July 3, 2018

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In Praise of Being Washed (Zach Baron, 7/02/18, GQ)

In April, Beyoncé headlined Coachella, in what turned out to be one of those grand cultural moments that come around less and less frequently these days. Late on a Friday night, and word starts to travel: Find a way to watch this. I did, and man--Beyoncé. What a world-historical feat: of athleticism, politics, power, charisma. It was perfection, almost. I say "almost" because partway through the performance she brought out her husband, Jay-Z. An idol of mine. One of the best live performers ever. But at Coachella he seemed...out of shape. Overmatched. He was doing guest verses, and his voice would begin to waver. The Internet had a field day. The verdict from those assembled online, watching him try to catch his breath, was swift and merciless: Jay-Z, at 48, was washed.

I myself am probably too washed to pinpoint the moment that "washed"--an existential description that has become ubiquitous in the past few years, as the American empire ebbs and exhaustion sets in--first entered the culture. It's not quite "washed up," with its connotations of lounge singers in Vegas reflecting on their glory days. It's more about that transitive moment: There you are in the train station of life, waving goodbye to your edge and your youth as they depart. You are Eli Manning, and you are no longer a plausible NFL starter in the eyes of some, but you are not yet ready to go to the bench. You haven't been to that particular new restaurant yet, but you've heard it's nice.

People tend to use the word "washed" as a pejorative, or as a mild, self-deprecating admission of defeat. But I'm not so sure. In fact, I'm beginning to suspect the word describes something far more ecstatic. Recently I turned 36, but I'd say I've been washed for some time now. Two years ago, I got married--itself a pretty washed thing to do--and my wife and I moved from New York City to Los Angeles. It's been a blur of home cooking and "getting into red wine," crossword puzzles and daily exercise, Tom Petty and the Beatles on the Sirius XM satellite radio ever since. Going to bed at 10 P.M. I've even started to play golf.

Isn't this just responsible adulthood?
Posted by orrinj at 4:04 PM


How Comparisons Help Us Understand the Universe (JESSICA LEIGH HESTER,  JULY 03, 2018, Atlas Obscura)

SPACE IS VAST AND ALIEN. That's one basis of its romance, but it's also a cognitive hurdle for anyone trying to wrap their head around its reaches. "The trouble we normally have with space is, if we try to understand something, we only have one example--our own planet," says Colin Stuart, a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society and the author of the forthcoming How to Live in Space: Everything You Need to Know for the Not-So-Distant Future.

A solipsistic view isn't necessarily a bad thing, he says: Using Earth as a data point is often helpful--especially for science educators trying to connect with enthusiasts who aren't fluent in astronomical jargon. "We always try to compare things to Earth when we can," Stuart says. "If you're starting with something they know about, you're not starting from the beginning." He stacks up volcanoes, valleys, and trenches in space against the Grand Canyon or Everest, "because people have that frame of reference," even if the features are on vastly different scales. (Olympus Mons, the highest of Mars's volcanic peaks, is 2.5 times taller than Everest, and roughly the width of France.)

"Unless you're embedded in the science speak, I could be saying any kind of gobbledygook, but that might not make any sense to anyone," says Michelle Nichols, the director of public observing at Chicago's Adler Planetarium. Nichols often translates features of space that might otherwise be somewhat inscrutable into familiar scenarios or childhood games. She compares sun spots, as glimpsed through a telescope, to iron filings dancing under a magnet's sway. "People remember doing that," she says. "They go, 'Right, now I see it.'"

To some extent, scientists lean on analogues in peer-reviewed papers, too. In a recent paper in Science, a team of researchers including Jani Radebaugh, a planetary scientist at Brigham Young University, and her collaborator Matt Telfer, a physical geographer at the University of Plymouth, reported on Pluto's dunes, which look something like the ones on Earth's deserts or beaches. A lay viewer glancing at the images captured by the New Horizons spacecraft might not have made the connection, but an analogue can turn on a lightbulb. "They may only see a whitish background with some squiggles," Nichols says. "As soon as you say, 'It's like a sand dune,' they say, 'Oh, wait a minute! I've been to the Indiana dunes, I've seen pictures of the Sahara.'" Pluto's drifts aren't sand--they're slopes of frozen methane--but the wind has sculpted them into similar shapes, and that knowledge may give laypeople a foothold.

Man is the Measure of all things.

Posted by orrinj at 3:51 PM


Powerful GOP Rep. Jim Jordan accused of turning blind eye to sexual abuse as Ohio State wrestling coach (Corky Siemaszko, Jul.03.2018, NBC News)

Rep. Jim Jordan, the powerful Republican congressman from Ohio, is being accused by former wrestlers he coached more than two decades ago at Ohio State University of failing to stop the team doctor from molesting them and other students.

Posted by orrinj at 3:40 PM


A simulated galaxy (Cosmos, 7/03/18)

The Feedback in Realistic Environments (FIRE) project uses huge amounts of computer power to create high resolution simulations of galaxies, giant molecular clouds and the birth and life of stars and galaxies.

By studying simulations like these and comparing them with real galaxies...


Posted by orrinj at 4:45 AM


Can the Saudis Break Up With Wahhabism? (Nabil Mouline, July 3, 2018, NY Times)

The Islamic revolution in Iran, the attack on the Grand Mosque in Mecca and the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Army in 1979 tilted the scale in favor of the Wahhabi establishment.

To restore its credibility after the attack on Mecca, to contain the Shiite revolutionary challenge and to fight Communism, the Saudi monarchy proclaimed its attachment to Islam by applying sharia severely -- inflicting corporal punishment, imposing gender segregation in public spaces, shutting down cinemas, increasing the power of the religious police, and providing financial and ideological support to jihadist groups in Afghanistan and Sunni Islamist movements around the world.

In return, the clerics supported the House of Saud against internal and external enemies such as Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Saddam Hussein and the Muslim Brotherhood. Memorably, the clerics issued a very unpopular fatwa in 1990 legitimizing the presence of American troops in the kingdom.

The Sept. 11 attacks put Saudi Arabia in a difficult position because Osama bin Laden and a majority of the hijackers were Saudi nationals. The kingdom was forced to distinguish itself from jihadist movements, allow criticism of Wahhabism, start an intrareligious and interreligious dialogue and reduce the powers of the religious police, among other measures.

The clerics came to the monarchy's aid -- and preserved their own interests as well -- by sternly condemning jihadism and the Muslim Brotherhood through fatwas, publishing articles to such effect in newspapers and speaking on television networks. Even then some observers spoke of a post-Wahhabi Saudi Arabia. As soon as the pressure eased, the clerical establishment and monarchy questioned the opening process.

After the Arab uprisings of 2011, King Abdullah bin Abd al-Aziz requested the religious establishment's support to thwart the challenges that the uprisings posed to Saudi Arabia. The clerics helped him out but got him to increase the budgets of religious institutions, allowing greater repression of any breach of the sharia in public space, promoting anti-Shiite discourse and muzzling secularist ideas.

King Salman bin Abd al-Aziz's accession to the throne in 2015 led to the rise of Prince Mohammed. The crown prince's public denunciations of extremist ideas and promises to promote moderate Islam have been interpreted as a renewed desire to break with Wahhabism. A closer reading shows that Prince Mohammed primarily condemns the Muslim Brotherhood and jihadists and exonerates Wahhabism.

The religious establishment has lent unfailing support to Prince Mohammed and ratified his decisions by promulgating fatwas such as the one authorizing women to drive.

The clerics yielded on subjects they deemed secondary when the balance of power left them with little choice and managed to preserve their authority.

Wahhabism is likely to remain a pillar of the kingdom in the medium term. The religious establishment controls colossal material and symbolic means -- schools, universities, mosques, ministries, international organizations and media groups -- to defend its position. Any confrontation between the children of Saud and the heirs of Ibn Abd al-Wahhab will be destructive for both.

The basis of the alliance is mutual opposition to democracy. The whole point of the WoT is the need to break both of them.

Posted by orrinj at 4:44 AM

60-40 NATION:

Americans are not as divided or conservative on immigration as you might think (Deborah Schildkraut, 7/03/18, The Conversation)

Since late 2007, polls conducted by CBS and The New York Times have asked respondents which option they prefer when it comes to "illegal immigrants working in the United States." The options include: allow them to stay in their jobs and eventually apply for U.S. citizenship; allow them to stay only as guest workers but not apply for citizenship; or require them to leave their jobs and the country.

This question has been asked in 31 CBS/New York Times surveys since 2007. In 22 of them, providing a path to citizenship is the majority preference. Support for citizenship has not fallen below 50 percent since 2013. In fact, support has increased over time, a trend that has continued throughout Trump's presidency.

Support for a path to citizenship varies by one's background when it comes to race, gender, education, income, party and ideology. However, support is high across the board, even among those who say they are Republican or conservative.

Of course, this is only one of many immigration policies getting attention these days, and support for other policies varies.

Attitudes on this policy show that Americans are not as divided or as conservative as the discourse coming out of Washington, D.C. might reflect and is becoming even more supportive of the welcoming approach. Yet, providing a path to citizenship is also the primary policy that seems to keep thwarting legislative reform in Congress.

There's nothing wrong with wanting immigrants to jump through a few hoops to demonstrate commitment.

Posted by orrinj at 4:44 AM


On the Road (KEVIN D. WILLIAMSON, July 1, 201, National Review)

For all of the bitching and bellyaching about NATO and German industrial policy, the nations of Western Europe remain, along with the United Kingdom, our most important allies. They are also important trading partners. In the much (and stupidly) maligned NAFTA arrangement, the United States has a fruitful and functional trade accord with Canada (which has fewer people than California) and Mexico (average household income less than $9,000 a year), but we have no such agreement with either the European Union or the United Kingdom. We have no agreement with India, an increasingly important economic and strategic partner -- even though such an agreement would have made it more attractive for Harley-Davidson to ship U.S.-made motorcycles to India rather than set up an Indian factory, as it did. India has made great progress in the past 20 years, but go spend a month there and tell me whether you really think its backward, protectionist trade policies are helping its people get rich at the expense of Milwaukee.

With all due concern for the necessity of policing the border, Americans have always been about roads, not walls: Gene Autry never sang "Please Fence Me In." Rather than putting up barriers to exchange, the United States ought to be pursuing free-trade deals wherever they are to be had, especially with the economically advanced and politically liberal nations that are our most natural allies and -- not a trivial concern -- whose people are the most likely to have the money to buy the stuff we make and to make the stuff we need. But our economic interests are wider than our immediate political interests: Almost all of the Trump tariffs on Chinese products will land on capital goods, i.e. on stuff U.S. manufacturers need to make the stuff they make, and the retaliatory Chinese tariffs will land primarily on U.S. farm exports. The Chinese don't buy shiploads of American soybeans because they love us -- we're the best producer at the best price. But we aren't the only producer.

We have very little to fear and much to gain from more open trade relations with the rest of the world.

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60-40 NATION:

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In U.S., Record-Low 47% Extremely Proud to Be Americans (Jeffrey M. Jones, 7/03/18, Gallup)

This Fourth of July marks a low point in U.S. patriotism. For the first time in Gallup's 18-year history asking U.S. adults how proud they are to be Americans, fewer than a majority say they are "extremely proud." Currently, 47% describe themselves this way, down from 51% in 2017 and well below the peak of 70% in 2003.

Posted by orrinj at 4:34 AM


How MLB's analytics revolution is getting to clubhouses (Jerry Crasnick, 7/03/18, ESPN)

Before Sam Fuld appeared in 598 major league games and attracted a following as a scrappy outfielder, he earned an economics degree from Stanford. A few years ago, he would have had two choices upon retirement: Go to work for a big league organization as an outfield-baserunning coach or pursue a job at an investment banking firm on Wall Street.

Now a Plan C career path exists for Fuld. Four months ago, it took him to a conference room at Spectrum Field in Clearwater, Florida, where he spent several days explaining weighted on-base average to 63 Philadelphia Phillies in English and Spanish.

Fuld, 36, joined the Phillies in November as the team's major league player-information coordinator. His mandate is clear: to bridge the divide between the statistical and scouting worlds and dispense knowledge to players who are receptive to new ideas.

MLB organizations are embracing a new reality: Valuable insights can be conveyed every day, and they're more likely to resonate with players when delivered by a front-office member of the uniformed fraternity than a front-office official with a statistics degree and a 2400 SAT score.

"Just having that perspective and having some dirt in my spikes, I think it helps," Fuld said. [...]

In the constant quest for an edge, teams are adding a new position to help players enter the age of enlightenment. In November, the Red Sox hired Ramon Vazquez as "a liaison between the major league club's advance scouting and statistical analysis efforts for the purpose of presenting information to players and coaches." Alex Cora, Boston's manager, had seen how valuable Alex Cintron was in a similar role with the world champion Houston Astros.

In Anaheim, former MLB closer Andrew Bailey is an assistant to Steve Soliz, the Angels' catching and information coach. Bailey is filling a role similar to the one Brian Bannister has used to help Boston's pitchers.

Posted by orrinj at 4:31 AM


World Cup Knockouts Score Top Ratings For Fox As Ronaldo & Messi Exit (Dominic Patten, July 2, 2018, Deadline)

Snaring 6.8 million viewers Saturday afternoon, Uruguay's triumph over Portugal became the most watched match of the 2018 World Cup on Fox or Fox Sports 1. It is also the most watched English-language men's soccer game in America since the 2014 World Cup final pulled in a whopping 17.32 million for Germany's extra time 1-0 win over Argentina four years ago on ABC. Overall, the June 30 trouncing of Ronaldo and crew was the most viewed English-language soccer game in the U.S. since the 25.4 million that saw Team USA beat Japan in the 2015 Women's World Cup.

Posted by orrinj at 4:28 AM


Progressives Deploy Religious Ignorance and Bigotry to Stop Amy Coney Barrett (DAVID FRENCH, July 2, 2018, National Review)

Aside from the basic facts about People of Praise -- it's a group so nefarious that the late Cardinal Francis George wrote, "In my acquaintance with the People of Praise, I have found men and women dedicated to God and eager to seek and do His divine will. They are shaped by love of Holy Scripture, prayer and community; and the Church's mission is richer for their presence." It's so dastardly that Pope Francis appointed one of its members as auxiliary bishop of Portland. And it's so insular that it's founded three schools that have won a total of seven Department of Education Blue Ribbon awards.

But beyond the basic facts about People of Praise, I was amused by the article for a different reason. It betrays fundamental ignorance about the way millions of American Christians live their lives. You see, for many of us (myself included), what happens at church is just the beginning of our efforts to build and sustain Christian community.

At the low end of additional engagement, we form and belong to what Evangelical churches call "small groups" -- Bible study on steroids. The members of small groups don't just study scripture. They form deep friendships and they seek advice for living their lives, including, yes, advice on dating, marriage, careers, and child-rearing.

And that's the low end of additional spiritual engagement. Moving farther down the walk of faith, Evangelicals (and many Catholics, like Barrett) work with more formal "parachurch" organizations -- entities that complement and supplement the work of a local congregation. Often, members of those organizations not only do things like found schools, they also create more formal social networks that allow people to help other members in need, to house members who need places to stay or live (especially when they move to new communities), and to appoint leaders who direct the group and provide biblical counsel to its members.

Amy Coney Barrett is at the peak of her profession. She shares faith practices with millions of co-religionists. Her faith experience is their faith experience. And if progressives seek to block her from the nation's highest court because of it, they'll betray our nation's founding ideals.

Moreover -- as anyone with even the most cursory exposure to biblical Christianity knows -- these groups use biblical language to describe their roles. Words like "covenant" are incredibly common.

Many years ago, before I was married, I belonged to a parachurch organization that enriched my life immeasurably. We prayed together, worshipped together, ate meals together, and even lived together. My two roommates were members of the same group. We often engaged in the same kinds of community outreach (e.g., many members volunteered for Big Brothers/Big Sisters). We held each other accountable, and when one member of the group strayed from biblical teaching, the leaders confronted him or her. We spoke the language of "covenant," and we've maintained deep relationships to this very day.

What was the name of this radical, scary group? The Harvard Law School Christian Fellowship.

....generally means that you tolerate the idea that someone identifies with a religion so long as they don't actually believe in any of the content.

Posted by orrinj at 4:24 AM


Coffee is good for you, more science shows (Maggie Fox, Jul.02.2018, NBC)

Even the heaviest coffee drinkers are less likely to die early than people who don't drink coffee, new research finds.

It's another piece of good news for coffee lovers, and it gets even better. It doesn't matter what kind of coffee people drink -- that includes decaf and instant coffee. And it also doesn't matter what version of the "coffee gene" people have. Coffee-drinkers fared better than people who did not drink coffee.

Posted by orrinj at 4:23 AM


All hail the autonomous automobile! (Henry Olsen, 03 JULY 2018, UnHerd)

But the safety factor is the most important gain. And it's hard to argue with the figures. American National Highway Safety Administration estimated in 2007 that about 94% of all fatal accidents involved some type of driver error. Eliminate those, and more than 36,000 lives would have been saved in 2017 in the US alone - that's nearly 100 a day. Extending autonomous vehicle technology to EU nations and economically developed countries in the Pacific regions would save another 36-40,000 lives annually. Make the technology cheap enough to use worldwide, and more than 1 million people would be saved, each and every year. [...]

Almost as welcome is the fact that these cars will make traffic jams a thing of the past and massively reduce urban pollution. It would reinvent our public transport system. Currently, over 75% of all work commutes in the US and 62% of all car trips in the UK are made by solo drivers, which is hugely inefficient. The key to fixing this rests on an issue that managers of aeroplane fleets know well: ensuring that vehicles are as full as possible.

Posted by orrinj at 4:12 AM


Might the Best Education Reform Idea Be Hiding in Plain Sight? (Laura Pappano, 7/02/18, The Washington Post)

Amid all the bellowing about charters, school choice and vouchers, a potentially more revolutionary reform movement is bubbling up. Philanthropists, state education officials, reform advocates -- even charter school leaders -- are examining personalized learning.

So what is personalized learning? It's a customized path so that students learn at their own pace, in the manner that resonates best with them, with content tailored to their interests, aided by their computers. It feels natural to a generation groomed to presume that everything is calibrated to their needs and wants -- whether it's online shopping, news or math homework -- and raised with smartphones in their hands.

It sounds benign, and wonderful, to many parents. Schools, districts and even entire states are embracing it. Teachers unions cautiously endorse it, while flagging the concern that educators could be replaced by technology.

Posted by orrinj at 4:08 AM


RI Dem Party doesn't endorse three progressive female legislators (Bob Plain, July 2, 2018, RI Future)

Being a progressive woman may be beneficial at the ballot box in the 2018 election but it doesn't seem to help with respect to endorsements from the Rhode Island Democratic Party.

Three female legislators learned this the hard way when the state Party endorsed their more-conservative primary opponents. Reps. Moira Walsh and Marcia Ranglin-Vassell, both Providence House members, and Sen. Jeanine Calkin, of Warwick, aren't the endorsed candidates in their races. They are the only incumbents who didn't win the endorsement of the state Democratic Party.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


Does Netanyahu make Israel safer by welcoming authoritarians? (CHARLES DUNST, 7/03/18, Times of Israel)

In recent years, Netanyahu has either visited or hosted President Vladimir Putin of Russia, Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary and President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan, among others. Netanyahu plans to host Orban in July and Filipino strongman Rodrigo Duterte in September.

Netanyahu touts the support for Israel from these leaders in international forums. But critics say he is cozying up to authoritarian governments and turning a blind eye to some efforts by their regimes at Holocaust revisionism and anti-Semitic dog whistling.

The critics misapprehend the nature of their own regime.

Posted by orrinj at 3:55 AM


A Healthy Respect for Limits: Recovering the American Founding (Mark Malvasi, 7/03/18, Imaginative Conservative)

[A]mericans remain ensnared in a confused, tedious, and inconclusive debate about the character, meaning, and future of national life, all the while vacillating between suspicion and contempt, cynicism and sincerity, resentment and intolerance. None of these perspectives acknowledges the grateful recognition of the Founding Fathers that life is a gift from God, not an affront to human desires. Reaffirming both folk wisdom and Christian orthodoxy, a healthy respect for limits, woven into the fabric of the Republic from the beginning, offers a way to recover the political and moral realism that contemporary Americans have lost.