April 30, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 9:50 PM


Iranian moderates win back majority in parliament (Deutsche-Welle, 4/30/16)

Reformists and moderate politicians allied with President Hassan Rouhani won almost twice as many seats as their conservative rivals in run-off elections. The reformist List of Hope gained 38 more lawmakers, whereas the hard-liners won 18 and independent candidates securing 12 seats, according to official results released on Saturday.

Posted by orrinj at 9:38 AM


What Would Happen If We Just Gave People Money? (Andrew Flowers, 4/25/16, 538)

Daniel Straub remembers the night he got hooked on basic income. He had invited Götz Werner, a billionaire owner of a German drugstore chain, to give an independent talk in Zurich, where Straub was working as a project manager for a think tank. He had read an article about the radical proposal to unconditionally guarantee citizens an income and spent a few years casually researching the idea. Straub had heard Werner was a good speaker on the topic, and that night in 2009 he was indeed excellent at connecting with the audience, a sold-out house of 200. "It was a very intense evening; people were paying attention," Straub recalled.

Werner posed a pair of simple questions to the crowd: What do you really want to do with your life? Are you doing what you really want to do? Whatever the answers, he suggested basic income was the means to achieve those goals. The idea is as simple as it is radical: Rather than concern itself with managing myriad social welfare and unemployment insurance programs, the government would instead regularly cut a no-strings-attached check to each citizen. No conditions. No questions. Everyone, rich or poor, employed or out of work would get the same amount of money. This arrangement would provide a path toward a new way of living: If people no longer had to worry about making ends meet, they could pursue the lives they want to live.

Straub had studied business, international policy and psychology at school and spent years working for IBM, the International Red Cross and a Montessori school. Basic income "struck a nerve," he said. "People are burned out more than ever. You come to Switzerland and talk to people, they aren't happy. They fear for their jobs. There is a gap between the economic possibility in this country and the quality of life." [...]

The original seed planted by Friedman's negative income tax idea eventually blossomed into the Earned Income Tax Credit, thought by both conservative and liberal economists to be one of the more effective anti-poverty programs in the U.S. because it manages to encourage work while avoiding the benefits cliff. The argument for a basic income as an anti-poverty program over something like the EITC is that it would be easier to administer.

What do we know about giving a guaranteed income to everyone? Not much. Negative income tax policies such as the EITC target specific groups, usually the poor. They have been tested. But basic income is often pitched as universal -- everyone would get the same amount, regardless of their circumstances. And that has never been examined in a rigorous way.

The closest research we have to how a universal basic income could work comes from a small town in Canada. From 1974 to 1979, the Canadian government partnered with the province of Manitoba to run an experiment on the idea of providing a minimum income to residents. The result was MINCOME, a guaranteed annual income offered to every eligible family in Dauphin, a prairie town of about 10,000, and smaller numbers of residents in Winnipeg and some rural communities throughout the province.3 MINCOME remains one of the most influential studies of basic income in a rich-world country.

Evelyn Forget, now an economist at the University of Manitoba, was a student in Toronto at the time. "I knew this was happening in Manitoba. I just stopped hearing about it," she said. When Canada's governing party changed midway through the MINCOME experiment, funding dried up and the researchers were told to archive their data for later analysis. No database was created, and the results of MINCOME were not examined.

Decades later, Forget started digging for the data. She unearthed 1,800 dusty cardboard boxes -- with information on each family receiving MINCOME -- at Canada's National Archives. Forget digitized the materials and matched MINCOME records with those in the database of Canada's universal health insurance program, which was introduced around the same time. That allowed her to compare the health of those receiving MINCOME to the health of similar people who didn't. It resulted in a blockbuster research paper, decades in the making: "The Town With No Poverty," published in 2011.

Families receiving MINCOME had fewer hospitalizations, accidents and injuries, Forget found. Mental health hospitalizations fell dramatically. And the high school completion rate ticked up during the years of the experiment, with 16-to-18-year-old boys, in particular, more likely to finish school. Younger adolescent girls were less likely to give birth before age 25, and when they did, they had fewer kids.

The program brought most recipients above Canada's poverty line. And the employment effects in Dauphin were modest. "For primary earners -- those with full-time jobs -- there was virtually no decline" in work, Forget said. "Nobody was quitting their jobs." Cash from the government eased families' economic anxiety, allowing them to invest in their health and plan over a longer horizon.

MINCOME is now serving as inspiration for basic income's comeback in Canada. The Liberal Party, which recently swept to power behind Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, is seriously flirting with the idea. There are several popular petitions to add it to the party's platform, and a Liberal-dominated committee in Parliament is recommending the federal government study the idea. In its 2016 budget, the provincial government of Ontario announced plans to conduct a basic income pilot this year.

The reality could hardly be less complicated : we currently distribute wealth via jobs, but the entire capitalist project--which is now universal-- is at war with them (in the form of technology, free trade, open immigration, and the like). So we will find another means of achieving the same end.

Universal Income serves, at minimum, the following conservative goals:

*Business efficiency--getting rid of makework jobs

*Government efficiency--getting rid of duplicative programs and bureaucracy

*Liberty--leveling the playing field for all citizens

*Community--providing citizens with more time to spend with family, church, social organizations, local government, etc.

What makes the trend towards this sort of solution so powerful is that opponents offer no other alternative except to protect jobs at any cost, the sort of anti-capitalist guff of Donald Trump (protectionism, nativism, unreformed Second Way social programs, etc.)

Posted by orrinj at 9:28 AM



Livingstone's dumb remarks about Hitler, Israel and Zionism confirm that some on the left do have a weird desire to lash out at what they view as Jewish power, and the media class's subsequent savaging of Livingstone confirms that ours is an intolerant era in which there are certain things you may not say. Politics is complex, and the complexity here is that both Livingstone and his critics are wrong, and both are having a destructive impact on rational political debate.

Livingstone's comments are of a piece with the modern left's feverish obsession with the Jewish State and its alleged threat to global peace. It is of course entirely legitimate to criticise Zionism. Zionism is a political ideology, and every ideology must be open to questioning, mocking, ridicule, and so on. Criticising Zionism no more makes you an anti-Semite than criticising feminism makes you a misogynist.

But among some sections of the left, the word 'Zionist' is now used in a creepily similar way to how the word 'Jew' was used in more openly racist times. They speak of the 'Zionist-led media', of 'Zionist lobbies' dictating to our governments what they should do. Left-leaning broadsheets run cartoons showing Israeli politicians puppeteering Western leaders, or even worse, feasting on dead children, because apparently Zionists love nothing more than to kill kids. In these instances, anti-Zionism does start to resemble anti-Semitism. It comes to share the key conviction of the anti-Semite: that They have too much power, are a threat to the global order, are possessed of a bloodlust that is alien to us civilised Westerners.

The modern left's strange conviction that Zionism is a uniquely evil and destabilising ideology was summed up in the Facebook post shared by the now-suspended Labour MP for Bradford West, Naz Shah. That post may have shocked with its suggestion that the 'solution' to the Israel/Palestine problem is to 'relocate' all Israelis to the US. But the reasons given for this 'solution' were more striking, for they're now utterly mainstream among much of the radical left: the post said getting rid of Israel would mean 'the Middle East will again be peaceful' and 'the whole world will be happy'. This view of Zionists as the grit in the eye of world order is now common on the left.

This is why radicals apply extraordinary double standards to Israel: they protest against its wars far more than the wars of any other state; they boycott its produce and art; they obsess over Israel's tentacle-like lobbies more than any other lobby (and ours is an era of lobby politics). Very little of this is rational or fact-based. Rather, it speaks to the lost, post-Cold War left's hunt for one thing, the big thing, that they might hold responsible for the ills of the world, and for many of them it's Zionism. In such circumstances, the line between politics and prejudice does, tragically, become porous.

The situation is not helped by the way supporters likewise argue that Israel is sui generis and ought not be held to any of the standards of the rest of the West.  Both treat Israeli Jews as magical beings--for good on the one hand and evil on the other--rather than citizens of an entirely normal nation.

Posted by orrinj at 9:25 AM


How America is beating ISIS in Iraq and Syria : ISIS is losing battles, territory, and money in Iraq and Syria, while still expanding elsewhere. Can it be stopped? Here's everything you need to know (The Week, 4/29/16)

The U.S. and its allies are riding a wave of successes. In the past few months, Iraqi forces backed by American airstrikes have liberated the city of Ramadi, while Kurdish peshmerga and Yazidi fighters have retaken several northern towns. The Pentagon says it has killed about 26,000 ISIS fighters altogether, cut into the group's cash flow, and driven the terrorists out of 40 percent of the land the organization once controlled. The population living under ISIS's brutal reign has dropped from 9 million to 6 million people. U.S. strikes have killed several top ISIS strategists, and there are reports that ISIS fighters are retreating wherever they're attacked, rather than fighting as fiercely as they once did. "We have momentum," President Obama said, "and we intend to keep that momentum." His administration has announced it's launched a cyberwar against ISIS (see below), and is sending more troops and arms, including American-operated Apache attack helicopters, to help Iraqi forces retake Mosul, ISIS's Iraqi headquarters, later this year. About 250 U.S. military personnel are also being sent to Syria to help coordinate the Sunni tribes battling ISIS there.

Posted by orrinj at 9:18 AM


90% of Americans have prayed for healing, study finds (Morgan Manella, April 25, 2016, CNN)

When Americans experience health problems, they don't just rely on doctors and medications. A new study found that most Americans have turned to prayer to heal themselves and others.

The study found that about nine out of 10 Americans have relied on healing prayer at some point in their lives, with most of them praying for other people's health and well-being more than their own.

Darwinism never stood a chance in America.

Posted by orrinj at 9:01 AM


The Goldberg File (Jonah Goldberg, 4/29/16, National Review)

[L]et's go back to the claim that Trump will win in the general election by flipping blue states in a populist tsunami. If that analysis is even remotely plausible, why should #NeverTrumpers matter? Indeed, if you take Trumpian rhetoric from his talk-radio and other cheerleaders seriously, the anti-Trump forces are a negligible bunch of eggheads, pinheads, and finger-sniffing shut-ins completely disconnected from the authentic and volcanically powerful volksgemeinschaft. If Trump has any chance of flipping New York, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, we shouldn't matter at all. And yet, according to the increasingly shrill and whining bleats from his supporters, we will be to blame if he doesn't win. Well which is it? Is this a revolutionary populist movement that will sweep aside ink knights like me or not?

I think several things are going on here. I think some pro-Trump forces actually realize that their guy will lose no matter what. Rather than face the fact that blame for Trump's likely inevitable loss will rest entirely with Trump and his followers, they want to preserve the claim that Trump was "stabbed in the back." Tactically, this isn't dumb. The consolation prize for the Trump movement is to complete the hostile takeover of the GOP the way conservatives did after Goldwater's loss in 1964. Psychologically, it also makes sense. No one ever wants to look squarely into the abyss of their own failure. But empirically, this argument is inane. If or when Trump loses it will be because of Trump's own myriad and manifest shortcomings. Blaming us for honestly pointing out that those shortcomings are as short as the digits of Trump's puppy-fur gloves may be cathartic, but it won't be honest or accurate.

...that losers aren't responsible for their own lives?

Posted by orrinj at 8:52 AM


On Seeing Omaha Beach (REGIS MARTIN, 4/29/16, Crisis)

Of the dozen or so cemeteries scattered across Europe where the remains of America's fallen heroes may be found, the Memorial at Omaha Beach is surely the most moving, its nearly two-hundred acres covered with the crosses of over nine thousand soldiers, including their 149 Jewish comrades, whose graves are adorned with the Star of David. Destined to spend their last desperate hours on the beaches and cliffs of Normandy, they died as Americans; which is to say, without distinction of creed, color, or condition, enfolded forever as brothers in a common cause. And should you decide to visit the American cemetery in Normandy, as I and my family recently did, which stands gleaming and white upon the hill high above the wide and now deserted beach far below, and walk row by row through all those lovely marble graves marking the spot where so many young men are buried, it will break your heart.

The sheer scale of the sacrifice borne by those brave men is staggering. Not only were thousands pinned down by withering machine gun fire coming from hidden bunkers embedded in the hills high above the beach, but so many young lives were lost even before reaching the line of shore, their bodies washed up by the sea. So bloody and chaotic a mess was the battle for Omaha Beach that General Omar Bradley, who commanded American ground forces in what became the largest and most ambitious amphibious assault ever mounted in human history, very nearly ordered an evacuation. Such was the level of carnage along the disaster-strewn beach that by midday he was prepared to believe the worst--that his men "had suffered an irreversible catastrophe," and the German positions simply could not be overrun.  It was only later, of course, on learning that the attack had indeed moved further inland that he began to hope the outcome might be different.

And as everyone now knows, the fabled Atlantic Wall, which had been so carefully constructed and massively maintained by the armies of the Reich, once breached, could mean only one thing: Germany had lost the war. D-day was, without doubt, the single most decisive military engagement of the Second World War. All that followed was really only a series of mopping up exercises pursuant to persuading the enemy to lay down its weapons; which Germany definitively did, less than one year later, on May 7, 1945, leaving the Thousand Year Old Reich in ruins.

But who could possibly have known any of that on the morning of June 6, 1944, when wave upon wave of American infantry hit the beach, inching its way ever so tenuously up the most heavily fortified coastline in the world?  Surely not the soldiers of the U.S. 1st and 29th Infantry Divisions, who fell by the thousands before finally breaking through what had clearly been designed as an absolutely impregnable series of coastal defenses. "It is on the beaches that the fate of the invasion will be decided," observed the famous Desert Fox, Field Marshall Erwin Rommel, whom Hitler had personally dispatched to the scene, ordering him not merely to hold the line but to repel the invaders, throwing them all back into the sea. "The battle belonged that morning," as Gen. Bradley was later to express it, "to the thin, wet line of khaki that dragged itself ashore on the channel coast of France." Who would not retreat, would not cut and run, despite every possible obstacle arrayed against it.  As Colonel George A. Taylor bluntly put the matter, reporting from the very thick of it: "There are two kinds of people who are staying on this beach: those who are dead and those who are going to die. Now let's get the hell out of here!"

We stayed in Paris for a week several years ago and it was a dump.  The museums are cool, but any time you were outside of them it was dirty, noisy and the people were unpleasant.  But we also went to Normandy to ride the train and see the beaches, cemetery and the Bayeux tapestry.  That trip was totally worthwhile.  One of the most interesting things that you notice is just how small the beaches were where combat took place.  It seems like the cemetery is bigger.  And the sea of white grave markers is as overwhelming in its own way as the Vietnam Memorial.

Posted by orrinj at 8:33 AM


Spirit of 'Forty-Eighters': Germany eyes a special relationship with US : If the UK votes for a Brexit, many in Germany are eager to strengthen their bonds with America (Carl​ Schu​trz, 30 April 2016, The Guardian)

German revolutionary Carl Schurz was an all-American hero. A teacher who climbed the barricades during the failed uprising against an autocratic Prussian state in 1848, he exported his democratic fervour to America four years later: Schutz fought for the unionist cause in the civil war, served as US secretary of the interior and introduced to his adopted homeland the concept of the kindergarten.

Yet most Americans, and even more Germans, would struggle to put a face to the name of the man whose memorial in Wisconsin identifies him as America's "greatest German American". The UK and the US may quarrel over of the precise location of Winston Churchill's bust inside the White House, but at least they know who they are talking about.

If the German foreign policy circles are to be believed, all that could change if the UK leaves the European Union. Since Barack Obama's visit to Europe last weekend, Germany's media has been alive with speculation that the country could take over the UK's role in a "special relationship" with the US after Brexit.

More realistically, Germany could be added to the special relationship, forcing the rest of Europe to sign on to a mere trade and security regime determined by the US and UK, replacing the EU bureaucracy.

Posted by orrinj at 8:07 AM


Iran Elections: Moderate Bloc Advances In Runoff, State Media Says (SNEHA SHANKAR,  04/30/16, IB Times)

A report by Iran's Fars news agency said the coalition formed by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani won 33 of the total 68 seats contested in the second round runoff parliamentary elections, while the conservatives won 21 seats, according to Agence France-Presse (AFP).

The AFP report also noted that if confirmed, this would give reformists 128 seats in the 290-member parliament, just 18 shy of a majority but more than the 124 seats grabbed by the rivals. The remaining seats would go to independent candidates. [...]

A report by conservative Tasnim news agency, also cited by AFP, said that Rouhani's allies won 35 seats in the second round. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:00 AM


Can America's Largest Protestant Denomination Stop Trump? : The Southern Baptist Convention takes on the GOP front-runner--and itself. (Ruth Graham, 4/29/16, Slate)

Believe it or not, Southern Baptists have become the loudest chorus of anti-Trump voices within conservative evangelicalism. And as has happened in other precincts of the right, the real estate mogul's candidacy has forced evangelical leaders to confront the contradictions between their values and their political allegiances. "My concern is not so much about the presidential election," Moore told me. "I'm more concerned about the witness of evangelical Christianity, which I see compromised in the apologies from some Christian leaders for Trump and his behavior."

Moore effectively announced his new mission in September, when he published a searing op-ed in the New York Times in which he compared Trump to a "Bronze Age warlord" and concluded that evangelicals embracing him were promoting the idea that "image and celebrity and money and power and social Darwinist 'winning' trump the conservation of moral principles and a just society." In February, he wrote in the Washington Post that he had temporarily stopped calling himself an evangelical because the ugly election had turned the word meaningless:

I have watched as some of these who gave stem-winding speeches about "character" in office during the Clinton administration now minimize the spewing of profanities in campaign speeches, race-baiting and courting white supremacists, boasting of adulterous affairs, debauching public morality and justice through the c[***]no and pornography industries.

Meanwhile, Moore's very active Twitter feed has maintained a rolling boil of anti-Trump sentiment for months: [...]

And Moore is hardly the only Southern Baptist leader to speak out against Trump. The ERLC's policy director, Andrew Walker, wrote in February in the conservative Federalist, "The Christian alliance with Trump sets the political witness of evangelicals back by several generations." Others at the ERLC have spoken out against Trump's immigration policy and against his "folk Marxism."

Leaders in Southern Baptist higher education have been sounding the same alarm. 

Clinton v. Trump shrinks the God Gap (Mark Silk, April 28, 2016, RNS)

As our attention shifts from the primaries to the general election, for the first time in years religiosity looks like it's going to matter less than gender in determining the presidential vote.

Between men and women the divide is huge when it comes to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. According to the latest GW Battleground Poll -- which has Clinton leading Trump 46 percent to 43 percent -- women favor Clinton over Trump 54 percent to 35 percent while men go the other way 52 percent to 37 percent. Adding the two differentials yields a 34-point gender gap that far outstrips the 20-point gap between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney  in 2012 -- itself the largest such gap in Gallup Poll history.

By contrast, the Battleground Poll has the Clinton-Trump God gap at under 15 points, with those who say they go to church at least once a week preferring Trump to Clinton by nine points and those attending less frequently preferring Clinton to Trump by less than six. That compares to a God gap in 2012 of nearly 40 points.

Since the God gap became salient in the 1990s, it's always exceeded the gender gap. Not, evidently, this year. Between women's support for one of their own and the misogyny of the other candidate, gender identity is trumping religion.

Posted by orrinj at 7:50 AM


Helmet cam footage shows Islamic State in battlefield chaos (Reuters, 4/29/16)

Islamic State may exult in online portrayals of jihadis sweeping victoriously across Iraqi battlefields, but a camera recovered from the helmet of a dead fighter offers a contrasting picture of chaos and panic in a battle with Kurdish peshmerga.

A fighter named Abu Hajer is shown in footage seized by Peshmerga firing from one of three Islamic State armored cars advancing across a barren plain towards a Kurdish position. His rifle slips and he fires off a shot inside the vehicle.

"Abu Hajer! Stop firing!" shouts Abu Radhwan, the camera in his helmet picking up anguished faces as it swings erratically from views of rifles and munitions on the floor of the armored car to the brown fields and blue sky ahead.

A second fighter, Abu Abdullah, shouts out above the sound of shooting: "Abu Hajer! I told you to aim higher! What's wrong with you? You're firing the bullet casings straight at us!"

Abu Radhwan then turns his attention to Abdullah

"Abu Abdullah, aim higher and be careful! Abu Abdullah you're going to kill us!" 

Lebanese army kills Islamic State leader at Syrian border (Reuters, 4/29/16)

Lebanese soldiers killed an Islamic State leader on Thursday in the mountainous border region with Syria, Lebanon's army said.

The army command said Fayez al-Shaalaan, known as Abu Fawz, was killed when the army attacked an Islamic State position on the edge of the town of Arsal in north Lebanon.

Posted by orrinj at 7:40 AM


Wayne Simmons, Right Wing Media's Benghazi Expert, Pleads Guilty To Fraud (Oliver Willis, April 30, 2016, National Memo)

Wayne Simmons, who presented himself as a national security expert and was a part of the conservative media push for a congressional investigation of the Benghazi attack, has pleaded guilty to federal fraud charges.

In an April 29 press release the Department of Justice noted that Simmons "falsely claimed he spent 27 years working for the Central Intelligence Agency" and had pleaded guilty "to major fraud against the government, wire fraud, and a firearms offense."

The release further noted, "Simmons admitted he defrauded the government in 2008 when he obtained work as a team leader in the U.S. Army's Human Terrain Systems program, and again in 2010 when he was deployed to Afghanistan as a senior intelligence advisor on the International Security Assistance Force's Counterinsurgency Advisory and Assistance Team."

Dana J. Boente, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, said, "Simmons admitted he attempted to con his way into a position where he would have been called on to give real intelligence advice in a war zone. His fraud cost the government money, could have put American lives at risk, and was an insult to the real men and women of the intelligence community who provide tireless service to this country."

Simmons was a frequent guest on Fox News, appearing on the network dozens of times purporting to be a former CIA operative.

The Crazy Emails That Took Down NSA Spook John Schindler (J.K. Trotter, 7/24/14, Gawker)

Remember John Schindler, the conservative talking head, retired NSA spook, and Naval War College professor who briefly went incognito after screenshots of (what appear to be) his penis leaked onto the Internet? While he has since reappeared on Twitter--where he first drew attention for defending domestic spying and criticizing Edward Snowden--he has refused to comment on the mysterious emails, sent to the Naval War College by an unnamed blogger, that prompted the school to place him on leave, and his penis under official investigation.

The emails sent to NWC, which Gawker obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request, refer to Schindler's habit of calling himself a "spy"; detail his correspondence with an unnamed woman (who apparently received his penis photo); and, in a lengthy missive, accuse Schindler of staging "cyber warfare" against his online enemies, using "thuggish tactics" to silence NSA critics, and violating various federal laws.

Of course, he's still the main generator of email stories, working for Trump's kid.

Posted by orrinj at 7:27 AM


President Obama Weighs His Economic Legacy (ANDREW ROSS SORKIN, APRIL 28, 2016, NY Times Magazine)

Obama is animated by a sense that, looking at the world around him, the U.S. economy is in much better shape than the public appreciates, especially when measured against the depths of the financial crisis and the possibility -- now rarely even considered -- that things could have been much, much worse. Over a series of conversations in the Oval Office, on Air Force One and in Florida, Obama analyzed, sometimes with startling frankness, nearly every element of his economic agenda since he came into office. His economy has certainly come further than most people recognize. The private sector has added jobs for 73 consecutive months -- some 14.4 million new jobs in all -- the longest period of sustained job growth on record. Unemployment, which peaked at 10 percent the year Obama took office, the highest it had been since 1983, under Ronald Reagan, is now 5 percent, lower than when Reagan left office. The budget deficit has fallen by roughly $1 trillion during his two terms. And overall U.S. economic growth has significantly outpaced that of every other advanced nation.

Gene Sperling, the former director of the National Economic Council who spent hours inside the Oval Office debating and devising the president's economic strategy, told me, "If we were back in early 2009 -- when we were coming to work every morning with clenched stomachs, with the economy losing 800,000 jobs a month and the Dow under 7,000 -- and someone said that by your last year in office, unemployment would be 5 percent, the deficit would be under 3 percent, AIG would have turned a profit and we made all our money back on the banks, that would've been beyond anybody's wildest expectations." [...]

Beyond the messaging challenge, Obama faced a practical bind as well: Just as he was trying to reinflate the economy, he was also being forced to cut government jobs, under pressure from Republicans who contended that government bloat and the cost of it could create our next financial crisis. Call it an anti-stimulus. "This is the first recovery where you actually saw the government work force decline, and that created this massive fiscal drag throughout the recovery," Obama said. [...]

Often in our conversations, the president expressed a surprising degree of identification with America's business leaders. "If I hadn't gone into politics and public service," Obama told me, "the challenges of creating a business and growing a business and making it work would probably be the thing that was most interesting to me." His showy embrace of capitalism was especially notable given his fractious relationship with Wall Street and the business community for much of his first term. [....]

When the president's motorcade left Saft to head back to Air Force One, I noticed something unusual: The plant's parking lot was extremely small. It dawned on me that Obama's tour of the factory, filled with photo ops and handshakes, had included very little interaction with workers. Instead, he was shown machine after machine, mostly operated by computers. At one point, he was introduced to WALL-E, a robot named after the Pixar film that takes battery components from a tray. No employees necessary. This giant mecca of innovation, a physical marvel that if built several decades ago would have easily employed a few thousand people, employs only 300.

It was a scene that underscored a challenge facing the U.S. economy and one that may be the driving factor behind greater inequality: We're not only losing jobs to overseas competition, we're losing them to technology. Obama noted the robots, too. "We just saw here those robots were pretty impressive, but also pointed to the direction the economy is going," he said.

He clearly recognizes the problem -- he said he spends a lot of time thinking about it -- but he also knows the solutions will come only when he is long out of office. Many citizens, he said, back on Air Force One, "have to worry about retraining at some point in their careers, because they can't anticipate being in one place for 30 years. The occupational mix in the economy places greater demands on people because it's changing more rapidly. And all of this makes people feel that they don't know what's around the corner." For whatever sense of "uncertainty" business leaders lament, this may be a much more profound sense of uncertainty.

"It's one of the reasons that I pursued the Trans-Pacific Partnership," he said, bringing up the free-trade pact that, uniquely, has divided both parties, "not because I'm not aware of all the failures of some past trade agreements and the disruptions to our economy that occurred as a consequence of globalization, but rather my assessment that most trends are irreversible given the nature of global supply chains, and so we better be out there shaping the rules in ways that allow for higher labor standards overseas, or try to export our environmental standards overseas so that we have more of a level playing field."

The singular fact of his economics is that he is a capitalist.

April 29, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 6:53 PM


Russia Says U.S. Buildup Violates Syrian Sovereignty (THOMAS GROVE, April 29, 2016, WSJ)

Russia said Friday that U.S. plans to increase the number of its military personnel in Syria was illegal and violated the sovereignty of the war-torn country.

Posted by orrinj at 6:38 PM


Chobani's Shared Capitalism Bonanza : The Greek yogurt company just awarded its full-time employees a bunch of valuable shares in the company. Should more companies follow suit? (Dwyer Gunn, 4/29/16, Pacific Standard)

While Ulukaya's gesture is unique in its magnitude, the United States is actually an international leader in profit sharing and employee ownership programs, both of which fall under the umbrella of what economists describe as "shared capitalism." According to research conducted by economists Douglas L. Kruse, Richard B. Freeman, and Joseph R. Blasi as part of the National Bureau of Economic Research's Shared Capitalism Research Project, 45 percent of private sector, for-profit employees in the U.S. participate in some kind of shared capitalism program (either a profit sharing, gain sharing, employee ownership, or stock option program).

"This is the sort of thing where you can get everyone from Democrats to Tea Party Republicans to agree."

As inequality has increased in recent years, a growing number of economists, including Freeman, have also suggested that shared capitalism might be a way to more equitably distribute the gains of the one percent. The idea has caught on in the political sphere too: Last July, Hillary Clinton announced her support for a tax credit for businesses that adapt profit sharing programs.

"If we believe that an increase in the capital share is a major part of this inequality, then the question becomes what can we do to have the capital ownership widely distributed?" Freeman told me when I interviewed him earlier this year for an article on wage stagnation. "And that either means workers owning part of the companies they work for, or it means profit sharing, which means they own part of the profit stream."

Of course, there's another reason it makes sense for companies to get into the shared capitalism business: It more closely unifies the interests of workers with the interests of management. In a shared capitalism model, everyone benefits when workers are more productive and innovative. Ulukaya alluded to this when he told the Times that, now, his workers will be "working to build the company even more and building their future at the same time."

Posted by orrinj at 6:13 PM


U.S. stands by South Korea defense talks despite China, Russia objections (Reuters, 4/29/16)

The White House on Friday said talks to install a new anti-missile defense system in South Korea would continue in the wake of nuclear arms and missile tests by North Korea despite calls by China and Russia for the United States to back off.

Posted by orrinj at 6:10 PM


Tame U.S. inflation bolsters Fed caution on rate hikes (LUCIA MUTIKANI, 4/29/16, Reuters)

The tame inflation backdrop was reinforced by another report on Friday showing labor costs increasing moderately in the first quarter.

The Commerce Department said the personal consumption expenditures (PCE) price index, excluding the volatile food and energy components, edged up 0.1 percent last month after an upwardly revised 0.2 percent increase in February.

Posted by orrinj at 4:34 PM


Journalist who profiled Melania Trump hit with barrage of antisemitic abuse (Lauren Gambino, 28 April 2016, The Guardian)

Journalist Julia Ioffe has experienced this kind of harassment before: in Vladimir Putin's Russia.

In the 24 hours since her profile of Donald Trump's wife, Melania, appeared in GQ magazine, the Russian-American journalist has received a torrent of antisemitic, vitriolic and threatening messages from supporters of the Republican frontrunner.

In the deeply disturbing response to her piece, Ioffe said she sees a frightening future of what freedom of the press - and the country - might look like under President Trump.

"What happens if Donald Trump is elected?" Ioffe said. "We've seen the way he bids his supporters to attack the media, his proposal to change libel laws to make it easier to sue journalists."

Posted by Glenn Dryfoos at 1:59 PM


Happy Birthday Duke!

April 28, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 8:13 PM


People with more friends have higher pain thresholds, study suggests (Nicola Davis, 28 April 2016, The Guardian)

People with a larger circle of friends are better able to tolerate pain, according to research into the pain thresholds and social networks of volunteers.

The link is thought to be down a system in the brain that involves endorphins: potent pain-killing chemicals produced by the body that also trigger a sense of wellbeing.

"At an equivalent dose, endorphins have been shown to be stronger than morphine," said Katerina Johnson, a doctoral student at the University of Oxford, who co-authored the research. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:56 PM

Soft Nutella chocolate chip cookies (Carol Ramos, APRIL 28, 2016, CS Monitor)

1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon baking soda
pinch salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened heaping 1/3 cup Nutella
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup Nutella (or more), for dolloping

1. Whisk together flour, cornstarch, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl; set aside.

2. Beat together butter, Nutella, sugars, egg and vanilla on medium-high speed in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until well combined, about 3-4 minutes. 

3. Reduce speed to low and slowly add the flour mixture until just combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl.
Dollop the Nutella on top of the dough and swirl very slightly. Do not try to mix into the dough but leave distinct swirls of Nutella.

4. Scoop into golf-ball-size dough balls, cover and chill or freeze for several hours or overnight.

5. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Evenly space dough balls about 2 inches apart on baking sheets. Bake 9-11 minutes or until the edges are set and the middles no longer look raw or shiny.

Posted by orrinj at 7:53 PM


John Boehner Calls Ted Cruz 'Lucifer in the Flesh' (KRISTINA PETERSON, Apr 28, 2016, WSJ)

The Ohio Republican, who resigned from Congress last fall, on Wednesday night called the GOP presidential candidate "Lucifer in the flesh," telling an audience at Stanford University that he wouldn't vote for him for president even if he were the GOP nominee, according to the Stanford Daily student newspaper.

"I have Democrat friends and Republican friends. I get along with almost everyone, but I have never worked with a more miserable son of a bitch in my life," Mr. Boehner said.

Posted by orrinj at 7:46 PM


Chairman Mao devours his foes : Cannibalism is added to Maoism's many other crimes in Frank Dikötter's final searing volume of A People's History (Jonathan Mirsky, 4/28/16, sPECTATOR)

Frank Dikötter, professor of humanities at the University of Hong Kong and winner of the Samuel Johnson prize in 2011, is the author of many studies on China, most notably two on Mao's dark rule. This new book completes the trilogy. The first volume, The Tragedy of Liberation, made plain, more exhaustively than previous accounts, that from the beginning of his time as Chairman, Mao was paranoid and murderous, and that Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping egged him on. The second volume, the prize-winning Mao's Great Famine, examined, in characteristic detail, the Chairman's responsibility for the 1959-1961 famine, which killed 30 to 50 million Chinese.

Now we are shown that millions continued to starve for years after 1961. Dikötter doesn't explain how he obtained access to hitherto unexamined archives, but for this third volume he has trawled through a vast range of central and regional material, including both official and unofficial reports on disasters and horrors, and commentaries on what happened to ordinary Chinese throughout the country, including the sadists who obeyed Mao's deranged ukases. What comes over more clearly than ever is how accurate Roderick MacFarquhar's epitaph on the Cultural Revolution was: that 'the mark of Cain' hung heavily on it from the start. As Li Rui, one of Mao's secretaries, told a Harvard conference on the centenary of the Chairman's birth: 'Mao liked killing.' According to Dikötter:

Mao was easily offended and resentful, with a long memory for grievances. Insensitive to human loss, he nonchalantly handed down killing quotas. The Cultural Revolution, then, was also about an old man settling personal scores at the end of his life.

Here are some consequences. In the summer of 1968, 80,000 were slaughtered in Guangxi alone and some were eaten:

There was a hierarchy in the consumption of class enemies. Leaders feasted on the heart and liver, mixed with pork, while ordinary villagers were allowed only to peck at the victims' arms and thighs.

Dikötter shows that while Mao and his partisans were ravaging the old culture and hounding those who clung to it, millions, risking fatal retribution, held to their traditional practices. In this 'silent revolution',

lamas, imams and priests may well have been in education camps, but ordinary followers stepped in to hold their communities together and many villagers continued to worship at a small shrine or altar inside their home. They burned incense, offered vows, and invoked the spirits away from the public eye.... The ultimate act of subversion was probably to turn the Chairman himself into a local deity.

In this way, Dikötter contends, 'they buried Maoism'. This may have been true of the Tibetans who worshipped the 'criminal' Dalai Lama, and the Han Chinese, who revered their ancestors. But Mao's successors have continued to make life hell for dissidents. His portrait still gazes down on Tiananmen Square, and President Xi urges his people to honour one of history's greatest monsters.

Posted by orrinj at 7:41 PM


Why so many Iranians have come to hate the hijab : Over the years the state crackdown on women's dress has become more of a show to placate the country's hardline base. Our correspondent shares stories from her personal repertoire illustrating the point (Denise Hassanzade Ajiri,  28 April 2016, The Guardian)

As time went by, the younger generation gradually became accustomed to the morality police, then known as komiteh. Just one encounter with them, and the spell of dread was broken. You were not scared of them any more. At least those in my circle were not.

During the early 1990s, the komiteh arrested my sister and her friend on the street. They were on their way to buy ice cream when a van pulled up beside them. A woman in black chador opened the van door and asked them to enter. Frightened, my sister and her friend ran toward an idling taxi a few meters away and jumped in. The van shot forward and veered in front of the taxi. Two soldiers leaped out and pointed their guns at the car while the woman in chador shouted at the top of her lungs for my sister and her friend to get in the van. They did.

Accompanied by other women, mostly young, who had similarly been arrested, they were driven to Vozara Detention Center where a group trial date was scheduled. A few hours later, my parents took my sister home. My mother was stunned, my father confused. My sister, who was then in middle school, had a very different take. She entered our house with a wide smile on her face, telling me it was the "coolest experience". She excitedly described how all the women were singing and clapping as they waited together in a communal cell. A few of their fellow scofflaws, apparently regulars at that particular detention center, were handcuffed. As my sister and her van companions entered the cell, one of them held her hands up in the air and shouted, "Hey kids! Check this out! They have given me bracelets!"

A few days later, the girls in the van showed up for their group trial and were fined 5,000 tomans each - the equivalent then of less than 20 dollars.

In the early 2000s, my dad was driving my sister back from a class when, a few blocks from home, they were stopped by the morality police.

"What's the relation between you two?" a male agent asked my father.

"She's my daughter," he calmly replied.

"Why are you in the car with this man? Who is he?" a female agent asked my sister.

"He's my dad," she calmly replied.

The agents asked for documents that could prove these incredible claims. My father and sister didn't have any. The agents talked between themselves for few minutes and let them go. By this point, no one took such encounters to heart. Hearing the story, my mom responded with an incredulous "What?" I just laughed.

This was during the reformist presidency of Mohammad Khatami, when many of us young people felt emboldened to publicly bend the morality rules and even, yes, protest. One night around that time, four of us were tooling down the Modarres Highway when a police car signaled for us to pull over. My sister's boyfriend was behind the wheel, while she rode shotgun. I was in the rear alongside my boyfriend, who'd been smoking out the window.

One policeman exited the car and walked toward us.

"What's the problem, officer?" my sister's boyfriend asked.

"This lady was sitting improperly," he said, pointing at me. I was resting my knees on the back of the front seat.

I'm certain that none of us were scared. My sister even chuckled quietly. I got angry and started shouting and crying. I felt insulted. It was the policeman, if anyone, who seemed less than sure of himself. He apologized, asked us to sit "properly", and invited us to go.

Posted by orrinj at 7:19 PM


World's Largest Viking Ship Sets Sail for the U.S. (Sebastian Modak   April 28, 2016, Conde Nast Traveler)

There was once a time when the sight of a Viking "Great Ship" on the horizon would cause mass hysteria, because it generally meant impending doom. But when the Draken Harald Hårfagre arrives in Duluth, Minnesota in August, just in time for the annual Tall Ships Festival, it will be cause for celebration. The world's largest Viking ship took sail on Saturday from its home port of Haugesund, Norway, and will be making its way across the Atlantic, stopping at ports in Iceland, Greenland, Canada, and the United States.

Once in the U.S., the Draken Harald Hårfagre will go through the Great Lakes to Duluth for the festival, and then loop back to New York City and Connecticut. Captain Björn Ahlander is commanding a crew of 32 men and women who will be tracing the approximate route that Leif Erikson--thought to be the first European to land in North America--took roughly 1,000 years ago.

Posted by orrinj at 7:09 PM


Shakespeare, Cervantes, and the Romance of the Real (R. V. Young, Spring 2016, Modern Age)

Although Cervantes reportedly regarded Persiles y Sigismunda as his crowning work (Delphi Cervantes, loc. 30753), I am aware of no ten-year-old boy in a later century who carried a copy with him at all times, as Howells carried Don Quixote, "so as not to lose any chance moment of reading it." The paradox of this great work of literary realism is, then, that it is more enchanting, more romantic, than not only the books of chivalry that Cervantes set out to mock but also his own effort at beguiling the reader with fantastic adventures, characters, and settings. Something analogous may be said of Shakespeare, who rarely devised his own plots, but rather lifted stories from hither and yon, turning material that ranged from ordinary historical chronicles to banal Italian novellas into fascinating dramas in which the characters--their doings and their speech--take luminous shape in our imagination and yet seem compellingly real.

Cervantes and Shakespeare are thus the literary embodiments of the genius of Western civilization, which is both shrewdly critical and aspirational. To grasp, however faintly, their means of achieving this is to apprehend in some measure the transformation of lead into gold in a way never attained by alchemy.

Ormsby points out the incongruity that emerges immediately from the title of the novel, Don Quixote de la Mancha:

It would be going too far to say that no one can thoroughly comprehend "Don Quixote" without having seen La Mancha, but undoubtedly even a glimpse of La Mancha will give an insight into the meaning of Cervantes such as no commentator can give. Of all the regions of Spain it is the last that would suggest the idea of romance. Of all the dull central plateau of the Peninsula it is the dullest tract.

"To anyone who knew the country well," he continues, "the mere style and title of 'Don Quixote of la Mancha' gave the key to the author's meaning at once" (Delphi Cervantes, loc. 115520-115527).

But the actual effect of reading the book is to endow this dullest district of Spain--and its dullness is part of the story's design--with endless fascination for generations of readers. Just as the drab, utilitarian windmills of La Mancha become giants in the mind of Alonso Quijano, the somewhat down-at-the-heels country gentleman who has assumed the guise of Don Quixote, doughty knight errant; even so La Mancha becomes in the mind of the young William Dean Howells and countless others a magical landscape where the reader eagerly anticipates the next misadventure of our benighted knight. Don Quixote's "quest" is thus to discover in ordinary places among ordinary men and women a vein of meaning and purpose. Insofar as both readers and the other characters are compelled to go along with him, to enter into his chivalric fantasies, he succeeds in opening up a realm of imagination among the poor, dusty villages of La Mancha.

Poor Cervantes; he lost control of his own text and it became the thing he disdained.

Posted by orrinj at 5:59 PM


The X-Files and the Demon-Haunted World  : On why we want to believe (Ari N. Schulman, Fall 2015, New Atlantis)

The X-Files toys with the way modern science understands itself. Science is not only a method but a worldview, with its own traditions and myths, heroes and villains. Consider the story of Galileo standing up to the Church, the classic tale of the champion of discovery persecuted by the powers that be for busting cherished beliefs. Like Mulder's appeals to science, the faithfulness of this story to the actual historical record is less important than the lesson it is meant to convey. What The X-Files offers is a series of cunning inversions of these mythologies science has developed about itself.

Chief among these is the myth of the Galilean skeptic clashing with the orthodox believer. And as far as that goes, it's really Mulder who's the skeptic, and Scully the believer. However much we're told that Mulder is driven by his traumatic origin story and his love of the spooky, we mostly only see Mulder's passions trumping his reason in the episodes where he is investigating his sister's disappearance or the vast all-wing conspiracy. And although these things are at the core of the show's mythology, they're also a departure from its normal depiction of Mulder as an investigator: Typically cool, wry, and curious, Mulder has the demeanor and style of a skeptic. And he and Scully are quite evenly matched, both critical, insightful, and attentive to the demands of evidence.

More to the point, it is of course Mulder, not Scully, who is willing to reckon with the reality of the observable phenomena of their world, which after all is the point of the scientific method. For all her forensic and investigatory chops, Scully the scientist is, as one of Mulder's few allies in the bureau puts it, "not what I'd call an open mind." She defends science -- "my science," she calls it, suggesting there might be others -- as if it were defined by some particular list of things that are not allowed to exist. And when she winds up seeing just about everything on this list and yet refuses to acknowledge it, her invocations of science begin to sound less like skepticism than clinging to blind faith.

Along with the clash of skeptic and believer is an inversion of science's relationship to authority. The agents illustrate this again: scientific Scully is actually deferential to authorities of all kinds, Mulder suspicious and confrontational. The scientific imperative to question arguments from authority is meant to counter our inherent complacency and deference. But in the noir world of The X-Files, authority must be fought because anyone and everyone could be out to deceive. Though Carl Sagan dismissed the paranoid style of the show, it shared more with his science and his politics than he would have cared to admit. "One of the great commandments of science is, 'Mistrust arguments from authority,'" he writes in The Demon-Haunted World. Or, as The X-Files puts it: trust no one. Both seemed to agree that the authorities do not just happen to be wrong; it is in their interest to defend orthodoxy.

Here is where the broader scientific mythology, going beyond the strict dictates of method, is at its strongest play in the show: in the story of the brave loners, the few who seek and discover and sustain the Truth, no matter how they challenge the powerful or society's cherished beliefs, no matter how they are persecuted. But where Sagan saw science as the ultimate weapon in the struggle against power structures of all kinds, in the universe of The X-Files, the scientific establishment is both an orthodoxy and an instrument of the powers that be.

The ironic upshot is that The X-Files invokes the mythology of modern science in order to arrive at the very set of beliefs that modern science defines itself against. It tells a story of how, in a world riven by demons and spooks and witches, science would fall into the same kind of dogmatism it claims to vanquish.

Posted by orrinj at 5:54 PM


House Speaker Ryan invites India's Modi to address Congress (Reuters, 4/28/16)

U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan invited Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday to address a joint meeting of Congress when he visits Washington in June, an unusual show of warmth for a foreign leader.

"This address presents a special opportunity to hear from the elected leader of the world's most populous democracy on how our two nations can work together to promote our shared values and to increase prosperity," the Republican leader of the House of Representatives said in a statement.

Posted by orrinj at 5:44 PM


Teen birth rate hits all-time low, led by 50 percent decline among Hispanics and blacks (Ariana Eunjung Cha, April 28, 2016, Washington Post)

[T]he second cause is something that goes against the conventional wisdom. It's that teens -- despite their portrayal in popular TV and movies as uninhibited and acting only on hormones -- are having less sex.

"There has been a change in social norms that has happened in the past 20 years, and the idea of not having sex or delaying sex is now something that can be okay," said Bill Albert, chief program officer for the National Campaign To Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.

If God chose to incarnate Himself today, Mary would be a 20-year-old instead of a 12-year-old.

Posted by orrinj at 5:31 PM


Does future growth depend on the universal basic income? (George Magnus, April 27, 2016, Prospect)

The most compelling argument for the UBI stems from our evolving social and economic organisation. Radical advances in digital technologies, robotics and artificial intelligence will transform our society beyond our capacity to imagine at this point. Already, new technologies are undermining an array of middle-wage paying, middle-skill level occupations, not just low paid and low skilled ones.

These new technologies are distributing rewards disproportionately to the owners and providers of capital, and to those companies and entrepreneurs who are in the forefront of wealth creation. Textbook economics tells us this is as expected. But it brings to mind the apocryphal conversation between Henry Ford and the Auto Workers union boss, Walter Reuther during a tour of a newly automated factory. "Walter, how are you going to get those robots to pay your union dues?" said Ford. "Henry, how are you going to get them to buy your cars?" replied Reuther. In the end, productivity growth allowed Ford's workers the wages and the wherewithal to buy. But you get the point.

If we automate, digitise and use robotics more, how will people consume what new technologies allow us to produce? If they don't or can't, we are in Marx's world of over-production and under-consumption. We can redistribute income, but only so far. Eventually, productivity growth will come to the rescue, far-fetched though this seems in the near future. We didn't foresee the productivity rise as the early IT revolution took root, and we can't see the productivity shift that will come in the future. In the meantime, we will need new coping mechanisms to help people through a complicated transition, and our economies to sustain an essential growth in demand.

...of goods and services also means that ever less wealth will need to be distributed.

Posted by orrinj at 5:25 PM


Exclusive: US May Lift Vietnam Arms Embargo For Obama Visit (Prashanth Parameswaran, April 27, 2016, Diplomat)
In a historic move, the United States may consider lifting an arms embargo on Vietnam in line with U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to the country next month, The Diplomat understands from U.S. and Vietnamese sources.

Posted by orrinj at 5:18 PM


A Robot Monk Is Spreading Buddhist Teachings in China (Danny Lewis, 4/28/16, SMITHSONIAN.COM )

 By working with engineers and artificial intelligence experts from some of China's top universities, a Buddhist monk who lives just outside of Beijing has developed a little robot monk who can hold simple conversations and recite traditional chants in hopes of sharing ancient teachings through modern technology.

Posted by orrinj at 5:08 PM


The Fine-Tuning of Nature's Laws (Luke A. Barnes, New Atlantis)

Today, our deepest understanding of the laws of nature is summarized in a set of equations. Using these equations, we can make very precise calculations of the most elementary physical phenomena, calculations that are confirmed by experimental evidence. But to make these predictions, we have to plug in some numbers that cannot themselves be calculated but are derived from measurements of some of the most basic features of the physical universe. These numbers specify such crucial quantities as the masses of fundamental particles and the strengths of their mutual interactions. After extensive experiments under all manner of conditions, physicists have found that these numbers appear not to change in different times and places, so they are called the fundamental constants of nature.

These constants represent the edge of our knowledge. Richard Feynman called one of them -- the fine-structure constant, which characterizes the amount of electromagnetic force between charged elementary particles like electrons -- "one of the greatest damn mysteries of physics: a magic number that comes to us with no understanding by man." An innovative, elegant physical theory that actually predicts the values of these constants would be among the greatest achievements of twenty-first-century physics.

Many have tried and failed. The fine-structure constant, for example, is approximately equal to 1/137, a number that has inspired a lot of worthless numerology, even from some otherwise serious scientists. Most physicists have received unsolicited e-mails and manuscripts from over-excited hobbyists that proclaim, often in ALL CAPS and using high-school algebra, to have unlocked the mysteries of the universe by explaining the constants of nature.

Since physicists have not discovered a deep underlying reason for why these constants are what they are, we might well ask the seemingly simple question: What if they were different? What would happen in a hypothetical universe in which the fundamental constants of nature had other values?

There is nothing mathematically wrong with these hypothetical universes. But there is one thing that they almost always lack -- life. Or, indeed, anything remotely resembling life. Or even the complexity upon which life relies to store information, gather nutrients, and reproduce. A universe that has just small tweaks in the fundamental constants might not have any of the chemical bonds that give us molecules, so say farewell to DNA, and also to rocks, water, and planets. Other tweaks could make the formation of stars or even atoms impossible. And with some values for the physical constants, the universe would have flickered out of existence in a fraction of a second. That the constants are all arranged in what is, mathematically speaking, the very improbable combination that makes our grand, complex, life-bearing universe possible is what physicists mean when they talk about the "fine-tuning" of the universe for life.

April 27, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 7:17 PM


The World Needs More U.S. Government Debt (Narayana Kocherlakota, 4/27/16, Bloomberg View)

The yield on a 20-year inflation-protected Treasury bond, at just over 0.5 percent, is nearly two full percentage points lower than it was 10 years ago. This means that the price is near record highs, suggesting that the U.S. government's supply of such safe investments is falling far short of demand. In other words, we're starving the world of desperately needed financial safety.

To some, the idea that the U.S. government isn't issuing enough debt may seem counterintuitive -- after all, federal debt outstanding has more than doubled over the past 10 years. But scarcity is not about supply alone. In the wake of the financial crisis, households and businesses are demanding more safe assets to protect themselves against sudden downturns. Similarly, regulators are requiring banks to hold more safe assets. Market prices tell us that the government needs to produce more safety in order to meet this increased demand.

The scarcity of safety creates hardships for people and businesses. Retirees can't get adequate returns on their nest eggs. Banks can't earn enough on safe, long-term investments to cover the costs of attracting deposits (interest rates on which can't fall much below zero).

Posted by orrinj at 7:14 PM


The No. 1 Cause of Traffic Fatalities? It's Not Texting, It's Driving (Philip Cohen, October 8, 2014, Sociological Images)

I generally oppose scare-mongering manipulations of data that take advantage of common ignorance. The people selling mobile-phone panic don't dwell on the fact that the roads are getting safer and safer, and just let you go on assuming they're getting more and more dangerous. I reviewed all that here, showing the increase in mobile phone subscriptions relative to the decline in traffic accidents, injuries, and deaths.

That doesn't mean texting and driving isn't dangerous. I'm sure it is. Cell phone bans may be a good idea, although the evidence that they save lives is mixed. But the overall situation is surely more complicated than TEXTING-WHILE-DRIVING EPIDEMIC suggests. The whole story doesn't seem right -- how can phones be so dangerous, and growing more and more pervasive, while accidents and injuries fall? At the very least, a powerful part of the explanation is being left out. (I wonder if phones displace other distractions, like eating and putting on makeup; or if some people drive more cautiously while they're using their phones, to compensate for their distraction; or if distracted phone users were simply the worst drivers already.)

Beyond the general complaint about misleading people and abusing our ignorance, however, the texting scare distracts us (I know, it's ironic) from the giant problem staring us in the face: our addiction to private vehicles itself costs thousands of lives a year (not including the environmental effects).

Posted by orrinj at 7:08 PM


Your Future Hip Replacement May Come Out of a Printer : Customized, printed orthopedic implants could be the future. In the meantime, the new manufacturing method is helping companies cut costs. (Mike Orcutt  April 27, 2016, MIT Technology Review)

Printed parts represent only a small fraction of the overall market for orthopedic implants, but for two important reasons that share could grow quickly in the coming years. First, an aging population is getting more joint replacement operations. The number of annual hip replacements in the U.S. doubled between 2000 and 2010. Second, in recent years engineers have gotten much better at using additive manufacturing technology--as 3-D printing is also called--to make titanium implants.

Leading orthopedic implant makers are investing substantially in the development of the technology; earlier this year Stryker announced plans to build a $400 million additive manufacturing facility. Companies hope to cut costs by simplifying the production process for these implants, which are often geometrically complicated assemblies of multiple metal pieces. Building them layer by layer allows companies to consolidate many pieces into one, and save material that would be wasted in traditional subtractive manufacturing processes like forging and casting (see "10 Breakthrough Technologies 2013: Additive Manufacturing").

But perhaps the biggest potential benefit is the ability to design implants that are specific to an individual patient's body, by using data from magnetic resonance imaging or computerized tomography scans. That's especially true for parts of the skeleton that have complicated geometries that can be very unique to an individual, like the pelvis, says Jason Koh, an orthopedic surgeon at NorthShore University Health System and director of the NorthShore Orthopaedic Institute. Koh says customized total joint replacements could also have substantial benefits for patients.

Posted by orrinj at 7:05 PM


CHINA DEBUTS ANBOT, THE POLICE ROBOT (Jeffrey Lin and P.W. Singer, 4/27/16, PopSci)

The 1.5 meter tall, 78 kg Anbot looks like a cross between Star Wars' R2D2 and Doctor Who's Daleks, with a touchscreen on top. It has enough battery power for 8 hours of operations, autonomous navigation and intelligent video analysis, and can reach speeds of 18 kmh to chase down fleeing criminals or respond to emergencies. The Anbot can also rush over to the scene if a bystander cries for help, and it can even recharge itself without human intervention (bad news in the event of a robot uprising). NDU promises that in addition to standard police patrolling, the Anbot can undertake riot control, by remotely firing its electroshock weapons (or by running over unruly protesters).

Posted by orrinj at 7:01 PM


Trespassing Across America: A Hike Along the Keystone Pipeline (NATHAN GELGUD, April 27, 2016, Signature)

Somewhere around the middle of Trespassing Across America, author Ken Ilgunas ponders what it means to be an environmentalist. He's been hiking from north of the Canadian border, on his way down to where Texas hits the Gulf of Mexico. When roadside strangers or table neighbors in pizzerias ask him why, he tells them the truth: that he's following, on foot, the path of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, a massive energy project to be built by TransCanada. The pipeline has lots of populist support because of the jobs it would supposedly provide and the buyouts that landowners are getting. But it also faces opposition from people concerned about what it will do to their drinking water and because of what it represents: big oil companies contributing to global warming.

In his travel memoir, Ilgunas doesn't get into all of this with the farmers, cops, shop proprietors, and other strangers who ask him where he's headed. But this doesn't stop him from being asked frequently, in accusatory tones, if he's an environmentalist. Eventually, Ilgunas gets to wondering about this question, and gets frustrated that it's even a question at all. Do I care what we do to the earth? Does it matter what happens to the air we breathe and the water we drink? Do I want the planet to continue to exist? Are you really asking me this?

For all his disagreements with the people he encounters, Ilgunas's book is also the story of someone with liberal tendencies venturing through very conservative country, and gaining tolerance, respect, and occasional appreciation for the red-staters he meets. He gets annoyed with the suspicious glares he gets, but when he faces a test of his own ability to trust, he fails. He has to get over his long held grudge against conversion-happy Christians when he learns that he can often spend the night in small-town churches.

...Nickled and Dimed would have been readable.
Posted by orrinj at 6:46 PM


A Hidden Benefit to Common Core : High education standards prevent unprepared college students and help the economy. (Douglas Holtz-Eakin, April 27, 2016, US News)

The 2001 No Child Left Behind Act required states to use standardized assessments to evaluate academic achievement. These standards could be of their own design. As a result, the rigor of the standards was as varied as the individual states, and there was essentially no ability to make cross-state comparisons.

Parents and others noticed that the results from state assessments often overstated proficiency levels when compared with national measurements. The inability to determine whether putative standards were actually binding efforts to raise achievement gave rise to the Common Core State Standards initiative; standards that have been shown to be more rigorous and effective.

A state-led effort, the Common Core standards were drafted by experts and teachers from across the country. They genuinely demanded that schools meet sensible metrics and provided parents and policymakers a way to check the quality of their schools against those in other states. To date, 46 states, the District of Columbia, four territories and the Department of Defense Education Activity have adopted Common Core. However, since then, there has been serious backsliding. Legislatures in 32 states have introduced bills to repeal the standards, and three states (Indiana, Oklahoma and South Carolina) have actually voted to repeal.

The danger is that opposition to Common Core, in conjunction with a rising opposition to standardized tests in general, will transform into a general opposition to holding educators to high standards. Lowering or eliminating standards will harm economic growth. It will reduce the attainment of educational degrees. But most harmful, it will exacerbate the trend toward under-prepared college students, lengthened time to completion and inflated tuition costs for families.

But the tests should show their kids are unprepared, not ours!

Posted by orrinj at 6:40 PM


Clinton Campaign Themes Failed To Resonate For Jeb Bush and Rubio (IRA STOLL, April 25, 2016, NY Sun)

Mrs. Clinton, a Democrat, just released a campaign commercial in which the words "so we can all rise together" appear on the screen. The "right to rise" was what the Republican former governor of Florida, Jeb Bush, had said his presidential campaign was all about. Mrs. Clinton must be hoping the slogan, with its vaguely Christian overtones and association with the American dream of upward mobility, works better for her than it did for him.

By the Fall she'll be running on the Ownership Society.

Posted by orrinj at 6:01 PM


Colorectal Cancer Screening: Not All It's Cracked Up to Be? (Nick Mulcahy, April 27, 2016, Medscape)'

"Unambiguous good news" -- that's what the trends are in colorectal cancer incidence and mortality for adults 50 years and older in the United States, according to a pair of experts.

Since 1975, incidence has dropped by about 40% and mortality by about 50%, observe Gilbert Welch, MD, MPH, and Douglas Robertson, MD, MPH, from the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice in Lebanon, New Hampshire. [...]

They also point out that screening is not always needed for a gastrointestinal cancer to decline dramatically in the United States. "Since 1930, without any screening effort, gastric cancer incidence and mortality have decreased by almost 90%," they report.

Posted by orrinj at 3:36 PM


The Forgotten Lessons of the American Eugenics Movement (ANDREA DENHOED, 4/27/16, The New Yorker)

"Imbeciles: The Supreme Court, American Eugenics, and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck," by the journalist and lawyer Adam Cohen, gives a detailed account of the many forces that converged to bring about the Buck decision, tracing the intersecting paths of the people involved. He begins with Dr. Priddy, who was a true believer in the pure-blooded future. Priddy began pushing for legislation permitting eugenic sterilizations after he was sued by a patient whom he'd sterilized without her consent. He turned to a friend, a lawyer and politician named Aubrey Strode, who emerges as a fascinatingly banal character in Cohen's account. Strode apparently wasn't wholeheartedly in favor of the cause, but he did his job, drafting the law, suggesting the test-case approach, and representing the Colony in court. He argued the case before the Supreme Court, won, and then basically never mentioned it again. Carrie's attorney in the case, selected by her court-appointed guardian, was a man named Irving Whitehead, a childhood friend of Strode's and a former board member for the Colony. He collaborated with Priddy and Strode on the appeals process and handled Carrie's case in a thoroughly negligent way.

Strode wrote his legislation based on a model law drafted by the biologist Harry Laughlin, who was the director of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory's Eugenics Record Office (an epicenter for research in the field) and perhaps the most influential eugenics advocate in the country. If Strode is Eichmann in this story, then Laughlin is Goebbels. (The Nazi comparison feels justified here, if only for its literal relevance: Laughlin corresponded with German eugenicists and was enthusiastic about Hitler's leadership, praising him for realizing that the "central mission of all politics is race hygiene." He was also a driving force behind the Immigration Act of 1924, which set strict quotas on various undesirable races, including Jews. He urged maintaining these quotas when, not many years later, large numbers of Jews were trying to flee Europe.)  [...]

Thirty-two states passed eugenic-sterilization laws during the twentieth century, and between sixty and seventy thousand people were sterilized under them. The rhetoric of the movement toned down after the U.S. went to war with Germany; most American eugenicists abandoned their explicit praise of the Nazi project, and the field dwindled as an area of officially sanctioned research. 

And so died Darwinism in America...

April 26, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 5:25 PM


God's Avenger, Whore of Babylon: Political Power in the Bible (Paul D. Miller, Winter 2016, Providence)

Christian political theory understands that government, as an expression of human sin, is usually wicked, oppressive, cruel, and barbaric. Yet government is ordained by God; God is the ultimate authority behind every government; it is legitimate; it must be obeyed; it may rightly use violence and coercion to uphold order and execute justice; when it acts rightly, it is a great blessing to human beings; and rulers must seek to govern with wisdom and justice. This balanced view leads to a middle way between naïve, utopian pacifism and cynical realism.

Mainstream Christian political thought is not pacifist. That, by itself, is not uncontroversial. Some Christians have taken Jesus' command "do not resist an evil person" but rather to "turn the other cheek" (Matthew 5:39) quite literally, as prohibiting resistance to violent offenders, both personally and corporately. More broadly, this line of thinking prohibits Christian participation in government--an inherently coercive enterprise--at all. From Tertullian and St. Benedict to St. Francis, Menno Simms, John Howard Yoder, and Stanley Hauerwaus, a minority of Christians through the ages have argued that true fidelity to Jesus' example requires Christians to foreswear any and all violence, coercion, and engagement with the corrupting institutions of the world. Yes, they understand, this view is radical; it is "unrealistic;" and it is impractical. That, they believe, is the point. By living a radical life, the church is supposed to bear witness to the radical message of Jesus.

The arguments against pacifism are, I trust, well known. The Bible is well aware of the violent and coercive nature of all government, and yet quite clearly shows it to be ordained by God as a blessing to human life. That gives strong support to those who argue, rightly, that when Jesus tells us not to resist an evil person he is giving us guidance for our personal lives and our heart motivations, not articulating a political philosophy of pacifism and disengagement. Jesus, of course, knew the Old Testament and what God had told Noah in Genesis 9--and he knew as well what his apostles would write in the New Testament, in Romans 13 and elsewhere. We must use Scripture to interpret Scripture: read Jesus' command not to resist an evildoer in Matthew 5 in light of Romans 13 that specifically commands government to resist evildoers with the sword. That is why the mainstream tradition of Christian thinking on government and war has not been pacifist.

But if Christian political thought does not lead to a simplistic stance of pacifism and withdrawal, neither does it simply bless the dictates of realpolitik with a religious gloss. "Realism" as a school of thought is largely the creation of 18th century Enlightenment thinkers eager to escape the so-called "Wars of Religion" of the previous two centuries. In their view, the marriage of religion and politics led statesmen to believe it was in their interest to spread the true faith through force, leading to 150 years of pointless bloodshed and ruinous war throughout Europe, with nothing to show for it. Instead, the new "realists" argued, states should ignore religion and pursue material interests, like land, money, and industrial resources. As other states pursue the same, they will either join up in alliances, if their interests align, or seek to counter one another, if they clash. States will naturally line up to oppose any single state that threatens to become too powerful: the balance of power. "Realists" argued this was simply a recognition of the "realities" of the world as it actually is, not as religious zealots wanted it to be. War is merely a matter of calculating the nation's material interest and pursuing it with cold efficiency. Today's realists tend to counsel against humanitarian intervention and have been the loudest critics of peacekeeping, reconstruction and stabilization operations, and counterinsurgency because they believe such operations are dispensable exercises in charity.

Here is the paradox of Christian political theory--and its genius. God ordains the use of the very instrument that is the greatest danger to human life as a check upon that instrument. In the Federalist Papers, Madison wrote that "ambition must be made to check ambition," meaning that human selfishness was the best and most reliable tool to counteract human selfishness, and used that insight to craft a finely balanced constitution and control violence within one state. The same insight applies internationally. The only tool powerful enough to stop a marauding, murderous, thieving government--is another government. Government must be made to check government.

The Biblical view differs from both pacifism and realism. When we wield the instruments of statecraft, we must not do so solely with an eye for how it furthers our own national interest, narrowly conceived. Rather, we must also think about how our exercise of power effects those upon whom we exercise it, and our power must, to the extent possible, work for their good as well as ours. In practical terms, the United States cannot pursue a strategy of unilateral domination, nor unilateral withdrawal. Either position can be motivated by a naïve utopianism or by a cynical amoralism. We should not seek to dominate the world either out of utopian hopes to usher in world peace--nor a cynical drive to guarantee absolute security. But neither should we withdraw in utopian hopes of remaining unsullied by the world--nor out of cynical apathy that there is nothing worth fighting for.

Instead, the United States should pursue a grand strategy of fostering liberal order--order characterized by self-government and civil liberties; by open and transparent market competition and the rule of law; and by intergovernmental cooperation on issues of common concern. Love of neighbors and love for enemies requires as much.

Indeed, Christianity requires from us that we be activist on behalf of those who do not enjoy those blessings with which they are endowed by the Creator : life, liberty and the pursuit.   Therefore, our history is in fact one of cultural domination and often military domination that has brought the End of History to nearly the whole globe already.  

Posted by orrinj at 5:21 PM


Open for business : In difficult times Mexico and its firms retain their faith in globalisation (Schumpeter, Mar 12th 2016, The Economist)

[T]here is at least some light in the darkness. Mexico, for instance, continues to carry a torch for globalisation. President Enrique Peña Nieto's administration boasts about the country's 44 trade deals, more than any other country, and its 11 reform initiatives. The World Bank calculates that Mexico is one of the most open large economies in the world: exports plus imports are equivalent to 66% of GDP, compared with 26% for Brazil and 42% for China. The Boston Consulting Group finds in a survey that its people take a positive view of the future: 77% of Mexicans say they are optimistic, and only 6% that they are very pessimistic. Mexicans see the likes of Donald Trump as being cut from the same cloth as the old-fashioned Latin American strongmen who ruined the region through protectionism and gesture politics.  

When the North American Free Trade Area (NAFTA) was created in 1994 it was as controversial in Mexico as it was in the United States: a Yanqui conspiracy, according to those on the left, designed to turn their country into a colony of El Norte. Today the Mexican elite speaks with one voice on the subject. Mexico is now one of the world's top 15 manufacturing economies and one of its top five car producers. The output of the ten largest car plants rose from 1.1m vehicles in 1994 to 2.9m in 2012. Mexican consumers now have access to a huge range of multinational brands: marketers refer to young, middle-class Mexicans as the "children of NAFTA", because their taste is so cosmopolitan.

Free trade has helped to produce a corps of elite Mexican companies that are capable of going head-to-head with the best in the world. Bimbo is the world's largest baker, thanks in part to its ambitious expansion into America with the purchase of Sara Lee's bakery business. Gruma is the world's biggest maker of tortillas, with more than 100 plants in 20 countries. Free trade has been a double blessing for such companies. First, it has encouraged those that have reached the limit of the Mexican market to go global. They have the huge advantages of speaking one of the world's most popular languages, and sharing a 1,900-mile (3,100km) border with America. Second, now that they are more vulnerable to competition and takeovers, they have been forced to shake off a long-standing tendency for successful Mexican companies to become flabby. When AB InBev, a global brewer, bought Grupo Modelo, a Mexican beer firm, in 2013, it quickly eliminated around $1 billion in annual costs.

Mexicans have more economic courage than the Trumpettes and Bernidettes.

Posted by orrinj at 5:17 PM


Where the wild things are: influence of radiation on the distribution of four mammalian species within the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone (Sarah C Webster, Michael E Byrne, Stacey L Lance, Cara N Love, Thomas G Hinton, Dmitry Shamovich, James C Beasley, 18 April 2016, )

Although nearly 30 years have passed since the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant accident near the town of Pripyat, Ukraine, the status and health of mammal populations within the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone (CEZ) remain largely unknown, and are of substantial scientific and public interest. Information regarding the response of flora and fauna to chronic radiation exposure is important in helping us understand the ecological consequences of past (eg Chernobyl and Fukushima) and potential future nuclear accidents. We present the results of the first remote-camera scent-station survey conducted within the CEZ. We observed individuals of 14 mammalian species in total; for those species with sufficiently robust visitation rates to allow occupancy to be modeled (gray wolf [Canis lupus], raccoon dog [Nyctereutes procyonoides], Eurasian boar [Sus scrofa], and red fox [Vulpes vulpes]), we found no evidence to suggest that their distributions were suppressed in highly contaminated areas within the CEZ. These data support the results of other recent studies, and contrast with research suggesting that wildlife populations are depleted within the CEZ.

Life would be normal in Moscow too.
Posted by orrinj at 5:04 PM


French-bashing bashed : With the country spectacularly failing, the citizens are again taking to the streets - but they are demanding more state, less reform, and higher walls against the rest of the world. (J. MILLER 26 April 2016, OpenDemocracy)

The real problem is not the French[...]but the French state itself, its para-religious republicanism, and the immobilism of a nation which has been expropriated by a ruling class that is as incompetent as it is delusional. The worship of the king has been replaced by the worship of the state. Like Jabba the Hutt,  this enormous sluggish monster squashes every sign of vitality, inflates pomposity, protects privilege and infantilises the French people. 

The Fifth Republic has spawned a culture of clientelism that extends its tentacles into every part of the French economy and communal life. Nowhere is its failure more evident than in the hundred or so slum suburbs that even the French prime minister has called "ghettos".  But all young people suffer with a youth unemployment rate of 25 per cent. It is bizarre that young people in France are currently demonstrating against changes to the employment code that actually make it harder for them to find jobs. The clustered failures of the state have produced an economy on its knees. If France is useless, it is not as a result of its language, but of statolâtrie. In a nation that professes a republicanism of liberty, equality and fraternity, none of the above are being delivered.

This isn't about François Hollande. Don't be fooled by the pretence of political debate and parties. The so-called right-wing National Front has an economic policy indistinguishable from that of the extreme left, made more toxic with a racist nationalism.  Many of those now flocking to it are actually former supporters of the Communist party. France is, rather, crushed by a dysfunctional polity of clientelism, political corruption, fear of change and not least, psychosis.

The parties offer various types of pantomime, with no real choice except for the personalities. Politicians of all parties enrich themselves with multiple mandates (being elected mayors and deputies at the same time, for example), collecting multiple salaries and multiple pensions. There are 5.6 million fonctionnaires (civil servants), many of whom report that they are stressed and depressed because they don't have enough to do. Claims of French productivity are absurd in a nation where the state accounts for 58 per cent of GDP. 

Vast swathes of the economy are essentially parastatal, such as EDF, Renault and Air France. Commerce is rigidly regulated as the elaborate layers of government look after one another very well. Air traffic controllers have struck 34 times in 7 years. There are more police assigned to keeping Uber shut than the channel tunnel open. Even dental hygienists are outlawed, lest they unfairly compete with dentists. Even the media is rotten. Le Monde collects 19 centimes in state subsidies for every copy sold. Journalists who hold the prized press card get a special tax rebate.

France gets much mileage out of its tenuous connection with the famous revolution.

They're still unreconciled to their centuries of defeat in the Long War, so they can't accept the democratic capitalist house cleaning they require just to make the twilight years comfortable.

Posted by orrinj at 5:01 PM


China Is Building a Robot Army of Model Workers : Can China reboot its manufacturing industry--and the global economy--by replacing millions of workers with machines? (Will Knight,  April 26, 2016, MIT Technology Review)

Inside a large, windowless room in an electronics factory in south Shanghai, about 15 workers are eyeing a small robot arm with frustration. Near the end of the production line where optical networking equipment is being packed into boxes for shipping, the robot sits motionless.

"The system is down," explains Nie Juan, a woman in her early 20s who is responsible for quality control. Her team has been testing the robot for the past week. The machine is meant to place stickers on the boxes containing new routers, and it seemed to have mastered the task quite nicely. But then it suddenly stopped working. "The robot does save labor," Nie tells me, her brow furrowed, "but it is difficult to maintain."

The hitch reflects a much bigger technological challenge facing China's manufacturers today. Wages in Shanghai have more than doubled in the past seven years, and the company that owns the factory, Cambridge Industries Group, faces fierce competition from increasingly high-tech operations in Germany, Japan, and the United States. To address both of these problems, CIG wants to replace two-thirds of its 3,000 workers with machines this year. Within a few more years, it wants the operation to be almost entirely automated, creating a so-called "dark factory." The idea is that with so few people around, you could switch the lights off and leave the place to the machines.

Posted by orrinj at 4:57 PM


Number of foreign fighters entering Iraq, Syria plummets: US general (AFP News, April 26, 2016)

The number of foreign fighters entering Iraq and Syria has plummeted over the past year, a US general said Tuesday.

Major General Peter Gersten told Pentagon reporters that when he arrived in Baghdad about a year ago, between 1,500 and 2,000 foreign fighters were joining the Islamic State group's ranks each month.

"Now we have been fighting this enemy for a year, our estimates are down to 200 (per month) and we are actually seeing now an increase in the desertion rates of these fighters," Gersten said.

Posted by orrinj at 3:48 PM


Chobani says it's giving 2,000 employees shares in privately held company (AP, April 26, 2016)

The Greek yogurt maker says the shares being distributed would amount to 10 percent of the company's future value in the event of a sale or initial public offering. It says each of its approximately 2,000 full-time employees will receive shares based on their role and time spent with the company.

Chobani says CEO and founder Hamdi Ulukaya is meeting with employees this week to tell about the plan in person.

"This isn't a gift. It's a mutual promise to work together with a shared purpose and responsibility," Ulukaya wrote in a letter to employees. The plans were first reported by The New York Times.

Posted by orrinj at 3:41 PM


REVIEW: of 67 Shots: Kent State and the End of American Innocence By Howard Means (Joseph A. Esposito, April 26, 2016, Washington Independent Review of Books)

Culling through oral histories and conducting his own interviews, the author develops the narrative, which takes the reader from the immediate reaction to Nixon's Cambodia announcement through the next week, when "Kent State" was transformed from a university name to a rallying cry. Even though we know the outcome, Means builds the suspense, making the well-known story a gripping and thought-provoking teachable moment.

The eventual confrontation escalated from disorderly drinking in the adjacent town of Kent, Ohio. Crowds began to form and became unruly. Soon the ROTC building became a target for arson; campus police and officials watched it burn down. The pivotal moment came when the city's mayor contacted Governor James Rhodes, a tough law-and-order Republican who was locked in a tight primary campaign for a U.S. Senate seat. Rhodes dispatched the National Guard to the university.

Many of the guardsmen were young and some had joined to avoid Vietnam service. They were quickly assembled from duty in close-by Akron and were tired, unfamiliar with peacekeeping responsibilities, and plagued by a confusing chain of command. And they were equipped with old but still highly lethal M1 Garand rifles, which Means discusses in detail.

The goal of these men was to disperse students and restore peace to the campus. After a curfew and show of force, including helicopters, failed to quell the disturbance, tear gas was employed. As the situation deteriorated, university leaders, among them its well-respected president, either abrogated their responsibility or were supplanted by the National Guard.

Without any intermediaries to reduce the tension, the campus became a battleground between the National Guard and a crowd of student activists. As student taunts grew, accompanied by the launching of small projectiles, the guardsmen overreacted. The result: the firing of 67 shots within 30 seconds. Student casualties included those simply walking by or watching, some a considerable distance away.

Followed a few days later by the Hard Hat Riot, the two incidents demonstrated that the patience of the adults had been exhausted and we didn't mind using violence to keep the kids in line.  It signaled the end of the protests. 

Nixon should have realized then that the re-election was unlosable.

Posted by orrinj at 3:35 PM


How crybully Trump and his supporters excel at playing the victim (Catherine Rampell, April 25, 2016, Washington Post)

Donald Trump is a successful businessman. His residences and modes of transit are plated with gold. He has married three gorgeous women. He claims to have a multibillion-dollar net worth. He has mocked the disabled, women, Asians, Hispanics, Muslims, even prisoners of war.

In other words, at first blush, he is no one's idea of a victim, systemically oppressed or otherwise.

Yet he constantly rationalizes his bad behavior and political setbacks as the inevitable consequence of unfair systems and anti-Trump persecution.

Don't like his ugly comments about a TV personality, political rival or even a political rival's spouse? Well, he's only "counterpunching" after someone else "started it." Trump is ganged-up-upon underdog, not instigator.

Disapprove of his pro-violence rally rhetoric? He's just protecting his beleaguered voters against those "big, strong, powerful" Black Lives Matter activists, Bernie bros and other "bad dudes."

Find his xenophobic remarks about our allies, trading partners and immigrants repulsive? He's merely defending his supporters from foreigners who prey on them economically, culturally and even sexually. (Those Mexican border-crossers are mostly rapists, after all.)

To hear Trump tell it, he and his supporters are the most beaten-down victims this country has ever seen. The system is rigged to keep them from winning, designed to make the weak even weaker. They have been robbed, disenfranchised, bullied and insulted. With the odds so stacked against them, they -- and their leader -- are not only permitted but also morally obligated to "punch back" as ferociously as they can.

Such whingeing is unmale and ought not be a part of Republican politics.

Posted by orrinj at 3:25 PM


Americans are helping eight million people break this bad law (Uzoamaka Emeka Nzelibe, April 26, 2016, Reuters)

Too often immigration is seen as a problem for immigrants and their families. But if you hire someone to care for a family member at home, buy produce at the grocery store, eat out at a restaurant, or have your house cleaned, the fight to legalize the status of unauthorized workers is your fight, too.

According to the most recent data gathered in 2012, 8.1 million of the estimated 11.3 million unauthorized immigrants were employed. They represented 5.1 percent of the United States workforce. Some of the industries with the highest numbers of unauthorized immigrant workers include landscaping services, private households, crop production, dry cleaning services, construction, and eating and drinking establishments. Thus, many Americans benefit from the work of unauthorized immigrants either because they employ these immigrants illegally or because the goods and services they consume are made cheaper by the use of unauthorized immigrant labor.

Unauthorized immigration and the hiring of unauthorized immigrants is a kind of workaround against immigration laws that do not reflect labor demands. As Americans have become older and more educated, the demand for lower-skilled workers, namely workers in occupations that do not require a high school diploma, has been met by immigrants. Yet lower-skilled workers only qualify for a handful of visas that would allow them to work lawfully in the United States, in part because U.S. immigration laws favor family immigration and higher-skilled temporary workers.

The lack of sufficient channels of lawful entry for lower-skilled workers makes it difficult for them to stand in line and wait their turn for legal entry and difficult for employers who need lower-skilled workers to find workers authorized to work, which results in rule breaking by both parties.

If so many people are breaking the law -- both immigrants and United States natives -- it begs the question: are bad laws happening to good people? Yes, and everyone implicated by these laws should be fighting to fix them.

Our fraternity used to routinely use semesters off to go work on geoseismic crews in West Texas.  Crews were about a third illegals then.  When you had a night off and went to Nuevo Laredo you'd have to smuggle them in and out of Mexico. And we had a kid who dreamed of returning home to open a cinder block plant, but he drove around in a red Dodge Charger with horse head decals on the doors.  We tried getting him to be more subtle, butr he loved that car.  He did agree to room with us at least.  

An unjust law is not a law.

Posted by orrinj at 3:20 PM


Cuba Is Developing A Taste For U.S. Whiskey (Anna Maria Barry-Jester, 4/26/16, 538)

As relations between the U.S. and Cuba have thawed, the arrival of Airbnb and a U.S. hotel chain to Cuba has made headlines. (Starbucks in the land of café cubano serves up a particular image of U.S. cultural imperialism.) But Cuba's economy was already undergoing a massive overhaul after the government eased restrictions on private ownership of businesses in 2011. That goes for where people eat, too. Dining out in Cuba has begun a transition from mostly informal dining in people's living rooms to more professionalized spots, including dozens of high-end restaurants in the island nation's capital. [...]

I asked Kavulich, who spends numerous hours each month with the data, what stands out about the monthly reports to him. "Although the numbers have been somewhat like a roller coaster, with peaks and valleys, they haven't been zero in 15 years," Kavulich said. "Despite Cuba's chronic shortage of foreign exchange and political interference with the purchasing process, despite changes in laws and regulations in the last 15 years, Cuba has never stopped buying." It will be interesting to see what food, and how much, is exported to Cuba as that political interference diminishes.

Posted by orrinj at 3:12 PM


U.S. airfares drop to lowest level since 2010 (Hugo Martin, 4/26/16, LA Times)

The average U.S. airfare dropped to $377 last year, its lowest level since 2010 and down nearly 4% from 2014, according to government data released Tuesday.

When adjusted for inflation, the average 2015 domestic airfare was down 3.8% from the 2014 price of $392, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation's Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

April 25, 2016

Posted by Glenn Dryfoos at 9:23 PM


Happy Birthday, Ella

Today (April 25) would have been Ella Fitzgerald's 98th birthday.  From her days as the "girl singer" with Chick Webb's great swing band in the 1930's,

to her forays into bebop with Dizzy and Bird in the '40's, 

to her canonical pop recordings of the Great American Songbook in the '50's, 

o her performances in clubs and theaters around the world in the 60's through her death in 1996, 

Fitzgerald was the world's most popular and beloved female jazz vocalist.  Ella didn't sing with the operatic range and drama of Sarah Vaughn (who was 6 years her junior) or the world-weary, bluesy pathos of Billie Holiday (3 years her senior)...instead from the start of her career until the end, her voice maintained a girlish quality - clear, bell-like, full of joy and always swinging.

Posted by orrinj at 5:52 PM


Clinton, Sanders close in CT/PA/RI; Trump Headed for Big Wins (PPP, April 25, 2016)

Over 60% of voters in each of these states are opposed to the privatization of health care services provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs. What's particularly noteworthy is that in addition to more than 70% of Democrats in each of the states, there's also a majority of Republicans in opposition. This is a concept that doesn't draw support from voters in either party:


Overall Privatization

With Democrats

With Republicans









Rhode Island




Poll: Veterans oppose plans to 'privatize' VA (Leo Shane III, November 10, 2015, Military Times)

The poll of 800 veterans, conducted jointly by a Republican-backed firm and a Democratic-backed one, found that almost two-thirds of survey respondents oppose plans to replace VA health care with a voucher system, an idea backed by some Republican lawmakers and presidential candidates.

"Veterans overwhelmingly feel that health care was a promise made for their service and oppose vouchers that may not cover all costs," group officials said in their report. "Veterans worry that private insurance companies care too much about profit and would make decisions for the care of veterans based on money."

Posted by orrinj at 4:01 PM


It's Time to Make the Case for Even Stronger Political Parties : Donald Trump is what happens when parties get out of the way and defer to the people. (Seth Masket, 4/25/16, Pacific Standard)

We're at the point in both parties' presidential nomination cycles where people are starting to notice the anti-democratic aspects of the system. Bernie Sanders' backers are furious about superdelegates and closed primaries. Donald Trump's supporters are angry that state party leaders can award delegates to Ted Cruz without voters' approval. Do we need to fix this system? Or do we need to make an affirmative case for its merits?

In a recent post at Mischiefs of Faction, Julia Azari argued that we need to re-think the way we talk about parties. Political scientists have been arguing for generations that parties serve a important public good and that party leaders should be afforded some deference in picking good nominees. The public, meanwhile, has largely bought into the Progressive Era narrative that parties are, at best, a necessary evil and that they need to be run democratically. 

Who asked them?

Posted by orrinj at 3:51 PM


Self-driving cars may end gasoline era (Deutsche-Welle, 4/25/16)

In 2014, in the USA alone, cars travelled an estimated 2,926 billion miles (4,740 billion kilometers) - not always safely. During that year, 32,675 people lost their lives in traffic accidents, and a much larger number were injured.

This meant around $200 billion (175 billion euros) in insurance claims and another $670 billion of uncompensated losses in pain and suffering, lost work-time, damaged gear, emergency services costs and other economic losses, according to figures from the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

"That works out to about 29.6 cents per mile," said Brad Templeton, a Canadian expert on autonomous vehicles, who was in Berlin for the Singularity University Germany Summit. That's more than two and a half times what people spend on fuel per mile on average, given US gasoline prices of $2.14 a gallon.

"Cars are a huge health and environmental hazard, and accidents generate enormous costs. But that's going to change, because robots don't drink and drive, they don't turn into seniors with slow reflexes, and they don't screw up because of inexperience. They're going to drive incomparably more safely than people can."

Posted by orrinj at 3:38 PM


The Desert One Debacle (MARK BOWDEN, MAY 2006, The Atlantic)

[I]n the following months, restraint had begun to smell like weakness and indecision. Three times in the past five months, carefully negotiated secret settlements had been ditched by the inscrutable Iranian mullahs, and the administration had been made to look more foolish each time. Approval ratings had nose-dived, and even stalwart friends of the administration were demanding action. Jimmy Carter's formidable patience was badly strained.

And the mission that had originally seemed so preposterous had gradually come to seem feasible. It was a two-day affair with a great many moving parts and very little room for error--one of the most daring thrusts in U.S. military history. It called for a nighttime rendezvous of helicopters and planes at a landing strip in the desert south of Tehran, where the choppers would refuel before carrying the raiding party to hiding places just outside the city. The whole force would then wait through the following day and assault the embassy compound on the second night, spiriting the hostages to a nearby soccer stadium from which the helicopters could take them to a seized airstrip outside the city, to the transport planes that would carry them to safety and freedom. With spring coming on, the hours of darkness, needed to get the first part of this done, were shrinking fast.

Unrolling a big map, General David Jones, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, walked the president and his inner circle of advisers through the elaborate plan, pointing out the location of the initial landing and refueling site, called Desert One; the various hide-site locations; the embassy, in central Tehran; the soccer stadium; and the airfield. It was risky; but short of leaving the hostages to their fate or engaging in some punitive action against Iran that would further endanger them, the president had few options. Jordan could see the course of Carter's reluctant reasoning.

To maintain appearances, the president sent Jordan back to Paris for a scheduled second meeting with Sadegh Ghotbzadeh, the Iranian foreign minister, with whom Jordan had secretly worked out the most recent failed agreement. Carter had at last severed all formal diplomatic ties with Iran; in this second face-to-face session with Jordan, Ghotbzadeh called the break in relations a tragic mistake that would drive his country into the arms of the Soviets. He also confirmed that peaceful efforts to resolve the crisis were at an impasse, and predicted that it would be many months before the hostages might be released. He was apologetic, but said that for him to take a "soft" position on the issue at that point was tantamount to political, if not actual, suicide. "I just hope your president doesn't do anything rash," he added.

Posted by orrinj at 3:34 PM


Meet Donald Trump's Mexican Workers (Washington Free Beacon, April 25, 2016)

[H]is supposed loathing for Mexico is belied by his significant financial investment there, a new report from videographer Ami Horowitz shows.

"While he may not like Nabisco sending jobs to Mexico, he does seem to love creating jobs in foreign countries," Horowitz says. "Maybe it's his weird way of gaining foreign policy experience. I mean, he makes stuff everywhere. He's the U.N. of manufacturing! Pakistan, China, Bangladesh, India, Peru, the Philippines."

But, the narrator adds, do people know he makes products in Mexico? The same country he's denounced for sending rapists, drugs and crime across the southern border and into the United States? Mexicans must hate Trump, right?

Not necessarily.

"We are so happy that this jerk came here to give us his dollars," one man tells Horowitz in Spanish. "It's favorable for foreign investment to come to our country."

"It is good that foreigners come to our country to invest," another man says.

Trump particularly has invested in producing his brand name's suits there, and Biodiesel representative Luiz Sarabia Reynaud estimates 8o to 90 percent of the jobs in Puebla, Mexico, are produced by foreign investment.

"Trump has many industries here in Puebla, so a for a reason I don't understand, his political position about hating Mexico, stating that all Mexicans are corrupt and criminals ... I don't know, because he has many investments here in Mexico," Reynaud said.

Posted by orrinj at 3:27 PM


Pea Milk: Plant-Based, Protein-Rich and Planet-Friendly (Julie Upton April 25, 2016, US News)

Made of yellow split peas, Ripple plant-based milk offers some interesting perks compared to its non-dairy peers.

While protein-rich soy milk has fallen out of favor (primarily due to its taste), sales of almond, coconut and other dairy-free milks are soaring. But, unlike soy milk, they have little or no protein. Ripple, which is made from split peas - a legume cousin of soybeans - has the same protein content of cow's milk (8 grams per serving), but packs in more calcium, vitamin D, iron and DHA omega-3 fatty acid, mostly thanks to fortification. In addition, some preliminary studies with pea protein-based beverages show they may enhance feelings of fullness, and one study reported pea protein to provide similar muscle-building properties as whey (dairy) protein.

While all dairy-free options are lighter on the land than cow's milk, Ripple may be more sustainable because split peas require less water to grow, compared to "thirsty" almonds and other tree nuts. According to Ripple, its milk produces 70 to 76 percent fewer greenhouse gases compared to almond milk or dairy milk, respectively.

Posted by orrinj at 3:16 PM


Obama To Push EU Trade Deal In Meeting With European Leaders (HIMANSHU GOENKA, 04/25/16, IB Times)

On the last day of his six-day, three-nation tour, which included stops in Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom, U.S. President Barack Obama is scheduled to meet four European leaders in Germany Monday.

At a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister David Cameron, French President François Hollande and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, Obama will push for a free trade agreement between the U.S. and the European Union (EU), which he hopes to finalize before his term ends in January.

Posted by orrinj at 3:10 PM


Saudi Arabia's growth plan: 0% income tax and a giant wealth fund (Ivana Kottasova, April 25, 2016, CNN Money)

Saudi Arabia has no plans to introduce income tax any time soon, despite the damage done to its finances by the oil price crash.

The kingdom made clear Monday that taxes on income or basic goods are not part of its 15-year strategy for breaking the economy's dependence on oil.

Taxes are why we get to hold sovereigns to account.

Posted by orrinj at 2:43 PM


Kurdish PKK Ready To Intensify Fight Against Turkey  (SUMAN VARANDANI, 04/25/16, IB Times)

Cemil Bayik, co-founder and a senior leader of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), told the BBC that the party is ready to intensify its fight against Turkey. Bayik reportedly said that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was "escalating this war," which has turned parts of the southeast into war zones.

"The Kurds will defend themselves to the end, so long as this is the Turkish approach -- of course the PKK will escalate the war," Bayik reportedly said, adding that "we don't want to separate from Turkey and set up a state."

April 24, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 6:49 PM


The Real Story of How Amazon Built the Echo : The talking speaker started as part of a secret augmented-reality project and ended up as a surprise hit. (Joshua Brustein, April 19, 2016, Bloomberg)

Weeks before the speaker was set to ship, the dissidents confronted Bezos. He was amenable to changes: The device would be called the Echo, and its wake word would be "Alexa." Users can now choose to change it to "Amazon" or "Echo" if they want. The Amazon Flash boxes were destroyed, and the first round of speakers was shipped off in November.

In a gadget landscape dominated by rectangular touchscreens, the Echo is something different. The speaker is a screenless cylinder, just over 9 inches tall and 3.25 inches in diameter. It can play music, and also answer basic household questions like how many teaspoons there are in a cup. The only way to interact with the Echo is to talk to it. It's always listening for its wake word.

When it launched, Amazon's critics jumped to mock the company. Some called it a useless gimmick; others pointed to it as evidence of Amazon's Orwellian tendencies. Then something weird happened: People decided they loved it. Amazon never releases data about how its products are selling, but Consumer Intelligence Research Partners issued a report this month saying that Amazon had sold more than 3 million devices, with 1 million of those sales happening during the 2015 holiday season. About 35,000 people have reviewed the speaker on Amazon.com, with an average rating of 4.5 stars out of 5.

Perhaps even more important to Amazon is how dozens of independent developers are writing apps that work with the speaker's voice controls. You can use Alexa to turn off the lights, ask it how much gas is left in your car, or order a pizza. This is doubly surprising given how far behind Apple and Google the company was in the area of voice control when it started. The Echo may have seemed like a superfluous toy at first, but it now looks like a way for Amazon to become the default choice in a whole new era in the way people interact with computers and the Internet.

"We want to be a large company that's also an invention machine," Bezos wrote in a letter to investors this month. The Echo shows what happens when Amazon achieves that goal. Bezos declined an interview request to discuss the speaker's development, but 10 current and former Amazon employees agreed to talk, mostly on the condition of anonymity because they hadn't been authorized to do so by the company. This is the story of what they built.

Posted by orrinj at 6:43 PM


Afghan drone war - data show unmanned flights dominate air campaign (JOSH SMITH, 4/24/16, Reuters)

Drones fired more weapons than conventional warplanes for the first time in Afghanistan last year and the ratio is rising, previously unreported U.S. Air Force data show, underlining how reliant the military has become on unmanned aircraft.

Posted by orrinj at 6:33 PM


Japan's Next Generation of Farmers Could Be Robots (Aya Takada , April 22, 2016, Bloomberg)

As the average age of farmers globally creeps higher and retirement looms, Japan has a solution: robots and driver-less tractors.

The Group-of-Seven agriculture ministers meet in Japan's northern prefecture of Niigata this weekend for the first time in seven years to discuss how to meet increasing food demand as aging farmers retire without successors. With the average age of Japanese farmers now 67, Agriculture Minister Hiroshi Moriyama will outline his idea of replacing retiring growers with Japanese-developed autonomous tractors and backpack-carried robots.

Posted by orrinj at 5:21 PM


Obama rejects North Korea's nuclear offer: 'You'll have to do better than that' (Associated Press, 24 April 2016)

Barack Obama said on Sunday that he does not believe North Korea is sincere in its offer to halt nuclear tests if the US suspends military exercises with South Korea, and that Pyongyang would "have to do better than that".

Posted by orrinj at 5:12 PM


The Rare Vin Scully : At 88, the legendary baseball announcer is marking his 67th and final season with the Los Angeles Dodgers. His contribution to the sport is harder to quantify. (GREGORY ORFALEA, 4/24/16, The Atlantic)

First and foremost comes his love of language, born of being a Literature major at Fordham. An American poet once called Scully "our Yeats," and another writer has compared him to Homer. Both are certainly exaggerations, but what bounty came from frustration, both in poetry and baseball. Scully was a no-stick center fielder at Fordham, and, hanging up his cleats at age 20, he decided "to talk a good game."

That he did. Out came cascading metaphors ("the butter-and-egg man"), internal rhyme (a line drive "whacked into the gap"), euphony, electric verbs, alliteration ("a lamb chop to a lion" for a perfectly centered 3-0 pitch to a home run hitter), allusions to poets like Pope and Shakespeare, and personifications of everything from dirt clods to a lazily hit ball ("a room-service fly"). Scully's elephantine memory of the history of the game intertwined with the high and low points of the country is certainly unprecedented and will probably never be duplicated. His sheer love of the game, of doing what he is doing, and the excitement in his voice climbs right along with the ball. Scully rarely refers to the Dodgers as "we." He brings to his enthusiasm a hard-nosed journalist's objectivity and preparation, one reason why his call is treasured across the nation.

Then there's the music. The Los Angeles Times columnist Chris Erskine (no relation to Carl) recently compared Scully's voice to a horn that can "make musical the specter of grown men mostly standing around for three hours," and that contains such elements as "swing, moxie, and sonic opulence." The University of Southern California professor Jeffrey Allen describes the voice as "a virtuoso instrument."

Scully would probably run for the nearest beer at such dissection, but the USC musicologist Chris Sampson insists that the voice "starts with a dominant chord (that) has some tension to it that's leading to a resolution." (He has actually done sheet music on the last out call of the 1965 Sandy Koufax perfect game: "Two and two to Harvey Kuenn. One strike away.") It scans poetically, too--trochaic pentameter actually--urgent, even insistent, with a double-stressed spondee ("One strike") before ending with a teasing iamb, keeping us hanging in the air. Sampson calls this unconscious music Scully's "claw mark"--what makes Sinatra Sinatra, Lennon Lennon, Flack Flack--and no one else.

The Voice has been more than mimetic--it has catalyzed, and not just fans. Angelenos never tire of the myth of Kirk Gibson, the crippled Dodger who hobbled off the bench in the last inning of the first game of the 1988 World Series--angered at hearing Scully's radio voice in the locker room attesting that he would "not see any action tonight, for sure." Gibson hit a stumbling, one-handed home run to win the game, rounding the bases while cocking the air as if it were a rifle. "In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened," Scully exclaimed, after 67 seconds of silence, or rather crowd roar. In a crazy sort of way, Scully had goaded, even caused Gibson's heroics.

Posted by orrinj at 6:58 AM


Republican financier Koch says Clinton might make better president (Reuters, 4/24/16)

Billionaire industrialist Charles Koch, a key source of financing for conservative Republican causes along with his brother, said Democrat Hillary Clinton might make a better president than the candidates in the Republican field.

Koch, in an interview to air on Sunday on ABC's "This Week" program, said that in some respects Bill Clinton had been a better president than George W. Bush, who Koch said had increased government spending. Then when asked if Hillary Clinton would be a better president than the Republicans currently running, he said, "It's possible, it's possible."

Posted by orrinj at 6:09 AM


The Death Of Prince And The Death of Jesus : Despite reveling in sexually explicit material, Prince also wrote more explicitly Christian lyrics than any mainstream musician of that era not named Bono. (Hans Fiene, APRIL 22, 2016, The Federalist)

Prince's penchant for pumping his music full of funk and jazz influences wasn't terribly appealing to many red-state rockers who were raised on a diet of Mellencamp and didn't know exactly what to do with a sequin-clad pretty boy who spent half his albums falsetto-wailing an octave and a third above middle C. For attentive, Christian parents like my mother, who mostly become aware of Prince during Tipper Gore's PMRC hearings, it made sense they didn't want to give a fair shake to Prince's indisputably brilliant "The Beautiful Ones" when the indefensibly filthy "Darling Nikki" was lurking just two tracks away.

But, for whatever reason, I hurdled the roadblocks that prevented so many who shared my background from embracing him. If there's anything I wish to impart to those who didn't join me in the purple fan club, it's this: Even if you can't stand the genres Prince performed, and even if you were understandably put off by his outlandish and often times obscene persona, it is an indisputable truth that Prince's level of talent was not of this world.

For whatever reason, when God knit Prince Rogers Nelson together in his mother's womb, he saw fit to give Prince more musical talent than virtually every other human being on the planet, bestowing on him the third-largest vocal range in pop music history, the ability to play countless instruments fluently, and a deadly command of the hook. In fact, Prince was such a prolific songwriter that he had a literal vault filled with unreleased material. (Before any haters assume all of these tracks must have not been worth releasing, remember that Prince essentially threw away arguably his greatest song before Sinead O'Conner rescued it from the waste bin and gave us one of the best female vocals of the 1990s.)

Likewise, most artists would never have been able to upstage either James Brown or Michael Jackson at any point in their careers. Prince managed to best the both of them on the same night. For anyone still unable to see past aforementioned sequins and soprano screaming, close your eyes and listen to Prince casually rip off one of the best guitar solos you'll ever hear. Eric Clapton is widely considered to be among the greatest axmen ever, and his solo on the original recording of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" is likewise considered one of his greatest feats, which means Prince's solo at the 2004 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremony is the musical equivalent of Rocky Balboa winning the heavyweight title by ripping Apollo Creed's arms off and punching him to death with his own fists.

However, Prince didn't always use his God-given talent to the glory of the one who gave it, as his countless songs glorifying lust and promiscuity made abundantly clear. Throughout most of his career, Prince had a regular habit of taking the brilliance his creator gave him and pumping it into throwaway, pornographic songs that, for late-to-the-Prince-party Christian fans like me, was about as disappointing as if poetry lovers discovered that, in between scribing some of the greatest poems in American history, Robert Frost wrote a thousand dirty limericks for Hustler magazine.

Despite reveling in the sexually explicit material so common in pop and rock music from the late seventies through the nineties, Prince also wrote more explicitly Christian lyrics than any mainstream musician of that era not named Bono, composing numerous tracks that praised the God who made him and that confessed the atonement of Jesus Christ, even if they confessed it in ways that wouldn't exactly have passed doctrinal review in most orthodox Christian churches.

The Cross is one of the highlights of this album:

April 23, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 3:29 PM


Rouhani: If not for Iran, IS would rule Baghdad and Damascus (TIMES OF ISRAEL, April 23, 2016)

At a conference on Saturday, Rouhani said that Iran was a "pioneer in fighting against extremism and violence in the world in word and action."

"If Iran hadn't help, ISIL would have been materialized practically and today, we would be facing an ISIL terrorist government instead of a terrorist group," he said, according to the semi-official Fars news agency which used another acronym for the Islamic State.

Iran came to the aid of Iraq and Syria to stop the rapid advances of the group, in the summer on 2014, and had it done so, Baghdad and Damascus would today be in the hands of the terror group, Rouhani said, according to Iranian media. [...]

Speaking to a Lebanese TV station affiliated with Lebanese Hezbollah, Iranian Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi also said that Iran had offered Syrian President Bashar Assad and his family asylum in Iran, which Assad had refused.

Posted by orrinj at 1:45 PM


The Primaries Aren't Democratic? They're Not Supposed to Be Democratic. (William Saletan, 4/23/16, Slate)

A party is an organization. It has every right to award clout based on how much work you've put in over the years. Why should drive-by independents get more say than party bosses? I should know: I was one of those independents. In 2000, the Maryland Republican Party allowed people like me to vote in its presidential primary. I voted for John McCain over George W. Bush. McCain was a better fit for people like me. But was he a better fit for the party? And isn't that the point of a Republican primary--to choose a candidate who will represent the GOP?

Posted by orrinj at 1:40 PM


How Hillary Clinton Became a Hawk : Throughout her career she has displayed instincts on foreign policy that are more aggressive than those of President Obama -- and most Democrats. (MARK LANDLER, APRIL 21, 2016, NY Times Magazine)

She brought up the Middle East peace proc­ess, a signature project of the president's, which she had been tasked with reviving. But she was understandably wary of talking about areas in which she and Obama split -- namely, on bedrock issues of war and peace, where Clinton's more activist philosophy had already collided in unpredictable ways with her boss's instincts toward restraint. She had backed Gen. Stanley McChrystal's recommendation to send 40,000 more troops to Afghanistan, before endorsing a fallback proposal of 30,000 (Obama went along with that, though he stipulated that the soldiers would begin to pull out again in July 2011, which she viewed as problematic). She supported the Pentagon's plan to leave behind a residual force of 10,000 to 20,000 American troops in Iraq (Obama balked at this, largely because of his inability to win legal protections from the Iraqis, a failure that was to haunt him when the Islamic State overran much of the country). And she pressed for the United States to funnel arms to the rebels in Syria's civil war (an idea Obama initially rebuffed before later, halfheartedly, coming around to it).

That fundamental tension between Clinton and the president would continue to be a defining feature of her four-year tenure as secretary of state. In the administration's first high-level meeting on Russia in February 2009, aides to Obama proposed that the United States make some symbolic concessions to Russia as a gesture of its good will in resetting the relationship. Clinton, the last to speak, brusquely rejected the idea, saying, "I'm not giving up anything for nothing." Her hardheadedness made an impression on Robert Gates, the defense secretary and George W. Bush holdover who was wary of a changed Russia. He decided there and then that she was someone he could do business with.

"I thought, This is a tough lady," he told me.

A few months after my interview in her office, another split emerged when Obama picked up a secure phone for a weekend conference call with Clinton, Gates and a handful of other advisers. It was July 2010, four months after the North Korean military torpedoed a South Korean Navy corvette, sinking it and killing 46 sailors. Now, after weeks of fierce debate between the Pentagon and the State Department, the United States was gearing up to respond to this brazen provocation. The tentative plan -- developed by Clinton's deputy at State, James Steinberg -- was to dispatch the aircraft carrier George Washington into coastal waters to the east of North Korea as an unusual show of force.

But Adm. Robert Willard, then the Pacific commander, wanted to send the carrier on a more aggressive course, into the Yellow Sea, between North Korea and China. The Chinese foreign ministry had warned the United States against the move, which for Willard was all the more reason to press forward. He pushed the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mike Mullen, who in turn pushed his boss, the defense secretary, to reroute the George Washington. Gates agreed, but he needed the commander in chief to sign off on a decision that could have political as well as military repercussions.

Gates laid out the case for diverting the George Washington to the Yellow Sea: that the United States should not look as if it was yielding to China. Clinton strongly seconded it. "We've got to run it up the gut!" she had said to her aides a few days earlier. (The Vince Lombardi imitation drew giggles from her staff, who, even 18 months into her tenure, still marveled at her pugnacity.)

Obama, though, was not persuaded. The George Washington was already underway; changing its course was not a decision to make on the fly.

"I don't call audibles with aircraft carriers," he said -- unwittingly one-upping Clinton on her football metaphor.

It wasn't the last debate in which she would side with Gates. The two quickly discovered that they shared a Midwestern upbringing, a taste for a stiff drink after a long day of work and a deep-seated skepticism about the intentions of America's foes. Bruce Riedel, a former intelligence analyst who conducted Obama's initial review on the Afghanistan war, says: "I think one of the surprises for Gates and the military was, here they come in expecting a very left-of-center administration, and they discover that they have a secretary of state who's a little bit right of them on these issues -- a little more eager than they are, to a certain extent. Particularly on Afghanistan, where I think Gates knew more had to be done, knew more troops needed to be sent in, but had a lot of doubts about whether it would work."

As Hillary Clinton makes another run for president, it can be tempting to view her hard-edged rhetoric about the world less as deeply felt core principle than as calculated political maneuver. But Clinton's foreign-policy instincts are bred in the bone -- grounded in cold realism about human nature and what one aide calls "a textbook view of American exceptionalism." It set her apart from her rival-turned-boss, Barack Obama, who avoided military entanglements and tried to reconcile Americans to a world in which the United States was no longer the undisputed hegemon. And it will likely set her apart from the Republican candidate she meets in the general election. For all their bluster about bombing the Islamic State into oblivion, neither Donald J. Trump nor Senator Ted Cruz of Texas have demonstrated anywhere near the appetite for military engagement abroad that Clinton has.

Posted by orrinj at 1:36 PM


Why It's Too Late to Scrap the Iran Deal (Steve Chapman, 4/21/16, Reason)

What would we lose from renouncing the deal? Just every concession Iran had to make and implement. So far, it has submitted to an outside inspection regime, scrapped some 12,000 centrifuges, shipped 98 percent of its nuclear fuel to Russia and wrecked a nuclear reactor. Without the deal, Iran would be free to evict the international monitors and resume the activities it was compelled to stop. 

In exchange for those curbs, the Obama administration agreed to lift some economic sanctions and release some $100 billion in Iranian funds that had been frozen. The latter is what Trump had in mind when he charged, "We give them $150 billion, we get nothing." That's what Cruz was talking about last summer when he claimed the deal would make Obama "the world's leading financier of radical Islamic terrorism." 

But we didn't give Iranians that money; it was theirs all along. Regaining access to it was one of the chief incentives for them to negotiate. In any case, they got their money. And it does not seem to have dawned on Trump or Cruz that they are not about to give it back. 

For us to abandon the agreement would mean the Iranians would keep those funds but be released from their obligations. They'd get to keep the new car without making the payments. 

The Republicans talk as though we control everything. But the deal was not just between Iran and the U.S.; it included China, Russia, France, Germany, Britain and the entire European Union. The other signatories might not be content to behave like potted plants. If we abandoned the accord, they'd blame us. 

The U.S. could restore the old sanctions, which wouldn't have much force because we'd be alone. Even our European allies probably wouldn't follow suit--to say nothing of the Chinese and Russians. More likely, they'd all rush to grab the business opportunities created by our absence. Good for Airbus and Lenovo; bad for Boeing and Apple. 

Posted by orrinj at 1:31 PM


Is Apple's next product an electric car? (Alex Hern, 21 April 2016, The Guardian)

Apple's not-so-secret project to build an electric car is heating up, according to media reports, with the company poaching an expert from rivals Tesla. It has also opened an R&D office in Germany, home to some of the world's most important luxury car manufacturers.

Industry site Electrek reports that Chris Porritt, a British car designer who worked at Aston Martin until he left in 2013 to become the vice-president of vehicle engineering at Tesla Motors, has been hired by Apple to work on the company's Project Titan - just a few months after the executive believed to have been running the project, Steve Zadesky, left the company.

Posted by orrinj at 1:25 PM


Trust Us: Politicians Keep Most Of Their Promises (Timothy Hill, 4/23/16, 538)

Political scientists have been studying the question of campaign promises for almost 50 years, and the results are remarkably consistent. Most of the literature suggests that presidents make at least a "good faith" effort to keep an average of about two-thirds of their campaign promises; the exact numbers differ from study to study, depending on how the authors define what counts as a campaign promise and what it means to keep it.

George W. Bush promised tax cuts and education reform, and within the first year of his administration had delivered on both. Barack Obama promised to focus on the economy, health care and the environment. Once in office, he pushed first a massive stimulus package and then the Affordable Care Act through Congress, and he has worked with China and others in the international community on climate change, despite strong legislative opposition. As for the promises that get abandoned, many have more to do with changing circumstances than a lack of principles. (Think of Bush, an ardent free-marketeer, signing the Troubled Asset Relief Program bill during the first tremors of the Great Recession.)

In recent years, the fact-checking website PolitiFact has been paying close attention to this question, and its numbers are largely in line with what scholars find. Examining more than 500 promises President Obama made during his two presidential campaigns, PolitiFact finds that he has fully kept or reached some compromise on 70 percent of them. Similarly, Republican leaders made, by PolitiFact's count, 53 promises before taking over Congress in 2010; 68 percent of these have been partially or fully kept.

This pattern isn't unique to America. Scholars in Canada and Europe have examined the phenomenon and found their politicians to be, if anything, even more trustworthy. (The gap probably reflects added incentive -- and increased opportunity -- politicians have to carry out their policies in a parliamentary system where one party controls both the legislative and executive branches of government.) Across both time and borders, then, the data in this case is fairly clear.

Posted by orrinj at 1:16 PM


VIDEO : The Master Builder (1977) [WNET Channel 13]

"Those who can, build," Robert Moses said. "Those who can't, criticize." From the Public Television archives at THIRTEEN/ WNET in New York, an hour long interview from 1977 with Robert Moses, the "master builder" of modern day New York City. Moses, for 44 years -- from 1924 until 1968 -- held several appointive offices in New York State and once occupied 12 positions simultaneously, including that of New York City Parks Commissioner, head of the State Parks Council, head of the State Power Commission and chairman of the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority.

Posted by orrinj at 1:04 PM


Tell a Good Tale, Find a Great Mate : Research finds storytelling ability increases men's attractiveness as long-term romantic partners. (Tom Jacobs, 4/23/16, Pacific Standard)

Newly published research finds women view men as more attractive potential long-term mates if they are good storytellers.

"Stories are not just mere conversation," write Melanie Green of the University of Buffalo and John Donahue of the University of North Carolina. "Storytelling ability appears to increase (a man's) perceived status, and thus helps men attract long-term partners."

In the journal Personal Relationships, the researchers describe three studies that provide evidence of this dynamic. In the first, 71 male and 84 female university students were shown a photograph of a college-age person of the opposite sex. They then read one of four versions of the person's purported biography.

Depending on which version they read, participants learned that he or she was either a good storyteller, an OK one, or a poor one. Still others read a version that did not reference storytelling at all. After reading the bio, all were asked to assess the person's attractiveness as a long-term dating partner, a casual date, or as a friend.

The result: Women found men described as good storytellers more attractive as potential long-term mates. But as prospective casual dates, they had no advantage over rivals in the other three categories. And for men evaluating women, storytelling ability proved irrelevant.

Posted by orrinj at 9:03 AM


Scientists can now make lithium-ion batteries last a lifetime (Lucas Mearian, 4/21/16, Computerworld)

Who says playing around is a waste of time?

Researchers at the University of California at Irvine (UCI) said that's exactly what they were doing when they discovered how to increase the tensile strength of nanowires that could be used to make lithium-ion batteries last virtually forever.

Researchers have pursued using nanowires in batteries for years because the filaments, thousands of times thinner than a human hair, are highly conductive and have a large surface area for the storage and transfer of electrons.

The problem they have encountered, however, is that nanowires are also extremely fragile and don't hold up well to repeated discharging and recharging, known as "cycling." For example, in a typical lithium-ion battery, they expand and grow brittle, which leads to cracking.

UCI doctoral candidate Mya Le Thai solved the brittleness conundrum by coating a gold nanowire in a manganese dioxide shell and encasing the assembly in an electrolyte made of a Plexiglas-like gel. The combination, they said, is reliable and resistant to failure.

Posted by orrinj at 6:51 AM


President Barack Obama will be lobbying to finish one of the main pieces of unfinished business of his presidency _ a trans-Atlantic trade pact (FRANK JORDANS, 4/23/06, Associated Press)

When President Barack Obama opens the world's largest industrial fair in the northern German city of Hannover on Sunday, he'll be leading a delegation of American companies hoping to conquer new markets abroad. He'll also be trying to complete one of his presidency's main pieces of unfinished business -- a trans-Atlantic trade pact.

Officials in Washington and Brussels are trying to clinch key parts of the deal before the end of the year, after which a new U.S. president and election campaigns in major European countries could complicate negotiations.

Proponents of the agreement -- known as the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP -- argue that lowering tariffs and harmonizing rules would give a much-needed boost to businesses at a time of global economic uncertainty. Or as Obama put it when the talks launched three years ago: "New growth and jobs on both sides of the Atlantic."

Drone strike in Yemen kills two al Qaeda suspects (Reuters, 4/23/16)

An air strike from a drone killed two men south of the Yemeni city of Marib on Saturday suspected of belonging to al Qaeda, local residents said by phone.

"A drone fired two missiles at a car that had two men in it in al-Manain district south of Marib city, and the car was totally destroyed and the men were killed instantly," one of them said.

April 22, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 4:24 PM


In Hamilton's Debt (Paul Krugman APRIL 22, 2016, NY Times)

[S]tephen S. Cohen and J. Bradford DeLong have an excellent new book, "Concrete Economics," arguing that Hamilton was the true father of the American economy.

Full disclosure: I know next to nothing about Hamilton the man and his life story. Nor, I'm sorry to say, have I managed to see the musical. But I have read Hamilton's pathbreaking economic policy manifestoes, in particular his 1790 "First Report on the Public Credit," a document that remains amazingly relevant today.

In that report, Hamilton proposed that the federal government assume and honor all of the debts individual states had run up during the Revolutionary War, imposing new tariffs on imported goods to raise the needed revenue. He believed that doing so would produce important benefits, which I'll get to in a minute.

First, however, I think it's interesting to ask how such a proposal would be received today.

On the left, it would surely be denounced as a bailout -- a giveaway to speculators who had purchased devalued debt for pennies on the dollar, and would reap large capital gains. Indeed, a fair bit of the report is devoted to explaining why trying to prevent such windfall gains, via "discrimination between the different classes of creditors," would be impractical and unwise.

Meanwhile, on the right -- well, Hamilton was calling for a tax increase, which modern conservatives oppose under any and all circumstances. Luckily for him, there was no Club for Growth to demand his impeachment.

But why did Hamilton want to take on those state debts? Partly to establish a national reputation as a reliable borrower, so that funds could be raised cheaply in the future. Partly, also, to give wealthy, influential investors a stake in the new federal government, thereby creating a powerful pro-federal constituency.

Beyond that, however, Hamilton argued that the existence of a significant, indeed fairly large national debt would be good for business. Why? Because "in countries in which the national debt is properly funded, and an object of established confidence, it answers most of the purposes of money." That is, bonds issued by the U.S. government would provide a safe, easily traded asset that the private sector could use as a store of value, as collateral for deals, and in general as a lubricant for business activity. As a result, the debt would become a "national blessing," making the economy more productive.

This argument anticipates, to a remarkable degree, one of the hottest ideas in modern macroeconomics: the notion that we are suffering from a global "safe asset shortage." The private sector, according to this argument, can't function well without a sufficient pool of assets whose value isn't in question -- and for a variety of reasons, there just aren't enough such assets these days.

The world economy needs US debt.
Posted by orrinj at 4:14 PM


Trump team tells GOP he has been 'projecting an image' (STEVE PEOPLES and THOMAS BEAUMONT, 4/22/16, Associated Press)

Trump's newly hired senior aide, Paul Manafort, made the case to Republican National Committee members that Trump has two personalities: one in private and one onstage.

"When he's out on the stage, when he's talking about the kinds of things he's talking about on the stump, he's projecting an image that's for that purpose," Manafort said in a private briefing.

"You'll start to see more depth of the person, the real person. You'll see a real different way," he said.

The Associated Press obtained a recording of the closed-door exchange.

"He gets it," Manafort said of Trump's need to moderate his personality. "The part that he's been playing is evolving into the part that now you've been expecting, but he wasn't ready for, because he had first to complete the first phase."

Nice of them to acknowledge how little they think of his supporters.

Posted by orrinj at 4:03 PM


On Earth Day, we can celebrate being the only country to significantly reduce CO2 emissions -- thanks to fracking (Mark J. Perry, 4/22/16, AEI)

[T]he big story has been the reduced dependence on coal as an energy source for electric power, and the resulting huge reduction of CO2 emissions from coal used to generate electric power - those emissions were lower last year than in any year since 1984, more than 30 years ago (EIA data here).

Over the last decade, coal's share as an energy source for electric power has fallen from 50% to 33%, and the majority of that reduction is a direct result of the increased use of natural gas as a substitute for coal. And the increased production of natural gas that facilitated that substitution for coal and reduced CO2 emissions for electric power was a direct result of the revolutionary technologies of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling that accessed the oceans of shale gas that were previously unrecoverable with traditional drilling technologies. Over the last ten years, natural gas as a fuel source for electricity increased from 18.7% to 32.7%, a 14 percentage point increase. Reflecting the abundance of cheap shale gas, natural gas as an energy source for electricity, for the first time ever in US history, surpassed coal as an energy source for electric power in each of the last six months of 2015.

Posted by orrinj at 3:53 PM


This Passover, It's Fitting to Honor Harriet Tubman, The Anti-Slavery Hero Who Was Known as 'Moses' (Todd Gitlin, April 22, 2016, Tablet)

Between 1852 and 1863, a former slave in her thirties, based in the North after her 1849 escape, made more than a dozen forays into the slave states of Maryland and Virginia to free other slaves. She was born Araminta Ross in Maryland. Her grandmother, Modesty, had been captured in Africa and shipped to the New World. In her early twenties, Araminta married a free black man named John Tubman. When she decided to escape slavery in Maryland, she took her mother's name, Harriet. She became a "conductor"--a guide--in the Underground Railroad, the network of routes, guides, and safe-houses that conducted slaves northward toward to Canada.

According to my historian colleague Eric Foner, the most recent chronicler of the Underground Railroad, she was dubbed "Captain Harriet Tubman" by New York City's leader of the American Anti-Slavery Society. But she was known to her abolitionist colleagues as Moses. That was also the name of her youngest sibling, one of eight.

It's well established that the spirit of Moses was a constant companion to African America. Exodus was their liberation saga. This freedom story was common currency for slaves who, like Tubman herself, were illiterate. During rescue missions into the South, Tubman would sing a lyric about the Exodus (Moses go down in Egypt/Till ole Pharo' let me go), as a warning, curiously enough, to potential escapees nearby; if those were the words she sang, she was signaling danger.

The inspiration of the Hebrews sometimes extended as far as the concept of a "chosen people." In 1877, the Pan-Africanist Episcopal priest Alexander Crummell, in a sermon on "The Destined Superiority of the Negro," wrote:

In a sense, not equal, indeed, to the case of the Jews, but parallel, in a lower degree ... a people [trained and disciplined by God] are a "chosen people" of the Lord. There is, so to speak, a covenant relation which God has established between Himself and them: dim and partial, at first, in its manifestations, nut which is sure to come to the sight of men and angels, clear, distinct, and luminous.

Harriet Tubman will be the first African-American and the first woman to have her image cast on the front of a currency note. It seems fitting for all sorts of reasons--a symbolic reparation. In 1855, her father, Ben, himself a stationmaster in the Underground Railroad, had been freed from bondage, but her mother was still enslaved, although by the terms of the owner's grandfather's will, she was to have been freed. Ben had to purchase his wife's freedom. The cost was $20, the same denomination of the bill she will now appear on.

Posted by orrinj at 3:47 PM


Oil Industry Layoffs Are Driving Texas Workers To The State's Booming Solar Power Sector (MARIA GALLUCCI, 04/22/16, IB Times)

With low oil prices driving massive layoffs across America's oil fields, workers in Texas are looking to greener pastures. Rig hands, pipe fitters and equipment haulers are increasingly finding jobs within the Lone Star State's solar power sector, the Wall Street Journal reported this week.

Posted by orrinj at 3:20 PM


Cuba relents on cruises, allows Carnival to come to island (Associated Press, 4/22/16)

Early Friday, Cuban state media announced the loosening of the maritime ban, and Carnival CEO Arnold Donald said in a statement that the trip would go forward May 1 from Miami. The 704-passenger Adonia of Carnival's Fathom brand is scheduled to make the initial seven-day trip, with future cruises planned every other week.

Posted by orrinj at 3:04 PM


The Age of Humans : Why Didn't the First Earth Day's Predictions Come True? It's Complicated (Hannah Waters, 4/22/16, SMITHSONIAN.COM)

Many of the era's incorrect predictions centered on resource scarcity--oil, minerals, food--but perhaps the most famous one came ten years after the first Earth Day, when a scientist and economist made a public bet that lives on in environmental discourse today.

The scientist was Paul Ehrlich, an outspoken biologist whose studies on the population dynamics of butterflies led him to a dramatic conclusion: That the human population was too big and soon would strip the world of resources, leading to mass starvation.

The economist was Julian Simon, who disagreed with Ehrlich. Humans are not butterflies, he argued, and have a powerful tool that prevents resource scarcity: a market economy. When a useful resource becomes rare, it becomes expensive, and that high price incentivizes exploration (to find more of that resource) or innovation (to create an alternative).

The two never met or debated in person. But in 1980, Simon challenged Ehrlich to a bet in the pages of a scientific journal, and Ehrlich accepted. The biologist selected five raw minerals--chromium, copper, nickel, tin, and tungsten--and noted how much of each he could buy for $200. If his prediction was right and resources were growing scarce, in 10 years the minerals should become more expensive; if Simon was correct, they should cost less. The loser would pay the difference.

In October 1990, ten years later, Simon received a check in the mail from Ehrlich for $576.07. Each of the five minerals had declined in price. Simon and his faith in the market were victorious.

"The market is ideally suited to address issues of scarcity," says Paul Sabin, a Yale environmental historian who wrote the book on the Simon-Ehrlich Wager.

April 21, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 7:52 PM


U.S. jobless claims hit 42-1/2-year low as labor market firms (LUCIA MUTIKANI, 4/21/16, Reuters)

The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits unexpectedly fell last week, hitting its lowest level since 1973, suggesting an apparent sharp slowdown in economic growth in the first quarter could be temporary.

While another report on Thursday showed a mild weakening in factory activity in the mid-Atlantic region in April, manufacturers were fairly upbeat about business prospects in the next six months. This, together with labor market buoyancy bodes well for a pick-up in economic growth in the second quarter.

Posted by orrinj at 7:48 PM


This chart shows which Europeans are the least likely to consider themselves European (Elena Holodny and Andy Kiersz, 4/21/16, Reuters)

The British are the least likely Europeans to consider themselves European.

That's according to data from the Spring 2015 Eurobarometer report, which we spotted in a recent Morgan Stanley research note.

The Eurobaromater report, published by the European Commission, surveyed Europeans to see how they understood concepts of European citizenship and identity. One of the most interesting questions in the report focused on how European citizens viewed their relationships to their home nations and to Europe as a whole, asking whether they identified themselves only by their nationality, by nationality and then as European, as European and then by their nationality, or just as European.

Overall, British respondents were the most likely to identify themselves only by nationality, at 64%.

Posted by orrinj at 7:44 PM


The $2 Trillion Project to Get Saudi Arabia's Economy Off Oil : Eight unprecedented hours with "Mr. Everything," Prince Mohammed bin Salman. (Peter Waldman, 4/21/16, Bloomberg)
For 80 years oil has underwritten the social compact on which Saudi Arabia operates: absolute rule for the Al Saud family, in exchange for generous spending on its 21 million subjects. Now, Prince Mohammed is dictating a new bargain. He's already reduced massive subsidies for gasoline, electricity, and water. He may impose a value-added tax and levies on luxury goods and sugary drinks. These and other measures are intended to generate $100 billion a year in additional nonoil revenue by 2020. That's not to say the days of Saudi government handouts are over--there are no plans to institute an income tax, and to cushion the blow for those with lower incomes, the prince plans to pay out direct cash subsidies. "We don't want to exert any pressure on them," he says. "We want to exert pressure on wealthy people."

Saudi Arabia can't thrive while curbing the rights of half its population, and the prince has signaled he would support more freedom for women, who can't drive or travel without permission from a male relative. "We believe women have rights in Islam that they've yet to obtain," the prince says. One former senior U.S. military officer who recently met with the prince says the royal told him he's ready to let women drive but is waiting for the right moment to confront the conservative religious establishment, which dominates social and religious life. "He said, 'If women were allowed to ride camels [in the time of the Prophet Muhammad], perhaps we should let them drive cars, the modern-day camels,' " the former officer says.

Separately, Saudi Arabia's religious police have been banned from making random arrests without assistance from other authorities. Attempts to liberalize could jeopardize the deal that the Al Saud family struck with Wahhabi fundamentalists two generations ago, but the sort of industries Prince Mohammed wants to lure to Saudi Arabia are unlikely to come to a country with major strictures on women. Today, no matter how much money there is in Riyadh, bankers and their families would rather stay in Dubai.

Many Saudis, accustomed to watching the levers of power operated carefully by the geriatric descendants of the kingdom's founding monarch, were stunned by Prince Mohammed's lightning consolidation of power last year. The ascendance of a third-generation prince--he's the founder's grandson--was of acute interest to the half of the population that's under 25, particularly among the growing number of urbane, well-educated Saudis who find the restrictions on women an embarrassment. Youth unemployment is about 30 percent.

Posted by orrinj at 7:37 PM


Recent improvement and projected worsening of weather in the United States (Patrick J. Egan & Megan Mullin, 4/21/16, Nature)

Here we show that in the United States from 1974 to 2013, the weather conditions experienced by the vast majority of the population improved. Using previous research on how weather affects local population growth8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 to develop an index of people's weather preferences, we find that 80% of Americans live in counties that are experiencing more pleasant weather than they did four decades ago. Virtually all Americans are now experiencing the much milder winters that they typically prefer, and these mild winters have not been offset by markedly more uncomfortable summers or other negative changes.

I liked it better when we were being promised nuclear winter.

Posted by orrinj at 7:05 PM


The smug style in American liberalism (Emmett Rensin, April 21, 2016, Vox)

Beginning in the middle of the 20th century, the working class, once the core of the coalition, began abandoning the Democratic Party. In 1948, in the immediate wake of the Franklin Roosevelt, 66 percent of manual laborers voted for Democrats, along with 60 percent of farmers. In 1964, it was 55 percent of working-class voters. By 1980, it was 35 percent.

The white working class in particular saw even sharper declines. Despite historic advantages with both poor and middle-class white voters, by 2012 Democrats possessed only a 2-point advantage among poor white voters. Among white voters making between $30,000 and $75,000 per year, the GOP has taken a 17-point lead.

The consequence was a shift in liberalism's center of intellectual gravity. A movement once fleshed out in union halls and little magazines shifted into universities and major press, from the center of the country to its cities and elite enclaves. Minority voters remained, but bereft of the material and social capital required to dominate elite decision-making, they were largely excluded from an agenda driven by the new Democratic core: the educated, the coastal, and the professional.

It is not that these forces captured the party so much as it fell to them. When the laborer left, they remained.

The origins of this shift are overdetermined. Richard Nixon bears a large part of the blame, but so does Bill Clinton. The evangelical revival, yes, but the destruction of labor unions, too. I have my own sympathies, but I do not propose to adjudicate that question here.

Suffice it to say, by the 1990s the better part of the working class wanted nothing to do with the word liberal. What remained of the American progressive elite was left to puzzle: What happened to our coalition?

Why did they abandon us?

What's the matter with Kansas?

The smug style arose to answer these questions. It provided an answer so simple and so emotionally satisfying that its success was perhaps inevitable: the theory that conservatism, and particularly the kind embraced by those out there in the country, was not a political ideology at all.

The trouble is that stupid hicks don't know what's good for them. They're getting conned by right-wingers and tent revivalists until they believe all the lies that've made them so wrong. They don't know any better. That's why they're voting against their own self-interest.

As anybody who has gone through a particularly nasty breakup knows, disdain cultivated in the aftermath of a divide quickly exceeds the original grievance. You lose somebody. You blame them. Soon, the blame is reason enough to keep them at a distance, the excuse to drive them even further away.

Finding comfort in the notion that their former allies were disdainful, hapless rubes, smug liberals created a culture animated by that contempt. The rubes noticed and replied in kind. The result is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Financial incentive compounded this tendency -- there is money, after all, in reassuring the bitter. Over 20 years, an industry arose to cater to the smug style. It began in humor, and culminated for a time in The Daily Show, a program that more than any other thing advanced the idea that liberal orthodoxy was a kind of educated savvy and that its opponents were, before anything else, stupid. The smug liberal found relief in ridiculing them.

...the Daily Show was ridiculing them, not the hicks.  The hick was the funny one.

Posted by orrinj at 6:58 PM


April 20, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 7:42 PM


Iceland's Water Cure : Can the secret to the country's happiness be found in its communal pools? (DAN KOISAPRIL 19, 2016, ny tIMES Magazine)

Every Icelandic town, no matter how small, has its own pool. There are ramshackle cement rectangles squatting under rain clouds in the sheep-strewn boonies. There are fancy aquatic complexes with multilevel hot tubs and awesomely dangerous water slides of the sort that litigious American culture would never allow. All told, there are more than 120 public pools -- usually geothermally heated, mostly outdoors, open all year long -- in Iceland, a country with a population just slightly larger than that of Lexington, Ky. "If you don't have a swimming pool, it seems you may as well not even be a town," the mayor of Reykjavik, Dagur Eggertsson, told me. I interviewed him, of course, as we relaxed together in a downtown hot tub.

These public pools, or sundlaugs, serve as the communal heart of Iceland, sacred places whose affordability and ubiquity are viewed as a kind of civil right. Families and teenagers and older people lounge and chat in sundlaugs every day, summer or winter. Despite Iceland's cruel climate, its remoteness and its winters of 19 hours of darkness per day, the people there are among the most contented in the world. The more local swimming pools I visited, the more convinced I became that Icelanders' remarkable satisfaction is tied inextricably to the experience of escaping the fierce, freezing air and sinking into warm water among their countrymen. The pools are more than a humble municipal investment, more than just a civic perquisite that emerged from an accident of Iceland's volcanic geology. They seem to be, in fact, a key to Icelandic well-­being.

This past winter, I visited Iceland and swam in 14 pools all over the country. I found them full of Icelanders eager to discuss what role these underwater village greens played in their lives. I met recent immigrants to the Westfjords town Bolungarvik as they mingled with their new neighbors, their toddler carrying fresh handfuls of snow into the hot tub and delightedly watching them melt. I saw Icelandic parents splash with their kids to calm them before bedtime; I talked to adults who remembered that ritual from childhood and could summon the memory of slipping their still-warm bodies between cool sheets. I heard stories of divorcing couples splitting their local pools along with their possessions and retired couples bonding by swimming together every day. I watched four steaming septuagenarians swim laps in a northern Iceland pool while the sunrise lit up the mountains behind them and an attendant brought out foam cups of coffee balanced on a kickboard. "I think the swimming pools are what make it possible to live here," the young artist Ragnheidur Harpa Leifsdottir said. "You have storms, you have darkness, but the swimming pool is a place for you to find yourself again."

For centuries, Iceland was a nation of seamen who regularly drowned within sight of shore. One local newspaper reported in 1887 that more than 100 Icelanders had drowned that winter alone. In 1931, a boat carrying four farmers capsized while they tried to row a panicking cow across Kollafjordur fjord. Three of the men died; one, who had studied swimming, survived.

Incidents like this fostered an enthusiasm for swimming education. At the time, the only place to learn was a muddy ditch downstream from the hot spring where the women of Reykjavik did laundry. Inspired by that hot spring, and using a heavily mortgaged drill that had been brought to Iceland to search fruitlessly for gold, the city soon tapped the underground hot water generated by Iceland's volcanic underbelly. Iceland's first geothermal heat flowed into 70 homes and three civic buildings: a school, a hospital and a swimming pool. The national energy authority offered no-risk loans to villages across the country to encourage geothermal drilling, and within a generation, the ancient turf house had nearly disappeared from Iceland, replaced by modern apartment buildings and homes, all of them so toasty warm that even on winter nights most Icelanders leave a window open. With hot water flowing through the country and a populace eager to take a dip -- swimming education was made mandatory in all Icelandic schools in 1943 -- pools soon popped up in every town.

"Because of the weather, we don't have proper plazas in the Italian or French style," the writer Magnus Sveinn Helgason explained to me. "Beer was banned in Iceland until 1989, so we don't have the pub tradition of England or Ireland." The pool is Iceland's social space: where families meet neighbors, where newcomers first receive welcome, where rivals can't avoid one another. It can be hard for reserved Icelanders, who "don't typically talk to their neighbors in the store or in the street," to forge connections, Mayor Dagur told me. (Icelanders generally use patronymic and matronymic last names and refer to everyone, even the mayor, by first name.) "In the hot tub, you must interact," Mayor Dagur continued. "There's nothing else to do."

Posted by orrinj at 7:38 PM


Hamilton's Pulitzer (David O. Stewart, April 20, 2016, Washington Independent Review of Books)

A bemused neighbor recently explained that her middle-school-aged children are obsessed with "Hamilton." This is a show about a Treasury secretary who died two centuries ago, a show the kids know only from Internet snippets and the double-CD version (which recently nestled in the top 20 on the Billboard chart, ahead of Taylor Swift, Drake, and a range of pop icons).

Yet these young people in suburban Maryland, my neighbor related, sing the songs to each other and in groups. "You be Jefferson," they call out, "you be Burr, and I'll be Hamilton."

I was dazed. I write history and speak about it to groups with median ages that hover in the low 70s. Is Miranda's mix of rap, blues, and torch songs making history hip in 2016?

And make no mistake: Miranda's version of the early republic's history is remarkably accurate. Not perfect, but compared to a Hollywood production, it's astonishing how close he hews to the events -- major, minor, and mundane -- of Hamilton's tumultuous life.

Credit Miranda with knowing dramatic gold when he opened Ron Chernow's biography of Hamilton. A poor immigrant orphan from the West Indies who succeeded by sheer brilliance, Hamilton was good at everything he tried -- law, politics, war, finance.

Yet perhaps inevitably for a man with such a trajectory, Hamilton had glaring weaknesses. How many national leaders publish a lengthy pamphlet detailing their extra-marital affair? Or die in a quarrel over intemperate words that they might easily have withdrawn?

The key to the show's power is that Miranda doesn't confine himself to depicting this smorgasbord of one man's powers and flaws, but finds the universal in it.

Start with his insights into politics. When Aaron Burr, Hamilton's mirror image, advises the bumptious immigrant to "talk less, smile more," political consultants can only smile and nod. When Burr sings that he wants to "be in the room where it happens," he reveals the underside of ambition: the desire to do good often twins with the lust to be at the center, to know the secrets.

A rueful moment arises when James Madison and Thomas Jefferson share their dismay over Hamilton's dominance in George Washington's government. It sure would be nice, they sing in the lament of those who lack a key ally, to have "Washington on your side."

But Miranda also finds in Hamilton's story the thrills and pain of every life. "Helpless," sung by the Schuyler sisters when they meet Hamilton, is a cheery celebration of young love. According to my informant, the middle-school set favors it. Miranda explores the nature of sisterhood through the two women's lives, both enamored with Hamilton yet always loyal to each other.

Posted by orrinj at 7:04 PM


Rouhani clashes with Iranian police over undercover hijab agents (Reuters, 4/20/16)

Asked about the undercover morality police, President Hassan Rouhani said such decisions should not be made by the government and he would keep his promise to preserve citizens' freedom.

"Our first duty is to respect people's dignity and personality. God has bestowed dignity to all human beings and this dignity precedes religion," Rouhani was quoted as saying by the news agency ISNA on Wednesday.

Posted by orrinj at 6:42 PM


Nietzsche, Morgenthau, and the Roots of Realism (Michael Laurence, 4/20/16, ISN Blog)

Through Nietzsche, Morgenthau felt as if his experience of the world was affirmed. He found in Nietzsche a solitary figure much like himself, a man who stood apart from the crowd and relied on his own inner strength to succeed. Even more, he found a keen diagnostician concerned with how things really were and not with how they ought to be. Morgenthau was captivated by what he perceived as Nietzsche's steadfast refusal to take flight from reality (Frei 2001: 102). It was from this basic attitude that the realist paradigm was built. Yet in order to begin this construction, Morgenthau turned away from Nietzsche's emphases on great politics, the Übermensch, and the radical transformation of culture and society. By means of an insistence upon the categorical split between the way things are and the way things should be, between the descriptive and normative tasks of thought, Morgenthau falsified the complexity of the movement of Nietzsche's thought. His admiration for Nietzsche as a detached, diagnostic, and sober analyst who revealed how things really were, took precedence at the cost of the directionality of Nietzsche's thought, its futuristic orientation, the way it opens up to a new horizon beyond Christian culture and morality. Under the flag of the hard-nosed diagnostician, Morgenthau smuggled through the back door the cynical conviction of the non-negotiable status of pre-existing political and subjective forms.

Morgenthau's basic ideas concerning the nature of reality constitute a significant departure from Nietzsche in two specific senses: (1) they overlook Nietzsche's understanding of the ontological productivity of power, and (2) they consequently ignore Nietzsche's theory of the subject and of subject production. In other words, the worldview that would become realism was developed on the back of Nietzsche but without fidelity to the nuanced conceptual and ideational landscape of his actual texts. [...]

[He] does not consider the force relations by which individuals and identities are produced and come to appear as natural. The political consequence is that his thought remains firmly committed to the ways in which things already exist, at the cost of the ways in which things could exist otherwise.

Realism is the dominant approach in the field of International Relations. Despite the richness and complexity of this paradigm, the many forms it takes, it remains committed to existing identities and forms of reality by way of the negation of the ontological productivity of power. In an effort to account for the complexity of realist scholarship, Michael R. Doyle divides the paradigm into four main schools of interpretation: complex realism, fundamentalist realism, structuralist realism, and constitutionalist realism (1997: 44). While each school differs from the others in important ways, they all nonetheless share a set of views about reality that form a common identity (Doyle 1997: 43). They share the assumption of international society as a condition of anarchy where independent states and other actors contend with one another for power (Doyle 1997: 43). They also share the commitment to a politics of ressentiment by way of an ontology of identity and its representation, whereby life is pre-defined and the subject pre-composed. This is especially true for realists of the fundamentalist school, who, following Morgenthau, contend that the anarchy of global politics is ultimately rooted in the power-seeking activity of individuals. Nietzsche, on the other hand, compels us to put ontology in motion, to think beyond the subject and the fixed categories of identity.

In Ecce Homo, Nietzsche exclaims: 'I am not a man. I am dynamite' (2000: 782). He speaks of himself as a man of calamity, and foretells the coming of upheaval, of earthquakes, of the explosion of old power structures (2000: 783). To affirm life, to be a creator, one must first be a destroyer. Nietzsche combines the creator and the destroyer in one figure: Dionysus. It is Dionysus who will destroy and overcome Christian morality and all of its slavish manifestations. His writings hold this Dionysian capacity to incinerate the reactive ontology from which realist theory operates. Realists, in the interest of self-preservation, are therefore correct to keep him at arm's length, to keep his name in the shadows, to let the monster sleep, in so that their slumber can continue undisturbed. The irony is that contemporary realism can only maintain its theoretical and ontological coherence by means of suppressing its origins. The Nietzschean theatre of power and subject production is the explosion at the beginning. From this explosion a new (anti)realism can be developed; one that does not reactively serve the securitization of pre-existing identities; one that opens up toward a different future, toward a politics of self-overcoming. One that can reclaim the future from ressentiment and cynicism. Such Nietzschean efforts are already well on their way.

Realism in geopolitics--whatever its intellectual antecedents--is the preference for externally quiet dictatorship over internally noisy self-determination.  Deliciously, the dynamite to these regimes is, and has been since before Nietzsche wrote, the Christian Anglosphere.

Posted by orrinj at 6:36 PM


Is "Anna Karenina" the Russian "Republic"? (T. Renee Kozinski, 4/20/16, Imaginative Conservative)

In Plato's Republic, we find that there is one 'natural' or 'healthy' state based on justice, one kind of healthy, just soul, but there are many degenerate forms of state and soul (Rep.,445c). Because justice is the state of balance and virtue in which a soul, or a state, lives according to the Good, according to Truth, according to reality, it is necessarily of one kind, as the Good is of one kind. It is Good.

This does not preclude a good kind of variety, however; if one contrasts it to degenerate forms of state and soul, one understands that there are many images, or appearances, or imitations, of the Good, but there is only one Good. The nature of evil is to be a supplementation, in a sense, a falling away from perfection; thus it is legion. Perfection, like Euclid's circle, has a unity and a simplicity, a one-ness that is not boring, but rather infinite.

anna kareninaOddly enough, Tolstoy's novel Anna Karenina begins with a pithy, arresting, and eerily similar line to that found in the Republic: "All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

Did Tolstoy write a novel-version of the Republic?  

Tolstoy's novel about a woman falling into degeneration and finally, madness and suicide, intertwines a number of families and individuals in the Russian aristocracy of the 1800s. Anna Karenina is the wife of a high-ranking political man, Karenin; her brother, Stiva, is a philanderer married to a good woman; Levin is somewhat a philosopher and a loner, but marries the good Princess Kitty; and Count Vronsky is the seducer, whose life is destroyed along with his lover, Anna Karenina.

The major characters in the novel correspond more or less to the parts of Plato's soul and state. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:27 PM


Be thankful the US is willing to be our global policeman (Jonathan Freedland, 20 April 2016, The Guardian)

On Tuesday it emerged that the US Department of Justice has launched a criminal investigation into the international tax avoidance schemes revealed earlier this month by the Panama Papers. The US attorney for Manhattan, Preet Bharara, has written to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, the organisation which oversaw the exposé of the offshore law firm Mossack Fonseca seeking further information. Since the leak contained 11.5m files, there's certainly no shortage of that.

The news of Bharara's investigation prompts a familiar feeling. It was the same sensation that came on a May morning in 2015, when thanks to the FBI, a dawn raid on a Zurich hotel saw seven officials of football's world governing body Fifa arrested on corruption charges. Accusations about the empire built by Sepp Blatter had swirled for years. But even though Fifa has its headquarters in Europe, and even though the US has only a - shall we say - developing role in what it calls soccer, it was an investigation by America's Feds that finally brought serious action.

You could say the same about the $1.9bn fine the US authorities levied on HSBC in 2012 for money laundering, after an investigation by the US senate found the bank had served as a conduit "for drug kingpins and rogue nations". That case involved Mexican drug cartels, Saudi banks linked to terrorist finance, Russian criminals and sanctions-busters trading with Iran - all centred on a bank whose head office is in London. Yet it was Washington that acted.

It is quite a pattern. Campaigners against corruption - and against the arms trade - remember their disappointment in 2006 when the UK Serious Fraud Office dropped its long-running investigation into BAE Systems, formerly British Aerospace, and its multibillion pound al-Yamamah deal with Saudi Arabia. The British government claimed at the time it was halting the inquiry because it feared damaging relations with the Saudi kingdom which could, in turn, threaten UK national security.

No such reservations in the US, where they kept on probing, eventually fining the company more than $400m after BAE Systems pleaded guilty to having made false statements and failure to follow anti-bribery rules.

In each case, it was the long arm of American law that brought justice. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:22 PM


There's a cheap, proven fix to the world's biggest problem (John D. Sutter, 4/18/16, CNN)

Yoram Bauman learned about the idea that would change his life, and the course of the world, as a nerdy undergraduate at Reed College.

The economics professor's pitch was so simple he couldn't shake it.

We should make bad stuff more expensive.

And, by doing that, make good stuff cheaper.

"I remember thinking that it was such an intellectually beautiful idea," he told me.

It is beautiful. And, as it turns out, this old theory, which dates back at least to the 1920s and an economist named Arthur Pigou, is essential to fixing one of the world's biggest problems.
Bauman, who now is a PhD economist and stand-up comedian (more on that later; and, yes, he does jokes on the Laffer curve), is the force behind a proposal on the ballot this fall in Washington state that would turn this old, elegant concept into what could be the country's smartest climate change policy.

It's thought to be the first time a proposal like this has gone before U.S. voters.

Washington's Initiative-732 would make a bad thing -- pollution -- more expensive by putting a tax on each ton of carbon dioxide created by cars, power plants and the like.

More importantly, doing so would throw economic muscle behind clean energy, shorter commutes, cleaner air and smarter cities. It would use the market, not regulations, to choose winners and losers in the clean tech race. It would help Washington state, in the apt words of the initiative's promoters, fulfill its moral responsibility to leave a livable planet for future generations. And it plans do so without wrecking the economy or growing government.

That's because Bauman's carbon-tax proposal aims to be "revenue neutral," meaning all of the money the state collects from the tax on carbon will be returned to the people and businesses as tax breaks. So this shouldn't be seen as an additional tax. It's a different tax -- a pollution tax.

Switch to low-carbon transport could 'save UK billions' (Press Association, 20 April 2016)'

A switch to low-carbon transport such as electric cars would save countries including the UK billions of pounds a year, a report has suggested.

Global policies to cut greenhouse gas emissions from the transport sector would reduce demand for oil, driving down prices and cutting global spending on the fossil fuel by £232bn a year worldwide between 2020 and 2030.

Cheaper oil for importing countries could free up billions of pounds which could be spent in other parts of the economy, the analysis led by Cambridge Econometrics said.

Posted by orrinj at 6:15 PM


How States Compare in the 2016 Best High Schools Rankings (Robert Morse April 18, 2016, US News)

A state-by-state breakdown of the 2016 Best High Schools rankings shows that Maryland is the leading performer for the second year in a row.

This year, 28.9 percent of Maryland's eligible schools earned gold and silver medals from U.S. News. Connecticut came in second with 24.9 percent, and California came in third with 23.8 percent.

Posted by orrinj at 6:08 PM


19 Years and Counting, Children's Health Insurance Is a Big Winner (Eric Pianin, April 20, 2016, Fiscal Times)

Earlier this month, a Gallup-Healthways survey showed that the uninsured rate had fallen from 18 percent to 11 percent among adults between 2013 and the first quarter of 2016, a drop of nearly 40 percent.

That was the lowest uninsured rate in eight years, according to Gallup, and was due in large measure to Obamacare, including its provisions for expanding Medicare, and employer provider insurance due to job growth.

A new study released this week confirms that the federal Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) -- which matches state funds for health insurance for families with children --  expanded Medicaid in 26 states, and Obamacare are having a profound impact on the share of children and the lower middle class who are still struggling without health care insurance.

The report, issued by the Urban Institute, found that the uninsured rate among children 18 years and younger fell 68 percent between 1997 - the year CHIP was introduced -- and 2015. The study showed that the decline was relatively steady over much of the past 18 years, and picked up steam during the first two full years of Obamacare, in 2014 and 2015.

Posted by orrinj at 3:16 PM


Islamic State forces on retreat around east Libyan city: military (Reuters, 4/20/16)

Military spokesman Abdulkarim Sabra said Islamic State had retreated from Derna's 400 neighborhood and al-Fatayeh, 20 km (12 miles) south of the city, and its forces were trying to head toward the militant group's Libyan stronghold of Sirte when they were intercepted.

The military was providing air support for troops, he said. It was not immediately clear if there had been casualties.

Military forces allied to Libya's eastern government have also been involved in heavy fighting in the city of Benghazi where they have taken several neighborhoods from fighters loyal to Islamic State and other groups.

Posted by orrinj at 3:12 PM


What a Reagan-Era Policy Can Teach Us About Immigration Reform Today (Ted Hesson, April 19, 2016, Vice)

Stedroy Cleghorne was a New Yorker. That's all he knew.

Sure, he had been born in Saint Kitts, a Caribbean island he distantly remembered from the first four years of his life. But he'd lived in Brooklyn since 1965, when he was four years old, and like many of his immigrant peers, he'd abandoned his accent in elementary school. "I never had an issue just blending in and being part of the American fabric," he remembers.

But when, in 1978, he decided to attend college to become a graphic artist, he realized he didn't have a Social Security number. When he asked his mother about it, she told him that she had been working with an immigration lawyer to obtain legal immigration status for him and his brother, but Cleghorne says "he pretty much was taking her money and not getting anything done."

Then he heard about a new immigration program, which legally recognized immigrants who had entered the country illegally or overstayed a visa, but who had established a life in the United States. Eager for better work and fed up with the family's immigration lawyer, he submitted an application for legal residency through the program, paid a fee, and received his green card a year later.

The program, known as the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), allowed an estimated 2.7 million immigrants to become permanent residents of the United States. For people like Cleghorne, the Reagan-era law unlocked doors to a host of new possibilities. He began a career as an illustrator and later took classes at the Fashion Institute of Technology, where he's served as an assistant adjunct professor since 2002.

Posted by orrinj at 3:07 PM


SCIENTIFIC REGRESS (William A. Wilson, May 2016, First Things)

The problem with ­science is that so much of it simply isn't. Last summer, the Open Science Collaboration announced that it had tried to replicate one hundred published psychology experiments sampled from three of the most prestigious journals in the field. Scientific claims rest on the idea that experiments repeated under nearly identical conditions ought to yield approximately the same results, but until very recently, very few had bothered to check in a systematic way whether this was actually the case. The OSC was the biggest attempt yet to check a field's results, and the most shocking. In many cases, they had used original experimental materials, and sometimes even performed the experiments under the guidance of the original researchers. Of the studies that had originally reported positive results, an astonishing 65 percent failed to show statistical significance on replication, and many of the remainder showed greatly reduced effect sizes.

Their findings made the news, and quickly became a club with which to bash the social sciences. But the problem isn't just with psychology. There's an ­unspoken rule in the pharmaceutical industry that half of all academic biomedical research will ultimately prove false, and in 2011 a group of researchers at Bayer decided to test it. Looking at sixty-seven recent drug discovery projects based on preclinical cancer biology research, they found that in more than 75 percent of cases the published data did not match up with their in-house attempts to replicate. These were not studies published in fly-by-night oncology journals, but blockbuster research featured in Science, Nature, Cell, and the like. The Bayer researchers were drowning in bad studies, and it was to this, in part, that they attributed the mysteriously declining yields of drug pipelines. Perhaps so many of these new drugs fail to have an effect because the basic research on which their development was based isn't valid.

When a study fails to replicate, there are two possible interpretations. The first is that, unbeknownst to the investigators, there was a real difference in experimental setup between the original investigation and the failed replication. These are colloquially referred to as "wallpaper effects," the joke being that the experiment was affected by the color of the wallpaper in the room. This is the happiest possible explanation for failure to reproduce: It means that both experiments have revealed facts about the universe, and we now have the opportunity to learn what the difference was between them and to incorporate a new and subtler distinction into our theories.

The other interpretation is that the original finding was false. Unfortunately, an ingenious statistical argument shows that this second interpretation is far more likely. First articulated by John Ioannidis, a professor at Stanford University's School of Medicine, this argument proceeds by a simple application of Bayesian statistics. 

Posted by orrinj at 1:47 PM


April 19, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 7:56 PM


Behind-the-Scenes Moments Show President Bush's Leadership Outside of Spotlight (Dana Perino,  April 19, 2016, Daily Signal)

A couple of weeks before the game, Jared Weinstein, the president's personal aide, came to Tony Fratto, the principal deputy press secretary, to ask if he'd like to practice with President Bush a couple of times during the week before the game. Tony said yes and brought his glove to the White House, knowing that this was probably going to be one of the coolest days of his life.

At the appointed hour, Tony went out to the South Lawn, feeling a little awkward wearing suit pants, a tie, and dress shoes to toss around a baseball. The president wasn't so encumbered--he'd just finished his biking workout, so he was warmed up and wearing athletic gear. Tony tried to focus. No matter how much fun it was to play ball with the president, the outcome was important. We needed he president to throw a strike.

The first thing Tony discovered while tossing the ball with President Bush is that he does it like he does everything else physical--running, biking, golf, whatever: hard and fast, with no warm-up. So they started throwing and the president was throwing hard. Tony had to figure out what to do.

"I had the president throwing bee-bees at me like we were kids back home," Tony said. "Now, I can throw hard, too, and it was like the president was challenging me to throw harder. So I threw it harder. And we're going back and forth when all of a sudden I remembered I needed to keep my ego in check. I thought, 'The only way I can screw this up is if I injure the president.' So I focused--good catches, good throws, don't injure President Bush."

Out there on the South Lawn, the moment became extremely emotional and meaningful to him, Tony said. And he's not talked about it until now.

"After the shock of President Bush's hard throws, and the sheer coolness of catching ball with him on the South Lawn, I realized it was really the first time I'd ever played catch with someone like a father figure," Tony said. "I love my dad, and he was an important role model for me growing up, but he was not a sports guy. I was a very good baseball player as a kid, but I never played catch with my dad. literally never caught baseballs with any adults--only other kids.

"I realized this after about twenty or thirty throws with President Bush, and at that point I wasn't at the White House with the president--I was just in the backyard with dad. I don't think of President Bush as a father figure, but as the president, and my friend."

Posted by orrinj at 7:02 PM


Can Physicists Ever Prove the Multiverse Is Real? (Sarah Scoles, APRIL 19, 2016, Smithsonian)

 If the multiverse exists, the life-hosting capability of our particular universe isn't such a mystery: An infinite number of less hospitable universes also exist. The composition of ours, then, would just be a happy coincidence. But we won't know that until scientists can validate the multiverse. And how they will do that, and if it even possible to do that, remains an open question.

This uncertainty presents a problem. In science, researchers try to explain how nature works using predictions that they formally call hypotheses. Colloquially, both they and the public sometimes call these ideas "theories." Scientists especially gravitate toward this usage when their idea deals with a wide-ranging set of circumstances or explains something fundamental to how physics operates. And what could be more wide-ranging and fundamental than the multiverse?

For an idea to technically move from hypothesis to theory, though, scientists have to test their predictions and then analyze the results to see whether their initial guess is supported or disproved by the data. If the idea gains enough consistent support and describes nature accurately and reliably, it gets promoted to an official theory.

As physicists spelunk deeper into the heart of reality, their hypotheses--like the multiverse--become harder and harder, and maybe even impossible, to test. Without the ability to prove or disprove their ideas, there's no way for scientists to know how well a theory actually represents reality.

Posted by orrinj at 3:34 PM


New 3-D Printing Technique Makes Tougher Ceramics : A new way of making these tough materials could be a key step in producing better airplane engines and long-lasting machine parts. (Katherine Bourzac  April 19, 2016, Technology Review)

Ceramics are some of the hardest materials on Earth. They can withstand extreme temperatures, and some are impervious to friction, scratching, and other mechanical stresses that wear out metal and plastic. But it can be difficult to make complex shapes out of the materials.

Chemists at HRL Laboratories in Malibu, California, may have gotten around that problem by developing ceramics that can be made in a 3-D printer. The result: ultrastrong objects that are impossible to make using conventional methods.

Posted by orrinj at 12:58 PM


Bernie Sanders Does Not Practice What He Preaches on Taxes (JIM GERAGHTY, April 18, 2016, National Review)

Bernie Sanders released his 2014 tax return this weekend, revealing that he and his wife took $60,208 in deductions from their taxable income. These deductions are all perfectly legal and permitted under the U.S. tax code, but they present a morally inconvenient, if delicious, irony: The Democratic socialist from Vermont, a man who rages against high earners paying a lower effective tax rate than blue-collar workers, saved himself thousands using many of the tricks that would be banned under his own tax plan. 

With all of his itemized deductions, Sanders's taxable income was significantly lower than it would have been if he had taken the standard deduction. The deductions left Sanders and his wife paying $27,653 in federal income taxes in 2014, on a joint income of $205,271 -- an effective federal tax rate of 13.5 percent. If that seems low to you, your instincts are right: According to the Tax Foundation, the average federal income-tax rate for a couple making $200,000 to $500,000 in 2014 was 15.2 percent. The "millionaires and billionaires" that Sanders is so fond of berating payed, on average, just more than twice as much of their income (27.4 percent) in federal taxes as he did.

Posted by orrinj at 12:52 PM


Americans are becoming more socially liberal -- except when it comes to divorce (Catherine Rampell, April 18, 2016, Washington Post)

Respondents were asked whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement that "Divorce is usually the best solution when a couple can't seem to work out their marriage problems." In 2002, about half of Americans disagreed. Within a decade, the share had risen to more than 60 percent. In the most recent data, younger Americans -- a cohort with the lowest marriage rates on record, mind you -- were especially likely to perceive divorce as an unacceptable response to marital strain.

How is it possible that Americans are simultaneously getting more traditional about marital commitment and less traditional about non-marital relations? How did we become more judgmental of divorce and less judgmental of people who "live in sin" or have children out of wedlock?

The answer lies in our evolving views of marriage itself.

Earlier generations saw marriage as a sort of foundational milestone, laid relatively early in life, that would help couples go on to achieve familial and financial stability. Today, it is seen more as a crowning achievement, appropriate and available only after lots of other boxes are ticked off first. And this brass ring ought to be indestructible by the time it graces your left hand.

Marriage has, in other words, gone from being a cornerstone achievement to a capstone one.

Marriage rates may have plummeted in recent decades, but the vast majority of never-married millennials still say they aspire to get hitched someday. They just want to get their ducks in a row first -- and my, are those ducks multiplying. A survey from last fall found that young Americans believe they should wait to marry until they have a stable job, have reduced their debt levels or accumulated savings, have a college degree, have successfully cohabitated with their future spouse, have had previous serious relationships and even own their home.

We millennials still want our happily-ever-afters, but with an emphasis on the after.

Isn't the point that if it were a serious relationship it would be a marriage?
Posted by orrinj at 12:44 PM


Assimilation is counter-terrorism (Raymond Odierno and Michael O'Hanlon, April 18, 2016, USA Today)

At least on issues concerning Muslim-majority communities, the United States can help point the way. We are fortunate, largely to the credit of our nation's Muslims who join our society in full and pursue the American dream, to have relatively few problems with Islamist extremism. Of course, there are exceptions, but on the whole, Muslim-American communities are our single greatest domestic allies in the struggle against extremism at home. They help provide information on would-be terrorists in their midst; they do not typically shelter, aid or condone the thinking of such extremists. Most of all, acting as loyal citizens, they provide role models and hopeful visions to their young, reducing the odds that the 20-somethings who seem to wind up the main culprits in most attacks abroad will feel the same urge within the United States. Because our own terror watch lists have gotten better since 9/11, and because of the hard work of border and immigration agencies, we are also often able to limit the movements of suspected terrorists to the United States from abroad.

Ted Cruz Refused To Meet With Muslim Groups, Including One From Texas: Report (TIM MARCIN, 4/19/16, IB Times)

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz -- the principal competitor to Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump -- has recently earned the scorn of Muslim-Americans, much like his billionaire rival, who famously called for a temporary ban on allowing Muslims to enter the U.S. The Dallas Morning News reported Cruz and his staff were slammed for refusing to meet Monday with American Muslim groups, including one from his home state, during National Muslim Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill.

Posted by orrinj at 12:35 PM


To Punish Iran, Saudis Scuttle Oil-Freeze Plan : Crude prices fell after big oil producers failed to rein in output -- fruit of Saudi Arabia's strategic rivalry with Iran. (KEITH JOHNSONAPRIL 18, 2016, Foreign Policy)

OPEC's failure over the weekend to reach a deal to freeze oil production at current levels, and thus nudge oil prices back up, shows that Saudi Arabia hates Iran even more than it hates losing money. That will make it harder for OPEC to take any meaningful steps to soak up the glut of oil that is keeping prices low and straining state coffers.

Riyadh, the largest producer inside OPEC, and other big oil producers had spent months talking up the weekend meeting in Doha, Qatar. But the Saudis made clear they couldn't sign on to any production freeze that didn't include Iran. And Tehran didn't even bother to send its oil minister to the freeze meeting, since Iran is busy throwing off years of sanctions and fighting to regain its share of the global oil market -- and has no interest in nipping its nascent recovery in the bud.

April 18, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 7:53 PM


Social-media bubbles blind us to how much our candidates are hated (Megan McArdle, April 16, 2016, NY Post)

Even as Americans talk more and more about diversity, they are increasingly dividing themselves into like-minded bubbles where other people, with other experiences and viewpoints, almost never penetrate. This is the message of books by Charles Murray and Robert Frank, and indeed of our own social-media feeds.

Social media makes this problem worse. Even if we aren't deliberately blocking people who disagree with us, Facebook curates our feeds so we get more of the stuff we "like." What do we "like"? People and posts that agree with us. Given that Facebook seems to be the top news source for millennials, that matters quite a lot.

It's only natural, then, to wonder if the increasingly impenetrable bubbles are affecting our politics... [...]

I've been variously assured, with complete confidence, that "no one" will vote for: Donald Trump, because he's a bigot. Ted Cruz, because he's a religious nut. Hillary Clinton, because of the Benghazi and e-mail scandals. Bernie Sanders, because he's a socialist.

We are apparently facing four years of the "none of the above" administration.

These people aren't exactly wrong about the weaknesses of their opponents. But they overestimate the strength of these objections.

They seem to believe their own personal revulsion is natural instinct, shared by all but a tiny, mad slice of the voting public. I used to see this in Manhattan, where the population was not only homogenous but also in charge of much of the media.

What creates this utter certainty among a broader and broader slice of the electorate?

The Internet creates a sense of universality even as it has curated into an increasing personal uniqueness. You don't see the algorithms that fill your social-media feed and your search results with tidbits you will find congenial, so it's easy to think your bubble is more representative than it actually is.

This helps explain the mystery of this campaign: how so many voters have become so astonishingly indifferent to the electability of their major-party candidates. 

We take particular enjoyment at the revulsion with which folks meet any post from media outside their bubble.  It illustrates this disorder perfectly.

Posted by orrinj at 7:47 PM


Cuba congress says state's 'obsolete mentality' is holding back economy (AP, 18 April 2016)

The Cuban president and first party secretary, Raúl Castro, opened the meeting on Saturday with a sombre evaluation of the state of reforms he introduced after taking over from his ailing brother Fidel in 2008. Raúl Castro blamed "an obsolete mentality" and "attitude of inertia" for the state's failure to implement reforms meant to increase productivity.

First Vice-President Miguel Díaz-Canel, long seen as Castro's successor, repeated that criticism of the bureaucracy in a speech on Monday announcing the congress's formal acceptance of Castro's evaluation. He said obsolete ways of thinking led both to inertia in enacting reforms and "a lack of confidence in the future".

"Along with other deficiencies, there's a lack of readiness, high standards and control, and little foresight or initiative from sectors and bureaucrats in charge of making these goals a reality," Díaz-Canel said in an excerpt of a speech broadcast on state television.

However, lengthy state media reports on the four-day congress focused less on proposals for reform than on debates about political orthodoxy focusing on the need to protect Cuba's socialist system from the threat of global capitalism and US influence in particular.

A month after Barack Obama's visit to Havana, the first by a US president in nearly 90 years, Cuban leaders have begun to consistently portray his trip as an attempt to seduce Cubans into abandoning the country's socialist values in favour of a desire for free markets and multiparty democracy.

What's the Spanish for, "D'uh"?

Posted by orrinj at 7:22 PM


The forgotten recession that irrevocably damaged the American economy (Jeff Spross, April 18, 2016, The Week)

The story of how Volcker fulfilled his mission is complicated. But it boiled down to a massive hike in interest rates: The Fed's primary target for those rates reached an astronomical 19 percent in 1981.

It seemed to work, as CPI fell below 4 percent in 1983. And the standard tellings of this incident tend to emphasize the courage of Volcker and the policymakers and elected officials who stuck by him -- their willingness to do what was necessary in spite of its massive political unpopularity.

But there's a different version of the story you could tell. Volcker's policies were unpopular for a very good reason. They sparked two recessions: A brief one in early 1980 (arguably costing Carter re-election) and then a massive one from late 1981 to late 1982.

The basic problem, as economist Dean Baker explained to The Week, is there's no way to tame inflation that doesn't involve inflicting damage on the economy. But using interest rate hikes to spark recessions is a methodology that loads the bulk of the pain onto everyday workers, and people who are marginalized in our society. The national unemployment rate (the blue line below) briefly reached 10.8 percent -- higher than it got even in the Great Recession -- and it didn't get back to 5 percent until 1989. Which was bad enough. But the unemployment rate for lower class workers is always much higher than for upper class ones. Ditto racial minorities: The unemployment rate for African-Americans (the red line below) topped 20 percent by 1983.

"People lost their jobs and never got them back," Baker said. "People lost their houses, lost their families."

The Volcker recession also roughly coincides with a remarkable inflection point in the American economy. Before the mid-1970s, labor markets were often tight and full employment was common. After the Volcker recession, full employment -- when there are more jobs available than workers, so employers have to bargain up wages and work conditions -- basically disappeared. Union membership had already fallen 5 percentage points from roughly 1960 to 1980. But after the Volcker recession, its decline accelerated, falling another 10 percentage points from 1980 to roughly 1995.

Inflation is always and only a function of wage hikes.

Posted by orrinj at 7:17 PM


America Isn't Going Broke (Noah Smith, 4/18/16, Bloomberg View)

The federal debt held by the public is now growing at about a 3 percent rate, while the economy is growing at about a 3.4 percent rate (these are both in nominal terms). In other words, the U.S. deficit is now perfectly sustainable.

This represents a remarkable -- possibly even excessive -- display of fiscal responsibility by the U.S. government. During the Great Recession, when millions were out of work, the government ran a big deficit in an effort to stimulate the economy. But as the economy recovered, higher taxes brought in more revenue and spending was reined in. Incidentally, this is exactly what standard Keynesian economic policy suggests. There's even an argument to be made that the government turned to austerity too soon, and made the 2012 recovery a bit slower than it could have been.

To see how government borrowing has been curbed, look at a graph of the rate of growth of the ratio of federal public debt to gross domestic product:

When this growth rate is positive, the debt is growing unsustainably. When it's negative,  indebtedness is shrinking. Note how the U.S. has swung into sustainable territory for the first time since the late 1990s.

Posted by orrinj at 7:12 PM


ISIS Income Plummets As Oil Revenue, Tax Base Dwindle (AVANEESH PANDEY, 04/18/16, IB Times)

The two primary sources of revenue of the group, also known as ISIS -- taxation and oil -- have both dwindled in recent months as Russia and a coalition led by the United States stepped up their airstrikes. According to the IHS report, oil production in areas still under the group's control dropped to 21,000 barrels a day in March from nearly 33,000 barrels a day in mid-2015. And, since mid-2014, the territory under ISIS control shrunk by about 22 percent, thereby reducing its tax base to 6 million people from 9 million.

"Our research has found that the Islamic State [group] is increasing taxes on basic services and coming up with new ways to get money from the population," Carlino reportedly said. "These taxes include tolls for truck drivers, fees for anyone installing new or repairing broken satellite dishes, and 'exit fees' for anyone trying to leave a city."

The militant group has also started imposing monetary fines as an alternative to corporal punishment, IHS said in its report.

According to the group's internal documents leaked in January, in recent months, ISIS has, in order to offset its dwindling source of revenues, been forced to cut its fighters' salaries by as much as half.

Posted by orrinj at 7:09 PM


Swarms of tiny robots clean polluted water (Amy Middleton, 4/17/16, Cosmos)

Industries such as mining and technology manufacturing can pollute water with metals such as lead, arsenic and mercury. This can have consequences for the ecosystem, including flora and fauna, as well as wider public health ramifications.

Now, researchers in Germany, Spain and Singapore have developed microbots to begin undoing this process - with each bot thinner than a human hair. 

The machines are multi-functional: they propel themselves through water, extracting particles of lead as they go. According to the paper, published in Nano Letters, the bots effectively remove 95% of lead from contaminated water in one hour using their multi-tiered approach.

Posted by orrinj at 6:50 PM


Donald Trump top pick for US President... in Russia (Will Dahlgreen, 4/19/16, YouGov)

New YouGov research of over 20,000 adults in every G20 country for Handelsblatt Global Edition reveals Russia is the only country of the G20 major economies where people would rather Donald Trump was the next President of the US than Hillary Clinton. And by a long way - Trump leads Clinton by 21 points in Russia, while Hillary has a lead of more than 21 points over Trump in 15 other countries.

Posted by orrinj at 6:39 PM


Americans may be happy with their friends and finances, but the federal government is making them see red (TAMMY WEBBER and EMILY SWANSON, 4/18/16, Associated Press)

An Associated Press-GfK poll finds that most Americans are happy with their friends and family, feel good about their finances and are more or less content at work. It's government, particularly the federal government, that's making them see red.

Almost 8 in 10 Americans say they're dissatisfied or angry with the way the federal government is working, while about the same proportion say they're satisfied or enthusiastic about their personal lives. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:16 PM


Iran helps sinks coordinated effort to boost oil prices (Peter Weber, 4/18/16, The Week)

Iran, which just started shipping oil to Europe again after the end of sanctions, decided to cancel its participation in the meeting late Saturday. Tehran bowed out "as we are not part of the decision to freeze output," Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zangeneh said on state television. "We can't cooperate with them to freeze our own output, and in other words impose sanctions on ourselves." 

Posted by orrinj at 5:08 PM


Special interest groups want to privatize the VA and nobody is paying attention (Paul Glastris, APRIL 18, 2016, Boston Globe)

The reason Washington is even considering such a radical restructuring of the VA has to do with widely publicized reports in 2014 that 40 veterans in Phoenix died waiting for first-time appointments with VA doctors. These reports led to bipartisan legislation mandating the creation of the commission. But as investigative journalist Alicia Mundy reveals in the Washington Monthly, the reports turn out to have been baseless allegations cooked up by a Koch brothers-funded group, Concerned Veterans for America (CVA), and key Republicans lawmakers who ideologically favor the outsourcing of VA health care.

Soon after the law was passed, the VA's inspector general's office published a report based on an exhaustive review of VA patient records. The report concluded that six, not 40, veterans had died experiencing "clinically significant delays" while on waiting lists to see a VA doctor. Of those six, the IG could not confirm that any vets died as a result of waiting for care. (Think of it this way: People die every year waiting in grocery lines, but that doesn't mean they died because of waiting in grocery lines.) There were certainly problems at some VA facilities. The waiting list numbers were definitely being gamed by VA personnel struggling to keep up with unmeetable performance metrics. The "death wait" allegations, however, were bogus.

But wouldn't vets receive swifter and better quality care from private hospitals and doctors than from a big bureaucracy like the VA? Actually, no. The law that set up the commission also mandated that $68 million be spent on independent research into the VA's functioning. The researchers concluded that despite many problems, including plunging morale and a wave of retirements, the VA performed "the same or significantly better" than private sector providers on a wide range of quality measures. They also found that average waits for VA doctors were shorter than wait times for doctors in the private sector.

It's the choice we face for all of health care, since single payer or complete privatization would both bring down costs.

Posted by orrinj at 4:59 PM


Obamacare's Striking Effect on America's Least Fortunate (VIKAS BAJAJ,  APRIL 18, 2016, NY Times)

An analysis of Census data by the Times reporters Sabrina Tavernise and Robert Gebeloff shows striking gains for many of the least privileged people in the country under the health reform law. For example, about 67 percent of Hispanics had health coverage in 2014, an increase of 7.2 percentage points from 2013. Native Americans, blacks, Asian Americans, high-school graduates and legal immigrants all saw big gains in coverage, too.

These are major gains and should be celebrated, especially considering the fact that the proportion of Americans who did not have health insurance had been rising for many years before the health reform law. Reversing that trend will undoubtedly be one of the most important parts of President Obama's legacy. And the gains in coverage have been achieved at a much lower cost than anticipated. Last month, the Congressional Budget Office said the total cost of health reform is about 25 percent less than the office had forecast when the law was signed.

Of course, they don't actually need the coverage they're getting, so the HSA/catastrophic plan will be an improvement.

Posted by orrinj at 4:52 PM


The solution to (nearly) everything: working less (Rutger Bregman, 18 April 2016, The Guardian)

What does working less actually solve, I was asked recently. I'd rather turn the question around: is there anything that working less does not solve?

Take climate change. A worldwide shift to a shorter working week could cut the CO2 emitted this century by half. Countries with a shorter working week have a smaller ecological footprint. Consuming less starts with working less - or, better yet - with consuming our prosperity in the form of leisure.

Overtime is deadly. Long working days lead to more errors: tired surgeons are more prone to slip-ups and soldiers who get too little shut-eye are more prone to miss targets. From Chernobyl to the space shuttle Challenger, overworked managers often prove to have played a role in disasters. It is no coincidence that the financial sector, which triggered the biggest disaster of the past decade, is absolutely groaning with people doing overtime.

Countless studies have shown that people who work less are more satisfied with their lives. In a recent poll conducted among working women, German researchers quantified the "perfect day". The largest share of minutes (106) would go toward "intimate relationships". Down at the bottom of the list were work (36) and commuting (33). The researchers noted that "in order to maximise wellbeing it is likely that working and consuming (which increases GDP) might play a smaller role in people's daily activities compared with now".

Posted by orrinj at 4:44 PM


On Immigration, Law Is on Obama's Side (RICHARD G. LUGAR, APRIL 18, 2016, NY Times)

[W]hether or not you like President Obama's actions, he has operated under longstanding provisions of law that give the executive branch discretion in enforcement. This presidential prerogative has been recognized explicitly by the Supreme Court. Moreover, the nature of immigration enforcement and the resources (or lack thereof) appropriated by Congress necessitate exactly the type of choices that the president has made.

Congress has repeatedly granted the executive branch broad power in enforcing immigration laws. The 2002 law creating the Department of Homeland Security explicitly said the executive should set "national immigration enforcement policies and priorities." The Supreme Court has recognized the leeway Congress gives the executive branch in deportations. In a 2012 majority opinion written by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy and joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., the court noted that "a principal feature of the removal system is the broad discretion exercised by immigration officials," including the decision "whether it makes sense to pursue removal at all."

Setting enforcement priorities is vital to the effectiveness of our immigration laws. Congress can't anticipate every situation. This is why the Supreme Court recognized in 1950 that immigration law is an area where "flexibility and the adaptation of the congressional policy to infinitely variable conditions constitute the essence of the program."

Even more unquestionable is the president's pardon power, which W shouold have invoked and, thereby, spared us the whole ugly Trump/Cruz phenomena.

Posted by orrinj at 4:16 PM


Have Comment Sections on News Media Websites Failed? (NY Times, 4/18/16)

Many newspapers and online media companies have begun disabling comment sections because of widespread abuse and obscenity. Of course, that vitriol is not meted out equally: The Guardian analyzed its comments and found the 10 most abused writers of the past decade were female and/or black. (The Times moderates comments in an effort to keep them on-topic and not abusive.)

Have comment sections -- once thought to be a democratizing force in the media -- failed? [...]

Despite Flaws, Comments Are Good for Public Discourse (Eun-Ju Lee)

Comment sections can have interesting effects on readers. For one thing, the mere existence of them at the bottom of a story can change how readers perceive the partiality of the reporting. My research has found that when comments are uncongenial to a reader's own opinion -- especially on an issue that hits close to home -- the reader is more likely to blame the article for bias. They are also more likely to rate the same story more negatively when accompanying comments are vulgar or inflammatory.

Comments can shape individual readers' opinions, of course, but more interestingly, they can also shape how a reader interprets public opinion more broadly. The extreme beliefs of a few can be interpreted as a reflection of the beliefs of the general public -- distorting perceptions of reality.

Comments can distort how readers interpret public opinion and media bias, but they allow for a far more participatory news media.
Despite such misinterpretations, and the other risks that misguided, uncivil user comments may pose, I do not believe in shutting down user comment sections in most cases. Far from being the ideal public sphere -- wherein public-minded citizens openly share reasonable arguments and are gracious about their opponents' perspectives -- user comment sections are nonetheless an important ongoing experiment that tests the viability of deliberative democracy.

It's been our experience that it isn't particularly hard to keep the comments section civil and profanity free, provided you police them and ban the participants who can't conform.  Trolls pretty quickly get tired of having vitriol and profanity deleted and just head elsewhere.  And you can almost always identify the commenters who are building up to racial, religious or personal invective and profanity, both by the topics they choose to comment on and by the obsessive nature of their participation (I always ban them pre-emptively if I'm going to be away).

We use these simple rules for the blog and the comments:

(1) No profanity. 

(2) Minimal self-reference (though none would be unnatural) 

(3) Minimal linking to other blogs. 

(4) Minimal reference to comments.  (Folks who write comments don't get to do so on the front page, so we try not to write about them on the front.) 

(5) Try--though I'm bad about this myself--to only quote about three paragraphs, or no more than a third,  of any story you blog.  We want folks to go read it at the site that owns it.  But if you need to use more to make the excerpt make sense, no problem. 

(6) Always link to the original--we want folks to read the whole thing--and don't use links that pop up a new browser window.  It's annoying for readers and if we aren't interesting enough for them to navigate back to us, that's our problem. 

(7) Never let it interfere with real life. 

And, in turn, have a few requirements in the comments:

(1) No profanity

(2) No personal attacks

(3) No linking to dubious sources

(4) No espousal of hateful political theories (which, predictably, only ever occurs in discussions of religion, Darwinism and immigration)

And, lastly, a guideline, rather than a rule:

(5) Ask one question or raise one point at a time and we'll be happy to address it.  Ask or raise 5 and we'll still address just one.

Posted by orrinj at 4:07 PM


Two thing stand out from this chart:

(1) how narrowly the % of GDP we take down in taxes varies over decades;

(2) how much less we take than our peers

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 PM


Footsteps of history : I walked 2200km to retrace my grandfather's WWII escape from a Russian gulag  (Michael Iwanowski, The Calvert Journal)

To complete his book Clear of People, photographer Michal Iwanowski embarked on a solitary 2200km journey in wilderness charged with history and personal memory. Iwanowski, who was born in Poland and is now based in Cardiff, Wales, retraced a passage his grandfather and great uncle made in 1945 after escaping from a gulag to return to their homes in Wrocław, Poland. 70 years later Iwanowski returned to the lands of struggle and survival to figure out for himself the unbreakable links between landscape and memory. He told The Calvert Journal about his experience. [...]
I then decided to retrace the epic journey my grandfather had had to make. He and his brother, both partisans, had been arrested in 1944 and sent to a gulag in Russia, from which they escaped. After three months on the run, they were reunited with their family in Wrocław, Poland. The records of the journey came mostly from my great uncle Wiktor. He was an eager storyteller and kept a rich archive of documents and objects from that period, including metal tobacco tins he used to make in the gulag to trade for food. Already during their escape in 1945 he was taking notes on scraps of paper, mapping out landmarks and events, trying to keep track of their journey. Those notes made it to Poland with him, and became the factual backbone of a book he wrote and self-published in 1994. In it he recalled the people, places and events of that time. I got a copy of the book from my grandmother and took it with me on my travels. There was a detailed map inside, which allowed me to plan my journey step by step. It guided me through pivotal places my great uncle had described.

Luckily for me, walking is my preferred means of transportation. I learnt during my residency in Kaunas that I can easily cover 30 km a day, and that walking is the best way for me to photograph. It is just the right pace, just the right rhythm for the eyes to scan the surroundings without getting tired. Walking felt satisfying and rewarding -- or at least that is how I remember it. I planned each day carefully by comparing my uncle's map with Google maps, remembering the route by landmarks (usually a lake, a river, railway tracks -- anything that I would be able to recognise). I would stock up on chocolate bars and water, get my hiking boots on, and just walk. I talked a lot, mostly to myself, and sometimes to my grandfather. The wilderness is perfect for that kind of experience.

Posted by orrinj at 3:52 PM


The Battle Over the Sea-Monkey Fortune : A former 1960s bondage-film actress is waging legal combat with a toy company for ownership of her husband's mail-order aquatic-pet empire. (JACK HITTAPRIL 15, 2016, NY Times Magazine)

As it happened, Signorelli von Braunhut was visiting Long Island that very afternoon to see her sister. We met at Timmons's office and then walked down to the Aegean Cafe ("Steaks Seafood Pasta") on Main Street for a luncheon. Von Braunhut is a very good looking woman whose age I was just too chicken to ask. But if she was 18, as she told me, when she started her film career in 1966, then she's about 70 now. She is trim and decades-younger looking in skintight jeans and an equally engaged V-neck top, reminiscent of the ageless Sophia Loren or Raquel Welch. She has an artful muss of dark hair framing a smile that's slow to form but amplified by flirtatious eyes that sparkled at the end of each sentence.

Over a salad, she said she was eager for me to understand the inventive genius of her husband, Harold. Beginning in the 1950s and '60s, he took out patents on 196 different inventions, gadgets and toys. That whole last page of zany novelties found in comic books for years was the domain of Harold von Braunhut. He also raced motorcycles under the name the Green Hornet. He was a sometime television producer and the agent for one of those guys who high-dived into a wading pool with 12 inches of water. He was a magician who worked under the name the Great Telepo. She said he also invented the Direct-a-Mat -- a device into which you punched your destination in New York City, and the machine told you the fastest subway route -- half a century before Google Maps.

Sea-Monkeys were von Braunhut's most lucrative toy (and still are: In 2006, according to the filings in this lawsuit, sales were $3.4 million). Part of what made Sea-Monkeys successful was a scientific breakthrough Harold von Braunhut claimed he achieved in the early years. In 1960, after observing the success of Uncle Milton's Ant Farm, von Braunhut first started shipping Instant Life -- simple brine shrimp that could travel in their natural state of suspended animation. This was the era when a good idea with smart marketing was the dream: D.F. Duncan's yo-yo, George Parker's Monopoly game, Ruth Handler's Barbie. Around the same time, the big-time toy company of the day, Wham-O, started selling a similar product called Instant Fish, which was an immediate dud.

"They didn't work because the formula wasn't thought through properly," Signorelli von Braunhut said. Wham-O's product was actually African killifish, which were supposed to come back to life when rehydrated. But they didn't. "So it really hurt sales for Harold, too."

Wham-O's 1960 failure led von Braunhut to reintroduce his creation with new science and a new concept. He worked with a marine biologist named Anthony D'Agostino, and using a process he flamboyantly called superhomeogenation, they created a hybrid brine shrimp that could more easily survive the United States Postal Service and be more likely to flourish after reanimation. They worked with the brine-shrimp species artemia salina, and because they made their breakthrough at Montauk's NYOSL, the New York Ocean Science Laboratory; they called their new hybrid artemia "nyos." (I contacted D'Agostino at his home, but his wife said he was seriously ill and couldn't come to the phone.)

According to Richard Pell, who maintains an aquarium of Sea-Monkeys at the Center for PostNatural History in Pittsburgh (alongside displays about spider-silk-producing goats and other attractions), "They were selectively bred in the early '70s so that they would have this extra long dormant cycle in their egg state, and they were able to increase that yield so that you get that satisfying swarm." Pell admits he's worried these days. "The new ones come from China," he said, "and they are technically not Sea-Monkeys because they don't come from that original culture developed by Harold and Dr. D'Agostino." 

Over coffee, Signorelli von Braunhut talked about this formula for altering the shrimp as one of her husband's greatest scientific breakthroughs, his greatest invention. Timmons himself jumped in to add that Harold's genius was with "the science to get them to live for a prolonged period of time." She agreed and said, "Yes, he went through tremendous efforts to make sure that they -- should I elaborate on that?" and then Timmons said, abruptly, no. Whenever the science came up, in fact, Timmons shooed me away.

Signorelli von Braunhut met her husband in the late 1960s, when she happened to be in the audience for a taping of a television program he was producing for the magician Joseph Dunninger. "Harold was such an exciting person," Signorelli von Braunhut said, explaining why she set her movie career aside. "Show business was kind of a tough thing, and I am not into all that myself. I liked being around Harold and the Sea-Monkeys." So she went to work for him, and later they married.

April 17, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 7:20 PM


Singapore PM due Monday on historic visit to Israel (TIMES OF ISRAEL. April 17, 2016)

Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will arrive in Israel Monday for the first-ever official visit by a Singaporean head of state.

Lee will be accompanied by a 60-member delegation, including his foreign minister and water resources minister, the Government Press Office said in an email.

Posted by orrinj at 5:24 PM


More Americans Have Had Venereal Diseases Than View Trump Favorably, Poll Shows (Eric Owens, 04/15/2016, Daily Caller)

A poll released on Thursday shows that Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump boasts a nationwide personal popularity rating of 31 percent.

By way of comparison, recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that just over 34 percent of America's 323.4 million residents have or once had a sexually-transmitted disease.

Posted by orrinj at 8:31 AM


Castro, 84, says Cuba's leaders are too old, proposes limits (Frank Jack Daniel, 4/17/16, Reuters)

Future top leaders of Cuba's Communist party should retire at 70 to let in younger blood, President Raul Castro said on Saturday, suggesting older members of the party hoping for promotion to the top table could play with their grandchildren instead.

Cuba's current leaders include several septagenarian or octogenarian veterans of Fidel Castro's 1959 revolution. There is a growing urgency for them to make succession plans to keep the party alive once they are gone.

Raul Castro himself is 84 and after his planned retirement from government in two years time the country is likely to be led by somebody with a different surname for the first time since his brother overthrew a pro-U.S. government nearly 60 years ago. [...]

Before the congress, the current party leadership faced some discontent among younger members critical of the slow delivery on promised economic reforms in the past five years and a lack of transparency.

Posted by orrinj at 8:22 AM


Nail polish and mascara: beauty brands eye up Iran (HADEEL AL SAYEGH AND BOZORGMEHR SHARAFEDIN, 4/17/16, Reuters)

Despite -- or perhaps partly because of -- strict Islamic dress codes, cosmetics sales in Iran are among the highest in the Middle East.

Women are required to wear modest clothes and headscarves, but their faces and hands are not covered, and many express their individuality with lipstick, mascara and nail polish in styles that would seem elaborate by Western standards.

With most international economic sanctions now lifted after a nuclear agreement with world powers that took effect this year, Fattahi-Dasmal thinks it is time to bring in a high-end international brand.

Her chain of nail salons, N.Bar, already has a customer base among the thousands of well-off young Iranians who holiday in nearby Dubai, where they can sunbathe, shop and dress with relative freedom.

"For Iranian women it's a sought-after brand," Fattahi-Dansal, an Iranian-born Emirati, said in an interview. "There have been a lot of counterfeit products in Iran. They are extremely hungry for anything that is real, genuine and imported from the West."

Posted by orrinj at 8:06 AM


Trump's vile New York values: How The Donald represents the worst of a great city (GARRY KASPAROV, 4/17/16,  NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

[T]he New York values Trump represents are the very worst kind. He exemplifies the seamy side of New York City - the Ponzi schemers and the Brooklyn Bridge sellers, the gangster traders like Bernie Madoff and the celebrity gangsters like John Gotti -- not the hard work and sacrifice that built New York and America.

Born into millions, Trump wants us to believe we can follow in his footsteps if only we buy his book, go to his classes and, yes, vote for him. He stands for fake values and fake value, debt instead of cash, appearance over substance, gold paint instead of the real thing. Soon after that showy scene, the Plaza became Trump's second bankruptcy. But he was already moving on to the next headline, to his next performance.

He may have business experience, but unless the United States plans on going bankrupt, it's experience we don't need.

Trump's supporters praise him for his bluntness, for "telling it like it is." It's true that his language is startlingly vulgar -- one of several traits he shares with his mutual admirer, Russian dictator Vladimir Putin -- and it's easy to find this refreshing after years of politically correct jargon from career politicians.

But what is the point of clear phrasing when the thoughts the words represent make no sense at all? What does "telling it like it is" mean when the meaning of "it" changes all the time? The most New York habit I can imagine is to tell someone exactly what you think. Trump tells people what they want to hear, a practice we already get far too much of from Washington.

Posted by orrinj at 7:56 AM


Free trade has won: adapt or die is the only option left to us : Protectionists from all shades of the political spectrum are living in a past that can never be recreated (Miriam Gonzáles, 16 April 2016, The Guardian)

In the protectionist camp, there is now a wide range of political parties from the extreme left to the extreme right: from Syriza to Ukip, from the Front National to Podemos. The common element for all these parties is that they dream of returning to a time when "we were in control"; when we could easily open or close our borders; when the world was manageable and small and we did not have to compromise. That is why they want national rules rather than international ones; and that is also why ultimately most of them despise the EU, because it is based not on direct control but on compromise.

The problem with that notion is that such a cosy world does not exist any more. The new generations expect to talk, travel and trade with each other all over the world, no matter where they are. My children, for example, know more about startup products released for crowdfunding around the world than about what is sold in shops in our high street; they respond to fashions that are created thousands of miles away; and they expect products to reach them almost instantaneously, no matter where they are made.

Fluidity, speed, seamlessness and complexity define the 21st century. Fighting those trends makes sense only if you are of such an age and means that you can afford the luxury of whingeing about the present and dreaming nostalgically about the past, but if you are still trying to make your way in life, you have to embrace change and adapt.

Companies are rightly responding as quickly as possible to those new demands and, as a result, we are witnessing a level of international outsourcing that we could never have imagined. "Made in" labels mean little nowadays: companies based in the west often have their production plants elsewhere and use components sourced from third countries; and are financed by investors in yet other countries. If that were not complex enough, when countries impose trade barriers and erect controls, companies simply move overnight. Regulators and governments often do not stand a chance.

Of course, none of the Trumpians or Sandersites would ever do the jobs that have fled.  They're beneath us.
Posted by orrinj at 7:40 AM


In 2015, the US economy was more than twice as energy efficient ('green') as in 1970 when Earth Day started (Mark J. Perry, 4/16/16, AEI)

The EIA released new energy data recently showing that the US had the most energy-efficient economy in history last year, based on the amount of energy expended to produce each real dollar of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). In 2015, it required only 5,970 BTUs of energy (petroleum, natural gas, coal, nuclear and renewables) to produce each real dollar of GDP, which was the lowest amount of energy required to produce a dollar of real GDP in US history (see chart above).

Here's another way to understand America's most energy-efficient economy in history: The US produced $16.4 trillion of real GDP last year (in 2009 dollars), which was a 2.4% increase over 2014 and the largest annual amount of GDP in US history. Compared to 2000 when real GDP was only $12.6 trillion (in 2009 dollars), the US economy was 30% larger last year than 15 years ago, even though 1.2% less total energy was required in 2015 than in 2000 (98.82 vs. 97.65 quadrillion BTUs) to produce $3.8 trillion more real output. That would be like adding an economy about the size of Germany's to the US, but without requiring any additional energy to produce 30% more output! 

April 16, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 7:22 PM


Study: Hillary Clinton, not Donald Trump, gets the most negative media coverage (Jeff Stein, April 15, 2016, Vox)

The biggest news outlets have published more negative stories about Hillary Clinton than any other presidential candidate -- including Donald Trump -- since January 2015, according to a new analysis of hundreds of thousands of online stories published since last year.

Clinton has not only been hammered by the most negative coverage but the media also wrote the smallest proportion of positive stories about her, reports Crimson Hexagon, a social media software analytics company based out of Boston.

But still crushes Trump in November.  It's Kasich for the win.
Posted by orrinj at 6:13 PM

60-40 NATION:

Americans' views of immigrants marked by widening partisan, generational divides (BRADLEY JONES, 4/15/16, Pew Research)

For more than 20 years, Pew Research Center has been asking whether immigrants in the U.S. "strengthen our country because of their hard work and talents," or whether they "are a burden on our country because they take our jobs, housing and health care."

In that time period, opinions about immigrants have shifted dramatically. In our latest national political survey, released in March, 59% of the public say immigrants strengthen the country, while 33% describe them as a burden.

You can't win running on hate in America.

Posted by orrinj at 1:06 PM


Should we bite the bullet and all post our tax returns online? (Patrick Collinson, 16 April 2016, The Guardian)

[T]hese same arguments were used when we were first allowed to see sold house price data. It would be nothing less than a "snoopers charter", argued some, with nosy curtain-twitchers checking out the silly price the neighbours paid for that dump next door.

Today, hardly anybody thinks it's intrusive that sold house prices are published all over the internet, except perhaps Tony Blair and family, when we learn they have hoovered up their zillionth buy-to-let property.

If we took the plunge and opened up HM Revenue & Customs to scrutiny, might we get over our ourselves and see the benefit from public disclosure?

In Norway, no one can disguise their earnings, with every tax return made available to anyone in the country to inspect. It's not just a matter of the prime minister grudgingly forced into disclosing. Workers can see what their colleagues are earning, and neighbours can snoop on how much the people next door are making - all legally, and all available online.

Posted by orrinj at 12:48 PM


Iran defense chief said eyeing arms deal with Moscow (TIMES OF ISRAEL, April 16, 2016)

Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan is planning to raise the purchase of warplanes and tanks during an upcoming meeting with his Russian counterpart in Moscow, Iran's semi-official news agency Fars reported Friday, citing Russian media. [...]

According to the reports, the Islamic Republic is eyeing the Su-30SM jet, a "two-seat supermaneuverable fighter aircraft," which is suitable "for all-weather, air-to-air and air-to-surface deep interdiction missions," as well as the advanced T-90 tank.

Posted by orrinj at 9:16 AM


Will mobile health apps make GPs redundant? (Kim Thomas, 16 April 2016, The Guardian)

Your.MD is one of a staggering 165,000 health apps available through our mobile phones, though most offer simpler advice on diet and fitness. GP and Guardian columnist Ann Robinson says fitness apps "provide useful nudges to behaviour". But, she adds: "We still haven't developed an app that gets the person who's completely allergic to doing any form of exercise off the couch in the first place."

The more useful apps, Robinson believes, are the ones that monitor complex conditions such as diabetes or the heart condition atrial fibrillation. In a trial at Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust, for example, patients are monitoring their oxygen levels and blood pressure and sending in results by mobile phone, where their heart specialist can see it. Apps such as these are not going to replace doctors, says Robinson, but "they will augment the diagnostic process and allow us to capture relatively rare events which have medical significance".

But some apps hold out the promise of bypassing the NHS altogether. Like Your.MD, Babylon Health is planning to launch an AI diagnostic app. Founder Ali Parsa says AI "can play a crucial role in assisting with simpler queries to give doctors more time to focus on more complex conditions and patients who need a greater level of care".

The key to health care reform is reducing access.
Posted by orrinj at 9:13 AM


Iran will not attend Doha oil freeze talks on Sunday: sources (Reuters, 4/16/16)

Iran will not attend a meeting between OPEC and non-OPEC member countries about freezing oil output levels in Qatar on Sunday, two sources familiar with the situation told Reuters.

W really blew this opportunity.

Posted by orrinj at 9:06 AM


The final frontier: cheap space travel (Samantha Masunaga. 4/16/16, LA Times)

Coming on the heels of a couple of revolutionary rocket landings by SpaceX and Blue Origin, the 32nd Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colo., was abuzz last week with talk of a new golden age of space travel.

Amazon.com Inc. Chief Executive Jeff Bezos, who also heads private space firm Blue Origin, compared the advent of reusable rockets to the Internet and the national highway system, opening the door to an explosion of commercial space activity.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden asked his audience to chant "Mars matters" as he ticked off the benefits of flying to the Red Planet.

Underlying all these ambitious projections is a new space race -- to cut launch costs. And reusable rockets are just one part of it.

This is just another example of how radically we underestimate deflation, since the service getting cheaper did not even exist previously. Consider the question of how much it would have cost Queen Victoria to launch a satellite or send a ship to the moon..

Posted by orrinj at 9:00 AM


Turkey eyes Iran deals as Rouhani meets Erdogan (FULYA OZERKAN, April 16, 2016, Times of Israel)

 Iranian President Hassan Rouhani held talks Saturday with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is hoping to boost trade with the Islamic republic following the lifting of most international sanctions on Tehran.

Posted by orrinj at 8:02 AM


Long lines predicted at airport security checkpoints this summer because of TSA cutbacks (Hugo Martin, 4/16/16, LA Times)

The wait times at airport security checkpoints, always a source of grief for air passengers, have gotten so lengthy that airlines and airport operators are protesting and predicting gridlock during the upcoming summer travel season.

At Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, the head administrator suggested hiring private contractors to help speed the lines.

Airline officials say the delays have kept hundreds of passengers from catching their flights. They fear that the problems will only grow worse if the Transportation Security Administration doesn't hire more agents before the peak summer travel season and are advising passengers to arrive extra early for their flights.

Admittedly, it's Marathon weekend, but getting two fifty-something-year old adults and a 14-year old boy out of Logan last night was ridiculous.  Nothing quite says welcome to America like reducing you to a piece of meat for an hour.  On the Freedom/Security scale we've tipped way too far to one side.  If there were any evidence that it was stopping terriorists the process might be tolerable--and the government's use of it to try and protect us understandable--but it really just exists to provide psychological comfort, not physical safety.

April 15, 2016

Posted by Glenn Dryfoos at 6:07 AM


Jackie Robinson Day

Although Major League Baseball's Opening Day now falls about 2 weeks earlier than it did back in the days of no West Coast teams and the 154-game schedule, for me it means that baseball now has 2 Opening Days - one on the first day of the regular season and another on April 15, the anniversary of Jackie Robinson's 1947 debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers.  Jackie Robinson Day is wonderfully commemorated each year throughout MLB by having every player and umpire wear Jackie's number 42.  Ken Burns...who shares my fascination with jazz and baseball...has a new documentary about Jackie that premiered on PBS this week.  Robinson's skill and daring as a ballplayer are celebrated in Buddy Johnson's 1949 novelty "Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball?"  Here are two versions, the first by Count Basie and his Orchestra, with the vocal by the great blues shouter, Jimmy Rushing.  The second features Natalie Cole with a big band led by John Clayton. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:56 AM



Solid evidence in the form of ancient dung microbes, has led Microbiologists to believe that the crossing occurred in the Col de la Traversette pass between France and Italy. The findings, published this week in the journal Archaeometry, may have finally settled this long standing puzzle of history.

One of the astonishing things about Hannibal's crossing of the Alps was that he was able to successfully move such a tremendous number of men and animals over such treacherous, unforgiving terrain. Conditions were likely terrible, and Inadequate clothing coupled with severe weather probably made it a harrowing experience for the average soldier. His army consisted of some 30,000 soldiers, 15,000 horses and at least 37 elephants.

That's right: He guided war elephants from the sunbaked continent of Africa through the snow covered mountains of France and Italy. Imagine the Romans' terror and disbelief at seeing elephants coming down from the mountains, let alone a full army.

Moving that many living things is like moving a city. And it most certainly didn't happen in a day. So like all living things, the soldiers and beasts of war all had to bed down at night, forage for food, and relieve themselves. Now 45,000 mammals--and big ones at that--all loosening their bowels in the same area is going to create a substantial amount of feces. And in this case, it was substantial enough for scientists to find signs of it over 2,000 years later.

Microbiologists Bill Mahaney of York University Toronto and Chris Allen of Queens University Belfast, led an international team of researchers who took to the soil of the Col de la Traversette pass. There, among other faecal biomarkers, they found high amounts of Clostridia, a microbial group that makes up 70 percent of all the microbes present in horse manure. These manure loving microbes were dated to precisely the same time of Hannibal's invasion of Rome, approximately 2,168 years ago. The microbes "Are very stable in soil--surviving for thousands of years," said Allen in a statement.

What's more, the "mass animal deposition" as the researchers are calling it, "lies within a churned-up mass from a 1-metre thick alluvial mire, produced by the constant movement of thousands of animals and humans," said Allen.
In other words, churned up soil doesn't happen naturally 3000 meters up in those frosty environs. It lays in very uniform layers. Together, the mixed up soil, and faecal microbes residing in the Col de la Traversette Pass provide the most compelling evidence yet for one of history's most puzzling events.

Posted by orrinj at 5:19 AM


What Are the Keys to Happiness? Lessons from a 75-Year-Long Harvard Study (Open Culture, April 5th, 2016)

According to the decades-long study, you won't get health and happiness from wealth and fame (nor hard work), the mirages that many Americans chase after. Instead they come from something a little more obtainable, if you work at it--good, strong relationships with family, friends, colleagues, and folks in your community. These relationships, the study finds, protect us mentally and physically. They increase our happiness and extend our lives, whereas, conversely, loneliness and corrosive relationships put us into decline sooner than we'd like. The key takeaway here: good relationships are the foundation on which we build the good life. Start putting that into practice today.

Posted by orrinj at 5:16 AM


Ancient Rome's Donald Trump (Philip Freeman, 4/05/16, Project Syndicate)

On occasion, disgruntled farmers, tavern owners, and donkey drivers would rise up and press their rulers for debt relief and a real voice in government, but these revolts were put down quickly with promises of better times ahead and by hiring a few off-duty gladiators to rough up the chief troublemakers. In the late second century BC, the aristocratic Gracchi brothers tried to bring about a political revolution from within, only to be killed by the conservative nobility.

The man who ultimately brought down the system was a wealthy and ambitious nobleman named Publius Clodius Pulcher, a populist demagogue who refused to play by the rules. Clodius had always been eccentric and unpredictable in ways that both shocked and amused the Roman populace. As a young man, he had incited a mutiny among his brother-in-law's troops. Then, when pirates captured him, he took deep offense at the small ransom they accepted for his release.

Nothing was sacred to Clodius. The more audacious his behavior, the more the public loved him for it. In Rome, for example, Clodius, a noted ladies' man, committed sacrilege by dressing up as a woman and infiltrating the female-only religious festival of the goddess Bona Dea, with the aim of seducing Pompeia, Julius Caesar's wife. The scandal led Caesar to divorce Pompeia, and gave rise to the famous quip that Caesar's wife needed to be beyond suspicion.

After escaping punishment by employing a large legal team and doling out generous bribes, Clodius entered politics in an effort to secure the respect of the ruling class, which was quick to dismiss him as a buffoon. What Clodius's critics failed to realize was that he was smart, determined, and very much in touch with the frustrations of the common people.

After the elite rebuffed him, Clodius began breaking every rule in his quest for power. He gave up his standing as a nobleman and officially joined the plebs, positioning himself as the leader of the angry Roman working classes. Using his natural charm, fiery rhetoric, and keen sense of how to play establishment politicians against each other, he rammed through legislation establishing the first regular handout of free grain in Western history. This provided him with a huge following among the common people, especially those who had lost their jobs in recent economic upheavals. He became the king of the Roman streets and unleashed a populist uprising unlike anything the Republic had ever seen.

Rome's ruling classes had no idea how to control Clodius, whom they continued to despise. If the Republic were going to be destroyed, the famous orator and establishment politician Cicero lamented, at least let it fall by the hand of a real man.

Posted by orrinj at 4:58 AM


The Mighty and the Almighty: George W. Bush : George W Bush and The Armies of Compassion (Hannah Malcolm, 4th April 2016, Theos)

The Faith Based Initiative

It is compassionate to actively help our citizens in need. It is conservative to insist on accountability and results.[15]

Bush's conversion from wayward alcohol abuser to born again teetotaler also appears to have heavily influenced his Faith Based Initiative programme, a scheme designed to increase the share of federal social welfare resources for religious groups, and protect and revitalize the religious identity of those groups.[16] Here was Bush's 'compassionate conservatism' at work - a modus operandi he promised in his inaugural address ("compassion is the work of a nation, not just a government. And some needs and hurts are so deep they will only respond to a mentor's touch or a pastor's prayer")[17] and again emphasised at his first National Prayer Breakfast as president: "we want to encourage the inspired, to help the helper... my administration will put the federal government squarely on the side of America's armies of compassion."[18]

These "armies of compassion" had one particular weapon to offer: the ability to "change hearts". Having reduced the solutions of government social projects and economic growth to "materialism" in his earlier autobiographical manifesto,[19] the Faith Based Initiative was to "help all in their work to change hearts while keeping a commitment to pluralism", and Bush's administration would "look first to faith-based programmes and community groups, which has proven their power to change and save lives."[20]

The 'compassionate conservatism' of Bush's Faith Based Initiative has provoked considerable discussion as to the religious basis on which it might rest. Lew Daly points to the Dutch Calvinist theory of sphere sovereignty and the Catholic principle of subsidiarity, whereby the state is limited and the church extended - as Abraham Kuyper saw it, family, church, charities and confessional schools were the "natural community" acting as intermediary structures between individual and state.[21] This is certainly reflected in remarks made at Bush's second inaugural address:

Self-government relies, in the end, on the governing of the self. That edifice of character is built in families, supported by communities with standards, and sustained in our national life by the truths of Sinai, the Sermon on the Mount, the words of the Koran, and the varied faiths of our people.[22]

Or, as he wrote elsewhere, "the government... can encourage people and communities to help themselves and one another. The truest kind of compassion is to help citizens build better lives of their own."[23] Bush the "self-help Methodist"[24] was implementing his plan to "close the gap of hope"[25] on American soil. [...]

Although it is difficult to find areas of Bush's political life which were not touched by religious sentiment or appeals to Christian moral frameworks, debates over the sanctity of life and marriage are some of the more (in)famous. Opposed to same-sex marriage, his 2004 reelection campaign called for an amendment to the U.S. constitution which would ban same-sex marriage but allow for civil unions on a state level. However, he also drew criticism from certain evangelical corners for not stating his position strongly enough, or not using "anti-gay" language. His 2004 State of the Union address made clear that "the same moral tradition that defines marriage also teaches that each individual has dignity and value in God's sight;"[56] a rather more eloquent version of his statement in the leaked Doug Wead tapes that he "would not kick gays because (he was) a sinner".[57]

Moral statements came rather more easily on the topic of sanctity of life, most clearly reflected in his firm veto of stem cell research. His language on the issue was clear: it was a "violation" of "our morals", a "destruction" of "human life", and crossed the "ethical" and "moral" line of the "sanctity of human life".[58]

While his autobiography is careful to present a 'personal' perspective on abortion ("the abortion issue is difficult, sensitive, and personal. My faith and conscience led me to conclude that human life is sacred")[59] his first day in office was marked by the Mexico City Policy, preventing nongovernmental organisations from using government funds for abortion procedures or promotion. He also successfully passed the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act (2002) and the Partial Birth Abortion Ban (2003), a position which emerged from his conviction that "even the most vulnerable member of the human family is a child of God".[60] In his words, he was acting to protect a "culture of life", a phrase coined by John Paul II and adopted by the Republican Party's official platform in 2004.

Posted by orrinj at 4:34 AM


Lawrence of Arabia wouldn't have been surprised by the rise of Isis (Giles Fraser,  8 April 2016, The Guardian)

 Lawrence, with backing from the British government, had promised the Arabs their own autonomous state on collapse of the Ottoman empire. This is why the Arabs were fighting alongside the Brits. But what Lawrence didn't know - at first at least - was that back in 1916 a secret deal had been struck between the French and the British to carve up the Middle East in a way that totally ignored the wishes of the indigenous Arabs.

The Sykes-Picot agreement, creating long, diagonal straight lines across the desert, gave Syria and Lebanon to the administrative control of the French, and Palestine, Jordan, the Gulf and Baghdad to the British. As news of this deal leaked out to Lawrence, he had to wrestle with whether to tell his Arab army that they had been betrayed by British diplomats and that they would never have the state they were giving their lives for. Perhaps he never appreciated the whole truth about the Sykes-Picot deal until it was published by this newspaper in November 1917. But he knew enough to realise he was misleading his Arab friends. "I had to join the conspiracy and assure the men of their reward. Better we win and break our word than lose," as he put it in The Seven Pillars of Wisdom.

Lawrence refused his knighthood and other medals in protest at the way in which the Arabs had been double-crossed by the British. He even tried to kill himself. "I have decided to go off to Damascus, hoping to get killed on the way," he wrote to his station chief in Cairo. "We are calling them to fight for us on a lie, and I can't stand it."

Posted by orrinj at 4:20 AM


The Deflation Bogeyman (Daniel Gros, 4/08/16, Project Syndicate)

[C]ontrary to the impression created by media reports, the Japanese economy is far from moribund. Unemployment has virtually disappeared; the employment rate continues to reach new highs; and disposable income per capita is rising steadily. In fact, even during Japan's so-called "lost decades," per capita income grew by as much as it did in the United States and Europe, and the employment rate rose, suggesting that deflation may not be quite as nefarious as central bankers seem to believe.

In the US and Europe, there is also little sign of an economic calamity resulting from central banks' failure to reach their inflation targets. Growth remains solid, if not spectacular, and employment is rising. [...]

Moreover, nominal GDP growth exceeds the long-term interest rate. When, as is usually the case, the long-term interest rate is higher than the GDP growth rate, the wealthy may accumulate wealth faster than the rest of the economy - a point made by the economist Thomas Piketty. But today, nominal GDP growth far exceeds average long-term interest rates (which, in some countries, include risk premia of up to 100 basis points) - even in the eurozone, where nominal GDP growth is expected to reach about 3% this year. This means that financing conditions are as favorable as they were at the peak of the credit boom in 2007, and much better than they have been at any other point in the last 20 years.

...that productivity increases are deflationary.  We could only bring inflation back by reversing democratization, immigration, technology and trade.

Posted by orrinj at 4:06 AM


Why the South Lost the Civil War  (Carl Zebrowski, 8/19/99, History Net)


Former editor of Civil War Times Illustrated and author of more than thirty books about the war, including the recent A Government of Our Own: The Making of the Confederacy.

Why did the South lose? When the question is asked that way, it kind of presupposes that the South lost the war all by itself and that it really could have won it. One answer is that the North won it. The South lost because the North outmanned and outclassed it at almost every point, militarily.

Despite the long-held notion that the South had all of the better generals, it really had only one good army commander and that was Lee. The rest were second-raters, at best. The North, on the other hand, had the good fortune of bringing along and nurturing people like Grant, William T. Sherman, Philip Sheridan, George H. Thomas, and others.

The South was way outclassed industrially. There was probably never any chance of it winning without European recognition and military aid. And we can now see in retrospect what some, like Jefferson Davis, even saw at the time, which was that there was never any real hope of Europe intervening. It just never was in England or France's interests to get involved in a North American war that would inevitably have wound up doing great damage, especially to England's maritime trade.

Industrially the South couldn't keep up in output and in manpower. By the end of the war, the South had, more or less, plenty of weaponry still, but it just didn't have enough men to use the guns.

I don't agree with the theories that say the South lost because it lost its will to win. There's nothing more willful or stubborn than a groundhog, but whenever one of them runs into a Ford pickup on the highway, it's the groundhog that always loses, no matter how much willpower it has.

We can't fault the Southerners for thinking at the time that they could win when we can see in retrospect that there probably never was a time when they could have. The most important things they couldn't see was the determination of Abraham Lincoln to win, and the incredible staying power of the people of the North, who stuck by Lincoln and stuck by the war in spite of the first two years of almost unrelenting defeat. The only way the South could have won would have been for Lincoln to decide to lose. As long as Lincoln was determined to prosecute the war and as long as the North was behind him, inevitably superior manpower and resources just had to win out. [...]


Superior leadership is a possible explanation for Union victory. Abraham Lincoln was probably a better war president than Jefferson Davis and certainly offered a better explanation to his own people of what they were fighting for than Davis was able to offer. By the latter half of the war, Northern military leadership had evolved a coherent strategy for victory which involved the destruction of Confederate armies but went beyond that to the destruction of Confederate resources to wage war, including the resource of slavery, the South's labor power. By the time Grant had become general-in-chief and Sherman his chief subordinate and Sheridan one of his hardest-hitting field commanders, the North had evolved a strategy that in the end completely destroyed the Confederacy's ability to wage war. And that combination of strategic leadership-both at the political level with Lincoln and the military level with Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan-is what in the end explains Northern victory.

Posted by orrinj at 3:43 AM


India, U.S. reach preliminary agreement on sharing military logistics (Yeganeh Torbati and Tommy Wilkes, 4/12/15, Reuters)

India and the United States have agreed in principle to share military logistics, the countries' defense ministers said on Tuesday, as both sides seek to counter the growing maritime assertiveness of China.

Posted by orrinj at 2:58 AM


California's economy expected to outpace that of U.S. this year (Natalie Kitroeff, LA Times)

California's economy will grow faster this year than the national economy, and unemployment will drop to 5% in early 2017, according to a new report by the UCLA Anderson Forecast.

April 14, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 6:27 PM


The Future of the North Korean Regime: A Conversation with James Church and Jennifer Lind : 38 North recently talked with author James Church, and Jennifer Lind (Assistant Professor of Government, Dartmouth College) about the future of North Korea.   (38 North, 4/06/16)

38 North: We've seen a great deal of North Korean bellicosity--missile tests, nuclear tests, and of course the Cheonan sinking. Can we make any inferences from these events about the domestic political strength of the Kim regime?

Church: Nothing that would make much sense, as far as I'm concerned. Interesting question, though, to the extent it gets things off on the wrong foot. Why is a North Korean missile test defined as "bellicosity" while one by other countries is not? Maybe the reaction to some North Korean actions tells us something about the domestic politics in, oh I don't know, say South Korea. 

Lind: True, the same actions that someone might call "bellicosity" might be seen by more sympathetic eyes as the desperate, defensive acts of a threatened state. Although a deliberate torpedoing of another country's warship, if that's indeed what happened, is clearly bellicose behavior.

When North Korea engages in these "provocations" or whatever you want to call them, North Korea analysts lately have been saying that they are intended for a domestic audience. I think this perspective is a useful contribution--people who study international security tend to highlight external, strategic motivations (such as signaling toward the ROK or the U.S.). North Korea analysts remind us that jingoistic nationalism is part of North Korea's identity and is one of the regime's tools for staying in power.

At the same time, I think people speak more confidently than their actual evidence would permit--when I hear commentators assert that "Kim did this because of succession," or "this is an act to placate the military," I wonder what this argument is based on--aside from a guess. 

Church: There is usually an explanation de jour, and analysts flock to it like small birds zeroing in on breadcrumbs scattered by an old woman from a bench in Hyde Park. These days it is "succession." A few months ago, everything was pinned on the currency redenomination.  [...]

38 North: People have speculated that the successor will be Kim's third son Kim Jong Un or perhaps Jang Song Taek as a sort of regent. How should observers feel about this? Will the personality of the successor play an important role in shaping Pyongyang's policies? 

Lind: Of course it will have some effect--everyone thinks the personality of the ruler has important effects on a country's foreign policy. The only ones who don't seem to think it matters are political scientists! - at least, judging from the literature. Because it's hard to theorize about individuals, scholars regrettably tend to neglect the influence of individual leaders.

In this particular case we don't know much about these men, and even if we did, it's hard to make reliable predictions about how they will behave. As I've written before, however, what we should do is always keep the regime's own interests in mind when we think about which foreign policies Pyongyang is likely to adopt. 

Church: "Observers" should relax and drink a beer. Over-analysis based on thin air is the bane of my existence. I think that's exactly what Professor Lind said earlier, but with more finesse than I can muster at the moment.

Lind: After the "birds in Hyde Park" gloriousness, I think you're far ahead in the finesse department. I'm just trying not to use words like "dependent variable."

Church: Please don't. It scares the horses. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:29 PM


Time Magazine Is Wrong: You Shouldn't Ever Worry About Your Share Of The US National Debt (Owen Davis, 04/14/16, IB Times)

The latest issue of Time magazine features a stark red cover with a strident warning:

"DEAR READER," it reads. "You owe $42,998.12." As it goes on to explain, "That's what every American man, woman and child would need to pay to erase the $13.9 trillion in U.S. debt." [...]

"It just seems unbelievably silly," said Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. "This has nothing to do with people's future living standards, nothing to do with the ability of the government to pay back its debts. It's basically zero information."

Net worth jumps in U.S. households (The Associated Press Mar 27, 2016)

Americans' household wealth jumped in the final three months of last year, pushed higher by rising stock prices and greater home values. That leaves many households, particularly wealthy ones, with more money to spend - a potential boost to economic growth.

The Federal Reserve said Thursday that U.S. household net worth increased 1.9 percent in the fourth quarter to $86.8 trillion, up from $85.2 trillion in the third quarter. Americans' stock and mutual fund portfolios grew $758 billion. Home values rose $458 billion.

Posted by orrinj at 4:25 PM


Erdogan urges Muslims to overcome splits, fight terror : At conference of Islamic body, Turkish president suggests multi-national police center to fight against jihadists (Stuart Williams April 14, 2016, Times of Israel)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday urged dozens of Muslim leaders gathered for a summit in Istanbul to end sectarian divisions in the Islamic world and join forces to fight terror. [...]

"I believe the greatest challenge we need to surmount is sectarianism. My religion is not that of Sunnis, of Shiites. My religion is Islam," Erdogan said in his opening speech.

"We should be uniting. Out of the conflicts, the tyranny, only the Muslims suffer," he said, adding the summit meeting could be a "turning point" for the whole Islamic world.

Erdogan lashed out at Islamic State (IS) jihadists who seized swathes of Syria and Boko Haram Islamist extremists in Nigeria as two "terrorist organizations that are serving the same evil purpose."

He said that the OIC had accepted a Turkish proposal to set up a multinational police coordination center for Islamic states to fight militants, to be based in Istanbul.

Posted by orrinj at 1:53 PM


Friendly Fire in the American Patriot Death Cult (Brendan O'Connor, 4/14/16, Gawker)

One afternoon in early January, just outside the small, north Texas town of Pottsboro, Vincent Smith shot and killed his friend, Charles Carter, who was drunk. The two were members of the American patriot movement, and they had been organizing, through Facebook, a march of gun rights evangelists on Washington. According to those who knew him, just before he was killed, Carter was expressing an interest in acquiring the makings of a bomb. The march imploded, just feet from where it began, before it ever got on the road. [...]

About three years ago, Sulser said, Carter started getting involved with a local patriot group--a branch of the Three Percenters, a paramilitary group that advocates armed resistance to gun control. [...]

(The Three Percenters group, however, is decentralized and its adherents are unpredictable. Last fall, a man affiliated with the group opened fire on a Black Lives Matter demonstration in Minneapolis, wounding five. In 2011, four self-described "militiamen" were arrested and charged with planning to purchase explosives and the biological toxin ricin in a plot to attack American citizens and government officials in Atlanta, Georgia, inspired by a book written by the Three Pecenter's founder Mike Vanderboegh, who later ridiculed their plans.)

Carter's own political beliefs were based in two foundational texts: The Bible, and the Constitution. "He believed in the law of the land--the original Constitution, not all these new laws that Obama's passing and everything else. Letting in these refugees and paying them all this money to come and live here," Sulser said. "Obama makes his own laws. Those aren't laws that you actually have to abide by. Charles didn't like those laws."

Posted by orrinj at 1:46 PM


Donald Trump is the most hated presidential candidate since David Duke (The Week, 4/14/16)

In three decades of ABC News/Washington Post presidential candidate favorability polling, only one candidate has performed worse on a national scale than Donald Trump is doing right now. That candidate is former Ku Klux Klan (KKK) grand wizard David Duke.

Americans just don't like racism much.

Posted by orrinj at 5:28 AM


Are Robots Job Creators? (MOSHE Y. VARDI, April 6, 2016, New Republic)

Ultimately the question boils down to this: are today's modern technological innovations like those of the past, which made obsolete the job of buggy maker, but created the job of automobile manufacturer? Or is there something about today that is markedly different?

Malcolm Gladwell's 2006 book The Tipping Point highlighted what he called "that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire." Can we really be confident that we are not approaching a tipping point, a phase transition--that we are not mistaking the trend of technology both destroying and creating jobs for a law that it will always continue this way?

This is not a new concern. Dating back at least as far as the Luddites of early 19th-century Britain, new technologies cause fear about the inevitable changes they bring.

It may seem easy to dismiss today's concerns as unfounded in reality. But economists Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University and Laurence Kotlikoff of Boston University argue, "What if machines are getting so smart, thanks to their microprocessor brains, that they no longer need unskilled labor to operate?" After all, they write:

Smart machines now collect our highway tolls, check us out at stores, take our blood pressure, massage our backs, give us directions, answer our phones, print our documents, transmit our messages, rock our babies, read our books, turn on our lights, shine our shoes, guard our homes, fly our planes, write our wills, teach our children, kill our enemies, and the list goes on.

There is considerable evidence that this concern may be justified. Eric Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee of MIT recently wrote:

For several decades after World War II the economic statistics we care most about all rose together here in America as if they were tightly coupled. GDP grew, and so did productivity -- our ability to get more output from each worker. At the same time, we created millions of jobs, and many of these were the kinds of jobs that allowed the average American worker, who didn't (and still doesn't) have a college degree, to enjoy a high and rising standard of living. But ... productivity growth and employment growth started to become decoupled from each other.

As the decoupling data show, the U.S. economy has been performing quite poorly for the bottom 90 percent of Americans for the past 40 years. Technology is driving productivity improvements, which grow the economy. But the rising tide is not lifting all boats, and most people are not seeing any benefit from this growth. While the U.S. economy is still creating jobs, it is not creating enough of them. The labor force participation rate, which measures the active portion of the labor force, has been dropping since the late 1990s.

While manufacturing output is at an all-time high, manufacturing employment is today lower than it was in the later 1940s.

Posted by orrinj at 5:27 AM


A Nicaraguan Soup That Puts Gazpacho to Shame (Edna Ishayik, April 07, 2016, Conde Nast)


Serves 4

6 cups whole almonds
4 cups water with ice cubes
1 garlic clove
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp sherry wine vinegar
Pinch of sea salt
3 cups watermelon, cubed and seeded
1 tbsp basil-infused oil


1. Place almonds in a food processor and blitz until you have a fine almond meal.
2. Transfer to a blender and add cold water with ice cubes.
3. Blend for two minutes until ice is completely crushed.
4. Add garlic clove, vinegar, olive oil, and sea salt and continue blending for a minute or two.
5. Taste the soup--it should be creamy. 
6. Adjust ingredients in case it may need more salt, a little more vinegar, or garlic.

To assemble:

1. Place the cubed watermelon into four soup bowls.
2. Pour the cold soup over them until mostly covered.
3. Garnish with extra virgin olive oil and basil-infused oil.
4. Serve immediately.

Posted by orrinj at 5:27 AM


Democracy and Its Exclusions: Political Identity and the Challenge of Secularism (Charles Taylor, 4/05/16, ABC : Religion and Ethics)

Modern democracy as we know it - unlike ancient democracy - is universalist. We believe that citizen rights should apply to the whole population, without exclusion on grounds of gender, property, origin and race.

But, in a paradoxical way, democracy can also generate exclusion, and regularly does. This means that our really existing democracies have to be continually vigilant, and ready to combat this thrust towards exclusion whenever it arises.

How does this tendency towards exclusion come about? It comes from another feature of democracies, both ancient and modern.

As free societies, democracies require some strong sense among the citizenry of being bonded together, of sharing a strong common allegiance. They need this in order to motivate citizens to do their duty - such as paying taxes, serving in the armed forces, coming to each other's aid and so on - without a strong coercive force from above, which would be incompatible with a free society.

Without such basic solidarity, there is no mutual trust when we deliberate - so, when we discuss the common good, are we all talking about the whole, or only some part? And there is insufficient mutual help in times of trouble.

But this common allegiance needs a definition, a sense of what we are committed to, and in modern democracies this usually has two aspects. One facet is constituted by political/moral principle - typically human rights, equality, non-discrimination, democratic forms of rule.

But there is inevitably another facet, because we are not only espousing these principles in general, but are committed to our particular historical project of realizing them: so our "patriotism" is directed towards the American Republic, or the French Republic, or the United Kingdom and so on. These historic projects are specific to each democracy, and are coloured by certain crucial founding events - such as the American or French Revolutions - but also frequently by other features of our history, language, ethnicity and the like.

Let's call this two-faceted definition of our pole of allegiance our political identity.

How, then, can democracies generate exclusion? Paradoxically and tragically, through the force of their political identities. These can turn toxic when they are used to read certain people out of the identity, and therefore brand them as not really properly citizens, or not worthy of citizenship. Democratic sentiment begins to work against democracy.

This should, indeed, be the one test potential immigrants are subjected to; their commitment to the Anglospheric political identity and rejection of all others, not least the French. By definition, anyone not supportive of the tenets of the Founding should not be a citizen.

Posted by orrinj at 5:11 AM


Posted by orrinj at 4:54 AM


The Bodyguard of Lies : Review of Why Leaders Lie, by John Mearsheimer (GERALD DWORKIN. New Rambler)

After a brief discussion of how to define lying--to which I shall return--he classifies lies into seven types--inter-state, fearmongering, strategic cover-ups, national myth-making, liberal lies, social imperialism, and ignoble cover-ups. A chapter is devoted to each of these lies explaining in more detail the nature of the lie, its intended audience, its motivations, and what outcomes are expected. In all cases the leaders who tell the lies do so because they think it is in the national interest to do so. There may be international lies which are done for selfish, or personal, reasons but Mearsheimer does not think there are many of these, and he explicitly excludes them from the scope of his explanatory theory.

My concern is with lies that leaders tell for the good of the collectivity, not for selfish purposes. Thus, when I use the term international lying, I am talking about strategic lies, not selfish lies. (11)

He concentrates on four issues about international lies: The classification of types of lies;the motives for the different types of lies; the circumstances that make each type more or less likely; and the potential costs of lying

About each of these topics he has interesting things to say. He provides us with hypotheses, gives enough historical evidence to make it plausible to test these--as opposed to other--hypotheses. And he leaves it to other scholars to test these hypotheses with more and better data.

Some of his hypotheses are the following. Leaders usually lie because they believe lying promotes the national interest--not for selfish or corrupt reasons. The most dangerous kinds of international lies are those that leaders tell their own citizens. Leaders of democratic states are more likely to lie to their citizens about controversial policies then undemocratic leaders. This last finding is interesting because, unlike many social science results, it is surprising.

Either out of naivety or cynicism I would have guessed the opposite. Mearsheimer gives a number of reasons why this finding might be true. Democratic leaders must pay more attention to public opinion because they have to win elections. They are more likely to lie to cover-up a controversial policy because they are more exposed to questioning of their actions. There is a norm that leaders should provide information for thinking about policies. This makes it harder to hide the downsides of controversial policy without lying. 

Mearsheimer says early on, "Lest I be misunderstood, I am not saying that lying is a great virtue and that more international lying is better than less. I am merely saying that lying is sometimes a useful instrument of statecraft in a dangerous world."

Only the end can determine whether a means was worthwhile.

Posted by orrinj at 4:17 AM


The Golden State Warriors Have Revolutionized Basketball : Team executives saw the 3-point line as a market inefficiency and unleashed Stephen Curry to exploit it (Ben Cohen, 4/06/16, WSJ)

[T]there is another tale to be told about the Warriors. It involves a group of executives with limited experience, led by a Silicon Valley financier, that bought a floundering franchise in 2010 and set out to fix it by raising a single question: What would happen if you built a basketball team by ignoring every orthodoxy of building a basketball team?

The process took many twists and turns, and there were times when it nearly failed. But the dominance the Warriors have displayed this season can be traced back to one of the most unusual ideas embraced by the data-loving executives: the notion that the NBA's 3-point line was a market inefficiency hiding in plain sight.

This season the Warriors have sunk 1,025 3-pointers, by far the most in NBA history. Not only has Mr. Curry taken more threes than any other player, he is making them at a rate of 45.6%, higher than the NBA average for all shots. He has shattered his own record for most 3-pointers in a season by 34%. Moreover, distance seems to have no significant effect on his accuracy. Mr. Curry is a better shooter from 30 to 40 feet than the average NBA player is from 3 to 4.

The result is a basketball style no one has yet figured out how to defeat.

"What's really interesting is sometimes in venture capital and doing startups the whole world can be wrong," said the team's primary owner, Joe Lacob, a longtime partner at Silicon Valley venture-capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. "No one really executed a game plan--a team-building architecture--around the 3-pointer."

...made easy because experts refuse to believe markets are inefficient.

Posted by orrinj at 3:52 AM


Can This EV Car Company Be The Second Coming of Tesla (David Kiley , 4/13/16, Forbes)

Farraday Future broke ground on its $1 billion electric vehicle (EV) factory in North Las Vegas today. Owned by a wealthy Chinese billionaire, interest in the venture stems from the fact that the outfit is actually starting to build a facility and wonder over whether it could become another Tesla, tantalizing a new generation of drivers who are interested in driving gas free.

It's difficult not to be interested in Farraday, despite the fact that gas prices still hover near $2 a gallon in many parts of the country. Low gas prices usually crush interest in EVs. But EVs conceived by tech visionaries like Elon Musk and Farraday's Jia Yueting, not to mention Google and Apple, seem to be in a different category. After all, Tesla just took almost 300,000 pre-orders for its forthcoming Model3 at $1,000 a throw. Conventional car companies in Detroit, Japan and Korea couldn't dream of achieving that kind of pre-launch hype for any car, let alone an EV.

Posted by orrinj at 3:40 AM


Oil falls as dark clouds appear ahead of producer meeting (Henning Gloystein, 4/13/16, Reuters)

Oil prices fell on Thursday as OPEC warned of slowing demand and Russia hinted that there might only be a loose agreement with little commitments at the upcoming exporter meeting to rein in ballooning oversupply.

Meanwhile, Goldman Sachs said that productivity gains by U.S. shale producers were keeping alive its "deflationary outlook" for oil prices as drillers manage to adjust to lower prices, and with confidence in the recent price rally fading, traders have positioned themselves for further price falls.

Posted by orrinj at 3:30 AM


Double-Digit Growth In Drug Spending Slows As Insurers Fight Back (Arlene Weintraub, 4/13/16, Forbes)

Drug spending in the U.S. hit $424.8 billion in 2015, marking a more than 12% increase from 2014, according to a new report out today from the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics. But a deeper dive into the numbers shows that the backlash from insurers--which have lobbied heavily against pricey specialty drugs to treat diseases like hepatitis C and melanoma--is starting to cut into Big Pharma's haul.

Thanks to rebates and other concessions awarded by pharma companies angling to get their new products onto insurance formularies, the net spending on drugs was $310 billion in 2015, growing only 8.5% from the previous year. And the average net price for existing brands rose just 2.8%--a significantly lower rate of growth than what was seen in previous years.

"We saw a shift in the market dynamic in 2015, with manufacturers willing to accept lower price increases than they did in the past," says Murray Aitken, senior vice president and executive director for the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics.

Posted by orrinj at 3:23 AM


Israeli Hospitals Admit Enabling Segregation Based on 'Cultural Norms' -- Deny Racism (Nathan GuttmanApril 14, 2016, Forward)

Israeli hospital officials and their American fundraising arms have forcefully rejected claims in the Israeli press that their medical facilities practice ethnic and religious segregation in their maternity wards.

But hospital administrators did describe efforts the hospitals make to accommodate requests from patients who want to room with other patients with whom they share "cultural norms."

[Jonathan Halevy, director general of Shaare Zedek,] explained, "We are regularly presented with patient requests -- most often in our maternity departments -- to be roomed with other patients who speak their same language and with similar cultural norms." The requests, he said, come from all sides, including ultra-Orthodox and secular Jews, and have to do with different perspectives of family visitations and privacy. Whenever possible, the hospital tries to accommodate these requests.

Posted by orrinj at 3:04 AM


Is Israel forming an alliance with Egypt and Saudi Arabia? : Israel estimates that strengthening Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and maintaining a dialogue with Saudi Arabia are key elements for the region's stability. (Ben Caspit Posted April 13, 2016, Al-Monitor)

Egypt's April 9 announcement of the transfer of two islands, Tiran and Sanafir, to Saudi Arabian sovereignty came as a complete surprise to many in the Middle East. The only country that was not surprised was Israel. A top-level official in Jerusalem told Al-Monitor on April 12 that Israel had been privy to the secret negotiations. Israel had given its approval to the process and did not ask to reopen the peace agreement with Egypt, even though the agreement dictates that any territorial change or transfer of Egyptian sovereignty of lands that Israel gave back to other hands constitutes a violation of the treaty.

Talks between Saudi Arabia and Egypt on the transfer of these islands have been going on for years, with Israel firmly opposing the move. The fact that the transfer has now earned Israeli support reflects the depth of the shared interests between the three sides: Cairo, Riyadh and Jerusalem -- although the Egyptians and Saudis prefer the label "Tel Aviv."

They're bound by their opposition to democracy.

April 13, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 3:38 PM


John Kasich: NATO could play a role in transmitting Judeo-Christian values (JTA, April 13, 2016)

Kasich was referring - unprompted by his interviewers - to controversy he stirred last year when he proposed a U.S. Department of Judeo-Christian values that would promote Western ideas in the same way that U.S. State Department bodies have in the past promoted U.S. culture and values.

"I mean, this is a battle between the civilized world and barbarians at the gate," he told the Daily News, which is publishing a series of interviews with presidential candidates ahead of next week's primaries in New York state. "I mentioned something ... You guys probably mocked me for it. You guys said, 'Well, he wants to create, what do you call it, a 'Jesus bureau' or whatever. I said, our Judeo-Christian values are ones of respect for women, equality for women, right to protest, civilization, all this other stuff, and that we need to engage the whole world in this."

Posted by orrinj at 6:01 AM


Taxation Without Exasperation : Raising federal revenue doesn't have to be so intrusive and economically stifling. It's time for the U.S. to start taxing consumption instead of income. (REIHAN SALAM, April 8, 2016, WSJ)

For almost two decades, Michael J. Graetz, a professor at Columbia Law School and one of the country's leading experts on tax law, has been urging Americans to adopt a saner, more sensible tax system, which he calls the Competitive Tax Plan. The time has come for us to listen.

The centerpiece of Mr. Graetz's plan is a VAT. Unlike Mr. Cruz, he insists that his VAT be as visible as possible. Every time you buy something, you would see the amount of VAT you paid listed on your receipt.[...]

But Mr. Graetz's plan is as progressive as the current code, if not slightly more so. He pulls this off in a few different ways. First, he uses revenue from the VAT to exempt the vast majority of households from income taxes outright. Unless you're earning more than $50,000 as a single person, $75,000 as a head-of-household filer or $100,000 as a married couple, you will no longer have to pay income taxes.

That means that 120 million of today's 145 million income- tax returns will no longer need to be filed. Moreover, the income taxes above those thresholds will be lower than those of today, making it much easier for all families to save, invest and build wealth. Once these higher exemptions are established, you can bet that taxpayers will eviscerate any politician who would dare suggest lowering them.

To help those further down the income scale, Mr. Graetz offers a large payroll tax break that would sharply reduce payroll taxes for all workers earning $40,000 or less and eliminate them for those earning $10,000 or less. His plan also provides families with children with child credits to ensure that they are held harmless by the VAT. Whatever your feelings about the VAT, Mr. Graetz has seen to it that his version of it won't soak the poor.

If the Competitive Tax Plan raises just as much revenue as the current code and is just as progressive, what's the big deal? For one thing, it would make the U.S. a far more attractive destination for foreign investment. Mr. Graetz's plan would allow the U.S. to lower its corporate income-tax rate to 15%. In one fell swoop, we would go from the highest corporate income-tax rate in the industrialized world to one of the lowest. The recent wave of corporate inversions would immediately come to a halt and might even start to reverse itself as foreign multinationals start deciding to set up shop in the U.S.

Far more significantly, by liberating the vast majority of Americans from the income tax, it would be much harder for Congress to micromanage the economy. Consider the mortgage-interest deduction, which allows homeowners to write off a substantial share of the cost of financing a home. What's so bad about it? For one thing, an extraordinary 73% of this benefit flows to households in the top fifth of the income distribution. Does it really make sense to give well-off homeowners a tax break that encourages them to buy more house than they would otherwise be able to afford?

The same goes for countless other targeted tax breaks. If you want the government to subsidize homeownership or higher education or medical care or who knows what else, that's fine. But we should have an open debate about it and pay for it as we would any other spending program.

Many conservatives insist that there's nothing wrong with tax subsidies like the mortgage-interest deduction because they allow taxpayers to keep their own money. But that isn't quite right. Tax subsidies allow taxpayers to keep their own money if and only if they do exactly what the federal government "nudges" them to do.

The real reason that policy makers increasingly rely on spending through the tax code rather than direct spending is that spending through the tax code is much easier to hide. You don't have to openly state that you're handing money to upper-middle-class families to do things they were going to do anyway, usually to enrich some industry or another. You can pretend that you're cutting taxes when you're actually engaging in cronyism.

But if most Americans are no longer paying income taxes, the jig will be up. The political case for special-interest tax subsidies will have been fatally undermined.

Posted by orrinj at 5:25 AM


Unwritten Constitutionalist : To understand American conservatism, read Orestes Brownson. (ROBERT EMMET MOFFIT AND RICHARD M. REINSCH II • April 4, 2016, American Conservative)

The American conservative project has always required more than just theoretical individualism and the magic of the marketplace. Too many conservatives, however, make conservatism in America a doctrine rather than a practice grounded in the country's unique political culture. They have overrelied on sources like free-market theory, the abstract principles in the Declaration of Independence, or simply the post-World War II role of the United States in attempting to maintain global hegemony for democracy.

But the conservative's task must be to forge a theory of the American constitutional order that, in the words of Brownson, "secures at once the authority of the public and the freedom of the individual--the sovereignty of the people without social despotism, and individual freedom without anarchy." And no one defends the achievements of American constitutionalism in the face of ideological assault better than Brownson. His biography itself is one of recovery from political madness. [...]

Having been "mugged by reality," he revolted against the overblown promises of "popular democracy" and the notion that the voice of the "sovereign people" was the voice of God. The people had been easily duped, he thought, by the faux populism of the Whigs. Salvation, Brownson was coming to understand, would not be found in the leveling condition of democratic equality. Over the next four years, he argued himself into conservatism in politics and religion. In rejecting socialism, which he would come to label "social despotism," he developed a new appreciation for the idea of limited government.

Yet at the same time, he refused to embrace the premises of radical individualism being powerfully expressed by the sundry radical liberals of his day. In wrestling with the problems of labor and capital, wealth and poverty, Brownson decided to reexamine and embrace an older, deeper, and richer intellectual tradition that justified life and liberty in civil society. He studied the great Western thinkers, particularly Aristotle and the Christian philosophy of Augustine and Aquinas, and he found answers in the classical tradition of natural law.

By 1844, Brownson's intellectual and religious transformation was complete. He converted to Roman Catholicism, the religion of the then-despised and poverty-stricken Irish immigrant minority. He severed his relationship with the Democratic Review, an influential journal of what was then "liberal" opinion, and started Brownson's Quarterly Review. He wrote as an uncompromising Catholic apologist, a stance that, at a time of intense anti-Catholic sentiment, weakened his popularity and damaged him professionally.

This change, though, wrought intellectual rewards. While rejecting the politics of the left-wing French philosopher Pierre Leroux (1798-1871), Brownson, inspired by Catholicism, nonetheless embraced Leroux's principle that all persons live in communion with God, man, and nature. He transformed this "life by communion" philosophy into a foundational justification for constitutional government. Brownson argued that every man is, by nature, a relational person who exists with others to work, to love, and to pray. These higher ends of man provide the principles that limit government.

Posted by orrinj at 5:13 AM


How Seneca got to sleep : Mental workouts and moral inventories (Peter Jones, 9 April 2016, Spectator)

Inevitably, the philosopher Seneca had the answer, provided by his friend Sextius. It took the form of a nightly confessional, in which he pleaded his cause before his own tribunal (once his wife had learned of his habit and respected his silence with her own). Surveying the whole of his day, retracing all his words and deeds, he tells us he concealed nothing from himself and omitted nothing, as he subjected his soul to a rigorous cross-examination: 'What bad habit have I cured today? What fault have I resisted? In what respect am I better?' He delights in the 'tranquil, deep and untroubled sleep' that ensues after his soul has duly delivered its report.

Posted by orrinj at 4:40 AM


Lessons From Japan's Experiment With Negative Rates (Mohamed A. El-Erian, 4/13/16, Forbes)

Japan's economic and financial malaise once was thought to have little relevance for other advanced economies. Respected Western economists and policy makers even argued that "Japan couldn't happen here." But developments in recent years have led to a more humble attitude that recognizes the importance of understanding Japan's experience, past and present.

Japan Is One Of The Best Performing Economies Of The Last Decade (Tim Worstall, 9/05/14, Forbes)

Here's FT's Alphaville on the point:

    Japan, meanwhile -- a country whose economic performance is often held up as a negative example to avoid, especially by US policymakers -- has consistently been one of the strongest performers in the sample, despite suffering the biggest downturn during the recession.

    Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's economic rejuvenation program may have helped sustain this track record since 2012 but Japan's impressive growth in living standards was occurring long before then.
There is, of course, no evidence that there's any downside to negative rates.  Rather, they appear to be the appropriate response to productivity driven deflation.  Indeed, the evidence suggests that the danger lies in responding to deflation with artificial positive rates.

Posted by orrinj at 4:29 AM


"People have to start thinking out eugenics in a different way" : Why is a high profile, massively funded, European 'superlab' named after Francis Crick? (Philippa Taylor, Apr 7 2016, MercatorNet)

In a time when we have public arguments about the removal of statues and plaques that commemorate people who are now regarded as racist, why has a high profile, massively funded, European "superlab" been given the name of a British scientist who was an unashamed eugenicist?

Crick's personal letters showed his belief in eugenics, even suggesting that the Nazis had simply given eugenics "a bad name", adding that: "I think it is time something is done to make it respectable again" (letter to biochemist Dr John T Edsall on June 10, 1971).

Crick famously threatened to leave a scientific group after researchers protested against a racist research proposal that posited finding evidence for supposed differences in the IQ of black and white people. Crick actually agreed there were racial IQ differences and suggested these were as a result of genetics.

He wrote in another letter to Edsall and six other members of the American National Academy of Sciences in February 1971 that:

    "...In brief I think it likely that more than half the difference between the average IQ of American whites and Negroes is due to genetic reasons, and will not be eliminated by any foreseeable change in the environment. Moreover I think the social consequences of this are likely to be rather serious unless steps are taken to recognize the situation..."

This was years after he aired his views to Lord Snow. When Lord Snow asked him about a BBC programme, Crick wrote on April 17 1969:

    "As far as I remember I said that the biological evidence was that all men were not created equal, and it would not only be difficult to try to do this, but biologically undesirable. As an a[s]ide I said that the evidence for the equality of different races did not really exist. In fact, what little evidence there was suggested racial differences." (emphasis in original).

Crick even went so far as to advocate bribery and sterilisation of certain groups of people!

His 1970 letter to Dr B. Davis at Harvard Medical School to offer financial incentives to families to separate twins at birth for research said that people who were "poorly genetically endowed" should be sterilised:

    "...My other suggestion is in an attempt to solve the problem of irresponsible people and especially those who are poorly endowed genetically having large numbers of unnecessary children. Because of their irresponsibility, it seems to me that for them, sterilization is the only answer and I would do this by bribery. It would probably pay society to offer such individuals something like £l,000 down and a pension of £5 a week over the age of 60. As you probably know, the bribe in India is a transistor radio and apparently there are plenty of takers."
Is this relevant now?

"Eugenics" is a compound of two Greek words meaning good and genes. Eugenics is usually viewed as a historical phenomenon, involving coercive, state sponsored, reproductive control.

What appals true eugenicists is that the whole business of human reproduction is out of rational control and is left to chance. After saying the Nazis had given it a bad name, Crick said in one letter that: "people have to start thinking out eugenics in a different way." In that respect, he was right. Eugenics is now thought out differently.

Armed with new genetic technologies, a new eugenic enthusiasm has emerged. The new eugenics is more laissez-faire, but is one where it is irresponsible to refuse to undergo prenatal tests, where every child has the "right" to a healthy genetic endowment and where we improve humans by deliberately picking and choosing their inherited traits.

This brings us back to the Francis Crick Institute.

The HFEA's controversial decision to grant approval to the Francis Crick Institute to conduct germline editing on human embryos using the technique Crispr-Cas 9 has been covered by us here.

However some bioethics experts and groups have warned that germline research now being carried out at the Crick Institute could be used for eugenic purposes. Under a headline: "Eugenics is inevitable because parents will always want to 'enhance' their children", a group of 150 British scientists said:

    "Permitting germline intervention for any intended purpose would open the door to an era of high-tech consumer eugenics in which affluent parents seek to choose socially preferred qualities for their children ... We must not engineer the genes we pass on to our descendants."

Even Professor Lovell Badge, a supporter of germline research, recently warned in The Telegraph:

    "...You can quite easily imagine that if one (a rogue clinic) were to apply these techniques to germline editing the place where it's going to happen is going to be associated in some way with IVF clinics...You can quite easily imagine the combination of the ego of the person running the thing and someone who wants treatment and is saying 'I will slip you $50,000' (£35,867) or whatever to do this. And that scares me."

In highlighting this, we are not advocating removal of either the Rhodes statue nor the Institute, but we want to challenge this high profile celebration of a eugenicist, and to warn that current research carried out in the same place may end up with exactly the same highly objectionable (indeed, harmful) purposes that Francis Crick had.

Progressives and Eugenics: The Case of Justice Brandeis : Understanding the progressive movement's ugly record.  (Damon Root|Apr. 12, 2016, Reason)

Perhaps the most glaring example of this phenomenon is eugenics, a notorious branch of pseudo-science that was championed by most leading progressive politicians and activists and ultimately given the stamp of legal approval by progressive judicial hero Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. Writing for the majority in the 1927 Supreme Court case of Buck v. Bell, Justice Holmes upheld the state of Virginia's efforts to forcibly sterilize a young woman who had been raped and impregnated by the nephew of her foster mother and sent to a home for the "socially inadequate" by her foster parents. "We have seen more than once that the public welfare may call upon the best citizens for their lives," Holmes wrote (likely alluding to his own military service in the Civil War). "It would be strange if it could not call upon those who already sap the strength of the State for these lesser sacrifices." The forced sterilization of Carrie Buck went forward.

Credit: Library of CongressCredit: Library of CongressWriting recently in The New York Times, David Oshinsky reviews Leonard's Illiberal Reformers and confronts the ugly legacy of the progressive movement. In one notable passage from that review, Oshinsky puzzles over the fact that Justice Louis Brandeis, a progressive luminary best remembered today for his legal advocacy on behalf of privacy and "the right to be let alone," also signed on to Holmes' notorious pro-eugenics decision. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:23 AM


Four ways Jews and Arabs live apart in Israeli society  (Ben Sales April 13, 2016, Times of Irael)

Bezalel Smotrich, perhaps the most right-wing member of the current Knesset, caused a storm when he endorsed the idea that Arabs and Jew should be segregated in Israel's maternity rooms.

Smotrich was responding to a report on the Israel Broadcast Authority that several hospitals practice de facto segregation of maternity rooms -- placing Jews with Jews and Arabs with Arabs. Such segregation is prohibited by law.

"There are mental gaps, and it's more comfortable for both sides to be with themselves," Smotrich, a member of the religious Zionist Jewish Home party, tweeted on April 5. "It's really not racism."

Posted by orrinj at 4:19 AM


Russian fury at Swedes over occupation series (The Local, 13 Apr 2016)

Russia has slammed Sweden for broadcasting a television series about Russia's fictional takeover of one of Sweden's Nordic neighbours, saying it has had enough of being portrayed as an aggressor.

April 12, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 2:10 PM


Nurses could safely take half of GPs' appointments, says thinktank (Denis Campbell, 12 April 2016, The Guardian)

Only one in three people who visit a GP surgery are ill enough to need to see a doctor and many of the remainder could talk to a practice nurse instead, a report claims.

Letting nurses deal with more ailments could free up enough GP time to allow them to offer patients appointments lasting up to 20 minutes, it concludes.

Reform, a right-of-centre thinktank, claims the change would relieve the serious strain on GPs, reduce the number of people going to A&E and save the NHS £700m a year.

Health care reform is fundamentally about reducing consumption.

Posted by orrinj at 1:43 PM


Cult heroes: Jason and the Scorchers - the greatest rock'n'roll band in the world. In July 1985 : The guitarist loved AC/DC, the singer loved country. Live, their combustible union was a total blast, but this Nashville band couldn't sustain the momentum (Michael Hann, 12 April 2016, The Guardian)

Ringenberg was a pig-farmer's son from Illinois who moved to Nashville in 1981, with the dream of forming a high-energy roots band. He didn't realise rock'n'roll didn't exist in Music City, but somehow stumbled across the other three, who brought the punk counterbalance to his desire to make country music. Hodges, whose parents were country musicians, had already had his fill of the twang - "He always said that country music was shoved down his throat, and he hated it," Ringenberg told writer Clinton Heylin - but the tension between the guitarist's desire to sound like AC/DC and the singer's love of Hank Williams meant that, for the first few years of their career at least, Jason and the Scorchers made music that sounded like no one else, a berserk, overdriven racket, in which country covers and Ringenberg's originals were played with Never Mind the Bollocks power by the other three.

The Scorchers' vinyl debut came in early 1982, just a few weeks after their first show, with the Reckless Country Soul EP, featuring three Ringenberg originals and covers of Hank Williams and Jimmie Rodgers. They earned a fearsome reputation opening shows for whichever punk bands visited Nashville ("Because we were so explosive, it had such an energy and we attacked the stage so fiercely, they allowed the twang," Ringenberg said of the punks' attitude to the Scorchers), and became associates of the similarly upwardly mobile REM. In 1984, a new EP, Fervor (a cleaner and better recording, restating the premise of the band), featured vocal appearances from and a co-write with Michael Stipe. After they signed to EMI, a staggeringly exciting version of Bob Dylan's Absolutely Sweet Marie was added, though it was only recorded because Ringenberg told Hodges it was an original; the guitarist wouldn't have recorded it otherwise.

That summer of 85 high-water mark came off the back of the band's full-length debut, Lost and Found, where Hodges' guitars - given a modern studio and bigger production values - were finally allowed right off the leash, without suffocating Ringenberg in the process. Unlike most of their "cowpunk" peers, the Scorchers didn't wrap their take on country in irony; Ringenberg's love of his forefathers was palpable, and the rest of the band were so steeped in the music that they made Lost and Found sound as if it was always intended as an 180mph rush of speed.
As you'll already have guessed, the moment of greatness was brief. The Scorchers became less Ringenberg's band than Hodges', as EMI ushered them towards big hair and big makeup, to go with the big guitars. If the Pistols at the Opry worked, Poison at the Opry most certainly didn't. Their next album, 1986's Still Standing, might have been better retitled Going Backwards. One more record, Thunder and Fire, and the Scorchers were no more. They reformed in the 90s, and still play live periodically, but the moment was gone - as fun as they might be, they would never again be the greatest rock'n'roll band in the world.

One heck of a moment though...

Posted by orrinj at 1:30 PM


NH jobless rate drops to 2.6% in March (Union Leader, 4/12/16)

New Hampshire's unemployment rate, already tied for the nation's lowest mark in February, dropped again in March to 2.6 percent.

Posted by orrinj at 1:28 PM


Super-thin wing could cut aircraft fuel bills in half (Bill Condie, 4/12/16, Cosmos)

The researchers say the lower drag from the truss-braced wing will cut fuel consumption by at least 50% over current technology transport aircraft, and by 4% to 8% compared to other advanced technology conventional configurations.

Posted by orrinj at 1:21 PM


Donald Trump's 'kinder, gentler' version (Kirsten Powers, April 12, 2016, USA Today)

Trump described himself as an Ayn Rand fan. He said of her novel The Fountainhead, "It relates to business (and) beauty (and) life and inner emotions. That book relates to ... everything." He identified with Howard Roark, the novel's idealistic protagonist who designs skyscrapers and rages against the establishment.

"From almost any page of Atlas Shrugged, a voice can be heard, from painful necessity, commanding: 'To a gas chamber-go!'"

Posted by orrinj at 1:13 PM


U.S. reviewing Sinai peacekeeper mission, looks at automating jobs (Reuters, 4/12/16)

The U.S. military said on Tuesday it has formally notified Egypt and Israel that it is reviewing peacekeeping operations in the insurgency-wracked Sinai, including ways to use technology to do the job of some of the 700 U.S. troops there.

Posted by orrinj at 5:40 AM


How Covenants Make Us (David Brooks, APRIL 5, 2016, NY Times)

Strong identities can come only when people are embedded in a rich social fabric. They can come only when we have defined social roles -- father, plumber, Little League coach. They can come only when we are seen and admired by our neighbors and loved ones in a certain way. As Ralph Waldo Emerson put it, "Other men are lenses through which we read our own minds."

You take away a rich social fabric and what you are left with is people who are uncertain about who they really are. It's hard to live daringly when your very foundation is fluid and at risk.

We're not going to roll back the four big forces coursing through modern societies, so the question is how to reweave the social fabric in the face of them. In a globalizing, diversifying world, how do we preserve individual freedom while strengthening social solidarity?

In her new book "Commonwealth and Covenant," Marcia Pally of N.Y.U. and Fordham offers a clarifying concept. What we want, she suggests, is "separability amid situatedness." We want to go off and create and explore and experiment with new ways of thinking and living. But we also want to be situated -- embedded in loving families and enveloping communities, thriving within a healthy cultural infrastructure that provides us with values and goals.

Creating situatedness requires a different way of thinking. When we go out and do a deal, we make a contract. When we are situated within something it is because we have made a covenant. A contract protects interests, Pally notes, but a covenant protects relationships. A covenant exists between people who understand they are part of one another. It involves a vow to serve the relationship that is sealed by love: Where you go, I will go. Where you stay, I will stay. Your people shall be my people.

People in a contract provide one another services, but people in a covenant delight in offering gifts. Out of love of country, soldiers offer the gift of their service. Out of love of their craft, teachers offer students the gift of their attention.

The social fabric is thus rewoven in a romantic frame of mind. During another period of national fragmentation, Abraham Lincoln aroused a refreshed love of country. He played upon the mystic chords of memory and used the Declaration of Independence as a unifying scripture and guide.

These days the social fabric will be repaired by hundreds of millions of people making local covenants -- widening their circles of attachment across income, social and racial divides. But it will probably also require leaders drawing upon American history to revive patriotism. They'll tell a story that includes the old themes. That we're a universal nation, the guarantor of stability and world order. But it will transcend the old narrative and offer an updated love of America.

It's no coincidence that our Puritan Nation is the product of Covenant Theology, contractual political theory and the covenantal Founding.

Posted by orrinj at 5:34 AM


A capitalist critique of consumerism (Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, April 5, 2016, The Week)

We're sometimes told that consumerism is what creates jobs and livelihoods. If we didn't buy meaningless trinkets, what would all the people who have jobs building and selling them do? This sort of reasoning exposes the fundamental clash in worldviews at the heart of most visions of economic life. I call them the "productivist view" and the "creative view."

What is an economy for?

The productivist view says that an economy is for producing stuff. Its endless cycle of buying and selling provides both jobs and the stuff we need. In this view, it doesn't matter if we buy iPhones or punch-button dumbphones -- the former might be better, but so long as there are enough factories and offices humming to give everyone a job and the means to buy the necessities of life, it means the economy is going well.

The creative view says that an economy is what happens when people cooperate to solve problems. The cycle of buying and selling just happens to be the most productive process to enable that cooperation.

In this scheme, almost all progressives are productivists. But a lot of people who identify with the right, or who support capitalism, are also productivists.

The liberal economist John Maynard Keynes was a productivist. His most famous idea -- which says recessions can be overcome by pumping more money into the economy to kick-start the buying-selling cycle -- is classic productivism. But the right-wing alternative -- the idea that cutting taxes also promotes more buying and selling -- is also productivist.

My belief is that the productivists are right in the short term, because some form of stimulus really is a good idea during a recession. But in the long run, the productivists are wrong and the creativists are right. The reason why billions of people no longer even have a concept of the hardscrabble, food-insecure life their forebears led is not because people started buying and selling more, but because people invented technologies -- engineering technologies, like the steam engine, and social technologies, like modern finance and the limited liability corporation -- that enabled people to cooperate more to solve more problems.

And here's where the anti-consumerists have a point: If we all suddenly and collectively decided to stop buying pointless junk, the economy wouldn't grind to a halt forever. People would just start working on more interesting, more valuable things.

The point of an economy is to create and distribute wealth.  What constitutes wealth is defined by consumers.  How wealth should be distributed is determined by citizens.

At the End of History we create ever more wealth with ever less labor, so we'll determine some means other than jobs to distribute that wealth.

Posted by orrinj at 4:42 AM


Roger Scruton vs. the New Left : a review of Fools, Frauds and Firebrands: Thinkers of the New Left by Roger Scruton (ALAN JACOBS • April 7, 2016, American Conservative)

[T]he English philosopher Roger Scruton has devoted much of his career to the articulation of a complex and highly positive account of conservatism: of what resources the conservative disposition brings to the challenge of sustaining the social order--through politics, yes, but especially through the mediating social forces of religion, community, and the arts. But in Fools, Frauds and Firebrands: Thinkers of the New Left, he largely sets aside constructive philosophical work in order to dismantle the dismantlers. This he does with rhetorical vigor and flair, and though he often paints with the broadest of brushes and does not always make the distinctions perfect fairness would call for, his critique is a powerful one indeed.

The major figures Scruton explores span a wide range of disciplines: there are historians (E.P. Thompson and Eric Hobsbawm), an economist (John Kenneth Galbraith), a legal theorist (Ronald Dworkin), philosophers of various stripes (Jean-Paul Sartre, Jürgen Habermas), a psychoanalyst (Jacques Lacan), a literary critic (Edward Said), and various unclassifiable figures (Michel Foucault, Slavoj Žižek). Do they all belong in the same book? Are they rightly subject to the same general critique?

Scruton gives two reasons for bringing them together here. The first is that they have all identified themselves as leftists--a claim that I do not believe to be true. The second is that "they illustrate an enduring outlook on the world, and one that has been a permanent feature of Western civilization at least since the Enlightenment." That outlook is composed of two major commitments, or proclaimed commitments anyway: to liberation of individuals from oppressive existing structures, especially political, familial, and religious; and to social justice, usually conceived as requiring the elimination of political and economic systems that create inequality.

Scruton rightly notes that much of the internal tension, at times exploding into hatred, among figures of the New Left arises because these two commitments are pretty clearly not compatible: the more fully people are liberated, the more energetically they will create and sustain various forms of inequality, while equality can only be enforced at the cost of placing strict limits on personal freedom.

Indeed, it is only the conservative doctrine of republican liberty that can square that circle.  For the same reason that laws that restrict freedoms are legitimate so long as they apply universally, so too are those that ameliorate the effects of inequality.

Posted by orrinj at 4:38 AM


Broadway hit 'Hamilton' has good life advice (Heather Long, April 2, 2016, CNN Money)

1. "Dying is easy, young man. Living is harder."

George Washington gives this advice to a young Alexander Hamilton in the song "Right Hand Man." Hamilton wants to go to the front during the Revolutionary War and make a name for himself in combat. Washington reminds him it's easy to charge into most things in life. Smart people think first and figure out how to win the war with more than blind optimism.

3. "Look around, look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now."

Optimism comes up time and again as a key characteristic of successful people. You have to believe in yourself and your team to make something happen. In "Hamilton," the first people to sing this line are the three Schuyler sisters (in the song titled "The Schuyler Sisters"). One of them, Eliza, marries Hamilton.

5. "I should have known the world was wide enough for both Hamilton and me"

After Burr kills Hamilton, he sings a song of regret ("The World Was Wide Enough"). He wishes he had realized that both he and Hamilton could succeed, it wasn't a zero-sum game. A lot of people struggle with jealously. It holds people back personally and professionally.

Posted by orrinj at 4:22 AM


Hold Donald Trump's voters accountable, too: They are embracing a demagogue with eyes wide open (GABRIEL SCHOENFELD  NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

Even before he entered the political arena, it was evident to most anyone with eyes that Donald Trump was a moral disgrace.

Philandering, misogyny, fraud, bankruptcy and tackiness were almost synonyms for his name. To all that, as a candidate for the presidency, Trump has added serial lying, racism, religious bigotry, slander and the outright encouragement of violence, with threats of more violence should he be deprived of the delegates needed to clinch his party's nomination.

Yet many people with eyes -- millions of them, in fact -- have cast their votes for this creature from the cesspool. What are we to make of these fellow Americans?

For obvious reasons, they are being treated by Trump's rivals with tender solicitude. Trump's followers remain important players in the ongoing battle for votes in the Republican primaries that remain. And whoever ends up as the Republican nominee will need them to show up at the polls in November to defeat Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders.

What is harder to excuse is the fact that more than a few conservative commentators, including many who revile Trump himself, have addressed his supporters with sympathy.

If there's really an appetite for a party based around nativism and Islamophobia, let it be a third party.

Posted by orrinj at 4:19 AM


Goldman Sachs Admits It Defrauded Investors, Pays $5 Billion Fine (Eric Levitz, 4/11/16, NY Mag)

In April 2006, Goldman Sachs provided investors with a bullish report on Countrywide's high-quality mortgage loans -- loans the bank had helpfully packaged into AAA-rated mortgage-backed securities, thereby offering those lucky clients a low-risk way of profiting from America's housing boom. When the bank's head of "due diligence" saw the report, he typed a short email to his colleagues: "If only they knew..."

Now we know. On Monday, the bank completed a $5.1 billion settlement with state and local authorities for its role in perpetuating the subprime-mortgage crisis. Goldman is the last of the major banks to pay for its financial-crisis sins, but unlike some of its peers, the firm has agreed to formally acknowledge its malfeasance.

Posted by orrinj at 4:14 AM

Dutch Baby (Stephanie Stiavetti on April 11, 2016, Simply Recipes)

    3 tablespoons butter
    2 eggs, at room temperature
    1 egg white, at room temperature
    2/3 cup milk, at room temperature
    2 tablespoons granulated sugar
    1/2 cup + 2 tablespoon all purpose flour
    1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
    1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
    Powdered sugar, more cinnamon, and lemon juice for topping

1 Preheat cast iron skillet: Preheat oven to 400°F. Put a 10-inch cast iron skillet into the oven and heat for at least 8 minutes.

2 Melt butter: Melt 3 tablespoons of butter in a saucepan or in a microwave. Of the 3 tablespoons, one tablespoon will be for the batter and two for the pan.

3 Make batter: In a blender, put the eggs, egg white, milk, 1 tablespoon of the melted butter, sugar, flour, vanilla, cinnamon, and salt.
Blend until you have a smooth, creamy batter. This should take about 30 seconds.
Be sure to scrape down the sides of the blender carafe with a rubber spatula if necessary.

4 Pour butter, then batter into hot skillet: Carefully remove the very hot skillet from the oven. (Watch out, the handle is HOT! Make sure to use a thick pot holder so you don't burn your hands.)

Pour the remaining 2 tablespoons of melted butter in the pan and swirl to coat the bottom of the pan.

Gently pour the batter into the hot skillet, making sure not to splatter batter all over the sides of the pan.

5 Bake: Carefully return the pan to the oven and bake for 20 minutes. The Dutch baby will puff up around the edges, even to the point that the sides will obscure the center.

It's a wondrous sight to behold when watching through the oven window! Do not open the door to peek, though, as opening the oven door even a crack while baking may cause your Dutch baby to fall.

6 Remove from pan and cut into wedges: Once the Dutch baby is done baking, remove the skillet from the oven (again, take care, the handle is HOT) and use a thin spatula to gently coax the pancake onto a large plate. It may fall slightly once removed from the heat, which is totally normal.

To serve, cut into wedges and sprinkle with powdered sugar (and more cinnamon if you wish) and a splash of lemon juice. Great topped with berries or fruit!

April 11, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 5:08 PM


High school student invents a cheaper hearing aid (Ahiza Garcia, April 9, 2016, CNN Money)

When Mukund Venkatakrishnan was 14, he visited India and was tasked with helping his grandfather get tested and fitted for a hearing aid. He saw what a costly and difficult process it was and resolved to find an alternative.

"Since audiologists are specialists, even finding and getting an appointment with one in India was really hard," said Venkatakrishnan, who is now 16. "And then we got ripped off."

Venkatakrishnan said they spent about $400 or $500 on doctor's appointments and about $1,900 on the hearing aid itself.

He realized that hearing is a luxury many people in developing countries can't afford.

"In India, the median household income is $616 a year," Venkatakrishnan said. "If someone in India saves all year without spending a penny, they still can't afford a hearing aid."

Venkatakrishnan's device is unique because it not only tests a person's hearing with a series of beeps, but it also programs itself to become a hearing aid. It only costs about $50 to make and can be used with even the cheapest set of headphones.

Unlike with traditional hearing aids, if the ear piece gets damaged it isn't costly to replace -- you just buy another set of ear buds.

Posted by orrinj at 4:57 PM


The Faith of Christopher Hitchens : Contrarian to the end? : a review of The Faith of Christopher Hitchens: The Restless Soul of the World's Most Notorious Atheist by Larry Alex Taunton (Douglas Wilson, Christianity Today)

Taunton exhibits a real affection for Christopher as a man, leaves certain things unaddressed for specified reasons, refuses to airbrush out the marked blemishes he does address, and does everything in the light of the gospel of grace. Fewer things are sadder than the death of a defiant atheist, without hope and without God in the world, and yet Larry Taunton tells this melancholy story wonderfully, with truth in his right hand and hope in his left. I can't imagine anyone doing this better.

The observations that Taunton makes about Christopher's "relationship" to God are dependent on two basic facts--one psychological and the other biographical or historical. The psychological one is the open pride that Christopher took in keeping "two sets of books"--one for his public life and the other for his private life. So let's begin with that.

Taunton dedicates a separate chapter to the theme of these "two sets of books." One of Hitchens' published works was entitled Letters to a Young Contrarian, and the contrarian streak in him is generally well known. That much is expected. It goes without saying that Hitchens would be a contrarian toward whatever he thought were the "smelly little orthodoxies" that Orwell once wrote about. He could outrage the faithful by attacking Mother Teresa, to take one famous example. But he could also from time to time keep the orthodox unbelievers on his own team off balance.

Taunton discusses, for example, an essay entitled "When the King Saved God," in which Hitchens extravagantly praised the King James Version of the Bible--"he loves the language of the Tyndale and King James translations, and loathes any attempts at modernizing it." (p. 32). As it happens, as one who loves the King James myself, after that piece appeared, I wrote Christopher and thanked him for it. He wrote back, "I'm so pleased that you liked it. There are gold standards, and they hold their value." This was the predictable contrarian--an atheist praising the King James Version of the Bible. Take that.

But (keeping the idea of two books in mind) Hitchens was also a contrarian to himself. His public persona was contradicting the conventional views he found all around him, conventional believers and unbelievers both, but that public persona was also contradicting a much more reflective Christopher, one who was considering certain ultimate questions much more carefully than he could afford to let on. As Peter Hitchens once told me, the reason Christopher's city walls were so heavily armed, bristling with weaponry, was that if you ever got past those walls there were no defenses from there to the city center.

So the biographical element has to do with two dramatic turnings in his life. There were (of course) inconsistencies and contradictions associated with these turnings, but they were still highly visible for all that. The first was his turn away from the political left in the aftermath of 9/11, and his resultant and very public support for George Bush and the "war on terror." This resulted in Christopher being thrust out of his leftist bubble, whereupon he discovered that not all conservatives were idiots. They had better not be, since Christopher was associated with them now.

The second turning followed his publication of God Is Not Great, his famous anti-religion screed. Christopher, to his credit, asked his publicist to arrange for the publicity tour for the book to be one in which he took on all comers in debate. Rather than release the book at some Manhattan soirée, the kind of event that is sufficiently godless already, Christopher issued a challenge saying that he would debate anybody who wanted to debate him. This is how Taunton came to meet Christopher--having arranged a debate between him and John Lennox. Later on Taunton himself came to debate him, and acquitted himself quite well in it. But how is it a "turning" when a notorious atheist simply continues on with his atheism, throwing down the gauntlet for believers to pick up? How is an atheist publishing an atheist rant a turning?

One of the things that Taunton's book makes very clear is that Christopher issued this challenge with mixed motives. One was for the sake of the debates themselves, the kind of event that Christopher "liked having," and that part was plain enough to everyone. But the other motive was that it enabled him to associate with Christians in a way that would simply be impossible otherwise. If you are the enfant terrible of atheism, you can't just start going to Bible studies. It would arouse comment. Your atheist fan club would go sideways. In fact, as The Faith of Christopher Hitchens makes clear, Christopher had to do a lot of explaining even with the ingenious cover he had.

The New Atheists have done so uniformly badly in these debates as to raise the question of whether their case is just that weak or are they double agents, or both?

Posted by orrinj at 4:45 PM


The Jackie Robinson Story: Ken Burns Documentary Captures the Man and the Movement : The Ken Burns documentary airing on PBS this week demonstrates how the fight to break baseball's racial barrier went beyond Robinson's personal heroism and rested on a broad political movement. (Peter Dreier, April 11, 2016, American Prospect)

Even if you're not a baseball fan, the two-part Ken Burns documentary on Jackie Robinson that airs on PBS Monday and Tuesday will have you rooting for the Major League's first African American player to overcome the racist obstacles put in his way. It is an iconic tale of courage and determination that resonates today.

At a time when racial tensions are flaring in police departments, on college campuses, and on the presidential campaign trail, Robinson's story serves as a reminder of the nation's best impulses--and its worst. It is difficult today to summon the excitement that greeted Robinson's achievement of breaking Major League Baseball's color line in 1947 playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers. As Americans readjusted to life after returning from World War II, Robinson's success on the baseball diamond was a symbol of the promise of a racially integrated society.  He did more than change the way baseball is played and who plays it. His actions on and off the diamond helped pave the way for America to confront its racial hypocrisy.

In Burns's documentary, Rachel Robinson, Jackie's widow, recounts the ordeal the couple faced during their journey, two weeks after their marriage, to his first spring training in Daytona, Florida. After flying from Los Angeles to New Orleans, they were bumped from their connecting flight and were stranded in the New Orleans airport, where none of the restaurants would serve them. Jackie protested this obvious racist act to the airline attendant behind the counter, to no avail. They took a later flight to Pensacola, Florida, where they were to get on another connecting flight to Jacksonville. Once on board, they were ordered off the plane and replaced with two white passengers. Furious, they boarded a bus for Jacksonville. On the bus, the driver told them to move to the back of the bus, which (unlike the seats up-front) did not recline. After a long, bumpy ride they arrived in Jacksonville and switched to a bus to Daytona Beach.

For the next 11 years--until Robinson retired from baseball in 1956--the couple endured the humiliations and bigotry, and celebrated the triumphs and accolades, of being civil rights pioneers. The dignity with which Robinson handled his encounters with racism--including verbal and physical abuse on the field and in hotels, restaurants, trains, and elsewhere--drew public attention to the issue, stirred the consciences of many white Americans, and gave black Americans a tremendous boost of pride and self-confidence.

Martin Luther King Jr. once told Dodgers star Don Newcombe, who along with Robinson and baseball icon Roy Campanella moved from the Negro League to the Major League, "You'll never know what you and Jackie and Roy did to make it possible to do my job."

Posted by orrinj at 4:01 PM


Poor New Yorkers Tend to Live Longer Than Other Poor Americans (Margot Sanger-Katz, APRIL 11, 2016, NY Times)

New York is one of the country's most unequal and expensive cities, where the poor struggle to find affordable housing and the money and time to take care of themselves.

But the research found that New York was, in many ways, a model city for factors that seem to predict where poor people live longer. It is a wealthy, highly educated city with a high tax base. The local government spends a lot on social services for low-income residents. It has low rates of smoking and has many immigrants, who tend to be healthier than native-born Americans.

The research seems to suggest that living in proximity to the preferences -- and tax base -- of wealthy neighbors may help improve well-being. New York is not just a city of rich and poor, but also one of walkable sidewalks, a trans-fat ban and one of the most aggressive anti-tobacco agendas of any place in the United States.

"Even with income inequality as big as it is, there are things that government can do to help the poor be healthier and live longer lives," said Dr. Thomas Farley, who was New York's health commissioner during the Bloomberg administration and now runs Philadelphia's health department.

"It's about combating the things that are killing people."

The findings underscore public health research showing that healthy habits matter. The JAMA paper found that several measures of access to medical care had no clear relationship with longevity among the poor. But there were correlations with smoking, exercise and obesity.

"There remains this misconception in our society that health is determined by health care," said Dr. Steven Woolf, a professor and director of the Center on Society and Health at Virginia Commonwealth University, who wrote an editorial commending the research but offering some methodological criticisms. "Behaviors have a huge influence on health outcomes."
The beauty of HSAs is that you get the psychological security blanket without wasting the money on health care you don't need.

Posted by orrinj at 6:22 AM


How About a Universal Basic Income? : The idea of a universal basic income is gaining popularity in the U.S. and elsewhere. (Dwyer Gunn, 4/06/16, Pacific Standard)

The U.S. is currently grappling with some major economic challenges. Globalization and automation have fundamentally changed the structure of the American economy, and it's not clear if the new labor market will ever generate enough well-paid, middle-class jobs to make up for those that have been lost. Wages are stagnant, upper-tail inequality has reached astronomical levels, and millions of the poorest Americans are living on less than $2 a day.

The UBI represents a solution to some of these problems -- everyone, rich or poor, employed or unemployed, gets an income sufficient to meet their basic needs (though, in practice, the wealthy would pay more in taxes than their UBI benefit, so the primary beneficiaries of such a policy are the poor). If someone's job is outsourced to Mexico, he's got a fallback. If driverless trucks eliminate one of the last professions that offers a reliable middle-class wage for high school graduates, the displaced could use their UBI to support themselves while they re-train as computer coders, or to supplement their wages if they land a lower-paid job. For single parents raising young kids, they finally receive a living wage for doing so.

Even free-market libertarians love the UBI--it eliminates government bureaucracy, reduces some of the employment disincentives built into current social safety net programs, and is less market-distorting than, for example, minimum wage laws. It might also increase workers' bargaining power, which has been sorely depleted in recent decades, and enable people to go back to school. Here's what Matt Zwolinsky had to say about the UBI in a 2014 article in Cato Unbound:

Not only does the U.S. welfare state spend a lot; it spends it badly. Poor Americans receiving assistance face a bewildering variety of phase-outs and benefit cliffs that combine to create extremely high effective marginal tax rates on their labor. As a result, poor families often find that working more (or having a second adult work) simply doesn't pay. And still, despite massive expenditures by the welfare state, some 16% of Americans are left living in poverty.

Wouldn't it be better just to scrap the whole system and write the poor a check?

Of course, the U.S. already kind of does this, for one demographic: It's called Social Security.

Posted by orrinj at 5:49 AM


How the Republican Party's Founders Defeated Xenophobia (Sean Trainor, April 6, 2016, TIME)

According to historian Tyler Anbinder, however, xenophobia was not the party's only concern. An overwhelmingly northern coalition with a strong reformist bent, Know Nothings also advocated goals long associated with the temperance and antislavery movements. As such, they favored bans on the sale and consumption of alcohol and claimed that wealthy southern slaveholders had hijacked the political process for their own personal gain.

Recognizing these cross-currents in Know Nothing politics, early leaders of the nascent Republican Party sought to reshuffle nativist voters' priorities by putting opposition to slavery ahead of xenophobia. At first, they were unsuccessful. While antislavery was becoming a powerful ideological force in northern life, the movement did not yet possess the organizational footprint that benefitted the supporters of xenophobia, who had been working since the 1830s to build state and local political coalitions.

By the late 1850s, however, that was changing. In the years following the Kansas-Nebraska fiasco and the collapse of the Whigs, both Republicans and Know Nothings had moved to put political organizations in place. The Know Nothings fell back on nativist clubs and fraternal organizations--notably, the ridiculously named Order of the Star Spangled Banner--while the Republicans quickly constructed a party structure from scratch, as grassroots antislavery organizations were not nearly as well developed. It was thus no surprise that the Know Nothings got off the ground more quickly, winning impressive election victories in Congressional and state contests, but by 1856 the Republican Party organization had eclipsed that of its rival. During the remainder of the decade, the Know Nothings would be almost wholly absorbed into the emerging Republican Party, who, according to historian Eric Foner, made few meaningful concessions to nativists' demands.

How did these early Republicans defeat their nativist foes? They did so by considering Know Nothings' grievances in full, and by offering a more compelling explanation for the country's troubles than the one nativist leaders had provided. Yes, Republicans conceded, there were many immigrants in the United States. But, at roughly 14% of the U.S. population, they did not control the country. Nor, as a poor, socially-disenfranchised minority, did they pose a threat to its existence.

Slaveholders, on the other hand, did control the country. Though small in number, they had dominated the presidency, Congress and the Supreme Court for much of the republic's 80-year history. They controlled the majority of the country's wealth. And they held one-fifth of its inhabitants in chains. By any objective standard, these slaveholders were the masters of America. And they were using this power, Republicans argued, to enrich themselves, subvert democracy and limit the opportunities of American northerners. In due time, Republicans warned, they would contrive to reintroduce slavery in the North and force unsuspecting American lads to fight an unending series of imperial wars to win more land for slavery. To combat this, Republicans claimed, northerners must recognize the so-called Slave Power's evil intent and unite in opposition to slavery's territorial expansion.

It was not just philosophizing, however, that won Know Nothings to the Republican cause. The late 1850s also witnessed prodigious feats of backroom political dealings as well as a healthy dose of pragmatism. During these years, Republicans successfully made the case to nativist voters that, while immigrants did not control the country, they did represent a growing portion of the northern electorate. And that any successful political party would have to win a fraction of their votes.

The Republican Party thus offered Know Nothing voters a better product than what their leaders were peddling: a realistic diagnosis of the country's problems and a viable path to redressing those problems. This, combined with the Know Nothings' vacillation on both slavery and immigration, led many former nativist voters out of the Know Nothing coalition and into the Republican Party.

Posted by orrinj at 5:27 AM


Film Review: 'Fastball' (Nick Schager, MARCH 24, 2016, Variety)

A baseball documentary for old-timers and young analytics acolytes alike, "Fastball" sets out, as its nominal goal, to deduce who threw history's all-time fastest pitch. That intention, however, is merely the pretext for an alternately mythologizing and scientific inquiry into the art of pitching -- a seemingly simple act that, over the course of baseball's century-plus lifespan, has taken on legendary status. That's especially true of those blessed with velocity at which to marvel -- not always easy an easy task, at least for those ensconced in the batter's box. With an all-star lineup of hall-of-famers waxing nostalgic and poetic about their time on the diamond, writer-director Jonathan Hock's documentary has a thrilling pop that should help it strike a competitive chord with anyone even remotely enchanted by our national pastime.

Narrated by Kevin Costner in a reverent "Field of Dreams"-style tone, Hock's film divides itself into chapters, each of them focused on a famed fastballer, beginning with Rich "Goose" Gossage, the handlebar-mustached flamethrower whose enormous size and nasty attitude enhanced his ability to intimidate batters. Throughout "Fastball," a pitcher's physicality and demeanor are presented as equally key components of his fearsomeness, as was also true of St. Louis Cardinals great Bob Gibson. A towering African-American, Gibson derived his power from anger born from a lifetime of enduring racism, and scared opponents silly simply by squinting intensely at his catcher -- a move that, he admits, was actually necessitated by his poor eyesight. [...]

In a roundtable chat between Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench, George Brett, Al Kaline and the late Tony Gwynn, as well as in interviews with Hank Aaron, Derek Jeter, Wade Boggs, Bryce Harper and others, illustrious hitters make their picks for the fastest-throwing pitcher they ever encountered (no surprise that Sandy Koufax figures prominently in those discussions), and their anecdotes help steep the film in a lived-in sense of tradition. At the same time, however, Hock bolsters those legends' accounts through scientific scrutiny, with physicists explaining the neuromechanical process required to hit a ball travelling at literal blink-and-you'll-miss-it speeds, dispelling players' commonly held belief that the greatest fastballs "rise" as they approach the plate -- an effect born from the way batters visually perceive the ball -- and synchronizing speed tests from different eras in order to identify the sport's greatest flamethrower.

That investigation inevitably leads to Nolan Ryan, whose 27-year career with the New York Mets, California Angels, Houston Astros and Texas Rangers was marked by an astonishing seven no-hitters and 5,714 strikeouts. Ryan's hard-throwing style is rightfully celebrated as being all the more remarkable because of his durability, with the pitcher only finally calling it quits when his elbow gave out, mid-game, at the age of 46. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:34 AM


THE ROOTS OF WORLD WAR II (Sheldon Richman, February 1, 1995, FEE)

Aside from the general exhaustion of the warring nations, a major development was occurring to the east. The war had caused great hardship in Russia. Food was in short supply. Workers went on strike, and housewives marched in protest. Army regiments mutinied. In March 1917, Czar Nicholas II abdicated, and when his brother refused the throne, a provisional, social democratic government was set up in Russia. As historian E. H. Carr wrote, "The revolutionary parties played no direct part in the making of the revolution."

Despite the people's revulsion, Alexander Kerensky's provisional government stayed in the war at the insistence of the Allies and Wilson, who by then had sent American boys to Europe. When Lenin returned to Russia from Zurich, he made his Bolsheviks the one antiwar party in the country. This gave Lenin the opportunity to become the world's first communist dictator. An earlier negotiated settlement would have eased the Russians' misery and probably averted the second revolution. Lenin immediately accepted Germany's peace terms, including territorial concessions, and left the war. (Toward the end of the war, the Allies invaded the new Soviet Union, ostensibly to safeguard war materiel. The invasion created long-lasting distrust of the West.)

Thus, the first likely consequence of U.S. prolongation of the war was the Bolshevik Revolution (and the Cold War). Communism -- its threat of worldwide revolution and its wholesale slaughter -- was a key factor in the rise of the European despotism that sparked World War II. (Had the Bolsheviks come to power anyway and Germany had won the war, Germany would have thrown the communists out.)

Entry of fresh American power gave the advantage to the Allies, and Germany signed the armistice in November 1918. Before allowing that, Wilson, in the name of spreading democracy, demanded that the Kaiser go. The president thus was responsible for the removal of what would have likely been an important institutional obstacle to Hitler and his aggressive ambitions.

The armistice set the stage for the Paris Peace Conference and the Treaty of Versailles. Article 231 of that Treaty -- the infamous war guilt clause -- said:

The Allied and Associated Governments affirm and Germany accepts the responsibility of Germany and her allies for causing all the loss and damage to which the Allied and Associated Governments and their nationals have been subjected as a consequence of the war imposed upon them by the aggression of Germany and her allies.

Germany was to become an outcast nation on the basis of its war guilt. The problem was that Germany was not uniquely guilty. World War I was the product of a complex political dynamic in which nations other than Germany -- Russia and France, for example -- played important roles. Nevertheless, Germany was branded as the perpetrator.

The victors imposed crushing reparations on Germany for the cost of the war. That was contrary to Wilson's original, nonpunitive program (The Fourteen Points) and to the prearmistice agreement with Germany. But at the peace conference, he acquiesced to England and France in order to achieve his dream of a League of Nations. 

Just as importantly, he exchanged the self-determination of all their colonies--a core American principle--for his precious transnationalist League.

April 10, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 10:17 AM


Cuba running low on beer as thirsty US tourists descend (The Guardian, 9 April 2016)

Local media reported that Cuba's breweries signed contracts this week for more than 33m cases of beer at a business in Havana, considerably more than their current production capability will allow. Bucanero is reportedly planning to import 3m cases of beer from Dominica to keep up with demand.

After US president Barack Obama eased travel restrictions to Cuba in February, American tourists have started descending on Cuba in significant numbers, a trend that is expected to continue.

Hundreds will step off a cruise ship from Miami into the city in May, the first such voyage since the US embargo that followed Fidel Castro's 1959 revolution.

While the embargo remains in place, ordinary Cubans have warmed to their "Yanqui" visitors, especially after Obama's visit to Cuba in March, the first by a sitting US president in 88 years.

Cuba received a record 3.5 million visitors last year, up 17% from 2014. American visitors rose 77% to 161,000, in addition to hundreds of thousands of Cuban-Americans, testing the country's supply of hotel room, rental cars and beer.

Posted by orrinj at 10:14 AM


Celtics' Tommy Heinsohn Is Forever Green : The basketball legend has been with the Boston Celtics as a player, coach and broadcaster for 60 years (JASON GAY, April 7, 2016, WSJ)

Tommy Heinsohn, voice of the Boston Celtics, has arrived to work.

He doesn't immerse himself in pregame details or history. He is the history. Drafted out of Holy Cross in 1956--Red Auerbach's "territorial pick," as they called it then--the 6-foot-7 New Jersey native has been with the Celtics for 60 years as a player, a coach, and for decades now as a broadcaster. 60 years! At 81, Heinsohn remains broad-shouldered, imposing. He might not be ready to run the fast break like his Celtics did in the old days, but he looks as he might get you two or three boards if you sent him out on that parquet. Maybe more than two or three.

Everyone in these tunnels knows him. Everyone in Celtics Nation does, too. Taking a seat at a table not far from the home team's locker room before a game against Portland, Heinsohn recited a quip once made by his broadcasting partner, Mike Gorman: A generation of basketball fans remember Heinsohn as a player, another generation remembers him as a coach..."and the current generation thinks he's Shrek."

Heinsohn shook and laughed, Shrek-like.

He is green for life, unabashedly. "The ultimate homer," he called himself, with no prompting. In an era in which sports broadcasting has been professionalized, corporatized, nationalized, and often homogenized, Heinsohn is honest hometown heart. Thanks to social media and the NBA's "League Pass" TV package, younger, out-of-town fans have been discovering Heinsohn's voice, now on CSN New England. When people who aren't from Boston hear Tommy being Tommy, their reactions can be delightful. Who is this growly man exalting no-name Celtics, bashing opponents, railing on the officials ("Aw COME ON, ya gotta be KIDDING ME!" "That is BOGUS!"), sounding like a Flintstone leaning out of a truck stuck in traffic?

"There's never any ambiguity of where he's coming from," said Bob Ryan, the longtime Boston Globe sports columnist. "It's not about fairness. It's about the Celtics, and the rightness and wrongness of what is being done to them."

"Tommy firmly believes it's five-on-eight every game," said Mike Gorman, referring to the five opposing players on the floor--and the three officials.

Heinsohn said he's simply giving Boston fans what they want.

"I do a Celtics game," he said, shrugging. "People watching us are Celtics fans. They're not Portland Trail Blazers fans."

Posted by orrinj at 9:59 AM


Boston Globe Denounces Trump Candidacy In 'Front Page' Satire (REUTERS, 04/10/16)

Headlines screaming "Deportations to begin" and "Markets sink as trade war looms" top a parody newspaper front page the Boston Globe posted on Saturday, with a scathing editorial denouncing Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump's candidacy.

The mock-up, offering the Globe's satirical view of America under a Trump presidency, was set to run as the front page of the newspaper's "Ideas" section, followed on page 2 of that section by the anti-Trump editorial.

The novel front-page spoof, says the editorial, is designed to take Trump's rhetoric and his policy positions to their "logical conclusion."

"It is an exercise in taking a man at his word," the editorial says. "And his vision of America promises to be as appalling in real life as it is in black and white on the page." [...]

The editorial brands the billionaire businessman as a "demagogue" whose own political vision is "profoundly un-American."

Posted by orrinj at 9:48 AM


Merle Haggard: the maverick musician and his 'defiantly contrarian journey' : The singer-songwriter, who died on 6 April, drew on his genuine outsider experience to forge a tougher sound in opposition to Nashville's slickness (Sean O'Hagan, 10 April 2016, The Guardian)

Legend has it that when Johnny Cash performed in San Quentin prison in 1958, Merle Haggard was in the audience, serving time for burglary and fleeing police custody. While Cash carefully nurtured his outlaw status, famously styling himself "the Man in Black", the troubled, taciturn Haggard was the real deal: an outsider by temperament rather than design, someone who had found a kind of redemption in writing and singing songs about his experience of hard times. [...]

In 1957 a botched restaurant robbery attempt saw him imprisoned, first in Bakersfield jail, and then, after an escape attempt, transferred to San Quentin.

On his release, Haggard played the bars of Bakersfield, California, honing what would become the "Bakersfield sound", a wilder, less polished take on traditional Nashville country that incorporated rock, blues and honky-tonk swing. So began a defiantly contrarian journey: for many, his best-known song remains 1969's hit, Okie from Muskogee, a strident counterblast to the 60s counterculture from the heart of conservative America. His best songs were often his most personal: Today I Started Loving You Again, If We Make It Through December - or his most hard-bitten - Sing Me Back Home, The Bottle Let Me Down - the latter sort earning him the respect of several generations of rock performers, from the Grateful Dead through Keith Richards, Gram Parsons, Elvis Costello, and on to the likes of contemporary songwriters like Will Oldham. "It never has been fun being Merle Haggard," he said in 1986, "I've had lots of peaks and valleys." His tough and tender songs attest to that.

Posted by orrinj at 9:44 AM


Trump's Saturday delegate disaster : In Colorado and South Carolina, the GOP's embattled front-runner had another very bad day. (ELI STOKOLS and KYLE CHENEY 04/09/16, Politico)

Donald Trump's struggle to win loyal delegates to the Republican National Convention grew even more desperate on Saturday, with crushing losses in Colorado and South Carolina that put victory at a contested convention further from his grasp.

Trump, who handed the reins of much of his campaign this week to strategist Paul Manafort in an effort to shore up his operation before the nomination slips away, was swept out of delegate slots up for grabs at Colorado's state convention. Adding to his woes, he picked up just one delegate of six on the ballot in South Carolina. The most painful result, though, may have been Trump's failure to capture two of three slots in his strongest South Carolina congressional district.

Posted by orrinj at 9:00 AM


Let's raise our voices against this dictator, Donald Trump (Vicente Fox, 6 April 2016, The Guardian)

Today, I want to express my strong concern about the latest proposals made by the Republican candidate Donald Trump, in his campaign for president of the United States. He has said that he will build a wall between Mexico and the United States, and now that he will force Mexico to pay for that wall by cutting off remittances. He has also said he will open a trade war with Mexico and China; he has offended women, Muslims, Latinos and his own American people.

To a Mexican and citizen of the world, these statements are disgraceful and highly offensive. Trump has said Mexicans are the problem, calling us rapists and criminals. He thinks building the "Trump Wall" will right every wrong in the United States. Indeed, he's built a huge mental wall around himself already, which doesn't allow him to see the greatness of our people.

Despite that, I want to thank him for his racist and ignorant ideas. Thanks to them, Mexico is in the global spotlight; every day, more and more people inside and outside the United States are realizing the decent way Mexicans live their lives.

Take Hollywood, for example. This year, a Mexican cinematographer won his third Academy Award in a row. In science and technology, a number of young and bright Mexicans won the International Robotics Tournament in 2015. And in Silicon Valley, one of the key advisers during the creation of Google was a Mexican professor: Hector García Molina.

I can talk about my grandfather, José Fox, who was born in Ohio and decided to pursue his American dream. He found it in Mexico, where he settled, married and started a family. Five generations later, we're still here, working hard for Mexico and our people. 

The United States has been the champion of open markets, but it seems like Donald Trump doesn't want his country to benefit from such a thing. Instead, he promotes new paths and policies which will only isolate the United States from the rest of the world. Where are American companies going to do business? What are they going to do with their investments abroad? It's clear that nobody will win this war. It's a lose-lose situation.

Posted by orrinj at 8:53 AM


US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter Visits India, Bullish On Indo-US Ties (ADITYA KONDALAMAHANTY, ON 04/10/16, IB Times)

The defense secretary made it clear that the U.S. would like to forge closer ties with India, especially in countering China's moves.

"There's no question about where the United States-India relationship is going," Carter said Friday, at a talk at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

Posted by orrinj at 8:47 AM


Millennials are better than we thought at saving money, studies find (Jonnelle Marte, 4/10/16, LA Times)

Millennials get a bad rap for being irresponsible with money.

But new studies show that not only are they carrying less debt than they did in previous years, they are actually pretty good at saving. Millennials are saving more aggressively than they have in the past, and in some cases they're saving more than their older counterparts, according to a new study from Bankrate.com.

"There is a greater inclination toward saving among millennials than we've seen in previous generations," says Greg McBride, chief financial analyst for Bankrate.com.

Sixty-two percent of millennials, defined in the survey as consumers between the ages of 18 and 29, are saving more than 5% of their pay for retirement, emergencies or for other financial goals, the study found. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:29 AM


Walking Together for Health and Spirit (DAVID BORNSTEIN  APRIL 5, 2016, NY Times)

In early 2013, the Rev. Theresa S. Thames stumbled upon a Facebook page titled "GirlTrek: Healthy Black Women and Girls."

"It saved my life," she said.

Thames, then 33, was dangerously overweight and fighting depression. She sent the site her contact information and received an email from Vanessa Garrison, co-founder of GirlTrek, an organization that inspires black women to change their lives and communities by walking. Garrison learned that Thames was a pastor and invited her to lead a prayer at an event in Washington commemorating the 100th anniversary of Harriet Tubman's death.

"I was out there leading a prayer for this walking event in my 447-pound body and I felt like a fraud," said Thames, who is the associate dean of religious life and the chapel at Princeton University. But she also found herself stirred by the spirit of the event.

"It wasn't about looking good or weight loss or fitting into a certain type of clothing," she recalled. "It wasn't, 'Hey, you fat person, you need to do this or you're going to die.' It was, 'I love you and I want you to love yourself enough to invest in 30 minutes a day, to walk yourself to freedom like Harriet Tubman did.' And that spoke deeply for me because my life work is showing up for other people, but I wasn't showing up for myself."

Thames completed the 100-minute walk that day. "My body was in pain," she recalled. "But it felt good to be out there with other women. It was really encouraging because it was something I could do. So I committed to walking every day."

She kept that promise. Over the past three years, she has lost more than 230 pounds. "I gained mental clarity and the resolve to take care of myself," she said.

Thames is one of more than 58,000 women across the country who have joined GirlTrek's movement and pledged to walk regularly in their neighborhoods and report their progress. There are tens of thousands of "solo trekkers" and 574 "trek teams" in more than 600 cities and towns.

April 9, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 8:49 AM


U.S. deploys B-52 bombers to Qatar for fight against Islamic State (Reuters,  February 18, 2016)

The U.S. Air Force deployed B-52 bombers to Qatar on Saturday to join the fight against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the first time they have been based in the Middle East since the end of the Gulf War in 1991.

U.S. Air Forces Central Command said it last flew the long-range bombers operationally in the region in May 2006 as part of the war in Afghanistan, and during a U.S.-led military exercise in Jordan in May 2015.

"The B-52 demonstrates our continued resolve to apply persistent pressure on Daesh and defend the region in any future contingency," said Air Force Lieutenant General Charles Brown, commander of U.S. Air Forces Central Command.

Posted by orrinj at 8:19 AM


Sales of a 'Caucasians' shirt skyrocket (RUSSELL CONTRERAS, 4/09/16, Associated Press)

Sales of 'Caucasians' shirts, depicting the Cleveland Indians' team mascot as a caricature of a white person, skyrocketed one day after ESPN's Bomani Jones wore one on a show, the shirt's creator said Friday.

Brian Kirby, who runs Shelf Life Clothing Co., told The Associated Press that more than 2,000 shirts have been sold since Jones sported one on Thursday while co-hosting the network's "Mike & Mike" show. At one point, Kirby said, traffic to his website was so heavy that the site crashed, and his internet host dropped him.

I was at Colgate when it was decided that our Red Raider name and mascot had to go because it was offensive.  At a meeting with the President of the UIniversity I suggested that we return to the roots of the college and go with The Scrappy Baptists, since our tribe would not be the least bit offended by being so honored.  Suffice it to say, they just switched the name to Raiders and went with what looked like a maroon bean bag chair for a mascot.  We started calling ourselves the Big Red Toadstools....

The sales of these shirts, likewise, demonstrate the point that no one in their right mind objects to being an aspirational symbol.

Posted by orrinj at 8:09 AM


'He Brutalized For You' : How Joseph McCarthy henchman Roy Cohn became Donald Trump's mentor. (MICHAEL KRUSE April 08, 2016, Politico)

Roy Cohn, the lurking legal hit man for red-baiting Sen. Joe McCarthy, whose reign of televised intimidation in the 1950s has become synonymous with demagoguery, fear-mongering and character assassination. In the formative years of Donald Trump's career, when he went from a rich kid working for his real estate-developing father to a top-line dealmaker in his own right, Cohn was one of the most powerful influences and helpful contacts in Trump's life.

Over a 13-year-period, ending shortly before Cohn's death in 1986, Cohn brought his say-anything, win-at-all-costs style to all of Trump's most notable legal and business deals. Interviews with people who knew both men at the time say the relationship ran deeper than that--that Cohn's philosophy shaped the real estate mogul's worldview and the belligerent public persona visible in Trump's presidential campaign.

"Something Cohn had, Donald liked," Susan Bell, Cohn's longtime secretary, said this week when I asked her about the relationship between her old boss and Trump.

By the 1970s, when Trump was looking to establish his reputation in Manhattan, the elder Cohn had long before remade himself as the ultimate New York power lawyer, whose clientele included politicians, financiers and mob bosses. Cohn engineered the combative response to the Department of Justice's suit alleging racial discrimination at the Trumps' many rental properties in Brooklyn and Queens. He brokered the gargantuan tax abatements and the mob-tied concrete work that made the Grand Hyatt hotel and Trump Tower projects. He wrote the cold-hearted prenuptial agreement before the first of his three marriages and filed the headline-generating antitrust suit against the National Football League. To all of these deals, Cohn brought his political connections, his public posturing and a simple credo: Always attack, never apologize.

"Cohn just pushed through things--if he wanted something, he got it. I think Donald had a lot of that in him, but he picked up a lot of that from Cohn," Bell said.

Posted by orrinj at 6:54 AM


Iran's official IRNA news agency says a delegation from Boeing Co. will visit the country (Associated Press, April 9, 2016)

Iran said Saturday that the United States has allowed Boeing Co. to have direct talks with Iranian airliners following reports that a Boeing delegation will visit the country, the official IRNA news agency reported.

The report quoted Ali Abedzadeh, head of Iran's Civil Aviation Organization, as saying "Boeing intends to launch its talks with Iranian companies with permission from the U.S. government."

April 8, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 11:40 AM


Sanders Catches Clinton (RUSSELL BERMAN,  APR 7, 2016, The Atlantic)

What separates Cruz and Trump? According to the survey, their respective supporters differ more in their views about race and gender than in their economic status. Trump supporters (68 percent) were more likely than Cruz supports (57 percent) to say that American society has become too "soft and feminine";  that the government paid too much attention to black people (55 percent Trump, 38 percent Cruz); and that they are bothered by immigrants who speak little or no English (64 percent Trump, 46 percent Cruz).

April 7, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 7:52 PM


Iraq's counterterrorism forces are using a slow and deliberate siege  (SUSANNAH GEORGE, 4/07/16, Associated Press)

As they advanced on the Islamic State-held town of Hit, Iraqi counterterrorism troops had to decide how to press the attack. If they stormed in with armor and airstrikes, they risked heavy casualties and might allow the militants to flee.

Gen. Abdel Ghani al-Asadi, the commander of the elite troops, chose a different approach: Surround the strategic western town with a slow and methodical cordon, trapping the extremists inside.

It's a tactic that's been used elsewhere to claw back Iraqi territory that was seized by the Islamic State group in 2014.

While the decision may have been more time-consuming, allowing the militants in Hit to dig in, lay defenses and launch attacks that initially also trapped tens of thousands of civilians, Iraqi forces believe the approach is a key to making their territorial gains stick and reduce their casualties.

Six counterterrorism battalions pushed up from the west last weekend to cut off Hit's northern edge, zigzagging in the soft desert terrain and taking more than 12 hours to advance only a few kilometers (miles).

"We don't want them to be able to flee," al-Asadi said, referring to the IS fighters. "We want them to stay inside so we can finish them."

Posted by orrinj at 7:45 PM


The Forgotten Story of ... the 1966 Masters (Scott Murray, 6 April 2016, The Guardian)

Arnold Palmer wasn't particularly happy with his short game. There were only a couple of days to go before the start of the 30th Masters Tournament, and he was already struggling to make his wedges and putter talk on glacial greens which were only going to get faster once the Augusta greenkeeper took one last wheel around the place on his mower.

So shortly after breakfast on Tuesday morning, Palmer set off in his personal twin-engine jet to Chattanooga, a couple of hundred miles away. He collected a new pitching wedge and a couple of putters, made some alterations to the wedge he was already using, and was back at Augusta National in time for coffee at elevenses. The most expensive club repair of all time? Probably. But certainly the most stylish. You have got to love Arnie.

The gentle whimsy of Palmer's 500mph groove-tweaking jaunt was, sad to say, not the sole aviation story that required reporting on the eve of the Masters. Tragedy struck the defending champion Jack Nicklaus hours before he was due to tee off, when he was told four close friends from his home town of Columbus, Ohio, including childhood playing partner Bob Barton, had been killed in a plane crash en route to Augusta. "I'm heart sick," whispered a crestfallen Nicklaus. "Bob and I grew up together. We started playing golf together. I've lost a great friend." Still, the show had to go on, and he made an earnest promise: "This tragedy has made me much more determined in what I hope to do this week."

As ever at Augusta, the stars of yesteryear were in attendance. Here's the legendary Guardian writer Pat Ward-Thomas, with a contemporaneous roll call of "the old masters whose golf down the generations has given the occasion its stature ... the imperishable spirit of Bob Jones has overcome his grievous affliction and he is in his cottage across the way by the last green ... the ageless Gene Sarazen ... Craig Wood, so youthful looking and handsome that it is hard to believe he tied for the Open at St Andrews more than 30 years ago ... the great Byron Nelson who this afternoon was presented with a replica of the Ryder Cup by his team ... Jimmy Demaret, Cary Middlecoff, Sam Snead and Ben Hogan, the mightiest of all, the shots pure as the light still gleaming from his clubs. His presence is no sentimental gesture."

Ward-Thomas had that damn straight. "I am not here for sentimental reasons," confirmed the 53-year-old, nine-time major winning, two-time Augusta-taming Iceman. "I am here to win."

Also raging against the dying of the light, albeit in a more gentle form, were the 1908 US Open champion Fred McLeod and Jock Hutchinson, winner of the Open Championship in 1921, the first American to do so, albeit a naturalised one, born and raised in St Andrews. (Amazingly, that Open win was very nearly not Hutchinson's most notable feat that year. During his march to the Championship, he came breathtakingly close to recording two hole in ones in a row, having aced the 8th before hitting his drive at the short par-four 9th to a couple of inches. But we digress.)

McLeod and Hutchinson, octogenarians both, creamed ceremonial opening drives down Tea Olive, then played the front nine for stakes of a beer a hole.

With the 1966 Masters under way, the grieving but steel-willed Nicklaus took early control.

Posted by orrinj at 7:37 PM


Dead wrong: Osama bin Laden bet that gold was going to $3,000 (BARBARA KOLLMEYER, 4/06/16, Money)
A year before Navy SEALs stormed his compound and put an end to Osama bin Laden, the al Qaeda leader was puzzling over a question with which every investor is familiar: where to put his cash.

The decision made was to put the money into gold and coins. Osama bin Laden -- the gold bug.

"The overall price trend is upward," the terrorist leader wrote in a letter to Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, the al Qaeda general manager, according to the New York Times. "Even with occasional drops, in the next few years the price of gold will reach $3,000 an ounce."

Posted by orrinj at 7:25 PM


Panama Papers: It's not a crime to do business offshore (JULIET SAMUEL, 6 APRIL 2016, The Telegraph)

Where does the most British tax go missing these days? Perhaps in Panama, you think. Or Dubai. Or some tropical island where heartless rich people are drinking piña coladas served by starving local children.

Wrong. The most significant "tax gap" in 2013-14, calculated by Her Majesty's Revenues and Customs, was a £16.5 billion shortfall caused by small businesses not paying the taxes they owe. The equivalent shortfall for large businesses was £9.5 billion and £2.9 billion for individuals.

Glance at the headlines this week, though, and you might think all the world's wealthy are lying tax cheats. Never mind that most rich people don't have assets offshore. We've only seen a fraction of the stories from the 11.5 million documents leaked from the vaults of a Panamanian law firm, but the popular remedy is clear: hang the rich, shut down offshore financial centres, and, if you're an imperialist like Jeremy Corbyn, colonise them too.

So here's a truth that no politician will dare whisper: much offshore financial activity is legitimate and, in many cases, vital to the smooth operation of global business.

Posted by orrinj at 7:09 PM


Ivanka Trump's Chinese-Made Scarves Are Recalled (Alan Rappeport, 4/07/16, NY Times)

Donald J. Trump often opines on the economic risks of manufacturing American products overseas. Now he can add his daughter's line of Chinese-made scarves to his list of concerns.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission announced on Wednesday that 20,000 Ivanka Trump-branded scarves are being recalled for violating the U.S. Federal Flammability Standard. The scarves, which are manufactured in China and made entirely of rayon, are considered a safety risk.

"This is a dangerous product," said Scott Wolfson, a spokesman for the C.P.S.C.

Posted by orrinj at 6:28 PM


Thomas Frank calls Bill Clinton and Rahm the betrayers of the 'party of the people'  : In Listen Liberal, the author of What's the Matter With Kansas? takes a break from bashing the GOP to hold a mirror up to the flaws of the Democratic Party (Ryan Smith, 4/07/16, Chicago Reader)

"Bill Clinton was not the lesser of two evils, he was the greater of them," Frank said in a phone interview. "The magic of him being a Democrat was that he did things that Republicans could have never accomplished. Welfare reform, the crime bill, NAFTA--things that injured members of his coalition. Clinton got done what Reagan couldn't do and what Bush couldn't do."

In other words, Clinton's crimes aren't the ones that Gingrich once belabored (thankfully, Monica Lewinsky and Whitewater aren't even mentioned in Listen Liberal). Rather, they're the legacy of legislation that ultimately favored Wall Street above America's working class and poor. Frank isn't fooled by Clinton's folksy rhetoric--he concludes that the president famous for feeling our pain delivered a heaping dose of it to his own coalition.

And he didn't even have a whole WoT to betray them over.  The UR is the "greatest evil".

Posted by orrinj at 6:20 PM


Rouhani says Iran not a threat, wants interaction with world (PARISA HAFEZI, 4/07/16, Reuters)

"We are in favor of a policy of moderation ... Iran is not a threat to any country ... Tehran wants interaction with the world, with its neighboring countries," Rouhani, a relative moderate, said at a gathering to mark National Nuclear Technology Day broadcast live on state television.

"With moderation we can reach our goals faster ... Trusting or distrusting others cannot be 100 percent ... To progress, we need to have interaction with the world," Rouhani said.

He wants to modernize the economy with the help of foreign investment and wealthy expatriates. The electoral gains of Rouhani's allies could help him push through economic reforms.

Posted by orrinj at 6:15 PM


Consumers Win Big As Banks Compete On Credit Cards (Robert Harrow, 4/07/16, Forbes0

In late March 2016, Wal-Mart rolled out new benefits for holders of their retail credit card. Previously, the Walmart Mastercard MA -1.31% was barely on anyone's radar, and could be outperformed by any of the top reward credit cards. The changes, which took effect April 1, give cardholders 3% back on Walmart.com purchases, 2% back on fuel purchased at Murphy USA MUSA -1.11% & Walmart gas stations, and the standard 1% back everywhere else. Analysts speculated that the move was a direct response to one of the wholesaler's biggest rivals, Costco, which also recently unveiled newsworthy benefits. Costco recently announced its new Citi Costco Credit Card with a similar gas focused offer.

To anyone following the fiercely competitive credit card scene, this sort of back-and-forth is nothing new. Banks have been competing with one another to produce the so-called "top of the wallet" credit card for years. Issuers want consumers to use their credit card in order to maximize per-swipe revenue, as well as help strengthen their brand and market share. Fortunately for consumers, the nature of this market has led to reward programs that would have been unheard of a decade ago.

Posted by orrinj at 4:05 PM


School's new policy bans parents from walking children to school (Andrea Watkins, APR 05 2016, FOX 26) 

Pick your child up from school and you could be charged with trespassing. That's the threat against parents at Bear Branch Elementary School in Magnolia ISD. This is the school's tactic to keep parents who live close to the school from walking on school grounds.

Bear Branch is losing students over this pick up policy, that's been in place since the beginning of this school year. The principal has decided that no matter how close the student lives to the school, the student must either take the bus, or the parent must wait in a long car pickup line. Try to walk your student off the campus and you could face criminal charges.

Jury nullification just waiting to happen.

Posted by orrinj at 3:58 PM


PLATOONS OF SELF-DRIVING TRUCKS CROSS EUROPE (Mary Beth Griggs, 4/07/16, Popular Science)

Yesterday, six platoons of self-driving trucks converged in Rotterdam in the Netherlands, part of the 2016 European Truck Platooning Challenge and marking the first time that trucks equipped with the technology had crossed international borders.

Platooning is when a group of automated or semi-automated trucks (a.k.a. a road train) is connected via wi-fi on the road. The trucks communicate with each other, maintaining a small distance between each vehicle. Having a short following distance is a bad idea for human drivers, who need more reaction time to react to a braking car up ahead. Computers don't have the same kind of problem, so they are able to take advantage of some of the perks of tailgating. Following closely together opens up more space for other drivers on the road, and also reduces the push of air against the trucks, cutting the amount of fuel needed by up to ten percent.

Posted by orrinj at 3:46 PM


AP-GfK Poll: Americans overwhelmingly view Trump negatively (JULIE PACE and EMILY SWANSON, Apr. 7, 2016, AP) 

For Americans of nearly every race, gender, political persuasion and location, disdain for Donald Trump runs deep, saddling the Republican front-runner with unprecedented unpopularity as he tries to overcome recent campaign setbacks.

Seven in 10 people, including close to half of Republican voters, have an unfavorable view of Trump, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll. It's an opinion shared by majorities of men and women; young and old; conservatives, moderates and liberals; and whites, Hispanics and blacks -- a devastatingly broad indictment of the billionaire businessman.

Even in the South, a region where Trump has won GOP primaries decisively, close to 70 percent view him unfavorably. And among whites without a college education, one of Trump's most loyal voting blocs, 55 percent have a negative opinion.

The GOP bears the defeat of S. 1348 like an anchor.

April 6, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 6:46 PM


Iran's missile happy 'moderates' (J. Matthew McInnis, April 6, 2016, AEIdeas)

Rouhani points to a missing key element in the debate about what to do about Iranian intransigence: Tehran views its missile program as an essential component of its defense. Iran's lack of a strong conventional military -- one that could effectively project and sustain air, land, and sea power well beyond its borders - means that the Islamic Republic relies almost exclusively on the fear of retaliation to deter adversaries such as the United States, Israel, or Saudi Arabia. Tehran only has a few forms of effective retaliation available to it, though, namely its ballistic missiles; its ability to conduct terrorism and asymmetric wars through proxy groups such as Lebanese Hezbollah; and other unconventional means such as its developing cyberwarfare capacity. Without these retaliatory capabilities, Iran would feel strategically naked.

Preserving the core of its proxy and militia network, the so-called "axis of resistance" centered on Lebanese Hezbollah, has motivated Iran to take any action deemed necessary over the past five years to ensure its position in Syria and support of President Bashar al-Assad. Preserving the missile program is considered equally as existential. We should expect Tehran to use any means necessary to protect and strengthen it.

The United States must stop thinking that countering Iran's missile program is the same as trying to halt its nuclear program. Tehran's effort to have the capability to build a nuclear weapon was (and may still be in the future) primarily an attempt to possess a potential deterrent against the United States, Israel, and other adversaries. Iran's ballistic missile program, though, is not only a delivery mechanism for possible nuclear weapons, but also a primary existing method of deterring its enemies. 

...that Israel and the US have nuclear weapons pointed at them.

Posted by orrinj at 6:35 PM


The Panama Papers Actually Reflect Pretty Well on Capitalism (Megan McArdle, 4/06/16, Bloomberg View0

What we've seen from the papers so far is not so much an indictment of global capitalism as an indictment of countries that have weak institutions and a lot of corruption. And for all the outrage in the United States, so far the message for us is pretty reassuring: We aren't one of those countries.

Consider the big names that have shown up so far on the list. With the notable exception of Iceland, these are not countries I would describe as "capitalist": Russia, Pakistan, Iraq, Ukraine, Egypt.  They're countries where kleptocratic government officials amass money not through commerce, but through quasi-legal extortion, or siphoning off the till. This is an activity that has gone on long before capitalism, and probably before there was money. Presenting this as an indictment of global capitalism is like presenting Romeo and Juliet as an after school special on the dangers of playing with knives.

The only American I've so far seen identified was a Chicago-area financial coach I've never heard of.  Moreover, even the folks who may be putting money offshore won't necessarily be doing so to avoid taxes or hide nefarious activity. Hedge funds, for example, are often incorporated in the Caymans for boring reasons having to do with quirks in the U.S. tax code (which would tax foreign investors on certain types of transactions) rather than to hide income or let Americans avoid their legally owed tax liabilities.

For that matter, even foreigners who are trying to hide their names might not be doing so for entirely unsavory reasons. People living under unstable regimes may have very good reasons to want to move assets outside the country; Jews in 1930s Germany did not put money in Swiss accounts because they were trying to lower their tax bill, but because they were trying to ensure that they would have enough set aside to flee the genocidal maniac ruling their country.

Trying to lump all these behaviors together under the rubric of "global capitalism" distorts the term to uselessness. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:11 PM


Singapore Is Getting Driverless Taxi Cabs (Robert Hackett, 4/06/16,  Fortune)

NuTonomy, a driverless car startup that spun out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology three years ago, has its sights set on operating a fully autonomous taxi service in Singapore.

Posted by orrinj at 4:15 PM


Obama Has Officially Adopted Bush's Iraq Doctrine (Jack Goldsmith, 4/06/16, TIME)

Last week the State Department's top lawyer, Brian Egan, gave an important but underreported speech that marked the final stage of the Obama administration's normalization of once-controversial Bush-era doctrines about the conduct of war. Before a gathering of geeky international law-loving lawyers in Washington, D.C., Egan announced the Obama administration's official embrace of the same preemption doctrine that justified the invasion of Iraq.

Egan's speech marks the culmination of a continuity project that began, to many people's surprise, at the beginning of Barack Obama's first term. Since 2009, Obama has adopted the notion of a global war against al-Qaeda and associates; he expanded the legal basis of that war to include ISIS; he embraced military detention without trial, military commissions, state secrets and large-scale secret surveillance; and he ramped up drone strikes, deployment of Special Forces and cyberattacks.

Until recently, however, the Obama team had stayed away from the doctrine that justified the invasion of Iraq. That doctrine, known as preemption, is an interpretation of international law rules related to anticipatory self-defense. International law has long permitted nations to deploy force in self-defense in the face of an "imminent" attack from another nation. The George W. Bush innovation was "to adapt the concept of imminent threat to the capabilities and objectives of today's adversaries," in the words of the National Security Strategy of 2003. "The greater the threat, the greater is the risk of inaction--and the more compelling the case for taking anticipatory action to defend ourselves, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy's attack."

Posted by orrinj at 3:54 PM


Country icon Merle Haggard, champion of the underdog, dies (KRISTIN M. HALL,  Apr. 6, 2016, AP)

Haggard -- along with fellow California country star Buck Owens -- was a founder of the twangy Bakersfield Sound, a direct contrast to the smooth, string-laden country records popular in Nashville, Tennessee, in the 1960s.

His music was rough yet sensitive, reflecting on childhood, marriage and daily struggles, telling stories of shame and redemption, or just putting his foot down in "The Fightin' Side of Me" and "I Think I'll Just Stay Here and Drink."

His most beloved songs included the prison ballad "Sing Me Back Home," the tributes to his mother "Mama Tried" and "Hungry Eyes," the romantic lament "Today I Started Loving You Again" and such blue collar chronicles as "If We Make It Through December" and "Workin' Man Blues."

"We've lost one of the greatest writers and singers of all time. His heart was as tender as his love ballads," said Dolly Parton. "I loved him like a brother."

Few faces in country were as recognizable as Haggard's, with its wary, sideways glance and chiseled, haunted features that seemed to bear every scar from his past.

General audiences knew him best for "Okie From Muskogee," a patriotic anthem released in 1969 at the height of the Vietnam War that quickly became a cultural touchstone for its anti-hippie lyrics proclaiming "we don't burn our draft cards down on Main Street; we like living right and being free."

"Okie from Muskogee" made him a hero among conservatives, but he softened on the counterculture and released the lighthearted "Big Time Annie's Square," a tribute to a hippie girl and her "crazy world." More recently, he was a backer of prominent Democrats. In 2007 he unveiled a song to promote Hillary Clinton and two years later he penned "Hopes Are High" to commemorate Obama's inauguration. In "America First," he even opposed the Iraq War, singing "Let's get out of Iraq, and get back on track."

In 1970, Haggard was named entertainer of the year by the Country Music Association, and "Okie From Muskogee" won best album and single. The No. 1 hits "Mama Tried" and "Workin' Man Blues" also broke onto the charts around that time, sealing his reputation as one of country's defining voices. He picked up another CMA album of the year in 1972 for "Let Me Tell You About a Song."

Still, Haggard referred to the improvisations of his band, the Strangers, as "country jazz," and in 1980, became the first country artist to appear on the cover of the jazz magazine "Downbeat."

He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1994, the same year he won a Grammy for best male country vocal performance in "That's the Way Love Goes."

Haggard also began headlining at Farm Aid, the benefit founded by his longtime friend Willie Nelson, and started touring with Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones.

Along with his albums of original songs, he recorded tributes to such early influences as country pioneer Jimmy Rodgers and Western swing king Bob Wills, and paired up with Nelson and George Jones among others. He also resisted the slick arrangements favored by some pop-country stars.

"I'll tell you what the public likes more than anything," he told the Boston Globe in 1999. "It's the most rare commodity in the world -- honesty."

Posted by orrinj at 3:48 PM


RPT-Pentagon weapons-maker finds method for cheap, clean water (David Alexander, 3/13/16, Reuters)

A defense contractor better known for building jet fighters and lethal missiles says it has found a way to slash the amount of energy needed to remove salt from seawater, potentially making it vastly cheaper to produce clean water at a time when scarcity has become a global security issue. [...]

The development could spare underdeveloped countries from having to build exotic, expensive pumping stations needed in plants that use a desalination process called reverse osmosis.

"It's 500 times thinner than the best filter on the market today and a thousand times stronger," said John Stetson, the engineer who has been working on the idea. "The energy that's required and the pressure that's required to filter salt is approximately 100 times less."

Posted by orrinj at 1:49 PM


Following in the frozen tracks of a beloved Icelandic detective : Icelandic author Arnaldur Indridason talks about Erlendur Sveinsson, the fictional detective whose brooding style has earned him fans around the world. (Kristina Lindborg, APRIL 6, 2016, CS Monitor)

Arnaldur - the Icelandic use first names - is a tall, unassuming, deep-voiced man. His choice of venue suits his demeanor. He weighs each question I pose as deliberately as he crafts his detective's crime solving style - with an economy of words that belies a depth of acuity. It's a style, says Arnaldur, that speaks to the core of what Iceland and its literary tradition, the Saga, are all about: storytelling that gets to the point with little fanfare. It's not surprising since the original sagas were written on cow skins, which left little room for flourish and re-writes.

The sagas, "just tell you the basic story in very few words and very effectively, brilliantly effectively."

Arnuldur says it's partly due to that solemn literary tradition that detective novels set in Iceland weren't taken seriously until fairly recently. After all, 1955 Nobel Prize winner Halldór Laxness had set the literary bar for Icelandic authors pretty high. The idea of crime fiction being a serious topic for literature just seemed like a joke.

Add to that the fact that Iceland isn't exactly a hotbed of criminal activity.

Posted by orrinj at 1:46 PM


Touching a Robot's 'Intimate Parts' Makes People Uncomfortable (Evan Ackerman, 5 Apr 2016, IEEE Spectrum)

Humanoid robots can sense the world around them, move their bodies, and interact with people in ways that are similar to the ways that real people interact. But a robot's "human-ness" is (at least for now) all just a simulation. It's a combination of clever software, and in some cases, hardware that's designed to make it easy for us to fool ourselves into thinking that some glorified box of circuits is even a little bit like a person. We're very, very good at fooling ourselves like this, to the point where it starts to get a little weird.

Researchers from Stanford University will present a paper at the Annual Conference of the International Communication Association in Fukuoka, Japan, in June, with the title of "Touching a Mechanical Body: Tactile Contact With Intimate Parts of a Human-Shaped Robot is Physiologically Arousing." The study shows that when a NAO robot asks humans to touch its butt, we get uncomfortable. This is weird because NAO doesn't really have a butt in the traditional sense of the word, and even if it did, it's just a robot, and on a very basic level it doesn't care where you touch it.

Posted by orrinj at 1:21 PM


This Bionic Eye Could Cure Blindness (Sam Grobart & Alan Jeffries, April 5, 2016, Bloomberg)

[N]euroscientist Sheila Nirenberg] has developed a visor-mounted camera that collects visual information from the world and sends it -- in code the brain understands -- to genes injected into the eye. Those genes signal the brain when they're exposed to light. Send the right impulses at the right time, and the brain processes the data as an image.

More than eight million Americans suffer from blindness. If Nirenberg's research bears fruit in the coming years, we may see that number start to move slowly toward zero.

April 5, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 8:26 PM


Trump campaign in disarray : Morale sinks as key battleground state staff laid off, including senior data operative. (KENNETH P. VOGEL, BEN SCHRECKINGER and ELI STOKOLS 04/05/16, Politico)

Donald Trump's campaign is increasingly falling into disarray as the Manhattan billionaire braces for a loss in Wisconsin that could set him on course for an uncertain convention floor fight for the Republican presidential nomination.

Since March, the campaign has been laying off field staff en masse around the country and has dismantled much of what existed of its organizations in general-election battlegrounds, including Florida and Ohio.

Last month, the campaign laid off the leader of its data team, Matt Braynard, who did not train a successor. It elevated his No. 2, a data engineer with little prior high-level political strategy experience, and also shifted some of his team's duties to a 2015 college graduate whose last job was an internship with the consumer products company Colgate-Palmolive. Some of the campaign's data remains inaccessible.

As the final stretch of this hard fought GOP primary bogs down into a delegate fight among party insiders and operatives that likely won't be decided until the July convention in Cleveland, Trump's singular star power appears to be no longer enough--and his campaign's months-long lack of attention to other fundamentals is emerging as a hindrance to his ability to clinch the nomination outright.

"Presidential campaigns are a team sport, and he doesn't have that mentality," one high-level GOP operative said.

Posted by orrinj at 8:22 PM


In Ford Decision To Build Mexico Plant, UAW Is Only Getting What It Asked For (Dale Buss, 4/05/16, Forbes)

UAW President Dennis Williams called Ford's plan "very troubling," in a statement, and said the investment by Ford meant creating jobs that "should have been available right here in the U.S.A."

"Should" is an especially pregnant term for Williams to use, because these definitely are jobs that could -- or at least might -- have been retained in the United States if only he and his cohorts had played their hands differently in contract negotiations last year.

Essentially, Williams and his lieutenants knowingly sacrificed these small-car jobs in their new labor contract, leveraging the threat of strikes and risking the long-term interests of the union and its membership for the very, very short-term payoff of wages that ended up being significantly higher than they otherwise would have obtained - and for huge profit-sharing payouts, which for the average Ford worker were a record $9,300.

Posted by orrinj at 8:15 PM


6 Reasons the Bull Market Won't Go Away (Kira Brecht, April 5, 2016, US News)

Despite getting old, there are still signs this bull market will continue.

"At 84 months, this bull market run is the third-longest in history," says Hank Smith, chief investment officer at Philadelphia area-based Haverford Trust. "Despite headlines to the contrary, age does not kill bull markets. Recessions or the anticipation of a recession end bull markets. Fortunately, the economic data does not support that narrative."

While economists have bemoaned the sluggish growth rate of the current economic cycle, there could be a silver lining to the slow but steady outlook.

"One of the advantages of the so-called '2 percent recovery' is there has not been enough growth to create traditional excesses - inflation, inventories, overstaffing, overbuilding, overbuying, overlending - that would typically lead to the next recession. This could turn out to be one of the longest economic expansions," Smith says. [...]

Earnings growth. Earnings will be a big key to driving stocks higher, Canally says. "Steady GDP growth in 2016 should help set the tone for better corporate revenue growth, which historically has correlated well with the growth of the overall economy. Adding in improving growth overseas, a more stable dollar and stable energy prices, we think will help drive earnings gains in the mid-single digits by the end of 2016 and into 2017," Canally says.

Recession risk is low. While manufacturing remains in modest contraction mode, the backdrop for the U.S. consumer is generally favorable, says Terry Sandven, chief equity strategist at U.S. Bank Wealth Management in Minneapolis. "Wages are firming, consumer savings are up, low energy prices are bolstering discretionary spending and housing remains solid. Importantly, bear markets typically occur in and around recessions when inflation is heating up. The Fed is fully entrenched in tightening mode, valuations are extended and investor sentiment is approaching euphoria. This does not seem to reflect our current environment."

Only Fed rate hikes into the teeth of deflation could kill the economy.

Posted by orrinj at 1:07 PM


Why Everyone Must Get Ready For 4th Industrial Revolution (Bernard Marr, 4/05/16, Forbes)

Professor Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, has published a book entitled The Fourth Industrial Revolution in which he describes how this fourth revolution is fundamentally different from the previous three, which were characterized mainly by advances in technology.

In this fourth revolution, we are facing a range of new technologies that combine the physical, digital and biological worlds. These new technologies will impact all disciplines, economies and industries, and even challenge our ideas about what it means to be human.

These technologies have great potential to continue to connect billions more people to the web, drastically improve the efficiency of business and organizations and help regenerate the natural environment through better asset management, potentially even undoing all the damage previous industrial revolutions have caused. [...]

For example, as automation increases, computers and machines will replace workers across a vast spectrum of industries, from drivers to accountants and estate agents to insurance agents. By one estimate, as many as 47 percent of U.S. jobs are at risk from automation.

Posted by orrinj at 1:02 PM


U.S. Helping Iran Access Billions in Frozen Funds (Adam Kredo, April 5, 2016, Free Beacon)

The United States has been engaged in an effort to ease longstanding financial restrictions on Iran and has taken steps to aid the Islamic republic as it seeks to access billions of dollars in frozen assets, some of which could be used to fund the country's global terrorist enterprise, a top State Department official testified to Congress.

The disclosure of this effort comes amid reports that the Obama administration is pursuing a plan that would grant Iran unprecedented access to the U.S. dollar and American financial markets, a move the administration had vowed would not take place under the comprehensive nuclear agreement.

Posted by orrinj at 12:45 PM


US GDP per capita by state vs. European countries and Japan, Korea, Mexico and China and some lessons for The Donald (Mark J. Perry, 4/05/16, AEI)

Adjusting for PPP allows us to make a more accurate "apples to apples" comparison of GDP per capita among countries around the world by adjusting for the differences in prices in each country. For example, the UK's unadjusted GDP per capita was $45,729 in 2014, but because prices there are higher on average than in the US (for food, clothing, energy, transportation, etc.), the PPP adjustment lowers per capita GDP in the UK to below $40,000. On the hand, consumer prices in South Korea are generally lower than in the US, so that increases its GDP per capita from below $28,000 on an unadjusted basis to above $34,000 on a PPP basis.

As the chart demonstrates, most European countries (including Germany, Sweden, Denmark and Belgium) if they joined the US, would rank among the poorest one-third of US states on a per-capita GDP basis, and the UK, France, Japan and New Zealand would all rank among America's very poorest states, below No. 47 West Virginia, and not too far above No. 50 Mississippi. Countries like Italy, S. Korea, Spain, Portugal and Greece would each rank below Mississippi as the poorest states in the country.

We are the dirty stinking rich.

Posted by orrinj at 12:32 PM


State Department Under Secretary: 'No Doubt' Iran Continuing to Fund Terrorism (David Rutz, April 5, 2016, Free Beacon)

Testifying at a Senate hearing on recent Iranian missile tests and their effect on Iran nuclear deal implementation, [Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Shannon] told Sen. David Perdue (R., Ga.) "we are seeing it" all over the region.

"In regard to whether or not Iran continues to fund terrorism-related activities or destabilizing activities in the region, there's no doubt that that's true, and we are seeing it," Shannon said. "Whether it's in Syria, whether it's Lebanon and Hezbollah, whether it is in Yemen with what they're doing with the Houthi rebels, and we continue to do what we can through authorities that we have ... to sanction when possible and to counteract the activities of Iran in the region."

April 4, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 8:06 PM


Construction Worker Hangs Mexican Flag From Trump Tower in Canada (Sarah Begley, 4/04/16, TIME)

A construction worker posted a photo of himself beside a Mexican flag hung atop the Trump International Hotel & Tower Vancouver, saying he put it there to draw attention to the many Mexicans who he says helped build it.

"Why did I put a Mexican flag on the roof top of Trump Tower Vancouver, ??????" Diego Saul Reyna wrote on Facebook. "Because from the concrete pouring, finishing, drywall, taping, wood forming and general labour, Mexicans were there, building it, doing good work, the comments Trump has made about us, did not stop us from doing the high quality work we have always done, in our home country or when we migrate to the US/Canada."

Posted by orrinj at 1:37 PM


Why Is Marriage Thriving Among (and Only Among) the Affluent? : Experts struggle to explain one of the biggest drivers of inequality. (Anne Kim, April/May 2016, Washington Monthly)

In 2010, according to the Pew Research Center, only about half of all Americans over age eighteen were married, compared to nearly three out of four in 1960. Americans today are marrying later, if at all, and the share of Americans who've never married has climbed to record highs. As one result, the share of children growing up with single moms is also skyrocketing; in 2013, 41 percent of all births were to unmarried women.

But the seeming decline of marriage includes one major caveat: educated elites. When it comes to marriage, divorce, and single motherhood, the 1950s never ended for college-educated Americans, and for college-educated women in particular. According to the researchers Shelly Lundberg, of the University of California, Santa Barbara, and Robert Pollak, of Washington University in St. Louis, the share of young college-graduate white women who were married in 2010 was a little over 70 percent--almost exactly the same as it was in 1950. College-educated white women are, moreover, half as likely as other women to be divorced, according to Steven Martin of the University of Maryland, and they are also refusing single motherhood. Fewer than 9 percent of women with a bachelor's degree or more had an unwed birth in 2011--a level barely higher than what it was for all women in 1950.

Pay attention to what we do, not what we say.

April 3, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 6:39 PM


Electoral Map Is a Reality Check to Donald Trump's Bid (JONATHAN MARTIN and NATE COHN, APRIL 2, 2016, NY Times)

Donald J. Trump's presidential candidacy has stunned the Republican Party. But if he survives a late revolt by his rivals and other leaders to become the party's standard-bearer in the general election, the electoral map now coming into view is positively forbidding.

In recent head-to-head polls with one Democrat whom Mr. Trump may face in the fall, Hillary Clinton, he trails in every key state, including Florida and Ohio, despite her soaring unpopularity ratings with swing voters.

In Democratic-leaning states across the Rust Belt, which Mr. Trump has vowed to return to the Republican column for the first time in nearly 30 years, his deficit is even worse: Mrs. Clinton leads him by double digits in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

Mr. Trump is so negatively viewed, polls suggest, that he could turn otherwise safe Republican states, usually political afterthoughts because of their strong conservative tilt, into tight contests. In Utah, his deep unpopularity with Mormon voters suggests that a state that has gone Republican every election for a half-century could wind up in play. 

Just a glimpse of what America thinks of pure Right Wing ideology.

Posted by orrinj at 6:16 PM


Syrian Nusra Front's Abu Firas, foreign jihadists killed in Idlib air strike (Reuters, 4/03/16)

A prominent leader in Syrian Al Qaeda offshoot the Nusra Front was killed on Sunday in an air raid in the rebel held north western province of Idlib alongside at least 20 other militants including foreign jihadists, rebels and a monitoring group said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which tracks violence in the country, confirmed reports on websites by militant sympathizers that Abu Firas, "the Syrian", was killed in a suspected Syrian or Russian air raid on a village northwest of the city of Idlib in northwestern Syria.

Abu Firas was a well known figure who had many followers within the hardline group and who gave commentaries released by Nusra Front on sensitive issues ranging from governance to religious jurisprudence.

An Islamist source said Abu Firas was a founding member of the militant group who fought in Afghanistan in the 1980s and was a senior member of its policy making Shura Council. He also worked with Osama bin Laden.

Posted by orrinj at 6:08 PM


Syrian Alawites distance themselves from Assad (Caroline Wyatt, 3 April 2016, BBC)

In a deeply unusual move, leaders of President Bashar al-Assad's Alawite sect in Syria have released a document, obtained by the BBC, that distances themselves from his regime and outlines what kind of future they wish for the country after five years of civil war.

The community and religious leaders say they hope to "shine a light" on the Alawites after a long period of secrecy, at what they call "an important moment" in their history.

In the eight-page document, termed a "declaration of identity reform", the Alawites say they represent a third model "of and within Islam".

Those behind the text say Alawites are not members of a branch of Shia Islam - as they have been described in the past by Shia clerics - and that they are committed to "the fight against sectarian strife".

They also make clear that they adhere to "the values of equality, liberty and citizenship", and call for secularism to be the future of Syria, and a system of governance in which Islam, Christianity and all other religions are equal.

And despite Alawites having dominated Syria's government and security services under Mr Assad and his late father Hafez for more than four decades, they stress that the legitimacy of his regime "can only be considered according to the criteria of democracy and fundamental rights".

In other words, there is no constituency that wants Assad to remain.

Posted by orrinj at 6:01 PM


Iran Oil Minister Refuses Saudi Demand to Curb Crude Output : Bijan Zanganeh's remarks follow Saudi prince balking at production curbs on Friday (BENOIT FAUCON and  SUMMER SAID, April 3, 2016, WSJ)

Iran's oil minister on Sunday rejected a Saudi demand to stop throttling up its petroleum production, potentially threatening a global deal to limit crude output and raise prices.

Posted by orrinj at 2:22 PM


As Sanctions End, European Banks Return To Iranian Transactions (JESS MCHUGH, 04/03/16, IB Times)

Some European banks, including Belgium's KBC, Germany's DZ Bank and Austria's Erste Bank, have slowly returned to business with Iran following a historic deal between the Middle Eastern country and several world powers in July 2015, the Financial Times reported Sunday. 

Posted by orrinj at 2:17 PM


One reported dead in blast claimed by Islamic State at police station south of Riyadh (Reuters, 4/03/16)

An improvised explosive device planted next to a police station south of the Saudi capital Riyadh killed one person, the Saudi Interior Ministry said in a statement carried on state news agency SPA on Sunday.

Posted by orrinj at 10:29 AM


The Escape: The night Wade Davis cemented his status as the best reliever in baseball (RUSTIN DODD, 4/03/16, kcstar.com)

Every great escape begins with an unanticipated move. Wade Davis began his with a 2-0 breaking ball at the knees.

As the ninth inning of Game 6 continued at Kauffman Stadium, Davis looked in at Toronto left fielder Ben Revere, a speedy left-handed hitter with an uncanny ability to put the ball in play. From 2012 to 2015, Revere had recorded the third-highest contact rate in all of baseball, connecting on 91.8 percent of his swings. With two runners in scoring position and one out, he was the worst kind of foe. Davis needed a strikeout. Revere rarely whiffed.

As Davis stared down Revere, he missed with a 97 mph fastball for ball one. Davis followed with a 93 mph cutter that darted too far inside.

During the 2015 season, Revere had gotten ahead 2-0 in 75 plate appearances. He had reached base 53 percent of the time. He was batting .358 in those situations.

Davis needed something extra. He came set and unfurled a breaking ball that bit hard and spun across the zone for strike one. In the television booth above home plate, Fox Sports' Harold Reynolds nearly gasped.

"A little 2-0 slider," Reynolds said. "I'm sure that Revere was not thinking that was coming his direction, that's for sure."

If the breaking ball was daring, it followed the theme of the night. One hour earlier, Davis sat on an exercise bike inside Kauffman Stadium, maintaining a sweat as rain poured from the sky, halting the game. Davis had entered in the top of the eighth, after Ryan Madson gave up a game-tying, two-run homer to José Bautista. Davis finished off the Blue Jays in the eighth, but then the rains came, prompting players from both teams to seek cover.

Davis returned to the tunnel outside the clubhouse, where he found Eiland, the Royals' pitching coach. On most nights, Eiland says, the deadline for a pitcher to return after a rain delay can be 30 to 45 minutes. But this was not most nights. Davis told Eiland he was fine to go. Eiland nodded, left and returned five minutes later. Davis was still fine.

"You've got to listen to the player," Eiland says now. "Not only listen to him, but you've got to hear conviction. And it was 100 percent. He was 100 percent convicted with his words and the look in his eye."

By that point, of course, the Royals were already in survival mode, every option on the table. Davis had been on alert in the eighth inning, with the Royals leading 3-1. But the impending rainstorm had scuttled Yost's plans. Five months later, Yost says he likely would have used Davis in the eighth, if not for the storm.

"I knew if I pitched him in the eighth, it was going to rain," Yost says. "I knew rain was coming in 15 minutes. And I knew, in looking at it, it's probably going to be anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour rain delay."

As it was, Yost needed Davis in the eighth inning anyway. Thirty minutes later, Davis hopped off an exercise bike and played some light catch in a tunnel. Eiland checked on him again. Davis looked him in the eye and said he was good. But as the delay dragged on, he began to worry.

"I shouldn't say I was nervous," Davis says. "I think I was more worried that I would shut down. We had thrown a lot to that point in the season already, and the year before. I think I was worried about just maybe not being able to physically have the same stuff."

As Davis took the mound in the ninth, his fears were assuaged during a lengthy at-bat with Kevin Pillar, who drew a walk, stole second and represented the go-ahead run. By the time Revere stood in the box, Davis felt like himself again. His arm was working. His breaking stuff had bite. He drew the count even at 2-2 on a 97 mph fastball on the corner. He buried Revere with an 88 mph curveball.

As Kauffman Stadium exploded, Revere returned to the dugout and swung away at a dugout trash can. The Royals were one out from the World Series. Davis was one out from a historic escape. The batter was Josh Donaldson, the presumptive American League Most Valuable Player. Inside the dugout, Eiland and Yost shared another glance.

"He was still facing Wade," Yost says now. "He was still facing Wade."

When the Royals acquired Wade Davis before the 2013 season, the thought process was simple: General manager Dayton Moore believed Davis could be a back-of-the-rotation starter on a team starved for starting pitching. If he burned out as starter, Davis could move to the bullpen.

The Royals could not know, of course, that they had landed one of the greatest relief weapons in the history of baseball. They could not know that more than three years after that, the James Shields Trade might as well be named for Wade Davis.

"Dadgum," Yost says, "who would have known back then that he was going to be the absolute best?"

Posted by orrinj at 10:05 AM


ISIS rocket expert Khadijah killed in drone strike: coalition spokesman (Reuters, 4/03/16)

Jasim Khadijah, an Islamic State member believed to be responsible for a deadly attack by militants on U.S. troops in northern Iraq, has been killed in a drone strike, a spokesman of the anti-IS coalition said in Baghdad on Sunday.

Posted by orrinj at 9:50 AM


SORRY NOT SORRY : Bryce Harper -- his play, his attitude, his hair! -- is on a mission to change baseball forever. (TIM KEOWN, 03/10/16 • ESPN THE MAGAZINE)

The swing is raging and primeval, a broken dam, a convulsion. It appears to have been engineered for a different time -- perhaps to slaughter animals for sustenance or enemies for land. Its grace is as undeniable as its brutality, and to employ it strictly for the purpose of striking a moving baseball, as Bryce Harper is doing inside a warehouse in an industrial park near the Las Vegas airport, could classify as a serious underutilization of resources.

This Tuesday afternoon offseason hitting session is off-the-record -- observation is welcome; description is not -- but it's no betrayal of confidence to report that Harper goes about his work with forensic vigor. He trains with his father, Ron, and the two move about the cage in silence. There's an easy, liquid flow from drill to drill, a choreography of blood, with Ron pushing a double-decker shopping cart full of baseballs from station to station and musician Chris Stapleton's voice carrying that same kind of brutal grace through a tiny speaker behind home plate.

The sound of these baseballs hitting the 34-inch, 32-ounce Marucci bat is what I imagine lightning sounds like when it splits an oak. Inside this warehouse, where four-time National League batting champion Bill Madlock is one cage over employing a career's worth of expertise to teach a couple of overindulged 10-year-olds to keep their weight back, it sounds like an entire forest is falling, one tree at a time.

BRYCE HARPER IS the rare prodigy who appears destined to fulfill his promise. Baseball's culture -- uniquely unkind to prodigies -- is built on earning dues, bus rides, failure, grinding, surviving and then lording that over the guys who arrive after you. It's kind of like the military, with Danville and Gwinnett instead of Forts Bragg and Hood.

Harper was different. He was 13 the first time he remembers every person in a stadium turning as one and saying, "That's Bryce Harper." He was in Alabama, at a tournament called Rocket City, and he spent the weekend going 12-for-12 with 11 homers. All along, he's been the kid whose childhood prowess reads like a series of clerical errors. He hit a 570-foot homer as a freshman at Las Vegas High, threw 96 off the mound as a 16-year-old, hit .569 his sophomore year, then got his GED to jump directly to junior college to be drafted ahead of his class.

Prodigies, whether their instrument is a piano or a 34-inch Marucci, share a trait Boston College psychology chair Ellen Winner has dubbed "the rage to master." It's not so much anger as persistence. "You can't tear them away," says Winner, author of Gifted Children: Myths and Realities. "They're single-minded. They just want to get better and better."

Harper played 120 to 140 games a year as a preteen and hit nearly every day with his dad, an upright, puglike man who spent decades swinging 300-pound bundles of rebar high above the Vegas Strip. "He'd get up at 2, at work by 4, work 'til 2 in the blazing heat and then walk in the door and say, 'OK, let's get the hittin' in,'" Bryce says. "He was never too tired."

Bryce also played football through his freshman year (a broken wrist took care of that), basketball through middle school (he was the offensively challenged lane enforcer) and spent a month each year on the beach in California with his family. His only regret, he says, is not leaving high school after his first year, since he felt his rage had mastered prep baseball and his brother, Bryan (a pitcher in the Nats' system), had graduated.

"I can't remember a time when Bryce didn't have big calluses on his hands from hitting," says Tanner Chauncey, a friend and teammate of Harper's since elementary school and a baseball player at BYU. "He was working when the rest of us weren't."

Posted by orrinj at 9:36 AM


The Chicago Cubs and the New Baseball : The longtime losers are now the preseason favorites--a sign of how the smartest teams have become the best ones. (ROBERT O'CONNELL, 4/03/16, The Atlantic)

Theo Epstein, Chicago's president of baseball operations, has helped break a bad streak before: Epstein was the general manager for the Boston Red Sox when they ended their own 86-year World Series drought in 2004. In its construction and style of play, that team exemplified the bold era of the '90s and aughts. Its stars, the sluggers Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz and the pitchers Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling, had all started their Major League careers elsewhere and been brought to Boston via the plundering that was common among the game's richest clubs. They played baseball the way action heroes drive cars. The batters hit booming home runs, and the pitchers piled up strikeouts; they had little use for the relative nuances of sharp baserunning or tidy defense.

In the decade-plus since Epstein's first triumph, baseball has undergone significant changes. Sluggers are rarer, to begin with, due to tougher performance-enhancing drug testing in response to the excesses of the steroid era. Strategies have shifted as well. The tactics once used by less affluent teams as a means of making up economic disadvantages--acquiring younger and cheaper players through the amateur draft, paying attention to skills subtler than home-run power and batting average, privileging adaptability over sheer accumulated talent--have spread throughout the game. On the field and in the front office, baseball has become cleverer and quicker.

Epstein's second try at saving a storied but star-crossed franchise therefore involves a more varied cast of characters than his first. Many of the Cubs' key players--the 2015 Rookie of the Year Kris Bryant, the shortstop Addison Russell, the homer-swatting left field duo of Kyle Schwarber and Jorge Soler--were either drafted by the club or acquired as minor-leaguers. Others, like the 2015 Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta and the stalwart first baseman Anthony Rizzo, were pinched from other teams early in their big-league careers and have since blossomed in Chicago. Serving as the manager for this precocious squad is Joe Maddon, a jocular, white-haired seer in thick-rimmed glasses who came to prominence not by steering one of baseball's bluebloods but by leading one of the game's poorest teams, the Tampa Bay Rays, as they spent much of the late 2000s besting organizations that outspent them by orders of magnitude (Epstein's Red Sox included).

Maybe most representative of the new tenets of team-building, though, are a pair of players the Cubs added during the offseason with the goal of jumping from contenders to champions. Jason Heyward hit a modest 13 home runs last year, but he plays the best right field in baseball, gliding in every direction, making difficult catches seem ordinary by the precision of his routes. Ben Zobrist, last seen helping the Kansas City Royals win the World Series, will usually play second base but is comfortable almost anywhere on the diamond. This versatility, combined with an abbot's patience at the plate, earned him Maddon's admiration in Tampa, where Zobrist began his career. A short while ago, these two players might have been pet favorites of baseball's burgeoning intelligentsia, their quieter skills mostly overlooked in an era when money and acclaim generally followed the ability to hit a ball high and hard. This winter, the Cubs signed them to contracts worth nearly a quarter of a billion dollars combined.

Even fans without a particular interest in the historical aspect may well find themselves enamored with this Chicago team as the 2016 season unfolds, owing to its approach instead of its potential streak-ending significance. The Cubs offer something for nearly every preference. The pitching aficionado will enjoy the work of Arrieta, whose grim stare and heavy black beard brings to mind a hardened Arctic sea captain and who pitches in a manner that fits the image. Devotees of the long ball in its current, post-steroidal form will have something to watch every time the Cubs' batting order nears the middle, where Rizzo and Bryant wait to bash any pitcher's error into the Wrigley Field bleachers. Defense, too, figures to be on display, with Zobrist and Russell teaming up for clever double plays and Heyward snaring balls that looked like sure hits leaving the bat. And for the type of fan inclined to obsess over lineup orders, positional platoons, and defensive shifts, the ever-tinkering Maddon will make a fine stand-in.

The task of a club is not to pursue balance, of course; it is to win. In putting together the 2016 Cubs, Epstein no more honored the game's variety than he did when assembling those comparatively one-note 2004 Red Sox. He simply tried to make his team as good as it could be, and in the present climate, the best teams tend to be the most resourceful.

Regardless of intention, this Chicago team does reflect a new health in certain recently ignored areas of baseball aesthetics. Where there was once a dichotomy--the rich teams loading up on power, the rest trying whatever guerrilla tactics might let them compete--there's now a fully filled-in stylistic spectrum. Last year's World Series was contested by the Royals, who trade in base hits and abundant speed and team defense, and the New York Mets, driven by a cavalcade of variously gifted young starting pitchers. Had a couple balls bounced differently over the course of October, the Series might have featured teams built on prodigious infield play or the now-retro homer-hunting model. More than at any point in the 21st century, baseball is awash with distinct approaches, all stemming from a common commitment to valuing a player's contributions in whatever form they may take.

Posted by orrinj at 8:53 AM


Roadside History: Candia sign commemorates editor and poet Sam Walter Foss, 1858-1911 (Union Leader, 2/19/16)

Where it is: It's located at the junction of routes 43 and 101 in Candia.

When the sign was erected: Historic marker number 141 was placed in 1981.

What the sign says: Candia is the birthplace of the well known poet, journalist and publisher, Sam Walter Foss. Son of Dyer and Polly Foss, he was born June 19, 1858. His homespun verse and country poems were great favorites. "The House By the Side of the Road," the most popular, was believed to have been inspired by his boyhood home, on Brown Road, in this town.

The House by the Side of the Road [Sam Walter Foss (1858-1911)]

There are hermit
souls that live withdrawn
In the peace of their self-content;
There are souls, like stars, that dwell apart,
In a fellowless firmament;
There are pioneer souls that blaze their paths
Where highways never ran;-
But let me live by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

Let me live in a house
by the side of the road,
Where the race of men go by-
The men who are good and the men who are bad,
As good and as bad as I.
I would not sit in the scorner's seat,
Or hurl the cynic's ban;-
Let me live in a house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

I see from my house
by the side of the road,
By the side of the highway of life,
The men who press with the ardor of hope,
The men who are faint with the strife.
But I turn not away from their smiles nor their tears-
Both parts of an infinite plan;-
Let me live in my house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

I know there are brook-gladdened
meadows ahead
And mountains of wearisome height;
That the road passes on through the long afternoon
And stretches away to the night.
But still I rejoice when the travelers rejoice,
And weep with the strangers that moan,
Nor live in my house by the side of the road
Like a man who dwells alone.

Let me live in my
house by the side of the road
Where the race of men go by-
They are good, they are bad, they are weak, they are strong,
Wise, foolish- so am I.
Then why should I sit in the scorner's seat
Or hurl the cynic's ban?-
Let me live in my house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

Posted by orrinj at 8:45 AM


Without Exceptionalism : Trump doesn't know what makes America great. (DANIEL KRAUTHAMMER, 4/11/16, Weekly Standard)

[H]e repeats words like winning, great, huge, beat, kill, deals, successful, rich. He quotes himself and his own books. The central idea at the heart of Trumpism is the idea of winning. And winning, by his definition, means beating a loser. Right now, he says, we're losing to China and Mexico and Japan and all the rest. But he'll change that. He'll reverse the flow of money from foreigners and illegal immigrants back into the pockets of hardworking Americans. Trump's world is a zero-sum game, and Trump's America will start winning again only when everyone else starts losing.

This simplistic thinking defies logic and basic economics. But it does appeal to a certain sense of American nationalism: that "we" as a collective need to rally around a strong leader who will make us once again richer and more powerful than everyone else. Why? Because we're us and they're them. This kind of nationalism, however, is completely unexceptional. The leaders of literally any other country on earth could--and often do--say the same thing to their people and appeal to the same nationalistic sentiments. There is nothing uniquely American about what Trump espouses. There is no American ideal or philosophy providing a moral reason for this national mission to "win."

What has been unique in American political discourse for 240 years is that our ideals have given a higher purpose to our common mission to govern ourselves at home and champion our values abroad. Americans, Jefferson wrote, are "trusted with the destinies of this solitary republic of the world, the only monument of human rights, and the sole depository of the sacred fire of freedom and self-government, from hence it is to be lighted up in other regions of the earth, if other regions of the earth shall ever become susceptible of its benign influence." It fills me with pride to belong to the one country in history to have built its foundation and forged its bonds of citizenship on these magnificent ideals. It has given me a deep love for my country--a patriotism I feel in my bones.

Many foreigners find this somewhat mystifying, if not unsettling. My European friends in particular are often shocked when they come to America and see how often and fervently we wave the flag, sing the national anthem, and celebrate our military. They recoil and ask how I can partake in such naked displays of nationalism. In their countries, comparable shows of national sentiment are often linked to racism, xenophobia, militarism, and chauvinism. And not without reason: The history of Europe and much of the world is replete with countless tragic examples of political leaders whipping their countrymen into a nationalistic fury to start wars, crush individual rights, oppress minorities, and even commit genocide.

But America is different, I explain, unique in that our national identity is based on ideas. Without a shared belief in liberty, democracy, and equal opportunity, we would cease to be Americans in any meaningful sense. Our patriotic displays express a shared pride and dedication to those ideals far beyond any brittle bond of race, ethnicity, or narrow sense of nationality.

Donald Trump is chipping away at that truth, reducing American patriotism to an ugly and tawdry nationalism bereft of true American values

Posted by orrinj at 8:30 AM


100 funny jokes by 100 comedians (The Telegraph, 4/02/16)

April 2, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 7:51 PM


The World May Have Too Much Food (John Tozzi, March 31, 2016, Bloomberg)

Behind the global spike is greater access to cheap food as incomes have risen. [...]

The main takeaway? Excess weight has become a far bigger global health problem than weighing too little. While low body weight is still a substantial health risk for parts of Africa and South Asia, being too heavy is a much more common hazard around the globe.

We don't have an excess of food; we have a shortage or people.

Posted by orrinj at 12:20 PM


Officials say a U.S. drone strike in Somalia has killed a key leader of the al-Shabab militant group (LOLITA C. BALDOR, 3/02/16,Associated Press)

A U.S. drone strike in Somalia has targeted a key leader of the al-Shabab militant group who was involved in two attacks in Mogadishu more than a year ago that killed more than 30 people, at least three Americans among them, the Pentagon said Friday. Several U.S. officials said he and two others were killed.

Hassan Ali Dhoore was targeted in the airstrike Thursday, but the U.S. military was still assessing the results, Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said in a statement. Other U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss the operation, said it occurred about 20 miles south of Jilib in southern Somalia not far from the Kenya border, killing Dhoore and two others.

Posted by orrinj at 12:14 PM


The Outgroup and Its Errors (ALAN JACOBS, April 2, 2016, American Conservative)

A couple of years ago, Scott Alexander wrote a post titled "I Can Tolerate Anything Except the Outgroup." I strongly recommend that you read the whole thing, but essentially Alexander sets out to answer a question: How is it that, say, straight white men can be gracious and kind to, say, lesbian black women while being unremittingly bitter towards other straight white men? What has happened here to the old distinction between ingroups and outgroups? His answer is that "outgroups may be the people who look exactly like you, and scary foreigner types can become the in-group on a moment's notice when it seems convenient."

Then Alexander gives a powerful example. He mentions being chastised by readers who thought he was "uncomplicatedly happy" when he expressed relief that Osama bin Laden was dead.

Of the "intelligent, reasoned, and thoughtful" people I knew, the overwhelming emotion was conspicuous disgust that other people could be happy about his death. I hastily backtracked and said I wasn't happy per se, just surprised and relieved that all of this was finally behind us. [...]

Then a few years later, Margaret Thatcher died. And on my Facebook wall - made of these same "intelligent, reasoned, and thoughtful" people - the most common response was to quote some portion of the song "Ding Dong, The Witch Is Dead". Another popular response was to link the videos of British people spontaneously throwing parties in the street, with comments like "I wish I was there so I could join in." From this exact same group of people, not a single expression of disgust or a "c'mon, guys, we're all human beings here."

Even when he pointed this out, none of his readers saw a problem with their joy in Thatcher's death. And that's when Alexander realized that "if you're part of the Blue Tribe, then your outgroup isn't al-Qaeda, or Muslims, or blacks, or gays, or transpeople, or Jews, or atheists - it's the Red Tribe."

Since Alexander wrote that post, an article has appeared based on research that confirms his hypothesis. "Fear and Loathing across Party Lines: New Evidence on Group Polarization," by Shanto Iyengar and Sean J. Westwood, indicates that Americans today do not simply feel animus towards those who disagree with with politically, but are prepared to act on it. 

Thus Democrats rabidly despised the progressive W and Republicans the conservative UR.
Posted by orrinj at 9:45 AM


'A Front-Row Seat. To Misery.' (NY Times, 4/02/16)

Shock. Anger. Agony. Pain. Behold the faces of Mets fans in this picture, taken by Chang W. Lee of The New York Times as the Royals' Eric Hosmer dived safely home to tie the score in the ninth inning of Game 5 of last year's World Series. Three innings later, the Royals scored five runs to win the championship. After Mets officials declined to help us identify any of the people in the photo, we managed to track down 11 of them. With the Mets and the Royals set to begin a new season when they play on Sunday, we asked those with the best view of the play to relive it.

Posted by orrinj at 9:18 AM


Charles Bradley, Live In Concert: SXSW 2016 (STEPHEN THOMPSON, 3/29/16, NPR)

Posted by orrinj at 9:12 AM


Sanders, Trump, and the Rise of the Non-Voters (BENJAMIN WALLACE-WELLS, 4/02/16, The New Yorker)

The non-voters are younger, according to a 2014 Pew study. They are also less educated and have lower incomes. On the whole, there are fewer Protestants and more Catholics among non-voters than among voters, as well as fewer whites. Non-voters and voters might have roughly the same view of the Democrats, but you wouldn't expect them to have the same view of much else.

In 2013, the political scientists Jan Leighley, of American University, and Jonathan Nagler, of New York University, published the results of a study that compared, among other things, the political views of voters and non-voters, dating back to 1972. On most social issues (abortion, L.G.B.T. rights), there was no measurable difference between them. Non-voters were more inclined toward isolationism. (Leighley and Nagler thought this might be because non-voters knew more soldiers than voters, and were more reluctant to see them sent into conflict.) The difference on economic matters was much more dramatic. Non-voters, Leighley and Nagler found, favored much more progressive economic policies than voters did. They preferred higher taxes, and more spending on schools and health care, by margins that hovered around fifteen per cent. "The voters may be representative of the electorate on some issues," Leighley and Nagler wrote, "but they are not representative of the electorate on issues that go to the core of the role of government in modern democracies." That non-voters had the same partisan preferences as voters only seemed to strengthen the finding--they wanted more redistribution regardless of whether they were Democrats or Republicans.

As unpredictable as this Presidential campaign has been, its two most successful outsider candidates, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, have in this sense followed established patterns: they have run campaigns that seemed perfectly matched to the preferences of people who do not normally vote. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:17 AM


A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Recession (A. Gary Shilling, 3/31/16, Bloomberg View)

I've never been shy about forecasting recession when the conditions are ripe, as I did emphatically during the dot-com bubble of the late 1990s and in 2007 as the collapse in subprime mortgages began to unfold. But this year, I simply didn't see a trigger for a business downturn (although I did allow that if crude oil prices dropped to my target of $10 to $20 per barrel, the resulting financial fallout would probably precipitate a global economic downturn). Instead, I noted that recessions have typically resulted from substantial Fed interest rate hikes or major shocks.

Sure, the Fed raised interest rates in December and planned four more hikes in 2016, but it had cried wolf so many times about accelerating growth and a resurgent labor market that if it did nothing last year, its credibility would have been further eroded.

Then a funny thing happened on the way to that widely forecast recession. China didn't massively devalue the yuan and turned, as it has in the past, to infrastructure spending to stave off a collapse in economic growth, despite the predictable result of more debt and more excess capacity.

And with inflation running well below the Fed's 2 percent target and deflation still a danger, the U.S. central bank scaled back its rate-raising plans. At the March 16 meeting, it halved the number of expected quarter-point rate hikes this year to two, and reduced its 2016 year-end inflation forecast to 1.2 percent from 1.6 percent. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index, which dropped 5 percent in January, has been rising since the second week of February and is now about 1 percent higher for the year.

Posted by orrinj at 7:51 AM


A Basic Income Is Smarter Than a Minimum Wage (Leonid Bershidsky, 4/01/16, Bloomberg View)

 It's dawning on politicians in some countries that tying basic subsistence to work through the minimum wage is not the most logical way to achieve social justice.

These countries are experimenting with a universal basic income that will be paid to all, whether they work or not. A Finnish government working group tasked with trying out the scheme proposed parameters for a pilot project on Wednesday: Up to 10,000 people are to start receiving 550 euros ($627) per month next year. Finland's economy is struggling -- it's still smaller than it was in 2008 -- but the government calculates it can provide a basic, secure income to its entire population by cutting up the current benefit system.

Other countries looking at the scheme include Canada, where the province of Ontario is starting a pilot project this year, New Zealand, where the second biggest party in parliament is interested in adopting the idea as part of its platform, and the Netherlands, where four cities are piloting basic income programs. In June, Switzerland will hold a referendum on universal basic income, but the chances of success there are rather slim.

The idea is radical and it sounds like money for nothing to many people, but it has more of a libertarian flavor than a Communist one. By guaranteeing basic survival, a government provides a service as necessary as, say, policing the streets or fighting off foreign enemies. At the same time, once this service is provided, the government can get out of trying to regulate the labor market: Its goal of keeping people fed and clothed is already achieved.  The Finnish government believes the basic income scheme will encourage the currently unemployed to take part-time jobs, which they avoided for fear of losing their benefits.

Many people may agree to work for less than the current minimum wage, and on more flexible terms, if they're supplementing a guaranteed income, not scrambling to avoid having to beg for food. There should be little incentive not to work at all: The amount proposed in Finland hardly provides a comfortable existence. And  Finland's ability to earmark the money from existing programs shows many critics' fears that universal basic income may require impossibly high taxes may be misplaced. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:43 AM


The Prescience of a Political Novel : Robert Penn Warren's 'All the King's Men' has never been more relevant. (TERRY TEACHOUT, March 23, 2016, WSJ)

A man I know who used to work for a very famous politician once told me that "All the King's Men" and Shakespeare's "Coriolanus" are the only two works of literary art that tell the harsh truth about politics.

An idealistic young reformer turned ruthless operator, Stark's life is changed utterly when he comes to the reluctant conclusion that all men, however honorable they may seem to be, are both corrupt and corruptible: "Man is conceived in sin and born in corruption and he passeth from the stink of the didie to the stench of the shroud." This leads him to treat any political means, however illegal, as acceptable so long as the end is sufficiently desirable. The law, he explains, is "always too short and too tight for growing humankind. The best you can do is do something and then make up some law to fit and by the time that law gets on the books you would have done something different."

Is Stark right to be pessimistic about what he calls "the nature of things"? If so, does that justify his own increasingly monstrous behavior? Or can noble ends be corrupted by the evil means through which we seek to bring them into being? The fact that Warren deliberately leaves this question open is part of what gives "All the King's Men" its permanent relevance, for it is one of those central yet unanswerable questions around which human conduct perpetually revolves.

But the reason why "All the King's Men" is of immediate interest can be found in the scene in which Stark addresses a crowd of poor white farmers who care nothing for politics or politicians, having decided that Louisiana will always be ruled by the rich. His first words fill them with resentment: "Friends, red-necks, suckers, and fellow hicks." But then he surprises them: "That's what you are. And me--I'm one, too. Oh, I'm a red-neck, for the sun has beat down on me. I'm a sucker, for I fell for that sweet-talking fellow in the fine automobile....nobody ever helped a hick but the hick himself. Up there in town they won't help you. It is up to you and God, and God helps those who help themselves!" By identifying with their feelings of powerlessness and promising to "nail up anybody who stands in your way," he forges them into a populist alliance that puts him in the governor's mansion.

Does this perhaps have a familiar ring? If it doesn't, your TV is broken. Entirely aside from its value as a work of art, "All the King's Men" is timely because of the brilliant clarity with which it shows how a shrewd politician can connect with those working-class voters who believe that the existing parties don't care about them and are looking for a strong, fearless leader to watch their backs.

Posted by orrinj at 7:39 AM


How Elon Musk's hyperloop dream is moving from sci-fi fantasy to reality (Alexis Boncy, April 1, 2016, The Week)

When inventor-entrepreneur Elon Musk hatched his idea for a new type of high-speed travel in which passenger pods hurtle through tubes at the speed of sound, it sounded straight out of the pages of science fiction.

But a little more than three years later, there's nothing fictional about it. Two companies are in a fierce race to develop the technology for what Musk, the CEO of Tesla Motors and SpaceX, termed the "fifth mode" of transportation: the hyperloop. And one of them, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, recently reached an agreement with Slovakia to explore building the first hyperloop system there; one possible route could connect the capital, Bratislava, with Vienna and Budapest.

Musk also has kept an encouraging hand in the development process. He's hosting a global competition through SpaceX to design a prototype passenger pod. "I'm starting to think this is really going to happen... It's clear the public and the world wants something new," Musk said at the competition's design weekend at Texas A&M University in January.

A frequent traveler between San Francisco and Los Angeles, Musk's futuristic transit vision was inspired after a particularly frustrating experience with L.A. traffic. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:32 AM


Saving your teeth - the latest 3D bio-printing breakthrough (Bill Condie, 3/31/16, Cosmos)

Researchers have created complex gum tissue and bone structures in the lab, using 3D bio-printing. The printed tissue has already been transplanted successfully into animals, and could be used by dentists to replace missing teeth and bone in human patients within two years.

Posted by orrinj at 7:27 AM


Oil crunch bites: Russia and Saudi Arabia cut defense budgets (Ivana Kottasova, March 31, 2016, CNN Money)

Cheap oil is forcing Saudi Arabia and Russia to cut the unthinkable. Their defense budgets.

The collapse in crude prices has forced Russia and Saudi Arabia to cut their spending. Both these oil-producing countries are among the world's biggest military spenders, and defense cuts have long been off limits.
But military spending for both has dropped this year, according to the latest IHS data. Russia's defense budget shrank by 5.6% to $49.2 billion in 2016 from $51.5 billion last year. Saudi Arabia's defense budget fell 3.6% to $45.9 billion in 2016 from $47.6 billion in 2015.

Posted by orrinj at 7:17 AM


ROOFTOP SOLAR PANELS COULD POWER NEARLY 40 PERCENT OF THE U.S. (Mary Beth Griggs, 4/01/16, Popular Science)

The Energy Department's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) issued a report last week that analyzed the ability of America's roofs to host solar panels. They looked at rooftops in 128 cities across the country, analyzing buildings large and small for their suitability for hosting photovoltaic (PV) solar panels, and how much power could be generated in each location. The estimates varied by state and by region, but overall, the report found that 39 percent of the country's energy could be generated by rooftop solar panels.

April 1, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 8:08 PM


Hey America, Religious Muslims Are Model U.S. Citizens : A new survey finds that nearly everything you hear about Muslims on the Republican campaign trail isn't true.   (JESSICA LEBER 04.01.16,, cO.EXIST)

What's most interesting about the survey results is that they show that the more religiously observant Muslims are, the more likely they are to take part in their broader community. Muslims were as likely as Protestants to say they have a strong American identity (85% vs. 84%) and identify as strongly with their faith at rates similar to other religious groups. But Muslims who say their faith is "important to their identity" were also more likely to say that being American is important to their identity (91%) than those Muslims who expressed weak religious identity (68%). Muslims who did go more regularly to mosque were also more likely to report working with their neighbors to solve community problems, be registered to vote, and to intend to vote in the upcoming election.

This isn't a huge surprise. Religious people tend to be more community-oriented, no matter what the religion. "If we want to prevent radicalization, we need to keep people going to the mosques," Dalia Mogahed, the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding's executive director, said in a TED talk given recently.

The survey contains a lot more data, which you can explore here. It turns out Muslims are the youngest and most racially diverse religious group--and are pretty similar to Protestants in their religious behavior and pretty similar to Jews in their left-leaning politics. Among the U.S. presidential candidates, 44% of Muslims favored Hillary Clinton and 27% favored Bernie Sanders, and 75% of Muslims supported President Obama--more than any other religious groups. Even though Muslims were the most likely to report religious discrimination, importantly about 60% said they were "satisfied" with the direction of the country--far higher than any other religious group.

Mogahed says that the media and politicians are together creating dangerous perceptions about a minority community in the United States--a worrisome problem for the future of democracy. "How does consuming fear 24 hours a day affect the health of our democracy, the health of our free thought?," she asks. One study she cites showed that exposure to negative news stories about Muslims correlates with people becoming more accepting of military attacks on Muslim countries and domestic policies that curtail civil rights.

While those opposing them have the highest level of disconnection.

Posted by orrinj at 8:01 PM


Meet Tesla's Model 3, Its Long-Awaited Car for the Masses (Alex Davies, 3/31/16, Wired)

In person and on paper, the Model 3 is a stunner. It's a handsome sedan, with four doors and five seats, and all the comfort and practicality you'd expect of an upscale mid-size sedan. The battery is good for a 0 to 60 mph time under six seconds, a range of 215 miles. It's packed with tech, stylish, and a bargain if Tesla can deliver it at the $27,500 base price Musk promises you'll pay after the federal tax credit.

The specs and price are key, because so far Tesla Motors has aimed squarely at the affluent. The company's first three models--the innovative Roadster sports car, exquisite Model S sedan, and tech-slinging Model X SUV--made electric cars fun, cool, and compelling. The Model 3 is meant to do something greater: sell the masses on electric propulsion.

Posted by orrinj at 7:48 PM


Poll: Most Americans Okay With Torturing Suspected Terrorists (Charley Lanyon, 3/31/16, MNY Mag)

Time to get off our high horse. A Reuters/Ipsos poll released Wednesday found almost two-thirds of Americans approve of using torture to get information out of suspected terrorists.

Posted by orrinj at 7:35 PM


Trump's Presidential Hopes Hinge on Democrats Voting for Him (Edward Morrissey, March 31, 2016. Fiscal Times)

Just when movement conservatives felt that the cognitive dissonance produced in this cycle could not possibly run any deeper, Donald Trump has managed to blow minds yet again.

During a CNN Town Hall Forum, broadcast live on Tuesday evening, an audience member asked Trump, "What are the top three functions of the United States government?" After asking for the question to be repeated, Trump responded, "Well, the greatest function of all by far is security for our nation," a sentiment shared by conservatives, Republicans, and no small numbers of independents and Democrats as well.

Conservatives have made that argument as a reminder of how the Constitution sets limits on the reach of the federal government. Trump has relied on this priority in defense of his proposals to deport 12 million illegal immigrants and to block Muslims from entering the US.

However, Trump's answer did not stop there. "I would also say health care, I would also say education," he finished, while emphasizing that security came first. Anderson Cooper, moderating the forum, didn't quite believe he'd heard Trump correctly. "So in terms of the federal government's role," Cooper asked, "you're saying security, but you also say health care and education should be provided by the federal government?"

"Well, those are two of the things," Trump replied. "There are obviously many things, housing, providing great neighborhoods."

Posted by orrinj at 6:43 PM


Soaring Productivity Is Missing From the Numbers (Barry Ritholtz, 4/01/16, Bloomberg View)

To paraphrase Solow, productivity gains are everywhere except in the productivity statistics.

Think for a moment about the technology you use in your personal and professional life; consider how much more you can do in a given span of time thanks to technology; the integration of mobile wireless and information services, the Internet, software and apps and what it all allows you to accomplish each day compared with the recent past.

I wager that your personal experience overwhelmingly suggests productivity gains are everywhere despite the lack of hard data.

Analysts at the BLS looked at this in 2014. They noted in a report some rather intriguing data: employees "in the U.S. business sector worked virtually the same number of hours in 2013 as they had in 1998--approximately 194 billion labor hours . . . there was no growth at all in the number of hours worked over this 15-year period, despite the fact that the U.S population gained over 40 million people during that time, and despite the fact that there were thousands of new businesses established during that time."

That 15-year period also saw a 42 percent increase in real output; American businesses produced $3.5 trillion more in goods and services (in real terms) in 2013 than in 1998.

As a nation, how can we have such a massive increase in output without an large increase in productivity? Technology must be part of the answer; the other part probably is a measurement issue.

Rick Rieder, chief investment officer of global fixed income at BlackRock, calls today's slow productivity growth "a statistical mirage." He further observes that "traditional economic metrics simply haven't kept pace with fast-changing technologies geared toward greater efficiency at lower cost."

Posted by orrinj at 6:34 PM


Obama Plays the Long Game in Latin America : Why the overshadowed visit to Argentina matters (CATHERINE ADDINGTON • March 28, 2016, American Conservative)

According to Argentine polling organization Poliarquía, 64% of Argentines who voted for President Macri view the U.S. positively, while only 24% of those who voted for his opposition (left-wing Kirchner loyalist Daniel Scioli) do--and Macri only won last year's presidential runoff vote by 2.5 percent. Obama needed to recognize the past without prematurely setting up Macri as a human-rights hero, disrespecting Argentines' justifiable skepticism, or seeming opportunistic. While he was never going to be able to satisfy all parties, Obama handled the situation with grace.

To start, Obama got the demeanor right. For instance, his remarks in the Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative town hall were fairly routine, full of classic multiculturalism--Americans need to tune in to the "global community," he said, expressing a desire for better foreign-language education in the U.S.--but to the young Argentines who participated, like Esteban Rafele, the president was a "rock star." Throughout the trip, Obama made endearing cultural references: he tried the Argentine infusion mate; name-dropped famous Argentines like Pope Francis, soccer player Lionel Messi, and writers Jorge Luis Borges and Julio Cortázar; now-infamously danced the tango; and even appealed to the "frontier spirit" of American cowboys and Argentine gauchos alike. These seem like small, irrelevant details, the basics of how any president should try to build camaraderie while abroad. Compared to the larger policy shifts at stake, they are.

But style points matter in any political transition, and Argentina's current one in particular. Taos Turner observed in the Wall Street Journal that while former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner gave colorful, hours-long speeches railing against critics, Macri meets often with opposition. As he told Turner, "This is a government that doesn't think it has all the answers." The way Macri carries himself is much more akin to Obama's own manner, and marks something of a departure from the personality-driven, often blustery politics of the now-faltering Latin American new left. By tacitly endorsing this administration with such a fraternal visit, Obama is sending a signal of support to the protesters capsizing the new-left political establishment across South America. Follow Argentina's political lead, and American partnership--with all of its economic benefits--could be headed your way.

If human rights dominated the ceremonial part of the visit, economic partnership was at the heart of the policymaking part. Obama and Macri signed agreements to cooperate on trade and investment with an emphasis on agricultural exchange, as well as crime, security, public works, and facilitating tourism. The agreements affirm Macri's turn toward the center, a massive economic policy shift that has Argentines feeling equal parts nervous and hopeful. In Macri's incredibly active first days as president, Nick Miroff detailed in the Washington Post, he lifted the previous administration's currency controls and export taxes while cutting electrical subsidies, leaving Argentina with a dramatically devalued peso, high food prices, and even higher utility bills. "Macri and his team of economic advisers, many of whom bring Ivy League pedigrees and Wall Street résumés, insist that these shocks are one-time bitter pills to fix a badly distorted economy," Miroff explained, but Argentina is not in the habit of trusting American-style economics. After a bitter end to the failed protectionism of the Kirchners, however, any change is welcome.

Obama's visit underscores two major victories for Macri's administration, and Argentina as a whole. First, American corporations, while suffering in the short-term, are now more confident about long-term success in their business dealings with Argentina in the wake of Macri's reforms. Meanwhile, Macri's proposed settlement with Argentina's American creditors is poised to finally put an end to the 15-year saga that spun the country into default. The result in both cases is a desperately needed influx of foreign currency that will, if all goes according to plan, stem the inflation that plagues the Argentine economy. By improving Argentina's relationship with the U.S. as well as its finances, Macri's administration aims to reestablish the country's place in world markets and declare it "open for business."