February 28, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 6:39 PM


Israel's Liberal Democracy Risks Becoming a Casualty of the Palestinian Conflict: The new hard right seems determined to crush institutions and organizations that interfere with its designs for Jewish supremacy (Mairav Zonszein, 2/28/23, The UnPopulist)

There has always been a tension between Israel's ability to uphold liberal democratic norms while crafting and maintaining a Jewish ethnonational majority to ensure Jews a safe homeland. Many with a strong interest in the success of the Jewish state have believed Israel would be able to handle that tension. But at this point, the Israeli government no longer seems concerned with balancing those goals; rather, it is elevating ethnonationalism and security while relinquishing key norms and institutions of liberal democracy. Now, it seems hard to escape the conclusion that the Israeli government's anti-democratic initiatives are rooted in Israel's control over, and dispossession of, Palestinians, and in its perennial military rule and de facto annexation of occupied land. [...]

The government also intends to weaken the legal standing of Israel's Basic Law on Humanity Dignity and Liberty, which is the closest thing to a constitution that Israel has, having served over the last 30 years as the basis for several High Court rulings that protected minorities, though only in certain cases and in highly limited ways. The court has, for example, invoked the law to protect gay pride parades and to prevent the expulsion of asylum seekers.

The new government's judicial proposals, which would effectively politicize the legal system, have drawn condemnations from senior Israeli judges and legal experts, who warn that Israel would cease to be a liberal democracy; Israel's Attorney General even said it would make Israel a "democracy in name only." The new laws would allow a tyranny of the majority, removing all checks and balances on government actions, and thereby ending the minimal liberal protections of fundamental minority and human rights currently in place.

Posted by orrinj at 4:54 PM


Underrecognized: Extremist murders are usually from right-wing actors (Philip Bump, February 28, 2023, Washington Post)

In May, YouGov conducted a poll for Yahoo News measuring where Americans put the blame for extremist murders. YouGov asked people to say how many such killings were committed by left-wing or right-wing extremists, finding that only a fraction of Americans viewed one side as more likely to engage in such violence.

Most 2020 Trump voters said that more than half of murders linked to extremism were committed by left-wing actors; most Democrats and Biden voters said the same of right-wing extremists. In total, only 18 percent of respondents said that almost all extremist murders were a function of right-wing actors. Another 21 percent said that more than half were.

Data released by the ADL last week shows the reality. Over the past decade (the period included in YouGov's poll), 96 percent of incidents in which extremists killed someone were committed by people motivated by right-wing ideologies. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:33 PM


Matt Gaetz unknowingly cites Chinese Communist newspaper during Ukraine military funding hearing (Sonam Sheth Feb 28, 2023, Business Insider)

"Is the Azov battalion getting access to US weapons?" Gaetz asked Colin Kahl, the US's undersecretary of defense for policy. The Azov battalion is a far-right nationalist regiment in Ukraine, and some of its members serve in Ukraine's armed forces.

"Not that I'm aware of, but if you have information, happy to hear it," Kahl told Gaetz.

Gaetz then asked to enter the Global Times report into the congressional record and cited from the paper to support his allegation that the Azov battalion was "getting stuff as far back as 2018."

"Any reason to disagree with that assessment?" Gaetz asked Kahl.

"Is this the -- I'm sorry, is this the Global Times from China?" Kahl said.

"No, this is --" Gaetz began, before leaning over to read from the article he was quoting.

"That's what you read," Kahl said.

"Well, it might be," Gaetz said. "Yeah, it might be, yeah."

"As a general matter, I don't take Beijing's propaganda at face value," Kahl replied.

MAGA man does not live by being Vlad's mouthpiece alone. 

Posted by orrinj at 11:57 AM


Supreme Court questions Biden administration lawyer on legality of student loan relief that would affect 40 million borrowers (Dan Mangan, 2/28/23, CNBC)

Early in the hearing, Chief Justice John Roberts questioned Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar, who is defending the program, about the argument by the plaintiffs that Congress needed to approve the debt relief first before it was set in motion. That did not happen in this case.

"Do you think Congress shouldn't be surprised when half a trillion dollars gets wiped off the books?" asked Roberts, who is part of the court's conservative supermajority.

"I think most casual observers would say if you're going to give up that amount of money ... then Congress should" have to approve that, Roberts later said.

A liberal justice, Sonia Sotomayor, echoed that...

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


As Orthodox Union and other Jewish groups condemn settler rampage, many avoid mentioning Benjamin Netanyahu (RON KAMPEAS, FEBRUARY 27, 2023, JTA)

As American Jewish organizations responded to Sunday's settler riot in the West Bank, most began with statements of condemnation.

One began with a question: "How can such a thing happen?"

"How could it come to this, that Jewish young men should ransack and burn homes and cars?" continued the statement from Rabbi Moshe Hauer, executive vice president of the Orthodox Union, who added that "we cannot understand or accept this."

He concluded with a note of desperation: "What happened yesterday must never, ever happen again."

Hauer's anguish was all the more notable because it came from a group whose constituency, American Orthodox Jews, has historically sympathized with the movement to create Jewish settlements in the West Bank. And Hauer's statement did something else that many other groups did not: It appeared to question the leadership of Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

This is the point of "Religious Zionism" just as brutalizing immigrants is the point of Trumpism.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


February 27, 2023 (Heather Cox Richardson, 2/27/23, Letters from an American

Today's filing shows that executives at the highest levels of the Fox Corporation and the Fox News Network knowingly permitted Fox News Channel personalities to spread false conspiracy theories about the election in order to protect their profits. It includes testimony from Rupert Murdoch, the chair of the Fox Corporation, showing that Murdoch and his son Lachlan Murdoch, the executive chair and chief executive officer of the Fox Corporation, as well as Suzanne Scott, the chief executive officer of Fox News Media, were all deeply involved in the question of how to deal with Trump's lies and with the personalities who were echoing those lies, without losing viewership.

Rupert Murdoch spoke with Scott frequently, and testified: "I'm a journalist at heart. I like to be involved in these things." Lachlan Murdoch, as well, was in the loop with his father and Scott. Ultimately, although they knew that claims of massive election fraud were unfounded, they decided to give the lies airtime anyway to stop their audience from abandoning them for other channels. Fox board member and former House speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-WI) warned them "that Fox News should not be spreading conspiracy theories," but they ignored him.

February 27, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 6:11 PM


Ben-Gvir wants to 'crush' Palestinians 'one by one' (MEMO, February 27, 2023)

Israel's extreme far-right national security minister pledged today to "crush [Palestinians] one by one," Haaretz has reported. Itamar Ben-Gvir made his comment while speaking to illegal settlers at the equally illegal settlement "outpost" of Evyatar as they were being evicted by the occupation authorities.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Divorced From RealityAmericans already live the way they want to live, where they want to live. (Chris Stirewalt, Feb 27, 2023, The Dispatch)

Race kooks both black and white have long dreamed of separate Americas, and what was the Civil War but that dream manifested in its bloody, brutal reality? It is an old idea that never loses its appeal to those with too much hate in their hearts and too few powers of observation.

"Of course interstate trade, travel, and state relations would continue," she wrote. (Gee, thanks.) "However in red states, they could have different rules about store product placement on national store's shelves. In red states, I highly doubt Walmart could place sex toys next to children's toothbrushes."

Again, I hate to bring attention to a political figure so desperate for it, but imagine with a person who is concerned about a plague of marital aids next to the kids' dental care section. Tickle me Elmo, indeed. Does she imagine that Walmart organizes its stores based on state laws? Worse, imagine a person who wants to regulate store layouts at the state level. 

Or try this one from the same thread: "Red states would likely ban all gender lies and confusing theories, Drag Queen story times, and LGBTQ indoctrinating teachers, and China's money and influence in our education. While blue states could have government-controlled gender transition schools."

Is there a lot of drag storytelling in her northwest Georgia district? Are the libraries in Cave Spring and Mount Berry now indistinguishable from La Cage aux Folles? Has Chickamauga Elementary School replaced Old Glory with a picture of Chairman Xi and the gym coach with Eddie Izzard? 

Assuming rural Georgia has not become a hotbed of sexual experimentation and Chinese communism since my most recent visit, Greene is not angry about what is happening where she grew up, but what other people in other places are doing, or, more accurately, what she imagines other people are doing based on a steady diet of Facebook posts and Newsmax segments. 

Greene says we "need to separate by red states and blue states." What in the heck does she think we have already done? There's certainly plenty of people who agree with her call to shrink the federal government, but in terms of most of what she's talking about, Americans already live the way they want to live, where they want to live. The proximity of sex toys to bubble gum-flavored toothpaste or how sex ed is taught is already different depending on where you are in America, because Americans already have the power to shape markets and local governments. 

Greene and the rest of the American divorce crowd aren't really talking about how they want to live. They're talking about how they want other Americans to live.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Energy Transition's clean technologies are empowering an industrial policy revolution
(Harry Benham, 27 February 2023 , Carbon Tracker)

Twenty years after the emergence of major green energy technologies - wind, solar, electric vehicles, batteries and ancillary technologies -- they have become the new energy system. Green has far less to do with it - they are just better.

Each of these technologies have grown well over a 10 times since 2000, and continue to grow at rates of 15-20% per year - meaning they could be up to three to four times bigger again by 2030: wind and solar already are 12% of the global power industry, EVs are already at 15% of global new car sales.

Play with energy scenarios galore - but the maths takes you to some unambiguous conclusions.

Green energy technology is the new energy system. Perhaps time to retire the colourful adjectives:  green energy is energy.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Rousseau, Malthus, and Thanos Were WrongThe authors of Superabundance make a strong case that more people and industrialization mean a richer, more prosperous world. (NICK GILLESPIE,  MARCH 2023, Reason)

In December, Reason's Nick Gillespie sat down with  [the authors of Superabundance: The Story of Population Growth, Innovation, and Human Flourishing on an Infinitely Bountiful Planet, Marian L. Tupy of the Cato Institute and Gale L. Pooley of Brigham Young University-Hawaii]. They discussed how the real prices of our most basic necessities--and most of our luxury goods--have declined over time and how free markets and human innovation make our planet infinitely bountiful. [...]

Tupy: [L]ooking at hundreds of different commodities, fuels, minerals, metals, even finished goods and some services, everything has become cheaper in terms of "time price." People simply have to work less in order to buy things which are essential goods and commodities in order to survive.

What is the concept of "time price"?

Pooley: We buy things with money, but we really pay for them with time. How much time does it take you to earn the money to buy that thing? So there's a money price that you can express in dollars and cents, but there's a time price that you can express in hours and minutes. The time price equation is real simple. It's just how much it cost you divided by your hourly income.

Time is this universal constant. You can't inflate it; you can't counterfeit it. Of the seven fundamental majors in science, six of them go back to time. It's this fundamental feature. So if you can move economics from thinking of money to thinking in time, I think we then allow that discipline to become more scientific.

We all get 24 hours a day. So if instead of income inequality you can think about time inequality, I think it's much more informative and revealing in terms of what kind of life we have.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


New method creates material that could create the next generation of solar cells  (SPX,  Feb 27, 2023)

Perovskites, a family of materials with unique electric properties, show promise for use in a variety fields, including next-generation solar cells. A Penn State-led team of scientists created a new process to fabricate large perovskite devices that is more cost- and time-effective than previously possible and that they said may accelerate future materials discovery.

"This method we developed allows us to easily create very large bulk samples within several minutes, rather than days or weeks using traditional methods," said Luyao Zheng, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Materials Science at Penn State and lead author on the study. "And our materials are high quality - their properties can compete with single-crystal perovskites."

1414 hits molten silicon milestone on path to supplying green industrial heat (Sophie Vorrath,  27 February 2023, Renew Economy)

Over its lifetime, 14D has explored a few options for its technology, including long duration energy storage - electricity to electricity - and a South Australia government-sponsored attempt at storing biogas as thermal energy, that was not a success.

In 2023, the company has retrained its focus on using the "unique thermophysical properties" of its technology to supply industrial heat of the sort that is currently supplied using carbon-intensive processes fuelled by gas and coal.

Having now successfully demonstrated in its lab-based furnaces that it can reach the sort of temperature levels, between 800°C - 1200°C, required for heavy industrial processes, the next step is to generate that sort of heat continuously over extended periods of time.

February 26, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 1:58 PM


The right fans a repulsive campaign to racialize the Ohio train disaster (Greg Sargent, February 21, 2023, Washington Post)

[I]n certain right-wing media precincts, the disaster is about something else: A campaign of discrimination being waged against White people.

"East Palestine is overwhelmingly White, and it's politically conservative," Fox News's Tucker Carlson recently said of the roughly 4,700 residents of the disaster zone. "That shouldn't be relevant," he added, but "it very much is."

It very much isn't. But ever since the Feb. 3 disaster, Carlson and his comrades have sought to transform East Palestine's plight into a tale about "woke" Democrats abandoning White communities in the virtuous, forgotten heartland.

Eugene Robinson: The Ohio train wreck shows toxic risk of valuing efficiency over safety

What this illustrates is how the right uses race-baiting to deceive people into forgetting that Democrats are now the far more committed party when it comes to investing in such left-behind communities.

The Right is the Left.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


As temperatures across the country soar and unseasonably warm days continue, the number of gun deaths across the country has gone up.

Nearly 8,000 gun shootings can be attributed to extreme temperatures, according to research published by JAMA Network.

The study analyzed 100 major U.S. cities with the highest proportion of gun violence between 2015 and 2020. It found that out of 116 ,511 shootings, roughly 6.85% (or 7,973) were attributable to above-average temperatures.

Gun violence, as well as other types of violence, such as road rage, is known to worsen in the summer. Warmer temperatures increase the body's stress hormones in the nervous system, which may heighten violent impulses. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


PEPFAR at 20: George Bush marks 20 years since founding of AIDS relief program (Misty Severi,  February 24, 2023, Washington Examiner)

"I believe that human life is precious, and we're all God's children. So I meant it when I said while campaigning that to whom much is given, much is required," Bush said. "We're an unbelievably wealthy nation, and yet there are people and generations being destroyed. And so that was the genesis. And, you know, a lot of skeptics, but we put together a plan that worked and had a hell of a team of really good people, motivated by one thing: human life."

Bush announced the creation of the program during his State of the Union address in 2003. The program has gone on to support nearly 65 million people through HIV treatment and testing services and has saved approximately 25 million lives.

Its success is largely felt in Africa, the pandemic's epicenter, where life expectancy dropped by 20 years because of HIV in 2003 and child mortality tripled.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The British empire, for good and ill: a review of Colonialism: A Moral Reckoning, by Nigel Biggar  (Robert Lyman, Feb. 25th, 2023, The Critic)

As he argues, the "basic problem with the anti-colonialist's equation of British colonialism with slavery, and their consequent demand for cultural 'decolonisation,' is that it requires amnesia about everything that has happened since 1787". It requires us to overlook how widely popular in Britain was the abolitionist cause from the closing decades of the 18th century. The uncomfortable reality for anti-slavery campaigners is that for "the second half of its life, anti-slavery, not slavery, was at the heart of imperial policy".

Accordingly, this is a helpful and timely contribution to a public conversation about the nature of empire and colonialism that is dominated by many highly-charged assumptions, assertions and correlations ("fascism", "genocide", "racism", "state violence", "oppression" and others). The book is to be applauded for its careful handling of a range of complex and often emotionally-charged questions.

For my money, much of the current public debate about empire needs to be focused less on the intrinsic morality of what happened (because I am suspicious of the motives of those pressing modern political and ideological interpretations on the past) and more on the quality of governance that was provided across the various imperial projects that made up the experience of empire. It is in this that Biggar excels.

In most cases the quality of civic administration across the empire was exceptional; in a few it was abysmal. I agree with Biggar that a remarkable legacy of the British exercise of empire was to introduce standards of probity in public administration that were unparalleled in the history of imperialism, even if this legacy was tarnished by the horrors of, for instance, Amritsar and the Bengal famine. India, along with most other parts of the empire, received its independence as a "going concern" from its imperial parent in 1947.

One measure of its success is the remarkable extent to which India retained the civic structures it inherited. It is fascinating to see how the people of the Naga Hills in Assam were irritated by the arrival of the British in the 1870s (because they inhibited the traditional culture of inter-tribal warfare and headhunting) but angered by their departure in 1947. That rancour about Britain leaving exists to this day. The history of colonialism and imperialism is complicated.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Fight over Rep. Perry's phone has prevented review of 2,200 documents in Jan. 6 probe (Spencer S. Hsu, February 25, 2023, Washington Post)

Chief Judge Beryl A. Howell of the U.S. District Court in D.C. released a number of previously sealed opinions after finding that the "powerful public interest" outweighed the need for secrecy in the constitutional battle over Perry's claims and the historic investigation.

The Pennsylvania Republican has asserted that 2,219 documents contained on his phone are shielded by the Constitution's "speech or debate" clause, which grants members of Congress immunity from criminal investigation in their official capacities. But in a ruling in December, Howell rejected that claim for more than 90 percent of the records, ordering Perry to turn over 2,055 text messages, emails and attachments after concluding that they were only incidentally related to his status as a lawmaker, and not central to that status and constitutionally protected as part of his lawmaking.

"What is plain is that the Clause does not shield Rep. Perry's random musings with private individuals touting an expertise in cybersecurity or political discussions with attorneys from a presidential campaign, or with state legislators concerning hearings before them about possible local election fraud or actions they could take to challenge election results in Pennsylvania," Howell wrote.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Planned antisemitic 'day of hate' instead becomes day of unity, defiance for US Jews (Times of Israel, 2/26/23)

The antisemitism watchdog (ADL) said that while white supremacists had held protests in Florida and Georgia as well as online livestreams, and antisemitic propaganda was distributed in Texas, California, Florida and Arizona -- that had constituted "a pretty typical Saturday in America."

"In the face of threats and rising antisemitism, the American Jewish community was not cowed," the ADL said. "We were defiant. We lit Shabbat candles, attended services, and proudly celebrated our faith. Meanwhile, extremists panicked and shared paranoid conspiracy theories.

"We know that the threat does not magically disappear as the sun sets on this so-called 'day of hate.' We know that vigilance is part of being Jewish in America in 2023. And we take great comfort in knowing we do not face this darkness alone."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Why Is Russia Losing The War In Ukraine? Because Putin Is Lying (Lucian K. Truscott IV, February 26 | 2023, National Memo)

"Russia has lost; they've lost strategically, operationally and tactically, and they are paying an enormous price on the battlefield," Milley intoned through his famous scowl. "President Putin thought he could defeat Ukraine quickly, fracture the NATO alliance, and act with impunity. He was wrong. Ukraine remains free. They remain independent. NATO and its coalition have never been stronger. Russia is now a global pariah, and the world remains inspired by Ukrainian bravery and resilience."

Milley and a large majority of military experts are saying that Russia is losing the war in Ukraine because Putin's army has performed so poorly against Ukraine's army. Russia's army doesn't measure up with any metric used to analyze an army's performance in war. Its soldiers are poorly trained, poorly led, and as the war has ground on, poorly equipped. Its armored forces have been decimated. Hundreds, maybe even thousands of tanks and armored personnel carriers have been either destroyed or captured and used by Ukrainian forces against the Russians. Russia has lost a large portion of Ukrainian land it captured early in the war along with rail systems and the port of Kherson which they were using to resupply their soldiers.

British intelligence estimates Russia has suffered 200,000 casualties. More than 58,000 names of Americans killed over 10 years are on the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington. It has taken Russia less than a year for 60,000 of its soldiers to be killed.

February 25, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 6:14 PM



Ammonia-based fuel company Amogy, founded just three years ago by four MIT Ph.D. graduates, has successfully tested a zero-emissions semi-truck powered entirely by sustainable ammonia fuel. [...]

Fellow AEA member Starfire Energy, which raised $24 million to explore carbon-free ammonia production in 2022, won the Emerging Cleantech Company award from the Colorado Cleantech Industries Association, while other AEA members like GenCell Energy have received millions of dollars in grants. 

Companies outside of the association are getting in on the act, too: Ontario-based Hydrofuel Canada, which calls itself "the world's leading developer of ammonia fuel and energy technologies," has partnered with the University of Ontario Institute of Technology to produce reports on ammonia-based fuels for the Canadian provinces of Alberta and British Columbia.

"Ammonia as a sustainable fuel can be used in all types of combustion engines, gas turbines, burners with only small modifications and directly in fuel cells which is a very important advantage compared to other type(s) of fuels," reads one of Hydrofuel Canada's reports. "Compared to gasoline vehicles, ammonia-fueled vehicles do not produce direct CO2 emission during operation."

Amogy, for its part, is not stopping with ammonia-powered trucks. The company has plans to test out an ammonia-powered tugboat later this year while continuing work on an inland barge retrofit project with shipping company Southern Devall.

Posted by orrinj at 6:11 PM



Imagine buying a car for under $35,000 and never paying for gas again. Better yet, imagine if the EV you bought only needs to plug in when it runs out of solar power -- which, depending on where you live, might be a very long time. 

Say hello to the Sion, designed by German automaker Sono. The Sion is priced at just 29,900 euros, or around $32,000. Initial reports had the model coming in at around $25,000, but the final price tag isn't too much more, and you get a lot of eco-friendly bang for your buck.

For about the same price as a Subaru Ascent, which averages approximately 22.5 miles per gallon, you can get a car with a 190-mile base battery range, plus the ability to go an additional 70 miles per week just on solar energy. 

The Sion is covered in wall-to-wall solar cells, allowing it to draw the maximum amount of energy possible from both direct and ambient sunlight. And when it does plug in to charge, the battery can reach up to 80% of its capacity in just 35 minutes, thanks to a rapid charging station.

Posted by orrinj at 2:17 PM


The West Lives On in the Taliban's Afghanistan (DAVID OKS, FEBRUARY 23, 2023 , Palladium)

In the West, "Taliban" is a byword for all that is brutal, primitive, and fanatical, the ultimate antithesis of the tolerance and progressive attitudes of the civilized world. I wanted to see for myself how they were doing in power.

Their government--still "the Taliban" to outsiders, "the de facto authorities" to foreign governments, and "the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan" in their own words--is, without a doubt, the most unusual regime on Earth. It is a near-perfect hermit kingdom: no country has recognized the Taliban government, with only a few countries operating embassies inside Kabul. The Islamic Emirate is denied representation in all global bodies, widely sanctioned, and shunned by multinational banks and corporations. The United States still offers a $10 million dollar bounty for its interior minister, Sirajuddin Haqqani, whom it classifies as a "specially designated global terrorist." Even as the government of a large nation, the Taliban acts as a secretive armed brotherhood, opaque to outsiders. Many of its officials still operate under their noms de guerre from the insurgency, though they no longer tend to bring their AK-47s to the office. The government does not have a constitution, written or unwritten, and there are no plans to create one.

The final say on all government decisions lies with the emir, "prince of the believers"--the cleric Hibatullah Akhundzada, an alumnus of the Taliban's first government in the 1990s. Akhundzada is, much like the Taliban's founding emir Mullah Omar, nearly hermitic in his reclusiveness. Akhundzada refuses to have his photo taken, such that there is only one undated image of him available. He communicates policy decisions through written letters from Kandahar--having refused to relocate to Kabul--and makes only a few public appearances a year. More irreverent Afghans will speculate, probably wrongly, that he is dead.

Strangest of all, however, is the extraordinary degree of ideological sovereignty the Taliban seems to possess. It disdains the "blind imitation" of the West--taqlid is the Islamic term--that, in one way or another, characterizes other Islamic regimes. Unlike almost every other government in the world, it makes no reference to democracy, representation, or "the will of the people." Its mandate comes from more ancient things--conquest, negotiation, and the will of God.

Loosed from the restraints that seem to fetter other regimes, the Islamic Emirate is emboldened to do more or less as it wishes: of any Islamist government, it advances perhaps the most stringent version of Sharia law. Music has been banned in public; images of sentient beings, even store mannequins, have been veiled or defaced; corporal punishments, mainly public floggings, have been reinstated. Most controversial of all, however, are the Taliban's policies on women's education. In early 2022, by the decree of the emir, girls were banned from attending school from grades six through twelve. At the end of the year, after months in which Taliban officials promised the ban would be reversed, Akhundzada extended the policy to cover universities as well.

The backlash to the Emirate's education policies--from Westerners and bodies like the United Nations, but also from groups like the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, many Afghans, and even some prominent Taliban supporters--has not dissuaded the Taliban leadership. In one of Akhundzada's rare public appearances as emir, he said that Afghanistan is "sovereign," and not in place to fulfill the wishes of others. "You are welcome to use even the atomic bomb against us," he continued, "because nothing can scare us into taking any step that is against Islam or Sharia." On walls throughout Afghan cities, the regime has emblazoned a slogan representing its remarkable confidence: "First Islam, then Afghanistan."

Yet these otherworldly aims stand in sharp contrast with the mundanity of everyday life in Afghanistan. I had been trained to view the Taliban as a sort of Islamist variant of the Khmer Rouge, intent on a total transformation of Afghan life, a movement that presided over a country whose situation the United Nations had described as "near apocalyptic." But I found few hints of the apocalypse in Afghanistan. Mostly, life was ordinary: families sat in restaurants; kids rode around on bicycles affixed with little flags of the Islamic Emirate; street vendors sold produce and clothing. It was obviously a desperately poor and undeveloped country, and it was hard to ignore the young children--almost toddlers--selling trinkets or begging for change on the streets. But this poverty, though made more severe by the country's economic isolation, was not new. Nor was it unique to Afghanistan.

On most issues, in fact, Taliban governance has had a much lighter touch than most imagined. In the bookstores of Kabul, at least, one can still find books by Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama; contraception and tobacco are available, and the Taliban has yet to regulate internet access like other Islamic governments. One can find gyms and restaurants that play Western music, sometimes with young Taliban guards as cautious patrons. Every woman wears a veil of some kind--as was the case before the Taliban took over--but the blue burqas so associated with Taliban rule in the West are worn by only a minority of women. Almost every man in Kabul has a beard, but the Taliban do not bat an eye at the clean-shaven.

Ordinary Taliban guards are prohibited from enforcing rules about Islamic personal conduct. For now, the Taliban has mostly confined itself to the path of "suggestion," like putting up signs in government offices praising men who choose to grow a beard. More blunt confrontations, usually over insufficiently modest clothing, are left to the Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice. But this morality police is severely understaffed: in the entirety of Kabul, a city with more people than Rome or Berlin, they have just two hundred agents. Thus they are often invisible--I did not see a single one during my time in Afghanistan. The poor logistical capacity of the state has proven the most important limit on the Taliban's ability to reshape Afghan life.

In truth, Taliban rule seems to have done surprisingly little to change the contours of everyday life. Once it took power in Kabul, the Emirate declared a general amnesty, promising protection not only for minorities like the Shia but also for employees of the previous government, including soldiers who had fought against it. This extended even to high-level figures like Hamid Karzai, the Republic's first president, who continues to reside in Kabul. Bureaucrats of the former regime have been retained in their posts, with Taliban mujahideen installed above or beside them. The animosities of the war years have simmered, at least for now. In a cafeteria in the Islamic Emirate's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, I enjoyed a simple meal of rice and bread alongside both holdover bureaucrats and the Taliban officials who worked beside them--thinking, the whole time, that they had been trying to kill each other a few years ago.

In most areas of public administration, the new government is largely continuous with the old one. On signs for government offices, "Islamic Republic" has been hastily painted over and replaced with a handwritten "Islamic Emirate." For prosaic matters unlikely to excite the special interest of Taliban clerics, government policies have simply been carried over from the Republic. Even visa stamps still read "Islamic Republic of Afghanistan" and carry the Republic's official colors.

At these practical arts of governance, the Taliban has proven itself surprisingly adept. Dishonest officials, whose venality had defined the previous regime, have been disciplined or removed from office; even critics of the Islamic Emirate's policies will acknowledge its success in reducing corruption. With less corruption, tax collection has grown more efficient: increased revenue from taxation prevented a fiscal crisis after the withdrawal of foreign aid, which made up three-quarters of the previous regime's budget. This has allowed the Islamic Emirate to maintain most government services undisturbed and continue paying government employees, including some who have refused to return to work since the takeover. They have even commenced new infrastructure projects: Afghanistan's road system, which had degraded significantly due to the war, is being refurbished and expanded.

Taliban officials thus find themselves reborn as ordinary bureaucrats. The Taliban's Ministry of Foreign Affairs issues statements on climate change summits, Malaysian elections, and International Women's Day. My own discussions with Taliban diplomats betrayed a clear eagerness for foreign acceptance, investment, and, if at all possible, official recognition. In their public communications, Taliban officials can seem comically similar to bureaucrats from any other government: they trumpet their success in increasing tax revenues and expanding fruit exports.

The longer I stayed in Afghanistan, the more the contradiction between the Islamic Emirate's otherworldly aspirations and the compromises demanded for stability and development became evident. 

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Posted by orrinj at 8:28 AM


Energy company announces world first as its tidal power project hits major output milestone (Anmar Frangoul, 2/21/23, CNBC)

The emerging tidal power sector seems to have taken another step forward -- an Edinburgh-headquartered firm said Monday that its project had achieved a world first by producing 50 gigawatt hours of electricity.

"During the early hours of this morning ... our tidal stream array off the coast of the Pentland Firth became the first tidal stream array in the world to generate 50GWh of electricity," Graham Reid, the CEO of SAE Renewables
, said in a statement.

February 24, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 4:53 PM


Two cheers for David French: The new New York Times columnist upholds principles his conservative tribe has abandoned. (Mark Silk, 2/24/23, RNS)

What came at French from the left, however, pales before what he's gotten from the right. When he and his wife adopted a Black girl, for example, they were, as Esther O'Reilly put it a couple of years ago in an essay on the Patheos Evangelical channel, "deluged with verbal abuse, vile memes, and even death threats." In O'Reilly's view, this helps explain French's evolution from conservative culture warrior to critic of conservative orthodoxy in the Trump era.

The latter role was epitomized in an exchange French had with current culture warrior Sohrab Ahmari in a debate at Catholic University in 2019. French, the lawyer, defended "drag queen story hours" at public libraries on constitutional grounds. Ahmari would have none of it. As Benjamin Wallace-Wells reported in The New Yorker: 

"So you would undermine viewpoint neutrality in First Amendment jurisprudence?" French asked. "Yeah, I would," Ahmari said. French raised his arms in exasperation. "That's a disaster, y'all!"

It's precisely French's steadfast commitment to the classical liberal ideal of government as neutral guarantor of free expression and association that the new conservative intellectuals have abandoned. In the words of the illiberal Rod Dreher, "The problem is that the principles he stands on often -- not always, but often -- were formed during a time when classical liberalism was still defensible, because the center in American politics was more or less holding."

I'm old enough to remember the days when student radicals used Herbert Marcuse's concept of "repressive tolerance" as an excuse for opposing the free expression of views they didn't like. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:43 PM


Posted by orrinj at 12:16 PM


Tens of Thousands of Jobs At Risk of Automation and AI Replacement in New Hampshire (Samuel Stebbins, 24/7 Wall St. via The Center Square)

The advantages AI can offer businesses is undeniable, and the implications are impossible to ignore. AI is capable of automating a wide range of tasks that, until now, have been performed by humans. But unlike human beings, an AI does not need regular paychecks or breaks. And as AI capabilities continue to develop, virtually no industry will be left untouched. (Here is a look at the fastest growing industries in America.)

According to a recent report from NetVoucherCodes, a U.K.-based voucher code website, automation and AI pose a high risk to 109,400 jobs in New Hampshire in the coming years - or 20.1% of all jobs considered, the 16th largest share among states.

Posted by orrinj at 8:45 AM


The Mind in Pain: When depression takes hold, why does even God seem to fall silent? (James Mumford, FEBRUARY 24, 2023, Plough)

I am a Christian. I suffer from depression. The relationship between those two realities is hard to write about because I often feel they have no relationship at all. In fact, and I feel a mixture of guilt and queasiness about saying this, the two seem to stand in contradiction. Christianity speaks of the presence of a loving God: one who is close to us, cares for and consoles us even in our darkest hours. But during the most relentless episodes of depression, I don't "feel his presence" in a consolatory way. Instead, I identify with the question posed by the late-nineteenth-century priest, poet, and depressive, Gerard Manley Hopkins: "Comforter, where, where is your comforting?"

I feel both sheepish and disconcerted by this since I have sometimes expected to experience God in some clear and distinct way when in difficulties. But instead, only silence. I haven't had an encounter like Saint Paul's on the road to Damascus: "Suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven ..." Or even one like Elijah's on Mount Horeb: "And after the fire a still small voice ..." Which leads me to wonder: Is there a fault with my faith? Is my faith too weak? Are my convictions half-hearted? Or is my sin too great? Does it block my access to God? Here, as elsewhere, depression provides no answers, only questions. [...]

Dying on the cross, Christ famously cries out, quoting Psalm 22, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Christ doesn't even question whether he has been forsaken by his Father. He assumes he has been abandoned, and simply asks why. Because it's not just that, as the crowd at the crucifixion taunts him, angels don't rescue Jesus from the cross. The fact is the angels who "ministered unto him" in the wilderness after his temptation don't come anywhere near him now. Calvary is a lonely place. The Son of God does not experience the closeness of the Father. His cry is not met by a still small voice. It is met by silence.

Both Protestant and Catholic thinkers have reflected at length on that moment. "No abyss," writes John Calvin in the Institutes, "can be imagined more dreadful than to feel that you are abandoned and forsaken of God, and not heard when you invoke him, just as if he had conspired your destruction" (italics my own). But Calvin is clear: the silence of God is not a sign of the believer's faltering faith. Why? Because, Calvin continues, there is a precedent: "To such a degree was Christ dejected, that in the depth of his agony he was forced to exclaim, 'My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?'" Similarly, Saint John of the Cross concludes that at the moment of his death "Christ was likewise annihilated in his soul, and was deprived of any relief and consolation, since his Father left him in the most intense aridity." While, finally, in The Everlasting Man, G. K. Chesterton reflects - and it is worth quoting at length - upon the "stark and single-minded" words which Saint Mark and Saint Matthew, in their "naked narratives," attribute to Christ on the cross:

Endless expositions have not come to the end of it, or even to the beginning. And if there be any sound that can produce a silence, we may surely be silent about the end and the extremity; when a cry was driven out of that darkness in words dreadfully distinct and dreadfully unintelligible, which man shall never understand in all the eternity they have purchased for him; and for one annihilating instant an abyss that is not for our thoughts had opened even in the unity of the absolute; and God had been forsaken of God.

Paradoxically, I find that reading about the abandonment of Christ can be profoundly reassuring. Why? Because here, as Calvin highlights, is a precedent. Clearly, there is an utterly unique phenomenon at play in the Passion narrative: the Son of God who takes away the sin of the world, who carries the curse, and therefore upon whom the Father cannot look. Nevertheless, at the level of experience, it is profoundly comforting to learn that Christ has been to a place "pitched past pitch of grief." He too has suffered the darkest possible night.

Had He not done so, He would still fail to comprehend Creattion. His despair of God reconciled us.   

Posted by orrinj at 8:17 AM


Sowing the Seeds of 1776:John Dickinson's Letters from a Farmer capture the intellectual undercurrent of the Revolution. : a review of Empire and Nation by Forrest McDonald (editor) (Guy F. Burnett, 2/22/23, Law & Liberty)

The institutions of the British government and the constitution were worthy of praise because they had recognized natural rights for centuries--including those of the colonists in America. Dickinson wrote, "The first principles of government are to be looked for in human nature." Part of that human nature was the principle of owning, securing, and disposing of private property. Quoting the Old Testament, he wrote "they should sit every man under his vine and, and under his fig-tree, and none should make them afraid." Property was at the core of natural rights, not speech. He called it "that great one, the foundation of all the rest."

Each person must have control over his or her own property if natural rights are secure. Losing the ability to retain one's own property is, as he says, slavery. He uses the word forcefully several times throughout the letters, including a quotation from Montesquieu: "SLAVERY IS EVER PRECEDED BY SLEEP." Dickinson owned slaves until 1777 (when he conditionally manumitted them) and then 1786 (when he unconditionally manumitted them). His close connection to the Quaker faith provided guidance when, in 1776, the Quakers of Philadelphia declared slavery unacceptable.

Even before then, however, he must have understood the implications of withholding property from human beings, let alone owning men and women as property. As a delegate to the Constitutional Convention years later, he spoke out against the evils of slavery. He understood that a slave's ownership of property--that is, the right to enjoy the fruits of his or her labors--is denied. Even a slave's own body is forfeit to those who rule over him or her. Colonists were hardly slaves in the truest sense of the word, but he understood that the point was important. If allowed to stand, the Townshend Acts would put the British in a position to rule over the colonists by usurping their right to property through unrepresentative taxation.

The Townshend Acts had already begun the process of stripping the colonists of their property. The act actually consisted of several individual acts, including the Revenue Act (1767) which placed an indirect tax on glass, lead, and paper, and the New York Restraining Act (1767), which suspended New York's legislature until it complied with the Quartering Act (1765). The unpopular Quartering Act had upset New Yorkers by allowing the British Army to house soldiers in American barracks, public houses, taverns, barns, and other privately-owned places. Dickinson understood the taxes, and Parliament's understanding of taxation in general, as "imposition[s] on the subject[s], for the sole purpose of levying money."

In his understanding, taxes are a gift from the people to the government to enact specific services--an idea as old as the Magna Carta itself. Local legislatures who knew the will of the people were the only proper body to levy taxes because they understood the local feelings, desires, and hardships of those they represented and would naturally keep taxation at a sensible level. He writes that in any free society, taxes must be "proportioned as is possible to the abilities of those who are to pay them." The Revenue Act had taken this power out of the hands of the local legislatures--who had been setting limits for years--and placed it in the hands of Parliament which had no American representation.

Posted by orrinj at 8:12 AM


Let's All Do the DeSantis Shimmy! (David Brooks, Feb. 23rd, 2023, NY Times)

The problem with running a campaign in which you are trying to be Trumpy-but-not-Trump is that you're never your own man. You have to compete with the king without crossing him. You're always trying to find that magic sweet spot between just-MAGA and plain-crazy.

If he were more of a strategic thinker and less a tactician, I think DeSantis would realize that he's either going to have to fight Trump directly on some issue or copy him right down the line. And I think he'd realize that he's already locked himself into a position in which he's going to have to copy him.

On Ukraine policy, for example, I suspect that DeSantis will soon be enthusiastically parroting the Trump position. I say that for two interrelated reasons.

First, DeSantis, for better or worse, has hitched his wagon to the populist movement. This movement is now broad and deep in the Republican Party and has deep roots running back through American history. This movement has long been opposed to the cosmopolitan East Coast elites, has long adopted the posture that we need to pull inward and take care of our own, and is now allergic to talk about America being actively involved in preserving a liberal world order. This is where populist voters are, and this is where DeSantis, running as a populist, needs to be.

Then there is Tucker Carlson. The DeSantis campaign won't be able to survive if Carlson and the rest of the right-wing media sphere start blasting him for being a "globalist," the way Trump already is.

"Globalist" is to foreign policy what "C.R.T." is to education. No one knows precisely what it means but everybody in MAGA-world knows it's really bad. DeSantis has to take whatever position will get that label off his back.

A goat led by sheep is useless.

Posted by orrinj at 8:09 AM


Loving Those Caught in Gender Ideology: The Ethics and Metaphysics of Sexual Identity (RYAN T. ANDERSON, 2/15/23, Christ Over All)

How should we respond when someone adopts an identity at odds with reality, and then asks us to "affirm" that identity, especially if they seek technical interventions in the forms of hormonal or surgical alterations to their bodies? How should we respond when it's a child or teenager caught up in this craze?

First, it is neither loving nor compassionate to affirm someone in a mistaken identity. Whether it be a new name or new pronouns, hormones or surgery, if the intention behind the intervention is to endorse the new identity, we're failing in our duties to love--to will the authentic good of another. It is not good to attempt to live detached from reality. Consider medical technologies that could be used to "affirm" a false identity. The purpose of medicine is to bring about human health and wholeness, human flourishing in the physical and psychological domains. Here health is understood not as the subjective satisfaction of desires but as the objective well-functioning of the mind and body, where our various bodily systems achieve their ends--the circulatory system to circulate blood, the digestive system to digest nutrients, the respiratory system to absorb oxygen--and where our thoughts and feelings achieve their ends of bringing us into, and keeping us in, contact with reality. The use of hormones or surgery to redesign a body according to beliefs at odds with reality profoundly violates this norm.

Second, it is never loving to mutilate bodies at the service of affirming false identities. When it comes to medical interventions--so-called "medical transition" or "gender-affirming 'care'"--physicians are deploying bad means (mutilation) in the service of bad ends (affirming falsehoods). Administering high doses of estrogen to a man who rejects his male reality for some alternative identity (whether as a woman, non-binary, gender-ambidextrous, etc.), or administering high doses of testosterone to a woman who rejects her female reality for some alternative identity (whether as a man, non-binary, etc.), or removing reproductive organs and using plastic surgery to create orifices or appendages that resemble those of the other sex (or neither, or both), mutilates the body in an effort to reinforce beliefs at odds with reality. This is a misdirection of the medical profession, a violation of sound medical ethics--and thus a failure of love on our part if we support it. (It is also worth mentioning, at least in passing, that "sex-reassignment" is literally impossible, and that the best evidence, as I document in When Harry Became Sally and subsequently, continues to show that "gender-affirmation" procedures do not bring about psychological wholeness.)

Third, things get worse with children, especially when it comes to puberty blocking drugs. It is a profound failure of love--indeed a profound injustice--for an adult to interfere with the natural development of a child's body to alter its appearance based on gender ideology. To intervene in a child's physical development, to block the child from going through normal puberty--all in an attempt to "affirm" a "gender identity" that rejects bodily reality--is profoundly unethical. Likewise, to tell a child (or anyone, for that matter) that he or she is the opposite sex (or both, or neither), or to encourage a child's mistaken belief that he is something other than a boy, or she something other than a girl, is deeply unjust to that child.

Children who feel deep discomfort with their bodily sex should be treated with kindness, respect, compassion, and love. They need to be protected from bullying, teasing, and any form of mistreatment. But they deserve to know the truth and to be guided to embrace the truth with whatever assistance we can give to help them feel comfortable with their bodies.

This includes providing counseling for any underlying trauma or for social dynamics at home or school that may play a role in the dysphoria. And it includes helping them to break down misguided sex stereotypes or cultural expectations that may underlie their dysphoria. But it must also entail a resolute refusal to go along with ideologies that reinforce sex stereotypes. Preferring the color pink or playing with dolls does not make someone a girl. Rather than teaching children to understand themselves based on how well they fit prevailing cultural expectations on sex, we should be teaching them that the truth of their sexual identity is based on their bodies--sexual identity is received, not self-determined--and that sometimes cultural associations attached to the sexes are in fact misguided or simply too narrow. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:06 AM


Canada considers allowing assisted suicide for children without parental consent (Samantha Kamman, 24 February 2023, CP)

A parliamentary committee has called for expanding Canada's assisted suicide program so that "mature minors" whose deaths are "reasonably foreseeable" be allowed to hasten their deaths without parental consent.

The Special Joint Committee on Medical Assistance in Dying presented its report last week for discussion in the House of Commons, recommending that minors should be eligible for doctor-assisted suicide.

Posted by orrinj at 8:03 AM


Evolution Turns These Knobs to Make a Hummingbird Hyperquick and a Cavefish Sluggishly Slow (Viviane Callier on February 24, 2023, Scientific American)

Hiller and his colleagues hypothesized that the loss of FBP2 makes the forward glycolysis reaction more efficient, accelerating the hummingbird's ability to break down sugar, which it consumes in abundance through its nectar diet.

To test this idea, they needed to do an experiment. They were constrained by the fact that it's nearly impossible to genetically manipulate a living bird such as a chicken and knock out FBP2 to measure the effect.  Instead the researchers used a quail muscle cell line to knock out FBP2. They then measured the rate of glycolysis in the quail muscle cells and showed that the process indeed runs faster when the gene is knocked out. In addition, the cells with the FBP2 knockout also had more mitochondria for reasons that are still not completely understood. "In the literature, there's good evidence that hummingbird flight muscle has more mitochondria and high capacity for processing sugar," Hiller says. "The effects we saw [in the cell line] are at least consistent with observations in hummingbird muscle."

With further genome analysis, the researchers discovered that the loss of FBP2 must have happened between 46 million and 34 million years ago. This estimate coincided with paleontological evidence that turned up about 20 years ago in the form of two key fossils found in Germany. One fossil, which still looks like that of a swift, dates back 48 million years, while the other, an early fossil on the branch that split from the swift lineage, had changes in the configuration of the shoulder girdle bones, making it biomechanically capable of hovering flight. It is therefore the oldest known hummingbird, and it is about 35 million to 30 million years old.

The similarity between the estimated age of the FBP2 mutation and the ages of the fossils is convincing evidence that this mutation contributed to hovering flight, Hiller says. Still, he cautions, knocking out this gene in another bird probably isn't enough to produce such flight--this adaptation likely required several steps, including the changes in the shoulder girdle. "The way I think about it, it's one of these knobs that evolution was tuning to give hummingbirds this adaptation of hovering flight," Hiller says. "It probably required several steps or many steps, but we think this is one of them."

Just so.

Posted by orrinj at 7:59 AM


Young Judaea expresses 'great concern' over judicial overhaul (BEN SALES, 2/24/23, Times of Israel)

Hundreds of thousands of Israelis have taken to the streets to oppose the overhaul. Israel's president, Isaac Herzog, gave a speech earlier this month beseeching the government to enter negotiations with the parliamentary opposition and compromise over some of the plan's provisions, warning of "constitutional and social collapse."

That call appeared to open the floodgates for Diaspora Jewish groups who typically do not criticize the Israeli government. Young Judea's statement endorsed Herzog's call for compromise while declaring that it "solemnly reaffirms its commitment to the State of Israel, its security, prosperity, and integrity."

"We have watched with great concern the recent initiative by the Israeli government to radically change the Israeli judicial system and we have witnessed the broad-based opposition to this initiative by Israelis," reads the statement, which was sent in an email to the group's membership and alumni on Thursday. "We urge all Members of the Knesset to seek compromise, not conflict; understanding, not threats; while demonstrating an unwavering commitment towards a democratic Israel, protecting minority rights, and maintaining checks and balances."

Earlier this week, the Jewish Federations of North America came out in opposition to a provision of the legislation allowing a bare majority of Israeli lawmakers to override judicial review. The leading organizations of the Conservative and Reform movements also oppose the plan. The Anti-Defamation League has endorsed Herzog's call for negotiations.

Posted by orrinj at 7:50 AM


Underdog Syndrome: The Right's Victimhood Complex (Adam B. Coleman, 2/10/23, Reality's Last Stand)

Many of us are familiar with the debilitating mental framework of victimhood and how it plays out in politics. We also see how selling victimhood can be used as a form of manipulation and control by those in power by appointing themselves as saviors to help usher the oppressed masses toward their own political goals. The dynamic between the victim and the savior is a relationship rooted in dependency; the victim needs someone to advocate for them while simultaneously resenting the need for advocacy, and the savior needs a cause to advocate for in order to gain social status or personal fulfillment.

The progressive Left has mastered this type of predatory relationship that strips people of their agency. Fortunately, more are now becoming aware of this toxic dynamic as its real-world consequences are now constantly being made public for all to see. But the popularity of these stories are obscuring another distressing form of victimhood glorification that exists on the political Right: underdog syndrome.

I am one of many who were pushed away from the Left as I witnessed them becoming increasingly radicalized over time and abandoning their basic liberal precepts. My political shift towards the Right exposed me to Right-leaning rhetoric and viewpoints that I had not previously encountered. But while I observed many similarities between the Left and Right factions, there was a behavioral trend on the Right that stood out to me that I couldn't ignore.

I noticed a structure of consistent nihilism being reinforced by top Right-wing influencers where every problem is presented as a massive hurdle to overcome. The Right sees itself as the proverbial David to the Left's Goliath. The Left controls the institutions, riggs our elections, and has taken over the universities, they argue, so those on the Right are encouraged to relish in a "why bother" attitude towards anything meaningful and worth fighting for.

The Right is the Left: they're just fighting about which Identity to favor.

Posted by orrinj at 7:40 AM


Could Gravity Batteries Win The Energy Storage War? (Felicity Bradstock - Feb 21, 2023, oILpRICE)

In addition to being longer lasting, Berrada's research suggests that the lifetime cost of lithium batteries may be twice that of mechanical alternatives. Gravity batteries may also reduce our reliance on the minerals and metals required to produce chemical batteries, alleviating the burden on the environment.  

Some projects are already underway trialing gravity batteries. In the U.K., Gravitricity has been testing a prototype gravity battery in the port of Leith, Edinburgh. The company used a 15-meter-high steel tower to raise two 25-tonne weights on steel cables, using solar power. When the power is needed, the weights are lowered, allowing the motors to be used as generators to produce electricity. The firm's senior test and simulation engineer, Jill Macpherson, said that the test was a success, stating "The demonstrator was rated at 250kW - enough to sustain about 750 homes, albeit for a very short time. But it confirmed that we can deliver full power in less than a second, which is valuable to operators that need to balance the grid second by second. It can also deliver large amounts more slowly, so it's very flexible". 

Posted by orrinj at 7:35 AM


Your brain could be controlling how sick you get -- and how you recover (Diana Kwon. 2/22/23, Nature)

This study has its roots in decades of research pointing to the contribution of a person's psychological state to their heart health1. In a well-known condition known as 'broken-heart syndrome', an extremely stressful event can generate the symptoms of a heart attack -- and can, in rare cases, be fatal. Conversely, studies have suggested that a positive mindset can lead to better outcomes in those with cardiovascular disease. But the mechanisms behind these links remain elusive.

Rolls is used to being surprised by the results in her laboratory, where the main focus is on how the brain directs the immune response, and how this connection influences health and disease. Although Rolls can barely contain her excitement as she discusses her group's eclectic mix of ongoing studies, she's also cautious. Because of the often-unexpected nature of her team's discoveries, she never lets herself believe an experiment's results until they have been repeated multiple times -- a policy that Haykin and others in her group have adopted. "You need to convince yourself all the time with this stuff," Rolls says.

For Rolls, the implications of this work are broad. She wants to provide an explanation for a phenomenon that many clinicians and researchers are aware of: mental states can have a profound impact on how ill we get -- and how well we recover. In Rolls's view, working out how this happens could enable physicians to tap into the power of the mind over the body. Understanding this could help to boost the placebo effect, destroy cancers, enhance responses to vaccination and even re-evaluate illnesses that, for centuries, have been dismissed as being psychologically driven, she says. "I think we're ready to say that psychosomatic [conditions] can be treated differently."

Posted by orrinj at 7:03 AM


Destructive Authenticity in Full Focus : In The Whale, Darren Aronofsky wants us to sympathize with his morbidly obese main character, but it's not clear that we should. (Gage Klipper, 2/07/23, Law & Liberty)

His salvation comes through the missionary Thomas, the closest approximation of a villain in the story, who unintentionally teaches Charlie to separate his actions from his identity. Thomas reads him a Bible verse: "For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live" (Romans 8:13). Thomas believes that Charlie's lover died because he failed to repent for his homosexuality and pleads with him not to make the same mistake. After making incessant apologies throughout the film, Charlie finally has an epiphany: he will no longer apologize for "being in love." With this realization, he tells his students to forget everything he taught them and just write something honest. When they do, he turns on his webcam and reveals himself. 

After finally learning to be honest with himself, Charlie's ultimate atonement comes from "saving" his daughter--teaching her to overcome her defensive cynicism and navigate the world in the way he refused to for so long. He sees that all her bad behavior disguises the caring person she truly is, and wants her to see herself as he sees her. He succeeds in the final scene and can die in peace knowing she will lead not just a "good life" in the material sense, but an authentic life of self-love and genuine connection. 

While we empathize with Charlie, it is not clear that we should to the extent that Aronofsky wants us to. A more "honest" assessment of Charlie's atonement would not reveal a strict mutual exclusivity between his identity and actions. One need not be a fundamentalist Christian to contend that raising Ellie in a stable family ought to have trumped his own desires--no matter how inherent they are to his being. Would the middle ground--postponing his own happiness for ten years until Ellie was grown--really have been such a terrible thing? Aronofsky would like us to think so, but to accept Charlie's atonement requires prioritizing subjective authenticity over moral obligation to others. 

Since we are instructed to empathize with Charlie's journey toward self-realization, we are then expected to understand the condition he winds up in. Speaking on his collaboration with the Obesity Action Coalition, Aronofsky said that if the film leads just "one doctor to look and say, 'Oh I know someone like that, I've met Charlie'" then he's done his job. This ignores that harsh judgment from a doctor was exactly what Charlie needed most. Empathy does no good when it leads to excusing harmful behavior. We can rightly feel compassion for Charlie's condition while still demanding the recognition of the cold, hard truth: he is needlessly killing himself and once again abandoning his daughter. Choosing authenticity can--and in Charlie's case does--in fact, lead to negative consequences. When taking this instrumental approach, The Whale becomes a cautionary tale and presents an inconvenient reality for champions of authenticity at all costs, including both the director and his critics.

Man is fallen.  No man should be authentic to his nature. 

February 23, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 10:41 PM


Trump and FBI director can be deposed in lawsuit from ex-FBI agent Peter Strzok, judge rules (Hannah Rabinowitz and Katelyn Polantz, 2/23/23, CNN)

Former President Donald Trump and FBI Director Christopher Wray can be deposed as part of a lawsuit from an ex-FBI agent who sued over his 2018 termination, a federal judge ruled Thursday.

The ruling ends a yearlong dispute over whether the former agent, Peter Strzok, could question them under oath. Strzok's lawsuit alleges that Trump's political vendetta prompted his firing and the public release of his texts, in violation of his constitutional rights and the Privacy Act.

Posted by orrinj at 10:36 PM


U.S. Supreme Court's 'major questions' test may doom Biden student debt plan (John Kruzel, 2/23/23, Reuters)

The major questions doctrine gives judges broad discretion to invalidate executive agency actions unless Congress clearly authorized them in legislation. Sohoni said a policy being blocked under the major questions doctrine was like "an agency trying to cash a check and the court saying, 'No, you've got insufficient funds.'"

Actually, it's saying: "No, you lack Constitutional authorization."
Posted by orrinj at 7:17 PM


Netanyahu Faces His Own 'Israeli Spring' (Aaron David Miller, FEBRUARY 23, 2023, Foreign Policy)

Twelve years ago this spring, protests shook the Arab world in what became known, at least in Western circles, as the Arab Spring. Today, in the streets of Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and other cities throughout Israel, we may be witnessing an Israeli Spring of sorts. [...]

With no written constitution, a unicameral legislature, and a government that can pass legislation with the slimmest majority of 61 out of 120 seats in the Knesset (Israel's parliament), Israel's Supreme Court remains the only check on governmental power. If these laws are passed in their current form, the government's judicial reforms will accord the Israeli government tremendous power over the country's Basic Laws--quasi-constitutional laws, many related to critical individual rights, that have been adopted over time.

Given what's at stake, perhaps no one should have been surprised by the Israeli public's reaction. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:16 PM


YOUR LIGHTBULBS ARE LITERALLY ABOUT TO GET BRIGHTER -- AND THE NEW TECHNOLOGY COULD SAVE YOU TONS OF MONEY: That's a win for American consumers who will save money on light bulb purchases and energy costs. (Jeremiah BudinFebruary 23, 2023, The Cool Down)

Environmentally conscious consumers have been choosing LED light bulbs over alternative options for some time now -- LED bulbs are more energy-efficient and longer-lasting, saving you money while also cutting down on environmental impact.    

And now, the United States government is taking steps to make sure that all light bulbs sold meet those standards. In December, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced that it wants to raise the minimum common light bulb efficiency level from 45 lumens per watt to over 120 lumens per watt.

For those of us that might be unfamiliar with light bulb efficiency terminology, it boils down to this: Once the new rules go into effect, all the light bulbs you buy in the U.S. will last a lot longer, saving you money in the long run.

Posted by orrinj at 12:32 PM


All U.S. extremist mass killings in 2022 linked to far right, report says (Ivana Saric, 2/23/23, Axios)

Right-wing extremists committed every ideologically driven mass killing identified in the U.S. in 2022, with an "unusually high" proportion perpetrated by white supremacists, according to a new report published Thursday. [...]

Between 2010 and 2020, 164 people died in ideological extremist-related mass killing incidents, more than in any other decade other than the 1990s -- in which nearly all the deaths were associated with one event, the Oklahoma City bombing.

"It is not an exaggeration to say that we live in an age of extremist mass killings," the report said.

Posted by orrinj at 8:21 AM


Republicans in the US 'battery belt' embrace Biden's climate spending: Southern states led by Republicans did not vote for climate spending, but now embrace clean energy dollars like never before (Oliver Milman,  22 Feb 2023, The Guardian)

"It seems like all roads are currently leading to Georgia, it's really benefiting disproportionately from the Inflation Reduction Act right now," said Aaron Brickman, senior principal at energy research nonprofit RMI. Brickman said the $370bn in clean energy incentives and tax credits in the bill are a "complete game changer. We've just frankly never had that before in this country. The IRA has transformed the landscape in a staggering way."

Georgia is part of a pattern where Republican-headed states have claimed the lion's share of new renewable energy and electric vehicle activity since the legislation, with Republican-held congressional districts hosting more than 80% of all utility-scale wind or solar farms and battery projects currently in advanced development, according to an analysis by American Clean Power.

States blessed with plentiful wind and sunshine, along with significant rural and industrial communities, such as those across the Great Plains and the south, appear best positioned to capitalize on the climate bill. Texas, already a bastion of wind power, could see $131bn in IRA-linked investment this decade, Florida may see $62bn and Georgia $16bn, according to an RMI analysis.

The irony of this bonanza, which is coming despite no Republican voting for the climate spending, was alluded to by Biden in his recent state of the union address. "My Republican friends who voted against it - I still get asked to fund the projects in those districts as well," the US president said, to jeers from some members of Congress. "But don't worry, I promised I'd be a president for all Americans. We'll fund these projects and I'll see you at the groundbreaking."

Hating the elites is all well and good, but then they show you the money...

Posted by orrinj at 8:01 AM


Brilliant Carnage: Sam Peckinpah's slow-motion bullet ballet (David Lehman, February 23, 2023, American Scholar)

The film is also a study in leadership. Pike Bishop leads the group by virtue of something more than the sum of his abilities and experience. Dutch is his loyal partner. Pike maintains his leadership despite the challenges mounted by brothers Lyle and Tector, who like doing things "in tandem"--watch the film to be in on that joke. When the brothers begrudge an equal share of any profits with Sykes and Angel, Pike spikes the rebellion: "I either lead this bunch or end it right now." Later, he articulates the group's ethic: "When you side with a man, you stay with him, and if you can't do that, you're like some animal, you're finished! We're finished! All of us!"

Pike, Dutch, Lyle and Tector mount their attack on Mapache, his ill-trained soldiers, and the Germans with whom they're in league because Mapache tortured and humiliated Angel, violated their creed, and insulted their self-respect. But there is another reason, one bordering on nihilism, for going into a battle in which the bandits know they will die. The unspoken question is: What else do they have to live for?

In its own way, it's the final film about the Houe Unamerican Affairs Committee and American Communism. The Bunch are mass-murderous nihilists.  Pike's admonition about comradeship mattering more than anything is an echo of Lillian Hellman, "I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year's fashions," and E.M. Forster, "If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country." Robert Ryan's Deke is the tortured former comrade who has sided with the idealists, a la Elia Kazan or Whittaker Chambers. It makes a perfect companion piece with On the Waterfront. 

February 22, 2023

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Trump daughter Ivanka, son-in-law Jared Kushner subpoenaed in Jan. 6 criminal probe: report (Dan Mangan and Kevin Breuninger, 2/22/23, CNBC)

The special counsel overseeing a criminal investigation of former President Donald Trump has issued subpoenas to Trump's daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner, according to a new report.

The subpoenas by special counsel Jack Smith, which demand the couple's testimony before a grand jury, are related to his probe of Trump's efforts to remain in the White House after losing the 2020 election to President Joe Biden and the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol, The New York Times reported.

Both Ivanka Trump and Kushner served as senior White House advisors to the former president.

Posted by orrinj at 6:37 PM


Heidegger's Downfall: A review of Heidegger in Ruins: Between Philosophy and Ideology by Richard Wolin (Jeffrey Herf, 22 Feb 2023, Quillette)

On April 21st, 1933, the German philosopher Martin Heidegger, then famous as the author of the 1927 philosophical treatise Being and Time, gave one of the most famous speeches delivered by any scholar living in the dictatorships of the 20th century. It was titled, "The Self-Assertion of the German University," and it called upon students at the University of Freiburg to abandon objectivity and academic freedom and instead join the "spiritual mission which impresses onto the fate of the German Volk [people] the stamp of history" while the "moribund pseudocivilization" of the West "collapses into itself."

Sounds anti-Woke.

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U.S. Battery Installations Soared in 2022, Reshaping Power Grids: The U.S. installed more battery storage last year than ever before, with California and Texas leading the way (Benjamin Storrow, 2/22/23, E&E News)

The United States is in a battery boom, adding nearly as much capacity on the power grid in 2022 as it did in all previous years combined.

The surge is reshaping America's regional electric grids. In California, for example, analysts credit a wave of new battery installations with sparing the state from electric blackouts late last summer, when a searing heat wave sent power demand soaring.

"It means we can move the energy generated by wind and solar to when it is needed, like moving solar generated during the day to the evening when everyone comes home and turns on their air conditioning," said Ric O'Connell, the executive director of GridLab. "It is enabling us to rely more and more on wind and solar."

Posted by orrinj at 6:03 PM


4-day workweek trial: Shorter hours, happier employees (COURTNEY BONNELL, 2/22/23, AP) 

Work less, get more.

A trial of a four-day workweek in Britain, billed as the world's largest, has found that an overwhelming majority of the 61 companies that participated from June to December will keep going with the shorter hours and that most employees were less stressed and had better work-life balance.

That was all while companies reported revenue largely stayed the same during the trial period last year and even grew compared with the same six months a year earlier, according to findings released this week.

Posted by orrinj at 5:53 PM


Jan. 6 rioter who threatened Rep. Ocasio-Cortez sentenced to 38 months in prison (Dareh Gregorian, 2/22/23, NBC News)

A Jan. 6 rioter who threatened Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on social media after participating in the attack on the Capitol was sentenced Wednesday to 38 months in prison.

Prosecutors had asked for a sentence of 48 months in prison for Garret Miller, an unemployed Texan who, they noted, was wearing a T-shirt bearing former President Donald Trump's picture and the words "I was there, Washington, D.C., January 6, 2021" when he was arrested weeks after the attack.

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Donald Trump Has Been Lying About Trump Tower For Decades (Dan Alexander, Feb. 22nd, 2023, Forbes)

Trump Tower started as a bold idea from a brash developer, eager to make his mark in Manhattan with a signature building on Fifth Avenue.

To back up such bluster, he offered big numbers, telling Forbes he sold 85% of the residential units for from $500,000 to $12 million apiece before the building had even opened. "The apartments will bring in $268 million, all profit." He repeated similar numbers to the New York Times, which also printed them, at one point citing "a financial statement from an outside accountant." Biographers referenced the same figures, which became cemented into the legend of Trump.

But the numbers were not true. A fresh review of property deeds shows that in 1983, the year Trump Tower opened, Trump and his partners in fact sold about 60% of the apartments, or 150 units, in the building. Roughly 130 of those went for less than $500,000, with the cheapest fetching just $130,000. The most expensive one sold for $2 million, one sixth the price that Trump claimed. By the end of the year, he and Equitable had taken in $45 million--a good start, but not nearly enough to pay back the $130 million they had borrowed, let alone take in hundreds of millions in profit.

The apartments ultimately all sold, fetching about $125 million in total, according to the records. Trump bought out Equitable in 1986, leaving himself with the base of the building, which housed both retail and office space, including some he used for his own firm. He also ended up with the penthouse, where he and his family moved. From his office on the 26th floor and his apartment on the 68th, Trump managed his business and life for decades.

He invited Forbes over multiple times, as part of his much-publicized effort to push himself higher on the annual Forbes 400 list of America's richest people. The property played a key role in the calculation for decades, since its office-and-retail space long remained one of Trump's most valuable assets. "Trump says $275 million," read a reporter's notes from 1997. "He maintained ownership of the commercial space on the ground floors. Trump says that portion throws off $18 million a year."

Another lie. Underwriters, scrutinizing the building around the same time, determined that the property was only producing about $6.3 million of annual net operating income, according to lending records. An appraiser, meanwhile, determined that it was worth just $65 million, less than one-fourth the figure Trump suggested. To those familiar with Trump, his boasts sounded ridiculous. "I had a laugh," says Barbara Res, who worked with Trump from 1980 to 1998 and oversaw the construction of Trump Tower. "I mean, it didn't seem like he had the kind of money he claimed he had."

But Trump stayed on the offensive, and eventually, he did earn more money. In December 2006, news hit that Gucci was moving into Trump Tower, as part of a massive deal that brought in more than $15 million of rent a year on average. Profits surged to $16 million by 2010, according to lending records. Two years later, Trump took advantage of falling interest rates and refinanced the property, replacing $27 million of debt with a $100 million loan, reducing his rate from 7.4% to 4.2% in the process. Trump walked away with $68 million tax free.

Far from satisfied, he kept lying. He famously claimed his 11,000-square-foot penthouse was about 30,000 square feet, changing his financial statements to reflect the true size only after Forbes called him out on it. That lie became a key piece of evidence in both the attorney general's case and the district attorney's investigation. Strangely, no one seems to have drilled down on the fact that Trump also was throwing out inconsistent numbers for the square footage of the building's commercial space, which is far more valuable than the penthouse.

Trump signed his name to one document that suggests there were fewer than 200,000 rentable square feet. But records connected to a loan say 215,000 square feet. A prospectus for a different loan counts 244,000. A city filing lists 257,000 square feet, citing a different document, which in fact says far fewer. Then there's a Trump statement that lists the retail space at 114,000 square feet, even though a separate one says 46,000. With so much contradictory information flying around, it is hard to figure out the true size of the property.

But a logical place to start is Trump Tower's founding document, its condo declaration.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


INTERVIEW: How Jewish comedy found religion, from Philip Roth to 'Broad City' (ANDREW SILOW-CARROLL, FEBRUARY 19, 2023, JTA)

These generational differences are explored in Jenny Caplan's new book, "Funny, You Don't Look Funny: Judaism and Humor from the Silent Generation to Millennials." A religion scholar, Caplan writes about the way North American Jewish comedy has evolved since World War II, with a focus on how humorists treat Judaism as a religion. Her subjects range from writers and filmmakers who came of age shortly after the war (who viewed Judaism as "a joke at best and an actual danger at worst") to Generation X and millennials, whose Jewish comedy often recognizes "the power of community, the value of family tradition, and the way that religion can serve as a port in an emotional storm." [...]

The few references to actual Judaism in "Seinfeld" are squirmy. I am thinking of the 1995 episode in which a buffoon of a rabbi blurts out Elaine's secrets on a TV show. That was written by Larry David, another boomer, whose follow-up series, "Curb Your Enthusiasm," is similarly known for its irreverence toward Judaism. But you say David can also surprise you with a kind of empathy for religion.

For the most part, he's classic, old school, anti-organized religion. There's the Palestinian Chicken episode where the Jews are rabidly protesting the existence of a Palestinian-run chicken restaurant near a Jewish deli, and where his friend Funkhouser won't play golf on Shabbos until Larry gets permission by bribing the rabbi with the Palestinian chicken. There, rabbis are ridiculous and can be bought and religion is hollow and this is all terrible. 

But then there's this bat mitzvah montage where for one moment in the entire run of this show, Larry seems happy and in a healthy relationship and fulfilled and enjoying life. 

That's where he falls in love with Loretta Black during a bat mitzvah and imagines a happy future with her.

It's so startling: It is the most human we ever see Larry over the run of the show, and I believe that was the season finale for the 2007 season. It was much more in line with what we've been seeing from a lot of younger comedians at that point, which was religion as an anchor in a good way -- not to pull you down but to keep you grounded.

So for Generation X, as you write, Judaism serves "real, emotional, or psychological purpose for the practitioners." 

I wouldn't actually call it respect but religion is an idea that's not just something to be mocked and relegated to the dustbin. I'm not saying that Generation X is necessarily more religious, but they see real power and value in tradition and in certain kinds of family experiences. So, a huge amount of the humor can still come at the expense of your Jewish mother or your Jewish grandmother, but the family can also be the thing that is keeping you grounded, and frequently through some sort of religious ritual. 

Who exemplifies that? 

My favorite example is the 2009 Jonathan Tropper novel, "This Is Where I Leave You."  I'm so disappointed that the film adaptation of that sucked a lot of the Jewish identity out of the story, so let's stick with the novel. In that book, where a family gathers for their father's shiva, the characters are horrible people in a dysfunctional family writ large. They lie to each other. They backstab each other. But in scene where the protagonist Judd describes standing up on the bimah [in synagogue] to say Kaddish [the Mourner's Prayer] after the death of his father, and the way he talks about this emotional catharsis that comes from saying the words and hearing the congregation say the words -- it's a startling moment of clarity in a book where these characters are otherwise just truly reprehensible.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Trump Defends Putin (Again) As Biden Visits Ukraine And Poland (Chibueze Godwin, February 22 | 2023, National Memo)

The ex-president's meandering tirade at the event ranged over conspiracy theories, baseless allegations, immigration fear-mongering, and attacks on usual far-right targets -- the media, Biden, "radical left maniacs," Fox News, RINOs, and the "deep state" -- among others. [...]

The question at issue came at a news conference in Helsinki, Finland, in July 2018, after Trump, the then-U.S. president, had a two-hour-long meeting with Putin. Trump was asked if he believed his intelligence agencies or Putin on allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 elections.

"President Putin says it's not Russia. I don't see any reason why it would be," Trump responded at the time.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Granite Staters Choose Virtue, Named Least 'Sinful' State in New England (Damien Fisher, 2/21/23, NH Journal)

Comparing data points like rates of violent crime, theft, addiction, gambling, and porn use across all 50 states and the District of Columbia, WalletHub ranked New Hampshire the third most virtuous place in the country.

Compared to the rest of the U.S., Granite Staters take "thou shalt not steal" seriously -- with a low crime rate, including thefts and property crime. When it comes to "thou shalt not kill," New Hampshire consistently has one of the lowest murder rates in the nation.

And if idle hands are the devil's playground, New Hampshire residents ward off evil by keeping active, with one of the highest rates of residents who get regular exercise. Speaking of idle hands, Granite Staters also spend less time on pornographic websites than residents of most other states.

The report also ranks states using the metric of the Seven Deadly Sins, first enumerated by Pope Gregory I in the 6th century.

New Hampshire has the least amount of anger and hatefulness and is the third least lazy state. Granite Staters rank low on the jealousy and excessive vice rankings as well and manage to keep vanity and lust under control as well, according to the WalletHub study.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Finland Takes Another Look at Youth Gender MedicineA recent interview with the country's top gender expert shows how out of step the American medical establishment is with its European counterparts (LEOR SAPIR, FEBRUARY 21, 2023, The Tablet)

Finland was among the first countries to adopt the "Dutch protocol" for pediatric gender medicine, which prescribes--in certain restricted cases--the use of puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones to treat adolescent gender dysphoria. By 2015, however, Finnish gender specialists, including Kaltiala, were noticing that most of their patients did not match the profile of those treated in the Netherlands and did not meet the Dutch protocol's relatively strict eligibility requirements for drug treatments. Due to the extremely high rate at which children with gender issues come to terms with their bodies (or "desist") by adulthood, the Dutch protocol requires patients to have gender dysphoria that begins before puberty and intensifies in adolescence. It also requires them to have no serious co-occurring mental health problems, to undergo at least six months of psychotherapy, and to have the support of their family for hormonal treatments.

Within a few years of their country adopting the Dutch protocol in 2011, however, Finnish researchers noticed a sharp rise in the number of patients referred for services. Most of these patients were teenage girls with no history of dysphoria in childhood, and some 75% had a history of severe psychopathology prior to the emergence of their gender-related distress. During this same time period, the U.K.'s largest pediatric gender clinic, at the Tavistock Centre, witnessed a 3,360% surge in patient referrals between 2009 and 2018. Most of the new patients were females--whose representation in the clinic rose 4,400% during this time frame--with a history of serious psychological problems and no gender dysphoria prior to adolescence. Similar trends were being observed in other countries with pediatric gender clinics, including the United States. In 2018, the American physician-researcher Lisa Littman published a study suggesting that teenage girls with high rates of mental health problems were suddenly declaring a transgender identity, often in friend groups and after prolonged exposure to social media.

A year later, Kaltiala and her Finnish colleagues observed in a peer-reviewed article that "[r]esearch on adolescent onset gender dysphoria is scarce, and optimal treatment options have not been established ... The reasons for the sudden increase in treatment-seeking due to adolescent onset gender dysphoria/transgender identification are not known." This lack of research, and lingering doubts about the Dutch protocol itself (the only attempt to replicate it in the U.K. failed), led health authorities in Finland, Sweden, and the U.K. to conduct systematic reviews of evidence for the benefits and risks of hormonal interventions.

Systematic reviews represent the highest level of evidence analysis in evidence based medicine. The three European countries that did these reviews independently came to the same conclusion: Due to their severe methodological limitations, studies cited in support of hormonal interventions for adolescents are of "very low" certainty. For health authorities in these countries, this meant that the studies were too unreliable to justify the risks and uncertainties of "gender affirming care." Sweden, Finland, and England have since placed severe restrictions on access to hormones. Although these countries now allow hormones in a very carefully selected cohort of patients who fulfill the criteria of the Dutch protocol, they do so against the findings of their own systematic reviews. That is because the systematic reviews found the Dutch study, on which the Dutch protocol is based, also provides "very low" certainty evidence. Finland's Council on Choices in Healthcare recognizes medical transition for minors as "an experimental practice."

Kaltiala was a major force behind the decision to reverse course in Finland. More recently, she testified before the Florida medical boards in support of their decision to restrict access to puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones, and surgeries for minors.

February 21, 2023

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'It's Not a Short List': Trump Probe Grand Jury to Recommend Slew of Indictments  (NIKKI MCCANN RAMIREZ, Feb. 21st, 2023, Rolling Stone)

A Georgia grand jury investigating whether Donald Trump and some of his prominent allies meddled in the state's 2020 presidential election will recommend a series of indictments on various charges, according to a report from The New York Times. "It's not a short list," jury forewoman Emily Kohrs said of the list of indictment recommendations, which remains sealed. "You're not going to be shocked. It's not rocket science," Kohrs added when asked if the jury would be recommending an indictment against Trump. 

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What Europe showed the world about renewable energy (Rebecca Leber, Feb 21, 2023, Vox)

By the end of 2022, wind and solar combined overtook natural gas in electricity generation. The latest data on Europe's renewable transition tells a remarkably upbeat story about the hard things countries can accomplish on climate change with enough political will.

Before the Russia-Ukraine war, 40 percent of natural gas and 27 percent of oil imports to Europe came from Russia, and Europe lacked pipelines and terminals in locations that could distribute gas from other parts of the world like the US. After sanctions on Russian oil and gas, instability led to high price shocks, fuel shortages, and a brief uptick in coal usage this winter.

But the worst fears did not materialize, either. The risk was that the EU would fill the gap left by Russian sanctions with coal, the most polluting fossil fuel. And while coal did briefly make a comeback -- fossil fuel generation rose last year by 3 percent -- it was a temporary increase.

Meanwhile, solar energy especially is on an "unstoppable" track of growth, explained Dave Jones, an analyst at the global energy think tank Ember. Solar capacity in Europe doubled since 2018, and is on track to triple in the next four years.

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The Myth of the Psychopathic Personality Refuses to Die (Eleanor Cummins, Feb. 21st, 2023, Wired)

The medicalization of evil--that is, the physician-led diagnosis and management of diseases like "moral insanity" and "criminal psychosis"--stretches back to the early 19th century. Where clerics once drew the line between good and evil, psychiatrists began to take people who engaged in impulsive, self-defeating, or otherwise un-Christian acts into their care. 

Early on,  these doctors-cum-criminal-profilers explained bad apples through theories such as atavism. Proponents believed that, over time, bad breeding led to degeneration of the gene pool, and the concentration of poverty, criminality, and other undesirable traits in certain ethnic groups or social classes. While the theory of degeneration was slowly replaced by a strikingly similar notion of "psychopathy" (literally "soul sickness"), many of the concerns remained the same: deviants who showed a lack of remorse or guilt, exhibited sexual promiscuity, and developed a lengthy rap sheet, perhaps from a young age.

New variations on this theme pop up all the time. The "dark triad," coined in 2002 by Canadian psychologists Delroy Paulhaus and Kevin Williams, aims to describe "offensive but non-pathological personalities," including CEOs, politicians, and bad boyfriends. There are also labels like antisocial personality disorder, a diagnosis given to individuals with severe impulsivity, aggression, and criminal behaviors--in other words, a DSM-approved twist on the old "psychopathic" standard.

At first glance, these attempts at categorization appear to be trending positive. For one thing, researchers are slowly cleaving obvious wrongdoing from the more inadvertent harms of mental illness. Similarly, it's a relief to be able to use the dark triad to acknowledge just how commonplace selfishness really is. 

But the shadow of degeneracy still looms large. In addition to further medicalizing everyday discourse ("jerks," Jalava and Griffiths point out, have become "psychopaths," with all the attendant baggage), these models uphold the dubious belief that every human has an immutable personality--and that those personalities can be easily classified as good or bad. In reality, recent research shows that many people change--and, in some cases, change dramatically--over the course of their lifespan. At the same, many researchers remain critical of the historic characterization of personality disorders, in part because it is stigmatizing and can obfuscate trauma, and even then it doesn't lead to clear directions for treatment.

Many popular ideas about evildoers seem to stem from tabloid news, rather than scientific evidence. For example, Jalava and Griffiths have shown that many experiments that make claims of a genetic or neurobiological basis have not been replicated, and those that have been replicated have produced contradictory results. Soon, they will publish a new review detailing similar problems in studies of psychopathy and fMRI brain imaging. Perhaps most importantly, the husband-wife duo have documented how meta-analyses of psychopathy research, ostensibly the gold standard in scientific research, often ignore published results with null findings. 

Posted by orrinj at 2:07 PM


Republicans use 'wokeism' to attack left -- but struggle to define it (Ashley Parker and  Liz Goodwin , February 21, 2023, Washington Post)

Republican politicians and voters alike have differing definitions of wokeism -- and some struggle to define it at all. The rallying cry has recently been used to denounce everything from climate change policies and socially responsible investing to transgender rights, critical-race theory and the Black Lives Matter movement.

"What we're seeing is a kind of standard practice of conservatives and conservative reactions to Black political movements -- to weaponize the words and concepts they've used to undermine efforts of social movements," said Candis Watts Smith, an associate professor of political science at Duke University and co-author of "Stay Woke: A People's Guide to Making All Black Lives Matter." "History shows that you can rally voters around issues of difference, issues that suggest that people are losing power, issues where their values are being challenged."

Much like the "cancel" of "cancel culture," "woke" is another word that originated in Black culture before being co-opted by White people. Some credit blues singer Huddie "Lead Belly" Ledbetter for helping to popularize the term in his 1938 protest song, "The Scottsboro Boys," in which he urges Black America to "stay woke" to social and political injustice as well as physical violence.

More recently, when conservatives began using "woke" in pejorative terms to undermine Black and liberal ideals, it was not an accidental choice, Smith said. "It's important for us to remember that woke initially became a way to mean Black and to derisively refer to Blackness, and so to use this word that evokes Black folks or Blackness on other things kind of spills over," she said. "I don't think that's a mistake."

Posted by orrinj at 10:37 AM


Mental Illness Is Not in Your Head: Decades of biological research haven't improved diagnosis or treatment. We should look to society, not to the brain. (Marco Ramos, May 17, 2022, Boston Review)

In 1990 President George Bush announced that "a new era of discovery" was "dawning in brain research." Over the next several decades the U.S. government poured billions of dollars into science that promised to revolutionize our understanding of psychiatric disorders, from depression and bipolar disorder to schizophrenia. Scientists imagined that mental illnesses in the future might be diagnosed with genetic tests, a simple blood draw, or perhaps a scan of your brain. New pharmaceuticals would target specific neurochemical imbalances, resulting in more effective treatments. The 1990s, Bush declared, would be remembered as "The Decade of the Brain."

This brave new world of brain research also promised to free us of the stigma and discrimination attached to mental illness and addiction for centuries. Localizing psychiatric disorders in the brain would make them chronic medical diseases--like diabetes and high cholesterol--instead of individual moral failings or deficiencies in character. While it was impossible to predict exactly what the future would bring, there was an overwhelming sense that psychiatric science was going to crack the "mystery" and "wonder" of this "incredible organ," as Bush called it.

Looking back as a psychiatrist and historian today, I find that these hopes feel quaint. They remind me of other misplaced visions of technological futures from the twentieth century: flying cars, pills for a whole day's nutrition. The reality of psychiatric practice is far less glamorous than the visions of its future that I grew up with. Thirty years later we still have no biological tests for psychiatric disorders, and none is in the pipeline. Instead our diagnoses are based on criteria in a book, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (often called, derisively, the "bible" of American psychiatry). It has gone through five editions in the last 70 years, and while the latest edition is almost 100 pages longer than the last, there is no evidence that it is any better than the version it replaced. None of the diagnoses is defined in terms of the brain.

We also have not had any significant breakthroughs in treatment. For decades the pharmaceutical industry has churned out dozens of antidepressants and antipsychotics, but there is no evidence that they are more effective than the drugs that emerged between 1950 and 1990. People with serious mental illness today are more likely to be homeless or die prematurely than at any point in the last 150 years, with lifespans that are 10 to 20 years less than the general population. Biological research has also failed to reveal why psychiatric drugs help some patients but not others. When a patient asks me how an antidepressant works, I have to shrug my shoulders. "We just don't know, but we do have evidence that there's about a 30 percent chance that it will help your mood." Perplexed, one patient responded, "Doesn't it have to do with neurotransmitters or something?" I sighed, "Yes, that was the theory for a while, but it didn't pan out."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Flawed Greatness of Thomas Jefferson: a review of Thomas Jefferson: A Biography of Spirit and Flesh By Thomas Kidd (WILFRED MCCLAY • FEBRUARY 19, 2023, Religion & Liberty)

So how do we reckon the balance and arrive at a just assessment of the man? That is the task Thomas Kidd has set for himself in this lucid, balanced, and searching account of Jefferson's life and of the contradictions he lived out. One of our finest and most prolific historians of early America, Kidd is especially well known for his important work in the history of early American religion, especially evangelical Protestantism, and his biographical accounts of such figures as George Whitefield, Patrick Henry, and Benjamin Franklin. He is attuned to the religious universe of the times and is able to show how a figure like Jefferson, despite the insistence of generations of historians on associating him with deism, atheism, and other departures from orthodox Trinitarian Christianity, was deeply affected by the religious currents of his day and wrestled with questions of faith and providence far more often and far more deeply than the conventional view of him would suggest. His Jefferson is, if possible, even more complex than any Jefferson we have had before. I would place this book alongside the truly magnificent full-scale biography of Jefferson by John Boles, Jefferson: Architect of American Liberty, and the excellent scholarship of Kevin R.C. Gutzman, as an indispensable guide to the understanding of Mr. Jefferson, the American polytropos. [...]

Kidd gives adequate attention to all these marks of distinction in Jefferson's life. But the underlying spirit of his account of Jefferson is more critical, more insistent that his failings should be highlighted more than they have tended to be in the past. Hence we begin his book hearing primarily about Jefferson's complexity, his contradictions, his shortcomings, the negative aspects of Jefferson's life and career that simply cannot be denied or wished away. Let us recollect what those undeniable shortcomings were.

No one can deny that, although Jefferson opposed slavery in theory, he consistently failed to oppose it in practice, including notably in the conduct of his own life at Monticello.

No one can deny that Jefferson's racial views, particularly as expressed in his book Notes on the State of Virginia, are appalling by today's standards.

No one can deny that Jefferson often practiced a very harsh brand of politics. His famously conciliatory words "We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists" in his First Inaugural Address were quickly belied by his ferocious partisanship, which was relentlessly aimed at stigmatizing the Federalist Party and driving it out of existence. Up until the election of 1800, the principal figures in American political life had hoped (foolishly, as soon became clear) that the country could escape the scourge of partisan politics. But no one made the party system work with more ruthless efficiency than Jefferson. He embraced the role of party leader and, unlike Washington and Adams, appointed only men of his own party to the top Cabinet positions. Over the two terms of his presidency, he had great success in establishing Republican dominance and putting the Federalist Party out of business.

Nor can one deny that his greatest act as president, the Louisiana Purchase, and his worst, the Embargo Act, both represented a complete repudiation of his most basic principles about the dangers of big government and strong executive authority. He could hardly be described as a man of firm and invariant principles.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


One year later: How Russia came to fail in Ukraine, battle after battle (Illia Ponomarenko, February 20, 2023, Kyiv Independent)

The giant Russian convoys rushed deep into Ukrainian territory, barely protected and poorly organized. Along highways running through dense woods of northern Ukraine, they met devastating ambushes by small, highly-mobile Ukrainian squads armed with advanced anti-tank weapons. The large concentrations of Russian military power also became easy targets for the masterful and precise Ukrainian artillery.

Poor logistics and constant Ukrainian hit-and-run attacks deteriorated the situation. Ukrainian formations wiped out Russian fuel trucks headed for the convoys, dooming the Russian armored vehicles to run out of fuel and be abandoned, at Ukraine's mercy. 

As a result, according to United States intelligence, Russia lost well over 1,000 tanks and other military vehicles in its failed blitzkrieg in north Ukraine. That roughly corresponds to the tank arsenals of Britain, France, Germany and Italy combined. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


South Australia: Grid with the most wind and solar has the smallest reliability gap (Giles Parkinson 21 February 2023, Renew Economy)

South Australia is leading Australia - and the world - with the amount of wind and solar within its state grid. And not only is it defying the skeptics that insisted wind and solar can't power a modern economy, it's also the grid facing the smallest reliability gaps over the coming decade.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


February 20, 2023 (Heather Cox Richardson, 2/20/23, Letters from an American

Biden mourned the cost Ukraine has had to bear, but championed its successes. "Russia's aim was to wipe Ukraine off the map," Biden said, but "Putin's war of conquest is failing. Russia's military has lost half its territory it once occupied. Young, talented Russians are fleeing by the tens of thousands, not wanting to come back to Russia. Not...just fleeing from the military, fleeing from Russia itself, because they see no future in their country. Russia's economy is now a backwater, isolated and struggling." 

"Putin thought Ukraine was weak and the West was divided," Biden said. He remembered telling Zelensky that Putin was "counting on us not sticking together. He was counting on the inability to keep NATO united. He was counting on us not to be able to bring in others on the side of Ukraine." While Biden didn't say it, Putin had reason to think those things: the four years of the Trump administration had seen the U.S. offending allies and threatening to pull out of NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization that stands against Russian aggression.

"He thought he could outlast us," Biden said. "I don't think he's thinking that right now.... [H]e's just been plain wrong. Plain wrong." A year later, Biden said, "We stand here together." 

"You and all Ukrainians...remind the world every single day what the meaning of the word 'courage' is--from all sectors of your economy, all walks of life. It's astounding. Astounding.

You remind us that freedom is priceless; it's worth fighting for for as long as it takes. And that's how long we're going to be with you, Mr. President: for as long as it takes."

Zelensky answered, "We'll do it." 

February 20, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 6:13 PM


Heat Pumps Sell Like Hotcakes on America's Oil-Rich Frontier (Chris Baraniuk, Feb. 20th, 2023, Wired)

Alaskan oil production has fallen in recent times and the state is gradually embracing renewables, with 31 percent of its electricity generation coming from renewables, comparable to solar-power-rich Massachusetts. The shift toward cleaner energy is happening on an industrial scale, but also in people's homes, where heat pumps are beginning to take the place of fossil-fuel-guzzling furnaces. Air source heat pumps use a refrigerant to absorb heat from the outdoor air, which then gets passed on to rooms in a house or a hot water supply. 

Some Alaskans are pushing air source heat pumps to their limits, running them even when outdoor temperatures plummet to nearly -30 degrees Fahrenheit (-34.4 Celsius). 

Andy Romanoff, the executive director of Juneau-based nonprofit Alaska Heat Smart, estimates that there are about 2,000 heat pumps covering roughly 15 percent of the city, a number that he expects to grow. "We do see a 10 to 15 percent, maybe even 20 percent, increase year-after-year in the number of permits that are being applied for," he says. 

Heat pump installers in Alaska recommended by Heat Smart also say demand for the devices is rising. One installer, Mark Houston, describes a spike in inquiries about heat pumps at the beginning of 2023, more than the number of inquiries he'd received for the whole of 2022. Another, Kris Karsunky, says he installs between 50 and 70 heat pumps a year but fields twice that many requests via phone. Businesses are increasingly adopting the technology, too, he adds.

Juneau gets most of its electricity from lakes that offer a clean hydropower resource. This means that it is particularly ecofriendly to install electrified heating systems in the city.

Posted by orrinj at 11:29 AM


Joe Biden's planned US building boom imperilled by labour shortage (Amanda Chu, 2/20/23, Financial Times)

A shortage of construction workers is putting at risk the Biden administration's ambitious plan to fuel a historic building boom in the US, according to industry executives.

The construction sector could be short of as many as half a million workers this year, according to the Associated Builders and Contractors, an industry group, increasing project costs and delaying a building campaign that executives say is comparable to that of the second world war.

"It would be difficult to identify a period during which the construction labour market was more constrained than it is now," said Anirban Basu, chief economist at the ABC. "Demand for construction workers is sky high . . . This is the era of the mega project."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Moral Affirmations of Louis ArmstrongThe iconic musician drew criticism for being apolitical, but his joyful humanism was a gift to be cherished, representing its own kind of politics (Jonathan Rosenbaum, February 20, 2023, New/Lines)

[E]ven if he hadn't been born on July 4, 1900, as he later claimed (his registered birth was Aug. 4, 1901), the symbolic myth seemed appropriate for someone who would go on to symbolize America on the world stage.

This was later celebrated in a musical written by the jazz pianist Dave Brubeck and his wife, Iola, that premiered at the Monterey Jazz Festival in 1962 and became an ambitious soundtrack album the same year. Felicitously titled "The Real Ambassadors," it featured Armstrong, Brubeck's Quartet, the vocal trio Lambert, Hendricks & Bavan and Carmen McRae, with music by Brubeck and lyrics by Iola. It dealt with such issues as America's place in the world during the Cold War, the civil rights movement, the image and nature of God and the music business. Set in a fictional African country, "The Real Ambassadors" features Armstrong as its star and central character, with his shining trumpet and gravel-mouthed vocals delivering the memorable Brubeck score.

The implication was that Armstrong, like America, was a beacon for the entire world. But if you belong to everyone in the world, this means‌ that you've taken, or at the very least assumed, a particular position in relation to that world. And if you belong to the American mainstream, as Armstrong did, perhaps the most effective way to be political without creating a disturbance is to pretend you have no politics at all. The European lesson for this very American form of self-deception is that claiming to have no politics ultimately means adopting the sort of bad politics that entails accepting the status quo. This was far from the message of "The Real Ambassadors," but for many people, even today, it often registers as the Armstrong persona.

To believe, as Davis once did, that Armstrong's racial politics were set by the mercenary white folks who succeeded the slave owners was to believe that those politics were reactionary, that even Armstrong's duet with Barbra Streisand in "Hello, Dolly!" or his crooning "What a Wonderful World" was corny and shopworn. It's worth noting that Armstrong's disdain for bebop -- expressed in one interview as his enthusiastic preference for Guy Lombardo, a non-jazz bandleader associated with mainstream schmaltz -- probably had as much to do with the lifestyles of beboppers as it did with modernist musical forms. As recounted by one of his biographers, the late Terry Teachout (a former jazz musician himself):

Except for [Dizzy] Gillespie, whose jokey demeanor on the bandstand was more like Armstrong's than either man cared to admit, the boppers disdained the showmanship that was his trademark. More than a few of them were heroin addicts (that was what he had in mind when he spoke of their "pipe-dream music") whose habits made it impossible for them to conduct themselves with the professionalism that was his byword. Above all, though, their music was uncompromising in a way that he saw as threatening to the public's acceptance of jazz.

Yet Armstrong's own musical genius could attain a burning and cascading complexity of its own -- at least in his early recordings, and more fitfully afterward. To my untutored ear, his famous cadenza at the start of "West End Blues," recorded with his Hot Five in 1928, even anticipates some of the multifaceted virtuoso breaks of the supreme bebopper Charlie Parker, which came two decades later. In "Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong" (2009), Teachout points to "a shift of gears known to contemporary classical composers as a 'metric modulation,' in which he turns a single beat in the second measure ... into two-thirds of a beat in the third measure."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Destructive Authenticity in Full Focus : a review of The Whale (Gage Klipper, 2/20/23, Law & Liberty)

While we empathize with Charlie, it is not clear that we should to the extent that Aronofsky wants us to. A more "honest" assessment of Charlie's atonement would not reveal a strict mutual exclusivity between his identity and actions. One need not be a fundamentalist Christian to contend that raising Ellie in a stable family ought to have trumped his own desires--no matter how inherent they are to his being. Would the middle ground--postponing his own happiness for ten years until Ellie was grown--really have been such a terrible thing? Aronofsky would like us to think so, but to accept Charlie's atonement requires prioritizing subjective authenticity over moral obligation to others. 

...morality is the attempt to rise above our authentic natures to the degree we are capable of. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Utility Player: California's Disastrous Electricity Policy: a review of California Burning: The Fall of Pacific Gas and Electric--and What It Means for America's Power Grid by Katherine Blunt (Travis Kavulla, 2/20/23, American Affairs Journal)

The utility operated in a state of nearly postmodern unawareness, lacking even a complete set of records about what it owned. Indeed, after its gas pipeline explosion, it literally hauled in thousands upon thousands of boxes of property and inspection records from its regional offices to San Francisco's Cow Palace to try to piece them together. The utility that serves America's greatest tech hubs had not digitized its files.

That type of tragic irony abounds in Blunt's book. The Caribou-Palermo line was, when it was constructed in the early 1900s, one of the first big transmission projects to connect clean energy to population centers. But the aged hydroelectric dams that the line facilitated are not the shiny objects of modern climate policy. As a consultant hired by the utility's regulator, the California Public Utilities Commission, noted about the agency's own operations: "Because safety is considered to be 'off the radar screen' of most Commissioners and legislators, it is considered to have little cachet for CPUC staff and managers." Wherever safety ranked as a priority, it was not "safety first." As Blunt tells it, "The CPUC's intense focus on climate policy came at the expense of one of its core responsibilities: holding the utilities accountable on safety."

It did not have to be this way. Policymakers in California two decades ago decided to demonopolize the generation and retailing of power, something that up to that point had been the more or less exclusive domain of PG&E in its service territory. That could have and should have paved the way for a PG&E that had one job: maintaining the poles, wires, and substations that together constitute the grid, which is the essential network for everything else that happens in the power sector. Rather than quarantining the residual monopoly to its proper role, however, politicians in California and other blue states could not help themselves from treating monopolies' balance sheets as attractive playthings for public policy that was not directly related to the grid and its upkeep. Always thirsty for growth, and always accepting the bargain to go along to get along, PG&E went along with it all.

California Burning lucidly explains the financial motivations that caused this distraction on the part of the utility's management. Specifically, its negligence with respect to its core business was the consequence of a perverse incentive that animates the business model of nearly every investor-owned energy monopoly in America today. For every dollar these utility-monopolies invest in capital expenditures ("cap‑ex"), they command a return on that capital set by the regulator. Meanwhile, for operational and maintenance expenditures ("op-ex"), like inspecting transmission lines and clearing underbrush from their rights-of-way, there is no return margin, only revenue from ratepayers designed to match the budgeted annual spending in these categories of op-ex. The only financial incentive that exists for op-ex is to try to reduce the spending after the dollars have been approved by a regulator in a rate case, because then the utility can pocket the savings. This topic is much written about by utility regulatory observers, but Blunt is one of the very few journalists to pay any attention at all to this set of incentives, even though it is sort of a skeleton key to understanding the electric-utility sector; literally, it explains almost everything, including PG&E's safety performance. In California, the incentives coalesced with fatal simplicity. The utility was endlessly fascinated by cap-ex--that is, the shiny new things that policymakers most often wanted--while it neglected op-ex, the spending necessary to keep its grid running safely.

Yet one does not need to be interested specifically in utilities or the energy industry at large to appreciate this book-length reportage. Blunt has a number of warnings applicable beyond the sector: the rise of financiers at the expense of engineers, the risk of doing many things poorly rather than a couple of things well, the glamorous focus on the ever‑changing "current thing" at the expense of an enduring and important mission, and the regulatory capture that is a vicious cycle between big-dreaming policymakers and the energy monopolies on whose fortunes those policies often depend.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Benjamin Netanyahu's big mistake (Anshel Pfeffer, 2/20/23, The Spectator)

[T]he protesters felt they were winning. It wasn't just the success in mobilizing such a large number of people to Jerusalem on a weekday. It was also the surveys showing that a majority of Israelis oppose the government's plans. Above all, it was the belief, privately shared by many in government, that the "legal reform" plans, presented on December 29, were rushed.

The perceived threat to liberal democracy has caused Israel's normally non-political business community, especially the hi-tech companies and investors, to come out on the side of the protestors. International investment banks and credit rating agencies have begun to pay attention, as has the US government. The plan looks like a rare unforced error by an old grandmaster.

Among those who have worked with Netanyahu over the years, there's surprise at how matters are turning out. A senior civil servant in economic affairs has said: "I just can't work it out. He's the most financially literate politician I've ever advised... He would never do anything to harm Israel's prosperity, he's much too risk averse. My only explanation is that, since he's someone who has always been motivated by fear, there's something now that he's afraid of more than ruining the Israeli economy."

It's what Nationalists do. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The trouble with 'white privilege' (Kenan Malik, 2/20/23, The Spectator)

Yet, [W.E.B. Du Bois] lamented, "the labor movement, with but few exceptions, never realized the situation. It never had the intelligence or knowledge, as a whole, to see in black slavery and Reconstruction, the kernel and meaning of the labor movement in the United States." The principal reason was "the race philosophy" which "came as a new and terrible thing to make labor unity or labor class-consciousness impossible. So long as the Southern white laborers could be induced to prefer poverty to equality with the Negro, just so long was a labor movement in the South made impossible."

Thirty years later, Theodore Allen was reading Du Bois's work and contemplating the same question: why had there never been a proper working-class movement or labor party in America as there had been in European nations? Allen was a veteran union activist, Marxist and independent scholar whose two-volume The Invention of the White Race, first published in the mid-1990s, was a groundbreaking exploration of the emergence of racial ideas in America and foundational for the development of "whiteness studies."

He came to the same conclusion as Du Bois -- that white workers had been bought off by being invested with a sense of racial superiority over black workers. For cross-racial solidarity to be established, Allen observed in a 1967 pamphlet, white workers had to believe that "an injury to one is an injury to all." Many of Allen's fellow radicals, he acknowledged, despaired of them ever believing that because "the injury dealt out to the black worker has its counterpart in the privilege of the white worker. To expect the white worker to help wipe out the injury to the Negro is to ask him to oppose his own interests." That interest lay in defending "white-skin privilege." Allen did not necessarily agree. "The race-privilege policy is," he wrote, "contrary to the interests, short-range as well as long-range interests, of not only the black workers but of the white workers as well." Nevertheless, he remained ambivalent about the possibilities of cross-racial solidarity because he was unsure whether white workers could ever be weaned off racism, ever disabused of the illusion of "white-skin privilege."

...caused white men to decompensate. Mere "race" was supposed to compensate for lack of merit. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Plant power promises to shrink solar panel size, grow output, in new research (Rachel Williamson, 20 February 2023, Renew Economy)

The concept, which is being designed by University of Maryland researcher Lahari Saha, adapts plants' energy making abilities to electricity and then uses their fluorescence, or light giving properties, to transfer that power to a storage system.

"Any sort of molecule that fluoresces, gives off light. If we excite the fluorophore, it can transfer its energy to metal nanoparticles, and if the particles are close enough to each other, they will knock off electrons and generate current," Saha said in a statement.

Solar photovoltaic panels made of silicon can only convert about 20 per cent of the sun's energy to electricity. It means vastly more, and larger, panels are needed to transition the world's power from fossil fuels to renewable energy -- many of which are controversially co-located on or in productive farmland.

If Saha's research works, it could shrink panels while retaining, or even improving efficiency, and reduce the land required for solar farms.

It could also be another revolution for rooftop solar panels. While Australians have adopted rooftop solar with enthusiasm unmatched around the world, houses with roofs that face the wrong direction or are in locations without much direct sunlight miss out on the benefits. Small, more powerful panels could turn every house in the country into a power plant.

February 19, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 7:51 AM


Chinese citizens in Texas are incensed over a proposal to ban them from buying property in the state (Sakshi Venkatraman, 2/16/23, NBC News)

The legislation, SB 147, would make it illegal for Chinese citizens to buy any property in Texas, including homes. 

Luo said it's a shocking premise, incongruous with everything she thought America was when she moved here in 1997, but by the time she heard about the bill, it had already won the support of the biggest player in Texas politics. Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, tweeted last month, "I will sign it. 

"This follows a law I signed banning those countries from threatening our infrastructure," he continued. 

The bill, introduced by state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, a Republican, also covers citizens and entities of North Korea, Iran and Russia. It doesn't delineate any exceptions for legal permanent residents, visa holders or dual citizens.

Posted by orrinj at 7:31 AM


Vladimir Putin's legs appear to shake uncontrollably in new videos, sparking health concern (Thanmay Arun, 02/19/23, IB Times)

Vladimir Putin was seen struggling to control his legs during a public meeting with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.

To be fair, he should be terrified of Ukraine.

Posted by orrinj at 7:20 AM


Time to Think by Hannah Barnes review - what went wrong at Gids? (Rachel Cooke, 19 Feb 2023, The Guardian)

Gids, which opened in 1989, was established to provide talking therapies to young people who were questioning their gender identity (the Tavistock, under the aegis of which it operated from 1994, is a mental health trust). But the trigger for Barnes's interest in the unit has its beginnings in 2005, when concerns were first raised by staff over the growing number of patient referrals to endocrinologists who would prescribe hormone blockers designed to delay puberty. Such medication was recommended only in the case of children aged 16 or over. By 2011, however, Barnes contends, it appeared to be the clinic's raison d'etre. In that year, a child of 12 was on blockers. By 2016, a 10-year-old was taking them.

This is a medical scandal, the full consequences of which may only be understood in many years' time
Clinicians at Gids insisted the effects of these drugs were reversible; that taking them would reduce the distress experienced by gender dysphoric children; and that there was no causality between starting hormone blockers and going on to take cross-sex hormones (the latter are taken by adults who want fully to transition). Unfortunately, none of these things were true. Such drugs do have severe side effects, and while the causality between blockers and cross-sex hormones cannot be proven - all the studies into them have been designed without a control group - 98% of children who take the first go on to take the latter. Most seriously of all, as Gids' own research suggested, they do not appear to lead to any improvement in children's psychological wellbeing.

So why did they continue to be prescribed? As referrals to Gids grew rapidly - in 2009, it had 97; by 2020, this figure was 2,500 - so did pressure on the service. Barnes found that the clinic - which employed an unusually high number of junior staff, to whom it offered no real training - no longer had much time for the psychological work (the talking therapies) of old. But something else was happening, too. Trans charities such as Mermaids were closely - too closely - involved with Gids. Such organisations vociferously encouraged the swift prescription of drugs. This now began to happen, on occasion, after only two consultations. Once a child was on blockers, they were rarely offered follow-up appointments. Gids did not keep in touch with its patients in the long term, or keep reliable data on outcomes.

Give us the child and we'll give you the man/woman.

February 18, 2023

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Is Chinese science really that good? (Bryan Appleyard, 2/18/23, Spectator)

For years, the image of China in the West has been one of a great imitator: it can copy what we do, goes the argument, and it can do it cheaper -- occasionally better. But it's no great innovator. Chinese military aircraft, for instance, look suspiciously like copies of American planes and are unlikely to outperform their western equivalents. The US, in fact, says Chinese nationals have stolen sensitive military documents for F-22 and F-35 planes. Chinese civilian cars, too, are almost exactly like German, American and British equivalents; if you want a cheap Mercedes G-Class, get yourself a BAIC BJ80, or a Land Wind if you're after a Range Rover.

That China's quantum computer claim was reported with seriousness in the West was in itself a triumph for Xi. The Chinese president is keen to encourage the belief that his country will become the world's dominant superpower. But China's attempts to take the lead when it comes to numerous scientific and technological advancements have so far had very mixed results.

Take China's Covid vaccines, which were nothing like as good as the western ones. CoronaVac recipients are five times more likely to get severe disease than those with Pfizer. Unusually, the CCP has owned up to the vaccines' shortcomings. "[They] don't have very high protection rates," said Gao Fu, one of the country's leading disease control officials. Since Covid began in China, the CCP's inability to produce a decent vaccine was, to say the least, embarrassing.

China's progress in military technology is also in doubt. Beijing is known to be trying to develop hypersonic missiles, which in theory are able to vary their trajectory, making them harder to intercept than intercontinental ballistic missiles. Such weapons worry western military strategists because they could make it especially hard to defend aircraft carriers. However, it's unlikely that Beijing's scientists have created genuine hypersonic missiles. The ability to change direction creates drag, slowing the missiles down and making them easier to shoot out of the sky. Maintaining trajectory means maintaining speed, but also makes their path predictable and again easier to intercept. The laws of physics render such weapons unfeasible for battle.

"Yeah, but they're the Yellow Menace!"

Posted by orrinj at 8:33 AM


The US plan to become the world's cleantech superpower (DEREK BROWER AND AMANDA CHU, 2/18/23, FINANCIAL TIMES)

In a huge hangar in Quonset Point, Rhode Island, welders are aiming blazing torches at sheets of aluminum. The hulls of three new ships, each about 27 meters long, are taking shape. The first will hit the water sometime in the spring, ferrying workers to service wind turbines off the New England coast.

The US barely has an offshore wind sector for these vessels to service. But as the Biden administration accelerates a plan to decarbonize its power generation sector, turbines will sprout along its coastline, creating demand for services in shipyards and manufacturing hubs from Brownsville, Texas, to Albany, New York.

Senesco Marine, the shipbuilder in Rhode Island, has almost doubled its workforce in recent months as new orders for hybrid ferries and larger crew transfer vessels have come in. "Everybody tells me recession in America is inevitable," says Ted Williams, a former US Navy officer who is now the company's chief executive. "But it's not happening in shipbuilding."

Nor is it happening in any clean energy sector in America. Across the country, a new revolution is underway in sectors from solar to nuclear, carbon capture to green hydrogen--and its goals are profound: to rejuvenate the country's rustbelt, decarbonize the world's biggest economy, and wrest control of the 21st-century's energy supply chains from China, the world's cleantech superpower.

The world is only just beginning to contend with what it means.

Posted by orrinj at 8:23 AM


Sidney Powell cited woman who claimed to be headless, time-traveling entity in email pushing election conspiracy theories (Cheryl Teh and Jacob Shamsian, Feb 17, 2023, Business Insider)

Trump-allied lawyer Sidney Powell sent Fox an email full of wild claims from a woman claiming to be a decapitated time-traveler, according to a recent court filing.

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Three men convicted of far-right plot to stab Emmanuel Macron (AFP, 17 Feb 2023, The Guardian)

Defence lawyers sought to portray their clients as marginalised and embittered people from rural France, all supporters of the anti-government gilets jaunes (yellow vests) movement that took to the streets in 2018 to denounce Macron.

That's exactly what they are.

Posted by orrinj at 7:28 AM


GOP campaign consultant sentenced to 18 months for arranging Russian contribution to Trump campaign (Bart Jansen, 2/17/23, USA TODAY)

 A longtime Republican political consultant was sentenced to 18 months in prison Friday after arranging for a Russian national to contribute illegally to former President Donald Trump's 2016 campaign - the second time he's been convicted of campaign violations.

Posted by orrinj at 7:21 AM


A juicy new legal filing reveals who really controls Fox News (Andrew Prokop, Feb 18, 2023, Vox)

As they discussed coverage of Trump's falsehoods, Fox's top executives and primetime personalities were explicitly terrified of alienating pro-Trump viewers, panicked about losing the "trust" of the audience, and anxious about competition from the further right and more conspiratorial Newsmax.

Almost everyone at the network, it seems, understood Trump's allegations about a stolen election, and particularly his attorney Sidney Powell's wacky tales of malfeasance from Dominion, were nonsense.

But an intense culture of what one might call "political correctness" took hold -- in which challenging Trump and Powell's claims could only happen with the utmost care and sensitivity, for fear of offending the tender feelings of Fox viewers.

More broadly, in understanding how lies and conspiracies spread on the right, it's important to reckon not just with the suppliers of this coverage, but also the demand. There's an intense desire for it among viewers that organizations like Fox calculate they have to satisfy in some way. And if Fox doesn't provide it, those audiences will just seek it out elsewhere.

...like the open contempt their political and media representatives hold them in.

Posted by orrinj at 7:11 AM


The Big Con by Mariana Mazzucato and Rosie Collington: How consultants spoofed their way into everyone's pockets (Darragh McManus, February 18 2023, Independent ie)

The book divides the consulting industry into two broad divisions and identifies the Big Four and Big Three of each: McKinsey, Boston Consulting Group and Bain & Company in management, PwC, Deloitte, KPMG and EY in accountancy. There's a host of others, be they large or small (or "boutique", as they sometimes refer to themselves, with a laughable pretentiousness).

Names and identities are irrelevant in one sense: they all play the same game. Consultants claim to have unique insight, wisdom or situation-specific skills that can do the job better than the organisation that needs it done.

They give it the hard sell with references to partners' academic qualifications and published papers (often these are not peer-reviewed and, in fact, were sometimes published in the company's own in-house pseudo-academic journal -- the old adage that "self-praise is no praise" comes to mind).

Consultants cite similar situations which they "successfully" -- this is usually debatable -- negotiated for suitably impressive-sounding clients: Fortune 500 corporations (mostly Western) or government departments. They bamboozle with references to the latest spoofery in management theory or economic/political science.

The client doesn't have a grounding in any of this stuff, which is partly the point: it's hard to tell if you're being played when you barely understand what you're being told. But it sounds highfalutin' and intellectual, so that's usually enough to make the sale. Indeed, that's why people bring in consultants in the first place: they're the experts, supposedly. The average chief executive or minister should and does feel as if these people know what they're doing.

In many cases, however, consultancies do little or nothing to improve the business or public service. Worst-case scenario, they actively cause damage. [...]

At one point, the book points out that, in "simulated scenario" interviews/tests for entry to consultancies' graduate programmes, those who score best are the candidates who comes across as most confident in what they're saying. In other words, it barely matters what you're proposing, whether it's a good or bad idea: the most important thing is that you sound as if you believe it. 

The worst part is, the nature of the act requires them to propose changes and those will often be to what the employees have made work. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:43 AM


Businessman, economist, cop, international sex crimes expert? The stories of Congressman Andy Ogles (Phil Williams, 2/16/23, WTVF)

If you believe Middle Tennessee's newest congressman, he's not only a businessman, he's also an economist, a nationally recognized expert in tax policy and health care, a trained police officer, even an expert in international sex crimes.

But an exclusive NewsChannel 5 investigation discovered that Andy Ogles' personal life story is filled with exaggerations, a story that's often too good to be true.

Not long after his election to Congress, the freshman Republican found himself in the middle of the drama over the House speaker -- giving him a chance to introduce himself to a national audience.

Andy Ogles' stories: 'I'm an economist'

"Yeah, you know, I'm an economist," Ogles told a C-SPAN interviewer. Later, asked to name the committees to which he would like to be assigned, Ogles began: "So, I'm an economist."

On the TV show Washington Watch in January, he added to the claim: "I'm an economist. I worked in economics. I worked in health care."

It was a claim Ogles began making on the campaign trail, beginning one answer in a Wilson County GOP debate by saying, "You know, as an economist..."

In his first meeting on the House Financial Services Committee, Ogles prefaced one question to a group of expert witnesses, referring to himself, "you know, as an economist..."

Yet, like some of the questions surrounding his controversial colleague, New York Congressman George Santos, there's little evidence that Ogles ever received any formal training in economics. [...]

Then, there are Ogles' claims to be a trained police officer and international sex crimes expert.

Posted by orrinj at 6:40 AM


New England grid operator says small-scale solar is driving down electricity demand on some days (Mara Hoplamazian,  February 17, 2023, NHPR)

As long as there's been electricity, humans have used more of it in the middle of the day, according to Matt Kakley, a representative from ISO-New England, the organization that runs New England's regional grid. But things are changing with small-scale solar.

"What we've seen is that that's still true, but over time, as more and more people have put solar panels on their roofs or of their homes or their businesses, is that they're getting that electricity from those solar panels rather than the bulk power system," he said.

That means on some days, when the weather conditions are right, the demand on the regional power system is lower in the middle of the day than it is in the middle of the night. Those are called "duck curve" days, because the demand curve looks like a duck.

February 17, 2023

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Trump seeks to bar evidence of 2 other alleged sexual assaults at rape defamation trial (Dan Mangan, 2/17/23, CNBC)

Former President Donald Trump's lawyers asked a judge to bar jurors at his upcoming civil trial from hearing testimony that he sexually assaulted two other women besides E. Jean Carroll, the writer suing him for defaming her after she alleged in 2019 that he raped her in the 1990s.

His lawyers also want Manhattan federal court Judge Lewis Kaplan to prohibit evidence of Trump's infamous "Access Hollywood" tape, where he boasted about kissing and groping women without their consent, new legal filings reveal.

Posted by orrinj at 1:13 PM


Judge Rips Right-Wing COVID Group for Wasting Donor Cash (Will Sommer,  Feb. 17, 2023, Daily Beast)

At the height of the coronavirus pandemic, the leaders of pseudoscience group America's Frontline Doctors (AFLDS) became stars on the right for their willingness to connect COVID patients with prescriptions for bogus treatments like hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin.

The group hit a new level of prominence after Donald Trump retweeted one of their videos. Trump's endorsement boosted their profile, a triumph that soured only somewhat after the video's lead doctor was exposed as a believer in the idea that dreaming about sex with demons can cause real medical conditions.

Since November, though, the group has been torn apart as its founder, Dr. Simone Gold, faces off against the group's board over what each faction says is the lavish spending of donor money. Now, in a newly reported court ruling, a judge has torn into both sides for possible violations of nonprofit ethics, singling out the group's spending on a $3.6 million house for Gold's personal use as "simply absurd."

Posted by orrinj at 11:48 AM

QUOTH THE CRAVEN (profanity alert):

Tucker Carlson Called Trump a 'Demonic Force' and Other Wild Texts From the Dominion Lawsuit (David Gilbert, February 17, 2023, Vice News)

Days after the 2020 election, Fox News host Tucker Carlson texted with his producer Alex Pfeiffer about the station's decision to call Arizona for President Joe Biden before any other network.

"We worked really hard to build what we have," Carlson wrote on Nov. 5, 2020. "Those [****] are destroying our credibility. It enrages me." Pfeiffer replied, and said that "many on 'our side' are being reckless demagogues right now."

"Of course they are," Carlson wrote back, according to the filing. "We're not going to follow them," adding "What [Trump]'s good at is destroying things. He's the undisputed world champion of that. He could easily destroy us if we play it wrong."

Months later on Jan. 6, 2021, hours after insurrectionists had invaded the Capitol, Carlson once again texted Pfeiffer: "Trump is a demonic force, a destroyer. But he's not going to destroy us."

Spoiler alert: he did destroy them. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


China now has enough wind and solar to power every home (Joshua S Hill, 17 February 2023, Renew Economy)

China's National Energy Administration has reported that the country installed a combined 125GW of new wind and solar capacity in 2022, bringing its total cumulative renewable energy capacity to over 1,200GW.

Out of the new renewable energy capacity added was 37.6GW of new wind energy capacity and a whopping 87.4GW of newly installed solar power, according to Wang Dapeng, an official with the National Energy Administration (NEA) speaking during a news briefing held in Beijing on Monday.

While the impact of new generating capacity installed during 2022 will only really be felt when looking at 2023's numbers, the NEA also reported that renewable energy account for 47.3% of China's total power generation capacity at the end of 2022, up 2.5% compared to 2021.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Wind and solar take wholesale electricity prices below zero for whole week in Victoria (Giles Parkinson 17 February 2023, Renew Economy)

The state of Victoria in December became the first state to experience negative wholesale electricity prices for a whole week, as high wind and solar output and mild demand pushed prices below zero.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Beware of 'national conservatives' who dispense with American ideals (Henry Olsen, July 18, 2022, Washington Post)

America dates its nationhood from the Continental Congress's adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. That document affirmed that the United States had a right to "the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them" because the British king had violated Americans' natural rights. Its famous words -- "we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness" -- are not only the inspiration for oppressed people around the world ever since. They are the foundation of who Americans are as a people.

But the national conservative statement never mentions the idea of human or natural rights. Indeed, it implicitly rejects the core American notion when it claims that each nation "should chart its own course in accordance with its own particular constitutional, linguistic, and religious inheritance."

The document makes specific statements about the signatories' belief in limited government, self-government and recognition of minority beliefs. Its avoidance of any clear statement that the citizens of those nations have rights that a just government must recognize to be legitimate, however, sunders those beliefs from any firm grounding. They become mere preferences, which a national majority can ignore in the self-proclaimed national interest. Black Americans whose ancestors lived in the Jim Crow South understand the fault of that thinking.

If a nation's "particular inheritance" is not democratic, for example, then a self-governing nation could legitimately form a nondemocratic government -- much as Russian President Vladimir Putin openly draws inspiration from his nation's despotic, czarist past. National conservative principles would apparently have nothing to say against these tyrannical pursuits.

Abraham Lincoln made this distinction deftly. In a letter in 1855, he criticized the Know-Nothings, a party that campaigned against Catholic immigration, for reading the Declaration as "all men are created equal, except negroes, foreigners, and catholics." He said he would rather emigrate to Russia, "where despotism can be taken pure and without the base alloy of [hypocrisy]," than live in a country that pretended to love liberty but in fact oppressed its people.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


New compound that withstands extreme heat and electricity could lead to next-generation energy storage devices (Rachel Berkowitz, Feb 17, 2023, Energy Daily)

Society's growing demand for high-voltage electrical technologies - including pulsed power systems, cars and electrified aircraft, and renewable energy applications - requires a new generation of capacitors that store and deliver large amounts of energy under intense thermal and electrical conditions. Researchers at the Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and Scripps Research have now developed a new polymer-based device that efficiently handles record amounts of energy while withstanding extreme temperatures and electric fields. The device is composed of materials synthesized via a next-generation version of the chemical reaction for which three scientists won the 2022 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. [...]

The polysulfates are strong contenders to become new state-of-the-art polymer dielectrics. Once researchers overcome barriers in large-scale manufacturing processes for thin film materials, the devices could greatly improve the energy efficiency of integrated power systems in electric vehicles and enhance their operational reliability.

"Who could have imagined that a wispy sulfate polymer film could fend off lightning and fire, two of the most destructive forces in the universe?!" said Sharpless.

"We're continuously pushing the envelope of thermal and electrical properties, and accelerating the lab-to-market transition," Liu added.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM

RED MEAT FOR RUBES (profanity alert):

February 16, 2023 (Heather Cox Richardson, 2/16/23, Letters from an American)

The filing today shows that those same personalities didn't believe what they were telling their viewers, and suggests that they made those groundless accusations because they worried their viewers were abandoning them to go to channels that told them what they wanted to hear: that Trump had won the election. 

The quotes in the filing are eye-popping:

On November 10, 2020, Trump advisor Steven Bannon wrote to FNC personality Maria Bartiromo: "71 million voters will never accept Biden. This process is to destroy his presidency before it even starts; IF it even starts....  We either close on Trumps [sic] victory or del[e]gitimize Biden.... THE PLAN."

FNC's internal fact checks on November 13 and November 20 called accusations of irregularities in the voting "Incorrect" and said there was "not evidence of widespread fraud."

On November 15, Laura Ingraham wrote to Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity: "Sidney Powell is a bit nuts. Sorry, but she is." 

On November 16, Carlson wrote to his producer, Alex Pfeiffer, "Sidney Powell is lying." 

On November 19, FNC chair Rupert Murdoch wrote: "Really crazy stuff." 

Hannity later testified: "[T]hat whole narrative that Sidney was pushing. I did not believe it for one second." 

Fox Politics Editor Chris Stirewalt later testified, "[N]o reasonable person would have thought that," when asked if it was true that Dominion rigged the election.

The filing claims that FNC peddled a false narrative of election fraud to its viewers because its pro-Trump audience had jumped ship after the network had been the first to call Arizona for Biden, and its ratings were plummeting as Trump loyalists jumped to Newsmax. "I've never seen a reaction like this, to any media company," Carlson wrote to Suzanne Scott, chief executive officer of Fox News, on November 9. "Kills me to watch it." On November 12, Hannity told Carlson and Ingraham, "In one week and one debate they destroyed a brand that took 25 years to build and the damage is incalculable." 

They went to "war footing" to "protect the brand." For example, when FNC reporter Jacqui Heinrich accurately fact checked a Trump tweet, correcting him by saying that "top election infrastructure officials" said that "[t]here is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised," Carlson told Hannity: "Please get her fired. Seriously.... What the f[***}? I'm actually shocked.... It needs to stop immediately, like tonight. It's measurably hurting the company. The stock price is down. Not a joke." 

Especially embarrassing for the older whiter maler demographic of Trumpists who believe the "reporting." 

February 16, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 5:35 PM



In the closing days of his presidency-- as President Donald J. Trump was preparing to declassify and make public almost a thousand pages of highly classified records pertaining to the FBI investigation into Russia's covert interference in the 2016 presidential election to help elect him, and defeat Hillary Clinton -- he turned to conservative columnist John Solomon for help.

On Jan 14, 2021, less than a week before Trump was to leave office, Solomon excitedly declared on his podcast, "I am here to tell you that, just a little while ago, President Trump authorized the declassification of all remaining FBI documents of the Russia probe to be made public before he leaves office." Solomon said that the records consisted of a "foot and a half stack tall of documents from the FBI and Justice Department," which, Solomon promised, would, in turn, contain "bombshell after bombshell."

Towards that end, on Jan. 19, 2021, the day before he was to leave office, Trump signed a presidential order declaring that the Russia papers were to "be declassified to the maximum extent possible." The order was signed about 7 p.m., ET.

On the very next day, though, just as Joe Biden was about to take his oath of office, Trump's then-chief of staff, Mark Meadows, wrote a memo apparently clarifying Trump's order, indicating that the documents would not be made public anytime soon. Meadows wrote in his Jan. 20, 2021 memo that the White House was "returning the bulk of the... documents to the Department of Justice" because of concerns by the department that their release would violate the Privacy Act.

Despite this, Solomon was able to post a story on his own website, Just the News, on the night of Jan. 19, 2021, and then another the following week, sourced from some of these very same records.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Lashing Out, Rod Dreher (Again) Reveals His Ignorance of HungaryA Louisiana blogger in Viktor Orbán's court. (H. DAVID BAER,  FEBRUARY 16, 2023, The Bulwark)

Orbán has been working for years on a policy of "Eastern Opening" that seeks to expand Hungary's economic relationship with countries like China and Russia while diminishing its dependence on Western Europe. Moreover, Orbán is locked in a conflict with the EU over its rule of law mechanism. As a consequence, the EU is withholding billions of euros in subsidies from Hungary. Should the EU stick to its hard line, or stiffen more, the economic arguments in favor of Hungary's EU membership will correspondingly weaken.

Orbán has a history of making careless remarks, and any reporter who knew his beat would have immediately grasped the explosive nature of what Orbán had said. But on this occasion, Orbán was speaking to a small group of admiring publicists who should have known better than to make his words public--except that Rod Dreher, whose reference points are all American, was tone deaf to the way Orbán's comments would sound in Europe, and published them on his blog.

It is perhaps worth noting here one passage in Dreher's post that may at first seem minor but is in fact deeply revealing. Describing the evening bull session with the prime minister, Dreher writes:

Orban was so candid that I asked an aide several times if this was really on the record. Only two or three times did he go off the record, and those were only to offer brief judgments on certain public figures.

By his own admission, Dreher did something that any self-respecting journalist from any mainstream American outlet would be loath to do: He gave his subject (via his subject's aide) repeated opportunities to take newsworthy remarks off the record. This throwaway line in Dreher's post reveals a great deal about how he sees himself vis-à-vis Orbán: not as an independent-minded writer who brings a critical eye to his subject, but as something more like an admiring stenographer.

Dreher may call Hungary's opposition press "jackals"--but he looks rather like a sweet lapdog himself.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Gunman sentenced to life in prison for Buffalo massacre of Black victims (David Nakamura, February 15, 2023, Washington Post)

Gendron, 19, who is White, planned the attack for months, according to his online writings, which cited white-supremacist conspiracy theories, racist memes and antisemitic rants. He traveled hundreds of miles from his home in Conklin, N.Y., and targeted the Tops Friendly Markets grocery store in a predominantly Black neighborhood of Buffalo.

He also live-streamed the attack on social media, saying he was inspired by a mass killer in New Zealand who espoused similar racist ideology.

Erie County Court Judge Susan Eagan delivered the sentence, using the moment to denounce the long history of white supremacy in the United States and calling on the nation to fight it.

"Let ours be the generation to put a stop to it," she said. "We can do better. We must do better."

To Gendron, she said: "There is no place for you and your ignorant, hateful ideology. There can be no mercy for you. No understanding. No second chances. The damage you have caused is too great. And the people you have hurt are too valuable to this community. You will never see the light of day as a free man ever again."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Extraordinarily Confused Congressional Rep. Thinks Social Media Companies Are Secretly Communicating With Gov't Censors... Via Jira (Mike Masnick, 2/15/23, Tech Dirt)

If you actually want to watch all this play out, it's at 5 hours and 31 minutes in this video (the link should take you to that point). You can see how proud Luna is of herself as she thinks she's proven "joint state action" and found the secret "Jira private cloud server" where social media and government actors colluded to censor people.

The problem, of course, is that none of this is even remotely true. Whether Luna knows it's not true, has very stupid staffers who told her something false, or if they just don't care because it sounds good... I don't know. I do know that Luna has continued to take a victory lap on this nonsense, including claiming on Steve Bannon's podcast that she caught Roth "lying" under oath to a member of Congress, and she insisted that the panelist's stunned faces were not because they were realizing just how confused Luna was about all this, but (she said) because they all wanted to immediately text their lawyers about how in trouble they were.

So, let's debunk all of this nonsense. And, I won't even bother digging into the fact that at the time of this supposed smoking gun, Trump was in office, and his hand appointed director ran CISA. There's so much other dumb stuff, I don't even have time to spend any more time on that.

Now, once again, Jira is a ticketing system, and a widely used one. It is not a "private cloud server" for "communicating."

All of the details of what's going on here were totally public already. The Election Integrity Partnership, which was a private project run by the Stanford Internet Observatory, UW Center for an Informed Public, Graphika, and the Digital Forensic Research Lab, have been quite open and public about what they did to try to track and monitor election mis- and dis-information.

They released a big report, called The Long Fuse in 2021 that details how they used Jira to track possible election disinfo vectors. They used it internally, but they were also able to "tag" in different organizations if they thought it was necessary. This is described pretty clearly and publicly in the report on page 18 and 19:

To illustrate the scope of collaboration types discussed above, the following case study documents the value derived from the multistakeholder model that the EIP facilitated. On October 13, 2020, a civil society partner submitted a tip via their submission portal about well-intentioned but misleading information in a Facebook post. The post contained a screenshot (See Figure 1.4).

In their comments, the partner stated, "In some states, a mark is intended to denote a follow-up: this advice does not apply to every locality, and may confuse people. A local board of elections has responded, but the meme is being copy/pasted all over Facebook from various sources." A Tier 1 analyst investigated the report, answering a set of standardized research questions, archiving the content, and appending their findings to the ticket. The analyst identified that the text content of the message had been copied and pasted verbatim by other users and on other platforms. The Tier 1 analyst routed the ticket to Tier 2, where the advanced analyst tagged the platform partners Facebook and Twitter, so that these teams were aware of the content and could independently evaluate the post against their policies. Recognizing the potential for this narrative to spread to multiple jurisdictions, the manager added in the CIS partner as well to provide visibility on this growing narrative and share the information on spread with their election official partners. The manager then routed the ticket to ongoing monitoring. A Tier 1 analyst tracked the ticket until all platform partners had responded, and then closed the ticket as resolved.

According to two different people I spoke to at the EIP, this Tier 2 setup, where companies got tagged in happened rarely. Instead, these tickets were mostly just used internally for EIP's own research efforts. But, either way, note the issue. This is not government employees telling social media to take down posts. This is the EIP, basically a bunch of disinformation researchers, conducting research, and escalating issues to companies to be "independently evaluated against their policies."

Now, as for the "smoking gun" which Luna showed where she claimed she's proven "state action," it's very blurry and impossible to see in the C-SPAN video, and she didn't tweet it either. Perhaps because it kinda debunks here entire argument.

This one is indescribably crazy.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM

TOTALLY NOT A CULT (profanity alert):

Giuliani associate regrets buying into 'deep state' conspiracy -- and thinks Trump committed crimes bribing Ukraine (Sarah K. Burris, February 15, 2023, Raw Story)

"Let me dig into that," Melber began. "What you are telling me, for my understanding is that, during that time you bought into the storyline that you thought, if there is really corruption over there, you are helping explore or uproot it, perhaps. And you are telling me that later you came to see that -- which I should know and viewers know was a widely discredited cover story to hurt the Bidens for political reasons -- that you do now see it that way and say well, actually it was all kind of Trump's political BS?"

He agreed, and began to echo some of the same points other former Trump allies have said once leaving the fold, describing it more as a kind of cult than a political campaign.

"You have to understand, I grew up in Brooklyn and I looked up to people like Giuliani and Trump and when he became president, I really believed I was cutinized, and I drink the kool-aid," Parnas admitted. "And I really believed that he was trying to do good for our country and I thought, honestly that everything I'm doing is positive for our country. But eventually, even prior to my arrest, I could see the way that Giuliani was being so aggressive with Trump officials and putting pressure on President [Volodymyr] Zelensky at the time."

"Sooner or later I started getting a feeling, but I didn't realize it until after my arrest and after I had time to re-evaluate everything that happened and understand," continued Parnas. "Today I truly believe and understand that they were using me to be able to basically win the 2020 election. Most people deep down inside -- educated, common sense individuals who might not be saying it out loud, realize it's a bunch of BS and it's not true, but they don't come out and say it because for their own personal benefits. They want to change the policy or president, or whatever the political aspect is."

He closed by admitting that based on what he saw, he firmly believes that both Giuliani and Trump "committed crimes" based on the way they pressured Zelensky and prosecutors in Ukraine. Parnas also linked Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) to the scheme at one point.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Lying to Ourselves: One of the more pernicious aspects of contemporary ideologies is their demand that we propound and defend ideas we know to be false. (Theodore Dalrymple, 2/15/23, Law & Liberty)

One of the peculiarities of our age is the ferocity with which intellectuals and politicians defend propositions that they do not--because they cannot--believe to be true, so outrageous are they, such violence do they do to the most obvious and evident truth. Agatha Christie (a far greater psychologist than Sigmund Freud), drew attention almost a century ago to the phenomenon when she had Dr. Sheppard, the protagonist and culprit of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd say, "It is odd how, when you have a secret belief of your own which you do not wish to acknowledge, the voicing of it by someone else will rouse you to a fury of denial. I burst immediately into indignant speech."

Among the propositions defended with such suspect ferocity is that men can change straightforwardly and unambiguously into women, and vice versa. Now everyone accepts that they can change into something different from ordinary men and women, and can live as if they were of the opposite of their birth sex; moreover, there is no reason to abuse or otherwise maltreat them if they do, and kindness and human decency require that we do not humiliate them or make their lives more difficult than they are. But this is not at all the same as claiming that those who take hormones and have operations actually are the sex that they choose, or that it is right to enshrine untruth in law and thereby force people to assent to what they know to be false. That way totalitarianism lies.

To propound and defend ideas that you know are false is intellectually and morally frivolous, but it lacks the usual enjoyment that frivolity is supposed to supply. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Exclusive: Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows subpoenaed by special counsel in Jan. 6 investigation (Kaitlan Collins, 2/15/23, CNN)

The move to subpoena one of Trump's most senior aides - in addition to the recent subpoena of former Vice President Mike Pence, as CNN reported last week - marks the latest significant step in the special counsel's investigation into Trump's role in seeking to overturn the outcome of the 2020 election.

Smith also is simultaneously investigating Trump's handling of classified documents after leaving office. While the subpoena is related to January 6, Meadows also may be of interest in the documents investigation. He was one of Trump's designees to the National Archives and played a role in discussions around returning government records in his possession.

February 15, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 7:16 PM


Hindus only: How religious nationalism has spread through India's villages (Priyadarshini Sen, 2/15/23, RNS)

A decade ago the residents of Kesalingayapalli, a village in the south Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, succeeded in building a temple to the Hindu god Ram, modeling their home as a place "rooted in Indian culture and tradition."

Three years later, during the festival commemorating Ram's birth, Bandi Venkatramana, a local farmer, erected an urgent red-and-white sign, known here as a saffron board, at the entrance to the quiet village.

It read: "In this village everyone is a Hindu, hence people of other religions can't propagate their faith here. If someone violates this warning, stern action will be taken against them. If you convert to a different religion, it's akin to changing your mother."

Venkatramana is the district coordinator for Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a Hindu nationalist paramilitary organization and the ideological forebear of India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. He said he wanted to send out a clear warning to non-Hindus entering this village.

"Muslims or Christian evangelists can't enter our village to propagate their faith," said Venkatramana, wearing a checked sarong. "If they persist despite our warnings, strict action is taken against them."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Justice Department tells court there's evidence of a crime in bid to force more answers from Trump attorney (Kaitlan Collins, Katelyn Polantz and Kristen Holmes, 2/14/23, CNN)

Federal prosecutors investigating former President Donald Trump's handling of classified documents are asking a court to force his attorney Evan Corcoran to provide additional testimony, two sources familiar with the Justice Department's motion told CNN.

To overcome the shield of attorney-client privilege, prosecutors alleged in writing to the judge that the former president used his attorney in furtherance of a crime or fraud, according to one source.

The move represents the most aggressive yet by special counsel Jack Smith, who is leading the investigation. The case and filing remain under seal.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Former Giuliani Collaborator Lev Parnas Spills On Trump And Ukraine (Lucian K. Truscott IV, February 15 | 2023, National Memo)

In 2018, Giuliani, working on behalf of Trump, dispatched Parnas to Ukraine to dig up dirt on Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton (!), following a right-wing conspiracy theory that somehow the real corruption in the 2016 campaign wasn't about Trump and Russia, but about Hillary receiving help from Ukraine. Parnas worked to get U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch fired, because her loyalty to Trump was alleged to be questionable. (She was accused, falsely, of refusing to hang Trump's photograph in her ambassadorial office in Ukraine.)

What was really going on was that Trump and people close to him wanted Yovanovitch out because she was working with Volodymyr Zelensky's administration on anti-corruption matters that had entangled people like Firtash and Deripaska in investigations in Ukraine.

There then developed what might be called a fellowship of interests between Donald Trump and Putin-friendly forces in Ukraine. Trump sent Giuliani and Parnas and others over there to dig up dirt on Biden. He recalled Yovanovitch from her post and in July of 2019 had his infamous phone call with Zelensky during which, among other things, Trump asked the Ukrainian president to help him find Hillary Clinton's emails, which a right-wing conspiracy theory said were being held on a server in Ukraine.

The real push Trump made, however, was to get Zelensky to initiate an investigation of Joe and Hunter Biden. To that end, Trump famously threatened to withhold $400 million in military aid that had been appropriated by the Congress to help Ukraine fight Russian aggression on its eastern border. Trump had previously directed his chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, to withhold the funds. Mulvaney directed the Office of Management and Budget, the Department of State, and the Defense Department to put the funds on hold. In the call with the Ukrainian president, Trump repeatedly told Zelensky to contact Giuliani, who had no official role in the U.S. government, and William Barr, who did, as Attorney General.

The Trump phone call with Zelensky was revealed by a whistleblower, and the whole Trump-Ukraine scandal took off. On September 11, the military aid funds for Ukraine were released from the hold, and on September 24, the first impeachment inquiry against Trump was initiated by the House of Representatives. Hearings by the House Intelligence Committee took testimony from Yovanovitch, William Taylor, the acting ambassador who replaced her, and from several other witnesses about the attempts to influence the government of Ukraine to do Trump's will.

The Judiciary Committee took the report of the Intelligence Committee and after a short period of hearings, voted to impeach Trump. On December 18, the House approved the articles of impeachment. Trump went to trial before the Senate and was found innocent, but the die was cast. Donald Trump had attempted to blackmail the president of Ukraine into helping his reelection by withholding military aid at a time when Ukraine had already lost Crimea to Russian aggression and was actively involved in a war on its eastern border with separatists supported and armed by Russia.

Parnas was indicted and convicted on federal charges of illegally funding the campaign of a congressman, Rep. Pete Sessions, to influence the firing of Ambassador Yovanovitch. Today, sitting at home in Florida under house confinement after spending four months of a 20 month sentence behind bars - as you can see, Parnas was not among the buddies Trump pardoned - he is reevaluating what happened not only to him, but the entire matter of the Trump-Ukraine scandal.

In an op-ed he wrote for Time magazine published yesterday, Parnas wrote, "I was used by Trump and his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani in ways that helped pave the way for Putin to invade Ukraine, my native land. If Trump and Giuliani's plans had worked, the Ukrainians might not have had the necessary weapons, medical equipment, and other supplies they needed to fight back. I had no official position, but my primary task was to be their go-between with Ukrainian and Russian oligarchs and government officials. In retrospect, I concluded that my real job was to help undermine and destabilize the Ukrainian government."

Parnas is right about the real job he was doing for Trump. Sure, he was trying to get dirt on Biden and Hillary from Ukraine, but what he was also doing was enabling Vladimir Putin's continuing efforts to take over the country of Ukraine. Parnas helped to get the anti-Putin American ambassador fired. Trump tried to withhold military aid that had been appropriated by Congress to help Ukraine fight off Russian aggression on its eastern border. His own campaign manager in 2016 was working for Oleg Deripaska, the Russian oligarch and friend of Putin who has been sanctioned for his involvement in anti-Ukraine corruption. Manafort even shared Trump campaign information with Deripaska in 2016 through Konstantin Kilimnik, whom he knew to be a Russian intelligence agent. Despite agreeing to cooperate with Robert Mueller's investigation of Russia's connections to Trump and his campaign, Manafort reneged on that agreement, was pardoned by Trump, and has remained silent to this day about the connections between himself, Trump, Russia, and Ukraine.

Putin's attempts to destabilize Ukraine date back to his connections with Yanukovych when he was briefly president of Ukraine in 2004, and when he was elected in 2010 running as a pro-Russia candidate. Manafort was working for and being paid by Deripaska when he ran Yanukovych's campaign in 2010.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Populist Right Freely Deploys Philosophies It Deplores on the LeftThe aim is to disable truth as a weapon in the struggle against populism (Aviezer Tucker, 2/14/23, The UnPopulist)

It is a common stereotype that populists do not read. But it is truer of some populist leaders than others. Benjamin Netanyahu and Boris Johnson, for example, benefited from superior education and are well read. Though no major philosophers have associated themselves with populism, some marginal intellectuals have gravitated from the "paleoconservative" and Nouvelle École right to populist "greenfield opportunities" in speech writing, think tanks, internet magazines, podcasts and book publishing, where they have faced little competition from established public intellectuals or academics. They bring with them the education and ideas they have acquired and use them to serve populist passions and movements. For example, the term "Alt-Right" was invented by the Yale-educated political theorist Paul Gottfried and was picked up by another student of political theory, the racist Richard Spencer.

The intellectual genealogy of practically all the populist intellectuals traces back to Friedrich Nietzsche and his continental intellectual progeny before it (d)evolves into more esoteric authors. The references to "Foucault," "Derrida" or "structuralism"--and not just "Nietzsche"--in contemporary populist publications like American Greatness demonstrate that populist authors are at least familiar with philosophical ideas in the Nietzschean tradition. Though populist authors often associate post-structuralism with constructed populist bêtes noires like "wokism" and "critical race theory," they also borrow some of their ideas for their own purposes.

Populists have a unique "emotive" concept of "truth" as emotional authenticity. The "truth" is not about the world but about the expression of the passions of the speaker. These passions can receive narrative representations.

Citing Nietsche is always a tell. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Wind-powered cargo ships are the future: Debunking four myths that stand in their way (Christiaan De Beukelaer 15 February 2023, Renew Economy)

Myth 1. Wind ships are a thing of the past, for good reason

Wind ships may remind us of 19th-century tea clippers and, worse, of the slave trade and colonial exploitation. But returning to wind propulsion doesn't mean going back in time.

New wind-powered ships use a blend of new and old technology to harness the wind where it is most common: at sea. This reduces the need for fossil fuels and for new alternative fuels that will require investment and space for new landside infrastructure, both to generate electricity and to transform this power into fuel.

Even if research into sailing cargo ships all but stopped in the late 19th century, engineering, materials science, yacht racing and aerospace design have yielded major innovations that are being used for cargo ships.

Myth 2. The wind is unreliable, so ships won't arrive on time

The wind may seem fickle when standing on the beach. But at sea the trade winds that powered globalisation have remained stable. Indeed, the most common trade routes are still well-served by the prevailing winds.

Weather forecasting has also improved massively since the last days of sail. And weather routing software helps find the best course to take better than anyone could in the 19th century.

While the wind may not be as predictable as a steady flow of heavy fuel oil, technological advances have taken a lot of uncertainty out of sailing. The wind is also free and unaffected by fluctuating oil prices.

February 14, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 7:10 PM


China Is Dying Out (YI FUXIAN, 2/14/23, Project Syndicate)

China's efforts to boost its fertility rate face three major challenges. First, the one-child policy has reshaped the Chinese economy, dramatically increasing the cost of raising children. China's household disposable income is equivalent to only 44% of its GDP, compared to 72% in the United States and 65% in the United Kingdom. The Chinese housing market was valued at four times the country's GDP in 2020, whereas the American real-estate market is valued at 1.6 times GDP.

Chinese policymakers now face a dilemma: if the real-estate bubble does not burst, young couples will be unable to afford to raise two children. But if the bubble does burst, China's economy will slow, and a global financial crisis will erupt. Likewise, raising household disposable income to 60-70% of GDP in order to increase fertility could reduce the government's power, undermining the economic foundations of its current "authoritarian at home and aggressive abroad" policy approach.

Given these difficult tradeoffs, Chinese policymakers might be more inclined to replicate Japanese policies to lower child-rearing costs, such as reducing school fees and providing convenient childcare, childbirth subsidies, and housing benefits to young couples. But Japan's approach has proved expensive and ineffective: the country's fertility rate received a temporary boost, from 1.26 in 2005 to 1.45 in 2015, before falling back to 1.23 in 2022. Moreover, because it is "getting old before it gets rich," China lacks the financial wherewithal to emulate Japan.

There are both physiological and cultural reasons for China's demographic crisis. With more women delaying marriage and childbirth, the country's infertility rate has increased from 2% in the early 1980s to 18% in 2020. From 2013 to 2021, the number of first marriages fell by more than half, and by three-quarters for 20-24-year-olds. And the one-child policy, which had been in place for 36 years, has irreversibly changed Chinese views of childbearing: having one child - or none - has become the social norm.

The more recent the cohort of Chinese women, the less willing to have children they seem to be. One recent survey found that while the average number of intended children among women in China is 1.64, the average decreases to 1.54 for women born after 1990 and 1.48 for women born after 2000. For comparison, in South Korea and Hong Kong, the average intended number of children is 1.92 and 1.41, respectively (both fertility rates are roughly half the intended figures). If this declining interest in childbearing is any indication, China will struggle to stabilize its fertility rate at 0.8, and its population will fall to less than 1.02 billion by 2050 and 310 million in 2100.

Ancient China also experienced population declines due to war and famine, but recovered quickly, similar to blood loss with normal regeneration. Modern population declines, like aplastic anemia, are hard to recover from.

Even if China succeeds in increasing its fertility rate to 1.1 and prevents it from declining, its population will likely fall to 1.08 billion by 2050 and 440 million by 2100. The country's share of the world's population, which declined from 37% in 1820 to 22% in 1950-80, will fall to 11% in 2050 and 4% by 2100.

Posted by orrinj at 5:55 PM

it's impossible to overstate deflationary pressures:

Australian researchers develop low cost method to produce hydrogen from seawater (Joshua S Hill 15 February 2023, rENEW eCONOMY)

Researchers from RMIT University say they have developed a cheaper method of making hydrogen directly from seawater that erases the need for costly and energy intensive desalination and avoids draining precious freshwater reserves.

"We know hydrogen has immense potential as a clean energy source, particularly for the many industries that can't easily switch over to be powered by renewables," said Dr Nasir Mahmood, a Vice-Chancellor's Senior Research Fellow at RMIT and lead researcher.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Israel's Crisis of Democracy: "Netanyahu's Party Consists Primarily of Extremist Ideologues" : Israel's new right-wing government has plunged the country into its deepest crisis since its founding, argues sociologist Eva Illouz. She says it is time for the world to take notice and act. (Interview Conducted by Julia Amalia Heyer, Feb. 14th, 2023, Der Spiegel)

DER SPIEGEL: You yourself renounced Orthodoxy when Yigal Amir assassinated Yitzhak Rabin in 1995. Amir also came from the Kahanist orbit, like Ben-Gvir now.

Illouz: At that time, I asked myself what I was more: a Jew or a democrat. I had never thought I would have to choose between these qualities, because I lived in countries where it was possible to be both, in France or in the United States. But in Israel it was different.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


An Interview with Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt: The U.S. Special Envoy for Monitoring and Combating Antisemitism Is on a Mission (ROBERT SIEGEL, 2/07/23, Moment)

Last fall, Moment Special Literary Contributor Robert Siegel, former senior host of NPR's All Things Considered, interviewed Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt as part of Moment's 2022 Gala and Awards ceremony. Lipstadt, who serves as the United States special envoy for monitoring and combating antisemitism, was honored with the Ruth Bader Ginsburg Human Rights Award.  [...]

Why do you think that is? How do you understand its cause?

It's never just one reason. In some ways we're in a perfect storm. We have groups (e.g., white supremacists, separatists) who feed on antisemitism, who nurture their followers on antisemitism, and they are becoming more emboldened in this country and others as well. The irony is sometimes they demonize the Jew but then proclaim their great support for Israel. We also see it coming from other places on the political spectrum, certainly not with the same violence and vituperativeness, but in a very effective way in terms of their objective.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Russia Has Already Lost in the Long RunEven if Moscow holds onto territory, the war has wrecked its future. (Brent Peabody, 2/14/23, Foreign Policy)

In contrast to Europe's (very real) dependence on Russia for fossil fuels, Russia's economic dependence on Europe has largely gone unremarked upon. As late as 2021, for example, Russia exported 32 percent of its coal, 49 percent of its oil, and a staggering 74 percent of its gas to OECD Europe alone. Add in Japan, South Korea, and non-OECD European countries that have joined Western sanctions against Russia, and the figure is even higher. A trickle of Russian energy continues to flow into Europe, but as the European Union makes good on its commitment to phase out Russian oil and gas, Moscow may soon find itself shut out of its most lucrative export market.

In a petrostate like Russia that derives 45 percent of its federal budget from fossil fuels, the impact of this market isolation is hard to overstate. Oil and coal exports are fungible, and Moscow has indeed been able to redirect them to countries such as India and China (albeit at discounted rates, higher costs, and lower profits). Gas, however, is much harder to reroute because of the infrastructure needed to transport it. With its $400 billion gas pipeline to China, Russia has managed some progress on this front, but it will take years to match current capacity to the EU. In any case, China's leverage as a single buyer makes it a poor substitute for Europe, where Russia can bid countries against one another.

This market isolation, however, would be survivable were it not for the gravest unintended consequence of Russia's war--an accelerated transition toward decarbonization. It took a gross violation of international law, but Putin managed to convince Western leaders to finally treat independence from fossil fuels as a national security issue and not just an environmental one.

This is best seen in Europe's turbocharged transition toward renewable energy, where permitting processes that used to take years are being pushed up. A few months after the invasion, for example, Germany jump-started construction on what will soon be Europe's largest solar plant. Around the same time, Britain accelerated progress on Hornsea 3, slated to become the world's largest offshore wind farm upon completion. The results already speak for themselves; for the first time ever last year, wind and solar combined for a higher share of electrical generation in Europe than oil and gas. And this says nothing of other decarbonization efforts such as subsidies for heat pumps in the EU, incentives for clean energy in the United States, and higher electric vehicle uptake everywhere.

Never waste a crisis.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


How microgrids can help keep the power on during extreme weather events (Soheil Mohseni & Alan Brent, 2/14/23, One Step Off the Grid)

Centralised power systems rely on large power plants and transmission grids. They are susceptible to single points of failure, making them vulnerable to extreme weather events.

Cyclone Gabrielle and the recent flooding in Auckland, which both resulted in widespread power outages, are prime examples of this.

Microgrids (small collections of power-generating assets, often run by communities) and P2P energy systems hold promise for sustainable and resilient energy. Microgrids are self-sufficient and can operate independently or in conjunction with the larger grid. They can run on different types of renewable energy sources, including solar, wind and hydro power.

Microgrids are ideal for communities far from the main grid or in areas prone to extreme weather.

P2P energy systems allow individuals and communities to generate, share and trade energy among themselves. This creates a decentralised energy market and allows for more efficient energy use and distribution.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


As non-Orthodox Judaism wanes, a rabbi sees an updated mission in the digital ageIn his new book, Danny Schiff urges a return to the religion's roots, shifting focus from synagogue attendance to being a moral beacon in an age of wild technological advancement (TOBY TABACHNIK, 2/14/23, Times of Israel)

"Fundamentally," Schiff writes, "their challenge is one of ideas. The vitality of any enterprise is inseparable from the relevance, importance, and vibrancy of its core vision. The foundational ideas of the Conservative and Reform movements were crafted as cutting-edge concepts for a societal and intellectual milieu that existed when horses were the dominant mode of transportation. They were designed to enable Judaism to contribute its wisdom for uplifting humanity as effectively as possible within the realities of that period. Since then, the insights of that earlier age have been patched and tweaked to adapt to the conditions of the passing decades. It is, however, unrealistic to expect that ideas that are derivatives of a nineteenth-century response to modernity will be well calibrated to a vastly transformed epoch in which self-driving cars controlled by artificial intelligence ply the streets." [...]

Judaism, Schiff submits, needs to have a seat at the table to weigh in on the moral implications of these advancements before they get out of hand.

Our purpose is not to be passive observers of the cosmos but to be the keepers of life itself

"We bear responsibility for our world and its destiny," he writes. "Our purpose is not to be passive observers of the cosmos but to be the keepers of life itself."

And, Schiff writes, it will take a reimagined Judaism, relying on Jewish ideas, community and practice -- rather than one obsessed with affiliation numbers -- to carry us into the next century and beyond.

"Evaluating which elements will best enable Judaism to maximize its contributions in the decades ahead is a different task from assessing what it will take to reinvigorate a commitment to Judaism among a large number of Jews," according to Schiff. "The first concern relates to how Judaism achieves its purpose. The second focuses on strategies for engaging Jews. While there is an understandable interest in the second question, the first is more consequential. After all, more than Jewish tradition has been concerned with keeping the majority of Jews Jewish, it has been devoted to making Judaism pertinent."

The book is a must-read for anyone concerned about the future, not just of Judaism, but of the human race.

February 13, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 2:04 PM


Trump Grand Jury Says Witnesses May Have Lied Under Oath (Greg Walters, February 13, 2023, Vice News)

The special purpose grand jury that investigated former President Donald Trump's attempts to reverse his 2020 election defeat in Georgia is worried that some witnesses may have lied under oath.

Those concerns are laid out in a section of the panel's final report that is now due to be released on Thursday, along with the introduction and conclusion of the report. 

Key details about potential criminal defendants and specific charging recommendations will be held secret for now, however, to protect the rights of future potential defendants who haven't had a chance to defend themselves, local Judge Robert McBurney wrote in a ruling released on Monday.

Posted by orrinj at 12:55 PM


Jack Smith, Special Counsel for Trump Inquiries, Steps Up the Pace (Maggie Haberman, Glenn Thrush and Alan Feuer, Feb. 12th, 2023, NY Times)

More recently his team has been asking witnesses about research the Trump campaign commissioned by an outside vendor shortly after the election that was intended to come up with evidence of election fraud. The existence of that research was reported earlier by The Washington Post.

The apparently related investigation into the activities of Mr. Trump's main fund-raising arm, the Save America PAC in Florida, was emerging even before Mr. Smith arrived in Washington around Christmas from The Hague.

A vast array of Trump vendors have been subpoenaed. Investigators have been posing questions related to how money was paid to other vendors, indicating that they are interested in whether some entities were used to mask who was being paid or if the payments were for genuine services rendered.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


On top of New England, an arctic wind and a million-dollar view"I was taken aback at how beautiful it is up here." (Thomas Farragher,  February 12, 2023, Boston Globe)

MOUNT WASHINGTON SUMMIT -- We are at the top of New England at 6,288 feet above sea level and the rugged, majestic beauty of this place above wind-battered birches and snow-dusted pines is nothing less than stunning.

It's 8 degrees at the top of Mount Washington, with 42-mile-per-hour winds gusting to 51, and for some reason Hayden Pearson, a 27-year-old research specialist and mountain weather observer, can't stop smiling.

"On a perfectly clear day here on the summit, you can see up to 130 miles," he tells me, his breath riding on the arctic air. "What that means is that you can see five states and two countries.

"You can see all of New Hampshire. You can see into Maine and Vermont. You can see the Adirondacks in New York. You can see down to the northern part of Massachusetts. You're seeing the US and over the border into the southern part of Canada. And looking off to the east you can see Casco Bay."

How'd you like to earn your living where winds have been measured at over 200 miles per hour and ice forms a beautiful but hard and merciless cocoon around the Mount Washington Observatory?

That's precisely what Hayden Pearson is doing.

February 12, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 4:58 PM

Problems, problems: a review of Thomas Nagel's What Does It All Mean? (Johnny Lyons, February 2023, Dublin Review of Books)

Another notable characteristic of Nagel's primer is its emphasis on questions rather than answers, a feature that is defined by an unwavering interest in the special character and the distinctive difficulty of philosophical problems. Nagel reckons that we learn far more from thinking about how and why philosophical questions and dilemmas elude complete and conclusive treatment than from relentlessly trying to come up with definitive answers to them. After all, what would we expect final answers to look like, to such questions as 'How do you know the world really exists?', 'Do we have free will?', 'Is inequality unjust?', 'What is the meaning of life?' All of Nagel's writings prompt us to put our trust in problems over solutions, not defeatedly or insouciantly, but on the grounds that identifying what makes them recalcitrant points us to the truth of the matter. As he says himself:

It may be that philosophical problems have no solutions. I suspect this is true of the deepest and oldest of them. They show us the limits of our understanding. In that case such insight as we can achieve depends on maintaining a strong grasp of the problem instead of abandoning it, and coming to understand the failure of each new attempt at a solution, and of earlier attempts. (That is why we study the works of philosophers like Plato and Berkeley, whose views are accepted by no one.) Unsolvable problems are not for that reason unreal. (Mortal Questions)

Many professional philosophers have regarded this feature of Nagel's outlook as verging on heretical since it appears to favour intuition over argument and, as a result, inhibit the serious business of disinterested analysis and philosophical advancement. They argue that the questions of philosophy are significantly more corrigible than he is prepared to admit. Nonetheless, what Nagel compels us to confront is the very real possibility that the most fundamental problems of philosophy are insoluble but, crucially, no less meaningful and important for that. Taking on board Nagel's view of philosophy can be an unnerving experience since it asks us to doubt some of our most strongly held pre-theoretical as well as theoretical assumptions, not least the common presupposition that every authentic problem must have a definitive solution or, put negatively, that only spurious problems lack genuine solutions.

Indeed, no authentic problem has a definitive solution.  Happily though: 

Most fortunately it happens, that since reason is incapable of dispelling these clouds, nature herself suffices to that purpose, and cures me of this philosophical melancholy and delirium, either by relaxing this bent of mind, or by some avocation, and lively impression of my senses, which obliterate all these chimeras. I dine, I play a game of backgammon, I converse, and am merry with my friends; and when after three or four hours' amusement, I wou'd return to these speculations, they appear so cold, and strain'd, and ridiculous, that I cannot find in my heart to enter into them any farther.

Posted by orrinj at 8:45 AM


THE DEVIL, THE DELTA, AND THE CITY (Alan Pell Crawford, Summer 2022, Modern Age)

Robert Johnson was by no means the first of the great Delta blues singers--Leadbelly was born in 1888, Charley Patton in 1891--and Son House (1902-1988) remembered "Little Robert" as an annoying kid who hung out at juke joints around Robinsonville, Miss., near present-day Tunica. There he insisted on playing the guitar but didn't know how. Then he disappeared. A few months later, the pest showed up again, and "when the boy started playing," House said, "all our mouths were standing open." Johnson had mastered the instrument, and it was House who said that Johnson "must have sold his soul to the devil" to have improved so much in so short a time. Some of Johnson's songs ("Hellhound on My Trail," "Me and the Devil Blues," and of course, "Crossroads") seemed to support the notion.

But killjoys and party-poopers offer more prosaic explanations for the improvement in Johnson's abilities. They point out that he had learned to play the piano before ever taking up the guitar and was an accomplished harmonica player, which suggests that he had some musical ability already. They also report that--during those months when Son House hadn't seen him--he lived with a guitarist named Ike Zimmerman, some 250 miles away in Beauregard. For more than a year, he studied with the older and more accomplished musician, and they sometimes practiced their instruments in the local graveyard, where it was quiet and they would be left alone.

This, plus the fact that the blues was considered "the Devil's music," contributed to the legend that generations of blues, R&B, and rock 'n' roll enthusiasts have cherished. That Johnson died young--at 27, the same as Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, and Amy Winehouse--and under mysterious circumstances also contributed. Despite only two recording sessions and a total of 29 songs (and 13 "alternative takes") he was a huge influence on Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, and Johnny Winter. He has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Robert Johnson: The Complete Recordings, released in 1990, has sold more than a million copies.

Clapton calls Johnson "the most important blues musician who ever lived." This might be the case, but why that would be so is revealing, all the same--and for reasons that even those of us who are fans might find uncomfortable, if not cringe-y. While he was a capable Delta blues guitarist, adept with the slide and by some accounts using four different tunings when his contemporaries relied on one, Johnson might not have been the trailblazer we like to think. Even the belief that the dusty plantations of the Mississippi Delta that produced him and most of the others gave birth to the blues is undergoing some revision.

The chief killjoy and party-pooper here is a second-generation blues guitarist and singer Chris Thomas King, born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in 1962, whose own recordings have sold more than 10 million copies and won him a Grammy. An actor as well as musician, King played a character named Tommy Johnson--based on Robert--in the Coen brother's 2000 movie "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" King argues--most notably in his 2021 book The Blues: The Authentic Narrative of My Music and Culture--that the 12-bar musical form we call the blues, with its characteristic bends and b5 "blue notes," did not emerge from the plantations of the Delta at all. The blues was being played in New Orleans at least 20 years earlier and, King contends, migrated from the city to the country, and not vice versa.

The first blues players were not illiterate, downtrodden farm workers at all, who turned their field hollers into an art form, but sophisticated, often educated, men and women in New Orleans who had taken music lessons and could read music. Some of them came from middle-class families who took their children to performances at the French Opera House in the Vieux Carre. (King also argues that the word blues itself derives from the French "bleu," evoking a sense of the risqué rather than of misery and heartache.)

Of course, some New Orleans musicians--Sidney Bechet, for example--did not read music, so the story is complicated. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:36 AM


Yellowstone Caldera Volcanic Power Generation Facility: A new engineering approach for harvesting emission-free green volcanic energy on a national scale (Thomas F. Arciuolo, Miad Faezipour, October 2022, Renewable Energy)

The USA is confronted with three epic-size problems: (1) the need for production of energy on a scale that meets the current and future needs of the nation, (2) the need to confront the climate crisis head-on by only producing renewable, green energy, that is 100% emission-free, and (3) the need to forever forestall the eruption of the Yellowstone Supervolcano. This paper offers both a provable practical, novel solution, and a thought experiment, to simultaneously solve all of the above stated problems. Through a new copper-based engineering approach on an unprecedented scale, this paper proposes a safe means to draw up the mighty energy reserve of the Yellowstone Supervolcano from within the Earth, to superheat steam for spinning turbines at sufficient speed and on a sufficient scale, in order to power the entire USA.

Posted by orrinj at 8:15 AM


Covidiocy Marches On: Revisionism and recriminations abound as skepticism of "establishment" science becomes a tribal identity marker on the right. (CATHY YOUNG  JANUARY 31, 2023, The Bulwark)

[T]he covidiot ecosystem on the right--and, to some extent, in "anti-woke" and "cultural dissident" circles that don't always explicitly identify as right-wing--continues to flourish. Most recently, it's been manifesting itself in the rather fanciful notion that people didn't "suddenly" die of heart attacks and strokes before "the jab" came along.

Buffalo Bills player Damar Hamlin's collapse of a heart attack during a January 2 football game quickly set off a storm of "it was the vax that done it" speculation, with medical luminaries like Turning Point USA's Charlie Kirk chiming in:

Last Wednesday, Bari Weiss's website, the Free Press, which has generally been a platform for mild skepticism toward "establishment" COVID opinion, ran a piece by skeptics-lite Dr. Vinay Prasad, a hematologist-oncologist, and Dr. John Mandrola, a cardiologist, debunking the #DiedSuddenly scare--but also asserting that the reason for the scaremongering and conspiracy theories was the supposed lack of candor on the part of medical authorities and governments. Prasad and Mandrola conclude:

People feel that their medical leaders are withholding basic facts, denying reality, disregarding new information, or worse, causing them harm.

When people feel this way, they will look to other sources--even outlandish ones--that make them feel heard. Because of the continuing failures of our public health officials to discharge their duties properly, it is deeply unfortunate but also understandable that many Americans are turning to Twitter instead of the CDC.

There is not one word of criticism here for people, some of them fairly mainstream, who peddle the "outlandish" stuff. Meanwhile, Prasad and Mandrola, who believe that COVID-19 vaccines are generally efficacious and life-saving but have contraindications for some demographics such as young men--who are at low risk of serious COVID but at somewhat elevated risk of myocarditis after receiving mRNA vaccine shots, especially Moderna ones--have their own issues with "disregarding new information." They link to their own May 2021 Stat News article as proof that "the evidence for the assertion that a Covid-19 infection is a big heart risk for young people is unconvincing." But they forget to mention a February 2022 study published in Nature Medicine showing that, as Nature magazine summed up, "Even a mild case of COVID-19 can increase a person's risk of cardiovascular problems for at least a year after diagnosis." People who had recovered from COVID-19 had "substantially higher" rates of heart failure, stroke, and a number of other conditions--even people under 65 who had no risk factors such as obesity or diabetes.

More like, Covidiocy goosesteps on.  The fact it is connected to opposition to studying black life in America and the like tells you all you really need to know.

Posted by orrinj at 8:09 AM


Is the concept of originality in art a bit, well, unoriginal? (Adam D'Arpino, 2/12/23, Psyche)

It can be dispiriting to discover that a work of art you were drawn to as a young person - perhaps something you loved so much that you absorbed it into your very identity - was essentially a retread of something that came before. Maybe it was learning that Led Zeppelin were cribbing from US blues artists, that all the best Simpsons episodes were homages to classic films, or that Romeo and Juliet were just another remix in a long line of star-crossed lovers. But, getting older, it might just be inevitable to conclude that, as Shakespeare himself wrote, 'there be nothing new, but that which is hath been before' - borrowing from the Old Testament, of course.

...just Ideology:

And there, at last, it was!  No more realism, no more representational objects, no more lines, colors
    forms, and contours, no more pigments, no more brushstrokes, no more evocations, no more
    frames, walls, galleries, museums, no more gnawing at the tortured face of the god Flatness, no
    more audience required, just a "receiver" that may or may not be there at all, no more ego projected,
    just "the artist", in the third person, who may be anyone or no one at all, not even existence, for that
    got lost in the subjunctive mode--and in the moment of absolutely dispassionate abdication, of
    insouciant withering away, Art made its final flight, climbed higher and higher until, with one last erg
    of freedom, one last dendritic synapse, it disappeared up its own fundamental aperature...and came
    out the other side as Art Theory!...Art Theory pure and simple, words on a page, literature undefiled
    by vision, flat, flatter, Flattest, a vision invisible, even ineffable, as ineffable as the Angels and the
    Universal Souls.

Posted by orrinj at 7:46 AM


Scientists Attempt to Map the Multiverse (Dan Falk, Feb 10, 2023, Discover)

While Hollywood can't seem to get enough of the multiverse, it remains deeply controversial among scientists. Ask a prominent physicist whether they believe in a multitude of universes beyond our own, and you'll get either a resounding yes or a vehement no, depending on whom you encounter. Advocates on the two sides show no mercy toward each other in their books, on their blogs, and, of course, on Twitter. But physicists didn't pull the idea out of thin air -- rather, several distinct lines of reasoning seem to point to the multiverse's existence, bolstering the idea's merit. Sabine Hossenfelder, a theoretical physicist at the Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies, has called the multiverse "the most controversial idea in physics."

They're ideological struggles, not scientific.
Posted by orrinj at 7:38 AM


Trump campaign paid researchers to prove 2020 fraud but kept findings secret (Josh Dawsey, February 11, 2023, Washington Post)

Trump continues to falsely assert that the 2020 election was stolen despite abundant evidence to the contrary, much of which had been provided to him or was publicly available before the Capitol assault. The Trump campaign's commissioning of its own report to study the then-president's fraud claims has not been previously reported.

"They looked at everything: change of addresses, illegal immigrants, ballot harvesting, people voting twice, machines being tampered with, ballots that were sent to vacant addresses that were returned and voted," said a person familiar with the work who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private research and meetings. "Literally anything you could think of. Voter turnout anomalies, date of birth anomalies, whether dead people voted. If there was anything under the sun that could be thought of, they looked at it."

The findings were not what the Trump campaign had been hoping for, according to the four people. While the researchers believed there were voting anomalies and unusual data patterns in a few states, along with some instances in which laws may have been skirted, they did not believe the anomalies were significant enough to make a difference in who won the election.

The research also contradicted some of Trump's more conspiratorial theories, such as his baseless allegations about rigged voting machines and large numbers of dead people voting.

A person familiar with the findings said there were at least a dozen hypotheses that Trump's team wanted tested.

"None of these were significant enough," this person said. "Just like any election, there are always errors, omissions and irregularities. It was nowhere close enough to what they wanted to prove, and it actually went in both directions."

Senior officials from Berkeley Research Group briefed Trump, then-chief of staff Mark Meadows and others on the findings in a December 2020 conference call, people familiar with the matter said. Meadows showed skepticism of the findings and continued to maintain that Trump won. Trump also continued to say he won the election. The call grew contentious, people with knowledge of the meeting said.

Thanks, Donald!

Posted by orrinj at 7:25 AM



2023 is the year of the electric vehicle. EVs now make up 10% of all new cars sold worldwide, and recent price drops from Tesla and Ford are only making these cars more appealing. 

So if you and your family want to hop on the EV train while prices are low, here are some family-friendly electric options coming to the market for under $50,000 this year.

Posted by orrinj at 7:17 AM


For older Americans, the pandemic is not over (Paula Span, 2/12/23,  New York Times)

At least, this late in the pandemic, families can be with their loved ones at the end of life. When the family agreed to remove Aldo Caretti from the ventilator and provide comfort care, "he was alert, very aware of what was happening," his son said. "He was holding everyone's hand." He died a few hours later, on Dec. 14.

For older Americans, the pandemic still poses significant dangers. About three-quarters of COVID deaths have occurred in people older than 65, with the greatest losses concentrated among those older than 75.

In January, the number of COVID-related deaths fell after a holiday spike but nevertheless numbered about 2,100 among those ages 65 to 74, more than 3,500 among 75- to 84-year-olds and nearly 5,000 among those older than 85. Those three groups accounted for about 90% of the nation's COVID deaths last month.

Hospital admissions, which have also been dropping, remain more than five times as high for people older than 70 than for those in their 50s. Hospitals can endanger older patients even when the conditions that brought them in are successfully treated; the harmful effects of drugs, inactivity, sleep deprivation, delirium and other stresses can take months to recover from -- or can land them back in the hospital.

"There continue to be very high costs of COVID," said Julia Raifman, a public health policy specialist at the Boston University School of Public Health and a co-author of a recent editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The demographic divide reflects a debate that continues as the pandemic wears on: What responsibility do those at lower risk from the virus have to those at higher risk -- not only older people, but those who are immunosuppressed or who have chronic conditions?

Should individuals, institutions, businesses and governments maintain strategies, like masking, that help protect everyone but particularly benefit the more vulnerable?

"Do we distribute them among the whole population?" Raifman asked of those measures. "Or do we forgo that, and let the chips fall where they may?"

February 11, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 9:54 PM


Trump Lawyers Appeared Before Grand Jury as Part of Classified-Documents Probe (C. Ryan Barber and Alex Leary,  Feb. 11, 2023, WSJ)

The two have faced scrutiny since last year, when the Federal Bureau of Investigation found a cache of classified documents at Mr. Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate during a court-authorized search. In a court filing after that search, the Justice Department said the discovery of documents during the Aug. 8 search "cast serious doubt" on a sworn statement Ms. Bobb had signed in June attesting that all materials requested by a subpoena to Mr. Trump had been turned over to the Justice Department. In fact, more records were later retrieved from the property.

Posted by orrinj at 8:29 AM


A key to consciousness could lie in "perceptual diversity": Every brain experiences reality differently. This census might help us understand why -- and what it means. (Oshan Jarow,  Feb 11, 2023, Vox)

For something as intimate to our lives as perception -- how we experience ourselves and the world -- we know remarkably little about all the ways it can differ from person to person. Some people, for instance, have aphantasia, which means they experience no mental imagery, while others have no inner monologue in their heads, just silence. Studying what scientists now call "perceptual diversity" is part of an increasingly mainstream effort to learn more about consciousness itself.

Among the new wave of researchers who are trying to unravel the mystery of consciousness in the lab is Anil Seth. Seth is the co-director of the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science and the author of Being You: A New Science of Consciousness. His viral TED talk in 2017 popularized the idea of consciousness as a "controlled hallucination," which suggests that our perceptions are less like looking through a transparent window on the outside world and more like watching an internally constructed movie. When sensory data from the outside world contradicts our brain's movie, it updates the film.

Now Seth is behind another project that aims to "paint a multidimensional portrait of this hidden terrain of inner diversity," he told me. By studying the subtle ways perception can vary, we can understand the many different ways our brains construct our realities. That's why in 2022, Seth and his colleagues in collaboration with the creative studio Collective Act launched the Perception Census, the largest psychological study of its kind. It aims to help bridge the divide between philosophy and science by providing experimental evidence for questions, such as how our individual minds differ, that have long been out of reach.

The online survey gives participants a series of tasks, brain teasers, and interactive illusions that each probe a different aspect of perception, such as vision, sound, rhythm, how you experience the passage of time, and even how your imagination works. It's already reached over 20,000 participants. "Just as biodiversity is important for the health of an ecosystem," Seth told me, perceptual diversity "is something that enriches society."

The test is fun and not very time consuming: https://perceptioncensus.dreamachine.world/home

Posted by orrinj at 7:30 AM


Wood, now turbocharged with carbon-capture powers (Prachi Patel, February 9, 2023, Anthropocene)

Modern construction uses engineered, high-tech wood called mass timber. A recent study shows that making new buildings out of mass timber could sequester a total of 20 gigatons of carbon over the next three decades because of the carbon dioxide taken up by the biomass as it grows.

Researchers from Rice University in Houston, TX and the University of Calgary in Canada found a way to boost this carbon-capture ability. Using natural wood as a template, they made a sustainable wood composite that can absorb carbon dioxide from air. The material is also stronger than regular wood.

Posted by orrinj at 7:23 AM


Brain Lateralization and the Limits of Kant's Moral Theory (Richard Cocks, February 11, 2023, Voegelin View)

Morality and moral intuitions reside firmly in the RH where we make direct contact with reality. LH damage does not impair one's moral sense and ability to make decent moral assessments and decisions, but RH damage does. RH damage, depending on its exact nature, results in someone ceasing to be moral. Tellingly, the person becomes a consequentialist. This means determining whether something is good or not solely by reference to its consequences. Jeremy Bentham, a major utilitarian theorist and thus a consequentialist, was, in fact, autistic. He should be the last person to be consulted on moral matters. Psychopathy is a problem also associated with RH deficiencies and psychopaths are also consequentialists. The original psychiatric name for a psychopath was "moral imbecile." If this were a matter of teams, the consequentialist "team" would consist of schizophrenics, a bunch of analytic philosophers, those suffering from autism, and psychopaths. On the other team would be the rest of us. Since the RH deals with what is unique, the LH viewpoint encourages treating people as interchangeable, replaceable, and having no special intrinsic worth. Consequentialists are moral monsters and should never be trusted. They will sacrifice you or anyone else if they think this will produce the most benefits. The LH deals with inanimate and mechanical things and that is how it treats people in its pseudo-moral reasonings.

McGilchrist cites a study involving inhibiting the function of first one brain hemisphere and then the other. Normal consciousness blends the contributions of both hemispheres, like a river being divided by an island and then rejoining itself. In the experiment, the same person is asked to evaluate two different moral scenarios. One is one in which someone accidentally poisons someone's tea, thinking he is adding sugar when in fact it was poison. In the other scenario, someone tries to kill another person by poisoning him, but he unwittingly uses sugar and the intended victim remains unharmed. When the LH is rendered inoperable, the person will correctly say that intending to kill someone but failing is the most immoral. When the RH is inhibited using a magnetic device, the same person will answer that killing someone accidentally is morally worse than trying and failing to kill him. This is because without the contributions of the RH they turn into a consequentialist who assesses action not by what was intended but by the actual result. Every normal person knows that trying to kill someone is morally worse than accidentally killing someone. This seems excellent evidence that the RH is the preeminently moral hemisphere and that the LH is not good at all concerning such matters.
Some analytic philosophers have been so perverted by the LH emphasis of its school of thought that they are not fazed by such considerations. One in particular thinks that getting rid of fellow-feeling, empathy, compassion, and love from moral considerations would be a great boon. By eliminating the RH, he imagines that moral agents will finally be fully rational and this rationality will actually improve moral reasoning. Interestingly, Kant too wrote along these lines; one modern Kantian noted approvingly that Kant was interested in putting morality on a more rational basis. The contemporary person who expressed this same hope about becoming more rational actually favored consequentialism. Such a consequentialist would be more ruthless and immune to moral considerations than a Kantian, but both schools of thought suggest someone with a severe mental disorder. Both imagine that eliminating the part of the human brain and mind that makes us distinctively human would be a great improvement precisely for moral topics; and moral topics concern how we treat other people and why. The idea that deadening fellow feeling and treating other people as inanimate objects, as the LH does in fact do, would actually enhance moral outcomes is completely implausible. A normal person, one would hope, would, on the contrary, realize that this "rational" person will be a moral monster, so callous about human life that he would wipe out tens of millions of individual people without a second thought if he thought it would help his "moral" calculations. By using only the LH and focusing on consequences one is coming to resemble a morally imbecilic psychopath.

Since it is only the RH that deals with reality, and not mere categories, concepts and abstractions, the analytic philosopher who imagines divorce from emotions would be an improvement thinks that a man living in a world of abstractions, mental representations, and concepts, cut off from direct experience and familiarity with reality, will make a more moral agent. The chances of this being true are zero. Moral realism, which this person also embraces, like all perception of reality, requires a functioning and prioritized RH.

Posted by orrinj at 7:13 AM


February 10, 2023 (Heather Cox Richardson, 2/10/23, Letters from an American)

[E]mpowering a strongman ends oversight and enables those in power to think of themselves as above the law. In the short term, it permits those in power to use the apparatus of their government to enrich themselves at the expense of the people of their country. Their supporters don't care: they are willing to accept the cost of corruption so long as the government persecutes those they see as their enemies. But that deal is vulnerable when it becomes clear the government cannot respond to an immediate public crisis.

That equation is painfully clear right now in Turkey and Syria, where more than 380,000 people are homeless after Monday's devastating earthquakes. The death toll has climbed to more than 23,000, and more than 78,000 are injured. So far. Just a month ago, Turkey's president President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan promised that the country had the fastest and most effective system of response to disaster in the world.

But that promise has been exposed as a lie. As Jen Kirby pointed out in Vox yesterday, Erdoğan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), who have been moving the country toward autocracy, rose to power thanks to a construction boom in the 2010s that both drove economic growth and permitted Erdoğan to hand out contracts to his supporters. The collapse of more than 6,400 buildings in Monday's quakes have brought attention to cost cutting and bribery to get around building codes. At the same time, since a big quake in 1999, homeowners have been paying an earthquake tax that should, by now, have been worth tens of billions of dollars, but none of that money seems to be available, and Erdoğan won't say where it went.

"This is a time for unity, solidarity," Erdoğan told reporters. "In a period like this, I cannot stomach people conducting negative campaigns for political interest." He has shut down media coverage of the crisis and cracked down on social media as well. Elections in Turkey are scheduled for May 14. Erdoğan was already facing a difficult reelection.

In Syria, President Bashar al-Assad also has to deal with the horrific scenario. Aid groups are having trouble getting assistance to hard-hit areas controlled by opponents of the regime during the country's ongoing civil war. Assad has blamed western sanctions, imposed against his regime because of its murder of his opponents, for the slow response to the earthquake, but his government has blocked western aid to areas controlled by his opposition. 

Trumpism fails everywhere it is tried.

February 10, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 7:08 PM


The making of Anna Paulina Luna (Jacqueline Alemany and  Alice Crites, February 10, 2023, Washington Post)

Twelve years before she was elected as the first Mexican American woman to represent Florida in Congress, Anna Paulina Luna was serving at Whiteman Air Force Base in Warrensburg, Mo., where friends said she described herself as alternately Middle Eastern, Jewish or Eastern European. Known then by her given last name of Mayerhofer, Luna sported designer clothing and expressed support for then-President Barack Obama.

By the time she ran for Congress as a Republican, she had changed her last name to Luna in what she said was an homage to her mother's family. A staunch advocate for gun rights, she cited on the campaign trail a harrowing childhood that left her "battle hardened." She said she and her mother had little extended family as she grew up in "low-income" neighborhoods in Southern California with a father in and out of incarceration. She said she experienced a traumatizing "home invasion" when she was serving in the Air Force in Missouri.

Luna's sharp turn to the right, her account of an isolated and impoverished childhood, and her embrace of her Hispanic heritage have come as a surprise to some friends and family who knew her before her ascent to the U.S. House this year. A cousin who grew up with Luna said she was regularly included in family gatherings. Her roommate in Missouri had no recollection of the "home invasion" Luna detailed, describing instead a break-in at their shared apartment when they were not home, an incident confirmed by police records.

"She would really change who she was based on what fit the situation best at the time," said the roommate, Brittany Brooks, who lived with Luna for six months and was a close friend during her military service.

Posted by orrinj at 6:54 PM


The rise of green hydrogen in Latin America: In anticipation of future demand, several projects are underway in the region to produce this clean energy source (Pablo Fonseca Q. 02.09.2023, Knowable)

Chang-Díaz would like to have a public hydrogen station nearby whenever he needs to fill his tank, but that isn't possible yet, either in his native Costa Rica or in any other Latin American country. He ends up instead at the hydrogen station he built himself, as part of a project aimed at demonstrating that hydrogen generated with renewable energy sources -- green hydrogen -- is the present, not the future.

A physicist, former NASA astronaut and the CEO of Ad Astra Rocket Company, Chang-Díaz has a clear vision. Green hydrogen, he believes, is a fundamental player in lowering emissions from transportation and converting regions that import fossil fuels -- such as his small Central American country -- into exporters of clean energy, key to avoiding the catastrophic effects of global warming.

According to data from the Inter-American Development Bank, the most polluting sectors in Latin America to which clean hydrogen technology could be applied are transportation (which generates 40 percent of the region's CO2 emissions) and electricity and energy (36 percent of emissions). And Chang-Díaz is not alone in his belief in the promise. Large-scale hydrogen transportation will be part of the future, says Nilay Shah, a chemical engineer at Imperial College London. "By 2050, hydrogen could deliver 18 percent of the global energy supply ... 28 percent of which would be destined for the transport sector," he and his colleagues note in an article on the application of hydrogen in mobility technologies in the 2022 Annual Review of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering.

Posted by orrinj at 12:16 PM


As Russia's Losses in Ukraine Spike, Those Tracking the Deaths Are Overwhelmed (Anastasia Tenisheva, 2/10/23, Moscow Times)

Mediazona, which uses public sources to compile a database of killed soldiers, said on Jan. 27 that its staff had confirmed the deaths of 876 Russian soldiers in the previous 10 days. 

This was "one of the highest indicators" for the entire war, according to the outlet, which collaborates with the BBC Russian Service in tracking Russian deaths. 

"We simply don't have enough time to process the information," Litavrin said when asked why Mediazona was now looking for more volunteers.

Posted by orrinj at 12:05 PM


Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


AOC makes Twitter executive admit company changed policy to accommodate Trump's racist Tweets (MARK FRAUENFELDER,  FEB 9, 2023, Boing-Boing)

Here's the conversations between Rep. Ocasio-Cortez and former senior member of Twitter moderation team Anika Collier Navaroli.

Let's talk about something real. I'd like to show you a tweet posted by former President Trump about my colleagues and I on July 14 2019, it says in part, "Why don't they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came? Then come back and show us how it's done. These places need your help badly, you can't leave fast enough. I'm sure that Nancy Pelosi would be very happy as quickly to work out free travel arrangements." A day or two after that, Donald Trump publicly incited violence at a rally targeting four Congresswoman including myself saying, "go back to where you came from." Ms. Navaroli, as I understand it, you were a senior member of Twitter's content moderation team when this was posted. As part of your responsibilities, did you review this tweet?

Yes, it was my team's responsibility to review these tweets.

And what did you conclude?

My team made the recommendation that for the first time we find Donald Trump in violation of Twitter's policies and use the public interest interstitial.

For the first time.


And at the time, Twitter's policy included a specific example, when it came to banned abuse against immigrants. They specifically included the phrase "go back to your country" or "go back to where you came from." Correct?

Yes, it was specifically included in the content moderation guidance. As an example,

You brought this up to the Vice President of Trust and Safety, Del Harvey, correct?

I did, yes.

And she overrode your assessment, didn't she?

Yes, she did.

And something interesting happened after she overrode your assessment. A day or two later, Twitter seemed to have changed their policies, didn't they?

Yes, that trope "go back to where you came" from was removed from the content moderation guidance as an example.

So Twitter changed their own policy after the President violated it in order to potentially accommodate his tweet.


Thank you. So much for bias against right wing on Twitter.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Solar's stunning journey from lab curiosity to global juggernaut wiping out fossil fuels (Giles Parkinson 10 February 2023, Renew Economy)

The ANU's Professor Andrew Blakers was this announced as the winner of the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering, in a joint award with Australia's "father of PV" Professor Martin Green from UNSW, and the husband and wife team Dr Aihua Wang and Dr Jianhua Zhao.

Blakers, in an interview on the latest episode of RenewEconomy's popular weekly Energy Insiders podcast, says that while Green has predicted a solar cost of $10/MWh, it won't need to fall that far to push coal and gas out of the global economy.

"I don't know about $10MWh,  it would be lovely if we got there," Blakers said.

"But we don't even need to get anywhere near $10/MWh to be completely dominant - at $20 to $30/MWh solar completely sweeps the board against any other technology apart from wind. It wipes fossil fuels out of the global economy, and I think it's highly likely that we will be in that range by 2030 in many places in the world."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Pence subpoenaed by special counsel investigating Trump (Kaitlan Collins, Evan Perez and Katelyn Polantz, 2/09/23, CNN)

Special counsel Jack Smith's office is seeking documents and testimony related to January 6, the source said. They want the former vice president to testify about his interactions with Trump leading up to the 2020 election and the day of the attack on the US Capitol.

The subpoena marks an important milestone in the Justice Department's two-year criminal investigation, now led by the special counsel, into the efforts by Trump and allies to impede the transfer of power after he lost the 2020 election. Pence is an important witness who has detailed in a memoir some of his interactions with Trump in the weeks after the election, a move that likely opens the door for the Justice Department to override at least some of Trump's claims of executive privilege.

February 9, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 6:30 PM


New Exascale Supercomputer Can Do a Quintillion Calculations a Second (Sarah Scoles, February 9, 2023, Scientific American)

The Frontier supercomputer at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory earned the top ranking on May 30 2022, as the world's fastest on the 59th TOP500 list, with 1.1 exaflops of performance. The system is the first to achieve the level of computing performance known as exascale, a threshold of a quintillion calculations per second. Credit: Oak Ridge National Laboratory/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
"Exascale" sounds like a science-fiction term, but it has a simple and very nonfictional definition: while a human brain can perform about one simple mathematical operation per second, an exascale computer can do at least one quintillion calculations in the time it takes to say, "One Mississippi."

In 2022 the world's first declared exascale computer, Frontier, came online at Oak Ridge National Laboratory--and it's 2.5 times faster than the second-fastest-ranked computer in the world. It will soon have better competition (or peers), though, from incoming examachines such as El Capitan, housed at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and Aurora, which will reside at Argonne National Laboratory.

It's no coincidence that all of these machines find themselves at facilities whose names end with the words "national laboratory." The new computers are projects of the Department of Energy and its National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). The DOE oversees these labs and a network of others across the country. NNSA is tasked with keeping watch over the nuclear weapons stockpile, and some of exascale computing's raison d'être is to run calculations that help maintain that arsenal. But the supercomputers also exist to solve intractable problems in pure science.

When scientists are finished commissioning Frontier, which will be dedicated to such fundamental research, they hope to illuminate core truths in various fields--such as learning about how energy is produced, how elements are made and how the dark parts of the universe spur its evolution--all through almost-true-to-life simulations in ways that wouldn't have been possible even with the nothing-to-sniff-at supercomputers of a few years ago.

Posted by orrinj at 6:23 PM

THEIR MASTER'S VOICE (profanity alert):

Proud Boys sedition trial shows group keying off Trump comments (KYLE CHENEY, 02/09/2023, Politico)

In private messages, revealed Thursday by prosecutors at a seditious conspiracy trial stemming from the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, members of the group discussed Trump's Sept. 29 debate-stage exhortation to the Proud Boys to "stand back and stand by" ahead of the November election.

Some Proud Boy leaders, like Joe Biggs -- one of five seditious conspiracy defendants -- saw Trump's comment as a command to prepare to violently confront antifa.

"Trump basically said to go [****] them up," Biggs said on Parler, the social media platform popular with conservatives. "This makes me so happy." [...]

On Thursday, the 17th day of the trial, prosecutors gave their clearest explanation to jurors about the group's effort to tether itself to Trump's bid to remain in power, to weed out unruly members and to develop a tactical strategy for Jan. 6.

After Trump's projected defeat in the presidential election on Nov. 7, the group's concerns about its role grew even more acute.

"wtf happened? They called it. Now we have to mobilize," wrote North Carolina Proud Boys leader Jeremy Bertino in a message to Tarrio on Nov. 7.

Bertino told Tarrio about a plan to have a Proud Boys presence in Raleigh the next day, and Tarrio recommended that supporters not wear the group's typical black and yellow attire: "The campaign asked us to not wear colors to these events," Tarrio said, without elaborating on who he had spoken to. "Keep identifying colors to a minimum."

The group would go on to have a significant presence at a November pro-Trump march in Washington D.C. and a subsequent one on Dec. 12 that turned violent. Several Proud Boys were stabbed in street clashes with counterprotesters. Bertino suffered a severe wound that landed him in the hospital.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Edmund Burke Opposed Eruptions Abroad -- Why Shouldn't We? (Luke Schumacher,  February 9, 2023, Providence)

The limit of Burke's respect for French sovereignty was his conviction that national change of such an abrupt and capacious character could not be confined to its place of origin. Perfectionist ideologies - from 18th-century rationalist French revolutionaries to 19th and 20th-century Marxists - are transnational proselytizers that must be contained before their contagion demolishes our own institutions. "If [the revolution] be a panacea, we do not want it," Burke wrote in his Reflections. "If it be a plague," the more likely diagnosis in Burke's mind, "it is such a plague, that the precautions of the most severe quarantine ought to be established against it."

An ideological rival with expansionist ambitions, thought Burke, had to be contained. Allowing it to fester, mature, and metastasize would only expose allies and the homeland to a more powerful threat in the future. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Electric vehicles can now power your home for three days (Michael J. Coren, February 7, 2023, Washington Post)

The next time the power failed, Graham was prepared. He had a power strip and a $150 inverter, a device that converts direct current from batteries into the alternating current needed to run appliances, hooked up to his new Chevy Bolt, an electric vehicle. The Bolt's battery powered his refrigerator, lights and other crucial devices with ease. As the rest of his neighborhood outside Albuquerque languished in darkness, Graham's family life continued virtually unchanged. "It was a complete game changer making power outages a nonissue," says Graham, 35, a manager at a software company. "It lasted a day-and-a-half, but it could have gone much longer."

Today, Graham primarily powers his home appliances with rooftop solar panels and, when the power goes out, his Chevy Bolt. He has cut his monthly energy bill from about $220 to $8 per month. "I'm not a rich person, but it was relatively easy," says Graham "You wind up in a magical position with no [natural] gas, no oil and no gasoline bill."

Graham is a preview of what some automakers are now promising anyone with an EV: An enormous home battery on wheels that can reverse the flow of electricity to power the entire home through the main electric panel.

Beyond serving as an emissions-free backup generator, the EV has the potential of revolutionizing the car's role in American society, transforming it from an enabler of a carbon-intensive existence into a key step in the nation's transition into renewable energy.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Solar and Sheep: "The future of regional Australia" and the key to better quality wool (Sophie Vorrath, 9 February 2023, Renew Economy)

As the Clean Energy Council reasoned in an industry paper in 2021, dual use of land tapped for solar farms, much of it at one time used to grow crops or livestock, could help solve problems of grid access and social licence for new large-scale PV projects.

If done right, the paper argues, solar farms can improve both grazing and crop land, while allowing solar farms to be built in areas where the electricity network is strong, providing a win-win for both solar developers and farmers.

Currently in Australia, some of the most common public objections to new solar developments - including another  big Lightsource bp project, the 400MW Gundary solar farm near Goulburn - is that they will lock up valuable agricultural land.

But new feedback from a couple of farmers who have taken the solar leap reveals that the addition of panels has greatly increased the value of their farming operations.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Classical liberalism's future depends on reinvigorating the moral foundations for its core ideas. (Samuel Gregg, 2/06/23, American Mind)

[Inez]  Stepman does not think that Friedman's faith in markets suffices for dealing with the wokeism, gender ideology, identity politics, CRT, ESG, DEI, and so forth presently sweeping their way through American culture. Combatting such problems may require, she believes, a "vision of government too energetic to fit comfortably into the vision described in Capitalism and Freedom," though she does not specify the form such energy might take.

More fundamentally, Stepman wonders whether, quoting Kristol, the "self" that is "realized under the conditions of liberal capitalism is a self that despises liberal capitalism, and uses its liberty to subvert and abolish a free society?" She then argues that "the free market alone cannot muster any defense against the self-destructive and nihilistic impulses that threaten, not just the capitalist system, but the entirety of the American project." To paraphrase Kristol: free marketers can easily refute Marxist economics, but capitalists qua capitalists have nothing to say when confronted by Friedrich Nietzsche and his disciples on the Left and Right.

The Right is the Left.  

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM



Solar Roadways claims that its panels will make the "first roadway system with a return on investment," modernize the nation's infrastructure with modular, energy-producing, smart panels, and may eventually help charge electric vehicles while they drive. These lofty goals rest heavily on the Solar Road Panels themselves and their ability to perform under pressure (often literal tons of pressure, in the case of trucks). 

The latest model is a 48-watt panel that weighs about 70 pounds, has 280 multicolored LEDs to flash words and signals, can be swapped out in "a few minutes," and is designed to last for 20 years. The company is working on weight sensors that will be integrated with panel LEDs to warn motorists of road hazards ahead. 

Solar Roadways envisions these high-tech streets as a potential, decentralized "smart grid" that can store energy in batteries or use a virtual storage system in which extra energy is given to the grid during sunny days and is redrawn at night.

February 8, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 6:57 PM


The weirdness of quantum mechanics forces scientists to confront philosophy (Marcelo Gleiser, 2/08/23, Big Think)

The world of the very small is like nothing we see in our everyday lives. We do not think of people or rocks being in more than one place at the same time until we look at them. They are where they are, in one place only, whether or not we know where that place is. Nor do we think of a cat locked in a box as being both dead and alive before we open the box to check. But such dualities are the norm for quantum objects like atoms or subatomic particles, or even larger ones like a cat. Before we look at them, these objects exist in what we call a superposition of states, each state with an assigned probability. When we measure many times their position or some other physical property, we will find it in one of such states with certain probabilities. 

The crucial question that still haunts or inspires physicists is this: Are such possible states real -- is the particle really in a superposition of states -- or is this way of thinking just a mathematical trick we invented to describe what we measure with our detectors? To take a stance on this question is to choose a certain way of interpreting quantum mechanics and our take on the world.

Posted by orrinj at 6:55 PM



Move over, hamburger. Finnish food scientists have developed an alternative protein produced from just dirt, electricity, and air. 

Solein, a mildly flavored yellow powder that can be added to food, could be a viable replacement for animal protein, says Finland-based Solar Foods.

Here's how it works: Scientists gather soil to cultivate a suitable microbe, which is placed in a bioreactor where fermentation occurs. The microorganism consumes dissolved hydrogen, and carbon dioxide is split from water using electricity. 

Then, the food scientists enrich it with mineral nutrients to help it make amino acids, carbohydrates, lipids, and vitamins. Finally, moisture is removed to create a dry protein powder.

Solein is an answer to the carbon-intensive global food industry. Of the world's planet-warming air pollution, 30% comes from food production, including meat and plants. The global production of traditional meat-based protein, which requires raising cows, pigs, and other animals, accounts for nearly 60% of all food production pollution. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:34 PM


A Bold Plan to Beam Solar Energy Down From Space (RAMIN SKIBBA, FEB 7, 2023, Wired)

The agency recently announced a new exploratory program called Solaris, which aims to figure out if it is technologically and economically feasible to launch solar structures into orbit, use them to harness the sun's power, and transmit energy to the ground.

If this concept comes to fruition, by sometime in the 2030s Solaris could begin providing always-on space-based solar power. Eventually, it could make up 10 to 15 percent of Europe's energy use, playing a role in the European Union's goal of achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:54 PM


This Change Could Reduce Police Brutality against Black Drivers like Tyre Nichols (Marla Broadfoot, February 8, 2023, Scientific American)

Nicholas Camp is a social psychologist at the University of Michigan who studies racial bias and how it affects police-community interactions. He and his colleagues have used police body camera footage and community surveys to analyze behavior. They have also tested real-life interventions with a police force in a large city, small policy changes that reduced antagonism during traffic stops and also reduced racial inequalities in who gets pulled over. Camp talked with Scientific American about these possible solutions.

[An edited transcript of the interview follows.]

Could there be legitimate reasons why police treated Black drivers more aggressively? Or is there an implicit bias?

Even after controlling for other aspects of these interactions, such as where and why the stop occurred or other characteristics of the driver, we found that this racial disparity persists. I cannot speak definitively about what was going on in the officers' head, but we know from a wide range of research on implicit bias that there are prevalent social stereotypes around race, status and criminality. We know that these stereotypes shape all our judgments. There is certainly no reason that police officers would be immune to these biases.

If implicit bias against Black people and racism underpin much of police brutality, how do you explain the fact that officers involved in the beating of Tyre Nichols were Black?

Let me say two things that we know from the research. One is that it does matter who is policing in America. We know that diversifying the police force does have a beneficial effect on reducing the use of force. On the other hand, research has shown that you can still be influenced by stereotypes, even if they are about your own group and even when you disagree with them. Police culture is very strong and quite insular. So if you are wearing the badge and on duty, you are probably viewing the world through the lens of your identity as a police officer, not as a Black person.

Posted by orrinj at 3:49 PM


Israeli Right Plans to Erode Palestinians' Residency Rights (Elisheva Goldberg, February 7, 2023, Jewish Currents)

After the meeting, the cabinet, which includes Israel's top politicians--Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, Finance Minister Betzalel Smotrich, and Justice Minister Yariv Levin--published a short list of its plans to "extract a price from terrorists and their supporters." In addition to promises to seal and demolish the Neve Yaakov assailant's house (sealing ensures that the family cannot enter the home or collect their possessions before demolition), boost the Israeli army and police forces' capabilities to carry out mass arrests, and make it easier for Israeli civilians to acquire gun licenses, the cabinet put forth an unprecedented proposal: a pledge to revoke certain fundamentals of Israeli citizenship or residency rights, like national insurance benefits and Israeli ID cards, from the family members of those convicted of terrorism. ​​On Twitter, Smotrich wrote, "If the terrorist's entire family were deported to Gaza without an identity card and without social rights . . . no one would be proud of the terrorist and what he did to his family."

"It makes Israel's national insurance, which is meant to be a welfare agency, into an arm of the security force," said Jessica Montell, the CEO of the Israeli human rights group HaMoked: The Center for the Defense of the Individual. "This is a huge expansion of collective punishment." Because the recent violence against Jewish Israeli civilians was perpetrated by East Jerusalem Palestinians, families there are likely the primary targets for the cabinet's new plans. Montell said that the government's plans indicate the extent to which the current far-right Israeli government sees Palestinians who live in Israel and East Jerusalem not as members of a shared polity but rather as provisional citizens or temporary residents.

When Israel annexed East Jerusalem in 1967, it gave Palestinians living there residency rights, which include the basic package of rights that all citizens receive--medical insurance, allowances for children, unemployment benefits, and physical and mental disability benefits--but exclude the right to vote in national elections. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:45 PM

CIRCLING THE FIRING SQUAD (profanity alert):

Ex-Twitter Officials Confirm to Congress: Trump, Not Biden, Has Tried to Censor Tweets (Justin Baragona, Feb. 08, 2023, Daily Beast)

[F]ormer Twitter officials revealed on Wednesday that former President Donald Trump not only received preferential treatment for years, but he also directly requested the site remove tweets that he didn't like. At the same time, they also noted that President Joe Biden hadn't contacted Twitter to take down any tweets or censor content.

One tweet Trump especially wanted to be deleted: Supermodel and TV star Chrissy Teigen calling him...

His insistence it be taken down amply proving her point.

Posted by orrinj at 3:42 PM


'Only in Mississippi': White representatives vote to create white-appointed court system for Blackest city in America (Bobby Harrison and Adam Ganucheau, February 7, 2023, Mississippi Today)

A white supermajority of the Mississippi House voted after an intense, four-plus hour debate to create a separate court system and an expanded police force within the city of Jackson -- the Blackest city in America -- that would be appointed completely by white state officials.

If House Bill 1020 becomes law later this session, the white chief justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court would appoint two judges to oversee a new district within the city -- one that includes all of the city's majority-white neighborhoods, among other areas. The white state attorney general would appoint four prosecutors, a court clerk, and four public defenders for the new district. The white state public safety commissioner would oversee an expanded Capitol Police force, run currently by a white chief.

The appointments by state officials would occur in lieu of judges and prosecutors being elected by the local residents of Jackson and Hinds County -- as is the case in every other municipality and county in the state.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Inside the messy one-issue contest for Chicago's top job (SHIA KAPOS and MARISSA MARTINEZ, 02/08/2023, Politico)

The homicide rate in this deep-blue city doesn't crack the top 10 in the U.S. -- though you wouldn't know it from the mayor's race.

The eight challengers hoping to topple Democratic Mayor Lori Lightfoot later this month are almost solely focused on the city's violence -- hammering on issues such as homicides, carjackings and robberies at every open microphone.

It's a policy spectrum that stretches from the far left, where there's a call for police funding to be shifted to social services, to the far right, and a candidate who wants suspected criminals hunted down "like a rabbit."

Throughout 2022, the political script was clear: Republicans in New York, Pennsylvania and elsewhere channeled voters' attention to a pandemic-era spike in violence while Democrats did their best to talk about anything else.

The Chicago brawl over crime, however, is happening among candidates who all count themselves as Democrats. And a dearth of public polling has given them space to question whether the city's first Black female mayor, who swept the 2019 runoff, is vulnerable.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Republicans Turn Themselves into Props for Biden (JOHN F. HARRIS, 02/08/2023, Politico)

At last, in 2023, came a new twist on the old ritual. This time, it was ordinary Republicans putting the spotlight on themselves -- through extraordinary rudeness. With boos, taunts, groans, and sarcastic chortles, the opposition party effectively turned themselves into prime-time props for President Joseph Biden.

The performance definitely broke through the tedium. Let's remember to check Biden's next campaign disclosure forms -- the Republican honking amounted to an in-kind contribution, one he sorely needed.

The gift paid dividends at both the stylistic and substantive levels.

MTG dressing up as a thoroughly modern Klanswoman was a nice touch.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM



According to Rocky Mountain Institute energy expert Kingsmill Bond, the shift is largely tied to the low cost of clean energy sources like wind and solar power. By many estimates, renewables are now the cheapest form of power available. 

"Superior renewable technology is winning the battle for the future of energy, and it is time to recognize this key turning point," Bond said. "Countries, companies, and investors that accept and embrace the energy transition will prosper, while those that deny and resist will struggle and eventually fall."

According to the research, more than half the world has peaked in its demand for dirty energy sources. DNV, an expert in assurance and risk management, was the first to make this conclusion. And when the International Energy Agency released its 2022 World Energy Outlook, the organization predicted that by 2025, clean energy would replace coal as the world's largest power source. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


New Lives in the City: How Taleban have experienced life in Kabul (Sabawoon Samim  2 Feb 2023, AAN)

Omar Mansur, 32, Yahyakhel district of Paktika province, married and father of five, head of a group [...]

What I don't like about Kabul is its ever-increasing traffic holdups. Last year, it was tolerable but in the last few months, it's become more and more congested. People complain that the Taleban brought poverty, but, looking at this traffic and the large number of people in the bazaars and restaurants, I wonder where that poverty is.

Another thing I don't like, not only about Kabul but broadly about life after the fatha, are the new restrictions. In the group, we had a great degree of freedom about where to go, where to stay, and whether to participate in the war.

However, these days, you have to go to the office before 8 AM and stay there till 4 PM. If you don't go, you're considered absent, and [the wage for] that day is cut from your salary. We're now used to that, but it was especially difficult in the first two or three months.

The other problem in Kabul is that my comrades are now scattered throughout Afghanistan. Those in Kabul, like me, work from 8 AM to 4 PM. So, most of the week, we don't get any time to meet each other. Only on Fridays, if I don't go home, do we all go to Qargha, Paghman or Zazai Park. I really like Paghman and going there with friends makes me very happy. Such a place doesn't exist in the entire province of Paktika.

What I like most in Kabul is its relative cleanness and how facilities have been modernised and improved, the buildings, roads, electricity, internet connection, and so many other things. You can find taxis even at midnight, hospitals are on the doorstep, and schools, educational centres, as well as madrasas are all easily available on every corner of the city. The other positive feature of Kabul is its ethnic diversity. You can see an Uzbek, Pashtun and a Tajik living in one building and going to the same mosque.

Some people have a very negative picture of Kabul. What I experienced here in the last years, though, is that one can come across the perfect Muslim and the worst. Unlike villages where a lot of people go to the mosque to impress others, people in Kabul go there just for the sake of Allah. Unlike the villages where people endeavour to be called generous, people here do charity for the sake of Allah - people know little about each other and so they don't need to impress each other.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Electric Drive to Survive: The Automotive Energy Transition (Carbon Tracker, 16 February)

The Automotive Energy Transition will not be linear and leading data is beginning to show that it is beginning to follow the classic S-Curve; automakers who are currently behind that curve are in grave danger of their product line-up becoming stranded when coupled with increasingly strict vehicle emissions policy. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Checking in on the Death of Globalization™ (Scott Lincicome, 2/07/23, Cato)

The U.S. trade data for calendar year 2022, released today by the Census Bureau, again show that the much‐​ballyhooed Death of Globalization has been greatly exaggerated. In fact, inflation‐​adjusted U.S. trade in goods -- imports and exports -- set records last year...

The Right/Left exists to amuse normals.
Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Faith Crisis of Francis Schaeffer: How His Shadows Brought Light (William Edgar, 2/07/23, Desiring God)

[I]n 1937, the Schaeffers decided to leave Westminster with a group of separatists, led by the likes of Allan McCrae and the fiery Carl McIntire, to form the Bible Presbyterian Church denomination and Faith Theological Seminary, from which Francis graduated in 1938. According to Schaeffer, the church was to be doctrinal, supernaturalist, evangelical, and particularist. Though he didn't use the word, the implication of these adjectives is that the church should be separatist -- to separate not only from mainline and liberal churches, but also from conservative churches who did not share orthodoxy in all its fastidiousness.

Though Schaeffer's theological convictions remained essentially the same throughout his life, he came to regret the insistence with which he asserted them, and he eventually left this movement. He grew concerned that he had become cold and doctrinaire.

But the most important factor that led to Schaeffer's crisis of faith was the lack of love that characterized the movement -- and himself. They had treated people with whom they disagreed unkindly. They had expended more energy attacking fellow Christians than advancing the kingdom against secularism and unbelief. They were zealous for theological precision, but not for obeying Jesus's command to "love one another as I have loved you" (John 15:12). 

What Christ actually commanded is always the stumbling block. People would much prefer to quibble over minutiae to distract themselves.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Chess players perform worse when air quality is poor - and other high-skilled workers could be affected too (Francis Pope, 2/08/23, The Conversation)

Some of the threats air pollution poses to human health are already known. For example, bad air increases the risk of suffering heart disease, strokes and certain cancers. But the recent research implies that poor air quality may be linked to a reduction in cognitive functioning.

This carries implications for anyone who makes decisions under pressure in polluted areas and may increase the global economic cost associated with air pollution. The World Bank estimates this cost to be US$8.1 trillion (£6.7 trillion) each year.

This was supposed to be confined to inner cities, darn it...

February 7, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Trump's Hush Money Case With Porn Star Is Back to Haunt Him (Greg Walters, February 7, 2023, Vice News)

That means the long-dormant cash-for-silence scandal--in which Daniels was paid to keep quiet before the 2016 election--has suddenly become one more looming criminal threat hanging over the former president as he revs up for the 2024 campaign. Trump already faces multiple other serious investigations, including one led by a state prosecutor in Georgia into potential election meddling, and a federal special counsel probe into his handling of sensitive government documents and his role in the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol uprising. 

There are multiple signs that Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg means business this time. Bragg's team recently gathered up the phones of Trump's estranged former attorney, Michael Cohen. They have reportedly warned Trump's longtime chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, the elderly financier now serving out a five-month sentence on Rikers Island after admitting financial crimes, that he could face fresh charges in an otherwise unrelated insurance matter if he refuses to cooperate with Bragg's prosecutors. And they've begun calling in witnesses from the Trump Organization, his 2016 campaign, and the National Enquirer.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


'Kill Every Person You Need To': Alex Jones' Newest Conspiracy Foments Race War (Brandon Gage, February 07, 2023, National Memo)

Infowars host and chief conspiracy theorist Alex Jones warned on Sunday's show that "foaming-at-the-mouth Black people" would wage war on white populations after they flee "race-specific bioweapons" attacks in Africa later this decade. Jones issued these racist predictions while declaring himself a "vessel" of God.

"They intend on making the world so hellish in the build-up to 2030 that everybody will just 'wink, wink' when they release the race-specific bioweapons starting with Africa that are gonna wipe that continent absolutely out. And you'll be under such invasion from the refugees of the economic warfare in Africa that you will quietly, while you're playing cards with your buddies say, 'well, it had to be done.' And when you go along with that metaphysically, spiritually, culturally, the devil's got your soul," said Jones.

"So I don't like the big giant African hordes being brainwashed against us and the left programming brown people to hate white people. It's all part of a plan, folks. It's all part of a very sophisticated plan and I don't just study history. I don't just study the New World Order," Jones continued.

Starting to doubt that they just oppose CRT...

Why Racists Fear Black History -- And Why We Should Thank Black America (Lucian K. Truscott IV, February 07 | 2023, National Memo)

I want to tell you a story about Black History. I sublet Jack Whitten's loft on Broome Street in Soho during the summer of 1969. I knew he was an artist, but when I first climbed the stairs and walked into his loft, I didn't know what to expect. The door opened into his painting and sculpture studio at the front of the loft where four big windows poured light down on the paint-stained floor. The first thing I saw was a big piece of wood carved roughly from a tree trunk sitting in the middle of the floor. It was thick and dark-colored and must have been four or five feet long and three feet high, and into it, Jack had driven what looked like a thousand four-inch nails. Works of art are said by many artists to speak for themselves. Although I did not see it in this way at the time, that piece of art spoke in the unmistakable voice of Black History. It spoke of violence, but it was not about the violence of hammering nails into the wood. Jack Whitten's sculpture told the story of having the nails hammered into him.

What happens to you when you confront a great work of art? Well, it changes you. Great art speaks to you. It teaches you. It tells you what it means.

Listen to Muddy Waters sing "I got my Mojo Working," or Slim Harpo sing "I'm a King Bee," or Howlin' Wolf sing "Meet me in the Bottom." You are listening to Black History. Listen to the right hand of Thelonious Monk picking out the discordant notes and off-chords of "Round Midnight," or stand before Alison Saar's life-size sculpture of a Black woman in a long dress on a plaza in Harlem and witness the power of Black History.

I was thinking last week that maybe I should write something for Black History Month, because during the last year Black History has constantly been in the news, and not in a good way. Black History has been turned into a political issue by racists who are afraid of it. Ron DeSantis in Florida and Republican legislatures around the country are attempting to censor the teaching of Black History. They want to erase the history of slavery and the oppression of Black people under Jim Crow and the struggles of the Civil Rights movement. They want to deny the contributions made by slaves, Black human beings who were not even recognized as citizens, and yet who toiled to build dams and roads and bridges and even the same U.S. Capitol building that racist insurrectionists assaulted two years ago.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


How the Online Right gave up on reality (Malcom Kyeyune, 2/07/23, UnHerd

On 19 January, the Chicago Reader revealed that 36-year-old Pericles "Perry" Abbasi -- a campaign attorney, who was running for office in Chicago's 25th police district with the backing of the Fraternal Order of Police -- had a history of posting bizarre and unseemly content on social media. He had, among other things, retweeted a photoshopped image of himself as the police officer Derek Chauvin, with one knee on George Floyd's neck. In a leaked screenshot from a group chat, he had written that "the horrible black diet" was the reason for "13/50", referencing a common internet meme about Black Americans' percentage of the population (13%) and supposed share of violent crime they commit (50%).

Abbasi denied these accusations of bigotry. He claimed he didn't remember everything he was alleged to have written (without necessarily denying his authorship, either), while also offering a second more general defence of his behaviour: this was the internet, he argued, and if he thought of something funny, he'd immediately post it. If this meant writing a tweet about how a relationship with a 36-year-old woman led him to conclude that child porn sentencing is far too long, then so be it. If it meant "making up insane things to stir s[***] up", then it meant just that. Abbasi admitted he couldn't even remember what he posted 48 hours ago; it was all just a blur of posting, retweets, engagement, and likes. He has posted nearly 104,000 times over the past four years, averaging roughly 70 tweets per day (one can also assume he retweeted hundreds of replies each day). In a sense, Abbasi was telling the truth: he was lost in the sauce, living from post to post.

Many of Abbasi's clients were less than impressed by this. The original report in the Chicago Reader was quickly amended to insert various statements from political figures whose campaigns had him, each stating his comments were unacceptable. But Abbasi doubled down, posting a series of tweets about how being cancelled "was a choice", that he was an "alpha male" and thus above apologising for things out of principle, and that Osama Bin Laden himself taught us that people will always prefer a "strong horse" to a "weak horse." Then, he received a "like" on one of his tweets from Elon Musk and declared that the era of his cancellation had ended.

At first glance, this appears to be a fairly mundane story. Political candidates and semi-public figures have their improprieties revealed in the press all the time, and careless millennial posters have been ruining their careers for years, as people who remember the case of publicist Justine Sacco know. The story of Pericles Abbasi, however, deserves a second look. It shows a crash between two different worlds, and reveals what happens when millennial online culture collides with reality.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The content of conservatismIt is not just the absence of ideology (James Vitali, 2/07/23, The Critic)

Conservatism is not a comprehensive philosophy of reality, but "certain beliefs about the activity of governing and the instruments of government". It is the rationale of the fundamental necessity of stable and cohesive political order for human flourishing. Whilst some on the left view order as inherently oppressive and exploitative, and certain types of liberalism consider order merely as a necessary evil, conservatives recognise order as a vitally important good in itself which also makes the pursuit of all other human values possible. Order and freedom are not juxtaposed in conservatism; it is order that makes freedom itself possible.

Order in the conservative view is sui generis, infinitely complex and organic -- it is not the rational creation of a particular set of men and women at a particular time, but the sedimented wisdom of history. That complexity means conservatives have a unique reverence for the past and a corresponding scepticism, substantiated by experience, of the rational capacity of individuals to devise better forms of polity from first principles. This creates a presumption in favour of those institutions, customs and arrangements that exist and have existed for a long time. That is not to say that all things that have endured are good; such is clearly not the case. It does place the burden of proof upon the person that would seek fundamental or revolutionary change, however. 

The object of the conservative, then, is passing on inherited forms of political order that are productive of human flourishing to the next generation. This gives conservatism a particular disposition on change. It is not hostile to change; conservatives often see change as positively desirable. The purpose of change in conservatism is to improve, to reform in order to conserve -- not to bend that which exists to some abstract ideal. Conservatives worry about change that might compromise whatever makes a particular political order distinctive, which is why they generally attach such importance to repair and reform, rather than transformation. 

It is through the lens of preserving political orders which have been conducive to human flourishing that conservatives consider all other political questions. Conservatives recognise that humans are both individuals who desire self-expression, and deeply social beings too who achieve meaning and value through their relationships with others. They seek to guard against the social individuation of the political community through liberal excess, but also against the domination of the individual by the political community through an overbearing state. Solidarity and common identity are required for political orders to endure, but the whole point of political orders is to create the space and freedom in which humans might flourish. Order, then, requires the conservative to balance these two aspects of human existence; when taken to extremes, either can be deleterious. 

Conservatism values liberty as one of the things that political order is intended to facilitate, but it also recognises that complete liberty constitutes the problem which political associations are designed to overcome: namely, how do we get a collection of individuals to act together to address collective problems? Conservatives, unlike liberals, contend that liberty is one value amongst many, and they distinguish strongly between liberty and licence. 

Conservatives defend institutions, but not because they conform to some metaphysical or objective truth (although they might believe they do, their scepticism cautions them against founding a political society on such a basis). They defend them because of the role they play in sustaining political orders. They contain an inner logic that many other political creeds do not understand or attach weight to -- a historical rationality and purpose that is independent of human design, but which helps to preserve the cohesiveness of a political community by channelling change and providing markers of common identity.

Markets are a particular institution that conservatives defend robustly. They create prosperity, abundance and jobs to support society. Despite the pronouncements of certain economists, their workings are spontaneous, not necessarily consciously designed; their wisdom transcends that of individuals, which is why conservatives are habitually sceptical of the economic planner. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Trump Would Have Been Disastrous for the Fight for Democracy in Brazil and Ukraine
His actions both in and out of office show he cares not a whit about avoiding authoritarianism (Nicholas Grossman, 2/06/23, The UnPopulist)

[A]s it turns out, Brazilian military leaders weren't interested in overthrowing their country's democracy for Bolsonaro. And the Biden administration strongly supported that instinct.

In July 2022, three months before the election, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin spoke at an Americas-wide defense meeting in Brazil and stressed the need to respect civilian officials' authority over the armed forces. In September, the U.S. Senate, led by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, unanimously passed a resolution in support of Brazilian democracy. For months leading up to Brazil's Oct. 2 election and the subsequent Lula-Bolsonaro runoff on Oct. 30, the Biden administration complemented Austin's public words with private communications along diplomatic, military, economic and intelligence channels. As Robbie Gramer reported in Foreign Policy, top officials from the White House, Defense Department, State Department and even CIA held meetings and calls with their Brazilian counterparts to try to head off any effort by Bolsonaro to subvert the election result. 

After the runoff, Biden quickly recognized Lula's win, calling the election "free, fair and credible." This anticipated Brazil's top military brass's joint statement a week and a half after the runoff warning that all political disputes had to be resolved in accordance with democratic rule of law. 

It is reasonable to believe that this all-hands-on-deck American diplomacy played a role in Brazil's military and other national elites' deciding against supporting a Bolsonaro coup.

Trump would have done none of this if he were president.

February 6, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 6:41 PM


China's Balloon May Have Taught Pentagon More Than Beijing Learned From It, General Says (Patrick Tucker, FEBRUARY 6, 2023, Defense One)

On Monday, VanHerck reiterated what other officials said last week: the sensor package on the balloon offered China no better intelligence capabilities than their satellites and other means already possess. 

"We did not assess that it presented a significant collection hazard beyond what already exists in actual technical means from the Chinese," he said. 

Simple physics explains why. Imaging satellites, whether hovering in geostationary orbit or zooming by in low earth orbit, can carry much larger telescopes than can a payload affixed to a balloon. While both a balloon and a satellite might be able to pick up radio transmissions from a sensitive military site, such as Montana's Malmstrom Air Force Base, that communication would likely be encrypted anyway, James A. Flaten, an aerospace engineer at the University of Minnesota, told NPRs Geoff Brumfiel. 

Since these sites are already visible to passing satellites and the balloon wasn't able to stay overhead long enough to observe patterns of life, it's hard to say what useful information it might have collected. 

Still, VanHerck said, the Defense Department took "maximum protective measures while the balloon transited across the United States" to prevent intelligence collection. 

That suggests the use of lasers or other forms of directed energy to essentially blind, or dazzle, the camera lens on the balloon. VanHerck said he would not comment on the "non-kinetic effects" they used to limit intelligence collection until he had spoken to Congress.

Posted by orrinj at 12:04 PM


Former president's visit underscores divide among NH GOP (MICHAELA TOWFIGHI,  1/29/2023, Concord Monitor)

As the crowd applauded former President Donald Trump, who gave the keynote speech Saturday at the annual GOP meeting in Salem, a former state party chairman was not in attendance.

Steve Duprey is among a list of prominent New Hampshire Republicans who say they choose "country over party" when it comes to supporting Trump's quest for re-election.

The path Trump creates for the party is one of aggression and division in the country, they say. Instead, Duprey and others say it's time for a change.

"It's direction of positive messaging like Ronald Reagan and Bush 41 used. It's about having a concrete platform that's consistent with traditional Republican principles," the Concord developer said. "It's about speaking optimistically. Not denigrating any group, or any group of citizens. It's honoring the rule of law."

Concord attorney Tom Rath, a former Attorney General and longtime GOP strategist, was even more blunt.

"I think we've got to rid ourselves with this disease and move forward and listen to what the electorate is telling us," Rath said. "That kind of extremism and sort of almost hero worship is not conducive to having a government that produces the results that benefit the way people live."

Posted by orrinj at 11:53 AM


Neo-Nazi leader and girlfriend accused of targeting Md. power stations (Rachel Weiner, February 6, 2023, Washington Post)

A neo-Nazi leader recently released from prison has been arrested again and accused of plotting an attack on the Maryland power grid with a woman he met while incarcerated. [...]

Russell, a former Florida National Guard member, is the founder of the neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen, which attempted to use violent attacks to spark a race war in the United States. Experts say the group, while small, is dangerous because of its influence on the broader far-right movement to eschew politics and spill blood.

An Atomwaffen member killed a gay, Jewish college student in 2019; another adherent killed his girlfriend's parents for opposing his Nazi views. Atomwaffen followers have also threatened and harassed journalists, African American churches and Jewish organizations.

A former Atomwaffen member named Devon Arthurs, who lived with Russell in Tampa, killed two of their roommates in 2017 and subsequently told authorities they had been planning attacks on U.S. nuclear plants and power lines.

Brandon Russell, the neo-Nazi group leader who stockpiled explosive material in the Florida apartment where a friend killed two roommates, was sentenced in 2018 to five years in federal prison. (Pinellas County Sheriff's Office/AP)
Police discovered bombmaking materials and explosives inside the shared apartment where the murders occurred; Russell subsequently pleaded guilty to possession of an unregistered destructive device and improper storage of explosive materials.

His replacement as leader of Atomwaffen was subsequently imprisoned for "swatting," or calling in fake crises to provoke lethal law enforcement raids.

Russell began talking to the informant while still in prison, according to the court record; he was released in August 2021. The discussions of infrastructure attacks began last summer.

Prosecutors say Russell recommended targeting transformers because they are "custom made and could take almost a year to replace." He also said the attack would be most effective after a winter storm, "when most people are using max electricity."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Strongmen Leaders And The Infallibility Trap (Thomas R. Wells, 2/06/23, 3 Quarks)

[I]t is their lack of the very things that make democracies so far from perfect (the factions competing for voters; the endless bickering) that make autocracies worse.

Even if the believer in autocracy would accept this conclusion, they might still defend its superiority on the grounds of its second promise: decisiveness. Decisiveness can be considered as a virtue in itself, separately from the quality of the decision itself (at least up to a point). In politics just as in other spheres it is often more important that a reasonable choice is made and effectively acted on than that the very best choice is made. For example, suppose someone falls to the ground clutching their chest on a busy street. The bystander effect describes the phenomenon that where there are lots of people available to help, each individual becomes less likely to step forward and act, mainly it seems because lines of responsibility become unclear. The best thing might well be for someone to step forward and take charge ('You call an ambulance. You and you, hold other people back so we can have some space. Now, does any one of you know CPR?') regardless of whether they are the best medically qualified of the people there or whether their instructions are a close match to the Red Cross' latest first aid guidance.

Likewise, in situations like the Covid epidemic, there were a number of plausible policies available to governments (and no perfect ones). It was more important that some policy from that list was chosen and then systematically implemented than that the policy chosen was the best possible. The strongman Xi Jinping opted for Zero-Covid and implemented it systematically, resulting in a tiny death rate in the very country where Covid originated. In contrast it is easy to find evidence of dithering democracies switching continuously between different incompatible disease control regimes, with attendant unnecessary deaths. Boris Johnson's government spent $1 billion subsidising people to eat out in August 2020, and then put the UK into lockdown 8 weeks later as cases rose alarmingly; many federal systems such as the USA implemented multiple incompatible policies at the same time; and so on.

And yet once again the dithering of democracy turns out to be a feature not a bug of successful policymaking (a point made very eloquently by David Runciman). The very decisiveness of autocrats risks locking them into a course of action that may well turn out to be disastrous. The very indecisiveness of democracies allows them to think about and experiment with alternatives and so adapt to changing information or circumstances and to correct mistakes before it is too late. Consider how Xi Jinping's signature Zero-Covid policy changed from a source of gloating triumph over weak-willed democracies to a threat to his own regime as more virulent Covid strains appeared.

Moreover, the problem faced by decisive strongmen like Xi Jinping is directly related to their success in achieving a unified and harmonious political sphere. Because the decisiveness model requires everyone to do as they are told, no public disagreement or second guessing of the situation can be permitted. Everyone must behave as if the strongman leader is infallible, and all his underlings must strive to help maintain that impression - that this policy is the right and thus only possible choice. Hence, even within the government organisation itself, there can be no acknowledgement of the possibility of failure and no planning for alternatives. In Xi Jinping's case this meant that the public was caught by surprise by a policy U-turn (a more appropriate term is 'policy collapse') that was never even formally announced and for which almost no preparation had been made (increasing vaccination of at risk groups; stockpiling medications; preparing hospitals for a wave of cases; etc). It is estimated that the eventual collapse of Zero-Covid may kill more than a million Chinese citizens, but the bigger impact may be to the halo of infallibility on which the regime's popular legitimacy rests.

In contrast, democratic governments are constantly barraged by suggestions for policy amendments and alternatives, and so the public is not surprised when things do change. There is no myth of infallibility around a democratic government. There could hardly be when every mishap and gaffe is broadcast to the nation and picked over gleefully by political opponents, journalists, Twitterati, and cable TV comedians. To the contrary, seeing one's leaders publicly humiliated is entirely normal in a democracy - and thus no threat to the regime. This greatly reduces the costs of admitting mistakes and changing course, while the costs of those mistakes are still small.

...is their terror of uncertainty and fallibility, their hatred of human nature.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Gödel's Proof And Einstein's Dice: Undecidability In Mathematics And Physics - Part I (Jochen Szangolies, 2/06/23, 3 Quarks)

The problem of quantum mechanics is typically phrased in terms of interpretation: we have been given--whether by divine providence or diabolic mischief--this theory, that describes the results of our experiments with unprecedented precision; now, what does it tell us about the world? However, where science is usually a story of unification--the electric and magnetic phenomena being unified in Maxwell's theory; the behavior of elementary particles subsumed in the Standard Model--there has been little in the way of convergence regarding the interpretation of quantum mechanics. To the contrary, new interpretations seem to branch off at an alarming rate, much like parallel worlds are proposed to do in one of the leading contenders, the many-worlds interpretation by Wheeler's student Hugh Everett III. Showcasing this embarrassment of riches, the wikipedia article currently lists 15 different 'influential' interpretations of quantum mechanics, and many more 'minority' approaches persist.

Perhaps, then, a different approach to the problem of quantum mechanics is called for. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


AR-15 lapel pin is a perfect symbol for a GOP that's become a death cult (Will Bunch,  Feb 5, 2023, Philadelphia Inquirer)

In winning election on a completely made-up resume, Santos is the final downward spiral for a Republican Party that has become 100% about the performance and 0% about the policy. So when his new GOP colleague from Georgia handed Santos a lapel pin in the shape of an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle, the New Yorker did what any outrageous showman would do. He pinned it on.

The sight in recent days of Santos and several of his Republican colleagues parading through the hallowed halls of the U.S. Capitol with a mini-celebration of a killing machine that serves no civilian purpose beyond mowing down large numbers of innocent people in the shortest possible time is perhaps the most hideous assault on human decency I've seen in more than 40 years of covering U.S. politics.

But that's the point, isn't it? The lapel pins -- like those Christmas cards of their adorable blond kids armed to the teeth with high-powered weaponry or the right's new love affair with the toxic fumes of gas stoves -- are meant to "trigger the libs" and sustain a career arc that generates prime-time hits on Fox News and fund-raising emails without ever having to get anything done. Yes, you could argue this column, then, is a perfect example of what these cons want. But what a choice: playing along, or remaining silent while America sheds the skin of humanity.

It's one thing to embrace the more extreme interpretations of what the Second Amendment means around the rights of individual citizens to buy or own a gun, for purposes like hunting or self-defense. It's something else entirely to worship the AR-15 and similar assault rifles, which were invented in the 1950s for the military and weren't meant for civilians until the lucrative gun manufacturers who also finance the National Rifle Association saw a gold mine in marketing them to men obsessed with their masculinity in an era of social change.

...having forsaken everything decent? They're like the mutants at the end of Beneath the Planet of the Apes who worship a weapon.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Far-right Settler Leader Becomes MK Under Law to Expand Size of Government (Haaretz, Feb 5, 2023)

Sukkot, a resident of the Yitzhar settlement in the West Bank, is well known to the security establishment. He was arrested in 2010 as a suspect in the torching of a village mosque in Kfar Yasuf but was later released due to a lack of evidence. In 2012, he was one of 12 far-right activists temporarily expelled from the West Bank over suspicions they orchestrated and executed clandestine violent attacks against Palestinians.

The suspects were allegedly involved in the planning, direction, and execution of secret violent attacks against Palestinians residents of the West Bank as well as against Israelis security forces.

Sources said the information indicated that the activists' actions posed a real threat to human life and disrupted public order and peace.

In 2015, Sukkot organized a demonstration at Tel Aviv's Habima Square to protest the interrogation tactics being employed by the Shin Bet against those suspected of a deadly arson in the Palestinian village of Duma, which led to the death of three members of the Dawabsheh family that summer.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


China finds itself with limited options after US shoots down balloon (Chris Buckley, 2/05/23, New York Times)

[T]he reaction from Beijing -- defensive, angered, yet hedging its options -- illustrated the challenges facing China's leader, Xi Jinping, as he tries to stabilize relations while giving little, if any, ground.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The coming wave of climate legal action (Mark Buchanan, Feb 1, 2023,  Semafor)

Plaintiffs are utilizing laws traditionally used to target organized crime groups, or going after environmental marketing claims. And they're relying on new and better science proving links between greenhouse gas emissions and specific, harmful outcomes, such as floods or droughts.

At least one major lawsuit against a huge energy company, Shell, has been successful, and another against RWE in Germany is underway. More could soon follow.

As greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, hitting an all-time high in 2022, action in the courts form a key plank of efforts to force companies to change their behavior.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


States Are Flush With Cash, Which Could Soften a Possible Recession (David Harrison, Feb. 5, 2023, WSJ)

States will hold an estimated $136.8 billion in rainy-day funds this fiscal year, according to the National Association of State Budget Officers, up from $134.5 billion a year earlier, when they represented 0.53% of gross domestic product, the highest in records going back to 1988. This year's figure would represent roughly 12.4% of their total spending. 

Unlike the federal government, most state and local governments must balance their budgets every year.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Man Accused of Firing Blanks at Synagogue Linked to Nazi Imagery (Matthew Kupfer, Michael Barba, Feb. 05, 2023, SF Standard)

A man who allegedly fired blanks from a pistol at a Russian-speaking synagogue in San Francisco has been linked to social media accounts featuring antisemitic propaganda and pictures of him dressed in a World War II-era German military uniform bearing a swastika.

February 5, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 4:18 PM


Is Liberalism Worth Fighting For?: a review of Liberalism and Its Discontents by Francis Fukuyama (Nicholas Misukanis, February 4, 2023, Commonweal)

Fukuyama begins the book with an explanation of how liberalism emerged in Western Europe. In the aftermath of devastating religious wars in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England, France, and the Holy Roman Empire, many governments consolidated their power into absolute monarchies. English monarchs, however, failed to solidify their rule as soundly as their French or Austrian counterparts; the resulting division of powers between the monarch and a representative body provided the foundations for liberalism, which prioritized the protection of individual rights, equality before the law, and the consent of the governed as the basis for political power. In addition to a check on royal authority, liberalism also provided major economic and legal benefits to ordinary people, which spurred massive economic growth and expansion. Fukuyama explains that liberalism in England allowed individuals to create social and democratic institutions that recognized individual rights while also acknowledging the equal moral and legal status of others. Consequently, liberalism helped to make it possible for diverse populations to coexist in the nations that embraced it. While liberal democracies sometimes suffered from gridlock and even violence, the potential for institutional improvement and the protection of individual liberties appealed to the majority of people, and in the twentieth century, democracy triumphed over powerful alternatives such as monarchism, fascism, and communism.

Of course, the English monarchs failed because liberalism was emergent there no later than 1215.

Posted by orrinj at 4:12 PM


Former Iranian President Khatami Joins In Calls For Political Change Amid Growing Unrest (Radio Farda, 2/05/23)

Former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami has joined opposition figure and ex-Prime Minister Mir Hossein Musavi in calls for political change as the country continues to be stricken with widespread anti-government protests.

"What is evident today is widespread discontent," the 79-year-old Khatami said on February 5 in remarks carried on local media.

He added that "there is no sign of the ruling system's desire for reform and avoiding the mistakes of the past and present."

Khatami, the reformist who served as president from 1997 until 2005, said he hoped "nonviolent civil methods [will] "force the governing system to change its approach and accept reforms."

"Iran and Iranians need and are ready for a fundamental transformation whose outline is drawn by the pure 'Woman, life, freedom' movement," he added. [...]

Meanwhile, on February 5, Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei pardoned "tens of thousands" of prisoners, including many arrested in the recent anti-government protests, state media reported.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


California neighborhoods with more EVs see better air quality, public health (SHARON UDASIN, 02/02/23, The Hill)

Neighborhoods in California with higher electric vehicle (EV) adoption rates are experiencing both better air quality and improvements in public health, a new study has found.

For every additional 20 zero-emissions vehicles (ZEVs) per 1,000 people at the zip code level, there was a 3.2 percent drop in the rate of asthma-related emergency room visits, according to the report, published on Thursday in Science of the Total Environment.

The study authors also identified a small suggestive reduction in levels of nitrogen dioxide -- a gaseous pollutant that has long contributed to "the reddish-brown haze characteristic of smoggy air in California," per the state's Air Resources Board.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


DARPA Working on Blood Substitute for Soldiers Injured on Battlefield (Joe Saballa, FEBRUARY 3, 2023, Defense Post)

The objective is to integrate multiple bio-artificial and synthetic components to deliver oxygen, stop bleeding, and replace key therapeutic functions of real blood.

The team will also formulate strategies to stabilize the substitute blood for many months without putting it in cold storage.

Chretien explained that to meet the program's goals, multiple companies and organizations must work together to develop analogs of various blood components and evaluate the efficacy and safety of the blood equivalent.

"This is truly a 'DARPA Hard' problem and an example of DARPA's ability to facilitate the partnerships needed to achieve technological breakthroughs," he stressed.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


EV SALES JUST HIT A MAJOR MILESTONE (Ben SternFebruary 5, 2023, The Cool Down)

Electric vehicles (EVs) are quickly becoming cheaper around the world as the future of transportation clearly appears to be electric.

While most car sales are still gas-powered models, EVs have reached an important milestone. In 2022, one in 10 new car sales around the world were EVs.

This 10% figure may not initially seem impressive, but considering how fast sales are increasing -- EVs have tripled in market share since 2020 -- the number is notable in many ways.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Banning noncompete clauses would be an economic game changer (The Editorial Board, February 4, 2023, Washington Post)

[B]anning noncompetes for most workers has substantial bipartisan support, because it is justified by research and real-world experience. Noncompetes depress wages, hamper people's ability to change jobs and have a "chilling effect" on entrepreneurship, studies show. A free-market economy works better when workers may take their talents to the places they can do the most good.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Mount Washington wind chill hits minus-108, snapping U.S. record (Timothy Bella, February 4, 2023, Washington Post)

Videos recorded by the nonprofit Mount Washington Observatory show how the extreme cold and strong winds of more than 100 mph from the Arctic air blast walloped the summit Friday afternoon, and made the mountain with the tallest peak in the Northeast seem like another planet. In fact, the eerie scene atop Mount Washington was slightly colder than the average on Mars this week, according to NASA.

The wind chill at Mount Washington, a 6,228-foot peak known for erratic weather, surpassed the record of minus-102.7 degrees noted in 2004. The observatory had forecast sustained winds of more than 100 mph on Friday night, with gusts around 128 mph.

The Mount Washington Observatory tweeted Friday afternoon that the daily record temperature set in 1963 had been broken and that temperatures were "expected to plunge even lower overnight." And they did just that, dropping to minus-108, according to the National Weather Service. (The Mount Washington Observatory calculated the wind chill at minus-109 degrees.)

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Economist Paul A. David Looked Back to See Forward (James R. Hagerty, Feb. 2, 2023, WSJ)

One of his most celebrated papers, "The Dynamo and the Computer," examined the slow spread of electrical machinery in manufacturing in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to explain something that was puzzling economists in the early 1990s: Why the widespread adoption of computers wasn't igniting a surge in the productivity of U.S. workers.

In the case of both electrification and computerization, Dr. David concluded, it could take decades for some businesses to adopt better tools and reorganize their operations to take full advantage of them. Within a few years of the publication of his paper in 1990, U.S. productivity finally did start to show a growth spurt.

Dr. David attracted even more notice with a short reflection on the dominance of the QWERTY keyboard design despite claims that different configurations would allow for much faster typing. After typists and typewriter manufacturers in the 19th century had embraced the QWERTY standard, he found, buyers of typewriters were reluctant to junk equipment and deeply entrenched habits. Though critics attacked some of his assertions about the disadvantages of QWERTY, Dr. David maintained that the paper showed how random events and the advantages of following the herd could lead people to settle for suboptimal technology. [...]

Through his studies of history, he found that the widespread use of new technology could be delayed for many reasons. Farmers in England were slow to adopt mechanized harvesting equipment, for instance, because the slopes of their fields made it difficult to use. For textile companies, old multilevel factories with narrow spaces between pillars could make it impossible to install the latest equipment.

In 1882, Thomas Edison set up an electric power plant to light up parts of New York. Four decades later, only slightly more than half of factory mechanical drive capacity had been electrified, Dr. David wrote. Many factory owners clung to leather pulleys and steam power.

In his 1985 paper "Clio and the Economics of QWERTY," Dr. David wrote that the keys were first arranged in that format partly as a way of reducing the risk of jamming typewriters in "typebar clashes." Long after improved technology eliminated such clashes, QWERTY remained dominant. It was the firmly established basis of typing courses, and bosses were hesitant to invest in retraining people.

Some economists objected that QWERTY wouldn't have survived if there were major gains in efficiency to be had from switching to a different keyboard. Some of their more vehement objections may have reflected an incorrect belief that Dr. David was calling for more government intervention in the economy. Instead, he was trying to explain why people wouldn't necessarily flock to the most efficient technology in the short term.

February 4, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Challenging the U.S. Is a Historic Mistake (Robert Kagan, Feb. 3, 2023, WSJ)

Chinese foreign policy under Xi Jinping rests on certain basic assumptions: that in a just world, China should be hegemonic in East Asia, the center of a system in which the other regional powers pay their respect and take direction from China, as was the case for two millennia prior to the 19th century; that regions once considered by Beijing to have been part of China should be "reunified" with it; and that a revived China should have at least an equal say in setting the norms and rules of international life. These goals are achievable, Mr. Xi asserts, because the world is undergoing "great changes unseen in a century," namely, the "great rejuvenation" of Chinese power and the decline of American power. "Time and momentum are on our side," according to Mr. Xi.

There is no denying that China has acquired substantial global power and influence in recent decades. Even if this is "peak China," as some suggest, it is already East Asia's economic hegemon and, were it not for the U.S., would likely become the region's political and military hegemon as well (though perhaps not without a conflict with Japan). Left to itself, a modernizing China could one day dominate its neighbors much as a unified, modernizing Germany once dominated Europe and a modernizing Japan once dominated China and the rest of East Asia. Those powers also believed that "time and momentum" were on their side, and in many respects they were right.

Yet those examples should give Chinese leaders pause, for both Japan and Germany, while accomplishing amazing feats of rapid expansion for brief periods of time, ultimately failed in their ambitions for regional hegemony. They underestimated both the actual and potential power of the U.S. They failed to understand that the emergence of the U.S. as a great power at the beginning of the 20th century had so transformed international circumstances that longstanding ambitions of regional hegemony were no longer achievable.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Trump 2016 Campaign to Pay $450,000 to Settle Non-Disclosure Case (Zoe Tillman, February 3, 2023, Bloomberg)

Former President Donald Trump's 2016 campaign agreed to pay $450,000 to settle a years-long legal fight over non-disclosure agreements that it required workers and volunteers sign, new court documents show.

Jamie Raskin on why Trump charges are 'almost inevitable' (Jordan Rubin, 2/03/23, MSNBC)

Jordan Rubin: Obviously, you believe that there's a good case that Donald Trump and others have committed federal crimes. What would it mean if charges did not ultimately come?

Rep. Jamie Raskin: Even before entertaining that hypothetical challenge, I'd rather focus on the idea that it's almost inevitable that there will be charges, because the evidence is just so overwhelming. 

Interference with a federal proceeding -- in this case, the joint session of Congress, counting Electoral College votes -- was not only the crime, but it was the whole point of "Stop the Steal." That was Donald Trump's complete and obvious and naked intent to get people to go in and interfere with the counting of votes and to stop it, delay it, postpone it by any means necessary. So that just seems completely straightforward. And that's just one of the referrals.

We think there will be charges probably on some things we didn't even have, because we don't have all of the prosecutorial resources that the Department of Justice has, and so we think they probably collected a lot more evidence than we got. 

Now, if he were to somehow escape the grasp of the criminal justice system here, this would be a painful thing for the country and for millions and millions of people who have held on to the idea that we have one system of justice. And it doesn't make sense that more than 900 people can be charged and prosecuted and convicted and sentenced for things like assaulting federal officers and destroying federal property and seditious conspiracy, which means conspiracy to overthrow the government, and yet the guy who's at the very top of the pyramid, who set all of the events into motion, somehow walks off scot free. I mean, I think that is a blow to our justice system.

On the other hand, he's facing lots of other criminal charges and civil charges around the country. He's basically a one-man crime wave. And so he might get his comeuppance in some other jurisdictions first, I don't know about that. But ultimately, we have to believe that the justice system is going to work.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


NBA's Meyers Leonard opens up to Jewish ESPN reporter about his antisemitism scandal (JACOB GURVIS, 2/04/23, Times of Israel)

"I talked to younger Jewish people from metropolitan areas who said they had never heard the word, and that was shocking to me," said Schaap. "Now Meyers Leonard, of course, had heard the word, because he used it, which is different. But it does seem highly plausible to me, knowing all these younger Jewish people who don't know what the word means, that he didn't know what it means."

Schaap and Leonard also retraced the timeline of the controversy, from the moment he uttered the word online to his engagement with the local Jewish community in South Florida. Just days after the incident, Leonard met with Pinny Andrusier, a rabbi affiliated with the Chabad-Lubavitch movement in nearby Broward County.

"You're a good man with a good soul," Leonard recalled Andrusier telling him. "This happened for you, not to you. You'll understand eventually."

From there, Leonard met others in the local community, including Holocaust survivors, and also met with representatives from the Anti-Defamation League and the Greater Miami Jewish Federation.

Schaap asked Leonard if he had absorbed anything from Jewish culture or tradition into his own life. His answer: love.

"Walk outside your door, love people," Leonard said. "Be kind. Forgive. Through a big mistake of mine, I met a loving community. I met people who had been through extremely difficult times, yet they loved me. And they wanted me to love myself."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Brett Kavanaugh May Have Quietly Sabotaged Clarence Thomas' Extreme Gun Ruling (MARK JOSEPH STERN, FEB 03, 2023, Slate)

Yes, [Bruen] was a 6-3 decision. Yes, every justice in the majority joined Thomas' opinion in full. But one justice, Brett Kavanaugh, wrote a separate opinion laying out a different standard that cannot be squared with Thomas'. And another, Chief Justice John Roberts, joined him. Under the Kavanaugh-Roberts test, disarming alleged abusers--and other individual adjudged to be dangerous--is almost certainly constitutional.

February 3, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 6:33 PM


Trump Campaign Aides Plotted to 'Fan the Flame' in Secret 2020 Recording (Asta Hemenway, 2/03/23, Daily Beast)

Aides could also be heard giggling about needing "more Black voices for Trump" during a discussion about outreach to Black voters. "We ever talk to Black people before? I don't think so," Iverson said, resulting in cackles from others in the room.

Posted by orrinj at 6:27 PM


Trump 2020 Campaign Suit Against Washington Post Dismissed (Zoe Tillman, February 3, 2023, Bloomberg)

US District Judge Rudolph Contreras in Washington ruled Friday that the campaign failed to meet the legal standards for defamation claims over the two articles at issue in the March 2020 suit. One was about the report of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election, and the other was about Trump's 2020 campaign strategy.

Posted by orrinj at 3:55 PM


New technique from U.S. national lab promises to strip carbon dioxide emissions from power plants and factories at record-low cost (Catherine Clifford, 1/24/23, CNBC)

Scientists at one of the country's premier research labs have discovered a record-cheap way to capture carbon dioxide as it's emitted from power plants and factories, including the likes of iron and steel manufacturing facilities.

Globally, industrial processes are responsible for 31 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions and electricity generation accounts for 27 percent, according to Bill Gates in his climate book, dwarfing the 16 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions that comes from the transportation sector.

The new technique discovered by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory costs $39 per metric ton and is the cheapest technique for this kind of carbon capture ever reported in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. For comparison, it costs $57 per metric ton to capture carbon dioxide from a coal-fired power plant using current state-of-the-art technology, PNNL says.

Posted by orrinj at 9:49 AM


READ A LETTER FROM HO CHI MINH TO U.S. PRESIDENT TRUMAN BEFORE THE VIETNAM WAR BEGAN: Ho Chi Minh hoped the Americans would join him to fight the French. (HO CHI MINH, 2/3/2023, HistoryNet)

As early as 1941, Vietnam has risen up against the Japanese fascists, and taken arms by the side of the Allies. After the Japanese surrendered to the Allies, a Provisional Government was set up to restore order and eradicate all fascist intentions in Vietnam. Supported by the whole nation, it carried out a democratic program, and succeeded in restoring order and discipline everywhere. Under very difficult circumstances, general elections for National Congress were organized and took place on January 6th 1946 throughout the land, including 9,000,000 electors of whom more than 90% went to the polls.

The French colonialists, on the contrary, surrendered to the Japanese as early as September 1941. For four years they wholeheartedly cooperated with the Japanese to fight against the Allies and to repress the Vietnamese population. On March 9th, 1945, five months before the Japanese were defeated, the French by a second surrender, lost all right and control over Indochina.

On September 23rd, 1945, while the New Vietnam Democratic Republic was making strenuous efforts to carry out her reconstruction program, the French launched a night attack on the innocent population of Saigon, which was followed up by a systematically destructive and murderous warfare. [...]

For this reason, on behalf of my people and Government, I respectfully request you to interfere for an immediate solution of the Vietnamese issue. The people of Vietnam earnestly hopes that the great American Republic would help us to conquer full independence and support us in our reconstruction work. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:43 AM


Cameras Like One That Captured Tyre Nichols Beating Are Multiplying Across U.S. (Mariah Timms and Zusha Elinson, Feb. 3, 2023, WSJ)

Footage released last week by the city of Memphis from a pole-mounted surveillance camera provided a clearer view than the officers' body-worn cameras of the Jan. 7 encounter, when Mr. Nichols was punched, kicked and struck with batons. He died in a Memphis hospital three days later. 

Most studies have shown that public surveillance systems in the U.S. don't have much impact on violent crime but can reduce property crimes such as thefts and break-ins, said Daniel Lawrence, a research scientist at the nonprofit CNA Corporation's Center for Justice Research and Innovation.

Such cameras also have helped increase the rates at which crimes are solved in some cities by providing video evidence, he said. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:38 AM


Employers added 517,000 jobs in January, astonishing labor market growth (Lauren Kaori Gurley and  Rachel Siegel,  February 3, 2023, Washington Post)

The labor market shattered expectations in January, as the economy added 517,000 jobs and the unemployment rate dropped to 3.4 percent, a low not seen since May 1969, according to data released Friday from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Job gains had been steadily dropping for months, but January's stunning job growth reflects unexpected tightness in the labor market , even amid fears of a looming recession as high profile layoffs spread across the tech industry.

Open the borders.

Posted by orrinj at 9:19 AM


What does woke really mean? (Mary Jackson, January 26, 2023, World)

When did woke become an adjective? In 1938, blues singer Huddie Ledbetter, aka Lead Belly, advised that black people "best stay woke, keep their eyes open," referring to racist violence. Black novelist William Melvin Kelley wrote a piece for The New York Times in 1962 titled, "If You're Woke You Dig It," on beatniks and slang within the Harlem jazz scene. Black nationalists and civil rights activists in the 20th century used the word to promote social and political consciousness.

How has the word evolved? It remained within the African American vernacular, sometimes used as slang for staying awake or being suspicious of a cheating partner. But in 2014, the phrase "stay woke" took off on social media following the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. Black Lives Matter proponents adopted the phrase as a blanket call to social activism against racism, injustice, and police brutality.

Posted by orrinj at 9:06 AM


Bonhoeffer's courage, 90 years later (Jordan J. Ballor, February 1, 2023, World)

Leadership and authority, argued Bonhoeffer, are important and legitimate callings. Far from being an idealistic pacifist or fanatic anarchist, Bonhoeffer's Lutheranism formed his understanding of the legitimate role of political authority. And in extreme cases, such as that faced by Germany in 1933, it is understandable how a powerful personality might exercise influence over a nation's citizens. But, warned Bonhoeffer, "the leader must radically reject the temptation to become an idol, that is, the ultimate authority of the led." This was, in fact, the critical feature of Hitler's leadership: his personality shaped politics, and his will became the law.

The consequences of such an inversion of the office of leadership were catastrophic. Individual people, created in the image of God, must stand before God in their callings. They could not place anyone else in the ultimate seat of judgment and authority. "Only before God," said Bonhoeffer with characteristic Lutheran emphasis, "does the human being become what he is, an individual, free, and at the same time bound in responsibility." To allow anyone else to come between the individual and God was to commit idolatry. To do this was essentially to replace God with another creaturely authority.

Sin has corrupted all aspects of human relationship: God, one another, and the world. Only Christ's mediating and redeeming work can restore those relationships. But where the Christian faith sees God as the ultimate authority and Christ as the mediator, the emerging Nazi ideology set the Leader in place of God and Christ.

"Leader and office that turn themselves into gods mock God and the solitary individual before him who is becoming the individual, and must collapse," concluded Bonhoeffer. "Only the leader who is in the service of the penultimate and ultimate authority merits loyalty." Without naming Hitler directly, Bonhoeffer challenged the pledge of ultimate and personal allegiance that the Nazi leader demanded. And he rightly predicted the disaster that awaited, albeit only after much suffering and loss.

Posted by orrinj at 8:59 AM


Pastor as Political Leader: Lessons from the Wartime Sermons of Jonathan Edwards (Jesse Crutchley, February 3, 2023, Providence)

The commonality throughout these various martial periods, according to Cuthbert, is that Edwards "designed his sermons to provide an integrated framework through which his congregation understood military action, personal piety, corporate spirituality, and God's ultimate purposes in the world." Edwards' sermon "The Duties of Christians in a Time of War" is a particularly fitting example. As Cuthbert says,"...unlike earlier revival sermons, Edwards did not use war simply as the background for this sermon but its subject providing a philosophical and Biblical foundation for warfare." The sermon was based upon 1 Kings 8:44-45. In typical fashion, Edwards analyzed the text into its different parts arriving, ultimately, at a series of four propositions. Focusing on the first, Edwards observes, "A people of God may be called of God to go forth to war against their enemies." The proposition is clearly a reference from the first conditional clause of the sermon text: "If thy people go out to battle against their enemy...". Seeking to provide his congregation with a standard of conduct, Edwards then distinguishes within this proposition two constituent elements that mirror, without Edwards directly naming them, the traditional distinction within the Christian just war tradition between jus ad bellum (causes of just war) and jus in bello (proper conduct within war). 

Jus ad bellum: Edwards grounds the just recourse to war in both general and special revelation. First, in accordance with natural law, Edwards argues, "It is lawful and a duty in some cases for one nation to wage war with another... If it be lawful for a particular person, when assaulted, to stand in his own defense and to wound and kill another to preserve his own life, the very same principles that prove the lawfulness of one will [prove the other]." Then, referencing the moral law inscripturated, Edwards makes a series of moves. He:

Appeals to the sixth commandment. 

Alludes to various narratives which depict God, "...encouraging, commanding, [and] ordering the affairs of war, [and] rewarding [the defenders of the people]."

Finally, he cites Romans 13:1-4, saying, "The New Testament approves of the civil magistracy, and of the magistrates' using the sword to restrain open violence with force."

Jus in Bello: Having established that there are lawful causes for war, Edwards proceeds to define the proper conduct once war is initiated. He writes, "If it be a duty for a people to wage war for the defense of the community, then it is their duty to prosecute [that war] in such a manner as tends most effectually to obtain this end, not barely to stand on their defense when their enemies actually assault them." Edwards from the pulpit, therefore, proclaimed, "If it be a duty of [a people to] wage war, 'tis a duty to prosecute it with vigor."

Posted by orrinj at 8:37 AM


The GOP Can't Remember Why It Took the Debt Ceiling Hostage (Eric Levitz, 2/03/23, New York)

Hostage taking is, traditionally, a means to an end. A criminal organization wants to earn fast cash, so it kidnaps the child of a business tycoon. Or a militant group wants some of its members released from prison, so it seizes a government building. Maybe some of the individuals involved are sadists or psychopaths who get a kick out of threatening people's lives. But their ultimate aim isn't to terrorize; the ransom is the point.

House Republicans, however, appear to be nontraditional hostage takers. Instead of formulating demands and then contriving a hostage situation in order to get them met, Kevin McCarthy's caucus has formulated a hostage situation and is now scrambling to come up with some demands. The party knows it wants to threaten to trigger a global financial crisis unless Joe Biden gives them something. But they don't actually know what that thing is.

Posted by orrinj at 8:22 AM


Ignoring Antisemitism Only Makes It Stronger: The recent rise in hatred against Jews is a bellwether of our times, making our complacency that much more dangerous (Toby Lichtig, February 3, 2023, New/Lines)

One thing that characterizes us Jews is our sheer longevity, and yet, for almost all of our history, in almost every part of the world, we have existed as a minority. The reasons for this are complex and interesting and have much to do with the non-proselytizing nature of Judaism. Even the word "Hebrew," from Ivri -- which translates as "he who crosses" or "passerby" -- denotes a sense of otherness. Unlike the Greeks, Romans or Egyptians, Hebrews were not tied to land; they always came from somewhere else. And it is precisely the endurance of this minority status that has helped to preserve Jewish traditions and culture over such a long period of time. When you're not part of the mainstream, you tend to hang on to what distinguishes you, whether by choice or fiat.

The Jews, then, are an ancient tribe, which makes despising them an ancient ritual. Antisemitism is, as the saying goes, "the oldest hatred." As with all ancient rituals, this form of hatred has morphed and shifted over time. In other words, we Jews have been hanging around for so damned long in our alterity that an agglomerated host of stereotypes have been projected onto us. This is what happens when you've been the ultimate "other" for so long, at least in the Western public imagination. As Jean-Paul Sartre once said, "If the Jew did not exist, the antisemite would invent him." This makes antisemitism a very intricate and versatile prejudice.

Indeed, it has now become a commonplace when discussing antisemitism to note its multivalence. Jews have -- and for quite a long time now -- broadly been hated and derided as both subhuman (dirty, deformed, physically puny, eternal victims, that which T. S. Eliot -- or perhaps just his mouthpiece Burbank -- referred to as "underneath the lot," including the rats) and superhuman (rich, fat, physically grotesque, at the nexus of a sinister cabal of string-pullers, directing global politics and global finance for personal benefit). This is what Baddiel calls going both "high" and "low." We see it throughout history, tapping into the prevailing currents of the day.

During the medieval period, when religion trumped all, Jews were swept up in the wars over tolerance and heresy, as happened during the Inquisition. They were routinely cast as both petty swindlers and perpetrators of the greatest cosmic crime of all: deicide. (Only in 1964 did the Vatican formally repudiate collective Jewish guilt for the Crucifixion.)

Fast-forward to the 19th century and the prejudice inserted itself into the burning new questions about nationality and the nation-state, especially following the European revolutions of 1848. Jews were both hated for failing to fit in and, as restrictions on their civil liberties relaxed, despised and feared for their assimilation. Either way, they were seen as contaminating the national body politic. The person who gifted us the term "antisemitism" (a strange coinage that makes little contextual sense, given that "Semitism" comes from linguistics, referring to a language group rather than a religious or ethnic category) was a man named Wilhelm Marr, whose main concern was to turn Jew hatred on the basis of religion (which one could escape through conversion) into Jew hatred on the basis of ethnicity, or race. His League of Antisemites (Antisemiten-Liga) fretted about the "Germanization" of this eternal other, the sense that "Germanized" Jews would simply be old-school Jews hiding in plain sight. (Marr's second wife, Helene Sophia Behrend, nee Israel, was Jewish, and the marriage was allegedly a happy one, a reminder of the nonsense of the "But some of my best friends are ..." line of defense.)

During the 20th century, this Janus-like prejudice evolved again, inserting itself into both of the two dominant political movements. Jews were, according to who was talking, either communists, responsible for pulling down the global capitalist edifice, or arch-capitalists, responsible for shoring up that very edifice's foundations.

In certain ways, the 19th-century obsession with the nation-state has parallels in contemporary identity politics, in the affirmation of unique characteristics and heritages of multifarious individuals and groups, a phenomenon that has, in its turn -- and in ways that are depressingly unsurprising -- sprung up alongside (and helped to trigger) an upsurge in various ugly new forms of nationalism. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:54 AM


There's a buzz about green hydrogen. But pink, produced using nuclear, may have a huge role to play too (Anmar Frangoul, 2/03/23, CNBC)

Alongside blue and green, another color attracting attention is pink. Like green hydrogen, its process incorporates electrolysis, but there's a key difference: pink uses nuclear.

"If you split ... water, you get hydrogen and oxygen," Rothman said. "But splitting water takes energy, so what pink hydrogen is about is splitting water using energy that has come from nuclear."

This means that "the whole system is low carbon, because ... there's no carbon in water ... but also the energy source is also very low carbon because it's nuclear."

Alongside electrolysis, Rothman noted that nuclear could also be used with something called a thermochemical cycle.

This, she explained, harnessed very high temperatures to split water into oxygen and hydrogen. 

Pink hydrogen already has some potentially significant backers. These include EDF Energy, which has floated the idea of producing hydrogen at Sizewell C, a 3.2-gigawatt nuclear power station planned for the U.K.

"At Sizewell C, we are exploring how we can produce and use hydrogen in several ways," the firm's website says. "Firstly, it could help lower emissions during construction of the power station."

"Secondly, once Sizewell C is operational, we hope to use some of the heat it generates (alongside electricity) to make hydrogen more efficiently," it adds.

EDF Energy, which is part of the multinational EDF Group
, said in a statement sent to CNBC: "Hydrogen produced from nuclear power can play a substantial role in the energy transition."

Posted by orrinj at 7:49 AM


The State Where the GOP Would Rather Lose Than Change (DAVID SIDERS, 02/03/2023, Politico)

In Washington, the lesson many Republican political professionals expected their party to draw from a less-than-red-wave midterm was that the most hard-right politics of the Trump era were weighing them down - that general election voters were tiring of election denialism and, if not Donald Trump himself, his grievances about the 2020 election. Many high-profile candidates the former president rammed through the primaries last year lost in November, and in Arizona, the wreckage was particularly severe.

Kari Lake, a former TV anchor and one of the GOP's most prominent election deniers, had become such an electrifying candidate that she was compelled to tamp down speculation about a vice presidential run. But then she lost. So did the hard-liners running for U.S. Senate, state attorney general and secretary of state. For too many independents and moderate Republican voters, they were a turn-off.

Arizona was a "perfect political science experiment" for the GOP nationally, Stan Barnes, a former state lawmaker and Republican consultant in Arizona, told me.

"We had the best candidate in anyone's lifetime in Kari Lake, and she had the Republican wind at her back," he said. "Yet, Kari lost. And I think the post-mortem is, you can't stand on, 'The whole system's corrupt' and 'Elections are stolen' as a platform for why people should vote for you."

He said, "No matter what you or I think of the reality of it, if you want to win the election and you want to change things, it's not the way to win."

Yet denialism and its attendant conspiracies animate a large swath of the Republican Party -- still. And if Arizona is any example, it suggests that a not insignificant percentage of the national electorate is determined to run the same doomed experiment again in 2024.

Posted by orrinj at 7:46 AM


Why I Worry About Israeli Democracy: The challenges facing the country are daunting, but all is not lost. (Amichai Magen, 2/02/23, Persuasion)

 From the outside, Israel appears to be a strong and effective state. The 2022 US & News Report, for example, ranks it as the 10th most powerful state in the world, with Israel's military placed 4th, preceded only by the United States, China, and Russia. Israel's Covid response has also been lauded internationally as among the most effective in the world, suggesting high state capacity. 

But this is increasingly a façade. Over the last few decades, Israel has allowed three shadow-states to gradually emerge under its nose: an ultra-Orthodox (or haredi) Jewish one, Bedouin-Arab areas of lawlessness and violence in the country's rural regions, and a nationalist West Bank settler movement operating in a twilight-zone of ambiguous Israeli authority over the Palestinians. In each case, what began as fringe communities have metastasized into full-blown areas of limited statehood. Even if Israel manages to resolve the settlements issue, unless it can integrate its growing haredi and Bedouin populations into broadly liberal modernity, Israel will become increasingly balkanized and unstable.

Achieving such a mammoth task of socio-economic integration over the coming decades appears to be increasingly precarious. This is partly due to the second reason I am concerned about the health of Israeli democracy: the disintegration of a viable political center marked by the precipitous decline in the electoral power of the Israeli center-left, Benjamin Netanyahu's transformation of Israel's dominant center-right party to a cult of personality, and the parallel rise of religious populist parties on Israel's far-right.

Last but not least, there is the hellish democratic conundrum of Israel's continued occupation and security control over more than two million Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Captured by Israel from Jordan in a defensive war in 1967, military occupation over these territories was supposed to be temporary, maintained until a peace settlement with either Jordan or an independent Palestinian state would separate the two peoples into two sovereign polities. Despite a growing circle of peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors, however, Jordan officially renounced its claims to the West Bank in 1988, and peace with the Palestinians has proven elusive ever since. International law prohibits an occupying power from extending voting rights to an occupied population. But how long can a temporary occupation last? At what point does the temporary occupation become de facto annexation and the fact that Israelis and Palestinians living in the West Bank are subject to different rules become democratically untenable?

The inability to disengage from the Palestinians places Israeli democracy in an incrementally-tightening temporal vise.

Democracy is anathema to Nationalism. It fails to privilege the chosen Identity and punish the other.

An open letter to Israel's friends in North America (MATTI FRIEDMAN, YOSSI KLEIN HALEVI and DANIEL GORDIS, 2 February 2023, Times of Israel)

To Israel's friends in North America,

We are taking the unusual step of directly addressing you at a moment of acute crisis in Israel. We write with a sense of anguish and anxiety for the future of our country. All of us moved to Israel from North America and raised our children here. Between us are many decades of work as reporters, literary chroniclers and translators of Israeli reality for audiences abroad. We have explained and defended Israel against the campaign of distortions that seeks to turn the Jewish state into a pariah and will proudly continue to do so.

Today, though, protecting Israel also means defending it from a political leadership that is undermining our society's cohesion and its democratic ethos, the foundations of the Israeli success story. The changes afoot will have dire consequences for the solidarity of Israel's society and for its economic miracle, as our leading economists are warning. It will also threaten Israeli-American relations, and it will do grave damage to our relations with you, our sisters and brothers in the Diaspora.

This crisis is unique, and uniquely heartbreaking, because it comes from within.

JPMorgan warns of growing risk to investing in Israel due to judicial shakeup plans (ASH OBEL, 2/043/23, Times of Israel)

Leading US financial institute JPMorgan has warned of a growing risk of investing in Israel due to the new government's far-reaching plans for overhauling the judicial system.

The internal memo released Friday came days after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pointed to both JPMorgan and fellow US banking giant Goldman Sachs as evidence that the judicial proposals were not chasing away potential investors.

In the memo, which was first published by Channel 12 news, JPMorgan cited both the judicial overhaul plans presented by Justice Minister Yariv Levin, as well as an increase in "geopolitical hostilities."

The document -- which stressed that the views expressed in the memo are indeed the bank's official positions -- compared Israel to Poland, which passed similar judicial reforms and subsequently had its credit rating downgraded in January 2016.

Posted by orrinj at 7:41 AM


February 2, 2023 (Heather Cox Richardson, 2/02/23, Letters from an American)

The Democrats removed Gosar and Greene--both members of the far-right group--after they threatened violence against their Democratic colleagues. Republicans removed Schiff and Swalwell over make-believe dangers and now have removed Omar allegedly over policy differences. At the same time, McCarthy reinstated Gosar and Greene to prime committee assignments.

The Republicans have accepted violence among Congress members.

Today's vote is a window into a larger story. It appears the Republican Party has split, and the far-right wing is making a play to become what amounts to a third party. Its members demanded the removal of Schiff and Swalwell from the intelligence committee and Omar from foreign affairs: Schiff and Swalwell apparently because they have gone after former president Donald Trump, and Omar because she is Muslim and a woman of color.

February 2, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 3:14 PM


Anti-Muslim extremist Rasmus Paludan engaged in sex chats with minors (TRT World, 2/02/23)

Audio recordings from the racist politician's online conversations reveal he spoke to minors about disturbing and graphic sexual scenarios, such as a teacher sexually abusing a boy in front of his class.

Swedish-Danish politician Rasmus Paludan had sexually explicit conversations with minors on the internet despite being aware that they were underage.

The racist convict, notorious for anti-Muslim extremism and conducting "Quran burning tours", engaged in inappropriate and sexually explicit chats with underage boys on the social media platform Discord.

Posted by orrinj at 3:08 PM


Did the FBI's Charles McGonigal Help Throw the 2016 Election to Trump? (Craig Unger Feb. 1st, 2023, New Republic)

Starting in 1980, an alleged "spotter agent" for the KGB began cultivating Trump as a new asset for Soviet intelligence.

The Russian mafia laundered millions of dollars through Donald Trump's real estate by purchasing condos in all-cash transactions through anonymous corporations that did not disclose real ownership.

Trump Tower was a home away from home for Vyacheslav Ivankov, one of the most brutal leaders of the Russian mafia, and at least 13 people with known or alleged links to the mafia held the deeds to, lived in, or ran alleged criminal operations out of Trump Tower in New York or other Trump properties.

Trump was some $4 billion in debt when the Russians came to bail him out via the Bayrock Group, a real estate firm that was largely staffed, owned, and financed by Soviet émigrés who had ties to Russian intelligence and/or organized crime.

Much of my material came from FBI documents. A lot came from open-source databases. It made no sense. There was an astounding amount of data on the public record. The FBI had launched enormous investigations of the Russian mafia in the 1980s. They had staked out a New York electronics store that was a haven for KGB officers. They knew that's where the Trump Organization bought hundreds of TV sets. They had their eyes on Ivankov and other Russian mobsters who were denizens of Trump's casinos and bought and sold his condos through shell companies. They had to know that Trump laundered money for and provided a base of operations for the Russian mafia, which was, after all, a de facto state actor tied to Russian intelligence. They had to know that the Russians repeatedly bailed Trump out when he was bankrupt. They had to know that Russia owned him.

I'm well aware of the strict secrecy that accompanies ongoing investigations as a matter of procedure. But once the Mueller Report was finally released, it became crystal clear that Robert Mueller's investigation dealt only with criminal matters, not counterintelligence. Trump had been thoroughly compromised by Russia and was a grave threat to national security. But the FBI wasn't doing anything about it!

One reason for that may have been that on far too many occasions, FBI men in sensitive positions ended up on the take from the very people they were supposed to be investigating. And on January 23, a bomb dropped: We learned that the latest of these is Charles McGonigal, the former head of counterintelligence for the FBI in New York, who ended up working for billionaire oligarch Oleg Deripaska, a major target in the Trump Russia investigation.

Posted by orrinj at 9:41 AM


Posted by orrinj at 9:01 AM


How classified documents became a schoolgirl's show-and-tell (CALVIN WOODWARD, January 26, 2023, AP)

Two days after the 1980 debate, businessman Alan Preble found the papers in his Cleveland hotel room, apparently left behind by Carter press secretary Jody Powell. Preble took them to his Franklin Park home, where they sat for more than three years as a faintly appreciated keepsake.

"We had looked through them but didn't think they were important," Carol Preble, Kristin's mother, said back then, apparently unimpressed by the classified markings. But for social studies class, Kristin "thought they'd be real interesting. I thought they'd be great, too."

Off the girl went to Ingomar Middle School on Jan. 19, 1984, with the zippered briefcase. [...]

As for Kristin, she earned a niche in history and a "B" on her school project.

Posted by orrinj at 8:55 AM


Lawsuit can proceed against Kenosha shooter Kyle Rittenhouse (SCOTT BAUER, 2/02/23, AP)

The father of Anthony Huber, one of two men shot and killed by Rittenhouse, filed the lawsuit in 2021, accusing officers of allowing for a dangerous situation that violated his son's constitutional rights and resulted in his death. Anthony Huber's father, John Huber, also alleged that Rittenhouse, who was 17 at the time of the shootings, conspired with law enforcement to cause harm to protestors. John Huber is seeking unspecified damages from city officials, officers and Rittenhouse.

U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman on Wednesday dismissed motions filed by Rittenhouse and the government defendants seeking to dismiss the civil rights lawsuit.

In allowing the case against Rittenhouse and the others to proceed, the judge said that Anthony Huber's death "could plausibly be regarded as having been proximately caused by the actions of the governmental defendants."

Posted by orrinj at 8:34 AM


McConnell pulls rival Rick Scott off powerful Commerce Committee  (ALEXANDER BOLTON, 02/01/23, The Hill)

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has pulled Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), who tried to oust him as the Senate's top Republican in a bruising leadership race, off the powerful Commerce Committee.  

McConnell also removed Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), who supported Scott's bid to replace McConnell as leader, from the Commerce panel, which has broad jurisdiction over a swath of federal agencies.  

The GOP leader insisted last year that he didn't take the attempt to end his leadership reign personally, but the latest move sends a clear message to conservatives that challenging McConnell's leadership carries a cost.

"McConnell got to pick. He kicked me off; he kicked Lee off," Scott confirmed in an interview.  

Posted by orrinj at 8:24 AM


Squid-inspired smart windows could slash building energy use (Prachi Patel, February 2, 2023, Anthropocene)

Windows are critical for improving building energy efficiency. Over a quarter of a building's energy is lost through today's glass-pane windows. Now, drawing inspiration from the color-changing skins of squids and krill, researchers have designed liquid-filled panels that dynamically change how they let light through. Retrofitting windows with these panels could cut the energy costs of heating, cooling, and lighting buildings by well over 40 percent, they say. [...]

The University of Toronto team wanted to make such a dynamic system using simple, low-cost components. They sandwiched together three thin Plexiglass sheets, each containing roughly 2-3mm high channels patterned into it. Through each layer, the researchers pump various fluids: water-based dye solutions or glycerol that absorb light of certain colors; carbon pigment suspensions that control light transmission; and titania nanoparticle suspensions that direct the light passing through. "The net effect on light transmission is through the additive effects of the combined layers," Hatton says.

The researchers conducted experiments and ran whole-building computer simulations to see how the squid-inspired windows improve building energy performance. They calculated estimated annual savings of 75 percent on heating energy, 20 percent on electricity for lighting, and 43 percent on total energy use compared with the best available darkening windows on the market today. The energy saving would be even higher when compared to plain glass windows, he says. The work appears in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Posted by orrinj at 7:51 AM


Posted by orrinj at 7:47 AM


Busting three myths about materials and renewable energy (Casey Crownhart, February 2, 2023, MIT Technology Review)

When it comes to emissions, the story is pretty simple: we'll generate emissions while we build new energy infrastructure, but we'll avoid a lot more by not burning fossil fuels. At most, we could generate up to 29 billion metric tons of greenhouse-gas emissions building renewable-energy infrastructure. That's less than one year's worth of the world's emissions from fossil fuels today. And the story might turn out even better if we can work out how to cut emissions from steel and cement production or establish robust recycling for some key materials. 

As for environmental harms beyond climate-related pollution, the picture can be more complicated, and we'll get more into this when we address the last myth. But for now, let's consider the sheer mass of mining needed for fossil fuels and for renewable energy. 

About 7.5 billion metric tons of coal were mined in 2021. Estimates for the maximum amount of materials we'll need annually to build low-emissions energy infrastructure top out at about 200 million metric tons, including all the cement, aluminum, steel, and even glass that needs to be produced. 

Nevermind how quickly we'll innovate past these materials.

Posted by orrinj at 7:30 AM


Will the Fed Overdo It? (RAGHURAM G. RAJAN, 1/24/23, Project Syndicate)

Inflation is coming down, partly because snags in supply chains have been sorted out, but also because demand is weakening. Higher interest rates have slowed home purchases, and hence housing construction. Higher-priced goods and services have eaten into household budgets and impeded consumer spending. And China's anemic growth has dampened commodity prices globally.

The Fed, however, is not satisfied with the current situation. It fears that until some slack emerges in America's red-hot labor market, wages could still catch up with inflation and then push it higher.

Open the Borders.

Posted by orrinj at 7:22 AM


The 747 is out. Green airplanes are in.: NASA has a plan to "skip a generation" of passenger aircraft design (Adam Clark Estes@adamclarkestesace@recode.net  Feb 2, 2023, Vox)

 A couple weeks before the 747's big send-off, Boeing and NASA announced a major partnership, the Sustainable Flight Demonstrator project, to produce a wacky-looking single-aisle plane that promises to slash fuel consumption for commercial aircraft. The new aircraft looks like a giant glider with long, skinny wings propped up by diagonal struts to reduce drag. It's called the transonic truss-braced wing concept, and if widely adopted could transform sustainable air travel as we know it.

Unlike cars, you can't simply bolt a battery onto a plane and make it electric. (Making an electric vehicle is more complicated than that, but you get the point.) Improvements to airplanes happen in small increments over the course of decades. Typically, a single-digit reduction in an aircraft's fuel consumption would be meaningful. Boeing says the innovations in the new truss-braced wing concept will amount to a 30 percent reduction. That's exactly the kind of leap NASA wanted to get out of the Sustainable Flight Demonstrator project, which Boeing won.

"If you think that, or have the perception that, aviation hasn't been working on sustainability or environmentally friendliness, that's a bad perception because every generation of aircraft that's come out has been 15, 20, 25 percent better than the one it replaces," Rich Wahls, NASA's sustainable flight national partnership mission integration manager, told Recode. "What we're trying to do now is skip a generation."

The big idea behind the transonic truss-braced wing concept is an update to the aircraft configuration, or the plane's architecture. Unlike the low-wing design that dominates the commercial aircraft configuration today, the new Boeing design has wings that stretch over the top of the plane's tubular body. This reduces drag, but it also allows for a wider variety of propulsion systems, from bigger jet engines to exposed propellers. It's also fast. The "transonic" part of the concept's name refers to its ability to fly just shy of the speed of sound, or around 600 miles per hour.

NASA likes this idea so much it's investing $425 million into the project under a Funded Space Act Agreement. Boeing and other partners will chip in an additional $300 million. Once Boeing builds a full-scale demonstrator aircraft, NASA says it will complete testing in the late 2020s, and if all goes well, the public could see the new technologies in commercial aircraft sometime in the 2030s.

Posted by orrinj at 7:03 AM


Is climate change to blame for the extreme cold? Researchers say there could be a connection. (Amanda Gokee, February 1, 2023, Boston Globe)

This weekend could bring record-setting cold, with temperatures as low as 101 degrees below zero with wind chill on the summit of Mount Washington, home to some of New England's most extreme weather. In Concord, N.H., it could be as cold as 40 degrees below zero with wind chill. [...]

Temperatures predicted at the summit are cold enough to cause frostbite in a minute or less, Tarasiewicz said. In spite of the danger, the atmosphere at the observatory is mostly one of excitement.

"We're all sort of looking at the forecasts and the numbers in disbelief, but we're grinning the whole time," he said. "There's definitely an excited buzz up here with this type of weather. It's sort of why we signed up to work at a place like this and especially if there's a chance to break an all-time record low up here on the summit."

The current record of 47 degrees below zero (that's without wind chill) was established at the observatory in 1934. On Friday night the ambient temperature is expected to fall to between 35 degrees below zero and 50 degrees below zero, he said. Winds could reach 60 to 105 miles per hour, according to the latest forecast.

Posted by orrinj at 6:51 AM


Retired coal sites to be transformed into multi-day iron-air batteries (Joshua S Hill,  2 February 2023, Renew Economy)

American storage technology company Form Energy is set to deploy two 10MW/1,000MWh multi-day iron-air battery storage systems at two retiring coal plant sites in Minnesota and Colorado.

Form Energy signed a definitive agreement with US utility Xcel Energy late last week which would see two Xcel subsidiaries each deploy a 10MW/1,000MWh iron-air system.

Xcel Energy-Minnesota will deploy at the retiring Sherburne County Generating Station in Becker, Minnesota, while Xcel Energy-Colorado will deploy its system at the Comanche Generating Station in Pueblo, Colorado.

Both projects are expected to be online as early as 2025, though are nevertheless still subject to regulatory approvals in their respective states.

"We're on track to reduce our electric system carbon emissions 80% by 2030 and to deliver carbon-free electricity by 2050," said Bob Frenzel, chairman, president and CEO of Xcel Energy.

February 1, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The House GOP's sham hearings are fizzling before they even begin (Jennifer Rubin, 1/31/23, Washington Post)

First, most voters don't want lawmakers to spend time spinning scandals. A recent CNN poll found that 67 percent of voters (including 74 percent of independents) don't like the way Republicans are handling their job. Seventy-three percent (including 48 percent of Republicans and 76 percent of independents) say Republicans aren't paying enough attention to the country's real issues. Likewise, a CBS poll earlier this month found that less than one-third of Americans want Republicans to spend time investigating President Biden. Every hearing that Republicans devote to distractions highlights their failure to tackle real issues.

Second, it is hard for Republicans to explain to an audience not already seeped in right-wing conspiracy theories what they heck they are talking about. At least the Benghazi matter and the bollixed Fast and Furious program were events worthy of oversight. The cockamamie Hunter Biden "scandal," by contrast, is a mix of convoluted, illogical accusations, as former FBI special agent Asha Rangappa explains in a Substack post.

In an actual hearing, unlike an interview with a captive right-wing media host, one has to explain the alleged scandal in a way that is comprehensible to those who haven't spent hours soaking up bogus talking points. Democratic committee members will be able to channel what average voters are thinking: "What in the world are you talking about?"

Third, Republicans have a problem with evidence -- or the lack thereof. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Why Netanyahu's conspiracy-minded government is treating every issue like a warThe new generation of right-wing politicians is bound by the belief that entrenched leftist elites lurk behind every institution and policy problem. The result is chaos (Haviv Rettig Gur, 1/31/23, Times of Israel)

In 2017, an Israeli right-wing activist published a book that became an overnight mainstay of the conservative Israeli bookshelf. It was a fierce and effective polemic with a title as blunt as its argument: "Why do you vote right and get left?"

Since the late 1970s, explained author Erez Tadmor, voters have usually sent right-wing majorities to the Knesset, yet government policy remained, he argued, "leftist." The reason was simple. At every turn, a narrow leftist elite stymied the will of the people, and especially in three key domains: the media, the legal system and the universities.

The right won't truly govern or realize its vision for the country, Tadmor warned, until this elite is sidelined.

A secret Jewish cabal? Met one Nationalist...

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Where Does Xi Jinping Go from Here? (Neil Thomas, 1/31/23, ChinaFile)

Political reports do not go into detail about specific policies (such as "zero-COVID"), but their high-level messages inform policymaking for the next five years and beyond. Xi says the most recent report constitutes a "grand blueprint" for governing China. Its content signaled continuity rather than change in Xi's personal leadership and policy agenda, drawing heavily from the most recent Five-Year Plan and the third "history resolution," both issued in 2021. Overall, it suggests that Xi will keep pushing China in a more authoritarian, statist, and nationalist direction in the coming years and even decades.

This includes the Chinese economy, where the Party plans to play a stronger role, such as by taking board seats in major firms and guiding capital towards favored sectors. The political report introduced "systems thinking" as part of Xi's ideology. According to Xi, "all things are interconnected and interdependent," as economic, political, and social reforms involve adjusting a balance of interests wherein "pulling one hair moves the whole body." China's increasingly complex policy issues therefore require enhanced Party oversight and more government "systems" to manage all aspects of the country's development.

Xi presents this increase in Party control as necessary to counter rising threats. The Party previously presented China as in a "period of strategic opportunity," in which favorable domestic and international environments enabled a focus on economic development. Xi's latest report shows that he believes China has now entered a period in which "strategic opportunity co-exists with risks and challenges, and uncertain and unpredictable factors are increasing." Moreover, the report continues, "various 'black swan' and 'gray rhino' events may occur at any time," highlighting the Party's rising concern with preparing for both unexpected crises and foreseeable threats, respectively.

Xi wants to balance economic growth with national security. The 2022 political report contained a new section devoted to national security, which should "permeate every aspect and the whole process" of governance. To prepare for "high winds, choppy waves, and even dangerous storms," Xi's report called for stronger Party leadership, people-centered policymaking, and a spirit of struggle. The report also added a section on science, education, and human capital, priority areas to bolster indigenous innovation and address the political risks of lagging productivity growth and Western chokeholds on key technologies.

Even high-single-digit GDP growth targets now seem beyond reach. Development remains the Party's "top priority," but its "primary task" is now "high-quality development." This includes elevating Xi's "new development pattern," a strategy that unites development and security goals by boosting domestic demand and homegrown technology while increasing global reliance on Chinese supply chains. Xi's political report identified new growth drivers--AI, IT, biotech, green industries, high-end manufacturing, renewable energy, and new industrial materials (such as those engineered with nanotechnology)--but was notably less enthusiastic about markets, openness, and supply-side structural reform than even his previous report in 2017. The report's vision of strategic economic management also requires the Party to expand oversight of the private sector, by "strengthening Party building" in non-state firms and "improving corporate governance" of financial firms, and of private wealth, by "regulating the mechanism of wealth accumulation."

The report suggested that Xi is preparing China for long-term strategic competition with the United States. It defined the Party's overarching goal for China as "building a socialist modern great power" by the centenary of the People's Republic in 2049, and to "use Chinese-style modernization to comprehensively advance the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation." The Party has long wanted to achieve "modernization" by mid-century, but this report stated in the clearest terms yet that Xi wants China to "lead the world in comprehensive national power and international influence." The new link between "Chinese-style modernization" and "national rejuvenation" emphasizes Xi's determination to steer China on the Party's own course, one that rejects democratic politics, individual freedoms, and U.S. leadership in global governance. That includes efforts to "actively participate" in global human rights governance and the formulation of global security rules. Xi's report did not change Taiwan policy, but a new phrase--"resolving the Taiwan question is for the Chinese people themselves to decide"--portends more assertive pushback against U.S. and allied efforts to support Taiwan.

Few political systems in human history work worse than total centralization, by whatever name.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


GOP report shows plan to ramp up focus on disproven election fraud claims (Amy Gardner and  Isaac Arnsdorf , January 31, 2023, The Guardian)

A new internal report prepared by the Republican National Committee proposes creating a permanent infrastructure in every state to ramp up "election integrity" activities in response to perceptions within GOP ranks of widespread fraud and abuse in the way the country selects its leaders.

The report, prepared by the RNC's "National Election Integrity Team" and obtained by The Washington Post, reveals the degree to which Republicans continue to trade on former president Donald Trump's false claims that Democrats and their allies rigged his defeat in 2020.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Trump pleaded the fifth more than 400 times in fraud deposition, video shows (Martin Pengelly,  31 Jan 2023, The Guardian)

Questioned about his financial affairs, the former president repeatedly invoked his fifth-amendment right against self-incrimination - part of a refusal to answer he repeated more than 400 times.

If he speaks he perjures himself.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


January 31, 2023 (Heather Cox Richardson, 1/31/23, Letters from an American)

McCarthy is continuing to try to tumble these two things together, demanding cuts to federal spending before he will agree to raise the debt ceiling.

This is awkward for the Republicans for two reasons. First, about $7.8 trillion of the $31.4 trillion debt that now must be paid came from the Trump years, and much of it came from the 2017 Trump tax cuts on corporations and the wealthy. During the Trump years, Congress raised the debt ceiling three times.

The second reason the Republicans' demands for cuts are awkward is that they will not actually say what cuts they want. Before the 2020 election, party leaders, including Florida senator Rick Scott, then chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee in charge of getting Republicans elected to the Senate, called for cuts to Social Security and Medicare. Those take up a big portion of the annual budget: Social Security alone takes about 21%. Throughout January, Republicans have echoed calls to cut the programs, only to face a backlash.

So they have now backed off on demanding those cuts. On January 20, Trump, who in 2021 pumped up the idea of using the debt ceiling to get their way, warned Republicans not to cut "a single penny" from Social Security and Medicare. On Sunday, McCarthy said that such cuts were "off the table" (although he also insisted that the Republicans simply want to "strengthen" the programs, and Republican proposals that include that language call for raising the age for eligibility, so who knows?). 

For their part, President Joe Biden and the Democrats have said that they will not negotiate over the debt ceiling. It is vital to pay the nation's debts--debts already incurred, many of them under Trump--and the security of that debt must not be questioned. 

But they have made it clear they are happy to negotiate the budget, which is, as I say, a normal part of doing business. 

McCarthy, in contrast, is caught between the rhetoric of the party for the past several years and the reality of the debt issue.