October 3, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 6:57 PM


Patriotism, cosmopolitanism and democracy (DANIEL JOHNSON, September 2018, Standpoint)

We have seen how Germany moved from the decayed cosmopolitanism of the Holy Roman Empire to a nation state whose imperial aspirations brought about two world wars, whereupon Germans have returned to the cosmopolitan ideal of a unified Europe. Israel, emerging from the cosmopolitanism of the Diaspora, has reasserted the essential unity of the Jewish people in order to build a nation state, where necessary defying the anti-nationalist Zeitgeist. How, though, does Britain fit into the picture? Although the British are a "united kingdom" of different peoples, the English monarchy at its core is one of the oldest in world. The Anglo-Saxons already had a nation state long before the Norman Conquest. Yet the nature of this nation state was bound to be transformed by the creation of the British Empire, the largest in world history. The mission of this empire, no less unprecedented, was to spread the blessings of limited government and the rule of law across the globe. And indeed, the greatest legacy of the empire -- the United States of America -- is itself both a nation state, like that of the English, and a republic with a mission to preserve and promote life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Also unprecedented was the way in which the British passed the baton to the Americans in the course of the 20th century, not only without conflict, but making common cause against those empires dedicated to the destruction of Western civilisation. 

So the British present yet another trajectory, from nation state to global empire, then reverting to national status. Dean Acheson famously summed up this at times painful process by observing in 1962 that "Great Britain has lost an empire, but has not yet found a role". No wonder that British leaders were tempted to join the European project, with its promise to put an end to national conflict -- though the British people certainly did not believe that they were thereby renouncing national sovereignty. The slow realisation that this was indeed the corollary of European Union only dawned on the British when it became clear to them that they no longer had control of their borders, their laws or their destiny. Brexit marks Britain's historic decision to return to national statehood, with profound implications for Europe too. Indeed, it is uncertain how the balance between patriotism and cosmopolitanism can be restored on the Continent in the absence of a British voice. 

Yet the fact that Brexit was decided by a referendum, with the entire nation sufficiently engaged in abstract arguments about sovereignty to register a vote, does suggest that the solution to the problem must lie in more and better democracy. The nation state has been found by trial and error over the last century at least to be the largest political unit that can be governed by parliamentary democracy. The same is true, surely, for plebiscites of all kinds. The idea of democracy at a continental, let alone a global level, is nightmarish. This implies that democracy is the answer to restoring the balance between the cosmopolitan and the patriot. In a civilised discourse, there should be room for both the Rosenzweigs and the Hazonys, for those who yearn for a religious or intellectual community above and beyond the nation state and for those who find that the two are coterminous. But the only hope of reconciliation between the anywheres and the somewheres, the rootless cosmopolitans and the deplorable patriots, is for both sides to tolerate one another. And that means accepting the democratic verdict. It does not mean paralysing Congress and seeking to impeach President Trump. It does not mean using an unelected Upper Chamber to overturn Brexit. And it does not mean using executive or emergency powers to crush opposition and rewrite the rules, as Presidents Putin and Erdogan have done, and as President Macron might like to do. Democracy alone legitimises the nation state; democracy legitimises the nation state alone. International bodies, inherently non-democratic, derive their legitimacy from their national members. In order to be a true cosmopolitan, one must be a patriot first; but one can only be a patriot if one is first of all a democrat. 

Indeed, the Anglospheric innovation as regards national sovereignty is the requirement that the nation be governed democratically in order to justify said sovereignty.

Posted by orrinj at 5:11 PM


Poll: More Believe Ford Than Kavanaugh, A Cultural Shift From 1991 (Domenico Montanaro, 10/03/18, NPR)

The daylong hearing appears to have been influential in helping people decide who was telling the truth. Before the hearing, 42 percent said they were unsure whom to believe. Now, just 22 percent are unsure.

The results represent a shift from 1991, when more people said they believed then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas over Anita Hill. Hill accused Thomas of sexual harassment in the workplace. A 1991 CBS/New York Times poll, also conducted days after their dramatic, televised Capitol Hill testimonies, found that 58 percent believed Thomas more, as opposed to just 24 percent who said Hill.

"If it remains 'he said, she said,' the benefit of the doubt is very different than 1991, and it goes to Ford not Kavanaugh," said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, which conducted the poll. "It shows the reaction to the testimony and does show an underlying change in attitude than 27 years ago."

Posted by orrinj at 4:56 PM


Putin's Botched Pension Reform (ANDREI MOVCHAN, 10/03/18, Project Syndicate)

Raising the retirement age - to 60 for women and 65 for men - seems like a simple way to help close the financing shortfall. But it has proven to be spectacularly unpopular, with Putin's approval rating plummeting at least a dozen percentage points since the spring, to a level not seen since before the 2014 annexation of Crimea.

Popular opposition to the move reflects neither discomfort with change nor an unwillingness to work. With Russian male life expectancy averaging just 67 years, increasing the pension age to 65 is akin to issuing men an actuarial death sentence. (Russian women live much longer - not least because they drink far less alcohol - and will do reasonably well, by global standards, in the new system.)

But, leaving aside popular opposition, raising the retirement age addresses the wrong issue in the wrong way. The reform is meant to ease strain on the public budget, by enabling the government to reduce subsidies to the pension fund. But, while Russia's pension fund does have a massive shortfall, state subsidies to it amount to less than 10% of the total consolidated budget - less than the fluctuation caused by changes in oil prices each year. For a country with negligible sovereign debt, a stable budget surplus, and foreign-currency reserves that grow by $30 billion each year, spending an extra $30 billion to subsidize pensions should not be a major problem.

What will be a major problem is the effect of the higher retirement age on the labor market. If older workers keep their jobs for longer, younger workers will have a harder time finding employment in many fields. For companies that prefer younger employees - say, because they operate in a cutting-edge or fast-changing industry - there may even be incentive to bribe labor inspectors, in order to avoid penalties for discriminating against older workers.

Instead, Russia's leaders should recognize that the real challenge their country faces is an aging population, and that raising the retirement age is thus little more than a Band-Aid. After all, if the pension fund were to remain sustainable using this approach alone, the retirement age would have to increase by another five years in 2028. If the Russian economy remains stagnant, as expected, the pension tax (already 22% of income) will also have to rise in five years, to keep the fund's financing levels stable.

Posted by orrinj at 4:28 AM


Trump Taunts Christine Blasey Ford at Rally (Maggie Haberman and Peter Baker, Oct. 2, 2018, NY Times)

The president's advisers and his Republican allies in the Senate have implored him to restrain himself in the fight to salvage Judge Kavanaugh's nomination, and for the most part, he has kept to defending the nominee and accusing Democrats of a "con game" while not overtly disparaging Dr. Blasey. On a couple of occasions, he broke from script and directly questioned her account as unbelievable, drawing a rebuke from Ms. Collins, who called his comments "appalling," but this was the first time he mocked Dr. Blasey in this way.

Mr. Trump's impression of Dr. Blasey, 51, a research psychologist at Stanford University and a psychology professor at Palo Alto University who also goes by her married name, Ford, drew a pointed retort on Tuesday night from Michael R. Bromwich, one of her lawyers.

"A vicious, vile and soulless attack on Dr. Christine Blasey Ford," he wrote on Twitter. "Is it any wonder that she was terrified to come forward, and that other sexual assault survivors are as well? She is a remarkable profile in courage. He is a profile in cowardice."

Posted by orrinj at 4:23 AM


Nobel Prize in Chemistry Is Awarded to 3 Evolutionary Scientists (The New York Times, Oct. 3, 2018)

"This year's Nobel Laureates in chemistry have been inspired by the power of evolution and used the same principles -- genetic change and selection -- to develop proteins that solve mankind's chemical problems," the academy said in a statement on awarding the $1 million prize.

Dr. Arnold conducted the first directed evolution of enzymes, proteins that catalyze chemical reactions. Dr. Smith developed a method, known as phage display, in which a virus that infects bacteria can be used to evolve new proteins. Dr. Winter has used phage display to produce new pharmaceuticals.

Directed evolution is, of course, the opposite of Darwinism, but is what he had observed on local farms.

Posted by orrinj at 4:14 AM


The Kavanaugh Hearings Have Demonstrated How Desperately America Needs Restorative Justice: We've retreated too far into our two sides now, but at one point, there was another way. (LARA BAZELON, OCT 02, 2018, Slate)

As I watched the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings I found myself thinking, what if? What if, instead of using our clearly broken and highly politicized process to assess these claims, the parties had been offered a restorative justice process? Both Ford and Kavanaugh spoke openly--and in Kavanaugh's case, ragefully--of the personal hell they had experienced and the tremendous pain inflicted upon their families. But the hearing was not, as advertised, about "getting to the truth." Indeed, the politicized process wasn't even a reasonable example of how America's justice system is supposed to work. Some members of the judiciary committee used Ford and Kavanaugh's anguish to score political points and make headlines for themselves. Rather than providing a resolution, it sowed outrage and confusion. In the process, the harm described by Ford and Kavanaugh spread to millions of people who watched the hearings and found themselves in tears as they listened to both sides and relived their own traumas.

Imagine how differently it might have played out if Ford and Kavanaugh had met in a private room with a trained facilitator instead of making separate appearances under the klieg lights of a nationally televised hearing that many saw as a kangaroo court. In a restorative justice process, Ford could have asked Kavanaugh questions; she could have described the particulars of her suffering, how she had come to this point in her life, and what she needed to move forward.

Kavanaugh could have asked his own questions, and at the same time, he could have faced up to what many perceive to be established facts--his pattern of drunk, boorish behavior as a teenager. Digging deeper, he might have finally been able to move past his flat, repetitive denials and, as Archila suggested, "hold the harm he has done." In this process, they--and we--could have moved away from a world of sides: innocent and guilty, winner and loser. Survivors of sexual assault might have finally received some real justice, and seen some real recognition and grappling. Those who perpetrate sexual misconduct might have realized there was a way to be held accountable without being sent into permanent exile.

It would have been even more helpful had she done this at the time.

Posted by orrinj at 4:08 AM


A colossal elevator to space could be going up sooner than you ever imagined (Scott Snowden, Oct.02.2018, CNN)

For more than half a century, rockets have been the only way to go to space. But in the not-too-distant future, we may have another option for sending up people and payloads: a colossal elevator extending from Earth's surface up to an altitude of 22,000 miles, where geosynchronous satellites orbit.

NASA says the basic concept of a space elevator is sound, and researchers around the world are optimistic that one can be built. The Obayashi Corp., a global construction firm based in Tokyo, has said it will build one by 2050, and China wants to build one as soon as 2045. Now an experiment to be conducted soon aboard the International Space Station will help determine the real-world feasibility of a space elevator.

Posted by orrinj at 4:06 AM


2 Of Brett Kavanaugh's Former Classmates Withdraw Support For Him (Jennifer Bendery, 10/02/18, HuffPo)

"The reason for our withdrawal is not the truth or falsity of Dr. Ford's allegations, which are still being investigated, but rather was the nature of Judge Kavanaugh's testimony," they write. "In our view that testimony was partisan, and not judicious, and inconsistent with what we expect from a Justice of the Supreme Court, particularly when dealing with a co-equal branch of government."

I Know Brett Kavanaugh, but I Wouldn't Confirm Him: This is an article I never imagined myself writing, that I never wanted to write, that I wish I could not write. (Benjamin Wittes, 10/02/18, The Atlantic)

Despite all of that, if I were a senator, I would vote against Kavanaugh's confirmation. I would do it both because of Ford's testimony and because of Kavanaugh's. For reasons I will describe, I find her account more believable than his. I would also do it because whatever the truth of what happened in the summer of 1982, Thursday's hearing left Kavanaugh nonviable as a justice.

A few days before the hearing, I detailed on this site the advice I would give to Kavanaugh if he asked me. He should, I argued, withdraw from consideration for elevation unless able to defend himself to a high degree of factual certainty without attacking Ford. He should remain a nominee, I argued, only if his defense would be sufficiently convincing that it would meet what we might term the "no asterisks" standard--that is, that it would plausibly convince even people who vociferously disagree with his jurisprudential views that he could serve credibly as a justice. His defense needed to make it possible for a reasonable pro-choice woman to find it a legitimate and acceptable prospect, if not an attractive or appealing one, that he might sit on a case reconsidering Roe v. Wade.

Kavanaugh, needless to say, did not take my advice. He stayed in, and he delivered on Thursday, by way of defense, a howl of rage. He went on the attack not against Ford--for that we can be grateful--but against Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee and beyond. His opening statement was an unprecedentedly partisan outburst of emotion from a would-be justice. I do not begrudge him the emotion, even the anger. He has been through a kind of hell that would leave any person gasping for air. But I cannot condone the partisanship--which was raw, undisguised, naked, and conspiratorial--from someone who asks for public faith as a dispassionate and impartial judicial actor. His performance was wholly inconsistent with the conduct we should expect from a member of the judiciary.