May 2, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 5:50 PM


McConnell shoots down Trump's call to end the filibuster (JORDAIN CARNEY, 05/02/17, The Hill)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is shooting down President Trump's push for Republicans to change the Senate's rules for blocking legislation.

Asked if Republicans would nix the 60-vote filibuster to allow legislation to pass by a simple majority, McConnell told reporters, "That will not happen."

Posted by orrinj at 1:34 PM


Hammond eBike Technologies announce Hammond electric bike collection for Indiegogo campaign also The Ride 4 Breast Cancer Campaign
First ever fully loaded, folding, electric smart bike in a custom bag is now LIVE on Indiegogo

We are finally happy to announce Hammond e-Bike Technology campaign is now live on Indiegogo. Today, Hammond eBike Technology announce their Hammond electric bike collection, loaded with Hi-Tech gadgets. The electric folding bike collection is available in 3 unique designs including The Hammond 500 (500-watt motor), The Hammond 1000 (1000 watt motor) and The Hammond unlimited (1000-watt motor. Each bike also comes in a coordinated custom-made bike bag, and a newly designed GPS, touchscreen bike computer called The Hammond X5. Hammond collection is the first ever fully loaded folding, electric smart bike in a custom bag. To join in this revolution, visit our campaign page and support this project (Hammond ebike).

The Ride 4 Breast Cancer Campaign is a campaign within this campaign. We all know someone in our life that has dealt with the effects of Cancer in some form or another. We At Hammond e-Bike Technology know first hand about this disease having lost loved one after loved one over the years. We honor their memory by helping others cope. We can't do anything about the disease. But we can help someone take their mind off the battle. We can help someone feel special and have meaning. We want to give 30 pink Hammond 500 to Breast Cancer survivors or patients during Octobers Breast Cancer Awareness month. Every bike perk purchase helps us provide a free bike to a Breast Cancer Survivor or patient plus you will be receiving an awesome product in the process.

"The Hammond collection was built out of the necessity to satisfy a community of bikers that appreciate diversity, technology, and functionality. The bikes will eliminate a lot of problems bikers face and help them enjoy their hobby like never before. We implore everyone to join in and take part in this great assignment, by supporting our Indiegogo campaign and spreading the word on social media," said Thomas Hammond, CEO.

The Hammond bike collection is available in different colors and comes in a custom bag for proper packaging, easy mobility, and protection from weather elements. The bike has matching interphone bike speakers with bluetooth, compatible with any smartphone up to 20 feet away. It also has wireless rear signal lights and front head light. Hammond ebike technology took bike security to another level by adding a hidden GPS tracker device. The GPS provides double real-time tracking to absolute street address by SMS or online web tracking. Geo-fence capability sends you an SMS if your bike is disturbed or someone is trying to steal it. The GPS tracker and bike computer has a number of cool features, to many to mention.

The prototypes are complete. See them in action on our campaign page in the video section. The company is offering everyone to own this fantastic product at a discount during the campaign. You instantly become part of The Hammond e-Bike Technology family when you support our campaign. Our supporters will receive perks for life. We are the first to ever offer backers life time discounts in the amount of 5% - 35% from our online store once we reach our stretched goal.

We look forward to hearing from you during this campaign.


It's a good cause, but is that enough to get The Wife to let me buy one?
Posted by orrinj at 11:53 AM


Stephen Colbert's Shocking Attack On Trump Concludes With A Homophobic Slur (Mark Graham, May 2, 2017, Decider)

Once the clock struck midnight on Donald Trump's 100 days in office, Stephen Colbert's claws came out. He delivered his most vicious attack on the President to date during the monologue of Monday night's The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, using language many were shocked to hear come out of the late night host's mouth -- including a derogatory slur many consider to be homophobic.

No matter how PC you try to be, you end up questioning a guy's sexuality when you want to pick on him.

Posted by orrinj at 9:17 AM


'Trump Slump': President's rhetoric and travel ban repel millions of tourists to USA (Gaurav Sharma, May 2, 2017, IB Times)

Projections by Pennsylvania, US-based Tourism Economics (TE), an affiliate of UK research and analysis outfit Oxford Economics, suggest the US could see 4.3m fewer international tourists equating to a revenue loss of $7.4bn (£5.73bn).

Posted by orrinj at 9:10 AM


Joe Scarborough frets about Trump's mental state (Jeva Lange, 5/02/17, The Week)

In Trump's interview with CBS's John Dickerson, for example, Scarborough noted that Trump "was mumbling, he was rambling around, incoherent, and then just sort of quit talking. Walked off."

Scarborough also zeroed in on Trump's curiosity about why the Civil War began. "My mother's had dementia for 10 years," Scarborough told historian Jon Meacham. "That sounds like the sort of thing my mother would say today ... That's something that a 5-year-old might ask, but that is not anything that any grown-up that I have ever been around in my entire life would ever let pass from their lips."

...than our resistance to the notion that he means anything he says.

Posted by orrinj at 8:03 AM


Liberalism's self-defeating howl (Damon Linker, May 2, 2017, The Week)

As I've argued on previous occasions, declaring opponents unacceptable, illegitimate, and out of bounds is a perennial temptation. That's because politics always takes place on two distinct levels. On one level is the back and forth of partisan conflict, involving persuasion, argument, electoral battles, triumphs, and defeats. On this level, pretty much anything goes as long as it abides by the rules of the political game. But there's also a second, more fundamental level of politics that involves a competition over who gets to set those rules, the boundaries of what is publicly acceptable -- and precisely where those boundaries will be positioned.

Far more than conservatives, liberals love to rule certain positions out of bounds in this second-order sense. [...]

For a vivid recent example of what can happen to political thinking and debate when one side becomes wedded to upholding rigid and exceedingly narrow strictures on permissible opinion, take a look at the blistering (and bizarrely disproportionate) reaction of liberals to Bret Stephens' debut column in The New York Times. Now, I was no fan of Stephens' writing in The Wall Street Journal, where he recently resigned, especially when it came to foreign policy. Neither did I appreciate his stance on environmental issues, which struck me as overly dismissive of evidence for climate change.

But in his first Times column, Stephens came right out and described global warming, along with evidence of "human influence on that warming," as "indisputable." That sounded unobjectionable to me -- as did his overarching point, which was that those who favor policies to combat climate change would convince more people to go along if they sounded somewhat less absolutely, positively, unwaveringly, indisputably certain in their predictions about what is always, after all, an all-too-uncertain future.

Stephens himself predicted in the column that his humble case for humility would cause heads to explode, and sure enough they did. Liberals on Twitter sputtered in indignation, as did several center-left news sites. The Times had hired an apologist for climate change "denialism," proclaimed Slate. According to Vox, he was a "climate change bullsh--ter." (The Week, too, was not immune.) No wonder climate scientists and many others lined up to cancel their subscriptions to the newspaper in protest.

Except that none of it was true. Stephens didn't deny the reality of climate change. He merely dared to advocate a slight rhetorical adjustment to the way environmental activists and their cheering sections at websites like Slate and Vox, and newspapers like the Times, go about making their case to the wider public. What followed was not a reasoned debate about the rhetorical effectiveness of claims to modesty and certainty, dispassionate concern and outright alarmism. Instead, there was simple, pure, satisfying, but politically impotent condemnation: "You can't say that!"

Posted by orrinj at 6:53 AM


Trump on Obama surveillance claims: 'I don't stand by anything' (LOUIS NELSON, 05/01/17, Politico)

Trump raised the allegation in his interview without prompting, but then appeared unwilling to discuss it further when CBS anchor John Dickerson asked him whether he stood by the accusation.

"I don't stand by anything."

Posted by orrinj at 6:45 AM


Missing Manpower: How Japan's Dwindling Population Impedes Remilitarization (Ikenna Ugboaja, 4/17/17, Harvard International Review)

Despite the signs that the country may need greater military self-reliance, Japan's steadily aging population presents a substantial impediment to remilitarization now and in the coming decades. Japan suffers from one of the lowest birthrates in the world, while enjoying a remarkably long life expectancy. This trend has resulted in steep population decline. The population peaked at approximately 128 million in 2010, and subsequently shrunk by roughly 1 million by 2015. Japan's population is projected to fall to 86 million by 2060 and to reach extinction in one thousand years. According to the Statistics Bureau, as of 2014, 33 percent of the population is over the age of 60, while only 12.8 percent is age 14 or younger.

These demographic trends will have an adverse impact on the labor market, as the proportion of retirees and pensioners skyrockets and the proportion of working age citizens steadily diminishes. Given the nation's strict immigration policies, there is no significant influx of foreigners to compensate for this labor shortage.

This impact is especially acute for the SDF, whose all-volunteer workforce already struggles with recruiting, as many young people choose higher education or private industry over military service. According to a recent report from the Ministry of Defense, the number of people eligible to join the SDF--citizens age of 18 to 26--has dramatically decreased from a height of 17 million in 1994 to 11 million in 2015. Another report from the Brookings Institution projects that, at current rates of depopulation, Japan's Air Self-Defense Forces alone will be forced to close three bases by 2025. If these demographic trends continue, developing a stronger and more self-reliant military will be a challenging prospect.

Posted by orrinj at 6:32 AM


The Soul: Not Dead Yet (Patrick Lee and Robert P. George, May 2nd, 2017, Public Discourse)

The claim that genetics has helped "kill off" the idea of the soul usually rests on the notion that the actions of DNA molecules are sufficient to explain the events occurring in the larger-level entities of which they are parts--namely, the organisms, human beings included. The idea is that the characteristics of organisms are sufficiently explained by the properties of and the spatial relations among their microphysical components. And so (on this view) there is no need to appeal to the causal powers of the organism as a whole to account for what occurs in it. Therefore, genetics could assist in a general program to explain away higher-level properties such as nutrition, growth, perception, and thought, by reference to the properties of the microphysical components.

However, while bold promissory notes to provide such explanations have been given, actual payment--in the form of adequate explanations--has never been provided. Moreover, if such a reduction could succeed, whole animals could not then actually be single entities--"composite substances," to borrow Aristotelian language--but mere aggregates of microphysical entities. This reduction wouldn't just negate the idea of a soul but also the idea that we are both animals and persons.

Of course, many complex objects are mere aggregates. Many of the things we might view as unitary objects actually only produce effects that can be fully explained by the properties and interrelations of their constituents. For example, as Trenton Merricks points out in his Objects and Persons, what a baseball does can be fully explained by the concerted actions of its constituents. A baseball shatters a window, not in virtue of any property of the baseball as a whole, but in virtue of the properties and spatial relations of microphysical entities it contains. However, other composite objects, particularly organisms, have causal powers belonging to the complex substance as a whole. When a human being walks to the refrigerator to retrieve food for a meal, this is a behavior performed by the organism in virtue of conscious properties--properties that belong to the complex substance as a whole. She walks to the kitchen and not to the living room because of her memory and belief that that's where the food is. Such a conscious belief can scarcely be conceived of as inhering in this or that particle, or as a structural relation of the particles to each other. Rather, it inheres in the organism as a whole and guides the behavior of that organism as a whole. Thus, the unity and causal properties of the organism as a whole are irreducible to the powers and relations of the microphysical entities it contains as parts.

Nor has neuroscience helped "all but kill off" the concept of a soul. It could do so only if it showed how thought could be reduced to neuro-processes. But many have pointed out the insuperable difficulties for such a reduction. Any argument advanced to support such a feat would logically undermine itself. For the point of the reduction would be to show that one's thoughts are fully explained by the interactions of electrochemical processes operating according to physical, not necessarily logical, laws. But if one's thought--including the reductionist's argument itself--rests on such non-rational causes, it is undermined, since beliefs that are determined by non-rational causes, rather than reasons, are thereby made suspect. If my thoughts are merely the result of the electrochemical processes in my brain, then they are non-rational.

Of course, a proponent of the reduction might object that there can be more than one explanation for an event, and so the thought's explanation on one level (neurons firing) does not preclude its simultaneous explanation on another level as well (logic). And thus, he might say, thoughts are identical with or fully determined by brain processes, but these processes can be explained in both physical and logical terms. Just as the same material event can be explained both by biology and by physics, and the two explanations are compatible, so here (it might be argued), one can give both an explanation by reference to logical laws and by reference to brain processes and their wholly materially determined interactions.

The proposed reduction of thought to neurochemical processes could succeed, however, only if the actions of the neural components, operating according to physical laws, determine the reasoning processes--that is, determine which conclusions one draws in an argument. On a reductive view of mental events, the premises (or the acts of accepting the premises) have the causal powers they do only in virtue of their physical properties, and so the logical laws--the relations among contents of thought just as such--will be utterly irrelevant. Thus, if thoughts are just neuro-processes, governed by physical laws, then the laws of logic are dispensable, and the physical antecedents of a thought (such as a conclusion) determine it regardless of the contents of those antecedents. But this renders the argument by which one defends the attempted reduction unworthy of acceptance. Thus, thought cannot be adequately explained by neuroscience alone.

Posted by orrinj at 6:09 AM


A FATHER'S FINAL ODYSSEY : My octogenarian dad wanted to study Homer's epic and learn its lessons about life's journeys. First he took my class. Then we sailed for Ithaca. (Daniel Mendelsohn, 5/01/17, The New Yorker)

As far as my father was concerned, Odysseus wasn't worth all the fuss the poem makes about him. Again and again, as the semester wore on, he would find a way to rail against the legendary adventurer. "Hero?" he would sputter at some point during each class session. "He's no hero!"

His contempt amused the students, but it didn't surprise me. The first adjective used of Odysseus in the epic--it comes in line 1, soon after andra--is polytropos. The literal meaning of this word is "of many turns": poly means "many" and tropos is a "turning" (which is why a flower that turns toward the sun is known as a heliotrope). On one level, the word accurately describes the shape of Odysseus' journey: he's the man who gets where he's going by meandering--indeed, often by travelling in circles. In more than one of his adventures, he leaves a place only to come back to it, not always on purpose. And then there is the biggest circle of all, the one that brings him back to Ithaca, the home he has left so long ago that, by the time he returns, he and his loved ones are unrecognizable to one another. But "of many turns" is also a canny way to describe the hero himself. Throughout Greek literature, Odysseus is a notorious trickster, given to devious twists and evasions. In contrast with Achilles, the hero of the Iliad--who declares at one point that he hates "like the Gates of Death" the man who says one thing but means another--the hero of the Odyssey has no scruples about lying to get what he wants.

Odysseus' sly proficiency as a fabulist, as a teller of tall tales and an outright liar, has endeared him to audiences over a hundred generations; writers and poets, in particular, see him as a virtuoso of language. (In one memorable episode, he uses a pun on the word "nobody" to defeat the Cyclops, a one-eyed giant who has eaten some of his men.) But all this made him unbearable to my father. A mathematician by training, he valued accuracy, precision--a kind of hardness, even. He had meticulously calibrated standards for virtually everything, as if (I often resentfully thought, when I was young) life were an equation and all you had to do was work out the variables: children, marriage, friendships. Everything, for him, was part of a great, almost cosmic struggle between the qualities he championed and the weaker, softer qualities that most other people settled for, whether in songs or cars or novels or spouses. The lyrics of the pop music we secretly listened to, for instance, were "soft": "Assonance is assonance but a rhyme is a rhyme. You can't approximate!" Many of my father's pronouncements took this x-is-x form, always with the implication that to think otherwise, to admit that x could be anything other than x, was to abandon the strict codes that governed his thinking and held the world in place. "Excellence is excellence, period," he would bark. "Smart is smart--there's no such thing as being a 'bad test-taker.' " For him, the more arduous something was to achieve or to appreciate, the more worthwhile it was.

All this hardness, the sanity and exactitude and rationality, often made me wonder how he came to acquire the incongruously silly nickname we used for him: Daddy Loopy. True, there were sudden and unexpected softenings that, when I was a child, I used to wish would come more frequently. Some nights, instead of staying hunched over his small wooden desk in the hours after dinner, muttering at the bills as he passed a slender hand over his smooth pate, he would stand up with a sigh and walk across the narrow hallway, into my room, and then, after doing a "super-duper tucker-inner," sit at the edge of the bed he had built and read "Winnie-the-Pooh" aloud to me. I would lie there in bliss, cocooned like a mummy, unable to move my arms but nonetheless feeling safe as his nasal baritone wrapped itself around the short, straightforward sentences.

And there was the time he took me down to Florida to see his own father, who'd fallen ill. This was in the mid-nineteen-sixties; I was about four. At the beginning of the flight home, we were told that there was "weather" over New York and that we'd have to circle. I was unsettled by the plane's continual tilting, by the moon passing our window again and again, and just wanted to get home; but, instead of being impatient with me, my father put a book in my hands and said, "If you look at this, you won't notice." My father would occasionally tell this story, ostensibly because it showed what a good, patient boy I had been. But now that I know what it's like to travel with small children I realize that it's about how good and patient he was. Of course, being my father, he didn't take long to segue from this tender anecdote into mathematics. The story, he would say as he started to tell it--and this is another reason that the Odyssey makes me think of him--hinged on a riddle: How can you travel great distances without getting anywhere? The answer to the riddle was: If you travel in circles.

In my father's eyes, the hero of the Odyssey miserably fails the x-is-x test. Hence his derision, the sputtered imprecations: "He's no hero!"

The first time this happened was around eleven-fifteen on the morning of January 28, 2011, about an hour into the first meeting of Classics 125: The Odyssey of Homer. We'd been talking about the way the poem starts. The proem, as the first few lines of an epic are known, establishes the backstory: our polytropos hero has been delayed on his return "after sacking the holy citadel of Troy"; having "wandered widely," he has been detained by the amorous nymph Calypso, who wants to marry him despite his determination to get back to his wife, Penelope; all the men he took with him to fight in the Trojan War have perished, some through foolish misadventures on the journey home. But, after this brief introduction, the poem turns not to Odysseus but to his son, Telemachus, who was a baby when the hero left for Troy. Now a youth of twenty, he sits around the royal palace as the epic gets going, fretting about the disastrous effects that Odysseus' two-decade absence has wrought. Not only have the suitors overrun the palace, draining its stores of food and wine, carousing day and night, seducing the servant girls, but the social fabric of the island kingdom has frayed, too: some Ithacans are still loyal to Odysseus, but others have thrown their lot in with the suitors. Meanwhile, Penelope has withdrawn to her chambers, dejected. This is how the Odyssey begins: the hero himself nowhere in sight, the crises precipitated by his absence consuming all our attention.

As the session began, I tried to elicit ideas from the class about why the poem might begin this way. I looked around the big rectangular seminar table and peppered the students with leading questions. Why focus on the son, an inexperienced youth, and not the father, already famous for his exploits in the Trojan War? What narrative purpose is served by making us wait to meet the hero? Could the information we glean about Ithaca in these opening lines prove to be useful later on? The students stared at their texts in silence. It was only the first day of class, and I wasn't surprised that they were shy; but nonetheless I was anxious. Oh, God, I thought. Of course this would be the class that Daddy is observing.

But then a young woman next to me, who'd been scribbling in her notebook, straightened up. "I think the first book is meant to be a kind of surprise," she said. "So here we are, at the beginning of this big epic about this great hero, and the first reference to him is that he's this kind of loser. He's a castaway, he's a prisoner, he has no power and no way of getting home. He's hidden from everything he cares for. So it's, like, he can't go any lower, it can only go uphill from there?"

"Great," I said. "Yes. It provides a baseline for the hero's narrative arc."

It was at this point that my father raised his head and said, "Hero? I don't think he's a hero at all."

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 AM


School Vouchers Aren't Working, but Choice Is (David Leonhardt, MAY 2, 2017, NY Times)

Last week, the Education Department, which she runs, released a careful study of the District of Columbia's use of school vouchers, which she supports. The results were not good.

Students using vouchers to attend a private school did worse on math and reading than similar students in public school, the study found. It comes after other studies, in Ohio and elsewhere, have also shown weak results for vouchers. [...]

Unlike most voucher programs, many charter-school systems are subject to rigorous evaluation and oversight. Local officials decide which charters can open and expand. Officials don't get every decision right, but they are able to evaluate schools based on student progress and surveys of teachers and families.

As a result, many charters have flourished, especially in places where traditional schools have struggled. This evidence comes from top academic researchers, studying a variety of places, including Washington, Boston, Denver, New Orleans, New York, Florida and Texas. The anecdotes about failed charters are real, but they're not the norm.

Douglas Harris, a Tulane professor, says the difference between charters and vouchers boils down to "managed competition" versus the "free market." Susan Dynarski of the University of Michigan talks about charters' successfully combining flexibility and accountability. Joshua Angrist of M.I.T. says, "Flexibility alone is not enough."

Crucially, many charters are open to all comers, which means their success doesn't stem from skimming off the best. And the schools' benefits extend beyond test scores to more meaningful metrics, like college graduation.

The District of Columbia study highlights the charter/voucher contrast in a neat way. The voucher results look so weak -- even worse than elsewhere -- partly because the city's charters are so strong. That is, voucher recipients are being compared with children at higher-performing public schools than in the past, and the voucher schools aren't keeping up.