August 12, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:23 PM


Consumption Is indeed the End; Production Is Indeed Only a Means (DON BOUDREAUX, AUGUST 12, 2017, Cafe Hayek)

[O]ne must ask: What is the purpose of having an economy with a high productive capacity?  And, even more fundamentally: How to assess productive capacity to begin with?  The key to both answers lies in understanding that the purpose of all economic activity is ultimately to satisfy each person's desire to enjoy a high standard of living (including, let us not forget, opportunities to enjoy leisure).  [...]

Production is an essential means toward the end of consumption.  The more production there is, the more consumption there can be.  But we use the means to create the end.  We produce in order to consume; we do not consume in order to produce. 

The fact that the purpose of an economy is to create wealth is the great truth that has to be avoided in all discussions of the end of labor.

Posted by orrinj at 5:44 PM

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Posted by orrinj at 2:24 PM


Mueller Is Said to Seek Interviews With West Wing in Russia Case (MICHAEL S. SCHMIDT, MATT APUZZO and MAGGIE HABERMANAUG. 12, 2017, NY Times)

In a sign that the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election will remain a continuing distraction for the White House, the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, is in talks with the West Wing about interviewing current and former senior administration officials, including the recently ousted White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus, according to three people briefed on the discussions.

Mr. Mueller has asked the White House about specific meetings, who attended them and whether there are any notes, transcripts or documents about them, two of the people said. Among the matters Mr. Mueller wants to ask the officials about is President Trump's decision in May to fire the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, the two people said.

That line of questioning will be important as Mr. Mueller continues to investigate whether Mr. Trump obstructed justice in the dismissal of Mr. Comey.

...trying to distract people could lead Donald to destroy the North Korean regime, as we should have done seventy years ago, even as Mr. Mueller topples his own.

Posted by orrinj at 2:14 PM


Is 'the only democracy in ME' becoming undemocratic? (Gideon Levy, 8/12/17,  Al Jazeera)

Minister Kara is perceived in Israel as a political joke. He was nominated to his office just when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahuhad to give it up for legal reasons. Kara became Netanyahu's puppet in the communication ministry. All this does not make his decision to declare war on Al Jazeera less important, or less meaningful. On the contrary, Minister Kara tries to follow not only his master's political attitudes, but also the Israeli national sentiment that any critical voices in Israel and from abroad should be fought.

The declaration of the government's intent to close down Al Jazeera and blocking its broadcast in Israel, might have very little practical consequences. It is not clear if the Israeli government can close Al Jazeera's bureau; if Al Jazeera employees can be prevented from working as journalists; if the governmental press office can revoke their accreditations; and if the government can prevent Israelis from watching Al Jazeera. But those are minor questions. The main issue is the Israeli intention and the Israeli policy, which has a much broader context.

It is the democratic face of the state of Israel and the attempt to curb freedom of speech and freedom of the press in Israel - "the only democracy in the Middle East". This process might start with Al Jazeera but it will never stop there; it will continue with BBC and CNN and it might end with closing down Israeli media outlets the government doesn't favour. And therefore, the Al Jazeera case should worry many more Israelis, Jews and Arabs alike.

What we see are the growing cracks in the Israeli democracy, nothing less than this.

Posted by orrinj at 9:49 AM


Scallion & Fresh Corn Spoon Bread (JED PORTMAN, August/September 2017, Gerden & Gun)


2 cups corn kernels (from about 4 cobs)

1 1/4 cups milk

1 cup water

1 tsp. kosher salt

1 cup fine white cornmeal

2 tbsp. butter, cut into pieces, plus more for greasing the skillet

1/2 cup thinly sliced scallions

1/8 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg

3 eggs

1/2 tsp. cream of tartar

1/4 tsp. baking soda


Preheat oven to 375ºF.
Grease a 10-inch cast-iron skillet or an 8-inch-by-8-inch casserole dish well with butter and set aside. Add kernels to a food processor and pulse until roughly chopped. Reserve.

Heat milk, water, and salt in a heavy saucepan over medium heat until bubbles appear around the edges. Then whisk in cornmeal and cook until thickened, 2-3 minutes. Remove pan from heat and stir in butter, then scallions, kernels, and nutmeg. Mix well. Let the mixture cool, then vigorously whisk in eggs. Sprinkle cream of tartar and baking soda over the mixture and stir to combine.

Pour batter into the skillet or casserole dish and place in the oven. Bake for 30-45 minutes, rotating once halfway through, until the center is set but still a little bit jiggly and the top is lightly browned.

Posted by orrinj at 9:28 AM


No one is destroying baseballs like Giancarlo Stanton (Eddie Matz, 8/11/17, ESPN)

The baseball had to be fake.

Earlier this week in Washington, Giancarlo Stanton pounced on a pitch from Nationals starter A.J. Cole, sending it way beyond the wall in left-center for his 38th home run, a career high. After the game, sitting in the top shelf of Stanton's locker was a scuffed-up ball that had the vitals written on it (date, opponent, pitcher) and was torn in two different places, such that there were gaping holes where the white leather meets the red seams. On the one hand, it seemed like an obvious clubhouse prank -- after all, the ball resembled something straight out of "The Natural." On the other hand, the way Stanton's been punishing pitches lately, it's entirely believable that he tore the cover off the ball.

If the first half of the 2017 season belonged to Aaron Judge, the second half belongs to Stanton. A 6-foot-6, 245-pound specimen who's so jacked that even his muscles have muscles, Stanton was Judge long before Judge was Judge: a supersized position player who looks as if he was genetically engineered in a petri dish for the sole purpose of being a tight end, but somehow got lost on his way to the gridiron. Instead of catching passes, Stanton catches pitches with the barrel of his bat, and obliterates them.

Posted by orrinj at 9:01 AM


Research Suggests Loneliness Is As Bad for You as Smoking Nearly a Pack of Cigarettes a Day (KATE HOROWITZ, AUGUST 10, 2017, Mental Floss)

Humans are social animals. That means that our friendships, family, and other social networks are not just pleasures; they're also essential to our survival. New research presented at the 125th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association finds that loneliness and isolation may be bigger public health issues than previously realized.

"Being connected to others socially is widely considered a fundamental human need--crucial to both well-being and survival," psychologist Julianne Holt-Lunstad of Brigham Young University said in a statement.

"Extreme examples show infants in custodial care who lack human contact fail to thrive and often die, and indeed, social isolation or solitary confinement has been used as a form of punishment."

A 2010 AARP study of adults aged 45 and up found that more than one-third of respondents felt lonely, and that loneliness and poor health went hand in hand.

To quantify the impact of loneliness and isolation, Holt-Lunstad conducted two separate meta-analyses of the scientific literature, reviewing a total of 218 studies. Her first analysis found that higher social connectedness is linked to as much as a 50 percent decrease in risk of early death.

The second, which included data from more than 3.4 million people in North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia, suggests that social isolation, loneliness, and living alone can be as bad for a person's health as other common risks. (The AARP study also concluded that prolonged isolation carries the same health risks as smoking 15 cigarettes per day.)

"There is robust evidence that social isolation and loneliness significantly increase risk for premature mortality, and the magnitude of the risk exceeds that of many leading health indicators," Holt-Lunstad said.

Just listened to Marilynne Robinson's great novel, Gilead, which plumbs her theme of loneliness and the quest for domesticity.  She portrays separation from our fellow men as a sort of living hell and draws upon John Calvin's theology for separation from god as literal Hell, CHAPTER 16. HOW CHRIST PERFORMED THE OFFICE OF REDEEMER IN PROCURING OUR SALVATION. THE DEATH, RESURRECTION, AND ASCENSION OF CHRIST. (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion):

8. Here we must not omit the descent to hell, which was of no little importance to the accomplishment of redemption. For although it is apparent from the writings of the ancient Fathers, that the clause which now stands in the Creed was not formerly so much used in the churches, still, in giving a summary of doctrine, a place must be assigned to it, as containing a matter of great importance which ought not by any means to be disregarded. Indeed, some of the ancient Fathers do not omit it,255 and hence we may conjecture, that having been inserted in the Creed after a considerable lapse of time, it came into use in the Church not immediately but by degrees.256 This much is uncontroverted, that it was in accordance with the general sentiment of all believers, since there is none of the Fathers who does not mention Christ's descent into hell, though they have various modes of explaining it. But it is of little consequence by whom and at what time it was introduced. The chief thing to be attended to in the Creed is, that it furnishes us with a full and every way complete summary of faith, containing nothing but what has been derived from the infallible word of God. But should any still scruple to give it admission into the Creed, it will shortly be made plain, that the place which it holds in a summary of our redemption is so important, that the omission of it greatly detracts from the benefit of Christ's death. There are some again who think that the article contains nothing new, but is merely a repetition in different words of what was previously said respecting burial, the word Hell (Infernis) being often used in Scripture for sepulchre. I admit the truth of what they allege with regard to the not infrequent use of the term infernos for sepulchre; but I cannot adopt their opinion, for two obvious reasons. First, What folly would it have been, after explaining a matter attended with no difficulty in clear and unambiguous terms, afterwards to involve rather than illustrate it by clothing it in obscure phraseology? When two expressions having the same meaning are placed together, the latter ought to be explanatory of the former. But what kind of explanation would it be to say, the expression, "Christ was buried", means, that "he descended into hell"? My second reason is the improbability that a superfluous tautology of this description should have crept into this compendium, in which the principal articles of faith are set down summarily in the fewest possible number of words. I have no doubt that all who weigh the matter with some degree of care will here agree with me.  [...]

10. But, apart from the Creed, we must seek for a surer exposition of Christ's descent to hell: and the word of God furnishes us with one not only pious and holy, but replete with excellent consolation. Nothing had been done if Christ had only endured corporeal death. In order to interpose between us and God's anger, and satisfy his righteous judgment, it was necessary that he should feel the weight of divine vengeance. Whence also it was necessary that he should engage, as it were, at close quarters with the powers of hell and the horrors of eternal death. We lately quoted from the Prophet, that the "chastisement of our peace was laid upon him" that he "was bruised for our iniquities" that he "bore our infirmities;" expressions which intimate, that, like a sponsor and surety for the guilty, and, as it were, subjected to condemnation, he undertook and paid all the penalties which must have been exacted from them, the only exception being, that the pains of death could not hold him. Hence there is nothing strange in its being said that he descended to hell, seeing he endured the death which is inflicted on the wicked by an angry God. It is frivolous and ridiculous to object that in this way the order is perverted, it being absurd that an event which preceded burial should be placed after it. But after explaining what Christ endured in the sight of man, the Creed appropriately adds the invisible and incomprehensible judgment which he endured before God, to teach us that not only was the body of Christ given up as the price of redemption, but that there was a greater and more excellent price--that he bore in his soul the tortures of condemned and ruined man.

11. In this sense, Peter says that God raised up Christ, "having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible he should be holden of it," (Acts 2:24). He does not mention death simply, but says that the Son of God endured the pains produced by the curse and wrath of God, the source of death. How small a matter had it been to come forth securely, and as it were in sport to undergo death. Herein was a true proof of boundless mercy, that he shunned not the death he so greatly dreaded. And there can be no doubt that, in the Epistle to the Hebrews, the Apostle means to teach the same thing, when he says that he "was heard in that he feared," (Heb. 5:7). Some instead of "feared," use a term meaning reverence or piety, but how inappropriately, is apparent both from the nature of the thing and the form of expression.259 Christ then praying in a loud voice, and with tears, is heard in that he feared, not so as to be exempted from death, but so as not to be swallowed up of it like a sinner, though standing as our representative. And certainly no abyss can be imagined more dreadful than to feel that you are abandoned and forsaken of God, and not heard when you invoke him, just as if he had conspired your destruction. To such a degree was Christ dejected, that in the depth of his agony he was forced to exclaim, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" 

Posted by orrinj at 8:43 AM


California Crops Rot as Immigration Crackdown Creates Farmworker Shortage (Chris Morris, Aug 08, 2017, Fortune)

Vegetable prices may be going up soon, as a shortage of migrant workers is resulting in lost crops in California.

Farmers say they're having trouble hiring enough people to work during harvest season, causing some crops to rot before they can be picked. Already, the situation has triggered losses of more than $13 million in two California counties alone, according to NBC News.

Posted by orrinj at 8:31 AM


The Friendliest Lawsuit Ever Filed Against the Justice Department (Benjamin Wittes, August 12, 2017, LawFare)

Yesterday, for the first time in my life, I filed a lawsuit. It may be the friendliest lawsuit ever filed against the Justice Department. 

I filed it because I believe President Trump lied before Congress about data kept by his Justice Department, and I want to find out whether I'm right. 

Back in February, speaking before a Joint Session of Congress, President Trump declared that: "according to data provided by the Department of Justice, the vast majority of individuals convicted of terrorism and terrorism-related offenses since 9/11 came here from outside of our country."

There's a lot of reason to believe this statement is a compound lie--both to believe that the vast majority of individuals convicted of terrorism-related crimes did not come here from elsewhere and to believe that the men and women of the Department of Justice did not provide any data suggesting otherwise.

Posted by orrinj at 8:19 AM


March of white supremacists at University of Virginia ends in skirmishes (Joe Heim August 12, 2017, washington Post)

Chanting "White lives matter!" "You will not replace us!" and "Jews will not replace us!" several hundred white nationalists and white supremacists carrying torches marched in a parade through the University of Virginia campus Friday night.

The fast-paced march was made up almost exclusively of men in their 20s and 30s, though there were some who looked to be in their mid-teens.

Posted by orrinj at 8:14 AM


Somehow, Merriam Webster has become the funniest anti-Donald site on the web.
Posted by orrinj at 8:08 AM


ESPN's Surrender to Grim New Reality : With cable TV subscribers fleeing, the sports giant has to look for customers online. That's not where the money is. (Joe Nocera, 8/11/17, bLOOMBERG)

The core economic issue is this: Cable companies pay the Walt Disney Co. an average of $7.21 per subscriber for ESPN, according to the media-news service SNL Kagan, triple that of other popular cable channels. And because of the way the cable bundle works, the operators end up passing the cost along to many customers who don't watch sports and don't want ESPN. That's why so many people hate the cable bundle, and why cable bills are so high.

So it is hardly a surprise that as people began to have more options, including bundles without sports channels, they've been abandoning ESPN. Even many sports fans have concluded they can live without ESPN. "ESPN is in secular decline," says Rich Greenfield of the investment firm BTIG, who has had a "sell" on Disney's stock since 2015.

At the same time, ESPN is paying staggering sums for professional sports rights, more than $7 billion in total, again according to SNL Kagan. Fewer subscribers plus higher rights fees equals profit squeeze. Which is exactly ESPN's dilemma.

But a streaming service, while it might attract sports fans who have cut the cord, won't solve ESPN's profit problems. Instead it will exacerbate them. Why? Because ESPN will continue to lose the millions upon millions of cable subscribers who pay for it but never watch it. Losing $7.21 from each non-watcher is going to be a revenue killer. There is no possible way the universe of sports fans who want ESPN can make up that revenue, even if they're charged more for a streaming service.

To make matters worse, Disney appears to be planning a streaming service that even the most rabid sports fan will be reluctant to pay for. All the good stuff -- big-time college football, professional basketball, the Monday night National Football League game -- will remain exclusively on ESPN's cable channels. The streaming service will get, well, other things. It's pretty clear that Iger is still trying to protect Disney's legacy cable business, and that his move to the internet is not exactly a wholehearted embrace.

The reality is that the glory days are over for ESPN. Instead of making the $6.4 billion it earned in 2014, it'll soon be earning $2 billion or less. Iger, or his successor, will have to decide whether to invest in it or to let it hobble along in its diminished shape. Disney will have to decide whether to keep paying megabucks for professional sports rights -- thinking of them as loss leaders like the Olympics for NBC -- or whether to give up those rights to save money. If it does the former, ESPN's profits will dwindle even more. If it does the latter, fewer sports fans will want to subscribe.

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Mysterious Origins of Hanover's Mona Lisa (Teresa Johnston Oden, 8/11/17, The Valley News)

Shortly after the close of the American Revolution, William Henry Vernon of Newport, R.I., graduated from Princeton University. He was only 18 years old and not ready to assume a place in the world. His father, a prosperous merchant who had held a post akin to the secretary of the Navy during the revolution, had many connections with men of influence, and he looked to them to help his son grow into a man who could be useful to his country. In 1778, Vernon's father sent him off to Paris with letters of introduction to Benjamin Franklin and John Adams, who were living there at the time, and to the Marquis de Lafayette.

The elder Vernon hoped his son would return, a couple years older and more worldly wise, to join the family firm. However, after Benjamin Franklin introduced him at the royal court, the young man had no taste for business. He plunged into life among the aristocrats with pure delight. He adopted their dress and imitated their manners and made himself useful whenever he could. Two years stretched into five and then 10.

By then Vernon could easily pass for a French nobleman. But what had been his delight took a sinister turn as the populace began to rise up against the king. Vernon continued to live among the nobility through the Reign of Terror and beyond, but finally he was swept up with members of the French aristocracy and imprisoned. Unable to prove his American citizenship, he was facing execution when a group of Americans living in France successfully petitioned for his release. Vernon fled the country and returned to the States.  

Along with his fancy dress clothes, he packed up more than 50 Old Master paintings. They included works by Titian, Van Dyck, Murillo, Veronese, Michelangelo -- and a portrait of the Mona Lisa that Vernon believed was painted by Leonardo da Vinci himself.

How did William Vernon come by such a glorious trove of art? A folder of newspaper and magazine clippings in Dartmouth's Rauner Library offers some answers, and other questions. [...]

When Ambrose White Vernon moved to Hanover, he hung the Mona Lisa in his home on Downing Road. He shared possession with another family member, and after enjoying it for six months, he shipped it off to the other owner for the rest of the year. But the world-wide fame of the Louvre's Mona Lisa led the family to wonder whether such casual treatment of their painting was wise. Just how valuable was it, anyway? 

In 1950 the Princeton Club of New York exhibited the Vernon Mona Lisa for one day. A report in the Nov. 10, 1950, Princeton Alumni Weekly provides a wealth of information about the Vernon family's efforts to learn more about their painting. Experts at Harvard's Fogg Art Museum had examined it in the 1930s and declared it from the same era as the Louvre painting.  

Years later a renowned historian, Thomas M. Judson, visited Professor Vernon's home to examine the work. He was convinced by the brushwork that Leonardo himself painted the face, if not the entire portrait. But he also noted that the Vernon painting shows a woman who is younger and thinner, one whose expression seems sadder in comparison. Lest it be written off as a poor copy, these differences would have to be explained. Judson offered a startling theory.

It is known that the sitter, Lisa Gherardini, lost a child in 1499, and Judson thought it likely that da Vinci began the Vernon portrait at around that time, and that the grieving mother became too ill to continue. A few years later, when the sittings began again, the woman's appearance had changed so much that da Vinci abandoned the earlier portrait and started another painting, the one that hangs in the Louvre. The Vernon portrait was finished by someone else, perhaps da Vinci's pupil Bernardino Luini.

If this is the true story of the origin of the Vernon Mona Lisa, it gives the painting a certain distinction. Rather than being one of many, many copies of the Louvre portrait, it is actually a forerunner.

Judson's theory was neither widely embraced nor rejected. But William Vernon's heirs had learned enough; they realized that their Mona Lisa was far too valuable to hang in a private home in Hanover.  She was trundled into a vault in New Jersey and seldom saw the light of day.

For Ambrose White Vernon, it was a grievous loss. "The Mona Lisa has been with us so long that it has seemed more like a dearly loved member of the family than a material possession," he told Woman's Day magazine for an article published in October 1955.

For a while she was remembered fondly in the Upper Valley. On Feb. 14, 1963, while the Louvre's Mona Lisa was touring New York and Washington, D.C., Margaret Beck McCallum wrote in the Hanover Gazette, "It was nice of the French Government to send her over, but as far as Hanover is concerned it's sort of coals to Newcastle."  

Posted by orrinj at 7:01 AM


The world's best Dota 2 players just got destroyed by a killer AI from Elon Musk's startup (T.C. Sottek,  Aug 11, 2017, The Verge)
Tonight during Valve's yearly Dota 2 tournament, a surprise segment introduced what could be the best new player in the world -- a bot from Elon Musk-backed startup OpenAI. Engineers from the nonprofit say the bot learned enough to beat Dota 2 pros in just two weeks of real-time learning, though in that training period they say it amassed "lifetimes" of experience, likely using a neural network judging by the company's prior efforts. Musk is hailing the achievement as the first time artificial intelligence has been able to beat pros in competitive e-sports.

Posted by orrinj at 6:57 AM



As President Donald Trump escalates his war of words against North Korea and its leader, Kim Jong Un, a team of independent rocket experts has asserted that the two rockets the rogue regime launched in July and described as intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) are incapable of delivering a nuclear payload to the continental United States, and probably not even to Anchorage, Alaska.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology rocket expert Ted Postol and two German experts, Markus Schiller and Robert Schmucker of Schmucker Technologie, published their findings Friday in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, in a paper they titled "North Korea's 'Not Quite' ICBM Can't Hit the Lower 48 States." Newsweek saw an early version of the paper.

Postol is professor of science, technology and national security policy at MIT who has advised the Pentagon and Congress on missile-related defense projects. Schiller and Schmucker are missile engineers with the Munich-based company who have previously analyzed North Korean missiles, and in 2012 determined that the country's supposed ICBMs were "fakes." Schiller has worked on missile analyses for NATO, the EU, the German and Austrian armed forces and other institutions in Europe. Schmucker has worked at NASA and served as a U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq. 

"From the point of view of North Korean political leadership, the general reaction to the July 4 and July 28 launches could not have been better," the authors wrote. "The world suddenly believed that the North Koreans had an ICBM that could reach the West Coast of the United States and beyond. But calculations we have made--based on detailed study of the type and size of the rocket motors used, the flight times of the stages of the rockets, the propellant likely used, and other technical factors--indicate that these rockets actually carried very small payloads that were nowhere near the weight of a nuclear warhead of the type North Korea could have, or could eventually have. These small payloads allowed the rockets to be lofted to far higher altitudes than they would have if loaded with a much-heavier warhead, creating the impression that North Korea was on the cusp of achieving ICBM capability."