SEP 14, 2015, LifeNews)
Sometimes what appears to be almost a throwaway line in a news story is important, not because it tells us something new (although it might) but because it acknowledges a truth which rarely sees the light of day.

First the backdrop for the results of a CNN poll released today.

The hook for the story is that three issues-"Guns, immigration, abortion"-are "increasingly important to voters." Our concern, obviously, is only the latter. What's the important oh-by-the-way line in the story?

Overall, 39% of adults in the new poll think abortion should be legal in most circumstances, 58% that it should be illegal in most.

Even though we have made that argument over and over and over again, ordinarily we read/hear about the "pro-choice" majority. In this case, CNN did its job.

Posted by orrinj at 7:49 PM


Firm Pushes Weiner Out (Brent Scher, September 16, 2015, wASHINGTON bEACON)

Posted by orrinj at 1:34 PM


End needless -- and expensive -- treatments for cancer (Joel M. Zinberg, September 16, 2015, AEI)

Oncologists are no better arbiters of what is "reasonable" profit or return on investment than anyone else. Their expertise is in prescribing treatments that will be of value to their patients. Yet it is precisely in this area that they have been deficient.

A 2012 American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) panel identified widespread chemotherapy use among patients for whom there was no evidence of clinical value. Despite the lack of evidence supporting the practice and ASCO recommendations against it, chemotherapy is widely used in advanced cancer patients with poor performance status.

While ASCO does recommend treating terminal patients who have good performance status, a new JAMA Oncology study casts doubt on this chemotherapy since it did not improve survival and worsened patients' quality of life. [...]

Cetuximab (Erbitux) was touted at ASCO's 2008 meeting for improving lung cancer treatment. The survival advantage was only 1.2 months and was accompanied by high rates of side effects. Likewise, the FDA approved Erlotinib (Tarceva) to treat pancreatic cancer on the basis of a 0.4 month (12 days) improvement in survival with increased rates of severe rash and diarrhea.

There is no reason, outside of a research study, that oncologists should offer successive rounds of minimally-effective treatments, but they routinely do. Physicians understandably feel an emotional imperative to "do something" when dealing with desperate cancer patients. But that "something" should provide a favorable risk/benefit relationship and not mislead anxious patients. Nothing forces an oncologist to prescribe expensive, ineffective medications with multiple side effects when a cheaper, equally (in)effective medicine, or no treatment at all, will do.

If oncologists limited their prescription of high-cost, low-value, drugs, prices would decline to stimulate sales and would more accurately reflect the drugs' value to patients.

Posted by orrinj at 1:28 PM


Japan Pledges New Vessels, Loans to Vietnam in Boost to Strategic Partnership (Prashanth Parameswaran, September 16, 2015, Diplomat)

Japan and Vietnam agreed to strengthen their extensive strategic partnership Tuesday during the Vietnamese Communist Party chief's first ever official visit to Tokyo.

Following a meeting with Nguyen Phu Trong, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam, Japanese premier Shinzo Abe pledged that his country would provide new vessels and loans to Vietnam in a boost to economic and security ties.

Vietnam and Japan already have a robust relationship, with the two countries upgrading their relationship from a strategic partnership in 2009 to an extensive strategic partnership in 2014 (See: "The Future of US-Japan-Vietnam Trilateral Cooperation"). But the visit, Nguyen said in an interview with Japanese media outlets before his four-day trip to Japan, was aimed at "bringing Vietnam-Japan relations to a higher level."

Posted by orrinj at 1:18 PM


Jazz's long road to religious respectability (H.G. AND ERASMUS, 9/16/15, The Economist)

For people who yearn to combine riffs, religion and respectability, there was a breakthrough just over 50 years ago when a "Jazz Mass" was celebrated at Grace Cathedral in San Franscisco, a newly completed Episcopal place of worship. The work by Vince Guaraldi (who was then little known but would later become famous for composing music for the animated Peanuts) has been performed at least twice in the past few weeks to mark the happy anniversary.

Both renderings were organised by Bill Carter, a jazz pianist who ministers to a Presbyterian church in northeastern Pennsylvania and is also the founder of a group called the the Presbybop Quartet.  After laboriously transcribing the music, he helped to bring the Jazz Mass back to its Californian starting point for an annivesary concert last month; then he thumped it out in his home church in Clarks Summit, whose annual calendar includes jazz services around America's Labour Day, which falls on the first Monday of September, and on Christmas Eve.

And there is a church on the southwestern side of Washington, DC, where jazz sessions are an even more regular fixture. At Westminster Presbyterian church, Every Friday is jazz night, while on Mondays, there are sessions of blues. There is no explicitly religious element in these performances, but nor is there anything about them that conflicts with the Presbyterian creed, whose democratic governance has led the denomination and its individual communities to metamorphose in all manner of unexpected ways.

"There is nothing in our creeds and confessions as Presbyterians about doing jazz," notes Brian Hamilton, who co-pastors the church with his wife Ruth. But he adds that in his vision of things, following Jesus Christ involves trying to "restore people" on all levels, physically, spiritually and emotionally.

Vince Guaraldi's Jazz Mass Re-Created for Grace Cathedral  (Gary Moskowitz on Fri, Aug 7, 2015, SF Weekly)

"His hands were too small to span an entire octave on the piano, so he couldn't play certain chords," Bang told SF Weekly. "His sound is so uniquely him. You hear a few bars and you know it's him playing."

When it came time to officially unveil San Francisco's newly completed Grace Cathedral, it was decided that there was to be a "jazz mass" performed, and Guaraldi, now a Grammy-winning local hero, was tapped for the job. He spent 18 months working with a choir in San Rafael every Saturday to create a groundbreaking piece of work that remains largely overlooked by fans of Guaraldi, who died at age 47 in 1976. He performed his jazz mass on May 21, 1965 at Grace Cathedral, which is considered the first time mainstream jazz was heard during an American church service.

In an effort to remind fans of this piece of jazz history, Sacramento-based pianist Jim Martinez and his quartet will lead a 50th anniversary concert presentation of Guaraldi's Jazz Mass at 2 p.m. Aug. 15 at Grace Cathedral. The Fair Oaks Presbyterian Church Choir, directed by John McDaniel, and several members of the original St. Paul's Church Choir who performed alongside Guaraldi and his trio in 1965, will perform alongside Martinez.

Guaraldi's journey to writing jazz music for a church service can be traced back to music composed by Antonio Carlos Jobim and Luiz Bonfa for the sountrack to Black Orpheus, a 1959 film by French director Marcel Camus set in a favela in Rio de Janeiro during Carnaval. Guaraldi loved the music, and recorded his own arrangements of that album's main themes in 1962, right when "Girl From Ipanema" and other bossa nova music was getting big in the U.S., according to Bangs.

September 15, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:50 PM


Kicking After a Touchdown Now Lacks a Point (MICHAEL SALFINO, Sept. 15, 2015, WSJ0

Successfully kicking an extra point has long been the least impressive accomplishment in sports. From 2010-14, NFL kickers took 5,869 extra points and missed only 42. The play had become such an afterthought that the league made it more difficult this season, making the extra point a 33-yard kick rather than a 20-yard chip shot.

The plan is already working: four of 75 extra points were missed in Week 1 after 15 of 218 were missed in the preseason. Now, not only is the extra point no longer automatic, it may not even be worth trying--ever.

Posted by orrinj at 6:55 PM


Google's 'Self-Driving Toaster' Finally Rattles Automakers  (Edward Niedermeyer, 9/15/15, Bloomberg View)

Before Google introduced the prototype of its autonomous car -- aka the "self-driving toaster" -- to the public last year, the search-engine giant made the rounds of the major automakers to explain the concept. At least one of the automakers was sufficiently impressed to express interest in collaborating, but was astounded to find that Google had no commercialization plans of any kind for its potentially game-changing technology.

Ever since, the auto industry has treated Google's vehicle like an uncomfortable joke: though a source of real anxiety, the self-driving car seemed just unserious enough to laugh off. Now, however, the nervous laughter may turn to real fear. 

On Monday, Google has announced the hire of one of the most respected executives in the U.S. auto industry: John Krafcik, the former chief executive officer of Hyundai Motor America and president of the auto-pricing Web site TrueCar. With the auto world's eyes transfixed on the glitzy-yet-conservative new products being unveiled this week at the Frankfurt Auto Show, Google is sending the strongest sign yet that the real action in the industry is increasingly found in Silicon Valley.

Posted by orrinj at 5:42 PM


What the NFL Can Learn From Rugby : As the World Cup begins in England, more football coaches stateside look to rugby to improve tackling (JONATHAN CLEGG, Sept. 15, 2015, WSJ)

How rugby players have developed into the premier practitioners of tackling has nothing to do with how hard they hit or how gleefully they seem to hurl themselves at opponents. Rather, the dynamics of the game have elevated the tackle into rugby's most critical element. Though both games involve accumulating territory by running and kicking a ball, rugby differs from football in that there are few stoppages. A series of play can last for several minutes without a pause and every player must play both ways as teams seamlessly switch from offense to defense with no substitutions.

The upshot is that a missed tackle in rugby doesn't merely surrender a few yards or a first down. It can force a team to "be on defense for another five minutes," says Rex Norris, director of football at Atavus, a Seattle-based company that works with the Seahawks and Ohio State on rugby-tackling techniques. "Just one missed tackle can transform an entire game."

While football evolved into a downhill game of pulverizing collisions at the line of scrimmage, laws forbidding the forward pass meant that rugby developed as a game of lateral movement. To find holes in the defense, teams must switch the ball quickly from one side of the field to the other, meaning tackles are rarely delivered head-on. Defenders must corral opponents from every conceivable angle. "It's a different way of defending," said Tom Youngs, a member of England's squad for the upcoming World Cup. "In the NFL, they're all set up to [tackle] whereas I may be wide or in different positions. We have to be better defenders in space."

They're also expected to tackle more often. While an average of 89 tackles were made in NFL games last season, top-level rugby games like those in the World Cup produce an average of 221 tackles per game, according to a 2011 study by the British Journal for Sports Medicine.

The importance of tackling means rugby coaches don't merely devote portions of every training session to tackling drills, says Ireland national team player Dave Kearney. They have also subjected the tackle to the sort of exhaustive analysis that football coaches have spent decades pouring into the passing game. Rugby coaches say the simple act of taking a ball carrier to the ground can be divided into six sub-categories, ranging from a textbook "profile tackle," in which the defender makes contact with the near pectoral region of the ball carrier, to "smother tackles," where two players combine to bring down a runner.

What these different tackles have in common is they involve leading with the shoulder, placing your head behind the opponent, wrapping them around the thighs and generally bringing ball carriers to a sudden halt. "In rugby, we break it down into six different types of tackling drills," said Norris. "I bet you if you asked football coaches how many different types of drills they do for tackling, a lot of them wouldn't even understand the question."

Posted by orrinj at 5:31 PM


Posted by orrinj at 12:08 PM


Posted by orrinj at 11:49 AM


Barack Obama Versus Political Correctness (Jonathan Chait, 9/15/15, NY Magazine)

[O]bama allowed that the culture of the left on universities has grown deeply intolerant of opposing viewpoints -- that, without citing or even necessarily being aware of Sanders's speech in particular, the right-wing equivalent of Sanders delivering a speech on a liberal campus would produce outrage. Obama argued:

It's not just sometimes folks who are mad that colleges are too liberal that have a problem. Sometimes there are folks on college campuses who are liberal, and maybe even agree with me on a bunch of issues, who sometimes aren't listening to the other side, and that's a problem too. I've heard some college campuses where they don't want to have a guest speaker who is too conservative or they don't want to read a book if it has language that is offensive to African-Americans or somehow sends a demeaning signal towards women. I gotta tell you, I don't agree with that either. I don't agree that you, when you become students at colleges, have to be coddled and protected from different points of view. I think you should be able to -- anybody who comes to speak to you and you disagree with, you should have an argument with 'em. But you shouldn't silence them by saying, "You can't come because I'm too sensitive to hear what you have to say." That's not the way we learn either.

September 14, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:40 PM


In Japan, the Rise of the Machines Solves Labor and Productivity (Yoshiaki Nohara, September 13, 2015, Bloomberg)

Japan is already a robotics powerhouse. Abe wants more and has called for a "robotics revolution." His government launched a five-year push to deepen the use of intelligent machines in manufacturing, supply chains, construction and health care, while expanding the robotics markets from 660 billion yen ($5.5 billion) to 2.4 trillion yen by 2020.

"The labor shortage is such an acute issue that companies have no choice but to boost efficiency," says Hajime Shoji, the head of the Asia-Pacific technology practice at Boston Consulting Group Inc. "Growth potential is huge." By 2025, robots could shave 25 percent off of factory labor costs in Japan, according to the consulting firm.

Automation also has huge potential for distribution. Toho Holdings Co.'s 10 billion yen distribution center, which became fully operational in January, employs about 130 workers, roughly half the number at another one of similar size. Productivity per worker is 77 percent higher with robots handling 65 percent of item-picking, the drug wholesaler says.

"We wanted to lower manpower requirements by using robots because we already found it hard to recruit people, including part-time workers," says Mitsuo Morikubo, the company's executive managing director.

Posted by orrinj at 7:32 PM


Can 'fat shaming' be defended? (Mukul Devichand, 9/12/15, BBC Trending)

[O]n the internet this week, many people weren't laughing along with Nicole Arbour. She is the comedian whose six-minute video, "Dear Fat People," got over 25 million views on Facebook and YouTube.

It's a pointed rant full of broadsides aimed at obese people and the notion that it's OK to be overweight. She says being obese is like a form of "assisted suicide". "Fat-shaming is not a thing," she says in her video. "Fat people made that up. If we offend you so much that you lose weight, I'm OK with that."

So many people "flagged" the YouTube version of the video that it triggered the network's safeguards against offensive content and was briefly taken down - along with her entire channel. She then made headlines, calling that mechanism "censorship".

The notion that you shouldn't be ashamed of self-destructive behavior is bizarre.  But even odder is how the PC set picks their protected behaviors.  Why, after all, is smoking a legitimate target but not buggery or gluttony?

Posted by orrinj at 7:29 PM


Steadied by Faith After a Humbling Loss (DAVID GREGORY, Sept. 10, 2015, WSJ)

I've spent a career in journalism questioning others, and yet it was three questions asked of me that pushed me to figure out, as everyone must at some point: What do I believe, fundamentally, about life and the world? The first question came, however unusually, from a president of the United States.

"Gregory, how's your faith?" George W. Bush asked me one December afternoon in the Oval Office. We had met privately before, as I had covered the entirety of his presidency, but that day in 2008 stood out in part because I had recently been promoted to moderator of NBC's "Meet the Press."

It might seem strange to ask a White House reporter about such a personal matter, but President Bush wasn't prying or pushing his views on me. He knew through a mutual friend that I had been studying the Bible, and he supported me, as his faith journey had helped him stop drinking and steady himself earlier in life. "I'm in the Bible every day," Mr. Bush said--suggesting that from war in Iraq to Hurricane Katrina, he relied on the strength he found in his relationship with God.

I explained that I was trying to deepen my Jewish faith and connect with the Christian beliefs of my wife. Getting closer to God, I reasoned, could only make me a better husband and father. I often thought back to the president's words--How's your faith?--over the next few years as I considered more deeply what I believed.

Posted by orrinj at 7:06 PM


The day the Labour Party died (Dan Hodges, 12 Sep 2015, The Telegraph)

In affectionate remembrance of the Labour Party, which died at the Queen Elizabeth II conference centre, Westminster, on 12 September, 2015. Deeply lamented by a large circle of sorrowing friends and acquaintances. R.I.P. The body will be cremated, and the ashes taken to Islington. [...]

To know just how unelectable Jeremy Corbyn is, don't listen to his critics, but listen to his supporters. Yesterday I did the Daily Politics program with the Guardian's Zoe Williams.

Could Jeremy Corbyn be elected prime minister, she was asked. This was her instinctive, verbatim, response: "Look ... this whole idea that there's a solid mass of the general public who sit in the centre and that's where they always sit, this is completely fallacious I think. I mean, all these people who ... the kind of Blairite Labour should be able to appeal to ... if they are so multiple why did none of them join as supporters to vote for the person they wanted? So the idea we've got this very centre right country that can be drawn to the left by the right kind of cosmetic person ... the idea that that exists is wrong."

Posted by orrinj at 7:02 PM


What If Iran and the U.S. Keep Talking? (Noah Feldman, 9/13/15, Bloomberg View)

[M]oderates in the U.S. and Iran -- and possibly even Israel -- will see things differently. Many of them perceive large areas of overlapping American and Iranian interests, most notably the defeat of Islamic State and a solution to the generational humanitarian and policy debacle that is Syria. If the U.S. and Iran work together on those problems, they could strengthen and deepen the connections made in the course of the nuclear negotiations. Ultimately, a U.S.-Iran rapprochement could change the strategic alignments in the Middle East and Persian Gulf that have existed since the 1979 Islamic revolution. [...]

In Iraq, Iran and the U.S. have been cooperating, albeit awkwardly, in fighting Islamic State. Essentially, the U.S. is providing airpower, while the most effective ground forces have been Iranian-backed Shiite militias under the guidance of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani. The progress of this cooperation will be a good early indicator of whether Iran and the U.S. agree to disagree over ideology while cooperating over a common interest.

If Islamic State isn't defeated by the de facto U.S.-Iranian coalition in Ramadi, then the prospects for further cooperation will be dim. If, however, Islamic State is pushed back in Ramadi, both Iranian and U.S. moderates will be heartened. Both will then be able to argue that together, Iran and the U.S. actually make an important difference in re-establishing stability.

The really pressing need for stability exists, of course, in Syria. Some estimates have almost half of Syria's population being displaced by the civil war there -- which means roughly 12 million people on the move. This isn't just a crisis for Europe, which could well end up with more than 1 million of them. It's a major crisis of destabilization for tiny Lebanon, which can ill afford 1 million or more extra people. It threatens the stability of Jordan, where well over 1 million more have already gone. And it's bad (and expensive) news for Turkey, which doesn't have the same stability worries but is struggling with the emergence of a growing Kurdish regional entity that threatens to connect Iraqi Kurdistan to Syrian Kurdistan.

The U.S. and Iran share a common interest in restabilizing Syria. The endgame could involve removing President Bashar al-Assad or leaving him in control of a rump-Syria that's a cantonment for the country's Alawites.

Posted by orrinj at 6:58 PM


An Oath to Uphold Only the Just Laws (Stephen L. Carter, 9/14/15, Bloomberg View)

According to her brief, "Davis understood (and understands) this oath to mean that, in upholding the federal and state constitutions and laws, she would not act in contradiction to the moral law of God, natural law, and her sincerely held religious beliefs and convictions."

Feldman finds this claim not so much unpersuasive as wrongheaded -- a misunderstanding of the nature of the oath. Davis's argument, he writes, "implies that obedience to divine law is somehow baked in to one's constitutional duties and obligations." He adds:

Whom you swear the oath by is different from what you swear to do. Officials in the U.S. definitively don't swear to uphold God's law. They swear to uphold the Constitution, which never mentions God at all.

With all due respect, I think this argument is historically incomplete. Like much scholarly writing today about oaths, it seeks to impose a post-modern outlook on a pre-modern practice. Viewed in this way, the oath is no more than what courts in contract cases might call a signal of an intention to be bound.

But there is much more to the history of the oath. Take the case of jurors. In a subsequent column, Feldman cites the 1797 edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica for the proposition that invoking the name of God is simply a means for securing the truth of the oath. The actual language he quotes was borrowed by Britannica from the writings of the 18th-century theologian William Paley, who used the example to show how the overuse of oaths was making them "cheap in the minds of the people."

A few chapters later, Paley takes up the subject of the oath of allegiance to the monarch -- an oath also taken in the name of God, and a closer approximation to an oath of office. That oath, Paley argues, does not apply when the king's own misbehavior "makes resistance beneficial to the community" or when the commands of the sovereign "are unauthorized by law."

For Paley, as for many others of the day, the oath of allegiance was never a promise to obey all laws. It was a promise to obey the just ones.

Our modern tendency is to treat the addition of "so help me God" to the oath as merely a proof-text, a means by which listeners can determine the sincerity of the speaker. Scholars tend to note, in passing, that the oath emerged from the idea of a "self-curse" -- that God should punish me if I'm lying. This approach, however, views the oath too narrowly.

The oath, as the linguist Helen Bromhead has argued, also signaled one's membership in the community. An individual who was willing to swear by God to tell the truth marked herself as accepting and submitting to a variety of cultural norms. Legal scholar Christopher J.W. Allen, reminds us of a belief during the Victorian era that "the religious sanction was fundamental to the worth of any testimony because religion was fundamental to morality." So it's easy to understand why the same states that adopted a federal Constitution prohibiting religious tests for federal offices preserved them for state offices. Even today, a dozen state constitutions still require their officials to swear their oaths of office in God's name.

Posted by orrinj at 6:50 PM


LA police commit to a greener future with electric cop cars, even a Tesla (Max Lewontin, SEPTEMBER 14, 2015, CS Monitor)

Moving forward with a vision to make Los Angeles a more sustainable city and perhaps reduce its infamous smog, Mayor Eric Garcetti revealed on Friday that the city will begin leasing a raft of electric cars, including 160 fully-battery powered vehicles, for use primarily by the Los Angeles Police Department.

Posted by orrinj at 6:44 PM


Fiorina's HP Earned Millions From Sales in Iran (Josh Rogin, 9/14/15, Bloomberg View)

What Fiorina never mentions on the stump is that while she was in charge, Hewlett-Packard used a European subsidiary and a Middle East distributor to sell hundreds of millions of dollars of printers and other computer equipment to Iran.

HP's unusual omnipresence inside Iran was first reported in 2008 by the Boston Globe, which discovered that in 1997 the company struck up a partnership with a new Indian company in Dubai called Redington Gulf. The partnership was so successful distributing in Iran that HP printers were No. 1 there,, with 41 percent of the market share by 2007.

Thus, the deal decriminalizing trade.

Posted by orrinj at 5:49 PM


Everyone is welcome to join our NFL football pool--you just pick winners weekly--the prizes are books and bragging rights:

Our Pool password is: ericjulia

Posted by orrinj at 5:05 PM


Britain moves a step closer to quitting Europe (Ivana Kottasova, 9/14/15, CNN Money)

Britain's future in the European Union looks a little more shaky after a political earthquake weakened the ranks of its defenders.

The main opposition Labour Party on Saturday elected a left-wing leader who is ambiguous about whether Britain should remain part of the world's biggest single market.

That means the government, and its main rival, are both now deeply divided over the question, and therefore less able to mount an effective campaign in favor of continued membership. A national vote will be held by 2017.

Posted by orrinj at 3:18 PM


Gay rights group posts billboard in Kim Davis' Kentucky town (Trisha Thadani, 9/14/15,  USA Today)

...that the fact the prevailing legal theory is no bar to marrying a cow and three goats means we've redefined marriage?

September 13, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 2:40 PM


Fo' Fo' Fo' Sure : '83 Sixers made good on Moses Malone's famous prediction (Michael Bradley,

By defeating the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1983 NBA Finals, these Sixers did more than just hang Philadelphia's first basketball banner in 16 years. They also helped a town step out of the giant shadows cast by the Lakers and the Boston Celtics. And by doing it in four games, they left no doubt about their supremacy. All of those previous playoff disappointments became distant memories--the NBA Finals losses to L.A. in '80 and '82, the myriad defeats to the Celtics. Gone. Salmons was right to enter this temporary shrine, looking for some history. There was plenty to be found.

It starts with Malone, whose pre-playoff "Fo'-Fo'-Fo'" prediction of three series sweeps sounded like the crazy bellowing of a jolly hoops giant but turned out to be just about right. The Sixers swept New York in the Eastern Conference semis, having received a first-round bye due to their Atlantic Division title and NBA-best 65 wins. Milwaukee was next, thanks to the Bucks' surprising four-game dispatching of the Celtics. The Bucks didn't go out in four, preventing a sweep with a homecourt victory after falling behind 3-0, but eventually lost in five.

So, Malone amended his prediction to "Fo'-Fi'-Fo'"--still a surprising declaration, considering that Philadelphia had lost NBA Finals series to the Lakers in '80 and '82.

"The only thing I got mad at was Moses saying, 'Fo'-Fo'-Fo','" says former Lakers guard Michael Cooper, now coach of the two-time defending WNBA champion Los Angeles Sparks. "You're not supposed to do that."

Posted by orrinj at 2:36 PM


Iran's president wishes Jews a happy new year, in Hebrew (SARA MILLER, September 13, 2015, Times of Israel)

In a message on his official Twitter account, Rouhani wrote: "May our shared Abrahamic roots deepen respect & bring peace & mutual understanding. L'Shanah Tovah. #RoshHashanah"

The message was accompanied by a 2006 Reuters image of Jews praying in Yousefabad Synagogue in Tehran. L'Shanah Tovah is Hebrew for, May it be a good year.

Posted by orrinj at 10:33 AM


Left Winger's Victory in Labour Leadership Is a 'Wail of Despair' for the Party (Alex Massie, Sept. 12, 2015, TIME)

In all, 600,000 Britons were eligible to vote in Labour's contest and Corbyn has become, much to his own surprise as well as everyone else's, the standard bearer for the radical left. His constituency is a ragbag collection of Marxists, Trotskyites, environmentalists and youthful dreamers. There are more of these people than anyone previously thought.

Corbyn's success is, at least in part, a dismal commentary on his rivals. Neither Andy Burnham nor Yvette Cooper, the experienced former cabinet ministers who were supposed to be the front-runners, have managed to inspire Labour's membership. Indeed their experience has been part of the problem, suggesting their leadership might offer little more than a refreshed version of the party rejected in the election earlier this year, and not the wholesale change Labour most likely needs. Liz Kendall, the fourth candidate in this political donkey derby, might have offered that change, but has spent most of the campaign telling the party it is wrong about everything. This has not proved a popular or winning message.

In such circumstances, Corbyn's "authenticity" has added value. He offers a clean break with the past and his downbeat style - reminiscent of a veteran and disappointed geography teacher - is so far removed from the slick and cultivated image management favoured by most contemporary politicians that he seems a perfect vessel for the anti-politics mood of our time.

In that respect, Corbyn's rise should be understood as a kind of wail of despair. The Labour party is not prepared to compromise with the electorate. Its reaction to a devastating election defeat in May - the party's worst performance in 30 years - has been to vacate the centre ground of British politics and move sharply to the left. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:21 AM


A Dim Future (Joseph P. Williams, 9/11/15, US News)

An ugly combination of strategic blunders, bad timing, grassroots complacency and superior planning by Republicans has left the party of Kennedy, Johnson and Roosevelt in the midst of a paradox. They can win the most powerful elected office in the world - they've won the last two, and could go three-for-three with a win in 2015 - but can't grasp power at the local level, where party agendas are shaped and real governance happens.

And while Democrats have all but locked down an ever-expanding demographic of young and minority voters, it's a maddeningly fickle coalition in non-presidential election years. When decidedly less sexy House, gubernatorial and state legislative seats are at stake, they stay home as the GOP base electorate heads to the polls like clockwork, handing Republicans more than 900 legislative seats than they had than when the Obama was elected.

"Democrats have put together winning coalitions of young people, fairly highly educated middle class whites and minorities," said Geoffrey Skelley of the University of Virginia Institute of Politics. "It's been a winning combination in presidential cycles, but elements of that have struggled to show up in the midterm elections."

A Democratic Party task force "autopsy" following the 2014 midterms confirms the theory.

Since 2009, "We have suffered devastating losses at all levels of government since 2008 including: 69 House seats, 13 Senate seats, 910 state legislative seats, 30 state legislative chambers [and] 11 governorships." While the party energized young and minority voters in 2008 and 2012, according to the report, its leadership is still largely old and white, and it has struggled to recruit new leaders and fresh-faced candidates at the state and local level.

Put another way: Starting with the GOP's capture of liberal stalwart Sen. Ted Kennedy's seat in true-blue Massachusetts, Democrats have lost once-solid majorities in both houses of Congress, a power outage that party leaders are unlikely to repair any time soon. Republicans now occupy governors' mansions in former Democratic strongholds like Illinois and Massachusetts to match its long-held bastions in the South and Midwest. The GOP also flipped several state legislatures in states like Wisconsin from blue to red, a shift that put them in the driver's seat when it came time to draw up political districts and lock themselves into power for the foreseeable future.

At the same time, in states like Virginia where they didn't get the legislative majority, Republicans increased their political muscle, then shackled Democratic governors who managed to hang on, like Pennsylvania's Tom Wolf, with the same block-the-agenda handcuffs Congress slapped on Obama in Washington.

Posted by orrinj at 8:15 AM


Bipartisan legislation is making a comeback (Matthew Yglesias, September 13, 2015, Vox)

Congress is actually getting less partisan, and has been for a few years. That's the somewhat surprising conclusion of an analysis done using data on co-sponsorship of legislation done by Quorum, a company that specializes in quantitative information about American politics.

The variable tracked here is what share of bills introduced have at least one co-sponsor from the other party. And we can see here that while bipartisan bill writing is still well below its historical average levels, it has bounced back -- especially in the Senate -- from the nadir it reached in the 112th Congress.

It's interesting to note that the small-scale revival of bipartisanship has happened even though we haven't seen any kind of meaningful resurgence of ideological moderates on Capitol Hill.

The only differences between the parties are partisan, not policy.  Democrats would have routinely voted with W were he a Democrat and Republicans with the UR were he a Republican.
Posted by orrinj at 8:11 AM


The Dawning of the Age of Flex Labor (Andrei Hagiu and Rob Biederman, SEPTEMBER 04, 2015, Harvard Business Review)

The prevailing paradigm of people working as full-time employees for a single organization has outlived its usefulness. It produces excess volatility over the business cycle, resulting in measurable economic costs -- both to people and to the companies they work for.

Our vision is straightforward: most people will become independent contractors who have the flexibility to work part-time for several organizations at the same time, or do a series of short full-time gigs with different companies over the course of a year. Companies will maintain only a minimal full-time staff of executives, key managers, and professionals and bring in the rest of the required talent as needed in a targeted, flexible, and deliberate way.

There are two reasons such a flexible work system is now plausible. The first is societal values. Work-life balance and family-friendly scheduling are much more important to today's workers, and companies are increasingly willing to accommodate them. The second is technology. Advances in the last five years have greatly improved the ease with which people can work and collaborate remotely and companies and contract workers can find each other. such piece work becomes more and more like a hobby, why will business need to compensate us to do it?

Posted by orrinj at 8:06 AM


George W. Bush launched 50 drone strikes. Obama has launched 500. (Bonnie Kristian, 9/11/15, The Week)

While Obama's predecessor George W. Bush conducted about 50 drone strikes, the current president has launched 10 times that number. Most American drone strikes have targeted Pakistan, though drone use has declined there in recent years while it continues in Afghanistan, Somalia, and Yemen.

Posted by orrinj at 7:54 AM


The Future of Work: But What Will Humans Do? : The latest entry in a special project in which business and labor leaders, social scientists, technology visionaries, activists, and journalists weigh in on the most consequential changes in the workplace.  (MOSHE Y. VARDI  SEP 11, 2015, Pacific Standard)

It is instructive to recall the biblical story of the Garden of Eden in the book of Genesis (Chapters 2 and 3). God places Adam and Eve in the Garden and tells them: "But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it." The Serpent then tempts Eve, who, in turn, tempts Adam, to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. This leads to the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Eden. Furthermore, God metes punishment on the Serpent, Eve, and Adam: "And unto Adam he said, cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread." So, according to this biblical story, our need to work for a living is an outcome of the failure of humanity to follow the word of God.

But let us contemplate humanity before and after the expulsion. Before the expulsion, Adam and Eve spent their time frolicking naked in the garden, where food is amply available without work; one could say they were no better than apes. One could even see the story as a metaphor for the roots of humanity in pre-human primates. After the expulsion, humans had to work for a living, but they have eaten from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. They were inventive. They have learned to hunt, mastered fire, invented agriculture, and eventually launched the Industrial Revolution. We are about to launch another Industrial Revolution, where work will be almost fully automated.

In a sense, humans used the knowledge they gained from the Forbidden Fruit to overcome God's punishment; they will no longer need to work for a living; no more "by the sweat of thy face." But can humanity go back to the Garden of Eden? Will we be happy just frolicking? Furthermore, human progress has been driven to a large extent by our desire to eliminate work or, at least, to lighten the toil. What will drive humanity once that goal has by and large been accomplished?

Thus, even if we manage to solve the economic implications of the complete or almost-complete automation of work, the question of the consequences to quality of life remains wide open. The classical Greek philosophers, starting with Socrates, discussed "Eudaimonia," often translated as "the good life"--in other words, human flourishing. Aristotle viewed this question as one of the most central in philosophy. So the question facing us today is whether we can achieve the good life without work.

...but now people are trying to save it?  How would you expect that to turn out?

Posted by orrinj at 7:50 AM


Gaming the Laws of War : Review of ORDER WITHIN ANARCHY: The Laws of War as An International Institution, by James D. Morrow  (ADAM CHILTON, New Rambler Review)

Morrow begins by arguing that the laws of war are an "international institution." International institutions, according to Morrow, provide the "rules of the game" and make interactions regular and predictable. Morrow then draws on game theory to conceive of countries as strategic actors trying to determine their optimal strategy given a certain set of motivations and incentives. For actors to make strategic decisions on how to behave, they need to have a shared understanding of how the other actors in the game will behave.

During conflicts, the laws of war provide that shared understanding. The preferences that countries express through the negotiation and ratification of these international treaties give insight into what restrictions on war that they are likely accept. In other words, the laws of war both clarify what is expected of countries and provides insight into whether a country is likely to comply. In this way, the laws of war can alter the way that countries choose to behave during conflicts. 

Using this starting point, Morrow generates several hypotheses about when states are likely to comply with the laws of war. Most notable is the hypothesis that overall compliance and the correlation of compliance for a given issue area -- say treatment of POWs -- is likely to be highest when both countries in a conflict have ratified the relevant treaties. The reason for this is that "[w]hen both sides ratify the relevant treaty, they create the shared expectation that one another will comply up to the limits of their control" (p. 87). He also argues that issue areas with decentralized control or higher monitoring costs are likely to have lower average rates of compliance; that first violations are likely to occur early in wars; and that when the first violation comes late in the war the side winning the war is more likely to commit it.

Morrow's dataset consists of all interstate wars from the Boxer Rebellion in 1899 to the Gulf War in 1991.[2] For each conflict, Morrow breaks out pairs of warring states. For example, during World War II, the United States and Japan are one pair of warring states, and the United States and Germany are another. For nine different issue areas governed by the laws of war -- like the treatment of prisoners and protection of civilians -- Morrow codes the level of compliance with the laws of war for each country in the warring pair.

Through both quantitative and qualitative analysis, Morrow finds support for his hypotheses. Most important, Morrow finds that joint ratification of treaties on the laws of war between two countries increases the likelihood that they will restrain themselves during conflict, while also increasing the likelihood that there will reciprocal violations when restraint fails. Based on these findings, Morrow concludes that although the laws of war do not dictate the ways that countries fight, they do shape the ways that countries behave because of the shared expectations that they create.

This argument is most clearly illustrated by Germany's disparate treatment of western and Russian POWs. The western powers and Germany had both ratified the relevant treaties on POWs; and since the western countries indicated there willingness to treat prisoners humanely, Germany reciprocated. Since Russia had not ratified the relevant treaties and did not indicate a willingness to comply with their requirements, Germany did not treat Russian POWs consistently with its legal commitments.

Posted by orrinj at 7:42 AM


Scottish National Party outlines timing for second independence referendum (Deutsche Welle, 9/13/15)

The SNP won 56 of Scotland's 59 seats in the Westminster parliament in May's general election. In the 2014 referendum, people in Scotland voted by a margin of 55 percent to 45 percent against independence from the rest of Britain.

A poll by Ipsos Mori for Scottish television channel STV showed 55 percent of voters in Scotland would back independence if there was another referendum.

Posted by orrinj at 7:32 AM


Medical Care as Harm : Review of Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, by Atul Gawande (DON HERZOG, New Rambler Review)

[B]efore he even begins to consider heroic medical interventions in the very last stages of life, he spends dozens and dozens of pages pondering assisted living facilities.

When they're bad - and often, he thinks, they are grotesquely bad - they are arranged for methodical bureaucratic routine. Patients will eat at these times, have meds administered at those, will go to sleep at this time, wake up at that. You can think of this routine as cruel indifference or rationalize it as cost-saving. Maybe that's right. But also in the mix is an image of medical care: do what it takes to keep these ailing bodies running.

Keren Brown Wilson's mother, a stroke victim, balked at one such facility.  "Take me home," she pleaded; "Get me out of here." Gawande reports on Wilson's later innovations. The tenants - not patients - of Portland's Park Place "had private apartments with a full bath, kitchen, and a front door that locked (a touch many found particularly hard to imagine). They were allowed to have pets and to choose their own carpeting and furniture. They were given control over temperature settings, food, who came into their home and when." More control than that: "if they wanted not to take certain medications that made them feel groggy; if they wanted to eat pizza and M&M's despite swallowing problems and no teeth and a doctor who'd said they should eat only pureed goop - well, they could."

Gawande reports too on Bill Thomas's innovations, introduced in response to listless despair in upstate New York's Chase Memorial Nursing Home. Missing, Chase thought, "was life itself," even in the presence of all those bodies dutifully inhaling and exhaling, ingesting and excreting. So he proposed bringing in plants, dogs, cats, parakeets, plenty of visiting children. Other staff hesitated: no way, they figured, that state agencies would grant all the waivers needed for this loopy fantasy. But Thomas prevailed. Picture the slapstick comedy: a hundred parakeets got dropped off before the birdcages had been delivered. "The driver ... released them into the beauty salon on the ground floor, shut the door, and left. The cages arrived later that day, but in flat boxes, unassembled." The residents guffawed - and pitched in to assemble the cages, line them with newspaper, catch the birds. Rabbits and hens followed, an after-school childcare program, too.

Thomas detailed the astonishing effects. "People who had been completely withdrawn and nonambulatory started coming to the nurses' station and saying, 'I'll take the dog for a walk.'" And - get this - the patients took fewer drugs, especially fewer "psychotropic drugs for agitation." (Some disturbed and disturbing symptoms are doubtless caused by those shrinking brains and their pathologies. But some are a response to living in a socially sterile setting.) The death rate fell. In an experiment in a Connecticut nursing home, Gawande adds, researchers divided patients into two groups. Patients in one group got a plant to water and a lecture on taking responsibility for their lives. Patients in the other had plants watered for them and listened to a lecture on how staff were responsible for their well-being. Eighteen months later, the first group "proved more active and alert and appeared to live longer."

So it's not just that the mindless bureaucratic routines advance patients' health at the cost of robbing them of autonomy, happiness, engagement with life. It turns out the routines don't even serve patients' health. If you let an ailing elderly patient lock her door, you might delay a nurse's access in an emergency, and that might be a catastrophe. And I suppose parakeets can spread infections, especially when sick tenants are cleaning their birdcages; and anyone who's brought up children know that one of their jobs is to ferry around microbes, so they must have been ferrying microbes into Chase Memorial, too. But it turns out those risks are well worth taking. That there's no tradeoff here between quality of life and life itself might seem too good to be true. It might be true anyway.

By the time Gawande turns to end-of-life issues, the reader is primed to think concretely about quality of life. Not QALYs, the quantitative measure supposed to rationalize precarious and tricky judgments about the attractiveness of various healthcare interventions. I don't know if it's out of contempt, though I kinda hope it is, but anyway Gawande doesn't even mention them. Not the bloated share of GNP we spend on healthcare, the lopsided bit of it we spend on the closing weeks or months of people's lives. Gawande wants to suggest that our feverish campaign to do more or less whatever it takes to keep patients' bodies chugging along is profoundly misguided.

Gawande insists instead that we stop and learn what patients want. Not by having them write out living wills in advance, with a series of answers to often unhelpfully abstract questions. Rather by having gutwrenching conversations with them about their illnesses, their prognoses, the upsides and downsides of various possible courses of treatment. Their answers of course will vary. One seventy-four-year-old emeritus professor was looking at a 20% chance of becoming a quadriplegic if doctors tried to remove a growth in his spinal cord. His daughter talked to him about the options. "Well," he said, "if I'm able to eat chocolate ice cream and watch football on TV, then I'm willing to stay alive. I'm willing to go through a lot of pain if I have a shot at that." After surgery, he developed bleeding in his spinal cord. "The bleeding had already made him nearly quadriplegic, and he would remain severely disabled for many months and likely forever." But if they didn't stop the bleeding, he would die. His daughter asked the surgeons if he'd be able to eat chocolate ice cream and watch football on TV. They said yes; she okayed the surgery.

There's a facile frame to account for this: defer to the patient's autonomy. If people want to live, do what you can; if they don't, well, that's their choice. This isn't making cost-justified QALY calculations. And it's got nothing to do with death panels, government-run or otherwise. Like all other plans to defer to patients' wishes, it won't help with cases where people are suddenly stricken and unconscious. And you might well fret that the week after you've been told you have stage IV cancer might not be the best time to make a sensible decision about what care you do and don't want. But at his most tantalizing, Gawande is suggesting that there's more here than autonomy.

September 12, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:26 PM


Savory meat pies are so comforting, so heavenly, so British (Gretchen McKay, 9/09/15, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

What tourists really should be eating, [Scott Perry] says, is a dish the country has had a love affair with since the 13th century -- meat pies.

Stuffed with savory meats and veggies -- think steak and ale, chicken and leeks, lamb and pork -- these simple classics are the perfect comfort food, and oh so delicious with their butter and/or lard crusts. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:20 PM


The Solution to Drug Prices (Ezekiel J. Emanuel, SEPT. 9, 2015, NY Times)

The United States government has created myriad special pricing arrangements that pervert incentives. For instance, Medicaid generally gets the lowest prices in the market. This discourages drug companies from experimenting with other payers on lower price arrangements, knowing that they will most likely have to give the same deal to Medicaid. Similarly, through the Orphan Drug Act of 1983 the United States created many incentives for developing drugs for orphan diseases -- those with fewer than 200,000 patients nationwide. Through special tax credits and better deals on marketing exclusivity, the federal government is encouraging the companies to benefit thousands instead of millions. The result has been the development of more than 400 drugs and biologics. While it is important to find effective treatments for rare diseases, it is more important to target serious, common diseases such as stroke and antibiotic-resistant infections.

Also, as outrageous as they are, prices are not the real issue. Value is. What really frustrates people are expensive drugs that do not provide a cure. For instance, Opdivo adds an average of 3.2 months of life to lung cancer patients and costs $150,000 per year for treatment.

Conversely, other drugs are superexpensive but are worth it. There was an outcry over paying $1,000 per pill for Sovaldi. But it helps cure hepatitis C and has shown to be cost-effective.

While the Australian system of price controls is one approach, another possibility is the Swiss health system, which is frequently applauded by conservative commentators. The Swiss government includes only those drugs that are effective and cost-effective on its approved drug list. It then establishes a maximum allowable price for the drug, but up to that point, companies can decide what to charge. We could cap the price based on objective, quantitative measures of value. Private payers would continue to negotiate with drug companies over prices as they do now, but there would be a ceiling to prevent prices from becoming unsustainable.

...but make the consuumer pay out of pocket.  That'd cut prices fastest.
Posted by orrinj at 7:15 PM


Under Obama Administration, Federal Prosecution of White-Collar Crime Hits 20-Year Low (DAVID SIROTA, 9/11/15, IN These Times)

In 2012, President Obama pledged to "hold Wall Street accountable" for financial misdeeds related to the financial crisis. But as financial industry donations flooded into Obama's re-election campaign, his Justice Department officials promoted policies that critics say embodied a "too big to jail" doctrine for financial crime.

Just a few years after the financial crisis, a new report tells an important story: Federal prosecution of white-collar crime has hit a 20-year low.

Posted by orrinj at 7:01 PM

WHY ONLY PART-CONSTRUCTED? (profanity alert):

If jobs are replaced by technology, what replaces jobs? (John Lloyd September 11, 2015, Reuters)

"People still talk about the geopolitics of oil. But we now have to talk about the geopolitics of technology."

These words come from Craig Mundie, former head of research at Microsoft, speaking at the Ambrosetti Forum in the palatial surroundings of the Villa d'Este Hotel on Italy's Lake Garda last weekend. It's an artful phrase, the geopolitics of technology, and it's dropped into the "global conversation" at a well-chosen time.

The "geopolitics of oil" means complex and shifting political alliances linked to corporate chess games designed to capture squares of oil and gas exploitation. The geopolitics of technology, by contrast, will be the stuff of every sphere of public and private life.

Also at the Ambrosetti Forum, Vivek Wadhwa of Stanford University spelled out the next challenges: the culling of jobs by robots; the entry of the tech companies into the health business, armed with every kind of detail about their clients' wellbeing; the growing solar, wave and wind power competition to energy systems; the deadly danger Wi-Fi poses to telecom companies.

There's more. There's driverless cars; the Internet of Things producing, in your home ... things you want in your home. These homes will become intelligent and managed from afar, even abroad. Education systems will be increasingly detached from institutions like schools and colleges, replaced by innovations like distance learning from a cadre of super-professors. Entertainment will be increasingly instantly available, and personalized, in the home or on the move. [...]

Work -- making sure it's there, making it meaningful, giving it the dignity of being part-constructed by the worker -- will be the largest domestic issue in our economies. Governments have to take it on (who else can mediate between competing forces?). But citizens have to be active in their own betterment, too. 

Rather than pretending that boondoggles convey dignity just because one has a job, we'll do things that actually convey dignity, but that aren't jobs--learning and practicing crafts; raising families; helping in our communities; etc..
Posted by orrinj at 6:50 PM


Why have so many men stopped working? (Tami Luhby, 9/11/15, CNN MOney)

Fifty years ago, nearly every single working-age American man had a job or was looking for one.

That's not the case anymore.

The labor force participation rate for men ages 25 to 54 stood at nearly 97% in 1965, but now hovers near a record low of 88%.

That number will plummet now that male identity is no longer tied to a mere job.
Posted by orrinj at 6:46 PM


Mixed-gender teams come up short in Marines' infantry experiment (Hope Hodge Seck,  Sept. 10, 2015, Marine Corps Times)

All-male ground combat teams outperformed their mixed-gender counterparts in nearly every capacity during a recent infantry integration test, Marine Corps officials revealed Thursday.

Data collected during a monthslong experiment showed Marine teams with female members performed at lower overall levels, completed tasks more slowly and fired weapons with less accuracy than their all-male counterparts. In addition, female Marines sustained significantly higher injury rates and demonstrated lower levels of physical performance capacity overall, officials said.

Posted by orrinj at 6:39 PM


The Martian brings science, largely unchanged, from book to screen (Lee Hutchinson - Sep 12, 2015, Ars Technica)

The movie gets it right. Though truncated for time, most of the major scenes in the book are present and recognizable, with science intact. In order to stretch his food supply, Watney grows potatoes on Mars (and those are in fact real potatoes on screen, according to Matt Damon). To make water, Watney pulls hydrogen out of extra hydrazine fuel and burns it. His long rover trek to Schiaparelli Crater--a huge focus in the book's third act--is mostly intact.

And, of course, Mark Watney is Mark Watney--the f-bomb dropping pirate-botanist king of Mars. Fears that Matt Damon lacked the charisma to pull off the role are completely unfounded, and he turns in a standout performance as an interplanetary Robinson Crusoe.

By the end of the film--no spoilers, don't worry--Watney has spent close to two years on Mars. Author Andy Weir--who was kind enough to talk to Ars at length last November and who also hung out with us at the movie's world premiere in Toronto--previously explained to us that he wanted to write a science story, not a character study in crippling depression, and so he deliberately wrote Mark Watney as a resourceful fellow with an almost inhuman amount of optimism and resolve. Even when faced with repeated catastrophes and setbacks, book-Watney is always ready to sleep on a problem and then doggedly narrate his solution.

Director Ridley Scott chose to go in a slightly different way with the film. So much of the book relies on the audience having access to Watney's internal monologue (because so much of the book is composed of Watney's journal writings), and heavy narration in movies is a dramatic device that rarely works. So, we get to hear Watney's thoughts via video logs that he keeps--but we also get to see Watney in a way that we can't in the novel.

Scott paints Mars almost as a contemporary twin to the planetoid on which the Nostromo crew lands in his 1979 film Alien (the world is referred to as "LV-426" in Aliens, but it has no name in the first film). The orchestral musical cues subtly echo Jerry Goldsmith's haunting score from that film, and Mars is shown in all its inhospitable vastness--often with that vastness juxtaposed against a very small and very insignificant Watney. Alien visual designer and Swiss surrealist H.R. Giger said in his Giger's Alien art book that he thought of the planetoid in that movie as his own biomechanical world; Ridley Scott's Mars is the sunlit antipode of that world, while still retaining a tremendous sense of indifference to the doings of humankind.

Posted by orrinj at 6:30 PM


Labour leadership: Jeremy Corbyn elected with huge mandate (Rowena Mason, 12 September 2015, The Guardian)

Minutes after his victory, Corbyn said the message is that people are "fed up with the injustice and the inequality" of Britain. [...]

Addressing the party's new members who helped propel him to victory, he said: "Welcome to our party, welcome to our movement. And I say to those returning to the party, who were in it before and felt disillusioned and went away: welcome back, welcome home."

Meanwhile, how's the last anti-neoliberal doing?

Greek polls point to conservative leader as surprise winner of national elections (Helena Smith, 12 September 2015, The Guardian)

Mustachioed, tall and in many ways resembling a Cretan warlord, Vangelis Meimarakis, the man never meant to be a leader, may emerge as the surprise winner of the Greek elections next week.

Opinion polls are showing that almost nothing about the snap ballot, the third this year, is reminiscent of previous votes - starting with Meimarakis, who fortuitously has found himself heading the conservative New Democracy party. Under his watch, the pro-European force has come within a whisper of former prime minister Alexis Tsipras's Syriza.

A poll released by the University of Macedonia on 11 September showed New Democracy trailing by just one point with 19%. Those polled said they had been impressed by Meimarakis's performance in a political leaders' debate last week, compared to 13.5% who favoured Tsipras.

A survey by Palmos Analysis on Saturday reinforced the findings, with the conservatives gathering 23.7% of voter support, compared with 24.9% for the leftists. "He has an emotional intelligence [and speaks] common sense," said political analyst Dimitris Kerides.

"He has also managed to unite the party's various factions, move it to the centre and, in so doing, appeal to a wider audience," he told the Observer. "He is the great surprise of this election."

September 11, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 8:03 PM


Goldman Sachs: Oil could hit $20 (Mark Thompson, 9/11/15, CNN)

Forget $40 a barrel oil. Prices could plummet to $20 as a massive supply glut persists until the end of next year.

That's the view of Goldman Sachs, which published an oil report Friday headlined "Lower for even longer."

The bank's commodities team slashed its forecast for average prices in 2016 to $45 per barrel from $57, but said the risks of a collapse to $20 were growing.

Posted by orrinj at 7:59 PM


The Construction Industry Struggles to Rebuild its Worker Ranks (KRIS HUDSON, 9/11/15, WSJ)

Scant availability of skilled construction workers has hampered home construction at various times in the past few years of recovery. But the shortfall seems to have grown more acute of late, as new-home sales are up 21.2% so far this year from the same period last year and commercial construction has increased steadily.

Construction employment isn't quite keeping pace with that rebound, and workers with certain skills, such as carpenters and sheet-metal installers, are hard to find.

"We are finding a greater failure rate of subcontractors in the industry because they are not able to hire the skilled workers that they need," said John Finch, chief executive of PBG Builders Inc. in Goodlettsville, Tenn., on a conference call with media on Thursday organized by the Associated General Contractors of America. "That's resulting in some budget issues and work that has to be redone."

Posted by orrinj at 7:55 PM


The hurling heroes of Ireland (Diarmaid Fleming, 9/04/15, BBC News)

Hurling is a bruising, sometimes bloody sport. In the Middle Ages the English banned the Irish from playing the game but in more recent times it has experienced a resurgence. On Sunday, a nation will be transfixed as Kilkenny and Galway fight it out in the All-Ireland final.

To its disciples, hurling is as much a sacred cultural jewel as it is a sport, the finals are epics which unveil or confirm the nation's sporting heroes. It's a fusion of legend and history - from mythology when the boy hero Setanta faced two teams on his own and won, to the modern game developed in the 1880s by the Gaelic Athletic Association to help rally Ireland's youth in the drive for independence a century ago.

Trying to describe hurling in words is a bit like attempting to explain a performance at the Bolshoi Theatre to someone who's never seen ballet, but I'll try. Fifteen men on each side lash a small cork and leather ball, or sliotar, distances of up to 100m with ash sticks, on a pitch a bit bigger than a soccer or rugby field.

Posted by orrinj at 7:37 PM


Wax Pack: One Man's Road Trip to Track down Every Player from a Pack of Baseball Cards (Steven Lebron, 9/09/15, Vice)

Meet Brad Balukjian. He's a 34-year-old with a PhD in entomology--the study of insects. While Balukjian was training as a scientist, he spent time in Tahiti and discovered 20 new species of insects that only lived in that area. With a background in journalism, Balukjian toggles between science writing and teaching biology at Laney College in Oakland. Oh, and this past summer, he went on an 11,341-mile road trip in his 2002 Honda Accord to visit 14 players from a pack of 1986 Topps baseball cards.

"It's a project I've always wanted to do for a while. It was just waiting for the right time," Balukjian tells me. He didn't just open one pack of cards. There are several, in case you get "four guys who are dead, or eight guys that are in California. The road trip was as much a part of the story as baseball," he said. And so, the pack he chose from to form his road trip included former Toronto Blue Jay Rance Mulliniks, Al Cowens, Garry Templeton, Randy Ready, Gary Pettis, Jaime Cocanower, Don Carman, Vince Coleman, Dwight Gooden, Lee Mazzilli, Richie Hebner, Carlton Fisk, Steve Yeager and Rick Sutcliffe.

There was also a checklist in the pack, which did not make it into the narrative. Of the 14 players, all were still living and breathing, with the exception of Cowens, who passed away in 2002 at the age of 50 from a heart attack. Admittedly, having Carman in the pack was a plus, since Balukjian grew up a Phillies fan and idolized the former Philadelphia pitcher. And, yes, just to confirm in case it's not apparent: baseball is Balukjian's favourite sport. He remembers spending hours outside in the backyard with a wiffle ball and bat playing out countless imaginary scenarios. He spent hours watching and talking baseball with his father, and still does.

September 10, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 8:26 PM


Are Today's Teens Better Behaved Than Their Parents Were? (Kimberly Leonard, Sept. 10, 2015, US News)

Teens today are making some better choices about substance abuse, which some say is a sign that public health messages are working.

The latest data released Thursday by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration shows that teens are drinking and smoking less, and reducing their use of prescription painkillers. The news comes just after another study on teens released this summer, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which showed that teen pregnancy was not only down but that teens were delaying sex.

Posted by orrinj at 8:19 PM


'I am hopeful' - an Iranian view of the nuclear deal : An academic sees scope for greater political freedom in his country. (Chiara Pellegrino | Sep 10 2015, MercatorNet)

In this interview Nasser Hadian, Professor of Political Science at the University of Tehran, talks to Chiara Pellegrino of Oasis about this development.

How has the US-Iran nuclear agreement been welcomed in Iran?

In terms of the reception within the general population, I can say that the majority of Iranians welcome the deal. In other words, not everyone is happy about the deal, and also not everyone was happy about the details of the deal, but the majority support it. The Iranian élites are generally divided into four groups: one which basically welcomes it all the way; another one that has criticisms but still welcome it; a third one that has legitimates criticism and has rejected it; and the fourth one, which is critical of the deal because they believe that it is not in Iran's interest to have any deal on its program.

How could the agreement affect the Iranian politics and society?

In term of the society, the expectation is the removal of the sanctions. This will gradually impact various aspects of society, leading to more investments, more jobs available, and an improvement in the standard of living. This is the platform that President Rouhani ran on, and the reason that he won the election. The Iranian people will expect him to honour his promises. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:15 PM


Palestinians allowed to raise flag at UN headquarters (AFP AND TIMES OF ISRAEL, September 11, 2015)

A resolution was adopted by member states with 119 in favor, eight voting against -- including Israel and the United States -- and 45 abstentions.

Posted by orrinj at 6:51 PM


Iran Gets Ready to Sell to the World : In anticipation of the end of sanctions, its tankers get moving. (Matthew Philips Golnar Motevalli, 9/10/15,  Bloomberg Businessweek)

Before the most recent round of sanctions went into effect three years ago, Iran was able to sell oil to 21 countries. By mid-2012, that was down to six: China, India, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Turkey. Rather than immediately pull back on production, and risk damaging oil wells by slowing them down, Iran decided to store its excess crude. As it scrambled to build onshore tanks, the government loaded millions of barrels onto its suddenly out-of-work fleet of crude-carrying vessels.

The Iranians eventually reduced their oil output by about a third, to a low of 2.5 million barrels a day in mid-2013, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. As exports fell to 1 million to 1.5 million barrels a day, Iran kept filling its tankers with oil it couldn't sell. By this summer, a large portion of its tanker fleet, one of the world's biggest, sat parked off the coast, filled with 50 million to 60 million barrels of crude and condensate, a lighter form of oil used to make petrochemicals.

Since the nuclear agreement between Iran and six other nations was reached on July 14, the regime has been preparing to ramp up its exports and sell that stored oil.

Posted by orrinj at 6:46 PM


Falling Food Prices, Rising Deflation Risk (Mark Gilbert, 9/10/15, Bloomberg View)

The 2 percent inflation target that the world's most important central banks regard as the Goldilocks scenario for consumer prices -- not too hot, not too cold -- looks less and less likely to be achieved any time soon in many countries. And with crude oil languishing at about $45 a barrel amid a glut of supply, the biggest decline in food prices in almost seven years suggests the risk of deflation is growing.

The United Nations compiles an index of 73 food prices. That index has fallen for 10 consecutive months, and figures released Thursday show the measure dropped by 5.2 percent last month. Food prices have now declined 35 percent from their peak in February 2011...

Of course, if we didn't have enough food it would cost more, which illustrates why this is a ridiculous "problem."
Posted by orrinj at 6:43 PM


Bobby Jindal just ripped Donald Trump as an 'unserious, unstable narcissist' in a vicious speech (Jeva Lange, 9/10/15, The Week)

Speaking at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., Jindal called Trump an "unserious, unstable, narcissist... an egomaniacal madman who has no principles." He also scoffed at Trump's claims of Christianity, saying, "You may have recently seen that after Trump said the Bible is his favorite book, he couldn't name a single Bible verse or passage that meant something to him. And we all know why, because it's all just a show, and he hasn't ever read the Bible. But you know why he hasn't read the Bible? Because he's not in it."

"It's a mistake to take Trump seriously," Jindal added. "Donald Trump is for Donald Trump."

The second tier candidates can do the party a world of good by taking on Trump so the top tier don't have to.
Posted by orrinj at 6:20 PM


BYE-BYE BLUE : Big Japanese IPO Signals Blue Demise (aMERICAN iNTEREST, 9/10/15)

Japan is putting a crown jewel of its once-robust blue model system on the auction block. The Wall Street Journal reports:

The Tokyo Stock Exchange said Japan Post Holdings and units Japan Post Bank Co. and Japan Post Insurance Co. are all scheduled to list Nov. 4. Japan Post Holdings aims to raise about ¥1.4 trillion from the simultaneous listings, based on the indicative prices.

That would be the biggest IPO since telecommunications provider NTT Docomo Inc.went public in 1998, raising ¥2.1 trillion, and the largest sale of a government-owned company since Nippon Telegraph & Telephone Corp. raised ¥2.4 billion in 1987.

This immense titan of everything blue--jobs for life, state-directed savings and investment, subsidized postal service, crony contracts with favored suppliers--has been a drain on the country's economy for years. Privatizing it should have happened decades ago; it is a white elephant that today's Japan cannot afford to feed.

Posted by orrinj at 6:04 PM


Hunted, episode one, Channel 4, review: 'intense' : This game of hide and seek for adults was enlightening and scary, says Gerard O'Donovan (Gerard O'Donovan, 10 Sep 2015, The Telegraph)

Just when you think reality television has nothing left to offer, along comes Hunted (Channel 4) to make you think again. While you're chewing your fingernails to the quick, it will make you goggle at the degree to which our behaviour can be monitored and predicted by hidden surveillance systems and the state.

Fourteen "ordinary members of the public" were challenged to disappear for 28 days and evade capture by a crack team of investigators. Heavy nods in the title sequence to the balance between liberty and security and the intrusive power of intelligence agencies quickly proved not to be empty TV waffle.

...exploring the tension between freedom and security.

Posted by orrinj at 4:50 PM


Senate Democrats block disapproval bill on Iran deal (ERICA WERNER AND DEB REICHMANN, September 10, 2015, AP)

US Senate Democrats voted to uphold the hard-fought nuclear accord with Iran on Thursday, overcoming ferocious Republican opposition and delivering President Barack Obama a legacy-making victory on his top foreign policy priority.

September 9, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:39 PM


Jeb Bush: My Tax Overhaul to Unleash 4% Growth : Three income-tax rates: 10%, 25% and 28%, plus a 20% corporate rate and immediate expensing on new investment. (JEB BUSH, Sept. 8, 2015, WSJ)

First, I want to lower taxes and make the tax code simple, fair and clear. It should be easy to understand and make it easy for people to fill out their own tax forms.

We will cut individual rates from seven brackets to three: 28%, 25% and 10%. At 28%, the highest tax bracket would return to where it was when President Ronald Reagan signed into law his monumental and successful 1986 tax reform.

With this reform in place, roughly 15 million Americans will no longer bear any income-tax liability. The plan nearly doubles the standard deduction now taken by roughly two-thirds of all filers. It eliminates the marriage penalty, expands the Earned Income Tax Credit, ends the death tax, retires the Alternative Minimum Tax and ends the employee's share of the Social Security tax on earnings for workers older than 67.

Second, I want to eliminate the convoluted, lobbyist-created loopholes in the code. For years, wealthy individuals have deducted a much greater share of their income than everyone else. We will retain the deductibility of charitable contributions but cap the deductions used by the wealthy and Washington special interests, enabling tax-rate cuts across the board for everyone. And while we're doing that, we will treat all noninvestment income the same, so unless you stake capital in an investment, you won't be able to claim the capital-gains tax rate on your market gains.

Third, I believe that the tax code should no longer be an impediment to the nation's competitiveness with China, Europe and the rest of the world. Liberals will tell you that we need walls and tariffs to protect U.S. businesses from international competitors. The liberals are wrong; we need tax reform. To stop American companies from moving out of the country, I will cut the corporate tax rate from 35%--the highest in the industrial world--to 20%, which is five percentage points below China's.

We will end the practice of world-wide taxation on U.S. businesses, which fosters the insidious tactic called corporate "inversions." This is when small overseas companies buy big U.S. companies so that both can enjoy the lowest tax rate possible, costing American jobs and revenue. And we will assess a one-time tax of 8.75%, payable over 10 years, on the more than $2 trillion in corporate profits sitting overseas.

We will also allow businesses to fully and immediately deduct new capital investments--a critical step to increase worker productivity and wages. To pay for this, we will eliminate most corporate tax deductions--which is where favor-seeking and lobbying are most common--and remove the deduction for borrowing costs. That deduction encourages business models dependent on heavy debt.

When we accomplish these big reforms, the result will be a much simpler, leaner and fairer tax code.

Twelve reasons to like Jeb's tax plan (Greg Mankiw, 9/09/15)

It lowers the top rate on personal income to 28 percent, the same rate as the bipartisan 1986 tax reform.
 It broadens the base by capping the use of itemized deductions.
 It eliminates the deductibility of state and local taxes, so low-tax states and towns no longer subsidize high-tax ones. [...]

 It eliminates the estate tax, so the tax system no longer penalizes those who want to help their children and grandchildren.
 It lowers the corporate tax rate to be close to international norms.
 It moves from a global to a territorial tax system, like most other nations have.
 It eliminates the deductibility of interest expenses, putting debt finance and equity finance on a more level planning field.
 It includes full expensing of investment expenditure, moving the system toward a consumption-based tax.

Sure, it's better than the current tax regime and moves us towards our final destination (consumption taxes), but it fails to address the fundamental question : why should we tax what we want, like income, at all?

Posted by orrinj at 6:44 PM


Seva Novgorodsev: The DJ who 'brought down the USSR' (William Kremer, 9/05/15, BBC World Service)

A mellow late-night-radio voice floats over the horn introduction to Stevie Wonder's Sir Duke. "Good evening and welcome from London," come the words in Russian. "Today we will focus on the most popular records of the week, both in Britain and the United States."

With those words, broadcast late in the evening on Friday 10 June 1977, Seva Novgorodsev began his career as the BBC's DJ for the Soviet Union. Over the next four decades, he would become an unofficial - and definitely unwelcome - ambassador for Western popular culture behind the Iron Curtain.

In the 1980s it's thought that 25 million people regularly tuned their shortwave radios to hear Seva's crackly broadcasts of David Bowie, Queen and Michael Jackson on the BBC Russian Service. The influence of these programmes, arriving at the end of the Soviet era, was enormous. [...]

He became known for his satirical word-play, which was perfectly captured in the names of his programmes. Some of these enlisted his first name, which literally means "crop". His music show was Rock-posevy - meaning both Rock Crops and Seva's Rock. His chat show, which began in 1987, was Sevaoborot - crop rotation. Both names poked fun at the Soviet obsession with news reports about agriculture and industry. [...]

"And this is what led to the liberation of the young people - when they saw the Soviet reality suddenly. In a funny light that was it - it was no longer a terrible beast, it was a little cat that you could stroke."

Even in the era of perestroika, the gentle teasing continued, though it was perhaps a coincidence that the arrival of Seva's wine-fuelled chat show Sevaoborot - which brought listeners a sort of on-air dinner party complete with interesting conversation - coincided with Gorbachev hiking the tax on vodka and razing vineyards.

Seva's constant stream of light-hearted references to the banality of Soviet life, alternating with catchy Western pop songs, led to him being described on numerous occasions as "the man who caused the demise of the Soviet Union".

"Of course, it's kind of an exaggeration or hyperbole, but the thing is that there is some truth in it," says Andrei Ostalski, who was editor of the BBC Russian Service during the launch of BBSeva. By avoiding political diatribes, Ostalski says, Seva did not put his patriotic listeners on the defensive. Instead, he allowed appealing bits of Western culture, filtered through his Russian sensibility, to arouse his listeners' interest. "He was a symbol of this curiosity and the way it caused this great penetration of certain Western values into Soviet society, which was sort of deadly for the regime."

The Soviet Union jammed the World Service signal, but listeners could often hear it, if they searched carefully and located the bandwidth the KGB had left open to monitor the broadcasts. 
The signal was better in rural areas, so Seva's Friday-night show became an established curtain-raiser to weekends at the dacha in the country.

Seva says he later discovered that Soviet leaders were so worried about the influence of his broadcasts that they instructed TV producers to schedule big shows to run against Rock-posevy. Russian newspapers also published many critical pieces about him, which he assiduously collected in five box files with the title "Personal Fame".

It was less his military build-up than his making fun of them that was Reagan's greatest weapon.
Posted by orrinj at 6:33 PM


Wonder : A theoretical physicist searches for the design behind nature's beauty. : a review of Frank Wilczek's A Beautiful Question: Finding Nature's Deep Design (Amy X. Wang, Slate)

To Wilczek--who received the Nobel Prize in 2004 for his work in particle physics--the innate human appreciation for beauty lies in the "deep design" of nature itself. In other words, we're infatuated with beauty because the universe was created to be beautiful. Wilczek's aim is grand, perhaps daringly so: He argues that beauty is the core organizational principle of every speck in the universe. The "beautiful question" of the book is a simple one: "Is the world a work of art?"

History books reveal that humans have always built their civilizations around two things: an obsessive desire for beauty and an analytical quest for truth. It's a classic tale--the artist and the scientist, two halves of society. Wilczek tries to marry the two, arguing that they are one and the same: A search for the scientific is a hunger for the beautiful. Beauty is order, and order is beauty. His argument isn't spiritual, but based on fact--as an agnostic, the author steers well clear of religion, and the result is a bracing meditation that leans convincingly on hard science.

All forces of nature, from electromagnetism to gravity, "embody, at their heart, a common principle: local symmetry," Wilczek writes. It's this symmetry that calls to us. When we declare a certain color combination aesthetically pleasing, what we're really admiring is its perfect order. Our love of lakes and rivers is a way of paying homage to the timely organization of waves, to the synchronized dance of wind and air. [...]

This is the book of a love-struck physicist--one who leaps, within the span of a page, from providing a dense explanation of photons to delightedly comparing atoms to "tiny musical instruments." The word question--as in, the beautiful question driving everything--is endearingly capitalized every time, as if Wilczek frets that the reader might forget its importance. And sustained above all the science lessons is the clear note of the book's unremitting love of the universe.

If we're instinctively obsessed with beauty because it's orderly, then this book--a book that organizes beauty into order--tugs at that very instinct in order to foster our understanding. At every turn, Wilczek cleverly reels the science of beauty back to basic organizational principles, whether visual or abstract. Astronomy is shown to operate within simple rules of geometry. Music is deconstructed into its primary form, auditory harmony. The same principles of symmetry and economy, which Wilczek calls the "hallmarks of nature's artistic style," make their way into Newton's method of reductionism and James Clerk Maxwell's theory of electrodynamics. Even if we can't fully understand the laws of nature themselves, Wilczek lets us appreciate how they are mirrored and embedded within one another, catering once again to our deep, universally programmed need for organization.

Posted by orrinj at 4:47 PM


Retail clinics and smartphone apps combine to change old-fashioned doctor-patient relationship (Tom Murphy, 9/09/15, The Associated Press)

Doctors say primary care is growing fragmented and turning into more of a commodity, with physician access based on what consumers will pay.

"I think the role of primary care has diminished ... and I don't see encouraging signs that it is having a renaissance," said Dr. Robert Berenson, a researcher at the nonpartisan Urban Institute, which studies health care issues.

The shift began more than a decade ago and has accelerated in recent years, the result of technology and competition creating more convenient options for care that does not require an in-person doctor visit. Insurance reforms have also contributed by pushing patients to shop around for the best price.

These changes have helped make basic care more accessible to patients and lowered the cost per visit for many consumers.

Posted by orrinj at 4:39 PM


Most Americans View Access to Health Care as a Moral Issue... (HealthDay News, 9/08/15) 

An overwhelming majority of Americans believes that access to health care is a moral issue, and that the United States should be able to afford universal health care if other developed nations can do the same. [...]

The poll also found that a 63 percent to 21 percent majority favors a universal health care system -- by party affiliation the breakdown is 33 percent Republican, 87 percent Democrat and 61 percent independent. And a 76 percent to 24 percent majority also agrees that since most other advanced countries can afford to provide universal health insurance, so could this country.

In addition, an overwhelming 84 percent to 16 percent majority believes that having a system that ensures that sick people get the care they need is a moral issue. That includes 75 percent of Republicans and 91 percent of Democrats.

Posted by orrinj at 10:11 AM


The New Redistribution: 5 Radical Ideas For Reversing Income Inequality : Should everyone get a minimum inheritance at birth? How about a government-guaranteed income or job? In the face of a growing income gap, we may need to get revolutionary. (Ben Schiller, 9/08/15, Co.Exist)


One the big advantages of having wealth is that you can pay it forward (most of it) to future generations. It's one of the things that puts the children of richer families ahead. The idea of a minimum inheritance is to even the score, so that kids of poor families build "equity" as well. Also known as "capital endowment accounts," these minimum inheritances are paid at birth into accounts, where they accrue until a child is 18. North Carolina, for example, runs a well-known Individual Development Account for its citizens.

The minimum inheritance can be financed from state coffers, or directly by way of a wealth tax, as proposed by Bruce Ackerman and Anne Alstott. Atkinson's version would be financed from a "lifetime capital receipts tax," with larger inheritance transfers and gifts taxed at higher rates (gifts within marriages and civil partnerships would be exempt). "The key element in the proposal is that people are taxed on the amount received rather than the amount left, as happens under the current system," he says. [...]


Finally, Atkinson gets behind the idea of a "basic income guarantee." This would be a universal payment to all citizens, ensuring that nobody is completely poor. A basic income would set a financial floor below people's feet so they have a safety net and can grow financially from there. The attraction is that this income would replace some or all existing social transfers (such as welfare or food stamps) and instead just involve one payment. The idea is popular on the left because it's distributional, while on the right, it seems more straightforward and fair than complicated government programs. A single benefit payment, rather than lots of in-kind services, allows people to spend money as they want. Some local governments are even beginning to experiment with the idea.

Atkinson's basic income would be tied to participation. People would only receive money if they could prove they were making a contribution to society, including some kind of work, education, skills, training, home care or voluntary work. This gets around the main criticism of basic income, which is that encourages people to become lazy.

Posted by orrinj at 10:06 AM


Space station astronauts have read 'The Martian,' now can't wait to see the movie _ from orbit (MARCIA DUNN, 9/08/15, AP)

The book "The Martian" is earning high praise from space, and the astronaut-reviewer can't wait to see the soon-to-be-released movie.

NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren said Tuesday from the International Space Station that both he and crewmate Scott Kelly have read the novel by Andy Weir. Lindgren told reporters he really enjoyed the book and hopes to get a copy of the film beamed up to orbit on Oct. 2, the day of release, or shortly thereafter.

The astronauts chatted with the star of the film, Matt Damon, last month by phone. They called the actor -- who portrays fictional astronaut Mark Watney, who's mistakenly left for dead on Mars -- while he was touring Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. [...]

Like Kelly, Damon recently signed up to have his name sent to Mars aboard NASA's next lander, named InSight. The spacecraft is due to launch next March and arrive at Mars next September. Posing with his "boarding pass" to the red planet, Kelly noted in a tweet over the weekend that in the time he's already spent in orbit, he'd be almost to Mars. He and Kornienko took off from Kazakhstan in March.

Posted by orrinj at 9:58 AM


Is Putin Planning a Gamble in Syria? (Leonid Bershidsky, 9/08/15, Bloomberg View)

There's enough noise about the increased Russian presence in the Latakia area for Russian media to speculate about a "second hybrid war" and "getting bogged down" in Syria as the Soviet Union did in Afghanistan and Putin's Russia did in eastern Ukraine. [...]

 The "demonstration of power" idea must be tempting. Russian troops have only proven their effectiveness in small local conflicts recently -- the swift operation against Georgia, the bloodless occupation of unprotected Crimea, a couple of successful battles against a weak Ukrainian military. A success where, as Putin noted last week, the U.S.-led campaign of airstrikes is failing to stop the advance of ISIS would advertise Russia as a force to reckon with outside its home region. On the other hand, allowing the anti-Assad forces -- ISIS or other rebel groups -- to seize Latakia and then perhaps the small Russian naval base in Tartus would suggest Russian weakness, something Putin hates to allow. The facility, which in peacetime had just four Russian naval personnel taking care of occasional vessel repairs, now appears to house hundreds of marines arriving on ships such as the Nikolai Filchenkov.

Putin doesn't really need a deal with the U.S. to step up that presence. All he requires is quiet on the Ukrainian front to free the Russian military from distractions -- and indeed, in recent days, all fighting there has stopped, as if by magic. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko even said last week that the Minsk ceasefire agreement was truly being observed for the first time since it was signed in February. 

Going into Syria would be the same kind of bold move as the Crimea annexation: Putin would try to win first and negotiate later. Many of the servicemen being sent to Syria now are from Crimean bases. The difficulty is that ISIS is not the cowed, disorganized Ukrainian military of March 2014. It has repeatedly proved its military prowess both against Assad's forces and the Western-trained Iraqi army. Russian generals may be telling Putin they can beat ISIS, but then Soviet generals also told Leonid Brezhnev in 1979 that they could overrun Afghanistan.

Posted by orrinj at 9:33 AM


The War on Women Is Over--and Women Lost (Molly Redden, 9/09/15, Mother Jones)

This is what 2015 looks like: Abortion providers struggle against overwhelming odds to stay open, while women "turn themselves into pretzels" to get to them, as one researcher put it. Activists have been calling it the "war on women." But the onslaught of new abortion restrictions has been so successful, so strategically designed, and so well coordinated that the war in many places has essentially been lost.

Most abortions today involve some combination of endless wait, interminable journey, military-level coordination, and lots of money. Roe v. Wade was supposed to put an end to women crossing state lines for their abortions. But while reporting this story, I learned of women who drove from Kentucky to New Jersey, or flew from Texas to Washington, DC, because it was the only way they could have the procedure. Even where laws can't quite make it impossible for abortion clinics to stay open--they are closing down at a rate of 1.5 every single week--they can make it exhausting to operate one. In every corner of America, four years of unrelenting assaults on reproductive rights have transformed all facets of giving an abortion or getting one--possibly for good.

"Every day is just frightening," Chelian said. "I think things are bad, and then they get worse somewhere else. And you go, 'Oh my God, it could be worse.' And I go to sleep with that. I wake up with that."

September 8, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 8:21 PM


Donald Trump tells biographer he's the same now as he was in first grade (Jeva Lange, 9/08/15, The Week)

Donald Trump's temper-tantrum tactics have been explained by the man himself. The frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination admitted to his biographer that, "When I look at myself in the first grade and I look at myself now, I'm basically the same. The temperament is not that different."

He's fundamentally female--emotional, not thoughtful--and, thus, a Democrat.
Posted by orrinj at 8:16 PM


Why the Fed Must Banish the 1970's Inflation Devil Before Raising Rates (Mark Thoma, 9/08/15, The Fiscal Times)
[I]n the face of such uncertainty raising rates too soon is potentially much more harmful than raising rates too late, so why not take a wait and see approach? 

The answer from the Fed is that there are long lags between the time policy is implemented and its impact on the economy, so the Fed needs to preemptively change policy well before evidence of rising inflation is present in the data. 

However, two factors work against this argument. The first comes from new research by Ekaterina Peneva and Jeremy Rudd of the Federal Reserve, "The Passthrough of Labor Costs to Price Inflation." This work finds that there is "little evidence that changes in labor costs have had a material effect on price inflation in recent years." They also review other research on this topic, and note, "The general conclusion that emerges from this literature is that there appears to be a break in the relation between labor costs and broad price measures, with changes in labor costs having little or no predictive power for price inflation after the early 1980s." 

Related: Muddled Jobs Report Leaves Fed in a Jam Watching Markets 

Thus, members of the Fed who remember the "cost push" inflation of the 1970s may be basing their policy conclusions on fears about pass through from wages to prices that are no longer justified by empirical results. In any case, the research supports a cautious approach to raising rates even if labor markets are tightening. 

And there is something else that has likely changed since the 1970s, the lag between changes in monetary policy and its impact on the inflation rate.  To explain this lag, macroeconomists use mechanisms such as the costs of changing prices, the cost of adjusting inventories, and the cost of adjusting the labor force that cause firms to spread the adjustment to shocks over time. 

Empirical work performed long ago found that the lags in response to monetary policy changes are, to quote Milton Friedman, "long and variable." But it's hard to believe that the lags have not shortened over time with advances in digital technology. Price changes no longer need to be calculated by hand, inventory management has improved by leaps and bounds, labor market insecurity has risen, and so on, and so on. The precise value of the policy lag is not known, it is very difficult to determine econometrically (especially when the structure varies due to technological change), but if the lags have shortened - and it's hard to believe they haven't - then the Fed can be more patient now than in the past. 

The inflation problems of the 1970s, the loss of Fed credibility that came with it, and the need to impose the Volcker recession in the early 1980s to bring inflation down to tolerable levels made an indelible impression on policymakers who lived through that time period. The Fed's trigger-happy response to any suggestion of an inflation problem is directly related to the desire to never let such an inflation outburst happen again. 

But it has been more than four decades since the beginning of the inflation problems of the 1970s, and the economic environment in which monetary policy operates has changed considerably since that time. Those changes support patience, particularly in response to increases in wages, wages that have been stagnant since the 1970s even as labor productivity has been increasing. 

Raising rates into the teeth of a deflationary epoch has caused the last three (or four, depending how you count them) slowdowns.  We don't need to repeat the same mistake.

Posted by orrinj at 8:13 PM


At a Berlin church, Muslim refugees converting in droves (KIRSTEN GRIESHABER, Sep. 4, 2015, AP)

Mohammed Ali Zonoobi bends his head as the priest pours holy water over his black hair. "Will you break away from Satan and his evil deeds?" pastor Gottfried Martens asks the Iranian refugee. "Will you break away from Islam?"

"Yes," Zonoobi fervently replies. Spreading his hands in blessing, Martens then baptizes the man "in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost."

Mohammed is now Martin -- no longer Muslim, but Christian.

Zonoobi, a carpenter from the Iranian city of Shiraz, arrived in Germany with his wife and two children five months ago. He is one of hundreds of mostly Iranian and Afghan asylum seekers who have converted to Christianity at the evangelical Trinity Church in a leafy Berlin neighborhood.

Like Zonoobi, most say true belief prompted their embrace of Christianity. But there's no overlooking the fact that the decision will also greatly boost their chances of winning asylum by allowing them to claim they would face persecution if sent home.

Martens recognizes that some convert in order to improve their chances of staying in Germany -- but for the pastor motivation is unimportant. Many, he said, are so taken by the Christian message that it changes their lives. And he estimates that only about 10 percent of converts do not return to church after christening. [...]

[A]s other churches across Germany struggle with dwindling numbers of believers, Martens has seen his congregation swell from 150 just two years to more than 600 parishioners now -- with a seemingly unending flow of new refugees finding the way to his congregation. Some come from cities as far away as Rostock on the Baltic Sea, having found out by word-of-mouth that Martens not only baptizes Muslims after a three-month "crash course" in Christianity, but also helps them with asylum pleas.

Other Christian communities across Germany, among them Lutheran churches in Hannover and the Rhineland, have also reported growing numbers of Iranians converting to Christendom. There are no exact numbers on how many Muslims have converted in Germany in recent years -- and they are a tiny minority compared to the country's overall 4 million Muslims. But at least for Berlin, Martens describes the number of conversions as nothing short of a "miracle." And he says he has at least another 80 people -- mostly refugees from Iran and a few Afghans -- waiting to be baptized.

Germany is witnessing an unprecedented surge of asylum-seekers this year, with the number of migrants expected to reach 800,000 this year, a fourfold increase on last year.

Many of the new arrivals come from Muslim countries such as Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan or Pakistan. While refugees from civil-war-torn Syria will almost definitely be receiving asylum status, the situation is more complicated for asylum seekers from Iran or Afghanistan, which are seen as more stable. In recent years, roughly 40-50 percent from those two countries have been allowed to stay in the country, with many of those getting only temporary permission to remain.

Posted by orrinj at 8:09 PM


The surprising conservative roots of the Common Core: How conservatives gave rise to 'Obamacore' (David Whitman, Brookings)

As this paper documents, the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) embody conservative principles in setting goals for student learning that date back to Ronald Reagan.

The conservative roots of the Common Core are little known today, but efforts at education reform during the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations laid the ground work for today's national standards. In fact, those efforts make Barack Obama and Arne Duncan's efforts to encourage voluntary state adoption of the Common Core standards look timid by comparison. 

Despite widespread misinformation on the Common Core, the  standards tilt heavily toward conservative pedagogical traditions in their rigor, their call for content-rich curriculum, their emphasis on the development of literacy in history, civics, and foundational documents of American democracy, and their expectation that students will use evidence from readings in persuasive writing and class discussions.

David Whitman argues that the adoption of such higher standards through the Common Core is a major advance for America's students. But he notes it is still too early to tell if raising standards will necessarily lead to better outcomes for students and more enriching teaching opportunities for educators. He contends in this paper that conservatives could play a leading role in ensuring that the CCSS is implemented with fidelity to conservative principles if they abandon the false narrative that the CCSS constitutes a federal takeover of what is taught in schools.

Posted by orrinj at 8:06 PM


Iran Nuke Deal Could Pass Without a Senate Vote (Eric Pianin and Martin Matishak, The Fiscal Times)

A bipartisan deal worked out early this year gave Congress the authority to review and reject the final nuclear deal if it chooses. As written, the law gave congress up to 60 days to review the details of the agreement and then introduce a resolution of approval or disapproval.

That left Obama with the option of vetoing the resolution - and making it stick if he could round up at least 34 votes to prevent a two-thirds override in the Senate. It also left open the possibility - not seen as likely at the time - that the Democrats could actually filibuster the resolution--and keep it from ever being brought up.

Posted by orrinj at 5:47 PM


In Sanders vs. Clinton, New Hampshire replays past splits (Dan Balz, September 7, 2015, Washington Post)

The political headlines out of New Hampshire this weekend bear an eerie resemblance to those of September 1999: an underdog senator overtaking a prohibitive front-runner in the battle for the Democratic presidential nomination.

In that case it was then-Sen. Bill Bradley (N.J.) surging ahead of then-Vice President Al Gore. Today it's Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) making life difficult for former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Sixteen years ago, Bradley could not hold his lead. He lost to Gore in Iowa and then narrowly in New Hampshire, which washed away his hopes of winning the nomination. [...]
It is not entirely surprising that Sanders, like Bradley, has found a receptive audience in New Hampshire this far in advance of the primary. The Granite State often hectors front-runners, at least for a time, and its demographics provide a political petri dish for an underdog insurgency like the campaign Sanders is running.

The electorate is relatively better educated and more affluent than in some other states. Independents -- or non-declared voters -- are allowed to vote in whichever primary they choose and often play a significant role in determining the outcome.

Posted by orrinj at 5:36 PM


China's people shortage (Ross Elliott, 9 September 2015, Online Opinion)

Thanks in part to the impact of the one child policy on its demography, it is fast going to find itself with a shortage of working age people relative to the number of young and elderly who will rely on those of working age for their taxes and other forms of support.

Introduced in the late 1970s, the one child policy was an experiment in totalitarian control. China's birth rate fell from over 5 to just over 1.5 compared with a birth rate of 2.2 needed for any nation to sustain its population numbers. Most of that fall in fertility however occurred before the one child policy took effect, as the country began its transition from a rural economy where large families were an economic necessity to an increasingly urban economy where large families are hard to house. Chinese families over time have also shown a preference for boys over girls: again because of perceived economic benefit. In 2014, there were 100 female babies to every 114 males, well out of kilter. Sadly, infanticide is a factor. This also works against higher rates of population growth.

China's rate of population growth peaked at around 2.74% in 1970. It has fallen rapidly since then and today stands at around 0.61%. The prediction is that this will fall to zero by around 2030 from which point on the total population of China will be in decline.

Posted by orrinj at 5:31 PM


States to Help Workers Save for Retirement (DAVID HARRISON, Sept. 7, 2015, WSJ)

In July, Oregon became the third state to enact legislation creating automatic individual retirement accounts for workers who don't have retirement plans at work. The plans are an attempt to cushion the blow for millions of workers who could someday find themselves too old to work but short of savings, state officials said. They are also an attempt to protect taxpayers in the future, said Oregon Treasurer Ted Wheeler.

"If people have not saved, they're completely dependent upon government safety-net programs," Mr. Wheeler said.

The gradual but broad shift away from old-fashioned pensions--which provided lifetime retirement payments to retirees--has left millions of Americans unprepared for retirement, experts say.

In the private sector, nearly 44% of prime-age workers don't have access to a retirement plan at work, according to Labor Department figures analyzed by Nari Rhee, a researcher at the University of California, Berkeley. About 46% of private-sector workers now take part in a workplace retirement plan, meaning almost 10% of workers have access to a plan but don't participate.

"It's shocking...that less than half of employed adults are covered by any kind of employer plan," said Alicia Munnell, director of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, which is working with Connecticut to set up a program. "There's just a huge coverage gap out there."

Posted by orrinj at 4:06 PM


Fewer fires, so why are there far more firefighters? (Fred S. McChesney September 4 , 2015, Washington Post)

Rapid improvements in fire safety have caused a dramatic drop in the number of blazes, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Buildings are constructed with fire-resistant materials; clothing and curtains are made of flame-retardant fabrics; and municipal laws mandate sprinkler systems and smoke detectors. The striking results: On highways, vehicle fires declined 64 percent from 1980 to 2013. Building fires fell 54 percent during that time. When they break out, sprinkler systems almost always extinguish the flames before firefighters can turn on a hose.

But oddly, as the number of fires has dropped, the ranks of firefighters have continued to grow -- significantly. There are half as many fires as there were 30 years ago, but about 50 percent more people are paid to fight them.

This is no secret. Across the country, cities and towns have been trying to bring firefighting operations in line with the plummeting demand for their services. Many solutions have been attempted: reducing the length of firefighters' shifts; merging services with neighboring towns; and instituting brownouts, which temporarily take an engine out of service. But often, these efforts have failed against obstinate unions and haven't reversed the national increase in fire department payrolls.

Instead of addressing this municipal waste with patchwork plans to cut overtime and shrink staffs, many cities and towns should consider throwing out the very concept of the career firefighter and return to the tradition of volunteers.

Posted by orrinj at 4:02 PM


The partnership: How a bold American imam and his skeptical Israeli host bridged the Muslim-Jewish chasm : Since 2013, dozens of young US Muslim leaders have traveled to Israel to learn about Judaism, Zionism and Israel. This is the full story of their high-risk, taboo-shattering initiative -- a vital step, they hope, toward Muslim-Jewish healing in America and beyond (DAVID HOROVITZ September 8, 2015, Times of Israel)

What is exceptional, however, is that the 20 or so students in Kurtzer's class today are not Jews. Neither are they Christians, for whom Hartman has run programs for many years. They are, rather, Muslims. American Muslim leaders, to be precise. Most of them are in their 30s and 40s.One is of Lebanese origin, another Algerian, a third Iraqi. Almost all are in Western dress. Two of the women wear hijabs. And they are here, in Jerusalem, because they want to learn about Judaism, Zionism and Israel.

This is not an interfaith effort. It is not an exercise in dialogue between two religions whose relationship overflows with violence, tension and bitterness. It is an educational program, whose participants have come to Israel to understand why Jews believe what they believe, how Jews see their history, why Jews are so attached to this contested strip of land -- and thus to better engage with American Jews when they return to the United States. It's an effort by goodhearted people, a complicated, fraught, even dangerous effort, to throw some light into the dark abyss of ignorance and hatred that separates almost all Jews and Muslims worldwide.

These 20 or so students are the third "cohort" -- the third group -- in Hartman's Muslim Leadership Initiative (MLI). The cohorts go through a program that lasts a year -- with two weeks at Hartman in Israel at the start, a series of lectures in the US, and two more weeks at Hartman at the end. This Sunday class is part of Cohort 3's opening two weeks in Israel. And as with their predecessors, the calm, scholarly atmosphere in the classroom belies the frenzy that their very presence in Israel is provoking.

On the previous Friday, the group went to pray at al-Aqsa mosque, which ought to have been a joyful highlight of their visit. Instead, it was a stressful experience, because the fact of their presence here in Israel was being hyped on some pro-BDS social media outlets as nothing short of treason. Participants in the previous two programs have been castigated by anti-Israel activists as "Muslim Zionists," traitors to the wider Muslim and specific Palestinian cause. They have been accused of being duped into "faithwashing... using religion to whitewash Israeli crimes and dilute the occupation," of undermining the "Palestine solidarity movement," of being engaged in "an effort to blunt support for Palestinian rights among North American Muslim communities." Their decision to go to Israel via "a Zionist, anti-BDS institution is incredibly shameful and dangerous," wrote a columnist in the Islamic Monthly last year. This program "undercuts the plight of Palestinians and normalizes Zionism - a racist ideology and institution that is antithetical to our own Islamic traditions of social justice - within our communities."

This time, a petition was being circulated against the group, and there were concerns that they might be physically confronted at prayers.

For that reason, Imam Abdullah Antepli, the founding director of Duke University's Center for Muslim Life, the university's first Muslim chaplain, and the prime mover behind the MLI program, did not go to Al-Aqsa with the rest of the group that day. He is the only member of the group whose name and face were widely known and publicized. Instead, together with author Yossi Klein Halevi, the MLI co-director, he sat with me for three hours to explain why he so energetically, insistently, indeed desperately pushed to establish the program, through which he ultimately aims to bring to Israel a "critical mass" of the most promising young American Muslim leaders -- young leaders committed to better understanding American Jews, Zionism and Israel, and seeking to build better relations with North American Jewry.

It's not for Israel's sake. It's not for the good of the Jews, he emphasizes. It's for the sake of Islam, and most especially for American Muslims.

Antepli stands for what he says is authentic Islam. For an Islam of tolerance and equality. For an Islam whose American adherents seek constructive integration into mainstream American society. And if this decent Islam is to be accepted in an America scarred by Islamic extremism, he believes, one of the central paths to that acceptance runs via the US Jewish community, which itself so successfully integrated into America. Put simply, if American Jews come to understand, empathize with, and most importantly learn to trust American Muslims, Antepli is certain, then the rest of America, the Christian mainstream, will gradually follow suit.

And how better, as Muslims, to try to demonstrate that you can be trusted by American Jews than to study Judaism at one of the Jewish world's most highly regarded liberal educational institutions -- not in America, but teeming, divisive, complicated Israel?

Posted by orrinj at 3:56 PM


Spain closes deal to supply Iranian natural gas to Europe (STUART WINER, September 7, 2015, TIMES of Israel)

Spain has reached an agreement to ship Iranian natural gas to Europe, in the wake of a nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers that has seen crippling economic sanctions on the Islamic Republic lifted.

The deal came amid a series of meetings between Iranian authorities and an economic trade delegation of some 70 Spanish companies, accompanied by government officials, which visited Tehran, the Iranian Mehr News reported on Monday.

Posted by orrinj at 3:42 PM


Elizabeth Warren: I agree with Donald Trump on taxes (Tom Kludt, 9/08/15, CNN Money)

Elizabeth Warren has endorsed Donald Trump -- on taxes, anyway.

Warren, the Massachusetts senator and populist champion, said Tuesday that she supports Trump's proposal to levy higher taxes on the rich.

"There are a lot of places where he gets out and talks about important things," Warren said during an appearance on "The View." "Donald Trump and I both agree that there ought to be more taxation of the billionaires, the people who are making their money on Wall Street."

Gotta pay for National Health and rounding up the coloreds somehow.
Posted by Glenn Dryfoos at 8:27 AM


Happy Birthday, Sonny

Sonny Rollins +3

Today, September 7, is the 85th birthday of tenor sax great Sonny Rollins, the world's greatest living jazz musician.  In tribute to this remarkable artist, here is a review of the last Rollins concert I attended (in March 2006) and which was originally published on BrothersJudd under the heading "WGLJM."  (This was one of my first-ever posts for BrothersJudd and where the idea for ATJ started.)  

Sonny Rollins  played at the venerable Gusman Center in downtown Miami on Tuesday night. Printed above Sonny's name on the ticket were the words "Sax God"...not as poetic as "Saxophone Colossus," which is what I've previously seen printed on Rollins tickets (and the name of perhaps his greatest album), but a more efficient use of letters and syllables and just as accurate. Given the turnout I've seen for other jazz concerts in Miami, I was pleasantly surprised that the theater was sold out.

The evening started with some functionaries presenting Sonny with (1) a proclamation from Mayor and City Commissioners declaring March 14 "Sonny Rollins Day" and (2) a key to the City. For some reason, they made the speeches and held up the proclamation and key without Rollins  on stage. But soon enough, Sonny ambled out with his stiff-legged, shuffling gait, and accepted the awards with a few quick "thank you's" and a bemused smile on his face. By the way, his walk is about the only sign of his age catching up to him (he's 75). Although his beard is all white and his hair is more snow than coal, he remains tall and powerful looking, and his unique nasal voice (think Muppet) is still strong and clear. But his walk is that of an old man, perhaps a former football player or basketball player whose knees no longer have any cartilage.

After the brief ceremony, the band took the stage: Sonny, Clifton Anderson (Sonny's nephew) on trombone, Bobby Broom (who I went to jazz camp with almost 30 years ago) on guitar, Victor Lewis on drums, and Bob Cranshaw, who has been playing electric bass behind Sonny for more than 20 years.

Sonny Rollins is, without debate, the World's Greatest Living Jazz Musician, but his live performances can be uneven. When he's feeling it, no musician can bring an audience to greater heights of musical ecstasy; but when he can't find it, Sonny will noodle around on the head of a tune for a few minutes and then turn things over to the band. Sometimes, both phenomena happen in the same concert, and Tuesday night was fairly typical.

During the first 2 numbers, neither Sonny nor the band could seem to get much momentum going. The first number, a medium tempo standard (that I didn't recognize) wasn't helped by the fact that it featured a long drum seemed out of place so early in the show and didn't seem to build up from anything. The second tune was "Park Place," a calypso (a Sonny trademark and a nod to his West Indies heritage), but it was a strangely subdued example of the genre. Sonny's playing wasn't bad...his distinctive growling tone was strong and there were some interesting phrases...but it wasn't what we came to hear from the WGLJM.

Ah, but then Sonny segued from the calypso to the opening notes Ellington's "In a Sentimental Mood," and in an instant, there was magic in the air. As is his custom, Sonny started pacing the stage while playing, at times criss-crossing a small false stage front that was about a step below the main stage as though he were "walking the bar." His sound became magisterial, his ideas began flowing more smoothly, and the rhythm section starting laying down a cohesive, firm foundation for Sonny's excursion. (Bob Crenshaw's bass playing is especially worth mentioning. It took me the better part of 15 years to get used to Sonny playing with an electric bass, but now I can't imagine any other backing for him. Crenshaw's tone is as supple as one can coax from an electric bass, and I've come to believe that Sonny's thunderous tone would overwhelm an acoustic instrument.) The music continued at that unsurpassable level for then next 2 numbers, "They Say It's Wonderful" and an old waltz, "Someday I'll Find You." "They Say" was Rollins at his jaunty, euphoric best. Riffs, swinging lines, shouts, growls and wails poured out of his horn in a torrent of power, intellect, warmth and humor. If his solo had lasted for 2 or 3 hours, I don't think anyone in the house would have left his seat. He was a bit more contemplative on the waltz, but no less active and engaging. Just amazing.

Sonny and the band throttled back a bit on the last 2 tunes on the main part of the program: "Nishi," a blues Rollins wrote on a trip to Japan and one of his signature calypsos "Don't Stop the Carnival." Although the playing was fine all around, it was almost as if the band (and the audience) was a little worn out (physically and emotionally) from the "E" ticket ride we had all been on for the previous 40 minutes. Still, a scaled-back Rollins is better than 100% of pretty much anyone else.

After a long standing ovation, the band returned to the stage for an encore, Sonny's classic "Tenor Madness" (which he recorded in his only studio encounter with his friend and rival, John Coltrane). Rollins and Anderson played the head in unison, at a slightly slower pace than usual and with a real emphasis on swinging the melody. In his solo, Sonny dug into the blues changes with a more gusto and authority than he had on "Nishi." Towards the end, Sonny and Victor Lewis engaged in a tasty exchange of 4's which led into the final chorus. The finale was a great reminder that for all of his exploring and searching, Rollins's playing has (and has always had) at its core, the essential elements of jazz that have pertained since the days of Armstrong: swing and blues.

So March 16, 2006 may have been Sonny Rollins Day in Miami, but it was also another reminder that in the jazz world every day is Sonny Rollins Day.

The YouTube clip linked above shows Rollins playing "They Say It's Wonderful" at a 2008 concert and provides a pretty good idea of what Sonny sounded like that night in Miami in 2006 (although, in my memory, the solo I heard on "They Say" was even better).  

Sonny Rollins +3, recorded and released in 1995, is also representative of the best of Sonny's playing over the last 20 years or so.  The album features a stellar rhythm section: Bob Cranshaw, as usual, on bass; Tommy Flanagan and Steven Scott taking turns on piano; and Al Foster and Jack DeJohnette sharing the drum chair.  The line-up of 2 Rollins originals and 5 standards (including the somewhat obscure "Cabin in the Sky"...Sonny has always had a thing for forgotten standards and novelty songs from his youth) is pretty typical of the set list one might have hear at a Sonny concert, although he doesn't stretch out on his solos to the same extent he might in a concert if he's really in the groove.  I'll limit my comments to 2 cuts from the album. 

As in the Miami concert and the video clip, Rollins takes on "They Say," one of the many Irving Berlin gems from Annie Get Your Gun.  ("They Say" has been recorded by singers such as Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Sarah Vaughn and Tony Bennett, and jazz musicians, especially other tenor players, such as John Coltrane and Don Byas; Coltrane's version with singer Johnny Hartman is particularly excellent.)  Included here for comparison purposes for those of you who wonder how much of jazz is truly improvised, in this version Sonny is not  as adventurous as in the concert recordings, but he swings joyfully through his statements of the tune before and after Scott's solo.  

Frank Loesser's "I've Never Been in Love Before" (from Guys and Dolls, certainly on everyone's shortlist of greatest musicals ever) is a great example of late-period Sonny at his best.  Following Flanagan's flowing solo introduction which suggests that the tune will be presented as its usual romantic ballad, Sonny enters at a moderate, bouncy stroll, with Cranshaw and Foster strolling right along with him.  Soon enough though, Rollins is mixing out-of-time phrases that pour over bar lines with firmly swinging melodic ideas, noodling runs of 16th notes (and faster), growls and burrs.  While the band is playing in the straight-ahead tradition, Sonny is somehow managing to combine what he learned from influences such as Hawkins, Byas and Parker with what he discovered in his own excursions into free jazz and  the avant garde in the 1960's to speak in a thoroughly unique musical voice.

One side note: it's interesting to hear Flanagan reunited with Rollins; Tommy played on Sonny's seminal Saxophone Colossus album almost 40(!) years earlier.  His solo here is fine...he even works in a clever quote of  another Guys and Dolls tune ("Luck Be a Lady") in the 7th and 8th bars...but the firm 4/4 beat put down by Foster on drums and Cranshaw on electric bass, while providing a suitable foundation for Rollins' garrulous ferocity, overwhelms the subtleties of harmony, touch and time that characterize Tommy's best playing. 

September 7, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 9:14 AM


German industries have an economic case to welcome refugees (Mathilde Richter, 9/07/15, AFP)

Beyond the humanitarian imperative to offer protection, businesses are increasingly seeing an economic case to keep the asylum seekers, particularly since Germany's rapidly ageing population and low birth rate are slowly depleting its pool of skilled labour. 

At 6.4 percent, unemployment in Germany is currently at its lowest level since unification, but the employers' federation BDA estimates the country is still short of 140,000 engineers, programmers and technicians. 

The healthcare and leisure sectors are also wringing their hands for qualified workers. In all, some 40,000 training places across all sectors are expected to remain unfilled this year. 

The Prognos think-tank forecasts the shortage of qualified workers will rise to 1.8 million in 2020, and as many as 3.9 million by 2040, if nothing is done. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:10 AM


New England Patriots are new "America's Team" (Ryan Disdier, 9/07/15, NFL Spin Zone)

While the Dallas Cowboys enjoyed the nickname for a while, it's time to pass the torch to the team that deserves it. That team, of course, is the New England Patriots, and despite "Deflategate," I'm ready to don them America's Team.

First and foremost, the Patriots perfectly embody the "American Dream."

According to, the American Dream is defined as being: "the ideals of freedom, equality, and opportunity traditionally held to be available to every American."

Looking at the Patriots roster, it's very easy to spot players who either slid out of the first two rounds or went un-drafted altogether.

In fact, only six of New England's 22 starters were selected in the first round. The Patriots core is mostly made up of unheralded players who've made the most of their opportunity.

The biggest play from New England's most recent Super Bowl win came from an un-drafted rookie. The play will live forever, and it proves that being un-drafted doesn't mean dreams of becoming an NFL player have to be dashed.

Take a look at the combination of Tom Brady and Julian Edelman. Edelman was taken in the seventh-round of the 2009 NFL Draft. Edelman has become a slot machine as of late, emerging as Brady's favorite target not named Rob Gronkowski.

By now, we all know the incredible story of Tom Brady. The pudgy kid who was selected in the sixth round now has four Super Bowl rings on his fingers and Gisele on his arm. If that's not the epitome of the American Dream, than I'm not sure what is.

Furthermore, like America, the Patriots have a leader who seems to always be caught up in some form of controversy. Unlike quarterbacks like Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers, who typically have the support of the American audience, Brady is rather vilified outside of New England.

Posted by orrinj at 9:05 AM


I called this place 'America's worst place to live.' Then I went there. (Christopher Ingraham September 3, 2015, Washington Post)

As a reporter, I'm used to folks disagreeing with me, especially when covering contentious topics like guns, gay marriage and drug policy. But until I wrote about the U.S. Department of Agriculture's natural amenities index -- which rates and ranks counties on measures of scenery and climate -- I had never been disagreed with so much.

And so politely.

Minnesota, you see, ended up looking less-than-great in the USDA's ranking. And the state's Red Lake County, five hours northwest of Minneapolis in the flat fertile basin of the Red River valley, came in dead-last in the nation. The summers are hot, the winters are cold, and there aren't any actual lakes in the county -- all of which contribute to a low score by the USDA's criteria.

Could it really be that bad? I had to find out. At the invite of local businessman Jason Brumwell (The Post paid), I took a trip up there last week to see the truth behind the numbers. I wanted to find out what life in America's worst county was really like. [...]

Education is big in the county. Despite a population of only 4,000, the county supports two elementary schools and two high schools. Each of the high schools graduates roughly two dozen students each year, and even the county's poor have a remarkably good shot of becoming middle class later in life, according to a 2013 study by Harvard's Equality of Opportunity Project.

In fact, by most economic metrics, the county looks pretty good. The unadjusted employment rate in July was 4.6 percent, well below the national average. The median household income is $48,000, while the median home value is about $89,000, according to the U.S. Census. The poverty rate is 11.9 percent, below the U.S. average of 15.4 percent. One reason I suspect the outcry against my article was so strong is that Minnesotans aren't used to being ranked low on anything. [...]

Peterson's a Democratic representative in a largely Republican district. But most folks I talked to didn't give much thought to politics, or think too highly of politicians, at least at the national level. Residents aren't particularly ideological. The county voted for Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996, George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004, Barack Obama in 2008, and Mitt Romney, narrowly, in 2012.

Gun culture is strong in the region. With some consternation, given my recent article, I learned that Chuck Simpson, the county commissioner interviewed by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, would be giving me a tour of the Plummer Area Sportsman Club's shooting range. But Chuck was gracious about it, and we made amends as he told me about how residents banded together to raise funds and build the shooting range when there was a need for it. (I didn't actually do any shooting.)

It's a point of pride in the county that when residents need to get something done, they often simply do it themselves. Residents raised the funds to build Red Lake Falls' municipal swimming pool on their own, dollar-by-dollar. When the nearby town of Brooks needed a community center, businesses donated funds and residents volunteered time to build it by hand.

Over and over, the folks I spoke with told me it was that sense of community that kept them here, and that contributed to that enormous outpouring of civic pride in response to my original article. "There's lots of freedom here," Jason Brumwell said. "But everybody's still watching out for each other."

The people were amazing. "Minnesota Nice," as it's called, is a verifiable phenomenon. But even going beyond the civic pride that was so thick you could season a fried walleye with it, there was the landscape.

The high point of the tour for me was a kayak trip down Red Lake River, which meanders through the county before meeting with  Clearwater River in Red Lake Falls and eventually emptying into the Red River along the Minnesota-North Dakota border.

The river was a ribbon of tranquility slicing through the green-gold late August landscape. Broad and flat, but with just enough elevation drop to keep things interesting for this novice kayaker, the river carried a group of us smoothly through the pylons of a defunct railroad trestle and downstream toward sandy bluffs that rose 50 or so feet above the banks.

Locals fish the river for bass and walleye in the summer. When it freezes in the winter (average low temperature in January: -4 degrees), they make the best of it by skiing and skating across its surface. I began to understand what schoolteacher Bobbi Aakhus had said to me at the meet-and-greet at T&J's. "There's so much to do here," she said. "You just have to really dig into it."

Before visiting, I wouldn't have believed her. I was worried that 36 hours would be too long a visit, that we'd run out of things to say or do and end up sitting in silence, staring at corn. But I left feeling like I'd barely scratched the surface of all there is to see and know about the county and the people who call it home.

I kept looking for signs of discord or trouble, cracks in the facade of Minnesota Nice. But I couldn't find any. The places I visited, from the bars to the barns to the warehouses, even smelled wholesome -- like wood and grain and prairie air.

There's perhaps something amiss in a ranking that places Red Lake County at the absolute bottom of the nation when it comes to scenery and climate. As I noted in my original story, the USDA's index places a lot of emphasis on mild weather and a little less on true scenic beauty, which of course is harder to quantify. But there's no doubt that the Red Lake County region is flat-out gorgeous. In a phone interview, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar called it a "stark beauty," and I think she's right. And you can see that beauty everywhere, from the open farm country to the craggy bluffs and hills of the river valley.

Posted by orrinj at 8:43 AM


Piketty was wrong. Seizing from the rich to help the poor won't solve inequality : Major study by the World Economic Forum finds pro-business policies are key to raising global living standards and economic security for households (Szu Ping Chan, 07 Sep 2015, The Telegraph)

Governments must put pro-business measures at the heart of policymaking if they want to tackle inequality, according to the World Economic Forum.

The WEF's Inclusive Growth report said focusing on policies such as wealth redistribution, advocated by economists like Thomas Piketty, had constrained the debate on inclusive growth.

The two-year study, which looked at 112 advanced and emerging economies including the UK, said removing red tape and building solid infrastructure was as important as high quality education and progressive tax policies for better living standards and economic security.

"An inclusive growth and development model is one that is inherently pro-labor and pro-business."

"The current debate on inequality and social inclusion is unduly narrow and unnecessarily polemicised," the report said. that you have to generate wealth via the First Way, so that it exists to be redistributed via the Second. Efficiency, then security.

Posted by orrinj at 8:34 AM


The March of Foolish Things : The conservative sage on the decline of intellectual debate, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and what the welfare state has done to black America. (KYLE PETERSON, Sept. 4, 2015, WSJ)

No one can suggest that he doesn't say what he thinks. In 1987, while testifying in favor of Judge Robert Bork's ill-fated nomination to the Supreme Court, he told Joe Biden, a senator at the time, that he wouldn't have a problem with literacy tests for voting or with $1.50 poll taxes, so long as they were evenly and fairly applied. When I ask whether he remembers this exchange, Mr. Sowell quips, "No, Joe Biden is forgettable."

In our interview he maintains that the 1964 Civil Rights Act should have stuck to desegregating buses and government services, and let market forces take care of integrating lunch counters. Mr. Sowell says that the precedent set by imposing integration on people like Lester Maddox, a segregationist governor of Georgia who also owned a chicken restaurant, has opened a Pandora's box. "If you say that Lester Maddox has to serve his chicken to blacks, you're saying that the Boy Scouts have to have gay scout masters. You're saying--ultimately--that the Catholic Church has to perform same-sex marriages."

Mr. Sowell is unsparing toward those who purport to speak for American blacks. I ask him about the unrest in Ferguson, Mo. "People want to believe what they want to believe, and the facts are not going to stop them," he says, adding that black leaders--from President Obama and former Attorney General Eric Holder down to Al Sharpton--"do all they can to feed that sense of grievance, victimhood and resentment, because that's where the votes are."

What about Ta-Nehisi Coates, the black writer whose new book, a raw letter to his son about race relations in the U.S., is stirring public intellectuals? I read Mr. Sowell a line from Mr. Coates's 15,000-word cover story for the Atlantic calling for reparations for slavery: "In America there is a strange and powerful belief that if you stab a black person 10 times, the bleeding stops and the healing begins the moment the assailant drops the knife."

"Ah . . . yes," Mr. Sowell sighs, as if recognizing a familiar tune. "What amazes me is not that there are assertions like this, but that there is no interest in checking those assertions against any evidence," he says. "One of the things I try to do in the book is to distinguish between what might be the legacy of slavery, and what's the legacy of the welfare state. If you look at the first 100 years after slavery, black communities were a lot safer. People were a lot more decent. But then you look 30 years after the 1960s revolution, and you see this palpable retrogression--of which I think the key one is the growth of the single-parent family."

Mr. Sowell says he cannot remember ever hearing a gunshot when he was growing up in Harlem, and he used to sleep on the fire escape to beat the summer heat. He cites changes in black enrollment at New York City's highly competitive Stuyvesant High School, which he attended. "In 2012, blacks were 1.2% of the students at Stuyvesant," he says. "Thirty-three years earlier, they were 12%."

Here's the point: Does anyone believe that racism and the legacy of slavery are stronger today than in the 1970s--or for that matter in 1945, when Mr. Sowell enrolled at Stuyvesant? "It's not a question of the disproportion between blacks and whites, or Asians, but the disproportion between blacks of today and blacks of the previous generation," he says. "And that's what's scary."

He offers another statistic: "For every year from 1994 to the present, black married couples have had a poverty rate in single digits," Mr. Sowell says. "Those people who have not followed the culture--the ghetto culture--are doing fine."

Posted by orrinj at 8:19 AM


Fischer v. Spassky (Sudip Bose, SEPTEMBER 7, 2015, American Scholar)

Steiner reported on the match for The New Yorker and eventually turned his long article into a book, Fields of Force: Fischer and Spassky at Reykjavik (1974). Describing Fischer's strange genius, Steiner writes:

The cutting edge, the rapidity, the precision of Fischer's intellect as a chess player, his memory for every aspect of the game are breathtaking. At certain very special levels, his cortex is operating under pressures and with an efficacy that ordinary men and women and, it would appear, most of his competitors cannot sustain. Almost the totality of his cerebral, nervous, even bodily resources are compacted to focus, to "laser in," on a severely delimited area. ... Whatever Fischer's idiosyncrasies, there are abundant impulses to paranoia and unreality in chess itself, in the violence and autistic passion of the game.

Posted by orrinj at 8:08 AM


Time to Rein in Public Sector Unions (JAMES SHERK, 9/07/15, American Interest)

Government unions primarily want a bigger government. More government employees mean more government union members. Higher taxes mean more money they can bargain over. So government unions have campaigned for almost every major tax increase in recent history.

For example, unions provided much of the financing for the successful 2012 California sales and income tax hike ballot initiative. Two years earlier, government union members rallied for higher taxes in Springfield, Illinois. With chants of "Raise my taxes!" and "Give up the bucks!" they helped persuade then-Governor Pat Quinn and the legislature to raise the Illinois income tax by two-thirds. Almost all that money went to fund government employee pensions.

Samuel Gompers, the first president of the American Federation of Labor, was once asked what his members wanted. He memorably answered "More." Today's government unions give the same answer when asked how much Americans should pay in taxes.

Conversely, anything that shrinks the size (or increases the efficiency) of government means fewer government union members and fewer union dues. So government unions fiercely oppose government spending cuts. They resist any outsourcing to the private sector, no matter how much it may save taxpayers. And they certainly don't want to let parents send their children to non-union charter or private schools.

Indeed, unions now see themselves as a left-wing political movement. At its most recent convention, the AFL-CIO resolved that it "has as a founding ideal the assembling of a broad progressive coalition for social and economic justice."

Posted by orrinj at 7:59 AM


The Future of Work: What If There Isn't One? : The latest entry in a special project in which business and labor leaders, social scientists, technology visionaries, activists, and journalists weigh in on the most consequential changes in the workplace. (MARTIN FORD, 9/07/15, Pacific Standard)

In 1915, there were over 22 million horses in the United States; by 1960, about three million. Is it possible that the work available to a great many human beings is ultimately destined to follow the same path? On the surface, it may seem absurd to compare people to horses. Horses, after all, can provide transportation or help out on the farm, but they have very little ability to adapt. When cars, trucks, and tractors came along, horses had nowhere to turn.

People, of course, are intelligent. People can adapt to new roles. From an economic standpoint, perhaps the single most important difference between horses and humans is that people can learn to do new things.

Should we take comfort from that fact? Does it guarantee that we'll always have enough remunerative work to employ the vast majority of our adult population? The reflexive answer might be yes. But there is another point to consider. Unlike the cars, trucks, and tractors that displaced horses, today's machines and algorithms can learn. In other words, modern information technology is not just encroaching on new types of work; it is gradually taking on the single most important capability that has allowed workers to stay ahead of the machines.

This new ability for machines and algorithms to adapt and learn is perhaps best illustrated by recent advances in an area of artificial intelligence known as deep learning. Computer scientists have used artificial neural networks, which operate according to the same essential principles as the biological neurons in the brain, to perform basic pattern recognition tasks for decades. Deep learning takes advantage of recent technical breakthroughs that allow neural networks of unprecedented complexity to be employed in areas like image recognition and language translation. Some deep learning systems can now perform better than humans at recognizing images such as road signs. Chinese researchers recently unveiled an algorithm that can outperform humans at the type of verbal reasoning problems found on IQ tests, while a team at the University of California-Berkeley has used deep-learning techniques to build robots capable of figuring out how to complete tasks that require a high degree of dexterity, like unscrewing the top from a bottle.

Deep learning, as well as a number of other approaches to machine learning, is already being deployed in areas from self-driving cars to algorithms that write news stories. And there is every reason to expect both the capability of these smart algorithms and the number of uses to which they are put to accelerate.

And all we'll get out of it is wealth and leisure time....

September 6, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 9:14 AM


Two Essential Tools for Repairing the ObamaCare Damage : Health-care savings accounts and high-deductible plans empower consumers and will bring down costs. (SCOTT W. ATLAS And  JOHN F. COGAN, Sept. 1, 2015, WSJ)

[A]ny replacement for ObamaCare should include two essential elements: high-deductible insurance coverage and health-savings accounts.

Well-designed high-deductible insurance--in which the individual pays a few thousand dollars for most health-care services before the plan kicks in to cover claims--restores the fundamental purpose of health insurance: to reduce the financial risk of large and unanticipated medical expenses. Health-savings accounts, or HSAs, allow individuals to set aside money tax-free for out-of-pocket expenses, including routine care. These accounts are owned by individuals and are not dependent on their place of employment.

When consumers pay directly for their care, as they would from HSAs, they have an incentive to choose wisely, and to demand that the prices charged by providers become visible. A study by Carnegie Mellon University's Amelia Haviland and colleagues, published in July by the National Bureau of Economic Research, confirmed previous research by these authors (and others) showing that high-deductible plans significantly reduce health spending without later increases in emergency-room visits or hospitalizations. When these high-deductible plans were paired with HSAs, health-care spending reductions averaged at least 15% annually.

High-deductible plans and HSAs continue to grow despite the restrictions in the Affordable Care Act. Last year, according to Devenir Research, the number of HSAs increased by 29% and reached a record high of 14.5 million as of mid-2015. 

Carson: Eliminate Obamacare And Replace It With Health Savings Accounts (Steve Guest, 08/26/2015, Daily Caller)

Dave Ramsey: So, what do you do with Obamacare then?

Ben Carson: Well, we are going to get rid of it, but you can't get rid of it without having a replacement. And the replacement would be health savings accounts that work extremely well everywhere they're utilized. And you look at the people in Singapore, how happy they are, they pay a quarter of what we pay for healthcare. But I would change it to a health savings account over which you have compete control. Like you have control over your savings account, not one that has six bureaucrats in it. And you pay for it with the same the same dollars that we pay for traditional healthcare with, except you wouldn't have to use as many of them. And you give people flexibility so that if you were $500 short for a minor procedure, your wife could give you it out of hers, or your daughter, or your uncle, or your cousin, or your grandfather. It makes every family essentially their own insurance company with no middleman. It gives you enormous flexibility to cover almost anything that comes up. And it also makes every family concerned about each other.

Posted by orrinj at 8:33 AM


Low oil price forces Saudi Arabia to cut spending amid record budget shortfalls (AFP, 9/06/15)

Saudi Arabia will cut spending and issue more bonds as it faces a record budget shortfall due to falling oil prices, the finance minister said on Sunday. [...]

Saudi Arabia has projected an official budget shortfall for this year of $39 billion, but the IMF and other institutions believe the actual deficit will be much higher.

The IMF forecast in July that the deficit will be 20pc of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), while Saudi Arabia's Jadwa Investment firm said on Wednesday it expects the shortfall to be around $109bn.

The deal with Iran is defunding terror.
Posted by orrinj at 8:27 AM


What Kind of State Will Israel Be? : A speech by President Reuven Rivlin raises troubling questions about the country's identity and stability. (AARON DAVID MILLER, SEPTEMBER 4, 2015, Foreign Policy)

If you're at all interested in the future of the State of Israel, you need to read the speech that Israeli President Reuven Rivlin delivered to the 15th Annual Herziliya Conference in early June on what he termed the "real Israel" -- a country he argues is now divided into four tribes growing increasingly apart. [...]

In his speech, which was delivered in front of Israel's political and security establishment, Rivlin began mundanely enough by describing the changing composition of a typical Israeli first-grade class. In the 1990s, that class would have comprised a large secular Zionist majority with three accompanying minority groups: national religious Israelis, Arab Israelis, and Israeli Haredi (Ultra-Orthodox). Today, that same class looks radically different, Rivlin said: 38 percent are still secular Israelis, 15 percent are considered "national religious," 25 percent are Arabs, and nearly the same number is Haredim. The result, the president argued, is that there is no longer a clear Israeli majority. Instead, he sees four population groups or "tribes" different in character but also growing closer in size.

Numbers are always open to question. Birthrates are variable. But the trend lines over time reflect a pretty dramatic change in the character of the stakeholders that comprise Israeli society. According to a 2012 report by Israel's Central Bureau of statistics, by 2059, Israeli Arabs will make up 23 percent of the population and Haredi Jews 27 percent. Israeli society has been riven by differences since the inception of the state. And those divides have grown and also include differences between left and right, rich and poor, Ashkenazi and Sephardi. But Rivlin's takeaway is that unlike those divides, the current differences between the four tribes are much harder to bridge.

He asserts:

"Each tribe has its own media platforms, newspapers they read, the television channels they watch. Each tribe also has its own towns, Tel Aviv is the town of one tribe, just as Umm el Fahm is the town of another, as is Efrat, and Bnei Brak. Each represents the town of a different tribe. In the State of Israel the basic systems that form people's consciousness are tribal and separate, and will most likely remain so. I do not want to oversimplify with rough generalizations. Obviously, this division is neither absolute nor all-embracing. No population sector is in itself a single element, but rather comprises a varied range of members; and there are of course, also common areas between the sectors. However, it is also important we do not ignore, whether through blindness or denial, that it is not the marginal elements of each sector that create the huge gaps between them."

Rivlin worries that these new divides are fundamentally changing the nature of the country -- its politics, economics, morals, security, and identity. "Do we have a shared civil language, a shared ethos?" asked Rivlin. "Do we share a common denominator of values with the power to link all these sectors together in the Jewish and democratic State of Israel?" And while in the past, Rivlin argued, the Israeli military could help create personal bonds and a national identity, today more than half of the population doesn't serve in uniform.

Posted by orrinj at 8:23 AM


Assassinating Chiang Kai-shek : The reputation of China's Nationalist leader is falling in Taiwan and being rehabilitated on the Mainland. What's going on? (RICHARD BERNSTEIN, SEPTEMBER 3, 2015, Foreign Policy)

[T]he view of Chiang in the United States has softened in recent years -- a trend marked by the 2009 book The Generalissimo, a major biography by the historian Jay Taylor, which gave Chiang more credit for his brave leadership under impossible circumstances than previous historians. The view of Chiang has also shifted on both mainland China and Taiwan, reflecting changing political circumstances in both places. For Beijing, which just held a splashy military parade on Sept. 3 to celebrate its wartime victory over Japan, there have been far fewer negative comments about Chiang, intransigent anti-Communist though he was. Conversely, on Taiwan, the one part of China that he was able to preserve from Maoist dictatorship, Chiang's stature has steadily declined.

Why the shift? Especially in the United States, there's the realization that getting rid of Chiang would in all likelihood have not produced a happy result. It is hard to imagine that it would have altered the tragically paradoxical outcome of World War II in Asia: The United States fought for four years to prevent a hostile power, Japan, from controlling China, only to see the country fall to a Communist dictatorship closely allied to the Soviet Union, an even more menacingly hostile power.

Furthermore, many Americans at the time subsequently underestimated both the magnitude of the task that Chiang faced as his country's wartime leader and his achievements against extraordinary odds. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine any alternative Chinese figure doing much better.

Contrary to popular perception, for example, Chiang did fight: He mounted a brave, veritably suicidal, resistance to the initial full-scale Japanese invasion of 1937. According to Stilwell's replacement, Gen. Albert C. Wedemeyer, the battle for Shanghai, in which China lost thousands of its best troops, was at the time the world's bloodiest battle since Verdun in 1916. Japan's military leaders had predicted that the war in China would be over quickly. It could have been -- if Chiang surrendered and joined forces with the Japanese in a renewed effort to eradicate the Communists. But while that may have been tempting, Chiang never did. His defiance tied down a million Japanese troops who otherwise would have been available for battle against American forces. For the first four years of its eight-year war of resistance against Japan, until Pearl Harbor pushed the United States into the battle in December 1941, China fought alone.

It was this that so impressed Wedemeyer. While Stilwell saw the Chinese leader as "a grasping, bigoted, ungrateful little rattlesnake," Wedemeyer was unrestrained in his admiration. Chiang's call on China's people to "sacrifice and fight to the bitter end" was, Wedemeyer believed, "more gallant and resolute than Churchill's famous 'blood, sweat and tears' speech." Given his situation, moreover, his military strategy of "endeavoring to dissipate Japanese strength and forcing the enemy to overextend his lines" made perfect sense, Wedemeyer felt, and so did his diversion of troops to prevent Communist expansion. Chiang understood -- as most Americans, focused exclusively on the defeat of Japan, did not -- that once the war ended there would be a fight to the finish between him and the Communists. Chiang maintained, to any Americans who would listen, that if successful the Communists would impose a totalitarian dictatorship allied with the Soviet Union. And Mao's total victory in 1949 proved him right.

September 5, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 5:48 PM


The ESQ&A: Keith Richards Explains Why Sgt. Pepper Was Rubbish  (Scott Raab, 8/05/15, Esquire)

I've been thinking about Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sgt. Pepper, and The White Album and listening to Beggars 
Banquet, Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers, and Exile on Main St. Over the past 20 years, I've 
listened to that Stones stuff far more often.

No, I understand--the 
Beatles sounded great when they were the Beatles. But there's not a lot of roots in that music. I think they got carried away. Why not? If you're the Beatles in the '60s, you just get carried away--you forget what it is you wanted to do. You're starting to do Sgt. Pepper. Some people think it's a genius album, but I think it's a mishmash of rubbish, kind of like Satanic Majesties...

...but then started taking themselves seriously and produced self-indulgent garbage...

Posted by orrinj at 2:42 PM


Summer of Doc : Just 20, pitching prodigy Dwight Gooden delivered a season for the ages (TOM VERDUCCI, 9/04/15, Sports Illustrated)

The 1985 season of Dwight Gooden, likewise, is so impressively vast as to invite our most ambitious attempts at commemoration. It was, by measure of his 1.53 ERA, the greatest season since the mound was lowered in 1969. With a 24-4 record at age 20, he became the youngest 20-game winner in baseball history.

There is more. Gooden was removed from the mound mid-inning only twice all year--and never when trailing. He took the ball to the ninth inning 18 times in his 35 starts and finished the inning every time--while allowing one run (for a ninth-inning ERA of 0.50) and only one extra-base hit (a double). He pitched 28 innings in his four losses, during which his team scored a total of one run. He lost just once in his final 25 starts.

Posted by orrinj at 2:36 PM


No more union coal mines remain in Kentucky (DYLAN LOVAN, 9/05/15, Associated Press)

Kentucky coal miners bled and died to unionize.

Their workplaces became war zones, and gun battles once punctuated union protests. In past decades, organizers have been beaten, stabbed and shot while seeking better pay and safer conditions deep underground.

But more recently the United Mine Workers in Kentucky have been in retreat, dwindling like the black seams of coal in the Appalachian mountains.

And now the last union mine in Kentucky has been shut down.

Posted by orrinj at 9:50 AM


The drama of St Crispian's Day: Shakespeare got it right : a review of Cursed Kings: The Hundred Years War, IV Jonathan Sumption (Allan Massie 29 August 2015, The Spectator)

The Hundred Years War lasted for more than a century (1337-1453). Jonathan Sumption embarked on its history in 1979. There will be one more volume to complete what is surely a masterpiece of historical writing. It is wonderfully detailed and acute in analysis, yet the narrative never flags. Sumption never forgets that people now long dead were made of flesh and blood, driven by ambition, fear, hatred, love, jealousy. History is written looking back, but the good historian writes in the awareness that for his characters the future is terra incognita.

For the English the great Shakespearean moment of this book is the battle of Agincourt and its hero Henry V. Sumption shows that Shakespeare got it right. He also shows, dramatically, that it was a victory snatched from imminent disaster. If the French had held off battle, content to harass Henry's diminished, sick and ill-supplied army as it struggled to reach a port from which it might escape to England, Henry's great expedition would have ended dismally, and he would have found it difficult to persuade Parliament to grant him the resources necessary to mount another invasion. So Agincourt changed everything. Yet ultimately England was engaged on a war beyond its strength. [...]

Sumption paints a picture of medieval Paris every bit as vivid as that which Victor Hugo would offer in Notre-Dame de Paris, and, I would guess, more accurate. His account of the year 1413, when the Orleanists were driven out and for months Paris was in the hands of a revolutionary mob known as the Cabochians, reads like a trailer for the great Revolution of 1789; the horrors were no less. Though little of medieval Paris survives as it was then, you can still follow much of the narrative of this terrible year on foot as well as in your imagination.

One of the many strengths of this history is to be found in Sumption's repeated insistence on the importance of money. Armies have to be financed and supplied, and this was hard, even though many of the forces engaged in the long, if intermittent, campaigns were small, only a few thousand men. But without money you can't make war; you can't maintain a siege; you can't hire ships to transport armies.

Posted by orrinj at 9:43 AM


The Iran Deal and the End of the Israel Lobby (Jonathan Chait, 9/03/15, NY Mag)

The miscalculations by opponents of the Iran deal began with a poor grasp of public opinion. They imagined they could foment a broad public backlash, and opponents frequently, and triumphantly, cited opinion polls showing more respondents disapproved than approved of the Iran deal. But the results of these polls varied widely. Small changes in wording produced wildly varying results, reflecting the fact that few people knew or cared much about the issue. Turning a foreign-policy issue with no immediate salience to American security -- even a nuclear-armed Iran, a worst-case scenario, would not involve an attack on Americans at home or abroad -- into an issue Americans would actively care about was never realistic. [...]

The deal's opponents not only misjudged public opinion as a whole, but more astonishingly, they misjudged the state of American Jewish opinion in particular. Congress might have been moved to oppose the Iran deal if the American Jewish community had viewed it as an existential threat to Israel. But Jews did not, on the whole, take that view. A detailed survey of American Jewish opinion by The Jewish Journal found that American Jews support the deal, 53 percent to 35 percent.

You just can't spin Iran into a plausible threat to either America or Israel.  It's a threat to Sunni Arab authoritarians and ISIS, which is a good thing.

Posted by orrinj at 9:03 AM


How DeflateGate helped develop Jimmy Garoppolo (Marc Sessler, Sept. 4, 2015,

With Tom Brady's four-game suspension scattered to the wind, backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo won't be seeing the field anytime soon for the Patriots.

Still, the second-year passer is one of DeflateGate's big winners. Seeing practice snaps and game reps with a rash of New England starters, Garoppolo played more football through three weeks of the preseason than any quarterback outside of Pittsburgh's Landry Jones.

We prepared this film study piece knowing that Garoppolo might start the opener and beyond. With Brady set free, the scenery has changed, but why not take a look at what Garoppolo accomplished this August.

...but all the Brady reversal really did is deny Bill Belichick an opportunity to cap his reputation as a genius, by going 3-1 with a new nobody at qb.  Note in the story how Garoppolo improved by not trying to be a passer and just fitting in the system instead.

Posted by orrinj at 8:36 AM


A 22-year-old anti-Nazi song tops German charts again -- to welcome refugees (Rick Noack, September 42015, Washington Post)
A supporter of the Pegida movement holds a flag while supporters gather for a march in their first Berlin demonstration, which they have dubbed "Baergida," on Jan. 5. (Carsten Koall/Getty Images)
More than 20 years ago, some Germans rallied against refugees who had primarily fled the Yugoslav wars, and asylum reception centers went up in flames. There are certain, shocking parallels between the tensions back then and the anti-refugee protests that are taking place in some parts of the country today.

But there's another surprising similarity: An anti-Nazi song that topped the German charts in the 1990s is back on top. "Cry for Love" is being recirculated as a statement of support for the refugees and against right-wing extremists.

"Your violence is just a silent cry for love," the song goes, a sentiment also reflected in the song's title. In the song, the German band "Die Ärzte" (The Doctors) addresses potential right-wing extremists, adding a few expletives: "Your army boots are longing for affection. You never learned to articulate yourself. And your parents never had time for you!" the popular band sang, in a text celebrated by some, and condemned by others.

Posted by orrinj at 8:09 AM


More School Choice Means Long, Lonely Commutes for Kids : New study debunks the notion that poor kids are "trapped" in bad neighborhood schools. (Stephanie Mencimer, Sep. 4, 2015, Mother Jones)

The school choice movement has sent low-income students commuting far and wide in search of a better education, according to a new study from Johns Hopkins University. Whether those long commutes to school are worth the sacrifice isn't so clear.

In a study of more than 24,000 records of Chicago students entering high school in the fall of 2009, JHU education professor Julia Burdick-Will found that the poorer a student's neighborhood, the farther that student was likely to travel to get to school. In areas where the median income was $25,000 or less, kids spread out to an average of 13 different schools. In wealthy neighborhoods with median incomes above $75,000, most kids attended one of just three schools.

The social and geographic consequences of long school commutes can be significant, and another major barrier to success for poor children. Navigating such a complex educational system is a daunting task for even the best-prepared families. "We think of choice as a thing of privilege," Burdick-Will said in a press release. "But what we see is that there is a privilege of not having to choose."

Thanks to the school choice movement, by 2007, half of all Americans had some ability to choose their public high school. 

...move the families out of the city.

Posted by orrinj at 8:03 AM


China's military parade was a massive display of political weakness (Kyle Mizokami, September 4, 2015, The Week)

China's parade may have demonstrated military strength, but politically China showed astonishing weakness. The People's Republic, for all of its newfound prestige and power, could not get many of its neighbors and not a single Western head of state to attend. It prompts the question: Does China have any real friends? [...]

The red carpet walk was a small but important moment. Had Barack Obama, David Cameron, or Francois Hollande been there, it would have shown that China was a welcome, respected member of the international community. Instead, China could not cajole a single major Western leader into attending a parade commemorating the end of World War II, which is generally considered by everyone to have been a good thing.

Imagine if China actually tried to get something done in the international arena. Who could it count on, other than countries that shared the same interests?

Certainly, China has friends: Russia, Zimbabwe and Venezuela come to mind. But those countries lie outside the mainstream of the international community, and for good reason. They are totalitarian or semi-totalitarian states with repressive policies. In his speech, Xi Jinping boasted that China was a founding member of the United Nations, but aside from Russia, not a single major representative of the U.N. Security Council attended.

After troop cuts, China military warns reforms will be hard (Reuters , September 4, 2015)

The People's Liberation Army Daily said in a lengthy commentary the success of deepening reform would decide the future of China's ambitions to strengthen its forces.

"The difficulty is unprecedented," the newspaper said.

Old ways of thinking were "ingrained" and "it will be very hard to sweep them away from people's heads", it said.

Reforms will also inevitably impinge upon certain interest groups, it said, without saying who those people might be.

"There will certainly be different understandings of what reform means, and this may even cause a certain degree of risk," the paper said. It did not elaborate.

The military has already been shaken by several high-level corruption scandals, as part of Xi's sweeping campaign against deeply ingrained graft, as he seeks to make the military an effective fighting force.

Posted by orrinj at 7:38 AM


China's Market Crash Means Chinese Supergrowth Could Have Only 5 More Years to Run (Brad DeLong, 08/28/2015, Huffington Post)

A great deal of China supergrowth always seemed to me to be just catch-up to the norm one would expect, given East Asian societal-organizational capabilities. China had been far depressed below that norm by the misgovernment of the Qing, the civil wars of the first half of the twentieth century, the Japanese conquest and the manifold disasters of rule by the paranoid Mao Zedong. Take convergence to that East Asian societal-capability norm, the wisdom of Deng Xiaoping and then Jiang Zemin in applying the standard Hamiltonian gaining-manufacturing-technological-capability-through-light-manufacturing-exports development strategy (albeit on a world-historical scale) and a modicum of good luck, and China seemed understandable. There thus seemed to me to be no secret Chinese institutional or developmental sauce.

Given that, I focused on how China lacked the good-and-honest government, the societal trust and the societal openness factors that appear to have made for full convergence to the U.S. frontier in countries such as Japan. One of the few historical patterns to repeat itself with regularity over the past three centuries has been that, wherever governments are unable to make the allocation of property and contract rights stick, industrialization never reaches North Atlantic levels of productivity.

Prepare yourselves: The Great Migration will be with us for decades (Fraser Nelson7:26PM BST 03 Sep 2015, )

This Great Migration was not expected because, for years, politicians believed that there would be less of it as poor countries became richer. Give aid, not shelter, ran the argument. "As the benefits of economic growth are spread in Mexico," Bill Clinton once assured Americans, "there will be less illegal immigration because more Mexicans will be able to support their children by staying home." When José Manuel Barroso led the European Commission, he made the same argument: third world development will tackle the "root causes" of the problem. In fact, the reverse is true.

Never has there been less hardship; since Clinton's day, the share of the population in extreme poverty (surviving on less than $1.25 a day) has halved. Never has there been less violence: the Syrian conflict is an exception in a period of history where war has waned. It might not feel like it, but the world is more prosperous and peaceful than at any time in human history - yet the number of emigrants stands at a record high. But there is no paradox. As more people have the money to move, more are doing so - and at extraordinary personal risk.

So the Great Migration is a side-effect of perhaps the greatest success of our times: the collapse in global poverty. The Washington-based Center for Global Development recently set this out, in a study drawing on more than a thousand national censuses over five decades.

When a poor country becomes richer, its emigration rate rises until it becomes as wealthy as Albania or Armenia are today. This process usually takes decades, and only afterwards does wealth subdue emigration. War is a catalyst. If conflict strikes, and the country isn't quite as poor as it once was, more of those affected now have the means to cross the world. The digital age means they also have the information.

September 4, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 5:46 PM


What's the Point of Scoring Wines? (WILL LYONS, Sept. 4, 2015, WSJ)

I can't help feeling that at the heart of this debate is an element of self-justification. As Caspar Bowes, a British wine merchant with a self-described "visceral hatred of scoring wine," says, "it is people pretending that they are doing something scientific when they are not."

There are several different systems for scoring wine. The most famous is the 100-point scale, widely credited to Robert Parker, which is used by the Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast magazines. This system looks at the color, bouquet and taste. Each wine is awarded a base score of 50 for being created in the first place. On top of this, points are added--up to five for the color, 15 for the bouquet, and 20 for the palate and texture, and another 10 for the overall quality and potential for development. You could argue it is actually a 15-point scale, as so few wines score under the 85 mark.

The second most common scoring mechanism is the 20-point scale used by the University of California, Davis, recognized as the finest wine university outside France, and several British critics. There is also a five-star scale adopted by Decanter magazine, and a three-star scale, or three wineglasses, the "Tre Bicchieri" used by Italy's premier wine guide, the Gambero Rosso.

So what is the point of scoring? Robert Parker told me that he began doing it as a reaction to too many wine merchants hedging their bets. "I just thought by using the 100-point scale it is a stake in the ground, the ultimate accountability," he said when I spoke with him last year.

Perhaps it would help if there could be more clarity in the scores. 

The scores are imaginary, not a reflection of quality.
Posted by orrinj at 5:43 PM


The Key Role of Conservatives in Taxing Carbon (N. GREGORY MANKIW, 9/04/15, NY Times)

Policy wonks like me have long argued that the best way to curb carbon emissions is to put a price on carbon. The cap-and-trade system advocated by President Obama is one way to do that. A more direct and less bureaucratic way is to tax carbon. When polled, economists overwhelmingly support the idea.

One reason is that putting a price on carbon alters incentives in many ways. It encourages utilities to switch to cleaner forms of generating electricity, like wind and solar instead of coal. It encourages people to buy more fuel-efficient cars, form car pools with their neighbors, use more public transportation, live closer to work, and turn down their thermostats. A regulatory system that tried to achieve all this would be heavy-handed and less effective.

Motivated by this thinking, Washington Carbon, an advocacy group in the state, is now trying to put a carbon tax on the 2016 ballot. Initiative Measure 732 would institute a tax on fossil fuels of $25 a metric ton of carbon dioxide (which translates to about 25 cents a gallon of gasoline).

Most of the revenue from the measure would be used to reduce the state sales tax by one percentage point. A smaller amount would be used to reduce taxes on manufacturing companies and to fund a tax rebate of up to $1,500 for low-income working families. The overall plan is progressive and revenue-neutral. If passed, the initiative would yield a tax shift, not a tax increase.

That is why some environmentalists are opposed. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:37 PM


Vets groups upset with Carson's plan to eliminate VA (Leo Shane III, August 28, 2015, Military Times)

Presidential hopeful Ben Carson's comments suggesting the  Veterans Affairs Department should be eliminated drew quick condemnation from multiple veterans groups, who called the idea short-sighted and ill-informed.

On a national radio show Thursday, Carson said that the country need to re-examine how it cares for veterans but also how to cut back on government bureaucracy.

"There is a lot of stuff we're doing that doesn't make any sense," he said. "We don't need a Department of Veterans Affairs. Veterans Affairs should be folded in under the Department of Defense."

Carson said he wants to provide all veterans with health savings accounts to pay for private-sector medical care and reserve defense-run veterans clinics for highly specialized care, like traumatic brain injury treatment and limb replacements.

Now just make that health care system universal.
Posted by orrinj at 5:25 PM


The 1 Easy Way Donald Trump Could Have Been Even Richer: Doing Nothing (S.V. Date, 9/04/15, National Journal)

As "really rich" as Don­ald Trump is today, he might have been even rich­er if, in­stead of dab­bling in sky­scrapers and casi­nos, he'd simply taken his eight-fig­ure in­her­it­ance dec­ades ago and sunk it in­to the stock mar­ket.
Had the celebrity busi­ness­man and Re­pub­lic­an pres­id­en­tial can­did­ate in­ves­ted his even­tu­al share of his fath­er's real-es­tate com­pany in­to a mu­tu­al fund of S&P 500 stocks in 1974, it would be worth nearly $3 bil­lion today, thanks to the mar­ket's per­form­ance over the past four dec­ades. If he'd in­ves­ted the $200 mil­lion that For­bes magazine de­term­ined he was worth in 1982 in­to that in­dex fund, it would have grown to more than $8 bil­lion today.

Even the smal­ler fig­ure ex­ceeds the lower range of his pos­sible net worth as re­por­ted to the Fed­er­al Elec­tion Com­mis­sion, while the lar­ger num­ber ex­ceeds by bil­lions re­cent es­tim­ates of Trump's worth by fin­an­cial pub­lic­a­tions. And it would have come without the high-drama, roller-coast­er ca­reer that has in­cluded four cor­por­ate bank­ruptcies.

That a purely un­man­aged in­dex fund's re­turn could out­per­form Trump's hands-on wheel­ing and deal­ing calls in­to ques­tion one of Trump's chief selling points on the cam­paign trail: his busi­ness acu­men.

Posted by orrinj at 5:15 PM


The new Winnetou: Nik Xhelilaj follows cult actor Pierre Brice : How convincing will Albanian actor Nik Xhelilaj be as the new Winnetou? DW has spoken to him about his role, and also about refugees streaming into Germany from his native Albania. (Deutsche Welle, 9/04/15)

Winnetou movies from the sixties - starring Pierre Brice as Apache chief Winnetou, and Lex Barker as Old Shatterhand, have been extremely popular among Germans.

In the new RTL-production directed by Philipp Stölzl, German actor Wotan Wilke Möhring will play the lead role of Old Shatterhand, joined by Milan Peschel (as Sam Hawkens), Jürgen Vogel (as Rattler) and Mario Adorf (as Santer Senior).

The iconic figure of Winnetou will be depicted by an actor who is rather unknown in Germany, Albanian actor Nik Xhelilaj, aged 32. The film director Stölzl told the daily "Bild am Sonntag," that he sent his casting team through "more or less the entire world" to find a suitable actor for the famous Apache chief, as he knew that "Pierre Brice's moccasins are very big to fill."

The Winnetou phenomenon is dang peculiar.
Posted by orrinj at 3:44 PM


Question of the Day (Scott Sumner, 9/04/15, The Money Illusion)

What is the total number of months during the Ford, Carter, Reagan and Bush I administrations, plus the first term of Clinton, when the unemployment rate was lower than today?

Return of the Peace Dividend.
Posted by orrinj at 2:10 PM


Bibi's Agreement Anxiety Disorder (GERSHOM GORENBERG NOVEMBER 25, 2013, American Prospect)

To explain Benjamin Netanyahu's frenzied reaction to the Geneva agreement on Iran's nuclear program, let me begin with the stack of brown cardboard boxes under my wife's desk.

Each of the five cartons contains a gas mask and related paraphernalia for a member of my family to use in the event of a chemical-weapons attack. They were delivered last January, as part of the gradual government effort to prepare every household in Israel for a rain of Syrian missiles. I suppose that having "defense kits" in the house could be macabre, but what we usually notice is that they're a nuisance: another thing on which to bang your toe in an overstuffed city flat.

What's more, they're apparently an obsolete nuisance. A couple of weeks ago, the usual nameless military sources told the local media that the Defense Ministry would recommend ending production of  gas masks for civilians. According to the leaks, intelligence assessments said that the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons was successfully reducing Syria's poison-gas arsenal.  In other words, the U.S.-Russia agreement on Syria's chemical weapons is working, and one result is a significant improvement in Israeli security.

To put it mildly, this isn't what Prime Minister Netanyahu expected in September when President Barack Obama opted for a diplomatic solution rather than a punitive attack on the Assad regime for using chemical arms. Back then, Netanyahu barely concealed his view that American weakness was both a catastrophe and a betrayal that would encourage Iran to develop nuclear arms. At a military ceremony, he proclaimed that Israel could depend only on itself. "If I am not for myself, who is for me?" Netanyahu said, quoting the first half of an ancient Jewish maxim, without the second part, which says that someone who is only for himself is nothing. "We are for ourselves!" he declared. A nameless senior official, making the prime minister's warning more explicit, said that "a diplomatic failure in Syria without [an American] military response" might force Israel to attack Iran. The failure of diplomacy was virtually a given; the only question was what would come after.

The Syria agreement was the warm-up act for the interim accord with Iran. [...]

The link between Netanyahu's reactions in September and now is what could be called Agreement Anxiety Disorder (AAD): a reflexive certainty that any time an antagonist is willing to make an agreement to end or manage a conflict, the deal is a deception. The only safe agreement would be one in which you make no compromises or concessions, so that you are ready to fight the inevitable next round. Since agreements sans compromises are rare, the very thought of making a deal ignites something between panic and fury, and any friend who advises you to accept the agreement is betraying you.

There's nothing lonelier than a one-legged A-frame.
Posted by orrinj at 2:03 PM


A sneak peek at The Late Show with Stephen Colbert (Samantha Rollins, September 4, 2015, The Week)

Of course, a large portion of The Late Show will also feature guests, and thankfully, Colbert so far appears to be steering clear of the silly celebrity stunt-specific interview style of some of his competitors. Interviews with actress and Broadway vet Laura Benanti, comedian Colin Quinn, and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Ayad Akhtar were entertaining, if slightly unpolished, as Colbert still finds his footing while toeing the line between being a sincere late-night interviewer and the Report's deliberately oblivious Colbert character. But Colbert's relatively straight interview style, which seemed to mimic the model of his idol and predecessor, David Letterman, was a welcome and still fun approach in a late-night field crowded with segments that seem aggressively designed to go viral.

That's not to say that The Late Show with Stephen Colbert is devoid of those YouTube-ready moments. They're present, but at least last night, they were executed with levity and excitement that felt organic. While an "impromptu" musical duet of My Fair Lady's "Wouldn't It Be Loverly" between Colbert and Benanti was certainly planned, the bit had a lighthearted, joyful, and unrehearsed energy that one can only hope doesn't dissipate as The Late Show gradually becomes a well-oiled machine.

The Late Show with Stephen Colbert isn't yet perfect, and it likely won't be once it begins airing next week. The test taping had its highs and lows, but all I could think about upon leaving the Ed Sullivan Theater was the genuinely playful spirit that Colbert and everyone involved in The Late Show with Stephen Colbert projected. 

Just as Jon Stewart could not withstand the departure of Colbert--the conservative id that putative liberals tuned in for--neither can Stephen. 

Posted by orrinj at 1:55 PM


Roger Goodell and the Agency Risk (David Phillips, 9/04/15, Future of Capitalism)

Most institutions face an agency risk, that is, the risk that top leadership will exercise its power in its own interest rather than the interest of the owners or membership. [...]

The NFL has announced that it will appeal U.S. District Judge Richard Berman's decision lifting the Goodell-imposed suspension of Brady. Yet it is against the interest of the NFL to appeal. The longer "deflategate" goes on, the more the NFL suffers. Excessive commentary is devoted to that subject rather than to the actual subject of football. What happened in the game? What are the predictions for various games? Who has played well, and who has played poorly? Focus on deflategate keeps the emphasis, however, on the faults of football, not on those characteristics of the game that has made it America's most watched sport. And this analysis holds regardless of whether Brady was aware of the alleged tampering with the balls or whether the NFL has valid grounds to overturn Berman's decision. It is contrary to the NFL's self-interest to continue the focus on this alleged scandal.

Why then is the NFL - really Goodell -- appealing Judge Berman's decision? Berman's decision emphasized a variety of procedural errors in the way the NFL decided that Brady should be suspended for four games. Much of what Berman stated can be encapsulated in the notion that Goodell, who played roles in the prosecution, application of the penalty and appeal of that penalty -- that is, he was both prosecutor, executioner and "independent" arbiter of a decision he participated in -- abused his authority. An appeal by the NFL would be a further abuse of authority, this time to the detriment of the NFL. It is Goodell who has a personal interest in appealing Berman's decision, acting to the detriment of his employer, the NFL and its constituents (owners, players, fans, etc.). In other words, Goodell's decision to appeal presents the agency risk, an agent acting contrary to the broader interest of the parties for whom he is an agent.

Posted by orrinj at 1:13 PM


The Saudi Problem (Paul R. Pillar, September 3, 2015, National Interest)

In hot spot after hot spot in the Middle East, U.S. and Saudi objectives and priorities diverge, even if in some loose sense they are considered to be on the same side. In war-torn Syria, the United States and Saudi Arabia have never agreed on whether the ouster of the Assad regime or the containment of ISIS should be the main objective. Saudi priorities are based on a variety of considerations that are specific to it and not to the United States, including hatred of the Assads for whatever role they may have played in the assassination of Lebanese prime minister Rafic Hariri, a special friend of the Saudis. Reflecting the different priorities and objectives is disagreement over selection and vetting of Syrian rebels to be deemed worthy of support.

In Iraq, Saudi priorities are influenced by some of the same sectarian motives that shape Saudi policy toward Syria. And again, such motives are quite different from U.S. interests. Desired overthrow of the regime is not the factor that it is in Syria, but distrust of the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad is a major part of the Saudi approach toward Iraq.

In Yemen, the United States has allowed itself to become associated with a destructive and misguided Saudi military expedition, and thus also with the humanitarian tragedy that the operation has entailed. The main Saudi objective is to show who's boss on the Arabian Peninsula, another objective not shared with the United States. Saudi Arabia's operation has shown itself, more so than Iran, to be a destabilizing force intent on throwing its weight around in the neighborhood.

In his most recent column Tom Friedman identifies what may be the most worrisome thing about Saudi Arabia for U.S. interests: "the billions and billions of dollars the Saudis have invested since the 1970s into wiping out the pluralism of Islam -- the Sufi, moderate Sunni and Shiite versions -- and imposing in its place the puritanical, anti-modern, anti-women, anti-Western, anti-pluralistic Wahhabi Salafist brand of Islam promoted by the Saudi religious establishment." Friedman notes that Islamist extremist groups that the United States has come to consider preeminent security concerns, including Al Qaeda and now ISIS, "are the ideological offspring of the Wahhabism injected by Saudi Arabia into mosques and madrasas from Morocco to Pakistan to Indonesia."

The specific terrorist consequences of what the Saudis have done is justifiably an immediate concern for U.S. policy-makers. But the underlying bargain that Ibn Saud, the founder of the current Saudi kingdom, reached years ago with the Wahhabis also underlies much else that makes Saudi Arabia what it is today, and makes it the problem that it is. The kingdom's troublesome characteristics are inextricably linked to how Ibn Saud's offspring are trying to claim legitimacy and thus to cling to power.

Thus, our rapproachment with the Shi'a.
Posted by orrinj at 1:08 PM


Hitler's World (Timothy Snyder SEPTEMBER 24, 2015, NY Review of Books)

Nothing can be known about the future, thought Hitler, except the limits of our planet: "the surface area of a precisely measured space." Ecology was scarcity, and existence meant a struggle for land. The immutable structure of life was the division of animals into species, condemned to "inner seclusion" and an endless fight to the death. Human races, Hitler was convinced, were like species. The highest races were still evolving from the lower, which meant that interbreeding was possible but sinful. Races should behave like species, like mating with like and seeking to kill unlike. This for Hitler was a law, the law of racial struggle, as certain as the law of gravity. The struggle could never end, and it had no certain outcome. A race could triumph and flourish and could also be starved and extinguished.

In Hitler's world, the law of the jungle was the only law. People were to suppress any inclination to be merciful and were to be as rapacious as they could. Hitler thus broke with the traditions of political thought that presented human beings as distinct from nature in their capacity to imagine and create new forms of association. Beginning from that assumption, political thinkers tried to describe not only the possible but the most just forms of society. For Hitler, however, nature was the singular, brutal, and overwhelming truth, and the whole history of attempting to think otherwise was an illusion. Carl Schmitt, a leading Nazi legal theorist, explained that politics arose not from history or concepts but from our sense of enmity. Our racial enemies were chosen by nature, and our task was to struggle and kill and die.

"Nature," wrote Hitler, "knows no political boundaries. She places life forms on this globe and then sets them free in a play for power." Since politics was nature, and nature was struggle, no political thought was possible. This conclusion was an extreme articulation of the nineteenth-century commonplace that human activities could be understood as biology. In the 1880s and 1890s, serious thinkers and popularizers influenced by Charles Darwin's idea of natural selection proposed that the ancient questions of political thought had been resolved by this breakthrough in zoology.

Happily, Americans rejected Darwinism.

Posted by orrinj at 8:32 AM


The Politics of Star Trek (Timothy Sandefur,  August 25, 2015, Claremont Review of Books)

Roddenberry and his colleagues were World War II veterans, whose country was now fighting the Cold War against a Communist aggressor they regarded with horror. They considered the Western democracies the only force holding back worldwide totalitarian dictatorship. The best expression of their spirit was John F. Kennedy's Inaugural Address, with its proud promise to "pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty."

This could have been declaimed by Captain James T. Kirk (played by William Shatner), of the starship U.S.S. Enterprise, who, as literature professor Paul Cantor observes in his essay "Shakespeare in the Original Klingon," is "a Cold Warrior very much on the model of JFK." In episodes like "The Omega Glory," in which Kirk rapturously quotes the preamble to the Constitution, or "Friday's Child," where he struggles to outwit the Klingons (stand-ins for the Soviet menace) in negotiations over the resources of a planet modeled on Middle Eastern petroleum states, Kirk stands fixedly, even obstinately, for the principles of universal freedom and against collectivism, ignorance, and passivity. In "Errand of Mercy," the episode that first introduces the show's most infamous villains, he cannot comprehend why the placid Organians are willing to let themselves be enslaved by the Klingon Empire. Their pacifism disgusts him. Kirk loves peace, but he recognizes that peace without freedom is not truly peace.

This was not just a political point; it rested on a deeper philosophical commitment. In Star Trek's humanist vision, totalitarianism was only one manifestation of the dehumanizing forces that deprive mankind (and aliens) of the opportunities and challenges in which their existence finds meaning. In "Return of the Archons," for example, Kirk and company infiltrate a theocratic world monitored and dominated by the god Landru. The natives are placid, but theirs is the mindless placidity of cattle. In the past, one explains, "there was war. Convulsions. The world was destroying itself. Landru...took us back, back to a simple time." The people now live in ignorant, stagnant bliss. Landru has removed conflict by depriving them of responsibility, and with it their right to govern themselves. When Kirk discovers that Landru is actually an ancient computer left behind by an extinct race, he challenges it to justify its enslavement of the people. "The good," it answers, is "harmonious continuation...peace, tranquility." Kirk retorts: "What have you done to do justice to the full potential of every individual? Without freedom of choice, there is no creativity. Without creativity, there is no life." He persuades Landru that coddling the people has stifled the souls it purported to defend, and the god-machine self-destructs.

This theme is made more explicit in "The Apple," perhaps the quintessential episode of the original Star Trek. Here Kirk unashamedly violates the "Prime Directive"--the rule forbidding starship captains from interfering with the cultures they contact--by ordering the Enterprise to destroy Vaal, another computer tyrant ruling over an idyllic planet. Like Landru, Vaal is an omniscient totalitarian, and he demands sacrifices. The natives, known only as "people of Vaal," have no culture, no freedom, no science--they do not even know how to farm--and no children, as Vaal has forbidden sex along with all other individualistic impulses. This sets Kirk's teeth on edge. There are objective goods and evils, and slavery is evil because it deprives life forms of their right to self-government and self-development.

What differentiates "The Apple" from "Archons" is Spock's reaction. In the earlier episode, he joined Kirk in condemning Landru; now the half human/half Vulcan is reluctant to interfere with what he calls "a splendid example of reciprocity." When chief medical officer Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy (DeForest Kelley) protests, Spock accuses him of "applying human standards to non-human cultures." To this cool relativism, McCoy replies, "There are certain absolutes, Mr. Spock, and one of them is the right of humanoids to a free and unchained environment, the right to have conditions which permit growth."

Abel deserved it.

Posted by orrinj at 8:21 AM


Ronald Reagan, Heretic (Timothy Egan, 9/04/15, NY Times)

[T]here's a gaping disconnect among Republicans between the Reagan worship of 2015 and the reality of his long, public career.

Start with immigration, and the police-state proposals that have driven Trump to the top of Republican polls. As president, Reagan signed a bill that granted amnesty to nearly three million people who were in this country illegally. And then he went a step further, acting on his own after signing the first bill, to extend amnesty to another 100,000 people.

Reagan would never back the authoritarian roundup and deportation that Trump advocates, or the Big Brother tracking of immigrants "like FedEx packages," as Gov. Chris Christie has proposed.

While Trump vows to build a giant wall, Reagan is best known for four words: "tear down this wall." He was referring to the Berlin barrier, but he could have been talking about obstructions for immigrants from south of the border. "I believe in the idea of amnesty for those who have put down roots and lived here for some time and may have entered illegally," said President Reagan. You can hear the boos in the Reagan Library should any Republican say such a thing today.

Taxes. Yes, Reagan reduced the top rate, which was onerously high. But he was no absolutist, as required under the senseless no-new-taxes-ever pledge that all Republicans are supposed to take. Reagan raised taxes at least four times during his two terms in office, and 11 times by some readings of the record.

He had to do this because the federal deficit and the size of government ballooned all out of proportion while he was president. Yep, with Reagan the government-hater in charge, the size of the federal government grew to 5.3 million employees, and the federal debt nearly tripled, to $2.9 trillion. What's more, he raised the debt ceiling -- something modern Republicans are willing to shut down the whole shebang over -- 18 times. Heretic!

Posted by orrinj at 8:09 AM


When Black Music Was Conservative : Songs from the classic soul era celebrated marriage and upward mobility. (HOWARD HUSOCK, Summer 2015, City Journal)

The 1960s and early 1970s was the era of what music critic Peter Guralnick has called "sweet soul music," the title of his definitive book. Even as "sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll" became the rallying cry of an increasingly libertine youth culture, soul music--a popular variant of church-based gospel music--enjoyed a golden age among black audiences, reflecting in many ways more traditional beliefs, including optimism about the future. "Soul music, then, was the product of a particular time and place," Guralnick writes, when "the bitter fruit of segregation transformed . . . into a statement of warmth and affirmation."

A great deal of the power of this music flowed from specific chord structures inherited from black gospel music--the so-called 16-bar blues, which reached a creative peak in the 1950s and 1960s--and which, especially after Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin, and hundreds of others married it to nonreligious lyrics, would transform popular music. As Anthony Heilbut wrote in his 1971 book The Gospel Sound: Good News, Bad Times: "From rock symphonies to detergent commercials, from Aretha Franklin's pyrotechnics to the Jacksons' harmonics, gospel has simply reformed all our listening expectations. The very tension between beats, the climax we anticipate almost subliminally, is straight out of the church." The chord changes and vocal glissandi of gospel became the stock-in-trade of pop icons from Whitney Houston to most of the contestants on American Idol.

Gospel-inflected soul music came into its own during a period of notable African-American socioeconomic advances. Between 1940 and 1970, as historians Stephan and Abigail Thernstrom noted in America in Black and White, "African-Americans escaped sharecropping, domestic service and other unskilled jobs that paid dismally low wages, and substantial numbers made their way into middle-class white-collar jobs from which they had always been excluded." Black men went from earning 41 percent of white wages on average in 1940 to 59 percent by 1970; black women increased their wages relative to white women from 36 percent to 73 percent. Even as Jim Crow came under siege from the civil rights movement, black Americans, like whites, enjoyed the fruits of America's postwar economic boom.

It was a powerful combination reflected in African-American music, beginning with gospel, which explored achievement and advance not just in a distant heavenly home but also in the here and now. The music celebrated the falling away of discriminatory barriers, the potential for economic advance, and the individual's capacity to triumph over adversity; it called for strength and determination in the struggle to succeed, while also extolling social propriety. Consider the great Dorothy Love Coates, leader of the Gospel Harmonettes, a popular female gospel quartet. Her brilliant Specialty Records hit "99 and a Half (Percent) Won't Do" is an imprecation for the believing Christian to do what it takes to please God--but also sounds like a Calvinist paean to self-improvement. "Seventy won't make it, 80 God won't take, 90 that's close, 99 and a half is almost, Get your 100." She was even more explicit about the changing world of American blacks at the time (circa 1954) in her signature song, "That's Enough," wherein Jesus is portrayed as a supporter in the earthly effort to survive and prosper. "There's always someone talking 'bout me. Really I don't mind. They're trying to block and stop my progress most of the time. The mean things you say don't make me feel bad. And I can't miss a friend that I never had. I've got Jesus, Jesus and that's enough."

As it evolved over the course of the 1950s and 1960s, gospel music--epitomized by Sam Cooke, its greatest singer and songwriter before he became a soul music pioneer and pop star--grew comfortable expressing less overtly religious themes. Cooke's Specialty Records hit "That's Heaven to Me" offered a vision of paradise that resembled a safe, middle-class suburban neighborhood: "Even the children playing in the street sing a friendly hello to everyone that they meet. Even the leaves blowing out, going out on the tree--that's heaven to me." A traditionalist, gospel-influenced message remained at the core of classic soul music. As songwriter Roosevelt Jamison told Guralnick: "We had our type of blues gospel melody, but we wanted to put some poetic message and philosophy in it. The gutbucket stuff we figured wasn't really good music. We wanted to put some flavor of God in it."

Artists' lyrics respected and often celebrated marriage, for example. (I refer here not to Motown--infectious pop sung by blacks but aimed more at a white audience and billing itself as "The Sound of Young America"--but to music that targeted black listeners, often Southerners or the Southern-born.) In his 1962 single "Meet Me in Church," Joe Tex sang: "I've got the ring and the rice. I've got flowers waiting on ice. So don't hesitate. Don't make me wait. Meet me in church." Stars like Tex and Solomon Burke--who released his own version of "Meet Me in Church" in 1968--weren't necessarily expecting to tie the knot with a bombshell like Rhianna or Beyoncé, either. "Each day I'm getting older and the clock is running too fast," lamented Garland Green in his 1971 hit "Plain and Simple Girl." "Still my search is getting stronger. How much longer can I last? All I want is just a plain and simple girl who can understand me and share my world." Such was the sort of love for which many male soul music singers expressed longing. In "When a Man Loves a Woman," among the deepest and most poignant soul ballads, Percy Sledge sang of heartfelt devotion. "When a man loves a woman, spend his very last dime, tryin' to hold on to what he needs. He'd give up all his comforts, and sleep out in the rain. If she said that's the way it ought to be."

Female soul stars sounded similar themes. In 1971's "I'm a One Man Woman," singer/guitarist Barbara Lynn declared, "I don't want nobody but you. . . . I don't need nobody but you. The day I met you I changed my ways. I gave you my love, too, for all of my days. I gave up wandering and I realized you can change my lonely life to a paradise."

Significantly, marriage in the classic soul era was not just a romantic relationship but also an economic partnership. In Paul Kelly's "We're Gonna Make It (After While)," the singer tells his wife to find a way to put off the bill collector and laments that they'll have to make do eating not much more than hominy grits. "[I] don't like the way I'm living," he sings. "My woman don't either. But we'll rise above it one day. Because we're true believers." Little Milton put it this way: "We may not have a home to call our own. But we're gonna make it. . . . We may have to fight hardships alone, but we're gonna make it. . . . Togetherness brings peace of mind. We can't stay down all the time. . . . Our car may be old, our two rooms cold but we're gonna make it." Not that determination alone was enough to make a marriage successful. Indeed, in 1971's "You've Got to Earn It," the Staples Singers, a onetime family gospel group, made the task of holding a relationship together sound like manual labor: "To get stones from a rock, you've got to break it. To get bread from dough, you've got to bake it. To get water from a faucet, you've got to turn it. And if you wanna be loved, you've got to earn it." The best-known soul hit of all--Aretha Franklin's 1967 cover version of the Otis Redding song "Respect"--makes clear that a healthy relationship is a two-way street.

Soul songs about infidelity were plentiful, but they also paid tribute to marriage as an abiding norm. After all, one cannot "cheat" (a commonly used soul-lyric term) absent the structure of assumed fidelity. Johnnie Taylor, who scored a series of hits on the cheating theme, including 1968's "Who's Making Love," implicitly endorsed the idea of couples staying together when he sang, "Take care of your homework, fellas. If you don't, somebody else will." That message couldn't be more different from "Love the One You're With," the free-love anthem of the Woodstock Nation. Even when sex might occur outside marriage, classic soul raised the possibility that a long-term relationship should follow.

Soul music's confidence in family life was matched by a conviction that past injustice would no longer hold black America back. "It's been a long time coming, but I know a change is gonna come," sang Sam Cooke in "A Change Is Gonna Come," which became a civil rights anthem after his death in 1964. "There have been times when I thought I couldn't last for long. But now I think I'm able to carry on." Struggles and hardships, real as they remained, wouldn't be accepted as an excuse for not advancing. In "We're a Winner," written for his Chicago-based group, the Impressions, songwriter Curtis Mayfield put it this way: "We're a winner and never let anybody say, boy, you can't make it, 'cause a feeble mind is in your way. No more tears do we cry, and we have finally dried our eyes, and we're movin' on up." James Brown put it more succinctly: "I don't want nobody to give me nothing. Open up the door, I'll get it myself."

The Guralnick book is up there with The Right Stuff, The Power Broker and What it Takes as required American non-fiction, but the recent HBO Special Mr. Dynamite is worth watching on this topic as well. James Brown's gospel of self-improvement is a central theme.

Posted by orrinj at 8:04 AM


Iraq's top Shiite cleric asks government to start hunting 'big heads' in anti-corruption drive (Associated Press, Sept. 4, 2015)

Iraq's top Shiite cleric says the government must start hunting the "big heads" in an anti-corruption drive as the only way to achieve genuine reforms.

In a message delivered by a representative in a Friday sermon, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, called for "convincing and assuring steps" as a proof of government seriousness in implementing its reform plan, which was announced and approved by parliament last month.

Posted by orrinj at 7:52 AM


Inside Israel's Bid to Derail Iran Pact (ADAM ENTOUS, Sept. 3, 2015, WSJ)

Mr. Netanyahu's approach scored points with Israelis who agree with his decision to challenge Mr. Obama, but within Israel's security establishment, some officials privately said they are deeply worried about the consequences of Mr. Netanyahu's campaign on U.S.-Israel relations. Public criticism in Israel of Mr. Netanyahu's intervention in Congress has come mainly from former security officials, who say they aren't afraid to speak their minds. [...]

"I've never seen such an effort, almost in broad daylight, to involve ourselves in internal American politics, to work on the ground to try to effect a political outcome," said Ephraim Halevy, who served as director of Israel's spy service, the Mossad, from 1998 to 2002. Added Meir Dagan, who succeeded Mr. Halevy: "Friendly countries are not supposed to do this to each other."

U.S. administration and congressional officials said no other country in the world would be able to pull off a similar campaign, because no other country has Israel's access or deep well of domestic support, led by the powerful pro-Israel lobby group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, known as Aipac.

A former aide to Mr. Netanyahu said he and his ambassador to the U.S., Ron Dermer, who has held similar meetings with lawmakers in Washington, don't see themselves as foreigners intervening in the U.S. political process because of their backgrounds in the U.S. and close contacts in Congress.

"They think it's their home turf," the aide said. Mr. Netanyahu spent years as a youth in the U.S. and then returned later for university. Mr. Dermer was born in the U.S., moved to Israel as an adult and formally renounced his American citizenship in 2005 when he began serving the Israeli government in the U.S.

Ironically, it is that very closeness which mitigates against treating them like an actual country, nevermind an ally.  Ultimately, Mr. Netanyahu addressing Congress was no different than any congressman addressing Congress. Israel is, effectively, the sugar lobby.

Posted by orrinj at 7:44 AM


Solving homelessness is easy. So why don't we just do it? (Ryan Cooper, September 3, 2015, The Week)

The first thing to understand about homelessness is that it's mostly a transitory phenomenon. Of any particular population of homeless people, the vast majority of them will find some place to live in a few months.

The people you see out on the street, panhandling and sleeping in doorways, are almost always part of the small hard core of chronic homeless people, about 10 percent of the homeless total. These are the people the New York Police Department is complaining about, and they're typically older people with serious addictions or mental illnesses.

Such people are very expensive for the state. Homeless shelters cost a lot, and people on the street are constantly being picked up by the police and getting sick from being out in the elements. Shelter beds, jail cells, court time, and repeated emergency room visits (if not time in intensive care) add up to truly spectacular bills. Utah found that it was spending $20,000 per year per chronically homeless person -- fully 60 percent of the total spending on homeless overall, despite them being only a tenth of the total. In New York, the figure is more like $40,500.

Practically, this means that you could spend a lot of money on concentrated social services for the chronically homeless, and still come out ahead financially if it keeps them off the street. So when Utah tried just handing such people their own apartment in a program called Housing First (though participants do have to pay $50 or 30 percent of their income, whichever is more), and combined that with regular attention from social workers, hey presto -- the state decreased chronic homelessness by 91 percent.

...being tough on the poor always costs us more in the long run.  Likewise, the cheapest health care reform would be the most "expensive" one, universal HSAs from birth.

Posted by orrinj at 7:39 AM


David Duke on Trump: He's 'the best of the lot' (Jeremy Diamond, 8/25/15, CNN)

David Duke, the anti-Semitic former Ku Klux Klan leader, praised Republican front-runner Donald Trump for his immigration policy proposals and said Trump is "the best of the lot."

After ranting about "Jewish supremacy" and Jewish domination of the media, Duke took time out of two of his radio programs last week to talk up Trump's candidacy as a "great thing," praising the Republican candidate's plan to deport the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S.

September 3, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 10:18 PM


Pondering Hitler's Legacy (George Friedman, SEPTEMBER 1, 2015, Geopolitical Weekly)

[P]erhaps the most important thing that Hitler did was unleash the United States, a country where earning a living is the definition of life. Hitler believed that his defeat meant the triumph of Bolshevism. It really meant the triumph of the United States and its culture, which it distributed in Western Europe through occupation and in the Soviet bloc through imitation.

The United States redefined European culture. As I have written in Flashpoints: The Emerging Crisis in Europe, it was not Coca-Cola but the computer that was the carrier of American culture. The computer had nothing to do with metaphysics or with the true or beautiful. It had to do with the narrowest form of instrumental reason: It simply got things done, and in doing so, it justified its existence. The computer dominated the world -- and Europe -- and with it came a mode of thinking, contained in programming, that was so radically different from what European culture consisted of as to almost be from another planet. Of course, Europeans helped found the culture, but they bequeathed it to their heir, the United States. Paradoxically, the United States remains the most religious of countries, with church attendance at its height. Religiosity and instrumental reason are compatible in the United States -- a point to ponder.

Hitler respected Josef Stalin. He understood the radical ideologue who was ready to kill. He had little respect for the United States. He understood Stalin, but he couldn't fathom Roosevelt. But as I sit here looking toward Berchtesgaden, I must recall that it was the 7th Infantry Regiment of the Third Division, U.S. Army, that captured the town and Hitler's home. The Americans occupied the area until 1995, using it for military purposes.

This was the most important thing Hitler achieved, and the last thing he expected. Hitler drew the Americans into the heart of Europe and left the Europeans completely vulnerable to the emerging, and quite strange, modes of thought that a nation that holds shopkeepers in great regard can produce. Hitler destroyed the dams that Europe had built around itself. He crippled all of Europe, including the Soviet Union. He could not imagine the need to cripple the Americans, nor could he have had realized the need. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:29 PM


In Defense of the 'Cadillac Tax' (IKE BRANNON, 9/03/15, Weekly Standard)

That the Cadillac tax is in the crosshairs of conservatives is maddening; allowing employers to provide health insurance tax-free to their workers is terrible policy, a truism that any honest economist--whether liberal, conservative, or otherwise--would agree with. The pre-Cadillac tax status quo creates two perverse incentives: First, workers end up with more health insurance than they would ever purchase on their own (since tax-free health insurance is worth more than income that's taxed at 30%-50%), which gives people less take-home pay to spend as they see fit. 

Second, more generous health insurance entails lower co-pays as well as other provisions that insulate the worker from the actual cost of their health care. As a result, people become less sensitive to prices when seeking health care, and they consume more of it--most of which does nothing to improve health outcomes, numerous studies have shown

Posted by orrinj at 7:25 PM


Iran's Khamenei Urges Lawmakers to Vote on Nuclear Deal (ARESU EQBALI,  RORY JONES and  JOEL GREENBERG, Sept. 3, 2015, WSJ)

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Thursday urged his country's parliament to vote on whether to implement a proposed nuclear deal with the U.S. and five other world powers, even as Israel's prime minister vowed to continue lobbying against the pact.

The sharply divergent positions, from two rivals on opposite ends of the nuclear deal, illustrate how the contentious pact has stirred up political challenges for leaders far beyond the U.S.

Posted by orrinj at 7:21 PM


Server-less Restaurants Might Be the Future of Dining (Megan Garber, 9/02/15, The Atlantic))

Before there were fast-food restaurants, and long before there was fast-casual, there was a dining experience that was faster and casual-er than anything that would follow it. The automat, the original server-less restaurant, took the logic of the vending machine to a social extreme: It offered, generally, a wall of small cubbies that contained food both fresh and less so, prepared by unseen humans. Patrons could drop a few coins into the slots, and out would pop a cheeseburger or a tuna salad or a candy bar, instantly and readily and just a little bit magically.  

Automats were convenient and fast and, for a time in U.S. history, extremely common; the main thing about them, though, was that they were extremely cheap. They were places you went, generally, when you had no place else to go, and were particularly popular in cities, providing sustenance to laborers and artists. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:14 PM


Nikki Haley takes on Donald Trump (Dana Milbank, 9/02/15, Washington Post)

Then there is Haley, young and charismatic, often mentioned as a vice presidential prospect. The child of Indian immigrants, she is the first woman and the first member of a minority group to be governor of South Carolina. She responded admirably and forcefully to the police killing in her state of Walter Scott, an unarmed black man, and she championed legislation to put cameras on police officers statewide -- the first of its kind.

She wept with the mourners after a massacre at a black church in Charleston, and she led the subsequent effort to remove the Confederate flag from the state capitol grounds. She told her children about Cynthia Hurd, one of the Charleston victims, whose motto was to "be kinder than necessary."

"That's now my life motto," Haley, 43, said Wednesday afternoon. [...]

"Why are you going all the way to this side and talking about birthright citizenship when you haven't even talked about illegal immigration itself?" she asked. "Are you as a candidate going to commit to putting troops along the border?" She also cited the high cost of drones, planes, and detention and deportation capabilities, which would be needed. Concluded the governor: "Don't say you're just going to build a wall, because a wall's not going to do it."

It was at times implicit and at times explicit, but it was clearly a rebuke of Trump from a lonely voice of tolerance within the party. More of this is needed, and fast, if the GOP is to avoid Trump's siren call to alienate everybody but the party's shrinking demographic base.

...with that ad saying "Forget love."  It's the Christian party and that's profoundly unChristian...not to mention just indecent.

Posted by orrinj at 7:11 PM


The Return of America's Favorite Kosher Snack Cookie : Hydrox is coming back. (Michael Schulson, September 3, 2015, The Tablet)

The Hydrox, for those not in the know, was an Oreo knock-off. Except it wasn't a knock-off, because the Hydrox was actually invented four years before the Oreo, in 1908. But basically, for all intents and purposes, Hydrox was the creme-filled Oreo look-a-like that most people ignored, with one key difference: unlike lard-infused Oreos, Hydrox were kosher.

Anyway, Bob accepted the challenge, and submitted himself to a blind taste test. His friend, feeling sly, took half of a Hydrox and half of an Oreo, and smushed them together to make a single hybrid cookie sandwich. Blindfolded Bob took a bite. "Half Oreo, half Hydrox," he said. Touche! (Full dislosure: that quote is a historical reconstruction based on reliable sources, and not necessarily verbatim).

Bob may have had an unusually sensitive palate. But his experience calls into question the earnest assurances given to thousands of Jewish youth before 1997-namely, that their Hebrew school Hydrox snack was basically the same as Oreos, so stop complaining and eat them already.

In 1997, to the relief of Jewish parents and children everywhere, Oreos went kosher. (Marjorie Ingalls has discussed the transition in Tablet, with thorough notes on the personal and cultural dimensions of the change). In 2003, Hydrox went extinct. While I would like to chalk this up to the power of kosher-keeping consumers, it is not difficult to think of other reasons that the product did not thrive. For one thing, its name sounded like a stain remover, or a Dr. Seuss character, or a kind of small African mammal. For another, it was playing catch-up with a juggernaut.

So what do you do in 2015 with an old, defunct, alternative snack food, with an industrial-age name and strong associations with one's grandparents?

Bring it back, of course! And feed it to millenials. Production of Hydrox will restart tomorrow in Los Angeles.

Posted by orrinj at 7:07 PM


Illinois Democrats Fall Short in Bid to Override Veto of Labor Negotiation Bill (MARK PETERS, Sept. 2, 2015, WSJ)

Blocking the legislation was a win for the first-term governor, who has clashed with Democratic lawmakers, who hold overwhelming majorities in the Illinois House and Senate. The bill would have allowed an arbitrator to intervene in ongoing contract negotiations between the Rauner administration and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31, which represents a majority of state workers.

Supporters argued the bill would ensure a fair outcome as Mr. Rauner looks to curb the pay and power of public-sector unions, while the governor contended the legislation would put contract talks in the hands of a labor-friendly arbitrator.

Posted by orrinj at 7:03 PM


The Two Jewish State Solution : Israel's former internal security service chief decries the threat of religious Zionism left unchecked in Judea and Samaria (Yuval Diskin, September 3, 2015, The Tablet)

The two-state solution is becoming true for the Jews: The State of Judea is being built de facto side by side with the State of Israel. These are two nations whose differences are eclipsing their commonalities, a condition that is growing irreversible.

The State of Judea has different standards, different approaches to democracy, and it has two justice systems, one for Jews (Israeli law) and the other for Palestinians (martial law). Whether we want it or not, these two justice systems have divergent measures to adjudicate identical offenses.

Do nations have borders? Most of the time. These two states are separated by a clear border, the buffer zone/separation fence designed to distance us from Islamic/Palestinian terrorism but that, in fact, created a border between two Jewish states.

In the State of Judea, the laws are hardly ever enforced against Jews. In the State of Judea, there's a gradual flourishing of anarchic, anti-authoritarian ideologies that are violent and racist and that are tolerated, from a legal point of view, by the Israeli justice system. In the State of Judea the (no longer tiny) minority of radical "Hilltop Youth" and their various supporters set the tone for the mainstream of religious Zionism.

Anyone who thinks we're talking about no more than a few dozen wild-eyed youths is bitterly mistaken. In the State of Judea there are hundreds of young people (some no longer that young) who adhere to messianic and/or anarchic and anti-authoritarian ideologies. Among those hundreds are dozens who each day apply some level of violence or terrorism against the persons or possessions of Palestinians. Among them are dozens who would be willing, without hesitation, to apply violence and terrorism against their Jewish brethren should their idea of the sanctity of the land ever be put to the test. According to some scenarios, the ranks of these extremists might mushroom.

These statistics have for years been well-known to the General Security Service, to the police, to the Israel Defense Forces, to prime ministers, to the state attorney's office, to the prime minister's legal counsel, to ministers of defense, and to the various Knesset committees. Back when I was the head of the GSS, I spoke in various pre-military colleges in Judea and Samaria and said bluntly that I considered Jewish terrorism to be a cancer and that no Jew may legitimately resort to terrorism when protected by a strong state and defense organizations. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:53 PM


The Populists (GEORGE PACKER, 09_07_15, The New Yorker)

Thomas E. Watson, the populist from Georgia who had a long and increasingly demagogic career in American politics, wrote in 1910:

The scum of creation has been dumped on us. Some of our principal cities are more foreign than American. The most dangerous and corrupting hordes of the Old World have invaded us. The vice and crime which they have planted in our midst are sickening and terrifying. What brought these Goths and Vandals to our shores? The manufacturers are mainly to blame. They wanted cheap labor: and they didn't care a curse how much harm to our future might be the consequence of their heartless policy.

The objects of Watson's bile were the Italians, Poles, Jews, and other European immigrants then pouring into the United States. A century later, in the populist summer of 2015, some of their great-grandchildren have been cheering Donald Trump as he denounces the latest generation of immigrants, in remarkably similar terms.

American populism has a complicated history, and Watson embodied its paradoxes. He ended his career, as a U.S. senator, whipping up white-Protestant enmity against blacks, Catholics, and Jews; but at the outset, as a leader of the People's Party in the eighteen-nineties, he urged poor whites and blacks to join together and upend an economic order dominated by "the money power." Watson wound up as Trump, but he started out closer to Bernie Sanders, and his hostility to the one per cent of the Gilded Age would do Sanders proud. 

...always oppose the next ones.
Posted by orrinj at 6:43 PM


Russian jets in Syrian skies (Alex Fishman, 08.31.15, Israel News)

Russian fighter pilots are expected to begin arriving in Syria in the coming days, and will fly their Russian air force fighter jets and attack helicopters against ISIS and rebel-aligned targets within the failing state. [...]

Western diplomatic sources recently reported that a series of negotiations had been held between the Russians and the Iranians, mainly focusing on ISIS and the threat it poses to the Assad regime. The infamous Iranian Quds Force commander Major General Qasem Soleimani recently visited Moscow in the framework of these talks. As a result the Russians and the Iranians reached a strategic decision: Make any effort necessary to preserve Assad's seat of power, so that Syria may act as a barrier, and prevent the spread of ISIS and Islamist backed militias into the former Soviet Islamic republics.

The Russians are not the only ones coordinating their Middle East policy with the Iranians; The US has also jumped aboard that train. American government officials have been holding intensive consultations with representatives of the Iranian regime concerning a stronger joint effort against ISIS in Iraq. It seems that the US government currently views Iran as a central and necessary force in the campaign against ISIS within Iraq.

...but it would be helpful if Assad brought Putin down with him.
Posted by orrinj at 12:26 PM


How Trump Exposed the Tea Party : The proof is in: the GOP base isn't small-government libertarian; it's old-fashioned populist. (MICHAEL LIND 09/03/15, Politico)

Here are some of the things that have been said by the guy who has galvanized the GOP's Tea Party base and taken the lead in the Republican presidential race:

"Every Republican wants to do a big number on Social Security, they want to do it on Medicare, they want to do it on Medicaid. And we can't do that."

"As far as single payer [health care], it works in Canada, it works incredibly well in Scotland. ... You can't let the people in this country, the people without the money and resources, to go without healthcare."

"People as they make more and more money can pay a higher percentage" of taxes.

Only one of two conclusions can be drawn here. Either the Tea Party base--which the media would have us think mainly consists of angry libertarians inveighing against taxes and runaway big government--hasn't really been listening to Donald Trump, who made all the above statements, or, alternatively, most of the media have read the Tea Party and its true aims and ambitions entirely wrong.

I suggest the latter is the correct answer. The success of Trump's campaign has, if nothing else, exposed the Tea Party for what it really is; Trump's popularity is, in effect, final proof of what some of us have been arguing for years: that the Tea Party is less a libertarian movement than a right-wing version of populism.

The Tea Party has only ever been about an absurd fear that SS and Medicare money will be diverted to the coloreds.

Posted by orrinj at 12:20 PM


Why Judge Berman Threw Out Tom Brady's 'Deflategate' Suspension  (JACOB GERSHMAN, 9/03/15, WSJ)

• Brady was denied the opportunity to examine a lead investigator:

Denied the opportunity to examine Pash at the arbitral hearing, Brady was prejudiced. He was foreclosed from exploring, among other things, whether the Pash Wells Investigation was truly "independent," and how and why the NFL' s General Counsel came to edit a supposedly independent investigation report...Brady was also prejudiced because there was no other witness, apart from Pash, who was as "competent to address the substantive core of the claim."...As co-lead investigator and senior executive with the NFL, Pash was in the best position to testify about the NFL 's degree of involvement in, and potential shaping of, a heralded "independent" Investigation.

• Brady was denied equal access to investigative files from the Paul Weiss report:

The Court finds that Commissioner Goodell's denial of the Players Association's motion to produce the Paul, Weiss investigative files, including notes of witness interviews, for Brady's use at the arbitral hearing was fundamentally unfair and in violation of 9 U.S.C. § 10(a)(3) and that Brady was prejudiced as a result. The interview notes were, at the very least, the basis for the Wells Report, and Brady was prejudiced by his lack of access to them. Brady was denied the opportunity to examine and challenge materials that may have led to his suspension and which likely facilitated Paul, Weiss attorneys' cross-examination of him.

Compounding Brady's prejudice is the fact that, as noted, Paul, Weiss acted as both alleged "independent" counsel during the Investigation and also (perhaps inconsistently) as retained counsel to the NFL during the arbitration. Paul, Weiss uniquely was able to retain access to investigative files and interview notes which it had developed; was able to use them in direct and cross-examinations of Brady and other arbitration witnesses; share them with NFL officials during the arbitral proceedings; and, at the same time, withhold them from Brady.

Another tinpot dictator falls...

September 2, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:57 PM


Oldest Fragments of Koran May Pre-Date Prophet Mohammed (Abraham Rabinovich, September 2, 2015, Free Beacon)

The examiners estimated that the text was written between A.D. 568 and 645. By tradition, Mohammed lived A.D. 570 and 632. Although there is an overlap between parts of these two periods, the Koran was initially not a written document but memorized by believers and recited orally. It was not until A.D. 650 that a written form was completed, according to scholars.

"It destabilizes, to put it mildly, the idea that we can know anything with certainty about how the Koran emerged," said Tom Holland, a British historian, in an interview with the Times. "And that, in turn, has implications for the historicity of Mohammed and his followers."

A Koranic manuscript consultant at Oxford's Bodleian Library, Dr. Keith Small, told the Times that if the dating is confirmed, as he believed would happen, it could raise serious problems for Islam.

"This would radically alter the edifice of Islamic tradition," he said. "The history of the rise of Islam in late Near Eastern antiquity would have to be completely revised."

He noted that previous "peripheral" views among scholars suggested that Mohammed and his early followers may have based themselves on a text already in existence and shaped it to fit their own political and theological agenda.

This was a sharp deviation from tradition, which regards the Koran as a divine revelation to Mohammed. If the still-tentative thesis is substantiated, according to Small, Islamic scholarship would have to account for the existence of a book of scripture before Mohammed's time and then explain how it was collated into what became the Koran.

One of the most interesting parts of Did Muhammed Exist concerns the prevalance of Christian symbols in early Islam.

Posted by orrinj at 7:48 PM


Hans Urs von Balthasar & the Dramatic Project of Theology (Christopher Morrissey, 9/01/15, Imaginative Conservative)

Hans Urs von Balthasar, in Volume IV (The Action) of Theo-Drama, arguably his most innovative theological work, contains a very brief discussion of the work of René Girard. But what von Balthasar says there about Girard, theology, and drama is especially revealing:

"Girard's is surely the most dramatic project to be undertaken today in the field of soteriology and in theology generally. In his view, world history and all the values realized in it are based on a primal tragedy that has now been disclosed; it comes to a climax--and this is also its turning point--in the tragedy and rejection of Christ."

The primal tragedy, according to Girard, is the tragedy of the scapegoat. An innocent victim is violently sacrificed by a unanimous mob. In myths, the memory of this event is preserved, but also in myths the scapegoats have become distortedly deified into barely recognizable figures that, no longer the victims, now possess supernatural power to restore peace to a community. Hidden by the myth is the truth that in fact an innocent victim paid the price in order for peace to be achieved by ritual violence. [...]

Girard has emphasized how, in drama, tragedy is able to portray the violent crisis point--the point of no return--of the mimetic process. This very crisis is what Girard calls the sacrificial crisis. Once it is reached, the standard violent practices do not work anymore. They break down. A new kind of violence is required. For there will be no end to the sacrificial crisis unless a new violence can be found and made to work.

Typically, in tragedy, such a renovation is achieved by the dramatic death of the hero. The story of the sacrificial crisis is, in brief, expressed by this ancient myth: Good violence suddenly becomes bad violence; good violence is needed again, in order to make the bad violence go away. If, then, the sacrificial crisis is good violence that has gone bad, the only apparent solution to the crisis is to find a substitute victim. The victim of the bad violence (the good violence gone bad) is replaced with the victim of good violence, so that sacrifice can once again be affirmed and violence can work to bring peace: we must admit a little disorder (sacrifice of a scapegoat) to avoid widespread chaos (the sacrificial crisis).

Posted by orrinj at 7:43 PM


AS RIVALS STUMBLE, AMERICA STEPS UP (Joel Kotkin 09/02/2015, New Geography)

Just a quick look around the world makes clear that the United States has emerged as a relative hot spot in a chilly global economy. China is devaluating its currency and ratcheting down its growth expectations. Japan and Europe continue to lag, as they have for the past decade or two. Indeed, with the possible exception of India, no major country appears on the rise, and several once-ballyhooed rising stars - Russia, Brazil, South Africa - now seem headed for prolonged economic eclipse.

America's mainstream media and intellectual classes now face a quandary. Generally attracted over the past century to economic models other than our own, they have shifted their admiration from Mussolini's Italy and Stalin's Soviet Union in the 1930s and, in the 1960s and beyond, Japan, Germany and, most recently, China.

Now all those fashionable role models are clearly unravelling. Instead of seeking to imitate other countries, perhaps it's time to find ways to bolster our own capabilities. President Obama may prefer to lead from behind, but that has not turned America into the world's caboose. The country, in its fundamentals, is potentially far stronger and resilient than many believe.

There's only one civilization.

Posted by orrinj at 7:38 PM


Two years into Rouhani presidency, Iranians ask for more : Tehran residents welcome nuclear deal but demand delivery on economic campaign promises - six months ahead of parliamentary elections (The Guardian, 2 September 2015)

While Ali's grievances with Rouhani centre on jobs, Marjan, a 40-year old woman who lives in Shariati Street in the affluent north Tehran neighbourhood of Ghalhak, has other concerns.

"I've been at war with the police over my hejab since I was 16," she said. "I voted for Mr Rouhani so he would improve the economy and keep these idiots off the streets. But just this year alone I've been picked up in their vans three times."

By 'vans' Marjan means the police vehicles stationed along the main thoroughfares in central and north Tehran that take women in violation of the dress code to police stations around the city to be processed and usually fined.

"Didn't Rouhani say he wanted to reinstate the rule of law? So do something about it! Is it too much to ask for just one person to stand by his word here?

"I like Rouhani. That he was able to secure the nuclear deal was really something. But everything isn't just about the economy and national security. I'm an educated woman; I have rights. A president is supposed to defend the rights of the people. He's supposed to prevent the police and Basij from doing whatever they want to people in the street. He's not supposed to drag us to heaven, but he also shouldn't leave us stranded in hell."

Other perspectives can be found. Abbas, 42, runs a Samsung outlet on Jomhouri Street, says thing are improving since he fell on hard times after the United States and European Union tightened sanctions in 2012.

"I was almost bankrupt. From 2012 to 2014 it was really bad. Goods were held up in customs and it took all kinds of bribes and shady dealing to free them up. The value of the dollar was jumping up and down each day, so people expected currency fluctuations and they bought less. There were months when I sold only three televisions.

"Even if Rouhani had done nothing else, stabilising the currency was an economic renaissance for Iranians. Now there's some semblance of order in the market, and people are slowly returning to their normal lives. I deal with customers every day. People have calmed down at last, finally they're able to breathe.

"Rouhani is a president who stood by his word. Once the funds free up in the aftermath of the nuclear deal, hopefully the price of the dollar will continue to drop and the market will bounce back. I'm hopeful for Rouhani's last two years. And if he stands a second time, he has my vote."

They voted for normalcy and re-opening trade and an alliance with Anglo-America was an important step, but he's got a lot left to do now that security has been achieved.
Posted by orrinj at 7:36 PM


American Muslims Defending True Islam : For now, we must make peace with a progress of increments, even of the two-steps-forward-one-step-back variety. (Murad Kalam, August 12, 2015, Patheos)

The nation may gradually see that Muslims do not have the market cornered on acts of terror, but it remains for Muslims to do the heavy lifting. And in fairness to the American umma, we have taken on the challenge in the most American of spirits, forming civil rights organizations, speaking out against terror, defending true Islam.

Sadly, for all our progress, we are often victims of the terrorist's veto, a stylized video beheading with effects worthy of Hollywood, ISIS internet trolls, foreign mosque bombings, and the next terrorist act of an American Muslim. These acts will always drown out the progress of American Muslims. But we have other, more important business at hand and that is to create an American Islam, not a reactionary, empty Islam of guilty Muslims, but something that is real.

In no country is this more possible than America. French Muslims, for instance, cannot play the uniquely American music of plurality and diversity. They must be nominally French and they must be quiet and marginalized. This American Islam, however, must have the 'goods.' We cannot throw away valid Islamic theology buttressed by study and reflection to please the very people who will always hate us. Western Muslims who make a claim for Islam will always need 'street cred' in the eyes of Middle Eastern Muslims. This often comes to us in the form of well-meaning foreign-born imams whose Islamic education is one of rote and, pointedly, who do not understand America. To paraphrase what Malcolm X said about being a real American, do not come to me with nothing on your plate and call yourself dinner.

At the same time, we cannot fall victim to ignorance about Islam, however good our intentions. Our work requires a passport. Some, especially younger, American-born Muslims, have traveled to the Middle East to study with scholars just as Ibn Battuta did. They have wrenched genuine knowledge from countries lost in tribalism and conflict. They have returned and established communities culturally rooted in America.

Posted by orrinj at 7:32 PM


Sunsetting Government Waste (Brian Baugus and Feler Bose, Sept. 1, 2015, US News)

Almost everyone, regardless of political persuasion, can point to some aspect of government that has outlived its usefulness or is a waste of time and money. Getting rid of the "waste, fraud and abuse" is a constant campaign theme. Such claims imply there must be plentiful opportunities to bring efficiencies to government and that a process such as the sunset review process, designed to rid government of bloat and inefficiency, would be well used. Pioneered in the mid-1970s, the sunset clause is, indeed, at least one good government tool.

Sunset clauses are provisions written into the law, most often laws establishing regulatory agencies, which end the agency's existence, unless the legislature acts to extend its life. The sunset review process requires that the agency defend its existence and justify its continuation. We examined the sunset clause and its use and found that it was not just about good governance but also a political power play.

The good news is that some states use the sunset process and seem to be achieving tangible savings for taxpayers. Texas and Ohio, for example, use the sunset review process extensively and regularly eliminate agencies and regulations. In the five-year period examined, we found that the Ohio state legislature subjected 274 agencies and laws to the sunset review process and eliminated 79 of them for a 28 percent kill ratio. Texas had an 18 percent kill ratio.

Every act of Congress and federal regulation should sunset and require re-enactment.
Posted by orrinj at 7:28 PM


The Trick to Acting Heroically (EREZ YOELI and DAVID RAND, 8/28/15, NY Times)

Last year, one of us, Professor Rand, together with his colleague Ziv Epstein, conducted an analysis of recipients of the Carnegie Medal for heroism, which is awarded to those who risk their lives for others. After collecting interviews given by 51 recipients and evaluating the transcripts, we found that the heroes overwhelming described their actions as fast and intuitive, and virtually never as carefully reasoned.

This was true even in cases where the heroes had sufficient time to stop and think. Christine Marty, a college student who rescued a 69-year-old woman trapped in a car during a flash flood, said she was grateful that she didn't take the time to reflect: "I'm thankful I was able to act and not think about it." We found almost no examples of heroes whose first impulse was for self-preservation but who overcame that impulse with a conscious, rational decision to help.

It is striking that our brute instincts, rather than our celebrated higher cognitive faculties, are what lead to such moral acts. But why would anyone ever develop such potentially fatal instincts?

Because Darwinism is false.

The Lost Chief: Remembering Joe Delaney (CHRIS CONNELLY, 8/31/15, Grantland)

It's been 32 years now, but the man whose particular burden it was to have found Joe Delaney, to have given him CPR, and to have still been holding Delaney's wallet and driver's license as the NFL standout was rushed to the hospital that afternoon always understood why people never seemed to forget Delaney's story: "There's been famous people that have died before, OK?" said police diver Marvin Dearman a decade ago. "But how many famous people have given their life trying to save somebody they didn't even know?" [...]

There at the south end of Chennault Park in Monroe, Louisiana, in the shade of a tree along the bank, sat Joe Delaney, 24-year-old running back for the Kansas City Chiefs, just two days away from moving with his wife and three daughters back up to Missouri for his third NFL season. He heard cries for help and, still wearing his flip-flops, he handed his wallet to the woman next to him, ran into the water ... and disappeared. Later, at the scene, Dearman would see those flip-flops, floating on the surface. He would find Joe Delaney's body in just six feet of water. "You know," Dearman would say, "we've often wondered how he drowned." One of Joe's sisters would say back then that an autopsy had shown that Joe had broken his ankle.

Twenty years after the tragedy, following a young adulthood fraught with trouble, LeMarkits Holland could still remember when his mother told him that Harry had died: "I just started crying, because I didn't want that to happen to my brother. Because he was kind of like the good kid and I was like the bad kid." LeMarkits, however, had survived: pulled out of the water, he would remember, by someone ... someone he thought might have been Joe Delaney. "I was under the water, and I was drowning," he'd recall. "Whoever saved me, they must have just threw me back on the shallow part, and tried to save somebody else." That tale would attach itself to the story of Delaney's heroic act, giving the darkest of days a small shaft of sunlight, becoming a kind of rural legend. But efforts to verify it would fall short.

Posted by orrinj at 7:25 PM


Trumpism: The Ideology : The low art of fear and fanaticism (JEFFREY A. TUCKER, July 17, 2015, FEE)

I just heard Trump speak live at FreedomFest. The speech lasted an hour, and my jaw was on the floor most of the time. I've never before witnessed such a brazen display of nativistic jingoism, along with a complete disregard for economic reality. It was an awesome experience, a perfect repudiation of all good sense and intellectual sobriety.

Yes, he is against the establishment, against existing conventions. It also serves as an important reminder: as bad as the status quo is, it could be worse. Trump is dedicated to taking us there.

His speech was like an interwar séance of once-powerful dictators who inspired multitudes, drove countries into the ground, and died grim deaths. I kept thinking of books like John T. Flynn's As We Go Marching, especially Chapter Ten that so brilliantly chronicles a form of statism that swept Europe in the 1930s. It grew up in the firmament of failed economies, cultural upheaval, and social instability, and it lives by stoking the fires of bourgeois resentment.

Since World War II, the ideology he represents has usually lived in dark corners, and we don't even have a name for it anymore. The right name, the correct name, the historically accurate name, is fascism. I don't use that word as an insult only. It is accurate.

Though hardly anyone talks about it today, we really should. It is still real. It exists. It is distinct. It is not going away. Trump has tapped into it, absorbing unto his own political ambitions every conceivable resentment (race, class, sex, religion, economic) and promising a new order of things under his mighty hand.

You would have to be hopelessly ignorant of modern history not to see the outlines and where they end up. I want to laugh about what he said, like reading a comic-book version of Franco, Mussolini, or Hitler. And truly I did laugh as he denounced the existence of tech support in India that serves American companies ("how can it be cheaper to call people there than here?" -- as if he still thinks that long-distance charges apply). But in politics, history shows that laughter can turn too quickly to tears.

So, what does Trump actually believe? He does have a philosophy, though it takes a bit of insight and historical understanding to discern it. Of course, race baiting is essential to the ideology, and there was plenty of that. When a Hispanic man asked a question, Trump interrupted him and asked if he had been sent by the Mexican government. He took it a step further, dividing blacks from Hispanics by inviting a black man to the microphone to tell how his own son was killed by an illegal immigrant.

Because Trump is the only one who speaks this way, he can count on support from the darkest elements of American life. He doesn't need to actually advocate racial homogeneity, call for whites-only signs to be hung at immigration control, or push for expulsion or extermination of undesirables. Because such views are verboten, he has the field alone, and he can count on the support of those who think that way by making the right noises.

Posted by orrinj at 5:53 PM


Was Battle Against Iran Deal a Noble Fight -- or Epic Flop? (Nathan Guttman, September 2, 2015, The Forward)

"It was misguided," said philanthropist Charles Bronfman, who also chairs the Israel Policy Forum's advisory committee. "From the get-go it seemed that those who were against the deal are going to lose, so the question is, why get into this fight and spend so much money?"

The effort did little to move the political needle. [...]

The pro-Israel lobby, second in political influence to only the gun lobby and the senior citizens' political advocacy groups, has found itself in a bind. It faced, on the one hand, an Israeli government determined to go all out to stop the deal and to demand the same of its supporters. On the other hand, an American administration that was willing to muster its full political power to ensure the passage of its key foreign policy achievement.

AIPAC chose to go full force against the deal, despite the slim political chance of winning. "When a president is dead set on a foreign policy initiative, it's virtually impossible to stop him, and the sophisticated people at AIPAC understand that," said Neal Sher, who was the lobby's executive director from 1994 to 1996. "But the Netanyahu administration has come out so forcefully that I'm not sure AIPAC had that much of a choice."

As a result, AIPAC launched the most expensive foreign policy advocacy campaign in recent history. Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran, a subsidiary group the lobby established, was immediately able to secure a reported campaign chest of up to $40 million, though Patrick Dorton, the group's spokesman, put the sum at about half of that.

This money, all deployed in the compressed period between the deal's announcement in mid-July and the mid-September congressional votes, went primarily to TV ads in 40 states that sought to influence wavering lawmakers to oppose the deal. The campaign also included online ads targeting specific senators and representatives. AIPAC also conducted intense direct lobbying, from constituent pressure to high-level visits to Capitol Hill by major donors with close ties with lawmakers.

And that was not all. Opponents of the deal succeeded in getting a majority of Jewish organizations to join, with major players such as the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League speaking out against it. An additional push came from 21 Jewish federations across the country that called on their members to lobby against the agreement.

But results were limited. As the congressional summer recess drew to a close, it became clear that the campaign moved few votes to the opposition column. The biggest achievement was convincing New York Senator Charles Schumer to oppose the deal. But despite his leadership position in the Senate and his standing in the Jewish community, there was no "Schumer effect" that moved others, as advocates had hoped.

In launching its all-out campaign against all odds, AIPAC took a calculated risk. First and foremost, it risked losing the bipartisan image it has been struggling to maintain for decades. "It now becomes harder for them to say, 'We're no Republican organization,'" Rosen said, noting that AIPAC is in fact bipartisan and has made a point of keeping both Democrats and Republicans on its board.

AIPAC also risked taking a hit to its image as an omnipotent lobby ruling the Hill. Former Florida Democrat Robert Wexler told Newsweek that much of AIPAC's power lies in the perception that it is the 800-pound gorilla in the room. "But if the 800-pound gorilla challenges and loses, then the deterrence factor is seriously weakened," Wexler said.

Meet the Iran Lobby : In the fight over sanctions and the nuclear deal, how did the supposedly all-powerful pro-Israel lobby lose to the slick operatives of the National Iranian American Council? (Lee Smith, September 1, 2015, Tablet)

Trita Parsi, the Iranian-born émigré who moved to the United States in 2001 from Sweden, where his parents found refuge before the Islamic Revolution, should be the toast of Washington these days. As I argued in Tablet magazine several years ago, Parsi is an immigrant who in classic American fashion wanted to capitalize on the opportunity to reconcile his new home and his birthplace. And now he's done it: The founder and president of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), the tip of the spear of the Iran Lobby, has won a defining battle over the direction of American foreign policy. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action not only lifts sanctions on Iran, a goal Parsi has fought for since 1997, but also paves the way for a broader reconciliation between Washington and Tehran across the Middle East.

In Washington, to have the policies you advocate implemented with the full backing of the president counts as a huge victory. Winning big like this means power as well as access to more money, which flows naturally to power and augments it--enhancing reputations and offering the ability to reward friends and punish enemies. And yet, Parsi (who declined comment for this story) has got to be frustrated that very few in the halls of American power--either in government or in the media--are celebrating the Iran lobby for its big win. It seems the only thing people can talk about is the big loser in this fight over Middle East policy--the pro-Israel lobby, led by AIPAC. It's as if Parsi and NIAC had nothing to do with the Obama Administration's decision to move closer to Iran while further distancing itself from Israel.

"It's a huge win for NIAC," said one Iranian-American analyst who requested anonymity. "Every other part of Iranian-American advocacy--from the Mujahedin-e Khalq, to the washed-up old monarchists--is useless, and then in comes Trita and he's slick, presentable, and knows how to build an impressive network." So, why is the rise of the Iran Lobby both Washington's biggest and also its least-heralded success story of the past six years?

In part, Parsi and NIAC's relative anonymity is the work of a White House that would rather pretend that there is no Iran Lobby, in accordance with the standard Beltway wisdom that a "lobby" is any group of people who advocate things that you are opposed to (lobbies that advocate things you are for are known as "supporters"). But the White House surely knows better, in part because so many friends and graduates of the Iran Lobby now staff key Iran-related government posts. The White House's Iran desk officer, Sahar Nowrouzzadeh, for example, is a former NIAC employee. NIAC's advisory board includes two former U.S. diplomats, Thomas Pickering, a former ambassador to Israel, and John Limbert, who was held hostage by the revolutionary regime in 1979. Past speakers at NIAC leadership conferences include Joe Biden's National Security Adviser Colin Kahl, and the White House's Middle East Director Rob Malley. Other past speakers from the political realm include: Robert Hunter, former U.S. ambassador to NATO; PJ Crowley, State Deptartment spokesperson under Hillary Clinton; Hans Blix, former director general of the IAEA. Other reputable names include figures like Aaron David Miller from the Wilson Center, Robert Pape from the University of Chicago, and Suzanne Maloney from the Brookings Institution.

Posted by orrinj at 5:48 PM


Icelandic Woman Likely Carved Lewis Chessmen (VALA HAFSTAD, September 02, 2015, Iceland Review)

Ancient chessmen, unearthed in 1831 on the shore of the Isle of Lewis off the west coast of Scotland, may very well be the work of an Icelandic female carver, The Economist reports. This is the conclusion of Nancy Marie Brown, an American expert in the Viking Age, whose book was just published. Ivory Vikings: The Mystery of the Most Famous Chessmen in the World and the Woman Who Made them is published by St. Martin's Press.

The chessmen are considered the greatest treasure of medieval game pieces ever found. 

There's a nice replica on Amazon.

Posted by orrinj at 5:44 PM


Israel's enemy within: Young militant settlers (Shira Rubin, 8/23/15,  USA Today)

Many of the extremists are associated with the so-called "price tag" movement, which vows to exact a "price" by attacking Palestinian properties or people whenever Israel attempts to curb Jewish settlements in the West Bank. The origins for the movement date back 10 years, when large-scale Israeli evacuations of settlements from Gaza were perceived as a violation of both Jewish law and the peoples' prospects for redemption. [...]

[Meir Ettinger, the grandson of the famed ultra-nationalist Rabbi Meir Kahane,] wrote on his blog that rather than prosecute "Arab terrorists," Israeli police busy themselves with groups like the "hilltop youth," young activist settlers that camp on hilltops in the West Bank, and "Lahava," a youth organization that seeks to prevent intermingling between Arabs and Jews.

According to the Shin Bet -- Israel's security agency -- members of Ettinger's "price tag" offshoot movement called "the revolt" meet at night at different locations, share information on how to get Molotov cocktails and remain silent during police investigations, as well as plot schemes for creating anarchy and overthrowing the Israeli government in favor of a "Jewish kingdom."

Posted by orrinj at 5:40 PM


Dick Cheney: Iran Deal "Ought To Be Treated As A Treaty" (RCP, 9/02/15)

CHENEY: What we need to do is have Congress reject the deal. 

It ought to be treated as a treaty, for one thing. 

...but a misunderstanding of the Constitution.

September 1, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 3:32 PM


China's Crisis Could Get a Lot Worse, Quickly : As stock prices fall, Beijing may end up bailing out much more than the markets. (DANIEL ALTMAN, SEPTEMBER 1, 2015, Foreign Policy)

Over the past several days, Beijing has been all over the map: it apparently tried to find the bottom for share prices in its markets and failed, extracted a confession of causing a run on markets from a journalist, and arrested hundreds more people for allegedly spreading rumors that hurt the economy. These are not the actions of a government with its markets under control; they are the actions of a government used to having its people under control.

Options markets, which depend on investors' expectations for future prices and volatility in stocks, suggest that the Chinese markets have further to fall. There's a substantial chance that they're right, since any more downside moves will have a snowball effect. Even more of the money plowed into stocks through margin lending and shadow banking -- investment funds managed by banks that promise a high, fixed return -- will have to be pulled out, and not gradually, either.

There's a chance that the crisis could metastasize to the banking system, too, if stock sales don't raise enough money to cover the high returns promised to investors in shadow banking products. If that happens, Chinese banks will have to pay investors out of their own capital -- and they may not have enough, especially after Beijing eased capital requirements last year. If the banks come up short, Beijing will have to bail them out again, this time directly -- rather than by trying to support share prices.If the banks come up short, Beijing will have to bail them out again, this time directly -- rather than by trying to support share prices. Most likely, the government would do so by cashing in some of its reserves of assets denominated in foreign currencies, such as United States Treasury notes.

China is already selling Treasuries from its reserves to stop the renminbi from plunging further, after the abortive devaluation that began on August 11 shook traders' confidence in the currency. Only a few months ago, this would have been no big deal. During roughly two decades of export-driven growth and trade surpluses, China built up $4 trillion worth of foreign reserves, far more than it needed merely to protect its currency (which didn't float freely on global markets, in any case) from speculative attacks. But from July 2014 to July 2015, China's reserves shrank by more than $300 billion, and the past month is likely to have eroded them even more.

So how much would Beijing be on the hook for if shadow banking blows up? Recent estimates vary widely, but the shadow banking system was probably worth between $6 trillion and $8 trillion at its peak, so let's call it $7 trillion. The returns owed to investors may have been about 7 percent on average, or $490 billion. Not all of the shadow banking funds were invested in stocks, but the other uses of the funds -- often loans for municipal construction or infrastructure projects -- may also be running losses of as high as 24 percent.

So if the government had to cover a quarter of the promised returns, the cost would be about $120 billion. If it had to cover some of the principal, too, then the cost would be much higher. And when construction projects don't pay off, and stocks take a nosedive, that outcome becomes a genuine possibility.

Posted by orrinj at 3:29 PM


These Solar Windows Could Help Power Skyscrapers (Adele Peters, 9/01/15, Co.Exist)

Future solar panels might be invisible and plastered on the sides on buildings instead of roofs. A new startup called SolarWindow makes transparent coatings that turn windows into mini power plants.

On a skyscraper, where rooftop solar panels can only provide a fraction of the massive amount of energy that big buildings use, the new windows could power a much larger chunk of an electric bill.

"Rooftop space available for conventional PV is so limited it is difficult to generate meaningful energy for a skyscraper," says John Conklin, the startup's CEO. "SolarWindow, on the other hand, is developing its transparent electricity-generating coatings for the vast surface area of glass available on a skyscraper."

Posted by orrinj at 3:17 PM


Israel fights Palestinian flag-raising at UN (AFP, September 1, 2015)

Israel on Tuesday expressed strong opposition to a draft resolution that would allow the Palestinian flag to be raised at the United Nations ahead of the annual gathering of world leaders later this month.  [...]

The battle over the UN flags comes as the Palestinians seek to bolster their bid for statehood despite fierce opposition from Israel.

If Bibi manages to lose to the PLO, where does he go to get one for the thumb?
Posted by orrinj at 2:37 PM


New San Francisco restaurant replaces humans with iPads (Joseph Mayton, 1 September 2015, The Guardian)

Those sick and tired of having to deal with their fellow humans all the time have a new respite - a fully automated restaurant in San Francisco.

Customers at Eatsa in the Financial District will order from an iPad, sending the order to the kitchen. When the meal is ready, it appears in a small glass compartment. The food is prepared by real people, but the patrons never have to see them.

Posted by orrinj at 2:34 PM


The Coming Liberal Disaster at the Supreme Court (JEFFREY TOOBIN, 9/01/15, The New Yorker)

Affirmative action. The Chief Justice has been primed to get rid of any kind of racial preferences since he took office, a decade ago. In 2013, in Fisher v. University of Texas, the Justices essentially kicked the issue of affirmative action in college admissions down the road. Lower courts upheld the Texas plan, which allows an extremely limited use of racial diversity in admissions. Now the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case a second time--an unusual step in itself. It's hard to imagine that the Justices reached out for this case again simply to preserve the status quo. A decision limiting--or eliminating--racial preferences in admissions seems highly likely.

Abortion. After the Republican landslides in the 2010 midterm elections, more than a dozen states tightened their restrictions on abortion. No state banned abortion altogether, but several came close. Some have banned abortion after the twentieth week of pregnancy, and others have imposed requirements on clinics that make them virtually impossible to operate. (For example, the laws require that doctors who provide abortions must have admitting privileges at local hospitals; they also impose on clinics the building standards of ambulatory surgical centers.) In Texas, the new rules would require all but nine abortion providers in the state to close their doors. It's true that, in June, five Justices (the liberals plus Kennedy) issued a stay, preventing the law from going into effect; but Kennedy has favored limits on abortion in recent years, and there is every reason to believe he will support these new ones, too.

Public-employee unions. At the end of June, the Justices agreed to decide Friedrichs v. California; it could sharply limit the power of public-employee unions, which have been bulwarks of support for Democratic office-holders. In states like California, public employees who choose not to join a union must still pay the equivalent of dues ("fair share" fees) when the union negotiates their contracts. If the challengers win this case, the unions may lose millions of dollars in revenue, with a consequent loss of power. Since public-employee unions have done so much better than private-sector unions in recent years, that would hurt the union movement as a whole in an especially vulnerable place. The campaign against fair-share fees has been a special crusade for Justice Samuel Alito, and he may kill them off for good this time.

Posted by orrinj at 2:31 PM


Fearing Israeli attack, Iran boosts nuke defenses, TV report claims (TIMES OF ISRAEL, September 1, 2015)

Iran has bolstered defenses at its nuclear facilities, introduced new radar systems, and "raised its alert" for fear of an Israeli attack, an Israeli television report said Tuesday evening. [...]

It said the regime is particularly concerned by the threat of attack in the current period between July's finalizing of a deal with the P5+1 world powers on its nuclear program and the approval of the deal by the US Congress.

Posted by orrinj at 2:24 PM


Google's Driverless Cars Run Into Problem: Cars With Drivers (MATT RICHTEL and CONOR DOUGHERTYSEPT. 1, 2015, NY Times)

Google, a leader in efforts to create driverless cars, has run into an odd safety conundrum: humans.

Last month, as one of Google's self-driving cars approached a crosswalk, it did what it was supposed to do when it slowed to allow a pedestrian to cross, prompting its "safety driver" to apply the brakes. The pedestrian was fine, but not so much Google's car, which was hit from behind by a human-driven sedan.

Google's fleet of autonomous test cars is programmed to follow the letter of the law. But it can be tough to get around if you are a stickler for the rules. One Google car, in a test in 2009, couldn't get through a four-way stop because its sensors kept waiting for other (human) drivers to stop completely and let it go. The human drivers kept inching forward, looking for the advantage -- paralyzing Google's robot.

It is not just a Google issue. Researchers in the fledgling field of autonomous vehicles say that one of the biggest challenges facing automated cars is blending them into a world in which humans don't behave by the book.