March 31, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 5:24 PM


Donald Trump's poll numbers collapse as general election looms (Benjy Sarlin, 3/31/16, MSNBC)

The bottom is dropping out for Donald Trump.

While Trump was never popular outside of his loyal slice of GOP voters, a raft of new polls show his national position hitting new lows, including with groups that are supposed to form his base.

A collection of recent surveys by Real Clear Politics finds, on average, 30 percent of respondents hold a favorable view of Trump versus 63 percent who hold a negative one.

Posted by orrinj at 3:15 PM


Iranian Public Attitudes Before & After Parliamentary Elections (Nancy Gallagher, Ebrahim Mohseni, Clay Ramsay, March 2016, CISSM Report)

1. Views of the Conduct of the February 2016 Majlis Elections 
Four in ten Iranians say the Majlis (Iran's Parliament) elections were very fair, and another four in ten think they were somewhat free and fair. Also, eight in ten say they were at least somewhat satisfied with the final makeup of the candidates for whom they could vote.

2. Views of the Outcome of the Majlis Elections: President Rouhani & his Critics 
A large majority of Iranians say they voted for candidates who were supporters of President Hassan Rouhani. Rouhani still enjoys high levels of popular support in Iran. Nearly eight in ten Iranians continue to have a favorable opinion of Rouhani. Yet the percentage saying they have a very favorable opinion has consistently eroded since August 2015, soon after the nuclear deal was reached.  Two thirds support greater economic engagement with the West--a Rouhani agenda. While views about the current economic situation have not improved, optimism has grown, with more than half now thinking that the economy is getting better.

3. Views of the Outcome of the Majlis Elections: Principlist, Reformist, and Independents
In terms of the preferred candidates' political orientation, roughly equal proportions say they voted for the Principlists, Reformists, and independents. While those who voted for Reformist candidates were more likely to say they voted for pro-Rouhani candidates, a majority in all three groups said they voted for pro-Rouhani candidates, suggesting that Rouhani's support is broad-based. 

Officials: US mulls new rules on dollars to help Iran (BRADLEY KLAPPER and MATTHEW LEE, Mar. 31, 2016, AP) 

The Obama administration may soon tell foreign governments and banks they can start using the dollar in some instances to facilitate business with Iran, officials told The Associated Press, describing an arcane tweak to U.S. financial rules that could prove significant for Tehran's sanctions-battered economy.

Posted by orrinj at 3:10 PM


Jimi Hendrix: 'You never told me he was that good' (Ed Vulliamy, August 2010, The Guardian)

He was born to a father who cared, but not greatly, and a mother he barely knew - she died when he was 15 - but adored (she's said to be the focus of two of his three great ballads, "Little Wing" and "Angel"). He had always been enthralled by guitar playing - a "natural", immersed in R&B on the radio and the music of blues giants Albert King and Muddy Waters. When he was 18, he was offered the chance to avoid jail for a minor misdemeanour by joining the army, which he did, training for the 101st Airborne Division.

His military career was marked by friendship with a bass player called Billy Cox from West Virginia, with whom he would play his last concerts, and a report which read: "Individual is unable to conform to military rules and regulations. Misses bed check: sleeps while supposed to be working: unsatisfactory duty performance."

Hendrix engineered his discharge in time to avoid being mobilised to Vietnam and worked hard as a backing guitarist for Little Richard, Curtis Knight, the Isley Brothers and others. But, arriving in New York to try and establish himself in his own right, Hendrix found he did not fit. The writer Paul Gilroy, in his recent book Darker Than Blue, makes the point that Hendrix's life and music were propelled by two important factors: his being an "ex-paratrooper who gradually became an advocate of peace" and his "transgressions of redundant musical and racial rules".

Hendrix didn't fit because he wasn't black enough for Harlem, nor white enough for Greenwich Village. His music was closer to the blues than any other genre; the Delta and Chicago blues which had captivated a generation of musicians, not so much in the US as in London, musicians such as John Mayall and Alexis Korner, and thereafter Eric Clapton, Peter Green, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page among many others.

As luck would have it, the Brits were in town and Linda Keith, girlfriend of the Stones' Keith Richards, persuaded Chas Chandler, bass player of the Animals, to go and listen to Hendrix play at the Cafe Wha? club in the Village. Chandler wanted to move into management and happened to be fixated by a song, "Hey Joe", by Tim Rose.

"It was a song Chas knew would be a hit if only he could find the right person to play it," says Keith Altham, then of the New Musical Express, who would later become a kind of embedded reporter with the Hendrix London entourage. "There he was, this incredible man, playing a wild version of that very song. It was like an epiphany for Chas - it was meant to be."

"To be honest," remembers Tappy Wright, the Animals' roadie who came to Cafe Wha? with Chandler that night, "I wasn't too impressed at first, but when he started playing with his teeth, and behind his head, it was obvious that here was someone different."

Before long, Hendrix was aboard the plane to London with Chandler and the Animals' manager, Michael Jeffery, to be met by Tony Garland, who would end up being general factotum for Hendrix's management company, Anim. "When he arrived," recalls Garland now, sitting on his barge beside the canal in Maida Vale, west London, where he now lives, "I filled out the customs form. We couldn't say he'd come to work because he didn't have a permit, so I told them he was a famous American star coming to collect his royalties."

It is strange, tracking down Hendrix's inner circle in London. His own musicians in his great band, the Experience - Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell - are dead. Likewise, his two managers, Chandler and Jeffery, and one of his closest musician friends, the Rolling Stone Brian Jones; the other, Eric Burdon of the Animals, declined to be interviewed. But some members of the close-knit entourage are still around, such as Kathy Etchingham and Keith Altham, wearing a flaming orange jacket befitting the time of which he agrees to speak, in defiance of a heart attack only a few days before.

Music in London had reached a tumultuously creative moment when Hendrix arrived and was perfectly poised to receive him. "The performers were just your mates who played guitars," recalls Altham. "It was tight - everyone knew everyone else. It was just Pete from the Who, Eric of Cream, or Brian and Mick of the Stones, all going to each other's gigs."

For reasons never quite explained, the blues - both in their acoustic Delta form, and Chicago blues plugged into an amplifier - had captivated this generation of English musicians more deeply than their American counterparts. Elderly blues musicians found themselves, to their amazement, courted for concerts, such as an unforgettable night at Hammersmith with Son House and Bukka White. Champion Jack Dupree married and settled in Yorkshire. "People [here] felt a certain affinity with the blues, music which added a bit of colour to grey life," Altham continues. And as Garland points out: "White America was listening to Doris Day - black American music got nowhere near white AM radio. Jimi was too white for black radio. Here, there were a lot of white guys listening to blues from America and wanting to sound like their heroes."

Things happened at speed after Hendrix landed. "'Come down to the Scotch,' Chas told me the day Jimi arrived and hear what I found in New York," recalls Altham. "Jimi couldn't play because he had no work permit, but he jammed that night, and my first impression was that he'd make a great jazz musician." That was the night, his first in London, that Hendrix met Kathy Etchingham. "It happened straightaway," she recalls. "Here was this man: different, funny, coy - even about his own playing."

"A short while later," recalls Altham, "Chas took me to hear him at the Bag O'Nails club [in Soho] for one of his first proper gigs, turned to me and said, 'What'ya think?' I said I'd never heard anything like it in all my life." At a concert in the same series, remembers Garland, "Michael Jeffery put an arm round Chas, another round me and said, 'I think we've cracked it, mate.'" They had: Kit Lambert, according to Altham, literally scrambled across the tables to Chas at one of the shows and said, "in his plummy accent", he had to sign him. Chas needed a record contract, Decca had turned Hendrix down (along with the Beatles) and Lambert was about to launch a new label, Track Records, with interest from Polydor: "The deal was done, on the back of a napkin," says Altham.

Hendrix had formed his band at speed: a rhythm guitarist from Kent called Noel Redding - who had applied to join the Animals but to whom Hendrix now allocated bass guitar - and Mitch Mitchell, a jazz drummer seeking to mould himself in the style of John Coltrane's great percussionist, Elvin Jones. With a stroke of genius, Jeffery came up with the only name befitting what was to follow: the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Is there any line in rock'n'roll more assuredly seductive as: "Are you experienced?/ Have you ever been experienced?/ Well, I have" (from 1967's "Are You Experienced")?

Paul McCartney, John Lennon and the other Beatles quickly converged to hear this phenomenon, along with the Stones and Pete Townshend. Arriving one night at the Bag O'Nails, Altham met Brian Jones "walking back up the stairs with tears in his eyes. I said, 'Brian, what is it?' and he replied, 'It's what he does, it chokes me' - only he put it better than that".

There was also curiosity from the emergent powerhouse of British blues: Cream and Eric Clapton. There was a particular night when Cream allowed Jimi to join them for a jam at the Regent Street Polytechnic in central London. Meeting Clapton had been among the enticements Chandler had used to lure Hendrix to Britain: "Hendrix blew into a version of [Howlin' Wolf's] 'Killing Floor'," recalls Garland, "and plays it at breakneck tempo, just like that - it stopped you in your tracks." Altham recalls Chandler going backstage after Clapton left in the middle of the song "which he had yet to master himself"; Clapton was furiously puffing on a cigarette and telling Chas: "You never told me he was that fucking good."

With a reputation, a recording contract and the adoration of his peers, Hendrix was allocated a flat belonging to Ringo Starr, in Montagu Square, in which he lived with Etchingham, Chandler and Chandler's Swedish girlfriend, Lotta. It was not ideal, but base camp for an initial tour - as opening act for Cat Stevens and Engelbert Humperdinck, with the Walker Brothers topping the bill.

Something was needed, Chandler thought, whereby Hendrix could blow the successive acts off the stage and Altham had the beginning of an idea. He said: "'It's a pity that you can't set fire to your guitar.' There was a pregnant pause in the dressing room, after which Chas said, 'Go out and get some lighter fuel.'" Garland remembers: "I went out into Seven Sisters Road [in north London] to buy lighter fluid. At first, it didn't make sense to me - there were too many things going on to worry about lighter fluid - but it all became clear in the end."

Altham borrowed a lighter from Gary - the third Walker brother and drummer - and that night, at the Astoria theatre in central London, Hendrix set his guitar ablaze for the first time. "One of the security guards said, 'Why are you waving it around your head?'" recalls Altham. "'Cause I'm trying to put it out,' replied Jimi. 

Posted by orrinj at 2:59 PM


"This Barren Land": Bob Dylan's Gospel Variations (Max Nelson, LARB Quarterly Journal: Winter 2016)

SOME 70 YEARS before Bob Dylan recorded Time Out of Mind, the album that gave his career the most recent of its many jump-starts and reinventions, the Memphis street-corner gospel singer Blind Mamie Forehand and her husband -- a guitar player identified only as "A.C." -- laid down a chilling, funereal 78 that quickly found its way into the gospel-blues canon. The legendary Virginian country trio The Carter Family recorded versions of both sides in the 1930s; several decades later, an all-female a capella gospel troupe would take its name from the famous A-track's refrain. The song in question, "Honey in the Rock," is the kind of spectral, imposingly vulnerable performance at which certain prewar Southern gospel singers -- Washington Phillips, Blind Willie Johnson, and Homer Quincy Smith, among others -- were especially skilled: an eerie invocation backed by a quavering guitar and the regular chiming of a tiny bell.

Forehand's voice on the record's B-side, "Wouldn't Mind Dying If Dying Was All," is firmer and more assertive than on "Honey in the Rock." As the guitar trudges along behind her, she utters what might be a confession and what is certainly -- whatever else it is -- a warning:

After death, you're gonna have to stand a test
After death, you're gonna have to stand a test
After death, you're gonna have to stand a test
I wouldn't mind dying if dying was all

One of the most striking and elusive aspects of Dylan's recent music -- particularly the loose triptych of Time Out of Mind, Modern Times, and Tempest -- is the way it channels the tone of American gospel songs like these. The voice that dominates songs like "Love Sick," "Standing in the Doorway," "Trying to Get to Heaven," and many of the numbers on Dylan's subsequent records was a half-secularized variation of the one that still emanates from that couple's only 78: a voice that takes life for something tenuous, fragile, and short, that shuffles around on shadowy thresholds, that lives in a state of constant homelessness, that wouldn't mind dying if it could only be sure that dying was all.

Since the release of Time Out of Mind, Dylan has never stopped accruing myths and rumors, making feints, leaving false trails. He wanders vagrant-like into Long Branch, New Jersey, inquiring about buying Bruce Springsteen's old house. A self-trained boxer, he enters the ring with Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini and asks him, after some light sparring, to "take it a little easy on the head." He releases a critically lauded collection of original songs between an album of Great American Songbook covers and a Christmas record featuring, among other standards, a Latin rendition of "O' Come All Ye Faithful (Adeste Fideles)" and a shiver-inducing, menace-soaked "Little Drummer Boy."

His recent self-effacing insistence, during a rambling, caustic, and startling speech at the Los Angeles Convention Center, that anyone could have written "Blowin' in the Wind" who had sang "John Henry" as often as he had -- "I just opened up a different door in a different kind of way" -- was no new revelation. It's well known that Dylan's songwriting process has always been a matter of embellishing or reshuffling folk standards. Nor was it a new admission from Dylan himself, who once described (in his autobiography Chronicles, Volume One) having honed his skills as a young songwriter by "slightly altering" one melody over and over to produce new songs, once in a while "slipping in verses and lines from old spirituals or blues." But it was an invitation for critics to undertake the same sort of exercise on Dylan's later work that Greil Marcus and others performed on records like The Basement Tapes and Blonde on Blonde: a slapdash inventory of the ways in which certain strains of early American music found their way into the tone, texture, and mood of Dylan's songs. In the case of these more recent records, it's early American religious music that took a particular hold on Dylan's imagination.

Starting with Time Out of Mind, you could argue, Dylan made a sustained effort to capture the peculiar morbid tone of the old spirituals: their obsession with fretting over, guessing, or confidently asserting what comes after death. At the start of what would become one of his most celebrated songs, Washington Phillips asked himself what "they" were "doing in Heaven today." He gave himself a quick answer: "I don't know, boys, but it's my business to stay here and sing about it."

Posted by orrinj at 1:42 PM


No self-pity, no fear: a hostage sets new standards for British sangfroid (Jonathan Jones,  30 March 2016, The Guardian)

Now along comes another British hero keeping his cool in a mad age - or perhaps, embracing its madness. In a picture that no artist would be daring enough to stage, 26-year-old Ben Innes from Aberdeen grins merrily next to hijacker Seif Eldin Mustafa, who looks politely at the camera while wearing what appears to be a suicide belt.

The picture is utterly askew from what reality is supposed to be like. It is art. It is surrealism. It is insanity. Seif Eldin Mustafa's spectacles catch the light as he poses cooperatively. He's acting as if this is a rational situation - but the white flannel, pocketed belt around his waist is loaded with objects that may be explosives, with wires protruding like detonators. It is easy to see why the pilot of EgyptAir flight MS181 believed this was a suicide belt and obeyed Mustafa's order to divert to Cyprus. What is harder to understand is what Innes, one of a handful of passengers kept on the plane after all the others were released, has got to smile about.

But why not? There's no use brooding. As Eric Idle said, always look on the bright side of life. Maybe you are about to be blown up. Never mind, enjoy yourself! Innes is a true hero, showing us all how to live in what for all he knew might have been his last moments. His big beaming face under the sunglasses pushed up on his head shows no self-pity or fear. Suppose, horribly, the worst had happened and this picture survived. What would it mean then? Innes would seem all the more madly brave, going to his death with a grin on his face.

Posted by orrinj at 1:36 PM


How Trump Hacked The Media : Trump's dominance on cable news isn't the whole story. (NATE SILVER, 3/31/16, 538)

Sunday marked the 286th day of Trump's campaign, which began June 16. From the start, he's been a media phenomenon. According to The New York Times, Trump has received the equivalent of $1.9 billion in television coverage while having spent only $10 million on paid advertising. By contrast, Trump's Republican rivals combined have received slightly less than $1.2 billion worth of television coverage, meaning that Trump has been the subject of the clear majority (62 percent) of candidate-focused TV coverage of the Republican race.

There's a perception that Trump has dominated television coverage more than coverage in print or digital media outlets, but it's not clear that's true. A study we conducted in December found that 54 percent of newspaper stories about the Republican candidates were about Trump, not that far from his share of TV coverage. (For transparency's sake: Among stories FiveThirtyEight has published where a Republican candidate's name has appeared in the URL -- which most often mirrors the headline -- 43 percent have been about Trump.1)

For a further sense of how digital outlets are covering the race, we can borrow a technique I've used in the past, which is to record the top story as of noon each day from the news aggregator Memeorandum. The site uses an algorithm to determine which stories are leading political coverage on the Internet; the details of the calculation are somewhat opaque, but a lot of it is based on which stories are being linked to by other news organizations and what themes are commonly recurring among different news outlets. Simply put, Memeorandum is a good indicator of what stories journalists are talking about.

Through Sunday, Trump had been the lead story on Memeorandum on 104 days, or 36 percent of the time since he announced his candidacy. However, Trump is competing for coverage against not only other Republican candidates but also Democrats, along with other international and national news stories.2 Of the days when a story about the Republican campaign led Memeorandum, it was a Trump-related story 68 percent of the time.

Besides the country and the party, you have to feel sorry for his opponents who never could have planned against nor effectively reacted to such a phenomenon.

Posted by orrinj at 1:24 PM


America's urban renaissance is only for the rich (Matthew Yglesias, March 30, 2016, Vox)

The top 20 percent of the population has become a lot more likely to live in a high-density urban neighborhood, and the next 20 percent is somewhat more likely. But the bottom 60 percent -- and especially the bottom 10 percent -- have become far less urbanized.

March 30, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 7:16 PM


Study: Mammograms haven't cut cancer rate (Albany Daily star, 3/30/16)

A new report raises fresh questions about the value of mammograms. The rate of cancers that have already spread far beyond the breast when they are discovered has stayed stable for decades, suggesting that screening and early detection are not preventing the most dangerous forms of the disease.

The report, in Thursday's New England Journal of Medicine, is by three prominent cancer specialists and is based on federal statistics going back to the 1970s.

It comes a week after the American Cancer Society scaled back its mammography advice, saying most women should start annual screening at age 45, not 40, and switch to every other year at 55. A government task force recommends even less -- every other year starting at 50.

"We're undergoing what I think for the public is a very confusing debate" about screening, but it's really "a course correction" prompted by more awareness of its risks and benefits to various groups of women, said Dr. H. Gilbert Welch, a health policy expert at Dartmouth Medical School. "All they heard for years was, 'there are only benefits.' "

He is the lead author of the report, co-written with Dr. David Gorski of Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit and Dr. Peter Albertsen of the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington.

"Screening offers hope that cancer can be detected in an early, localized phase when it's more amenable to treatment," they write, but that assumes that cancer starts in one place, grows and then spreads. If that was always true, screening would reduce the rate of advanced cancers.

And that has not happened. The rate of breast cancers detected at an advanced stage has been stable since 1975, despite wide use of mammography since the 1980s. The average age of women diagnosed with cancer also has remained around 63, another sign cancers are not being found sooner.

The trends suggest that some breast cancers are already "systemic" or widely spread from the start, and that finding them sooner has limited impact.

"Screening mammography has been unable to identify those bad cancers, destined to become metastatic, at an earlier stage. That doesn't say mammography doesn't help less aggressive cancers," but those are less likely to prove deadly, Welch said.

Posted by orrinj at 7:07 PM


Prominent MIT economist and dean Lester Thurow dies at 77 : Scholar and public intellectual examined globalization and its consequences. (Peter Dizikes, 3/30/16,  MIT News Office )

The influential MIT economist and public intellectual Lester Thurow, whose work addressed the many consequences of an increasingly global economy, died on Friday at his home in Westport, Massachusetts. Thurow, who also served as dean of the MIT Sloan School of Management, was 77 years old. [...]

In many years of engagement with the public and government officials -- and in a series of bestselling books -- Thurow advocated a distinctive set of policy ideas that defied simple political labeling.

He was just lucky that there are no consequences for intellectuals when everything they say turns out to be wrong, Zero-Sum Fallacies (Rich Karlgaard)

At the dawn of the U.S. economic boom in 1980 MIT economist Lester C. Thurow looked backward into the dark night. He called his sad new book The Zero-Sum Society: Distribution and the Possibilities for Economic Change. Here is a description on Amazon:

"Interpreting macroeconomics as a zero-sum game, Thurow proposes that the American economy will not solve its most trenchant problems-inflation, slow economic growth, the environment-until the political economy can support, in theory and in practice, the idea that certain members of society will have to bear the brunt of taxation and other government-sponsored economic actions."

That yawner of a 58-word sentence gives you the flavor of the book. Nevertheless, the famed Harvard economist John Kenneth Galbraith called Zero-Sum Society "an extraordinarily good and lucid examination of current economic difficulties." Galbraith was wrong about prose and prophecy. It was a horrible book and a crimped way of looking at economics and the human spirit. President Ronald Reagan neglected to read it. One assumes the founders and backers of Apple, Sun Microsystems, Microsoft, Dell, Oracle, Cisco, Palm, Yahoo and Google passed on it, too.

Zero-sum implies no net progress in human affairs. The facts scream otherwise. Global production in 2006 amounted to $66 tril-lion, or $10,200 per person. Two hundred years ago per capita income was about $300. Five thousand years ago it was equivalent to $200. For the mass of mankind there was no detectable economic progress for 4,800 years. Then came the Industrial Revolution with its hockey-stick curve in income and life span.

Yet the zero-sum myth lives on. Like a retrovirus it burrows and hides and waits. In 1968 it popped up in the form of a bestselling book by Paul R. Ehrlich entitled The Population Bomb. As investor Gary Alexander recounted in a recent speech: "[Ehrlich] opened famously by saying, 'The battle to feed [all of] humanity is over. In the 1970s and 1980s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now.' Writing in Ramparts magazine, Ehrlich went even further, 'Millions of people will soon perish in smog disasters in New York and Los Angeles … the oceans will die of DDT poisoning by 1979 … the U.S. life expectancy will drop to 42 years by 1980, due to cancer epidemics.' Hepatitis and dysentery would sweep America by 1980 and nearly all of us would wear gas masks. Over 65 million Americans would starve in the 1980s, leaving only 22.6 million starved Americans alive in 1990."

Then, to Ehrlich's apparent dismay, the inventive human spirit intervened.

While Ehrlich was gnashing his teeth, Alexander writes, "Dr. Norman Borlaug was launching the Green Revolution, which has managed to feed billions more people on moderately more arable soil than in the 1960s. Instead of starving against our will, millions of us are trying to starve voluntarily-by dieting. Food is far cheaper, relative to the overall growth of the cost of living, than in the 1960s. From 1977 to 1994 food costs fell 77% in real terms."

Posted by orrinj at 7:01 PM


What Syrian Refugees Love about America Is Liberty : Equal Treatment, No Checkpoints, and Minding Your Own Business (David Bier, March 30, 2016, FEE)

Since the Paris attacks, Syrian refugees here have had many opportunities to speak to local papers and news outlets about their views on our freedoms, and the result is unanimous: they love them.

Saleh Sbenaty, who escaped Syria to Nashville, explained to the Nashville Scene that he wanted to come to the United States specifically because of its freedoms. "I emigrated to the U.S. and left my family and home because of my freedom," he said. "I also wanted to ensure such freedom is protected, not only for my children, but also for everyone else. I strongly believe in the U.S. Constitution and will fight to protect it, period! Everyone in my community felt the same way."

Nidal Alhayak, a Syrian who received asylum and is living in Michigan, interprets his flight to the United States in the same way. "First of all, I consider myself fortunate that I made it to the United States," he told NPR in November. "I consider it the number one country for democracy and freedom for humanity worldwide."

Noor Eddin, who is living in Kentucky, agrees. "This is the Western world," he told the Washington Post. "They respect the rights of a human being."

The connection between the United States and liberty is engrained into their perceptions of the nation. Radwan, a Syrian refugee in Ohio, told his local CBS affiliate: "I came here, to the freedom country."

Posted by orrinj at 6:56 PM


Merrick Garland's Trunk-Search Ruling Gives Some Defense Advocates Chills (Steven Nelson, 3/30/16, US News)

In intentionally picking a middle-of-the-road jurist, they say, Obama threatened to replace one of the court's notable advocates for the rights of defendants and criminal suspects - the late Antonin Scalia - with someone whose publicly discussed decisions give little indication of similar inclinations.

Though almost anyone with a public profile calls Garland well-qualified and his decisions well-written, one ruling increasingly is attracting attention: His first opinion as an appeals judge in 1997, in which he and two colleagues upheld the warrantless search of a car trunk in the nation's capital.

Two years prior, a U.S. Park Police officer stopped a car without a front license plate and said he smelled pot smoke before seeing torn cigar papers and a bag containing a green substance through the car's windows. A warrantless trunk search then revealed 62 grams of crack cocaine and $825 in cash.

Garland found in the case, U.S. v. Turner, that the officer was allowed to search the trunk without a warrant, beating back arguments that a suspect's personal drug use does not establish probable cause to believe a car's trunk also contains contraband.

Posted by orrinj at 5:14 PM


Stocks soar to highest level in 2016 (Heather Long, March 30, 2016, CNN Money)

From Wall Street to Main Street, investors are doing a happy dance. On Wednesday, the U.S. stock market hit its highest level yet in 2016.

After starting the year in meltdown mode, the market is on a comeback kick. The Dow has not only erased the losses, it's currently up 1.7% for the year. The S&P 500 has also notched a positive 1% gain.

And in a deflationary climate.

Posted by orrinj at 5:03 PM


Who will be the next chair of Iran's Assembly of Experts?  (Rohollah Faghihi, March 30, 2016, Al Monitor)

Many assume that Rafsanjani, who headed the Assembly of Experts in the past, will be a candidate, but according to a well-placed Iranian source who spoke to Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, the ayatollah will not be trying his luck unless "he senses that danger is approaching."

Indeed, a few days after the February polling, Yaser Hashemi, Rafsanjani's youngest son, said, "If he [Rafsanjani] determines that another person has the capacity to be chairman, it is highly unlikely that he will run." In fact, according to Al-Monitor's source, Rafsanjani and the moderates have asked Ayatollah Ebrahim Amini to step forward and seek the assembly's chairmanship.

Amini, 91, is a former Qom Friday prayer leader and is highly respected among all factions. That he appeared on both the Principlists' and Rafsanjani's ticket for the February elections serves as an indicator of his stature. Amini has moderate views and is close to Rafsanjani. Indeed, after the 2013 presidential elections, Rafsanjani offered him the leadership of the Expediency Council's Center for Strategic Research, which Hassan Rouhani headed until assuming the presidency that year.

Of note, Amini has been critical of the Principlist and former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, publicly lamenting his actions on several occasions. In one instance, Amini, indirectly referring to what he characterized as Ahmadinejad's dishonesty with Iranians, remarked, "Why do you say there is no problem in the country? Lying leads people not to have trust in government officials."

Moreover, Amini is a supporter of Seyyed Hassan Khomeini, grandson of the Islamic Republic's founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. "I urged Seyyed Hassan Khomeini to run for the [Assembly of Experts] elections, and I think the assembly will be more effective with his presence," Amini revealed.

Darush Ghanbari, a political analyst and former member of parliament, told Al-Monitor, "Ayatollah Rafsanjani deserves to be the chairman, because he obtained the most votes in the elections. Nonetheless, if Ayatollah Rafsanjani backs Ayatollah Amini, which is possible, his chances will be great. Plus, Ayatollah Amini is well respected among all of the clerics in the assembly."

Posted by orrinj at 4:51 PM


Tolkien & Anglo-Saxon England: Protectors of Christendom (Bradley J. Birzer, 3/30/16, Imaginative Conservative)

J.R.R. Tolkien's love of the Anglo-Saxon language and culture is legendary among both Tolkien scholars and aficionados, as is his hatred of all things French. His biographer, Humphrey Carpenter, wrote that he suffered from "Gallophobia."[1] His student and friend, George Sayer, commented that when Tolkien stayed with him and his wife, he very politely ate Sayer's wife's French cooking. Below the surface pleasantries, though, lingered old hostilities. Though Tolkien wrote a beautiful thank you note for the dinner, "he seemed to detest everything French" Sayers bluntly noted.[2] Even as a child, Tolkien had disliked the sound of French.

His personal feelings carried over to adulthood and into the classroom, where he trivialized French achievements. To his students, for example, Tolkien compared the complex and Christianized Anglo-Saxon language and culture to the relative simplicity of the Normans: "At the first of these classes he handed round some sample passages of medieval English he had had typed out. One of them was an English translation of the first verses of the Gospel according to John," a student remembered. "'You see,' he said triumphantly, 'English was a language that could move easily in abstract concepts when French was a still a vulgar Norman patois.'"

New study: people from French-speaking countries are more likely to become jihadists (Zack Beauchamp, March 29, 2016, Vox)

How do people become terrorists, many are asking, and what can we do to stop it?

A new study, by the Brookings Institution's Will McCants and Chris Meserole, tried to examine this question by looking at the available data on people from around the world who have traveled to fight in Syria and Iraq.

They found something surprising: The countries most likely to produce people who leave to fight in Syria or Iraq tended to be French-speaking, or heavily influenced by French language and culture.

So too is the rooster surprised by the dawn...

Posted by orrinj at 1:41 PM


Has the US found a new friend in Iraq's Shiite militias? (Ali Mamouri, 3/30/16, Al Monitor)

On March 12, US Consul General Steve Walker visited Al-Sadr Teaching Hospital in Basra to pay his respects to wounded members of the Popular Mobilization Units. The visit marked the first time a US official has publicly met these troops. This is particularly remarkable as until now, the official US position toward the Popular Mobilization Units was negative, and the United States had even demanded that the Iraqi government prevent the forces from taking part in the operations to liberate some areas, such as the city of Ramadi in Anbar, that were freed without their participation by US request.

Walker made it clear that the trip was not just a courtesy visit. Accompanied by TV stations such as the US-based Alhurra, which broadcast the visit and his remarks in Arabic, Walker said, "The US recognizes the important contribution of the Popular Mobilization Units under the command of Prime Minister [Haider al-Abadi], and most of the Popular Mobilization troops came from the south. This is why I would like to express my condolences to the people of Basra and the south who have lost their loved ones or friends in the war against the Islamic State."

Walker expressed his solidarity with the wounded, who welcomed his visit. He told them, "The US and Iraqi people are very, very proud of you." [....]

Some observers feel that Walker's visit and remarks reflect a great shift in the US alliances in the Middle East. Following Iran's nuclear deal, US policy has clearly changed, moving away from its old friends in the region, most notably Saudi Arabia, and closer to Iran.

March 29, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 8:45 PM


Rising GDPs, Declining Work Hours : GDPs have continued to go up even as total hours work have gone down. (Marian Tupy | March 29, 2016, Reason)

In 1877, Switzerland was fast emerging as one of the world's manufacturing powerhouses and richest nations. Its average annual per capita income of $5,584 was well ahead of America's $4,708. Along with industrialization came the creation of a proletariat and a new ideology--socialism. To combat the spread of the latter, the Swiss government passed a Factory Act that limited, for the first time, the length of the working day... to 11 hours.

In 2010, when Angus Maddison's valuable dataset ends, per capita income in Switzerland and the United States was $45,414 and $55,316 respectively (all figures are in 2016 dollars). The real standard of living in Switzerland and America improved 8-fold and 12-fold. In the meantime, Swiss worked, on average, 7 hours per day and Americans 7.6 hours per day.

Posted by orrinj at 7:36 PM


Saudi Arabia loses oil market share to rivals in key nations (Financial Times, 3/28/16)

Saudi Arabia lost market share in more than half of the most important countries it sold crude to in the past three years, even as the kingdom increased output to record levels.

The world's biggest oil exporter lost ground to rivals in nine out of 15 top markets between 2013 and 2015, including China, South Africa and the US, according to an analysis of customs data. [...]

"Saudi Arabia has had a very difficult time selling oil in this environment," says Ed Morse, an analyst at Citigroup. "Its rivals are going into a very crowded market in a very aggressive way."

Posted by orrinj at 7:29 PM


The Cuba we saw (Madeline Zavodny, March 29, 2016, AEI)

People repeatedly told us about the triumph of the revolution, yet their hustle for tourists' dollars revealed a tremendous capitalist spirit. They value the free universal health care, high levels of education and egalitarian society the revolution created, but they yearn for material goods and greater means to travel abroad.

Obama saw newly paved roads and freshly painted buildings in Old Havana. Meanwhile, three buildings collapse each day elsewhere in the city, and not even the locals can drink the water. Whether to blame the revolution or the embargo is debatable, but there's no question that living standards there are low. We weren't able to meet with dissidents, but we certainly heard lots of dissent from people on the street.

The economy is based on tourism and agriculture. There's no credit market, and no wholesale markets either. People hoping to take advantage of recent liberalizations allowing them to start private businesses in some 200 low-skilled occupations need relatives abroad to provide start-up capital and supplies. Meanwhile, high-skilled sectors that hold more promise for long-run growth, like biotechnology, remain under government control. Businesses can't lay off low-productivity workers.

We spent lots of time doing things that Obama didn't need to do and that would be inconceivable to most Americans. We waited in line for an hour to buy cards to access the wi-fi only to learn they were out. We were unable to change our dollars into Cuban currency because the hotel was out. We hoarded bottled water to make sure we didn't run out.

Posted by orrinj at 7:20 PM


Iran's new continent-spanning trains : Some treats ahead for railway enthusiasts (The Economist, Mar 29th 2016)

THE 10,500km (6,500-mile) journey from Yiwu City in eastern China through Kazakhstan, Kyrghyzstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan was sluggish; but when the first Chinese train pulled into Tehran station after a 14-day haul, Iranian officials hailed a great leap forward. "We're becoming the global hub between east and west," waxed one minister. By April, when the new trans-Kazakh railroad opens fully, Iranian executives hope to have cut the journey time to China, currently its biggest trade partner, to just eight days--a month less than the sea route takes. Should Turkey get on board, the route might even replace the Suez Canal as a primary Chinese and Iranian route to Europe. Iranian companies will no longer be limited to an 80m-strong local market, President Hassan Rohani's advisers anticipate, but will be connected to the EU's 500m.

Other rail links are coming down the line, too. Within six months, Abbas Akhoundi, Iran's British-trained transport minister, will open a track to Afghanistan's mines, and ship minerals to India via a revamped south-eastern port, Chabahar, bypassing Pakistan. Within two years, Iran will have built a bridge over the Shatt-al-Arab river into Iraq and into the Fertile Crescent, he says. Fresh track will open the way through Azerbaijan to Russia and the Central Asian republics. "When we were inward we had poor cross-border links," says Mr Akhoundi. "If we want to be outward-looking we need to improve them accordingly." Iran also plans to more than double its internal 10,000km rail network over the next decade and replace the rolling stock that trundles at 90kph with high-speed trains on electrified lines. Once complete, the 420km journey to Isfahan would take 90 minutes, and the 920 km trip to Mashhad less than six hours.

Comfortingly, railways seem to be one sector where reformists and hardliners suspend their infighting.

Posted by orrinj at 7:16 PM


The Conservation of the Republican Party (Gideon Strauss, March 28, 2016, Providence)

From my African perspective, one of the things that I most admire about America is your constitutional and representative democracy. And one of the things I most admire about your democracy is how--contrary to the fears of, say, John Adams, George Washington, and Alexander Hamilton--the institution of the political party has served effectively (even if unevenly) to harness the passions of citizens toward the pursuit of the public good. Joining a political party, as I've written for Comment magazine, is the means by which a raw passion for justice gets tempered into an effective instrument for long-term political contribution in democracies like yours.

But all is not well with your democracy. To its shame your Republican Party is reaping, in the presidential candidacy of Donald Trump, the consequences of its own behavior during the presidency of Barack Obama. That the frontrunner in the race to become the next Republican candidate for the presidency of the United States of America should be a demagogue of this caliber is a direct result of the demagoguery that your Republican Party has indulgently tolerated in recent years.

Posted by orrinj at 7:11 PM


Case-Shiller shows 5.7 percent increase in US home prices (JOSH BOAK, 3/29/16, AP)

The Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller 20-city home price index rose 5.7 percent from a year earlier, a slight increase from the 5.6 percent annual increase in December, according to a report Tuesday.

"The pace of U.S. home value growth has been picking up bit-by-bit over the past few months, driven in large part by stubbornly low inventory in most markets that creates competition and drives up prices for those homes that are available," said Svenja Gudell, chief economist at the real estate firm Zillow.

Home values have risen 2.6 times faster than average hourly wages, which have improved just 2.2 percent, according to a government report earlier this month. Tight supplies of homes on the market have fueled much of the price growth, as low mortgage rates and steady hiring have sparked demand.

We're gonna need a heck of a lot more immigrants to build them

Posted by orrinj at 7:04 PM


Americans see immigrants more favorably than do Trump, Cruz (Cathy Lynn Grossman   | March 29, 2016, religion News Service)

PPRI found that 50 percent of Americans have a favorable view of newcomers from other countries, saying they strengthen U.S. society rather than threaten "traditional American customs and values" (34 percent). [...]

The general public in every state except South Dakota favors an immigration reform policy that includes a path to citizenship, the study finds.

62 percent -- including most Democrats and Republicans -- say it should be allowed if immigrants meet certain requirements.
19 percent want to see undocumented immigrants identified and deported.
15 percent say they should get legal residency but not citizenship.

Posted by orrinj at 7:02 PM


Barclays warns oil and copper prices could fall as much as 25% (Kedar Grandhi, March 29, 2016, IB Times)

The bank explained that though commodities was one of the favorite investment picks because of their returns this year, it was unlikely that this asset class would give the same kind of returns in the second quarter of 2016. Barclays added that the recent price hike in commodities was not justified as fundamentals had not improved. It said there was also an increase in production capacity and inventories of certain commodities such as oil and copper.

"This could make commodities vulnerable to a wave of investor liquidation that we estimate could, in a worst case scenario, knock as much as 20-25% from current price levels," the note said, adding that while oil prices could touch the low $30 levels, copper prices could hit the low $4,000 region.

Posted by orrinj at 6:57 PM


The three powerful scholars fueling Islamic State's hate (Mohamad Bazzi, March 29, 2016, Reuters)

Three scholars, in particular, have had an outsized influence on Islamic State's religious ideology.

The first dates back to the 13th century, a period when Islam's early empires began to decline after five centuries of expansion. As the Mongols swept across Asia and sacked Baghdad, the Mongol warrior Hulagu, a grandson of Genghis Khan, threatened to overrun the Levant, an area of the eastern Mediterranean centered around modern-day Syria and Lebanon. While many Muslim scholars at the time lined up to support the Mongols, one jurist forcefully rejected the invaders. Ibn Taymiyya, an Islamic scholar from Damascus, issued several fatwas (religious rulings) against the Mongols -- and al Qaeda, Islamic State and other militants still quote those rulings today.

After Hulagu, some Mongol leaders nominally converted to Islam, but Ibn Taymiyya considered them infidels. He also argued that it was permissible for believers to kill other Muslims during battle, if those Muslims were fighting alongside the Mongols. Ibn Taymiyya is the intellectual forefather to many modern-day Islamic militants who use his anti-Mongol fatwas -- along with his rulings against Shi'ites and other Muslim minorities -- to justify violence against civilians, including fellow Muslims, or to declare them infidels, using the concept of takfir. Islamic State often quotes Ibn Taymiyya in its Arabic tracts, and occasionally in its English-language propaganda, as it did in its magazine, Dabiq, in September 2014.

Ibn Taymiyya also inspired the father of the Wahhabi strain of Islam that is dominant in Saudi Arabia today, the 18th century cleric Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, who decreed that many Muslims had abandoned the practices of their ancestors. Wahhab believed Islamic theology had been corrupted by philosophy and mysticism. Many of the practices he banned were related to Sufism and Shi'ism, two forms of Islam he particularly abhorred.

Wahhab argued that Islamic law should be based on a literal interpretation of only two sources: the Koran and the Sunnah, a collection of the Prophet Muhammad's sayings and stories about his life. (The word Sunnah means path, and it's the root of the designation "Sunni" -- those who follow the prophet's path -- the dominant sect in Islam.) Wahhab dismissed analogical reasoning and the consensus of scholars, two other sources that had helped Islamic law evolve and adapt to new realities over time.

Today, Saudi Arabia is built on an alliance between two powers: the ruling House of Saud and clerics who espouse Wahhabi doctrine.

Posted by orrinj at 6:53 PM


Obama's Witness for the Prosecution : Merrick Garland's appointment to the Supreme Court would ensure deference to bipartisan executive overreach. (KELLEY VLAHOS • March 29, 2016, American Conservative)

President Obama's pick to replace the late Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court is, perhaps surprisingly, a consensus candidate who up until now has enjoyed strong support from both Republicans and Democrats in Congress. But constitutional scholars say behind Merrick Garland's centrist profile is a pattern of reinforcing government and police powers that civil libertarians may find a bit difficult to live with.

"His record on the DC Circuit suggests he is highly deferential to administrative agencies and possibly overly pro-government when it comes to the rights of criminal defendants," said George Mason University School of Law professor Ilya Somin. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:47 PM


Japan and South Korea Confused by Trump's Suggestion They Build Nuclear Arsenals (Claire Landsbaum, 3/29/16, NY Mag)

 In his interview with the Times, Trump said America's alliances with countries like Japan and South Korea are too expensive. Instead of relying on American troops, which costs the U.S. money, Trump suggested these countries build up their own nuclear arsenals.

Evidently, Trump did not run this idea by Japanese and South Korean leaders before proposing it. According to the Washington Post, officials and newspapers from both countries responded to Trump's remarks with confusion at best and derision at worst.

Posted by orrinj at 4:14 PM


What Zarrab's arrest means for Rouhani (Enis Erdem Aydin, March 29, 2016, Al Monitor)

The sanctions on Iran propelled the rise of individuals subcontracted to circumvent the restrictions. This shady web, led and incited by the administration of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and its affiliates in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), bred corruption and lawlessness. As a letter by Zarrab cited in his indictment states, this web "wisely neutralizes the sanctions and even turns them into opportunities by using specialized methods."

Since taking office, Rouhani has systematically sought to discard corrupt remnants of the Ahmadinejad era and also counterbalance the IRGC and other hard-line elements. Indeed, in the past two years, Zanjani has been sentenced to death for allegedly embezzling oil money, businessman Mahafarid Amir Khosravi has been hanged for defrauding Iran's banking system and Ahmadinejad's First Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi has begun serving a 5-year prison term for bribing members of parliament. Though instigated by US authorities, Zarrab's arrest may be viewed as part of this trend.

Reportedly at the heart of Turkey's sanctions-evading gold-for-oil scheme with Iran, Zarrab is accused of concealing transactions with US banks on behalf of Iranian entities, and especially IRGC-linked companies. His arrest may not be making many headlines in Iran, but it has been closely followed by Iranian officials. Indeed, during the Iranian investigation into Zanjani's activities, these officials said that Zanjani had revealed his associates in Turkey and that they had been invited to Iran. Hence, it should be noted that the first Iranian reaction to Zarrab's arrest came from Zanjani's lawyer, who has said that Zanjani and his associates had engaged in international money laundering, and that the fact that Zarrab was arrested for evading sanctions is testament that his client had actually served the Islamic Republic. However, Zarrab has in the past rejected links to Zanjani, saying in early 2015 that he even warned relevant authorities about him. Nonetheless, Zarrab's arrest will most likely have an impact on Iran's domestic politics.

The implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and subsequent victory of Rouhani's allies in the Feb. 26 parliamentary and Assembly of Experts elections, appear to have deepened divisions between the Iranian president and his hard-line foes. One of the most hotly contested areas is the economy, especially as the sanctions relief has yet to be felt.

While Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei emphasized the "resistance economy" in his March 20 Nowruz speech, Rouhani underscored the necessity of constructive engagement with the world. The key question now is whether Iran will transform its economy in the post-sanctions era. Will the shady patron networks under the Ahmadinejad administration remain, or will there be more open integration with the world economy? Zarrab's arrest may be seen as a step toward the latter, as it strengthens Rouhani's hand in the fight against corruption. Walter Posch, a prominent Austria-based Iran expert, told Al-Monitor that Zarrab's arrest "shows that the worst perpetrators cannot hide wherever they go, and at the same time, it puts a burden on the Iranians because in case the sanctions are reinstated notorious criminal-political networks will shy away from re-engaging in sanctions dodging."

Every American step is about strengthening the Shi'a.

Posted by orrinj at 2:37 PM


Here's Every Biblical Reference in 'Hamilton' : From King George to Aaron Burr, the hit musical's biblical literacy makes its story and characters even richer. (Alissa Wilkinson/ MARCH 26, 2016, Christianity Today0

The hit Broadway musical Hamilton, written by and starring Lin-Manuel Miranda as the Founding Father whose face is on the $10 bill (for now), is rightly called the hottest ticket on Broadway and is making American history cool again. It's a marvel of a musical, mixing genres from Broadway anthem to hip-hop, staging cabinet debates between Jefferson and Hamilton as rap battles, drawing parallels between rhetoric then and now, between contemporary political issues and those that faced the Founders.

It's also highly literate, loaded with references to the Founding documents, the age of Enlightenment, Shakespeare, contemporary rap--and of course, the Bible.

I saw the show last month, but have been as obsessed with the Hamilton soundtrack (which you can listen to in its entirety) as anyone for a long time. (It's a sung-through musical, in the manner of Les Miserables, which means if you've heard the album, you've basically heard the whole show, a couple of connective pieces notwithstanding.) The longer I listened, the more intentional quotations of and resonance with the Bible and a handful of Christian theological concepts I heard.

And I got interested. This display of biblical literacy is good for the show: it enriches both its sense of history--the Founders, whatever their individual beliefs, were conversant in the Bible--and in several cases builds out the story's themes and characters in ways that make them even more complex and fascinating.

So I investigated, and here are the results: 18 times Hamilton directly references the Bible or Christian theological concepts, with short explanations, for any fan of the soundtrack or the show.

Posted by orrinj at 2:26 PM


Susan Sarandon suggests that Trump could be our best bet if Sanders doesn't win the nomination (Becca Stanek, 3/29/16, The Week)
Given the choice between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, actress Susan Sarandon says she might go with the latter. In a Monday night interview with MSNBC's Chris Hayes, the staunch supporter of Sen. Bernie Sanders sympathized with Democrats who would rather sit out the election than vote for Clinton if Sanders loses.

Posted by orrinj at 2:05 PM


Chief rabbi: Non-Jews shouldn't be allowed to live in Israel (TIMES OF ISRAEL, March 28, 2016)

"According to Jewish law, gentiles should not live in the Land of Israel," Yosef said Saturday in a sermon. "If a gentile does not agree to take on the seven Noahide Laws, we should send him to Saudi Arabia. When the true and complete redemption arrives, that is what we will do."

The only reason non-Jews were still allowed to live in the Jewish state was the fact that the Messiah had yet to arrive, he said. "If our hand were firm, if we had the power to rule, that's what we should do. But the thing is, our hand is not firm, and we are waiting for the Messiah," he added.

March 28, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 7:36 PM


Cruz, Not Kasich, Is the Trump Enabler (Margaret Carlson, 3/28/16, Bloomberg View)

[I]t's hard to believe that any politician could be doing worse than Hillary Clinton, who had a net unfavorable rating of minus 13 in a March Wall Street Journal/NBC poll, but Cruz, at minus 18, manages it. Kasich has a net positive 19. Every poll shows Cruz losing to Clinton. As for the nomination, the proposition that Cruz alone could stop Trump is wrong to anyone who reads exit polls, studies current ones or looks at the map. 

What's more, Cruz is the most universally disrespected politician in the Republican Party, which he wears as a badge of honor. And Cruz doesn't have Trump's positives, if you can say such a thing about celebrity, a fake everyman persona,  disdain, shared by his followers, for policy, and a knack for memorable slogans. 

Cruz is a careerist who took the outsider route when his persistent efforts to ingratiate himself with insiders failed. In endorsing him, Jeb Bush had much to say about Washington being broken, but he failed to mention that Cruz was largely responsible for breaking it, forcing senseless government shutdowns, spouting nonsense during his preening filibusters, and adding significantly to the bitter enmity on Capitol Hill -- and that's on his side of the aisle. Trump's sobriquet of "Lyin' Ted" doesn't sound all that outlandish to many of those who tried to work with the Texas senator on Capitol Hill.   

Cruz's conduct worked to make him famous but, until panic set in, no one thought it would work to make him the nominee, much less president.  The trend so far when someone gets out is that many of those votes go to Trump. A recent Quinnipiac poll shows that were Kasich to drop out today, more than half of his vote would go to the front-runner. 

Although Kasich is being hammered for continuing to exist,  he has a good case for staying in: He governs Ohio, which no Republican has won the White House without, was re-elected there with record numbers, and has high approval ratings for turning the deficit into a surplus and bringing 400,000 jobs to the state. He's pro-life and a fiscal conservative. He over-hugs but has kept out of the mud pit. He wins in every matchup with Clinton, while Trump and Cruz lose by double digits.

Posted by orrinj at 7:26 PM


Does lack of social connectedness explain Trump's appeal? (Michael Barone, 3/28/16, AEI)

In the 13 states highest in social connectedness, Trump has gotten just 21-35 percent in primaries and caucuses. In the 11 states lowest in social connectedness (excluding Cruz's home state of Texas), his percentages ranged from 33-47 percent.

In states with medium social-connectedness but many retirees who vote in Republican primaries -- Florida, Arizona -- Trump has run in the high 40s. Similarly in Massachusetts, where only a sliver of voters are registered Republicans, their social connectedness may be limited to listening to Howie Carr on talk radio.

The good news for Trump opponents is that all but West Virginia of the 11 low-social-connectedness states have already voted. Seven of the 13 high-social-connectedness states do, including Wisconsin April 5. There, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter Craig Gilbert finds Trump getting massive unfavorable ratings in the heavily German-American area around Milwaukee, which unlike other northern suburbs remains heavily Republican. Cruz has led Trump in two recent Wisconsin polls.

All remaining contests but one are in states with high social connectedness (Colorado, Oregon, Washington, the Dakotas, Nebraska) and medium levels (the Northeast, New Mexico, California). Many states choose most delegates by congressional districts, and there are no sufficiently granular metrics of social connectedness for precise forecasting.

Still, social connectedness strikes me as the most useful explanation I've seen yet of the variations in Trump's appeal. It's plausible that people with few social connections and inclined to blame elites for their problems might see in Donald Trump, who promises singlehandedly to make things great again, "a sense of collective identity," as Clare Malone of writes.

Posted by orrinj at 7:22 PM


MORAL RELATIVISM, R.I.P. : Virtue and authority are back in fashion, as Bruce Wayne and Harry Potter can attest. (Helen Rittelmeyer,  September 2012, American Spectator)

Relativism has become such a routine charge that half the people who invoke it feel no need to do more than gesture toward the culture at large by way of explanation.But we've come a long way since the days when Marilyn Manson and Andres Serrano (the artist behind Piss Christ) could make careers out of transgression for transgression's sake. Breaking taboos for shock value is relativism; breaking taboos as a means rather than an end is not, which gives Lady Gaga and Seth MacFarlane an alibi. Pop stars used to think that authenticity was an important part of a musician's job description--that's what those Lilith Fair songstresses, self-righteous grungers, and way-too-honest emo kids seemed to think, anyway--and it certainly was a form of relativism to make such a fetish of being true to yourself, objective standards be damned. But overprocessed chart-slayers like Katy Perry and Ke$ha don't act as if they want to be judged by the brutal honesty of their self-expression, and neither do mannered indie darlings like the Decemberists.As for cinema, anti-heroes are out and heroes are back in. Virtue, authority, and law and order are all in fashion, as the bank accounts of Chris Nolan, J.K. Rowling, and Marvel Comics will attest. There are still plenty of enemies for conservative culture warriors to fight, but relativism is no longer one of them.

Posted by orrinj at 7:17 PM


Your lazy coworker could actually be helping by doing nothing (Jeva Lange, 3/28/16, The Week)

Hasegawa's study, which was published in Nature and reported by NPR, focused on ants. According to his research, ants love to slack off: At any given time, about half of the ant colony is just wandering around, not moving, or grooming.

"Even when observed over a long period of time, between 20 and 30 percent of ants don't do anything you could call work," Hasegawa told NPR.

Posted by orrinj at 7:10 PM


The problem with profits (The Economist, Mar 26th 2016)

The naughty secret of American firms is that life at home is much easier: their returns on equity are 40% higher in the United States than they are abroad. Aggregate domestic profits are at near-record levels relative to GDP. [,,,]

You might think that voters would be happy that their employers are thriving. But if they are not reinvested, or spent by shareholders, high profits can dampen demand. The excess cash generated domestically by American firms beyond their investment budgets is running at $800 billion a year, or 4% of GDP. 

The universalization of stock ownership can't help but drive profits.

Posted by orrinj at 4:39 PM


Barack Obama Is Looking Better and Better (PAUL WALDMAN, MARCH 28, 2016, American Prospect)

Imagine the pain your average Republican must feel when he opens his morning paper. His party is not just riven by internal dissent, but looks like it will nominate a spectacularly unpopular candidate to be its standard-bearer in 2016, with a campaign that gets more farcical every day, bringing ignominy upon a party that has suffered so much already. And now, to add insult to injury, the president he loathes with such fervor is looking ... rather popular with the American public. [...]

Presidents used to routinely get 30 or 40 percent approval from the other party; it would only dip down into the 20s when things were going really badly. But George W. Bush's presidency and then Barack Obama's have been characterized by levels of disapproval from the other side we haven't seen since the depth of the Watergate scandal. This is one of the signal characteristics of public opinion in our time: negative partisanship, in which Americans define their political identity not by their affection for their own party, but by their hatred for the other guys.

In fact, Obama is the first president since polls existed to have never gone above 25 percent approval from the other side, not even in the honeymoon glow of the first days of his presidency.

Posted by orrinj at 4:34 PM


Mayors Rise to the Defense of Free Trade : As presidential candidates from both parties attack TPP, it's municipal leaders who are offering the most cogent vision of global engagement. (RONALD BROWNSTEIN  MAR 24, 2016, The Atlantic)

Particularly among Democrats, this metropolitan globalism has opened a chasm between the party's local and national leadership. In the presidential race, Bernie Sanders has unreservedly denounced free trade deals like the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership that President Obama completed last year; Hillary Clinton has feebly bent in that gale, abandoning her own earlier support for the Pacific agreement. Far fewer congressional Democrats than in the 1990s are backing free trade, too.

But the nation's mayors--most of them Democrats, especially in the larger cities-- remain overwhelmingly committed to free trade in general and the Trans-Pacific Partnership in particular. The U.S. Conference of Mayors has officially endorsed the Pacific pact, and it has drawn enthusiastic praise from big-city Democratic mayors such as Atlanta's Kasim Reed, Chicago's Rahm Emanuel and Tampa's Bob Buckhorn.

Buckhorn sees TPP as a chance to grow the 80,000 jobs the giant Port of Tampa already provides. The agreement enhances "our ability to sell made in America goods to largely the Far East via the Panama Canal," Buckhorn says. "It would be foolish not to support that." Other mayors like Emanuel see opportunities in exporting not only goods but also business services, which tend to cluster in cities--like the young software engineers congregating at 1871. Completing TPP "is essential for the architects who work here, the lawyers, the manufacturers, our software developers," says Emanuel. "Growth for Chicago's economy requires more markets to sell into." Even in places where the statewide debate favors protectionism, mayors and local leaders in such cities as Columbus, Ohio, are investing in aggressive strategies to promote exports and attract foreign talent and investment.

Christopher Cabaldon, the mayor of West Sacramento, California, since 1998, remembers that when he first started attending Mayors' Conference meetings on trade only mayors from cities with big ports or major exporters would participate. Now, cities of all sizes recognize their stake in finding their global "niche," says Cabaldon, who chairs the Mayor's Conference committee on jobs. So many cities, in fact, have successfully tapped global opportunities that Brookings research shows that the nation's 100 largest metro areas account for nearly 90 percent of all U.S. exports and roughly three-fourths of jobs in foreign-owned companies. The top 118 metro areas also host 85 percent of foreign students.

Posted by orrinj at 3:43 PM


Syria troops press forward after blow to IS in Palmyra (AFP, March 28, 2016)

Syrian forces strengthened their hold on Palmyra on Monday and pushed forward against the Islamic State jihadist group after dealing it a major blow by retaking the ancient city.

Posted by orrinj at 3:38 PM


China looks to rein in military spending as economy slows (deutsche-Welle, 3/28/16)

The spending reductions are also part of a process of attempting to align military costs with a slowdown in growth in the economy. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:34 PM


Hamas, Fatah said to agree to elections within 6 months (AVI ISSACHAROFF March 28, 2016, Times of Israel)

Palestinian rival factions Fatah and Hamas have agreed to form a unity government and hold parliamentary elections within six months, a senior official said on Monday. [...]

The sides agreed to establish a national unity government encompassing Fatah, Hamas and other Palestinian factions and to hold elections for the legislative council and the presidency within six months.

Posted by orrinj at 3:31 PM


14 suspected al-Qaeda militants killed by US drone attacks in Yemen (Ananya Roy, March 28, 2016, )

A fresh round of US drone attacks on Yemen has led to the death of 14 suspected al-Qaeda fighters amid easing of tensions between warring Houthis and Saudi-led forces backing an exiled president. According to eyewitnesses and medics, two airstrikes - one bombed buildings used by al-Qaeda in the southern coastal Abyan province and the other hit a government intelligence headquarter in the provincial capital Zinjibar that was being used by the militants as a base - killed six people.

Another round of attack by a suspected US drone killed eight militants gathered in courtyards in the villages of al-Hudhn and Naqeel al-Hayala in Abyan, residents were quoted as saying by Reuters.

Posted by orrinj at 3:27 PM


Clinton email probe enters new phase as FBI interviews loom (Del Quentin Wilber, 3/28/16, LA Times)

Many legal experts believe that Clinton faces little risk of being prosecuted for using the private email system to conduct official business when she served as secretary of State, though that decision has raised questions among some about her judgment. They noted that using a private email system was not banned at the time, and others in government had used personal email to transact official business. [...]

"The facts of the case do not fit the law," said Stephen Vladeck, a law professor at American University. "Reasonable folks may think that federal law ought to prohibit what Hillary did, but it's just not clear to me that it currently does."

Posted by orrinj at 3:23 PM


Fidel Castro slams Obama's Cuba trip (The Week, 3/28/16)

Former Cuban President Fidel Castro was none too thrilled with President Obama visiting his country in March. Castro, who did not attend Obama's meeting with his brother and current president, Raúl, wrote a scathing letter about the visit in state newspaper El Granma. He took issue with Obama's criticism of Cuba, Politico reports.

Posted by orrinj at 3:15 PM


Electricity Sales Have Dropped--Why Is This News? (Leonard Hyman and William Tilles, 3/28/16,

Electricity sales have declined in five of the last eight years. From 2008 to 2015, the economy produced one of its longest sustained recoveries. Real GDP rose 12.7 percent but electric retail sales declined 0.3 percent. [...]

Our economy started to learn how to operate with decreasing amounts of electricity per dollar of output in the 1970s, before industry began to move to China. Per capita growth of electricity sales peaked roughly 15 years ago.

By now, the pundits, if they want to do something useful, might explain why those trends won't continue, rather than going on about energy conservation and a poor economy. We've known about energy conservation for a long time, and the increasingly weak linkage between electric sales and the economy manifested itself decades ago. People just didn't pay attention. These trends have significant financial and investment implications.

First, renewable resources have been supplying an increasing portion of power. Worldwide, renewables make up roughly half of new generating capacity additions, and American numbers are similar. Non-utilities produce much of this renewable output. Thus, when the overall market for electricity is flat or declining, making room for more renewables means taking market share away from existing generators (often owned by the traditional utilities). That is the situation faced by many European utilities.

In the U.S. last year, total electricity generated, including solar power on customers' roofs rose 6 TWH but generation from renewables rose 30 TWH, so the traditional generators lost business. Coal, incidentally, lost a big share of the market, and the reports that Peabody might file for bankruptcy, after several years of losses, indicates how badly coal has been hit - not so much because of a war against it but due to the weakness of coal's biggest customer, the electric utility industry.

March 27, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 10:43 AM


Donald Trump's Secret Weapon: Blue-State Voters (Nate Cohn,  MARCH 26, 2016, NY Times)

So far, Mr. Trump has won every primary in a state carried by Barack Obama in 2012, with the exception of John Kasich's home state, Ohio. Mr. Trump is expected to win in California and along the Acela Corridor, which vote in the second half of the primary season. If he eventually gets a majority of delegates to the Republican convention, it will be because of the 15 or so most reliably Democratic states.

But Mr. Trump's blue-state appeal is a little hard to explain. It's well established that he fares best among less educated voters. Yet his strongest performance so far wasn't in Mississippi, where he got 47 percent of the Republican vote, but in Massachusetts, a famously liberal state, where he won 49 percent of Republican voters. 

Posted by orrinj at 10:37 AM


Why a Trump Candidacy Threatens the GOP Majority in Congress (Martin Matishak, March 27, 2016, Fiscal Times)

The GOP was already expecting to defend vulnerable Senate seats, -- 24 of 34 Republican seats are up for grabs this Election Day. There is also growing concern among establishment Republicans that their wide majority in the House could be endangered if Trump - whose controversial statements have alienated many female and minority voters and could prompt loyal poll-goers to stay home - is the 2016 nominee.

While retaking the lower chamber is an aspirational goal, for the time being, Democrats feel they can win more Senate seats beyond the five they need by tying Trump to Republicans running this fall. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee DSCC recently unveiled a "Party of Trump" advertising effort to drive the point home.

The DSCC raised $6.2 million in February, compared to nearly $4.8 million for the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC). The NRSC has a cash advantage, though, with $16.2 million on hand versus the DSCC's $15.2 million.

Here are the Senate seats that could be snatched by Democrats...

Posted by orrinj at 8:18 AM


Scientist have found a way to recycle sunlight -- and it could cause a solar power revolution (Jason Thomson, 3/27, Christian Science Monitor)

The world of solar cells could be on the cusp of a revolution, as researchers seek to boost efficiency by harnessing the power to recycle light.

A new study, published Thursday in the journal Science, considers the properties of hybrid lead halide perovskites, a group of materials already making waves in solar cell technology, and demonstrates their ability to absorb energy from the sun, create electric charge, and then churn out some light energy of their own.

Moreover, the researchers demonstrated that such these cells can be produced cheaply, with easily synthesized materials, making the proposition much more commercially viable.

Posted by orrinj at 8:02 AM


"The Death of the Hired Man," Robert Frost (Library of America)

When chronic health problems forced Robert Frost to drop out of Harvard in 1899, his doctor recommended outdoor activity. So his grandfather purchased a twenty-acre farm for the future poet and his wife in Derry, New Hampshire, where they raised and bred chickens for nearly a decade. Frost still hoped to publish novels and stories; he wrote pieces for local agricultural papers and used his experiences on the farm to create several narrative poems, which he initially regarded as good preparation for writing fiction.

Frost never did write novels and stories--except for a handful of comic tales he wrote for local poultry journals. He decided instead to become a full-time poet, and one of his earliest supporters was the young Ezra Pound, whom Frost met while living in England. Eleven years younger, Pound was a key figure in Frost's success--but by the time Frost returned to the United States, the two poets were barely speaking with each other. Visit our Story of the Week site to read more about their short-lived friendship, as well as "The Death of the Hired Man," a poem Frost wrote while living on the farm--and the poem that started their first argument.

Posted by orrinj at 7:54 AM


Roadside History: Samuel Livermore (1732-1803) encouraged NH to approve the Federal Constitution (Union-Leader, 3/27/16)
Where: The sign is at the intersection of routes 175 and 175A in Holderness.

Date placed: Historic marker number 39 was placed in 1966.

What the sign says: "Samuel Livermore (1732-1803). Proprietor of more than half the Town of Holderness, this jurist, congressman and senator was New Hampshire's first attorney general and second chief justice. In 1788 he spurred the State's approval of the proposed Federal Constitution, thus insuring its ratification and the formation of the present Government of the United States."

Posted by orrinj at 7:44 AM


Johan Cruyff: father of modern game who also shaped Dutch culture (David Winner, 25 March 2016, The Guardian)

Cruyff and Michels together re-imagined the game as a highly skilled, swirling spatial contest: whoever managed and controlled limited space on the field would win. In this, they were unconsciously drawing on wider Dutch culture. For centuries the people of the Netherlands had been finding clever ways to think about, exploit and control space in their crowded, sea-threatened land. The sensibility is apparent in the paintings of Vermeer, Saenredam and Mondrian. It is present in Dutch architecture and land management, too. It was a small step to make it part of football.

Total Football swept Ajax to three successive European Cups between 1971-73, and enabled Holland to dazzle and delight the world at the 1974 World Cup. More lastingly, as Dennis Bergkamp once remarked, Cruyff's personality and ideas shaped the entire Dutch football culture.

And without Cruyff the philosophy would have died in the early 1980s, a time when most total footballers had retired and defensive football had become fashionable even in the Netherlands.

At Ajax Cruyff reinstated total principles, then added a few flourishes of his own. Over time his ideas became the new orthodoxy in the Netherlands. He reorganised the Ajax youth system to educate players to play his style, then repeated the trick with a bigger budget at Barcelona. We take it for granted that Spain is the land of elegant, thoughtful creative football. It was Cruyff who made it that way.

Cruyff was argumentative, arrogant, dominating and brilliant. He prized creativity over negativity, beauty, originality and attack over boring defending. Several generations of players therefore developed the same characteristics.

Mr. Winner's book, Brilliant Orange, is a terrific analysis of how Dutch culture and environment created Total Football which then fed back into the society.

Posted by orrinj at 7:38 AM


Israel's unraveling at the Western Wall (Yair Sheleg, 3/27/16, Times of Israel)

The ultra-Orthodox have the democratic right to keep disagreeing with the non-Orthodox movements' customs. But they do not have the right to use their political power and the state's laws to exclude these movements. Democracy requires that adherents of the non-Orthodox movements be allowed to follow their customs too, and the members of these movements deserve praise for choosing not to insist on their right to do so in the Western Wall plaza and agreeing to compromise on the Wall's southern section.

From a national standpoint, it will also be very bad for the Jewish State -- which is supposed to be a home for all members of the Jewish people -- to exclude major Jewish groups that comprise the vast majority of American Jewry. It is wrong in principle, and it is also a blatant practical error.

At a time when the State of Israel is being attacked by much of the international community, causing possible offense to the steadfast support of American Jewry is a kind of national suicide.

Posted by orrinj at 7:28 AM


Isis executioner killed by assassins in occupied Iraqi city of Mosul (Ian Johnston, March 27, 2016 , IB Times)

A senior Islamic State (Isis) commander who reportedly carried out executions personally has been shot dead by a mysterious team of assassins in the occupied Iraqi city of Mosul, according to a Kurdish official.

The man, who was known as Abu Furqan al-Misry, was killed by "unidentified gunmen" using guns with silencers in the city, which was taken by Isis (Daesh) in June 2014, according to the official.

His death was the latest in a number of assassinations of IS figures in the area in the past year, the Iraqi news agency Ahlulbayt reported.

March 26, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 6:51 AM


Time to Rethink U.S. Relationship With Egypt (THE EDITORIAL BOARD, MARCH 25, 2016, NY Times)

When President Mohamed Morsi was overthrown, senior American officials dithered on whether there was any point in calling a coup a coup and expressed hope that this would be merely a bump on Cairo's road toward becoming a democracy.

Later that year when Egypt's human rights abuses became even harder to overlook, the White House suspended delivery of military hardware, signaling that it was willing to attach conditions to the $1.3 billion military aid package Egypt has treated as an entitlement for decades.

But for the most part, Egypt got gentle scoldings from time to time from senior administration officials, who were unduly deferential to Cairo.

A year ago, as the Obama administration focused on the fight against the Islamic State, it resumed delivery of military aid, arguing that the alliance with Egypt was too crucial to fail.

Since then, Egypt's crackdown on peaceful Islamists, independent journalists and human rights activists has intensified. Egyptian authorities appear intent on putting two of the country's top defenders of human rights out of business by freezing their bank accounts after charging them with illegally receiving foreign funds.

Outraged by the escalating repression, leading American Middle East experts -- including two who served in the Obama administration -- this week urged President Obama to confront President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

...was precisely because repression would replace democracy.  And then they wonder why Muslims distrust us...

Posted by orrinj at 6:22 AM


Pleased to meet you: Rolling Stones treat Cuba to spectacular and historic gig (Jonathan Watts, 26 March 2016, The Guardian)

"Finally, the times are changing," proclaimed Mick Jagger to a vast, euphoric crowd in Havana on Friday night, as the Rolling Stones completed their world tour with a concert that may well prove a pivotal moment for a generation of Cubans.

Hundreds of thousands thronged to the Ciudad Deportiva stadium to see the British rockers, who follow hard on the heels of a visit by Barack Obama, in a week that few on this island are ever likely to forget.

Amid growing hopes of reform and further opening, the Stones frontman emphasised how far the country has already come in cultural opening from the 1960s, when their songs were considered ideologically divergent.

"We know that years ago, it was difficult to listen to our music in Cuba, but now here we are in your beautiful land," Jagger said in Spanish. "I think that, finally, the times are changing. That's true, no?" The crowd roared their agreement.

March 25, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 6:51 PM


Who votes Trump? Sketch of a typical backer (IVAN COURONNE March 25, 2016, Times of Israel)

Trump has won an average of 37 percent of ballots cast in the 30-plus primary races to date; rich and poor, black and white, young and old have voted for him.

But experts working from exit polls say his core supporters are voters eager for a candidate who will tip the economic balance in their favor.

The demographic that routinely scores highest for Trump is those whose formal education ended with high school.

That is true in the US Northeast, where 47 percent of New Hampshire Republican primary voters with no college education picked Trump, and in the South, where that figure rose to 56 percent in Mississippi.

Another variable that figures prominently in Trump's success: the proportion of voters who live in mobile homes. A New York Times analysis established a correlation between the number of mobile homes in a county and the likelihood of it supporting Trump.

The more a region remained in the "old economy," with most jobs in agriculture, construction, trade or manufacturing, the more likely it would be to vote for Trump, the analysts found. The same could be said for the proportion of adults who are unemployed or have stopped looking for work.

The sense of slipping economic status featured prominently in exit polls conducted March 15 in five states including Ohio and Florida where about one in five voters said they felt they were "falling behind" with family finances.

As with the Tea Party, they're voters who think minorities are taking the tax dollars they should be getting instead.

Posted by orrinj at 6:44 PM


The Marxist roots of Islamic extremism (Damon Linker, March 25, 2016, The Week)

Radical critics often seek to spark dramatic change, but they can't see a direct path from the status quo to the vastly improved world they hope to bring about. This gives rise to the idea of searching for a catalyst within the present that can serve as a launching pad for total revolution. [...]

That's where "heightening the contradictions" comes in. In abstract terms, it means working to intensify the things about capitalist society that will ultimately produce its overthrow. In concrete terms, it means allowing and even encouraging things to get worse in the hopes that people will be inspired by their misery to undertake radical action.

The crucial importance of heightening the contradictions explains the otherwise inexplicable hostility Marx and Friedrich Engels display in the closing passages of The Communist Manifesto toward non-communist socialists for embracing "reform" instead of revolution. The same impulse can be seen in all of Marx's most influential successors, from Vladimir Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg on down to the pantheon of Third World revolutionaries who inspired political insurrection across the globe throughout the mid-20th century. All of them rejected individual ("bourgeois") rights as well as the legitimacy of the liberal welfare state, no matter how generous, on the ground that it functions as a bribe that buys off the working class with half-measures, leaving the contradictions of the present order intact, with no way out, and no end in sight.

Much better, in the short term at least, is the immiseration of the working class so that it will rise up and take the radical actions needed to overthrow the system as a whole.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, there haven't been a lot of doctrinaire communist revolutionaries running around. But that doesn't mean that the idea of heightening the contradictions has disappeared. On the contrary, it has spread like a virus to other forms of anti-liberal political extremism.

Radical Islam, for example, is a highly potent mixture of motifs drawn from the Muslim past and Marxist-Leninist ideas imported through the writings of such polemicists as Sayyid Qutb and Abul Ala Maududi. The two most ambitious and powerful Islamist groups -- the Islamic State and al Qaeda -- do not seriously believe that their acts of terrorism against the West will lead the EU or the United States to surrender.

Their strategy is more patient and indirect (a Marxist would call it dialectical). They want their attacks to provoke a far-right anti-Muslim backlash within Western countries that will in turn inspire persecuted Muslims within those countries to become radicalized and willing to undertake ever-more spectacular attacks against their host societies. Attack, crackdown, worse attack, more draconian crackdown, on and on, with the West eventually weakening enough that a resurgent Islam can rise as a triumphant global power.

Make things worse to make things better: a classic case of heightening the contradictions.

Posted by orrinj at 6:34 PM


Oregon: $4 Million to Clean Area Seized by Ranchers (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, MARCH 24, 2016)

The United States Fish and Wildlife Service will spend about $4 million to clean, repair and upgrade the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Burns, which was the site of a 41-day armed occupation by ranchers. Photographs shared by federal officials show that the ranchers left a mess. Repairing damage and removing debris is expected to take until early summer. In all, the standoff will cost the agency about $6 million, with about $2 million spent during the takeover, including the costs of moving the refuge's 17 employees out of town for safety to live in hotels for weeks, the director, Dan Ashe, said.

Posted by orrinj at 6:19 PM


Scant Evidence for Abbott's "Rampant" Voter Fraud (Ross Ramsey March 15, 2016, Texas Tribune)

A study done by News21, an investigative journalism project at Arizona State University, looked at open records from Texas and other states for the years 2000-2011 and found 104 cases of voter fraud had been alleged in Texas over that decade.

Chew on this: If you only count the Texans who voted in November general elections -- skipping Democratic and Republican primaries and also special and constitutional elections -- 35.8 million people voted during the period covered by the ASU study.

They found 104 cases of voter fraud among 35.8 million votes cast. That's fewer than three glitches per 1 million votes.

Posted by orrinj at 6:16 PM


Abortion Is Now Illegal in Indiana If the Reason You Want One Makes Republicans Uncomfortable (Eric Levitz, 3/25/16, NY Mag)

If you want an abortion because your fetus has a debilitating genetic defect, it is now illegal for you to get one in Indiana. On Thursday night, Republican governor Mike Pence signed a bill that bans abortions motivated by fetal genetic abnormalities such as Down syndrome. The legislation makes Indiana the second state, after North Dakota, to deny women a constitutionally protected right if Republicans don't like the reason they want to exercise it. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:11 PM


The Job Market Is Pulling In People Who Didn't Want To Work Before (BEN CASSELMAN, 3/25/16, 538)

[T]he data suggests that the people entering the labor force aren't "discouraged workers" who gave up looking for work and are now returning. Rather, the improving job market is pulling people off the sidelines and into the labor force.1 They might be stay-at-home parents who decide to go back to work, students who take on a part-time job or early retirees who decided to supplement their retirement income.

All of that is good for the economy. In one particularly encouraging sign, the recent rise in participation has been concentrated among those without a college degree, a group that has particularly struggled in recent years. That suggests the tightening job market is leading employers to consider candidates they might otherwise have rejected.

But one group that hasn't made much progress: older, less-educated Americans, especially men. 

You have to work awfully hard to avoid finding a job.

Posted by orrinj at 6:03 PM


If secrecy is the whole point, how do you make intelligence agencies share? (David Wise, March 25, 2016, Reuters)

In the wake of the horrific attack on Tuesday at the Brussels airport and a metro station, there were immediate calls for more information sharing and greater coordination among the world's intelligence agencies to detect terrorist plots before they can be executed.

It is an obvious and desirable goal. The only problem is that it runs counter to the deep-rooted culture of the spy agencies. Intelligence agencies exist to steal secrets of other countries and protect their own. Few outsiders can appreciate how deep that instinct for secrecy runs.

Intelligence agencies in democracies ought to be required to open source everything, so it can be tested in the maketplace of ideas.

Posted by orrinj at 3:46 PM


The Big Lie About the Libyan War : The Obama administration said it was just trying to protect civilians. Its actions reveal it was looking for regime change. (MICAH ZENKO MARCH 22, 2016, Foreign Policy)

In truth, the Libyan intervention was about regime change from the very start.In truth, the Libyan intervention was about regime change from the very start. 

We are America; regime change is what we do.

Posted by orrinj at 3:38 PM


The Nuts and Bolts of Whatever Moves You : A 2009 Chevy Malibu Destroys a 1959 Bel Air -- Literally (CHRISTOPHER JENSEN, September 17, 2009, NY Times)

It was no way to treat a senior citizen: sending a 1959 Chevrolet Bel Air hurtling into a collision with a 2009 Malibu at 40 miles per hour. As the video produced by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety shows, the outcome wasn't pretty, either.

The windshield dislodges, the driver's door opens and the front half of the Bel Air goes through something between crumbling and what looks like imploding as the dummy in the driver's seat flies around like Peter Pan.

"The Bel Air collapsed," said David Zuby, the senior vice president for the institute's vehicle research center in Virginia. "The area in which the driver was sitting collapsed completely around him."

The test was to mark the 50th anniversary of the I.I.H.S., a group funded by the insurance industry. The idea was to show how much automotive safety has progressed in five decades.

While some people still think that the big steel bodies and sturdy frames of old cars meant stronger vehicles and good crash protection, the institute's crash test shows that that just isn't the case, Mr. Zuby said. Sophisticated engineering and high-strength steel give modern vehicles a huge advantage.

Here's how the institute described what happened to the Bel Air:

"This car had no seat belts or air bags. Dummy movement wasn't well controlled, and there was far too much upward and rearward movement of the steering wheel. The dummy's head struck the steering wheel rim and hub and then the roof and unpadded metal instrument panel to the left of the steering wheel.

"During rebound, the dummy's head remained in contact with the roof and slid rearward and somewhat inward. The windshield was completely dislodged from the car and the driver door opened during the crash, both presenting a risk of ejection. In addition, the front bench seat was torn away from the floor on the driver side."

Posted by orrinj at 3:34 PM


Google Makes Its $149 Photo Editing Software Now Completely Free to Download (Open Culture, March 25th, 2016)

Google's Nik Collection, a photo editing software package designed for professional photographers, once retailed for $149. Today it's absolutely free to download, for both Windows and Mac users.

Posted by orrinj at 1:47 PM


Income Growth Averaged 4.4% Last Year. How Did Your State Do? (JEFFREY SPARSHOTT, Mar 24, 2016, WSJ)

Personal-income growth across the U.S. last year reflected broader economic trends, with construction and the service-sector propelling earnings, especially in the Southeast and along the West Coast. Crashing commodity prices, meanwhile, were a drag in states with big farming or energy sectors.

State personal income, a broad measure that includes earnings, property income and government benefits, grew on average 4.4% from 2014 to 2015, the same as the prior year, the Commerce Department said on Thursday.

Posted by orrinj at 1:43 PM


Does Miami U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo -- a GOPer -- plan to vote for Hillary Clinton? (Amy Sherman, 3/25/16, Miami Herald)

Miami Herald's news partner CBS4  reported that in an interview Thursday with Jim DeFede, Curbelo refused to rule out voting for Clinton, saying instead he hopes that Trump will be stopped or there will be a third-party candidate he could support.

"I think both Donald Trump and Mrs. Clinton are flawed candidates, if you look at the polls the majority of Americans have negative views on both of them," said Curbelo, who was first elected to the House in 2014. "So I am going to wait and see what happens on our side, but I have already said I will not support Mr. Trump, that is not a political decision that is a moral decision."

Posted by orrinj at 1:00 PM


Isis second-in-command Haji Imam confirmed dead in Coalition raid - Pentagon (Mark Piggott, March 25, 2016, IB Times)

The Pentagon has confirmed the death of senior Isis commander Haji Imam in a daring daylight US-led raid in Syria. Imam was considered by many to be a potential successor to leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Imam's death comes just weeks after the killing of Tarkhan Tayumurazovich Batirashvil, also known as Omar al-Shishani or Omar the Chechen, and represent yet another setback for the Islamists in the areas of Syria and Iraq in which they aim to create a caliphate.

March 24, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 7:37 PM


The Cowardice Of John Le Carré (NICK COHEN, April 2016, Standpoint)

Le Carré's post-Cold-War politics are best described as more Pilgerish than Pilger. Connoisseurs of his public statements can tick every space on the bingo card. Le Carré believes that corporations brainwash the bovine masses (check) on behalf of the imperial American hegemon (check) which is itself controlled by a conspiracy of right-wingers (check) who are pulling our puppet strings at the behest of -- guess who? -- the Jews (full house!). Or as le Carré explained, the neoconservatives are "appointing the state of Israel as the purpose of all Middle Eastern and practically all global policy".

Then there is the self-pity, that most deplorable affectation of Western intellectuals, who have never once faced the smallest threat of persecution or punishment for their writing. At one point during the last decade, le Carré compared himself to the German-Jewish diarist Victor Klemperer, who miraculously survived life under the Nazis.

Posted by orrinj at 7:08 PM


Did Burke Betray The Cause Of Liberty? (RICHARD BOURKE, April 2016, Standpoint)

The pages of the Everyman Burke show our protagonist developing policy for his allies in parliament, the Whigs. His activities in this capacity ranged from his development of the idea of party to plans for the conciliation of the American colonies. We also find Burke the theorist of political representation and of the duties of members of parliament toward their constituents. His thoughts on this subject were mostly formulated during his time as a member of parliament for the bustling port city of Bristol; at the end of that period Burke turned his hand to more practical matters. His principal domestic project was achieving "economical reform", which meant curtailing the means of patronage available to the crown.

Besides his work for parliament, we also find Burke defending causes about which he simply felt deeply. He was a lifelong opponent of slavery, which he campaigned to abolish. (Before that looked like practical politics, he drafted proposals to humanise the slave trade.) Britain's abuse of the merchant inhabitants of the Dutch Caribbean island of St Eustatius also stirred Burke into action, resulting in his searing criticism of the naval officer responsible. The inclusion of speeches of this kind displays the intensity of Burke's passion. They also show his meticulous, calculating judgment.

Burke's enemies in the 19th century tried to paint him as an opportunist -- the hired hand of complacent magnates, combining obeisance with aspiration. In fact we know his public service cost him repeatedly. Lending support to Irish Catholics was never a popular cause in Britain; it certainly offered no assistance to parliamentary advancement. Yet Burke returned to the issue at intervals throughout the decades as conditions in British high politics shifted, first arguing in support of religious toleration and later in support of political rights.

There was even less to be gained from fighting for the cause of India. It is true that the early stages of the impeachment of Warren Hastings, Governor-General of India from 1773 to 1785, gave Burke's allies under Whig statesman Charles James Fox a chance to expose the government of William Pitt. But when the prosecution lost its political value and Fox quietly abandoned the enterprise, Burke struggled to keep the case alive. As his great speech opening the trial of Hastings shows, the plight of India absorbed tremendous quantities of Burke's energy. It impeded his career and almost drove him to despair. His moral determination was overwhelming and exacting.

That moral fervor reached new levels in the 1790s, when Burke deployed his rhetorical and intellectual skills to censure the Revolution in France. Proponents of the abstract "rights of man" were made to appear little better than conspirators against society with no commitment to the hard-won liberties of the people. At the same time, as Burke argued in Reflections on the Revolution in France, noble supporters of insurrection could be easily unmasked as opportunists and hypocrites: "Almost all the high-bred republicans of my time have, after a short space, become the most decided, thorough-paced courtiers; they soon left the business of a tedious, moderate, but practical resistance to those of us whom, in the pride and intoxication of their theories, they have slighted, as not much better than tories." 

Burke's vitriol against the Revolution led to his separation from Fox and ultimately sparked a painful division among the Whigs. Did the Revolutionaries truly mean what they said in promising the dawn of freedom, or was their crusade an incoherent and desperate push for power? Fox believed that the disasters that accompanied rebellion in France were "accidental" products of an essentially benign process. Burke, by contrast, believed the calamities were the inevitable result of a campaign to ruin religion and sabotage property. The Whigs were divided not over competing values but over opposing assessments of whether their principles could coexist with the Revolution.

Among the array of captivating materials available in this collection is its selection of private correspondence. One letter written to Captain Thomas Mercer, an Irish acquaintance who had spent time in India, captures something essential about Burke's hostility to the Revolution. It is commonly believed that his antagonism was driven by the desire to secure custom against liberty and thus to champion "tradition" against the rights of man. In fact Burke saw his position as one of resistance against an illegitimate force that sought to undermine universal principles of justice. As he put it to Mercer on February 26, 1790, his aim was to lend support to "the first principles of law and natural justice". Careful reading confirms that this commitment remained constant throughout Burke's career. Equally, a dispassionate appraisal of thinkers and publicists in the period illustrates the extent of shared fundamental values: neither Rousseau, nor Paine, nor Fox, denied the existence of natural justice rooted in the right to property. Yet Paine and Fox did not believe that this right would be overturned if it were sacrificed in powerfully symbolic cases. What did it matter if the opulent -- above all the pampered clergy and aristocrats -- were summarily expropriated? Burke disagreed. For him, looking back over the unhappy course of the conflicts of the 17th century, confiscation was an exercise in malicious persecution that would undermine the security of the established rights of man. Having set about expropriating the Gallican Church, and having signaled their disregard for accumulated wealth, prominent deputies in the National Assembly had undercut prescriptive right, and with it the institution of property altogether. Burke believed that neither Fox's affluence nor Paine's more modest means would survive a fundamental challenge to the rules of property.

If the Revolution threatened property, it also subverted stable government. In addition it aimed to eradicate the tenets of the Christian faith, and with these the consoling promise that final justice would reward merit. Burke reckoned that no other crisis in the history of civilisation had posed such a danger to the very possibility of social life, and he rejected the charge that exposing the magnitude of this upheaval amounted to a betrayal of the ideals of liberty. Nonetheless, the allegation of having changed his principles from an early devotion to American freedom to a later opposition to French rights has dogged him ever since, shaping his reception. For some he was a traitor, for others he was confused, for many he was just prone to contradiction. Rarely has his continuity of purpose been emphasised.

Norman's edition redresses that problem, not least by including Burke's earliest political writings. In the spring of 1757, during the early stages of the Seven Years' War, Burke wrote an essay on the fate of citizen militias in the age of modern warfare. Under conditions of rural simplicity -- in a farmers' republic, for instance -- it might make sense to arm members of the state, but in modern societies, in which multitudes were concentrated in affluent towns, scarcity would act as a trigger for popular sedition orchestrated by the "Arts of Ambitious men". It is clear that from the beginning Burke was concerned about conditions under which subversion might lead to the ruin of commercial society. Demagogues might find themselves in a position to stir up discontent and undermine belief in the institutions of property and government.

At the height of his career Burke declared in parliament that in a contest between privilege and indigence "I would take my fate with the poor, the low and the feeble". Yet he also believed that the prosperity of the needy depended on property, and that property could only be secured under stable government. These attitudes were formed not in opposition to the welfare state but out of fear of a reversion to the Britain of the 1640s, when toleration, justice, and constitutional government were in peril. This anthology helps us to follow this consistent line in Burke and to examine the range of his convictions with reference to his career as whole.

Posted by orrinj at 5:57 PM


President Obama's Argentina Visit Is All About Trade (Jonathan Gilbert,  MARCH 23, 2016, Fortune)

Fernández, especially, distanced Argentina from the United States. She clashed with American companies; unleashed fiery anti-U.S. rhetoric; and pitted her government against New York hedge funds in a high-profile debt dispute. That, together with protectionist economic policies like trade restrictions and currency controls, dissuaded foreign investors.

But now, with the administration of President Mauricio Macri making swift market-oriented reforms--including settling with hedge funds that held defaulted Argentine sovereign bonds--and Obama offering renewed bilateral cooperation, their interest is piquing.

"It's a historic opportunity to relaunch the relationship between the United States and Argentina," says Daniela Martin, managing director of AmCham Argentina, the American Chamber of Commerce in Argentina. "Obama's visit will work like a catalyst. It will put Argentina back in the shop window."

Posted by orrinj at 5:43 PM


In Garry Shandling, The World Loses a Comedy Pioneer (BRIAN RAFTERY, 03.24.16, Wired)

Garry Shandling--who died today at the age of 66--was a stand-up, a TV writer, and an occasional big-screen scene-stealer. But he'll probably be best remembered as the star and creator of The Larry Sanders Show, the mid-'90s cable comedy that began as a lampoon of the late-night talk-show wars, but evolved into something deeper and nervier: An unflinching, doggedly hilarious look at the narcissism, anxiety, and selfishness that's all but second nature to the people who entertain us.

Posted by orrinj at 3:58 PM


Is evolution more intelligent than we thought? (, December 18, 2015)

Evolution may be more intelligent than we thought, according to a University of Southampton professor.

Professor Richard Watson says new research shows that evolution is able to learn from previous experience, which could provide a better explanation of how evolution by natural selection produces such apparently intelligent designs.

By unifying the theory of evolution (which shows how random variation and selection is sufficient to provide incremental adaptation) with learning theories (which show how incremental adaptation is sufficient for a system to exhibit intelligent behaviour), this research shows that it is possible for evolution to exhibit some of the same intelligent behaviours as learning systems (including neural networks).

In an opinion paper, published in Trends in Ecology and Evolution, Professors Watson and Eörs Szathmáry, from the Parmenides Foundation in Munich, explain how formal analogies can be used to transfer specific models and results between the two theories to solve several important evolutionary puzzles.

Professor Watson says: "Darwin's theory of evolution describes the driving process, but learning theory is not just a different way of describing what Darwin already told us. It expands what we think evolution is capable of. It shows that natural selection is sufficient to produce significant features of intelligent problem-solving."

Here endeth the Just So story.

Posted by orrinj at 3:55 PM


John Kasich might actually have the best shot of defeating Hillary Clinton in the general election (The Week, 3/24/16)

Ohio Gov. John Kasich's claim that he's the only Republican presidential candidate who could defeat Hillary Clinton in the general election just might be true. A poll by Monmouth University released Thursday shows that, out of the three remaining GOP contenders, Kasich is the only one who comes out ahead of Clinton in a hypothetical general election matchup.

For the good of the party and the country, Ted Cruz should quit the race.

Posted by orrinj at 3:48 PM


Obama faces unprecedented Saudi criticism before summit ( March 24, 2016)

After seven decades of a "special relationship" in which criticism has generally been voiced privately, the US president's public chiding has been seen as a betrayal.

His call for Riyadh to "share" the Middle East with its bitter regional rival Tehran and end proxy wars in Iraq, Syria and Yemen infuriated Saudi leaders, who feel encircled by clients of Shiite Iran.

His criticism of the kingdom for exporting its fundamentalist "Wahhabist" version of Islam to other Muslim countries struck at the very heart of the ruling family's legitimacy.

"I don't think any US president has ever been so outspoken about Saudi Arabia," said Toby Matthiesen, a Middle East specialist at St Antony's College, University of Oxford.

"This is really unprecedented," he added, calling Obama's views "embarrassing" for the kingdom.

Mohammed El Oifi, a specialist in Arab media at Sorbonne Nouvelle university in Paris, said that Obama's comments about "Wahhabism" attacked the very foundations of Saudi legitimacy.

The regime and its Salafist ideology are illegitimate.  Both will be Reformed by the US and its Shi'a allies.

Posted by orrinj at 3:38 PM

THE GREAT AMERICAN BAND (profanity alert):

REVIEW: of Trouble Boys: The True Story of the Replacements By BOB MEHR (Gavin Edwards / March 22, 2016, Barnes & Noble Review)

The Replacements perpetually had one foot on greatness and the other foot on a banana peel. On some nights, the Mats (as fans called them) were all joy and chaotic energy and loud guitars. But if they thought the crowd was full of punk purists, or if they just weren't in the mood, they would deliver a set of half-assed covers of songs by the Jackson 5 or Bachman-Turner Overdrive -- on occasion, literally starting a riot. What made them more than drunken punk rock provocateurs was that Westerberg was one of the finest songwriters of his generation, capable of passion, bruised yearning, and lyrics full of self-lacerating humor: "I hate music / It's got too many notes."

Mehr, a critic at the Memphis Commercial Appeal, conducted over 200 interviews for this book -- just about everybody associated with the band, including Westerberg and Tommy Stinson. While only the most devoted fans will cherish the digressions on Minneapolis's leading nightclubs in the 1980s, Mehr's tendency toward over-documentation also gives the story behind just about every crucial Replacements song. The chorus of the almost-a-hit "Alex Chilton," asking, "What's that song?": the answer was Big Star's "Watch the Sunrise." The inspiration for "Androgynous": a period when Westerberg was hanging with R.E.M.'s Peter Buck, drinking and messing around with eye shadow. The target of "Waitress in the Sky," seemingly a stewardess who stopped serving Westerberg: it's actually the obnoxious narrator, as Westerberg intended the song as a gesture of solidarity with his sister, a career flight attendant.

The stories of mayhem on the road are as entertaining as one would hope for -- the band almost tips over their van on the highway by moshing to the Bad Brains, Bob Stinson arrives at a gig in Genoa pursued by an Italian mob brandishing knives -- but as they accumulate through the pages of Trouble Boys, it becomes clear that even more than music or booze, the band loved self-sabotage. Any time they had an opportunity to make an alliance -- with a radio station, with a producer, with a label -- they found a way to foul their nest instead. "If they were an ordinary band, they would have been dropped," observed one of their managers. "But it was the brilliance of Paul's writing, and the humanity that would come out of him, and the magic of the group, that would keep everyone believing . . . even when you wanted to kill them."

The Replacements left behind an expensive trail of chaos: tour buses systematically dismembered, hotel rooms trashed, favorite guitars destroyed. "That's the difference between you and me," Westerberg told a horrified soundman. "You cherish things that you love. Me? I destroy 'em." Eventually the band took this profligate philosophy to its logical conclusion: when given a per diem on the road, they would pull out a lighter and burn the cash.

Pretty much the only band, other than The Clash,  I regret not seeing live.

Posted by orrinj at 3:19 PM


Obama scores a triple in Havana (Richard Feinberg, March 23, 2016, Brookings)

Walking the streets of Havana during Obama's two full-day visit here, the face of every Cuban I spoke with lit up brightly upon the mere mention of Obama's name. "Brilliant," "well-spoken," "well-prepared," "humanitarian," "a true friend of Cuba," were common refrains.

These Cubans did not need to add that their own aging, distant leaders compare unfavorably to the elegant, accessible Obama. And the U.S. president's mixed ethnicity is a powerful visual that does not need to be verbally underscored to a multi-racial Cuban population. But this skeptical question remained: "Would the visit make a lasting difference?" Would the government of Cuba permit some of the changes that Obama was so forcefully advocating?

In his joint press conference with President Raúl Castro, and in his speech in a concert hall that was televised live to an intensely interested Cuban public, Obama spoke with remarkable directness about human rights and democratic freedoms, sparking more than one overhead conversation among Cubans about their own lack thereof.

With eloquent dexterity, Obama delivered his subversive message carefully wrapped in assurances about his respect for Cuba's national sovereignty. "Cubans will make their own destiny," he reassured a proudly nationalist audience.

"The President of the world"--as average Cubans are wont to refer to the U.S. president--emphasized that just as the United States no longer perceives Cuba as a threat, neither should Cuba fear the United States. Offering an outstretched hand, Obama sought to deprive the Cuban authorities of the external threat that they have used so effectively to justify their authoritarian rule and to excuse their poor economic performance.

On Cuban state television, commentators were clearly thrown on the defensive, seeking to return the conversation to the remaining economic sanctions--"the blockade"--to the U.S. occupation of the Guantanamo Naval Base and to past U.S. aggressions. Their national security paradigm requires such an external imminent danger.

Posted by orrinj at 3:10 PM


Don Quixote and the Via Dolorosa (SEAN FITZPATRICK, 3/22/16, Crisis)

What Don Quixote brings to the Modern Age after failing to find the Middle Ages is an Age of Faith.

The quest of Don Quixote is the Lenten quest of every Christian soul: to bring harmony and order to times that are out of joint. What Don Quixote finds is that the world is sundered and senseless, and the work to rebuild among the ruins is treacherous. Though he is trampled and trounced time and again, Don Quixote resolutely rides on for the unity and wisdom of bygone days and is upheld by his vision as he battles through the divisions and disconnections of modernity. There is a wisdom that belongs to idiots. Truth can be elusive--even illusory. "The foolishness of God is wiser than men," writes St. Paul in his letter to the Corinthians. Don Quixote may be mad, but there are forms of madness that are divine. Don Quixote may see things that are not visible, but only because he looks beyond the veil. The world is not broken. The pessimism that fragments reality is a falsehood. The world is not divided, but unified. Don Quixote is a hero of the indomitable power of Christian optimism, Christian imagination, and the glorious Christian folly that perceives the highest realities in the lowliest realities. Don Quixote is an icon of the chivalric Christian warrior because he has dreams that are out of reach, and he believes in them. He is a man of great faith. It is only when the illusion is lost, when sanity shakes off insanity, when dreams are replaced with reality, that Don Quixote is truly conquered. Dostoevsky wrote in his diary that Don Quixote was "the saddest book ever written," because "it is a story of disillusionment." If the logic of the world is all there is, what reason is there to be sane? Reality must be touched by the imagination if men are to escape from the madness of reason alone.

The Adventures of Don Quixote is one of the Great Books, but it is also a good book. In fact, what makes Don Quixote great is not necessarily more important than what makes it good. Why it is considered the first modern novel, or whether Don Quixote is mad in a sane world or sane in a mad world, or what the intentions and identity of the Moorish narrator are are really not as essential as the beautiful and brutal parable that Don Quixote presents in its episodic mishaps in the name of chivalry. The adventures of Don Quixote are a Passion where the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. The novel takes up its cross, chapter after chapter, and follows after Christ. Chapter after chapter, the Knight of the Sorrowful Face falls, and, chapter after chapter, he gets up again and continues on. It is a book that plays out with all the pain and poignancy, all the humanity and humor, that composes the chivalric call of the Christian life.

March 23, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 1:15 PM


Reminder: Liberalism Is Working, and Marxism Has Always Failed (Jonathan Chait , 3/23/16, ny mAG)

Sanders's success does not reflect any Marxist tendency. It does, however, reflect a generalized hunger for radical solutions, discontent with the Obama administration's pace of progress, and a generational weakening of the Democratic Party's identification with liberalism over socialism. It has never been exactly clear what Sanders means when he calls himself "socialist." Years ago, he supported the Socialist Workers Party, a Marxist group that favored the nationalization of industry. Today he endorses a "revolution" in metaphorical rather than literal terms, and holds up Denmark as the closest thing to a real-world model for his ideas. But, while "socialism" has meant different things throughout history, Denmark is not really a socialist economy. As Jonathan Cohn explained, it combines generous welfare benefits and high-quality public infrastructure with highly flexible labor markets -- an amped-up version of what left-wing critics derisively call "neoliberalism." While Denmark's success suggests that a modern economy can afford to fund more generous social benefits, it does not reveal an alternative to the market system.

It is on politics, not economics, where the influence of Marxist ideas has been most keenly felt. Enough time has passed since the demise of the Soviet Union to allow Marxist models to thrive without answering for communist regimes. In his fascinating profile of Jacobin, Dylan Matthews notes, "The magazine is not going to defend Stalin's collectivizations or Mao's Great Leap Forward or really any other aspect of 'actually existing communism.'" But the fact that every communist country in world history quickly turned into a repressive nightmare is kind of important.

Many Marxist theorists have long attempted to rescue their theory from its real-world adherents by attributing its failures to idiosyncratic personal flaws of the leaders who took power (Lenin, Stalin, Mao ... ). But the same patterns have replicated themselves in enough governments under enough leaders to make it perfectly obvious that the flaw rests in the theory itself. Marxist governments trample on individual rights because Marxist theory does not care about individual rights. Marxism is a theory of class justice. The only political rights it respects are those exercised by members of the oppressed class, with different left-wing ideological strands defining those classes in economic, racial, or gender terms, or sometimes all at once. Unlike liberalism, which sees rights as a positive-sum good that can expand or contract for society as a whole, Marxists (and other left-wing critics of liberalism) think of political rights as a zero-sum conflict. Either they are exercised on behalf of oppression or against it. Any Marxist government immediately sets about snuffing out the political rights of parties or ideas deemed reactionary (a category that also inevitably expands to describe any challenge to the powers that be). Repression is woven into Marxism's ideological fabric.

Posted by orrinj at 1:08 PM


Obama calls for new era of freedom and democracy in Cuba (Karthick Arvinth, March 23, 2016, IB Times)

[T]he US president urged the Cuban leadership to move away from a one-party state towards a democratic system of government, saying America's progress through the years was precisely a result of its democratic ideals.

"I believe citizens should be free to speak their mind without fear - to organise and to criticise their government, and to protest peacefully, and that the rule of law should not include arbitrary detentions of people who exercise those rights," he stated on the last day of his three-day visit to Cuba. "I believe voters should be able to choose their governments in free and democratic elections."

Obama, the first sitting American president to visit Cuba in nearly 90 years, said democracy is not perfect but that it "gives individuals the capacity to be catalysts". He pointed to the diverse field of candidates vying for a presidential nomination in the US as an example.

"You had two Cuban Americans in the Republican Party, running against the legacy of a black man who is president, while arguing that they're the best person to beat the Democratic nominee who will either be a woman or a Democratic socialist," he said to laughter from the crowd. Who would have believed that back in 1959? That's a measure of our progress as a democracy."

March 22, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 6:52 PM


The Daoud Affair : How Western intellectuals turn themselves into the enemies of an entire class of liberal writers from Muslim backgrounds (Paul Berman and Michael Walzer, 3/21/16, The Tablet)

For 20 years he has written for the Algerian newspaper Le Quotidien d'Oran, but, in the wake of his novel's success, his journalism began to appear prominently in Le Monde and other European newspapers. He was invited to write for the New York Times. And he responded to these opportunities in the way that any alert and appreciative reader of his novel might have expected.

He offered insights into the Islamic State. He attacked Saudi Arabia, with a side jab aimed at the extreme right in France. But he also looked at the mass assault on women that took place in Cologne on New Year's Eve by a mob that is thought to have included men from the Arab world. He dismissed a right-wing impulse in Europe to regard immigrants as barbarians. And he dismissed a left-wing, high-minded naïveté about the event. He pointed to a cultural problem. In the New York Times he wrote: "One of the great miseries plaguing much of the so-called Arab world, and the Muslim world more generally, is its sick relationship with women." More: "The pathological relationship that some Arab countries have with women is bursting onto the scene in Europe." In Le Monde he wrote that Europe, in accepting new immigrants and refugees, was going to have to help them accept new values, too--"to share, to impose, to defend, to make understood." And now his troubles began.

A group of 19 professors in France drew up a statement accusing Daoud of a series of ideological crimes, consisting of "orientialist cliches," "essentialism," "psychologization," "colonialist paternalism," an "anti-humanist" viewpoint, and other such errors, amounting to racism and Islamophobia. Le Monde published their accusations. A second denunciation came his way, this time in private. It was a letter from the author of the New York Times Magazine profile, the American literary journalist Adam Shatz. In his letter Shatz professed affection for Daoud. He claimed not to be making any accusations at all. He wrote, "I'm not saying you're doing it on purpose, or even that you're playing the game of the 'imperialists.' I'm not accusing you of anything. Except perhaps of not thinking, and of falling into strange and potentially dangerous traps"--which amounted to saying what the 19 professors had said, with the additional accusation of stupidity.

Daoud published the American journalist's letter in Le Monde, just to make clear what he was up against--though he did it with an elegant show of friendliness. He explained that he, and not his detractors, lives in Algeria and understands its reality. He noted the Stalinist tone of the attacks on him. He insisted on the validity of his own emotions. He refused to accept the political logic that would require him to lapse into silence about what he believes. And then, in what appeared to be a plain and spiteful fury at his detractors, he declared that he is anyway going to do what the detractors have, in effect, demanded. He is going to silence his journalism: a gesture whose emotional punch comes from The Meursault Investigation, with its theme of silence. Or, at minimum, Daoud threatened to be silent--though naturally the calls for him to continue speaking up have already begun, and doubtless he will have to respond.

The two of us who are writing this commentary call attention to a second pattern in these condemnations, which dates to the days of Soviet Communism. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:08 PM


Donald Trump Is a Punch Line for Obama, Who Is Getting More Jokes Ready (GARDINER HARRIS MARCH 20, 2016, NY Times)

"How can you be shocked?" Mr. Obama asked of Mr. Romney, the former presidential candidate who accepted Mr. Trump's endorsement in 2012. "This is the guy, remember, who was sure that I was born in Kenya. Who just wouldn't let it go."

Aides recall the obviously false "birther" allegations stirred by Mr. Trump as an almost out-of-body experience. "Standing at the podium in the briefing room with the White House counsel to release the president's birth certificate was probably the most surreal moment I had in the White House," Dan Pfeiffer, a former senior adviser to Mr. Obama, wrote in an email.

Indeed, the day in April 2011 that Mr. Obama walked into the White House briefing room to directly address Mr. Trump's allegations, Mr. Trump flew to New Hampshire in his signature plane to test the waters of a presidential run. Days later, Mr. Obama made Mr. Trump the object of a string of humiliating jokes at a White House Correspondents' Association dinner, saying that Mr. Obama's release of his birth certificate would allow Mr. Trump to "get back to focusing on the issues that matter like, did we fake the moon landing? What really happened in Roswell? And where are Biggie and Tupac?"

Mr. Trump soon left the dinner, evidently bruised. It was a moment that White House aides recall with relish.

"Trump is at his very nature an insecure carnival barker, so the best way to unmask him is to show everyone that it's all a circus," Mr. Pfeiffer wrote.

Ridicule is our best offense.


Trump, of course, wants to erect a wall between Mexico and the United States, and that too fills many a conversation in Osuna's native land. He says he tries to ignore that narrative.

"If I pay attention to those things, I would look worse than him," he says.

I ask whether his countrymen are angry with Trump, or whether they laugh at him.

"They laugh about it because it's silly to think that they're going to put up that wall," Osuna says. "And we don't care. If you've got the visa, you can cross to the United States and you can do whatever you want. Everyone knows that we Mexicans work so hard and we don't come here to do whatever we want to. We are so scared about the police and other stuff. In Mexico we can do whatever we want to but not here.

"I've been in the United States for the last few years and I'm still feeling a little bit afraid to do some things, like I'm driving and I don't want to go over the speed limit because I don't know if I'm going to get in trouble or not [with police who stereotype]. We don't come to the United States to do what [Trump] says."

Posted by orrinj at 1:55 PM


Cubans jubilant over Obama's call for democracy (AP,  Mar. 22, 2016)

Juan Francisco Ugarte Oliva, a 71-year-old retired refrigeration technician, called Obama's address "a jewel." Ugarte says the American president "dared to say in the presence of the leaders, of Raul Castro, that (Cubans) had the right to protest peacefully without being beaten or arrested."

Barbara Ugarte, a 45-year-old gift shop owner, says she agreed with everything Obama said. She says Cubans "need democracy, freedom of expression."

Cubans expressed a startling degree of openness and anger directed at their own leaders.

Anabel Rodriguez, a housewife, says the speech was "very correct." She praised Obama for speaking about human rights, saying what you think and choosing your own president, "not those that they impose on you."

Posted by orrinj at 1:52 PM


Millions more Russians living in poverty as economic crisis bites (Agence France-Presse, 21 March 2016)

Russia's recession-hit economy has propelled the country's poverty rate to a nine-year high, state statistics showed, as the country struggles to cope with a crippling economic crisis.

An average of 19.2 million Russians - or 13.4% of the population - were living last year on less than 9,452 roubles ($139) a month, the minimum subsistence level determined by the Russian government in the fourth quarter.

This figure represents a 20% increase year-on-year, with an average 16.1 million people living below the poverty threshold in 2014.

Posted by orrinj at 1:45 PM


Will the Islamic State Group Survive 2016? (Metin Gurcan, 3/22/16, Al-Monitor)

Following spectacular combat gains for two years, the Islamic State (IS) is on the defensive in Iraq and Syria. In 2015, IS lost 14% of the territory it once controlled. It has lost another 8% in just the first three months of this year, according to a new study from IHS Jane's 360.

If IS continues to lose territory at the same pace, some people believe the year 2016 could well be its last. [...]

Jacob Zen of the Jamestown Foundation, which closely follows IS activities in the Middle East and Eurasia, says IS might make it to the end of 2016, but most likely only as a shadow of its current self.

"I expect IS will be able to still hold out at Mosul and Raqqa in 2016, because the attention of international and Syrian counter-insurgency forces is primarily devoted to resolving other issues, such as in northwestern Syria, where Afrin province is hotly contested. But at some point in the near future -- perhaps next year in 2017 -- I expect that a range of international forces, and Iraqi and possibly also Syrian forces, will finally commit to removing IS from Raqqa and Mosul. At that time, I do not think IS will have the power to defend those cities, even if its militants are able to put up a strong defense," he told Al-Monitor.

"The loss of these two cities will likely lead to some IS members defecting back to al-Qaeda" as they realize that the latter was correct in predicting that IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed the IS caliphate prematurely, before IS was strong enough to sustain the territory. Defectors might conclude that al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri's gradual approach "is the more effective way to create a sustainable caliphate," he added.

Posted by orrinj at 1:41 PM


A Presidential Rebuke to the Saudis (THE EDITORIAL BOARD, MARCH 21, 2016, NY Times)

Mr. Obama has long regarded Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Arab countries as repressive societies whose strict interpretation of Islam contributes to extremism. In a blunt and lengthy discussion with Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic, Mr. Obama included the Saudis among other "free rider" allies that ask the United States to fight their battles for them and "exploit American 'muscle' for their own narrow and sectarian ends."

Mr. Obama, who has blamed Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Arab governments for encouraging anti-American militancy, also told Mr. Goldberg that the Saudis should try harder to "share the neighborhood" by achieving "some sort of cold peace" with their enemies in Iran.

Posted by orrinj at 1:36 PM


Syrian refugees rescue neo-Nazi leader Stefan Jagsch from wreckage of car crash (Tom Porter, March 22, 2016, IB Times)

Stefan Jagsch, 29, a regional leader of the extreme right German NPD party, swerved from the road near the town of Buedingen in Hesse in the morning on March 16, and crashed into a tree, police officials told Spiegel online.

Passing the scene of the accident was a coach full of refugees, and two Syrian men came to the aid of injured Jagsch, pulling him from the wreckage of his vehicle and administered first aid, before emergency services arrived at the scene, reported Bild.

Jagsch's legs were broken and his face cut in the crash, according to the tabloid. It is not known what caused the accident.

Posted by orrinj at 1:33 PM


Men in the U.S. Illegally Are More Likely to Work Than Men Born Here, For Less (JEFFREY SPARSHOTT. Mar 22, 2016, wsj)

Men in the U.S. illegally are more likely to work than their native-born counterparts, and they're willing to take jobs pretty much regardless of how much or little they get paid, new research from Harvard University finds. [...]

In separate research last year, The Pew Research Center found the number of illegal immigrants has remained stable for the past five years at 11.3 million, following decades of rapid growth. Among that group, 8.1 million are working or looking for work, accounting for about 5% of the U.S. labor force.

The latest research suggests that men in that category are willing to do jobs that many native-born American men shun--at least at the wages on offer.

Posted by orrinj at 1:27 PM


The Promise of a $9 Computer : For those living at or near the poverty line, the expense of a computer is out of the question. But a new low-cost device could change that and more. (RICK PAULAS, 3/22/16, Pacific Standard)

Consider how much it costs to read this article. Forget about subscription costs; there are none. And let's take the Internet cost out too, because either you have access for the cost of a cup of coffee, or the time it takes to get a library card. But, the device you're using to read it? A newspaper or magazine costs a few or several bucks, but whatever you're using to read this--laptop, phone with a data plan, tablet--costs at least a couple hundred. [...]

The device in question is C.H.I.P., a $9 computer released by Oakland-based start-up Next Thing Co. It can do mostly basic stuff: word processing, spreadsheets, Internet, games. Those offerings were enough to build some buzz; the company launched a Kickstarter in May of 2015, received more than $2 million worth of funding (overshooting its $50,000 goal), and began shipping out the first $9 computers in January.

Posted by orrinj at 1:22 PM



Cubans were glued to their televisions on Monday, many watching in a state of shock as President Raul Castro faced tough questions from American journalists who challenged him to defend Cuba's record on human rights and political prisoners.

In a country where publicly questioning the authority of Castro and his brother and predecessor Fidel is unthinkable for most, and where the docile state-run media almost always toe the party line, the live broadcast was must-see TV. Some also marveled at tough questioning of President Barack Obama, simply unaccustomed to seeing any leader challenged in such a way.

"This is pure history and I never thought I'd see something like this," said Marlene Pino, a 47-year-old engineer. "It's difficult to quickly assimilate what's happening here. For me it's extraordinary to see this."

"It's like a movie, but based on real life," said Ricardo Herrera a 45-year-old street food vendor.

In one eye-catching moment, Castro's response suggested that perhaps Havana is not always perfect on human rights. 

Posted by orrinj at 1:18 PM


Poll: Utah would vote for a Democrat for president over Trump (Lisa Riley Roche, 3/20/16, Deseret News)

If Donald Trump becomes the Republican Party's nominee, Utahns would vote for a Democrat for president in November for the first time in more than 50 years, according to a new Deseret News/KSL poll.

Posted by orrinj at 1:12 PM


Meditation May Help Ease Chronic Low Back Pain (Amy Norton, , March 22, 2016, HealthDay News) 

Meditation may work better than painkillers when it comes to soothing chronic low back pain, a new clinical trial suggests.

The study found that a program called mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) beat standard medical care for managing low back pain.

After one year, people who attended MBSR classes were more than 40 percent likely to show "meaningful" improvements in their pain and daily activities compared to people who sought conventional care for their aching backs.

March 21, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 7:59 PM


How Your Cat Could Make You Mentally Ill (TIME, June 8, 2015)

Cats may rule the Internet and make beloved pets, but a recent study has revealed that they may also be linked to mental illness.

Posted by orrinj at 7:53 PM


Immigrants And Their Billion Dollar Startups (Megha Bahree, 3/20/16, Forbes)

A new paper by the National Foundation for American Policy, a non-profit, non-partisan research  organization says immigrants play a key role in creating new, fast-growing companies. Immigrants have started more than half (44 of 87) of America's startup companies valued at a billion dollars or more and are key members of management or product development teams in over 70% (62 of 87) of these companies. The research finds that among the billion dollar startup companies, immigrant founders have created an average of approximately 760 jobs per company in the U.S. The collective value of the 44 immigrant-founded companies is $168 billion, which is close to half the value of the stock markets of Russia or Mexico.

Posted by orrinj at 7:48 PM


Trading with China Makes Us (and Them) Richer : Freedom to Trade Makes Us Both Better Off (Chelsea German, March 21, 2016, FEE)

China has the comparative advantage in light manufacturing and heavy industry, while the United States has an advantage in areas involving a high degree of human capital like technology, education, and precision industrial manufacturing. 

Fewer and fewer Americans work in grueling areas like traditional manufacturing and agriculture, both of which are still common in China. The fall in traditional manufacturing and agriculture employment has been more than offset by a rise in the caring professions and in creative and knowledge-intensive careers, which are safer, more intellectually stimulating, and help improve the standard of living in the United States. 

For example, the number of physicians per person has risen in the United States, and there are also more teachers per student. The graph below shows that, while manufacturing employment has decreased, total non-agricultural employment has soared. [...]

Western activists rail against "sweatshops," but among researchers and economists from left to right there is a consensus that these jobs are the stepping stones out of poverty.

Lest we forget, the United States and Europe had their own sweatshops during the Industrial Revolution. Work was often dangerous and difficult--though not as much as the drudgery of agricultural subsistence. Yet, as a result of the industrial revolution, life expectancy and GDP per capita shot up while poverty fell rapidly. 

Since economic liberalization, life expectancy in China has skyrocketed, nearing the U.S. level, and hundreds of millions of Chinese have escaped from extreme poverty. That represents the greatest reduction in poverty the world has ever seen. 

As prosperity has increased, gender inequality has diminished, and a smaller share of the population suffers from food inadequacy. If the trade-skeptics genuinely care about the wellbeing of the poor in China, they should support the most successful anti-poverty program of all time: economic freedom, including freedom to trade internationally.

Posted by orrinj at 5:57 PM


Actually, Most Evangelicals Don't Vote Trump : The numbers tell a different story than the headlines. (Darren Patrick Guerra, MARCH 18, 2016, Christianity Today)

[E]ven in Florida, Trump only garnered 19 percent of votes from those who chose their candidate based on "shared values." This includes both Catholics and evangelicals. This hardly supports a conclusion that "values voters" are in Trump's back pocket. In contrast, Cruz carried pluralities of evangelicals in Missouri (46 percent), North Carolina (43 percent), and Illinois (37 percent) while Kasich carried a plurality of evangelicals in Ohio (43 percent). It seems misleading to continually push a narrative that evangelicals are en masse supporting Trump when his win-loss record (in terms of pluralities) was a paltry 1-5. A win-loss record like that wouldn't even earn him a spot on the Miami Marlins starting pitching rotation.

One plausible alternative narrative coming out of the March 15 primaries is that evangelicals actually slowed Trump's advance in Missouri and Illinois and helped defeat him in Ohio. This conclusion is based on the fact that Trump performed worse among evangelicals than non-evangelicals in all three of those states. In addition, Kasich and Cruz each beat Trump among evangelicals by the same margin of eight points in both Ohio and Missouri, respectively.

Across all the states, the March 15 elections showed that, on average, a super-majority of 60 percent of evangelicals voted for someone other than Trump. Furthermore, there continues to be strong evidence that the more religious a voter is, the less likely they are to support Donald Trump. For example, in Missouri exit polls, which tracked church attendance, Trump performed much worse than Ted Cruz. Of those who attend religious services "more than once a week," Cruz garnered 56 percent of the vote, outpacing Trump by a full 26 percentage points. Among those who attend religious services once a week, Cruz earned 50 percent of the vote, which was a full 17 points above Trump.

In contrast, with those who only attend services "a few" times a year, Trump won 48 percent of the vote to Cruz's 29 percent. If Missouri's numbers are indicative of voters in other states, then Trump does much worse among those who actually take their faith seriously enough to attend religious services consistently. There is some recent research by The Barna Group reported on by Vox, which suggests these numbers are indeed consistent with a broader pattern among evangelical voters nationally.

Posted by orrinj at 5:44 PM


Manufacturing Jobs Are Never Coming Back (BEN CASSELMAN, 3/18/16, 538)

[I]n recent years, factories have been coming back, but the jobs haven't. Because of rising wages in China, the need for shorter supply chains and other factors, a small but growing group of companies are shifting production back to the U.S. But the factories they build here are heavily automated, employing a small fraction of the workers they would have a generation ago.

Look at the chart below: Since the recession ended in 2009, manufacturing output -- the value of all the goods that U.S. factories produce, adjusted for inflation -- has risen by more than 20 percent, because of a combination of "reshoring" and increased domestic demand. But manufacturing employment is up just 5 percent. And much of that job growth represents a rebound from the recession, not a sustainable trend. 

It's a deflationary epoch.
Posted by orrinj at 5:38 PM


Why Hillary Won't Be Indicted and Shouldn't Be (Richard O. Lempert, 3/21/16, American Prospect)

What follows reflects the knowledge and experience I have gained from working at the Department of Homeland Security from 2008 until 2011. While there, I took the lead in drafting a security classification manual for one of the divisions of the DHS science and technology directorate. In this discussion, I offer answers to questions about the former secretary of state's email that have not been frequently asked, but should be.

What constitutes criminal conduct with respect to the disclosure of classified information?

Relevant law is found in several statutes. To begin with, 18 USC, Section 798 provides in salient part: "Whoever knowingly and willfully ... [discloses] or uses in any manner prejudicial to the safety and interest of the United States [certain categories of classified information] ... shall be fined ... or imprisoned."

The most important words in this statute are the ones I have italicized. To violate this statute, Secretary Clinton would have had to know that she was dealing with classified information, and either that she was disclosing it to people who could not be trusted to protect the interests of the United States or that she was handling it in a way (e.g. by not keeping it adequately secure) that was at least arguably prejudicial to the safety or interest of the United States.

The statute also provides a definition of what constitutes classified information within the meaning of the subsection described above: "[C]lassified information, means information which, at the time of a violation of this section, is specifically designated by a United States Government Agency for ... restricted dissemination."

Again, the most important words are the ones I have italicized. First, they indicate that the material must have been classified at the time of disclosure. Post hoc classification, which seems to characterize most of the classified material found on Clinton's server, cannot support an indictment under this section. Second, information no matter how obviously sensitive does not classify itself; it must be officially and specifically designated as such.

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 PM


A whopping 54 percent of Americans would really like to punch Donald Trump in the face (Becca Stanek, 3/21/16, The Week)

If you've fantasized about punching Donald Trump in the face, you're far from alone. A new survey by WalletHub/Survey Monkey released Monday reveals that a whopping 54 percent of Americans have had that very same thought of just wanting to give the GOP presidential frontrunner a "pop in the kisser."

March 20, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 4:04 PM


Trumpism: 'It's the Culture, Stupid' (SCOTT WINSHIP, March 15, 2016, National Review)

Trump performed no better in states where the economy was the biggest issue than in other states. In the ten states where the economy was the top issue, Trump won eight, or 80 percent. In the five states where the economy was second, Trump won four . . . or 80 percent. His average margin of victory was 7.8 points in states where the economy ranked second but just 6.9 points in states where the economy was the top issue. Trump also did worse among voters for whom the economy was a top issue than among other voters. He won voters who chose the economy as their top issue in 10 of 15 states, worse than his showing among voters over all, which he carried in 12 of 15. While he won jobs-and-economy voters in ten states, he won immigration voters in twelve, and terrorism voters in twelve. In all 15 states, Trump's margin of victory was higher among at least one other category of voters than it was among jobs-and-economy voters. In eight states, Trump's margins were greater on at least two other issues, and in two states his margins were lowest among jobs-and-economy voters. R

Another reason to think that Trump's success does not primarily reflect economic anxiety is that the economy is doing quite well. The unemployment rate is below 5 percent, not far from where it was in 2007, before the recession started. Median hourly wages are back to the peak they reached in 2007. Median annual household income is also nearly at its historical high. Economic doomsayers tend to focus on the relatively low rate of labor-force participation to argue that the unemployment rate no longer captures the weakness of the labor market. But much of the decline in labor-force participation is due to rising school enrollment and the retirement of baby boomers. And much of it is voluntary. Fewer than 40 percent of men aged 25 to 54 who are out of the labor force tell government surveyors they want a job, and the rise between 1979 and 2006 in the number of these men who are uninterested in work statistically accounts for the entire drop in labor-force participation over that period. 

 For a non-negligible subset of Trump voters, anti-immigration sentiment is about racism and nativism, plain and simple. 

Posted by orrinj at 2:22 PM


Millions of ordinary Americans support Donald Trump. Here's why (Thomas Frank, 3/20/16, The Guardian)

Last week, I decided to watch several hours of Trump speeches for myself. I saw the man ramble and boast and threaten and even seem to gloat when protesters were ejected from the arenas in which he spoke. I was disgusted by these things, as I have been disgusted by Trump for 20 years. But I also noticed something surprising. In each of the speeches I watched, Trump spent a good part of his time talking about an entirely legitimate issue, one that could even be called leftwing.

Yes, Donald Trump talked about trade. In fact, to judge by how much time he spent talking about it, trade may be his single biggest concern - not white supremacy. Not even his plan to build a wall along the Mexican border, the issue that first won him political fame. He did it again during the debate on 3 March: asked about his political excommunication by Mitt Romney, he chose to pivot and talk about ... trade.

It seems to obsess him: the destructive free-trade deals our leaders have made, the many companies that have moved their production facilities to other lands, the phone calls he will make to those companies' CEOs in order to threaten them with steep tariffs unless they move back to the US.

Trump embellished this vision with another favorite leftwing idea: under his leadership, the government would "start competitive bidding in the drug industry". ("We don't competitively bid!" he marveled - another true fact, a legendary boondoggle brought to you by the George W Bush administration.) Trump extended the critique to the military-industrial complex, describing how the government is forced to buy lousy but expensive airplanes thanks to the power of industry lobbyists.

Thus did he hint at his curious selling proposition: because he is personally so wealthy, a fact about which he loves to boast, Trump himself is unaffected by business lobbyists and donations. And because he is free from the corrupting power of modern campaign finance, famous deal-maker Trump can make deals on our behalf that are "good" instead of "bad". The chance that he will actually do so, of course, is small. He appears to be a hypocrite on this issue as well as so many other things. But at least Trump is saying this stuff.

Posted by orrinj at 2:12 PM


Newly discovered Alaskan butterfly is hybrid of two ancient species (Tom Mendelsohn, March 20, 2016, ib tIMES)

Biologists who discovered a new species of butterfly in Alaska for the first time in 28 years, believe it to be a hybrid of two ancient species adapted for life in an especially harsh location.

Posted by orrinj at 8:28 AM


General Motors Inching Closer To Self- Driving Cars (Trefis Team, 3/20/16, Forbes)

Recently General Motors announced that it is acquiring Cruise Automation, a software company dedicated to self-driving car technology, in order to accelerate its development of autonomous vehicle technology. Cruise will operate as an independent unit within GM's recently formed Autonomous Vehicle Development team. The transaction, which is likely to close by the second quarter of 2016, is part of GM's strategy of redefining personal mobility. It thus follows other such initiatives that include: 1) the acquisition of the ride sharing company Lyft; 2) the formation of Maven, which is its brand for car sharing fleets; and, 3) the establishment of a separate division for autonomous vehicle development. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:18 AM


Surprise: Americans Kind Of Like Trade (Danielle Kurtzleben, 3/20/16, NPR)

[A]s it turns out, Americans as a whole seem to feel pretty good about foreign trade. Gallup found in February (hat-tip to the Upshot's Justin Wolfers) that 58 percent of Americans see trade as more of an opportunity than a threat.

Interestingly, polls also show that Democrats right now are slightly more in favor of free trade than Republicans. In the early 2000s, Republicans were more likely to see trade as an opportunity than a threat, according to Gallup. But around 2011, Democrats surpassed them. Around 61 percent of Democrats saw trade as an opportunity as of 2015, compared to 51 percent of Republicans.

The basic arguments for freer trade are simple: the ideas are that trade opens up more markets to U.S. exports, gives Americans more goods to choose from, and exchanges lower-quality jobs for higher-quality ones."
This bucks conventional wisdom that Republicans are more the party of free trade. (After all, big business interest groups, like the Chamber of Commerce, who support trade pacts, tend to support Republican politicians, while unions -- major Democratic supporters -- oppose many trade pacts). Indeed, both parties appear to be (moderately) the parties of free trade.

The bottom line, according to one public-opinion expert, is that Americans' views on trade may shift back and forth, but they never really get that extreme.

"Trade is never wildly popular, but sometimes it's less unpopular," said Karlyn Bowman, a senior fellow and public opinion analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, a right-leaning think tank in Washington, DC.

Poll says most Americans favor a path to citizenship (LAURIE KELLMAN, ASSOCIATED PRESS AND EMILY SWANSON, ASSOCIATED PRESS  December 17, 2015)

A majority of Americans -- 54 percent -- support a way for immigrants who are already in the country illegally to become citizens, while 44 percent are opposed. [...]

The new poll shows that while tough rhetoric on immigration appeals to a majority of Republicans, most still don't consider it a deal breaker issue.

Posted by orrinj at 8:10 AM


Israel's generals and their troubled relationship with the elected cabinet (The Economist, Mar 14th 2016)

ALL is not well between Israel's cabinet and the generals who supposedly report to them. Major-General Herzl Halevi arrived at the Knesset on February 23rd for what was planned as a routine briefing for members of the defence committee of Israel's parliament. Instead, the chief of military intelligence delivered a stark warning. Despite efforts by the Palestinian militant movement Hamas to maintain the ceasefire around the Gaza Strip, he said, the lack of economic development in the coastal enclave, currently under joint Israeli and Egyptian blockade, would inevitably lead to humanitarian catastrophe and another round of violence between Israel and Gaza.

What General Halevi left unsaid is that there has long been disagreement on Gaza's future between Israel's government and its men and women in uniform. Going back as far as the bloody coup in 2007, when Hamas seized full control of Gaza (from which Israel withdrew in 2005), the generals and members of the National Security Council have advised the politicians to find ways to help Gaza's economy, opening up the blockade and building infrastructure, including a seaport there. The rationale is that better economic prospects would deter the Palestinians from firing missiles on Israeli towns. But successive Israeli governments, bolstered behind the scenes by neighbouring Egypt's enmity towards Hamas, have not been enthused by these proposals.

Posted by orrinj at 8:04 AM


Trees Deal With Climate Change Better Than Expected (TATIANA SCHLOSSBERG MARCH 16, 2016, NY Times)

The bend-don't-break adaptability of trees extends to handling climate change, according to a new study that says forests may be able to deal with hotter temperatures and contribute less carbon dioxide to the atmosphere than scientists previously thought.

In addition to taking in carbon dioxide during photosynthesis, plants also release it through a process called respiration. Globally, plant respiration contributes six times as much carbon dioxide to the atmosphere as fossil fuel emissions, much of which is reabsorbed by plants, the oceans and other elements of nature. Until now, most scientists have thought that a warming planet would cause plants to release more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which in turn would cause more warming.

But in a study published Wednesday in Nature, scientists showed that plants were able to adapt their respiration to increases in temperature over long periods of time, releasing only 5 percent more carbon dioxide than they did under normal conditions.

Posted by orrinj at 7:58 AM


Mormon Voters Really Don't Like Donald Trump. Here's Why. : It's not just Mitt Romney. (McKay Coppins, 3/19/16, BuzzFeed)

If Trump is wiped out in Tuesday's Utah caucuses as expected, many will no doubt credit Mitt Romney, who has spent recent weeks on a high-profile crusade to stop the billionaire. But LDS voters' skepticism of the billionaire -- which, polls suggest, predates Romney's emergence as an anti-Trump champion -- is rooted more deeply in Mormon culture and politics.

That's because while Mormons make up the most reliably Republican religious group in the country, they differ from the party's base in key ways that work against Trump.

On immigration, for example, the hard-line proposals that have rallied Trump's fans -- like building a massive wall along the country's southern border to keep immigrants out -- are considerably less likely to fire up conservative Latter-day Saints. The LDS Church has spent years lobbying for "compassionate" immigration reform. In 2011, church leaders offered a full-throated endorsement of "the Utah Compact," a state legislative initiative that discouraged deporting otherwise law-abiding undocumented immigrants, and offered a path to residency for families that would be separated by deportation.

These pro-immigrant attitudes are common among rank-and-file believers, many of whom have served missions in Latin-American countries. Mormons are more than twice as likely as evangelicals to say they support "more immigration" to the United States, according to Notre Dame political scientist David Campbell. And a 2012 Pew survey found that Mormons were more likely to say immigrants "strengthen" the country than they were to call immigrants an overall "burden." When Romney ran for president in 2012 on a restrictionist immigration platform, his views were widely noted in LDS circles for being at odds with his church.

Posted by orrinj at 7:49 AM


Exiled Tibetans vote for government shunned by China (Ashwini Bhatia, 3/20/16, The Associated Press)

Tens of thousands of Tibetan exiles are voting around the world Sunday to elect a new prime minister and parliament for a second time since the Dalai Lama stepped down as head of the government in 2011 to focus on his role as a spiritual leader.

Buddhist monks in crimson robes lined up along with hundreds of Tibetan men and women in schools, government buildings and the courtyard of the Tsuglakhang Temple in India's northern city of Dharmsala, where the exiled government is based, to cast their votes in a festive atmosphere.

Posted by orrinj at 7:42 AM


Can virtual reality cure phobias? : Research suggests that Oculus Rift-style headsets are proving a useful therapeutic tool (James Witts, 20 March 2016, The Guardian)

In March 2014 Mark Zuckerberg dipped into his deep pockets to buy Oculus Rift for $2bn, proclaiming to the world that after many fits and starts, virtual reality would stick. Now Oculus Rift is on the verge of being launched to the masses, with a promise of greater immersion and more realism than ever before.

CG-rendered games will be the main driver, but growing evidence and use by clinicians suggests that VR could become a common tool for therapists. "The potential to treat phobias and fears is huge," explains Chris Brewin, professor of clinical psychology at University College London. "In fact I'd put money on this becoming an important part of mental health treatment."

Brewin speaks from experience. He and his team took 15 people being treated for depression by the NHS and strapped VR units around their heads. First they were shown an adult avatar, which replicated the patient's body movements via haptic (touch) technology. This is a process known as "embodiment".

"That's the key difference between this form of therapy and traditional therapy," says Brewin. "When people are embodied in an avatar in a virtual world, their perception and emotional responses change to be consistent with that avatar."

Posted by orrinj at 7:26 AM


Santa Monica firm says it has found a way to salt away electricity, literally (Ivan Penn, 3/20/16, LA Times)

In the energy world, the ability to store electricity at an affordable price is the treasure sought by utility engineers and financial wizards.

SolarReserve believes it has found a solution.

The Santa Monica company recently completed what it touts as a first-of-its-kind solar power plant that stores electricity using salt. The facility, in Nevada between Reno and Las Vegas, is 20 times larger than a SolarCity-Tesla solar and storage operation in Hawaii, which incorporates batteries.

Called Crescent Dunes, the SolarReserve power plant is a 110-megawatt facility with 10 hours of energy storage. That translates into 1,100 megawatt hours of storage, enough to power 75,000 homes. In other words, the facility can run for an additional 10 hours at the full 110 megawatt output just from the stored energy, with zero sunshine.

March 19, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 8:37 PM


The GOP's Blocking of Supreme Court Pick Is Indefensible (GEORGE WILL March 19, 2016, National Review)

In their tossed salad of situational ethics, the Republicans' most contradictory and least conservative self-justification is: The Court's supposedly fragile legitimacy is endangered unless the electorate speaks before a vacancy is filled. The preposterous premise is that the Court will be "politicized" unless vacancies are left vacant until a political campaign registers public opinion about, say, "Chevron deference."

This legal doctrine actually is germane to Garland. He is the most important member (chief judge) of the nation's second-most important court, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, the importance of which derives primarily from its caseload of regulatory challenges. There Garland has practiced what too many conservatives have preached -- "deference" in the name of "judicial restraint" toward Congress, and toward the executive branch and its appendages in administering congressional enactments. Named for a 1984 case, Chevron deference unleashes the regulatory state by saying that agencies charged with administering statutes are entitled to deference when they interpret supposedly ambiguous statutory language. 

In his record of deference, Garland resembles two justices nominated by Presidents George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan, respectively -- Chief Justice John Roberts and, even more, Scalia, who seems to be more revered than read by many conservatives. Garland's reluctance to restrict the administrative state's discretion would represent continuity in the chair he would fill. Furthermore, Garland's deference is also expressed in respect for precedents, which include the 2008 Heller decision. In it, the Court (with Scalia writing for the majority) affirmed that the Second Amendment protects an individual's right to bear arms.

Posted by orrinj at 8:30 PM


Plunging numbers of Texas abortions: Are clinic closings behind decline? (Patrik Jonsson, MARCH 19, 2016, CS Monitor)

Texas abortion clinics performed 9,000 fewer abortions in the first full year after the state enacted tough new regulations on abortion clinics, providing some of the first hard data in what the Supreme Court has called the state's "controlled experiment" in tightening abortion access for American women.

The plunging number of Texas abortions comes amid a notable drop in abortions around the US.

In general, states with open access to abortion are seeing declines similar to states with laws curtailing clinic access. But while the Associated Press found that abortions decreased by 12 percent across the US since 2010, the Texas rate dropped by 30 percent in the same span.

Posted by orrinj at 8:25 PM


Starwood signs first U.S.-Cuba hotel deal since 1959 revolution (MARC FRANK, 3/19/16, Reuters)

Jorge Giannattasio, chief of Latin American operations, said the deals included a "multimillion-dollar investment to bring the hotels up to our standards," making Starwood the first U.S. company to commit major money to Cuba since Fidel Castro and his bearded rebels overthrew a pro-American government on Jan. 1, 1959.

Castro quickly nationalized the tourism industry and made the Habana Hilton the new government headquarters for months.

Cuba's tourism industry has boomed since the December 2014 rapprochement with the United States. International visitors rose 17 percent to a record 3.5 million in 2015, including a 77 percent increase in American visitors to 161,000.

Posted by orrinj at 8:17 PM


Huge regional divide over Trump among GOP voters in Wisconsin (Craig Gilbert, 3/19/16, The Journal Sentinel)

In an upside-down version of a traditional campaign, the Republican front-runner is immensely unpopular in the reddest part of the state -- the outer suburbs and exurbs that ring Milwaukee.

These are the party's bedrock counties: Waukesha, Washington and Ozaukee. They typically dictate the outcome of GOP primaries like the one Wisconsin will hold for president April 5. And in fall elections, they're arguably the best-performing Republican counties in America.

But GOP voters in these counties dislike Trump by a very large margin. In extensive polling by the Marquette University Law School, 25% view him positively and 64% view him negatively, for a "net favorability" -- in his own party -- of "minus 39."

Posted by orrinj at 8:01 PM



[T]he Islamic State in Libya's momentum is slowing, including setbacks in Derna, Benghazi, and Sabratha. Moreover, recent attempts to expand the territory under its control have failed as it runs up against territory controlled by powerful, violent non-state actors. Libya also lacks many of the attributes that the Islamic State has exploited in Iraq and Syria. The Islamic State's slowing momentum, its inability to expand, and the differences between the Iraqi/Syrian and Libyan landscape all beg the question of just how feasible it would be for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria to shift to Libya. While there is no doubt that the Islamic State would remain a violent threat in Libya and elsewhere were it to be degraded in Iraq and Syria, it would be a poorer and more constrained organization, deprived of personnel, revenue, and the fundamental narrative tropes of governance and sectarianism that it has used to "remain and expand" (bâqîya wa tatamaddad) in Iraq and Syria.

Posted by orrinj at 10:11 AM


Getting closer : No end in sight for Saudi Arabia's southern adventure (The Economist, Jan 16th 2016)"

For all the bluster of Saudi generals who vow to lead their troops into Sana'a if necessary, the campaign now has more limited goals, says the confidant. Saudi Arabia wants to send Iran and its regional clients a message that it will resist their regional push. With Iran holding sway through its proxies in Baghdad, Damascus and Beirut, Saudi Arabia is loth to let a fourth capital, particularly one in its back yard, go Iran's way. But the campaign is now mostly about blunting the capabilities of the Houthis (a militia of Zaydis, a splinter Shiite sect concentrated in Yemen's north) and their ally, Ali Abdullah Saleh, who until Saudi Arabia engineered his removal in 2012 was the Arab world's longest-reigning ruler.

Together the Houthis and Mr Saleh make a formidable force. Whereas the former are guerrillas who model themselves on Lebanon's Hizbullah, the latter commands Yemen's Republican army, which has been fighting wars (including against the Houthis) for 25 years. Together they wield an arsenal of tanks, ballistic missiles and, at one point, even the odd fighter-jet. Houthi fighters head to battle carrying charms, such as keys and visas to paradise. Their preachers on satellite television call for re-establishing Zaydi rule across the border, not just over the three border provinces the Al Sauds seized in 1934 but even over Mecca farther north.

That is implausible given Saudi Arabia's air power and network of allies. But some Saudis ask how their overfed armed forces would fare should battle-hardened Houthi fighters make even a limited push across the border. It says much about Saudi trepidation that General Olyan limits himself to defending Saudi territory; he says his troops make no attempt to attack the Houthi heartland of Saada governorate, just across the frontier.

Posted by orrinj at 9:29 AM


Ideas, Not "Capital," Enriched the World : Or, Why Economics Cannot Explain the Modern World (Deirdre N. McCloskey, March 19, 2016, FEE)

[W]hat mattered were two levels of ideas -- the ideas in the heads of entrepreneurs for the betterments themselves (the electric motor, the airplane, the stock market); and the ideas in the society at large about the businesspeople and their betterments (in a word, that liberalism). What were not causal were the conventional factors of accumulated capital and institutional change. They happened, but they were largely dependent on betterment and liberalism.

The upshot since 1800 has been a gigantic improvement for the poor, yielding equality of real comfort in health and housing, such as for many of your ancestors and mine, and a promise now being fulfilled of the same result worldwide -- a Great Enrichment for even the poorest among us.

These are controversial claims. They are, you see, optimistic. [...]

For reasons I do not entirely understand, the clerisy after 1848 turned toward nationalism and socialism, and against liberalism. It came also to delight in an ever expanding list of pessimisms about the way we live now in our approximately liberal societies, from the lack of temperance among the poor to an excess of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Anti-liberal utopias believed to offset the pessimisms have been popular among the clerisy. Its pessimistic and utopian books have sold millions.

But the twentieth-century experiments of nationalism and socialism, of syndicalism in factories and central planning for investment, of proliferating regulation for imagined but not factually documented imperfections in the market, did not work. And most of the pessimisms about how we live now have proven to be mistaken.

It is a puzzle. Perhaps you yourself still believe in nationalism or socialism or proliferating regulation. And perhaps you are in the grip of pessimism about growth or consumerism or the environment or inequality. Please, for the good of the wretched of the earth, reconsider. The trilogy chronicles, explains, and defends what made us rich -- the system we have had since 1800 or 1848, usually but misleadingly called modern "capitalism."

The system should rather be called "technological and institutional betterment at a frenetic pace, tested by unforced exchange among all the parties involved." Or "fantastically successful liberalism, in the old European sense, applied to trade and politics, as it was applied also to science and music and painting and literature." The simplest version is "trade-tested progress."

Many humans, in short, are now stunningly better off than their ancestors were in 1800. And the rest of humanity shows every sign of joining the enrichment. A crucial point is that the greatly enriched world cannot be explained in any deep way by the accumulation of capital, as economists from Adam Smith through Karl Marx to Varoufakis, Piketty, and Cowen have on the contrary believed, and as the very word "capitalism" seems to imply.

The word embodies a scientific mistake. Our riches did not come from piling brick on brick, or piling university degree on university degree, or bank balance on bank balance, but from piling idea on idea.

The idea that unites capitalism, democracy and protestantism is Protestantism, which is why this revolution in thought occurred in the Anglosphere.  The clerisy was just reacting against the source of the ideas.

Posted by orrinj at 8:48 AM


TERRENCE MALICK'S OPENNESS TO LIFE (William Randolph Brafford, 3 . 17 . 16, First Things)

He films a great deal of plot, then cuts it away in the editing room until all that's left is a dense web of beautiful, highly symbolic moments. Sometimes we'll see a famous face in the corner of a shot and wonder about which pieces of the story we're missing. Sometimes it's hard to tell what's literal and what's a memory or a dream. But to say Knight of Cups is formless is to miss its moral vision, which, like his last film, is in the service of what Pope John Paul II called "the culture of life": a culture that includes, cares for, and protects the full span of human life, from conception to death. The family open to receiving new life stands at its center.

Knight of Cups opens with text from The Pilgrim's Progress and scenes of its main character wandering in a desert. What follows will concern a pilgrimage. Like John Bunyan's Christian, the main character of this film, who I'll call the Knight, passes through a strange and dangerous landscape, meeting friends and guides as well as enemies and tempters. His journey takes him through the Los Angeles of the entertainment industry, with its lights, drinks, drugs, parties, and palm trees. The Knight's brother and father visit him at intervals throughout the film. Other characters are present only in episodes. There are six women who appear in various relationships to the Knight: a young actress, a mournful ex-wife, a serene model, a lively stripper, a married woman, and an angelic blonde.

What might be called a symbolic geography is laid out through certain images that recur in patterns. Whenever the Knight has been jolted out of his complacency, perhaps by an earthquake or by the end of a relationship, we see him wandering in the desert. When the Knight is falling in love, or opening himself to love, he goes to the ocean. So we have a desert, and an ocean, and between them, The City, where the Knight experiences ambition, confusion, fear, and desire. The deeper the Knight's love for a woman, the closer they get to the water. The Knight stands at the shore with his ex-wife but does not step into the surf, just as he couldn't fully step into their marriage. The Knight and the stripper-temptress, who entrances him without reaching his soul, just stay on the boardwalk and shop for sunglasses.

What is this love that the ocean represents? It is a love that calls us out of ourselves. To fall in love is to have the soul awakened. Yet the Knight has rejected this love, and lives his life in alienation. The sign of his fear of love is a refusal to have children.

Posted by orrinj at 8:41 AM


The Case for Originalism : Adhering to the original public meaning of the Constitution doesn't mean that there is no role for interpretation. (Ilan Wurman March 16, 2016, City Journal)

Today's originalists often argue that any communication, oral or written, should be interpreted by its original public meaning, unless there is some indication that it should be interpreted in another way. The original public meaning is thus the true meaning of any public communication. To maintain the integrity of the Constitution over time, Yale law professor Jack Balkin writes, "we must preserve the meaning of the words that constitute the framework . . . . If we do not attempt to preserve legal meaning over time, then we will not be following the written Constitution as our plan but instead will be following a different plan." The content of all communication is fixed at the time of its utterance. Take the example of a letter written in the twelfth century that uses the word "deer." As Georgetown professor Lawrence Solum has pointed out, today, "deer" refers to a four-legged mammal of the cervidae family, but in Middle English, the word "deer" meant a beast or animal of any kind. Therefore, we would wrongly read "deer" in a letter written in the Middle Ages to mean what we think of as deer today.

Or take an example from the Constitution itself. Article IV, Section Four states that America shall protect every state in the union "against domestic Violence." The modern-day semantic meaning of the phrase "domestic violence," Solum notes, is "intimate partner abuse," "battering," or "wife-beating"; it is the "physical, sexual, psychological, and economic abuse that takes place in the context of an intimate relationship, including marriage." Yet the Framers used the term "domestic violence" to refer to insurrection or rebellion. It would be a linguistic mistake to interpret this clause of the Constitution as referring to "domestic violence" as we understand it today. "In the exposition of laws, and even of Constitutions," James Madison wrote in an 1826 letter, "how many important errors may be produced by mere innovations in the use of words and phrases, if not controulable [sic] by a recurrence to the original and authentic meaning attached to them!" As Madison saw it, we shouldn't let "the effect of time in changing the meaning of words and phrases' justify 'new constructions' of written constitutions and laws."

In a 1997 article, law professor Gary Lawson offered a lively justification for original public meaning when he compared reading a constitution with reading an eighteenth-century recipe for fried chicken. No one doubts that the meaning of a recipe is fixed. Because, as Lawson notes, every document is created "at a particular moment in space and time, documents ordinarily . . . speak to an audience at the time of their creation and draw their meaning from that point." A recipe presents itself to the world as a public document. Its meaning "is its original public meaning." Even a document with a clear original public meaning can pose problems of interpretation, of course. Some recipes, for instance, suggest adding "pepper to taste." Such nuances, however, have to do with how, not whether, to apply original public meaning. Suppose that over the centuries, cooks began substituting rosemary for pepper in the fried-chicken recipe to suit changing tastes. According to Lawson, it wouldn't change the recipe's meaning. "The recipe says 'pepper,' and if modern cooks use rosemary instead, they are not interpreting the original recipe, but rather they are amending it--perhaps for the better, but amending it nonetheless. The term 'pepper' is simply not ambiguous in this respect." A recipe's meaning also doesn't change over time simply because people refuse to follow it.

The same is true of a constitution, which, as Lawson explains, is but a recipe for government: "As a recipe of sorts that is clearly addressed to an external audience, the Constitution's meaning is its original public meaning. Other approaches to interpretation are simply wrong. Interpreting the Constitution is no more difficult, and no different in principle, than interpreting a late-eighteenth-century recipe for fried chicken." 

Posted by orrinj at 8:36 AM


The Finnish Model : Helsinki prepares to give every citizen €800 per month and shut down its welfare bureaucracy. (Guy Sorman, March 18, 2016, City Journal)

The negative income tax is often associated with the free-market economist Milton Friedman, who defended it with passion and flair in the 1970s.

This year, the Finnish government hopes to begin granting every adult citizen a monthly allowance of €800 (roughly $900). Whether rich or poor, each citizen will be free to use the money as he or she sees fit. The idea is that people are responsible for their actions. If someone decides to spend their €800 on vodka, that is their decision, and has nothing to do with the government. In return for the UBI, however, the public accepts the elimination of most welfare services. Currently, the Finnish government offers a variety of income-based assistance programs for everything from housing to children's education to property insulation. Axing these programs should free up enough public resources to finance the UBI. The bureaucracy that currently governs welfare payments will disappear. There will no longer be any need to ask for government help, nor to fill out forms or wait for the competent authorities to examine each dossier to determine eligibility.

The introduction of a UBI should loosen the hold of public bureaucracy over Finnish citizens and reverse a century of top-down socialization in Finnish society. In practice, each citizen will automatically receive his monthly allowance and declare it as part of his taxable income. The poorest citizens--who do not pay income tax--will keep their entire allowance, while high-earners will repay a relative portion of their allowance in tax. As always, the devil will be in the details. It's still not known whether this allowance will replace every welfare program, or if some--such as those that aid the physically and developmentally disabled--will be maintained.

Remarkably, every major Finnish political party has signed on. The Left is cheered by the socialistic idea of government-assistance-for-all. The Right looks forward to the unprecedented drop in bureaucratic control over citizens, an unheard-of extension of freedom of choice, and an unconditional restitution of part of citizens' taxes.

The Finnish government is expecting the negative income tax to have a beneficial effect on employment and growth.

Posted by orrinj at 8:29 AM


Is Merrick Garland more conservative than Antonin Scalia on criminal justice issues? (German Lopez, March 17, 2016, Vox)

[S]ome liberals may end up cautious about Garland's nomination. His record suggests he could continue the tough-on-crime approach that's come under increased scrutiny by criminal and racial justice reformers over the past few years.

The Supreme Court can play a big role in these cases, particularly by deciding what rights defendants have in court. For example, the court changed how the government can prosecute mandatory minimum sentences, but also upheld some of the harshest mandatory minimum sentences for drugs. It struck down mandatory life sentences without parole for juveniles. It gave police wide latitude to use deadly force. And so on.

Whoever replaces the conservative Scalia, then, could play a huge role in deciding how criminal justice reform moves forward. And based on Scalia and Garland's records, it's possible that Justice Garland would end up no more liberal or perhaps even more conservative than Scalia was on some criminal justice issues.

Posted by orrinj at 8:20 AM


After declaring autonomy, Syrian Kurds 'open to ties with Israel (DOV LIEBER March 18, 2016, Times of Israel)

"[The Syrian Kurds] are a community of people who are willing to cooperate with Israel," Professor Ofra Bengio, head of the Kurdish studies program at Tel Aviv University, told The Times of Israel on Thursday.

There have not been any pro-Israel public declarations by Kurdish Syrians leaders, Bengio said, "but I know some that some have been to Israel behind the scenes but do not publicize it."

The Kurdish expert said that she has made personal contacts with Syrian Kurds who would like to send the message that they are willing to have relations.

"This is like the Kurds of Iraq behind the scenes. Once they feel stronger, they can think about taking relations into the open," she said.

Israel has had a secretive relationship with the Iraqi Kurds, including limited military assistance, and Israel has been a willing buyer of the KRG's oil. When the autonomous Iraqi region decided it would defy Baghdad's orders last year and begin selling its own oil directly, Israel was one of the first countries to give the Iraqi Kurds the economic outlet and much needed money to fund their fight against the Islamic State.

Posted by orrinj at 8:11 AM


Rowan Atkinson on ITV's Maigret: 'I really wasn't sure I could do it' (Tara Conlan, 19 March 2016, The Guardian)

Although at first he turned down the character made famous on British screens by Michael Gambon 20 years ago and by Rupert Davies in the 60s, the producers came back to him and asked if he would reconsider.

"So I thought about it for longer again and I decided I would.What appealed to me about it was the very challenge that I found difficult. The decision to do it was related to the fact the character is a very ordinary man and, generally speaking, I haven't played many ordinary men. I've played ... more characterised people, people who are slightly odd or eccentric."

Referring to other famous fictional policemen such as Poirot and Inspector Morse, Atkinson said: "Maigret hasn't got a lisp or a French accent or no particular love of opera or all those other things that people tend to attach to many fictional detectives. He's just an ordinary guy doing an extraordinary job.

"I really wasn't sure I could do it. I found it difficult when we were shooting it was a couple of weeks before I settled into not worrying, into finding a way of delivering those lines."

Posted by orrinj at 7:49 AM


Headed toward Christ : The grand narrative of evolution (Ian Curran, 3/17/16, 

Simon Conway Morris's magisterial new book, The Runes of Evolution, presents a biologist's case for optimism about the human prospect. The author, a professor of earth sciences at Cambridge University and a professed Christian, was one of the original researchers to study the Burgess Shale in the 1970s and is a leading authority on its fossils. In an earlier publication, The Crucible of Creation, Conway Morris claimed that Gould had exaggerated the differences between the fossils and later phyla of the animal kingdom and took issue with Gould's idea that replaying the tape of evolution would lead to a significantly different set of biological outcomes. Conway Morris maintained that both genetic limitations and environmental pressures cause life to follow predictable lines of development. Far from being an accident, the human person (or at least some very similar example of a highly reflective, morally complex, and self-aware creature) is an inevitable product of evolution.

More recently Conway Morris has turned his attention to studying the phenomenon of convergence in evolutionary history. Convergence is the process by which life forms possessing different genetic markers and arising through independent lines of development acquire the same bodily structures. The Runes of Evolution provides hundreds of pages of examples of convergence in a variety of both present-day and extinct species. These include obvious features like the eye, arms and legs, teeth, skin, gonads, and brains. But there are also stunning parallels in the evolution, for instance, of the filtering systems of whales, sea birds, flamingos, sponges, and pterosaurs; the foraging techniques of woodpeckers and lemurs; the adhesive toe pads of tree frogs and gecko lizards; the defensive toxins of fish, birds, frogs, and snakes; the swimming and diving techniques of myriad ocean dwellers; and even the carnivorous behavior of certain plants (which include more than just the Venus flytrap).

Events in the history of evolution that appear to be marks of contingency, such as the extinction of the dinosaurs or the transition from sea to land, turn out to be largely predictable. They result from inherent genetic constraints on the kinds of biological creatures that can realistically arise and limits on the number of particular forms that can successfully cope with the earth's environment. Everywhere living beings discover similar adaptive solutions to the problems they face in the struggle to survive. Aquatic creatures developed the ability to breathe air at least 38 separate times in the history of evolution. All of the major steps in the evolution of human beings--multicellularity, tissues, sensory systems, immune systems, eyes, limbs, and brains--are convergent.

Furthermore, Conway Morris demonstrates that the more elusive properties of consciousness itself are indelibly written into the pages of evolutionary history. The complex nervous systems of higher mammals depend on genetic and cellular mechanisms that came into existence a billion years ago. A third of the genes behind the development of brains in animals, for example, also occur in plants and yeast. Conway Morris believes that the evolutionary roots of intelligence run deep: we see the "glimmerings of mind" not only in the higher mammals but also in birds, insects, some fish, and even slime molds (which have displayed the ability to navigate a maze). A number of species exhibit the capacity to play, use tools, communicate in sophisticated ways, and mourn the dead. They stand on the brink of reflective thought. The materialist notion that the mind is an accidental and insignificant product of the evolutionary process does not fit with numerous examples of intelligence in the animal kingdom. Life from its origins is hardwired for the emergence of some kind of reflective consciousness.

Evolution, to be sure, proceeds by fits and starts. Species arise and then disappear, and the history of life on earth is marked by far more failures than successes. Species can be destroyed by predators, disease, climate change, or, as in the case of the dinosaurs, a wandering comet. But despite the elements of chance and contingency in evolution, Conway Morris perceives an intelligent, law-like process at work, a deep structure unfolding in the emergence of living beings who eventually come to apprehend the very mathematical forms which made possible their evolution. The dawn of self-awareness in the universe, manifest in human intellectual reflection, moral action, and spiritual experience, is a promise woven into the fabric of life from the beginning.

Conway Morris's exploration of the phenomenon of convergence in biological evolution is rife with implications for Christian theology. It lends credence to a Christian view of God's providential action in history, and it supports an ecological view of the interdependence of all things in God's creation. It also fits with a scriptural account of a story-shaped world.

The history of life on earth, as many writers on theology and evolution have observed, has a narrative character to it. Theologian John Haught identifies three basic components to a compelling plot: an element of novelty or surprise, a principle of order that shows the connections between events in a story, and a sufficient amount of time for the drama to unfold. For Gould and the majority of contemporary biologists, the rise of new life forms through time is governed by chance and is always a surprise, with no apparent meaningful pattern or direction. For creationists, who cling to a pre-Darwinian belief in the special creation of all living beings, life is completely predictable, manifesting an absolute order imposed by its Creator. But neither pure flux nor pure stasis makes for a good story, and neither fits with the picture of evolutionary history that Conway Morris envisions. If he is right, the emergence of life is the product of both law and chance, necessity and possibility, and, for believers, the interaction between the providential intentions of a creative God and the free response of God's creatures.

As a purely scientific matter, it is not important whether Creationism can be proven or not.  The fact that it is perfectly compatible with Darwinism is fatal to the latter.

March 18, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 11:11 PM


The Role of Highways in American Poverty : They seemed like such a good idea in the 1950s. (ALANA SEMUELS  MAR 18, 2016, The Atlantic)

Luckily for city planners who wanted to keep their cities healthy, there was federal money available to anyone who wanted to put in modern highways. While the 1944 Federal Highway Act only offered to cover 50 percent of construction costs for highways, by 1956, the federal government had upped that share to 90 percent. So if you're a city planner in the 1950s, you can put in roads from your city to the fast-growing suburbs for almost no cost at all.
The completion of I-81 had the same effect it has had in almost all cities that put interstates through their hearts. It decimated a close-knit African American community.

Of course, there were people who couldn't move to the suburbs. African Americans were denied home loans by the federal government in certain areas, a practice called redlining. Restrictive covenants prevented homeowners from selling to certain types of people, often including African Americans. And they were also denied jobs and other opportunities that would have allowed them to afford to buy a home in the first place. When I was in Syracuse, I met a man named Manny Breland, who received a scholarship to play basketball at Syracuse, graduated with a teaching degree, and was denied job after job because he was black.

In many cities, these restrictions left African Americans crowded into small neighborhoods. They essentially weren't allowed to move anywhere else.

City planners had a solution for this, too. They saw the crowded African American areas as unhealthy organs that needed to be removed. To keep cities healthy, planners said, these areas needed to be cleared and redeveloped, the clogged hearts replaced with something newer and spiffier. But open-heart surgery on a city is expensive. Highway construction could be federally funded. Why not use those federal highway dollars to also tear down blight and rebuild city centers?

The urban planner Robert Moses was one of the first to propose the idea of using highways to "redeem" urban areas. In 1949, the commissioner of the Bureau of Public Roads, Thomas MacDonald, even tried to include the idea of highway construction as a technique for urban renewal in a national housing bill. (He was rebuffed.) But in cities across America, especially those that didn't want to--or couldn't--spend their own money for so-called urban renewal, the idea began to take hold. They could have their highways and they could get rid of their slums. With just one surgery, they could put in more arteries, and they could remove the city's heart.

Why not use federal highway dollars to also tear down blight and "redeem" urban areas?

This is exactly what happened in Syracuse, New York. The city had big dreams of becoming an East Coast hub, since it was close to New York City, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Boston. (In the early days of the car, close was relative.) Use federal funds to build a series of highways, planners thought, and residents could easily get to the suburbs and to other cities in the region. After all, who wouldn't want to live in a Syracuse that you could easily leave by car? And, if they put the highway in just the right place, it would allow the city to use federal funds to eradicate what they called a slum area in the center city.

That neighborhood, called the 15th Ward, was located between Syracuse University and the city's downtown. It was predominantly African American. One man who lived there at the time, Junie Dunham, told me that although the 15th Ward was poor, it was the type of community that you often picture in 1950s America: fathers going off to jobs in the morning; kids playing in the streets; families gathering in the park on the weekends or going on Sunday strolls. He remembers collecting scraps from the streets and bringing them to the junkyard for pennies, which he would use to buy comics.

To outsiders, though, the 15th Ward was the scene of abject poverty close to two of Syracuse's biggest draws--the university and downtown. They worried about race riots because so many people were crowded into the neighborhood and prevented from going anywhere else. They decided that the best plan would be to tear down the 15th Ward and replace it with an elevated freeway.   

The completion of the highway, I-81, which ran through the urban center, had the same effect it has had in almost all cities that put interstates through their hearts. It decimated a close-knit African American community. And when the displaced residents from the 15th Ward moved to other city neighborhoods, the white residents fled. It was easy to move. There was a beautiful new highway that helped their escape.

But this dynamic hurt the city's finances, too. As suburbs grew, they broke off from cities, taking with them tax revenues, even though their residents still used city services. Although the Syracuse region was relatively healthy, the city started to get very sick.

The point, of course, was that everyone wanted out. A sensible transportation system would have been designed to just move people into the city for work and play and then back to their suburban homes at night.

Posted by orrinj at 10:36 PM

60/40 NATION:

Americans Remain Upbeat About Foreign Trade (Justin McCarthy, 2/26/16, Gallup)

A majority of Americans (58%) continue to see foreign trade as an opportunity for economic growth through increased U.S. exports, while about one in three (34%) see such trade as a threat to the economy. After nearly a decade of more skeptical views, Americans have viewed foreign trade positively since 2013.

Which is why Trump has such a low ceiling.

Posted by orrinj at 10:30 PM


American Defector Says Living With ISIS Is Kinda Lame (Samuel Lieberman, 3/18/16, NY Mag)

Mohamad Jamal Khweis -- the 26-year-old American who had been serving with ISIS until earlier this week, when he was detained while trying to quit -- explained on Kurdish TV today that living with the architects of the caliphate was no fun at all. "Our daily life was prayer, eating, and learning about the religion for eight hours," he said. ""It was pretty hard to live in Mosul. It's not like the Western countries ... There's no smoking."

Khweis said that he didn't take to his sharia studies, didn't like his imam, and eventually came to the same conclusion that most of the planet figured out a long time ago: ISIS does not represent Islam. "I don't see them as good Muslims," he said during the broadcast. But he really wanted to hammer home his crucial point: "My message to the American people is, the life in Mosul--it's really, really bad."

Posted by orrinj at 10:19 PM


What Does Russia's Withdrawal From Syria Mean? (Fred Kaplan, 3/15/16, Slate)
[O]ver time, the mission's costs have soared and the benefits have waned. As for costs, the Russian air force ran out of "smart bombs"--munitions that can hit targets with pinpoint accuracy--after the first few days of airstrikes (this is why its jets hit so many civilians and hospitals), and it is now fast running out of dumb bombs as well. In other words, in addition to his many economic and political problems at home, Putin cannot keep this up for much longer.

As for benefits, Assad has proved to be more trouble than he's worth. A few months ago, Russian diplomats started hinting that they weren't averse to a political settlement that would ease Assad out of power....

...impresses only the paleo- and the neo-cons.

Posted by orrinj at 9:33 PM


Wynne touts basic-income pilot project to help poor (Robert Benzie, Mar 17 2016, Toronto Star)

Premier Kathleen Wynne is hopeful a landmark pilot project that would give some of the province's poorest residents a guaranteed minimum income will be in place next year.

In her most detailed comments yet on a measure introduced in Finance Minister Charles Sousa's Feb. 25 budget, Wynne said the poverty-reduction proposal comes from "a real concern around the way social assistance works in Ontario."

"What we want people to do is build up capacity in their lives so they can be successful," she said in an interview with CBC Radio in Kitchener-Waterloo broadcast Thursday.

To that end, the government is designing a test program to be conducted in a yet-to-be-determined Ontario community that would guarantee a minimum living income regardless of a recipient's employment status.

Posted by orrinj at 9:22 PM


R.I.P. Joe Santos, of The Rockford Files fame (William Hughes, Mar 18, 2016, AV Club)

Joe Santos, best known for his role as put-upon police sidekick Dennis Becker on the '70s detective series The Rockford Files, has died. Santos was 84.

Santos got his start as an actor in the '60s exploitation film scene in New York; his early credits include small parts in movies like Moonlighting Wives and Shaft's Big Score. Throughout the '60s and '70s, he slowly worked his way into TV--often in cop-related shows, which utilized his stolid features for characters on both sides of the law--with appearances on shows like Barnaby Jones and the anthology series Police Story.

In 1974, he scored his career-making role on Rockford, appearing opposite (and playing foil to) star James Garner in nearly 100 episodes of the long-running series. His character, Sergeant (later Lieutenant) Dennis Becker, spent most of his appearances bantering with down-on-his-luck detective Jim Rockford, usually as a preliminary for fudging some bit of police procedure in the gumshoe's favor. Santos ended up playing the character, off and on, for more than 25 years; his last appearance as Becker was in the final Rockford TV movie, 1999's If It Bleeds...It Leads.

Posted by orrinj at 9:08 AM


I just spent $154 on 26 lightbulbs, and you should too (Timothy B. Lee,  March 7, 2016, Vox)

In December, I spent $154 to buy 26 lightbulbs. That works out to about $6 per lightbulb -- way more than for conventional lightbulbs you'll find at the supermarket. But I expect to earn back that investment in lower electricity costs within a year or two -- and then save hundreds of dollars more over the next decade.

These were no ordinary lightbulbs. They're based on a cutting-edge technology called light-emitting diodes. LED lightbulbs consume about one-fifth as much electricity as an incandescent bulb to produce the same amount of light.

The savings will add up. The old-fashioned 60-watt bulbs I was replacing each cost an estimated $5 per year to run. Each of my new LED lightbulbs should only consume about $1 worth of electricity, saving me $4 per bulb, per year. So I'll be able to fully recoup my investment by mid-2017.

And here's the best part: While conventional bulbs often burn out within a year or two, LED bulbs are designed to last for 10 to 20 years.

Over the next decade, then, I can expect my $154 lightbulb investment to save me around $1,000 in electricity costs alone -- while also saving the cost and hassle of buying dozens of replacement bulbs.

And these aren't like those funny-looking compact fluorescent lights that turn on slowly and often give off unflattering light. LED bulbs look a lot like conventional bulbs and can produce light that's very similar to a conventional incandescent bulb.

Posted by Stephen Judd at 7:22 AM


Michael Connelly on the 'Hyper Accuracy' of 'Bosch' Season 2, and Earning Cable-Like Ratings on Amazon (Ben Travers, March 17, 2016, Indiewire)

MC: You know, I really can't think of anything. It's weird, I had an experience 15 years ago -- Clint Eastwood made a movie out of one of my books ["Blood Work"] and he changed the ending and he changed the bad guy and I was upset about that. Now I make this show, and I totally get why you do it. Because I'm all in favor [of change] -- again, as long as we're loyal to the character. People like the Bosch books because they like Harry Bosch, not because the plots are fantastic. It's about Harry Bosch, so as long as we keep that, I don't really care where we go.

And from the standpoint of being a writer, I like reinvention. When I am so intensely involved with writing my books I don't like to reread them. I feel like that story is done. So what's kept me involved and excited about this show is that we're rethinking how to tell these stories. Some of it is required because we're advancing him 20 years, but for the most part, it's really about how we separate the point of view.

Posted by orrinj at 4:29 AM


Why you should stop believing in evolution You don't believe in it -- you either understand it or you don't (Keith Blanchard, 8/04/14, The Week)

Here are the rules, in a nutshell:

• Genes, stored in every cell, are the body's blueprints; they code for traits like eye color, disease susceptibility, and a bazillion other things that make you you.

• Reproduction involves copying and recombining these blueprints, which is complicated, and errors happen.

• Errors are passed along in the code to future generations, the way a smudge on a photocopy will exist on all subsequent copies.

• This modified code can (but doesn't always) produce new traits in successive generations: an extra finger, sickle-celled blood, increased tolerance for Miley Cyrus shenanigans.

• When these new traits are advantageous (longer legs in gazelles), organisms survive and replicate at a higher rate than average, and when disadvantageous (brittle skulls in woodpeckers), they survive and replicate at a lower rate.

That's a little oversimplified, but the general idea. As advantageous traits become the norm within a population and disadvantageous traits are weeded out, each type of creature gradually morphs to better fit its environment. [...]

[I]t turns out you can make the gears turn a lot faster -- in fact, we do it all the time. Have you ever seen strawberries in the wild? They're little tiny things, easily missed if you are not a bird or a bee. We bred them to be big and fat, specifically by only allowing the seeds from the biggest, fattest ones in each generation to reproduce. We similarly manipulate almost every other "natural" food we eat today: Take a stroll through any modern produce section and you can see the fruits, literally and figuratively, of evolution turbocharged by human intervention.

Dogs are another example: We invented the dog, starting with wolves and quickening the natural but poky process of evolution by specifically selecting breeding pairs with desirable traits, gradually accentuating particular traits in successive populations. Poodles, Rottweilers, Great Danes, Hollywood red-carpet purse dogs -- all this fabulous kinetic art was created, and continues to be created, by humans manually hijacking the mechanism of evolution.

No one doesn't believe the severely limited case that Mr. Blanchard makes.  Darwin's great insight was that, having observed how local farmers bred animals, he postulated that something similar must happen in "nature."  So far, so good.

The problems are twofold: first, that when you say that "Nature" works just like Intelligent Design, you need to be able to differentiate between the two, and the advocates can't; second, that the proponents can't demonstrate that or how speciation occurs in either evolutionary model.  And so you're left with that infinitesimal claim for Darwinism, that dogs get smaller and bigger whether or not we influence the pre-existing processes.  Everything after that is just a function of belief.   

March 17, 2016

Posted by Stephen Judd at 8:54 AM


Fed Slows Down on Plans to Pursue Interest Rate Increases (Binyamin Appelbaum, March 16, 2016, NY Times)

The Federal Reserve has once again pared its plans for raising interest rates, citing the weakness of the global economy as a reason for greater caution about the prospects for domestic growth.

The Fed's policy-making committee voted not to raise its benchmark rate at a meeting that ended on Wednesday, although general expectations at the beginning of the year were for an increase this month. And it pulled back sharply from a December prediction that the rate would rise by one percentage point this year. Fed officials now expect to raise rates by just half a percentage point this year.

...into the face of deflation, she has proven her bona fides. Why keep going?

Posted by orrinj at 4:36 AM


Innovation Springs from the Unexpected Meeting of Minds (Beth Comstock, MARCH 09, 2016, Harvard Business Review)

Crossovers are what happen when an invention, idea, or body of knowledge in one field jumps into another -- and the result is a quantum leap of progress. Sometimes the people and the pieces we need to put together to get the job done come from the unlikeliest of places:

* The space suits worn by the Apollo astronauts were made not by aerospace contractor Hamilton Standard, as NASA originally intended, but by the seamstresses at ILC Dover, better known as Playtex. It turned out that knowing about couture, the art of constructing garments perfectly fitted to the body, was more important to helping humans survive the vacuum of space than the aerospace engineers initially understood.

* The first pacemaker was conceived not in a lab but at a chance meeting in a Cornell dining hall between two visiting cardiologists and an electrical engineering student. GPS was created over a long lunch at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab.

* Recent developments in medicine have come from computer games. In just three weeks, the players of Foldit, which simulates protein folding, deciphered a part of the molecular structure of HIV/AIDS that had eluded medical researchers for over a decade.

*By bringing the rhythms and attitude of hip-hop to a historical biography of Alexander Hamilton, composer, lyricist, and actor Lin-Manuel Miranda created a "crossover" moment in the form of Hamilton, the hit musical that won the 2016 Grammy award for Best Musical Theater Album.

The lesson: if you're not making room for the unexpected meeting of minds, you could be missing out on the next big breakthrough. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:29 AM


Google's robotic arms are teaching themselves to do things and it's terrifying (Amanda Connolly, 3/10/16, The Next Web)

Researchers at Google have released a report showing how they connected 14 robotic arms together and used convolutional neural networks to let them teach themselves how to pick things up.

The approach mimics how young children learn between the ages of one and four years old, and is essentially helping the robots to develop reliable hand-eye coordination.

Typically, a robot would be programmed to carry out specific tasks, but this method shows how they can learn through trial-and-error in combination with a neural network - the same way a child learns how to do something by watching other people.

The idea is that robots in the future will be able to interact with objects they haven't encountered before, without having to be pre-programmed, bridging the gap between the sensorimotor skills of them and humans.

The researchers had the robots pick up objects out of boxes every day and after 800,000 attempts, they observed reactive behavior from the arms. They had become better at picking up the objects but also started to adjust their grasps automatically to suit each task, without any external input.

Over time, the robots began to each develop techniques for their tasks and even started to adjust objects on the ground before picking them up to make them easier to grasp. This is all without any additional programming from the researchers. their faith that the intellectual elite is irreplaceable.

March 16, 2016

Posted by Glenn Dryfoos at 2:00 PM


Happy Birthday, Tommy Flanagan (March 16, 1930 - November 16, 2001).  

Born in Detroit, Tommy started playing professionally at 15 with other Motor City teenage stars-to-be such as Milt Jackson, Elvin Jones, Thad Jones and Kenny Burrell. By the mid-50's he was considered one of the leading bebop pianists, a position he enjoyed for the rest of his life. In the late 50's, he played on 2 of the most influential and popular jazz albums of all time: Sonny Rollins's "Saxophone Colossus" and John Coltrane's "Giant Steps."  Tommy was Ella Fitzgerald's accompanist and music director for many years, but spent the 80's and 90's as a headliner with his own trio (often with some combination of George Mraz or Peter Washington on bass and Lewis Nash or Kenny Washington on drums).  His melodically sophisticated, swinging style and impeccable touch are well-represented on his 1997 album "Sea Changes."  He wasn't not the flashiest player, nor did he spark or lead any great revolutions or transformations in the music...but Tommy Flanagan, along with Kenny Barron, is one of my two favorite jazz pianists of all time.

Posted by orrinj at 6:51 AM


Where is Islam's Martin Luther? : Review: Ayaan Hirsi Ali, 'Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now' (David Bahr, March 13, 2016, Free Beacon)

 In a statement that would appear to undercut her contention that the locus of trouble in the Muslim world lies in sacred books, Hirsi Ali notes that:

    I believe that a Reformation is not merely imminent; it is now under way...recall the three factors that were crucial to the success of the Protestant Reformation: technological change, urbanization, and the interests of a significant number of European states in backing Luther's challenge to the status quo. All three are present in the Muslim world today.

Note that these are socio-economic forces, not doctrinal ones. One wonders if, perhaps, Hirsi Ali might have strengthened her approach to taming the more pernicious forces inherent in Islam by more strongly invoking the spirit of Locke than Luther? And though she concentrates--briefly--on Locke's understanding of natural right and religious toleration as keys to the success of the West, it seems probable that it is Locke's blueprint for a commercial republic that would be most useful in assisting Mecca Muslims unshackle themselves from more astringent forms of their religion. As Hirsi Ali sums up:

    [W]hile Islam's problems are indeed deep and structural, Muslim people are like everyone else in one important respect: most want a better life for themselves and their children. And increasingly they have good reasons to doubt that the Medina Muslims can deliver it.

I noted at the outset that Heretic is ambitious and provocative. But here, at the end, I might also add that the book is intellectually light given its proposed task of doctrinal reform. To meet the challenges posed by interpretations of a book held to have been revealed by God, what may convince most Mecca Muslims (absent the slow liberalization of markets and mores)--and is most glaringly absent from Hirsi Ali's argument--are interpretative counterarguments bolstered by Qur'anic evidence. In her Appendix entitled "Muslim Dissidents and Reformers," a pithy list of dissident clerics is given, along with their brief biographical details and current reform projects. This section, spanning a mere four pages, contains the fodder of what might have been the subject of a more interesting book: mapping the current state of doctrinal/textual reform in the Islamic world.

Posted by orrinj at 5:52 AM


The Classic Q&A: Mark Zwonitzer (Esquire)

What It Takes, Richard Ben Cramer's exhaustive and celebrated account of the 1988 presidential election, took so long to report and write--six years in all--that it wasn't published until the 1992 election. Clocking in at over 1,000 pages, and originally excerpted in Esquire--as "George Bush's White Men," "How He Got Here," and "The Price of Being President"--the book remains one of the finest pieces of political journalism ever created.  

Cramer, who died in 2013, worked shoulder-to-shoulder with book researcher Mark Zwonitzer, a former Esquire fact-checker who had worked closely with Cramer on his famous profile of Ted Williams. We recently spoke with Zwonitzer about Cramer's singular ambition, work ethic, and charisma, and the adventure they had together in discovering what goes on inside the minds of the men who believe they'll be president.

Esquire Classic: When did you meet Richard Ben Cramer?

Mark Zwonitzer: At the end of '85, when he was doing the Ted Williams piece. I was a research assistant--I was only at Esquire for a year--and fact-checked the Williams story. In terms of profiles, it doesn't get better. That was the piece that convinced David Rosenthal at Random House that Cramer could do the big political book.

EC: Did you and Cramer just talk on the phone?

MZ: Oh no, Richard was a presence in the office. You knew when he was on the floor. Other writers you'd deal with could be standoffish, a little bit above you, because you're a twenty-three-year-old kid researcher who doesn't know anything. The first time I ever met Cramer, he's got his arm around me like I'm his best buddy. But that was just Richard. He'd go in and talk to the people in the copy department and the art department, making friends with everybody.

EC: Did you get any sense that after the Williams profile, he'd accomplished all he could as a magazine writer and that the logical next step was to do a book?

MZ: He was an ambitious guy and recognized ambition in other people and celebrated it. He had big, big ambitions. He wanted to help change the way political reporting was done. The other thing was, magazines paid pretty well in those days, but the way Richard worked, he had to know everything--so he'd spend six, eight months on a magazine piece, and in the end it didn't pay very well.

EC: So how did you get involved with What It Takes?

MZ: In the fall of '86 I heard he'd signed a contract to write a book, so I called him up and said, "Hey, if you need research help, you let me know." By the end of October I was on the project. Six months later, he's plucked me out of my job--I'd left Esquire for another magazine--I'm working for him full time, and we're moving to Washington. He said we should get a house down here that we could share with a friend of mine who'd just gotten a job at the Washington Post, Gerri Hirshey. So Gerri and I went down and got the house together. I was twenty-four when we started and almost thirty when the book was finally published. In between, Gerri and I got married and had a child, with another on the way when the book came out. Richard was thirty-six when we started: He got married too, to his girlfriend and editor, Carolyn White, and they had had a daughter, Ruby--who by the way is one of the great up-and-coming political reporters in the 2016 campaign.

EC: Why did Cramer choose to write his first book about politics?

MZ: He came back from the Middle East [as a Pulitzer Prize-winning correspondent for the Philadelphia Inquirer] right before the '84 election. He was trying to figure out who these candidates were and who he could vote for and who he was interested in, so he read and read and read and didn't learn anything--who they were, where they were from, what drove them. He was just bored and frustrated by what he read, the same old stuff, horse-race polls, "according to a senior staff member," and he felt, Hey, there are some great personal stories out there that nobody is telling, and I'm going to tell them. Remember, Richard liked to zig when everybody else was zagging. He was interested in writing about politicians not as stick figures but big, powerful, fascinating people who had lived lives of excellence. These guys had been winners their whole lives. For many of them, this would be the first time they'd ever lost--and what does that do to you? The simple idea of the book is: How does it feel to be competing for the highest office in the land--and maybe the most powerful in the world--and in a system that had a way of demeaning and diminishing? Richard wanted to put the reader in these people's shoes, to see the drama through their eyes, and make the reader care about them as human beings taking big risks.

Posted by orrinj at 5:15 AM


Islamic Awakening : An ancient faith encounters modernity (Daniel Philpott, February 29, 2016, America)

Should Westerners, then, avoid altogether looking for lessons for Muslims in their own history? No; the history of the West contains a different experience that may prove a more promising model for Islam: that of the Catholic Church. The church came around to religious freedom quite late in history upon the Second Vatican Council's promulgation of its "Declaration on Religious Freedom" in 1965--three centuries after a pocket of Protestant theologians began to argue for religious freedom and two centuries after the Enlightenment did so. This latter-day awakening, though, is part of what makes the Catholic Church's road to its declaration exemplary. It shows how a religion whose authority refrained from teaching religious freedom for centuries succeeded in finding a basis for the teaching in its own tradition rather than in modern secular ideologies.

To be sure, the Catholic Church's pathway to religious freedom is not applicable to Islam in every particular. Islam lacks a single leader, like the pope, whose embrace of a doctrine would be authoritative for all believers. Still, the parallels are strong. Catholicism, like Islam, existed long before modernity. In order to arrive at the "Declaration on Religious Liberty," the church had to leave behind the ideal of medieval Christendom, where church and state worked in close partnership to uphold a thoroughly Christian social order. Heresy, in that milieu, was not merely a sin but also an act of sedition. St. Thomas Aquinas compared heresy to counterfeit money, implying that just as the king or prince could use his authority to protect the economy, so, too, he could muzzle spiritual miscreants to safeguard the spiritual ecology.

In Islam's early centuries, a doctrine of "Islamdom" came to prevail. Here, too, apostasy and blasphemy were tantamount to rebellion and merited death. Non-Muslims living under Islamic law were in many places allowed to practice their religion but were restricted in expressing it publicly and spreading it to others--something well short of religious freedom in full. While the Catholic Church eventually left Christendom behind, though, Islamdom still predominates among the world's Muslim thinkers. Its most extreme version is found in the Islamic State, Boko Haram and Al Qaeda.

Catholicism and Islam are also similar in having been treated as an enemy by the movements that have claimed to carry freedom into the modern world. When a few Protestant theologians warmed up to religious freedom in the 17th century, they continued to denounce the Catholic Church. The Protestant philosopher John Locke, for instance, relegated Catholics along with atheists to the category of people to whom religious freedom could not be extended in his "A Letter Concerning Toleration." In the minds of most Enlightenment philosophers, the church was the architect of the Inquisition, the silencer of Galileo and the foe of free thought. In the 19th and 20th centuries, political parties based on Enlightenment ideals in Europe and Latin America sought to eradicate the church's social influence. Anticlerical forces in the French Third Republic, for instance, exiled priests, shut down religious orders and closed the vast majority of Catholic schools in the name of a doctrine of laïcité that called for secularizing public life and privatizing religion. It was on account of the Enlightenment's hostility to the church as well as its religious skepticism that 19th-century popes denounced religious freedom as "absurd" and "erroneous."

Muslims have found the messengers of modernity to be no less hostile. 

...our job is to make sure the Sunni don't take 19 centuries to accept it, like the Church.

Posted by orrinj at 3:52 AM


The Artificially Intelligent Doctor Will Hear You Now : U.K.-based startup Babylon will launch an app later this year that will listen to your symptoms and provide medical advice. Will it help or hinder the health-care system? (Simon Parkin  March 9, 2016, MIT Technology Review)

There are about 10,000 known human diseases, yet human doctors are only able to recall a fraction of them at any given moment. As many as 40,500 patients die annually in an ICU in the U.S. as a result of misdiagnosis, according to a 2012 Johns Hopkins study. British entrepreneur Ali Parsa believes that artificial intelligence can help doctors avoid these mistakes.

Parsa is the founder and CEO of Babylon, a U.K.-based subscription health service that plans to launch an AI-based app designed to improve doctors' hit rate. Users will report the symptoms of their illness to the app, which will check them against a database of diseases using speech recognition. After taking into account the patient's history and circumstances, Babylon will offer an appropriate course of action. Currently in beta testing, the app is expected to be available later this year.

The concept is comparable to IBM's Watson computer, which is currently in use by oncologists at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York. IBM's software draws from 600,000 medical evidence reports, 1.5 million patient records and clinical trials, and two million pages of text from medical journals to help doctors develop treatment plans tailored to patients' individual symptoms, genetics, and histories.

Babylon uses a similar network of databases, though they cover illnesses beyond cancer. The system is able to analyze "hundreds of millions of combinations of symptoms" in real time, Parsa says, taking into account individualized information on the patient's genetics, environment, behavior, and biology.

Posted by orrinj at 3:34 AM


The liberal war over the Obama legacy has already begun : Review of "Buyer's Remorse: How Obama Let Progressives Down" by Bill Press and "Listen, Liberal: Or, Whatever Happened to the Party of the People?" by Thomas Frank (Carlos Lozada March 11, 2016, Washington Post)

Bill Press, a liberal radio and television host, has authored "Buyer's Remorse," a distillation of the Obama years that comes down to "yes, but." Yes, Obama got the stimulus bill through Congress, but it was too small. Yes, he passed the Affordable Care Act, but he punted on the public option. Yes, he signed the Dodd-Frank Act, but he left Wall Street's power largely intact. Yes, Obama ended torture as a tool of U.S. national security, but he didn't prosecute any high-ranking officials responsible for it. Yes, he made history as the first black president, but he spoke out only reluctantly on racial injustice. Yes, he ended the war in Iraq, but he's getting sucked into a new conflict there. Yes, he raised crazy money for Democratic candidates, but the House and the Senate went Republican on his watch. "The transformative new era of leadership Obama promised never happened," Press laments. "His presidency looms as a huge opportunity wasted."

There's that amusing moment in history where everyone realizes Nixon was our most liberal president or Clinton one of our most conservative or W Third Way rather than far Right.  The UR moment will come pretty quickly once he's out of office.

March 15, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 1:31 PM


This Comfy Shoe Doubles As A Footstep-Powered Wi-Fi Hotspot (Co.exist, 2/27/16)

Each time you take a step, you waste around 20 watts of power--around 20 times more than it takes to run a typical smartphone. But even though researchers have been chasing the idea of an energy-harvesting shoe since the early 20th century, long before any addiction to mobile gadgets, it's only now that it's actually feasible to turn footsteps into a power source.

A prototype shoe using new energy technology can generate enough power to charge a dead phone, via a USB port on the side of the sneaker. It can also run electronics embedded in the shoe itself, like a Wi-Fi hotspot or a tracker that could be used to located someone in lost in rubble after an earthquake.

Posted by orrinj at 1:14 PM


The Madness is upon us, and that means it's time to test your pick prowess in the most exciting tournament in sports. Orrin Judd has invited you to join Brothers Judd at Here's your chance to challenge your hoops expertise in the ultimate tournament picks pool.

Join today so our group is ready for the madness! Our group password is: ericjulia

Posted by orrinj at 5:42 AM


Capitalism's Capital : a review of The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York by Robert Caro  (Jackson Lears, London Review of Books)

While Moses's utopia was crashing and burning, Robert Caro was writing The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York. It was first published in 1974. New York City was on the brink of bankruptcy, social breakdown seemed imminent. Elite institutions manifested a siege mentality: on a visit to Columbia University's Butler Library in the early 1970s, I remember noticing that the floor lamps were chained to the radiators; anything not secured, it seemed, was liable to be carried off. No wonder Caro connected Moses with 'the fall of New York'. The master builder had become the architect of urban collapse. The Power Broker showed, in overwhelming detail, how Moses's overreach led to disaster. In the dark days of the 1970s, the book was celebrated as a shrewd diagnosis of the city's ills; now, when the city is leaking capital out of every pore, New York triumphalists have taken to questioning Caro's critique, claiming it's time to revisit Moses's work. But in the end the revisiting does little to alter the critique.

Caro's epigraph is from Sophocles: 'One must wait until the evening to see how splendid the day has been.' Or, in Moses's case, Caro implies, to see how hollow the splendour has been. Moses spent most of his career awash in adulation. For nearly four decades, every print medium from the Times to the tabloids, from Fortune to Architecture Forum, agreed that he was a preternaturally gifted and dedicated public servant, a man above politics, above graft and greed, committed to Getting Things Done quickly and efficiently. And the things themselves - the parks, playgrounds and beaches, the bridges and parkways and expressways - either epitomised the grandeur of American aspiration, or enhanced the innocent pleasure of the American people at play, or both. Who could not admire such a man, working for peanuts or sometimes for nothing at all, transforming the city into a fitting capital for the richest and most powerful nation on earth? What's not to like?

Caro spends 1200 pages answering that question in detail. The legend of Robert Moses the disinterested public servant was always 'a gigantic hoax', he writes. Moses knew how to manipulate the local and national media, but he was as dependent on graft and patronage as any old pol from Tammany Hall, for decades the home of the Democratic Party machine. Though he didn't sup directly at the public trough, he had no scruples about ignoring or stretching the law to advance his agenda, creating no-show jobs for friends who could do him favours and no-bid contracts for compliant contractors, courting politicians with lavish entertainment at public expense - providing, on many such occasions at Jones Beach, martinis from one fountain, Manhattans from another, and music from Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians, the maestros of cheesy white pop. For the first decade or so of his career, Moses preserved his youthful attachment to the ideals of the Progressive movement - parks for the people, clean government by the competent - and pursued power for the sake of those ideals. But from 1934 on, after he was appointed parks commissioner by Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, he pursued power for the sake of more power.

Posted by orrinj at 3:35 AM


Cancer Rates Spiked After Fukushima. But Don't Blame Radiation (SARAH FALLON, 03.09.16, Wired)

Turtles are part of what H. Gilbert Welch, a professor of medicine at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice, calls the barnyard pen of cancers. The barnyard has three animals, turtles, birds, and rabbits. "The goal of early detection is to fence them in," he says.

You can't fence in the birds. They're the super aggressive lethal cancers that are beyond cure. The rabbits, you can maybe do something about if you can spot them and treat them. (Treatments that, by the way says Welch, have gotten better and better.) "But for the turtles," he says, "you don't need fences because they're not going anywhere anyway. And the thyroid is full of turtles."

The breast and the prostate are full of turtles too, and just as the thyroid-scanning ultrasound devices are more likely to find little nodules there, an upsurge in mammography has led to a corresponding upsurge in something called ductal carcinoma in situ. Basically cancers that most of the time would just sit around and do nothing if you left well enough alone. In other words, they're indolent (great word), not malignant. Whether or not we treat them (or even look for them) has been a matter of great debate in recent years.

It's very hard to know when upticks and outbreaks are quite what they appear. Even infectious disease outbreaks can sometimes be attributed to more-sensitive screening methods. The rise in whooping cough cases has multiple causes of course, but one of them is improved screening methods. Gene-based tests called PCR assays can inflate the number of actual diagnoses, according to a piece by epidemiologist James Cherry in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Which is to say, if you start looking for something carefully, and if you use better methods to see what you're looking for, you will often find it.

Welch points to an example from the '70s, when some employees at Lawrence Livermore National Labs (who deal with nuclear stuff all day long) were diagnosed with melanoma. Cancer cluster! But no--it was something else.

What happened, Welch writes in his book Should I Be Tested for Cancer, is that one person probably got sick. Then, other people in the lab started getting checked for moles. Some were funky, so that leads to biopsies, which leads to, in some cases, an actual diagnosis. Then people start really getting worried. The lab kicks off an awareness campaign, so more people go in for checks, leading to more biopsies. "The whole epidemic looked subsequently like it was a pseudoepidemic," he says. "It was an epidemic of diagnosis." The melanomas were mostly turtles.

In South Korea, checking more thoroughly has absolutely led to more diagnoses of thyroid cancer. In the late '90s, doctors in South Korea started screening people for thyroid cancer (it was an add-on test to the national cancer screening program), and cancer cases took off. "There was a 15-fold increase," says Welch. "There was nothing like it in the world!" Now, he says, thyroid cancer is the most common cancer in Korea--more common than breast, and colon, and lung.

Here's the really pernicious part. People get checked for thyroid cancer, doctor finds a little nodule, does a biopsy, there's some cancery stuff in there, so they remove the thyroid, and the person--saints be praised!--the person lives. (Because of course they lived, they just had a little thing that would never have been a problem in the first place.) They live (without their thyroid) and now they are a survivor and the survival rates for thyroid cancer in South Korea are now really high. Great, right? No. "Once you understand the problem of turtles, you understand you're giving credit to finding the cancers that don't matter," says Welch.

How did South Korea combat this surge in cancer cases? A group of doctors (including Welch) wrote a letter in 2014 discouraging screening with ultrasonography. Poof. Thyroid operations dropped by 35 percent in a year. Because the best test "isn't one that finds the most cancer," he says. "The best test is one that finds the cancers that matter."

March 14, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 8:14 AM


What Trump Supporters Were Doing Before Trump (Dan Hopkins, 3/14/15, 538)

Already, we know a fair bit about Trump supporters. Demographically, they are often white, male and without college degrees. They are disproportionately drawn from the ranks of registered Democrats who vote like Republicans. (Or else they're named Chris Christie.) ]...]

On social issues, the differences are more noteworthy. Trump backers were far more pro-choice than Cruz or Rubio supporters, at 0.63 (0.67 is equivalent to agreeing that "abortion should be available, but with stricter limits"). That's not far from Clinton backers' 0.73. By contrast, Cruz supporters' 0.39 puts them closer to the view represented by 0.33: "Abortion should not be permitted except in cases of rape, incest, or when the life of the woman is at risk." In that light, maybe Trump's defenses of Planned Parenthood make more sense. Trump supporters were also a bit more supportive of gay marriage than Cruz supporters, although the difference isn't nearly as pronounced. ]...]

These results also reaffirm what others have pointed out about white Trump supporters' levels of prejudice: They are higher than those of Cruz or Rubio supporters. For our 2012 measure of white-black prejudice, white respondents were asked to assess whites and blacks on different stereotypes such as intelligence and work ethic.2 We then subtract people's views of whites from their views of blacks, so that 0 indicates someone who endorses negative stereotypes only about whites while 1 indicates someone endorsing negative stereotypes only about blacks. A 0.50 indicates a respondent who rates whites and blacks equally on average, while the 0.58 of Trump supporters indicates markedly more positive ratings of whites relative to blacks. Is prejudice among the distinguishing attitudes of Trump backers? In a word, yes.

Posted by orrinj at 5:56 AM


1,000 Hours of Early Jazz Recordings Now Online: Archive Features Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington & Much More (Open Culture, March 8th, 2016)

David W. Niven spent his life amassing a vast record collection, all dedicated to the sounds of Early Jazz. As a kid during the 1920s, he started buying jazz records with money earned from his paper route. By World War II, Niven, now a college student, had thousands of LPs. "All the big names of jazz, along with lesser legends, were included," Niven later said, and "I found myself with a first class treasure of early jazz music." Louis Armstrong, Bix Beiderbecke, Duke Ellington, and much, much more.

For the sake of his children, Niven started transferring his record collection to cassette tapes during the 1980s and prefacing them with audio commentaries that offer background information on each recording. Now, years after his death (1991), his collection of "Early Jazz Legends" has made its way to the web, thanks to archivist Kevin J. Powers. If you head over to, you can stream/download digitized versions of 650 cassette tapes, featuring over 1,000 hours of early jazz music. There's also scans of liner cards for each recording.

Posted by orrinj at 5:48 AM


DON'T CRY FOR GENERATION RENT : The solution to poor-me millennials' plight is simple - build more houses. (JAMES DAWSON, 10 MARCH 2016, spiked)

There are problems with housing in London. There is a chronic lack of social and affordable housing, and statistics show the number of private renters is now higher than that of mortgaged buyers. But by focusing on young people and painting them as the primary victims of the housing crisis, commentators and politicians alike strip today's young adults of their agency. This focus on young people as victims ignores the fact that many are choosing to move to London because it still contains opportunities unavailable outside of the capital. Yes, given the difference in living costs and rent prices compared with the rest of the UK, the move to London is a gamble, but it's one that adaptable and mobile adults are better equipped to make while they are young.

It is the shortfall in new houses being built that is driving rents up. Rather than feeling sorry for millennials - or proposing a rent cap, as is often suggested by some on the left - policymakers need to scrap draconian planning laws, and allow councils and private firms alike to build more houses.

Young people have always struggled at the start of their careers, when wages are low. It's an experience pretty much everyone becoming an independent adult goes through. If millions more homes were available to rent and buy, there would be no need to worry about, or talk about, 'Generation Rent'. The answer to young people's woes is simple: build more houses.

...the whole Anglosphere faces increasingly dire housing shortages.
Posted by orrinj at 4:50 AM



In the 1970s anti-abortion attorneys formed a decadeslong plan to craft and lobby for state regulations that would gradually strip away physicians' ability to provide the procedure. Much of the legislation makes it more expensive for clinics to operate, and the strategy has proved effective. Since 2011 at least 162 abortion providers have closed or stopped performing abortions, and 21 clinics have opened. That represents the swiftest annual decline in the number of abortion providers ever, according to Bloomberg News. Burkhart is working to start another clinic, in Oklahoma City, which she estimates will cost $1 million. No one has opened an abortion clinic in Oklahoma since 1974.

In 1976, Congress passed the Hyde Amendment restricting the use of federal funds for abortion, which Americans United for Life helped defend before the Supreme Court in 1980. In 33 states, Medicaid can't be used to cover the procedure in most circumstances. Recent polling finds that almost half of women who obtain abortions live below the federal poverty line. Meanwhile, 10 states, including Kansas and Oklahoma, ban all insurance plans--and 25 states restrict government marketplace plans--from covering abortion except in rare circumstances. With a large share of women, including the poorest patients, paying out of pocket, many abortion providers keep their prices low. "What you're doing is--as much as you can--not pricing people out of getting this service," says David Burkons, a physician who opened a clinic in Ohio last year.

Clinic directors say the political climate has made it almost impossible to open clinics. "You'd think, This is crazy," says Amy Hagstrom Miller, founder and chief executive officer of Whole Woman's Health, which has acquired or opened clinics in five states since 2003. She's the plaintiff in the coming Supreme Court case over abortion laws that have shuttered two of her five Texas locations. Arguments begin on March 2. The extra costs she and other providers face are at the heart of the case: The decision will largely come down to whether the justices think the laws have made it too expensive for clinics to operate--and to what extent that burdens patients. Says Hagstrom Miller: "This is probably the most difficult business you could ever run."

March 13, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 1:20 PM


John Kerry: 600 Isis militants killed in Syria during past three weeks (Tom Mendelsohn,  March 13, 2016, IB Times)

As many as 600 Islamic State (Isis) fighters have been killed in Syria over the past three weeks, losing thousands of square kilometres in the process, according to the American secretary of state.

The historically unique capacity to wage war at no cost raises questions about how we can justify tolerating the North Korean regime.

Posted by orrinj at 6:49 AM


In a Slow-Motion Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Media Figures Embrace Trump One by One  (Jonah Goldberg, March 12, 2016, National Review)

I'm losing the will to rebut Donald Trump's "arguments" because he really doesn't make any. First of all, most of his interviews are rapidly becoming as journalistically adversarial as the infomercial host asking, "Mr. Foreman, is it really true I'll lose weight and save money by using the George Foreman grill?"
But more importantly, if you listen to Trump's answers to almost any question about how he will fix a problem, he uses up the first 95 percent of his time explaining, re-explaining and demagoguing about how bad the problem is. (That is, if he's not talking about polls.) Then in the last few seconds, he says we'll fix the problem by being really smart or by winning or by hiring the best people.
In other words, he has no idea how to fix it.

Before Trump gelded him, or before he went to sleep and awoke from his husk with a strange, new, Renfield-like respect for his master, Chris Christie was very good at pointing out how Trump can't explain how he will do anything. Now no one seems to care.

What I can't get my head around is how other people can listen to this stuff and hear something substantive or serious. I truly don't understand it. Or maybe I do understand it, and I just don't want to because I don't like what it might say about a lot of people I respect.

Posted by orrinj at 6:32 AM


Can the cold make you stronger? (Sophie Knight, 13 March 2016, The Guardian)

Hof's belief is that cold exposure and breathing exercises can enable people to tap into a neglected part of their brain and control their nervous systems, staving off illness and disease. "Eighteen years ago I said in my book that these techniques could influence the immune system," he says. "If I had said that on TV, people would have told me I was crazy."

Some will remain sceptical, but Hof's claims have been supported by limited scientific studies. Two years ago, researchers at Radboud University in the Netherlands confirmed that he and 12 of his students could consciously control their autonomic nervous system and innate immune response.

The doctors injected the men with an endotoxin, which usually elicits flu-like symptoms, while they practised Hof's meditation and breathing techniques. While the control group sweated and shivered, Hof's group were asymptomatic. The doctors found that their bodies had released epinephrine, triggering a flood of anti-inflammatory agents that fought off the endotoxin.

The authors of the study said that the finding could have huge implications for people suffering autoimmune conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis or multiple sclerosis. Hof himself responded by taking people with Crohn's disease and coronary problems up and down Mount Kilimanjaro in 48 hours after training them last year.

Posted by orrinj at 4:40 AM


The Christianity of Harry Potter (Bradley J. Birzer, 3/10/16, Imaginative Conservative)

Whatever J.K. Rowling's own political, cultural, and social stances as expressed may be-- her retroactively labeling the main mentor-wizard of the Potter series a homosexual and her disappointment with the previous pope give clues to her leftist leanings--the books are, for the most part, deeply traditionalist and humane. Perhaps even more deeply, they are Christian.

In the time-tested tradition of western heroes, Harry suffers immense loss as a baby. An evil wizard has killed his parents. Orphaned, Harry grows up friendless, neglected, and abused by his mom's wickedly gossipy relatives, a "Muggle" (ordinary) family. Yet, this ordinary family is deeply dysfunctional. Relatively middle class and lacking in any imagination, the father, tellingly, makes drill bits. He is, rather happily, a cog in the machine of modernity. The family craves the latest luxuries, repeat the conformist drivel they hear all around them, and desire nothing more than to be equal but slightly better off than their neighbors.

When clever and resilient Harry discovers at the age of eleven that his parents were wizards and that he is one as well, his destiny as a unique and powerful person becomes apparent. Gaining several close friends and attending a school for wizards, Harry finds himself in increasingly dangerous situations. Whatever his mischievous (and often quite normal boyish) faults, Harry never fails when it comes to loyalty or behaving heroically. Through the first three books, Ms. Rowling reveals--explicitly and implicitly--that her magical world is a traditional Socratic and Judeo-Christian world based on the seven traditional virtues and ethics and that our modern world is based on power and manipulation. The evil, in Rowling's magical world, have been conned into believing that power and manipulation transcend love and will work in the magical world as well. Such action, however, only leads to their own condemnation. one of her more explicitly Catholic moments, the main evil character in the story kills and drinks the blood of a unicorn. "The blood of a unicorn will keep you alive, even if you are an inch from death, but at a terrible price," one character explains. "You have slain something pure and defenceless to save yourself and you will have but a half-life, a cursed life, from the moment the blood touches your lips."

It would be difficult to find a more interesting Pauline (1 Corinthians 11:29) moment in modern children's literature.

Posted by orrinj at 12:59 AM


Retirement good for health, says study (AFP/Relaxnews, March 13, 2016)

The University of Sydney has published this week results of a study that concludes retirement really is good for your health.

University researchers followed a large sample of 25,000 Australian seniors, measuring levels of physical activity, diet, sedentary behaviour, alcohol use and sleep patterns.

Published this week in the Journal of Preventative Medicine, the results revealed that once retired, seniors increased their physical activity by 93 minutes a week, decreased sedentary time by 67 minutes per day, enjoyed 11 minutes more sleep per day, and 50% of female smokers stopped smoking.

Posted by orrinj at 12:09 AM


The Party Still Decides (Ross Douthat MARCH 12, 2016, NY Times)

The less-than-democratic side of party nominations is a virtue of our system, not a flaw, and it has often been a necessary check on the passions (Trumpian or otherwise) that mass democracy constantly threatens to unleash.

That check has weakened with the decline of machines, bosses and smoke-filled rooms. But in many ways it remains very much in force -- confronting would-be demagogues with complicated ballot requirements, insisting that a potential Coriolanus or a Sulla count delegates in Guam and South Dakota, asking men who aspire to awesome power to submit to the veto of state chairmen and local newspapers, the town meeting and the caucus hall.

The weird rigors of this process have not always protected the parties from politically disastrous nominees, like Barry Goldwater or George McGovern. But Goldwater and McGovern were both men of principle and experience and civic virtue, leading factions that had not yet come to full maturity. This made them political losers; it did not make them demagogues.

Trump, though, is cut from a very different cloth. He's an authoritarian, not an ideologue, and his antecedents aren't Goldwater or McGovern; they're figures like George Wallace and Huey Long, with a side of the fictional Buzz Windrip from Sinclair Lewis's "It Can't Happen Here." No modern political party has nominated a candidate like this; no serious political party ever should.

Because such figures speak -- as Wallace did, and Long, and Ross Perot, and others -- to real grievances, the process of dealing with them is necessarily painful, and often involves a third-party bid and a difficult reckoning thereafter. Trump would be no exception: Denying him the nomination would indeed be an ugly exercise, one that would weaken or crush the party's general election chances, and leave the G.O.P. with a long hard climb back up to unity and health.

But if that exercise is painful, it's also the correct path to choose. A man so transparently unfit for office should not be placed before the American people as a candidate for president under any kind of imprimatur save his own. And there is no point in even having a party apparatus, no point in all those chairmen and state conventions and delegate rosters, if they cannot be mobilized to prevent 35 percent of the Republican primary electorate from imposing a Trump nomination on the party.

Duty to God and country must always trump duty to party.

March 12, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 11:09 PM


As China's Workforce Dwindles, the World Scrambles for Alternatives (Kathy Chu and Bob Davis, 11/26/15, WSJ)

Over the coming decades, a labor shortage will force Levi and scores of other Western brands to remake their China operations or pack up and leave. The changes will mark a new chapter in the history of globalization, where automation is king, nearness to market is crucial and the lives of workers and consumers around the world are once again scrambled.

The stirrings of change are visible already. In an apparel factory in Zhongshan, a gritty city of three million stuffed with industrial parks across the Pearl River from Hong Kong, lasers are replacing dozens of workers who scrub Levi's blue jeans with sandpaper to give them the worn look that American consumers find stylish. Automated sewing machines have cut the number of seamstresses needed to stitch arc designs into back pockets. Digital printers make intricate patterns on jeans that workers used to do with a mesh screen.

"Labor is getting more expensive and technology is getting cheaper," says Andrew Lo, chief executive of Crystal Group, one of Levi's major suppliers in China.

Posted by orrinj at 10:15 AM


Donald Trump should shut up about China and start railing against robots (James Pethokoukis, March 10, 2016, The Week)

Not only is employing Chinese factory workers getting more expensive, but there are fewer of them available, which in turn feeds wage growth. China's working age population is in steep decline, falling by nearly five million last year. Overall, manufacturing employment seems to have peaked more than a decade ago.

In response, China is making a huge automation push. Beijing planners view advanced robotics as key to raising productivity and keeping economic growth strong as the country transitions to a more service-based economy. It's already happening, actually. The nation is on pace to soon have more industrial robots than any other advanced economy. Foxconn, a Taiwan-based company that employs over a million workers to assemble iPhones and other Apple products in mainland China, wants robots to take over 70 percent of its assembly work within three years.

So when Trump says he wants to force Apple to make its products in America, what he's really unintentionally saying is that he wants American robots to do the work of Chinese robots.

Posted by orrinj at 9:37 AM


Rubio wavers on supporting Trump as GOP nominee (Eli Stokols, 03/12/16, Poltico)

Marco Rubio on Saturday said he is no longer sure he can support Donald Trump should he become the GOP presidential nominee following the protests and unrest sparked by a planned Trump rally in Chicago.

"I don't know," the Florida senator said after being asked directly if he stands by his pledge to support Trump if he's the party's nominee. "I already talked about the fact that I think Hillary Clinton would be terrible for this country, but the fact that you're even asking me that question ... I still at this moment intend to support the Republican nominee, but ... it's getting harder every day."

It will be hard to fight the down-ticket drag of a Trump candidacy, but two things the party could do are : (1) Cancel the convention; (2) fund a campaign that implicitly endorses Hillary and explicitly encourages voting for Congressional Republicans to check and balance.

Posted by orrinj at 9:33 AM


North Korea submarine 'missing' as US-South Korea drills continue (BBC, 3/12/16)

According to the US Naval Institute journal, officials said the US Navy was tracking the submarine when it suddenly disappeared.

It says the North Korean military operates a fleet of about 70 submarines ranging in sizes.

The US military had observed the North Korean navy searching for the missing submarine, CNN reports.

Posted by orrinj at 9:12 AM


A Syrian refugee has become a YouTube star by explaining German culture to Germans (Renuka Rayasam, 3/12/16, Quartz)

Firas AlShater, a Syrian refugee, became a YouTube celebrity pretty much overnight. In January the acting student made a video describing an experiment in which he stood blindfolded on Berlin's Alexanderplatz with a sign saying he was a Muslim and asking for hugs. (It was his version of a street performance carried out by Arab artists in various countries.) AlShater's take on Germans--that they need some time to warm up, but once they do, they don't stop--isn't particularly original, but his goofy and endearing manner won over thousands of fans.

Within days of posting it to YouTube, the video had 300,000 views, and German media were bombarding AlShater, who will soon turn 25, with interview requests. Fans recognize AlShater on the street and public transit. Sometimes they even try to hug him. He has recently landed a book deal, too.

AlShater's German co-producer, Jan Heilig, attributes the popularity of this, and other videos the pair have made, not just to their lighthearted humor--a genre which Germans haven't quite mastered--but also to the lack of refugee voices in an otherwise very serious debate about immigration in the country.

"Firas is the first," said Heilig. "He's not just answering the questions that people ask, but really saying what he wants to say. "

Posted by orrinj at 9:08 AM


I just spent $154 on 26 lightbulbs, and you should too
Updated by Timothy B. Lee on March 7, 2016, 9:30 a.m. ET
Tweet Share (735) +
LED lightbulbs look a lot like conventional bulbs. Photo by David Becker/Getty Images
In December, I spent $154 to buy 26 lightbulbs. That works out to about $6 per lightbulb -- way more than for conventional lightbulbs you'll find at the supermarket. But I expect to earn back that investment in lower electricity costs within a year or two -- and then save hundreds of dollars more over the next decade.
These were no ordinary lightbulbs. They're based on a cutting-edge technology called light-emitting diodes. LED lightbulbs consume about one-fifth as much electricity as an incandescent bulb to produce the same amount of light.
The savings will add up. The old-fashioned 60-watt bulbs I was replacing each cost an estimated $5 per year to run. Each of my new LED lightbulbs should only consume about $1 worth of electricity, saving me $4 per bulb, per year. So I'll be able to fully recoup my investment by mid-2017.
And here's the best part: While conventional bulbs often burn out within a year or two, LED bulbs are designed to last for 10 to 20 years.
Over the next decade, then, I can expect my $154 lightbulb investment to save me around $1,000 in electricity costs alone -- while also saving the cost and hassle of buying dozens of replacement bulbs.
And these aren't like those funny-looking compact fluorescent lights that turn on slowly and often give off unflattering light. LED bulbs look a lot like conventional bulbs and can produce light that's very similar to a conventional incandescent bulb.

Posted by orrinj at 9:03 AM


To Maintain Supply of Sex Slaves, ISIS Pushes Birth Control : Modern methods allow the Islamic State to keep up its systematic rape of captives under medieval codes.(RUKMINI CALLIMACHI, MARCH 12, 2016, NY Times)

 Locked inside a room where the only furniture was a bed, the 16-year-old learned to fear the sunset, because nightfall started the countdown to her next rape.

During the year she was held by the Islamic State, she spent her days dreading the smell of the ISIS fighter's breath, the disgusting sounds he made and the pain he inflicted on her body. More than anything, she was tormented by the thought she might become pregnant with her rapist's child.

It was the one thing she needn't have worried about.

Soon after buying her, the fighter brought the teenage girl a round box containing four strips of pills, one of them colored red.

"Every day, I had to swallow one in front of him. He gave me one box per month. When I ran out, he replaced it. When I was sold from one man to another, the box of pills came with me," explained the girl, who learned only months later that she was being given birth control.

It is a particularly modern solution to a medieval injunction: According to an obscure ruling in Islamic law cited by the Islamic State, a man must ensure that the woman he enslaves is free of child before having intercourse with her.

Posted by orrinj at 8:50 AM


Every Job Could Be a Casualty of the Robot Revolution, Even Yours (Arielle Pardes, March 11, 2016, Vice)

Obviously, people want to think of themselves as a special snowflake at work, not merely the sum of a few simple functions that create more value on a company's balance sheet. But as machines get better at performing all sorts of tasks, it stands to reason that they may start to take over tasks that humans are paid to do--including the stuff you're doing right now.

Doctors, lawyers, stand-up comedians, CEOs, models, journalists, personal assistants, architects, clergymen--there's evidence that all of these gigs, and many more, could be automated in form or fashion in the coming decades. Even people like Kuszewski could one day be forced out by intelligent machines if we continue to develop robopsychologists. (If you really want to squirm, consider that a rudimentary form of a robot therapist has existed since 1966.)

"During the 21st century, I think it will become technically possible to automate essentially all human jobs," said Stuart Elliott, an analyst at the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development and the author of research on how new technology will transform the workplace.

Posted by orrinj at 8:40 AM


Who is Jedidiah Brown, the pastor who stormed Donald Trump's rally in Chicago? (Romil Patel, March 12, 2016, IB Times)

Brown is an ordained pastor and president of the Young Leaders Alliance, which aims to "develop platforms and opportunities to inspire the young to influence the leadership table" in Chicago. It was started in February 2013 as a not-for-profit community organisation.

Brown was also previously a fifth ward city council candidate. He has been credited with galvanising people to unite around a shared vision to make neighbourhoods safer and exploring alternative ways of conflict resolution rather than resorting to violence to solve problems.

In an effort to take back Chicago's neighbourhoods, Brown tracked the city's violence to reach out to families of victims and connect with those seeking to carry out reprisal attacks.

"The first few moments after a shooting are the most important," he told in 2014. "Maybe there's somebody at the scene who will tell me something they're not comfortable telling police."

This bold outreach effort almost cost him his life after he found himself in the middle of an escalating conflict between two groups who were arguing over a girl. After Brown tried to defuse the situation, he was shot at, but miraculously managed to escape unscathed after fleeing into Humboldt Park.

In an unusual twist, the man who shot at Brown rang him to apologise and the pastor offered him a deal: spend one day with him and he wouldn't be reported to the police. So what was his motive for shielding the man from law enforcement?

"I'm not doing any of this for money," he said. "I care about Chicago. I love my city," Brown added. "This is everybody's problem, it's everybody's fault."

Posted by orrinj at 8:34 AM


Christ beauteous truth : Jared Zimmerer interviews Joseph Pearce (Imaginative Conservative, 3/12/16)

Jared Zimmerer: Throughout your collection of essays, Beauteous Truth (St. Augustine's Press), there is a continuous message that culture and having a steeped understanding of authentic cultural approbations are of utmost importance and that Catholicism has helped shape a culture that can last. What advice would you give for others to be able to recognize those parts of culture that are worthwhile?

Joseph Pearce: True culture is a reflection of the transcendental trinity of the good, the true, and the beautiful. The authentic sign of goodness is love and its manifestation in virtue; the authenticity of the true is to be seen in its conformity to reason, properly understood as an engagement with the objective reality beyond the confines of egocentric subjectivism; the authentic sign of the beautiful is a reverence for the beauty of Creation and creativity, properly perceived in the outpouring of gratitude which is the fruit of humility.

Posted by orrinj at 7:36 AM


Google's AI Takes Historic Match Against Go Champ With Third Straight Win (Cade Metz, 3/12/16, Wired)

Over the last twenty-five years, machines have beaten the top humans at checkers and chess and Othello and Scrabble and Jeopardy!. But this is the first time an artificially intelligent system has topped one of the very best at Go, which is exponentially more complex than chess and requires an added level of intuition--at least among humans. This makes the win a major milestone for AI--a moment whose meaning extends well beyond a single game. Considering that many of the machine learning technologies at the heart of AlphaGo are already running services inside some of the world's largest Internet companies, the victory shows how quickly AI will progress in the years to come.

Posted by orrinj at 4:53 AM


Will Donald Trump force Republicans to admit we can do worse than Hillary Clinton? (Josh Barro , 3/10/16, Business Insider)

Here's a truth partisans are not supposed to admit: Whether the president is a Democrat or Republican, America usually remains more or less the same place.

Policy changes matter, and therefore it matters who wins elections.

But the institutions that underlie our government and our society matter more than which party steers those institutions at a given time.

Because of this truth, there are more important things than which party wins a presidential election. Leaders who threaten to undermine those fundamental institutions -- even if they are within your own party -- are worse than normal politicians from the other party. But that's a damaging admission that party-loyal politicians really, really prefer not to have to make.

The Donald Trump campaign is like an experiment -- seeing whether a GOP candidate can be so manifestly threatening to the institutions that prevent American society from falling apart that he will get Republican officials to admit there are worse outcomes than electing Hillary Clinton.

March 11, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 10:02 PM


Saudi Arabia authorities kill 6 Isis supporters who shot dead soldier relative and posted video online (William Watkinson, March 11, 2016, IB Times)

Saudi authorities have killed six men they believe murdered their Saudi soldier relative and posted the video online as they pledged allegiance to Islamic State (Isis) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The video, that was posted in February, featured Badr Hamdi al-Rashidi, a member of Saudi Arabia's Special Emergency Force in the central, Qassim region.

In a case that has shocked Saudi Arabia, the Interior Ministry believes that six of Rashidi's relatives took advantage of their family links to the soldier, a member of the kingdom's anti-terror forces, to lure him to a remote area and shoot him dead.

Posted by orrinj at 1:27 PM


China Howls but Dalai Lama Draws Crowd at Human Rights Talk (JAMEY KEATEN, 3/11/16, ASSOCIATED PRESS)

The Dalai Lama appeared Friday at a Geneva human rights conference, despite China's plea to diplomats to stay away from the event.

China's U.N. mission in Geneva circulated a letter to other missions this week asking them to avoid the Tibetan spiritual leader's appearance at a conference built around Nobel peace prize winners and co-sponsored by the United States and Canada.

Posted by orrinj at 1:23 PM


Trump's Strongman Shtick Is Attracting Bullies and Faux Tough Guys (DAVID FRENCH, March 10, 2016, National Review)

A culture of thuggish cowardice is infecting the Trump campaign. His rallies now regularly feature vigilante action against protesters. Pushing and shoving is turning into punching, and now not even the press is immune from physical attacks. This violence is stoked and incited from the top of the campaign. Trump himself has cheered supporters who've attacked left-wing protesters, declaring in one instance that "maybe he deserved to get roughed up" and five days ago, he pledged to supporters that he'd "defend you in court" if they hurt a protester.  [...]

The Washington Post's Ben Terris corroborated Fields's account, reporting that Lewandowski "grabbed her arm and yanked her out of the way" and that "finger-shaped bruises appeared on her arm." (Fields has since tweeted a picture of the bruises.) Shortly after the incident, the Daily Beast's Lloyd Grove reported that Lewandowski "acknowledged" the incident to Breitbart's Matthew Boyle, saying that he didn't recognize Fields and instead thought she was an "adversarial member of the mainstream media." (A bizarre defense -- attacking a member of the mainstream media would be equally unacceptable.)

Posted by orrinj at 1:20 PM


UN touts federalism ahead of Syria talks (Deutsche-Welle, 3/11/16)

However, Riad Hijab, head of the Saudi-backed HNC - a Syrian opposition umbrella group - on Monday decried "the idea of federalism," saying it was the "prelude to the partitioning of Syria."

Yes, pretending it's a nation is how we got here in the first place.

Posted by orrinj at 1:16 PM


A Vote for Trump Is a Vote Against American Consumers : Donald Trump's trade war on America. (David Harsanyi | March 11, 2016, Reason)

Do you like those affordable electronic goods--you know, those giant TVs, high-tech laptops and super pocket computers you're walking around with? The prices of tech products and services have fallen over the past decade because of many policies Trump rails against. So though a lot of Americans might like the sound of forcing Apple to assemble phones right here in the United States, how would they feel about paying $100 more (or whatever it would be) every time they renew a cellphone plan?

All you people with Samsung phones (Samsung is the nation's top seller, with 22.5 percent of U.S. market share) could look forward to similar costs embedded into your plans--unless, for some reason, South Korea would be granted immunity from Trump's protectionism.

Trump might be used to gold-plated phones on his private Boeing 757, but average Americans can't afford to pay double their cellphone bill.

These price hikes extend to food and transportation--and anything else you can think of.

Take Wal-Mart, for instance, which is not only America's largest employer but also one that sells affordable goods to vast numbers of working-class people. And the majority of the merchandise Wal-Mart sells, despite its recent nationalistic sales pitch, is manufactured (in part or fully) abroad. If Trump is going to start trade wars and raise tariffs (American consumers, not the Mexican or Chinese government or its oligarchs, will pay for every cent), he should explain how his supercalifragilistic deals will both punish these countries and make goods cheaper for American consumers.

Elect Trump if you want Wal-Mart to double the price of your grocery bill.

Posted by orrinj at 1:11 PM


Who is Sayyid Muqtada al-Sadr? The Iraqi Shia cleric making a comeback in Baghdad (Stefano Freyr Castiglione, March 11, 2016, IB Times)

Supporters of Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr burn a US flag during a protest demanding the government prevent the entry of U.S. troops into Iraq at Al-Tahrir Square in Baghdad, September 20, 2014.REUTERS/Ahmed Saad
Images from last Friday's demonstrations in Baghdad, where thousands of people gathered outside the so-called Green Zone, may have reminded some observers of the protests that took place in a number of Arab countries in 2011. But during the Arab Spring people were not guided by political leadership, whereas recent demonstrations in Iraq have been promoted and led by one man in particular; Iraqi Shia leader Sayyid Muqtada al-Sadr. [...]

He is a steadfast opponent of sectarian politics, although some members of his bloc, the Sadrist Movement, have held, and continue to hold, positions in governments based on quota-sharing.

A common thread since 2003 has been the opposition to foreign interference in Iraq, regardless whether it comes from the West (US, UK) or the East (Iran). His disenchantment as to the possibility of pursuing an alternative to sectarian politics was one of the reasons that led him to suddenly announce his withdrawal from political life in 2014, as one of his movement's officials stated.

Since then, things have evolved in Iraq. The rise of Islamic State (Isis) in which sectarian politics undoubtedly played a role has posed a serious threat to the stability of the country, exacerbated by the political tensions of Maliki's government at the time. Despite enormous difficulties (the constant threat of extremism, the recent fall of oil prices), his successor Haidar al-Abadi has managed to keep the country afloat as the Hashd al-Shaabi (PMU) and the Security Forces have regained territory from Daesh.

Abadi has been able to ease tensions with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), to take some anti-corruption measures, and to purge the army of inefficient officials. Some issues which have taken root in Iraq have not yet been entirely solved, such as poor public services, corruption, lack of transparency, and sectarianism.

These are the plagues that Sadr has vowed to fight against, on the base of a populist vision of national unity in which religiosity and patriotism are often conflated, as the slogan "Love for one's country is part of the faith" suggests. The Shia leader supported Abadi's pledge to carry out a government reshuffle, aimed at installing a technocratic cabinet, as well as to fight corruption, restore services, and implement public accountability.

Posted by orrinj at 10:12 AM


Obama's Job Approval at Highest Level Since May 2013 (Andrew Dugan and Frank Newport, 3/11/16, Gallup)

President Barack Obama earned a 50% job approval rating for the week ending March 6, his highest weekly average since May 2013.

Posted by orrinj at 9:58 AM


Heilemann: Trump Has 'Far-Left, Democratic View' on Entitlement Reform (David Rutz, March 11, 2016, Free Beacon)

"Marco Rubio had a large, impassioned and I thought quite strong set of answers about entitlement reform," Heilemann said, noting that absent host Joe Scarborough applauded Rubio's answers on Twitter. "Donald Trump is the one Republican who basically says he's not going to touch Social Security. He has a far-left, Democratic view on entitlement reform..."

It's why older, whiter voters like him.

March 10, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 7:46 PM


Trump's Women Problem : If the celebrity businessman is nominated, a segment of Republican women could stay home, or even weigh casting a vote for Hillary Clinton. (Karyn Bruggeman, 3/10/16, National Journal)

The con­sequences are evid­ent in Re­pub­lic­an primary exit polling and na­tion­al opin­ion polls, in­clud­ing a Feb­ru­ary CNN/ORC poll that found just 29 per­cent of re­gistered wo­men voters had a fa­vor­able opin­ion of Trump, while a whop­ping 68 per­cent viewed him un­fa­vor­ably.

By com­par­is­on, CNN's fi­nal na­tion­al poll be­fore the Novem­ber 2012 pres­id­en­tial elec­tion found wo­men evenly split in their opin­ion of Mitt Rom­ney: 47 per­cent of likely wo­men voters viewed him fa­vor­ably, and 49 per­cent viewed him un­fa­vor­ably. Rom­ney ul­ti­mately lost wo­men by 10 points na­tion­ally to Pres­id­ent Obama, and lost them by an even wider mar­gin in a hand­ful of swing states.

...since his Second Way policies are geared towards women.

Posted by orrinj at 7:33 PM


The number of people seeking US unemployment aid fell last week (CHRISTOPHER S. RUGABER, 3/10/16, AP)

Weekly unemployment benefit applications fell 18,000 to a seasonally adjusted 259,000. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, dropped 2,500 to 267,500, the lowest reading since the week of Oct. 31. And the number of people actually receiving benefits also declined, falling 4,500 to 2.25 million. That's down 6 percent from a year ago.

Posted by orrinj at 7:25 PM


The languid beauty of baseball : Get into the swing of the season with these surprisingly artful shots from spring training (Jackie Friedman & Lauren Hansen, 3/10/16, The Week)

The 2016 Major League Baseball season is right around the corner. And in honor of the sport that so encapsulates the divine leisure of a long summer day, here's an artful glimpse into spring training, in all of its languid beauty.

Posted by orrinj at 7:19 PM


Marco Rubio Says His Immigration Policies Would Have Kept His Parents From Entering the U.S. (Claire Landsbaum, 3/10/16, NY Mag)

When asked by an audience member whether his immigration policy would shut out people like his parents, who immigrated from Cuba, Rubio replied it "wouldn't shut them out, but it's a different process." He went on, "When my parents arrived in the U.S. in 1956, my dad had a fourth-grade education. My mom had about the same. If they came today under those circumstances, they would really struggle to succeed" because they wouldn't have the necessary skills to be competitive in today's job market.

He went on to say that modern immigration policy "has to be primarily based on merit" and that immigrants "should be able to prove what skills [they'll] bring to the U.S." In other words, if they tried to enter the country today, Rubio's parents probably wouldn't have made the cut.

Now ask the follow up : How would excluding your parents have made America a better place?

Posted by orrinj at 7:18 PM


How Iran plans to cover its budget deficit  (Navid KalhorPosted March 8, 2016, Al Monitor)

Research shows that countries where businesses can easily raise funds in the bond market typically experience comparatively faster and stronger recoveries from a recession. This finding is important for a nascent market at its embryonic stage, such as Iran. Indeed, with hopes for economic growth, Iran is now developing its Islamic bond market.

Iran Fara Bourse (IFB) is an over-the-counter (OTC) market, meaning trading is done directly between two parties. It is home to a plethora of modern financial instruments, all of which are Sharia-compliant. These include instruments such as Murabaha, Musharakah, Ijarah, different types of Sukuk with various maturities and also Islamic Treasury Bills (short-term sovereign debt). The Sharia-compliant Islamic T-bills are the latest addition, having made their debut on Sept. 30.  

According to Amir Hamooni, CEO of IFB, Iran ranks third among Islamic countries in the secondary market trades of Sharia-compliant securities -- after Turkey and Egypt -- having experienced a 30% year-on-year growth in such transactions. Hamooni also notes that 86% of debt market transactions in Iran pertain to the OTC exchange market. In this vein, he says that the current value of the Iranian credit market has reached 120 trillion rials ($4 billion).  

Nonetheless, the Iranian bond market is still in its infancy. The governor of the Central Bank of Iran, Valiollah Seif, has stated that with respect to overall financing needs in the Iranian fiscal year that ended March 20, 2015, the bond market provided for less than 3.2%, while some 89.2% was facilitated by money markets and 7.6% by the stock exchange. To provide a better picture of the situation: on average, credit markets comprise 75% of capital markets around the world. In comparison, in the past four years, the bond market accounted for merely 5% of transactions in Iranian capital markets.  

A shift from a bank-based economy into a more market-oriented structure is one of the key objectives that Iran is striving to materialize.

Posted by orrinj at 7:07 PM


Israel's Druze, Muslims, Christians more likely than Jews to believe in God, Pew study finds (MARISSA NEWMAN, March 8, 2016, Times of Israel)

A Pew Research Center in Israel study released Tuesday captures some of the complexity of Israeli religious life among its Jews, Christians, Muslims, and Druze. The survey conducted 5,601 face-to-face interviews with Israeli adults between October 14, 2014 and May 21, 2015. (The margin of error among Jews was +-2.9%, among Muslims, +-5.6%, among Christians +-9.1%, and among Druze +-10.7%)

It found that nearly half (46%) of Israeli adults raised Modern Orthodox will no longer identify as Modern Orthodox by adulthood, while the vast majority of those brought up within ultra-Orthodox and secular society will remain within their original social-religious framework.

The two groups with the highest retention rates are also the most fiercely opposed to intermarriage between themselves, with 93% of secular Jews and 95% of ultra-Orthodox Jews expressing opposition to their children marrying Haredi or secular partners, respectively. A whopping majority of Jews in Israel object to marriage outside the faith, but abhorring intermarriage across religious lines is not merely a Jewish preference, as the survey finds that some 82% of Muslims, 88% of Christians, and 87% of Druze would be uneasy with their children marrying Jews.

Not only are Israel's main religious and social groups reluctant to intermarry, however, but they also rarely forge friendships beyond their social lines. This was found to be especially true of Israel's ultra-Orthodox and secular communities, where 89% and 90% said all or most of their friends were members of their community.

The poll also examines specific practices of observance, such as how frequently Israelis pray and mark certain customs, and how much they valued religion in their lives. It found that Jews overall described themselves as less religious than their Muslim, Christian, and Druze counterparts. Among Jews, there were no significant differences in religious observance among younger and older Israelis, but among Muslims, the younger generation was found to be less religiously devoted. Jewish men said they valued religion slightly more than women, but Muslim women were reported to pray more and value religion more than Muslim men.

Posted by orrinj at 7:02 PM


AMERICA'S MOST URBAN STATES (Wendell Cox, 03/08/2016, New Geography)

Even before the radical densification policies of Senate Bill 375 were implemented, California's high density credentials were impeccable. Among all urban areas in the nation, 21 of the densest 25 are in California, including Richgrove, an urban area of less than 3000 residents in a population density of over 10,000 per square mile. Richgrove is located in Tulare County, in the San Joaquin Valley, 10 miles east of State Highway 99, in the Delano area. Not only is Los Angeles nearly twice as dense as international densification model Portland, but San Francisco, San Jose, Sacramento, Riverside - San Bernardino and San Diego are also more dense than Portland, not to mention Fresno, Oxnard, Stockton, Los Banos, Simi Valley and Modesto and, of course Richgrove (as well as others).

New York has the second highest state urban population density at 4200 residents per square mile. Again, perhaps surprisingly, Nevada has the third highest population urban density, though well below New York at 3300 residents per square mile. Las Vegas is the fifth highest density urban area over 1,000,00 residents, at 4500 residents per square mile Only one other state, Hawaii, has an urban population density above 3000 residents per square mile (3200). Honolulu, with fewer than 1,000,000 residents, has an urban density of 4800 per square mile.

Rather than being dominated by the states with the urban areas perceived to be the densest, in the East and Midwest, seven are in the West, which has, like California, a reputation for urban sprawl. Only New Jersey, much of which is suburban New York or Philadelphia, as well as Illinois, home of the nation's third largest urban area, Chicago, rank in the 10 densest states for urbanization.

Eight of the 10 least dense states are in the South. Two are in the East, one of which should be no surprise, Maine, where all of the urban areas are somewhat small. (Figure 4) New Hampshire, however, may be surprising, since so much of the population is located in suburban Boston. One of the least accurate urban myths is about Boston as a dense urban area. Yes, it is dense inside Route 128 (Interstate 95), but beyond that it exhibits densities about the same as Atlanta, which is the least dense urban area in the world that has more than 2 million residents.

Posted by orrinj at 6:59 PM


Jessica Alba's Honest laundry detergent said to contain forbidden ingredient (David Pierson, 3/10/16, LA Times)

The Honest Co. built its reputation as an environmentally minded alternative to everyday consumer products such as soaps, lotions and cleaning products -- winning over fans and media attention with its celebrity co-founder, actress Jessica Alba.

But the Santa Monica company's image as a safer brand is being called into question by the Wall Street Journal, which commissioned lab tests that showed Honest laundry detergent contained a harsh chemical the company swore it never used.
The ingredient, sodium lauryl sulfate, or SLS, is listed as forbidden in the company's Honestly Free Guarantee, which is posted on its website. The chemical is widely used in toothpaste, shampoo and detergent and blamed for causing skin irritation.

Posted by orrinj at 6:56 PM


Israel fractures by faith on politics and society (Lauren Markoe, March 8, 2016, RNS)

More than three-quarters (76 percent) of Israeli Jews believe their country can be both Jewish and democratic, a view rejected by majorities of Israeli Muslims and Christians, according to a comprehensive new survey released by the Washington-based Pew Research Center Tuesday (March 8).

The report also highlights the precarious relationship between Jews and Arabs in Israel, with nearly half (48 percent) of Jewish Israelis favoring the expulsion or transfer of Arabs from the nation.

"The survey finds deep religious divisions in Israeli society, not only between Jews and Arabs, but also among Jews," said Alan Cooperman, director of religion research at Pew.

Among the report's other findings: While nearly all Israeli Jews say they're Jewish, half (49 percent) consider themselves secular, even as they engage in some Jewish religious practices. And one in five Jewish Israelis profess no belief in God.

"Mostly what we find is a huge gulf between ultra-Orthodox and secular Jews," said Neha Sahgal, a senior researcher on the survey, "Israel's Religiously Divided Society," which is based on face-to-face interviews of more than 5,600 Israeli Jews, Muslims, Christians and Druze.

Posted by orrinj at 6:22 PM


Oil meeting on output freeze unlikely without Iran progress: sources (RANIA EL GAMAL AND ALEX LAWLER, 3/10/16, Reuters)

[T]he biggest roadblock to a wider deal, OPEC delegates say, is Iran. Tehran feels it should be exempt from the agreement as it wants to recover market share it lost under Western sanctions. Kuwait said on Tuesday it will commit to the deal - if all major producers including Iran do so.

"They are not agreeing on the meeting. Why would the ministers meet again now? Iran says they will not do anything," said an OPEC source from a major producer. "Only if Iran agrees, things will change." [...]

Tehran has rejected freezing its output at January levels, put by OPEC secondary sources at 2.93 million barrels per day (bpd), and wants to return to much higher pre-sanctions production.

"Tehran wanted a freeze ... for them to be based on 4 million barrels per day, their pre-sanctions production figure," said one source familiar with the discussions. A source familiar with Iranian thinking agreed.

Posted by orrinj at 3:46 PM


Americans Think the Robots Are Coming for Many Jobs, But Not Their Jobs (JEFFREY SPARSHOTT, Mar 10, 2016, WSJ)

About two-thirds of Americans expect robots or computers within the next half century will take over many of the jobs now performed by humans.

But not their jobs.

"Even as many Americans expect that machines will take over a great deal of human employment, an even larger share (80%) expect that their own jobs or professions will remain largely unchanged and exist in their current forms 50 years from now," the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan think tank, said in a new report on public expectations for workforce automation.

Meanwhile, no one would notice if they didn't show up at their jobs for a week or two.

Posted by orrinj at 3:39 PM


Trump campaign manager gets rough with Breitbart reporter (HADAS GOLD, 03/09/16, Politico)

Donald Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski forcibly yanked Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields out of the way after his press conference in Florida on Tuesday night.

Fields was attempting to ask Trump a question as he exited the press conference. Secret Service was starting to clear a path, when Fields was forcibly grabbed on her arm by Lewandowski, moving her out of the way and nearly bringing her down to the ground, a source who witnessed the situation told POLITICO.

Posted by orrinj at 3:32 PM


Trump's modeling agency broke immigration laws, attorneys say (Blake Ellis and Melanie Hicken, 3/10/16, CNNMoney)

Donald Trump's modeling agency has profited from the very same visa program that the presidential candidate himself has slammed -- and appears to have violated federal law in the process, a CNNMoney investigation has found.

Throughout his campaign, Trump has loudly opposed the practice of U.S. companies using foreign workers instead of Americans -- specifically the highly-skilled workers brought to the United States through the controversial H-1B visa program. [...]

Government data analyzed by Howard University professor Ron Hira shows that since 2008, Trump's agency has successfully brought over around 30 foreign models -- from countries like Brazil, Latvia and China -- using the H-1B program. Almost half of these applications indicated the same $75,000 annual salary, while others went as high as $416,000.

CNNMoney asked a dozen attorneys and other immigration experts to review facts and documents from the case, and the vast majority said Trump's agency appears to have violated immigration law.
"It seems pretty clear to me that there was a violation... and a pretty egregious violation," said New York immigration attorney Jeffrey Feinbloom.

March 9, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 6:18 PM


How to Understand the Folk Marxism of Trump Supporters (Joe Carter, 3/09/16, Acton)

Folk Marxism differs from academic forms of Marxism in the same way most folk beliefs differ from scholarly beliefs. As economist Arnold Kling explains, "Ordinary people and scholars may treat the same ideas differently. In terms of influence, it is the folk beliefs of ordinary people that matter, not the beliefs of scholars."

A decade ago, when it was still a belief system found mostly on the political left, Kling outlined the basics of folk Marxism:

Folk Marxism looks at political economy as a struggle pitting the oppressors against the oppressed. Of course, for Marx, the oppressors were the owners of capital and the oppressed were the workers. But folk Marxism is not limited by this economic classification scheme. All sorts of other issues are viewed through the lens of oppressors and oppressed. Folk Marxists see Israelis as oppressors and Palestinians as oppressed. They see white males as oppressors and minorities and females as oppressed. They see corporations as oppressors and individuals as oppressed. They see America as on oppressor and other countries as oppressed.

I believe that folk Marxism helps to explain the pride and joy that many people felt when Maryland passed its anti-Walmart law. They think of Walmart as an oppressor, and they think of other businesses and Walmart workers as the oppressed. The mainstream media share this folk Marxism, as they reported the Maryland law as a "victory for labor."
This brand of folk Marxism has been popular on the left for more than a century and continues to grow in influence (see: Bernie Sanders). But Donald Trump has tapped into a strain of folk Marxism that has cross-ideological appeal and extends across the political spectrum. the equivalent of telling someone you're breaking up with that it's you, not them.
Posted by orrinj at 6:14 PM


Here's Where Most Immigrants Are Coming From (and It's Not Mexico) (Tim Henderson, 3/09/16, Reuters)

In 37 states, a country other than Mexico is now the most common country of origin for newly arrived immigrants, according to a Stateline analysis of census data.

The numbers reflect a steep decline in Mexican immigration since 2005 and point to a swift and dramatic shift toward Asia -- especially China and India -- as the dominant source of newcomers to the U.S.

Posted by orrinj at 6:11 PM


Isis: counter-terrorism experts hail leaked documents containing details of 22,000 Daesh militants (Mark Piggott, March 9, 2016, IB Times)

Counter-terrorism experts have hailed the leak of documents containing detailed information about 22,000 Isis militants - including dozens from the UK - as the biggest breakthrough ever. in the fight against Daesh. The information - including the names, addresses and telephone numbers - was completed by new recruits to Isis and was on a memory stick stolen from the head of Islamic State's internal security police. The information was obtained by Sky News, who were contacted by a former Isis member called Abu Hamed who had become disillusioned with the organisation.

Posted by orrinj at 6:07 PM


A Majority of the Products Trump Boasted About Last Night Aren't Available Anymore (MEGHAN KENEALLY,  Mar 9, 2016, ABC News)

Donald Trump's Mini Tuesday victory press conference turned into something of a live infomercial last night when the GOP presidential candidate took the opportunity to pitch a number of his business ventures.

Wines were on display, as were water bottles and piles of raw steaks, with Trump claiming they were all examples of his "successful companies."

But that isn't necessarily the case. The majority of the products the real estate mogul highlighted are no longer being produced, aren't affiliated with him or were never available for sale publicly. Here's a look at some of the ventures Trump touted Tuesday -- and where they stand now...

His huksterism is so obvious it does make it hard to take his supporters seriously.

Posted by orrinj at 5:49 PM


Trump and Sanders Lash Out at a Common Enemy: Free Trade (Martin Matishak, March 9, 2016, Fiscal Times)

Tuesday night's primaries show that Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have struck upon an issue that could strengthen their presidential bids as the race for the White House pivots toward the Midwest: free trade.

Posted by orrinj at 4:12 PM


How Syrian cease-fire has reignited spark of the revolution (Mohammed al-Khatieb, 3/09/16, Al Monitor)

[T]he demonstrators are back following the extendable two-week cease-fire agreement sponsored by the United States and Russia. Despite some violations, the number of airstrikes and the shelling in most regions has declined substantially, allowing for the return of the peaceful Syrian revolution.

At demonstrations in Aleppo and its countryside, Idlib, Daraa and the Ghouta area surrounding Damascus, protesters can be heard chanting, "The revolution continues." On March 4, protests were staged in 104 locations, a level of mobilization unheard of for some time now.

These days, the city of Aleppo is experiencing a calm it has not seen since the battle moved into its streets more than three years ago. There are no warplanes in the sky, and the sound of explosions that had became so familiar is no longer heard. Only the devastation and rubble remain to tell the story of the difficult days that befell this weary city.

Some 300,000 people remain in the Aleppo neighborhoods controlled by the opposition, about half of the city. In 2005, some 2.3 million people lived in Aleppo. Although most residents have been displaced by shelling and bombing by regime and Russian forces, the city has managed to muster several protests since the cease-fire began.

Al-Monitor attended a protest organized by activists in Aleppo's Bab al-Hadeed neighborhood March 4 and saw firsthand the protesters' enthusiasm, which recalled the early days of the revolution. Demonstrators raised the flag of the revolution as well as a large banner that read "Long live Syria and down with Assad."

On the sidelines of the protests, Shamel al-Ahmad, one of the organizers, told Al-Monitor, "I am overjoyed. ... We are protesting today just like we did back in 2011, but without bullets, and the security forces are not here to repress us." According to Ahmad, five years after the outbreak of the revolution, many Syrians have given up hope of the international community helping them achieve their demands. When asked about the reasons behind the demonstration, he said, "We came to confirm that our revolution is ongoing, no matter what happens. We are a resilient and determined people, and we will not back down from our demands: a free Syria for all Syrians and free of Assad and terrorism. Thousands of martyrs have fallen, which makes us more determined not to back off on our rightful and legitimate demands."

Posted by orrinj at 4:05 PM


Big banks and credit card companies are increasingly offering customers free access to their FICO scores ( KEN SWEET, AP)

It might be the most important piece of financial information about you -- and it's finally easier for you to actually get a look at it.

Big banks and credit card companies are increasingly offering customers free access to their FICO score. This score, named after the software and analytics company that developed it, is used by lenders to determine how risky you are when they are deciding whether to issue a new credit card, mortgage or auto loan.

Banks have been able to make scores available to customers for four years, a result of a FICO initiative, but they have been slow to do so. Discover Financial was the first major credit card issuer to give its customers access to their FICO scores in 2013. But banks like JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup among others have adopted the program in the past year.

Posted by orrinj at 3:45 PM


Idaho Shooting Suspect Caught at White House Trying to Warn the Country of Oversexed Martians (Samuel Lieberman, 3/09/16, NY Mag)

In the document (which begins with a claim that he's "100% sane, 0% crazy"), Odom describes text messages he received from Remington warning him of "their power." After Remington (he says) sent him a text message that just read "angels," Odom says he began to feel strange sexual urges: "It felt like someone was manually pumping blood into my penis," he wrote. He says that aliens tried to usurp his mind but were unable to. They apparently are taking many people as their sex slaves. "Don't believe me? Ask President Obama to take a lie detector test on this one," he wrote. As a last resort, he says, he's attempting to alert the public and has sent out a list of public figures he thinks are Martians. "Too many to list" are Israeli.

Posted by orrinj at 3:39 PM


Anonymous tip claims raw milk caused illnesses at Capitol (Nathan Takitch, Mar 09, 2016, WSAZ) 

In the weeks after passing a bill, allowing West Virginians to drink raw milk, one delegate brought the drink in to celebrate and, eventually, several lawmakers have gotten sick.

Posted by orrinj at 1:08 PM


Trump Affiliates With Pastor and Sandy Hook Truther Whose Website Discusses the 'Muslim Problem' (Jonathan Zalman, March 8, 2016, The Tablet)

Today, we focus our attention on a report from media watchdog Media Matters that details the connection between Trump and Carl Gallups, a pastor at Hickory Hammock Baptist Church in Milton, FL, and radio host, who is also a Sandy Hook truther. In a press release, Trump's campaign called Gallups "incredible." He gave the opening prayer at a Trump rally in January.

...ahead of the state's March 15 Republican primary; the campaign invited Gallups to speak at a rally and touted his endorsement as a "great honor" from a "prominent" leader. Gallups is a fringe conspiracy host who believes the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, CT, was a "staged" "hoax" and that the father of one of the victims was an "actor employed by the Obama administration to take away your guns."

I wonder what the families of the victims of the Sandy Hook shootings would have to say about this "hoax."

Posted by orrinj at 3:43 AM


US forces captured head of Isis chemical weapons program in Iraq last month (Assocated Press, 9 March 2016)

Iraqi officials say man is Sleiman Daoud al-Afari, who specialized in chemical and biological weapons in Saddam Hussein's Military Industrialization Authority

US special forces captured the head of the Islamic State militant group's effort to develop chemical weapons in a raid last month in northern Iraq, two senior Iraqi intelligence officials have told the Associated Press, the first known major success of Washington's more aggressive policy of pursuing the jihadis on the ground.

The Obama administration launched the new strategy in December, deploying a commando force to Iraq that it said would be dedicated to capturing and killing Isis leaders in clandestine operations, as well as generating intelligence leading to more raids.

March 8, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 7:42 PM


Minimum Wage, Maximum Automation (Stewart Dompe, March 08, 2016, FEE)

If you are getting paid in excess of the value you create, you are either (a) a bureaucrat or (b) soon to find yourself replaced by a machine.

Posted by orrinj at 7:41 PM


As the Number of Uninsured Falls, Potential Fallout to Repealing the ACA Grows (DAVID BLUMENTHAL, Mar 8, 2016, WSJ)

The initial National Health Interview Survey results published last month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirm what many private surveys have shown: that the proportion of Americans under 65 who lack health insurance has plummeted to record lows since the Affordable Care Act became law. Twenty million fewer Americans were uninsured in the first nine months of 2015 than in 2010. [...]

Whether or not you like Obamacare, a few things are clear: Repeal of the health-care law would be complicated and politically fraught. Taking health insurance away from 20 million newly covered people-equivalent to the populations of Tennessee, Indiana, and Missouri combined-would adversely affect some voters in virtually every congressional district of the country. That would not go unnoticed.

Posted by orrinj at 7:27 PM


Are Central Banks Really Out of Ammunition? (Adair Turner, 3/08/16, Project Syndicate))

If the core problem is inadequate global demand, only monetary or fiscal policy can solve it. But central bankers are right to stress the limits of what monetary policy alone can achieve.

The Bank of Japan recently introduced negative interest rates, and next week the European Central Bank will probably take its own rate still further into negative territory or launch yet more quantitative easing (QE). But these levers can make little difference to real economic consumption and investment.

Negative interest rates are intended to spur credit demand among companies and households. But if banks are unwilling to impose negative rates on depositors, the actual and perverse consequence could be higher lending rates as banks attempt to maintain margins in the face of the running losses they now make on their central bank reserves.

As Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, has noted, negative interest rates should be used only in ways that stimulate overall global demand, rather than simply to move demand from one country to another via competitive devaluation. But achieving such stimulus via negative interest rates may be impossible. The potential for yet more QE to change behavior in the real economy is equally unclear.

This means that nominal demand will rise only if governments deploy fiscal policy to reduce taxes or increase public expenditure - thereby, in Milton Friedman's phrase, putting new demand directly "into the income stream."

...ease by paying off debt.

Posted by orrinj at 7:18 PM


More Latinos seek citizenship to vote against Donald Trump (Nicole Rojas, March 8, 2016,, ib tIMES)

The New York Times reported federal figures showing that naturalisation applications increased by 11% in the 2015 fiscal year over the previous year and surged 14% in the six months ending in January 2016. Advocates claim that the pace is rapidly rising, with applications estimated to reach 1 million in 2016, or 200,000 more than the average.

Posted by orrinj at 6:49 PM


Defying critics, Trump again urges supporters to pledge to him (TIMES OF ISRAEL, March 8, 2016)

Flying in the face of comparisons to Adolf Hitler, Republican front-runner Donald Trump on Monday once against asked his supporters, at a North Carolina rally, to raise their right hands and pledge to vote for him.

Posted by orrinj at 6:44 PM


Isis: Senior Daesh commander al-Shishani reported killed in US air strike in Syria (Mark Piggott, March 8, 2016, IB Times)

The US says it targeted one of Isis's top military commanders Omar al-Shishani in an air strike in Syria but has so far refused to comment on reports from the region that he was killed. If confirmed, the death of Chechen al-Shishani - often described as the organisation's de facto minister of war - would be a major loss for Daesh, under attack from all sides as it attempts to impose a caliphate across Syria and Iraq whilst also carrying out terror attacks across the world.

al-Shishani, 30, a senior military advisor to Isis leader al-Baghdadi, is reported to have died in an air strike near the Syrian town of al-Shadadi in which 12 other Isis fighters were killed.

Posted by orrinj at 6:33 PM


GOODELL DEFLATES GOODELL'S POINT : Seventh-grader Ben Goodell with his science fair project "How Weather Conditions Affect PSI of a Football" at the St. Pius V Elementary School science fair. (BRIDGET TURCOTTE, 3/08/16, Item Live)

St. Pius V Elementary School seventh-grader Ben Goodell solved the deflategate controversy and scored the Outstanding Project Award at the school's annual science fair.

After feeling deflated over accusations against the New England Patriots, Goodell took it upon himself to prove the team innocent.

"I wanted to prove that Tom Brady wasn't guilty," Goodell said.

Goodell, who took first place in last year's fair, began his experiment with a properly-inflated football. He then exposed the ball to different weather conditions, including humidity, snow, wind chill, and cold and ice.

"Every time, it dropped 2 PSI," he said. "The lowest PSI recorded during deflategate was 2 PSI under proper inflation. I had (the football) at proper inflation when I started."

The project, "How Weather Conditions Affect PSI of a Football," was displayed at the fair with a football, pump, pressure gauge and a tri-fold detailing Goodell's work.

Goodell, no relation to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell -- the man at the helm of the deflategate charges against Brady and the Patriots -- said his admiration for the sport only added to his interest in the project.

Posted by orrinj at 3:13 PM


The problem of sovereignty in the EU referendum (GERRY HASSAN 7 March 2016, Open Democracy)

After years of second guesses and a rising tide of Europhobia and scare stories, finally the UK faces the certainty of a vote on June 23rd on whether or not it remains a member of the European Union. This will be a debate about so much - about how people see Britain and its future, the English question, and the distinctiveness and autonomy of Scotland - all illustrating the absence of any uniform national British politics.

The referendum will be dominated by concerns about the economy, immigration, security, and the UK's role and influence in the world. It will also be about competing understandings of 'sovereignty' - with several different Tory perspectives, along with Labour, Lib Dems, UKIP, Scottish Nationalist and Green views. There will be similarities in language and tone to the indyref. Some of the same clichés will be invoked to breaking point, 'Project Fear' has been dusted down, and the trading and counter-trading of alleged pseudo-facts begun.

Most people most of the time do not go round thinking of how 'sovereignty' impacts on themselves and their family. Instead, it is an abstract, something remote and ill-defined, and a concept open to many different interpretations - whose practical application is unclear.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness."

Posted by orrinj at 1:17 PM


Who will care for us in the future? Watch out for the rise of the robots (Madeleine Bunting,  6 March 2016 , The Guardian)

The labour of caring - largely still done by women - has always been belittled and undervalued. The vast bulk is unpaid; the Office for National Statistics valued unpaid childcare alone at £343bn and cleaning and laundry at £97.2bn in 2012 - all those years of sorting odd socks finally get a price tag. When care becomes part of a job, it is paid badly and is believed to require minimal training. [...]

But the characteristics needed to provide this kind of care are losing cultural traction. Attentiveness requires two crucial ingredients: patience and the willingness to put one's own preoccupations aside and to be available to another. Yet in a myriad of ways we are all being groomed - by consumerism and digital media - to be the opposite: impatient and self-preoccupied. That impatience makes us easily distractable, addicted to the next stimulus.

March 7, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 6:22 PM


Economic policymakers are at sea on inflation (Lawrence Summers, March 6, 2016, Washington Post)

Market measures of inflation expectations have been collapsing and, on the Fed's preferred inflation measure, are now in the range of 1 to 1.25 percent over the next decade. Inflation expectations are even lower in Europe and Japan. Survey measures have shown sharp declines in recent months. Commodity prices are at multi-decade lows, and the dollar has only risen as rapidly as it has in the past 18 months twice during the past 40 years when the value of the dollar has fluctuated freely. The Fed's most recent forecasts call for short-term interest rates to rise almost 2 percent in the next two years, while the market foresees an increase of only about 0.5 percent. Consensus forecasts are for U.S. GDP growth of only about 1.5 percent for the six months from October to this month. And the Fed is forecasting a return to its 2 percent inflation target on the basis of models that are not convincing to most outside observers. [...]

 In the 1970s, it took years for policymakers to recognize how far behind the curve they were on inflation and to make strong policy adjustments. Policymakers continued to worry about a supposed lack of demand long after it was an important problem. The first attempts to contain inflation were too timid to be effective, and success was achieved only with highly determined policy. A crucial step was the abandonment of the idea that the problem was structural in nature rather than driven by macroeconomic policy.

Today's risks of embedded "lowflation" tilting toward deflation and of secular stagnation in output growth are at least as serious as the inflation problem of the 1970s. They, too, will require shifts in policy paradigms if they are to be resolved. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:19 PM


'Whiskey Tango Foxtrot' with Tina Fey is surprisingly sharp and funny (Kyle Smith, March 3, 2016, NY Post)

There aren't enough movies in which Tina Fey fires an AK-47 while grinning maniacally. "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot" turns out to make excellent use of her established skills while revealing new ones: It's "30 Rock Me to the Casbah."

Episodic, loose and observational, "WTF" is more a magazine article than a movie -- it's based on a memoir by a war correspondent who spent several years in and around Kabul, Afghanistan -- but it's brilliantly told. It's funny, odd and endearing, as drenched with detail as Afghanistan is with craziness (typified by the Islamist fanatics who are seen "executing" old TV sets by shooting them).

Posted by orrinj at 5:31 PM


5 Reasons Democrats Need To Be Terrified About November (National Memo, March 7, 2016)

Voter suppression works.

This is the first presidential election in 50 years without the full protection of the Voting Rights Act, and the results have already been terrifying -- and almost completely ignored by the media. "Eight out of the 16 states that have held primaries or caucuses so far have implemented new voter ID or other restrictive voting laws since 2010," The Huffington Post reports. "Democratic turnout has dropped 37 percent overall in those eight states, but just 13 percent in the states that didn't enact new voter restrictions. To put it another way, Democratic voter turnout was 285 percent worse in states with new voter ID laws." And voter ID laws are just the beginning. Kansas has disenfranchised 37,000 residents, including a 13-year Air Force veteran, by adding completely unnecessary requirements to vote. 

It's not suppression when we do it.
Posted by orrinj at 5:26 PM


Driverless lorries to be trialled on UK roads (Owen Hughes, March 7, 2016, IB Times)

Driverless lorries will take to UK roads later in 2016 as part of an initiative to improve road efficiency. According to reports, Chancellor George Osborne will announce the trials in his Budget speech in March.

According to the Times, the road test will see convoys of up to 10 vehicles put to the test on quiet stretches of the M6 motorway in Cumbria. Each convoy will be led by a manned vehicle that will set the pace and steering of the fleet, while each computer-controlled lorry will contain a driver who will be able to take over control of the vehicle in case of an emergency.

Posted by orrinj at 5:23 PM


ISIS faces crude reality as oil output slumps (Alanna Petroff, March 7, 2016, CNN Money)

ISIS, once dubbed the richest terrorist group in history, has been struggling with declining oil production and has been forced to ration the use of gasoline and other fuels, experts say.

The group also makes money selling oil, but its production, distribution and refining capabilities have been badly damaged by U.S.-led military airstrikes.

Posted by orrinj at 5:18 PM


P100D: Tesla prepares more powerful Model S with longest battery range yet (Alistair Charlton, March 7, 2016, IB Times)

Tesla is preparing to announce what could be its fastest, most powerful car yet, with a larger battery and a real-world range of 300 miles. The car will be called the Model S P100D and will have a battery pack some 11% larger than the current range-topper, the P90D.

Posted by orrinj at 5:14 PM


India's big move into solar is already paying off (Huizhong Wu, March 7, 2016, CNN)

India's massive bet on solar power is paying off far earlier than anticipated.

The price of solar power has plummeted in recent months to levels rivaling that of coal, positioning the renewable source as a viable mainstream option in a country where 300 million people live without electricity.

Solar prices are now within 15% of coal, according to KPMG. If current trends hold, the consultancy predicts electricity from solar will actually be 10% cheaper than domestic coal by 2020.

And that could turn out to be a conservative forecast. At a recent government auction, the winning bidder offered to sell electricity generated by a project in sunny Rajasthan for 4.34 rupees (6 cents) per kilowatt hour, roughly the same price as some recent coal projects.

Posted by orrinj at 5:10 PM


North Korea blusters as US and South Korea launch expanded war games (Deutsche-Welle, 3/07/16)

The United States and South Korea began on Monday an expanded edition of their major annual military exercises in light of recent nuclear and missile launch tests by North Korea. [...]

The latest restrictions are noteworthy both for their groundbreaking nature and their broad support, in particular from China. The Beijing government is typically North Korea's strongest ally but even it has become frustrated since Pyongyang's latest nuclear and missile tests.

The sanctions target specific sectors of the North Korean economy, and include bans of all sales or transfers of small arms and light weapons to Pyongyang. They also impose mandatory inspections of cargo entering and exiting the communist country.

The resolution also empowers countries to expel North Korean diplomats who engage in "illicit activities." In a bid to target the country's elite, it also bans the sale of luxury items - including watches and even snowmobiles - worth more than $2,000 (1,825 euros).

The Philippines has already seized a North Korean cargo ship, which was among 31 listed by the resolution as banned from international ports.

Posted by orrinj at 1:29 PM


Pentagon: US drone strike kills over 150 al-Shabab militants (Deutsche-Welle, 3/07/16)

"The fighters were there training and were training for a large-scale attack. We know they were going to be departing the camp and they posed an imminent threat to the US and (African Union) forces," said Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis.

The airstrike took place on Saturday around 195 kilometers (120 miles) away from the Somali capital Mogadishu.

"Initial assessments are that more than 150 terrorist fighters were eliminated," Davis added.

Posted by orrinj at 1:21 PM


Why Might Former Democratic Candidate Jim Webb Support Donald Trump? (Benjamin Powers, March 7, 2016, National Memo)

Webb presents himself as the voice of a supposedly forgotten corner of the Democratic Party...

The Confederacy?

Posted by orrinj at 1:11 PM


Pushing the Boundaries of Free Speech in Cuba (ERNESTO LONDOÑO, MARCH 7, 2016, NY Times)

For years, those who criticized the government paid a high price and were branded as traitors, but today Cubans from a broader cross-section of society are speaking out with less fear.

A youth group led by bloggers recently began a round of town hall meetings at universities around the country to debate the political future of an island that has been ruled by two autocratic brothers since 1959 and the continuing exodus of young people. Harold Cárdenas, one of the leaders of the group, known as Young Cuba, recently lamented the lack of political enthusiasm among his contemporaries. "Has Cuban youth become apolitical?" he wrote in a post. "Or is it that the current alternatives are unappealing?

That is a veiled but sharp criticism of Cuba's graying and increasingly unseen leaders by Mr. Cárdenas, who has close ties to the progressive wing of the government. Taking that sort of euphemistic shot at the state in Cuba is not so unusual, but some Cubans have gone even further.

Last October, the state-run newspaper Tribuna published an article that mockingly made allusions to the extravagant trips Antonio Castro, the son of former President Fidel Castro, took to Turkey and the United States. Last year, gay rights advocates demanded in an article published in a blog on Cuba's state-run blog platform that the current president apologize for the abusive treatment of gay men during the early years of the Cuban revolution.

The government's only response was to censor the blog post, which nonetheless was shared widely.

March 6, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 2:31 PM


In the Bizarro World of Negative Interest Rates, Saving Will Cost You (JEFF SOMMER MARCH 5, 2016, NY Times)

[S]omething radically different is afoot today. It's called negative interest -- and it is an inversion of the traditional relationship between lenders and borrowers.

"It's all upside down," said Kathy A. Jones, chief fixed-income strategist at Charles Schwab. "Negative interest is hard to even think about. Our whole financial system is built the other way, on positive interest rates. This is mind-boggling."

Negative rates have been spreading through important sectors of high finance in Europe and Asia. They are not being offered in a systematic way to retail investors, as far as I know, but Bloomberg found last month that more than $1.1 trillion worth of German bonds and about $4.5 trillion in Japanese government debt carried negative interest, and more than $7 trillion in bonds over all had negative yields. Central banks, which have helped engineer the arrival of negative interest rates, are buying some of these bonds themselves, but private investors are doing so, too, accepting probable losses.

...deflation and markets.  Because, if they did, thw willingness to accept negative rates would be perfectly logical to them. The borrower is, of course, paying you back more than he borrowed.

Posted by orrinj at 2:22 PM


Is crying good for you? (Luisa Dillner, 6 March 2016, The Guardian)

In laboratory studies where crying is induced, people actually report feeling more distressed. A study from the University of California at Berkeley showed 150 women a clip from the film Steel Magnolias, in which a mother is crying at her daughter's funeral. A total of 33 cried and 117 did not. Those who cried felt more pain and distress for a longer period of time. The authors argued that crying created a state of greater distress, which took longer to recover from.

Posted by orrinj at 12:45 PM


A change of heart: Journalist who reported Minnesota county was 'worst place to live' is moving there (April Baumgarten, Mar 5, 2016, grand Forks Herald)

A Washington Post journalist said he is moving to a Minnesota county he once reported as being "the absolute worst place to live in America."
Christopher Ingraham, who writes about politics, drug policy and all things data, announced Saturday morning on his Facebook page he is moving in May to Red Lake County.

"It's true, we've been planning it for a while now," he told the Herald. "We are just trying to find a place to stay, and once we have that ironed out, we'll be heading out there." [...]

The uproar culminated into a visit to the county by Ingraham after being invited by Jason Brumwell, owner of Voyageur's View Campground and Outfitters north of Red Lake Falls. Ingraham was greeted by city officials and business owners as he toured the county, which included a welcome by the local school's drumline, a roofless school bus ride, kayaking and a visit to a dairy farm.

"The cows were lovely," he said. "Hopefully, we can move next to the cows."

Ingraham said he expects to live in Red Lake County with his family for about one or two years, though the length of their stay is "open-ended."

He and his wife, Briana, who wanted to take some time off to raise their 2-year-old twin sons, decided to move from Ellicott City, Md., to Red Lake County in part because they wanted to raise their children in the country and "partially for an adventure."

He added his trip to the Minnesota county also played a part in the decision.

"It really made an impression on me, I think," he said. "It was kind of under very strange circumstances, obviously, going out there, but I had a lot of fun.

"It just kind of stuck in my mind. The more my wife and I talked about the idea, the more it grew on us."

It's just responsible parenting.

Posted by orrinj at 12:39 PM


Sweden's economy is on fire -- but that's terrible news for the country's central bank (Will Martin, Feb. 29, 2016, Business Insider)

Sweden's economy grew by 4.5% on an annual basis during the fourth quarter of 2015, according to figures published on Monday.

That's far ahead of the expected 3.6%, and well above the 4.1% figure from Q3 last year.

On a quarterly basis, GDP grew 1.3%, nearly double the 0.7% expected by economists, and once again, well ahead of Q3's number.

That's what you get with massive waves of immigration and Third Way reforms....

Posted by orrinj at 12:33 PM


Joe Biden jokingly suggests Obama should nominate Ted Cruz to the Supreme Court (The Week, 3/06/16)

"Ted Cruz? An inspiration to every kid in America who worries that he'll never be able to run for president because nobody likes him. He's running," Biden said. "And look, I told Barack, if you really, really want to remake the Supreme Court, nominate Cruz. Before you know it, you'll have eight vacancies."

It's not like he'd be any more effective than Scalia or Thomas.  He'd write for himself.

Posted by orrinj at 9:44 AM


If It's March, It Must Be Miami: When Home Changes With the Season (ROBERT FRANK, MARCH 5, 2016, NY Times)

Oren Alexander, the Miami-based real estate agent to the rich, no longer thinks of his clients as second-home buyers. Today's ultrawealthy, he says, are often looking for "the four-pack" -- a pied-à-terre in New York, a beach house in the Hamptons, a ski villa in Aspen and a winter condo in Miami.

"They're not really looking for full-time residences anymore," said Mr. Alexander, a broker with Douglas Elliman. "They want stops on the big circuit."

While the rich have always been migratory creatures, drifting in what F. Scott Fitzgerald described as an "unrestful" tour of "wherever people played polo and were rich together," today's wealthy have turned the traditional grand tour into more of a racing circuit. They have property everywhere but live nowhere, moving with the sun, seasons and an increasingly crowded calendar of V.I.P. events.

And as the rich own a greater share of real estate, major cities like New York, Los Angeles and London are going through a kind of "resortification," familiar to posh beach towns or ski resorts, as their populations become more seasonal.

Disney is the proper model ; theme parks where the wealthy stay on campus while they sample the entertainment, the middle class makes day trips to visit or work, and the poor live elsewhere.

Posted by orrinj at 8:49 AM


Why Evangelicals Support Trump (Steve Mitchell, March 06, 2016, Real Clear Politics)

The results were fascinating. First, we found out that one of the major religious/political figures of the time was very unpopular with evangelicals. In fact, for every evangelical who had a favorable opinion of him, two had an unfavorable opinion. The credibility of the survey was validated when we shared this information with one of the major presidential campaigns and this leader "voluntarily" stepped down as the spokesperson for the Christian right.

Second, we found out that abortion was not the prime motivator for evangelical Christians. In fact, of the 400 people we interviewed, about one-third were pro-choice, something we all found surprising -- and probably the reason the results of this study were never released to the public.

Third, we found out what did draw this group toward politics: strong, decisive leaders, not issues. They got involved in politics for the same reason they got involved with their church -- because they were looking for someone to help "show them the way." Evangelicals were drawn into politics by messianic leaders.

When you look at the presidential candidates who have won a majority of evangelicals, they have all been strong figures in their own way, some more religious than others. Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and both Bushes all won a majority of these voters.

Although Carter was very religious, some might say that Bill Clinton's lifestyle was not always Christian. But, when Clinton spoke of a special "covenant" with voters, secularists didn't understand the term but Christians did, and they voted for him.

And, finally, we were able to determine who these voters were. They tended to be less educated with lower incomes, the same groups that were the earliest supporters of Trump 30 years after we did our research.

Donald Trump is precisely the type of candidate that would have drawn evangelical Christian voters in 1987 when we conducted our poll, and I believe that he is precisely the type of candidate that is drawing them in today. Although certainly not Christ-like, Trump is perceived to be strong and bold; a leader that will help evangelicals navigate a world they believe is too often adrift and too different from what they want.

Posted by orrinj at 8:08 AM


Posted by orrinj at 8:01 AM


A Jewish model for Muslim immigrants (RAJA KAMAL AND ARNOLD PODGORSKY, March 6, 2016, Times of Israel)

To address the challenges faced by Muslim immigrants, it might be instructive to consider the lessons of the Judaic diaspora. After the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, in 70 A.D., the Romans expelled the Jewish people from the Holy Land. For centuries, Jews often lived separately from indigenous populations, gathering in tightly knit communities. Informed by suspicion of "the other" and often by outright antisemitism, what today would be called "host communities" frequently prohibited Jews from participating in most professions and crafts and in the political and cultural life of the societies. Sometimes, anti-Jewish attitudes were expressed violently, and attacks on Jewish people and their communities were not uncommon. Jewish separateness, whether voluntary or enforced, was essentially the norm.

By the end of the 18th century Reform Judaism emerged in Germany and eventually in the US. The movement developed in part as an extension of the growth of rationalism in Western thought since the Enlightenment and in part as a reaction to the strictures and separateness that traditional Judaism demanded. The Reform movement (and, to a lesser extent, the movement for Conservative Judaism) advocated a relaxation of the more fundamental practices of traditional Judaism and greater assimilation into the economic, educational, and political mainstream of European societies. It welcomed modernity. In place of strict observance, Reform Judaism emphasized ethics, charity, and the admonition to "heal the world" as essentials of the Jewish character.

Over time, the threats of political oppression and violent antisemitism diminished in many places (not at all times or in all places, but generally). Progress was made in part because it was based on the long-established Judaic principle that Jews are to respect the laws of the lands they inhabit (except where they directly conflict with fundamental Jewish belief as, for instance, in the case of idol worship).

The Reform movement spawned contemporary Jewish pluralism, which now includes several streams of Jewish thought and practice. These diverse approaches provide an example of integration and response to evolving philosophical and political norms, while preserving essential and nourishing tenets of the Jewish faith. Adherents have managed to assimilate effectively into societies that are predominantly non-Jewish by adapting religious practice and expression to fit with the laws, culture and customs of their adoptive homelands.

All that is required is Christianization.

March 5, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 6:32 PM



King Arthur Flour is a B Corporation, and to raise awareness we've been handing out these pins this Winter.  But far more people were taking them than any interest in our corporate structure could justify. Then folks started offering donations when they took one...donations to the sanders campaign...  They thought the B referred to Bernie...

Posted by orrinj at 6:28 PM



Posted by orrinj at 6:12 PM


By studying Donald Trump, a Twitterbot learns to mimic him (Corey Fedde,  MARCH 5, 2016, CS Monitor)

A new Twitterbot is analyzing the way Mr. Trump speaks and using the data to generate tweets. The end result is intended to be an autonomous program capable of crafting tweets that sound like Mr. Trump and it has already garnered thousands of fans.

Posted by orrinj at 9:57 AM


Iraqi forces planning assault on Islamic State forces in Mosul (Henry Austin, March 5, 2016, IB Times)

"We have struck [Isis] fighters, weapons, leaders, and financial assets with precision and lethality," the spokesman for the US-led Operation Inherent Resolve told a news conference on 4 March . But he said that Iraqi forces were responsible for planning for the operation with coalition support, although they were looking for ways to accelerate the timeline for its completion, which was slated for the end of this year.

This includes speeding up the training for the Iraqi soldiers, and providing options to help them on the ground, he added. Training also is underway for the police forces who will serve as the "hold force" throughout Iraq to prevent Isil's resurgence, he said.

With its narrow streets surrounded with homemade explosives or improvised explosive devices (IEDs), Garver said it would be difficult to uproot the Isis (Daesh) fighters in Mosul, he said, adding that morale was "necessarily good" for the group inside the city at the moment. However, he said militants were trying to send their families out of Mosul and US strikes on the banks oil facilities and banks had forced the group to pay less to its fighters.

When the moment arrives to take the city, he said that 8-12 Iraqi brigades along with two Kurdish Peshmerga brigades with around 2,000-3,000 troops each will lead the efforts to take the city.

Posted by orrinj at 9:47 AM


Russia Missed Its Chance to Be Like America (Leonid Bershidsky, 3/04/16, Bloomberg View)

Many Russians feel the U.S. and their country are much alike. Both are vast, they share a sense of adventure, along with underlying lawlessness and violence, and in both, the infrastructure often is an afterthought. So what is keeping Russia from turning into another America -- a democratic nation and an economic powerhouse?

Russia got its chance in the early 1990s, but it was largely wasted. The first post-Soviet decade brought almost unlimited liberties, but also rampant corruption and economic decline. During the second one, the liberties gradually eroded and the economy improved thanks to high commodity prices -- a mirage, as became clear by the middle of the third decade. So is it just that Russians are not suited to building the kind of society that has ensured America's prosperity?

In 1990, when the Soviet Union was on its last legs, Yale's Robert J. Shiller and the Russian economist Maxim Boycko, who would later hold important government jobs and become a wealthy investor, polled Muscovites and New Yorkers on their attitudes toward free markets. They avoided asking about abstract notions such as "economic liberty" and "capitalism," focusing instead on concrete situations. The study showed significant differences between the views of Russians and Americans. In late 2015, Shiller and Boycko repeated their survey. The results, which were published recently, show that Russians aren't really any less pro-market than Americans -- but their attitudes still diverge seriously on some important points, and this divergence may explain why Russia hasn't become more like the U.S.

ALEKSANDR SOLZHENITSYN: THE ASCENT FROM IDEOLOGY (Robert P. Kraynak, December 2001, First Things)

Mahoney begins by arguing that the most reliable statement of Solzhenitsyn's political views is not the sensational Harvard Address of 1978 but rather the largely ignored Liechtenstein Address of 1993. This is a bold and original way to interpret Solzhenitsyn. The Harvard Address created a huge stir because it criticized Western liberal democracies for their loss of courage during the Vietnam War and for their adherence to legalistic rights without moral restraints. The Harvard Address was strident (though also powerful and inspiring, in my view) and seemed to offer no third way between the spiritual exhaustion of Western democracy and the tyranny of Soviet communism.

The later Liechtenstein Address continues the criticism of modern Western life, challenging its notion of progress for diminishing the human soul by glorifying materialism and trivializing death. Yet the address also sounds a new theme by praising the moral strengths of Western democracy"especially Ronald Reagan's inspiring political leadership that enabled the West to win the Cold War, as well as the constitutional restraints on power that protect personal liberty. The mature Sol zhenitsyn, Mahoney demonstrates, is a man capable of prudent political judgment who clearly recognizes that political freedom is indispensable for survival as well as for spiritual renewal.

Mahoney locates a crucial element of Solzhenitsyn's political teaching in his analysis of Peter Stolypin, the Prime Minister of Russia from 1906"11. Solzhenitsyn's appreciation of Stolypin has been largely unknown because it appears in the second edition of August 1914: The Red Wheel I (1989), which few have read. What Solzhenitsyn claims in the Stolypin chapters is that a moderate alternative to Tsarist autocracy existed in Russia in the early twentieth century"namely, a peaceful evolution toward a European"style constitutional monarchy under the enlightened statesmanship of Prime Minister Stolypin.

The main features of Stolypin's plan were the preservation of the Romanov dynasty and Orthodox Church, combined with economic and political reforms"reforms that would have given land to peasants and established local self"governing councils. Tragically, Stolypin was assassinated by terrorists who feared the success of his plan (which Solzhenitsyn estimates could have created an independent peasantry in twenty years and prevented Communist revolution). Mahoney's analysis shows Solzhenitsyn to be a Burkean"style admirer of constitutional mon archy that gradually evolves toward ordered liberty while preserving his nation's distinctive traditions.

Posted by orrinj at 9:35 AM


Eating peanuts helps infants avoid allergies, says study (AFP, 5 March 2016)

Feeding infants small amounts of mashed-up peanuts early in life may help them avoid developing allergies, even if they stop eating peanuts for a year in early childhood, researchers said on Friday.

The findings in the New England Journal of Medicine have prompted global health authorities to reconsider long-held advice that babies should avoid certain foods, amid a rise in potentially fatal peanut allergies among youths in recent years.

Posted by orrinj at 9:04 AM


The Future of Wi-Fi Is 10,000 Times More Energy Efficient (APRIL GLASER, 03.05.16, Wired)

The student researchers invented a new type of hardware that uses 10,000 times less power than traditional Wi-Fi networking equipment. It's called Passive Wi-Fi, (you can read their paper here) and it works just like a home router, just more efficiently. To give some perspective, the state of the art in low power Wi-Fi transmissions today consume 100s of milliwatts of power, whereas the technology the student researchers developed consume only 10-50 microwatts--10,000 times lower power. 

Wi-Fi typically requires two radios to communicate back and forth, and it takes a lot of energy to discern the signal from the noise because there may be several devices using the same frequency (2.4 mHz or 5 mHz). Each device has an RF transmitter that creates a radio wave and a baseband chip that encodes that radio wave with data. With Passive Wi-Fi, instead of each device using an analog radio frequency to receive and transmit a signal, just one produces a radio frequency. That frequency is relayed to your Wi-Fi-enabled device via separate, passive sensors that have only the baseband chip and an antenna and require almost no power. Those sensors pick up the signal and mirror it in a way that sends readable Wi-Fi to any device that has a Wi-Fi chipset in it. [...]

"The low power passive device isn't transmitting anything at all. It's creating Wi-Fi packets just by reflection," says Vamsi Talla, another student working on the project. "It's a transmission technique that's ultra low-powered, as opposed to a network device."

That "reflection" happens via a process called "backscatter," and the students at UW have created Wi-Fi equipment that sends out a signal via backscatter instead of using a full radio signal.

Posted by orrinj at 8:50 AM


How cars ruined our love of the countryside : From Kipling's first car journey to JG Ballard's motorway dystopias - our growing disconnection from the outdoors can be traced in literature (Melissa Harrison, 5 March 2016, The Guardian)'

On a recent visit to Northumberland I climbed a steep hill so that I could gaze down at the little town of Rothbury far below: a huddle of stone houses with a church tower, the Coquet river winding through it on the green valley floor, the grey Simonside Hills rising behind. Seeing the town set amid its surroundings wasn't just a nice view; it felt more important than that. It let me understand where I was in the landscape, and the experience was both atavistic and strangely moving. I stood there for a long time.

It's difficult for those of us who live in urban areas - 82% of us now - to get a good sense of the land on which we live. Its contours are obscured by buildings, its marshes drained, its rivers often diverted or sent underground; what we relate to on a day to day basis are its manmade features, the texture of its surface, and not the land beneath.

I've just been reading the great Bernd Heinrich's new book and pitying anyone who doesn't live in rural New England.

Posted by orrinj at 8:32 AM


Iran and Turkey aim to triple trade to $30 billion (AFP March 5, 2016)

 Iran and Turkey aim to triple their annual trade to $30 billion within two years, officials said in Tehran on Saturday, despite the two countries being at odds over fighting in Syria.

March 4, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 6:32 PM


Iran: seven key human rights challenges facing President Rouhani (Saeed Kamali Dehghan, 4 March 2016, tHE gUARDIAN)

Nasrin Sotoudeh, a human rights lawyer living in Iran, said on Wednesday that she was pleased with the election results, even though a significant number of candidates had been disqualified from standing. 

Sotoudeh said human rights violations remain a big concern for Iranian society but added it was important people managed their expectations, to avoid disappointment.

"We do not expect the president to play the role of the opposition," she said, adding that she did not want Rouhani to push beyond his capacity but to manage institutions not yet under his influence, such as the intelligence ministry.

"We believe Iranians themselves would also need to make an effort to improve their rights situation but the president can also pursue policies that will have positive consequences on human rights." [...]

Opposition leaders under house arrest for five years

Iran's three main opposition leaders, Mir Hossein Mousavi, his wife Zahra Rahnavard, and Mehdi Karroubi, have been confined within their houses since their movements were restricted in February 2011 without trial. 

Mousavi and Rahnavard are in their house in a dead-end alley in Tehran called Akhtar, under constant heavy guard by the police. Karroubi is under similar circumstances in another part of the capital. They have largely been kept incommunicado although have recently been allowed regular visits by some immediate family members. There are serious concerns about their health, with an image emerging online of Mousavi in May 2014 showing him in a Tehran hospital bed due to a heart condition. Former president Mohammad Khatami, the leader of the reformist movement, is not under house arrest but is facing restrictions on his movement and activities. Iranian media is banned from publishing his name or photograph.

Prisoners of conscience languishing in jail

The exact number of prisoners held in Iranian jails on political grounds or because of their beliefs and civil activities is unclear. A number of them, including blogger Hossein Ronaghi Maleki, have serious health issues and need medical care. [...]

Judiciary heavily influenced by intelligence apparatus

One of the biggest challenges is the judiciary. The head of the judicial system is appointed by the supreme leader and no elected officials, such as the president, can hold him to account. The crackdown on journalists and political activists is spearheaded by a small group of judges believed to be heavily influenced by the intelligence apparatus at the Revolutionary Guards. Two judges, Abolghassem Salavati and Mohammad Moghiseh, are accused of repeatedly losing their judicial impartiality and overseeing miscarriages of justice in trials in which journalists, lawyers, political activists and members of ethnic and religious minorities have been condemned to lengthy prison terms, lashes and execution. Common violations include holding trials behind closed doors which last only a few minutes and lack essential legal procedures, intimidating defendants, breaching judicial independence by acting as prosecutors themselves and depriving prisoners of access to lawyers. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:27 PM


Security Logs of Hillary Clinton's Email Server Are Said to Show No Evidence of Hacking (MATT APUZZOMARCH 3, 2016, NY Times)

A former aide to Hillary Clinton has turned over to the F.B.I. computer security logs from Mrs. Clinton's private server, records that showed no evidence of foreign hacking, according to people close to a federal investigation into Mrs. Clinton's emails.

The security logs bolster Mrs. Clinton's assertion that her use of a personal email account to conduct State Department business while she was the secretary of state did not put American secrets into the hands of hackers or foreign governments.

Posted by orrinj at 6:23 PM


In DeflateGate, who is the real cheater, Tom Brady or Roger Goodell? (Sally Jenkins,  March 3, 2016, wASHINGTON pOST)

[A] three-judge federal appeals court is considering a more important question contained in the finer legal points: whether NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is the actual cheater here. There is a wealth of evidence that suggests so, and the court should make the league rue bringing this case in front of it.

On Thursday, the second-highest court in the land was to hear oral arguments on whether it should affirm or reverse, on narrow procedural grounds, District Judge Richard Berman's decision to throw out Goodell's four-game suspension of Brady. But a little-noticed and powerfully written third-party brief by renowned legal scholar Robert Blecker lays out a third option for the court to consider. Blecker argues that the court should find Goodell's arbitration process was "infected with bias, evident partiality, unfairness and fraud," and he doesn't stop there.

He makes the delightfully explosive suggestion that the appellate court could remand the case to Berman and order the NFL to share its investigative files -- which were withheld from Brady's team during the hearing process, denying him the basic fairness of knowing what the supposed evidence against him was. There are major questions as to whether the league guided the so-called independent investigation and whether Goodell was truly an honest, unbiased arbiter.

...Andrew Luck, who over-inflated the ball.

Posted by orrinj at 6:20 PM


Boeing's Self-Cleaning Airplane Bathroom Kills Nearly All Germs (Katherine LaGrave  March 04, 2016, Conde Nast Traveller)

The contemporary aircraft is a veritable petri dish of germs. On an airplane, the highest levels of bacteria are often found on tray tables, in chair upholstery, on armrests, seat belts, and seat backs. Essentially? Everywhere. Fear not: Boeing is readying a solution--at least for those terrible airplane bathrooms.

In a new lavatory prototype, the plane manufacturer automatically sanitizes lavatories after each use by employing ultraviolet light to kill 99.99 percent of germs, and disinfecting all surfaces in a mere three seconds. According to Boeing, the cleaning system would lift and close the toilet seat by itself so that all surfaces are exposed during the cleaning cycle. In addition to minimizing the transmission and growth of bacteria--and subsequently, bathroom odors--there are other bonuses of the concept: a touchless faucet, soap dispenser, trash flap, toilet lid, and hand dryer. And while ultraviolet light has somewhat of a bad reputation (hello, tanning beds), the lavatory uses far UV light, which is not harmful to humans but "destroys all known microbes by literally making them explode," said Jamie Childress, Associate Technical Fellow and a Boeing Research & Technology engineer.

Posted by orrinj at 5:47 PM


The U.S. Economy Has Been Adding Jobs for 72 Straight Months (BOURREE LAM, 3/04/16, The Atlantic)

The February jobs report is out, and it contains a key indicator about the economy available ahead  of the Federal Reserve's next monthly meeting, in about a week and a half. The Labor Department's monthly report shows strong hiring in the U.S. economy for February, which saw the addition of 242,000 jobs and a steady unemployment rate at 4.9 percent. In an economy that's been looking for good news, it's encouraging that the U.S. economy has been adding jobs 72 months in a row.

Posted by orrinj at 5:02 PM


Obama's Long Game for Cubans' Rights (WILLIAM M. LEOGRANDE, MARCH 2, 2016, Washington Post)

He aims to weave a web of economic and diplomatic ties that create self-interested reasons for Cuban leaders to change. As the president explained to Yahoo News, "The more that they see the benefits of U.S. investment, the more that U.S. tourist dollars become woven into their economy, the more that telecommunications is opened up so that Cubans are getting information unfettered by censorship, the more you are laying the foundation for the bigger changes that are going to be coming over time." In the meantime, he says, Washington will continue to "push, prod, nudge" Cuban leaders to do better on human rights in the near term.

While critics denounce engagement as a betrayal of the Cuban people, the Cuban people themselves overwhelmingly support it. Anyone who was in Cuba, as I was, on Dec. 17, 2014, can testify to the jubilation with which they greeted the announcement. People applauded, hugged one another and cried. Church bells rang across Havana.

In April 2015, an independent poll on the island found that 97 percent of the 1,200 Cubans sampled thought better relations with the United States would be good for Cuba. And lest anyone think people were afraid to speak honestly, the poll also found that Mr. Obama was more popular than either Fidel or Raúl Castro (80 percent positive and only 17 percent negative, as compared with 50 percent negative for Fidel and 48 percent negative for Raúl). Mr. Obama can expect a warm welcome in Havana.

Posted by orrinj at 4:55 PM


Trump intrigues Europe's far right (Deutsche-Welle, 3/04/16)

The list of groups and individuals supporting Donald Trump's candidacy reads like the Who's Who of the international extreme right: The leader of the Dutch Freedom Party Geert Wilders, the founder of France's Front National Jean-Marie Le Pen, the head of Italy's Lega Nord Matteo Salvini, Greece's Golden Dawn party, as well as the Ku Klux Klan and the black supremacists of the Nation of Islam in the US.

While it would be unusual under normal circumstances that such a motley crew of international radicals would be backing the top contender for the Republican Party's presidential nomination, the fact that they are backing Donald Trump is not so surprising.

"Donald Trump is tapping into an idea that is also shared by many radical political movements particularly in Europe," said Matthew Goodwin, an expert on extremism at the University of Kent. "On the radical right, many share his belief that a way of life is under threat, that they need to deliver election victories for the native white group before societies become too ethnically and culturally diverse to change them."

Trump's radical statements on issues near and dear to the extreme right, such as illegal immigration - but also his delivery and tone - have hit a nerve with Europe's far right.

Trump Bashed Romney For Being 'Mean-Spirited' On Illegal Immigration After 2012 Election (Eric Owens, 03/04/2016, Daily Caller)

On Thursday, 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney thrashed current GOP front-runner Donald Trump. Romney called Trump dangerously unfit for office and advised Republicans to vote for the candidate who "has the best chance of beating Mr. Trump in a given state."

Trump responded by suggesting that Romney "would have dropped to his knees" and "was begging" for Trump's 2012 endorsement.

Thursday's clash between the two men is not the first.

In November 2012, during the immediate aftermath of Romney's loss to President Barack Obama, Trump strongly condemned Romney -- and the entire Republican Party -- for "mean-spirited" attacks on illegal immigration and for a "maniacal" policy of self-deportation.

Posted by orrinj at 9:06 AM


Under the Influence (Brad Edmondson, FEBRUARY 29, 2016, American Scholar)

Within a decade, new tools that measure the concentration of alcohol in normally exhaled breath could be in every car. In a joint venture between 17 automakers and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, two new devices--one similar to a Breathalyzer, one a laser--are being developed by two Massachusetts-based companies. Both devices use infrared sensors in a car's steering wheel, ignition button, or shift stick to instantly calculate a driver's blood alcohol level--and, if need be, to disable the car.

Thanks to tougher laws, stricter enforcement, and more intense lobbying, the number of alcohol-related traffic fatalities in America decreased from more than 25,000 in 1980 to a new low of 10,000 in 2014, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. [...]

But a cultural shift is also under way as children who have grown up listening to Mothers Against Drunk Driving get their driver's licenses. According to the most recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the prevalence of DUI has declined 59 percent among teenagers (aged 16 to 20) in the past 12 years: 16.2 percent of teens admitted to alcohol DUI in 2002, but only 6.6 percent did in 2014, according to the report, released in December. Self-reporting of DUI also declined 38 percent among young adults (aged 21 to 25), from 29.1 percent to 18.1 percent. Driving while high on marijuana also decreased for both groups.

Not that humans will be driving by then anyway...

Posted by orrinj at 9:01 AM


U.S. economy creates a strong 242,000 jobs in February (Associated Press, 3/04/16)
U.S. employers added a robust 242,000 workers in February as retailers, restaurants and healthcare providers drove another solid month for the resilient American job market. [...]

The pickup in job gains shows that the U.S. economy has largely weathered a broader global slowdown without suffering much blowback. Worker pay slipped last month after accelerating in January, but more Americans who had been sitting on the sidelines began searching for jobs and found them.

Posted by orrinj at 8:55 AM


Down With Algebra II! : It drives dropout rates and is mostly useless in real life. Andrew Hacker has a plan for getting rid of it. (Dana Goldstein, 3/01/16, Slate)

In his new book The Math Myth: And Other STEM Delusions, political scientist Andrew Hacker proposes replacing algebra II and calculus in the high school and college curriculum with a practical course in statistics for citizenship (more on that later). Only mathematicians and some engineers actually use advanced math in their day-to-day work, Hacker argues--even the doctors, accountants, and coders of the future shouldn't have to master abstract math that they'll never need.

Posted by orrinj at 8:50 AM


Michael Connelly and Season Two of "Bosch" (Chris Schluep on February 29, 2016, Omnivoracious)

CS: How did you decide which books to use for the Season Two storyline?

MC: It all comes out of relationships. We really love the relationship between Bosch and his daughter. We wanted to carry that forward but his daughter lives with her mother in Las Vegas. Well, there was one book that has a lot of action take place in Vegas: Trunk Music. So that made that choice easy. Next, we wanted to continue to exploit the love/hate relationship between Bosch and Deputy Chief Irving. So we brought in The Drop which pulls these natural born enemies into an investigation together. And lastly, we never want to forget about what makes Harry Bosch tick and so we looked at elements of The Last Coyote because that is the most personal book about Bosch. It's the story of his mother's murder and his finding out what happened.

CS: Will there be more jazz featured on the show, and was doing so important to you? Is jazz the music you listen to when you're writing the Bosch books? 

MC: I listen to a lot of jazz while writing the Bosch books. It helps drop me into that zone. So I think, yes, it is important to get that into the show. It is a character stroke. It says something about him. This year we have it underpinning many scenes and we even had a live performance. We have a scene filmed at the Catalina jazz club in Hollywood where Bosch meets his lieutenant for a drink and there is live jazz performed by saxophonist Grace Kelly. The song Grace and her band performs in the scene is actually called "Blues for Harry Bosch," which she composed for her new album. That was pretty cool. The song has a relentless sound to it that definitely says Harry Bosch.

Posted by orrinj at 8:45 AM


Designers: Robots Are Coming For Your Jobs (MARK ROLSTON 03.01.16, Fast Co)

Designers are supposed to be different. Those of us who fashion clothes, model new products, and shape the world to conform to our sensibilities consider ourselves too creative for any machine to replace. Many of us are convinced that we are unique, our skills irreplaceable. This is not entirely true. Advances in artificial intelligence will usher in a new regime of hyper-personalized designs and tools, a trend with which human designers cannot possibly hope to keep pace. Computers will prove to be far more creative--fearlessly creative--than most humans. Designers are in for a period of radical change and must learn to adapt. Those who don't might as well start looking now for a new line of work.

Modern design is built upon a process where designers methodically build a case around human behavior to define an ideal median solution that solves the problem for a group of users. The same process plays out across the world of design: in fashion, industrial design, software design, and so on. Take for example the design of software user interfaces: In this case the designer creates navigation solutions, organizational schemes for information, on-screen visual mechanisms, and other affordances to make the interface workable and enjoyable. These designs could be described as a "median solution" simply because as a matter of efficiency, the designers are creating for an audience, often a mass-market audience, and in doing so, they are normalizing their decisions for a group.

Computers will prove to be far more creative than most humans.
But advances in technology are changing our approach to the mass market. We see it every day on website interfaces that have become populated by customized collections of content, served up by new algorithms that create personalized browsing experiences for individual Internet users. Netflix users, for example, love the company's sophisticated personalization technologies that recommend the comedies, action movies, or dramas that each customer will most likely want to watch.

But these human-led creative processes have only just scratched the surface. Cognitive computing systems of the future will drive hyper-personalization to new levels, such that website templates, navigational tools, and other common mechanisms will automatically redesign and reconfigure themselves for each individual user based on his or her preferences and habits.

March 3, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 6:23 PM


A Science Journal Invokes 'the Creator,' and Science Pushes Back (AUTHOR: MADISON KOTACK, 03.03.16, Wired)

[W]hen science Twitter's flaneurs noticed this week that an article in the open-source journal PLoS ONE published a paper whose authors credit intelligent design--God--for the biomechanics of the human hand, well, things got out of you-know-what.

Because PLoS ONE is open-access, you can read the whole paper for free (no paywall, in other words, unlike articles from subscription journals like Nature). We'll save you the trouble, though--here's an excerpt from the abstract:

The explicit functional link indicates that the biomechanical characteristic of tendinous connective architecture between muscles and articulations is the proper design by the Creator to perform a multitude of daily tasks in a comfortable way.

It's pretty bad. The authors--Ming-Jin Liu, Cai-Hua Xiong, Le Xiong, and Xiao-Lin Huang of Huazhong University in China--allude to a Creator three times in the article. An editor, Renzhi Han, let the article through. So did peer review, it seems. And one of the author's comments suggests it wasn't a mistranslation issue.

Posted by orrinj at 6:17 PM


Are My Emotions Making Me Sick? : There is no proven treatment for grief, but we can stave off and mitigate its effects, in part by healing our bodies before our brains. (MANJULA MARTIN, March/April 2016, Pacific Standard)

When he died, I got sick. He was family--if not by blood then by love. A friend's father. For all but the first few years of my life he had cared for me when others had faltered. He sheltered and fed me, taught me to question and listen and believe, in equal doses. And then, when I was 30, he was gone.

My grief felt like the final moment of falling down, when you hit the ground and rise up too quickly, your body in shock--over and over again. There were times when I would go blank; dark holes of mental space in which I would get lost. My body became staggeringly unreliable, and even breathing required effort. I cried a lot--ugly, deep sobs that left me red-faced and faint, gasping to get enough oxygen.

About a year after my asthma began, I saw a doctor, who gave me an inhaler and told me I might have allergies.

Posted by orrinj at 2:44 PM


Trump again threatens independent bid (NOLAN D. MCCASKILL, 03/03/16, Politico)

Donald Trump said Thursday he is being treated unfairly by the Republican establishment and may run as an independent.

"I am watching television -- and I am seeing ad, after ad, after ad put in by the establishment, knocking the hell out of me, and it's really unfair," Trump said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe." "But if I leave, if I go, regardless of independent, which I may do -- I mean, may or may not. But if I go, I will tell you, these millions of people that joined, they're all coming with me."

This is pretty much the ideal solution to the probblem.  He runs and loses without damaging the brand.

Posted by orrinj at 2:36 PM


Wow, America Gets A Lot Of Electricity From Wind These Days (BEN SCHILLER 03.03.16, Co.exist)

Wind power is a big deal these days--a bigger deal than you might realize. Last year, Iowa generated 31% of its power from wind resources, the most in the country. And several states, including South Dakota (25.5%) and Kansas (23.9%), were not far behind that number.

Posted by orrinj at 2:24 PM


Trump Supporters Rage Against the Present (Steve Chapman | March 3, 2016, rEASON)

Trump is fond of saying that the southern border is so porous as to be no border at all. "If we don't have a border, we don't have a country," he asserts. 

As a matter of history, he couldn't be more wrong. "The Mexico-U.S. border remained little more than a line on a map, entirely unguarded by federal authorities until 1924, when the U.S. Border Patrol was established," writes Princeton sociologist Douglas Massey. Ronald Reagan, the hero of every Republican, envisioned a North America without border controls. 

It's not just illegal immigration that alarms Trump fans. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., who endorsed him this week, favors a reduction in legal immigration. So does the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which has praised Trump's immigration plan. "I'm opposed to new people coming in," he said in 1999. 

Racial prejudice undoubtedly motivates many of his supporters. One thing Mexicans and Central Americans sneaking over the southern border usually have in common with Middle Eastern refugees is a dusky complexion. 

That doesn't win them points with the 70 percent of Trump voters in South Carolina who think the Confederate flag should still be flying at the state Capitol or the 16 percent who believe "whites are a superior race." 

UCLA political scientist Lynn Vavreck has documented that many of his supporters are "people who are responsive to religious, social and racial intolerance." Latinos and Muslims get the blunt end of their response. 

It clearly infuriates those drawn to Trump that they have repeatedly failed to get their way on the issues they are passionate about. Most Americans, polls show, are in favor of giving unauthorized immigrants a path to citizenship. Most think immigrants strengthen America. Most want to let those brought here illegally as children gain legal status. Most are fine with the country's becoming browner and more culturally diverse. 

On these and other matters, Trump's supporters have been losing, year in and year out. That's not the fault of corrupt Washington insiders or cowardly politicians or weak leadership. They have been losing because the majority of Americans have considered their views and rejected them. 

Posted by orrinj at 2:19 PM


Isis attempts to take down Google, instead gets 'pwned' by vigilante hacker group (India Ashok, March 3, 2016, IB Times)

Cyber Caliphate Army, a group of hackers affiliated to Islamic State (Isis) were fooled into thinking that they had successfully brought down Google. The CAA had promised to launch a cyberattack against Google, but mistakenly targeted Google's namesake tech firm - a relatively small Indian SEO company. [...]

The CCA's "defacement of the website" was short-lived, when yet another hacker group called n3far1ous wiped out the IS message and replaced it with an "Eat this, Isis" message, and a rock tune playing in the background. When users clicked on the message, they were directed to another website, which said: "Pwned by n3far1ous. Security is just an illusion".

Posted by orrinj at 2:10 PM


U.S. airlines sign up for commercial flights to Cuba (Aaron Smith, 3/03/16, CNN)

American Airlines, Alaska Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines and JetBlue have all submitted applications to the U.S. government to fly commercial flights to Cuba.

They're asking for so many flights, that the requests exceed the government cap. The government will allow 20 daily round-trip flights between the U.S. and Havana and 10 daily round-trips to nine other Cuban cities with international airports.

Posted by orrinj at 2:03 PM


Tiny 3-D Printed Building Shares Its Energy With an (Also 3-D Printed) SUV (Margaret Rhodes, 3/02/16, Wired)

AMIE is the result of a collaboration between the US Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the University of Tennessee's College of Architecture and Design, and architecture firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. The goal, says Phil Enquist, a partner at SOM who oversees the firm's urban planning group, was to explore "larger urban applications around energy." Additive manufacturing--aka 3-D printing--was top of mind. "We were really intrigued with it because the whole idea of 3-D printing is that eventually you can design a building, and print it in a way that you have no waste," he says. Compare that to modern construction projects, he says, where "you can have 20 or 30 percent of material waste that all goes into a landfill." [...]

But the 3-D printed building is only half the story. From the beginning, Oak Ridge scientists Johney Green and Roderick Jackson saw AMIE as a chance to reimagine how we produce, store, and consume energy. Their plan: Connect two of the biggest energy sinks that people encounter on a daily basis--their house and their car--with an "integrated energy" system. In other words, they wanted the building and the vehicle to be capable of passing electricity back and forth.

That's exactly what the AMIE project does. Both the building and the SUV can generate and store energy. The building powers its lights and appliances--it comes complete with faucets, a refrigerator, and induction stovetops-- with rooftop solar panels. When appliances aren't in use, energy is stored in the building's battery. The vehicle sports a battery, too, but also has a gasoline-powered generator. The SUV and the building are connected by an inductive charging pad that is activated when the car parks above it. When necessary, the car's battery and generator can supply energy to the house--and vice-versa. And if both are powerless on a cloudy day, the house can tap into the power grid.

Posted by orrinj at 1:57 PM


The Upside of Plunging Oil Prices (Editorial Board, 3/02/16)

With huge pools of oil money, the rulers of these states are less accountable to their citizens, on whom they don't need to rely for taxation. They've used the money to buy off or repress opponents, limiting political rights and squelching the development of independent civil society. In the Middle East, oil wealth has disempowered women, both by removing the need for a second family income and by retarding export industries that might employ them. The ensuing higher fertility rates and accompanying youth bulge have in turn made the region more susceptible to unrest.

The two-thirds plunge in the price of oil from its 2014 high may disrupt this unhealthy dynamic. Saudi Arabia has not only cut spending and subsidies but is considering taxes that would require the support of its people. And the anti-corruption campaign of Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari has taken on a new edge.

Russia, Iran, and Venezuela are also under greater pressure. Hydrocarbon taxes account for nearly half or more of their public revenue, and current oil prices have forced their governments to run large budget deficits. (Venezuela's debts also leave it perilously close to a possible default.) That will make it harder for these countries to support separatists in Ukraine, Bashar al-Assad in Syria, Houthi rebels in Yemen, and the Castros in Cuba.

March 2, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 6:28 PM


Trump and Sanders Are Both Conservatives : Shared Visions of Fear, Force, and Collectivism (Steven Horwitz, March 02, 2016, FEE)

They are both conservatives from the perspective of classical liberalism. More specifically, they are conservatives in the sense that F.A. Hayek used the term in 1960 when he wrote the postscript to The Constitution of Liberty titled "Why I Am Not a Conservative." There he said of conservatives,

They typically lack the courage to welcome the same undesigned change from which new tools of human endeavors will emerge.... This fear of trusting uncontrolled social forces is closely related to two other characteristics of conservatism: its fondness for authority and its lack of understanding of economic forces.... The conservative does not object to coercion or arbitrary power so long as it is used for what he regards as the right purposes. He believes that if government is in the hands of decent men, it ought not to be too much restricted by rigid rules.

That description would seem to apply to both Trump and Sanders. They share a fear of uncontrolled and undesigned change, especially in the economy. This is most obvious in Trump's bluster about how America never "wins" and his desire to raise tariffs on Chinese imports and close the flow of immigrants, especially from Mexico. Economic globalization is a terrific example of uncontrolled change, and using foreign workers and producers as scapegoats for that change -- especially when those changes have largely benefited most Americans -- is a good example of this fear of the uncontrolled.

Those policies also show the much-discussed economic ignorance of Trump and his supporters, as shutting off trade and migration would impoverish the very people Trump claims to care about -- those who are, in fact, supporting him. International trade and the free migration of labor drive down costs and leave US consumers with more money in their pockets with which to buy new and different goods. They also improve living standards for our trade partners, but Trump and his followers wrongly perceive their gains as necessitating American losses.

The same concerns are echoed in Sanders's criticisms of free trade and in his claim that immigration is undermining good jobs for the native-born. 

They're actually reactionaries.

Posted by orrinj at 6:19 PM


Driverless cars are the future. We're living in the motorised middle ages (Martin Belam, 2 March 2016, The Guardian)

There will be awkward decades where the modes of transport co-exist, as evidenced by the fact that one of Google's self-driving cars just pranged a bus in the US. But what is the exception now will become the norm. The Manchester Guardian reported on the first fatal motor car accident in the UK back in August 1896. You wouldn't dream of reporting on a non-fatal road collision now unless it featured a new technology like Google's. Or a celebrity.

What interests me though is the way that the driverless revolution will transform our urban spaces, and the routes between them. Nearly everything about urban road design is currently done to minimise the risk of humans making bad decisions.

Take traffic lights. You'll still need road-crossings for pedestrians and cyclists, but in a world where every vehicle is controlled by computers, algorithms should be able to feed vehicles through junctions faster. No more sitting at the lights waiting while literally nothing wants to cross your path. The need for traffic lights gradually fades away, in the same way that we no longer have inns where you can pick up fresh horses. Motorway junction design, roundabouts, urban parking spaces: all of these things could and will be profoundly changed.

And then there's the way that we behave inside cars.

For the last century the interior design of the car has been entirely optimised around one person with feet on pedals and hands on a wheel, with their eyes to the road and their need to have all the controls within easy reach. But if you don't need a human in charge, then the very layout of the seats in a car can be fundamentally reorganised.

A driverless vehicle might have people sitting facing each other, with a table in the middle. Or the front windscreen could show you all a movie while you are travelling. Or there might be self-driving cars configured as sleepers, so you can go to sleep in one city, and wake up in another, while remaining in an enclosed private space.

Posted by orrinj at 6:09 PM


Ever Closer Union or Common Market?  (Joschka Fischer, MAR 2, 2016, Project Syndicate)

At stake in the United Kingdom's upcoming referendum on whether to remain a member of the European Union is the nature of the EU itself. The UK wants a different kind of Europe than the one that the EU currently represents. Its preference is a Europe that essentially consists solely of a common market. Even though Britain has long been able to opt out of the euro and much else (and thus is not forced in any way to participate in the process of deepening Europe's political union), this is the ideological essence of the controversy.

It is a question that transcends the UK's "Brexit" debate. The growing strength of euroskeptic forces in many EU member states has raised the same issue on the continent, where many believe that the goal of a political union might overburden member states' citizens and should be abandoned.

Like the British, many Continental Europeans are asking whether transnational regulation by Brussels-based institutions and a political union are actually necessary. Wouldn't a loose association of sovereign nation-states, sharing the hard economic core of a continental common market - the British model - be enough? Why bother with all that complicated integration involving the Schengen Agreement, a monetary union, and EU regulations, which in the end don't work properly and only weaken the member states' global competitiveness?

Just join NAFTA and be done with it.
Posted by orrinj at 6:04 PM


Are Working Class Gripes Real, Or Exaggerated? (Joy Pullmann, February 29, 2016, The Federalist)

If you just look at things in terms of economic and physical prosperity, the working-class outrage Donald Trump represents makes absolutely no sense. Things have never been better for America's bottom third. If looked at in economic terms, they're easily the global 1 percent now, not to mention by far the historical 1 percent.

Ancient emperors would have killed to have the medical facilities available today to illegal immigrants in the United States--and anyone else, for that matter--at no cost to them. The hot showers I enjoy each morning cost me something between two and three minutes of working time. Just about anybody can have a hot shower nowadays, even homeless people (shelters are everywhere); but practically nobody could 100 years ago. A century ago, one in ten U.S. children died before their first birthday. Now, almost no children do.
Economist Mark Perry has a regular blog feature showing how many more and better time-saving, drudgery reducing, and personal enjoyment devices--such as washing machines, iPhones, and cars--we can buy now for far less of our disposable incomes. Heck, the fact that we plebeians have disposable incomes at all is itself a historical miracle. Fifty years ago, it was not possible for any random person to hit up McDonald's or Starbucks to "treat yo self." Now, we can and do treat ourselves constantly, even if we're not the ancient Roman Emperor Nero (he had to send runners up to mountaintops to gather snow to make flavored slushies for his parties).

"From 1952 to 2000, real income per person in the U.S. rose from $16,000 to $50,000," the Wall Street Journal's Bill McGurn notes. Brookings Institution researchers recently found there's statistically just about no chance a person will be in poverty if he or she takes three simple steps: graduate high school, marry before making babies, and work full-time.

Posted by orrinj at 5:57 PM


76 Hungry Boko Haram Members Surrender (ISMAIL ALFA, 3/02/16, Associated Press)

The detainees said many more fighters want to surrender, a self-defense civilian fighter who helped escort them to Maiduguri told The Associated Press.

Food shortages could indicate that Nigeria's military is succeeding in choking supply routes of the Islamic extremists who have taken their fight across Nigeria's borders. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:34 PM


Iran's president is calling for foreign partnerships to boost the country's car industry (Associated Press, March 1, 2016)

 Iran's president on Tuesday called for foreign partnerships to boost the country's car industry and said the sector must be privatized to improve its competitiveness.

President Hassan Rouhani told a car industry conference in a nationally broadcast speech that partnerships with international carmakers offer quick way to improve the industry's technology and safety.

Posted by orrinj at 4:46 PM


Abbas eyes French peace initiative on Iran deal model (AFP, March 2, 2016)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas voiced hope Tuesday that a French initiative to hold an international Middle East peace conference could lead to a solution like breakthrough talks on Iran's nuclear deal.

...and a functioning democracy.

Posted by orrinj at 4:41 PM


Isis in Syria: Daesh kills 8 of its Dutch fighters for 'desertion and mutiny' in Raqqa (Jigmey Bhutia, March 1, 2016, IB Times)

Islamic State (Isis) has killed eight of its Dutch fighters for "desertion and mutiny" in Raqqa city in Syria, one of the members of citizen journalist group called Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently (RBSS) said on Twitter. Abu Mohammad said the killings come after a month of tensions between 75 Isis (IS) Dutch fighters, some of whom are of Moroccan origin, and the terror group's intelligence unit based in Iraq.

Everyone wants to kill ISISsies, including ISIS.

Posted by orrinj at 4:37 PM


How my generation of dollar-loving North Koreans will shake up regime : In an exclusive interview, defector Sungju Lee argues that his 'market generation' is primed to spark a social overhaul in the next 20 years (Maeve Shearlaw, 1 March 2016, The Guardian)

A generation of North Koreans as familiar with the American dollar as Kim Il-sung is set to dramatically shake up the country, according to young defector Sungju Lee.

Calling those born after 1990 the "market generation", the 28-year-old says young people are likely to trigger major social and economic changes in the closed-off communist country over the next 20 years.

Capitalism has become an influential force in their lives, Lee says, with nostalgia for life under the "first dictator" - when North Korea was a new nation and widespread famine had not yet been experienced - no longer entrenching a sense of patriotism. [...]

"People of my generation hate the United States but they love the dollar. They hate Japan but they love the yen. Some might hate China but they love the yuan," he says.

Lee gives the example of 2009 reforms, which were designed to crack down on the growing power of the private enterprise and revive socialism. This was a "huge fail", he claims, and demonstrated that "North Korea cannot control the markets".

Posted by orrinj at 4:30 PM


Most School Kids Who Report Food Allergies Don't Have Them (CHARLIE SORREL 03.02.16, Co.Exist)

Food sensitivities among young school kids aren't nearly as common as their parents would have you believe. According to a new Swedish study, "reported food hypersensitivity was eight times more common than allergies confirmed by allergy tests."

That is, for every 100 kids who come to school and tell teachers about their allergy or hypersensitivity to milk, eggs, fish, or wheat, only 12.5 of them actually have a real need to avoid those foods. And the problem gets worse as the kids get older.

Posted by orrinj at 4:19 PM


Deflation Defeats Impotent Central Banks (A. Gary Shilling, 3/01/16, Bloomberg View)

Against a deflationary backdrop, nominal rates must be even more negative than the rate of consumer price declines to create negative real rates.

Posted by orrinj at 4:12 PM


Last known American who fought fascists in 1930s Spain dies in California (Associated Press, 2 March 2016)

Delmer Berg, the last known American survivor who fought fascists in 1930s Spain, has died in northern California. He was 100 years old. [...]

Berg stayed in Spain several months. He told the Modesto Bee in a November interview why he made the decision to help the Spanish working people.

"I was a worker," Berg told the newspaper. "I was a farmer. I was in support of the Spanish working people, and I wanted to go to Spain to help them."

Spain's GDP per capita : 29,767.4

Russia's : 12,735.9

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 PM


White Supremacist Gets Trump Press Credentials, Interview With Trump Jr. (Matt Shuhman, March 2, 2016, National Memo)

In 2008, the Anti-Defamation League wrote of Edwards,

[He] has interviewed a variety of anti-Semites, white supremacists, Holocaust deniers, conspiracy theorists and anti-immigrant leaders. A list of former guests includes veteran anti-Semite and Holocaust denier Willis Carto; Prussian Blue, a neo-Nazi singing duo; anti-Semite Ted Pike; Mark Weber, the director of the Institute for Historical Review; and Frank Roman, a founding member of the neo-Nazi European Americans United group.

In the past, the Trump campaign has tightly controlled who is and is not allowed to cover their events:

In July, reporters from the Des Moines Register were prevented from covering a Trump event after their paper published an editorial calling for Mr. Trump to leave the race.

In October, Jorge Ramos and his Univision staff were prevented from covering a Trump event because Trump was suing Univision at the time.

A Buzzfeed reporter was denied entry to a Trump event in November because he had previously stepped outside of the designated "press pen."

Posted by orrinj at 1:48 PM


Oil crisis hitting Russians hard (Phil Black, 2/29/16, CNNMoney)

The global oil crisis isn't just taking a toll on Russia's economy. It's also hitting ordinary citizens. [...]

And life is about to get even harder.

Avtovaz has had to make some big cuts. It's reducing its workweek for all employees to four days.

That means Emshanov's salary will get cut by about 20% to little more than 15,000 rubles ($200).

"It's a ridiculously tiny income," He says. Before the cuts, he had been earning about 20,000 rubles ($262).

Posted by orrinj at 1:43 PM


Iran pushing forward with plans to ramp up oil output (Mick Krever, 2/29/16, CNNMoney)

Iran will push forward with plans to pump an additional one million barrels of oil per day into an already oversupplied global market, a senior Iranian oil official told CNN in an exclusive interview.

Posted by orrinj at 1:35 PM


Tina Fey Calls Out The Oscars for Political Correctness (Robby Soave|Mar. 2, 2016, Reason)

Tina Fey blasted this years Oscars show for its over-the-top political correctness and predictably liberal preaching. 

"Halfway through, I was like, 'This is some real Hollywood b[*******t,'" she told Howard Stern on Tuesday. "Everyone is telling me what to do, and people are yelling at me about rape and corporate greed and climate change. It's like, guys, pick a lane." 

And they wonder why no one cares about these award shows anymore?
Posted by orrinj at 1:26 PM


Why America abandoned nuclear power (and what we can learn from South Korea) (Brad Plumer, February 29, 2016, Vox)

Nuclear construction costs in the US did spiral out of control, especially after the Three Mile Island meltdown in 1979. But this wasn't universal. Countries like France, Japan, and Canada kept costs fairly stable during this period. And South Korea actually drove nuclear costs down, at a rate similar to what you see for solar. Studying these countries can offer lessons for how to make nuclear cheaper -- so that it can become a useful clean energy resource around the world.

"The biggest thing we found is that there's nothing intrinsic to nuclear that leads to cost escalations," Lovering told me. "It depends on what policies are in place, on the market dynamics. You get very different cases in different countries."

Here's a look at where America's nuclear industry went awry -- and how France and South Korea avoided those mishaps.

Before we dive into the US story, a note on numbers. The Energy Policy paper focuses on "overnight construction costs" for power plants. This is the price of parts, labor, engineering, and land. It doesn't include fuel, operations, or maintenance, but it's the dominant component of lifetime costs. And it's phrased in terms of dollars per kilowatt, so we can compare plants of different sizes.

For context, the Energy Information Administration calculates overnight construction costs for new US power plants ordered in 2014. Today, an advanced nuclear reactor is estimated to cost $5,366 for every kilowatt of capacity. That means a large 1-gigawatt reactor would cost $5.3 billion to build. By contrast, a new wind farm costs just $1,980 per kilowatt. A new gas plant costs just $912 per kilowatt, or one-fifth as much. Even if you adjust for nuclear's higher capacity factors, that's brutal competition. [...]

South Korea had an advantage in that it didn't start entirely from scratch. The country imported proven US, French, and Canadian designs in the 1970s and learned from other countries' experiences before developing its own domestic reactors in 1989. It developed stable regulations, had a single utility overseeing construction, and built reactors in pairs at single sites.

The results were remarkable: overnight construction costs fell 50 percent between 1971 and 2008 as South Korea built 28 reactors in all.

In fact, the Energy Policy paper notes, the decline in South Korean nuclear power costs is comparable to the decline in solar power costs in Germany over the same time period. (Though solar has kept getting cheaper past 2008.) Analysts have marveled at how solar panel costs come down as companies get better at manufacturing them -- a process known as "learning by doing." South Korea's experience suggests similar reductions are possible for nuclear.

Posted by orrinj at 1:23 PM


Posted by orrinj at 1:19 PM


In Sweden's 1st unmanned food store, all you need is a phone (JAN. M. OLSEN, 3/01/16, Associated Press)

It was a chaotic, late-night scramble to buy baby food with a screaming toddler in the backseat that gave Robert Ilijason the idea to open Sweden's first unmanned convenience store.

Home alone with his hungry son, Ilijason had dropped the last baby food jar on the floor, and had to drive 20 minutes from the small town of Viken in southern Sweden to find a supermarket that was open.

Now the 39-year-old IT specialist runs a 24-hour shop with no cashier.

Customers simply use their cellphones to unlock the door with a swipe of the finger and scan their purchases. All they need to do is to register for the service and download an app. They get charged for their purchases in a monthly invoice.

Posted by orrinj at 1:15 PM


Neo-Nazi lone-wolf attacks in Europe are more deadly than Isis-inspired terrorist plots (Paul Wright, March 1, 2016, IB Times)

"Lone wolf" attacks by the far-right in Europe have been more lethal than those inspired by the Islamic State (Isis), a comprehensive study into extremism has found. While Islamist attacks have been the focus of counter-terrorism investigations, researchers say plots by individuals and small groups of right-wing extremists - like Norway's Anders Breivik - are more deadly and almost as numerous.

Britain leads every other European country for the number of attacks or plots over the past 15 years that have been planned by individuals or self-starting cells, according to the report by four research institutes. Almost half of the right-wing attacks - which range from mosque arson to the bombing of Islamic centres - were said to be partly motivated by the murder of soldier Lee Rigby.

This includes a revenge attack in January 2015 by neo-Nazi Zack Davies, who was jailed for attempted murder when he attempted to behead a Tesco shopper in Mold, Flintshire. Another anti-Islam attack, in 2013, saw white supremacist Pavlo Lapshyn stab a Muslim grandfather to death in the West Midlands and plant explosives at mosques in an attempt to trigger a race war.

Posted by orrinj at 1:10 PM


LIFE WILL FIND A WAY : These two studies offer vivid new details into the origins of life (Ari Phillips, March 2, 2016, Fusion)

Two new studies shine light on how far evolution has come over the last half a billion years.

The first study, out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, determined that sea sponges were most likely the first animals on Earth, having been around for at least 640 million years. The second study asserts that a tiny fungus smaller than a human hair, known as Tortotubus, was one of the first land-dwelling organisms some 440 million years ago.

One has to feel sad for what's left of the Darwinists when they're reduced to a disagreement over what pre-existing form of life was the catalyst for the rest.

Posted by orrinj at 1:04 PM


Shifting U.S. interests in the Middle East (Daniel L. Byman, March 2, 2016, Brookings)

The United States and its regional allies also shared an array of common interests and, for lack of a better description, a shared sense of where the danger lay. Anti-Communism cemented the U.S.-Saudi alliance for decades. When the Soviet Union fell, a shared interest in containing Iraq and Iran--and then preventing an Iranian nuclear weapon--also united America with its regional allies. This source of unity is now a source of animus: allies on the whole reject the Iran nuclear deal and any potential rapprochement with Tehran. In Syria, Yemen, and the region in general, this difference puts the United States on a different page than its allies, and both suffer as a result.

Democratization was always a lesser concern, but it too had its moments. George W. Bush had his "Freedom Agenda," and when the Arab Spring began in 2011 the United States briefly tried to promote democracy in Egypt, Tunisia, and other countries. Spring turned to winter, and civil wars, coups, or other disasters engulfed the nascent democracies. Democratization is high on no one's list now.

...and that is moving other peoples towards acceptance of the End of History.  It's always ultimately about democratization.

Posted by orrinj at 1:00 PM


Does a Carbon Tax Work? Ask British Columbia (Eduardo Porter, 3/01/16, NY Times)

In 2008, the British Columbia Liberal Party, which confoundingly leans right, introduced a tax on the carbon emissions of businesses and families, cars and trucks, factories and homes across the province. The party stuck to the tax even as the left-leaning New Democratic Party challenged it in provincial elections the next year under the slogan Axe the Tax. The conservatives won soundly at the polls.

Their experience shows that cutting carbon emissions enough to make a difference in preventing global warming remains a difficult challenge. But the most important takeaway for American skeptics is that the policy basically worked as advertised.

British Columbia's economy did not collapse. In fact, the provincial economy grew faster than its neighbors' even as its greenhouse gas emissions declined.

"It performed better on all fronts than I think any of us expected," said Mary Polak, the province's environment minister. "To the extent that the people who modeled it predicted this, I'm not sure that those of us on the policy end of it really believed it."

The tax, which rose from 10 Canadian dollars per ton of carbon dioxide in 2008 to 30 dollars by 2012, the equivalent of about $22.20 in current United States dollars, reduced emissions by 5 to 15 percent with "negligible effects on aggregate economic performance," according to a study last year by economists at Duke University and the University of Ottawa.

The tax made fuel more expensive: A gallon of gas, for example, costs 19 United States cents more. It encouraged people to drive somewhat less and be more careful about heating and cooling their homes. Businesses invested in energy efficiency measures and switched to less polluting fuels.

Despite the price increases, voters warmed to the tax. Last year only 32 percent of British Columbians opposed the tax, down from 47 percent in 2009.

Posted by orrinj at 12:54 PM


U.S. officials say the military is holding an Islamic State leader (LOLITA C. BALDOR and ROBERT BURNS, 3/02/16, Associated Press)

U.S. officials say the military is holding an Islamic State leader who was captured in a raid by American special operations forces.

The militant has been in custody in Iraq for about two to three weeks. Officials say they believe he is the first significant Islamic State leader to be captured by the U.S. in Iraq, but wouldn't release his identity.

Posted by orrinj at 12:43 PM


Owl wars: Biologists kill one bird to save another (Lucy Schouten, MARCH 1, 2016, CS Monitor)

The reasoning behind the killing is complex. The barred owl is a larger and, it seems, more aggressive bird species, and is native to the Eastern United States. The barred owl has moved from the East, through Canada, and down into northern California.

The barred owls are technically invasive, and the Northern Spotted Owl is an endangered species, and a controversial one at that. After years of battles with lumber companies that want the owl's habitat to stay open for logging, the conservationists are loathe to lose the spotted owl to a bigger bird.

"Can you imagine letting something like that go extinct?" Diller asked the San Jose Mercury News. "It's really not acceptable."

Meanwhile, they aren't even different species...

March 1, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 4:21 PM


The hard times Americans often forget (Robert J. Samuelson  March 1, 2016, Washington Post)

A century ago, the United States was a country of about 100 million people, just shy of a third of today's 321 million. Then as now, immigration was at near-record levels, with immigrants constituting about 13 percent of the population in both periods. Then as now, this was controversial. But the fact that we absorbed the newcomers then suggests that, despite many conflicts, we will do so again.

Since 1915, one vast improvement has been housing. Although the rich and the upper-middle class often inhabited spacious homes, that was not true of the lower-middle and working classes. Renters outnumbered owners, roughly 80 percent to 20 percent. Contrast that with the 64 percent of households who are now owners, even after the mass foreclosures of the burst housing bubble.

What they rented then was often crowded and dirty. In 1915, "few of the homes of working-class families had running water, and almost none had hot running water," writes Leon. Heating was typically provided by "a potbelly stove or by a coal furnace in the basement." For two-thirds of homes without electricity, lighting came from kerosene lamps or natural gas. These homes required more upkeep. Homes dependent on coal or wood for heating were "harder to clean because of [the] soot." Similarly, the "small size of iceboxes meant more trips to the grocery store."

Given the incessant demands of housework and child-rearing, few women had jobs. In 1920, their labor force participation rate -- the share of women older than 14 who had employment or were seeking it -- was 23 percent, almost a quarter of men's rate of 85 percent. Today, women's rate of 57 percent is not far from men's 69 percent.

Men also had it hard. Almost two-thirds of jobs were split evenly between farming and manufacturing. These were generally more dangerous than today's jobs. In 1913, the Labor Department counted 23,000 deaths from industrial accidents, a rate of 61 deaths per 100,000 workers. The most recent data on all occupations show a death rate of 3.3 workers per 100,000, a decline of 95 percent.

Not only was work more dangerous; it was also more insecure. "Factory-workers hours could be shortened from one day to the next," writes Leon, "leaving workers with a severely reduced paycheck."

The way we were in 1915 no longer describes the way we are. Some of today's problems stem from yesterday's successes. Take health care. In 1915, life expectancy at birth was 54.5 years; now it is 78.8. Infant mortality has dropped from one in 10 babies to one in 168.

Posted by orrinj at 3:07 PM


The Broken System of Classifying Government Documents (ABBE DAVID LOWELL, FEB. 29, 2016, NY Times)

Too much information is classified, and those restrictions last too long. Right now, there are thousands of people in the government who can classify information. Think about the reality: A person can put a "classified" stamp on a document and ensure it is kept secret, or can leave it unclassified, subject to disclosure, and later be accused of having revealed something needing protection. No one risks any real penalty for using the stamp; the only punishment comes from not using it. The result is overclassification.

One person's decision may not be consistent with that of another. Many times, I've seen information in a document marked "top secret" that is easily available on the Internet. Similarly there are numerous examples where the exact same paragraph is marked "secret" in one document but left unclassified in another. Yet people have been prosecuted for disseminating such information, and at trial, the government blocks them from using the unclassified document as a defense.

Moreover, the courts will not accept the argument that information should not have been classified in the first place. Given how almost random the decision to classify is, this is astounding.

Classifications typically last 10 years. There is no real system for reviewing decisions, so information that was stale weeks after it was classified remains secret for years longer. The government may prosecute someone for discussing information that was classified long ago for a reason that is no longer valid. Here, too, the inappropriate length of classification is not a defense.

Often, the motive for classifying something is to protect not that information, but its source. For example, a document states that Kim Jong-un of North Korea had a hamburger for lunch. That is not information that has to be protected, but that we know that he ate it reveals a source that needs protecting. This is where the classification system has to operate properly because real lives and methods are in peril. Yet this kind of information, in my experience, is typically not what is being protected.

But that is the only government information that should be secret.  Open source everything else.

Posted by orrinj at 3:02 PM


Could drone-guided robots replace refuse collectors? (Samuel Gibbs, 29 February 2016, The Guardian)

The Robot-based Autonomous Refuse (Roar) handling system is the product of Volvo's collaboration with Sweden's Chalmers University of Technology and Mälardalen University, Penn State University in the US, and recycling company Renova.

The system is intended to remove the need for a bin lorry driver to exit the vehicle to pick up refuse.

Posted by orrinj at 2:56 PM


Who's worried about China now? (Heather Long, March 1, 2016, CNN Money)

China's economy is getting sicker, but investors around the world no longer seem to care.

Despite a slew of "decisively poor" signals from China in recent days, stocks in the U.S. and Europe are rallying. The Dow is surging over 300 points on Tuesday alone.

Fears of a massive global recession have melted. The reason? The world's No. 1 economy is powering ahead.

"What has happened recently is U.S. economic fundamentals have improved," says Liz Ann Sonders, chief investment strategist at Schwab. Investors are once again "paying attention to U.S. fundamentals instead of every tick in the China data."

A good panic is always fun, but eventually you have to answer the question of how a PRC implosion and falling energy prices can possibly be bad for Americans. 

Posted by orrinj at 2:46 PM


World's biggest floating solar farm powers up outside London (Fiona Harvey, 29 February 2016, The Guardian)

On a vast manmade lake on the outskirts of London, work is nearing completion on what will soon be Europe's largest floating solar power farm - and will briefly be the world's biggest.

But few are likely to see the 23,000 solar panels on the Queen Elizabeth II reservoir at Walton-on-Thames, which is invisible to all but Heathrow passengers and a few flats in neighbouring estates.

"This will be the biggest floating solar farm in the world for a time - others are under construction," said Angus Berry, energy manager for Thames Water, which owns the site. "We are leading the way, but we hope that others will follow, in the UK and abroad."

Five years in planning and due to be finished in early March, the £6m project will generate enough electricity to power the utility's local water treatment plants for decades. The energy will help provide clean drinking water to a populace of close to 10 million people in greater London and the south-east of England, a huge and often unrecognised drain on electricity, rather than nearby homes.

Posted by orrinj at 1:19 PM


The American Quran Pissing Off the Saudis : The Study Quran puts this great religious work in historical perspective. (Katie Savadski, 3/01/16, Daily Beast)

Followers of the Saudi-Wahhabi-Salafi version of Islam in Europe and the United States are increasingly seen by law enforcement as a pool from which radical jihadis can draw recruits.

Some strains of this Salafi interpretation have popularized takfirism--the practice by which some Muslims declare that others are not true believers. The aftereffects are clear in fringe jihadi groups like the self-declared caliphate that calls itself the Islamic State, where those who believe differently are deemed apostates who can be, and are, slaughtered en masse. The vast majority of Salafis are not jihadis and not takfiris. But those who are use their understanding of their Quran to justify killing Shia Muslims, Yazidis, adulterers, gays, and anyone else who runs afoul of their zealotry.

Generations of the world's Muslims have, now, grown up in the shadow of this Saudi religious empire, ignoring previous centuries of rigorous religious discourse, debate, and dissent.

The Study Quran, setting the record straight, may come as something of a revelation to Muslims and anyone else interested in Islam who speaks English. It is a formidable academic endeavor, and since it was published in November it has been flying off the shelves in a massive hardback edition. (It is also available now on Kindle.)

The editors have compiled a new translation, new commentary, and drawn on dozens of the most prominent mufassirs (interpreters or exegetes), many of whom have never before been accessible to an English-speaking audience. Indeed, "very few" of the sources cited in The Study Quran are available in English translation, head editor Seyyed Hossein Nasr told The Daily Beast.

One soon comes across nuances that are unmentioned or ignored by extremists. The Study Quran notes, for instance, that verse 47:4--used by ISIS to justify beheadings--focuses on "the brevity of the act, as it is confined to battle and not a continuous command." This interpretation would seem to challenge extremists who attempt to carry out such acts on civilians, whether on the streets of London or in Syria.

The Salafi scholars who have monopolized English-language Muslim resources are disturbed and even frightened by this textual revolution that puts them back in their place.

Salafism "was not in the mainstream of the Muslim tradition," said Nasr. "It rejected centuries of Islamic thought." The scholars contributing to The Study Quran, who are both Sunni and Shia, also break with the ultra-Orthodox animus against Shiism.

Posted by orrinj at 1:08 PM


Louis Farrakhan's Praise for Trump Shows That the Donald Appeals to Bigots of All Colors (Eric Levitz, 3/0/16, NY Mag)

Days after a former KKK grand wizard said that white voters who oppose Trump are betraying their heritage, Nation of Islam founder Louis Farrakhan praised the Donald's efforts to get Jewish money out of politics.

Donald Trump "is the only member who has stood in front of Jewish community, and said I don't want your money," Farrakhan said in a Sunday sermon, the Anti-Defamation League reports. "Any time a man can say to those who con­trol the politics of America, 'I don't want your money,' that means you can't control me. And they cannot afford to give up control of the presidents of the United States."

Farrakhan seemed to be referring to Trump's appearance before the Republican Jewish Coalition last December, when the mogul told the gathered Jewry, "I don't want money, so, therefore, you're not going to support me because, stupidly, you want to give money ... You want to control your own politician."

Posted by orrinj at 1:02 PM


The 100 best nonfiction books of all time: No 5 - Dreams from My Father by Barack Obama (1995) (Robert McCrum, 29 February 2016, The Guardian)

Not satirical apparently.