May 8, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:04 PM


Raising the Gas Tax Is No Longer Taboo In Many States : Nearly half the states have increased fuel taxes in the past five years, suggesting it's perhaps not the political risk it was once thought to be.  (DANIEL C. VOCK, MAY 8, 2017, Governing)

While raising the gas tax is still a politically treacherous idea in Washington, lawmakers in state capitals are increasingly coming around to it. Already this year, governors in California, Indiana and Tennessee signed laws to raise fuel taxes, meaning a total of 22 states have passed laws imposing higher gas taxes in the past five years. Chances are also good that the list will grow even longer this year.

"It is such an unusual thing to see nearly two dozen states boosting taxes in such a short amount of time," says Carl Davis, the research director for the left-leaning Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP). But the reason so many states have gone ahead with fuel tax increases is because of support from business groups. "They're viewing [gas tax hikes] as economic development initiatives," he says.

Ratings agency analysts agree with the assessment. "These states' actions address investment needs that are critical to preserving and expanding their economies," wrote researchers at Moody's Investors Service last week. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:52 PM


White House advisors called Ottawa to urge Trudeau to help talk Trump down from scrapping NAFTA (John Ivison, May 8, 2017, National Post)

White House staff called the Prime Minister's Office last month to urge Justin Trudeau to persuade President Donald Trump not to tear up the North American Free Trade Agreement, according to multiple Canadian government sources.

The unconventional diplomatic manoeuvre -- approaching the head of a foreign government to influence your own boss -- proved decisive, as Trump thereafter abandoned his threat to pull out of NAFTA unilaterally, citing the arguments made by Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto as pivotal.

Posted by orrinj at 5:40 PM


Washington Loves General McMaster, But Trump Doesn't (Eli Lake, May 8, 2017, Bloomberg)

[I]nside the White House, the McMaster pick has not gone over well with the one man who matters most. White House officials tell me Trump himself has clashed with McMaster in front of his staff.

On policy, the faction of the White House loyal to senior strategist Steve Bannon is convinced McMaster is trying to trick the president into the kind of nation building that Trump campaigned against. [...]

Trump was livid, according to three White House officials, after reading in the Wall Street Journal that McMaster had called his South Korean counterpart to assure him that the president's threat to make that country pay for a new missile defense system was not official policy. These officials say Trump screamed at McMaster on a phone call, accusing him of undercutting efforts to get South Korea to pay its fair share.

The point of the generals is that they won't listen to Donald.

Posted by orrinj at 5:35 PM


This GOP senator tried to shame Sally Yates for opposing Trump's travel ban. She demolished him. (Becca Stanek, 5/08/17, The Week)

When Cornyn questioned Yates' "authority to overrule the Office of Legal Counsel," she had a snappy response ready to fire. "Well," Yates said, "I was the attorney general of the United States."

Watch a portion of the exchange. 

Probably not a great line of questioning when Donald already had to withdraw the order that the Judiciary found unconstitutional.

Posted by orrinj at 11:33 AM


How Do You Make a Fox Your Friend? Fast-Forward Evolution : a review of HOW TO TAME A FOX (AND BUILD A DOG) Visionary Scientists and a Siberian Tale of Jump-Started Evolution By Lee Alan Dugatkin and Lyudmila Trut  (MARLENE ZUKMAY 5, 2017, NY Times)

"How to Tame a Fox" sets out to answer a simple-seeming question: What makes a dog a dog? Put another way, how did an animal that started out as a bloodthirsty predator become one that now wants nothing more than a nice belly rub and the chance to gaze adoringly at a member of another species? In the late 1950s, a Russian scientist named Dmitri Belyaev decided to address this puzzle by taking the unheard-of tack of replicating the domestication process in real time. He and his colleagues took silver foxes, widely bred in vast Siberian farms for their luxurious pelts, and made them into friendly house pets. It was a deceptively simple process: Take the puppies from only the friendliest foxes, breed them and repeat. Lyudmila Trut, the current lead researcher of the silver fox experiment, who began work as Belyaev's intern, along with Lee Alan Dugatkin, an American scientist and writer at the University of Louisville, documents their monumental effort in this sparkling new book.

Belyaev died in 1985, but the experiment is still ongoing, with 56 generations of foxes bred to date -- a far cry from the snarling creatures that used to snap at the hands of their caretakers when the research began. The new foxes run toward people, jump on the bed and nuzzle one another as well as their human caretakers. Such a behavioral transformation was to some degree expected, since they were bred from the tamest members of their groups. Perhaps more intriguing, they also look more doglike, with floppy ears, wagging tails and piebald fur. Recent work uses modern genomics to understand the genetics behind the foxes' changes in personality and appearance. The results are not nearly as widely known among scientists, not to mention the public, as they deserve to be.

There are no animals that can not be domesticated.  There are animals we have not domesticated.

Posted by orrinj at 9:36 AM


The End of the Left/Right Divide? (Ian Buruma, 5/08/17, Project Syndicate)

There is little doubt that something shifted in the last decades of the twentieth century. Left-wing parties began to lose - in some countries more quickly than others - their base in the industrial working class. Redistribution of wealth became gradually less important than the social emancipation of ethnic and sexual minorities. The old alliance between intellectual idealists and trade unions gave way to rainbow coalitions of intellectuals, non-whites, feminists, and gays.

Meanwhile, right-wing parties, like the Republicans in the United States, paid lip service to the social conservatism, and sometimes outright bigotry, of less privileged voters in rural and provincial areas, while doing what was best for big business once they were in power.
What was good for big business - international cooperation, pan-national institutions, and openness to immigration - was not always against the interests of the evolving left-of-center parties. Big business benefited from cheap labor, and the left favored multiculturalism.

It made some sense, then, that European social democrats frequently ended up in coalition governments with moderate pro-business conservatives or Christian Democrats. This trend was boosted by the collapse of the Soviet empire, because Western liberal democracies no longer had the same pressing need to counter the Communist model with egalitarian arrangements of their own. The electoral successes of Bill Clinton in the US and Tony Blair in the United Kingdom had much to do with their deliberate tilts towards the pragmatic, neoliberal, business-friendly center.

In this respect, distinctions between left and right have indeed collapsed. The old idea of a left representing the downtrodden proletariat against the interests of big business and the bourgeoisie is gone. One reason why the British Labour Party is in such disarray is that it is led by a man, Jeremy Corbyn, whose politics haven't changed since the 1970s.

Posted by orrinj at 9:21 AM


Why did Trump win? More whites -- and fewer blacks -- actually voted. (Bernard L. Fraga, Sean McElwee, Jesse Rhodes and Brian Schaffner May 8, 2017, Washington Post)

Using data from the voter file vendor Catalist and information from the U.S. Census Bureau, we examine the change in turnout rates for different racial/ethnic groups between 2012 and 2016. Black turnout declined dramatically; white turnout increased noticeably; and Latino and Asian American turnout went up even more. In the key swing states of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, those shifts were especially strong. How strong? Without those shifts in turnout from various racial and ethnic groups, these pivotal states might have gone not to Trump but to Clinton -- giving Clinton an electoral college victory.

Posted by orrinj at 9:17 AM


BORN TOWARD DYING (Richard John Neuhaus, February 2000, First Things)

My first clear memory is of the next morning, I don't know what time. I am surrounded by doctors and technicians talking in a worried tone about why I am not coming to. I heard everything that was said and desperately wanted to respond, but I was locked into absolute immobility, incapable of moving an eyelash or twitching a toe. The sensation was that of being encased in marble; pink marble, I thought, such as is used for gravestones. The surgeon repeatedly urged me to move my thumb, but it was impossible. Then I heard, "The Cardinal is here." It was my bishop, John Cardinal O'Connor. He spoke directly into my right ear, repeatedly calling my name. Then, "Richard, wriggle your nose." It was a plea and a command, and I wanted to do it more urgently than anything I have ever wanted to do in my life. The trying, the sheer exercise of will to wriggle my nose, seemed to go on and on, and then I felt a twinge, no more than a fraction of a millimeter, and the Cardinal said, "He did it! He did it!" "I didn't see anything," said the surgeon. So I tried again, and I did it again, and everybody saw it, and the Cardinal and the doctors and the technicians all began to exclaim what a wonderful thing it was, as though one had risen from the dead.

The days in the intensive care unit was an experience familiar to anyone who has ever been there. I had never been there before, except to visit others, and that is nothing like being there. I was struck by my disposition of utter passivity. There was absolutely nothing I could do or wanted to do, except to lie there and let them do whatever they do in such a place. Indifferent to time, I neither knew nor cared whether it was night or day. I recall counting sixteen different tubes and other things plugged into my body before I stopped counting. From time to time, it seemed several times an hour but surely could not have been, a strange young woman with a brown wool hat and heavy gold necklace would come by and whisper, "I want blood." She stuck in a needle and took blood, smiling mysteriously all the time. She could have said she wanted to cut off my right leg and I would probably have raised no objection. So busy was I with just being there, with one thought that was my one and every thought: "I almost died."

Astonishment and passivity were strangely mixed. I confess to having thought of myself as a person very much in charge. Friends, meaning, I trust, no unkindness, had sometimes described me as a control freak. Now there was nothing to be done, nothing that I could do, except be there. Here comes a most curious part of the story, and readers may make of it what they will. Much has been written on "near death" experiences. I had always been skeptical of such tales. I am much less so now. I am inclined to think of it as a "near life" experience, and it happened this way.

It was a couple of days after leaving intensive care, and it was night. I could hear patients in adjoining rooms moaning and mumbling and occasionally calling out; the surrounding medical machines were pumping and sucking and bleeping as usual. Then, all of a sudden, I was jerked into an utterly lucid state of awareness. I was sitting up in the bed staring intently into the darkness, although in fact I knew my body was lying flat. What I was staring at was a color like blue and purple, and vaguely in the form of hanging drapery. By the drapery were two "presences." I saw them and yet did not see them, and I cannot explain that. But they were there, and I knew that I was not tied to the bed. I was able and prepared to get up and go somewhere. And then the presences--one or both of them, I do not know--spoke. This I heard clearly. Not in an ordinary way, for I cannot remember anything about the voice. But the message was beyond mistaking: "Everything is ready now."

That was it. They waited for a while, maybe for a minute. Whether they were waiting for a response or just waiting to see whether I had received the message, I don't know. "Everything is ready now." It was not in the form of a command, nor was it an invitation to do anything. They were just letting me know. Then they were gone, and I was again flat on my back with my mind racing wildly. I had an iron resolve to determine right then and there what had happened. Had I been dreaming? In no way. I was then and was now as lucid and wide awake as I had ever been in my life.

Tell me that I was dreaming and you might as well tell me that I was dreaming that I wrote the sentence before this one. Testing my awareness, I pinched myself hard, and ran through the multiplication tables, and recalled the birth dates of my seven brothers and sisters, and my wits were vibrantly about me. The whole thing had lasted three or four minutes, maybe less. I resolved at that moment that I would never, never let anything dissuade me from the reality of what had happened. Knowing myself, I expected I would later be inclined to doubt it. It was an experience as real, as powerfully confirmed by the senses, as anything I have ever known. That was some seven years ago. Since then I have not had a moment in which I was seriously tempted to think it did not happen. It happened--as surely, as simply, as undeniably as it happened that I tied my shoelaces this morning. I could as well deny the one as deny the other, and were I to deny either I would surely be mad.

"Everything is ready now." I would be thinking about that incessantly during the months of convalescence. My theological mind would immediately go to work on it. They were angels, of course. Angelos simply means "messenger." There were no white robes or wings or anything of that sort. As I said, I did not see them in any ordinary sense. But there was a message; therefore there were messengers. Clearly, the message was that I could go somewhere with them. Not that I must go or should go, but simply that they were ready if I was. Go where? To God, or so it seemed. I understood that they were ready to get me ready to see God. It was obvious enough to me that I was not prepared, in my present physical and spiritual condition, for the beatific vision, for seeing God face to face. They were ready to get me ready. This comports with the doctrine of purgatory, that there is a process of purging and preparation to get us ready to meet God. I should say that their presence was entirely friendly. There was nothing sweet or cloying, and there was no urgency about it. It was as though they just wanted to let me know. The decision was mine as to when or whether I would take them up on the offer.

There is this about being really sick, you get an enormous amount of attention. I cannot say that I did not enjoy it. In the pain and the nausea and the boredom without end, there were times when I was content to lie back and enjoy the attention. It was a kind of compensation. Over these days there were hundreds of cards and letters and phone calls and, later, brief visits--the last by people who sometimes betrayed the hope of having a final word with what they took to be their dying friend. Some of those who checked in I had not seen in years. Nor have I seen them since, so busy are we with our several busynesses. Sickness is an enforced pause for the counting up of our friends, and being grateful.

In all the cards and letters assuring me of prayer, and almost all did offer such assurance, there were notable differences. Catholics say they are "storming the gates of heaven" on your behalf, and have arranged to have Masses said. Evangelical Protestants are "lifting you up before the throne." Mainline Protestants, Jews, and the unaffiliated let it go with a simple "I am praying for you," or "You are in my prayers." One gets the impression that Catholics and evangelicals are more aggressive on the prayer front.

Then there were longer letters laying out the case for my getting better. A friend who is a constitutional scholar at an Ivy League university wrote a virtual lawyer's brief summing up the reasons for dying and the reasons for living, and came down strongly on the side of my living. It was very odd, because after that there were a number of similar letters, all arguing that I should stay around for a while and assuming that I was undecided about that. I was undecided. This struck me as strange: at the time of crisis and in the months of recovery following, I was never once afraid. I don't claim it as a virtue; it was simply the fact. It had less to do with courage than with indifference. Maybe this is "holy indifference," what the spiritual manuals describe as "a quality in a person's love for God above all that excludes preferences for any person, object, or condition of life." Aquinas, St. John of the Cross, and Ignatius Loyola all write at length about such holy indifference. All I know is that I was surprisingly indifferent to whether I would live or die. It probably had less to do with holiness than with my knowing that there was nothing I could do about it one way or the other.

On the other hand, there was the message: "Everything is ready now." As though the decision were mine, to stay or to go. A friend who had written with his son the story of his son's several years of waging a heroic battle against a horrific series of cancers sent me their book, inscribed with the admonition "to fight relentlessly for life." It was very kind, but I was not at all disposed to fight. More to the point were those letters calmly laying out the reasons why it would be better for others, if not for me, were I to live rather than to die. Over the slow weeks and slower months of recovery, I gradually came to agree. But still very tentatively.

When I was recuperating at home and could take phone calls, those calls became a staple of everyday existence. There were dozens of calls daily; closer friends called every day. Somebody was always on call-waiting. I enjoyed it shamelessly. Although I was often too tired to talk, when I had the energy I related in detail, over and over again, every minuscule change in my condition. With a credible display of intense interest, people listened to the problems with colostomy bags and the latest wrinkle in controlling the nausea that came with chemotherapy. And always in my talking, I was on the edge of tears. I, who had seldom cried in my adult life, was regularly, and without embarrassment, blubbering. Not in sadness. Not at all. But in a kind of amazement that this had happened to me, and maybe I was going to die and maybe I was going to live, and it was all quite out of my control. That was it, I think: I was not in charge, and it was both strange and very good not to be in charge.

Tentatively, I say, I began to think that I might live. It was not a particularly joyful prospect. Everything was shrouded by the thought of death, that I had almost died, that I may still die, that everyone and everything is dying. As much as I was grateful for all the calls and letters, I harbored a secret resentment. These friends who said they were thinking about me and praying for me all the time, I knew they also went shopping and visited their children and tended to their businesses, and there were long times when they were not thinking about me at all. More important, they were forgetting the primordial, overwhelming, indomitable fact: we are dying! Why weren't they as crushingly impressed by that fact as I was?

After a month or so, I could, with assistance, walk around the block. Shuffle is the more accurate term, irrationally fearing with every step that my stomach would rip open again. I have lived in New York almost forty years and have always been a fierce chauvinist about the place. When you're tired of London, you're tired of life, said Dr. Johnson. I had always thought that about New York, where there is more terror and tenderness per square foot than any place in the world. I embraced all the clichés about the place, the palpable vitality of its streets, the electricity in the air, and so forth and so on. Shuffling around the block and then, later, around several blocks, I was tired of it. Death was everywhere. The children at the playground at 19th Street and Second Avenue I saw as corpses covered with putrefying skin. The bright young model prancing up Park Avenue with her portfolio under her arm and dreaming of the success she is to be, doesn't she know she's going to die, that she's already dying? I wanted to cry out to everybody and everything, "Don't you know what's happening?" But I didn't. Let them be in their innocence and ignorance. It didn't matter. Nothing mattered.

Surprising to me, and to others, I did what had to be done with my work. I read manuscripts, wrote my columns, made editorial decisions, but all listlessly. It didn't really matter. After some time, I could shuffle the few blocks to the church and say Mass. At the altar, I cried a lot, and hoped the people didn't notice. To think that I'm really here after all, I thought, at the altar, at the axis mundi, the center of life. And of death. I would be helped back to the house, and days beyond numbering I would simply lie on the sofa looking out at the back yard. That birch tree, which every winter looked as dead as dead could be, was budding again. Would I be here to see it in full leaf, to see its leaves fall in the autumn? Never mind. It doesn't matter.

When I was a young man a parishioner told me, "Do all your praying before you get really sick. When you're sick you can't really pray." She was right, at least in largest part. Being really sick--vomiting, and worrying about what will show up on the next blood test, and trying to ignore the pain at three o'clock in the morning--is a full-time job. At best, you want to recede into relatively painless passivity, and listen to your older sister reading Willa Cather, as my sister read to me. During those long nights, My Antonia, Death Comes for the Archbishop, Shadows on the Rock, and at those times I could have wished it to go on and on. Not that it mattered, but it was ever so pleasant being ever so pampered.

People are different around the very sick, especially when they think they may be dying. In the hospital, bishops came to visit and knelt by my bedside, asking for a blessing. A Jewish doctor, professing himself an atheist, asked for my prayers with embarrassed urgency. His wife had cancer, he explained, "And you know about that now." Call it primitive instinct or spiritual insight, but there is an aura about the sick and dying. They have crossed a line into a precinct others do not know. It is the aura of redemptive suffering, of suffering "offered up" on behalf of others, because there is nothing else to be done with it and you have to do something with it. The point is obvious but it impressed me nonetheless: when you are really sick it is impossible to imagine what it is like to be really well; and when you are well it is almost impossible to remember what it was like to be really sick. They are different precincts.

I had lost nearly fifty pounds and was greatly weakened. There was still another major surgery to come, to reverse the colostomy. You don't want to know the details. It was not the most dangerous surgery, but it was the third Mack truck, and for a long time afterward I barely had strength to lift my hand. Then, step by almost imperceptible step, I was recovering and dared to hope that I would be well again, that I would stride down the street again, that I would take on new projects again. Very little things stand out like luminous signposts. The first time I was able to take a shower by myself. It was dying and rising again in baptismal flood. When one day I was sent home from the hospital after another round of tests, I was told that, if I did not urinate by five o'clock, I should come back to the emergency room and someone would put the catheter back in. My heart sank. It was quite irrational, but going back to the emergency room would have been like recapitulating the entire ordeal of these last several months. I could not endure the thought. When at four o'clock I peed a strong triumphant pee, my heart was lifted on high, and with tears of gratitude I began to sing with feeble voice a Te Deum. I thought, "I am going to get better." And I allowed myself, ever so tentatively, to be glad.

That was seven years ago. I feel very well now. They tell me I might be around for another twenty years or so. Medical science, perhaps arbitrarily, says five years is the point of complete recovery when you are reassigned to your age slot on the actuarial chart. But just to be safe, the tests continue on a regular basis. Next Monday we get the latest report on the CEA (Carcinoembryonic Antigen), the blood indicator of cancerous activity, although the doctor says the test is really not necessary. But I think I am well now. It took a long time after the surgeries, almost two years, before the day came when I suddenly realized that the controlling thought that day had not been the thought of death. And now, in writing this little essay, it all comes back. I remember where I have been, and where I will be again, and where we will all be.

There is nothing that remarkable in my story, except that we are all unique in our living and dying. Early on in my illness a friend gave me John Donne's wondrous Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions. The Devotions were written a year after Donne had almost died, and then lingered for months by death's door. He writes, "Though I may have seniors, others may be elder than I, yet I have proceeded apace in a good university, and gone a great way in a little time, by the furtherance of a vehement fever." So I too have been to a good university, and what I have learned, what I have learned most importantly, is that, in living and in dying, everything is ready now.

Posted by orrinj at 8:57 AM


Trump Isn't Accomplishing Anything But His Voters Don't Care (Bill Scher, May 08, 2017, RCP)

On Thursday, President Trump held a Rose Garden party for a bill that has not become a law. Earlier in the day, he signed an executive order ostensibly to give churches the ability to directly participate in electoral politics, but the order was so toothless the American Civil Liberties Union said it wasn't worth the effort to sue. The following day, Trump signed into law a spending bill that including no money for his signature policy proposal: building a southern border wall.

As Trump compiles a record of failures, feints and half-finished work, his determined opponents anxiously await the moment when his voters will wake up and realize they have been conned.

It's a moment that never comes.

Posted by orrinj at 7:34 AM


The Stubborn Persistence of Confederate Monuments (DAVID A. GRAHAM  APR 26, 2016, The Atlantic)

[S]chools are perhaps some of the most egregious examples--unlike monuments to the local war dead, for example, they go out of their way to celebrate the rebellion in a venue otherwise unconnected to the war. Lee, the great beneficiary of the late-20th century "Lost Cause" myth, is the most common honoree, with 52 schools named for him. Other common namesakes include Jackson (15 schools), Jefferson Davis (13), and P.G.T. Beauregard and Nathan Bedford Forrest (seven each). Forrest is a particularly appalling choice. A cavalry general and probable war criminal, Forrest was the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. Several years ago, a school board in Jacksonville, Florida, removed his name from a high school--which hadn't been integrated until 1971, and then only after a federal court order. SPLC notes that 27 of these 109 schools named for prominent Confederates are majority black. [...]

Many of the treasured monuments that seem to offer a connection to the post-bellum South are actually much later, anachronistic constructions, and they tend to correlate closely with periods of fraught racial relations, as my colleague Yoni Appelbaum has noted. South Carolina didn't hoist the battle flag in Columbia until 1961--the anniversary of the war's start, but also the middle of the civil-rights push, and a time when many white Southerners were on the defensive about issues like segregation and voting rights.

A timeline of the genesis of the Confederate sites shows two notable spikes. One comes around the turn of the 20th century, just after Plessy v. Ferguson, and just as many Southern states were establishing repressive race laws. The second runs from the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s--the peak of the civil-rights movement. In other words, the erection of Confederate monuments has been a way to perform cultural resistance to black equality.

Where's Sherman when we need him...

Posted by orrinj at 7:31 AM


Posted by orrinj at 7:25 AM


Richard Florida, Famous for His Optimism About Cities, Is Now an Urban Pessimist : review of The New Urban Crisis: How Our Cities Are Increasing Inequality, Deepening Segregation, and Failing the Middle Class--and What We Can Do About It.  (Justin Davidson, 5/08/17, New York)

Florida lards his book with plenty of data-driven analysis to show that cities are suffering from what he calls "winner take all urbanism," the idea that superstar cities, like superstar athletes, gorge themselves on money, starving their would-be peers. At the same time, a pampered corps of city dwellers prospers by chasing out others and impoverishing the rest, poverty and crime leach into the suburbs, and the slum-filled megacities of the developing world point to an ever more apocalyptic future. This is a book of lamentations -- the last, half-hearted clause in the subtitle stands in for a last, half-hearted chapter full of solutions.

The key is to move the rest out too, instead of leaving them trapped in cities.

Posted by orrinj at 7:20 AM


Scarlet Tanagers Show Up  In Spring, Then Vanish (Carolyn Lorié, May 07, 2017, Valley News)

This time of year, the male scarlet tanager has a ruby-red body, flanked by jet-black wings and an equally black tail. He's like a precious stone with wings. The female is olive yellow, with brighter yellow on her throat and face. [...]

These neo-tropical birds winter in South America and migrate across the Gulf of Mexico every spring to breed in the eastern half of the United States and parts of Canada. Males arrive first, and announce their presence with raspy song, similar to the courtship song of American robins. But unlike robins, they're unlikely to linger in your yard.

Once breeding season is in full swing, scarlet tanagers tend to spend most of their time high in the treetops. The females choose nesting sites that can be more than 50 feet from the ground. When searching for insects to eat, the birds tend to stick to tree branches and trunks at or near the top of the canopy.

Not only do scarlet tanagers tend to stay high up in the trees, they prefer to raise their young in large tracts of uninterrupted forest. A nest built on the forest edge is more likely to be parasitized by brown-headed cowbirds and is also more vulnerable to predators.

Large tracts of forest, however, aren't the birds' only requirement. They also prefer a diversity of trees. This is one of the reasons -- in addition to the male's appealing looks -- that a scarlet tanager appears on the syrup label for Audubon Vermont's Bird-Friendly Maple Project. Sugarbushes that contain only maple trees aren't as appealing to many songbird species, including scarlet tanagers, as more diverse woodlands. According to Steve Hagenbuch, a conservation biologist at Audubon Vermont, research suggests that insect foraging is not as good in maple monocultures. The presence of other tree species, especially red oak and hemlock, can increase feeding opportunities.

Posted by orrinj at 7:15 AM


The GOP's brilliant new plan to copy Canada's immigration system (Shikha Dalmia, May 8, 2017, The Week)

[T]wo members of his party -- Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Rep. Ken Buck of Colorado -- have come up with a vastly more elegant solution to help the country meet its future labor needs. (Sen. John McCain has signed on as a cosponsor, too.) There are no walls involved -- just a plan to let states set up their own guest worker programs.

Besides being inherently sound, the great upside of this approach is that it would sidestep the messy politics in Washington that have long made sensible immigration reform well nigh impossible. And we know that it works: It already does in Canada.

Posted by orrinj at 7:03 AM


Syria says up to 5,000 Chinese Uighurs fighting in militant groups (Ben Blanchard, 5/08/17, Reuters)

Up to 5,000 ethnic Uighurs from China's violence-prone far western region of Xinjiang are fighting in various militant groups in Syria, the Syrian ambassador to China said on Monday, adding that Beijing should be extremely concerned about it. [...]

Hundreds of people have been killed in Xinjiang in the past few years, most in unrest between Uighurs and ethnic majority Han Chinese. The government blames the unrest on Islamist militants who want a separate state called East Turkestan.

Syria's ambassador in Beijing, Imad Moustapha, told Reuters on the sidelines of a business forum that while some of the Uighurs were fighting with Islamic State, most were fighting "under their own banner" to promote their separatist cause.

Every contradiction forced all in one place.
Posted by orrinj at 6:20 AM


When You're Not Quite Sure If Your Teacher Is Human (TASNIM SHAMMA, 5/08/17, NPR

A couple of years ago, Ashok Goel was overwhelmed by the number of questions his students were asking in his course on artificial intelligence.

Goel teaches computer science at Georgia Tech, sometimes to large classes, where students can ask thousands of questions online in a discussion forum.

With a limited number of teaching assistants, or TAs, many of those questions weren't getting answered in time. So, Goel came up with a plan: make an artificial intelligence "teaching assistant" that could help them out by answering students' frequently asked questions.

In 2015 he built Jill Watson, his AI TA -- named after one of the IBM founders, Thomas J. Watson.

Jill performed well that first year, alleviating the amount of work on Goel and his teaching assistants.

And, something else happened. Goel says using AI, in a course about AI, caught students by surprise, "They had been interacting with the TA all of this time, and you sort of assume that it's a human."

Posted by orrinj at 6:04 AM


The American and French Revolutions Compared (Sean Busick, 5/08/17, Imaginative Conservative)

One of the many differences between the American and French Revolutions is that, unlike the French, Americans did not fight for an abstraction. Americans initially took up arms against the British to defend and preserve the traditional rights of Englishmen. The slogan "no taxation without representation" aptly summed up one of their chief complaints. The right to not be taxed without the consent of your elected representatives was one of the most prized rights of Englishmen. When this became impossible to achieve within the British Empire, Americans declared their independence and then won it on the battlefield. That is, Americans fought for tangible goals; they fought to preserve their traditional rights rather than to overturn an established social order. Ours was a revolution more about home rule than about who should rule at home.

However, the French Revolution was about who should rule at home. They fought for "liberty, equality, and fraternity." Neither equality nor fraternity can be achieved through force by the state. Perfect equality is elusive and, even if it could be achieved, would be inconsistent with liberty. Whereas Americans struggled for tangible goals, the French took on the Sisyphean task of striving for abstractions.

America fought to be more faithful to English principles than the English were being.  France has always imagined it could succeed by opposing itself to such Anglospheric principles.  That attempt to avoid the End of History has been disastrous.  

Posted by orrinj at 6:00 AM


CHELSEA CLINTON'S DREAM DINNER PARTY (Josh Lieb, May 7, 2017, The New Yorker)

You're organizing a literary dinner party. Which three writers, dead or alive, do you invite?

James Baldwin, Shakespeare, Franz Kafka. If I could have three more, at this moment in time, I would choose Albert Camus, Jane Jacobs and Jane Austen. With our group of five or eight (I'd invite my husband too), we would talk about the questions each author grappled with--the balance between social responsibility and individual freedom, and how people and communities can evolve to be more inclusive, more kind, have a greater and broader sense of solidarity, while still respecting individual liberties; what provokes or blocks those changes; and what stories might resonate today to encourage us toward kindness, respect and mutual dignity. And, I'd be tempted to ask Frederick Douglass and Jesus Christ to tea to ask similar questions. --New York Times Book Review

chelsea clinton: Is everyone comfy? Got something to nosh on? Jane, would you like to try a quinoa empanada? They're sustainably sourced.

jane austen: I do not know what any of those words mean. [...]
james baldwin: Well, this is embarrassing.

clinton: What is?

baldwin: For a devout atheist to be given such visceral proof that Hell is real.

clinton: You're not in Hell, silly! This is my dining room. That's my china. Those are my chef's heirloom-zucchini "meat" balls.

Posted by orrinj at 5:20 AM


Physician-Assisted Suicide Tells People Like Me That Our Lives Are No Longer Worth Living :  The legalization of physician-assisted suicide sends the message that it is better to be dead than disabled. Do I lack dignity because I lack physical independence? (Zachary D. Schmoll, May 8th, 2017, Public Discourse)
As a man with a physical disability, I need a lot of help to perform many basic daily activities. I still consider myself to be an independent thinker, but my physical independence is substantially limited by my severely reduced muscle strength. I need help to drive my van, get dressed, prepare my meals, and complete other daily tasks. For me, this is life. For many others, this level of dependence is motivation to consider bringing life to an end.

In a 2005 study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, out of thirty-five individual cases of people who were seriously considering physician-assisted suicide, twenty-three of the patients were motivated to pursue a hastened death because of a loss of bodily function. Twenty-two of these patients were motivated by a loss of sense of self, while twenty-one of them expressed fears about future quality of life and dying. To put this number in context, only fourteen of them were motivated to end their lives because of pain or the side effects of pain medications. Instead, each of the most highly cited reasons for pursuing physician-assisted suicide are related to issues of dependence and independence. Our society tells us that autonomy is what makes life worth living. Once these patients began to lose bodily function, they were told that they were also losing their identity and quality of life.

Personally, as an individual with a disability, I believe that I have a very high quality of life. I have a job I enjoy, I have friends I like to see, I have a sport I like to play, and I am pursuing a doctoral degree. I have a full life, and I enjoy what I am doing. Consequently, it is not surprising at all that I have a high quality of life even though I do have less independence than most other people. I am doing what I enjoy, and I am thankful for that.

Plenty of other people in my situation, however, would not enjoy their lives. Even if they could, for instance, play power wheelchair soccer, as I do, they might not enjoy it. Instead of being thankful for the ability to play a sport, they might only be able to see what they cannot do, focusing on how it is different from the soccer they could play as an able-bodied person. Obviously, quality of life is going to be impacted by one's perception of his or her own situation. Because I have a desire to enjoy my life, I would not consider physician-assisted suicide. Yet many, like those in the study above, are susceptible to this fatal choice because they feel that life is no longer worth living. These people naturally believe that their life is of a lower quality because they have lost their independence.

Which perspective should our society try to reinforce?