June 7, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 6:57 PM


Joe Biden is a Trump Republican (Curt Mills, June 7, 2019, Spectator USA)

The 2020 election looks like the last hurrah for a certain kind of Democrat who switched from Obama to Trump in 2016. Biden is uniquely well-suited to win back that contingent, and judging by open admissions of anxiety from the White House, the president knows it. The left is on the march: in many ways they will set the Democratic agenda no matter who is president. But the 2020 race is already something of a sad story for the Democratic left. Bernie Sanders's trajectory is opposite from the one he enjoyed this time four years ago. The comeback of Elizabeth Warren, a decaffeinated Sanders, represents a tactical retreat.

Biden will continue, where he can, to run a retrograde campaign. Sure, he'll reverse and back government abortion funding here, and downplay his crime bill there. The era of post-truth is now blending into the era of post-sincerity. But Biden's reactionary résumé is also to his advantage.

Biden is the sort of Democrat that the party has all but lost, but will need again in 18 months' time: middle-class, middle of the country, and middle-of-the-road politically. Biden isn't the candidate of the base of the Democratic party, who live in America's growing cities. Notoriously, he took the train to DC. But the easiest way back to Pennsylvania Avenue remains Pennsylvania itself. Rebuild the 'Blue Wall' in the upper Midwest, into which the Keystone State is becoming functionally integrated. Headquartered in Philadelphia, Biden 2020 is 'going after those wistful suburbanites' outside the city, veteran Pennsylvania politico Charles McElwee tells me. This contingent, McElwee says, would vote for Biden if the election were held today. White House beware: Biden 'could absolutely win Pennsylvania'.

Posted by orrinj at 1:30 PM


Trump Supporter Arrested For Threatening To Kill Members Of Congress (Emily Singer, June 7, 2019, National Memo)

A 54-year-old Trump supporter was arrested by federal agents for threatening to kill an unspecified number of members of Congress, the Associated Press reported, using the same language in his threats that Trump himself has used in speeches throughout the years.

According to court documents obtained by the AP, Trump fan and Utah resident Scott Brian Haven made more than 2,000 phone calls over three years with threats to members of Congress.

In 2018, Haven said in a phone call with an unnamed Senate aide that there are "far more Second Amendment people than whiny, crying liberals" -- using the same phrase Trump used in 2016 when he suggested "Second Amendment people" could act if Hillary Clinton became president.

Posted by orrinj at 1:19 PM


Rethinking Conversion (Mark Oppenheimer, June 7, 2019, The Tablet)

It may seem surprising, then, but conversion--born of the desires of thousands of people to become Jews--has become the fierce battleground joining Reform, Conservative and Orthodox Jews today, in the United States and in Israel. Orthodox Jewry won't recognize non-Orthodox conversions, the Israeli rabbinate won't recognize conversions done by some American Orthodox rabbis. Converts everywhere face discrimination, like comments from fellow Jews that they aren't "really Jewish." Instead of welcoming new Jews from every possible quarter, we have made a mess of how we treat aspiring Jews, even as we need them more than ever.

How did it come to this, that a people in demographic--and other--danger is mucking up the process of accepting new members? The simple answer is that we have lost their unique sense of how one might become a new Jew.

Posted by orrinj at 1:15 PM


Why humans (or something very similar) may have been destined to walk the Earth: The paths available to evolving organisms are far from limitless (Evolutionary biologists James Horton and Tiffany Taylor, 6/07/19, Cosmos)

Many bacterial evolution studies have found, perhaps surprisingly, that evolution often follows very predictable paths over the short term, with the same traits and genetic solutions frequently realised. Consider, for example, a long-term experiment, in which 12 independent populations of Escherichia coli founded by a single clone, have been continuously evolving since 1988. That's over 65,000 generations - there have only been 7,500-10,000 generations since modern Homo sapiens appeared. All the evolving populations in this experiment show higher fitness, faster growth and larger cells than their ancestor. This suggests that organisms have some constraints on how they can evolve.

There are evolutionary forces that keep evolving organisms on the straight-and-narrow. Natural selection is the "guiding hand" of evolution, reigning in the chaos of random mutations and abetting beneficial mutations. This means many genetic changes will fade from existence over time, with only the best enduring. This can also lead to the same solutions of survival being realised in completely unrelated species. [...]

But what about the underlying physical laws - do they favour predictable evolution? At very large scales, it appears so. We know of many governing laws of our universe that are certain. Gravity, for example - for which we owe our oceans, thick atmosphere and the nuclear fusion in the sun that showers us with energy - is a predictable force. Isaac Newton's theories, based on large scale deterministic forces, can also be used to describe many systems on large scales. These describe the universe as perfectly predictable.

If Newton's view was to remain perfectly true, the evolution of humans was inevitable. However, this comforting predictability was shattered by the discovery of the contradictory but fantastical world of quantum mechanics in the 20th century. At the smallest scales of atoms and particles, true randomness is at play - meaning our world is unpredictable at the most fundamental level.

This means that the broad "rules" for evolution would remain the same no matter how many times we replayed the tape. There would always be an evolutionary advantage for organisms that harvest solar power. There would always be opportunity for those that make use of the abundant gases in the atmosphere. And from these adaptations, we may predictably see the emergence of familiar ecosystems. But ultimately, randomness, which is built into many evolutionary processes, will remove our ability to "see into the future" with complete certainty.

There's a problem in astronomy that acts as a fitting analogy. In the 1700s, a mathematical institute offered a prize for solving the "three-body problem", involving accurately describing the gravitational relationship and resultant orbits of the sun, Earth and moon.

The winner, Joseph-Louis Lagrange, essentially proved that the problem couldn't be solved exactly. Much like the chaos introduced by random mutations, a little bit of starting error would inevitably grow, meaning that you couldn't easily determine where the three bodies would end up in the future. But as the dominant partner, the sun dictates the orbits of all three to an extent - allowing us to narrow the possible positions of the bodies to within a range.

This is much like the guiding hands of evolution, which tether adapting organisms to familiar routes. We may not be entirely sure where we'd end up if we rewound time, but the paths available to evolving organisms are far from limitless. And so maybe humans would never appear again, but it's likely that whatever alien world replaced ours would be a familiar place.

Posted by orrinj at 1:02 PM


Prosecution of 'Coward' Parkland Deputy May Put 'Unsustainable Demand on Law Enforcement' (Joel Cohen, June 7th, 2019, Law & Crime)

 Put aside the perjury charge (as Peterson certainly had a duty to the truth), Peterson has been charged, presumably because he was on duty, on the scene, yet did not enter the school with his own gun blazing. "Negligence" as a crime! Meaning, he can potentially go to jail, if convicted, for a long time largely because he lacked the strength of character to rush in to a field of battle -- as might a  fireman, to a raging fire - where (one can presume) he feared his own life would be in danger. And yes, he was a policeman (or was until he resigned in the wake of the ignominy over his "neglect") and was duty bound to protect the public, and especially the students. But filing criminal charges, even though the relevant statutes likely make out the crimes charged, for freezing in that moment? [...]

This prosecution is largely unusual, actually unheard of. Whether Peterson is convicted or not, it remains to be seen if it will turn out to have been a good thing for the public. No one can have sympathy for Peterson's conduct in having abandoned his post and students, particularly when he might have saved lives. Still, criminalizing not doing something, which is what this case effectively does, may put an unsustainable demand on law enforcement.

The real issue here is ultimately one of prosecutorial discretion. Prosecutors must gain a sense of vengeance for their communities. Clearly, the Florida State Attorney was confronted with truly awful facts. The families of victims and their community wanted, and deserved, appropriate retribution for what occurred. The principal offender, though, the trigger man Cruz, is being prosecuted to the full extent of the law. He is alive, and will be there to face that vengeance that is fully warranted. Must a prosecutor in such circumstances also pursue, as is happening here, a grossly flawed man whose actual "crime" was a breakdown in character for failing to protect and defend?

Someone has to pay the price for our willingness to tolerate gun violence.

For Soldiers, Risk of Suicide Linked With Firearm Ownership (PATRICK TUCKER, 6/07/19, Defense One)

More U.S. Army soldiers die by suicide than in combat. There are a number reasons for that, but a study published on Friday in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows a strong relationship between keeping a personal firearm and suicide among soldiers.

The study, the first of its kind, looked at the histories of 135 active duty U.S. Army soldiers who committed suicide between August 1, 2011, and November 1, 2013, dates coinciding with a peak in suicides among soldiers. Shootings accounted for 55 percent of those deaths. That, by itself, might not be surprising. What is remarkable, in the words of the researchers, is that having access to a loaded gun at home, or carrying one in public, "resulted in a 4-fold increase of the odds of suicide" compared to other soldiers.

The authors point to an existing psychological theory to explain why that might be so. The interpersonal theory of suicide posits that simply a desire to commit suicide is usually not enough to convince people to take their own life. The theory argues that people who have overcome a fear of death through repeated exposure either to personal pain or fearinducing experienecs, or the pain and fear of others, are more likely to commit suicide. Another study from 2012 found that men who keep loaded weapons also exhibit a reduced fear of death.

Posted by orrinj at 12:58 PM


Trump's Tariffs Have Already Wiped Out Tax Bill Savings for Average Americans (Laura Davison, June 7, 2019, /Bloomberg)

President Donald Trump's trade wars have already wiped out all but $100 of the average American household's windfall from Trump's 2017 tax law. And that's just the beginning.

That last $100 in tax-cut gains also could soon disappear -- and then some -- because of additional tariffs Trump has announced or is considering. If the president makes good on his threats to impose levies on virtually all imports from China and Mexico, those middle-earning households could pay nearly $4,000 more as they shell out more for a vast range of goods -- from avocados to iPhones.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


Biden reverses position on federal funding for abortion (Reuters, 6/07/19) 

Biden, the front-runner in the race for the 2020 Democratic nomination and a former vice president, said he had changed his long-held position on the Hyde Amendment because the right to an abortion was now under assault in many states and increasingly inaccessible for low-income women.

"I can't justify leaving millions of women without access to the care they need and the ability to exercise their constitutionally protected right," Biden said in a speech in Atlanta.

"If I believe healthcare is a right, as I do, I can longer support an amendment that makes that right dependent on someone's zip code," he said.

Indeed, if abortion is a woman's right there is no restriction that can be justified logically.
Posted by orrinj at 12:01 AM


Why do US evangelicals support Trump? They're giving Christianity a bad name :The politicisation of evangelicals is dangerous - especially when they're supporting a loveless, graceless amoralism  (Tim Farron, 5 Jun 2019, The Guardian)

[O]ne thing I know for sure is that we are instructed to love God and to love our neighbour - and that means that someone who separates children from their mothers, bans Muslims from entering his country, and countenances torture, is worthy of rebuke.

So not only is it wrong to support Trump on this basis, it is also dangerous. Dangerous because it contributes to the tribal politicisation of evangelical Christians.

The right is often found decrying identity politics, but is it possible that they are as guilty of it as anyone else? In 2000 and 2004, the evangelical Christian movement in the US allowed itself to become politicised as never before, as it lined up behind George W Bush. Though Christians' association with Bush was counterproductive, it was, however, understandable. He was a professing evangelical Christian who sought to live in accordance with the Bible's teaching.

But evangelical Christians' political marriage to Trump is much harder to fathom. In his private life the president has demonstrated a flagrant disregard for the dignity of others, an utter contempt for equality, and far more concern for his own rights and reputation than the wellbeing and care of others. His attitude to refugees and migrants demonstrates a lack of compassion and understanding for the vulnerable that at times beggars belief.

The politicisation and tribalism of Christianity is dangerous and, in the case of Trump, stands in direct opposition to the values of the saviour who Christians seek to follow. One who gave up his rights to save others rather than trampling on the rights of others to promote himself. Some Christians may believe they are bringing about God's purposes, but in reality they are causing his name to be associated with the very things he stands against.

Indeed, it is possible that this association with Trump's loveless, graceless amoralism could write Christianity out of the public square even faster than the dominance of secularism might on this side of the Atlantic. Where a Christian worldview is dismissed and derided in the UK, association with Trump means many may actively reject it in the US. In fact, the impact of the politicisation of evangelical Christians is not just damaging to Christianity in the US. Churches in Britain have been taking the word "evangelical" out of their name for fear of the association.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Rabbinate's master race of Jews: Using DNA to prove Jewishness is distasteful. Worse, it is a dangerous and dramatic deterioration in how we define the Jewish people (Shuki friedman, JUN 7, 2019, Times of Israel)

On the upcoming holiday of Shavuot, we will read the Book of Ruth, reminding us once again of the significant difference between conversion then and today. Speedy conversion seems to have been the norm in the days of Ruth, the woman who would become the grandmother of the ultimate king of Israel -- King David. Contrast that with the official state conversion process and the associated procedures for establishing Jewish lineage that we have in Israel today. In recent years, the high bar set by halacha, Jewish law, for gaining recognition as a Jew has been raised even higher by a disturbing trend of using genetic testing to establish candidates' Jewishness -- essentially, a "geneticization" of the Jewish people.

Currently, such tests are private initiatives, which the state's rabbinical courts are prepared to accept as evidence of Jewishness. The willingness by an official body to adopt genetic testing as proof of Jewishness marks the first step in the creation of a genetically-based Judaism and the widespread use of genetic databases. Beyond the fact that the use of genetics to prove Jewishness is distasteful, it constitutes a dramatic deterioration in the way we define the Jewish people. This is a revolution that must be nipped in the bud.

In Israel and around the world, there are hundreds of thousands of people who see themselves as belonging to the Jewish people but who would have a hard time in gaining official recognition as Jews from the Israeli Chief Rabbinate. After thousands of years in which membership in the Jewish people was largely a matter of claiming such membership, along with some halakhic evidence, the last three decades have seen the Chief Rabbinate adopting increasingly harsh procedures to establish the Jewishness of those who have immigrated to Israel. Many of these immigrants have been forced to endure a bureaucratic nightmare, for lack of the detailed documentation required by the rabbinate -- and, in certain cases, have had to undergo a full conversion process.

In recent years, with advances in genetic science and the fact that genetic testing has become affordable and widely accessible, genetic tests have become a tool for rabbis and rabbinical courts to establish petitioners' Jewishness. The rabbis' underlying premise is that it is possible to identify certain genetic markers in the genetic profiles of some Jews, and thus anyone whose cells hold these same genetic markers is undoubtedly Jewish. Currently, the existing genetic markers make it theoretically possible to establish the Jewishness of some Jews, and presumably, if sufficient resources are invested in this project for a sufficient length of time, genetic markers can be found for most of the world's Jews. Accordingly, against the backdrop of rabbinical willingness to accept genetics as proof of Jewishness, a genetic laboratory has now been set up with this very purpose, and is encouraging Jews to be tested and to add themselves to the database.

Bizarro Nuremberg.
Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Poll: Majority Want To Keep Abortion Legal, But They Also Want Restrictions (Domenico Montanaro, 6/07/19, NPR)

Even though Americans are solidly against overturning Roe, a majority would also like to see abortion restricted in various ways. In a separate question, respondents were asked which of six choices comes closest to their view of abortion policy.

In all, 61% said they were in favor of a combination of limitations that included allowing abortion in just the first three months of a pregnancy (23%); only in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the woman (29%); or only to save the life of the woman (9%).