March 2, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 11:52 PM


A small Maine city has begun reaping serious benefits from its solar power push (Abigail Curtis, February 27, 2019, Bangor Daily News)

On an otherwise unremarkable day last December, something powerful happened in the city of Belfast.

That was when the city's new 5-acre solar installation went online at the site of the still-under-construction public works facility off Crocker Road. And when it did, the 660-kilowatt project -- along with two other solar projects built within the past few years -- allowed the city to offset almost 90 percent of its municipal electric costs.

It's a good feeling, said Belfast City Councilor Eric Sanders, a founding member of the city's energy committee. Since it was formed half a decade ago, the committee has been working to reduce the amount of fossil fuels used by the city and to lower greenhouse gas and air pollutions emissions there.

"Every time we start getting meters clicking, we say to ourselves, that's what's supposed to happen," he said. "I view solar like people probably did telephone poles 100 years ago: It's going to happen. How do we best place ourselves as a leader for our citizens?"

Posted by orrinj at 7:41 PM


US, South Korea to end key joint military exercises (SBS, 3/02/19)

Posted by orrinj at 12:12 PM


The hipster effect: Why anti-conformists always end up looking the same (Emerging Technology from the arXiv,  February 28, 2019, MIT Technology Review)

You've probably seen this effect--perhaps you are a victim of it. You feel alienated from mainstream culture and want to make a statement that you are not part of it. You think about wearing different clothes, experimenting with a new hairstyle, or even trying unconventional makeup and grooming products.

And yet when you finally reveal your new look to the world, it turns out you are not alone--millions of others have made exactly the same choices. Indeed, you all look more or less identical, the exact opposite of the countercultural statement you wanted to achieve.

This is the hipster effect--the counterintuitive phenomenon in which people who oppose mainstream culture all end up looking the same. Similar effects occur among investors and in other areas of the social sciences.

How does this kind of synchronization occur? Is it inevitable in modern society, and are there ways for people to be genuinely different from the masses?

Today we get some answers thanks to the work of Jonathan Touboul at Brandeis University in Massachusetts. Touboul is a mathematician who studies the way the transmission of information through society influences the behavior of people within it. He focuses in particular on a society composed of conformists who copy the majority and anticonformists, or hipsters, who do the opposite.

And his conclusion is that in a vast range of scenarios, the hipster population always undergoes a kind of phase transition in which members become synchronized with each other in opposing the mainstream. In other words, the hipster effect is the inevitable outcome of the behavior of large numbers of people.

One of the things that has most bewildered the vast majority of Americans who reject Trumpism is the way otherwise normal conservatives who supposedly reluctantly accepted him came to sound just like him.  It's just hipster conformity. MAGA hats are their flannel.

Posted by orrinj at 11:50 AM


As India, Pakistan stand down, Kashmir remains on precarious edge (Zahid Rafiq, 3/01/19, Al Jazeera)

The present government has maintained that it wants to scrap the Article 35A enshrined in India's constitution that bars Indians from buying land in the disputed region. A case to scrap the Article aimed at protecting the demography of the Muslim-majority region is also being heard in India's Supreme Court.

Each time the hearing comes up at the Indian top court, there is a shutdown in Kashmir and people wait in silence and complete attention to hear the outcome, for it is perceived in Kashmir that the scrapping of the Article would be a landmark moment in the region, that will only increase the confrontation between New Delhi and Kashmir, setting course for a stronger resistance and deadlier violence.

In Kashmir, it is not only the pro-independence Kashmiri leaders and activists that are being targeted by the Indian government. As it fails to win any real ground, New Delhi seems to have turned on its "own people" too. After the February 14 bombing, the Indian government also removed the security cover of several leaders, including some pro-India politicians as well..

Waheed Parra, a young Kashmiri politician with the People's Democratic Party, is one of them. Parra's party shared power with the Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and ruled Kashmir between 2015 and 2018, till BJP pulled out of the alliance, bringing the disputed region under direct rule from New Delhi.

Parra, like all other Kashmiri "pro-India" politicians, is seen in Kashmir as a "collaborator" who gives some semblance of legitimacy and "a handle to the axe" to India's rule in the region. Always at threat from the rebels and often even from people, Parra had six security guards and a bulletproof vehicle till last week. Now he has none.

"It was criminal on part of India to leave me like this at the mercy of the militants, it was almost like telling me to find out how many hours I would last," Parra told Al Jazeera. "Only because I speak of dignified peace and human rights of Kashmiris. Even that is unacceptable to them, even when I speak within the Indian constitution."

Parra is from Pulwama in the south of Kashmir, the same district where Dar, the suicide bomber came from, and where the worst bombing on Indian armed forces also took place.

He says he is vulnerable without the security cover considering the kind of work he did, like "arranging 6,000 Kashmiris for a visit of the Indian Home Minister [Rajnath Singh] to Kashmir," a no small feat considering the anti-India sentiment in the region.

"India kills the militants, blinds the protesters, jails the Hurriyat (pro-independence) leaders, and humiliates us," Parra says. "It [India] has only vindicated the stand of those leaders and people who refused to engage in its electoral process and boycotted their elections. We [pro-India politicians] have been used and discarded."

Parra and the politics his party and other pro-India parties in the region espoused - of getting a few concessions from the Indian government, a "healing touch policy" to show the humane face of India, and of a dialogue with India even when the dialogue was an end in itself - lie in dust on the trampled ground in Kashmir.

Parra too sees the writing on the wall, which is more violence from the Indian state and a violent resistance from Kashmir, and the fact is not lost on him that what happens in Kashmir may no longer stay in Kashmir. War hangs on the horizon perpetually, till the oldest running conflict in the world is not resolved.

Posted by orrinj at 11:35 AM


German carmakers to invest 60 billion euros in electric cars and automation: VDA (Reuters, 3/02/19) 

Germany's car industry is to invest nearly 60 billion euros ($68 billion) over the next three years on electric cars and automated driving, the head of the VDA car industry association said ahead of the Geneva motor show.

"We will invest over 40 billion euros in electric mobility during the next three years, and another 18 billion euros will be invested in digitization and connected and automated driving," VDA president Bernhard Mattes said in a statement on Saturday.

Posted by orrinj at 11:29 AM


Hannah Gadsby Is 'Comfortable' Not Being Funny in First Stand-up Set After 'Nanette' (Tarpley Hitt, 03.02.19, Daily Beast)

The new show arrives on the heels of Nanette, a comedy special which aired on Netflix last summer, sending waves through the think-piece internet and comedy Twitterverse. The special, for those who managed not to hear about it, had nothing to do with the name Nanette, and everything to do with a problem Gadsby saw in her industry--namely, an expectation that comedy minorities make themselves the butt of the joke. [...]

However people felt about Nanette, part of what made it unusual and noteworthy was Gadsby's ability to repackage an oppressively familiar theme--the sidelining of marginal voices in comedy--in a surprising, inarguably novel way. In Douglas, the comic seemed to struggle with finding a way to talk about similar subjects with equal originality, often falling back on woke cliches and one-dimensional girlbossery, as if parroting Resistance catchphrases could do both comedic and analytical labor for her. "The U.S. is the straight white man of culture," she says at one point. In another moment, while running off a series of allegedly unpopular opinions, Gadsby manages to compile an almost universally agreed upon list of enemies (bikini models, the paleo diet, golf, atheists, chivalry, Elon Musk, to name only a few). "Believe women," she adds later, almost out of the blue.

in other words, she is the butt of the joke.  That's genius.

Posted by orrinj at 10:44 AM


Ilhan Omar's Latest Remarks on Israel Draw Criticism (Karen Zraick, March 1, 2019, NY Times)

The sentence that garnered the most attention was, "I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is O.K. for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country." [...]

At one point, Mr. Shallal asked about anti-Semitism, saying it was "an issue that tends to keep popping up over and over again."

"I know that's a very sensitive topic and I know it's an issue that has been out there and it's used oftentimes to quiet people, to disparage them, to isolate them," he said.

He asked Ms. Omar and Ms. Tlaib to discuss how the issue was playing out in the political sphere and how progressives could support them so their criticism of Israeli policies would not be seen as anti-Semitic.

"Because you're not criticizing the religion. You're not criticizing Jewish people. You're criticizing government policies," he added, "just like we criticize government policies here in the United States."

Ms. Tlaib, who is Palestinian-American, then talked about her love for her grandmother, who lives in the West Bank, and her drive to humanize the discussion around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"This conversation and debate around human rights for everyone, this conversation around what that looks like, is not centered around hate, it's actually centered so much around love," she said.

Ms. Omar sounded a similar note, saying the country had not "uplifted" the stories of Palestinians. But she added that she had heard Jewish constituents, colleagues and friends say that some Palestinians do not want or deserve safety.

She said she did not "go into the dark place" of assuming those people were Islamophobic. But she said she was afraid that people were labeling her and Ms. Tlaib as anti-Semitic because of their Muslim faith.

Ms. Omar said she felt pained that she had been linked to intolerance. But she argued that the persistent focus on those accusations was detracting from substantive discourse about American foreign policy.

"We end up defending that, and nobody ever gets to have the broader debate of what is happening with Palestine," she said to loud cheers.

This is a moment where she should be forcing the contradictions of her opponents, not getting herself in trouble, as political Zionism reveals its ethnonationalist face.  This is not just about the way Israel treats Arab citizens but about the nature of modern Judaism (Zionism) itself and whether America will continue to ally itself with a nation that rejects our ideals:

American Israel lobby condemns Netanyahu deal with far-right party (Ruth Eglash, February 25, 2019, Washington Post)

"The views of Otzma Yehudit are reprehensible. They do not reflect the core values that are the very foundation of the State of Israel," AJC wrote in its statement. "The party might conceivably gain enough votes to enter the next Knesset, and potentially even become part of the governing coalition."

AIPAC's tweet simply said it agreed with the AJC and added that it "has a long-standing policy not to meet with members of the racist and reprehensible party."


Dear Prime Minister Netanyahu:

I am writing to express my deep concern regarding troubling developments between the Israeli Chief Rabbinate and the American Jewish community.  Specifically, I have become aware that the Chief Rabbinate has taken upon itself to unilaterally reject Jewish status letters written by my constituent, Rabbi Avraham Weiss of New York, on behalf of those seeking to marry in the state of Israel.  This trend of rejecting status letters written by Rabbis Weiss and others undermines the bond between Diaspora communities and the state of Israel, and I fear, may ultimately lead to the wholesale prohibition on community rabbis in the Diaspora from participating in the religious life of Jewish people in Israel.  

Rabbi Weiss has for many years supplied Jewish status letters to those seeking to marry in Israel without raising questions about his halachic credentials by the Chief Rabbinate.  As you may know, Rabbi Weiss has led the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale for nearly four decades, and also founded Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School, both of which are in my congressional district.  He has served as a powerful activist and a defender of clal yisrael on issues ranging from Soviet Jewry to Jonathan Pollard's release.  To those such as myself who have known Rabbi Weiss for many years, it would be unthinkable to question his commitment to Jewish law.

As dismayed as I and many of my constituents may be by the Chief Rabbinate's decision in regards to Rabbi Weiss specifically, I am concerned that this is simply the latest instance of the broader marginalization of the many diverse streams of Judaism in Israel. 

Posted by orrinj at 10:37 AM



The number of infants under the age of one in Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention at the border has increased since January, reaching levels that alarm immigration advocates. Pro-bono attorneys working along the southern border noticed the increase over the course of a few weeks last month, when visiting clients in a detention center in Dilley, Texas.

Attorneys were worried to see infants as young as five months old cradled in their mothers' arms. By the end of February, they determined that at least "nine infants under one year of age" were detained in the South Texas Family Residential Center, which is one of the largest family detention centers in the country with 2,400 beds. Three of the country's more prominent immigration legal organizations--the America Immigration Council, the American Immigration Lawyers Association, and the Catholic Legal Immigration Network--subsequently filed a complaint addressed to two Department of Homeland Security oversight officials calling for the immediate release of these nine infants detained with their mothers in the Dilley facility.

Posted by orrinj at 10:35 AM


Poster linking Rep. Ilhan Omar to 9/11 sparks outrage, injuries in W.Va. state Capitol (Eli Rosenberg March 1, 2-019, Washington Post)

Friday was a day meant to celebrate the Republican Party in the West Virginia Capitol. But a poster connecting a Muslim congresswoman to the 9/11 terrorist attacks led to heated emotions, caused the resignation of at least one staff member and left another reportedly injured when things got physical as the altercation spilled into the chamber of the West Virginia House of Delegates.

The poster, at a table in the Capitol's rotunda, featured an image of freshmen Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) underneath one of the New York's twin towers burning.

"'Never forget' -- You said," read text placed over the photo of the World Trade Center.

"I am the proof you have forgotten," read the caption over Omar's image.

Omar, one of the first two Muslim congresswoman ever elected, has been the target of Islamophobic smears since she took office this year.

Posted by orrinj at 10:07 AM


How a black man 'outsmarted' a neo-Nazi group -- and became their new leader (Katie Mettler, March 2, 2019, Washington Post)

Without notifying his followers or even his inner circle, the longtime president of a legacy neo-Nazi group has signed over its control to a black civil rights activist from California.

James Hart Stern, a 54-year-old with a history of infiltrating white supremacist groups, is the new leader of the National Socialist Movement. And his first move as president was to address a pending lawsuit against the neo-Nazi group by asking a Virginia judge to find it guilty of conspiring to commit violence at the deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in 2017.

Next, he plans to transform the hate group's website into a space for Holocaust history lessons.

Kind of like Cory succeeding Donald.

Posted by orrinj at 10:00 AM


Anti-Vaxxers Are Cozying Up to the Far Right Online (Kelly Weill, 03.01.19, The Daily Beast)

Far-right news sites can find a serious audience in these highly active conspiracy communities. One 2017 Red Ice article has repeatedly made the rounds in large anti-vax groups, sometimes racking up more than 1,000 likes. Although the article skews right wing (it lauds a clip from the Tucker Carlson's show) and alarmist (vaccines "can seriously injure your child"), it isn't overtly white supremacist. But should anti-vaxxers chose to explore the rest of the site, they would find a white supremacist swamp, full of anti-immigrant and Islamophobic fear-mongering.

Most anti-vaxxers are not white supremacists, far from it. But the overlap can send some well-meaning parents down the rabbit hole. Far-right groups frequently engage in "entryism," a tactic that involves seeding a sympathetic mainstream group with extremist ideology, then slowly radicalizing its members. The tactic works well in groups like the anti-vax community.

At their surface level, anti-vax claims tap into populist grievances with bipartisan support; in the U.S., where health care can be prohibitively expensive, vaccines are sometimes seen as an extension of well-moneyed pharmaceutical companies. But the world of conservative-leaning conspiracy sites take the claims further. Red Ice, Infowars, and their ilk build on the mistrust of pharmaceutical companies to claim vaccines are part of a world-domination scheme by a shadowy global elite. As these claims typically go, the conspiracy theory gets anti-Semitic, with white supremacists interpreting "elite" to mean Jewish people.

Posted by orrinj at 9:54 AM


Centrist Democrats push back against party's liberal surge (Michael Scherer and Mike DeBonis March 1, 2019, Washington Post)

John Anzalone, an Alabama-based Democratic pollster, said the perception that the party's primary voters are enthusiastically liberal is not based on data.

"There is, without a doubt, a myth that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez somehow represents the narrative of Democratic primary voters in the country," Anzalone said. "Almost half of them identify themselves as moderates or conservative."

That appears to be at least somewhat borne out by the midterms, when less-ideological candidates often won when facing purist opponents. Thirty-three of the 40 GOP seats that Democrats picked up were won by candidates who had been endorsed by the moderate NewDem PAC.

A November Gallup poll found a pragmatic streak in the party -- 54 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents wanted the party to become "more moderate," while only 41 percent wanted it to be more liberal. That contrasted with the Republicans and their allies, 57 percent of whom wanted a more conservative party.

Posted by orrinj at 9:21 AM


Love of calling Red Sox games never wanes for WEEI's Joe Castiglione (Chad Finn, MARCH 1, 2019, Boston Globe)

Castiglione, whose first season, 1983, was Carl Yastrzemski's final season and the summer Roger Clemens was drafted, has worked with just five primary partners during his tenure: Ken Coleman (1983-89), Bob Starr (1990-92), Jerry Trupiano (1993-2006), Dave O'Brien (2007-15) and Tim Neverett (2016-18).

While there have been others with whom Castiglione has shared the booth through the years such as Lou Merloni, Sean Grande, Glenn Geffner, Dale Arnold, and Jon Rish, flagship station WEEI's approach to replacing Neverett (who is now with the Dodgers) offers a new challenge.

WEEI confirmed in mid-February that it will use a rotating cast of play-by-play voices and analysts alongside Castiglione this season, among them Sean McDonough, NESN's Tom Caron and Dave O'Brien (when the Red Sox are on national television), ESPN's Chris Berman, former Tigers voice Mario Impemba, former Mets broadcaster Josh Lewin, and more.

Adjusting to different broadcast partners from series to series might seem like something an established play-by-play voice wouldn't be especially interested in doing. But Castiglione, while acknowledging that it will be different from what he's used to, said he is looking forward to it.

"It'll be an adjustment, working with some people I haven't worked with before,'' he said, noting that he is especially looking forward to working with McDonough, who called Red Sox games from 1988-2004. "But the couple I haven't worked with I know well. They're all friends. So that will be cool. It will be different, but it will be fun. They're all different personalities, so that will be the biggest thing. But I don't see any difficulty in it.

"I've always believed in a conversational broadcast. The games are so long and there's so much time between pitches. There's plenty of opportunity for everyone to get involved. That should work fine. We might be a little more conversational [than in the past], but I think we always have been."

Posted by orrinj at 9:01 AM


Explainer: In Trump-Russia probe, when does collusion become a crime? (Jan Wolfe, 3/02/19, Reuters)

Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani in July 2018 said, "I have been sitting here looking in the federal code trying to find collusion as a crime. Collusion is not a crime." Trump wrote on Twitter the next day, "Collusion is not a crime, but that doesn't matter because there was No Collusion."

There indeed is no federal crime called "collusion." But collusion is a non-legal way of saying conspiracy, which is one of the most commonly asserted crimes in U.S. federal courts. Conspiracy is an agreement between two or more people to commit an unlawful act. A conspiracy does not need to have been successful, but the individuals must have taken some action to further it.

Because computer hacking is clearly a federal crime, any Trump campaign official who assented to and encouraged the hacking of Democratic National Committee computers in 2016 could be liable for the crime of conspiracy. U.S. officials have said Russia hacked the Democratic computers to steal emails that were later released by the WikiLeaks website to hurt Clinton.

"Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing," Trump said during a June 2016 news conference, referring to Clinton emails. "I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press."

...the only question is whether it warrants indictment or just impeachment.

Posted by orrinj at 8:00 AM


Other People's Blood: On Paul Volcker (TIM BARKER, February 26, 2019,  n+1)

IF SOMEONE WERE TO MAKE a movie about neoliberalism, there would need to be a starring role for the character of Paul Volcker. As chair of the Federal Reserve from 1979 to 1987, Volcker was the most powerful central banker in the world. These were the years when the industrial workers movement was defeated in the United States and United Kingdom, and third world debt crises exploded. Both of these owe something to Volcker. On October 6, 1979, after an unscheduled meeting of the Fed's Open Market Committee, Volcker announced that he would start limiting the growth of the nation's money supply. This would be accomplished by limiting the growth of bank reserves, which the Fed influenced by buying and selling government securities to member banks. As money became more scarce, banks would raise interest rates, limiting the amount of liquidity available in the overall economy. Though the interest rates were a result of Fed policy, the money supply target let Volcker avoid the politically explosive appearance of directly raising rates himself. The experiment--known as the Volcker Shock--lasted until 1982, inducing what remains the worst unemployment since the Great Depression and finally ending the inflation that had troubled the world economy since the late 1960s. To catalog all the results of the Volcker Shock--shuttered factories, broken unions, dizzying financialization--is to describe the whirlwind we are still reaping in 2019.

At the height (or nadir) of the Volcker Shock, benchmark interest rates were over 20 percent--and worse if you had bad credit. The exorbitant cost of borrowing put tens of thousands of firms out of business, and led to twenty-two months of negative growth. In December 1982, unemployment was at 10.8 percent--closer to 20 percent if you include workers who wanted jobs but had stopped looking, and underemployed workers who could not find steady full-time work. In absolute terms, twelve million Americans were unemployed that month, plus another thirteen million "discouraged" and underemployed.

The nation's industrial belt was the hardest hit. Ninety percent of job losses occurred in mining, construction, and manufacturing. It was costly for businesses to pay their debts and borrow money to invest, while a strong dollar made American exports even less competitive internationally. In places like Flint, Michigan and Youngstown, Ohio, more than one in five workers was unemployed. In Akron, the commercial blood bank reduced the prices it would pay by 20 percent due to the glut of laid-off tireworkers lining up to bleed. In the area around Pittsburgh, suicide rates and alcoholism soared, while residents competed for spots in homeless shelters. The unemployment rates for African-Americans were worse, peaking in early 1983 at 21.2 percent (up from around 12 percent--already a crisis--in 1979).

Those who praise Volcker like to say he "broke the back" of inflation. Nancy Teeters, the lone dissenter on the Fed Board of Governors, had a different metaphor: "I told them, 'You are pulling the financial fabric of this country so tight that it's going to rip. You should understand that once you tear a piece of fabric, it's very difficult, almost impossible, to put it back together again." (Teeters, also the first woman on the Fed board, told journalist William Greider that "None of these guys has ever sewn anything in his life.") Fabric or backbone: both images convey violence. In any case, a price index doesn't have a spine or a seam; the broken bodies and rent garments of the early 1980s belonged to people. Reagan economic adviser Michael Mussa was nearer the truth when he said that "to establish its credibility, the Federal Reserve had to demonstrate its willingness to spill blood, lots of blood, other people's blood."

What the Fed failed to understand most was that the fabric it tore up was what had created inflationary pressure and that it would indeed not be sewn back together again.  The tragedy is that every incoming Fed chairman--except Janet Yellen, bless her soul--felt compelled to prove their hawkish bona fides and caused economic slowdowns by hiking beyond what the market could bear. Thankfully, Jerome Powell seems to have spooked himself sufficiently to end his needless hiking.

Posted by orrinj at 7:53 AM


Brits and Americans No Longer Own English: The language doesn't belong to the Anglosphere any more. (Leonid Bershidsky, March 2, 2019, Bloomberg)

There is no indication that the language's popularity is declining despite the recent damage to the two countries' soft power. Last year, the British Council forecast that the number of potential learners in Europe will decline by 8.8 percent, or some 15.3 million, between 2015 and 2025. Brexit has nothing to do with this: the expansion of English teaching at schools is expected to cut demand for the organization's courses. Overall, the market for English in education is predicted to grow by 17 percent a year to reach $22 billion in 2024. That, in large part, is thanks to insatiable demand in Asia.

I learned it in the Soviet Union. I have to admit I did it because of British and U.S. soft power: I wanted to understand rock song lyrics, watch Hollywood movies in the original, and read books that weren't available in translation. But that wasn't the reason high-quality instruction was available to me in Moscow in the 1980s: English was the adversary's mother tongue. Russian President Vladimir Putin is no fan of the U.S. or the U.K., but he has learned their language well enough to speak to other foreign leaders without a translator.

It's impossible to avoid: 54 percent of all websites are in it. The next most widespread language is Russian, with 6 percent. The most popular translation requests on Google all involve English. The global academic community speaks it, and not just because U.S. and U.K. universities are important: If they all closed tomorrow, scholars would still need a common tongue, and they aren't going to vote to adopt another one.

Nor will the global political community. The European Union is a case in point: After Brexit, English could lose the status as one of the bloc's working languages because no remaining members use it officially. Yet the legal departments of all the EU governing bodies have agreed that it can retain its status on the rather thin argument that it's used in Irish and Maltese law. It's also the lingua franca for all the Eastern European officials who have never learned French or German. Even after Brexit, it will share with German the status of the most widely spoken language in the EU - that is, as long as one takes into account non-native speakers.