March 11, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:31 AM


Rugby's More Perfect Union (Martin Pengelly,  MARCH 10, 2017, NY Times)

Rugby, or something like it, was first played in the United States in the mid-1800s. It gave birth to football: The first college game, Rutgers against Princeton in November 1869, was played under "rugby-like" rules. Rugby also is a brutal game, often violent, but as football faces increasing questions over safety, the number of rugby players is growing. Coaches say it's because their contact sport is safer: The absence of helmets and significant padding results in safer tackling, while strict rules reduce blows to head and neck.

Maybe. But I think rugby is rising in America because it is extreme. It is rising here because it has not yet, like football, been commodified. It is played by men and women in colleges and clubs. There is still something pure and unspoiled about the sport.

To adapt a question asked by the great Caribbean historian C. L. R. James, who was writing about cricket, what do they know of rugby who only rugby know? Most important, American rugby is participatory. Most of its fans play it, or did before their knees gave out. And it is not, for the most part, an occupation that pays. It is something you live for, training on a wet Wednesday for a game on the weekend. And a drink afterward. On field and off, American rugby is built on team spirit.

In the scrum (never "scrimmage," which is not a rugby word) each player binds on to another and all work together to achieve their goal: to push the opposing pack off the ball, to subdue them -- and to not get hurt.

Rugby is gloriously counterintuitive. Players know it is not remotely a sensible thing to do. And despite this, they love it.

Posted by orrinj at 6:22 AM


Daylight Saving Time  May Be Dangerous, Costly (Ben Steverman, 3/11/17, Bloomberg News)

Daylight saving time isn't just a benign relic of the 1970s energy crisis. The latest research suggests the time change can be harmful to our health and cost us money.

The effects are most disruptive in the spring and fall, right after the time changes occur. Clocks in the U.S. will spring forward this year on Sunday. Most of Europe moves to daylight saving time two weeks later.

The suffering of the spring time change begins with the loss of an hour of sleep. That might not seem like a big deal, but researchers have found it can be dangerous to mess with sleep schedules. Car accidents, strokes, and heart attacks spike in the days after the March time change. It turns out that judges, sleep deprived by daylight saving, impose harsher sentences.

"Even mild changes to sleep patterns can affect human capital in significant ways," two Cornell University researchers, Lawrence Jin and Nicolas Ziebarth, wrote last year.

Some of the last defenders of daylight saving time have been a cluster of business groups who assume the change helps stimulate consumer spending. That's not true either, according to recent analysis of 380 million bank and credit-card transactions by the JPMorgan Chase Institute.

The study compared Los Angeles with Phoenix in the 30 days after the March and November time changes. Arizona is a natural test case since it's one of the two states, along with Hawaii, that doesn't do daylight saving. In the spring, according to the consumer transaction data, the additional hour of evening daylight in Los Angeles managed to slightly boost card spending per person, compared with that in Phoenix, although by less than 1 percent. That spending uptick is swamped by the negative impact of the November time change, which sees the darkened population of Los Angeles spend 3.5 percent less at local retailers.

After the autumn time change, shoppers made far fewer trips to the store, especially during the week. Grocery stores, discount stores, and other retailers bore the brunt, while restaurants and service businesses were mostly unaffected.

In other words, daylight turns out to be a surprisingly large factor in how often workers stop at stores on their way home from their jobs in the evening. "At the end of the day, it's either dark or light, and (people are) going to make an impulse decision at that point," Diana Farrell, president and chief executive of the JPMorgan Chase Institute.

Posted by orrinj at 6:15 AM


LAUGHING INTO MODERNITY (Peter J. Leithart, 3 . 10 . 17, First Things)

Christians have long worried over laughter. Church fathers pointed out that Jesus wept but never laughed, and even mild endorsements of laughter were qualified with warnings that laughter must be moderate, never excessive.

The fact that laughter, like sexual passion, is untamable is evidence of original sin. Commenting on Ecclesiastes, Gregory of Nyssa described laughter as a grotesque form of madness, involving "an unseemly bodily loosening, agitated breathing, a shaking of the whole body, dilation of the cheeks, baring of teeth, gums and palate, stretching of the neck, and an abnormal breaking up of the voice as it is cut into by the fragmentation of the breath."

The medieval Church wisely provided safety valves--Carnival, the Feast of Fools, the risus paschali or "Easter laughter." By the high Middle Ages, stern patristic suspicions of laughter were softening. After the twelfth century, artists depicted human beings with smiles and laughs; prior to that time, only painted demons laughed. Following Aristotle, Thomas was indulgent toward humor as a social lubricant.

But it wasn't until the age of Erasmus, More, and Rabelais that Christian laughter came into its own. The Jesuit Joannes Lorinus (1559-1634) argued that Ecclesiastes condemns boisterous, jeering laughter, but not laughter "arising from good things in the mind." Even Calvin got into the act, penning a preface to defend the use of humor in Pierre Viret's Disputations chrestiennes.

Renaissance satire rested on the conviction that derisive laughter was an effective form of social control because it exposed and shamed folly. Montaigne characterized Democritus as a philosopher who found the "human condition ridiculous and vain," and so "never appeared abroad but with a jeering and laughing countenance." Montaigne admitted he was Democritian "not because it is more pleasant to laugh than to weep, but because it expresses more contempt and condemnation than the other, and I think we can never be despised according to our full desert."

Many appealed to Aristotle's teaching that laughter is of the essence of man, and that its primary mode is ridicule. In fact, Aristotle believed neither. In Laughter in Ancient Rome, Mary Beard notes that Aristotle's famous claim that only human beings laugh comes from a discussion of the diaphragm. Aristotle did not propose a theory of laughter, nor define "man as 'the animal that laughs.'" Aristotle knew that laughter need not be derisive. In Poetics he explicitly discussed laughter that doesn't cause pain, and in Rhetoric categorized "laughter and the laughable into the class of 'pleasant things.'"

Erasmus interpreted Psalm 2:4 as a revelation of scornful inter-Trinitarian laughter. The first line--"he who sits in the heavens laughs"--refers to the Father, while the second line--"the Lord scoffs at them"--names the Son. According to Erasmus, "The Father therefore laughs to scorn: the Son derides; but the laugher-to-scorn is the same: the derision is the same." And we might add an Augustinian gloss: The Spirit is the laughter shared between them.

Erasmus didn't think derisive laughter was confined to the Old Testament. He heard mockery in Jesus's parable of the rich man: "In the Gospel too that rich man is mocked, who, having filled his barns, decided to live for himself at ease. What did he hear, if not derision from God? 'Thou fool! This night thy soul shall be required of thee. And then whose shall those things be that thou hast gathered together?'" Reading the Gospels in the light of ancient prophecy, we should notice "how often, and in how many ways, the Lord in the heavens laughed at the impious counsels of men and had them in derision."

Christ comes among us to teach us the error of our ways, but teaches God the final lesson : Forgive them, they know not what they do. The last laugh is on God.

Posted by orrinj at 6:05 AM


Sikhs in the US: America is our home and we are here to stay (Sapreet Kaur, March 9, 2017, CNN)

Sikh Americans have faced threats and deadly attacks for more than 100 years -- often because of our articles of faith, including turbans and unshorn hair -- but we are an integral part of the American fabric, and our faith tradition offers guidance for confronting the hate that Americans grapple with today.

The Sikh religion was founded in the Punjab region of South Asia over 500 years ago. Guru Nanak, the founder of our faith, preached the oneness of God and humanity, emphasizing that all human beings are equal in dignity and divinity, regardless of their race, caste, religion, and gender.

One of his legacies is the practice of providing free meals (langar) to anyone who visits a gurdwara (Sikh house of worship), without regard for their background or social status. Every day, Sikhs throughout the world -- including America -- feed thousands of people and provide shelter to those in need. Just last month, Sikhs in California opened their doors to help their fellow Americans during the Oroville dam evacuation.

Equality and community service are core Sikh teachings, and these values foreshadowed the highest ideals of America. Sikhs feel at home in the United States, and that is why it is disappointing when bigots make it feel inhospitable and political leaders do nothing to intervene.

Posted by orrinj at 5:55 AM


White House civil war breaks out over trade : 'Fiery meeting' in Oval Office between economic nationalists and pro-trade moderates (Shawn Donnan and Demetri Sevastopulo, 3/10/17, Financial Times)

A civil war has broken out within the White House over trade, leading to what one official called "a fiery meeting" in the Oval Office pitting economic nationalists close to Donald Trump against pro-trade moderates from Wall Street. 

According to more than a half-dozen people inside the White House or dealing with it, the bitter fight has set a hardline group including senior adviser Steve Bannon and Trump trade adviser Peter Navarro against a faction led by Gary Cohn, the former Goldman Sachs executive who leads Mr Trump's National Economic Council.  [...]

According to people familiar with White House discussions, Mr Cohn and others have seized on Mr Navarro's public comments -- and widespread criticism by economists of his stand on trade deficits and other matters -- to try and sideline him. That has led to discussions over moving Mr Navarro and the new National Trade Council he leads out of the White House and to the Commerce Department, headed by another Wall Street veteran, Wilbur Ross. 

Mr Cohn has also been featuring more prominently in discussions over the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico, one of Mr Trump's top trade priorities.

After a meeting with Mr Cohn and other White House officials on Thursday, Mexico's foreign minister, Luis Videgaray, said the goal was to wrap up talks quickly and by the end of this year. That contradicted Mr Ross, who has called for deeper and potentially longer talks that could drag well into next year. 

Mr Navarro's case has not been helped by his interactions with Republicans in Congress. He was criticised for being ill-prepared and vague at a closed-door briefing he held with Senators last month to discuss Mr Trump's trade agenda and angered some Republicans as a result. 

People familiar with the White House battle over trade said Mr Navarro, who did not respond to a request for comment, was cutting an increasingly isolated figure in the administration. He has been operating with a very small staff out of an office in the Old Executive Office Building adjacent to the White House while Mr Cohn, who has been adding staff to his NEC base inside the president's residence itself.

Among Mr Cohn's recent appointments has been Andrew Quinn, a respected former diplomat and trade official who served as a senior negotiator during the Obama administration's push for a Trans-Pacific Partnership with Japan and 10 other countries. Mr Trump has pulled the US out of the TPP but the White House last month announced Mr Quinn would serve on the NEC as a "special assistant to the president" for international trade.

The appointment of Mr Quinn drew a howl of protest from Breitbart, the rightwing web site Mr Bannon used to lead. It labelled the career official an "enemy within" the Trump administration earlier this month. 

Free trade and immigration are the fights we have to win.

Posted by orrinj at 5:55 AM


Modernist architecture is inherently totalitarian. (Theodore Dalrymple, 2/22/27, Salisbury Review)

Modernist architecture is inherently totalitarian: it brooks no other, and indeed delights to overwhelm and humiliate what went before it by size and prepotency, or by garishness and the preposterousness which it takes for originality, and which turns every townscape into the architectural equivalent of a Mickey Finn.  

In the Guardian newspaper last week, its architectural correspondent wrote an admiring article about Paulo Mendes da Rocha, whose work is so bad that he has been awarded the Royal Institute of British Architects gold medal. No greater insult could well be imagined for an architect than that; and a small photograph accompanied the article, of a raw concrete sports club blackening horribly with age, as it always does, demonstrates that he well merited it.

The article begins by quoting the 88 year-old Brazilian: 'All space is public. The only private space that you can imagine is in the human mind.'

And, as Tom Wolfe says, modern art is about ideas, not about beauty, nor, in the case of architecture, function either.

Posted by orrinj at 5:49 AM


The Staggering Cost of Medical Waste in America (Marshall Allen, 3/10/17, ProPublica)

The vexing riddle of how to make health care more affordable has seldom been more front and center on the national stage. President Trump and Republican lawmakers are wrestling with the future of the Affordable Care Act, which has helped millions of people obtain health insurance. But most Americans would rather their legislators focus on bringing down health care costs, according to a recent survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Two-thirds of those surveyed said reducing such costs should be the "top" health care priority for Trump and the Republican-led Congress.

Talk to experts and many agree that waste would be a good place to start. In 2012 the National Academy of Medicine estimated the U.S. health care system squandered $765 billion a year, more than the entire budget of the Defense Department. Dr. Mark Smith, who chaired the committee that authored the report, said the waste is "crowding out" spending on critical infrastructure needs, like better roads and public transportation. The annual waste, the report estimated, could have paid for the insurance coverage of 150 million American workers -- both the employer and employee contributions.

"It's unconscionable that we're not only wasting money in health care but in doing so are sacrificing other important social needs," Smith said.

Smith's committee blames the obvious villains -- overtreatment, excess administrative costs and high prices -- for most of the fat in the system. Left untallied, however, are the discards that arrive in waves into McLellan's warehouses, most of which would otherwise end up in landfills. McLellan estimates the goods her group has right now are worth $20 million. Sure, that's a rounding error in the overall waste tab, but it starts being real money if you add up the discards of all the nation's medical facilities.

Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center, for instance, recently estimated that in a single year the hospital wasted $2.9 million in neurosurgery supplies alone. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:44 AM


Trump Faces Challenge of Visa Overstays, the Largest Source of Illegal Immigration (Josh Siegel, March 10, 2017, Daily Signal)

As President Donald Trump focuses on border security in his initial actions to counter illegal immigration, a new report shows the unauthorized population increasingly is made up of those who first entered the U.S. legally.

In each year from 2007 to 2014, the report from the Center for Migration Studies finds, more people joined the illegal immigrant population by remaining in the U.S. after their temporary visitor permits expired than by sneaking across the Mexican border.

In 2014, about 4.5 million U.S. residents, or 42 percent of the population of roughly 11 million illegal immigrants, had overstayed their visas, the report says.

Overstays accounted for about two-thirds--66 percent--of those who ended up joining the illegal immigrant population in 2014.

"What's happened is that popular conception has made it seem that illegal immigration means people coming from the southern border," Robert Warren, a co-author of the report, said in an interview with The Daily Signal. "One of the reasons we put the report out is that illegal immigration is much more varied and we need to look at different policy options."

Visa overstays--legal entrants to the U.S. who stay past their allotted time here--long have been the underreported component of illegal immigration.

A report by the Department of Homeland Security found that as of Jan. 4, 2016, a total of 416,500 of the 527,127 overstays in 2015 remained in the U.S.

Posted by orrinj at 5:43 AM


This Stunningly Racist French Novel Is How Steve Bannon Explains The World : "The Camp of the Saints" tells a grotesque tale about a migrant invasion to destroy Western civilization. (Paul Blumenthal , JM Rieger, 3/04/17, Huffington Post)

Stephen Bannon, President Donald Trump's chief strategist and the driving force behind the administration's controversial ban on travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries, has a favorite metaphor he uses to describe the largest refugee crisis in human history.

"It's been almost a Camp of the Saints-type invasion into Central and then Western and Northern Europe," he said in October 2015.

"The whole thing in Europe is all about immigration," he said in January 2016. "It's a global issue today -- this kind of global Camp of the Saints."

"It's not a migration," he said later that January. "It's really an invasion. I call it the Camp of the Saints."

"When we first started talking about this a year ago," he said in April 2016, "we called it the Camp of the Saints. ... I mean, this is Camp of the Saints, isn't it?"

Bannon has agitated for a host of anti-immigrant measures. In his previous role as executive chairman of the right-wing news site Breitbart -- which he called a "platform for the alt-right," the online movement of white nationalists -- he made anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim news a focus.

But the top Trump aide's repeated references to The Camp of the Saints, an obscure 1973 novel by French author Jean Raspail, reveal even more about how he understands the world. The book is a cult favorite on the far right, yet it's never found a wider audience. There's a good reason for that: It's breathtakingly racist.