November 10, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 8:44 AM



A PLAN FOR the United Arab Emirates to wage financial war against its Gulf rival Qatar was found in the task folder of an email account belonging to UAE Ambassador to the United States Yousef al-Otaiba and subsequently obtained by The Intercept.

The economic warfare involved an attack on Qatar's currency using bond and derivatives manipulation. The plan, laid out in a slide deck provided to The Intercept through the group Global Leaks, was aimed at tanking Qatar's economy, according to documents drawn up by a bank outlining the strategy.

The outline, prepared by Banque Havilland, a private Luxembourg-based bank owned by the family of controversial British financier David Rowland, laid out a scheme to drive down the value of Qatar's bonds and increase the cost of insuring them, with the ultimate goal of creating a currency crisis that would drain the country's cash reserves. [...]

THE NEW PROJECT comes amid -- and, if implemented, would escalate -- a regional crisis that reached new heights in June, when the UAE and Saudi Arabia led a bloc of Gulf nations in blockading and cutting off diplomatic relations with Qatar. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson recently faulted the blockading countries for intransigence, but President Donald Trump has largely taken the opposite approach, emboldening Saudi Arabia and the Emirates at the expense of Qatar, which is home to one of the largest overseas U.S. military bases in the world.

Posted by orrinj at 8:22 AM

TRADE IS DIFFERENT (self-reference alert):

The Trouble With Globalization : Undermined by the false narratives that have destabilized it, globalization is at risk. (Dani Rodrik , October 20, 2017, Milken Review)

Electorates around the world were told not only that globalization was inevitable, but also that it necessarily took the particular form they were witnessing. The nation-state, it was said, was the enemy of globalization, and therefore had to get out of the way. Globalization required ever-stronger global rules mandated by trade agreements, multilateral organizations and international networks of regulators. But not to worry: it would promote economic progress and political harmony, even if not for everyone right away.

None of this was quite true. There is nothing inevitable about advancing economic integration, nor about the route that globalization takes if it does move forward. And contrary to conventional wisdom, nation-states are absolutely essential to globalization because they provide the public services ranging from law enforcement to macroeconomic stabilization that are needed for open markets to thrive. By the same token, global governance is largely superfluous: proper trade, financial, monetary and regulatory policies required to sustain an open world economy do not require much coordination when governments do their jobs well.

One of the central arguments of Redefining Sovereignty was that while conservatives are perfectly right to be hostile to transnational political institutions, economics requires yielding some sovereignty where trade between nations is concerned.  

Posted by orrinj at 8:17 AM


Jumpin' Joe (Robert Silverman, Victory Journal)

In December 1974, while playing for the ABA's Spirits of St. Louis, Caldwell was placed on indefinite suspension. According to the Spirits, he'd convinced star rookie Marvin "Bad News" Barnes to jump the team, an allegation Caldwell has always denied. For this, Caldwell says he was placed on a reserve list by the Spirits, sending him into basketball limbo. He then spent decades in courtrooms trying to prove that the ABA and his old team had conspired to keep him from playing pro basketball. The question of whether he was blackballed--and if the ABA violated U.S. antitrust laws--was litigated for over twenty years. It was finally decided in 1996, when the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed the case.

"They made this one lie stand and it destroyed my career, my finances," he says.

It was far from Caldwell's only legal battle. He also spent nine years fighting Tedd Munchak, the one-time owner of the Carolina Cougars, who sued Caldwell in 1973 to avoid fulfilling the terms of a contract that would have paid Caldwell $6,600 per month pension--$600 for every season of his career--starting at age 55. According to Munchak, there was a typo in the deal and his intent actually was to pay Caldwell only $60 a month. He also spent an additional seven years enmeshed in a legal battle trying to recoup the $220,000 in salary the Spirits should have paid him, but had withheld, thanks to the 1974 suspension. And for an additional 14 years, he fought to extricate himself from a court-ordered bankruptcy that snatched away that last payment from the Spirits once he'd won it back.

Caldwell has a raconteur's ease, punctuated with a remarkable ability to recall specific dates and details. While he rarely waxes nostalgic about the games themselves, he'll recite chapter and verse about his post-basketball legal battles. He has kept all of the paperwork from the years winding through the legal system in his home outside Tempe. He originally bought the property for his mother but has lived there since 1978. Over the years, various members of his family have resided there too, including Caldwell's grandson and soon-to-be Duke freshman Marvin Bagley III, expected to be a top-3 pick in the 2018 NBA draft. 

Boxes filled to the brim with old and yellowing documents, all the contracts and supporting evidence, sit in Caldwell's bedroom. A letter sent by ESPN apologizing for its depiction of him in the 30 for 30 documentary High Spirits is framed and hung on on his wall with pride, as if the act of maintaining and cataloguing this personal legal library is a justification in and of itself.

But his stacks of files are important signifiers of another basketball era, when labor could be crushed by management, owners could casually sling racist epithets, and it was unclear if professional basketball would ever prove to be anything more than a fringe sport. And yet, on the court, "Pogo Joe" or "Jumpin' Joe,"--a long-limbed, athletic, defensive stopper--was the furthest thing from an anachronism. According to Curtis Harris, a doctoral student at American University focusing on basketball history, Caldwell is as good an avatar as you'll find of an athlete whose game foreshadowed the present.

"The way he jumped, the way he attacked, both on offense and defense," Harris explains, "You look at the court back then, like 1966, at a game with Joe Caldwell, after 30 seconds, you'd say, 'Yeah, Joe Caldwell's not just a guy that's not just existing out there; he's out there progressing what's going to happen in basketball.'"

His peers certainly agree. Walt Frazier cackles with joy when asked about Caldwell's game.

"Jumping Joe, Pogo Joe," he says, his high-wattage grin practically bursting through the phone, "This guy was a phenomenal leaper. He could run. He was like Westbrook on the court, man. Very athletic. From the half court, [he would] maybe take one dribble, go down, and dunk the ball ... His stupendous dunk shots, that was his trash talking symbol." Frazier likens that pose to the iconic silhouette of Michael Jordan, "Cause he would go up with one hand, just float through the air. Man, just a ferocious type of dunk."

Bob Costas, who served as play-by-play man for the Spirits at the ripe old age of 22, only got to see Caldwell play for a month, but he raves about his abilities.

"He could use his strength for positioning and he had leaping ability on top of it," Costas says. "He played bigger than 6-4, 6-5 the same way Charles Barkley did," a comparison that Caldwell echoed in a 1993 interview with The New York Times' Richard Sandomir, saying he played small forward like "Charles Barkley without the extra weight.

Costas recalls a game between the Spirits of St. Louis and Utah Stars in 1974 in which Caldwell faced off against 19-year-old Moses Malone. Caldwell shut Malone down, holding him to a four-point outing despite Moses' six-inch height advantage.

Harris says that Kawhi Leonard is the current player Caldwell reminds him of the most, even if Caldwell lacks Leonard's shooting and ball-handling skills. Caldwell rejected that idea outright. "If my hands were like [Leonard's] ... Man, I hate to think," he says, practically giggling at the thought. "I used to ask God all the time, 'God, why do you not give me long fingers?' And I'd hear a voice inside of my head say, 'Well, I can't give you everything.'"

If Caldwell's game has aged well, the series of events that prematurely ended his career have all but been forgotten. They shouldn't be. He not only fought for his own contractual rights; he worked tirelessly against the pending ABA-NBA merger, serving as a plaintiff in Oscar Robertson's class-action antitrust lawsuit that forced the NBA grant players the right to free agency. You can draw a straight line across time from his actions (and that of all the NBA's early labor pioneers) and the political and cultural agency wielded by the likes of LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony.

Caldwell's story is one about a financially-strapped league trying to claw back a chunk of cash, or as Caldwell tells it, "They were trying to flim-flam me out of my money." But Caldwell's labor efforts were why a target had been placed on his back to begin with. Because he wanted players to be guaranteed a livable pension after their careers were over; because he wasn't willing to remain silent when allegations of rigged games arose; and because wouldn't continue play for an owner who threw around racial slurs, he was labeled a "troublemaker" and "clubhouse lawyer." He had to be punished, lest others follow his lead.

Because of that, Caldwell says, "They destroyed everything."

Posted by orrinj at 6:11 AM

PRO-ROBOT IS PRO-LIFE (profanity alert):

Las Vegas' self driving bus only needed 2 hours to prove human drivers suck (Matthew Hughes, 11/09/17, Next Web)

It's been a mixed week for self-driving vehicles, after an autonomous bus in Los Vegas collided with a truck just two hours after it hit the streets.

The vehicle didn't crash due to a software error. Rather, it was rear-ended by a human-driven truck. Fortunately the damage wasn't too severe, with a city official describing it as a "fender bender." There are no reports of any injuries or fatalities as a result of the crash, and the truck driver was lucky enough to walk away with a ticket. [...]

Ironically, the incident has served to highlight one of the best arguments in favor of self-driving cars: they're safe. Unlike humans, they don't get tired or get distracted. Autonomous busses can't impair their abilities by drinking alcohol or taking drugs. And overall, they're unbelievably cautious, and are hard-coded to drive within a set of parameters designed to ensure the safety of all passengers, and others on the road.

This tech can't come soon enough. In 2016, 37,461 people died in car accidents, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). 

Many on the right can only cast themselves as pro-life by considering abortion in isolation from the rest of human existence.

Posted by orrinj at 6:00 AM


The Illusionist : Daniel Dennett's latest book marks five decades of majestic failure to explain consciousness. (David Bentley Hart, Summer 2017, New Atlantis)

It seems to me that we have come this way before. Some of the signposts are new, perhaps -- "Bacteria," "Bach," and so on -- but the scenery looks very familiar, if now somewhat overgrown, and it is hard not to feel that the path is the same one that Daniel Dennett has been treading for five decades. I suppose it would be foolish to expect anything else. As often as not, it is the questions we fail to ask -- and so the presuppositions we leave intact -- that determine the courses our arguments take; and Dennett has been studiously avoiding the same set of questions for most of his career.

In a sense, the entire logic of From Bacteria to Bach and Back (though not, of course, all the repetitious details) could be predicted simply from Dennett's implicit admission on page 364 that no philosopher of mind before Descartes is of any consequence to his thinking. The whole pre-modern tradition of speculation on the matter -- Aristotle, Plotinus, the Schoolmen, Ficino, and so on -- scarcely qualifies as prologue. And this means that, no matter how many times he sets out, all his journeys can traverse only the same small stretch of intellectual territory. [...]

In the pre-modern vision of things, the cosmos had been seen as an inherently purposive structure of diverse but integrally inseparable rational relations -- for instance, the Aristotelian aitia, which are conventionally translated as "causes," but which are nothing like the uniform material "causes" of the mechanistic philosophy. And so the natural order was seen as a reality already akin to intellect. Hence the mind, rather than an anomalous tenant of an alien universe, was instead the most concentrated and luminous expression of nature's deepest essence. This is why it could pass with such wanton liberty through the "veil of Isis" and ever deeper into nature's inner mysteries.

The Cartesian picture, by contrast, was a chimera, an ungainly and extrinsic alliance of antinomies. And reason abhors a dualism. Moreover, the sciences in their modern form aspire to universal explanation, ideally by way of the most comprehensive and parsimonious principles possible. So it was inevitable that what began as an imperfect method for studying concrete particulars would soon metastasize into a metaphysics of the whole of reality. The manifest image was soon demoted to sheer illusion, and the mind that perceived it to an emergent product of the real (which is to say, mindless) causal order.

Here, in this phantom space between the phenomenal and physical worlds, is just where the most interesting questions should probably be raised. But Dennett has no use for those. He is content with the stark choice with which the modern picture confronts us: to adopt either a Cartesian dualism or a thoroughgoing mechanistic monism. And this is rather a pity, since in fact both options are equally absurd.

Not that this is very surprising. After five decades, it would be astonishing if Dennett were to change direction now. But, by the same token, his project should over that time have acquired not only more complexity, but greater sophistication. And yet it has not. For instance, he still thinks it a solvent critique of Cartesianism to say that interactions between bodies and minds would violate the laws of physics. Apart from involving a particularly doctrinaire view of the causal closure of the physical (the positively Laplacian fantasy that all physical events constitute an inviolable continuum of purely physical causes), this argument clumsily assumes that such an interaction would constitute simply another mechanical exchange of energy in addition to material forces.

In the end, Dennett's approach has remained largely fixed. Rather than a sequence of careful logical arguments, his method remains, as ever, essentially fabulous: That is, he constructs a grand speculative narrative, comprising a disturbing number of sheer assertions, and an even more disturbing number of missing transitions between episodes. It is often quite a beguiling tale, but its power of persuasion lies in its sprawling relentlessness rather than its cogency. [...]

Admittedly, part of the problem bedeviling Dennett's narrative is the difficulty of making a case that seems so hard to reconcile with quotidian experience. But that difficulty is only exacerbated by his fierce adherence to an early modern style of materialism, according to whose tenets there can be no aspect of nature not reducible to blind physical forces. For him, the mechanistic picture, or its late modern equivalent, is absolute; it is convertible with truth as such, and whatever appears to escape its logic can never be more than a monstrosity of the imagination. But then the conscious mind constitutes a special dilemma, since this modern picture was produced precisely by excluding all mental properties from physical nature. And so, in this case, physicalist reduction means trying to explain one particular phenomenon -- uniquely among all the phenomena of nature -- by realities that are, in qualitative terms, quite literally its opposite.

Really, in this regard, we have progressed very little since Descartes's day. The classical problems that mental events pose for physicalism remain as numerous and seemingly insoluble as ever. Before all else, there is the enigma of consciousness itself, and of the qualia (direct subjective impressions, such as color or tone) that inhabit it. There is simply no causal narrative -- and probably never can be one -- capable of uniting the phenomenologically discontinuous regions of "third-person" electrochemical brain events and "first-person" experiences, nor any imaginable science logically capable of crossing that absolute qualitative chasm.

The dishonesty at the core of Cartesian Metaphysics--which relieves Rationalists of the obligation to demonstrated that Reason is rational--can obviously never be overcome.  And poor Mr. Dennett has spent years apologizing for his one moment of honesty.