May 1, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:36 PM


New robotic drill performs skull surgery 50 times faster (Kaya Yurieff, May 1, 2017, CNN)

A robotic drill could perform your future surgery -- way, way faster than usual.

Researchers from the University of Utah have created an automated machine that can do a complicated cranial surgery 50 times faster than standard procedures. The team's approach reduces the surgery time from two hours with a hand drill to two-and-a-half minutes.

Posted by orrinj at 6:27 PM


Trump starts dismantling his shadow Cabinet : Tensions have been rising between Cabinet officials and White House advisers embedded at their agencies. (MICHAEL GRUNWALD , ANDREW RESTUCCIA and JOSH DAWSEY, 05/01/17, Politico)

"These guys are being set up for failure," said one administration source. "They're not D.C. guys. They're campaign people. They have no idea how government works."

The White House began deploying the advisers throughout the bureaucracy in January, assigning them to report back on what was happening in their departments. But according to several sources, their meddling quickly began to irritate high-powered officials accustomed to running their own shops -- including Defense Secretary James Mattis and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, both former generals; Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, a successful financier; and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, who had been a Cabinet secretary before.

Mnuchin assigned his minder to the Treasury basement, according to senior officials at the Treasury Department. Meanwhile, administration sources said Mattis blew up when his White House-assigned senior adviser insisted on reviewing one of his briefings. And EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt's senior leadership team repeatedly clashed with its uninvited guest, Don Benton, and iced him out of meetings, according to people close to EPA officials. Eventually Trump shifted Benton to a new job leading the Selective Service System.

Some officials have also been mocking the regular meetings of the senior advisers at the White House to discuss what's going on at their agencies and how they can advance Trump's agenda, calling these meetings brainstorming sessions for suck-ups.

Posted by orrinj at 6:05 PM


Cards' hitters take to the air as defenses neutralize ground game (Derrick Goold, 5/01/17, St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

This past winter, as he readied for his first true crack at an opening day roster, Cardinals rookie Jose Martinez and friend Martin Prado, a Miami infielder, tried to solve what part of their swings kept them from taking flight. Prado was one of the league leaders in hitting into double plays, and Martinez felt his pinch-hit groundballs stifled or ended rallies.

Along with another player and a coach, they started zipping through video of hitters, from shortstops and small hitters to strapping bashers, and they noticed a trend.

"They all had the same swing," Martinez says. "The question for us was, 'Why are we trying to hit groundballs when no one else is hitting like that?' We kind of had to bring around our way of thinking. In the big leagues right now, players having success -- they swing up."

Popularized by players like former MVP Josh Donaldson and last year's NL MVP runner-up Daniel Murphy, a trend is losing ground in the majors. Air force is back in fashion. Or, as Donaldson posted on Twitter, "Just say NO ... to ground balls." Of the 15 National League teams, a dozen, including the Cardinals, have had their flyball rate climb from 2015 to this season. This season, baseball's groundout to flyout ratio is the lowest it's been since 2010. The driving influences behind players looking for a lift are the believers like Donaldson and their success stories, plus new technology and tart new stats (launch angles! exit velocity!) are providing more intricate measures of hitting than ever and supporting old philosophies (Ted Williams!). Oh, and, shifts.

As defensive shifts have become the norm throughout the game, hitters are learning they cannot get through them for hits and can't go around them for extra-base damage.

They must go over them.

"If you hit a ball on the ground it's an out," Cardinals infielder Matt Carpenter says.

"There are not going to be many times when I hit the ball on the ground and it gets caught that I'm still going to be safe," says Cardinals cleanup hitter Jedd Gyorko. "Most of the time when I hit the ball on the ground, it's going to be an out, and a lot of times with the guys that are hitting in front of me it's going to be two outs. I'd rather take my chances by hitting the ball in the air."

Posted by orrinj at 3:56 PM


Nikki Haley remains boldly off-message at the UN (VIVIAN SALAMA May 1, 2017, Times of Israel)

Much to the chagrin of Washington diplomats, her remarks often go well beyond the carefully worded scripts crafted by the White House and State Department.

She's warned Syrian President Bashar Assad that "the days of your arrogance and disregard of humanity are over," even as other top aides to President Donald Trump insisted that his fate was a decision for the Syrian people.

She's pushed human rights as a driver of foreign policy just as the Trump administration showed its willingness to work with leaders who have suppressed civil liberties, such as Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Egypt's Abdel-Fatah el-Sissi. [...]

In some ways, Haley has been ahead of the curve. Her hints at a change in the Syrian government are now seeping into Trump policies, and the administration has toughened its stance on Russia.

Posted by orrinj at 10:14 AM


Trump marvels that people 'don't ask that question, but why was there the Civil War?' (Jeva Lange, 5/01/17, The Week)
President Trump wondered aloud about why the Civil War happened in a befuddling interview with CNN's Salena Zito. "People don't realize, you know, the Civil War, if you think about it, why?" Trump said. "People don't ask that question, but why was there the Civil War?"

Posted by orrinj at 8:28 AM


How Israel's violent birth destroyed Palestine : Nearly 70 years after the founding of Israel, the past is still looming large. (Ramzy Baroud, 5/01/17, Al Jazeera)

The new language of the post-1967 period alarmed Palestinians, who realised that any future political settlement was likely to ignore the situation that existed prior to the war, and would only attempt to remedy current grievances.

Empowered by its military triumph, the 1967 victory was another chance for Israel to rewrite history. Israel's official language reflected that sense of newfound power.

In fact, Israel felt powerful enough that it shifted its discourse from presenting itself as a victimised country defending its border from Arab hordes to a country that had supremacy over ideas, history and common sense. Although it conquered all of Palestine and subjugated millions of its inhabitants, it still declared them non-existent.

Indeed, the infamous declaration once made by former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir that Palestinians "didn't exist" and that "there is no such a thing as a Palestinian people" was far more dangerous than a mere racist comment, as justifiably understood by many.

The statement was made two years after the Naksa.

The more land Israel illegally seized by military means and the more Palestinians were ethnically cleansed from their ancestral homeland, the more Israeli leaders felt the pressing need to erase Palestinians from the annals of history as a people with an identity, a culture and an entitlement to a nationhood.

If Palestinians "existed" in Israel's imagination, there could never be any moral justification for the creation of Israel; no spin could be powerful enough to rejoice at the birth of the Israeli "miracle" that "made the desert bloom".

Israel's violent birth callously required the destruction of a whole nation - one with a unique history, language, culture and collective memory. Therefore, the Palestinian people had to be wiped out to quell any possible sense of Israeli guilt, shame and legal and moral responsibility for what had befallen millions of a dispossessed people.

If a problem does not exist, then one is under no obligation to fix it. Thus, the denial of the Palestinian was the only intellectual formulation that would allow Israel to sustain and promote its national myths.

Not surprisingly, the Israeli logic was convincing enough for those - driven by political necessity, religious zeal or simply self-deluded - who felt the need to also celebrate the Israeli "miracle".

Their new mantra, as repeated by one of the United States' most opportunistic, and indeed, ignorant politicians, Newt Gingrich a few years ago, was: "Palestinians are an invented people."

This logic seeped through to every facet of Israeli society.

Ironically, it can be argued that Israel and the Arabs forced nationhood upon the Palestinians.

Posted by orrinj at 7:23 AM


U.S. Watchdog Says Afghan Forces' Casualties 'Shockingly High' (RFE/RL, 5/01/17)

"Afghanistan remains in the grip of a deadly war," the report says. "Casualties suffered by the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces in the fight against the Taliban and other insurgents continue to be shockingly high."

The report cited U.S. figures showing a gain in territory under Afghan government control, now at 59.7 percent of the country's 407 districts, up from 57.2 percent in mid-November of last year.

That represents an 800,000-person increase in the population under Afghan government control, it said.

The willingness to take casualties is the best sign of all.

Posted by orrinj at 7:07 AM


This Milk Company Is Willing To Bet You're Not Actually Lactose Intolerant (BEN PAYNTER, 05.01.17, Co.exist)

[W]hy not sell real milk to those supposedly lactose intolerant people instead? That's the promise of a2 Milk Company, an Australia-based venture, which formally entered the U.S. market in 2015 after success in Australia and China. The company's basic argument is that while milk may cause digestive issues, most Americans who believe they are lactose intolerant actually aren't.

Posted by orrinj at 6:32 AM


White House says invitation to Filipino leader is mostly about North Korea (AFP May 1, 2017)

Duterte had in the past regularly hit out at the United States, Philippines' one-time colonial ruler, for perceived hypocrisy over human rights. Last year he branded then US president Barack Obama a "son of a whore" for criticizing the drug war.

Duterte spoke of loosening the long-standing alliance with the US as he looked to court China, whose push to control most of the disputed South China Sea has alarmed neighbors.

But the White House said Saturday that the two leaders, both elected to office last year, had helped orient the US-Philippine relationship "in a very positive direction."

The White House said Trump "enjoyed the conversation" with Duterte, and looked forward to attending the key US-ASEAN and East Asia summits in the Philippines in November.

Here's a fun exercise : image the Right's reaction if this were the UR pandering, instead of Donald.

Posted by orrinj at 6:29 AM


Climate of Complete Certainty (Bret Stephens, 4/30/17, NY Times)

 As Andrew Revkin wrote last year about his storied career as an environmental reporter at The Times, "I saw a widening gap between what scientists had been learning about global warming and what advocates were claiming as they pushed ever harder to pass climate legislation." The science was generally scrupulous. The boosters who claimed its authority weren't.

Anyone who has read the 2014 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change knows that, while the modest (0.85 degrees Celsius, or about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit) warming of the Northern Hemisphere since 1880 is indisputable, as is the human influence on that warming, much else that passes as accepted fact is really a matter of probabilities. That's especially true of the sophisticated but fallible models and simulations by which scientists attempt to peer into the climate future. To say this isn't to deny science. It's to acknowledge it honestly.

By now I can almost hear the heads exploding. They shouldn't, because there's another lesson here -- this one for anyone who wants to advance the cause of good climate policy. As Revkin wisely noted, hyperbole about climate "not only didn't fit the science at the time but could even be counterproductive if the hope was to engage a distracted public."

Let me put it another way. Claiming total certainty about the science traduces the spirit of science and creates openings for doubt whenever a climate claim proves wrong. Demanding abrupt and expensive changes in public policy raises fair questions about ideological intentions. Censoriously asserting one's moral superiority and treating skeptics as imbeciles and deplorables wins few converts.

None of this is to deny climate change or the possible severity of its consequences. But ordinary citizens also have a right to be skeptical of an overweening scientism. They know -- as all environmentalists should -- that history is littered with the human wreckage of scientific errors married to political power.

...mostly ignores the potential effect on climate.  Taxing fossil fuels is simply good economic and foreign policy, irrespective of whether it will cool the Earth.

Posted by orrinj at 6:23 AM


You Are Not Important: Defund Identity Culture (Reilly Smethurst, 5/01/17, Quillette)

The Australia Council for the Arts, state Arts ministries, Humanities faculties, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), and the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) should not force taxpayers to fund work that explores the desert of identity and rejoices at mirages. Today, one encounters examples of identity culture in multiple artistic fields. "Join us to explore the meaning of identity," wrote the Director of the 2016 Melbourne Writers Festival on the program's welcome page. The Director of the Melbourne Conservatorium, Gary McPherson, lists identity among his principal research topics. Pamela Burnard, a Cambridge professor and Melbourne University alumnus, considers identity of supreme importance. According to Burnard, academics and music teachers must "understand the voices and the multi-voicedness of students" and celebrate "diverse creativities" for the sake of an "emergent ecology." (I do not know what this means.) John Gray, the well-known critic of liberal humanism, referred to Burnard's ilk as members of "increasingly marginal universities." The more that twenty-first-century societies lose interest in the Humanities, the more Humanities academics pretend to address everyone, promote social participation, and claim to make the world a better place, as if vying for a job on the Oprah Winfrey Network. Christine Liu labelled these people the "new elite of ordinariness" - academics on six-figure salaries that promise each and every identity, "You, too, are worthy of the limelight! You are important!" This is empty flattery.

Identity culture is not new. According to Friedrich Nietzsche, it began with Euripides. "Euripides brought the spectator on to the stage," the young philologist explained. Thanks to Euripides, "people from everyday life pushed their way out of the audience and on to the stage; the mirror which once revealed only great and bold features now became painfully true to life, reproducing conscientiously even the lines which nature had drawn badly." Euripides, in other words, is responsible for Gogglebox and participatory art. Euripides initiated the turn from the grand Hellene to the Graeculus - the "little Greek" that Juvenal loved to mock and that Nietzsche defined as a good-natured, domestic slave. At present, the Graeculus is the figure that Australian taxpayers are commanded to identify with and support - the supposedly good-natured struggler. British taxpayers face a similar problem. According to Gray, they too are forced to pay for the "right" of all citizens, most of whom are middle-class, "to assert what they take to be their identity," especially if their identity can be represented as pitiful or oppressed, just like the Graeculus.

Identity culture is an offshoot of narcissistic philistinism. If one ceases to believe in the existence of profound truths, sublime terror, Art, gods, muses, or geniuses (defined classically as inhuman spirits), then one's self or identity acquires a hyperbolic sense of importance. Contrary to what is said in Cultural Studies departments, Art's supreme function is not the expression of a middle-class self or the construction of a millennial identity; it is the forgetting of the self. In ancient Greece, Dionysus's followers lost themselves through music; today, Selena Gomez's followers find themselves. This does not count as progress. [...]

If taxpayers from both the Right and the Left refuse to fund identity culture, what exactly will remain of the arts? I shall briefly note two well-known alternatives - one Christian, one Greek. According to Dante Alighieri, Art is the grandchild of God. It is not principally a consumable that benefits one's emotional well-being or scores in brain-training apps. Art is not a tool or a servant. The self, in its best possible form, serves Art. One is thereby committed to the mystery of Creation. This is a variant of Timaeus's poetic sophistry. As Timaeus pointed out to Socrates, when creating a myth or a new image of the cosmos, sensible men invoke the gods. Timaeus did not dedicate his cosmology to Graeculuses. Gods and muses were figures of significance; the ordinary spectator was not, and neither was the master of technique that served as a paid entertainer (such as the wind player from Plato's Symposium). Put simply, when art is Art, it involves something in excess of the spectator and the professional, the inexperienced and the skilled, the consumer and the producer. As soon as this mysterious 'something' is lost, one is cursed with self-belief and/or faith in one's fellow Graeculuses, philistine identity culture and/or participatory art; hence the present predicament.

Posted by orrinj at 6:20 AM


Iran becomes self-sufficient in gasoline production -- report (AP, May 1, 2017)

Iran has become self-sufficient in producing the amount of gasoline the country requires on a daily basis, the official IRNA news agency reported on Sunday.