March 15, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:56 PM

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 PM


Nathaniel Hawthorne, "The Birth-Mark" (Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864), Library of America)

Nathaniel Hawthorne's fantastical story "The Birth-Mark" seems today to have been remarkably ahead of its time, with its portrait of what one recent critic calls a "modern-day plastic surgeon." To quote The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, Hawthorne's surgeon is one of "a long line of doctors, chemists, botanists, mesmerists, physicists and inventors, who parade their creative and destructive skills through his fiction."

Yet when the story first appeared, it caused some bewilderment among reviewers, such as the critic in Blackwood's Magazine who couldn't imagine a perfectly normal and loving husband (and, ultimately, his wife) worrying over a beauty flaw: "If the novelist wished to describe this egregious connoisseurship in female charms, he should have put the folly into the head of some insane mortal." What aggravated some nineteenth-century readers of Hawthorne's stories is that his "mad scientists" weren't, well, mad.

Hawthorne's story birthed this blog, fifteen years ago. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:25 PM


Lindsey Graham threatens subpoena to get answers on Trump's spying allegation (KYLE FELDSCHER, 3/15/17, Washinton Examiner)

"We'll issue a subpoena to get the information, we'll hold up the deputy attorney general's nomination until Congress is provided with information to finally clear the air as to whether there was ever a warrant issued against the Trump campaign," Graham said on NBC.

Graham wrote to FBI Director James Comey this month asking for proof of a FISA warrant that would be necessary to tap the phones at Trump Tower and spy on the Trump campaign. If there is such a warrant, Graham wants to see what the basis of that warrant was and if there's an ongoing criminal investigation of the Trump campaign related to its alleged ties to Russia.

He said he's getting more suspicious of the administration as time goes on and his request is not answered.

Tim Scott and every GOP House member ran well ahead of Donald in SC.  

Posted by orrinj at 11:57 AM


Andrew Jackson at 250: President's legacy isn't pretty, but neither is history (H.W. Brands, 3/13/17, USA TODAY)

[J]ackson started falling out of favor a couple generations ago. He was a tough sell amid the civil rights revolution of the 1960s, when his unrepentant ownership of slaves marked him as one to be censured rather than praised. Jackson owned fewer slaves than such other icons as Thomas Jefferson, but Jefferson had the good grace to feel guilty about benefiting from the bondage of others, and so was easier on liberal sensibilities. Jackson, who never admitted feeling guilty about anything, seemed to be asking for dismissal from the pantheon.

Posted by orrinj at 11:49 AM


Charter schools' 'thorny' problem: Few students go on to earn college degrees (Greg Toppo, 3/14/17,  USATODAY)

Like many charter school networks, the Los Angeles-based Alliance College-Ready Public Schools boast eye-popping statistics: 95% of their low-income students graduate from high school and go on to college. Virtually all qualify to attend California state universities.

Its name notwithstanding, the network's own statistics suggest that few Alliance alumni are actually ready for the realities -- academic, social and financial -- of college. The vast majority drop out. In all, more than three-fourths of Alliance alumni don't earn a four-year college degree in the six years after they finish high school.

Publicly funded, but in most cases privately operated, charter schools like Alliance are poised to become a much bigger part of the USA's K-12 public education system. Yet even as their popularity rises, charters face a harsh reality: Most of the schools boast promising, often jaw-dropping high school graduation rates, but much like Alliance, their college success rates, on average, leave three of four students without a degree.

Posted by orrinj at 10:08 AM


Opec faces quandary as cuts fail to hold up oil prices (Anjli Raval, 3/15/17, Financial Times)

Production cuts agreed between some of the world's biggest producers inside and outside the cartel alone have failed to hold up oil prices. Global storage tanks are brimming and the US shale industry is in resurgence.

Opec delegates, facing a familiar conundrum, question how painful a return to its old playbook of supporting the oil market will be. Having spent two years prioritising export volumes over price, it is now losing out on both.

A near 10 per cent drop in the Brent benchmark in the past week has erased all the gains since Opec and producers such as Russia agreed a supply cut deal late last year.

Posted by orrinj at 10:03 AM


The February Revolution and Kerensky's Missed Opportunity (John Quiggin, Mar. 6th, 2017, NY Times)

The zenith of Kerensky's authority came with the July Days, a mass demonstration undertaken by the Bolsheviks but defeated by forces loyal to the government. With the failure of the July Days protest, Kerensky consolidated his position by becoming prime minister, replacing Lvov.

At almost exactly the same time, far away in Berlin, the socialist and social-democratic parties repented of their decision to endorse the war. Germans were almost as war-weary as Russians, with terrible casualties and widespread shortages caused by the Allies' blockade. A resolution in the Reichstag, the German Parliament, passed by a large majority, called for a peace "without annexations or indemnities" -- a return to the situation that had prevailed before war broke out.

By this time, however, Germany was effectively a military dictatorship. Power lay with the High Command, run by the generals Ludendorff and Hindenburg, both of whom were later to play prominent roles in bringing Hitler to power. Unsurprisingly, Ludendorff and Hindenburg ignored the Reichstag motion.

What is surprising, to anyone who has absorbed the standard victor's view -- according to which the Allies were fighting a defensive war to liberate small states -- is that Britain was disingenuous about its war aims, while France declined to state them at all. The reason is that those aims were too discreditable to avow openly. In a series of secret treaties, they agreed in the event of victory to carve up the empires of their defeated enemies.

From the Russian viewpoint, the big prize was the Turkish capital, Constantinople, now called Istanbul; this was promised to Russia in a secret agreement in 1915. The subsequent publication of this and other secret treaties by the Bolsheviks did much to discredit the Allied cause.

Kerensky could have repudiated the deals made by the czarist empire and announced his willingness to accept the Reichstag formula of peace without annexations or indemnities. Perhaps the German High Command would have ignored the offer and continued fighting (as it did when the Bolsheviks offered the same terms after the October Revolution at the end of 1917). But the circumstances were far more favorable in July than they were at the end of 1917. As the Kerensky offensive demonstrated, the Russian Army, while demoralized, was still an effective fighting force, and the front line was far closer to the territory of the Central Powers. Moreover, Kerensky commanded credibility with the Western Allies that he could have used to good effect.

Kerensky's determination to continue the war was a disaster. Within a few months, the armed forces were in open revolt. Lenin, who was transported across Germany in a sealed train with the High Command's acquiescence in the hope that he would help to knock Russia out of the war, seized the opportunity. The provisional government was overthrown by the Bolsheviks in the October Revolution. This Bolshevik Revolution consigned the February Revolution to historical oblivion.

After accepting a humiliating treaty imposed by the Germans, Russia was soon embroiled in a civil war more bloody and brutal than even World War I. By its end, the Bolshevik government, launched as a workers' democracy, was effectively a dictatorship, enabling the ascendancy of a previously obscure Bolshevik, Joseph Stalin, who would become one of the great tyrants of history. On the other side, the German High Command's rejection of peace similarly led to defeat, national humiliation and the emergence of the 20th century's other great tyrant, Adolf Hitler.

Posted by orrinj at 9:44 AM


The Ides of March (R.A.G. Carson,  March 1957, History Today)

The assassination of Julius Caesar on March 15th, 44 BC forms a dramatic and unexpected climax in the series of events that brought the Roman Republic to an end. It provided the spark for the Civil Wars which lasted for thirteen years, until the defeat of Mark Antony by Augustus, who was to establish the Empire which endured for some five centuries.

The Roman system of government, in effect by the small senatorial class, had been adequate while the state was simply a city, and even during the years of expansion from Rome over Italy and the more adjacent lands. But it proved incapable of dealing with a number of problems that became acute in the course of the last century BC. At home the movements associated with the name of the Gracchi aimed at diminishing the political and economic privileges of the senatorial class, while overseas the command of great armies conferred a dangerous power upon individual generals. No longer was the annual office of consul sought for its own sake, since the wielding of power in Rome was now of little importance. The consulate was sought because of the offices to which it could lead - the great proconsular commands in the provinces; for it was in the provinces, where active campaigns were being waged, that reputations could be won and authority acquired which could make itself felt in the capital.

Tom Holland's great book, Rubicon, makes it clear just how personal the politics of Rome was and how nearly devoid of any interest in ideas, to its ruin.

Happily, our Founders went to school on their example:

The truth unquestionably is, that the only path to a subversion of the republican system of the Country is, by flattering the prejudices of the people, and exciting their jealousies and apprehensions, to throw affairs into confusion, and bring on civil commotion. Tired at length of anarchy, or want of government, they may take shelter in the arms of monarchy for repose and security.

Those then, who resist a confirmation of public order, are the true Artificers of monarchy--not that this is the intention of the generality of them. Yet it would not be difficult to lay the finger upon some of their party who may justly be suspected. When a man unprincipled in private life desperate in his fortune, bold in his temper, possessed of considerable talents, having the advantage of military habits--despotic in his ordinary demeanour--known to have scoffed in private at the principles of liberty--when such a man is seen to mount the hobby horse of popularity--to join in the cry of danger to liberty--to take every opportunity of embarrassing the General Government & bringing it under suspicion--to flatter and fall in with all the non sense of the zealots of the day--It may justly be suspected that his object is to throw things into confusion that he may "ride the storm and direct the whirlwind."'

Posted by orrinj at 8:57 AM


Donald Trump's failing presidency (James Pethokoukis, March 15, 2017, The Week)

What would a failed Trump administration look like?

It certainly doesn't need to involve President Trump's impeachment and removal from office. Rather, imagine this: As the 2018 midterm elections approach, Trump's only accomplishment is starting construction on the southern border mega-wall. No ObamaCare replacement. No big tax cut. No big infrastructure plan. And millions of American voters are starting to consider that handing total power in Washington to a party led by a short-attention-span novice was a cosmically bad idea.

If he can go two years without screwing up the economy he inherited his presidency will be succeeding.  

Posted by orrinj at 8:49 AM



Quantum computers are so powerful exactly because of their data density. A classical computer reads, stores, and manipulates bits: 1's and 0's. A quantum computer uses qubits: tiny quantum objects that can be in two states--both 1 and 0--at the same time, as long as you're not looking at it. And if you control a quantum particle in a superposition of two states, you can perform tasks in parallel, which speeds up certain computational tasks exponentially. That speed won't improve your Netflix experience or make Microsoft Excel more bearable, but it will be much faster at running search algorithms or simulating complicated systems like organic materials or the human brain.

But the weirdness of quantum mechanics has its drawbacks. Its laws permit superposition, but they also forbid anyone from copying a quantum particle. "It's called the 'no-cloning theorem,'" says physicist Stephanie Simmons of Simon Fraser University in Canada. Say that a quantum computer programs an atom to be in a specific quantum state that represents a set of numbers. It is physically impossible for the computer to program another atom to be in the exact same quantum state.

So Simmons proposes a roundabout way of storing quantum data: First, you'll need to convert it into binary data--translating the numbers that describe quantum superposition into simple 1's and 0's. Then, you store that converted data in a classical storage format. In other words: hard drives. Super compact ones, because the size of each quantum data file from a 49-qubit computer will be on the scale of 40,000 videos.

To store that much data, quantum computer developers need new data storage technologies, Simmons says. Commercial drives aren't compact enough right now. A single quantum file would occupy a stamp-sized area on a solid-state hard drive.

So one alternative storage contender is DNA. Published earlier this month in Science, scientists demonstrated a method that could store 215 petabytes, or 215 million gigabytes, in a single gram of DNA. At that density, all of humanity's data could fit in a couple pickup trucks. Unlike conventional hard drives, which only store data on a two-dimensional surface, DNA is a three-dimensional molecule. That extra vertical dimension lets DNA store much more data per unit area.

Posted by orrinj at 5:50 AM


Kremlin's Hopes for a 'Post-West' World Order Recede (Pavel Felgenhauer, March 9, 2017, Eurasia Daily Monitor)

Just a couple of months ago, things looked to be going thoroughly President Vladimir Putin's way. The 2016 elections in the United States gave the presidency to Donald Trump--a flamboyant real estate mogul and reality TV star, a nationalist and an isolationist. Throughout his campaign, Trump promised to strike a deal with Putin, repeatedly called the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) "obsolete," and appeared ready to weaken long-term US strategic alliances that have constrained Russia since the late 1940s. And last December, in the run up to his inauguration, top members of Trump's team evidently contacted the Russian ambassador to Washington, Sergei Kislyak. The two sides seem to have discussed improving relations and possible sanctions relief. A possible grand deal appeared within reach, which would grant Moscow dominance over Ukraine and the rest of the post-Soviet space and provide Russia a reprieve from economically damaging sanctions. A new world order looked to be emerging, described by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as "post-West" at the recent Munich Security Conference (February 17-19).  [...]

The Trump administration is now seen in Moscow as a disappointment: Team Trump succeeded in spreading early havoc internally and internationally, but failed to move decisively to dismantle sanctions or broker a grand deal with the Kremlin. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev announced that the country should brace itself for continued sanctions into "the foreseeable future" (Interfax, February 28). The Moscow press has not fully written off Trump as a possible friend of Putin's Russia. But it has been telling the population, "Trump is the victim of a relentless counterattack by the Democratic establishment and the mainstream media, which are whipping up anti-Russian hysteria." Trump has been forced into retreat by his foes, and if he continues to demonstrate weakness, his presidency is doomed (Moskovsky Komsomolets, March 7).

Posted by orrinj at 5:47 AM


'People are scared': Paranoia seizes Trump's White House : Staffers are leaving their phones at home, using secret apps and monitoring each other's social media. (ALEX ISENSTADT and KENNETH P. VOGEL 03/15/17, Politico)

A culture of paranoia is consuming the Trump administration, with staffers increasingly preoccupied with perceived enemies--inside their own government.

In interviews, nearly a dozen White House aides and federal agency staffers described a litany of suspicions: that rival factions in the administration are trying to embarrass them, that civil servants opposed to President Donald Trump are trying to undermine him, and even that a "deep state" of career military and intelligence officials is out to destroy them.

Aides are going to great lengths to protect themselves. They're turning off work-issued smartphones and putting them in drawers when they arrive home from work out of fear that they could be used to eavesdrop. They're staying mum in meetings out of concern that their comments could be leaked to the press by foes.

Many are using encrypted apps that automatically delete messages once they've been read, or are leaving their personal cell phones at home in case their bosses initiate phone checks of the sort that press secretary Sean Spicer deployed last month to identify leakers on his team.

It's an environment of fear that has hamstrung the routine functioning of the executive branch. Senior advisers are spending much of their time trying to protect turf, key positions have remained vacant due to a reluctance to hire people deemed insufficiently loyal, and Trump's ambitious agenda has been eclipsed by headlines surrounding his unproven claim that former President Barack Obama tapped his phone lines.

One senior administration aide, who like most others interviewed for this story spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the degree of suspicion had created a toxicity that was unsustainable.

The war must be maintained until Bannon & company are driven out.

Posted by orrinj at 5:27 AM


The Rise and Fall of the Newburgh Conspiracy : How General Washington and his Spectacles Saved the Republic (George L. Marshall, Jr., Archiving Early America)

[S]everal prominent politicians who were later to become leaders in the Federalist faction (those who wanted a strong central government) in Congress, among them Robert Morris, Gouverneur Morris (his assistant), Richard Peters (active head of the Board of War), James Wilson (Robert Morris' friend and a congressman) and Alexander Hamilton ( Washington's former aide and a congressman) sought out McDougall and advised him and his committee to begin a strenuous lobbying effort on individual members of Congress, to point out to them the shameful conditions in the army and the ire of its officers. By doing so, Hamilton and the others hoped to weaken the power of the states' rights advocates in the Congress and force them to support the need for Congress to develop a plan for central taxation and taxation authority as a result of pressure from a discontented army, as well as to secure ratification of such authority by the states through pressure from organized public creditors.

Accordingly, congressional delegates were told that the emotions of the officers were overcoming reason, causing them to look favorably on the performance of "extreme actions" to secure their demands. The nation could expect "at least a mutiny" if the officers' petition was ignored. The small group of Federalists also encouraged McDougall to alert all the officers at Newburgh to begin preparing for action beyond petitioning. Thus, "the terror of a mutinying army" was used to attempt to influence important members of Congress. [...]

The devious Federalist faction in Philadelphia was fanning the fire of rebellion with one hand and trying to douse it with water with the other. What they wanted was an unsuccessful uprising of the army, enough to secure their will in Congress but stopping well short of complete anarchy or military dictatorship. They were playing a dangerous chess game in which Gates, Washington, Congress and the army were to be the pawns.

Conscious of Washington's pivotal role in the scheme of things, Hamilton wrote his former superior a carefully worded letter in which he discussed the severe crisis then existing in congressional finances and alluded to the general state of affairs within the army and the desirability of continued pressure for the redress of grievances. Hamilton went on to suggest that Washington, as commander in chief, would likely need to use his great prestige to "keep a complaining and suffering army within the bounds of moderation" if the seething unrest turned into open rebellion. He further noted that forces were at work within the army to diminish the general's degree of influence. [...]

Washington, upon receiving and reading copies of these circulating communications smacking of mutiny, trembled with anger and shock. Shaking off his momentary astonishment, he immediately began the task of defusing the planned rebellion. To gain time, he canceled the illicit March 10 meeting and rescheduled it with one for March 15. He secured the support of influential subordinates, including Henry Knox, to back him in the upcoming confrontation and to keep him abreast of developments in camp. He sent messages to Congress to apprise them of the situation. All the while, he was carefully preparing a set of remarks to be presented to the meeting, ostensibly not by himself but by a high-ranking subordinate. By giving the impression that he would not attend, he hoped that the conspirators would relax their guard and become bolder, openly showing themselves and thereby becoming more vulnerable.

By late morning of March 15, a rectangular building 40 feet wide by 70 feet long with a small dais at one end, known as the Public Building or New Building , was jammed with officers. Gen. Gates, acting as chairman in Washington's absence, opened the meeting. Suddenly, a small door off the stage swung open and in strode Gen. Washington. He asked to speak to the assembled officers, and the stunned Gates had no recourse but to comply with the request. As Washington surveyed the sea of faces before him, he no longer saw respect or deference as in times past, but suspicion, irritation, and even unconcealed anger. To such a hostile crowd, Washington was about to present the most crucial speech of his career.

Following his address Washington studied the faces of his audience. He could see that they were still confused, uncertain, not quite appreciating or comprehending what he had tried to impart in his speech. With a sigh, he removed from his pocket a letter and announced it was from a member of Congress, and that he now wished to read it to them. He produced the letter, gazed upon it, manipulated it without speaking. What was wrong, some of the men wondered. Why did he delay? Washington now reached into a pocket and brought out a pair of new reading glasses. Only those nearest to him knew he lately required them, and he had never worn them in public. Then he spoke: "Gentlemen, you will permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have not only grown gray but almost blind in the service of my country." This simple act and statement by their venerated commander, coupled with remembrances of battles and privations shared together with him, and their sense of shame at their present approach to the threshold of treason, was more effective than the most eloquent oratory. As he read the letter to their unlistening ears, many were in tears from the recollections and emotions which flooded their memories. As Maj. Samuel Shaw, who was present, put it in his journal, " There was something so natural, so unaffected in this appeal as rendered it superior to the most studied oratory. It forced its way to the heart, and you might see sensibility moisten every eye."

Finishing, Washington carefully and deliberately folded the letter, took off his glasses, and exited briskly from the hall. Immediately, Knox and others faithful to Washington offered resolutions affirming their appreciation for their commander in chief, and pledging their patriotism and loyalty to the Congress, deploring and regretting those threats and actions which had been uttered and suggested. What support Gates and his group may have enjoyed at the outset of the meeting now completely disintegrated, and the Newburgh conspiracy collapsed.

Posted by orrinj at 5:02 AM


The Benedict Option (David Brooks, MARCH 14, 2017, NY Times)

Rod shares the fears that are now common in Orthodox Christian circles, that because of their views on L.G.B.T. issues, Orthodox Christians and Jews will soon be banned from many professions and corporations. "Blacklisting will be real," he says. We are entering a new Dark Age. "There are people alive today who may live to see the effective death of Christianity within our civilization."

Rod says it's futile to keep fighting the culture war, because it's over. Instead believers should follow the model of the sixth-century monk St. Benedict, who set up separate religious communities as the Roman empire collapsed around them.

The heroes of Rod's book are almost all monks. Christians should withdraw inward to deepen, purify and preserve their faith, he says. They should secede from mainstream culture, pull their children from public school, put down roots in separate communities.

Maybe if I shared Rod's views on L.G.B.T. issues, I would see the level of threat and darkness he does. But I don't see it. Over the course of history, American culture has tolerated slavery, sexual brutalism and the genocide of the Native Americans, and now we're supposed to see 2017 as the year the Dark Ages descended?

Rod is pre-emptively surrendering when in fact some practical accommodation is entirely possible. Most Americans are not hellbent on destroying religious institutions. If anything they are spiritually hungry and open to religious conversation. It should be possible to find a workable accommodation between L.G.B.T. rights and religious liberty, especially since Orthodox Jews and Christians aren't trying to impose their views on others, merely preserve a space for their witness to a transcendent reality.

My big problem with Rod is that he answers secular purism with religious purism. By retreating to neat homogeneous monocultures, most separatists will end up doing what all self-segregationists do, fostering narrowness, prejudice and moral arrogance. They will close off the dynamic creativity of a living faith.

Setting aside the question of how withdrawing the light of Christianity would make the age any less dark; there is a certain hilarity to the idea of hiding from buggery in monasticism.

Posted by orrinj at 4:58 AM


Yes, Trump Is Being Held Accountable (JACK GOLDSMITH, MARCH 15, 2017, NY Times)

The most important checks on the Trump presidency come from inside it. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is reportedly conducting at least three investigations related to Russia, the election and the administration. Whatever one thinks about his pre-election maneuvers, the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey (a former colleague of mine at the Justice Department), has proved to be an independent actor, and he has every interest in pursuing the cases wherever they lead.

Mr. Trump could fire Mr. Comey on a whim, but that would not kill the F.B.I. investigation. Rather, just as President Richard Nixon hastened his impeachment with the Watergate-related firings known as the "Saturday Night Massacre," canning Mr. Comey would only heighten the public's and Congress's suspicions about Mr. Trump's guilt and increase pressure on the F.B.I. and others to get to the bottom of the Russia matter.

Many worry that even if the F.B.I. were to conduct an investigation that warranted criminal proceedings, the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, a close ally of the president, would squelch them. But after examining the department's rules and consulting its ethics experts, Mr. Sessions has recused himself "from any existing or future investigations of any matter relating in any way to the campaigns for president of the United States." Those investigations will now be supervised by Rod J. Rosenstein, soon to be the deputy attorney general, who is a career prosecutor of undoubted independence and an expert on national security and public corruption.

Another reason to think the existing process is working to keep the president in check are the plentiful leaks from the executive branch that have revealed a great deal about the Russian imbroglio. Leaks of this sort are a predicable response to a perception of illegitimacy or overreach inside the executive branch. It is hard to know at this point which leaks are justified and which are illegitimate. But overall they function as a significant constraint on this presidency.

The leaks have also shown the strength of the press, belying worries that journalists would be chilled by President Barack Obama's crackdown on leaks and Mr. Trump's unusual attacks on the news media. The Fourth Estate is covering the Trump presidency with unusual critical vigor, reporting concrete and damning details as if it had a seat inside the Oval Office.

Finally, there are the investigations by Congress. Prominent Republicans such as Senator John McCain of Arizona and Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina have questioned the president's honesty on the Russia matter. The Senate Intelligence Committee is conducting an "independent review" and has already been briefed by Mr. Comey. The House Intelligence Committee will begin hearings next week. A subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee is also investigating the matter and has pledged "to ensure that the F.B.I.'s work is free of all political influence."